Alleviate

Cover of Alleviate

Chapter One

To say I slept a second through the night would be a lie. Insomnia had never been a problem for me even on the most anxious nights. However, the early hour moments I spent quietly breathing and straining my ears, was an agonizing wait that I was certain would pay off. I had promised myself that once two hours passed of silence, I would break my stillness. Now was the time.

My clammy fingers grabbed my old truck's keys off the nail above my nightstand. Kneeling down, I unveiled my backpack from underneath the bed then listened once again for any movement in the house. Satisfied with the silence, I crammed my keys deep into my palms as if I would drop them easily. Slowly, I twisted the doorknob open. I didn't wordlessly say goodbye to my bedroom or the bed that witnessed the many silent testimonies throughout my adolescence. Moonlight filled the small stair landing where all three bedrooms in the house met. I paused, contemplating leaving the crumpled note in my pocket under the door next to mine. The note would be a bad idea despite the many temptations it had. I didn't have time to evaluate any further ideas or scenarios, all that was done only moments before.

I fled down the stairs, daring not to glide my hand against the banister to prevent any unnecessary sound. I had thought my escape out well. The backdoor, as I had predicted, did not squeak as I opened it to the early summer morning. I glided open the back fence and then sprinted, as if my life depended on it, to my old truck. I checked that my belongings were still tucked inside the tonneau and then crept inside my truck. It groaned to life. My adrenaline was flooding through my veins as the truck noisily complained while pulling away from the city curb. I was fleeing and had no intention of stopping until I entered the Oregon border.

Through my rearview mirror, I waited to see if a light would turn on in my house. Thankfully, the looming house remained dark. Perhaps my flight was a success. One could say it was luck, but I never believed in such concepts. Karma, miracles, and spiritual occurrences were never my cup of tea. They were just coincidences or wishful thinking. The mind does wonders to aid the mysteries that unveil during life. My escape was through precision and months of planning. Fate shining kindly on me was naive thinking.

I tried my best not to speed through the freeways, but I found it nearly impossible. I imagined each unwanted person in my life fading away each mile I distanced myself from them.

My adopted parents would no longer shame, isolate, and control me. They got what I thought they wanted. Now they had Rebecca, my sister, to care for and not the adopted orphan they despised. They had adopted me at six-years-old with the thought that they wouldn't be able to conceive. They were then blessed with Rebecca a year later. People I once thought of as friends were disappearing into the distance as I entered the Washington coastline.

My truck struggled to penetrate the fog but I didn't dare stop to let the morning bring the sun to help. Eventually, the adrenaline subsided in small amounts. I kept the panic away by reminding myself my plans were concrete and not to be messed with by overthinking. I had given myself a year since graduating high school to save money from a pizza delivery job. The year had been spent with killing connections with old friends and tying up loose ends. In the last few months, I had spent many early mornings smuggling my belongings into my truck. Preparations for housing took a long time to figure out throughout the year. But eventually, I had found a landlord who agreed to house me without meeting in person. We spoke through phone, mailed each other forms, and came to the agreement of me moving in this morning in August. It was perfect for starting school at the new small-town two-year college.

After a few hours of driving, I came to the full accepting realization that my life was restarting. There was a past now. I didn't owe anyone a title. My adopted parents were no longer mom and dad. Dawn and Luke. That sounded better already. I dared myself to think about

him. I couldn't bring myself to properly form his first name in my head. It brought nausea and a gut-wrenching reaction. I could leave it all behind but that didn't stop the memories. There was no obsolete answer, except for time passing, to conclude whether I would forget all the internal scarring he had done.

At last, after seven hours, the exiting Washington sign passed. Once I drove past that border, my life was finally freer than ever. I had never been to Oregon and the sight of Oregon was breathtaking, new, and terrifying all at the same time. The ocean crashing against the rocky shores was beautiful, but the windy highway was a task my poor truck was struggling with. The lighthouses I had passed along the way somewhat penetrated the fog that clung in the air through the early morning. The fear still penetrated me despite the many lighthouse's haunting glow. I was headed to a town I had never been to.

The highway became dense with traffic as I finally entered Lewis County. A sign led me off the freeway and the road began passing an inlet. On a steep hill next to the inlet rose a thin, tall lighthouse with a gray, spiraling stripe running along its length. It looked old but I didn't have much of a chance to take a proper look as the road started entering a dense forest. Every few minutes I caught sight of the ocean and more of the lighthouse through breaks in the trees. Eventually, the forest began thinning out into Golding which only a small rickety sign declared. Artichokes grew in fields with houses sprinkled on the edge of town.

Golding appeared to revolve around a steep hill which I assumed Golding Community College sat on top of. From what I knew, Golding had nothing else to brag about. I was led through the outskirts of Golding's main road and into a private drive that branched off to several small houses among the edge of the woods. My truck amplified the crunching sound of gravel until I pulled up to a brick home with a smoking chimney. A small Chrysler was parked on a cracked concrete carport. I had never driven on a gravel driveway- Merinda was mostly a city that I had lived in the heart of.

Taking a deep breath, I fluffed my long hair and swung the door open. The truck door creaked and settled as I stepped out. I couldn't hear the sea, but it was close enough to taste the salt in the air. The creek of hinges sounded from the front door and a woman poked her head out. A smile crossed her face and she strode over to me with curly blond hair swishing around her shoulders. She must be Larissa; I had spoken to her over the phone quite a few times.

“Kathryn,” she said warmly as she extended her arm to shake hands. Her face was made of apprehension and uncertainty.

“Hi, I go by Kat.” Introducing myself with a new name felt liberating. I had always despised Kathryn and people close to me called me Kate, but now I had the chance to change who I was.

Larissa nodded and gazed at my truck and then back at me. “Come on in, let me show you around.” I followed her into the house. The faint smell of cigarette smoke lingered among the strong scent of cleaner and a few vanilla-scented candles.

“This house is perfect for roommates. Two bedrooms and one bathroom are on one side of the house and the master's room and bath are on the other. There won't be a third roommate at the moment- just you and me.” We turned down the connecting hallway of the living room to the bedrooms. The walls were bare and scuffed. Larissa stopped at the farthest door to the left and nodded for me to open the door.

Inside the bedroom, the smell of shampooed carpets perfumed me. The room had a bed set, dresser, desk, and French doors that paint was peeling off. A door led to the bathroom, which then led to the other bedroom. It was rather desolate and dreary. Water stains and cracked plaster lined the ceiling.

A small silence passed between us before Larissa spoke. “I guess you can see why it's so cheap.” She insecurely laughed and leaned against the scratched door frame.

“First and last month's rent,” I said while digging through my backpack. I pulled out the manila envelop and handed it to her.

“Ah, thanks,” she mumbled and peered inside the envelope. “Anyways, you already signed the papers and sent them to me by mail, so we're squared away. I'll let you get settled. Coming from Washington must be a hard trip,” she gave a soft chuckle out of nervousness, “Just knock on my door if you need me.” When Larissa and I corresponded by phone, we had all the paperwork sorted out. She owned the house and agreed to have me as a roommate without seeing me. It was risky but worth it. She never let on as to why she accepted a stranger so easily.

I wanted to collapse on the bed and sleep, but instead, I headed to my truck to haul my belongings into the house. After unloading all my things and putting them into proper places, I prepared myself for a change I had been contemplating for months. Out of my backpack, I pulled out hair bleach and toner. My medium blonde hair was about to go through hell. It would be worth it. I strove to be someone else. Someone different and who wasn't afraid to have a blank slate. I woke the next morning with icy blonde hair and enthusiasm to invent my new self.

Chapter Two

Golding seemed to be perpetually cold, but not quite as cold as Merinda. It took a few days of riding around the town to get used to its quirks. Today I was taking on the task of visiting the college's campus. I didn't know anyone in town yet except for Larissa. With no one to show me to the main administration, I spent at least twenty minutes poking around the campus to find the offices. The glass door scraped tile as I pushed it open and was led into a tall hallway with glass doors lining the room. A large, circular desk sat in the middle of the hall.

Shyly, I walked to the desk. My sneakers squeaked and I felt as if the whole world could hear my every step. The woman at the desk glanced up at me and her eyes slightly widened.

“Hello, I need to get some information done here. I'm Ka-”

“You must be from out of town! It's small here, we know everyone by name. All the students here come from the high schools.”

“I'm Kathryn Lowther. I go by Kat, though. I came from Washington and I need to get an ID picture squared away along with the textbooks for class.”

The woman spun around in her chair and rose up. “I'll take you to the admissions office. I haven't seen a student from Washington before,” she announced while escorting me. “Most students live here or somewhere near. What brings you here?”

My thoughts quickened along with my heartbeat as I thought of an answer that raised no intimate questions. “I wanted to start fresh in a new town. Just new friends. I also have never lived on the coast. I thought it would be a change from the city,” I shrugged.

She pulled open a door and ushered me inside. She informed the man at the desk about me, patted my shoulder, and left.

“I'm Alan, I'm part of the Freshmen Admissions staff. Let's get your Student ID so I can pull your information up.”

I had my picture taken and received directions to the library. A misty rain had begun. Students milled about and it was still early in the semester. I had the exception of starting a few weeks late into the semester. I'm sure the exception was only allowed due to the lack of student body. The college needed more students to keep their funding. The library welcomed me with warm air and I rented out my books and then proceeded to I explored the rest of the campus. I had a week until I started classes to eventually begin my journey to become an art teacher for high school students.

My heart skipped a beat as I thought about why I wanted to be an art teacher. I couldn't come to terms with it yet. My former art teacher

inspired me in my future career dreams. He was among the reasons for me leaving Merinda.

“When will you come to terms with it,” I muttered under my breath. “Not today,” I thought aloud.

I ventured into the campus's theater which was empty and cold. The white walls had a few boards where students posted their fliers and announcements but mostly scuffs and chips in the paint stared back at me. The main hall was dim and a small pulsing light peeked through from a room next to the main theater entrance. I poked my head into the room to see a small scale replica of the Lewis County Lighthouse casting the light. As the light rotated through the room, paintings were illuminated. Excitement rose through me as I was surrounded by what I loved the most in life.

The lighthouse rose to three-quarters of the height of the room. A small copper plated sign stood at the base of it. The sign read:

Lewis County Lighthouse, Golding Height, was erected on May 2nd, 1876 by Thomas Herring, the founder of Golding. Thomas Herring dedicated his life commitments to building Golding Height and providing an accessibly academic institute. Golding Height stands to this day and will continue to be cherished.

I glanced up at the walls to view paintings of the sea. A man with ginger hair pulled in a low ponytail stared at me across the lighthouse replica. I took a step back, startled at his quiet presence. “Oh, uh, I'm sorry, I'm not sure if I'm supposed to be in here. I'm new and I was just exploring.” I glanced anxiously at his surprised facial expression. The light circled around the room and splashed across his face again.

