Disclaimer: Characters and situations are all from my imagination.
Warnings: Sex and love between women.
Feedback: Constructive criticism and feedback, both welcomed at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: Special thanks go to Stephanie Solomon-Lopez, for repeatedly having faith in my writing skillz and inviting me once again to participate in such a hallowed event. I'm honored and I hope I don't throw off the curve. <g>
by Geonn Cannon
Copyright © 2008 Geonn Cannon
"Okay. Now, can anyone tell me the original name of Squire's Isle?" Jill asked. She wrote the last student's answer on the board and turned to examine the upraised hands. "Megan."
The girl lowered her hand and folded both hands together on top of her desk. "It was The Squire's Isle."
"That's right," Jill said. She turned and wrote Megan's answer on the board. "When Gabriel Sawyer first brought his team of loggers here, he declared himself the squire, or lord, of the island. It was The Squire's Isle. Also acceptable would have been 'Sawyer's Isle,' as it was sometimes referred to by loggers in letters back home." She stepped back and looked at the clock. "Okay, we've got time for one more question. Girls are in the lead by four, so I'll make this question worth five points just to make things interesting."
She tapped the chalk against her hand, between her thumb and index finger, and eyed her students carefully before she gave the question.
"Exactly how long did Gabriel Sawyer's team live on the island?"
A sea of hands went up. She pointed to a boy in the back. "Thomas, your boys are counting on you."
Thomas thought for a moment before he confidently answered, "One year exactly."
Jill winced and said, "Ooh, I'm sorry, Tom. Sara, do you want to give it a shot?"
"No one knows?" Sara said slowly. "The-the second group of workers came back a year later, and everyone was already gone."
Jill smiled. "Congratulations, girls, you win." She walked to the board and marked the final five points under the girl's side. "Okay! Tomorrow, the girls will get to go to lunch five minutes early. Give yourselves a round of applause, ladies." She clapped along with them, and said, "Don't worry, boys. Tomorrow we'll have Round Two, and the prize will be getting to go home ten minutes early. I would start studying if I were you."
The bell rang and Jill raised her hand to stop the mass exodus to the door. "Okay, guys. I know tomorrow is Halloween, and I know you're all allowed to wear costumes, but I don't want any masks in my classroom, and I want you all to remember the dress code still applies, all right? Don't wear anything you wouldn't want your Grammy to see you in." She waved them away. "Okay, get out of here. Congratulations again, girls."
A few of the girls high-fived Jill as they passed her desk, with a few, "Happy Halloween, Miss Colby"s thrown in. Once the class was empty, Jill closed the door and erased the answers she wrote during the game. She left the scoreboard, planning to let the kids keep the points they had scored during the first round. She sat down at her desk, preparing to grade a handful of papers, when there was a knock on the door.
"Come in," she called. She looked up and saw Michael sticking his head through the gap. Hey, Michael." His shaggy brown hair was wet and dripping on the floor. Jill glanced at the window; it was still raining, a light steady drizzle that had started before Jill left the house and hadn't let up all day. The sky was filled with blue-black clouds and the courtyard outside Jill's classroom was flooded. "Did you walk here from the high school?"
"Hugh and his mom gave me a ride because they were coming this way. You gonna be staying late?"
She scratched her nose and thought. The principal wanted to talk to her about chaperoning Saturday's Halloween dance, ignoring the fact that Saturday was actually November first, and she had the papers... "Yeah, at least another hour. Why? You need a ride?"
"No," he said, slipping into the room. He dumped his book bag next to one of the desks and said, "I just thought I could do my homework in here. If you don't mind."
"No, please, go ahead. I'd love the company. I may have to leave you here for a little bit while I go talk with Principal Austin."
He nodded and sat down. He pulled a math book from his bag and opened it on the desk. Jill smiled as she watched him, remembering when he had been a student in her class. There had only been a few months when her tenure as his teacher overlapped with her relationship with Patricia, his mother. They had slept together immediately after meeting and, once the connection to Michael had been discovered, cooled it down as much as possible. Once Michael left Patricia's class, however, they resumed dating.
Jill still got the feeling, every now and then, that Patricia hadn't meant for their one-night stand to turn into anything more. But Jill was persistent, and Patricia wasn't exactly fighting it. It had been three years since that rain-soaked day when Jill met the woman she would spend the rest of her life with, and here she was, on another rainy afternoon, sitting in a classroom with her stepson. She smiled at the top of his head, bent over his notebook. Funny how time sometimes seemed to circle around on itself. The only difference now was her sad, single, dinner-for-one apartment was long-gone and she was officially named Jill Hood-Colby.
She looked out at the rain a little while longer, and thought about standing under an awning and feeling that tight grip on the belt of her raincoat. If Patricia had just minded her own business, if Jill had decided to skip doing laundry that day because of the rain, how might her life had changed?
Best not to think about might-have-beens. Things had happened the right way for her; this was the life she had been waiting to lead. She lifted her chin off her fist, shuffled the papers in front of her, and went back to work on her grading.
Jill drove Michael home at four-thirty, and called Patricia on the way. The call went straight to voicemail, as expected. "Hey, Trish. It's me. Michael and I are home, and I was wondering what you were thinking about for dinner. Call me back. Maybe we can go out if you get home early enough. Okay, I'll talk to you later. Love you. Bye."
She hung up and slipped the phone into her pocket as she walked up the driveway. Michael was already halfway through the living room, on his way to his bedroom. She stopped at the dining room door, eyeing the computer on the roll-top desk in the corner. "Feel like going out for dinner?" she asked his retreating back.
