FINGERS IN THE MIST
Welcome to Highland Falls, Idaho, population: 353.
The sign taunts me, threatening me with its simple tagline: “Raising families in God’s name since 1823.” I hate this place. I shouldn’t be here. No sixteen-year-old should have to live in a town where the number of residents is less than the number of her Facebook friends.
The headlights of my father’s Dodge sweep across the bridge as he navigates through the water flowing across the road. The rain falls in ferocious sheets, hammering the truck, filling the already too-full river with water it can’t hold.
“We’re almost home, Cait.” He reaches over and squeezes my shoulder. This is one of six sentences he’s spoken since we left the bus station two hours ago. He still hasn’t told me why he missed Mom’s funeral.
I sigh in response. I want to beg him to turn around and take me back to the bus station. Visiting every summer was one thing, but I can never call this place home.
Thunder rolls and a bolt of lightning cuts across the sky like the flash of a camera. The trees light up, and in the distance I notice a muddy figure with dark hair standing at the side of the road. My heart stutters and my breath comes in shallow bursts. I’m seeing things. I squeeze my eyes shut, blotting out the image of my ex-boyfriend standing on the front porch, my mother’s blood stuck to his hands like gloves. It’s just my imagination. It’s not Jonah.
When I open my eyes, the figure is still there. He steps onto the road, and I scream when I realize my father hasn’t seen him. Dad slams on the brakes and the Dodge hydroplanes, fishtailing to a stop mere inches from the boy.
My father’s green eyes widen with recognition at the stumbling figure before him. “Oh my God. It’s the Perkins boy.”
“Trevor?” My stomach drops. “What happened to him?”
“Trevor’s fine. It’s Mason. He’s alive.” He opens the door and steps out into the rain before I can ask any more questions.
Why wouldn’t Mason be alive? More important, why is he wandering around in a rainstorm five miles outside of town covered in mud?
Dad approaches Mason with an outstretched hand. I see his lips move, but can’t hear what he says over the thrumming of the rain on the roof of the truck. Oblivious of my father’s presence, Mason stumbles along the road, his gait slow and ragged. His jeans, caked in mud, hang loosely from his bony hips. He’s barefoot and doesn’t wear a shirt. Deep scratches cover his chest and arms. It looks like he just clawed his way out of the ground.
Mason paces in small circles, bloodied hands twitching at his sides. My father walks up behind him and places a hand on his shoulder. Mason turns on him, swinging his fists. One of them connects with my dad’s face, and I gasp when I see all six-foot-two of him stumble. He slips and falls, disappearing beneath the hood of the truck.
I throw open my door and tumble into the cold October air, my boots slipping against the wet pavement. The rain immediately engulfs me. A gust of wind, thick with the scent of cedar and pine, picks up damp pieces of my dark hair, flinging them into my face like small tentacles.
“Are you okay?” I kneel in front of my dad as he runs a calloused hand over his jaw.
“I’m fine,” he says, struggling to his feet. “He just caught me off guard. I slipped.”
“No, no, no, no, no.” Mason slaps at his head like he’s trying to knock something loose. Globs of mud fall to the ground. He throws his head back and screams in pain, tearing at his hair.
“What’s wrong with him?” I take a step back, leaning against the front of the truck.
“I don’t know. He went camping a week ago with some friends up near the falls. They woke up and Mason wasn’t there. We thought he was dead.”
Before I can respond, a loud hacking comes from Mason. He drops to his knees, his hands pressed to his stomach. His entire body convulses. The sounds coming out of him are enough to make me want to hurl.
“We need to get him into town. We’ll take him by Doc’s,” my dad says.
Mason wretches again, and this time a dark stream pours from his mouth. It looks like mud—like he’s throwing up mud. I place a hand over my mouth and turn my back to him. That was seriously nasty.
“I need you to help me get him into the truck.”
I wave a hand in my father’s direction, afraid to open my mouth to speak—afraid of what might come up.
“Cait! I need some help here.”
I turn to see Mason lying on the ground, his entire body wracked with convulsions. His back arches until the top of his head sits on the road. His hands hover above the ground, shaking as if he’d been electrocuted. All at once, his body goes flaccid, collapsing into silence. His blue eyes stare at the sky, unblinking against the huge drops of rain that spatter them. Black gunk seeps from the corner of his mouth and blood streams from his nose.
Dad stoops down and lays a hand on Mason’s chest.
