So a while back, I decided to scale back a bit here and try a longer project. After the jump, the first draft of Chapter 1.
There’s more in the pipeline, but let’s not be greedy, hmm?
And remember. We loves the feedback! Tell me you hate it. Or not. Just tell me.
The second time Molly saw the man from the memorial service, standing in the bus shelter across the intersection from her, blue coat shining in the sun, she dismissed it as a coincidence and climbed on her bus.
The next time she saw him, as the bus passed by a café where he suddenly looked up from his menu to watch her bus roll past him, Molly became seriously uneasy.
It was the fourth time, as he stood at the corner waiting to board, that Molly began to feel truly scared. She knew there was no other explanation but that this man was somehow tracking her bus, and doing so on foot. She dreaded him climbing aboard. She thought of running, but to where? Once he got aboard there would be no escaping.
“Honey, are you okay?”
An elderly woman leaned across the aisle, a look of worry on her face.
Molly sat straight up, eyes forward, shoulders back, like a perfect little ingénue from a classic romance. Only her eyes gave her away. They were wide open with fear where they should have been dewy and inviting. She held her large purse tightly in her lap. The woman across the aisle could see her chin quivering now as well.
“Dear? Can you hear me?” She reached out and gently touched the girl’s arm.
Molly Kinnane recoiled violently, twisting away, shoving herself deep into the corner of the bus seat. She drew her legs up protectively and slid the purse between her leg and the dimpled steel wall of the vehicle. Her green eyes darted left, right and forward. She waited for the blue coat to appear on the steps of the bus.
The moment never came. Whoever this man was, he had not boarded the bus, which was now rolling away from the curb. After several seconds, Molly calmed down and relaxed slightly. The woman had drawn back to her side of the aisle but continued to regard Molly with a grandmother’s concern. Molly gathered herself and sat up straight. She looked at the woman in her brown jacket and gold scarf, wisps of silver hair peeking out. Her eyes have seen many things, Molly thought, but nothing like this.
Molly said, “I’m…I’m sorry. I just…I thought I saw something. Someone. On the street.”
The woman nodded. “Not a friendly face, I assume?”
Molly expected the question, but she was surprised to realize that she really didn’t know the answer.
“I don’t think so. It was just a shock.” She knew so little, but she knew enough of her mother to keep her lip buttoned. “I’d, uh, rather not talk about it. But thank you. For being so nice.”
“I have four grown children and ten grandchildren. I know what a scared child looks like,” said the woman.
Scared is only part of it, thought Molly. Don’t forget excited, miserable, confused and exhausted.
She saw the man in the blue coat three more times before the bus reached her stop, but each time from a safe distance, as if that made a difference. He seemed to be everywhere at once, so what did a safe distance really mean? Nothing.
The kindly grandmother had left the bus a couple of stops back, so Molly had no hesitation in taking a good long look around the area of the corner as the bus braked to a halt. She saw nothing out of place. Even so, the very moment the doors opened, she squeezed through like toothpaste from a tube and hit the ground sprinting. Six blocks’ distance between her and safety…as if she believed that any longer. She felt like Alice in Wonderland, plummeting down an endless rabbit hole, with no idea what waited at the bottom.
Curse you, Mother! What is going on?
She ran. It was something like a half a mile to her house, but right now it felt like she would never cover the ground. The sun was bright and the day clear. Molly took no notice – she kept her eyes straight ahead. If she could focus on the sidewalks ahead for just the few minutes it would take, everything would be all right. She swerved and dodged around pedestrians on the two block stretch of the main street. At the corner, the neon lights in the windows of the Hug-A-Mug Coffee Shop glowed like purple fire. She slowed briefly then crossed Cedar against traffic. Turning left, she picked up her pace again, but her panic waned with her energy. She glanced back quickly and saw nothing. Halfway home.
She passed out of downtown into her neighborhood. This was familiar territory. She felt the shadowy protection of the tall plank fence that ran along the sidewalk here – Sarah’s house – and slowed to a quick jog. Beyond that fence, just two blocks away, her home stood waiting. The last safe haven left to her. If she could make it.
Molly fought the last pulses of panic as she turned the last corner toward home. She cast a look backward – nothing there. Safe at last…but… she kept up her pace anyway. Her empty house was just a few doors away.
She felt the heavy bag in her purse banging her hip with every step. What was an Invitation Key anyway? It couldn’t possibly be real. And the letter. So typical of her mother to leave her with some mysterious riddle and a useless knick-knack. Some legacy.
As she turned into the front walk, she slowed and took out her keys, threaded the right one into the lock and opened the door. Inside was safety, so she turned and looked around once more. Nothing blue in sight except the sky. It was brilliant and pure, with a sun shining so brightly it hurt. But as blue as it was, the sky was not her problem. The sky was not what her mother had warned her about. The sky was not what was chasing her home. She closed the door, turned the bolt and took what felt like her first breath since leaving the bus.
At the same moment, the man in the blue trench coat stepped from behind a large oak tree in the park across the street.