A small beard clung to his face and his clothes looked like he belonged in the nineties. He wore a pair of stressed jeans and an unbuttoned flannel with a plain black shirt underneath. His Chuck Taylor's looked like they needed to be duct-taped. Studying his face, it appeared to be very pale and he had discolored bags under his eyes as if he hadn't slept in days.

“I'm Tobias,” he said as if he was questioning whether his words were truly coming out. “It's okay to be in here. It's really no problem. It's just a trophy room, practically. This damn lighthouse that everyone seems to care about...” His eyebrows furrowed.

“You don't seem too happy about it.”

He squinted at me as if I was a surprise to him. “Someone was murdered there. You didn't know that?”

“I just moved here.” I looked at the replica. Did Golding decline in activity and residents because of the murder? “How long ago did it happen?” I asked cautiously.

A smirk crossed Tobias's face. “It happened in nineteen-ninety-three.”

“I didn't know... No one ever told me.”

Tobias stared at me with what appeared to be curiosity. “Golding is forgetting. The guy was a student here. He was a senior in this college and he didn't even get a memorial. He was buried with only a few friends and his family at his funeral. It was rather quiet. There wasn't even a plaque dedicated to him. Only a few projects of his in this school remain. The lighthouse cleaned up the mess and bleached the surfaces. It was only closed for a day.”

“That's rather morbid.”

“Would you have come here if you knew?” He asked.

I nodded my head. “The dark and creepy intrigues me. I'm an art student- those sorts of things inspire me to create.”

A small smile crossed his lips. “I was an art student too,” he replied.

“Was?” I questioned.

Tobias nodded and looked at paintings on the wall. “Not anymore. I just visit here. It's nice to see those paintings.” He walked to the wall to his right and motioned me over. In front of us was a watercolor painting of Golding Height. Tobias's name was painted in cursive along the bottom right of the painting.

“Oh God,” I whispered in realization. “I'm so sorry if you knew him,” I said.

Tobias shrugged. “I knew him really well. It's the past now. I kind of became a hermit once he passed. I haven't talked to anyone since.”

“Not even family?” I questioned.

He shook his head and stared at the painting. “No, my family was hurt by the death. He was really close to them. They moved. The grief was so bad that they couldn't even speak. There wasn't much of a goodbye to my family after the funeral.”

I was speechless and wasn't sure what was appropriate to say. “You really haven't talked to someone?” He nodded once more and glanced at me, watching my expression. “That's terrible. I'm so sorry,” I repeated.

“It's like they say, time heals all wounds. Don't apologize, it doesn't matter anymore. I'm just the town's hermit.” He shrugged once more. “What's your name?”

“Kat,” I responded.

“You're quite striking, you know? Golding doesn't have a lot of people like you here.” I glanced down at my boots, jeans, and an over-sized sweatshirt. Nothing I was wearing struck me as odd.

“Is that bad? I'm sure there is more like me, though. I think I blend in pretty well.”

“Your hair is practically the color of snow. I haven't seen anything like that before around here.” Tobias dismissed his thoughts and turned to face the replica of Golding Height. “No one in Golding likes it here unless they're doing something illegal or wants to be forgotten. Most people here start college and leave if they have the chance. If they stay, their parents probably live here and are paying their tuition. Not a lot of people come here, which means something pushed you here. Welcome to hell,” he said sarcastically.

He managed to make me laugh. “Well, hell is definitely a relief for me.”

He didn't question my statement. It was more comfortable to talk without being questioned too deeply. I tried to talk to people the same way. It's the rule of thumb. I liked to keep my secrets and I didn't want to raise questions towards myself. I was a rather closed off person and kept to myself, which suits me just me well. Tobias seemed to be like-minded.

“I'll see you around, Kat.” He started to back away and exit the room. “Oh, and stay away from the west side of Golding.”

“Alright,” I said, mainly to myself. I didn't question him. “Bye,” I called out. Tobias disappeared through the open doors into the main hallway.

I backed away from the painting and began the journey to the only cell phone shop in town. After an hour, I finally had a new number to be reached on. From now on, no one from my previous life could contact me. I felt slightly safer and I found the courage to erase all the numbers on my phone.

Once I got home, I sat my textbooks against the baseboards on the floor and flopped on my bed. I had a picture of Rebecca as my screen saver on my cell phone. My thumb hovered over the call button on my phone. I could call her but that would destroy my anonymity here. My old life would know where I am. However, I knew I couldn't push myself to do that. I couldn't trust her with the responsibility of keeping my whereabouts a secret.

I turned the screen off and rolled on my stomach to stare out the french doors. This home was so different than the life I had lived in my old one. I had had a small room to myself and Rebecca had had the room next to mine. Dawn and Luke kept the house particularly cleaned and organized by assigning chores to me alone. I had many responsibilities even until I graduated high school last year. Then I had a job and I wasn't home much but I tiredly continued to maintain my chores. The place in Merinda I previously called home didn't feel like much other than a place to sleep and complete housework no matter how tired I was from work.

I had no privacy before. The door handle was removed off of my old door and my windows didn't have curtains. My room was searched every week for what could be deemed as paraphernalia. Dawn and Luke assumed I did drugs due to their lack of faith in me. They assumed a lot about me and for that, I had a price to pay. I wasn't allowed a cell phone until I had a job. And even when I did get a cellphone, it was because I paid for it. The life I led in Merinda taught me a lot of responsibility. I earned this place in Golding and I finally had my right to a lock to my new bedroom.

****


The night brought challenges of trying to sleep. The wind shook the house every so often and it was cold. It was my fault, though. I kept the window cracked so I could smell the ocean breeze. It was refreshing. Getting up in the morning was difficult. I felt stiff from the new-to-me mattress. My body ached as I made my way into the kitchen.

Larissa stood by the coffee pot in a zombie-like state. I coughed into my hand to alert her of my presence. “Oh, hey,” she said, jolting into a more awake state of mind. “How's it going?”

“I'm alright. It's just a new scenery for me. It's hard to get used to.”

She gazed thoughtlessly as the brewed coffee trickled into the pot. I pulled the creamer out of the refrigerator for her. “This town is pretty boring. Most of my tenants leave before their first week or directly after the first semester.”

“Is there anything interesting about the town? I mean, it has an old lighthouse and rocky shorelines. There have to be some good, fake ghost stories,” I prompted.

Larissa picked up her mug, opened the sliding glass door to the backyard, and sat down at the small table. I followed her into the cold air. “Nothing ever happens here. That's what everyone will tell you. Obviously, you have some baggage in your life and you're trying to escape it, so you're going to be sticking around.” I pursed my lips with no comment at her correct assumption. “I can only recall one memorable casualty happening here.”

“Everything seems normal, except for that murder in the lighthouse. That's a bit creepy.”

“Well, whoever told you that is a liar. A college student killed himself in there. Left a damn mess, too. The guy was depressed and didn't really talk to many people. To be honest, the town just moved on from it. They took down the rope, cleared the blood, and removed the razors as well as the ladder. He tried to slit his wrists, failed, and then climbed up a ladder and tried to hang himself. Instead, the rope snapped and he hit his head on the staircase railing, fell down to the stairs below, and died of head injury.”

“I guess I just heard differently. The person knew the person who died. I don't know why he would lie.”

“Probably in denial. My mom investigated the scene. They didn't do much to confirm what was obviously right in front of them. The town kept quiet about it. Anyone who knew that guy knew he was already losing his marbles. They found Rohypnol in his system. Not sure where he got it, I just know about it from my mom. She guessed it was to help him sleep because depression can cause insomnia. Maybe he was trying to drug himself. No one is really sure. He was just loony. I was really young when it happened. I had seen him around town, though. He looked paranoid and always looked over his shoulder.”

“She was allowed to tell you all that?” I leaned towards her, with my elbows on the table.

“She wasn't supposed to, but the news was going to get out anyways. The family left, it didn't really matter if people knew. We're very informal in Golding. The story gets worse, though. A teenage girl was looking for a place to be alone to meet up with her boyfriend and found him. The lighthouse is basically always open. Someone busted the locks on the door around the time the suicide happened. The lighthouse is constantly maintained so the lock was fixed. But despite being replaced, the lock was broken again. Eventually, the lock wasn't worth fixing. Every time the college fixed it, it broke again. They gave up.”

“Those kids must be scarred for life. The person who told me about the lighthouse told me to stay away from the West side of the town. Why, though?”

“The only thing over there is some nice-looking houses,” she shrugged. “It's mostly people who work better jobs and work outside of Golding.”

“It's kind of hard to believe nothing ever happens here. Murders? Pedophiles? Stalkers?”

Larissa took a sip of her coffee. “I don't think we ever have the homeless or prostitutes unless you count the college girls trying to have some fun. Some get a thrill getting their rocks off at the lighthouse. It's creepy there. It has always been creepy. Some people are into it, I guess.”

“Huh,” I muttered. Why would Tobias lie to me if he had known the suicide victim?


Chapter Three

The number appearing on my screen revealed two things. First of all, the call was from Washington. Secondly, it was persistently and repeatedly calling me and not leaving a voicemail. Rebecca's small, pink, splotchy, eight-year-old face appeared to me as the call ended. In the picture, her curly brown hair was in pigtails and her shirt had a small smudge of chocolate sauce on it. The day the picture was taken, I had been babysitting her. Dawn and Luke had called her aunt to take care of her, but the aunt never showed up. Instead, I ran to the store and picked up all the makings of a perfect ice cream sundae. She had asked me to put her hair in pigtails. She strove to look just like me. She adored and looked up to me.

That night, she had worn the reddest lipstick she could find in my drawer. I safety pinned a skirt onto her small body and she fumbled around in a pair of her mom's high heels in front of the mirror. She was now twelve and I wouldn't be there for the rest of her teenage years.

“I want to look just like you, Kate. I want to look mature and wear clothes you'd wear.” I remembered her words very clearly as she had watched herself in the mirror. She fell asleep in my bed that night. I had carried her to her own bedroom in the early morning. The next day, Dawn and Luke came home and yelled at me. I wasn't allowed to “convert” her into someone like me. I was seen as a bad influence.

The unknown caller from Washington lit my phone screen up again. My phone had been on silent mode in my last class. I successfully finished my first day of college, conveniently falling on a Friday. After the call was cut to voicemail, I turned on the vibration again, stuffed it into my pocket, and journeyed to the small library. I took my phone out once more to open up the school website to download syllabuses. A call interrupted the screen and I rejected it. A few minutes later, a text came through.

I know where you are. I'm sorry. I haven't told mom and dad. Before you moved, I used your laptop without telling you. The school site was open and house forms. I called the owner of the house and told her who I was. She gave me your new number. Please forgive me, Kate. I miss you and love you.

I was in a mix of anger, relief, and sadness at the sight of the message. I quickly began to text back.

Your mom and dad should not have given you a cellphone, Rebecca. I love you too, but you need to delete these messages and forget about me. Please?

I exited out of my texts with a few shaky tears escaping my eyes. I blew air out of my nose and rested my chin in my hand, staring at my cell phone on the table. The screen lit up again.

