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Aug 10

Steps to Midnight

Breaching the thick silence hanging in the air, Felicity Marcum opens her car door. A shiver strolls across her exposed skin, and her heart pounds. Her feet to the ground she takes one last glance over her shoulder to the gate that reads, Last Chance Cemetery. The light in its center, or what she assumes is the center, is her only choice to seek out salvation from a walk into town. If the town is close by.

White knuckles grip the car door as she pulls herself up to stand. Pain is a hiss across her lips as a hoot startles her, and her full weight bears down on her leg. Breaths tear through her nose as the ache settles into her bones. Snapshots of her mangled knee flash in her head. She mentally shakes the images to scatter them from her memory, but she never forgets the pain that one distracted smile caused. What Felicity needs to do is ignore the past and think about finding a cell signal to call a place to fix her car. This whole area seems to be a dead zone. She snorts at the thought.

A frown pulls down on her face. “Stupid bucket of junk. I should have replaced you when I had the chance.”

Felicity steps away and pushes the door shut, the eerie whine and screech ending with brittle metal slamming into metal. Her stomach churns with acidic indecision. Should she take the road on foot to the nearest gas station? Or should she chance following the light into the cemetery? She exhausts a breath. Felicity knows she can’t walk far on her stupid knee.

“Cemetery it is.”

The night gives sparse injections of light. Dark, menacing shadows hide the dead all around her as she searches for any signs of life past the tall, menacing bars of the gate.

“Hello?” she says just above a whisper. “Anyone alive out there.” She snickers this time. At least she can find some humor in the day that keeps on giving.

Gripping her threadbare jacket, she pulls the edges together worrying her thumbs across the space where the buttons should be. Felicity eyes the towering gate and takes a step. Her gut tells her this decision is going to twist a fork in the road, making what should be a trip from point a to point b something impassible. She’s scared. And the feeling isn’t going away. It’s churning up feelings that she thought she had dealt with. She shakes her head. “Like the Nike commercial,” says Fel, “Just do it!”

With no flashlight and the sliver of moon dropping toward the silhouette of tombstones Felicity’s confidence in her choice diminishes. Each step she takes she makes with care so she doesn’t trip. She stops to lean on one of the headstones to rest. Did she really see the light from the house? She looks at it again. She gasps when the light flickers and then dies.

“Shit!” She looks frantically around wondering what happened, as if some giant switch would appear so she could turn on the light. “Keep moving, Fel,” she whispers. “You’ll get where you need to go,” she repeated until she believed it or kept repeating it that is.

Felicity let go of the stone blowing warm air into her cold hands. She headed the direction the light had extinguished.

“The caretakers just in bed,” she said to the dead. “I’ll go to the house, he’ll let me in, and I can call for a tow truck, and then I’ll be able to get to my destination by morning.”

With each step, her focus is to keep her weight off her not so healed knee, her hobble is even more pronounced and her concentration on the bad knee so great she misses a large divot in the ground.

A scream cracks through the cold air, and she hits the ground hard as she twists around trying to avoid landing on her bad knee, instead, twisting her ankle on her good leg. Felicity’s whimper clogs her throat. She holds herself off her knee wresting on three limbs while she catches the wind she knocked out of her lungs.

“Stupid Felicity, stupid.” She squeezes her eyes shut holding back her tears because they’re of no use. “I should have taken the train.”

She grabs onto the nearest angel’s wing and brings herself back up to sit with her back to a head stone. She rotates her ankle and grunts through the movement. It hurts like hell but it’s doable. Using the angle’s wings again, she helps herself up, grits her teeth, and limps like a zombie looking for its next meal. She must look ridiculous she thinks to herself. Hysterical laughter launches out of her mouth and echoes throughout the graves bouncing back like a hoard of spirits zeroing in on her. It makes her shiver, but she ignores the chill and keeps on moving.

