I was rooted back on the dark path among shadowed trees, staring into the night, hands fisted. I shook my head and pushed impatiently on, picking my way along the twists of the narrowing trail in the gloom, ducking under boughs. Laura had given me “the spiel” about the plantation’s history and the restoration of the eighteenth-century Great-House by her employer’s grandfather, but not much about Leon Caviness himself. He was a dealer in rare art, who often entertained visiting clients. Laura hadn’t been very informative about her own role as social secretary for the bachelor’s estate.
Pat MacIntyre’s Cheshire Cat grin floated on the darkness.
I thrust past it, through a curtain of sweet-flowering branches. The shrouded path ended in an open expanse of black volcanic rock dropping away over a steep cliff. A nearly-full moon sailed above low cloud drifts, spilling white light and black shadows over the cliff, repainting the night in stark otherworldliness. Darkness seemed to ooze from the rock itself to absorb the moonlight. The narrow point dropped in fissured fault blocks, giant stairsteps down to the surf. To the right, a sheltered bay mirrored the shimmering trail of the moon, and to the left, the open stretch of ocean hurled wind and waves to crash in white foam against black rock.
Something held me motionless in the wild spot, breathing the salt wind, soaking in the night. The place gave me neither welcome nor warning. I was only an insect perching there. The sheer mass of rock, imbedded in water and moonlight, reduced the nearby presence of lights and cars to a fitful dream.
Almost. I belonged to that smaller, civilized world.
In another existence, I might have thrown off my clothes and danced homage to the moon, embraced the stones and flung myself into the cool arms of the sea, seeking their magic release from my grief.
Turning brusquely back to the path, I stopped short, then dropped to my knees near the rocky cliff edge and brushed a vine aside from a flat shelf of the stone.
A glass jar tipped and rolled over the rock with a clatter and the scent of rum. I caught it reflexively, staring down at what looked like a freshly-severed chicken head lying on a mound of grainy flour. Beside it, a crude face stared out of the stone.
The moonlight suddenly rippled in dizzying waves, my heartbeat echoing in my ears. No, it was a drum, beating out an urgent rhythm, overriding my pulse. The stone beneath me throbbed like a tautly-stretched hide, and the beat shuddered through me, demanding, my blood pumping to its rhythm, not my own. An indignant protest rose up in me, but there was something, some blind force in the night, in the echoing rhythm, that brushed this logic aside.
*the pounding beat is a live being. It takes my senses, the pores of my skin, opens them wide to greedily drink in the heat and the moonlight and perfumes of rum and flowers. It dances my feet to the driving rhythm*
I jolted back from the carving, skin crawling with irrational fear. I shook my head and took a deep breath, let it out. “Get a grip, Susan,” I muttered.
Leaning forward, I studied the carved stone. Moonlight and shadow highlighted grooves scored into the rock, a very basic petroglyph, one of the common designs found from Australia to Africa to Alaska. Nose and eyes, an elemental watcher looking out to sea. My hand felt oddly detached from my will, reaching down to trace the lines of the carving. The ancient face almost looked ready to find its tongue and speak.
“Wha you do here?” The harsh voice came from behind me.
I lunged on a burst of adrenaline to my feet, spinning around, startled into clumsiness as I stumbled backwards. A man clutched my arm and yanked me from the verge, a glimpse of boulders pawed by the sea below.
The face revealed by the bright moon was not reassuring. It was broad, black, and scowling. Long woolly hair hung over his brow and down to his shoulders in unkempt dreadlocks. His clothes were patched together from multi-colored rags of shirts and cutoff trousers, and he had thick legs and arms and big hands. A scar ran across his left cheek and pulled his upper lip into a sneer.
“Wha you wan here?” It was a slurred, single-word burst. “You wan trouble?”
Pulse thrumming in my ears, I remembered Pat MacIntyre’s warnings about the violent “Dreads.” There was no place to go except the path the man was blocking. He stepped closer, the whites of his eyes glimmering.
A crooning noise in his throat. “Liddy missy scare?” He chuckled nastily.
“Mr. Caviness is waiting for me at the Great-House.” I cleared my throat, injected some authority. “Now please move.”
“Huh.” A contemptuous thrust of the hand. “You go. Stay way!”
I needed no urging. The man stepped aside and I hurried through the bushes onto the path, fighting the impulse to run, the back of my neck prickling. I managed to retrace the twists and turns in the dark, tripping over roots in my haste. I stopped at the edge of the pool terrace, heart galloping.
Movement and voices inside the big house, and a muted progression of piano counterpoint. Bach. Intricate harmonies, impossibly cool and civilized amidst the humid air and riotous foliage. Chords spilled through the night, pebbles dropping into a moonlit pond.
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