I know why you left. When I'm eighteen, take me with you. Then mom and dad can't stop you.

Her request chipped away at my heart. My fingers hovered over the touchscreen buttons while I thought of a response.

We'll have to talk about this another time. I'll speak to you again, I promise. Just call me when your mom and dad aren't around. I love you.

I clicked my phone screen closed and leaned against the table. Once more, my phone screen lit up revealing Rebecca telling me she loved me too. The screen started fading and then turned off. My mind was too busy to focus so I headed home and found Larissa in the backyard, smoking a cigarette. I slid the glass door open and coughed to alert her of my presence.

She didn't turn to look at me as she spoke, “It seems you have survived your first day at college.” She held her gaze into the woods.

I steered the subject away from college. “Do you know where I can find a place to work?”

“There's a small strip of shops on the boardwalk. If you're into that hippy stuff, I know a shop that is hiring. You'll just have to inhale incense and candles all day.”

The irony amused me. I never thought I would make the attempt to seek hiring at a place that was in touch with their 'spiritual side'. “That's okay, what's it called?”

“I'm not sure. They all have bland, stereotypical names.” She turned towards me and stubbed out her cigarette into the ashtray on the table. Her eyes met mine and she looked me over. “You seem like the type to attract old men.” A shiver crept down my spine at her words. I disregarded the memories surfacing in my mind. “All of the old men out here are either cheating on their wives or are a professor.”

“You talk as if you know every single thing about people that live here.” I took a seat at the table.

“I've been here my whole life. I take notice.” She sat down across from me. She studied me once more. “I've never seen a pair of eyes quite like yours. They're as blue as the ocean.”

I tugged on my hair, deciding whether to give a little bit of my background out. “I've always been told that since a child. It's probably my most unique asset.”

“You're breaking out of your shell a little bit. Most girls want to tell people they're not special at all. They want appraisal.”

I nodded but remained silent for a few minutes. “I should poke around in town and look for that shop.” Larissa nodded and gazed back into the forest. I wandered into my room and found some appropriate job-seeking clothes.

The main strip of Golding lined the upward hill towards the college. The emergency brake was imminently necessary. The sidewalk was cracked and imprints of leaves lined the intact concrete. The streets weren't lined with cars and stores had their doors open with small bursts of music drifting around. Scents of Chinese food and incense combined with the sea salt in the air. As cliché as possible, the Chinese restaurant had lanterns attached to the door which thudded into each other from the breeze. I glanced with curiosity through the wide windows of shops and spotted a book store and a few touristy shops. Seagulls padded around the empty sidewalks.

My cardigan didn't provide protection from the chill of the evening. The breeze tossed around my hair, making my appearance less professional by the minute. Eventually, I found the source of the incense. A bright piece of paper had the words “Help wanted” written in deep purple ink. I stepped inside and grew relieved from the uphill walk. The old wooden boards creaked under my weight and the shop shifted from the breeze.

Antique tables held jars, herbs, crystals, and many other Bohemian-inspired merchandises. Candles lined the back wall and they had been handmade and poured into jelly jars. Soaps were displayed in baskets beneath old worn books being sold for five dollars. Knitted bags and accessories hung from hooks, lining the wall next to the candles. I accidentally bumped into a rack of jewelry and jolted in surprise. A pendant clattered against the floor. I swept down and swiftly placed it back on its hook.

A small, fragile woman smiled at me from behind the rack. Her face was lined with wrinkles and her lips wore a shade of maroon. From her ears drooped dream catcher earrings among her gray hair. A purple-dyed feather necklace laid across her chest and she beckoned me over with an arm clanging with metal bracelets. I crept through the tables of goods and gave a smile towards the presumable shop owner.

I held my hand out to her. Her fingers nails were painted a ruby red and caught the light as she shook my hand. “Hi, I'm Kathryn Lowther. I saw the help wanted sign outside.”

She stepped from behind the cash register desk. “Amelia,” she introduced herself. “Pleased to meet you, Kat.” My eyes widened. “I've been told I have a gift of knowing people,” she said while watching my expression and patted me on the shoulder. “Let me get a look at you,” she said while putting on her thick glasses. She looked over my light blue cardigan and a modest pencil skirt. Black flats clung to my feet. “Sensible girl,” she mumbled and then looked up at my face directly.

“You've come from somewhere else to have a new life,” she commented.

“How did you know that?”

Her thin eyebrows climbed her face in expression. “Gifted. It seems you are too. This place may suit you.” I handed her my portfolio with a warm but forced smile. “You don't need to smile. I know your soul is okay, dear.” Confusion struck me, but I remained quiet. “Working at Peculiar Gifts and Things may be a different atmosphere than dealing with pizzas.”

I nodded with uneasiness and attempted to sell myself. “I'm good at speaking with people and answering questions. If I have the task of learning something new-”

Amelia cut me off with waving her hand. “I already know that.” She shut the portfolio with my resume. I didn't question her knowledge. “Are you comfortable with different types of views? We get a lot of people asking to make home brews.”

“I'm not judgmental. So, yes, I am comfortable with anything people are looking for, no matter the purpose.” I wasn't lying about not judging. However, my belief in the spiritual journey, whatever it may be, did not comply with this job. I was an atheist of nonsecular realms of thinking.

She nodded and walked behind the desk. I turned to face her as she knelt down and came back up with a few papers. “I'll need this information for you to work here. Hours?”

“From the earliest opening time to eleven in the morning.” She nodded and filled out some of the paperwork for me.

“Seven-thirty to eleven, Monday through Friday. No overtime can be requested.” I nodded my head. “No one has come in the shop for an application to work here. I suppose you get off lucky. It's been a month, already, and my body can't work all day until seven in the evening by myself.”

I hesitated before speaking again. “These are such brief questions before getting employed, has someone informed you of me? Someone that may know me?” Her body hovered over the desk with the sound of a pen scratching paper coming from her.

“As I told you, I just know things about people, dear. It's something you'll have to get used to. I know a good, hardworking soul when I see one.” She handed me the paper with glistening ink. She had written with a calligraphy pen. “You'll fill this out and bring it back tomorrow. Let me show you around.”

I glanced at her writing and scanned the paper. There were no dress codes, not even a mention of what I should dress like. There were no specifications on open-toed or closed-toed shoes. “Amelia, what do I wear here?”

I followed her to the backroom, hidden from the rest of the shop. “Not what you're wearing now. Just don't wear anything offensive. A plain blouse and jeans would do fine. It's very casual here.”

I glanced down at the sheet of paper. It outlined clear rules to use appropriate language and respect people's privacy for their purchases. My break time would be at nine-thirty to nine-fifty. I looked up from paper to see her moving a beaded curtain to reveal the hidden room. Inside was revealed to be a break room with a table and chairs as well as a refrigerator and paper cups. It was a break room. After glancing around, we returned back to the main room.

“Most of the items here are handmade. Those papers will explain different items and their use. Please do try and memorize as much as possible. Research is always welcomed. Some customers will come in asking for advice rather than knowing what they are in need of specifically. It's also extremely important to keep track of stock so we don't run out of the important things. Salts, spices, herbs, gems, and all of that. They are all very high demand. Not many people come in here, but those who do tend to be in need of more than just one thing. We're the only shop that serves these kinds of people for many miles around so we get more than just townspeople.

“Don't let people intimidate you. You'll seem clueless to them. I don't expect you to know everything by tomorrow, but I do expect you to hold yourself with good self-esteem. Customers can see through worry and unsure gestures. If you absolutely do not understand what they are talking about, the computer has key phrases imputed into the search menu. I have written all about different products and their uses for the sole purpose of less confusion. If all else fails, ask the customer to give more explanation. Don't be afraid of informing them that you are new. Some people will be particularly understanding. All of us insightful people start off like this.”

“All of us insightful people?” My voice was filled with confusion.

“You'll get it in time, dear. You're just one of us. It's not my place to explain to you.” Her mouth was set in a firm expression and then neutralized as she returned to her store tasks. “Try and sell the candles as much as possible. I make them myself so it is a nice profit. If any glass breaks, people have to pay for the broken item.” She glanced outside. “I think it's best you get home soon. It's almost dark.”

I nodded and thanked her with the promise to be back tomorrow morning. It had dropped several degrees outside as I passed to my car. A sign for a museum caught my eye and I was immediately drawn to it. I ducked inside and paid the fee of five dollars. The main room split off into smaller rooms dedicated to different subjects. One room was filled with marine life. I skipped that room and immediately headed for the historic section.

Paintings of the lighthouse littered the walls and were among pictures of Lewis County's historical features. Golding had once been a small salt mining town. The mines had been shut down and closed off to the public long ago. Small trivia pamphlets were stacked neatly on a small table. With dim lighting, I thumbed through one with curiosity. One page was titled

Hauntings of Golding and Lewis County which listed small abandoned buildings and the old mine shafts. Small tales from locals informed me that there were in fact alleged sirens who killed men out at sea. It was a cheesy and gimmicky page.

The first photograph of the lighthouse was framed at the center of attention. Golding Height seemed to be the most attractive part of town. Beneath the lighthouse frame was another table with stacks of newspaper articles. The headlines were filled with the town's life. Names recognized in the paper were often repeated among the articles. It appeared that Jessica Lange really was the brains of the college, at the time, and that someone most definitely kept breaking the lock to Golding Height. There were obituaries for important town members. Graduates got special editions in the newspapers. Larissa's was from only five years ago with no description as to future plans. Future plans from other graduates seemed to be greatly moderated- everything was positive and too squeaky clean.

The reoccurring problem that I couldn't quite grasp became very apparent. Sure, there were lives lost at sea and a lock being broken, but where were the articles about real crime? No outstanding events to blow me away? It was all edited to be neat and orderly. In such a small town, how could nothing ever go wrong? I had yet to see anything to do with normal life like in Merinda. I had yet to hear a siren or police running after someone. Golding was a town that strove to keep a good reputation in a desperate attempt to keep people in it.

The floorboards creaked as the person at the front desk moved around. I glanced over my shoulder to see the man sweeping up. I continued thumbing through the articles, trying to find something more interesting about Golding than the lighthouse. Eventually, I gave up and went home.

****

The next day at work I wore a long sleeve blouse and jeans. Amelia greeted me and I handed her the papers I filled out. I was to be paid bi-weekly. The first few hours of work went by very slowly. No one came in so I familiarized myself with the store and memorized more facts about the products being sold. The boredom became so great I smelled the scents of the candles to be helpful with recommendations. The thought of buying my own set of bath salts and soaps crossed my mind. Most products had labels of exactly what was in them or what they were made of. I hoped Amelia would not see my skepticism towards some of the spiritual products she sold.

Amelia had incense burning in the back room which drifted among the store. The swatches of fabric were drenched with scents from the store as well. My mind kept me busy with constant murmuring about the past with Dawn, Luke, Rebecca, and my past art teacher. Thinking of my family was daunting, but the thought of him was nauseating. The image of his long legs in casual jeans and a button-up dress shirt clinging to his torso popped into my mind. I wanted to say I hated the thought of him, but my mind also idled at the thought that maybe I was at fault for the past.

