The Darkening Horizon-Chapter Three
Francine walked down Charlotte Street as the rain fell over her. The day was dismal enough that Cecilia wanted to stay indoors. Still, it was nice to explore for a bit, and the street was practically empty, with visitors preferring to shop along St. George Street. Francine wasn’t interested in crowds at the moment. She couldn’t keep her mind off of her sister’s condition.
Before they had left, she heard her parents’ discussion about where to stay. Her mother had preferred Miami, as it was much warmer and bound to be better for Cecilia. Her father had insisted on St. Augustine, however, stating that no hotel would be as relaxing as the Ponce de Leon. In the end, her father’s word was law as far as any of them were concerned.
Any aside from Francine, that is. She would always find ways to test her father’s good nature, even when she was a child who would insist on staying up late with her sister, reporting on the news going on among their friends. Her father had always tried to warn her from her “information seeking,” telling her that honest gentlemen wanted a lady that did not dabble in idle gossip. But Francine had never been one to dream of honest gentlemen, and so her habits continued.
They served her too well, sometimes, as was the case last night, when she heard her mother lamenting over Cecilia’s condition. Francine grimaced at the mud on her shoe as she kicked the ground, thinking of the conversation.
“I thought she was going to get better here, George, but it’s been raining since we’ve arrived. Can’t we look into some hotels in Miami?”
“Mary, I promise, the city will do Cici some good. It’s not going to rain forever, we have an entire season to relax here. This hotel is the best, and there are saunas across the street from us. I’m telling you, if she’s going to recover, this is the place it will happen.”
“But, George, I swear she sounds like she’s getting worse. Don’t you think—”
“What I think is that you’re panicking. I know you’re worried about her. I am, too. I need you to trust me, I just know this is the best place for her. Just trust me.”
Her mother had stopped arguing then and there, but Francine knew she was far from appeased. Sure enough, she doted on Cecilia the moment she arose from her bed and insisted that she eat her breakfast of eggs, salted bacon and fresh orange juice and drink two cups of ginger tea before getting up from the table. Her mother couldn’t control where they ended up, but she would certainly try to control Cecilia’s activities for the day.
It had been a struggle to go walking in the rain for Francine. Her father was adamant she would come down ill and they would have two sick daughters to look after.
“I gotta get out for a while, Pop. I promise I’ll come back fit as a fiddle. Don’t you worry about me. Make sure Cici stays warm in here, it got a little chilly last night.”
George had shaken his head. “Listen to you listing orders. When did you get to be so grown, Franny?”
“When she was able to talk, naturally,” her mother chimed in. “Franny, you take an extra layer and stay dry if you insist on walking around in that mud and rain.”
Now, here she was, alone on muddy Charlotte Street, taking in the old houses interspersed with storefronts and wondering what could be done, if anything, about her sister’s ailing condition.
“Nothing much to be done about your poor sister,” a voice squeaked from behind her. She gasped and spun around. There on the road in front of her was a small, shadowy creature with a pointed face and large ears. She had never seen anything quite like it. The mists that made up its body alternated between violet and indigo and its eyes were bright red.
“This must be a dream,” Francine muttered, shaking all over. “Or else you’re something unholy.”
“Nonsense. I’ve come to help you. You can’t possibly think you can help your sister alone?”
“How do you know about my sister?” Francine asked, fear overtaking her as she took a step back.
“I’m a superb listener. I hear many conversations. I can hear your inner-most desires, as well. The desperation that—”
“That’s enough for me,” said Francine, taking another step back. “I want nothing to do with you, demon!”
With that, she took off down the street, not waiting to see what the creature would tell her next. She ran through the mud, praying under her breath, keeping her eyes on the looming towers until she passed through the gates into the courtyard and into the rotunda. She stopped by the elevator, fighting to catch her breath, ignoring the displeased looks toward her and her muddy shoes.
When Francine arrived at her room, Cecilia was sitting in bed, dressed in a simple blue frock, reading a book. She took one look at Francine and jumped from the bed, grabbing her sister’s elbow and leading her to her own bed.
“Franny, you’re white as a sheet, what happened?”