"Sure," he said.
Jill shrugged out of her coat, draped it over the back of the desk chair, and turned on the computer. She took off her shoes and paced around the desk, letting the day seep from her tired muscles as she curled her toes in the plush carpet. She stretched her arms over her head, popped her back, and signed onto her email.
The first was from Patricia. "Hey. Easier to email than to call. I'm working through lunch today; hopefully I'll get to go early. I will be starving! Dinner will be your call. Love you!"
Jill smiled. On a whim, she searched her mail for a specific date, back when she and Patricia were just starting to test the waters of their relationship. She glanced over her shoulder; the music from the opposite side of the house told her Michael was either doing his homework or busily pretending to do it. Either way, he was safely entrenched on the far side of the house. She clicked on a random email and touched the tip of her tongue to her bottom lip.
"I can't wait to see you again. To have you in my arms. I keep thinking about that underwear you had on last time; watching it slide down your legs, hearing the sound of your voice as I kissed my way up your thigh. I want to be on my knees in front of you, Jill, I want to lay you back on my bed and watch you as my fingers--"
The phone rang.
"Jesus!" she hissed. "Christ," she added under her breath. She grabbed her cell phone off the desktop, flipped it open and said, "Hello."
"Hey, honey," Patricia said. "The mayor decided to be a good guy and is letting me off the hook early. And if I come in early tomorrow, he'll let me go in time to take Michael trick-or-treating."
"Michael's in eighth grade," Jill said. "He doesn't trick-or-treat."
"No reason for Mayor Dugan to know that," Patricia said quietly. "Have you decided on dinner? I could pick something up on my way."
"Actually I was thinking we could go out."
"Fine by me. Gail's? Or that new Italian place. Uh, Giuseppe's...?"
"Italian gets my vote. I'll see what Michael wants."
"Okay. Did you get my email?"
Jill smiled. "I did! I was actually, uh, going back over one of our older emails when you called. One of the, uh, private emails."
Patricia chuckled. "Ooh, I remember those."
"Maybe I could type one out write now."
"Mm-mm," Patricia said. "You can just dictate one to me tonight after dinner."
Jill blushed slightly. "Well, I better get composing."
"Go get ready for dinner," Patricia laughed.
Jill hung up, gave the naughty email one last, wistful look, and signed out of her account to go get ready.
After dinner, Jill and Patricia stayed in the living room through the evening news and turned it off as Letterman was beginning his monologue. They went to bed and Patricia stopped to make sure Michael was done with his homework and preparing for bed. She came into the bedroom as Jill sat on the edge of the mattress, bending down to undo the laces on her shoes. Patricia reached down and let her hand brush Jill's hair as she walked to the master bathroom.
When she returned, she had changed into a camisole and a pair of matching silk boxers, her hair up in a scrunchie. Jill was topless, but wearing her pajama bottoms. Patricia gave Jill an approving look, smiled, and turned to the mirror to brush her teeth. Jill stood, pulled on a plain white T-shirt, and joined her at the sink. "Do you want to go with me to the Halloween dance on Saturday?"
"Do I have to wear a costume?"
"It's not mandatory."
"I'll go to keep you company."
Jill kissed Patricia's neck and slid her arms around her waist. "How about tonight? You want to keep me company tonight?"
Patricia smiled and said, "Are you lonesome tonight?"
"Mm, sing it," Jill said.
Patricia turned and kissed Jill's lips as she hummed the tune. They danced to the bed and Patricia laid Jill down. They undressed each other and made love slowly, trying their best to keep quiet with Michael just down the hall. Jill reached up, brushed the hair out of Patricia's face, and sighed as Patricia's hand worked between her legs. "Harder," she whispered. Her eyes closed and she rocked herself against Patricia's expert fingers. "Just a little..."
Patricia lowered her head and brushed her lips over Jill's cheek. "Like that?"
Jill grunted and arched her back in response. Patricia moved her lips to Jill's throat and kissed, licked and sucked until Jill sagged back to the mattress. She reached up and brushed the sweat from her forehead with the back of her hand, blew the hair out of her face, and turned to meet Patricia's lips in a post-coital kiss. She looked into Patricia's eyes as she pushed the soft material of Patricia's boxer shorts down.
"Do you want to be on top?" Patricia whispered.
"Yeah," Jill said. They rolled and Jill pushed herself up on her elbows. She settled between Patricia's lips and bent down to kiss her. She rocked her hips slowly, matching Patricia's sighs with quiet grunts as she thrust forward.
"I love having you on top of me," Patricia murmured. She turned her head and kissed Jill's forearm.
Jill groaned and rested her head on Patricia's shoulder. They gasped and moaned into each other's ears until Patricia curled her fingers on Jill's shoulders. She wrapped her legs around Jill and pulled her close, and they kissed until they were strong enough to separate from each other.
Patricia sat up, scooted to the edge of the bed and retrieved their clothes. She put on her pajamas, twisted Jill's T-shirt so that it was right-side out and hooked around her arms. She turned and said, "Hold your arms up." Jill did as instructed and Patricia put the shirt onto her. She plucked at the hem, spread her hand over the wrinkles, and kissed Jill's lips. "Good night."
"I love you," Jill whispered.
"I love you, too," Patricia said.
They lay down, and Patricia pulled the blankets over them. Once they were settled, Jill turned and curled against Patricia's side. She stayed awake just long enough to hear Patricia's breathing level off as she fell asleep.