The door tinkled as someone walked through. I looked up to see a young girl who was glancing around sketchily. “A list of basics?”

My memory of the new information became blank for a few seconds. I stared at her before realizing what she was asking. Quickly, I began to try and help. “Rosewater and incense might help as well as crystals or maybe even rosemary. I would recommend establishing yourself with quartz. There's a book on the left corner of the room that is for customers to look at for needs on certain uses, or I can be of help of course.”

The girl nodded and quickly turned away to look at the shop. Amelia rested her palm on my shoulder and stood next to me. “From my observations, you did well. I suppose you'll do alright in Golding.”

“Why wouldn't I?”

“It appears that in your future, you'll have a lot of tasks and feats at hand.”

I didn't question her knowledge but didn't accept it either. Her words were not factual truth so I kept them on my mind but didn't harp on it either.



Chapter Four

Four Years Prior, October

Staying after class on Mr. Jameson's request felt oddly enthralling. It caused glances as he said goodbye to all his other students. We had just finished the last class of the day. I would be able to walk home after this, as usual. He shut the door and motioned me to his desk.

“Kate, you've only been my student for a few months, but I already see a lot of promise in you. I usually choose a student every year to tutor one-on-one. This year, it seems you would be a great choice.”

I became flustered. My art didn't seem very remarkable to me but his words brought me pride. “Mr. Jameson, I think someone else would be better for that. I'm an amateur.”

“No, Kate. You even wrote on your questionnaire that you aspire to be an art teacher. This would be a great experience together. I think we would get along very well.”

“I suppose I could use the tutoring. I would need to know times and all that, though.”

“After school-”

“I have work an hour after school every day, so I can't.”

His smile flickered across his face which highlighted his pink lips and stubble on his chin. He had to be at least fifteen years older than me. “A quarter to seven in the mornings would be good. We'll start tomorrow.”

I nodded and shook his hand while politely smiling. As I exited his classroom, I couldn't shake that feeling that he was watching me as I left.


Chapter Five

“Hey, you're Kat, right?” Huge, hazel eyes caught my attention through the wall of hair lying against my cheeks.

“Yes, why?” I whispered back.

She appeared to be a few years older than me and had a sprinkling of freckles. A small jacket laid across her lap with the print of Golding Community College across its chest. Her narrow legs and petite body made her clothes looked oversized. She smiled at me with thin, pink lips that gave her a splash of color among her light blonde hair and pale skin.

“I'm Andrea. I go by Drea, though. It's nice to meet you. I haven't seen a student from out of town before, besides the obvious past high schoolers, and I've been here for three years. I'm not full time, so it might be another two years or so before I finish. Perhaps I'll meet someone else from out of town Have you been down to the beaches, yet?” Her bubbly personality was cute. She appeared to be the type of girl who wasn't called sexy, but more along the lines of adorable.

A few other students, who were seated near her, peered at me in curiosity. “No, I've been too busy with work and school.” I motioned towards the professor who seemed impossibly tired as he lectured.

“You should come along. My friends and I made a pact a few years ago that we would befriend any student that came from out of town.” A few others nodded with encouraging smiles.

The thought of recreating my life flashed across my mind. I could be more social. I could have friends that consumed my downtime, giving less time to think of the bad times. Maybe, just maybe, I could have people in my life that were good for me. Rebecca had been the only person that I had continually got along with previously. My other friendships crashed and burned.

“Sure. That sounds nice. When, though?”

Drea's smile widened and she scribbled on the edge of her paper then tore the edge off. She passed it to me with an address on it. “This is my house. We all go in my family's van- we'll take you.”

She nodded towards the professor as he excused the class as dismissed. I began packing up my belongings along with the scrap of paper before laying down my reasoning for not going to her house.

“I've been wanting to drive up to the beach to become familiar with this area. I can just go myself.”

“Good luck in the fog.” Her giggle bubbled out of her. “We all try to bring something.”

A man spoke up from the seat in front of Drea. He was straddling his chair to be a part of the conversation. “Hot chocolate and marshmallows. We ran out last week. We usually make weekly trips. Sometimes bi-weekly.” His dark hair fell to his shoulders in a mess.

“What time?”

“Be there at seven-thirty,” he said in a low toned voice.

Drea sprung from her seat and slung her backpack onto her shoulder. “Can't wait,” She said and waved goodbye. The others followed her and left me by myself once more. I continued on to my next class across the campus. Focusing on the professor proved to be impossible as excitement and anticipation flowed through me.

****

My phone declared the time as four in the afternoon as the class let out. I wandered across the campus and saw Tobias from the corner of my eye. Tucking my hair behind my ear, I wondered over to him. He leaned across the brick wall next to a planter, with his arm resting on a tree.

“Can you see me?” He called out. His words had started out strong and then broke off weaker. I turned to nod at him and say hello but the wind shoved a salty, grainy, mouthful of my own hair in my mouth.

He managed to hold a straight face while a few coughs erupted from my chest. “That's a peculiar question to ask me rather than saying hello.”

“Oh, you don't remember me?”

“I do. You're the past art student from the lighthouse room. You said you visit the campus occasionally. Although, I am currently an art student and just got out of class. I'm quite tired. I suppose we live different lifestyles.”

“You and me. The beach at ten o'clock,” he proposed.

“I'm supposed to see a few people at the beach tonight. You hang out with them too?”

“Ever since I've been in Golding, students go to the beach and put peppermint schnapps in the hot chocolate. Then they throw salt in the bonfire to make it change colors. After the small party of music and laughter, everyone chills out and starts talking seriously until it ends in ghost stories. Just step away from them at ten. You won't be missing the boredom of every Friday night. Don't worry, no one will hear you scream.” He smirked.

“That's the worst joke I've ever heard,” I replied while mulling over the idea of spending time with a stranger. Of course, Drea was a stranger too.

“The ghost stories would be a bore. I don't believe in that shit,” I said. His eyes appeared stressed but then he smiled as if he knew something I didn't. “You seem a lot less serious than the other day.”

“You seem more relaxed,” he counter replied.

“I'll go, but only for schnapps in the hot chocolate.”

“You're twenty-one?” I shook my head.

“Only nineteen. It was just a joke,” I smiled.

He nodded. “I'll see what I can do as long as you don't get drunk.”

He stuck his hand out to shake on it for a deal. I refused. “I don't shake hands with my future murderer.” I teased.

“Wow, that's pretty harsh. That smile looks overdue and ancient. Maybe you should stick around me- I can make it happen more.” My cheeks heated as I realized his charisma was working on me.

I shrugged him off. “You're terrible at flirting.”

“I'm not interested in you anyways,” he said.

“The feeling is mutual. Seriously, though. I don't go out in the dark alone with men. Especially when I don't know them.”

He studied my expression. “I think I can be a good exception. I won't hurt you, Kat. I'm a good guy... At least, I like to think so. Don't worry, it'll be okay. Just go to the forest edge behind the huge rock. We'll set our backs against it to fight off the wind.”

“I'll think about it. No promises.”

“I'm more interesting than others.” The constant smirk remained on his face. “It's not a date. I can't let a girl get away from me when I have no one else to talk to. I got to draw her in.” He pretended to cast a fishing rod at me and tried reeling me in.

“Because of that, it's a definite no, now.” I began walking away, already pondering if I would meet up with him against my better judgment.

“You're a bad liar. I'll see you at ten! Don't worry, I won't tell,” he called out sarcastically.

I walked the rest of the way to my truck. The trip to the store didn't take long. When I got home, Larissa was nowhere to be found. I carried the small plastic grocery bag to my room and sat my backpack on the floor, unzipped it, and pulled out a binder. After a few minutes of reading, my phone began to light up with Rebecca's number.

My palms became sweaty and I hesitated before I answered. “Rebecca?”

“Kate! I didn't think you would answer.”

“Why?” My voice was a hoarse whisper.

“Because... You left me. It's like you don't love me, but at the same time, I'm trying to understand why you did. Maybe I don't understand all the way, though, but I really am trying to.” The phone sounded fuzzy as she shifted around on the other end.

“You know I love you. It's best this way, Rebecca. Your parents are not kind to me. You know that just as well as I do.”

“You say they're my parents, but aren't they yours too?”

“Not anymore. I'm not supposed to have any ties to the life I lived only less than a month ago.”

“You're over exaggerating. It's been, like, a week.”

“You're talking pretty strongly. You never talked to me like this when I was in Merinda. Exactly what has changed?” I questioned sternly.

Rebecca stayed quiet for a while before answering. “Mom and dad have acted like nothing happened. Your room has already been turned into an office. It's like you never existed like I'm an only child. They saw an empty room and just accepted it while I freaked out and cried for days. The next day they gave me a cell phone and a whole bunch of other stuff. Suddenly I was a princess, more than what they treated me like when you were here. I haven't heard your name since dad called mom's name to tell her you're gone. Then you were just a 'she.' And now you're nothing.”

“I rather it is like that then them coming after me like a manhunt. There's a lot of things that have happened that you don't need to know yet. Maybe I'll never tell you. It all just depends. I don't think it's a good idea that you are contacting me. As much as I love you, you need to live a different life.”

She sniffled. I could imagine her crying and her cheeks turning redder than usual. Her cheeks were always light red.

“Mr. Jameson called looking for you.” My heart felt like it was gonna burst out of my chest. Nausea bubbled up inside me. “Donna and Lea have also called. They were concerned about you.”

I hesitated before speaking. “Rebecca, I need you to make multiple promises for me, okay? You must swear on your life that you won't disobey me.”

“You say disobey as if you're in charge of me.”

“Well, for these instances I am. I can't tell you why. You just need to trust me. It's a sisterly bond to trust the eldest. We never lie to each other, right?”

“Fine. But if you're doing some bullshit-”

“I'm not tolerating talk like that.” She went silent and sighed. “Are you going to listen?”

“I am listening now.”

“Do not ever go near Mr. Jameson. I know you want to ask why. When you're older, I might tell you. But when you see him, walk the other way. Do not take an art class. Do not linger in classrooms near his. Think of him as a murderer. Think of him as the foulest, most despicable person you can imagine. And if for some unforeseeable reason he knows you are my sister, deny it. Tell him you don't speak of me anymore. That I'm a disgrace. Act appalled that he would even mention me. And if he actually does ask you about me, immediately tell me.”

“Kate, that sounds a bit conceited. Why would a teacher be so bad?” Her vocabulary of him was too childish. He was more than bad.

“You're just too young, I'm sorry. Sisterly trust needs to be strong. Don't weaken it.”

“What are the other things?”

“Under no circumstances are you allowed to tell anyone who I am. I'm going to legally change my name eventually. Call me Kat, not Kate.”

More sniffling sounded from her end of the line. “You're somebody else now...”

“Yes. I am.” My voice sounded harsh. If I frightened or scared her, as much as I didn't want to, it would be for the best. Being cold-hearted was protection for both of us.

