Writing in Public: Story 3, Scene 2
Grace came back to the lighthouse and the smell of brewing coffee, and breakfast. From that smell, Samuel had prepared hot soup, no doubt expecting her to have come back from swimming. The wagon was still parked out front, the metal jingling as the horses shifted around. One of the horses swung its tail to chase away a fly that was being annoying.
She stopped and stared at the wagon, wrapping her arms across her chest. Lighthouse Council or not, this couldn’t wait.
Samuel Freeman would be in the light keeper’s cottage behind the lighthouse. The cottage was a simple one story building with a porch stretching across the front and the left side. The white paint was peeling on the face side to the sea winds. She’d always found the cottage a little primitive for such an important—and dangerous role.
She was halfway up the wooden steps when she realized she’d left her shoes out by the lighthouse door. She debated running back for the shoes, which would take time to put on, or letting the visitor be scandalized. She looked down at her feet and wondered what was wrong with them. Most everyone had a pair.
Thinking of her feet reminded her of those footprints. Before she thought about it, she opened the door and went inside. The wind pulled the door shut behind her with a bang.
Samuel and the man in the waistcoat were seated around the eating table with tin cups of coffee. Two pots on the wood stove against the wall simmered, probably the coffee and the soup.
She recognized the visitor as Alexander Tidwell, from the Lighthouse Council. He was blond, with his hairline receding back like the tide. He had a big bushy beard that looked like he’d taken one of the scrubby chaparral plants on the hills and plopped it on his face. The waistcoat looked new, and expensive.
Both stood up at Grace’s entrance, their chairs scraping the floor. Their faces were grim.
“Grace, I’m glad you’re back,” Samuel said.
Seeing him eased the swirling currents in her belly. Samuel always looked like he had just gotten out of bed. His gray hair was tousled, with a cowlick that vexed him with its persistence. He was dressed in a white homespun shirt, collar half folded under, and suspenders holding up black trousers. He’d missed a spot on his cheek when he’d shaved this morning.
“Grace,” he said. “How was your swim? Mr. Tidwell came from a council meeting with news for us.”
“What’s going on?” Grace asked.
She clasped her hands behind her back to hide the shaking. The Lighthouse Council didn’t come here unless they were making changes.
“It’s okay,” Samuel said. “Sit down. I’ll get you some soup.”
That, she trusted. But Alexander’s presence and that he wanted to talk to her was worrisome.
Samuel poured her a bowl of soup and a tin mug of coffee. The smell won over her nerves and she dug into the soup. It had chunks of potatoes, carrots, onions, and the last bits of venison. He gave her shoulder a light squeeze and sat down.
“I’ve been talking with some of the other council members from down south,” Alexander said. “They’ve…found bodies. On the beaches.”
A cold chill brushed Grace’s shoulders. “How did they die?”
A shrug. “Don’t know. But the head and stomach were gone.”
“Definitely sea folk,” Samuel said.
“Can you show me where?” Grace asked.
There was a map on the wall of the entire shoreline. Alexander whistled when he saw it. Maps had to be made by hand and took a lot of time, so they were quite expensive. This one not only showed where all the towns and ports were, but underwater caves and deep water.
“How did you get this?” he asked.
“We made it,” Samuel said. “I used to make maps for my officers when I was in war.”
They’d gone out in the boat every day. Samuel had sighted off the shore, and then Grace had dove to see what was below. It had taken many months of painstaking work to finish. But she’d wanted to know where every rock and cave was. It was as rugged under the waves as it was on the beaches.
“There’s been five that we know of,” Alexander said. With his pinkie finger, he pointed, being careful not to touch the map itself.
“Is that in the order the deaths happened?” Samuel asked.
“I believe so.”
Samuel shot a glance at Grace. “The sea folk are moving toward us.”
“No,” Grace said with a weary sigh. “They’re already here. I found tracks this morning. Why didn’t the other hunter stop them? There’s a lighthouse down near the first killing.”
“That,” Alexander said, “was the first body.”