Track Six

The shift between the last episode and this one is almost artistic, with a close up of a phone showing a text message: Can we get together and catch up? As the background brightens to full day, the image of the phone fades.

It looks like an ordinary morning in Montaukettston, assuming anything about this town could be called ordinary. Newspaper Man has finished his newspaperly duties at his little storefront office and is shopping at the general store, presumably for the supplies needed for the evening's meal. Chelsea is on her way to school with the rest of the town's youthful population. Diver Dude can be seen talking with quite a few people on the phone; some of the conversations grow heated. Lucy is at the Inn, entering the grand hall just after the bickering siblings leave for school. Beach Guy, however, is in town watching a bit of a dustup at the town's Municipal Building. Even we can see people through the windows running around inside the building, waving brooms around.

The Parasol Sisters are taking their daily constitutional. Sunny's mother is keeping her sad vigil on a bench with her brown paper bag. The rest of the citizenry — save for those chasing some sort of bird around the Town Hall — appear to be going about their day in their usual manner. Eventually, the folks at the Municipal Building chase an owl out.

Oddly, perhaps, the sheriff and her truck are nowhere to be seen.

"Heh. That's what happens when you leave your windows open overnight, I suppose."

Both Rene and Pablo look at me suspiciously.

"No, really. It's spring, right? Birds look for places to nest. Granted, most birds have enough sense to look for abandoned buildings, but maybe the poor owl was desperate."

"If you say so," Pablo replies. "My experiences in L.A. and Denver don't include such exotic birds as owls. There were the flying rats in L.A. and those damn blue jays outside the bedroom window of the house on Fifth." He's grinning.

"I feel sorry for the poor owl," Rene says. "He stayed up all night and just wanted a place to sleep for the day."

"Not all owls are nocturnal, Rene."

"Great. The librarian busts another myth."

"Oooh, I remember that show! I really enjoyed that one!"


"Yes, dear?"

"Portal? Watching?"

I sigh. "You guys are no fun. It's not like much is going on. Beach Guy is just following the La Dee Da kids to school."

It gets a little more interesting when the DeCoon girl looks over her shoulder and sees Beach Guy, but mostly because of the confluence of paths her slight pause causes. If she continues, she could potentially come into Melody and Sunny's sphere.

Chelsea waits at the gate, looking toward the pair, likely with the intention of speaking with them.

Melody takes Sunny's hand, lowers her head, and seems to be intent on moving right on by Chelsea.

Beach Guy waves and Chelsea starts toward him, yet turns enough to say something to Melody.

Sunny, Melody, could you wait for me a second? Please?


Chelsea continues over to Beach Guy.

Were you looking for me?


"I can hear Chelsea now, too."

The little girl and her bear wave to both Chelsea and Beach Guy. She'd be over-the-top adorable if not for the fact that most kids aren't having conversations via stuffed animals. She waves to the DeCoon girl, too.

This stops the older girl in her tracks. She looks confused by the assemblage of three townsfolk and the out-of-town visitor she'd met on the beach. And yet, right there, in that moment, I see the change. It's as if a light switch has been flipped for the closest thing the small town has to an heiress. I can practically see her potential for trying to escape the inevitable crashing conflict, her desire to do good things for people, and her feeling like this small, almost backward town truly was her home.

Pretty sure the expression on my face is something Pablo easily recognizes.

"You're thinking about home. Not Denver — Nageezi and Ganado and Yatahey, even Flagstaff."

I nod. "It's how she feels about her little town. She might leave for college or vacations, but she'll always come back here."

"It's important to have a home like that," Rene says softly.

I look at him and smile. "It's that cabin in Golden for you and Maddie, isn't it? You've welcomed all of us into your home, but that place is special for the two of you."

"You've known that for years, sister."

"True. It's one of the reasons we stay in Denver: so I can keep an eye on the place when no one in the family is visiting." I grin at him. "The big cats still look for the ghost."

"Are you saying that I should play with them more often? Are any of the original mischief makers still around?"

I shake my head as I turn back to the portal. "Silly Cat died last year. But their daughters and granddaughters are looking for you."

"Yes, dear," Rene says with a laugh. "I'll stop by more often."

The tableau on the other side of the portal is fascinating. I can't hear what Teresa DeCoon just said to Melody, but qi doesn't lie. She just offered to protect Melody and Chelsea and little Sunny from her brother, the bully.

That's important. It's the beginning of something important.

Beach Guy asks a question of the girls, one that makes them hesitate. The little girl almost hides behind her teddy bear, while the three older girls exchange glances among themselves. From the few words I catch as perspectives change, from his body language, I think he's asking about the two girls from the Butterfly Sanctuary.

Teresa has apparently been raised to be well-spoken. It's not hard to understand most of what she's saying to Beach Guy. The gist of it is that the bossy girl is her brother's nominal girlfriend and decides who ranks where in the teenage social hierarchy; the other girl is relatively new to town and being recruited to replace the poor girl whose home had been turned into a horror show. Apparently, Haley had been the former academic minion to those at the top of the social ladder.

