CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.
Decisions and Consequences
Matthew struggles to stay awake as the heat and humidity of pre-dawn morning settles over him like a thick blanket. His eyelids grow heavier and heavier, until at last his head droops forward. He feels a slightly dizzying rush as his consciousness begins to fade.
“Here we go,” Buck says.
Matthew jerks awake, spilling some of his coffee. He winces as the hot liquid rolls over the side of his ceramic mug and spills down the back of his hand. He yawns, stretches, and forces his eyes open.
“Where?” He doesn’t bother trying to sound enthusiastic. Buck doesn’t seem to notice.
“Up the river. That’d be due east. You can see a little glow now.”
The faintest hint of red creeps up the sky. It’s most visible across the river, disappearing behind the trees on both sides.
“What you want to see,” Buck continues, “is the moment the sun peeks over the horizon and the light hits the water. It’s a little ways off, but trust me on this. Drink your coffee and keep your eyes open.”
They’re sitting in lawn chairs on the Gardener’s dock. Buck’s boat, an ancient 1971 Tidecraft, knocks rhythmically against the wood. Matthew feels himself nodding off again. He shifts in his seat and rubs his eyes with his free hand.
“It’s Saturday, Buck,” Matthew says. “Don’t you sleep in?”
Buck laughs. “With a five year old in the house? Hardly. I have to get up early if I want to start out the day in peace.”
The sky lightens gradually, and Matthew realizes this is the second time this week he’s up early enough to watch the sun rise. He shivers slightly, despite the heat, as he thinks about the last time. He looks at Buck thoughtfully.
“You ever hear loud noises at night?”
“I don’t know,” Buck says. “What kind?”
Matthew hesitates. “Well… the morning after I was discharged I couldn’t sleep, so I walked around Daylight a bit. I heard something odd… like a wild animal, or something.”
There’s enough light to show Buck shaking his head. “Nothing like that. I know Daylight looks like it’s in the middle of nowhere, but there ain’t enough forest between us and some of the county towns for there to be any kind of wild animals. Not on this side of the river, anyway. There’s deer on the other side, but they don’t come over here. Too smart.”
“Oh,” Matthew says.
“You probably heard a dog in heat. They can sound pretty damned strange, especially when you’re walking by yourself and not expecting to hear it. No, the biggest problem we have around here is that occasionally Danny Toomes will go on a bender and decide to do a little target shooting at 3AM.”
“Not quite the same thing,” Matthew agrees. “Though also not something I’d want to hear while walking around alone in the dark.”
“Ha! You’d be fine, as long as you aren’t on his property. He’s a better shot drunk than he is sober.”
Matthew laughs, then settles back into his chair and tries to stay awake.
The horizon brightens steadily, growing ever more red. Soft hues of purple and violet spread out over the night sky and color the clouds. Eventually the red on the horizon turns gold, and light spills over the edge.
Buck leans forward. “Here it comes.”
From where they sit, it looks as if the sun is rising out of the river itself. The tiniest sliver of the sun crests the horizon, and as its light spreads over the water it flashes as if hitting a mirror. The slight slips and skids across the surface, reflecting and refracting like a prism, and for a moment the horizon separates into all colors of the spectrum. Then, as the top of the sun moves fully into the daytime world, the river transforms into a channel of light: the light bounces off the water, sparkling and dancing, reminding Matthew of brightly glowing diamonds.
He squints and covers his eyes, shielding them from the impossibly bright display. A moment later it fades, and the river turns a deep, rich blue.
Matthew lowers his hands and blinks, trying to dispel the ghost lights still swimming before his eyes. “That was…”
He tries to think of some way to describe exactly what that was, and fails.
“Yeah,” Buck says. “I thought you’d appreciate it.”
“How does it do that?” Matthew asks.
Buck shrugs. “Couldn’t tell you. Sun hits the water at just the right angle, and alakazam. That’s the best I got.”
Matthew nods absently, combining and separating colors in his head, mentally experimenting with brushes and strokes, trying to work out some way to put that on canvas.
“Now that we’ve got that out of the way,” Buck says, “what say we go inside, take a break from the mosquitoes and—”
“What was that?” Matthew steps up to the edge of the dock, peering across the river, pointing to a spot on the other side.
“What was what?” Buck tries to follow Matthew’s gesture and frowns. “I don’t see anything.”
“No, it’s gone now,” Matthew says. “I saw a—well, a flash of light. Sort of like what we saw at sunrise, just before the river lit up. It came from over there, but… through the branches. Is there a ridge behind those trees? Is there more water up there? A waterfall, or something?”
Buck squints as he examines the area. “No… just more trees. And the old tower, I guess, if you go farther in.”
Matthew drops his hand to his side and continues to look up at the trees. “Tower?”
“yeah, you know, the old guard tower we were gonna turn into a tourist spot until we decided not to bother. I told you about that, right?”
“Yeah,” Matthew says. “I remember. Bridge to nowhere.”
“That’s the one,” Buck says.
Matthew keeps staring at the trees, lost in thought.
