Excerpt from High Ground, copyright 2017 by Richard Authier Lee
Margaret was jostled from sleep by a sound that slipped away before her mind could grasp it. Soft music from the bedside radio lulled her toward deeper sleep, but a crackle and whine rose again from beneath the music and pricked at her face. She brushed the sensation away, sat up and turned on the light. Bailey, her father’s lonesome beagle, slipped out from under the covers to investigate.
She flew out of bed, pulled her leather car coat on over her nightgown, and found the flashlight in her father’s bedside drawer. Outside the night sky was blacker than any she had ever seen in Boston. No streetlights, no city haze, absolute black nothingness stretched above, flecked with stars set in the shimmering film of the Milky Way. Bailey probed the shadows as she walked the hillside, flashlight beam at her feet, letting her eyes adjust to the dimness. She headed up the garden path, stopped and listened again for the sound.
Whispers. Whispers slipped through the velvet waterfall of night wind in the tall grass. Soft whispers poured down from the house. Behind her, the yellow patch of light from her bedroom flickered through swaying tree limbs. Esther’s house was dark, but for the pale sheen of moonlight against its upper windows. Night air blew under her nightgown, like icy fingers on her legs. She crouched low and gathered the cotton around her knees, watching, waiting.
There were no children. There was no one out here at all.
She turned back and returned to the house. Tight at her heel, Bailey drew a yawn out into a languid stretch that finished with a curious squeak, then followed her inside. From the wall phone in the kitchen she called the Sheriff’s office. The Deputy seemed to take respectful note of her last name and tried to assure her that all was well. They would send a car by to have a look. Not to worry.
But she was hopelessly awake. Dead tired and unable to sleep, as she had been since Mother’s “friend” the State Senator had called her with the news of her father’s death. “Lorraine is too overcome to speak,” he told her, as though he had no idea to whom he was speaking.
Bailey remained unsettled and she became aware of a scent on the night air, like rain after a lightning storm. She wrapped herself in a blanket and sat in a wooden Adirondack chair on the front porch where she could see the road and the hulking shadow of the Brandt mansion. Bailey stood at her feet, then hunkered down. The two of them dozed, and she listened and watched until the black night sky slid to deep purple in the east, then to a pale blue dawn.