. . . the only two people I trust less are my brother and her mother . . .

Like attracts like, I suppose, as that comment was about the brother's girlfriend and not the new girl. However, beyond the lesson about social standing, Teresa tosses in a gem about academic brilliance as well. Haley had been number two in her class before her departure from town, which has the consequence of bumping Teresa up to the salutatorian spot — something that galls both her brother and the leech of a girlfriend. The new girl has taken Teresa's vacated number three position.

Why am I not surprised that Melody is the valedictorian, or would be if not for her social ostracism?

I'm so glad I spent my teen years in a remote Chinese village. I almost feel sorry for my own children as they look at the prospect of navigating the minefield of middle school and high school. Almost. They're currently enrolled in a Montessori-style school in Denver where they're already taking some of the high school-level classes. I suspect they'll wind up here at Charles's school soon enough.

Beach Guy is asking Chelsea another question, presumably about the bouquet he took from the butterfly place.

Actually, yes. Our teacher knew what they were. They're used like . . . ah, to avoid evil. They're placed in a circle to protect what's inside.

Hmm. Well, that tracks with the Wiccan theory and Beach Guy finds it acceptable, too.

What's more interesting, however, is the look Teresa gives Chelsea and Beach Guy, one that she very quickly hides from her expression but not her qi.

She's jealous! Sure, it's just a tiny bit, and she tucks her own feelings away as she looks down at her notebook. I'm not sure what she's muttering as she flips through the spiral-bound book, but she rips out a couple of pages and hands them to Chelsea. It's when she looks up at Beach Guy, and us, that we realize she'd been paying far more attention to the teacher than Chelsea had, although Chelsea had the general concept right.

When placed over a doorway, they keep the dark spirits out. When placed in a circle, Mister Kendricks said they were to keep something very dark and evil trapped inside. Breaking a circle is supposed to be a—

Melody grows more and more pale as Teresa speaks. Her qi is spiking so far into the red zone of fear that I'm amazed she can articulate anything at all.

. . . a very bad thing.

Teresa nods her agreement.

I glare at Beach Guy. It's not his semi-flirtatious smile for Teresa that really bothers me — although, yeah, that bothers me. It's more the lack of understanding of what the young women just told him that I find unconscionable.

As the teens and little girl head into the the school, he merely texts his friends.

Off to scout the cliffside path shortly. Anyone want a walk?

"You're annoyed about something." This is Pablo stating the obvious. He does that sometimes, usually when I'm annoyed about something and won't talk about it.

I take several deep breaths before looking at him. "Did you catch what the girls told Beach Guy? Especially what Teresa and Melody said?"

"The bit about keeping spirits out by hanging the flowers over a doorway? That sounds almost Biblical. And the circle keeps bad stuff inside, which seems to be the opposite of your Wiccan theory. You can't possibly be upset that you're wrong."

I shake my head. "No, not at all. New data points, clarifications, corrections — that's all good. It was Beach Guy's attitude that galls me."

Rene looks at the freeze-frame in the portal. "The librarian is upset that others aren't as enthusiastic about knowledge as she is?"

My eyes flash golden for a second as I turn to look at him. "No. The Warrior is pissed off that he doesn't realize the implications of his actions. By the Gods, Buddhas, and Spirits, Rene! You of all people should understand that insignificant events — even those that seem to be completely inconsequential — can lead to near-catastrophic consequences."

He closes his eyes and sighs. "You and Maddie."

"Right. The death of a childhood friend changed her life. Everything that came after that? Her kidnapping, meeting you, your life together, Leon, your death, Logan and the twins, your reunion — would any of that have happened if our soul hadn't been fractured by her friend's death? I think she would have had a very different life. And I wouldn't exist right now as the Warrior.

"By the time we realized our fractured soul bond, I'd nearly killed all of us trying to protect her in this lifetime — for me, anyway — when your son pushed her too hard with his gift. Even the stability of the Pentad couldn't balance my growing power. My soul remembered that bond, but I didn't. And I still tried to protect her with every fiber of who I am now."

I pause for another deep breath and close my eyes as Pablo holds me.

"What Beach Guy doesn't seem to understand is that he broke a protective circle. It was meant to keep something horrible inside. So something horrible got out. I hypothesized this scenario in a previous episode. So on top of Chelsea being terrified by something in the woods, and Melody being beaten, now the town has to deal with the fact that there was a bloodbath in one of their homes . . . a man is dead . . . a daughter may never forget the horror . . . and a woman is a widow.


"Because someone took a little bouquet for no particular reason except maybe curiosity. The events cascaded from that moment. Were those events avoidable in that world? Maybe. Or maybe they were no more avoidable than a little girl dying in our world a generation ago from a disease medical science had yet to conquer."

I open my eyes and look at the frozen image of Beach Guy on the other side of the portal.

