(The following has been pieced together from a journal found in the ruins of a small seaside town.)
The wine had made things a bit fuzzy around the edges. It made my stomach burn hot almost uncomfortably. Molly had started to laugh a lot more and I hoped that meant I was getting funnier. She was getting more beautiful as the night continued. But she was not only beautiful, she was getting more brilliant with each new glass. I felt like the moths fluttering around the lamps outside my apartment window. I was attracted to a most dangerous woman and I loved it. In one movement, I moved the candle between us aside and went in for the kiss.
“What are you doing, Caleb?” Molly asked, backing out of my range. She pressed her palm against my lips to make her intentions clear. I was cut off at the proverbial pass. I waited until she had removed her hand to speak.
“I felt a spark between us. At least, I thought I did,” I said. I felt a little sheepish and confused suddenly and the effects of the wine were temporarily pushed away. I had been so sure just a moment earlier.
“When this is over and we leave academia at long last, there is little chance we will be employed together in the same place. I am not willing to set aside my dreams for just a spark,” She said. It was not cruelly done. Her face was even, her message was clear and her eyes were kind.
“You’re right, of course.” I heard myself saying, “That is perfectly reasonable. Rational.”
“Thank you. I will consider the matter closed. However, I will make you a counter, Mr. Newsom. We will be good friends and we will never lose touch no matter what happens. Until we part, we will be a team.” She said and her tone made it hard to hurt too badly.
“It’s a deal,” I said. We laughed and talked a bit more before retiring.
* * *
I arrived in Charming in the late afternoon of a surprisingly foggy day. You would have thought that the fog would burn off by midday. While fog in the late afternoon was not unusual, it was usually not the best sign. Too many things could hide in the fog. In my years, I have learned that those things can jump out of the fog as well. Most of them were not shy about doing so. In those times, it was good I had a revolver close at hand. It made people nervous but they had not seen what I had seen.
I was here to look for an old colleague of mine. The hotel I had selected was the one she had selected before me. It was plain and not at all what I thought she would choose. She always had a very particular sense of style that would not be easily set aside. She would be ill at ease in that spartan hotel. When I arrived, I found that it was the only hotel in Charming. That explained that but there were bigger mysteries afoot.
“Are you expected?” A young girl behind the counter asked. She looked like she was no older than age twelve. I would have bet money on that.
“I hope so,” I replied, “I sent word to make a reservation a week ago. Are you curious or are you actually working here?” I asked with a smile. I hoped the words came out as charming and maybe a little amusing. I did not think I succeeded as I watched her roll her eyes before she spoke again.
“I am Stephanie Ann Miller. What is your name?” She asked. She was already bored.
“Caleb Newsom,” I said succinctly. I imagined she had heard all of the horrible jokes even in her young life. I decided not to try any more in front of her.
She climbed down from the box she had been standing on and headed for a small cabinet. She pulled out a silver key attached to a leather key chain.
“You’re in room 14,” She said but did not hold the key out.
“Um.” I managed to say, unsure of what to say or do.
“Identification.” Little Miss Miller said with a bland look on her face and a blunt tone in her voice. Her eyes were dull and her smile just was not there. I handed over my passport but she pushed it and my key back toward me without looking at it. Wisely, I think, I just took the key and headed toward my room.
Molly had been here. I could feel it. I could almost smell her perfume and I could almost hear her dressing down the girl behind the counter. Whatever had happened to her, I could only hope she was still alive somewhere.
We both had had promising careers ahead of us as archaeologists. We both had several degrees already but we had both found our passions in those ancient studies. This would have been our last degree and indeed it was hers. We were ready for the field or so we thought. We were unfortunate enough to work under Professor James Miles. He had exposed both of us to so many horrors.
These horrors had caused me to quit archaeology in the end but Molly somehow carried on. She must have wanted it more. She even carried on after Miles himself went mad and disappeared. I had dropped out and managed to get by at a little newspaper. Soon, I would be made editor and I was proud of my quiet little life. That was two years ago. Meanwhile, she had continued and established herself as a bonafide archaeologist working with the museum in Philadelphia. She was seldom there, however.
Now she was lost on assignment. I tried not to think of the horrible things that could have happened to her. I lay on the bed and pulled out the old, battered journal she had mailed to me. Soon, my eyes were too tired to read it but I did glean that she was researching some ancient pre-European culture in the area. God help me but I was there again in the thick of things. It was for her. I was doing it for her. I knew I would soon be jumping at every shadow but for the time being I had to keep my wits about me. After a minimum of tossing and turning, I finally fell asleep.