Celeste pushed her silver Mercedes through the fog, her lights baring only a light spray of mist and a few feet of red clay road.
They had tried everything, she and William, and now the desperation had pushed her over the edge…all the way to Blunt County, Georgia. Blunt was a speck of a town at the end of a thin dirt road with four sheriff cars, two funeral homes and one dark secret.
Checking her iPhone GPS once more, Celeste mashed the gas pedal up a hill and pulled into Hammish Park. The fog thinned. The sun was retiring. The pine needles on the trees surrounding the lake were on fire with the sunset. Celeste stepped one black heel on the gravel lot and then the other, shut the door and walked to the lake. Water soothed her. She had always preferred the surreal effect of the sky’s reflection in water over the stark real thing.
Suddenly a large black shadow swept over the lake, startling her. She reached for the gold and diamond cross tucked in the soft indent at her throat. Celeste glanced up quickly. Peach hues of emptiness and silence greeted her. Confused, she moved her gaze back to the lake. The shadow swept by again, a black form with a wing span as large as a bus. She fell back as she once again quickly looked up. Nothing. Scrambling to get back to her feet, she couldn’t help but look forward. Now hoards of shadows moved on silent wings, riding on the surface of the lake, circling, crossing paths. Still nothing above to cause such a display.
Celeste threw the car in reverse, kicking up gravel as she backed up and tried to breathe through the panic. There was no way she was waiting for her contact there.
A mile down the road, she hit the town. Charming white houses with peeling paint and sagging porches were planted in neat rows. She parked under a tree and killed the engine. She could find the house herself. As she searched the net, the sidewalks began to come alive. Tiny witches, cats, superheroes, fairies, big and little kids began to appear from the fog with glow stick necklaces and loud, palpable excitement.
She couldn’t help but smile.
Her resolve stiffened and after another few minutes of searching, she found the story and address she needed. Only two blocks away. She decided to walk, the fog was too thick and she didn’t want to take the chance of running over any kids.
By the time she reached 617 Banyan Drive, her feet ached and her heart beat in her ears. She knocked with a shaking fist, stood up straight and stepped back.
Footsteps. A sliver of yellow light escaping as the door creaked open. A hand pushed a basket of candy through the opening.
“Take just one, please.”
“Oh.” Celeste leaned to peer inside. “I’m not trick or treating. I,” she paused as the door opened a bit more and pale eyes peered at her from beneath cottony gray hair. “I came for your help.”
“I see,” the words delivered on a sigh. “Come in, then.”
The sound of distant laughing and taunting ceased as Celeste stepped inside and shut the door.
“Have a seat in the living room. Chester is harmless.” Celeste glanced around the quiet, one room home, lit only by candles flickering on every surface. Didn’t the woman need to know anything about her? “Well, go on. I’ve got some baking to do.”
Shrugging, Celeste removed her heels and left them by the door. She suddenly felt overdressed.
She swept her hands under her gray pencil skirt as she took a seat next to an elderly gentleman reading the paper on the sofa.
He smelled musty and looked at her with large, watery brown eyes. Was that pity she saw?
“Lovely of your wife to help people the way she does.” Her voice sounded too shrill. She cleared her throat. “It’s an amazing gift.” Was she trying to convince herself it was real and not just tabloid fodder?
The doorbell rang and Celeste startled, then laughed at herself. “Trick or treaters. How fun.”
Was that a black shadow sliding across the wall? She blinked hard but that only made it slip into the kitchen. She rubbed her eyes hard. The stress was really getting to her.
* * * *
An hour later, her eyes flew open and she sat up, unable to remember where she was.
“Oh!” She cried, embarrassed as the woman sat patiently in a rocking chair across from her, holding something in her lap. “I fell asleep? I’m so sorry. How rude of me.” She stood and then sat back down, feeling the room spin. “I don’t feel very good, actually.”
“You need to eat something.” The woman pulled a red cotton scarf from the plate in her hand and Celeste stared at the tiny golden pastry.
“It smells delicious.” Indeed it did. Scents of honey, cinnamon, nutmeg. “What is it?”
“Soul cake.” She stood slowly, balancing the plate carefully as she closed the gap and held it in front of Celeste like an offering. Celeste picked it up carefully with a thumb and forefinger and placed it in her palm. It was still so warm. “It is very important you don’t chew it.”
“Don’t chew it?” Celeste felt it swell in the palm of her hand, like a rising breath. “What’s inside?”
“Put it on your tongue and let it melt. Keep your mouth closed.”
Celeste did as she was told. The outer pastry melted like sugar. She was expecting something like pudding or maybe lemon filling, but there was…just heat. Fire that moved down her throat, her stomach, filled her lungs…her womb expanded, fluttered, pulsated with new and unfamiliar warmth.
“I can…feel something,” she whispered, laying her palm against the flatness of her belly. She rose, feeling stronger and full of energy. “It worked? Just like that? I don’t know how to thank you.” She reached up and felt the gold and diamond cross. She slipped it from her neck and tried to give it to the woman.
The woman’s eyes darkened, swirled like oily smoke as she grinned.
“No, you keep it, my dear.” Chester chuckled, opening the door to reveal a toddler in a red devil costume holding out his candy bag. “You’re going to need it.”