In the morning, Jill pressed her face into the pillow and swept her hand over the mattress next to her. She met no resistance until she hit the pillow, so she lifted her head and cracked an eye. "Trish," she murmured. She cleared her throat and looked toward the bathroom. She was lying on her stomach, hair feathered in front of her eyes, and she pushed her hand through it to clear her vision. She rolled onto her back, checked the clock and yawned as she kicked the blankets away.
She undressed and stumbled to the bathroom. No sign of Patricia in the shower. Jill used the bathroom, took a quick shower, brushed her teeth and blow-dried her hair, waiting for the smells of breakfast to reach her nostrils. She dressed in a suit, black slacks, black vest, white shirt and a red tie. Full-on costumes weren't allowed for the teaching staff, but the principal was a little slack on the dress code when it came to Halloween. Jill put on a pair of old eyeglasses instead of her contacts, and decided to tell anyone who asked that she was dressed as Clara Kent. Only Patricia would know that her underwear had a picture of Supergirl on them.
She smiled at her reflection, but the thought of Patricia made her realize she still didn't smell coffee or bacon. If Patricia wasn't cooking breakfast... maybe she was getting her costume on. She didn't know specifics; only that leather was involved. That was enough to make her hurry through her make-up and leave the bedroom for a quick peek before Michael woke up.
The living room was quiet, not even the radio playing in the kitchen. "Patricia," Jill said. "Are we going to Yolk Folks for breakfast or...?" Her voice trailed off as she entered the kitchen and found it abandoned. "Trish? Patricia?" She went to the desk and picked up her cell phone. She flipped it open and started to dial before she noticed the "No Service" message on the main screen. "Oh, come on," she whispered.
Jill turned and looked out the window at the backyard. Or at least she tried to. She put her hands on the windowsill and leaned closer to the glass. She could see the bush just outside the window, and a bit of the back porch, but everything else was obliterated by a thick wall of fog. She furrowed her brow and went to the back of the house.
She knocked on Michael's bedroom door. "Michael? Did your mom say anything about leaving early this morning?" She waited for an answer and finally tried the knob. "Michael?" She pushed the door open and peeked inside. Michael's posters were on the wall, his unmade bed in the far corner, and his Iron Man costume waiting in the armchair next to the closet door.
Jill checked her watch. It was barely half past seven. Even if Patricia had left early for work, there was no way she had gotten Michael to go with her. She decided to try the house phone and went to the living room. She picked up the wireless phone, listened for a dial tone, but instead heard a steady hiss of a dead line. "For God's sake." She knew they had paid the bill that month; they hadn't even gotten a new statement yet. It couldn't have been shut off. Could the fog...?
"The phones are down," she sighed. If it was an island-wide phenomenon, then of course the Mayor would have called Patricia in. And Patricia might have taken Michael to work with her because... because... well, she didn't know why she would do that. But that had to have been what happened. Jill was just astonished she had slept through all the commotion. She must have had more to drink with dinner than she thought.
She wrote a quick note to Patricia, in case she came back looking for her, and decided she should go ahead and get to the school. If nothing else, she could help Principal Austin decide what to do. They could have school without phones, but it might be easier to just take the day off. Either way, she could help get word of what they decided out to the parents. She slung her satchel over her shoulder and went out to the driveway.
They had taken her car to dinner, so it was blocking Patricia's in the driveway.
Jill stared at the unexpected car until her mind came up with a solution. Naturally, Patricia wouldn't have driven herself. If there was an emergency and the phones were down, Mayor Dugan couldn't have called Patricia in to work. He would have had to send a car for her.
Mystery solved, Jill got into her car and backed out of the driveway. "Weird, weird morning," she muttered. She was at the corner before she realized the radio wasn't playing. She idled at the stop sign and reached down to fiddle with the controls. It was tuned to 1220, but KELF was silent. Could the fog interfere with the signal? It had never happened before. She shook her head and pushed a CD into the slot instead.
Halloween apparently meant everything went crazy, apparently.
She drove out of the neighborhood and made it downtown before she realized how abandoned the streets were. She stopped at another stop sign and waited for a long moment before she started rolling. Thanks to the fog, she could just see vague shapes of the businesses on either side of the road. Their lights were on, like lighthouses on the shore, and cars were in the parking lots, but there was no movement other than the wind-blown fog.
Jill hesitated, then shut off the car and opened her door. "You're being crazy and paranoid," she said to herself. She got out of the car, certain someone was going to pull up behind her and lean on his horn. She would wave apologetically, get back into her car, and chide herself for being frightened just because today happened to be Halloween.
She walked to the middle of the street and stopped. She knew fog amplified sounds, but her footsteps sounded like they were coming out of an echo chamber. And if fog amplified sounds... why was it so quiet? No car engines, no voices from the sidewalk, no anything. She turned and looked toward the harbor, invisible through the veil of white. "Hello!" she shouted. "Is anyone there?"
The parking lot had a few cars she recognized, and she bent down to peer through the windows. CD cases, coats, briefcases and papers strewn in the backseats. Nothing out of the ordinary. She continued up to the building, which turned out to be a new donut shop called "Davis' Doughnuts." She remembered joking about the place with Patricia, since it was just a short walk from the police station.