“I saw . . . I saw something, Cici. It had glowing red eyes. I swear it was a demon.”
Cecilia had been placing a dry towel on Francine’s forehead when she had said this. Her eyes widened at her sister’s words, and she nearly dropped the towel.
“Come on, Franny, you know demons aren’t real. Just some stories Mom and Pop make up to scare us straight.”
“No, no, Cecilia, I swear I saw this thing. It was made of shadows with bright red eyes. What else could it be? It talked to me and knew about you being sick and—”
“Franny, you’re really scaring me. These things can’t exist, they just can’t.”
“I saw it,” Francine hissed again, looking toward the door. “I don’t want Mom and Pop to hear us, so keep your voice down.”
“If this thing exists, how do you know it’s a demon?”
“What else has glowing eyes, Cici? Come on.”
There was a knock at the door, and both women jumped.
“Franny, is that you?”
“Yeah, Pop. I just got back.”
“Are you decent?”
The door opened and her father walked in, stopping when he saw her.
“You’re in a state, aren’t you? Oh, Fran, your new shoes are in terrible condition. Your mother’s going to have an absolute fit about those. “
Francine looked down at her shoes. The mud had already begun staining the lace around the cuff. This was the last thing that Francine could bring herself to worry about.
“I got other shoes with me, Pop. Mom’ll be fine.”
“You’re already pale from the rain, I swear if you get sick on top of ruining your shoes, there will be fire and brimstone brought down by your mother.”
“I’ll pray for Mom’s abundant patience tonight,” Francine said flatly. “Are we going to eat? I’m pretty hungry.” This was a lie, of course, Francine wasn’t certain that she could eat anything at the moment. Still, she had to keep up appearances and getting ready for dinner would be a few extra moments that she would have with Cecilia.
“Sure thing,” her father said. “You get changed into something more presentable, both of you, and we’ll head downstairs.”
Francine gave him a big smile and he left the room. She quickly turned back to Cecilia. “What’re we gonna do, Cici? What if there are more of these things? What if they’re more aggressive? Do you think they can possess us?”
“Relax,” Cecilia said, placing her hands on Francine’s shoulders. “Look, I told you something seemed strange about this place. I think we should try to figure out what you saw. Maybe it’s a trapped soul, not a demon. We’ll figure it out, Franny, but you need to stay calm. Malevolent entities can sense fear and they feed off it. Just stay calm.”
But as Francine stood up to get changed for dinner, she felt as though staying calm may be a tall order.
Telese watched the sun fade over the horizon beyond the hotel. There was a growing sense of urgency that nagged at her every day. She promised Morgan that she would take it easy for a couple of days, but after her conversation with Mortimer, she couldn’t ease her mind into doing so.
As she looked over the courtyard from the breezeway, she saw a woman in muddy shoes run frantically through the gates, terror all over her face as though she had seen a ghost.
Or something like it, at least.
Telese made her way to the lobby to follow the woman, trying to stay as inconspicuous as possible. She saw the woman catching her breath by the elevator. Telese casually approached the elevator just as it opened, waiting for the woman to get in. Amid the crowd of waiting people, Telese cloaked herself in Old Energy, keeping herself hidden from the woman as she waited for the length of the trip. She followed the woman as she hurried down the hall to a room, fumbling with the key at the door.
Telese decided it was too risky to go into the room with her. Instead, she pressed her ear to the door.
“…was made of shadows with bright red eyes.”
Telese took a deep breath. Of course, the woman had been terrified. She had made contact with a shade. Nearly every human Telese knew of was often startled when they first saw the creatures.
She stepped away from the door and considered this. The human had been contacted once, and there was no question that she would be contacted again. Perhaps if Telese could keep an eye on this woman, she could find out more information on what Mortimer and Oren were up to and put a stop to it.
She heard the door open from the other room into the womens’ bedroom. A man was discussing dinner. A perfect chance to observe the dynamics of this family that the shade had decided was a sure bet to reach out to. She quietly walked away from the door down the hall and back to the elevator. She took a trip back to her own room. Once inside, she surveyed herself in the mirror. Her light blue frock fell to her ankles where her white stockings peeked out from her blue shoes. It was appropriate day attire, of course, but she needed something different for a dinner in which she would be speaking to a wealthy family.
