Into the Hollow
His breath hitched. For a moment I thought he was going to spill the beans. I was wrong.
“Please. I know you’re worried-”
“Of course I’m worried, Dex!” I cried out. His eyes softened at my outburst.
“All right. It’s all right.”
“It was a ghost. It was just a ghost. And it’s the first time I’ve ever seen her. It might not mean anything and I don’t need this distraction right now. We have a mythical beast to shoot, I need to focus on that. Sasquatch and ghosts don’t mix.”
“Tell me who the ghost is.”
“If I tell you, will you wrap up my wrist and promise not to ask any more questions about it? Ever?” he pushed.
I didn’t want to promise that. I knew whatever he’d tell me would only bring a billion questions along with it. But I said, “Yes” and began to slowly rewrap his wrist.
“The ghost…” he said reluctantly, face turned away from mine. “The ghost was my mother.”
He jerked his attention back to me and gave a hard glance at my hands. “Keep wrapping.”
I didn’t know if I could. His mother. Dex had seen the ghost of his mother last night. In the mirror. And that sight was enough for him to smash it and make a dramatic barricade against it, flip over a fucking bed. It was enough to make him cower in fear and seek the comfort of my company. Normally I wouldn’t put that past him, but last night Dex didn’t want sex. He just didn’t want to be alone. And that vulnerability, that was a side of him I rarely saw.
He rolled his eyes. “Here, do you want me to do it?”
I shook myself alert, feeling drugged and hazy. My fingers fumbled around the fabric. “Uh no. No I’ve got it.”
“I hope you’re packed, we gotta leave soon,” he said. I looked up at him, so many questions begging to tumble from my lips. But his expression was a warning and I knew I made that promise. I couldn’t push my luck. It would only annoy him and I didn’t want to do that.
I nodded and quickly finished up his wrist, tucking the ends together.
He held it up to his face and examined it. “Nice work, Florence.”
I pretended I wasn’t examining the mirror, having a sick hope of seeing her myself, his infamous mother. Before he could catch me, I gave him a quick smile and took off to my room, throwing my clothes in the bag and remembering to put on a bra and do a quick application of makeup on my face. I wasn’t on camera but I was still meeting people today and needed to look professional.
All the while my thoughts drifted back to Dex and his mother. He had never told me anything about her. I only knew a little bit about his father, that he left them when Dex was a teen and at some point during that whole thing, Pippa ended up being his nanny. He never told me how his mother died. Though, there was a strange feeling at the back of my head, like I was forgetting something. Like I knew something about her without ever knowing it, if that makes any sense.
Then it happened. My eyes filled with a flash of being in Roman’s home, the demon fighting inside me during the exorcism. A feeling of utter hate rolling around in my guts. A French accent that had spoken through me: “Your little secret. You don’t want anyone to know what happened to your dear old mother.”
I nearly collapsed to the floor from that flashback. I could feel the evil slinking off of me like oil. If Dex’s mother brought that kind of vileness and hatred with her in death, no wonder he was so afraid of her.
And no wonder I was suddenly so afraid for him.
A quick knock at the front door snapped me out of my morbid thoughts before I could dwell on them any longer.
“Kiddo?” he called from outside. “I’ll meet you in the car. We were supposed to be at the diner two minutes ago.”
I coughed. “Coming!”
I slipped on my coat, picked up my bag and ran out into the crisp morning.
The parking lot was coated with a thin layer of frost that sparkled underneath a sun that peeked between billowing clouds. My breath froze in the air and the chill nipped at my nose, but judging from how bare the streets and roofs were, winter was on its way out here. Only the mountains remained thick and white halfway up.
My Doc boots made a pleasing crunching sound on the frost as I carefully trotted toward the running Highlander and jumped in the passenger seat, flinging my bag in the back.
“Sorry,” I apologized, eyeing Dex carefully now. But not too carefully. The last thing he’d want would be for me to treat him any differently because of who was haunting him.
Haunted, I corrected myself. It only happened once. It might not happen again.
Dex paid me no attention and brought the car out of the lot and down the main road. We could see the rotating sign for the diner loud and clear.
“I really hope this place is cheap,” he remarked, “because I’m about $200 short now.”
I stared at him, puzzled.
He shot me a sheepish grin. “Apparently motel mirrors are expensive.”
Seconds later we were pulling up to an old-fashioned diner – The Raven’s Nest - done up in log cabin style.
It was surprisingly dark inside, sticking to a whole “cabin in the woods” theme like the whole town seemed to adhere to, complete with walls of stuffed owls and wood carvings. It was also surprisingly busy, as if all of Snow Crest ate breakfast there on a daily basis. We stood at the entrance where the empty hostess stand was, surveying the room and its peculiar patrons.
Dex leaned down and whispered in my ear, hot breath tickling me, “I bet they make a fantastic cherry pie here.”
I chuckled at the reference and shivered from his breath. I spotted a pretty teenage girl getting out of a booth and coming toward us with an expectant look on her face.
