Falling(The Hemlock Bay Series Book 1)

By: Amber Jaeger

Book One of the Hemlock Bay Series




Chapter One



I was almost to the front of the school when the door to the counselor’s office swung open and Mrs. Tort stepped out.

“Your English teacher called, said you left class.”

“Hard day,” I muttered, trying to step around her. She stepped faster.

“I told you it would be.”

I gritted my teeth and tried to edge around the other way.

“Care to talk about it?” she asked, pointing towards her office.

“Not really,” I said, finally dodging past her.

“Bixby, you’re going to have to talk about this sooner or later,” she called after me.

The wheezy groan of the double doors was not nearly as satisfying as a good slam would have been.

I cinched my backpack tight and stomped through the crunchy leaves littering the sidewalk. Following the main road led me through downtown and at the end, between the old brick storefronts, I could see Lake Michigan. It was a shining gray mass below the dull gray mass of sky. Considering my options, I reluctantly decided to head home rather than get sandblasted sitting on the beach while a storm came in.

Grandma was still folding the same load of laundry she had been when I left for school hours earlier. The Alzheimer’s had been getting slowly worse for years but in the weeks since Linc had died, her mind had just seemed to crumble.

“I’m home, Grandma,” I said from the doorway.

“How was work, Katherine?” she asking, folding a towel.

“Grandma, I’m Bixby.”

She looked up, her eyes slightly unfocused. “I would have made supper but the stove’s not working.”

“It’s actually lunchtime.”

She didn’t say anything, just unfolded the towel in her hand and rematched the edges to fold it again.

With a sigh, I went into the kitchen to fix something to eat. I had to fish around in the cupboard above the stove for the oven knobs. Grandma had left the burners on too many times and the last time had almost started a fire.

Lunch was depressing, each of us eating in silence. I was regretting making Lincoln’s favorite sandwiches. The food was salty clay in my mouth and Grandma had only taken a few bites. My eyes burned with sadness or sleeplessness, I wasn’t sure which.

At Grandma’s fifth yawn, I asked, “How about a nap?”

“That sounds lovely,” she said with a sigh.

I peeked in on her after clearing the dishes and she was soundly sleeping.

Lying in my own bed, I wondered how long sleep would evade me. I watched the dappled shadows of the autumn leaves slowly fade as the storm rolled in and blocked out the sun.

I woke up in the general store, standing next to the display case. “Wow,” I thought, taking in the familiar surroundings, “I actually fell deep enough asleep to dream.” It had been almost two weeks since that had happened.

It was dark and quiet, the taxidermy animals arranged in groups in the corners and hung from the ceiling by wires. They cast unsettling shadows but the familiar smell of homemade jerky and dust was comforting. The antique wood and glass cases held the same displays they always did.

It was cluttered, dusty, old, and not real. Not for the first time, I wondered if other people had as detailed dreams.

“Bixby!” Abe shouted, coming out from the back. “Where have you been, girl?” He dumped a case of root beer in front of an old fridge and came to hug me.

“Not around here,” I said. “I haven't been sleeping very well.”

Abe nodded but didn't ask about my other life, my real life. Nobody here ever did.

I left the general store and turned left past the two ancient gas pumps and ambled down the gravel, tree-lined road to my house. I wondered what would be different. Each time I visited there was something new or changed or remodeled. When I was little I had thought the house and town were just an elaborate recurring dream. But each new dream built on the ones previous, showing me more rooms in the house or areas of town. And the idea of it just being a recurring dream didn’t explain how I knew things, like where the Christmas decorations were stored. Whose dream self kept track of decorations that had never actually been dreamed about?

My house loomed in between two sand dunes, its stone and cedar exterior warmed by a wraparound porch and second floor patio about the garage. The outside was deceptively small. Over the years I had discovered dozens of rooms and passageways that led to other parts of the town which I had nicknamed Nightmare Town.

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