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The little girl curled up in the overstuffed chair by the fireplace in her mother's bedroom, her eyelids drooping. She was too sleepy to continue wondering about why she was there and not in her own bed. She tried to be brave.
But she was frightened.
The wind outside blasted across the open water of the Strait of Juan de Fuca to their house on the cliff, rattling the shake shingles on the roof like a clown with a deck of cards, and gusting pine needles against the windows like tapping fingernails. The child shivered, and hoped it would not find a way inside.
Tsonoqua was mad, and that scared her even more. She remembered her grandmother's stories, and she didn't want the Wind Spirit to get her.
Time seemed endless to the girl. She wondered if morning was close. Then she heard the clock in the lower hall strike the hour.
It was only midnight.
The gongs drifted away into the silence, and her mom stood up from the opposite chair. "It's time to go, sweetie." Her mother spoke in a whisper as she helped the girl into a hooded jacket and rubber boots.
"Go?" The child trembled. "Go where, Mom?"
"We're going to have an adventure -- but we must be very quiet." Her smile was meant to reassure. "It wouldn't be nice of us to wake up the house just because we're still awake, would it?"
The girl shook her head and an unruly curl slipped over one eye. Her mom smiled and gently tucked it back under the hood she'd just adjusted over the child's hair. The girl felt the tremor in her mom's hand.
Her mother was afraid.
The house around them creaked and shuddered under the onslaught of the late fall storm, and the child started to ask why they were dressed to go outside. Before she could speak her mother motioned her to silence.
"Shh," she whispered, and then remembered to smile. "We must be very quiet -- right?"
But her attempt at reassurance only frightened the child more, even though she nodded again. Something was wrong.
And then her mother took her hand and led her out into the hall to lead her to the wide staircase that divided the house. "Shh," she cautioned again with another smile.
At the bottom they hesitated, as her mother seemed to be listening. An icy cold had settled over the entry hall but outside the storm still raged against the house. The girl squirmed against her mother's grip but in seconds they'd moved forward to the front door. Her mom eased it open, pausing again to listen, as though she feared that someone would stop their flight. Once they stepped onto the wide stone porch and she closed the door softly behind them, she was running again, pulling the child after her, urging the girl to keep up, that they would soon be able to rest.
The rain slashed into the girl's face, blending with her sudden tears, while the wind swooped to nudge them down the driveway. A flash of lightning startled her into a burst of speed, and then she tripped and fell on the inlaid stones. Instantly, her mom stopped to help her.
But the girl's eyes that were turned upward had already fastened on the totem pole at the bottom of the driveway, the carved figure that had significance to her father's Indian heritage.
The mythical being stood where it had always stood, the symbol of the family, the namesake of the house. Tsonoqua, the Indian spirit of the wind, female monster of the forest who stole children.
More lightning danced below the clouds, touching the carved face with a moment of life. The electrified air currents jolted the child's nervous system; it was almost as if the wide O of the mouth had breathed -- was about to speak -- to urge her to hurry away or -- or what?
The girl began to cry in earnest. Her mother stooped to see to her skinned knees under the torn corduroy pants.
"It's okay, sweetie. I know it smarts but I have Band-Aids in the boat. I'll fix up those skinned knees in a jiffy once we get to the boat."
The child looked up through her tears. "Boat?"
"That's part of our adventure, sweetie." In the darkness the girl could still sense her mother's sincerity -- her absolute resolve to get to the boat. "And there will be ice cream, your favorite candy and pop, and a wonderful future for both of us."
"Uh-huh. I promise, sweetie. Just be strong now and everything will be just as I say -- okay?"
The child nodded and got up.
And then they were running again, headed for the spiral stairs that hung down the cliff to the beach. Once there, the child clung to her mom as they descended the iron structure, realizing a sudden movement could tip their balance and throw them into the black abyss below.
The wind strengthened, then gusted away leaving a lull, as though protecting them, enabling them to move more quickly down the steps. Finally at the bottom, her mom pulled her over the short jetty to the dock where they paused to catch their breath.
The child glanced back, upward to the dark house outlined against the mood of the night, perched on the cliff like an eagle's aerie in a high fir tree.