“Is he dead?” I place a hand over my mouth, fighting back the tears. He looks so peaceful. Just like my mother did. I’ll never get that vision out of my head. Her still body lying in the foyer, eyes open, staring at the ceiling. Her dark hair floated on a crimson pool of blood, her full lips slightly parted as if she might speak at any moment and tell me everything would be okay. The bullet hole in her forehead told me otherwise.
“Help me load him into the truck,” Dad says, grabbing Mason under his shoulders. “Grab his legs.”
I do as I’m told, hoping Mason won’t come to and nail me in the face with one of his size twelves. I wince when I see the cuts covering his feet.
We struggle to get Mason into the back seat. Despite his thin frame, he’s surprisingly heavy. Once he’s inside, I remove my thick wool coat and place it over his shivering body. I close the door, careful not to smack his head.
Another bolt of lightning cuts across the sky. A flash of deep red from just inside the thick copse of cedar trees along the road catches my attention. Three more bolts of lightning hit in rapid succession, cracking across the mountaintop. They hit so close to us the ground shudders. I need to get back into the truck, but I can’t move. I can’t take my eyes off the person watching us.
My name, barely a whisper, hangs in the air, tossed around by the wind.
I take a step toward the figure in red. Rain falls in sheets around me, piercing my face like bullets. My hands are so cold and numb I can’t feel my fingers. My pendant gives another shudder and I instinctively grab hold of it.
“It will keep you safe,” my mother told me the day she gave it to me. “Wear it always.”
“Cait, get in the truck.” My father’s voice is barely audible over the thumping of thick raindrops. The only thing I’m fully aware of is the whisper of my name syncopated with the rhythm of the rain splashing around me. My entire body hums with energy. It’s a familiar feeling—one that never ends in anything good.
Thunder roars overhead, and I jump when a thick hand comes down on my shoulder.
“What are you doing? We need to get Mason into town,” my dad says, his voice tinged with annoyance. “We can’t stay out here with all this lightning. It’s not safe.”
“There’s someone in the woods.” I turn and point in the direction of the figure, but they’re gone.
He takes a step toward the trees, shielding his eyes from the rain with his hand. “There’s no one out there. Come on. We need to go.”
Once we’re inside, the cold settles in and my body begins to tremble. I reach over and crank up the heat. The warm air hits me in the face, painting goose bumps across my skin. Mason moans from the back as the truck bounces over uneven pavement. We reach the top of the last hill, and the small town of Highland Falls appears below us. The only indication that there’s actually a town swaddled within the dark valley below are the tiny pinpricks of light dotting the landscape, laid out like rows of fireflies.
Dad navigates the Dodge down Main Street toward the town square and past the church before hanging a left in the direction of Doc Robertson’s ranch. He’s the closest thing to an actual doctor in this town. I never did understand how a veterinarian could also act as a people doctor, but no one around here seems to mind.
The headlights cut across the front of the old, white ranch house, announcing our arrival. Dad stops the truck inches from the porch and hops out without a word, leaving me alone with Mason. I turn to look at him over the back of the seat. He’s so still. Too still. I reach out a hand and place it on top of my coat, sighing in relief when I feel his chest rise.
I run a hand over my tangled mess of hair, pulling away a few pine needles that had found refuge there. I could really use a brush right now. I pull down the visor and shriek when I look in the mirror. It’s not the reflection of the totally whacked out girl who startles me. Mason sits behind me, back rigid, eyes wide, staring directly at me.
“Hello, Caitlyn. So good to see you.” The pitch of the voice is definitely Mason’s, but it’s not the slow drawl I’m used to. The words are too clipped, too perfectly pronounced to actually belong to him. “I’m glad you made it.” A sick smile spreads across his face, and an electric pulse covers my skin. It’s not a friendly smile. It’s more like the type of grin the Big Bad Wolf offered Little Red Riding Hood before he tried to eat her.
My head jerks back and slams into the seat. The back of my head stings and I wince as he gives my hair another forceful tug.
“You can’t stop us.” His words are low and threatening, hot against my cheek. His rancid breath clings to the air, and I have to hold my breath to keep from vomiting.
“Mason, let go of my hair.” I try to mask the fear poking at the edge of my voice. This isn’t the Mason I’ve known the last eight years. That Mason was gentle and polite—a hulking boy with a quiet demeanor and a slight stutter.
