Format: Paperback, 480 pages
ISBN: 978-0-440-24359-5 (0-440-24359-9)
Pub Date: June 26, 2007
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Dark of the Moon
Monday, October 3
The three dogs raised their heads, startled by the vehemence of Elizabeth's unexpected outburst. Their morning reverie disturbed, they looked at one another as if considering abandoning the sun-warmed porch for more peaceful surroundings. But when no further words, angry or otherwise, were forthcoming, heads sank back to outstretched paws and the three resumed their private contemplations.
Elizabeth Goodweather sat on her front porch, staring unseeing at the distant Blue Ridge Mountains that disappeared into ever-hazier rows along the eastern horizon. She was blind to the nearby wooded slopes with their first gildings of copper and gold, oblivious to the clear blue sky marked only by a pair of red-tailed hawks riding the cool autumn currents, and deaf to the birds' shrill, descending calls. The breakfast dishes in the kitchen behind her were still unwashed; the mug of coffee she held had grown cold without being tasted. She sat motionless but her mind whirled in tumult–a congregation of seething thoughts, feelings, and desires, all unresolved.
Two days ago she had been on the verge of . . . on the verge of what, Elizabeth? Phillip asked if I was still grieving for Sam, if I would ever let someone else into my life. And I said something really profound about being willing to take a chance. And I was . . . I am . . . but then, just then . . . Oh, bloody hell!
But at just that exquisitely crucial moment, Rosemary had called. Her brilliant, reliable, sensible older daughter. Assistant professor of English at UNC-Chapel Hill and not yet thirty, Rosemary had been writing a story based on the disappearance of a childhood friend almost twenty years ago. And in the writing, something let loose. All those years that she wouldn't talk about Maythorn . . . and then Saturday . . . oh, god, it was awful to hear Rosie so . . . so unhinged.
"Mum!" Her daughter had whispered, sounding more like the ten-year-old she had been than the self-assured academic she had become. "Mum! I have to find out what really happened to Maythorn."
Rosemary had been all but incoherent, babbling about her lost friend, about memories that had resurfaced . . . and Maythorn's granny and something called the Looker Stone . . . and what was the really weird-sounding thing? . . . the Booger Dance? Whatever the hell that is.
Maythorn Mullins, the child of a neighboring family, had been Rosemary's friend–she's my best friend, Mum, and she's my blood twin! We were both born on January 11, 1976, and we both have brown eyes and we are exactly the same tall! We cut our fingers and swapped blood and now we're blood twins! The pair had been almost inseparable for two idyllic years. Then had come the Halloween of 1986 and with it the disappearance of Maythorn from her family's home.
A massive search through the hollows and coves of Ridley Branch and adjoining areas had revealed nothing. Some believed that the child had run away–there were whispers of an unhappy family situation. Others were sure that a kidnapping had been attempted and had somehow gone wrong. Still others shook their heads. They swore that the child was somewhere on the mountain–dead or alive.
But as a weary Sam had said to Elizabeth, on returning from the steep slopes and thickets of Pinnacle Mountain, "Liz, she could be hiding . . . or hidden . . . anywhere out there. There's just no way of searching every inch of these woods."
Wide-eyed, but remote, Rosemary had watched mutely as the futile search continued. Her responses to questions about Maythorn, from Sam and Elizabeth, as well as from the authorities, were little more than monosyllables. Tearless, she had shaken off attempts at comfort. Elizabeth could still remember the sudden stiffening resistance of her daughter's thin body when she'd tried to gather the child up in her arms for consolation.
"Don't, Mum," Rosemary had said briefly, gently removing herself from the embrace and retreating to her own room. And though she had eventually returned to her usual talkative self, any mention of Maythorn was met by a blank stare or an abrupt change of subject. Soon it seemed that she had simply chosen to forget the existence of the little girl she had called her blood twin. Elizabeth and Sam, caught up in the thousand details of their new life, had gratefully accepted Rosemary's return to normalcy. By unspoken mutual agreement, they no longer mentioned Maythorn around their older daughter.
A local man was questioned by the police and released for lack of evidence. The Mullins family drew in on itself and, after a year had gone by with no ransom demand and no sign of the child, they moved away, eager to leave behind the unhappy memories that haunted their home. Marshall County put the mysterious disappearance away in a seldom-visited drawer and life resumed its pleasant and accustomed shape.