Silence fell on the line. “What is it like at the coast? Away from a city?”

“It's completely breathtaking. It's calming. I think you'd like it here.”

“Then let me come with you.” Her plea quickly became silenced. Static came over the line and muffled voices were in the background of the call. I strained my ears to hear what was happening. The crackling over the line was painful to my ear.

The piercing noises stopped and a door closed in the background of the call. “I have to go. My parents said it's dinner time, Clara,” She said in a loud, clear voice and then added in a barely audible whisper, “I love you, Kat.”

I didn't get the chance to say I loved her too before the call ended.

Trying to keep my mind busy was a hard task. I had purchased a book from work in hopes I would understand my job better. Attempts at learning “spiritual” practices for work proved to be useless. I spent more time thinking about the water dripping from the tap in the bathroom rather than reading the book. Eventually, I ended up sliding my laptop on my thighs and waiting for it to load. Searches for Golding came up uneventful. But rephrasing it to Golding Height only brought up information on the lighthouse. One web page stood out.

Lighthouse Ghosts. The web page seemed equally cheesy and oddly interesting.

Upon first glance, the site was outdated. Some paragraphs were misaligned with each other and the picture of Golding Height wasn't the greatest quality. The site was in a black background with white, bold words for paragraphs and titles. Under the main title, a small blurb commanded my attention.

Ghosts are a paranormal phenomenon that no one can explain. Some believe, some don't. Those who don't might see something and may convert to believers. It doesn't matter your religion or faith, spiritual activity is out there. But that activity doesn't cease at houses that belonged to murders or condemned asylums. We've worked very hard to capture the creepy history lying under the surface of lighthouses around the world.

“The irony of you of all people looking at this,” I muttered under my breath. I found amusement in people recounting their experiences. I was set hard in my ways of discrediting the paranormal and lucky chances the world supposedly offered. Despite my opinions, I would never discredit someone aloud who confided in me about their beliefs.

I turned my attention back to the website. A few paintings I had seen from the college were posted on the website with credits to the artists. Photos of the town in the nineties were captioned with the photographer's names and credits due to them. The most recent picture of Golding Height was from nineteen-ninety-nine. The picture was over twenty-years-old.

We decided to explore this peculiar lighthouse after the suicide in nineteen-ninety-three. For respect and privacy reasons, we will not name the passed individual. According to the town's high school senior Laura Gomes, she had discovered the individual. Blood, razors, and rope filled her sight. It's enough to upset anyone, according to her. The death was the first documented news-headline-worthy suicide of Golding. Being morbidly curious, we found ourselves on the very steps where the individual hit their head to their death.

I skimmed the rest of the article. The lighthouse explorer's believed to themselves that they saw a woman with blood running from her mouth watching them from the top floor of Golding Height. When they reached the top, there was no one. Their imaginations had probably run wild. The website offered no information to my curiosity besides the knowledge of only one suicide existing. Though morbid, the suicide rate was unrealistic.

I decided on taking a nap to pass the time until heading out to the beach. When I woke up, I prepped myself in warmer clothes and put the hot chocolate and marshmallows in a small backpack. I felt liberated in this attempt at a more balanced social life. I wanted to become a new person that wasn't as socially reserved as I used to be. I had previously been told, in Merinda, I was hard to approach or get to know. Approachable behavior became my new goal.

I started up my truck and made a mental note to obtain an Oregon license. The fog had already set in when I began my trip through the roads to the beach. I passed the lighthouse on my way to the Golding State beach, which was approximately two miles from the lighthouse. A beat-up van sat on the sandy parking lot overlooking a steep cliff. A concrete path with railing led downwards towards the beach where a bonfire dimly cut through the fog. A few shrieks and some chatter carried through the wind. I made my way down, cautiously checking my surroundings. Drea called out to me once I made it to the sand.

“Hey, you made it! Come set the hot chocolate and marshmallows down here,” she motioned to the collapsible table with food laid out on.

Logs from the nearby forest had been dragged through the sand and placed around a large bonfire. I guessed the logs had been moved a while ago and this was their usual hang out. Music played in the background as at least fifteen people roamed around, chatting, laughing, and eating.

“So...” I drifted off, not sure what to say.

Drea cupped her hands and called out, “Hey, everyone. We have a pack to honor.” Someone lowered the music and most people turned their attention towards Drea and me. “This is Kat, a newbie to Golding from out of town!” A small cheer broke out and people held out Styrofoam cups. It was obvious that alcohol had been in the mix. The music became louder and people went back to chatting.

Drea had me follow her around to a few people gathered by the fire.

“Hi, I'm Pete, Drea's boyfriend.” Pete stuck out his hand with a smile. I shook hands with him. “This is Amy and Howard.”

“Hi,” I said and shook their hands. “Nice to meet all of you.”

Amy spoke first, “It's great to meet you. Where are you from? It's so crazy to actually have a new student. That never happens here.”

“I came from Washington.”

They all nodded their heads and Pete spoke up. “Well, part of the pact says that we must befriend the newbie and keep them supported. Consider us your new friends. Come to us about anything. We got you.”

“Oh, thanks. It's really hard to come to a new place. I don't really know anyone, so it's really appreciated.” I adjusted my backpack on my shoulders.

“It's really boring here, we mostly look forward to partying on the beach. Sometimes only a few show up, sometimes more. There's a few more than usual. It's mostly us in our twenties. Actually, come to think of it, most people on campus are in their twenties,” Amy said.

“I'm only nineteen,” I commented.

“Wow, you act older. We'll just look the other way if you decide to drink, but only if you're not driving. We can't have another incident like a few months ago.”

“That was gruesome. I saw his body laying on the freeway as I passed. It made me want to hurl, I'm glad you were with me, How,” Amy said to Howard with a shiver.

“Is that normal occurrences for Golding? I was looking up on the Internet for information, and it's like everything is pristine except for whatever happened in the lighthouse,” I said.

“Well, the mayor likes to welcome people, not deter them. It's not an everyday occurrence, but stuff does happen like in any other town. There's not much of an exciting life to be had here.”

We chatted a little more and eventually, some people went home. Seven of us remained and we gathered around the bonfire. Haunted stories started floating around. The skeptic in me kept me from being scared. I began thinking of Tobias's offer to hang out with him. I knew it was a bad idea to be alone with him. He was a stranger and we would be alone. A cry for help would be useless as the sounds of the shore would drown it out. I didn't see a rock looming in the distance that Tobias had referenced.

That charisma he possessed destroyed my common sense.

Drea distracted me from my thoughts. “So, why did you move here?” She asked and turned towards me. The others remained talking among themselves, oblivious to the start of a separate conversation.

I knew it would be a good idea for me to open up about my past, but I also enjoyed my privacy. If I had gotten to known Drea, maybe after a while I would have been more detailed. Instead, I gave a generic, filtered answer. “I got tired of the city.”

Drea waited for me to say more before realizing the topic wasn't up for discussion. “The city? That's pretty cool. I've lived here my whole life, so I can't imagine escaping to here. I rather be in the city,” she smiled.

“What is there to do for fun out here?”

“Study, more studying, studying after studying...” She drifted off. “The whole goal of most of us here,” she motioned around us, “Is to get out. There's nothing here. There's rarely anyone to meet, new restaurants...We have to travel about thirty minutes to get to big shopping areas. After living here for so long, you get tired of the salty air and the same faces,” She said in exasperation.

“I'm sorry, I didn't realize it would be so bad.”

“You had to have checked out the area before deciding to move here. What made you choose Golding?”

“Actually, I didn't know what Golding, let alone my house, even looked like before I moved here. My roommate let me rent before even meeting me. It's practically unheard of, but I guess if there is such a thing of luck, I got it.” I chuckled at my own inside joke.

Her eyes lit up and she practically bounced around in her seat. “You moved in with Larissa, didn't you?”

“Yeah, that's her,” I admitted.

“I know her. She's been posting room and board notices all over the college. Last semester I had a shitty roommate and wanted to move out of the dorms. I saw her notice, met up with her at the house, and was disgusted with how it looked. I declined, but she said she's been so desperate for someone to rent, she even told me she didn't care who they were.” Drea giggled.

Once again, it wasn't luck, just last-effort hopes aligning with my personal goals. “She seems nice enough.”

“Have you got a significant other?” She prodded.

I shook my head. “No, I haven't really had time to meet people. Actually, I'm supposed to go meet someone further down the beach soon,” I glanced at my phone to see the time. “Right about now, apparently. They said there was this really tall rock closer to the forest they would meet me at. I guess they knew you guys always come down here, so it'd be convenient to meet them.”

“That sounds a little sketchy,” Drea warned.

“It'll be okay,” I convinced myself as I stood up. “They seem pretty nice, to be honest. It's been ages since I had a social life, so I guess tonight is my first endeavor.”

“I'm glad to be a part of it.” Her voice sounded worried.

“He said his name was Tobias. He said he went to school years ago but now just makes visits to the college occasionally.” I shrugged.

Drea pondered her thoughts before speaking again, “I think it's a given that it's pretty safe here in Golding, but I'd still be cautious. Here, take my number. In case anything goes wrong.”

I took out my cell phone and handed it to her. “I have some mace in my bag. The thing is, I'm still not quite sure what to make of it. I'd really like to talk to him and get to know him. It's like he lures me in with charm.”

Drea typed in her phone number and saved herself as a contact before handing over my cellphone to me. As I reached for it, Pete swept in and grabbed it.

“It's good to have multiple people from a new place,” He said.

I wasn't bothered by him entering his number in my phone without asking first. I actually felt relieved and well-liked. Amy peeked her head in over Pete's shoulder.

“Same here,” Amy smiled. “New friends are great and just in case you ever need something then you'll have multiple people to go to.” Pete handed her the phone and she began entering herself as a contact. Amy then handed it back to me.

“I have someone to meet farther on in the beach, so I'm going to head over there now,” I announced to the others. I then waved at Drea and excused myself.


****


As I walked through the sand, I moved my mace from my backpack and into my pocket. I stuck my hands in my pocket and let it rest there. I knew I could be making a terrible mistake but I continued on anyway. My thoughts were paranoid, though. It was a stranger I was going to be alone with. However, I was also just alone with Drea and her friends too.

I decided to carry myself with caution. Another worry popped into my head. What if I can't find my way back through the fog? I at least knew that if I headed towards the cliff, there could be other pathways leading up off the beach. And if I couldn't find anything, I'd stick close to the cliffs and walk towards where I came from until I eventually found the original pathway. If everything went well with Tobias, I'd ask him to escort me back.

The farther I walked, the more difficult it became to walk through the sand in flip flops. I took them off and put them in my backpack. The rock loomed in the distance so I checked the time on my cell phone. It was about ten-thirty. I wasn't tired, so I figured I could spend a decent amount of time hanging out with Tobias.

“Hey,” Tobias called. I still couldn't see him, so I followed the direction of his voice. I felt blind for a few seconds as I searched for Tobias or the rock.

