Lia Riley talks about creating the fictional town of Brightwater on Plain Talk, click here to read more.
The next knock rattled the front door’s hinges; whoever was out there meant business. Annie sneezed before drawing a shaky breath. Drinking wasn’t a personal forte, but chamomile tea didn’t do much to blunt the first-night-back-in-my-one-cow-hometown blues, even with extra honey.
Maybe if she took her time, whoever was out there would go away.
She closed her laptop’s lid, stood, and walked to the sink, setting the tumbler under the leaky tap. Water drip, drip, dripped into the brown dregs. Dad’s radio above the fridge, tuned to a Fresno classical station, piped in Mozart’s requiem on the scratchy speakers, hopefully due to coincidence rather than cosmic foreshadowing.
This could very well be an innocent mistake. Someone had confused directions, taken a wrong turn, driven up a quarter-mile driveway to an out-of-the-way farmhouse . . . to where she sat wearing a Kiss Me, I’m Scottish apron with a sleeping five-year-old upstairs.
She hadn’t missed Gregor in months. Her ex-husband might be a metrosexual philosophy professor, but at least he stood higher than five feet in socks. Why, oh, why had she enrolled in yoga instead of kickboxing last summer in Portland? No way would a sun salutation cut the mustard against a crazy-eyed bunny boiler. An alarmed buzz replaced the hollow feeling in her chest. Brightwater was a sleepy, safe backwater. Had it grown more dangerous since she tore out of here on her eighteenth birthday? Meth labs? Cattle thieves? Area 51 wasn’t too far away, so throw in possible alien abduction?
Well, she was alone now and would have to deal with whatever came.
As a rule, killers and extraterrestrials didn’t announce themselves at the front door. Still, this was no time to start taking chances. She grabbed her father’s single-malt by the neck and padded into the living room. The change from bright kitchen to gloom skewed her vision as blood shunted to her legs. Shadows clung to the beamed ceiling and brick fireplace. If the rocking chair in the corner moved, she’d pee her pants. That old gooseneck rocker starred in more than a few of her childhood nightmares—ever since her sister had mentioned that Great-Grandma Carson had died in it.
“Hello?” she called, her voice calm—but, darn, an octave too high. “Who’s there?”
The door didn’t have a peephole. This was the Eastern Sierras, a place where shopkeepers left signs taped to their unlocked front doors saying “Went to the bank, back in five minutes.”
Think! Think! What’s the game plan?
Retreat—not a choice. But more whisky was definitely a viable option. She opened the bottle, and the gulp seared her throat. At least the burn helped dissipate the cold fear knotting her stomach. She pressed her lips together while screwing the cap back on. Here goes nothing. Brandishing the bottle like a club, she flung open the door.
A light breeze blew across her face, cool despite the fact it was early July. Five Diamonds Farm sat at four thousand feet in elevation. She glanced around the porch. Empty. Unable to stand the suspense, she stepped forward, her bare toes grazing warm ceramic. A baking dish sat on the mat. Annie knit her brow and crouched—a neighborly casserole delivery? At this hour? Fat chance, but one could hope. She removed the lid, and an invisible fist squeezed her sternum.
If hope was a thing with feathers, all she had was chicken potpie.
A toothpick anchored a Post-it note to the crust.
Caught your hen in my tomatoes.
Chicken #2 will be nuggets.