"Maybe some things are absolutely inevitable. I don't have to like them."

The transition to the next scene is another bad jump cut. One second we're watching a frozen image of Beach Guy, the next we're watching Newspaper Man careen into Lucy as he walks out of the general store. He as a minimal excuse of not being able to see over all the stuff he's carrying. She's simply not paying attention.

One bag tumbles across the sidewalk. In that, Newspaper Man seems lucky. He's apparently apologizing and turning bright red, and his qi is deep in the embarrassment zone.

It's almost funny.

Lucy responds with some mild innuendo that she then tries to walk back.

That is funny.

Newspaper Man says something about the sheriff but Lucy doesn't say anything helpful. In fact, she and Diver Dude are acting like awful spies in a worse movie. However, given the fact that they all head over to the newspaper office, it would appear the conversation was at least somewhat related.

What's sad — and an indictment of Newspaper Man in my ethnocentric opinion — is watching his sister with her brown paper bag of liquor tip over on the bench and curl up for an alcohol-induced slumber. Oddly, the sheriff is still missing — this is about the time in the script that she comes to fetch the town drunk.

As they enter the office space, Newspaper Man gestures to his small round table.

"I could sure use some coffee right now now," Pablo says as a reply to the question from the other side of the portal.

"Later, dear. Knowing Maddie, the school is well-stocked with the good stuff."

Rene laughs. "It's not just Maddie. The kids make sure the good stuff, as you call it, is always available for those with discerning tastes."

"You mean there are people who actually prefer swill?" asks Pablo in mock horror.

"Pretty sure you did before we met Maddie and her coffee," I say, snickering.

"Never preferred it, dear. But I'm a cop. We get what we get."

Before the conversation can get completely out of control, the phones of the three people on the other side of the portal buzz, ding, ring, or otherwise indicate an incoming message. It's the one from Beach Guy. Lucy speaks up.

I could do with a walk. Maybe we can all catch up on the way?

Diver Dude agrees, and Newspaper Man sets the coffee pot down and texts back to Beach guy, who appears within minutes.

To a question he asks, Lucy replies:

Okay is such a relative term here. But I'm doing well, I think. Definitely confident that we're on the right track!"

"The perky one thinks they're heading in the right direction."

"Your tone says you don't agree," Pablo says.

I shrug. "Mistakes were made, as the saying goes. Perhaps it's a case of two steps forward and one step back." We watch the four of them leave the newspaper office and head up the street toward the highway. "On the other hand, they might be going in the wrong direction. But I have no idea what their ultimate destination is, so they could be on the right track."

"The horror in that house can't possibly be the right track," Rene notes.

Again, I shrug. "I wouldn't think so. But we still don't have all the information we need."

As they walk along the bike path, the weather starts getting dreary and overcast, and then a light drizzle begins. It's the kind of rain that's annoying — not really hard enough to warrant the use of an umbrella, but just enough to occasionally splat a fat water droplet in your eye. Or makes me wish I had an automatic wiper for my motorcycle helmet like cars have for their windshields.

It looks like they're heading over to the cliffs where Mrs. Mallory died in a previous iteration. I suppose that makes some sense. Their plan is to save her in this iteration. As they cross the bridge over one of the coves, it's easy to see how a person could slip and fall if they didn't stay on the bike path or the road. The grass is slick, the rocks of the cliffs look slick.

Of course, it's also difficult to imagine an elderly woman walking along the grass and rocks on her daily constitutional. Wouldn't she stay on the bike path? My reflexes are preternaturally fast, and I can heal from everything including dead — and even I wouldn't walk along the cliff in the rain.

It's very suspicious, which could explain their little jaunt in the drizzle.

. . . too late too late too late too late too late . . .

"The hell? Too late for what?"


"The voices that Lucy hears. They're chanting 'too late' over and over."

"Okay. I'll ask the same question." Rene peers through the portal at the gloomy day.

"There," Pablo says, pointing at something barely in the frame. That's why he's the detective.

As the group nears the point that Pablo indicated — the group should just about be coming up on the beach where Mrs. Mallory is found dead, where Beach Guy and Teresa met — I see the tire tracks. They don't look quite right.

"It looks like a vehicle was driving back and forth before, hmm, before heading right for the cliff," Pablo points out.

"Trying to avoid another vehicle?" I ask.

He shrugs. "If so, the other vehicle stayed on the road."

The amateur sleuths follow the track all the way to the edge of the cliff. The water below is frothing with hard waves, almost as if the ocean was competing with the sky in some bizarre contest of anger.

At the base of the cliff is a pickup truck.

"Shit. That's not good," I needlessly point out.

"That's definitely the sheriff's pickup," Pablo muses.

"And that's probably the sheriff," Rene adds, nodding at the body draped partially over the hood of the vehicle through the shattered windshield.

"Like I said . . . so not good."

Next up: Track Seven

© Kelly Naylor