The sign hanging in the front door was turned to "open," so she went inside. The store was basically just a counter and a handful of tables for people waiting on orders or eating a quick donut before hitting the road again. She saw folded newspapers on a few of the tables, and briefcases standing next to chairs, but there was not a single other person in sight. She walked to the counter and tapped the bell with her palm. "Hello?" She craned her neck to try and see through the kitchen door. "Is anyone back there? I-I'd like... a donut. I guess." She turned and scanned the fog-white window and muttered, "I'm kind of freaking out here..."
She tapped the bell a few more times, getting more insistent before she finally turned and shoved through the door back to the mist. Her heart was pounding and she was starting to sweat by the time she got back to her car, her hands shaking as she gripped the wheel. She put the heel of her hand on the horn, took a breath, and then pressed her hand hard against the horn.
The loud, jarring bleat filled the air around the car, echoing off the buildings and the fog until it felt like the entire world was that sound. She pulled back and listened as the echoes faded and disappeared, leaving the world silent once more. She closed the car door, looked around some more, and started the engine. "This is insane," she whispered as she pulled away from the stop sign.
She drove to the corner and pulled into the police station parking lot. "Okay, you want me to be the crackpot? I'll be the crackpot," she said as she got out of the car. "I get to be the joke they talk about. 'Halloween really brings out the crazies, huh, sheriff?'" She opened the front door and went inside. Lights, a coffee machine percolating in the corner, the static of the dispatcher's radio; all the signs of civilization, but utterly devoid of movement. There were no people. No keyboards clacking or printers humming. She stopped at the sergeant's desk that separated the waiting area from the bullpen.
"Hello! Is anyone back there?"
She hesitated to go through the swinging door, but figured she would take the reprimand if it meant there was someone around to yell at her. She walked to the back offices and knocked. "Hello? I-I'm just... kind of freaking out here. I need... to talk to someone." She opened the office door and found it empty save for a cup of coffee on the desk and a humming computer. She walked around the corner of the desk and looked at the screen.
"Cannot connect to server. Try again..." She sighed and looked around. Apparently phones and the internet were both down. But... the dispatcher's radio had static. She hurried back out to the bullpen, pulled the seat out, and sat down. She ran the dial across the stations and found one that seemed to have the least amount of interference. She held down the button on the microphone and leaned forward.
"Uh, hello. Hello, my name is Jill Colby. I'm on Squire's Isle and... I think I'm alone. I haven't seen a single other person since waking up this morning. The phones are out, the... the internet is down... I just... I need to know what the hell is happening. This is not a Halloween prank. Please, if you can hear this..."
What? Come get me? She wasn't about to leave until she found out where Patricia was.
"If you can hear this, call the authorities. Get them to come out here. Tell them to bring help. Just... tell them to bring help."
She leaned back and stared at the microphone for a while before she decided she had nothing else to say. She turned off the radio, stood up, and walked out of the abandoned station. She got into her car and sat behind the wheel, utterly clueless about how to proceed. On a normal day, she could expect the ferry at 9:30. But with this fog, it would likely have been cancelled or postponed.
Patricia would have known what to do. She would have taken charge, made sure Jill didn't get panicky. Patricia was the take-charge one, Patricia was the one who should be working to figure this out. Jill took off her stupid glasses and ran her hand through her hair. "The sole survivor of the bizarre incident," said the news reporter in her mind, "was discovered wearing Supergirl underwear, curled in the fetal position and sucking her thumb." She chuckled and looked around the parking lot. "Jill," she whispered in her best impression of Patricia, "stop moping around and acting like you don't know how to cross the street on your own." She took a deep breath, held it, then blew it out through her lips.
She turned the key and backed out of the parking space.
Jill drove slowly through town, honking her horn occasionally in the hopes someone else would come running out to greet her. But the deeper she got into town, the more apparent it became that no one remained. Cars were parked at stop signs, engines running but abandoned. House windows cast squares of light onto the empty sidewalk, but no shadows crossed them.
She drove through the most populated areas, not bothering with the summer cabins and outlying houses that would look abandoned even on normal days. The fog continued to thicken, pressing in on the windows of her car until, finally, she remembered the Stephen King short story about monsters in the mist. Rather than being frightened, she drove to the supermarket to see if anyone was holed up inside. No luck, and nothing leapt from the fog to kill her. She would have welcomed monsters; at least one of her questions would have been answered.
The duck pond next to the library was also empty. Whether the ducks were just away for the winter, or if the animals were part of whatever exodus had happened, Jill couldn't tell.
Finally, sick of the sound of her car's horn, she drove to the only place she could think of that would feel normal. She parked in her usual spot at the elementary school, saw that a handful of other teacher's cars were in the parking lot, and went inside. It was a quarter past nine, ninety minutes after she normally would have arrived. With any luck, she would find the principal covering her class and receive a firm warning about schedules and promptness over lunch.
As soon as she stepped into the school, she knew she wasn't going to see anyone. The hall had the utterly empty feeling that it usually only got in the summer time. She walked down the hallway, the clicks of her shoes echoing up and down the corridor in advance.
Her entire class was absent, and the room was cold from being empty all night. She shivered and turned on the lights, went around her desk, and dropped into her chair. Fog wouldn't have caused a mass evacuation. Maybe it was in advance of a huge storm; it had rained for almost twenty-four hours the day before. Could she have possibly slept through a town-wide call like that? No, impossible. Patricia would never have left her sleeping. Patricia would have grabbed her ankle, pulled her out of bed, and dragged her to the car if necessary. I would have woken up on the mainland, in a hotel, with Patricia chiding me about 'the sleep of the dead.'
