CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.
The next morning Matthew feels sick.
He pushes himself out of bed, forces his way to the shower, and does his best to ignore the heaviness in his arms and legs. He’s feverish. It hurts to breathe. He feels slightly dizzy.
It’s a familiar feeling. More familiar than he likes.
He dresses quickly, forcing himself through the motions, and makes his way downstairs. Catie is in the living room, still in her pajamas, transfixed by cartoons on TV. There are no circles under her eyes this morning. Matthew heads for the dining room and nearly runs into Buck.
Buck grins, then narrows his eyes and peers closely at him. “You OK, Matt? You look… poorly.”
Matthew nods and tries to smile. “Just a little run down.”
Buck’s grin fades. “Maybe I ought to take you over to see Henry.”
Matthew shakes his head. “I’m just tired. Worked too hard Sunday, didn’t pay any attention to my body telling me to rest. Now I’m paying for it.”
“Still think I ought to take you to see him,” Buck says. “You said you were fine before, and you almost died.”
“Buck!” Ellie steps out of the kitchen to glare at her husband. “Matthew is not your son. Stop pestering him.”
Buck throws up his hands in a gesture of good-natured surrender. “All right, all right. I’m late for work anyway. Matt, just don’t push yourself, OK? The ambulance hates coming down here. It keeps getting stuck int he mud.” He grins, slaps Matthew on the back, then heads out he door.
Ellie watches him leave, shaking her head in fond exasperation, then turns her focus on Matthew. “Good morning. Breakfast?”
“No thanks,” Matthew says. “But I’ll take some coffee.”
Ellie flashes a rueful smile. “Buck drank most of it. I’ll make a fresh pot.”
They go to the kitchen, Ellie standing in front of the kitchen sink to fill the pot. Framed in light of the kitchen window, the edges of her blond hair gleam white, while the rest becomes a dark silhouette. For a moment Matthew sees someone else: a dark-haired woman in a white dress glowing softly in the darkness.
Matthew blinks, and the image fades. Ellie stares at him.
Matthew flushes. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize,” Ellie says, humor tinting her voice. “I haven’t had a young man look at me that way in quite a while.”
Matthew laughs as his flush deepens. “You just… for a minute, you reminded me of someone else.”
“Lucky girl,” Ellie says, and grins almost exactly like Buck. Her eyes are very green.
“Ellie, do you have any family in Daylight?”
Ellie laughs as she pours the water from the carafe into the coffee maker’s well. “Can’t throw a rock without hitting an Everett in Daylight.” She reaches for a fresh packet of grounds and drops it into the top.
“Everett is your maiden name?”
Ellie nods and turns the coffee maker on. “You’ll find us all over. I’m probably related to half the town in some way.”
“What about Edith Everett?” Matthew asks.
“The crazy art lady? Distant cousins, I think. Not close enough for us to bother exchanging cards at Christmas. Really, there are too many of us in this town for any of us to feel particularly close to anyone but immediate family. We’ve been here since Daylight was founded—according to family legend, at any rate.”
“I thought I saw someone who looked a lot like you,” Matthew says. “Darker hair, though. I didn’t make the connection until I saw you framed by the window. Your hair looked darker and it all lined up.”
“Well if she’s dark-haired, she’s not an Everett girl,” Ellie says. “All the Everett women look the same: blonde hair, green eyes. Catie’s the first in generations to break from that. She takes after Buck’s sister.”
“First in generations?” Matthew asks.
“Oh, it’s just an old family story,” Ellie says. “All tied up with that haunted house of yours, actually. Another reason why it’s fun to have you here.” Her eyes sparkle mischievously.
“Really? Does the Sheriff ask you not to tell it?”
Ellie laughs. “Yes, as a matter of fact. For a man who doesn’t believe in ghost stories, he’s not much better than the one’s who do.”
“You don’t, I guess,” Matthew says. “Believe the stories, I mean.”
“Not any more. When I was a little girl, though!” Ellie grabs the pot and pours fresh coffee into a mug. “When I was Catie’s age, I believed all of it. Here, this’ll get you started.”
