There is a mile long bridge that connects Sacred Harbor to the mainland. Beside it is a gravel overlook and parking area. This is where Jacob turned in and parked, wiping his palms on his jeans. He exited the car and started walking with his hands stuck deep in his pockets. A bit short of breath and trembling, he stared at the scene before him. In his mind, a voice shouted, "Turn back now, you idiot!"
The bridge looked strong enough, though he couldn't help but envision it breaking apart just as he reached its center, crumbling, taking him to the murky bottom of the glistening lake. He knew his thoughts were irrational, but he'd been dealing with a fear of water since his twenties and a tragic afternoon swim in a local rock quarry known as 'Strawberry Fields.' Though all the moms had preached against it and everyone knew the rumors, all the kids loved to sneak away and swim in the enormous cavity. It was the size of a football field and sixty feet deep
Local legends said that several people had died at the quarry because, like Jacob and his friends, they couldn't resist the lure of those deep waters. But proof of those deaths was hard to come by. It always seemed to be 'somebody's cousin's cousin,' and the stories were laughed off. After all, these were healthy teens in the prime of their lives.
One day, after a few beers, one of Jacob's friends had the great idea to bet and see who could swim across the quarry first. Like a flash, everyone was running to the water's edge and plunging in. There were varying degrees of ability and of drinkers that day. A day that started out blue and carefree, but in memory was only cold and frozen.
Jacob was a smoker at the time, and before long he started feeling the effects. He'd made it a third of the way across before he started slowing down. As his brother and friends swam passed, he noticed Charlie Holtzclaw and Peter Simons were wasted. At the time he had hollered good-naturedly and they'd hollered back, ribbing each other, as boys do. As Jacob neared the center, the strokes became increasingly difficult.
His breaths came in distressed gasps. His muscles were on fire. His body had neared its limit and he was struggling for forward movement. It occurred to him that he would die if he stopped fighting. Jacob tried to shout for help, but realized that most of the boys had returned to the center of the quarry to dive for someone else. They didn't see him or his life-and-death battle.
When Jacob realized he still had thirty feet to go, he began to pray. He tried treading water for a few moments, to give the other guys a chance to see him, but his limbs screamed. He sank below the surface.
The water closed over his head, cutting off the sun. Jacob renewed his efforts, kicking with everything that was in him. He fought toward the light shimmering above him, reaching toward it, stretching. With the last of his energy he was able to burst through the surface of the water, spitting and gasping. His brother was there waiting, searching, to pull him to shore.
Two other boys didn't make it, and Jacob never looked at water the same way. The idea of being surrounded by it set his teeth on edge.
After a while, he reentered the car and continued toward the island. A rising panic overrode Jacob's common sense and he was exceeding the speed limit as he exited the bridge. A familiar sound demanded his attention and he cursed as he pulled to the side of the road.
Jacob watched in the rearview mirror as a male deputy exited his vehicle and approached the truck. At the open window he greeted the man with a smile. "This how you welcome the new Sheriff?"
"Excuse me, sir. I stopped you for speeding," replied the deputy. He was a lanky man with a badge that read Mills. A brisk wind kicked up and he had to turn against it to talk.
"Understandable, Deputy Mills, but why don't we finish this at the station?"
"I need to see some identification, sir." Large, fat drops of rain spattered on the windshield and on the deputy's hat. The deputy took Jacob's license and looked it over, "I'm sorry about your uncle, sir. He was a good man." He had to speak up to be heard.
"I've been getting conflicting reports on that. Don't waste a good lie on my behalf." Jacob looked at the sky. "Why don't you get on back to that cruiser? You're getting soaked."
"I guess you're right, sir. Let me escort you to the station."
"I'd appreciate that."
Deputy Raymond Mills turned to run to his patrol car, and then turned back. "Welcome to Sacred Harbor Island, sir!" he hollered. Jacob laughed as he rolled up the window. Feeling welcome was a little bit of a stretch, but the deputy's words had made him feel a little easier.
It appeared as if the rain was here to stay for a while. The windshield wipers were working overtime and Jacob could only see the deputy's taillights. He would never have found the station in this weather.
Over the radio he asked, "How much farther?"
"Are you that anxious to start work?" Deputy Mills laughed. "Just a few more blocks."
"I'm not what you would call anxious, Mills, more like exhausted and looking to get some rest."
"You won't get too much of that at the station. I suggest you check into the Whispering Pines Bed and Breakfast. I'll give you directions. The food isn't bad, but you could always eat at the local diner."
The rain was starting to let up as the station came into view. In the parking lot were two more squad cars. Jacob and Deputy Mills parked their cars alongside them. A cold gust of wind nearly blew Jacob's ball cap off his head as he stepped into the rain. Jogging up to him Deputy Mills said "Let's get out of this! There should be some hot coffee inside." But blocking Jacob's progress was a middle-aged woman with short gray hair and round cheeks.
"You should not have come here, Bryan Skylar. You've been called here by something evil. It has a name but it can't be spoken. This time it will not let you leave." She shook a finger in his face with much enthusiasm. "Go back before it's too late."
Deputy Mills stepped between them, "That will be enough out of you, Elizabeth Roth. Sheriff Skylar is not interested in your tall tales. Be on your way now."
She pushed Deputy Mills aside. "Leave me alone, Raymond Mills! He must be told the truth. May God protect you, Bryan Skylar. You will need His light on this dark island. Heed my words!"
"That is more than enough!" ordered Deputy Mills. "Say anything else and you can spend the night in jail."
Mrs. Roth glared at Deputy Mills. "You would not dare put me in jail. I have freedom of speech."
"It's okay, Mills," Jacob said. "There's no need for that kind of talk. This woman can say what she wants."
Stepping away from Mrs. Roth, Mills gave him a sinister glare, "This woman is a well-known agitator and religious fanatic, Sheriff."
"This nice lady is causing no harm here. Mrs. Roth, thank you for your time, but I think it's best if you get out of the rain and return to your home."
Mrs. Roth studied at Jacob for a few moments. "I will pray for you, Jacob Skylar." She wagged her finger again. "Trust no one here . . . No one."
It was evident that Deputy Mills was highly agitated by her presence.
"The Sheriff told you to go on home, Mrs. Roth, so go on . . . Now!"
"Calm down, Mills. There's nothing to get worked up over." Jacob gave him a light pat on the shoulder. "Relax. Now, I think you promised me some coffee?"
Mills' eyes followed Mrs. Roth as she marched away. Jacob's thoughts did as well. He wondered if she knew more than she had said, if she could shed some light on any of the questions he had. He filed the information away for later.