She turned her chair slightly and looked out the window. Beyond the courtyard, she could just barely see the playground through the fog. She couldn't see the swings, but she could make out the yellow skeleton of it. She covered her face and thought to early August, their first time back on the island as a married couple. Fresh from their honeymoon, arriving on the last flight of the day at Duckworth Airport. The plane hadn't landed until almost midnight, and they decided they didn't want to wake Michael just to drag him home and put him back to bed. Jill had suggested the playground.
Patricia carried her high heels across the blacktop, her stockings catching and holding onto the sand when she walked up to the swings. She lowered herself onto the rubber strap of a seat, wrapped her arms around the chains, and walked backward. Jill laughed and watched as Patricia lifted her feet and let herself swing forward. "I forgot how much fun these things are," she said when her pendulum brought her back near Jill.
"Yeah, just be sure to keep your feet up. That ground is a lot closer than it was when you were a girl." She wrapped her arms around the strut of the swing set and watched her partner swing back and forth. They had been married for close to a full week, but that had been spent at a lodge, their only cares in the world being who would be on top next time they made love. Now they were home, on familiar turf, and she was Jill Hood-Colby. She chuckled and said, "I wish I'd known you were a swinger before we exchanged vows."
Patricia laughed and stopped pumping her legs. "I don't remember how to stop."
"Jump, tuck and roll."
"In this dress? You're insane."
Jill let go of the iron support and stepped in close. When Patricia swung back down, Jill grabbed her with both hands. She moved with the motion of the swing, spinning her body and dragging Patricia out. Patricia tripped over her feet, shrieked, and fell, dragging Jill down with her. They landed in the sand, Jill on top, and Patricia struggling to catch her breath. Jill put her hands on either side of Patricia's head, pushed herself up, and said, "And that's why the school board voted to replace pebbles with sand."
"A very good choice."
"Need me to help you up?"
"No," Patricia said. "Let's lay here for a minute."
Jill fought off warnings of bugs in the sand, rolled off of Patricia, and laid down next to her. Their heads were together, their bodies stretching out like hands of a clock pointing to six and eight. Patricia reached out and took Jill's left hand, brushing her finger over the ring on the third finger. Jill smirked. "Are you going to keep pawing that thing?"
"Mm-hmm," Patricia said.
Jill chuckled and rolled onto her side to face Patricia. "You know, we could wait until tomorrow to pick Michael up. Sonia's already put him to bed, probably. And this way we could go home... really christen our marital bed..."
Patricia turned her head and smiled. "You just want to be loud."
"Yes, please." Jill pushed herself up, moved closer and kissed Patricia's lips. She got onto her knees, took Patricia's hands, and stood. "Come on. Let's extend our honeymoon a few hours."
Patricia chuckled and brushed off her backside before chasing Jill across the playground.
Jill broke out of her reverie when she heard a familiar sound that, in the current context, ramped her heart rate up a few notches. Someone had opened the outside door. She turned around in her chair and faced the classroom door, watching the hallway as the echo faded. The unmistakable "clunk-tsch" of the metal crossbar being pressed and released, then the quiet "clunk" as the door fell back in place.
"Hello?" She stood and went cautiously to the door of her classroom. She had spent all morning searching for someone, anyone, and now that it seemed like someone had found her... she was scared out of her mind. She looked for some sort of weapon and came up empty. She growled at her helplessness. Weren't elementary schools supposed to be pits of deadly danger? Or was that only when students were present?
She ended up with a yard stick and wielded it like a sword as she stepped into the hallway. The hallway between her and the exterior door was completely clear, the classroom doors all closed and the rooms beyond dark. A corridor branched off to the left, and the newcomer could have gone down that way. "Hello!" she called. "Is someone there?"
There was no answer, and she didn't hear footsteps on the tile. She lowered the ruler and took a deep breath. Maybe the wind had caught the door. If she hadn't closed it well, then maybe... maybe. She reluctantly turned and went back into her classroom, keeping the yard stick by her side just in case.
As she sat, her eye was drawn to the chalkboard and the remnants of the words she had written the day before; The Squire's Isle, Gabriel Sawyer, unexplained disappearance.
Chills raced down her spine and she turned to face the board completely. She searched her memory for the full story she had taught so many times, always saving the lesson for Halloween.
In 1851, Gabriel Sawyer and all of his workers disappeared without a trace. Cabins, possessions, tools were all left untouched, but there wasn't a single person to be found. No bodies, no remains. All the boats were accounted for, and a search of nearby islands hadn't come up with any sign of a migration. No one from the camp was ever heard from again. The families never heard of unknown descendants. Sawyer's disappearance was the island's greatest mystery.
"And it's happening again," Jill whispered. "Oh, my God." She turned her chair to face her empty classroom. When Sawyer's camp disappeared, only fifty to a hundred people had gone with him. Now there were over two thousand residents of December Harbor, and she wasn't sure how many people lived at Sholeh Village and points in between. Could they possibly have all vanished? And why had she been spared?
She thought back to a television show Michael liked to watch and her mind suddenly filled with all sorts of bizarre possibilities. Maybe she wasn't the only one untouched; maybe every other person was walking through a ghost town, wondering why they were the only ones untouched. There were an unlimited number of alternate realities; maybe every resident of Squire's Isle had been transported to a different one.
"And maybe I need to watch more History Channel and less SciFi," she muttered.
