Zoe opened her eyes to see Taran racing towards her like a bull charging her. She stepped to one side slowly, worried he’d plow headfirst into the television that sat behind where she stood. Her father would be livid considering he’d spent weeks with the coffee guys discussing the pros and cons of the sizes, brands, and style that would fit in the family room. He’d gotten it after her mom had died, the flat screen a treat for himself to stave off the sadness that came from the unending grief of the loss of a loved one.
Taran slowed though, stopping next to her, his eyes darting side to side as if he couldn’t find where she’d been. He was breathing hard, almost rasping like he’d suddenly developed asthma, although Zoe had a feeling he didn’t have any such ailment or it would have been an impediment to being police chief.
He smelled faintly of the rain and an exotic spice that she couldn’t quite place but made her think of jungles filled with wide leafed trees where monkeys played in the branches avoiding the shadow of the jaguar which was always on the prowl. Drawing in a breath, having exerted himself far too little to be that tired, Taran met her eyes.
“What’s wrong?” Zoe asked. The room was getting close from the air that was coming in through the open sliding door. She wasn’t paying attention to that. She wanted to know what Taran knew.
“I saw something,” Taran said. “I thought something was going to grab you.”
Zoe remembered the sense that a bug was crawling on her arm just before she’d opened her eyes to see Taran rushing her. Nothing was there.
She shook her head feeling the strange disquiet that came from knowing something was wrong but not knowing how to make it right.
“I heard something, too,” Taran continued. “I heard someone say ‘close your eyes’ when I was out there.”
Zoe hadn’t heard the voice but she’d had the feeling. There was the sense that if she’d closed her eyes she’d be safer, so she’d done that, feeling like a little girl pulling the covers over her head because if she couldn’t see the monsters then they couldn’t see her either.
“I had my eyes closed until I felt something like a bug crawling on my arm.” The thought of it made her shiver. She wasn’t particularly fearful of bugs but this particular bug bothered her.
Taran said nothing for a long moment. Then he spoke. “Maybe we should both close our eyes?”
Zoe wanted to scream at him. Was he kidding? That was when the monsters came. Who would watch out for them? Except the only option would be to call her father home and have him look out for monsters while they stood there with their eyes closed, waiting. When nothing happened, her father would be livid and chances were he’d try and have Taran fired.
So instead, she stood facing the backyard. She didn’t know why she did that. She could only describe the feeling as being better, like she was tossing and turning in bed and this was the best position for her body. Her lids fluttered down and she felt Taran turning, his hand brushing hers like he was thinking about taking it, as if they were two kids going to prom instead of two adults standing in her family room facing the rain in the backyard through the open sliding door with their eyes closed.
Zoe hoped her father didn’t come home just then.
She listened to the rain, which was pattering lightly, and the rush of a car going by but no brakes. She heard the clunk of the air conditioner as it worked outside, its machinery chugging away from around the side of the house so it didn’t disturb people sitting on the back patio. She pictured the patio out there, remembering other times with her momma when they’d sat out there drinking not-so-sweet tea and talking about Zoe’s prom dress or her history project. They’d folded flyers for the city council out there, giggling excitedly as if her momma was running for the student body.
The work put into that campaign had kept Zoe from ever wanting to run for an office. She liked to do things her own way, not by committee, but her momma had a talent for leading people.
In the midst of those memories, a strange figure appeared. Zoe would have said man, but perhaps creature was better as his limbs were too long, his skin slightly greenish, and his nose was narrow and rather gnarled like the roots of an old tree.
“They are after you,” he said, looking into Zoe’s eyes, though she knew they were closed, but somehow, she understood he could see them and was trying to reach her.
“Who?” Zoe thought.
The man seemed to understand he was talking to her.
“I can barely reach you, the Blood is too thin, but with both of you together, I can warn. Find one of the Blood. He has known her, loved her. She needs to return or all is lost and your life is forfeit.”
The man tried to say something else. Zoe had questions, a dozen thoughts about the thin blood and what he meant by that and who “He” was, but even as she thought that she knew the creature meant Taran, and the only person Taran had loved, to Zoe’s knowledge, was Kay Pugh.
Zoe opened her eyes. Taran’s mouth was open slightly but his eyes were still closed. His head began to move from side to side like he was saying no. Zoe had a feeling she knew what conversation he was having.
She waited for him to open his eyes. While she did so, she felt something crawling on her other hand, her right hand this time. She shook it like shaking off a bug. She got the faintest glimpse of a narrow black hand with claws that could have belonged to the creature she had just spoken with but for the color of its skin.
Zoe turned around, feeling Taran move slightly next to her. She went over the liquor cupboard and grabbed a bottle of vodka. Not her favorite, but she didn’t care. She needed something strong because none of this was making sense. If she was going crazy, she at least wanted to be a fun crazy person.
Chapter 17 will be coming next Friday. Don’t want to wait? Find the book here.