Rosemary's unexpected and unsettling call on Saturday had alarmed Elizabeth deeply. All thoughts of romance and Phillip Hawkins vanished like dry leaves before an icy wind. She had listened in baffled incomprehension to her daughter's frantic chatter till Rosemary had run down, had calmed and begun to sound more like her usual self.
"I'm sorry, Mum. I didn't mean to spring it on you quite like this. Really, I'm fine. It's just that I've been so immersed in the story and when I printed it out now–well, I felt like I had to talk to you about Maythorn. Stupid, I should have waited. Listen, Mum, I've got to go. I'm meeting a friend in a few minutes. I'll call you tomorrow or the next day when I've made some arrangements and figured out exactly what I want to do."
Rosie finished talking and hung up and I . . . I just stood there holding the phone and staring. She had stared at Phillip Hawkins who, at the insistent ring of the telephone, had released her and tactfully moved to the cushioned nook at the end of the kitchen to busy himself with her three dogs while she answered the call. She had looked at him in bewilderment, as if she had never seen him before, as if he were a stranger who had unexpectedly materialized in her home. Granted, a stranger whose right hand was scratching behind the ears of James, the tubby little dachshund-Chihuahua mix, while his left was busy fondling Molly's sleek head. The elegant red hound's amber eyes gazed soulfully at Phillip as if she knew him very well indeed. And at his feet, shaggy Ursa lay on her broad back, offering her black furry belly to be scratched.
"What?" He'd looked up with a quizzical smile which was rapidly replaced by a puzzled frown and a look of concern. As she continued to stare silently at him, he had disentangled himself from her dogs and come toward her. She'd stared at the burly man with the soft dark eyes and nut-brown balding pate, trying to reassemble his pleasant features into a familiar face.
"Elizabeth, sweetheart, what's wrong?" Suddenly the stranger was replaced by the familiar friend, the good man she'd come to rely on. She put down the phone and burst into tears.
He had put his arms around her again and she had relaxed against his comforting bulk. When her voice was under control, she asked, "Did you ever see that movie years ago–Alice's Restaurant? Well, like Alice said, I feel like a poor old mother hound dog with too many puppies snapping at her tits. I mean, I'm already worried about Ben and Laurel, after what they've just been through, and now Rosie . . .
"Sam and I thought it was all over–that she'd forgotten that awful Halloween and the days and weeks that followed. We were so grateful that she seemed . . . seemed untouched by it all that we just pretended it never happened, let her pretend there'd never been a little girl called Maythorn. But now it's all come back. I should have known. . . .
"Don't you see, Phillip? . . . I owe it to her . . . to both of them . . . to see it through to the end this time."
Somehow it had gotten sorted out. Phillip had listened as she explained and, before she could finish, had pulled her to him again. She hid her face on his broad shoulder and wrapped her arms around him, trying unsuccessfully to capture the joyous abandon she had felt before Rosemary's call.
His fingers traced a path along her cheek. "Hey, Elizabeth, it's okay. This is something you have to do. And if I can help, you know I will."
Gently, he cupped her chin in his hand and raised her head. "Elizabeth, what we were . . . where we were heading just before that call . . . where I hope we're still heading–that can wait a little longer."
The deep brown eyes were steady on her and he smiled tenderly as he said, "Miz Goodweather, I want your full attention for what I have in mind."
Elizabeth could still see his crooked smile as he had said good-bye. This man, an unwelcome stranger in her life not so long ago, had over the past year, in almost imperceptible increments, somehow become very dear to her. Almost even . . . necessary.
The thought was disturbing and she brushed it aside. But he's added something to my life . . . and he's always been patient and kind, even in the beginning when I kept trying to ignore him.
Phillip Hawkins and her late husband, Sam Goodweather, had been buddies during their years in the navy, and when Hawkins, a former police detective, had moved to the Asheville area, he had tried very hard to befriend Elizabeth. Her emotions still raw with the pain of her widowhood, she had rebuffed him until the suspicious death of a neighbor had forced her to seek his help.
The more time we spent together, the better I liked him. And then this nightmare we've just gone through in Asheville . . . She shuddered at the vivid memory of a chase through dark corridors–a memory of blood and mirrors and madness.
Thank god for Phillip! A very solid bit of comfort and sanity to hang on to in a world gone askew. And if Rosie hadn't called just when she did, I'm pretty sure he'd have still been here the next morning. I was so ready. . . .
