When Willa Dixon's brother dies on the family lobster boat, her father forbids Willa from stepping foot on deck again. With her family suffering, she’ll do anything to help out—even visit the Grey Man. Everyone in her small Maine town knows of this legendary spirit who haunts the lighthouse, controlling the fog and the fate of any vessel within his reach. But what Willa finds in the lighthouse isn’t a spirit at all, but a young man trapped inside until he collects one thousand souls. Desperate to escape his cursed existence, Grey tries to seduce Willa to take his place. With her life on land in shambles, will she sacrifice herself?
About the Author
Saundra Mitchell is the author of the companion novels The Vespertine, The Springsweet, and The Elementals. Her debut novel, Shadowed Summer, was a 2010 Edgar Award nominee, a Junior Library Guild selection, and an ALAN pick. She lives in Indianapolis. Visit her website at www.saundramitchell.com.
Read an Excerpt
The hope was used up; all we had left was superstition.
That’s why Seth Archambault took my place on my father’s fishing boat. That’s why I stacked egg-salad sandwiches in a cooler instead of pulling on my oil clothes.
“Bad luck to have a woman or a pig onboard,” my father told me over dinner the night before. Mom didn’t blink; she knew it was coming.
“Which one am I?” I asked.
Dad didn’t answer. He drained his coffee, then drifted from the table. His weighted steps shook the floor as he jammed a baseball cap onto his greying head. Last summer, his hair gleamed copper, the same watery shade as mine.
Old-time navy tales said it was supposed to be bad luck to have redheads aboard too, but we Dixons had proved that wrong for years. Like a bunch of Down East Weasleys, we’d always been ginger. Even the black-and-white pictures in Gran’s albums showed generations of freckles on milky faces and waved hair too in-between to be blond or brunet.
And let’s be honest. We were moored when my brother, Levi, got shot.
He fell onto the boat. Into my arms. And he died on the dock. So, technically, our bad luck lately had nothing to do with redheads, pigs, or women onboard the Jenn-a-Lo.
But it wasn’t an argument I wanted to have before sending my father and my boyfriend into new October seas. that’s why I got up with a dawn I couldn’t see and made sandwiches I didn’t like. Leaving through the back door, I kicked Levi’s boots out of my way and headed for the water.
The fog cloaked me in dewy silk. It tasted cool and beaded in my hair. I moved through it uneasily. My walk was familiar, but the world was hidden—I held my hand out to touch everything I could to guide me.
At the end of my walk, the Jenn-a-Lo slept where she always did when we weren’t fishing her. But she was a ghost in the mist; we all were. An unseen harbor bell called, answered by the sleepy bump of boats against their slips.
Conversations drifted in the air, disconnected from breath and body. But I recognized the voices—Mr. O’toole wanted to know if Zoe Pomroy still had his coffee grinder. Mal Eldrich asked if it was cold enough for Lane Wallace, which got him soundly cursed because it was the 275th day that year he’d asked it, and he’d no doubt ask it for the remaining ninety.
This was Broken tooth before fishing started for the day: the wharf alive with ordinary, daring men and women. they laughed and cussed and got ready to sail on seas that would be just as happy to swallow them as feed them.
More likely than not, this had always been Broken tooth. For the Passamaquoddy who fished here first, then for the English and French and Scots-Irish who drove them out.
Funny thing was, it never used to be this foggy. We’d have some, but everybody talked about how Broken tooth didn’t get blessed much, but we got blessed with clear waters. Not anymore; seemed like it hadn’t been clear since Levi died. It was our shroud.
With a heavy sigh, I hurried to the Jenn-a-Lo. At first, just the red script of her name floated up in the fog. trailing my hand along the rail, the boat took shape. She wasn’t new; she wasn’t beautiful. I loved her all the same.
Thankfully, in the pale of a frosted morning, I couldn’t make out the shadow of Levi’s blood, stained into the warp of the wood dock. Before I could think about it, a hand reached out of the mist to take mine.
“Egg salad?” Seth asked.
“What else?” I said, and stepped onboard. Putting the cooler down, I slid it across the deck with a firm shove, then turned to find him. He was a shadow in the haze, then suddenly a boy. My boy.
In my orbit, Seth touched me with hands just as certain as my steps toward the shore had been. Brushing my lips against his jaw, I curled closer to him so I could slip toward his mouth. His skin was cool; at first, he tasted of coffee and Juicy Fruit.
