Date Published: Apr 27, 2021
Publisher: Milford House Press, Inc.
A former Fish & Wildlife Officer conducts an off-the-book investigation when a murder appears to have a connection to her deceased nephew, just as a hurricane hits her Florida beach town.
Kate found a battery-operated Coleman lantern discarded on the kitchen floor and flipped it on. It lit up the room, and she carried it upstairs, where Elise sat alone in Noah’s bedroom.
“I want to be alone,” Elise said, sitting in the rocker.
Kate didn’t respond, listening to the rain and wind pummel the house. The walls creaked so eerily in the gale-force winds that she wondered if they could collapse around them. Stuffed animals above the bed trembled. Her pet squirrel, Doc, raised up on her shoulder, swishing his bushy tail. The lantern cast a pale glow around the bedroom. With the windows boarded up, any area outside the lantern light was lost in thick, inky blackness. Though she couldn’t see the lightning, she could hear the angry thunder compete with the rain beating the roof.
The bookcase rattled, keeping her on edge. She glanced at Elise, huddled in the rocking chair. Her sister wrapped the afghan tighter over her shoulders and locked her arms around her knees.
The walls trembled with another thunderclap, shaking the bookcase, and knocked the worn copy of Where the Darkness Hides to the floor. Kate jumped at the loud thump. Doc jumped too and leaped to the floor to investigate. She raised the lantern and looked around the room. Many of the stuffed animals had fallen onto the small bed. A model airplane dangled from the ceiling, swaying violently from the turbulence. A toy box sat positioned under the window.
Letting out a breath, she shut her eyes and focused on the rain thumping the roof. It intensified, then quieted. The sound was hypnotic, and she didn’t even hear Doogie enter the bedroom. He shined a flashlight in her direction and paused in the doorway.
“Sebastian made landfall”—his voice rose above another loud boom of thunder—“south of Sarasota.”
Kate couldn’t see him behind the blinding light in his hands, and when he lowered the flashlight, it still took a moment for her eyes to adjust. She sensed him stepping beside her. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Doc dash across the floor toward him.
“We’ve just got to make it through the night.” He walked over to the rocking chair and put a hand on Elise’s shoulder.
Doc followed, cautiously investigating the cuff of his right pant leg.
“It’s about to get worse,” Kate said.
A corner of Elise’s mouth turned upward, but her smile was without humor. She turned to Doogie. “Why didn’t you sell her to gypsies or leave her in the woods somewhere?”
The wind howled at the window, and a sudden gust ripped the plywood from the casing. The glass shattered. Wind and rain blew into the room.
Elise screamed. The rocker overturned, spilling her to the floor. Kate and Doogie rushed to the bed, flipped the mattress off it, and forced it to the open window. They fought the incoming wind. The force bent the mattress, folded it like a sheet of paper, and pushed them back. Doogie shoved the mattress against the window and held it there. He yelled at Kate to move the bookcase. She got to one side of it and scooted it across the carpet to the front of the mattress.
The mattress shuddered in front of the broken window. The wind squealed and screamed like a dying thing. Kate and Doogie were silent for a couple of minutes, staring at each other.
“It’s not going to hold,” Kate yelled to him over the wind.
“We need to go downstairs.” He pointed toward the bedroom door. “It’s not safe in here.”
Elise turned the rocker right side up and sat down. “I’m not leaving Noah’s room.”
Doogie stepped to her, knelt beside the rocker. “C’mon, kid. It’s not safe.”
Kate watched her sister look up at him.
“I’m not leaving.” Gripping the edges of the afghan and pulling it taut against her back, she sank deeper into the cradle of the rocking chair. Her voice sounded raspy and tired, and a clap of thunder tapped her willpower.
The wind grew louder. It sounded like a howling wolf for a second and then a train. The roar became deafening. Debris hit the house. The roof rattled and banged.
Kate looked up.
Doogie moved the box spring and bedframe to the window, struggling to position them against the mattress. He looked back at Kate.
Elise picked up the weathered copy of Where the Darkness Hides from the floor. With the soft lantern light illuminating her face, she set the book in her lap and opened the cover.
Doogie looked puzzled. “We don’t have time for this.”
Elise read out loud, raising her voice over the shrieking wind.
“We don’t have time for this,” Doogie yelled. He turned to Kate. “Do something.”
Kate listened to the roar of the wind. Something massive hit the side of the house. The impact was loud and shook the walls. What could she do? If their number was up, she couldn't possibly do anything to prevent it. And at least they'd be going as a family, together. She dropped to the floor, next to Elise. Doc scurried to her, his tail raised high, and hopped onto her thigh. He stood on his hind legs and pawed at Kate with his single arm.
Thunder rocked the house, and Elise stopped reading. She turned toward the bedroom door. Doc let out a series of warning chirps and clicks. Kate heard it too. A pounding that seemed separate from the rain beating the exterior of the house. BAM! BAM! BAM! Intense. Determined. It sounded different from the wind.
It was coming from downstairs.
The hairs on the back of Kate’s neck rose. Another BAM! BAM! BAM! She definitely didn’t imagine it. She turned to Doogie. His eyes widened.
“That’s the front door,” he said. “Someone’s at the door.”
About the Author
JC Gatlin is a Mystery Suspense author living in Tampa, Florida. He self-published three mystery novels, including 21 DARES--which topped Amazon's Mystery-Suspense chart in 2016. Milford House Press published his next mystery, H_NGM_N: MURDER IS THE WORD, and it won the Royal Palm Literary Award for Best Mystery-Crime Fiction in 2019. His new mystery, Darkness Hides, is scheduled for release on April 27, 2021.
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