“Are you Dex and Perry?” the girl asked us. She was about Ada’s age, with wide brown eyes and dark hair pulled back into a braid. She was wearing the latest distressed skinny jeans, but her feet were wrapped in worn hiking boots and a giant, ill-fitting flannel shirt graced her lithe upper body.
Dex and I exchanged a look.
“That we are,” he said warily. “And you are?”
She stuck out her hand with a wide grin that showed a pleasing gap between her teeth.
I scrunched up my forehead. “I thought Christina was one of the staff?”
She nodded, still smiling. “I am. I’m Rigby’s daughter. Come on, I’ll explain.”
She turned and it was only then when we followed her back to the table that I noticed she was walking with a very slight limp, favoring her right leg.
We took a seat at the dark wood booth, Dex and I pressed up together on one side and the teen on the other.
“I hope you don’t mind me saying this,” Dex said, “But we thought you were older. Aren’t you a bit too young to be working for your dad?”
She shrugged and proceeded to pour an obscene amount of sugar into her coffee cup. “Probably, but he needs the help. I’m home schooled over the winter by my ma. She lives right in town. Otherwise I help Rigby.”
“Is he not your real dad?” I asked, noting it was weird she didn’t call him “dad.”
“Oh he’s real,” she said eyeing her coffee. She slurped it up and wiped the coffee spillage off the top of her lip. “You guys should get the coffee, they are famous for it here.”
Like the waitress had supersonic hearing, a plump lady with purple eyeshadow appeared at the table, hovering with a pot of coffee.
“Hi folks,” she greeted. “Welcome to Snow Crest. Coffee?”
Dex sat back in his seat and beamed at her. “Yes please, Norma. I’d like a cup of coffee and a slice of cherry pie.”
She gave him the stink eye. “I hope you’re being serious because we do have cherry pie. But the name’s Sally.”
“I’m always serious, Sally.” Another grin.
She looked at me and I gave her the I don’t know this guy look. “I’ll have coffee for now.”
She poured the black, steaming liquid in our cups and stalked off.
Christina gave Dex a funny look. “Why did you call her Norma?”
“Ignore him,” I told her. “He thinks we’re in Twin Peaks.”
Her frown continued so I went on, “So you work for your dad. Then you’re the one who was hurt…”
She grimaced and tapped her right leg.
“Yeah. No one would believe me. They thought it was a mountain lion that attacked me, but that was no mountain lion.”
Despite the strange subject matter, she was talking awfully loud, like she wanted everyone in the restaurant to know. I looked around and a few folks were glancing over with faint interest. Their faces said it all. They had heard it all before and they didn’t believe her.
Dex folded his hands in front of him and leaned in across the table.
“Tell us what happened.”
She tilted her head and reached for his face, giving his eyebrow ring a light tug.
“Did that hurt?” she asked, sitting back.
He was nonplussed, as if teenage girls tugged on his eyebrow ring all the time.
“I don’t remember. I was around your age.”
“Things hurt more when you’re my age.”
“You’d be surprised at how untrue that is,” he said solemnly. “So, back to…well, what happened.”
Norma (er, Sally) came by and plunked the pie down for Dex who clapped his hands together. I ordered scrambled eggs and bacon and when the waitress was gone, Christina launched into it.
“We’re not, like, running at the moment, so it’s just this weird in-between stage up at the cabin. I take care of the llamas and horses and stuff, getting them ready for the tourist season, while Rigby goes out and starts clearing trails. He was gone really late one night and there’s still snow up where the cabins are so I was worried cuz you know, it’s a bit sketchy, especially on horseback. I went after him. I knew where he went. We have two cabins, as you’ll find out. There’s the one that we live in, well, when I’m not living in Snow Crest. And the other one is for hunters. We have a guy, Mitch, he’s kind of a weirdo, but helps us out and runs private hunting tours with Rigby. They use the other cabin for that. So I took my horse out along the trail all the way to the cabin. You can do it in less than an hour if you’re really booking it, but there was still snow here and there and so I could only trot in places. Anyway.”
She paused, taking a giant breath and a giant inhale of her coffee. I looked over at Dex who was watching her thoughtfully while shoving the remains of the pie in his mouth. I wondered how he ate it so fast and he gave me a look that said you know how I feel about pie. I did and found myself smirking at the nostalgia.
“Where was I?” Christina said, wiping her lip. “Oh right. I go to the other cabin and it looked like someone was inside, so I thought it was Rigby. I tied up Taffy to the post and the door to cabin was open and everything and there was a very small, dying fire in the fireplace. But, like, no one was there. Then I heard Taffy scream. Like, you know when a horse really whinnies but it’s like a scream? I ran out of the cabin and she was rearing and she just snapped the reins off of the post and galloped off. I didn’t know what to do or what had spooked her. There’s no phone or electricity in there so I was totally stuck. The only thing I could do was make my way back home. I was only a few feet away from the cabin when…”