“Hi,” I called back, and eventually the rock came into view. I sat down next to him with our backs against the rock. My hands remained buried in my pockets.

He looked me over and a small smile spread over his face. “Here, have some distance if it makes you feel better. I can tell you have something hidden in your pocket. I'm not going to hurt you,” he promised as he put some more space between us.

“Okay, you got me. You better stick to your word, though,” I reminded him. I kept the mace in my pocket anyways.

He began to start the conversation, “How is college going, newbie?”

“Oh, is that my new name? Newbie?” He nodded. “It's going okay. I was a B student in high school, but I'm struggling to maintain those B's in college. I suspect once I get done with my associate's degree, things might get better and I'll transfer to a university near by, wherever that may be.”

“It'll get better once you figure out how teachers grade and what they expect out of you. When I was going to school, I didn't realize how difficult the transition to high school to college would be. I was ill-prepared.” He took a pause before questioning me. “How are you liking your new life here?”

I thought about my answer for a few moments and felt compelled to give him a more detailed, personal answer than I would towards others. “I like it. I used to live in a city so life is different. I hadn't really gone to the coast before so this life I'm leading now is very different. I like the smell of the air. Although, normally in this time in Washington, it would be raining more. To be honest, I don't miss the city at all.”

“I can't relate to the city. I used to live here my old life.” His statement confused me. He inferred that he no longer lives in Golding, despite the evidence being contradictory. I didn't bother asking him where he lived now. “I think you'll like it here,” he spoke again. “Especially since I live here.” He winked at me and I raised my eyebrow.

“You're assuming your presence is of great value to me.” I chuckled, amused at his assertion.

“That's true. But I'm hoping you'll take a great liking to me. I tend to feel lonely.”

“Well, you have my company right now,” I assured him. I wanted to ask him why he was lonely, but I didn't want to disrespect his privacy.

“I'm sure you're curious about my loneliness. I can practically see your questions flicker across your face.” He smirked. He was very charismatic and I knew if he wanted to, he could get any information out of me.

“I am not that easily read,” I said exasperated. I shrugged. “It seems only you think that. Most people find me indifferent and stone cold. And to think I thought I mastered being expressionless...” I drifted off.

Tobias disregarded my disagreement and leaned back against the rock. “I told you my family isn't here anymore. Well, without them, that leaves me with no one.” He was inconsistent. He had previously talked as if he didn't live here anymore, but now he hinted at the opposite.

I looked at the sand and small bits of kelp mixed in before looking back at him. His eyes were closed. I sensed a troubled soul in him. He was mysterious, just as every person would seem when first getting to know them. But he was slightly different. His words seemed unclear for meaning and relevancy. It was as if he had something to say, something deep in his mind, and he was hesitant to share that. And what he may have to say, is coming out in small blurbs. He was so detailed yet the big picture wasn't painted. He was like me- revealing small parts according to his control of the situation. And perhaps that control didn't feel so in control. Perhaps the situation was wrapped so deeply he wanted to spit it out but kept stopping himself.

“I feel pretty lonely too,” I unusually volunteered information. “But it's nice to hang out with you here.” I shrugged again and looked at the ground. “I haven't done this before.” My cheeks heated in the realization of what I said. “Never been alone with a guy without my old friends,” I clarified.

“No interests in the past?”

I shook my head, “I didn't mean romantically. I just meant I had a small group of friends, and I rarely was around people alone. They were always by my side. It's a breath of fresh air,” I summarized. “But at the same time, it's a little weird.”

Another smirk worked across his face. “It's funny,” he began, “Just a minute ago I thought I could read you easily, but I know I'm wrong now. I would have thought you were a loner. Never had friends, and probably ran off in the night with boys.”

“That's an interesting assumption about me. I'll have you know, I choose to have friends. And I choose to lose them too.” He didn't question me, which I appreciated. I changed the subject. “How old are you?”

“Twenty four,” he stood up and lent a hand out to me. I took his hand and he pulled me up and then headed towards the ocean, motioning me to follow him.

I wobbled through the sand and my feet were occasionally pricked with the unknown. The beach extended a while before we met the ocean. As I watched the fog greet the ocean, a light pierced through the sky.

“That's the lighthouse,” He said with his back turned away from me. His hands were on his hips as he looked into the fog. The light circled along the coast again and it lit up the crashing waves.

“It's high tide, right? Doesn't that mean there shouldn't be so much beach to walk to the water?”

“No, this beach is very long. Don't worry, no dead bodies found out here. Just in the lighthouse.”

I thought about him declaring the lighthouse was a murder and not a suicide. I wanted to ask for clarification, but I knew it was a rough subject and it wasn't my business either. Yet, I couldn't help myself from thinking about it.

“You've never been in the ocean before, right? Come stick your toes in.”

I grew irrationally nervous. I feared sharks and all the other painful things in the ocean. All it took was one step to mess up your day and all I had ever heard was to pee on a sting from a jellyfish. I knew so little about the ocean, but I doubted that was a real method anyways.

“Are you afraid?” He asked when I made no attempt to move. I feared just simply getting knocked over by a wave hitting my ankle wrong. The idea of seaweed wrapping around my ankles entered my mind. That freaked me out just a little bit more.

“Well, I'm scared of the ocean,” I admitted.

He laughed and took a step into the water. “You're scared and you moved here of all places? You really are on the run, aren't you? Come here,” He offered me his hand.

“No, really, I'm scared.”

He didn't push the subject and nodded, “One day, then?”

I smiled, “Yeah, maybe.” I spoke again, “Thanks for not forcing me, I appreciate it.”

“It's hard...” He began and then stopped.

“Hard for what?”

He let a few seconds pass. “It's hard when you feel an instant connection with someone because you feel they're like you. But they're so much like you, you know they don't want to get personal.”

“I feel the same,” I admitted as I watched the ocean waves come in. I turned towards him and wrapped my hands around my torso. “I'm a sensible person. I don't believe in fate, so why is it that I feel compelled to tell you my secrets?” The words came out of my mouth before I could think them over.

“Then tell me them. We don't have to see each other ever again, we can just lay it all out on the table, and pretend it never happened.” He nodded to where we had previously been sitting, and stuck out his hand to guide me through the sand.

Chapter Six

Silently, Tobias and I both studied each other in the dim moonlight. His red hair was tied into a bun and his beard had been neatly combed. He dressed in lightweight clothes despite the chill of the wind nipping at our noses. His brown eyes greeted me with intrigue and guarded thoughts. I had never fallen for a man before and perhaps it was too early to tell if I would truly fall for Tobias. Undoubtedly, I knew that Tobias gave my heart reason to flutter.

The waves crashed against the shore and I couldn't hear the sounds of others on the beach. There was nothing. If I screamed, there would be no one to save me. I felt confident that there would be no need for me to worry but the facts were not discerning. The thrill of the unknown made my heart pump fearlessly. Thoughts of living a mundane life full of formalities and normalcy seemed more menacing than the unknown and unpredictable. The freedom I had felt leaving Merinda had followed me here to sit and talk alone with a stranger.

Tobias' offer of forgetting whatever may be said after tonight still lied on the table. I knew I wanted to oblige and open up, but I didn't know how to start and why I should start in the first place. I had bottled up my life since I was a little girl. I didn't talk about what happened, what could have happened, or what should have happened. I was never really sure when I would open up or if I would find someone I could even open up to. Perhaps Tobias would be the one.

Tobias cleared his throat, preparing to speak. “I saw you working at Amelia's shop...Did you know her before you moved here?” He tried to make conversation.

“No, just got lucky. I literally knew no one except my roommate.”

“I don't think I could live a life like that,” he said. I waited for him to elaborate. “My life is always set in stone. I know exactly what happens and it's fairly obvious what will happen. I couldn't just pack up and leave and hope for the best.”

“Well, I kind of had to,” I admitted. “I wasn't in the best circumstances if you must know.”

“I guess it's not a must, but I'd still like to know more, honestly. Like,” he shrugged, “What's the mystery behind the mysterious Kat? Is your real name Kat? Where are you from? And most of all, how did I manage to get you to talk to me?”

“Kathryn Lowther. Used to be a Kate, actually.”

“I like Kat better. But Kat from where?”

“Merinda. It's a big city in Washington. Not as big as Seattle, but big enough to not know every person you see at the store.”

“So you're starting a whole new life? Wow, that's not what I was expecting.” He folded his hands behind his head and leaned against the jagged rock.

“What were you expecting?”

“Just wanting a new change of scenery, but not moving from Washington. You seem more like a California girl.”

Laughter bubbled out of me and a snort erupted. I clasped my hands over my face, trying to contain my laughter and embarrassment. “How the hell do you see me and think California?”

“I mean, you have almost white hair. Isn't that a California thing?”

“No, it's a bleach and damaged follicles kind of thing.”

He shook his head, dismissing my sarcasm.

“If you're going by that, I'm a tad too pale for California. I mean, I'd be tan, right?”

“It's just that all the movies I used to watch, have the California girls with the hair like you.”

“How rude of you to stereotype,” I teased. “I visited California a few times. My sister, Rebecca,” my attitude plummeted as I thought about her, “Her grandparents lived there.”

Tobias seemingly sensed my mood. “Is she okay?” His tone was soft and concerned as his eyebrows furrowed.

“Yeah, I guess I just miss her a lot,” I tried to let the subject drop but Tobias didn't let it go.

“Why don't you go see her, if you don't mind me asking?” He unfolded his hands and sat up from the rock. The sand shifted as he angled himself towards me.

“It's complicated.”

“After tonight, we can pretend it never happened,” he prompted.

“I'll let you not pretend. I think it might be good for me talk about it.” Tobias' charisma did wonders to chip away the shield I held around myself.

“I left her behind in the dead of night when I left. No goodbye, no note. It's because of her parents as well as other things. I was adopted by them, Dawn and Luke, because they couldn't conceive. Then they had her and I became a problem. She was like a miracle to them. The only thing I never worked out in my head was why they did what they did. Would I have been treated the same way if I was the only child? Would they have treated me like Rebecca?”

“Sometimes...” He struggled for words, “People lie to get their way and then change once they find a way they think is better.”

“You mean lying about being suitable parents to the adoption agency?” He nodded. “I'm not sure if that's the case. They treat Rebecca great, so clearly they're not completely bad parents. I used to think the problem was me,” I admitted. “But I grew out of thinking like that. I've done wrong in my life, I can admit that. But nothing to them, mostly to myself. It's just technically they weren't abusive, but they did hurt me emotionally. I think 'neglect' would be the right word. I wasn't allowed to have a normal, loving relationship with them. It felt like they wouldn't allow it, like they had to keep their distance from me. It was a bunch of 'stay in your room' but also 'I'm searching your room because all the kids from where you came from getting into trouble.'”

“How old were you when you were adopted?”

“Only six. My real parents had CPS take me from them because they were drug addicts. I never really found out what they were on, but I'm pretty sure I was born before the drug addiction started. I don't see any side effects that would have shown up in my life by now.”