She changed into her emerald gown that was set off by a large bow around her waist, switching to her black dress boots and pulling a thin, knitted black hat over her curls, which were pinned tight against her head. She reapplied her lipstick and rouge and turned to look at every angle. When she was satisfied, she left the room to go to the dining hall.
The remaining sunlight filtered in through the stained glass windows, bathing the room in an array of reds, blues, yellows and greens. Telese eyed the room and spotted the young woman she had seen before. There was a table near enough that she could listen in. She walked in and sat down at the white table clothed place and looked down at the expanse of utensils and plates. Humans did seem to love to make something like eating as complicated as it could get.
She looked down at the menu as the waiter came to her table.
“I’m not too terribly famished today,” she said with a sigh to her voice. “I’d really prefer the cod fish cakes and a strong tea, please.”
“Right away, ma’am,” the waiter said.
Telese listened to the family speaking to her right. The older daughter—Cecilia, her name seemed to be—would occasionally be taken by coughing. Chancing a quick glance over to them, Telese could see the concern in each person’s eye, though none matched the younger sister, Francine.
Cecilia tried to speak, but another coughing fit overtook her.
“You poor dear,” Telese said, pulling out a handkerchief from her pocket, “here you go, take it.”
“Oh, you’re too kind,” the mother said, trying to politely refuse.
“Oh, no, I insist. That cough sounds like it’s miserable for the poor woman. Please.”
“Well, thank you,” the man said, taking the handkerchief from Telese and giving it to Cecilia. Francine kept her eyes on her older sister, placing her hand on her back as she watched her.
“Under the weather, are we?” Telese asked, trying to emulate concern.
“For quite some time,” Cecilia managed to choke out in between coughs.
“Well, once this dreary weather cleans up, I’m sure you’ll be good as new in no time. Where are you visiting from?”
“New Jersey,” the mother answered as Cecilia’s coughing finally began to subside. “Just outside of Newark. You?”
“Not too far away from you,” Telese said. “I’m from Washington, D.C.”
“Oh, the nation’s capital. Fancy that,” the father said. “What do you do there?”
“I have an inheritance that my husband left behind, God rest his soul,” Telese said, reciting the story she often gave to explain being a woman without a man present. “I tend to travel around and use the money to see the sights of this country. He would have wanted nothing less.”
“My, you’re awfully young to be a widow!” Francine gasped, earning a swat from her mother.
Telese nodded somberly. “I’m afraid the war took many people before their time. My husband volunteered his services to the allies before America was even involved. He was a talented machinist. Built a fair many production equipments around the country for factories.”
“A fellow creator, then,” the man said. “I’m an architect in Jersey.”
“Oh, how wonderful. But where are my manners, my name is Lisa Braxias.”
“Lisa, wonderful. I’m George Rossi. This is my wife, Mary and my daughters, Cecilia and Francine.”
“I hate to see you sitting by yourself,” Mary said to Telese. “Would you like to join us? We have an extra seat.”
“That would be lovely, thank you,” Telese said. She stood and walked to their table, taking a seat next to Francine. After a moment, she noticed the young woman staring at her arm. Telese looked down and saw that a particularly noticeable scar was peeking out from under her sleeve. She quickly pulled the sleeve down.
“What happened to give you that?” Francine asked, earning another swat from her mother.
“It’s perfectly fine,” Telese said, though she couldn’t hide the blush across her cheeks. “I got too close to one of my husband’s machines—one that heats up steel to be bent for production. Unfortunately, it left quite a few unsightly marks.”
The woman seemed satisfied with the answer and fell silent as George discussed his work with Telese.
The dinner went smoothly, and Telese learned that Cecilia was in a terrible state. The family hoped the air and surroundings would help change the course of the illness. Telese knew better, though. Lung conditions were often not affected by sea air. She knew that the situation was bound to turn much worse.
As she said her goodbyes to the family that evening and made her way back to her room, she wondered if it would turn bad enough to make Francine desperate enough by the time the shade found her again.