1.03: Night on the Town

Henry Cauville’s first impression of Tortus Bay was formed in the soft yellow glow of the moon, with fresh rainwater streaming down the streets and a drunken Clair skipping on ahead. That image seared itself forever in his mind. The air that night was crisp, and they shared between them the sort of manic energy that comes from new places and new people.

The village was centered around the twenty-or-so businesses that populated the intersection of Main Street and First Avenue. Clair flew past the area, chiding Henry all the while to keep up with her pace, but in shameless rubbernecking he was able to spot a grocer called Horizon Foods, a three-screen cinema called The Plex, a bike shop called Cycler, and the infamous Old Tommy’s General Store itself. For an institution in which a person could apparently find anything their heart might desire, it certainly looked like a single-story cabin with a sign that was missing several important letters. 

He saw now that whatever vision he’d had of a postcard village existed only from a great distance away, and through an obscuring haze of rain. Close up, he was taken by the purely functional aspect of the storefronts. There were few window displays, and no external decoration at all—as though not a single one of them ever expected a tourist.

“Is everyone from the big city as slow as you?”

“Are you always this aerobic after six drinks?”

She turned, jogging backwards, and grinned. “You haven’t seen anything yet.”

Then she was running, and Henry was after her. Outside of the main stretch, the roads of Tortus Bay narrowed. Long rows of old Colonial houses, which could only be differentiated from one another by the color of the stain on their wooden facades, flanked them on either side. Porches, swing-sets, and decorative mailboxes lined their path to an expansive, dreary park that occupied several blocks. The deep green foliage of tall, densely crowded trees occluded the sky.

Clair led the way inside. That night was hers, and Henry instinctively understood that there wasn’t any pulling her away from this strange course. “People like the idea of walking in the woods,” she said, “but won’t set foot in the real one because of all the stories about wolves. Here, you can get just deep enough so that all you can see is trees, but there’s always the knowledge that you’re surrounded by houses.” 

He immediately saw her point. They wound around a sea of wide trunks, squelching in the mud, and saw no paths, benches, or waste baskets. Only more trees. “Are there really wolves in the forest?”

“Anything’s possible. All you’re likely to see around Tortus Bay is the lowly squirrel, though. A turkey, maybe. If you’re lucky.” After a time, they drew up on a gnarled and towering Oak. Clair dropped down on her knees at its base, and began digging into the earth with her hands.

Now, he could no longer keep the obvious questions at bay. “What are we doing?”

She nodded her head off to the right. “Do you see, through the trees?”

At first he didn’t, but at the perfect angle he found that an open field beyond the park was visible through the greenery—at the end of which sat a squat cylindrical structure built on a rocky outcropping against what he was sure had to be the shoreline. “The lighthouse?”

“Good eye,” she said, and unearthed her cache from the earth: cheap whiskey, and a battered leather satchel. Without hesitation she unscrewed the bottle, took a pull, and handed it over. “The dock and the lighthouse have been condemned since before I was born. Nobody pays much mind to them, which is why I think they haven’t noticed how easy it is to get inside.”

The whiskey burned all the way down, making Henry miss the beer at the bar. “What is all of this?”

“This is the village,” she said, “like nobody else can show you. There’s a ton of history sitting in that lighthouse. It’s like a museum. I only took the really interesting stuff.” She produced from the satchel a locket on a thin silver chain. Inside, there gleamed a small emerald gem in the place of a photograph. A name was etched into the casing, but he couldn’t make it out.

Next, Clair showed him a yellowed and curling ship register. She flipped through the pages with the reverence of an archeologist handling a rare text, presenting a history of dates, times, and detailed lists of cargo. Then she set it aside, and handed him a notebook in exchange for the bottle. Unlike the register, its cover was clean and the paper stark white. New. “That belonged to Mathas Bernard.”

“Who?” Henry opened it up, and squinted down at an untidy scrawl. The words ran together like water, sometimes deliberate and blocky and other times a smooth cursive.

“I’m surprised Jamal didn’t tell you. It was his funeral today. He used to be a big figure around here. Married to Beth Brihte, and the Brihtes practically own the place. He ran the bank, served on the city council… and was a complete weirdo in private.”

He flicked through the notes in the book, and they became progressively stranger. Words like ‘rune’ and ‘stave’ jumped out at him. Two full pages had been dedicated to sketches of leaves and herbs. “How did you get this?”  

She shrugged, and snatched the notebook out of his hands. “People talk a lot around here. I want you to know that I love Tortus Bay.The good, the bad, and the odd. I’ve lived here my entire life.”

“I believe you. But this doesn’t count as showing me magic, okay?” 

“Do you believe in magic?”

“Can’t say that I do.”

Clair opened her mouth to say something, but before any words came out she was jumping to her feet in a frenzy. She scrambled, shoving the locket, the register, and the notebook back into the hole, and began furiously piling dirt over the lot. Henry was confused, until he too heard the telltale sound of a tire skidding on gravel just outside the park. Then there came the siren, and red and blue lights strobing through the trees.

She patted down the disturbed earth, jumped to her feet, and was running again. This time he stayed where he was, watching the lights play off the damp leaves, wondering how he’d let his first night in the village play out like this.

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