She put her head down on the desk and closed her eyes. It didn't matter what the cause was, or where everyone else had gone. Before long, the fog would lift and a ferry would come. With it would come people, and questions, and before long Jill knew she would be in the middle of a media snowstorm. The Sole Survivor of Squire's. They would be the new Roanoke but, instead of a mysterious word carved onto a tree trunk, they would have Jill Colby, schoolteacher, lesbian, the only woman left standing on Halloween Day.
Once word got out, she would never get another moment's peace, so she might as well mourn while she could. All her friends, the people she barely knew but was pained by the thought of never seeing again... Patricia. Michael. She had come so far, damn it, stayed patient and optimistic, and then, wonder of wonders, she had a family. A woman she loved, a ring on her finger, and a son who wasn't too much of a teenager.
There would be no first anniversary of their wedding ceremony. There would be no driving lessons for Michael. No growing old together. She would never again get frustrated at Patricia, and they would never again fight or make up.
When she finally lifted her head, her eyes and cheeks were wet, but she couldn't cry any more. She wiped her eyes, took a few steadying breaths and stood up. She wasn't going to sit in her classroom and mope all day; she was going to do something. There was no guarantee that whatever had happened was done, so she might not get the opportunity to tell people what had happened.
A white marker board hung on the wall next to the chalkboard. She uncapped a marker and began to write. "My name is Jill Hood-Colby. I am a fifth-grade teacher at this elementary school. My partner is Patricia Hood-Colby, and our son is Michael. I am thirty-two years old. Today is Halloween. When I woke this morning..."
She finally stopped writing and rubbed her wrist. Her cramped writing filled line after line with what she had done since waking up that morning. She looked out the window and saw that the fog had lifted slightly. It wasn't clear enough to expect the ferry anytime soon, but it was still a good sign. She stood up and walked to the classroom door. It was ridiculous to stay; faced with a mystery of this magnitude, what kind of coward would she be if she didn't at least try to figure it out?
She left her classroom light on in case she did eventually join the number of the missing, so the searchers would investigate and find her account. She walked to the door she thought she heard open earlier and stepped out into the chill and the fog. She was halfway to the car before she felt someone watching her. It was one of the creepiest feelings she'd ever had, and she stopped dead in her tracks and tried to pinpoint where the watcher was.
Turning slowly, hoping whoever it was wouldn't just turn and run, she scanned the parking lot. Empty cars, eddies of fog swirling between them, but no other signs of life. She had almost turned a full circle, already berating herself for once again falling victim to paranoia, when the girl stepped out of the fog.
Jill screamed and recoiled, one hand coming up to her mouth. She moved her hand to her forehead and stared wide-eyed as the woman - she was much older than Jill originally thought - came to a stop a few feet away from her. She had jet black hair that hung to her waist, dark brown skin, and eyes that seemed to be completely black. Although she, at first glance, seemed to be a teenager, Jill could see tell-tale lines around her eyes, and that her draping hair hid a well-developed figure covered by a simple smock.
Regaining her composure, Jill swallowed hard and flicked her eyes from one side to the other to make sure the woman was alone. "I'm sorry. I-I... you startled me. Where did you come from?"
"I am from here," the woman said.
"Thank God," Jill said. She offered a nervous smile and said, "I was kind of thinking everyone moved away and forgot to tell me. Do you know where everyone else is?"
Jill waited and, when no answer was forthcoming, prompted, "Well? A-are they coming back?"
Patricia, Michael. She closed her eyes. "Where did they go?"
"They were taken away."
"Why wasn't I taken?"
"You were chosen as a steward."
"Chosen? By whom? The same people who took everyone?"
The woman turned her head slightly and looked at the fog surrounding them. "Whose island is this?"
Jill was so taken aback that she had to think about the question before she could answer. "What do you mean? Like which... uh, it's in the United States. Washington. Is that what you meant?"
"Who does it belong to?"
"The island itself?" The woman nodded. Jill had never thought about that before. It was United States land, but did that mean the President could sell it to Canada? "A lot of people own bits of it. Land to build homes and to live on... but as for the island, I don't... Nobody does. No one person owns the whole island."
"I would not have believed it would retain its splendor all this time. Despite habitation, it is still much as I remember."
Jill nodded slowly. "People who move to the island do so because... because of the beauty. We would never do anything to destroy that."
The girl looked at her again with dark, dark eyes. "You respect the island?"
"Yes," Jill said without hesitation. "The island isn't, can't be, ours. We're... kind of like... caretakers. We enjoy the trees, and the water, and the whales, and we take care of them as best we can so that future generations can enjoy it as well. We may not always do a very good job, but we are trying. We recycle, a lot of people ride bicycles, a lot of the local business are, are... going green..." Saying it out loud made her feel ridiculous, but it was the only argument she had. "I guess we're pretty sorry excuses for caretakers, huh?"
The woman lifted one slender shoulder. "There have been worse. There have been better."
And that, apparently, was the end of the conversation. The woman turned and began to walk away, and Jill said, "Wait!" When the woman looked at her again, Jill said, "This island is our home. Everyone who lives here... there are some assholes, and some jerks, and there are absolutely brilliant people. People who are doing what they can to preserve the island, and the wildlife, and this whole spectacular area. They all deserve to live here. They all deserve it. If that's why you spared me, for my opinion, then you have it."
The woman seemed to consider this. "I will use your comments to make my decision. Thank you, Jill Hood-Colby."
Jill frowned, wondering if she had given the girl her name, and then said, "Will they come back? The other people... my partner, my son." Her voice cracked and she looked away, fresh tears following the tracks on her cheeks. "Will they ever come back?"
