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Halfway out of the driver's seat, Heather stared at the dead animal sprawled on the gravel driveway in front of the cabin–a bobcat, looking like a discarded stuffed toy except for the dark blotch on the belly. With her heart racing, Heather retreated into the car, leaving the door open. She pressed her lips together and tried to slow her breathing. Dizziness rocked her.
The image leaped to life in her memory: Six years ago, a summer evening on a moonlit mountain road. A man crouched over the bleeding body of a deer. Glowing eyes.
Heather shook herself back into the present. I imagined that; didn't I settle that long ago?
She picked up her purse and leaned out of the open door. A flicker of movement in the side-view mirror caught her eye. A glint of red–
She squeezed her eyes shut. No, it's not going to start again! I won't let it!
When she nerved herself to glance around, she saw no sign of life. Removing the car keys from the ignition and digging another ring of keys out of her purse, she stood up and slammed the door behind her. She marched up to the dead bobcat. Blood still oozed over the matted fur, and no flies buzzed around it yet. A dog must have killed it, mere minutes before, probably scared off by the sound of the car. Nothing to get upset about.
Skirting the body, she walked up the two sagging steps to the front porch and inserted the key into the cranky lock. Boards groaned under her feet, as always. Dead leaves littered the porch, which needed a coat of paint. Look at this mess! Mom will have a fit.
No, would have had. Laura Kincaid would never see this placeagain. Uterine cancer had ensured that. Heather blinked away tears more of anger than sadness. It wasn't time. I wasn't finished with her yet. With them. Her father had outlasted her mother by less than four months. Heather recognized his "accident" as suicide, although, as a doctor, he'd been careful to make it appear otherwise. He'd left her with what their minister, a thirtyish woman with a counseling degree, called "unresolved issues."
Again Heather shrugged off the temptation to sink into gloom. The issue for this month was cleaning out this place and putting it on the market. Brooding on the porch wouldn't get that done.
A breeze followed her into the living room. She sneezed at the dust it raised from the scratched hardwood floor. A glance at the ceiling confirmed that the oval water mark on the plaster had expanded since her last visit. Mom had constantly complained about the defects in the place, ranging from the uneven floorboards and leaky roof to the hard water from the well and rust stains in the sinks and commode. Definitely no rich folks' summer cottage, just a four-room cabin–well, five rooms, if the screened-in back porch counted–with a fake Lincoln log façade. Dad had bought it early in their marriage, as soon as his medical practice began to prosper. Heather had often wondered why they'd kept the place and vacationed here every year, if Mom disliked it so much. Who knows, maybe complaining was a form of relaxation for her. She'd spent half of every month-long "vacation" cleaning. Everything had to be perfect.
Including me. With a cardiologist for a father and a professional volunteer–PTA president and chairman of countless hospital charity committees–for a mother, Heather had always had standards to meet. Honor roll was expected; only straight A's merited special notice. Her friends were subjected to a security check worthy of the CIA.
Heather took off her gold-rimmed glasses and rubbed her damp forehead. Cut that crap, right now! You're not a kid anymore; you don't have to swallow that stuff. Time to get to work.
She trudged back and forth from the car, carrying in a couple of grocery bags and stacks of flattened cardboard boxes. She'd brought her mother's station wagon, since her own compact was too small to transport much junk. Heather averted her eyes as she passed the dead animal, thinking, First thing, get rid of that.
Out back, on the screened porch, she found the shovel in its usual corner. A few hundred paces into the woods, she dug a shallow pit in the soft loam on the edge of a weed-choked ravine. Then she scooped up the carcass, which was heavier than she'd expected, and lugged it out back to bury it.
Good, that's over, she reassured herself a few minutes later, scrubbing her hands at the kitchen sink. Now I won't have any more hallucinations. On second thought, she mustn't label that glimpse in the side-view mirror a hallucination, which implied a crack in her sanity. Call it an optical illusion, a trick of light and shadow, enhanced by memories.
The kitchen faucet dripped, and the mineral stains in the sink looked worse than she remembered. Fishing a notepad out of her purse on the counter, she jotted down "Plumber." Noticing a missing handle on a cabinet as well as a hole in the window screen, and recalling the leaky roof, she added a hyphen and the word, "Handyman."
Who's going to buy this dump? She felt a twinge of guilt at her disloyalty. After all, her parents had valued the cabin enough to keep it for over twenty years. And Heather had enjoyed the place herself, until that summer when she'd turned eighteen. Be honest, I kept on enjoying it, a little too much. That was the problem. She wasn't sentimental enough to want to hold onto the cabin. She didn't need a vacation home she hadn't visited since the summer after high school graduation.
She'd had an excellent reason to renounce the mountain vacations, despite her parents' obsession with fresh air and exercise for their bookworm daughter. Her mother's peculiar about-face, forbidding her to join them on future trips ("Your father and I want some time to ourselves for a change"), had come as a positive relief, though Heather wouldn't have admitted that relief at the time. She had needed to escape the powerful allure the dreams exerted over her. The dreams she'd experienced only at the cabin that strange year, delusions so real she could touch and taste them…
Heather shook her head and brushed a tangle of auburn hair out of her face. She must not think about her dream-beast. He'd been a phantom of her imagination, and she was too old to need a fantasy lover.
Right now, she needed the phone number of a local handyman. Pausing in the living room to jiggle the fireplace damper, she wiped sooty fingers on a tissue pulled from her jeans pocket and wrote down "chimney sweep?" The cabin had a phone, since her father, as a doctor, couldn't spend a month without one, but no local phone book. She would have to visit Ted's father's store first thing in the morning, where she could get names and numbers as well as more groceries.
Copyright © 2004 by Margaret L. Carter