Roberta “Ruby” Rush paid for a Styrofoam cup full of iced tea and stepped away from the mob standing in line at Sand Hill Café’s checkout counter. Happy to be away from the disruptive kids who kept bumping into her as they grabbed for a squirt gun that the eldest boy had aimed in their direction, she excused herself as she squeezed through the patrons standing in her way. She had been waiting for several annoying minutes to get a drink to quench her thirst on that muggy June day.
Tourists packed the coffee shop and the small harbor town of Black Water, nestled on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan. It was opening day for the annual Harborside Jamboree—called Inky Fest by the locals—and as usual, the out-of-towners were loud, apparently suffering from a sugar rush caused by the ingestion of dark chocolate toffee and penuche from the Fudge Shop downtown.
The long June weekend was buzzing with chatter, laughter, and music. Black Water was alive, swollen to its frayed seams with people—like a dog tick that had just sucked its body full of the canine’s blood and was now plump like a small juicy grape. Usually, she loved the fanfare, the concerts, and the food booths that lined the harbor and Inky River. Today, however, the commotion was irritating, and Ruby was ready to crush the blood engorged tick, squishing the parasite until red fluid squirted from its body under the pressure of her sneaker’s sole, until there was nothing left of the small arachnid except a blood stained smear on the concrete sidewalk.
Sickening, yes, but Ruby had a lot on her mind. Alan, her younger brother, had recently come up missing on Fish Island, also known as Lucifer’s Island. He had told her he had found some disturbing information about the defunct monastic Monastery of the Holy Ghost, now called Castle Moldovan by most people in the community. He said he would call her when he got back, but the phone call never came. That was a month ago. The police were investigating, but as yet they had not found him, either dead or alive.
Adding to Ruby’s misery, was the near certainty that her house would soon fall into foreclosure. Soon she would be without a home. Could it get any worse?
Whack! Ruby had no sooner stepped into the hubbub of the street, on her way to the beach, when a clod, holding a plastic cup of frothy amber beer, bumped into her and knocked the tea right from her hand. It promptly fell to the pavement, spilling its icy contents.
“Oh, sorry,” he said as he walked away and disappeared into the throng of sweaty bodies all around.
“Thanks,” Ruby said, shaking her head as her jaw tightened. She looked at the cup and watched the walking feet of the passing crowd kick it across the street in short order.
Why did I even bother to come here?
She sighed and wiped the sweat from her brow as people moved past her. She looked toward the lighthouse and then at the beach where families were swimming and playing Frisbee, trying to decide whether to walk back to her car and go home to the peace and quiet or to get closer to the water where a gentle breeze was blowing, and she could cool down.
I’m already here so I might as well stay, she said to herself as she began stepping in pace with a group of pedestrians making their way to the catwalk and the 1800s pierhead light.
Noticing only a few people further down the beach, toward the nuclear power plant, she exited the sightseers and walked along the water’s edge, with its soft light colored sand, until she found a secluded spot on the berm. She sat on the warm sand, next to clumps of stabilizing Marram Grass, at the base of a dune.
As she looked out over the endless blue water and listened to the gentle lapping waves, her thoughts turned to her brother and what he had said to her before he got on the ferry boat and headed to Lucifer’s Island.
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