“Well,” Buck says, “I think it’s probably just you seeing lingering spots from the morning entertainment. It’ll do that, especially if you’re not expecting it.”
Matthew stares at the trees a moment longer, then turns to Buck. “You’re probably right. Is it too early for breakfast?”
Buck guffaws. “For a fella as skinny as you are, you sure do like to eat.”
“Starving artist,” Matthew says. “I try not to take food for granted.”
“Starving, right…” Buck shakes his head. “Rumor is you’re filthy rich for being so famous.”
Matthew snorts. “I’m filthy rich for an artist. It’s not impressive compared to everyone else. I just sold two paintings for a lot of money, and it’s all going into hospital and doctor bills. Every time I get money the world finds a way for me to spend it.”
“Hey, look at that,” Buck says. “We got another thing in common.”
They both laugh, then walk up to the house. As they near the back door they hear muffled, exciting shouting.
“Catie’s up,” Buck says. “So Ellie probably is too. Looks like it’s time for breakfast after all.”
Everyone gathers at the table for breakfast. Catie, still in pajamas, is a barely-contained bundle of energy. She chats with Matthew cheerfully as Buck and Ellie bring breakfast to the table. As cheerful as she seems to be, Matthew notices her eyes are red and puffy—not from crying, he thinks, but from lack of sleep.
“You sleep OK?” he asks.
Catie’s cheerful expression drops. She looks down at the table, nodding while avoiding eye contact.
“Yeah?” Matthew looks at her closely. “You sure?”
She nods again, but doesn’t look up. Matthew decides not to press the issue.
“Ok,” he says. “So what are you going to do today?”
Her cheerful mood returns in an instant, all cares wiped away, replaced with bubbling enthusiasm. “Cartoons! Cartoons until mommy makes me turn it off. Then I’m going to teach you to fish.”
Matthew feels a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. “Oh, really?”
Catie nods vigorously. “Daddy says you’re a big city boy, and everybody knows big city boys can’t fish.”
Buck emerges from the kitchen with a stack of plates. “That’s right! But don’t worry, we’ll save you from yourself.”
“I’ve heard that before,” Matthew says. Buck laughs good-naturedly.
“Heard what?” Ellie enters with a pot of coffee and three mugs.
“Catie’s going to teach him how to fish,” Buck says.
“Now Catie,” Ellie scolds, “I told you to ask him first. He might have other plans.”
Matthew shrugs. “Not really. Until the sheriff finds my car, there’s not a lot I can do on my own.”
The doorbell rings. Buck looks down at his watch and frowns.
“I’ll get it!” Catie starts climbing down from her chair.
“You stay put,” Buck says, “and finish your milk. I’ll get it.” He gets up, still frowning. “I swear, Ellie, if that’s the church at this hour the pastor and I are going to get into it, but good.” Muttering angrily to himself, he walks out into the living room.
Matthew looks at Ellie questioningly. “Is buck having a fight with a church?”
“It’s worse than that,” Ellie says, eyes twinkling with amusement. “He volunteered for something.”
“Hey, Matt!” Buck calls from the front door. “It’s for you!”
Now it’s Matthew’s turn to frown. “I hope he didn’t volunteer me for something.” He excuses himself from the table and heads off to see what’s going on.
Standing just outside the front door is Sheriff Dobbs.
“They found your car,” Buck says, and claps him on the back as he makes his way back to the dining room. “I’ll keep your plate warm!”
Matthew looks at Sheriff Dobbs uncertainly. “Good morning.”
“Morning,” the sheriff says. “We have indeed found your car. Rather, it found us. Funny story: Billy came into work this morning and noticed it parked right outside the office. No note or anything. Would you mind stepping outside?”
Matthew walks past the sheriff and looks out at the dirt driveway. Beside Buck’s pickup truck is the sheriff’s car. Billy, the sheriff’s deputy, leans against the passenger-side door. Beside the sheriff’s car is his own.
Matthew stares at it warily. “Sure looks like mine,” he says.
“It is,” the sheriff says. “Has your registration and insurance in the glove compartment. Billy used the key you gave him to drive it down. There are art supplies in the trunk. what I really want to know is if everything’s present and accounted for.”
Matthew nods. He walks over to his car, nodding to Billy. Billy nods in return, returning the car key as he passes. Matthew opens the driver’s seat door and immediately hears the car ding.
He slides into the driver’s seat, knocking his knees against the steering wheel—the seat is pushed in; Billy is shorter. Looking at the dashboard, he sees the empty cellphone cradle and remembers he needs to buy a new phone. He checks the glove compartment and finds it has his registration and insurance information, just as the sheriff described, as well as all the junk he managed to fit in there.
He looks up from the glove compartment to see that Sheriff Dobbs has wandered over, standing just outside the driver’s side, watching silently.
“Nothing out of place here,” Matthew says. “I’ll pop the trunk.”
The sheriff nods.
Matthew pulls a lever between the seat and the door. Something clicks as the latch to the trunk releases. Matthew walks to the back of the car and swings the trunk door open. He sighs in relief.