Impulsively, she jumped to her feet and hurried inside to the phone. She put in his number, her thumb flying over the tiny keys. He might not have left for school yet–Didn't he say his first class isn't till ten?
The line was busy. She hit redial. Still busy. Again. Busy. Maybe he's trying to call me. Okay, Elizabeth, put the phone down. Go do the dishes and–
The shrill ring of the phone in her hand startled her and she fumbled eagerly for the on button.
"Phillip! I've been trying to–"
"Mum? It's me, Rosemary. I've come up with a plan."
Shit! said Elizabeth to herself. She sat down heavily on the cushioned bench. "Hey, sweetie. Okay, tell me about it."
"All right, Mum, here's the thing. I've got a few Fridays free this semester and my only Monday class is in the afternoon. So that will give me some long weekends to be there at the farm and I'm going to work through this–I have to do it if it kills me. I've been making a list of places to visit and people to talk to–things that will help me remember. I do have a seminar this Friday, but I still want to come on and get started. If I leave right after class, I could be there in time for dinner. Then if I leave the farm Monday morning around eight, I'll make it back with time to spare. One thing I know I want to do eventually is go over to Cherokee. I need to find out more about the Booger Dance."
Elizabeth Goodweather frowned. The frantic whisper of Saturday's call was gone–Rosemary's tone was calm and perfectly controlled–maybe a little too controlled.
"Sweetie, you know I love for you to come home whenever. We've hardly seen you at all since you bought your house. Laurel was complaining just the other day that it's been months . . . and I'd love to go with you to Cherokee–someone was telling me recently how good the museum is–but, Rosie, did you say Booger Dance? Are you serious? What's a Booger Dance and what does it have to do with Maythorn?"
"I'm not sure, Mum . . . but I think it's important." It's something that came to me as I was writing the story. You know I went with Maythorn a few times to visit her grandmother over in Cherokee. Remember, she was called Granny Thorn and she was a full-blood Cherokee–living on the Qualla Boundary. Anyway, one of my last memories of Maythorn is her telling me how she was making a mask for the Booger Dance so she could stop being afraid of someone. I went online and found out what I could about the dance. It all seemed really familiar . . . like I'd seen it. I'm not sure; maybe Maythorn's granny took us to one that last weekend we stayed with her. Or, I don't know–it's vague; maybe she just told us about it.
"And then . . . it seemed like more and more memories of those two years started coming back to me, from the first time I saw Maythorn to right before . . . right before she disappeared . . . and I remembered a bunch of things she told me. Mum, I don't know what's important and what isn't but I do know I have to follow this to the end."
Phillip Hawkins looked at the clock. This was his first semester of teaching criminal justice at AB Tech, Asheville's two-year community college, and he had a class at ten. There was still time. He reached for the telephone.
No. He clicked off. What was it she said? Like a hound dog with too many pups? I need to back off–Elizabeth's got enough on her mind right now.
He stared at the phone, still undecided. Saturday night had been the first time he'd seen her cry–Sam mentioned that about her, how she almost never cried, tried to hide it, like it was a weakness.
Back in their navy days, during those last long months before they were discharged, back when the one thing that loomed in their minds couldn't be spoken of, he and Sam Goodweather had fought against the boredom, the danger, and the loneliness by talking about their girlfriends. Phillip had not met Elizabeth–would not meet her till years later at Sam's memorial service–but he had known from the picture Sam carried that though she was not really beautiful, her long dark brown hair and startling blue eyes compelled you to look again.
Sam had told the story over and over–how he'd gone into a used bookstore in Tampa, while home on compassionate leave, in search of something to take his mind off the past, something that might give him a new direction. He'd been browsing the cluttered back room when he spotted a battered copy of Walden, a book he'd been meaning to read for years.
"I reached for it just as this tall girl with dark hair down to there reached for it too. My hand touched hers, and I swear to god, it was like a goddam jolt of electricity. Then she looked at me with those blue eyes and that was it. It was like I couldn't get my breath."
The tall girl had insisted that they flip a coin for the book. She had won the toss but when Sam invited her for coffee that turned into lunch and she learned that he was on his way back for his final tour of duty, she gave the book to him, first writing her name and address in it. A correspondence had ensued, and a little over a year later, soon after Sam's discharge, they had married.
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