He grabs my face with a large, bony hand and my skin immediately begins to hum. “We know what you did, Cait. We know what you are.”
I grab his wrist, and the moment I do, he screams in pain, flailing against the seat. I fumble with the door, and tumble out of the truck into the soft, mushy earth. The screen door slams, and my father rushes down the steps in my direction. I struggle to stand, slipping in the mud, certain that at any moment Mason will leap from the truck and try to kill me.
“What happened?” My dad grabs me under my arms to steady me, helping me stand.
I pull away from him and stumble up the porch steps, grasping the railing until I’m under the awning, out of the rain. “Mason attacked me.”
The screen door slams against the side of the house, revealing Doc Robertson. He’s dressed in a white T-shirt pulled tight over a protruding gut and a pair of plaid, flannel pajama bottoms tucked into the top of his old cowboy boots. He throws on a bright yellow rain slicker as he clomps past me toward the truck. A light shuffling comes from behind me, and I instinctively recoil when a small hand touches my shoulder.
“Caitlyn, honey, you must be freezing.” Mrs. Robertson wears an old floral bathrobe, her gray hair in curlers. Everything about her says “cliché farm wife.”
“Come inside where it’s warm.” She places a comforting arm around my shoulders and turns me toward the front door.
“I’m covered in mud. I don’t want to mess up your house.”
“Have you seen who I live with? This is nothing compared to what he drags in most days.” She guides me inside the house, the screen door slamming behind us. “Take off your boots and I’ll go get some towels. Wait here.”
I pull off my boots, curling my nose in disgust when my hand sinks into the mud caking them. A deep gash runs along one of the toes, cutting into the soft brown leather. Five hundred bucks down the drain. Could things possibly get any worse?
The screen door swings open. I step out of the way as Dad and Doc Robertson stumble through the door, Mason’s limp body propped up between them. I can’t help noticing the deep red mark on Mason’s wrist where I grabbed him. It looks like he stuck his hand into a pot of boiling water. I’ve hurt people before, but not like this—not with my touch.
“Here you go, honey,” Mrs. Robertson says as she hands me a couple towels. “Wipe that mud off with these. The bathroom is down there if you want to clean up.” She points down the hall toward the living room. Doc calls for her and she goes to him, leaving me to clean myself up.
I’m surprised to find that most of the mud is on my hands and knees. I bundle up the muddy towel and use the clean one to soak up some of the water from my hair as I walk down the hall, searching for the restroom.
“Call his mama and tell her we found him,” Doc says to Mrs. Robertson. “I’m going to go grab some bandages and other supplies from the clinic out back.”
Doc walks to the back of the house, followed by my father, leaving me alone with Mason. His pale skin practically glows against the bright floral pattern of the sofa they placed him on. Now that there’s light, I can see his wounds more clearly. A deep gash runs across his forehead and two more cuts make an “X” on his chest. I tiptoe past the sofa, afraid he may wake up and attack me again.
“Trevor? Hi, it’s Thelma Robertson. How are you, dear?”
I freeze when I hear her say Trevor’s name. Shit. Please don’t let him get here before we leave. I can’t see him now. I need a couple of days.
“I think you should get your mother and come down to our place. We found your brother. Mason’s alive.”
“Help. H-help u-us. You have t-to h-help us.” Mason’s voice is barely a whisper. He stares at me, eyes wide with fear, a hand outstretched in my direction. “Th-th-they’re c-c-oming.”
When I look at him, I see the old Mason, the gentle boy who used to take me horseback riding and hunting for frogs when I was younger.
“Help! Help me!” His screams are loud and desperate. I want to help him, but I don’t know what he needs. He writhes in pain, his hands clamped to his head. He sits up too quickly, tumbling off the sofa and into the coffee table, knocking a small glass figurine to the ground.
Mrs. Robertson rushes in and crouches next to him, her small frame no match for his flailing arms. “Cait, can you help me?”
I move toward her, afraid to touch him, afraid I may hurt him again. The back door opens and Doc and my father rush into the room. They wrestle with Mason, my dad holding him while Doc sticks a needle into his arm. In a matter of seconds, Mason grows still, his cries for help trailing off into silence.
I back toward the bathroom, my breath coming in short gasps. I don’t realize how bad I’m shaking until I fumble with the lock on the bathroom door. What is going on here? What happened to him? I close my eyes, willing my pulse to slow. I could really use a Klonopin right now. I haven’t felt the need this bad since they threw me in rehab.