“Do you remember them?”

“A little bit. My mom was mousy. I got her face shape, like the soft features and a small nose. The weird part is that I have blue eyes and my parents both had brown. I remember my mom coughing so much. I didn't realize until I got older that she was such a heavy smoker. It's interesting how my real parents affected me so much. I didn't get into drugs in high school. Merinda was popular with meth and coke, but I never got entwined in all that. I knew some people who did, though.”

“What else was Merinda like?”

“Well, what exactly are you curious about?”

“Anything; Golding has me tied down. I'd like to hear about something else for once.”

I searched for words to string together as I imagined the skyscrapers in downtown Merinda, which had reached towards overcast skies. Landscaped lawns lining clean sidewalks in the suburban side presented themselves as harsh memories in my head.

“It's like every city. Downtown is a little ghetto and scummy, but it's pretty. My parents had lived downtown in a small apartment above a shop. I remember looking out the window, on my tiptoes, to see the people walking across the sidewalks. But when Dawn and Luke adopted me, I moved to the suburbs around the edge of Merinda. I was so confused at first because it was a new school and a new lifestyle. I never really cared about having the newest clothes or many pairs of shoes, but Dawn and Luke provided those things the first year they had adopted me. All the kids from the suburbs in Merinda dressed nicely. It's like it was expected in the suburbs.

“The people dressed nice, the sidewalks were redone if they cracked too much, and the buildings were modern. That's why I never felt like I was in the right spot. Most suburban people ignored downtown people as if downtowners were below them. I didn't feel right in downtown either, though. The drugs were so bad and only my real parents held me to any relation to there. I went back there a couple of times with friends, but I never went to see my old apartment.” I thought about what Tobias had asked and realized I was rambling. “Sorry, I went into myself instead of Merinda.”

“No, it's okay. I like hearing about you.”

“What's living in Golding for so long like?”

“Boring.” He sighed.

“I'll agree, it is a little mundane. You know, I've barely spoken to my roommate. I'm not even sure what she does. I moved here and then immediately launched into job and school mode and ignored everything else, especially socializing. Tonight's my first night out.”

“I bet Amelia's a fun person to talk to, though.”

“She's so mysterious,” I paused, “and a little strange. I feel like she can see into my soul and pick out any bit about me that she wants to know. And she talks in almost riddles. I never know whether to analyze what she's hinting at or disregard it. She once told me that I had some feats, or something, ahead of me in my future.”

“Oh, I think you do.”

I playfully tapped him on his shoulder, “Shut up, I don't believe in that crap. No one can tell the future.”

After a playful tap back, he straightened up and faced me with intensity.

“Do you want to go to the lighthouse?”

“What?”

“Do you want to-”

“No, no. I know what you said. I was just shocked you would ask me that. Especially after what happened.”

“Let's call it 'therapeutic' for me to go see it with you by my side so I'm not alone.”

“Have you been there since...what happened?”

He nodded and lowered his hand down for me to grasp and pull myself up. Sand trickled down my jeans as I rose up. A soft thud sounded as the mace can slipped from my pocket and fell to the ground. I scooped it up and slid it back into its former place. Tobias' amused expression watched me as I straightened myself out.

“Well, how do we get there?”

“Do you have your car?”

“No, I have a truck,” I teased. “You need to show me back to where the parking lot is.” My eyebrows furrowed. I would be lost out here without him.

Wordlessly, Tobias looped his arm through my elbow and then began trekking through the sand. Crushed seaweed and other unidentifiable objects poked my feet as we progressed across the beach. Every minute or so, I pulled my salty hair out of my mouth as the wind whipped around us. It had picked up within the last hour. We came across where the bonfire had been. The flames had been smothered with water and a few Styrofoam cups littered the area. We ascended the concrete steps up the cliffs and at last, came to the parking lot.

My truck loomed through the fog with it's chipped maroon painting coming into view as we shuffled through the sandy asphalt. The door hinges complained and creaked after I unlocked the door and pulled it open. Tobias went to the other side of the door as I glanced around, wondering if I was making the smartest decision.

“It's old, but it gets me around, and I bought it with my own money, so don't knock it.”

“I didn't plan on it,” he said.

I slid into the driver's seat and leaned across the cab length to unlock Tobias' door. Tobias got in and looked around Pressing my foot on the brake, I started up my truck and flicked on the headlights. I let the engine idle for a minute or two before looking inside my purse for a hairbrush. Through my peripheral vision, I watched Tobias strap in while I brushed my hair out and glanced in the sun visor mirror.

I turned towards him, “Are you sure you will be okay with this?”

Tobias nodded.

I hesitated before shifting into gear.

“Just get on 101 South,” he instructed.

My truck chugged along as I speed up on to the freeway entrance.

“Who taught you to drive?”

“Luke did. Dawn and Luke were desperate for me to get on the road and not be a problem for them to lug around.”

“Ah,” he muttered.

The turn signal then consumed the silence between us as I began exiting the freeway, after only been being on the freeway for a minute or two. I jiggled my leg, trying to get comfortable despite my overwhelming apprehension.

The paved off ramp exited into a patchy gravel road ridden with potholes which then drastically began sloping downhill. A winding dirt path led me through a narrow bridge and then dumped off into a parking lot. I parked and hopped out, moist air and wind greeted my face. We both shut the doors and walked to the tail of the truck. The parking lot laid far below the cliffs supporting the freeway.

It was too foggy and dark to see much besides the beginning of a wooden walking path bridge and the glow of Golding Height. The ocean crashed against the rocky cliffs guarding the parking lot. Sand swirled and raked across the ground, nipping at the toes of my shoes and hems of my jeans. My chest felt heavy as if my breath was collecting inside and I couldn't expel it. I pulled up my hood onto my head and tucked my loose strands of hair inside. The sensitivity of wind rushing around my ears eased up.

Tobias' silence was more unnerving than my fear of heights. I didn't question if he was okay, but instead tucked my arm around his and let him lead me to the bridge. My heart hammered relentlessly as I prepared to begin the rest of the journey to Golding Height. I shrugged the sleeve over my hand and grabbed the railing of the bridge as I took my first shaky step onto the old wooden planks. As the light revolved back towards us and illuminated the bridge for a brief second, I squeezed my eyes closed so I couldn't see how high up we were.

The bridge creaked and groaned with each step. Tobias kept his gaze forward, not once faltering or looking at the wooden planks to make sure they weren't missing. We progressed quickly, however, time seemed to be in pause for my sensations felt strengthened and deepened due to the silence and anticipation. I could feel the burn of the salt in the cracks of my lips, as well as the wind burn across the tip of my nose. Pricks of splinters jabbed at my sleeve as I gripped the railing. My breath was shallow and I tried my best to refrain from holding it in out of nerves.

Time took its last moment of pause as we took the final step on the bridge. Golding Height illuminated the ground around us. I peeked up at Tobias and found his eyes to be void of emotion. His chest rose and fell in heavy movements. I moved my hand to hold his and then gave it a reassuring squeeze. He didn't squeeze back. We then exited the bridge.

Golding Height towered over us on its small cliff. Rocks lined a beaten pathway from the bridge to a fork split where one section of the path led to the house part of Golding Height and the other to the lamp housing. The two housing areas did not meet together. Tobias disregarded the fork to the house and, instead, progressed to the lamp housing with me trailing slightly behind him, hand-in-hand As expected, a broken lock laid at the foot of the door. Tobias nudged the lock out of the way with the toe of his ratty Chuck Taylors. He glanced at me and paused before pulling open the heavy door with a grunt. He released my hand and walked inside.

Pulling back my hood from my head, I took out my phone and turned on the flashlight app. Pointing my phone up, Golding Height became illuminated. Steep and narrow metal stairs rose from the small floor landing and climbed the edges of the stone, spiraling up to an overhead platform. A stone, cylindrical support beam rose to the platform but left the stairs open for someone to fall over the railing if they tripped or climbed over.

The air was damp and dense which my lungs struggled with due to my previous history with asthma. I hoped that Golding College had kept Golding Height to a healthy standard of mold control. Looking around the ground landing, I spied a trap door that had been opened and the door rested against the wall, on its hinges. I inched closer to peer down the door with my flashlight and saw stairs spiraling below the landing. I stood up straight again and turned back towards Tobias.

“What's this part of the lighthouse called?” I asked. My voice echoed around.

“It's just the tower,” he said. “The top is the lantern room.”

Tobias paced around the cramped landing with his arms crossed. After a moment, he stopped in his tracks and turned towards me.

“Do you want to see the top?” His voice was quiet and reserved.

“I'd love to, Tobias.”

“Lean on the walls as you go up, it helps with how narrow the steps are.”

I offered my hand to him and he took it. I didn't look down as we ascended the staircase. Our footsteps echoed as we went. I leaned against the walls like he recommended and found it hard to place my feet straight on the stairs as we went. Instead, my feet were cocked sideways. The stone was smooth and didn't catch on my jacket. A slow and steady ache began in my calves the higher we got.

“How high up does it go?”

“About two hundred feet.”

“Oh,” I muttered.

After minutes passing, we reached the top landing where an old metal chair faced a small window. I shined my light around and saw a broom attached to a modern rack. A metal ladder began next to a door, which led to the platform above us. The area felt cramped and small for the landing above us was only a few feet above my head. Light seeped from the platform above us and spilled down the ladder. I turned off the flashlight app and tucked my phone away in my pocket.

“What's up the ladder?” I asked.

“It's the lens,” he said and turned to me to study my expression.

“And behind the door?”

“It's a balcony running along the top,” he answered. “Which do you want to see first?”

“I don't want to go out the door,” I said truthfully. “I'm terrified of heights.”

He didn't smirk or show any recognition of the humor of me being here. “Up the ladder?” He motioned.

“You first,” I insisted.

The ladder didn't protest under Tobias' weight. I grabbed the slick rails and followed him, the light from above pooling over me as I ascended.

“It's an electric and automatic light now,” he said, “but they use one of the many lenses this lighthouse has gone through. A Fresnel lens, if you're curious.” I made a mental note to research Fresnel lenses when I got home.

My mouth hung open for a few seconds as I took in the sight. The base of the light rose by my head and the light rotated above us. The room was made completely of glass windows.

“I don't know much about lighthouses, to be honest.”

“I've had a long time to learn since my friend was killed.” His expression was dark.

Chapter Seven

Mesmerized by the wall of fog outside of the windows, I knelt and then sat on the floor, resting my hands on my lap. Tobias followed my lead and studied my face.

“What do you think?” Tobias raised an eyebrow.

“It's very pretty,” I admitted. “Why does it flicker on and off every minute or so?”

“Each lighthouse has a unique pattern. In the olden days, it let sailors know which part of the coast they were approaching.”

“Wow.” I was short of words as I took the sight in. “I suppose there's not much to see because of the fog, but it feels...surreal,” I summarized.

“I feel a lot of pain seeing all of this. I'd like to feel what you're feeling instead.” His jaw was clenched.