Suddenly a light snapped on in the tower room, jolting her thoughts back to herself and her mom on the dock. She saw that her mom noticed, too. A figure moved around on the widow's walk, as though searching the grounds and the strait. Had someone realized they were gone?
Abruptly, her mom helped her into the small motorboat that bobbed against the pilings, straining at its moorings. In seconds they were untied from the dock, the engine started and her mom was steering them away from the island, headed out into the turbulent Strait of Juan de Fuca.
Her teeth chattering from fear and the cold, the child was unable to voice her terror. Her mom was afraid of boats, even in summer when the water was flat and serene. Now, in the midst of a storm her mother had taken command of a motorboat, the way the girl's dad always had in the past.
He was dead. He couldn't help them now.
As the motor droned them out to sea, the bow pounding the waves and then dropping into sudden troughs, the child's fear became acceptance, even as she was terrified. She and her mom would drown, too -- like her dad.
Another boat suddenly appeared as though it had been spit up from the depths. Frantically, her mother manipulated the waves for a position alongside while the lone occupant of the larger craft secured the connection.
The child glanced at the person under the slicker and hat that glistened from the rain. Mutely, the figure held out its arms for her, as the boats crashed against each other with an alarming gnashing of boards and scraped paint. The wind screamed and whistled, and in the distance she could see the timeworn precipices of the island that loomed like faceless ghosts above the sea.
The child hesitated.
Was it a man or a woman? She couldn't tell. But she was afraid to let the figure take her away from her mom.
"It's all right," her mother said in her ear above the howling wind. "I'm right behind you. You'll be safe."
Before the child had time to question anything, the person on the other boat grabbed her and pulled her aboard. In seconds her mom joined her.
The person in the rain gear let her go to loosen the line to their speedboat. In seconds it was swallowed into the swells that were higher than they were.
The child watched, horrified. "Grandma will think we drowned," she cried.
"No, she'll only know that we're off on our adventure," her mom shouted back. "She'll know that we're okay."
But the child was unconvinced as her mother carried her down to the tiny cabin where there was a berth. Once she'd lain down her mother saw to her skinned knees, dabbing them with antiseptic before covering the wounds with a Band-Aid.
As the boat moved even farther away from the house on the cliff, the little girl finally drifted off toward sleep, lulled by the steady sound of the engine.
But vaguely, almost as though it was a dream, she heard her mother giving thanks for them having gotten away from the House of Tsonoqua.
"We'll start a new life," her mother said, "safe from Tsonoqua and all the others who can harm us. We'll forget."
Tsonoqua? the child wondered sleepily. Who were the others? And what would she forget?
She opened her eyes to the porthole that was suddenly illuminated by the boat's running lights. Beyond the round opening she watched the strange patterns on the water rushing past the boards.
But somehow the girl knew she wouldn't forget, that whatever she needed to remember would not let go of her.
Nor would Tsonoqua or the other Great Spirits who silently reigned over their chosen islands -- the place where she'd been born, where her father had lived...and died.
And then she slept.
Copyright © 2004 by Donna Anders
Jessie Cline slowed the patrol car, bringing it to a stop in front of an early nineteen hundreds row house that was typical to the Sunset area of San Francisco. It was the address where the call for help had originated. She was about to follow her partner, Matt Spence, out of the police cruiser into the foggy late afternoon when the dispatcher's voice crackled over the radio, stopping her.
"Possible gunfire reported at your location."
"Copy that," Jessie said, responding immediately to the transmission. Then she stepped out to the street and unsnapped her holster. Matt's revolver was already in his hand. Another domestic dispute turned deadly? she wondered. Jessie hoped not. But they had to be ready -- just in case.
Damn, she thought, glancing at the nearby draped and shuttered houses. She had a bad feeling. It was too quiet, too spooky. Something had scared the neighbors into lying low, out of the line of possible fire. There wasn't a person in sight anywhere, not even the one who'd made the call.
Upon reaching the porch steps, Matt continued up to the door while Jessie headed for the narrow walkway between houses that led to the back. She moved cautiously, her body edging along the side of the building, alert for whatever awaited her in the fenced backyard.