Walking around an ornate and very large stone monument—she looks at the carved words—dedicated to someone who must have been exorbitantly rich, Felicity comes to a sudden stop. The clouds have spilt apart, the moon shining down making the edges of the monuments glow in an unnerving light. But what makes her freeze is the movement from a shadow silhouetted by the same light. It’s not enough to see who it is but Felicity’s instincts tell her to keep quiet.

Felicity swallows hard and tries to regulate her breathing. She watches and waits to see what the large figure does. A hand reaches out and touches one of the grave stones. Who was the person that lies beneath his feet? She assumes it’s a ‘he’ standing there. The figure is significant. He seems to tower over her. There’s whispering, but she can’t hear what he’s saying. Felicity knows it is a man now. The voice is in too deep of a tone for a woman. She wants to take a step back. His size and that low voice make her nervous. But she doesn’t dare move.

An alarm blares form her coat. “Ahhh!” It’s her alarm. Fingers reach into her pocket for her phone, which had no signal earlier—the reason she couldn’t call anyone to get a tow truck.

She’d set it to remind herself that she had thirty minutes until midnight to get to her destination per her grandmother’s instructions. For the life of her Felicity doesn’t know why she still listens to the old woman, but when she speaks, all in her family listen. Felicity was to be in the small town of Humble by midnight, so that’s what she was doing. The woman is crazy, but she has a way. She knows things.

She slaps at it to get the alarm to shut off and hits the flashlight app instead.

“The flashlight app. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?”

Movement in the grass ahead of her reminds her she’s not alone. She brings up the light, and it shines on the huge goliath of a man a few yards away. His arm goes up to block his face, and he freezes.

“Don’t move! I have mace.” She does, but it’s in her car. “Crap.”

“You want to shine that damn thing somewhere else?” His words vibrate with almost a growl.

The words he says don’t really resonate though, and the rumbling tenor in his voice sings through Fel’s body like the purest chord lighting her up everywhere it touches. But then she realizes she’s in a graveyard with a strange giant of a man that could really do some damage, and she decides that it’s a good idea to direct the light somewhere else. She shifts it down so it’s not in his eyes but on him enough that she feels she could blind him again if she needs to.

Redirected the lights shows he’s holding a wreath at least three times as large as the engraved headstone he stands near. When she looks up again, the man’s body faces the grave but his face is at an angle such that the moon hits it just right and his eyes seem to glow. And his eyes are staring at her.

“Oh my,” she whispers, covering her mouth, the words and the sexual inflection she’s projecting toward this man coming out in full force, not appropriate for the mood of the hour.

He doesn’t say anything, and their gazes remain locked. Felicity’s body jerks when he says, “Your alarm’s still beeping.”

“Oh.” She unfreezes and turns it off. When she looks back up, he’s gone. She turns with unsteady movements searching but doesn’t see where he’s gone. “What the hell.” She turns again. “Ow. Stupid knee.” She looks around again. “Hello,” she yells. “I could use some help.”

There’s no response. “Jerk.”

She needs to keep moving, but before she does, she sees the wreath left at the grave. Grabbing her now remembered flashlight app she reads the inscription. “Beloved wife. 1984-2016. May you find what you were looking for.” What an odd epitaph.

She shakes off the sad feelings that the words invoke and then she gets angry. Didn’t the guy wonder why she was out here close to midnight?

“Fine!” she shouts to the world at large. The world hasn’t been that good to her in the first place. “But dammit, throw me a bone here.”

No answer.

She limps forward more determined than ever to get to the house. It isn’t like she has anywhere else to go…like the town thirty minutes away. Her grandmother always said she was traveling a new road soon. Felicity laughs so loud she stirs something in a bush, and it makes her stumble as the little critter races for cover. Her hand catches on a stone. She doesn’t fall. A breath huffs out, and Felicity keeps going.

