Sailing out of Darkness (Carolina Coast Book 4)(6)

By: Normandie Fischer

It’s just the inside out that makes a person feel so thin.

Theodore Anderson clawed his way up the bank, grabbing handholds and pressing against rock with his bare feet. Why wouldn’t his legs work? Come on, move, move.

Kicking only tightened the bindings around his ankles, at his thighs. What was wrong with him?

The hulk skidded along the asphalt. Tires shrieked and air brakes hissed as the engine howled in protest. Teo turned. The massive silver grille reflected oncoming headlights, blinding him, and all he could do was raise his arms to protect his face, because he was too late. He’d never escape.

And, dying, he woke.

He inhaled slowly, letting the breath whoosh out between pursed lips. He was in his room, wrapped in a sheet. No demons roamed, and, while that truck may have jackknifed years ago and thousands of miles away, it was not here in Reggio sul Mare, on the Italian Riviera.

So, why the dream now and in this place?

He tossed off the covers, slipped on a pair of jeans and a shirt, and slid his feet into loafers. He couldn’t run off the tension, but he could walk. The tap of his cane on the sidewalk echoed in the pre-dawn.

Like eyelids closed against the night, metal shutters hid the shop windows. He could picture the butcher’s just there, slabs of meat hanging from hooks, fowl complete with head and feet, prices by the kilo. He passed the greengrocer’s, two stores down. Next, the tabaccaio, which reminded him that he needed to buy stamps when they opened. He knew the shopkeepers by sight after five years of walking these streets, even if he didn’t know all by name.

In the distance, an engine revved. Most in town would stretch and yawn as they slowly woke. The bakers, though, were even now sliding dough into ovens, yeasty morsels he could buy in a few hours to nibble with a strong espresso. But not yet.

His tap-tap continued down the hill to the shore where he stepped onto the rocky sand and rebalanced. Waves crested and broke, hidden by the fog, though lights from the nearby hotel illuminated enough beach to keep him from falling. He kicked off his shoes and moved to the water’s edge, then whispered, “Sono qui.”

That elicited a smile. “I am here,” he repeated.

Not there. No longer there.

“Okay, I’m up and out.” He aimed this message skyward. “I assume that’s what you—or someone—wanted.”

The sea wrapped his ankles and splashed the tip of his cane. The walk had cleared his soggy brain, and the eerie quiet of a mist-clad sea sat well with him. He stood still and listened to the soft slosh as the waves hit sand. But no one spoke, neither God nor man.

He’d begun to turn away when she stepped out of the fog, white on white with a touch of gray, followed by a flash of light skin and dark hair. Puzzled, he stared.

Slowly, her form emerged, and a bright smile bridged the dimensions. She beckoned. Did she wave at him? Teo peered over his shoulder and down the beach, but he was alone with only the sand and the sea and this vision before him. He expected to hear witchy moans next—or see a bubbling cauldron. Surely, this wasn’t an angel.

“Che succede?” he called, wanting to know what was up, along with a why or two, but she didn’t speak. Perhaps she couldn’t.

The sea sucked the wave, as if the sand inhaled then exhaled, breathing in water and filtering it out like a fish’s gills. He backed away, sliding damp feet into his shoes.

Lights from the new hotel, the Albergo dei Romantici, illuminated the froth, showing off upturned rowboats that lined the sand like an army slumbering till day. Teo rarely ventured close to the developed boardwalk, but at this hour it seemed appropriate. No one else stirred. He was free to explore.

This stranger’s appearance wouldn’t seem so odd if she had flesh and form that he could touch. Instead, she shape-shifted in the half light, one moment showing no more than a wispy outline, in the next, substance.

There, now: a three-dimensional image. She didn’t possess Sophrina’s soft curves or that long, wavy hair. Her lips eased without seduction, an art she didn’t seem to know. Her lashes lowered, but not to shadow Sophrina’s penetrating stare. They dropped to hide her pain.

How could he know that? He shook his head, puzzled when the understanding dropped into his mind with no prompting from either of them. His eyes snapped closed, then opened to scan the area. Perhaps he was merely dreaming.