It was an anticlimax. The tiny enclosed patio was an unexpected oasis behind the drab house. It was a miniature paradise of multicolored flowers and overgrown evergreen shrubs, a fountain and a small table with two chairs, all positioned with the perfect balance of an artist about to paint a still life. The drapes on the French doors were closed so that she couldn't see into the residence itself. All was quiet except for the tinkle of water in the fountain.
Surreal, she thought. The brilliant blossoms were subdued by the thickening fog, and the line of cookie-cutter backyards were obscured by high fences. It was like no one existed on the planet, let alone in the Sunset area of San Francisco.
An icy finger seemed to touch her spine.
Jessie quickly checked out the backyard, her senses alert to the shuttered windows. She went to the backdoor and turned the knob. It was unlocked.
And then it suddenly opened to frame Matt in the doorway. "The front door was open but no one is here -- except a dead woman," he said, shaking his head. "She's badly beaten and has multiple stab wounds, but death appears to be strangulation. The coroner will make the determination. Backup is on the way."
She nodded, realizing her partner was shaken by what he'd seen. "Everything secure out here," she said.
As in the past she'd wondered why Matt had become a policeman and not a lawyer. His interest was law enforcement but he seemed too sensitive for the grizzly reality of viewing violent death up close and personal.
She hated the inhumanity-to-man aspect, the disregard for life. But she knew why Matt wasn't a lawyer and she wasn't an artist, as she'd originally planned. They both needed a steady income. She, like him, had a family to support and monthly bills to pay. And there was never anything left over to pursue dreams that cost money.
He nodded. "Okay. Go on back around to the front and wait for the backup. I'll make sure everything stays secure in the house."
She lifted a hand, acknowledging his request. He closed the door, and the drapes waved in the sudden draft, settling back over the windows. Jessie started toward the corner of the house, the only way out of a backyard that was enclosed by eight-foot fencing.
She'd just entered the narrow corridor between the houses when she caught a sudden movement out of the corner of her eye.
Before she could react it was too late. Someone had an arm around her neck, yanking her backward, someone who must have been hidden in the fog behind an overgrown shrub.
She managed to scream.
The man's word was muttered into her ear. Then her air was squeezed off as the arm tightened brutally on her neck. She struggled to raise her gun but a chop to her wrist dropped it from her hand. She was helplessly overcome by a superior strength. Her last thought was of her son, Danny. What would become of him if she weren't there to take care of him?
Jessie felt herself falling as the fog seemed to close in around her, shutting off her mind. She didn't even feel herself hit the sidewalk.
Copyright © 2004 by Donna Anders
Posted December 9, 2008
San Francisco police officer Jessie Cline worries about her eleven years old son Danny living in an unsafe neighborhood. After a harrowing incident, she wonders who would care for him if she was killed as her son¿s father denies the child is his because Jessie had an affair at about the time she became pregnant. When she learns that she inherited property on Washington¿s Cliff Island, Jessie decides to fill the will¿s stipulation of living there at least a year. Jessie¿s also obtains the job of Assistant Police Chief. Police Chief Hank Shepherd assigns Jessie to keep safe Lynda the pregnant wife of famous cartoonist Ben Thrasher who is in the news for his social commentary about an alleged womanizing senator. He was the Berkley professor, who Jessie had that affair with that ended her marriage.--- Someone burns down Jessie¿s woodshed and she receives a threatening letter to leave or die. Lynda tells Jessie that someone forced her off the road while a driver tries to hit Danny. More incidents follow aimed at Jessie, Lynda, and Danny; the link is Ben, but no motive surfaces and the danger mounts.--- Jessie is a terrific strong lead heroine who has no idea why she and her son are under siege, but the incidents and the police investigation grip readers from start to finish though Danny is too perfect. Also a secondary Tugboat Annie like character draws the same conclusions using the same technology as the cops yet faster without insider information or the vast interrelated criminal databases. Still the suspense grows with twists and turns that hook fans who will keep the lights on being AFRAID OF THE DARK.--- Harriet KlausnerWas this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.