“All here,“ he says. “My luggage and some work stuff.”
“That’d be the paints,” the sheriff says.
Matthew nods. “Paints. Brushes. A few palettes, canvas, a frame. Nothing big, just enough on hand in case inspiration strikes.”
“I see.” The sheriff nods, apparently satisfied. “Well. I’m glad that’s taken care of. And I expect, now that you’ve got your car back, you’ll be wanting to get back home.”
It isn’t quite an order, but it’s definitely more than an observation.
Matthew takes stock of his supplies one last time, closes the trunk, and turns to face the sheriff. “To tell you the truth, I don’t know that I’m in any rush.”
Billy raises an eyebrow. The sheriff, for his part, doesn’t even blink.
“Billy,” the sheriff says, “Mr. Garrett and I are going to take a walk around back and talk a spell. Why don’t you stay here, in case Mr. Toomes has progressed to day-drinking.”
Billy nods. The sheriff gestures with one hand, and Matthew follows him around the side of the house. When they are out of view of the road, the sheriff turns to face him.
“Buck,” the sheriff says, “is a good man. With good intentions. With the best intentions. That said, if you showed him a hornet’s nest, his first instinct would be find a stick so he could poke it. And if he couldn’t find a stick, he’d be as like as not to use his fist instead.”
Matthew says nothing.
“But he is a good man,” the sheriff continues. “And he’s a remarkably consistent judge of character.”
“Consistent,” Matthew says.
“Consistent,” the sheriff repeats.
“When Buck takes a liking to someone,” the sheriff says, “I can be sure of two things: first, whoever it is, is basically decent. Second, he’ll also be likely to poke a hornet’s nest with a stick. This is not a point in your favor, Mr. Garrett, and that is why I am asking you, politely, to leave Daylight and not come back.”
Matthew tries to keep his face just as impassive as the sheriff’s. “Abel Morris. Marcus White. Andrew Hollis. Eric Brady.”
Sheriff Dobbs narrows his eyes. “And just what are those names to you?”
“I believe Deke would call them examples of the ‘fourth way.’”
The sheriff stares at Matthew for a long moment, then sighs, turning away to face the river. “Dammit, Deke…”
“What exactly the hell is going on in Daylight, sheriff? You talk like the stories about the manor house are just stories, but you act like it’s more than that. I’m willing to bet you know that one Wednesday a month goes missing, and that when it does the Tuesday and Thursday editions of the newspaper are exactly the same, with only the date changed. And if you’ve never personally seen people wrapped from head to toe in dirty gray rags walking through your town, I’m positive you’ve heard about them from people who have. Why do you pretend it doesn’t exist?”
The sheriff’s voice sharpens just a touch. “Don’t think you know my reasons.”
“I don’t think that,” Matthew says. “That’s the point. I don’t understand any of this. But pretend it isn’t happening? I can’t do that.”
Sheriff Dobbs turns back to Matthew. “You should try.” Matthew starts to reply, but the sheriff cuts him off. “Mr. Garrett, if you’d shown up the normal way, I wouldn’t think twice about you staying here. If you’d driven up to Sally’s in your car and started asking all kinds of crazy questions, well, I’d find that inconvenient and I’d try to keep my eye on you as much as I could. But that’s as far as it would go… until the day you disappeared into thin air, of course. But you didn’t do that, did you?”
Matthew doesn’t answer.
“No, you didn’t do that. I found you collapsed on Bridge Street, soaking wet, and then I found out you’d been up at the Wendell property, and not too long after, the rest of Daylight found out as well.”
“I’ve had better entrances,” Matthew admits.
“And then the next day you collapse in Henry’s parking lot. And believe me, everyone in Daylight heard about that, too.”
“I didn’t choose to get sick,” Matthew says.
“You are putting me in a very difficult spot,” the sheriff says. “I can’t force you to leave. Well, let’s be honest, I could. I could abuse the authority granted me by the citizens of Daylight and escort you out of town and make it clear that if you came back you’d wind up in jail. I could do it. I could even get away with it, probably. But I hate that kind of behavior in a lawman, and it wouldn’t actually quiet anything down—too many people in town would take your side. Henry likes you. Buck likes you. Sally likes you, though she hasn’t done you any favors with her gossip. Deke likes you, apparently, though based on what he seems to have told you he has a funny way of showing it. Even I like you. Sort of. That’s why I want you to go away.”
Matthew is surprised by the admission, and can’t think of anything to say.
“But there are people in this town,“ the sheriff continues, “who very much do not like you, Mr. Garrett. They do not like you at all. And the only reason you haven’t met them yet is because I convinced them to leave you alone on the grounds that you were going to go away.”
Matthew turns to face the sheriff, looking him straight in the eye. “Well… I’m not.”
Sheriff Dobbs returns his gaze, searching for something, then sighs and turns away. “You’re in over your heard.” His voice is quiet, Almost gentle. Almost sad.
“Maybe,” Matthew says, “but I’m a pretty good swimmer.”