Author’s Note: This is the first entry in the serial publication of a novel I’m working on. It helps to have read the other works in The Dead Who Repent. The main characters here come from Where Mercy Died and continue a story started there. Characters from Books 1 and 3 also appear. However, reading those stories first, while interesting and helpful, is not required.
Val still says that scaring up the family ghosts is all my fault because of that stupid fake ritual, and I remind her that it was probably the unbelievable coincidence of her moving into my ancestral home and being related to the wife of the killer that got all the paranormal stuff cooking to which she says that we can’t guarantee that Willie was the killer to which I say Occam’s Razor to which she says that I’m the school’s biggest nerd. And that brings us to the first weekend of December, senior year, when I got permission from my folks to head north to see my cousin Rob at Colby College. The first weekend in December is usually official visit weekend for D1 and D2 college football teams. I was a Patriot League All Star safety for Silver Lake, and we went two rounds deep in the playoffs before we bowed out. I had a bit of interest from Stonehill College, an offer from Wheaton, an offer from Bates, and some interest at Worcester Polytech, but I was pretty into Colby College. Colby. Big time nerd school. Very selective.
Honestly, I probably didn’t have enough to get in on my own, but I was hoping that the football coaches would want me bad enough to get me in. The truth is that Colby is a family tradition on my mom’s side. She’s a Greenslade, but her mother was a Pushaw, which was originally Pochard—French Canadian. They came down from Quebec and settled in what became Waterville, and some part of her family wound up in Massachusetts but she went back to Colby and met my dad and blah blah blah. Which is sort of how we’re in Halifax, Massachusetts, but everyone on her side goes to Colby. I mean, that is if you can get in.
My cousin Rob Greenslade went to Duxbury High, which was a real joy since he played wide receiver and kicked our tail ends around the block all his senior season. He went deep on us three times his senior year, and let’s just say that we didn’t discuss it much at Thanksgiving. He also had sparkling grades and finished number seven in his class. He had football offers at Fordham and Wagner, but he chose academics and family and tradition and all that stuff.
Colby is D3. You don’t do official visits. But since the other top guys in the Patriot League were going that weekend, Rob told me I should come up, and the secondary coach, Bill Browning, said he wanted me up there. So off I went.
Massachusetts was cold when I left, hovering in the low forties, but layers of ice and snow grew thicker around me as my Toyota Camry headed north until I was moving on a black ribbon that cut through banks of white on each side. Light flakes were flying, and you’d have thought it was midnight, but no—I had left directly after wrestling practice, and it was only about 7 pm when I rolled into Waterville. I pulled into parking near Hillside where Rob was rooming. With the car and heat still running, I texted him.
Rob: Cool. Be right down to get you. Got your snow shoes for the tour?
Rob: Nah. They plow.
Me: Ha ha.
Rob was in Colby football sweatpants, boots, a Colby football sweatshirt, and a Colby jacket and baseball hat. His dark brown, wavy hair stuck out from under the hat. I switched off the car and stepped out into the icy night air. The cold stung my lungs as I inhaled, feeling as though I were inhaling icicles.
“Sup, Cuz,” said Rob holding up his right arm.
I lifted mine, and we bumped forearms.
“Hey, brother,” I said.
“You made good time, man.”
“Roads were clear once I got north of Boston,” I said.
“Not too snowy or whatever?”
“Nah,” I said. “But dude, it’s freezing here. This is, like, year round up here, huh?”
Rob laughed. “Nah, not year round. Just, like, nine months or so.”
I laughed. “So the whole school year.”
Rob put his arm around me. “Some stuff up here is smokin hot. C’mon. I’ll take you to a party to start. The coaches said to make sure you have a good time.”
We started walking. “You know that Val and I are kind of a thing, right?”
Rob punched my shoulder. “What happens at Colby stays at Colby.” He laughed, then said, “I’m just playing. But you can at least meet some back up options.”
We went to a frat house, and there was a party, and I’d love to tell you that it was an awesome rager. I guess it was for some people, but I took it easy. Truth be told, ever since learning about how Val’s half brother went out, I’ve been pretty careful at parties. Anything I drink comes from an unopened bottle or can, and I never go more than one or two deep. You know what happens if you stumble out into the Maine winter night drunk and unsure of where you are? But Rob was cool about it—even though he talks big, he goes light. He’s a health nut who keeps himself jacked to have a competitive advantage.
Just past nine, Rob caught up to me and said, “Hey, you like ice cream?”
“Gifford’s is down near the river. Melissa, Da’Quan, Jackie, me, you, and Eduardo are gonna head down.”
“Cool,” I said. “They got avocado ice cream for you?”
“Funny,” said Rob. “My once-a-week break in the routine.”
“That means it’s part of your routine,” I said.
“How about you shut up and get your car.”
It was about a five-minute drive, and we parked right in front. There were a few other college students in the parlor, and Rob’s car unpiled as Eduardo and Melissa hopped out of my car.
“Prospects first,” Rob said as we entered.
I ordered a coffee oreo with jimmies, and I settled into a metal chair facing the door. Rob pulled another table over and grabbed several more chairs. One by one, the group settled into chairs. Melissa was dark-haired and dark-eyed, and she sat across from me with a frappe.
“So what do you think so far?” she said, stirring the frappe with her straw. “You ready to commit?”
I smiled and took a bite of my ice cream. “Make it about ten degrees warmer and it’s a done deal.”
“Stop being a puss,” Eduardo said.
“It shortens your walk everywhere when you can just walk across Johnson Pond,” said Jackie as she leaned up against Rob.
“I’m just playing,” I said. “I think the main question is that they gotta want me first.”
“Oh we want you,” said Rob. “Might finally have a guy in practice who can cover me for a change.”
“Nice,” I said. “You settled that with admissions yet, though?”
“Yep,” said Eduardo. “Rob’s gonna do anything the admissions lady wants, and—”
Rob hit him with a wadded up napkin, and we all laughed.
I cut into my ice cream, and as I raised it to my mouth, I saw a woman staring at us through the window, the tip of her nose brushing up against the glass. She wore a battered, gray dress that looked ancient; her brown hair was pulled back, but strands of it were loose all over her head. She had no coat, and her dress sleeves came down just to her elbows. I set my spoon down and looked back at her, and for a moment, it seemed like everyone else faded away and she and I were locked on each other.
“Yo, what’s up?” said Da’Quan. “You good, man?”
“Check out that lady,” I whispered.
They all turned. Her gaze didn’t move from me.
“You get, like, homeless people here wicked bad?” I said.
“Not like that,” said Melissa, pushing a strand of auburn hair behind her ear. “She’s in tough shape. Hope she’s not planning to stay out there long.”
The woman tilted her head to the right and started to walk, glancing back at me.
“Dude, she want you to follow,” said Da’Quan.
“Yeah, I think so,” I said.
I stood up and grabbed my coat from the chair.
“You ain’t goin after her?” said Da’Quan.
“She’s gonna freeze to death,” I said. “She can’t last but ten minutes out there.”
“Right,” said Da’Quan. “You don’t want none of that. Sit yo butt down.”
Rob stood up and grabbed his coat. “I’ll go with you. Eddy, D, let’s go.”
“Man, y’all crazy,” said Quan. “Homeless people in Florida way smarter than here.”
“For sure,” said Eddy. “For one, they’re homeless in Florida, not Maine.”
Jackie stood and grabbed her jacket.
“Where you goin?” said Rob.
“You serious?” said Jackie. “I’m a women’s studies major.”
“Uh, yeah,” said Rob. “Melissa? You a women’s studies major, too?”
Melissa laughed. “I’m just a soccer player. But I’m in.”
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