"I do not know."
She had already come to the obvious conclusion that this woman was no ordinary resident. "If they can't, or if you decide... if they don't come back, can you take me to wherever they are?"
"You would not be aware of their presence."
"Yeah, but here I would be aware of their absence. Every second. Please."
The woman stared at Jill for a long time, before inclining her head slightly. She turned on one bare foot and walked back into the fog. Jill watched her go, a thousand more questions echoing in her mind, and finally walked the rest of the way to her car.
She spent the rest of the day wandering. When her hunger became too much to ignore, she went through the open door of Joe Lack's Pizza and, surprised that she retained her knowledge from summer jobs learned in high school, made herself a thin-crust cheese pizza. At the last minute, she heard Patricia's voice in her head. "<i>You could at least put pepperoni on it. Plain cheese looks so naked.</i>" She added pepperoni, let the pizza cook, and sat on the boardwalk to eat. The fog was only slightly thinner now, but she could see boats out in the harbor. She could take one, sail away, never tell anyone who she was or where she was from. Let Squire's Isle disappear completely. But the island was home, where she had made a home with Patricia. The island was the place where, despite telling herself when she was fifteen that she would never have a 'normal' family, she was wed to her partner, and they were raising a son together.
She finished the pizza and decided to walk home. She didn't bother to look into the buildings she passed; she could feel their emptiness like a physical force.
When she got home, she unlocked the front door and stepped into the house. "Honey. Patricia." She closed the door and heard the click of the latch like the cocking of a gun. Her first instinct was to curl up on the couch, stare out the window and wait for something to change. Instead, she began a tour of the house to gather mementos.
A photo of Patricia and Michael that hurt her heart to look at, the ticket stubs from their honeymoon, Patricia's purple blouse, Michael's baseball jersey. She carried them into the living room and sat on the couch, letting the items surround her. She rested her head against the back of the couch and stared across the living room as the memories overwhelmed the fog outside.
She saw Patricia, loser of a bet, pushing the vacuum through the living room wearing thong underwear under a sheer nightie, her hair up in rollers and her long legs accentuated by high heels. Jill remembered cheering her on from the couch, the video camera rolling as Patricia lip-synched to Dolly Parton's 9 to 5.
She saw a quiet dinner in the dining room, Patricia reaching across to hand Michael a napkin so he could clean the sauce from his cheek.
Inches away from where she currently sat, she saw herself folded in Patricia's arms, half-asleep, Patricia's fingers drawing circles on her upper arm and shoulder.
Finally, she got up and went to the closet. She dug through without worrying about being neat, tossing everything onto the floor behind her as she searched. She finally found their sleeping bags, rolled and tucked into the back of the closet. She tugged out the one Patricia had used on their last camping trip and tucked it under her arm. She went to the bedroom, changed into a nightgown and took Patricia's pillow from the bed.
It was barely dusk outside, but she unrolled the bag and stretched it out on the back porch. She unzipped it, crawled inside and lowered her head to the pillow. It smelled more of shampoo than of Patricia, but that was all right; she could fool herself. She tugged up the zipper and looked up into the sky. As she watched, the fog seemed to fade and dissipate until a swath of clear sky opened up over the island.
Night seemed to fall unnaturally fast, or maybe she was just thrown by the utter lack of sound. No cars, no animals, no people slamming doors or air conditioners starting up. Under other circumstances, it would have been peaceful. Now it made her want to weep.
She closed her eyes and began to drift. Please, bring them back. Or take me to them. I don't care which.
As she drifted off to sleep, she thought she heard a whippoorwill crying. Her eyes flickered open briefly, but she was too close to sleep to wake fully. Her last thoughts as she drifted off was whether the sound was the sign of life returning to the island, or a messenger from the other side come to take her away.
Jill woke with her face buried in the pillow, surrounded by Patricia's scent. She opened her eyes and lifted her head to look at the clock. She had somehow moved inside, to their bed, and the alarm was five minutes away from sounding. Not that it mattered; she had nowhere to be. She pushed her hair out of her face, rolled onto her back and looked at the other side of the bed.
Her gasp died in her throat, and her heart skipped a beat. Patricia's light-olive shoulders were crisscrossed by the straps of her tank top, her curly brown hair a mess of tangles on top of her head. Jill rolled and embraced her tightly from behind, her cheek against Patricia's shoulder. The assault woke Patricia and she murmured in her sleep. She curled in on herself and shook her head without opening her eyes. "Mmm, I know. I'm going to be late."
"No," Jill whispered. "No, baby, you sleep in as long as you want."
Patricia chuckled, the sound making her whole body tremble. It was the most exquisite thing Jill could ever remember experiencing. Patricia rolled onto her back and pulled Jill on top of her. "Hey, cut that out. You're supposed to be the grown-up. You're the toughie who won't let me sleep in."
"Not today," Jill said. She kissed Patricia passionately and let her fingertips trace the lines of her cheeks.
When they parted, Patricia said, "What was that for? Are you crying?"
Jill smiled. "I'm never going to take you for granted again."
Patricia raised an eyebrow. "Have you been?"
"I didn't think so. But yes, I have. Never again. I love you. I am so in love with you."
Patricia wrapped her arms around Jill's waist and clasped her hands in the small of Jill's back. "Oh, I get it. You just want some morning glory."
Jill laughed and kissed Patricia again. "No. Well. I mean, if you're up for it."