She hands Matthew the mug and they move into the dining room.
“My brothers,” Ellie continues, “would bring me to tears. They had me convinced Old Man Simon was looking for another bride, and that he was going to pick me.”
“Another bride?” Matthew leans forward. “I think I’d like to hear this family ghost story.”
“It’s a short one,” Ellie says. “Once upon a time there were two sisters. Alexandra had raven-black hair, Eleanor’s was golden-spun. They were as close as two sisters could be, until Simon Wendell buried his father and began to preach blasphemies at a church he built on Bridge Road. He had a power in his words, and many people in Daylight were so wrapped up in the music of his voice they didn’t realize the evil he was doing.”
“What kind of evil?” Matthew asks.
Ellie shrugs. “Story doesn’t say. None of them do, at least none of the ones I remember. Just evil. Anyway, Alexandra was one of the people who were swept up in it. She fell in love with him, and he courted her, and they became engaged. Eleanor was horrified and wanted to rescue her sister, but she couldn’t do anything about it. Finally, when the town came to its senses and drove Simon out, Alexandra and a few others went with him. Eleanor never saw her again, and the Everett’s never had another black-haired child.”
“Interesting,” Matthew says. “So you’re related to a ghost story. By marriage.”
“And I’m named after Eleanor,” Ellie adds.
“The heroine,” Matthew says.
“I like to think so,” Ellie says. “Not a view shared by everyone, though. There’s some who’ll say all Everett women are touched by the dark. Not to my face, these days, but when I was in school it was different. Some called me a witch. And meant it.”
“Oh, come on,” Matthew says. “That’s just…”
“I know, I know, these modern times. But it’s just the times that are modern, Matthew, not necessarily the people living them. Anyway, that didn’t last long after I met Buck. Some people don’t respond to common sense, but he has a way of getting through to them regardless.”
Matthew grins. “I’ll bet. Thanks for the story.”
“Don’t tell the sheriff I told you,” Ellie says, laughing.
“The sheriff and I aren’t exactly on speaking terms,” Matthew says, “but if I run into him I’ll make sure that’s one of the things we don’t talk about.”
* * *
Later that morning, Matthew decides it’s time to buy a new phone. So he hops into his car and heads into Daylight to do some shopping.
He makes his way down River Road, driving slowly as balding tires slip and skid on gravel and dirt patches, until he makes his way out of the forest and into the warm summer sun. He’s starting to feel better; he still aches, still feels tired, but it’s only a trace of what he felt earlier. Purpose, activity, and strong coffee has effectively pushed it aside.
River Road opens out onto Clover Road, which ends at Bridge Road very close to the bridge itself. As Matthew pulls up to the intersection of Clover and Bridge, he sees Billy sitting in his patrol car, parked across the bridge mouth. Matthew frowns as it occurs to him that despite Sheriff Dobbs never referring to his deputy as anything other than “Billy,” he thinks his last name might be Everett. One of Ellie’s relatives?
Billy looks straight at him as he passes, and a moment later Matthew sees the patrol car in his rear view mirror, lights flashing. The Siren blares twice, and Matthew pulls over to a copse of trees at the side of the road. He rolls down his window, fishes his drivers license out of his wallet, and rummages through the glove compartment until he finds the car registration.
Billy doesn’t get out of the patrol car. Matthew sighs in irritation. He hates this game.
Minutes pass. Billy shows no sign of getting out of the car. Matthew adjusts his rear view mirror to try to get a better look at what the deputy’s doing, but he doesn’t seem to be doing anything. Billy isn’t on the radio, he’s just sitting in the driver’s seat, watching him. Matthew briefly considers getting out of the car to ask what’s going on. Common sense overcomes impatience and he stays put.
A minute later, a dirty green Ford pickup drives past in the other lane, slows, and comes to a halt. Three men in flannel shirts and work jeans jump out of the back, and the drivers-side door opens to reveal a man in a light gray business suit. All four men walk over to Billy. One of the workmen eyes Matthew’s car.