The second kiss, though, tasted like nothing but want. That was the beauty of a silver morning: it was possible to steal away with someone without moving at all.
When I broke the kiss, I pressed my brow to Seth’s temple. “You better be careful.”
“Always,” he said.
“Make Dad eat,” I went on.
Seth’s breath spread heat across my cheek. “I’ll ask him to, anyway.”
“Don’t feel bad if you’re just changing water in the pots,” I continued. “Or pulling seeders and v-notches. That’s just fishing this time of year.”
I felt him smile. “I’ve got this, Willa.”
Of course he did. I knew he did. But I felt strangely stripped, knowing that I wouldn’t be my father’s sternman today. As fine a fisherman as Seth was, he didn’t know the particular rhythms of our boat. Her quirks waited to catch him, as if winter seas weren’t wicked enough. It was supposed to be clear and cold today if the fog ever lifted, but there was no accounting for the atlantic’s whim.
“Mind the hauler. It’s sticky,” I told him, and smoothed off his knit cap so I could run my fingers through his hair.
Seth bowed his head, catching me in another needy kiss. Possessive, his hand tightened on my hip, and I twisted my fingers in his hair. Selfishly, I wanted to leave him with an edge, troubled by a hunger he couldn’t satisfy.
That was the one thing I was still sure of, that Seth Archambault wanted me more than he wanted anything else in the world. Catching his lower lip between my teeth, I tugged it as I pulled away. And then I put my back to him, walking off as quickly as I could.
In my family, we never said hello or goodbye—another superstition. That one came from my mother’s side of the family. Without hello, you couldn’t mark a beginning. to avoid an ending, of course you went without goodbye.
Maybe whoever started it thought they could live forever. All they had to do was trick time into believing their lives were a single, uninterrupted moment.
They were wrong.
Bailey didn’t come to a full stop in front of my house. Instead, she pushed the passenger-side door open and yelled, “Get in, loser!”
Running alongside her battered pickup, I threw my apron and rake inside. the truck picked up speed on the incline, and I lunged for the door. And there I was, hand on window frame, feet off the ground. For a second, I was flying. Then I was rolling like a loose marble into the truck’s cab. I fell against the seat with a laugh.
“What, you’re too good for seat belts now?” Bailey asked.
I made a point of shutting the door before bothering to belt in. “Well, yeah. You’re still too good to get your brakes fixed.”
“That’s what friends do,” I told her.
It was easy to smile with Bailey Dyer. We grew up together, literally. We met when our mothers, best friends, had plopped us in the same crib. We entertained each other while they played pinochle.
If you start out sharing a diaper bag with somebody, it’s easy to share everything else. Bailey knew to the minute when I got my first period. She came out to me before anyone else. It’s not like our moms were shocked by either of those developments, but it was still nice to have a secret-keeper.
“So is Seth . . .” Bailey started, turning the radio down. She didn’t finish the thought. It was a blank for me to fill in, offered smoothly.
“Yeah, he’s out there.” I put my feet on the dashboard and sighed. She knew I hated it; she’d listened to me rasp my throat raw over it last night. But that was last night, and by daylight, I had to be practical. “Not a lot to be done about it, you know?”
Bailey drummed the steering wheel. “You could kneecap him.”
“You can’t dance in casts, dude.”
“Like you care about the fall formal,” Bailey said.
“Seth does. I think he bought a ring.”
She cut a look at me, her brown eyes sparkling. “You’re going to say yes, right?”
The weight of the air changed around us. Finally, I said, “I don’t know,” and leaned against my window. Instead of saying something useless, Bailey raised her brows and nodded, focusing on the rough road.
It was junior year, the deciding year. I’d planned to take the SAT with Bailey, just to lend her moral support. College had never been in my plans. I was going to marry Seth and fish with my father until he was too weathered to go out. Then the boat would be mine, then my kids’, then theirs . . . It was a good life, a beautiful inevitability.
And it was gone.
What People are Saying About This
"Willa's messy, complicated love for her family is heartbreaking and true, as are her mistakes and acts of bravery. Readers will be swept away in this raw and beautifully-told story about grief, forgiveness and what binds us–love."Jo Knowles, author of Jumping Off Swings
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