“Imagine this,” I began, “You're beginning a new phase in life and you have this beautiful light to see. You get to share the moment with a stranger, who you don't know much about, but that's okay because tonight we can say whatever we want, and then forget it all, right?”

“And that's your perspective?” His facial expression loosened.

I nodded.

“I've wanted someone to see this lighthouse with me for years, but there's been no one. The loneliness has been eating me up inside. I think my friend would be happy that someone came to this spot and was awed by the beauty they saw instead of the horror I feel.”

“Would you like to talk about your friend? Maybe it would help?”

“I'm not sure what to say, really,” he sighed. “I mean, it's horrible what happened and the worse part is that the killer will never be caught.”

I wanted to ask why he knew it was a murder, but other people claimed it was a suicide. I couldn't bring myself to do it. It wasn't my place to ask and I didn't want to pry into information that would be painful for Tobias.

“Maybe the killer will be caught someday. You never know what could happen.” I tried to be positive, but we both knew the inevitable.

A moment of silence passed between us before Tobias lurched up and began pacing around.

“Down that ladder, to the stairs,” his voice boomed and echoed. Foreign, previously unpredicted, chaotic, and unnerved energy pulsed from him. “He was hung off the railing, and everyone thought the rope snapped and his body was hit on multiple stairs and railings as he went down. Do you want to know the truth?” His eyes were wild as if they belonged to a thirsty, deranged animal.

Fear crept into me and I began focusing on my surroundings as well as the distance between Tobias and I. Slowly, I slipped my hand into my pocket, pepper spray in hand.

“Yes,” I whispered.

“The killer brought my friend up to the lighthouse after being drugged and shoved into a pickup truck. He was dragged into the lighthouse, two hundred feet below us.” Tobias met my eyes, and paused, waiting to see what I would do. I didn't move and began mentally preparing to flee. “My friend was slammed into the lighthouse wall and he woke up slumped over. The killer slashed his wrists. Let me guess, everyone told you he tried slitting his wrists and supposedly failed?”

“Yes,” I whispered again.

“He was awake as those razors hit his wrists. The killer's gloves didn't leave a trace of the killer's DNA on the razors. Then, he was dragged up the stairs, for two hundred feet. But not only was he dragged, but he was also pushed down a flight of the stairs, then brought up again. Over and over again, until they reached the top. Two hundred feet,” he yelled, his voice echoing. The height resonated as a cursed number. “The killer tied a rope around his neck, hung it to the railing. But the rope was weak on purpose. And let me guess,” his eyes locked onto me again, “they told you it snapped after trying to hang himself?”

Once again, I repeated myself with a whispered, “Yes.” My breath was caught in my chest.

“Purposeful weak rope. Ribs already cracked. The fall killed him, but he was pushed over. He didn't jump.” Tobias' fists were clenched and he turned away from me. “I'm sorry, I shouldn't be so angry, I don't mean to frighten you. It was so long ago, but it still hurts.”

Time slowed down as my heart beating grew louder in my ears. I felt my chest constrict in fear and my palms twitch. Tobias' mystery both grew solved as well deepened. Just as the first day I met him, he was wearing the same clothes. I hadn't noticed before, but the details began clicking into place in my mind. Thirty years ago, the murder had happened. And thirty years ago, Tobias hadn't been born. I had been ignorant to not have realized Tobias' sanity demanded to be questioned. Whether he was homeless, mentally ill, or someone who sought to carry out a murder in the likeliness of thirty years ago, he was not to be trusted.

While facing away from me, I could still see his chest heaving by the movement of his back. My chest began screaming from panic and holding my breath. Before Tobias could turn around, I slowly rotated towards the ladder. The scrape of my shoe echoed in my ears as it gave me away. Tobias turned around as I jumped up, sprinting towards the ladder.

“Kat! Stop! I'm not going to hurt you!”

The ladder was short enough for me to jump down without hurting my ankles. I heard the thump as Tobias also jumped down behind me. I finally took in a breath of air as I thought I had a gain on him. The horror of my shoulder being clasped onto shook me into defensive fear.

“You weren't even alive back then, you fucking liar!” I screamed and kicked upwards between his legs in an attempt to have him let go of me. I missed and immediately was thankful my free arm had possession of the pepper spray.

“Let me go,” I screamed.

“Kat, it was me. It was me that died. I've been trapped in this world to live a lonely life. You have to believe me!” His pleas fell on deaf ears.

“You weren't a fucking victim, and I won't be your victim,” I sprayed him in the eyes.

At last, he released me and cried out in pain. I clutched the pepper spray tightly in my hand as I whipped away from him.

I fled down the stairs knowing I had about two hundred feet to go. The number kept repeating in my head, screaming all the instances it had been mentioned in the last hour. I didn't have time to turn on my flashlight as I navigated in the darkness. I listened for Tobias' footsteps thundering after me, but his footsteps didn't begin until I made it to the second landing.

“Kat! Please! You're one of the only people that can see me!”

Halfway down the lighthouse, I began running out of breath. I pursued on, refusing to stop even if my lungs burst. I pulled my keys from my pocket, fumbling to release them from the creased fabric.

“Kat!”

My stamina was depleting as I came to the last landing. As soon as I determined I could jump to the bottom landing, I prayed I would suffer no injuries and took the leap of faith. I cried out in pain and the pepper spray clang to the floor, rolling away. I lurched forward despite my ankles protesting and didn't waste time pursuing the pepper spray.

I slammed my weight into the heavy door, budging it open. Screaming for help would be useless. I clenched the key with my teeth as I plunged my hands into my pockets, searching for my phone. Finally, phone and key back in hand, I flicked the flashlight on and the light swayed left to right as I progressed from the path and then to the bridge. Glancing over my shoulder, relief hit me from not seeing Tobias in sight.

Crossing the bridge, I shakily typed 9-1-1 into my phone and pressed enter.

“9-1-1, what's your emergency?”

“I'm being chased, down by the lighthouse. I was led there and a man is claiming to be the victim killed there thirty years ago. What do I do?”

“Do you have your own vehicle that you can get to safely?”

“Yes, but I'm not sure if he has a way to follow me.” I estimated I was halfway down the bridge.

“Do you have a safe place to drive to?” I heard typing on the other end of the line.

“Yes, but I don't feel safe going home.” I began gasping for air and tried my best to persistently sprint the rest of the way.

“Do you know where the police station is? We can take your report.”

At last, the bridge ended and sand began crunching under feet. I made it to my truck and unlocked it, immediately starting up the engine. I slammed the automatic lock down, triggering safety in the truck.

“I made it to my vehicle, but I don't know where the police station is.” I peeled out of the parking lot and sped through the winding beaten road. Gravel began spraying underneath my truck from my speed.

The dispatcher gave me the address. “Do you feel safe enough to make it to the station, or would you like me to stay on the phone?”

“I think I'll be okay.”

“And what is your name?”

“Kat Lowther,” I said while out of breath.

“And you said this was a man who was chasing you? Do you have a description?”

“Red hair in a ponytail, soft facial features. Probably six feet tall and average size.”

“What was he wearing?”

“A green-button up shirt, jeans, and Chuck Taylors.”

“Dispatch has been notified and sent to the area.”

“Thank you,” I said and clicked the phone to navigation, hastily typing in the address to the police station.

I tried to slow my breathing for the rest of the trip and continually glanced in my rearview mirror to see if any cars were following me. There was a possibility Tobias had been hiding a car somewhere nearby. After a few minutes, my breathing slowed down and the adrenaline slowly subsided.

Exiting the freeway, I found myself traveling through small intricate streets downtown. I pulled in the police station parking lot and peeked at the time on my dashboard. Two-thirty in the morning shone back at me in dull light.

I tucked my hair behind my ears and rushed out of the door, manually locking it, and sprinting into the police station. A woman with startled eyes stood up, immediately coming toward me.

“Are you okay, dear? Are you the one dispatch sent?”

I nodded and tears began forming in my eyes.

“Paul,” the woman shouted in the quiet office and then turned back to me. “Paul's one of the officers on duty, he'll help you. Tell me, what happened?” She directed me to a chair and sat next to me, holding my hand.

An officer, presumably Paul, emerged from a separate room. His brunette hair was disheveled, probably from working late into the night. He shook hands with me and sat down, placing a comforting hand on my shoulder before producing a notepad.

“Do you feel comfortable enough to talk about what happened?”

I took a deep breath and nodded.

“I met a man, Tobias, on my first day at college. He seemed nice and a few days later, I saw him again on campus. He convinced me to meet him on the Golding State Beach. So I met him, around ten, and eventually, he convinced me to go to the lighthouse. Since the day I met him, he told me he knew a friend who died at the lighthouse thirty years ago. People told me it was a suicide, but Tobias insisted it was a murder. First, he said it was his friend that was murdered, then he said it was him. I didn't think about the age difference and that Tobias wouldn't have been born back then, so when it hit me, I tried fleeing. He went to stop me, so I pepper-sprayed him and ran for my life.”

“I'm so sorry sweetie, you're gonna be safe now.”

The woman gripped my hand tighter.

Chapter Eight

Four years prior, November

“Hi,” I called in as I walked through the threshold of Mr. Jameson's classroom.

I saw his bare back and immediately turned around, but he called out to me.

“Oh no, it's okay, I was just changing my shirt. Please, come in,” He said while staring bare-chested at me. “I spilled something,” He said and smiled.

I felt slightly uncomfortable, but I disregarded it. He walked to the door, shirtless, and turned the lock, while peering outside. “I don't want students coming in, it distracts us.” The feeling of butterflies filled my stomach. I couldn't help but find myself marveling at his body. Just like every other girl in my grade, I found him to be attractive. But still, something inside me felt uneasy.

He pulled on a new shirt, straightened it out, and walked to me. I looked at his old one, which was discarded on his desk chair. I didn't see any spills. I had been taught not to question people so I didn't bother falsifying his claims in my head.

My friend Lucy would be highly interested in me describing Mr. Jameson's body to her. She had a great fascination with him and went through extra efforts to cause attention in his class. If I hadn't known better, I would describe her as jealous for not getting exclusive tutoring from him.

I sat down and set my backpack next to my ankles. He sat close next to me at the long, black art tables.

“You know, Kate, you really are extraordinary. These past few weeks have really shown that you have so much potential. I was thinking that maybe we should enter some art contests together. Perhaps we could have more lessons and have you come to my house on the weekends?”

I smiled and glanced at the floor. He had a way of making me feel special, and even before I took more time on art with him. “Yeah, I'd love that.” I felt my mood elevate.

He stood up and began pulling out some supplies. “I was thinking we could work in more realistic situations, like drawing the human body. Nothing too crazy,” He called out to me with his back facing me. “Just sketch what you see in the mirror to get the basic shape,” he said as he walked back to me. I watched him smile, set the sketching paper in front of me, and placed his hand on my shoulder.

Outside the window, I saw Lucy peeking in with wide eyes.