Everything about the man screams “hostile townie.” Matthew feels himself tense.
The man in the suit leans in to Billy’s window, says something indistinct, and steps back as Billy’s door opens. The other men step back as Billy gets out of the car, adjusts his sunglasses, then slowly advances on Matthew.
Matthew watches Billy from his side view mirror, saying nothing.
Billy stops at Matthew’s window. “Mr. Stackford would like a word.”
“Who’s that?” Matthew looks over at the four men. It’s not hard to guess which one is in charge. The three workmen have closed ranks around the man in the suit, who is watching Billy and Matthew impassively.
“Please step out of the car, Mr. Garrett.” Billy places his hand on his nightstick. It’s an unconscious gesture; Matthew has seen him do it many times. This time, he finds it alarming.
Matthew is tempted to turn on the ignition and drive off, but he’s certain that won’t solve anything. He sets his jaw, takes off his seatbelt, and opens the door. As Matthew climbs out of his car, Billy does an about face and starts walking back to the patrol car. The man in the gray suit gestures to his men, then starts walking toward Matthew, leaving them behind.
Matthew leans against the side of his car, trying to look calmer than he feels. The throbbing in his head returns. His arms and legs feel heavy again.
The man in the suit is tall, thin, and clean shaven. His hair is short and dark, the top slightly curled and the sides slightly gray. His eyes are dark and calculating. Despite the quality of his suit there’s a quality about him that reminds Matthew physically of Buck. The man extends a rough, calloused hand and flashes an almost-but-not-quite-but-very-close-to-a-genuine smile. “Hello Mr. Garrett. Nice to finally meet you.”
Matthew shakes his hand. Immediately the man’s other hand comes up to clap him on the shoulder, much the way Buck does, but with a sharpness that is less friendly and more aggressive.
“My name,” the man says, “is Franklin Stackford. I’ve wanted to meet you for a while now, but… there were difficulties.”
Matthew immediately thinks of Sheriff Dobbs. “What can I do for you, Mr. Stackford?”
Franklin Stackford stares at Matthew, head cocked slightly to one side, considering his words. “Well, I’d like to start by welcoming you to Daylight.”
Matthew nods, looking away, trying to appear casual as he took in his surroundings. “You had Billy lie in wait for me to make sure this didn’t happen in Daylight.”
“I did,” Franklin admits. “It keeps everything simpler.”
“All right.” Matthew focuses on the shadow of his car on the road, and his and Franklin Stackford’s shadows peeking up over the top of the car. “Thank you for the welcome.”
“I’m sure this doesn’t feel much like one,” Franklin acknowledges. “The thing is, Sheriff Dobbs doesn’t want me talking to you, and he can be pretty persuasive when he puts his mind to it. So I had to get creative.”
Matthew nods, still focused on the shadows. Something in his brain is poking at him, but he can’t tease the thought out.
“I hear you’re staying with the Gardeners,” Franklin says. At Matthew’s distracted nod, he continues “That’s a pretty view they’ve got, right there on the river. Buck’s a good fella. He gets a little hot when there’s no call for it, but nobody’s perfect, right?”
Matthew waits patiently for the man to get to the point.
“The thing is…” Franklin still sounds friendly, and his smile is just as wide, but his eyes harden ever so slightly. “Thing is, Buck and Ellie are good folks. And their daughter… well, she’s just as cute as can be, and sweet as anything. And it concerns me when good folk are exposed to bad influences.”
Something in the way Franklin’s shadow shifts causes Matthew to look up and meet his gaze. “Meaning me.”
Franklin shrugs. “Not on purpose. But a man doesn’t have to be evil for it to come riding on his back.”
Matthew’s gaze flicks back down to the shadows again. His brain is poking harder, but he still can’t pry the thought free.
“And therein lies the tragedy,” Franklin continues. “Because if he can’t see the damage he’s doing, but he’s doing damage just the same… well. What would you have me do?”