I catch a glimpse of myself in the mirror and see that I look about as bad as the battered boy in the living room. Mascara rings my eyes, making me look like a green-eyed raccoon. My dark hair, so perfectly done earlier this morning, hangs in thick clumps plastered to my face.
I run my fingers through my hair, doing my best to make it look at least halfway presentable. I wipe the smeared makeup from my eyes and dig all the mud and gunk from beneath my fingernails. This is about as good as it’s going to get for now. I open the door, and step into the hallway.
“Now? It’s too soon. It’s not time.” Mrs. Robertson stops speaking when I walk into the room, a look of worry and confusion on her face. My father and Doc turn and stare in my direction. A look passes between them. Why do I feel as though I’ve interrupted something?
“You ready to go?” my father asks.
I nod, looking over at Mason. A bandage covers the gash on his forehead. Most of the mud has been washed off, and a crocheted blanket covers him. He looks so peaceful. The same as he did before he tried to rip my hair out of my head.
“Thank you for the towels, Mrs. Robertson,” I say, remembering my manners, “and for the use of your restroom.”
I follow my father, stopping to put on my boots, when footsteps come at us from the other side of the door. Mrs. Perkins flies into the house, a mess of disheveled hair and dark-ringed eyes.
“Where is he? Is he alive? Where did you find him?” she asks, her eyes darting about the room.
“He’s asleep.” Dad walks with her into the living room, recounting how we found Mason wandering along the road in the mountains outside town.
I pull on my last boot, suddenly aware of a presence behind me. I know who it is before I turn around. My body begins to shake and my stomach burns. I can’t do this now. I busy myself with my boot, rubbing a thumb over the scratched leather to avoid looking at him.
“Cait?” The sound of his voice sends a jolt through me. I slowly stand and turn to face him, a strained smile pulling at my lips. As soon as I see him, my heart aches and two years of deep regret wash over me. He looks damn good in his boots and worn Wranglers—the standard gear for every man in Highland Falls. His wet, black T-shirt clings to him. I can’t help but smile when I notice he wears the Boise State cap I sent him for his birthday three years ago. It’s ragged and dirty, just like his memories of me.
“Hey, Trevor.” So casual. Too casual? “How are you?”
He removes his cap and nods, but doesn’t speak. His worried eyes meet mine for a moment before focusing on the floor. “Where did you find him?”
I lean against the doorjamb, my arms crossed over my chest. “He was wandering along the road just past the bridge.”
“Is he … ?” He chokes back the rest of the sentence, glancing at me again, but refusing to meet my eyes.
“I think he’s going to be okay. He’s in the living room.” I want to reach out to him. Hug him. Wrap my arms around his neck and kiss him on the cheek. Something.
He pushes a strand of shaggy dark hair out of his gorgeous blue eyes, then busies himself with his cap. He looks so good, even better than he did two years ago when hurricane Caitlyn paid a visit. The summer I caused a rift between two of my best friends. The summer Trevor offered me his heart and I tossed it at his feet. How could I have been so stupid?
He takes a hesitant step in the direction of his mother’s soft sobs coming from the living room, stopping when my father steps in front of him.
“Thank you, Mr. Foster,” Trevor says, shaking Dad’s hand. “Thanks for bringing him home.”
“We were just in the right place at the right time. You call me if you or your mama need anything, okay?”
Trevor nods and smiles. I’ve missed that smile. He puts his hands back in his pockets and walks into the living room without so much as a glance in my direction. My heart drops a little. I didn’t exactly expect a joyous reunion filled with balloons and kisses. In fact, I was ready for him to rip me a new one. I would have much preferred that to his cold indifference.
I step outside to wait on the porch. The rain still comes in heavy sheets, and lightning flashes in rapid succession, illuminating the mountains that surround us. If this keeps up, the entire town will be under water before the night is through.
My name swoops through the air in an ominous whisper, and my skin begins to tingle again. An intense pain fills my head and my vision blurs. I drop to my knees and my father’s hands catch me under my armpits before I hit the ground. Just as quickly as it hit, the pain is gone.
“Are you all right?” Dad places a steadying arm around my shoulder.
“Just a little dizzy. I haven’t eaten today.” It’s a lie, but he seems to buy it.
“Let’s get you home.”
I follow him to the truck, my eyes searching the property for the mysterious whisperer, but all I see is rain and darkness.
The book will be sent upon the titles release.