Right before her grandmother stomped into the spiritual store they co-owned, Enchanted Glen, the stomping coming from the use of a cane she did not need, she had just returned from the grocers to the apartment she shared with her boyfriend. There had been an eviction notice on the door. Groceries in hand she did a little stomping and saw said boyfriend entangled with a blond that was not her. “What the hell,” she’d said. She hadn’t even yelled at him more surprised than anything. “You said you paid the rent.” He’d stood there with his mouth open which had a slight smile on it. He had probably been waiting for a pulling-the-hair-drag-down-fight with the girl in his arms. She hadn’t really cared. She’d been his roommate more than less. They hadn’t had sex but a handful of times since her car accident. He’d told her that he’d gotten another place to live, which she’d seen on the smirking blonds face. Felicity’s mind had been blank at that point. She hadn’t cared about food, not her job, not even her boyfriend. He had been a placeholder, really.

Her life isn’t moving forward or back unless you count her steps toward the elusive house she’s heading toward. Every time she thinks of the future, she feels more like she’s sinking, hoping for something to jump out of the proverbial dense woods of her reality that surrounds her dragging her in the right direction out of the mire that keeps pulling her under.

Felicity sighs at the memories folding over in her mind and keeps limping toward her destination. Lifting her face to the moon soaking in white light that gleams down on her, she is energized by its majesty. The darkness is what she’s afraid of more. The bleakness of it.

A year ago, her crushed car trapped for hours it seemed, her knee crushed, night falling over her as lethargy from all her wounds and blood loss covered her like a leaden blanket, swallowing her up in a mindless darkness.

“Oh, Jesus,” she exclaimed when she finally looked up.

A white Queen Ann style house a colossal slice of history cast in shadows comes into view as she tops a hill. Row after row of headstones strangles the house in ever tightening circles. She looks around noticing now that the path she’s walking is a ripple of graves from the center of the cemetery and as she moves forward taking the last step, her hand grabbing the newel post, she feels the power of it deep in her bones past her pain and the past. Like the power is centering her bringing her to the present.

Felicity breathes deep trying not to whimper as she lifts her leg to reach the next step and then the next. Reaching the door, she lifts her hand to knock but just as she does the moon shines on the center knocker, an open mouths skeleton holding a crystal stone in its giant jaws. She looks closer. Is it a wolf’s skeleton? The shudder she feels race down her spine is not welcome. As she stares at it, she feels the hum start to echo inside her, and it takes its cadence and changes her own. Her heart finds the rhythm easily which makes her nerves skitter. She looks over her shoulder. It feels like someone is watching her, eyes everywhere.

Grandma said to be at the rendezvous point at midnight. Felicity looks down at her watch just as her hand lifts the ornate knocker. Before she has time to react the knocker comes down, and the digits on her clock click over to midnight. She thinks maybe her grandmother lied and this is really her destination. Her destiny.

The hum under her skin feels bigger, somehow louder, and she knocks again. And again, until her hand is gripping the knocker so tightly she thinks her fingers will never release it.

This time she does whimper, confused, scared. The lights turn on, and she blinks. The door opens, but her hand is still on the knocker. She stumbles across the threshold, and three things happen she never thought would. One, arms wrap around so securely and strong, they feel so good she never wants them to let go. Two, the pain in her knee is so excruciating that she’s not walking anymore, she really does need to be held and carried someplace to lay down. And three, when she looks up into the face the bright light covers, she gasps.

“You,” Felicity says, the words so small she barely can hear them herself.

The man, holding her, gazes down into her eyes with an intensity that shakes her to the core. It’s the man from the cemetery.

Not only is he the man from the cemetery, but now that she sees him in the stark light, he’s the same man that a year ago changed her life forever. All because of a smile, another driver’s carelessness, and bad timing.

“Do I know you?” The man says, and his eyes narrow in what she suspects is confusion.

Hysterical laughter floats into the room from her mouth causing the man to smile. It’s stunning making her body heat up like a summer storm waiting to rain down on him.

“No,” she whispers. The man brings her to standing. “Ow,” she says when her weight hits her bad leg. And then just like in all her fantasies, the stranger lifts her up carrying her to a sofa in the next room gently sitting her down. But it’s not to sit her on the sofa. Because she can’t sit on the sofa if he’s still holding her on his lap.

She figures at this point she must be dreaming because things like this don’t happen to her.

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