Patricia laughed, slapped Jill's bottom, and pushed her off. "No. I have to shower and get dressed." She sat on the edge of the bed and stretched, then turned to look down at her. "Are you still planning to wear your Supergirl panties under your Clara Kent costume?"
"What?" Jill said. Her smile wavered. "What day is it?"
"October 31," Patricia said. "Apparently it's some kind of holiday."
"Halloween?" Jill said. She sat up and looked around the room. If it was Halloween again, did that mean she had dreamt everything about yesterday? If so, it was one of the most vivid dreams of her entire life. Also one of the most bizarre. She scratched her collarbone and shook her head to dispel the worried look on Patricia's face. "Right. Uh, yes. The costume. I'll, yes, I'll wear them."
"Good." Patricia stood up and continued to the bathroom.
"Trish. I was thinking, this weekend, maybe we could go on a picnic. Out of town, in the woods. You know, commune with nature."
Patricia nodded. "Okay. Sure, sounds like fun." She hooked her thumb at the bathroom. "You want to join me?"
Jill thought, then pushed the covers away and went to join Patricia in the bathroom. What the hell. It would conserve water.
The day was completely clear, if a little wet. No sign of fog, just some dark clouds on the horizon giving credence to the radio forecast of rain in the afternoon. Jill parked at the school and saw the same cars parked in the lot, but there was something different about them. <i>Life. There's life here.</i>
Jill smiled to everyone she passed in the hallway, making a few of them chuckle at how effusive she was. "Glad to see you. Good morning, yes, very great morning. Beautiful day, isn't it?" Let them look at her sideways. Let them think she was Little Miss Sunshine for a day.
She looked at the marker board as she entered her classroom, half-expecting to see her story still written in blue ink. But the board was clear, and the room was cool from being abandoned all day. Or maybe for two whole days, she would never be able to tell. She shrugged out of her suit jacket and walked around her desk to drape it over the back of her chair. As she did, she saw a book centered on her blotter.
She had never seen it before, but the cover was embossed with the words "A History of Squire's Isle."
The pages were crisp, and the binding crackled as she opened it. She thumbed through the pages and stopped when she got to the section concerning Gabriel Sawyer and his group's mysterious disappearance. "Sawyer's last known correspondence, to a relative in England, included a lengthy manifesto declaring the island to be his. 'No man dare threaten my sovereignty on this island. It is truly well to be master of anything, even this godforsaken rock.'"
She still didn't know why the mysterious woman had singled her out, but now at least she knew why everyone was back. "The island wasn't yours," Jill whispered to Sawyer's picture in the book. "But you never would have said that. Would you?"
"Oh, you found it!"
Jill jumped and spun around. Sonia Edwards was standing in the doorway, arms folded over her chest. She smiled through the cat make-up on her face and gestured at the book. "I knew you were teaching about the early days of the island, so I thought of you when I was in Seattle last weekend. Picked that up at a little used bookshop."
"Doesn't seem used," Jill said. "Can I keep it for a while?"
"Keep it period. It's a present."
"Thank you. Sonia, thank you very much. I look forward to reading this." She closed the book and ran her hand over the cover.
"You okay?" Sonia asked, stepping into the room. "You look like you've seen a ghost."
"No, no ghost," Jill said. "Maybe just a spirit."
Sonia laughed and backed into the hallway. "Okay, honey. Can you do lunch?"
"Who are you supposed to be anyway? Glengarry Glen Ross?"
Sonia laughed. "Oh, you're too good. I'll see you lunchtime, 'kay?"
"Okay," Jill agreed.
She sat down and flipped to the beginning of the book, to a chapter covering the time when Salish hunters occupied the island. She scanned the articles, wandering aimlessly until she spotted a line about stewardship. "The Salish would occasionally allow foreigners to move onto one of their protected islands, whether they planned to hunt or fish or simply live off the land. One newcomer was appointed 'stewardship' and would be tasked with convincing the Salish to allow them to stay."
Jill looked out the window at the playground. She imagined a hundred and fifty years earlier, when Sawyer's logging team came onto the island. Sawyer appointed himself lord and leader. The island was his and his alone. After a year, someone on the team, maybe Sawyer himself, had woken up to discover everyone else was gone. Maybe he had been asked the fateful question: who does this island belong to? Sawyer would definitely have given the wrong answer, and his men were there for the sole purpose of cutting down trees, mining limestone, basically raping the island. The steward hadn't done their job, and the people had returned.
Jill didn't know what, exactly, she had said to the mysterious woman that had saved the island. Maybe the entire thing had been a dream set off by focusing on the island's origin in her lesson plans. The memories of the day before, or the remnants of her dream, were already beginning to soften at the edges. "Thank you," she whispered. She didn't know if the woman was around to hear, but she wanted to say the words while a part of her still believed it really happened. "Thank you so much."
She turned away from the window, closed the book, and focused on getting ready for the class that was about to begin.
She didn't know why she had been chosen as the island's most-recent steward. She had never done anything that made her qualified to be represent everyone on the island. If she believed the day before really happened, then she had to believe that somehow every single soul on the island had disappeared without a trace, without an alarm. And then she had to believe they were all returned without memory of what happened. She wasn't sure she was ready to have the foundations of her beliefs shaken like that.
Whatever had really happened, be it a supernatural occurance or just a particularly vivid dream, Jill wasn't going to squander the gift she had been given. She had been forced to look at the island where she lived, and the people she lived beside, in a whole new light. Being here, having them in her life, was a gift. She wasn't going to take any of it for granted ever again.