There is something wrong with Franklin’s shadow. It’s an insane, unbelievably paranoid thought—the kind of thing you hear from people who are actively hallucinating—but it grips him with cold certainty. He looks back up at Franklin Stackford, a man with a charming smile who oozes cold menace, and is certain that he is not hallucinating.
“I would like you to get to the point,” he manages to say.
Franklin’s smile falters, but only for a moment. “My point is that I don’t mean you any ill will.”
Matthew deliberately shifts his gaze over to the three denim-clad men who’d come with Franklin. Franklin waves a hand dismissively.
“I don’t,” he insists. “If there’s one thing the Sheriff and I agree on, it’s that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And the good news is, the situation you find yourself in is a local problem. If a man were carrying this local problem on his back, and carried it away form here, well, the further he went, the weaker it would get. Eventually they wouldn’t be carrying anything at all. You understand me?”
“Pretty sure I do,” Matthew says. “You want me to leave town.”
“I want you to be safe,” Franklin counters. “It’s possible for some people—most, even—to come here and spend years, even their entire lives, without ever encountering the dangers that lie in wait. It is not, alas, possible for you. You’re drawn to dark things, and they are drawn to you. And you may not have noticed, but there is darkness in Daylight.”
And I’m pretty sure I’m face to face with some of it right now, Matthew thinks. Out loud, he says “you sound a little like Deke when you say that.”
Anger ripples across Franklin’s face—briefly, but clearly enough for Matthew to notice—before he resumes his outwardly friendly demeanor. “Deke is a wise man.”
Matthew’s gaze drifts back down to Franklin’s shadow. To his annoyance, his brain starts throbbing again as he finds himself trying to tease out exactly what it is about it that bothers him.
This is not the time to get distracted by some aesthetic quirk when I should be focusing on the man trying to threaten me, he scolds himself silently. Just because the shadow doesn’t line up—
He barely manages to stifle a gasp as the observation that has been trying to bubble up through this entire conversation finally breaks free.
Franklin’s shadow doesn’t fall right. It doesn’t line up with all the other shadows on the ground. If it had been a painting he would have noticed it immediately, but because he’s standing in the real world he’d refused to recognize it—but the angle of Franklin Stackford’s shadow is ever so slightly out of alignment with all the other shadows on the ground, and there isn’t any light source out there to account for it. Just the sun.
“Mr. Garrett?” Franklin Stackford’s voice is unfailingly polite, but Matthew has to force himself not to shiver.
Matthew forces himself not to stare at the shadow by looking over at Billy’s patrol car, where Billy and the three men dressed in flannel are deliberately not looking at them.
“Mr. Stackford,” Matthew says, “it turns out you’re in luck, because I’m leaving Daylight.”
Franklin doesn’t bat an eye. “When?”
“End of the week,” Matthew says. “I was just going to get some things I need to re-wrap my paint supplies. And some new luggage. And a phone… I need a new phone. Then I’ll say my goodbyes, make sure I’m square with Dr. Lancie on any unpaid bills… then I’ll no longer be a concern.”
“Well,” Franklin says, “that sounds fine. Assuming I can trust you.”
“You don’t have to trust me, Mr. Stackford,” Matthew says. “All you have to do is wait a week and notice I’m not here.”
Franklin Stackford stares at Matthew, considering. Matthew forces himself to meet the man’s gaze without flinching. Franklin takes a minute to consider—it feels like hours from Matthew’s perspective—then nods in satisfaction. “Well. It was good to meet you, Matthew. Good luck to you. I wish you well.”
With that he turns, calls out “let’s go, boys,” and walks back to the truck. As if on cue, the three men in flannel climb back into the bed, and Billy starts his patrol car and drives off. Franklin is next, his truck making a u-turn on Bridge Road to head back to Daylight. Matthew waits until both are out of sight before he climbs back into his car, trying very hard not to think about that final glimpse of Franklin Stackford’s shadow.
When Franklin had turned and walked back to his car, Matthew was positive that—just for a second—the shadow didn’t move.