I. Daylight: Serena and Deliverance
Wee hours of the morning, rain pelting. My feet, bare and bloody on the gravel at the side of the road. I'm wearing the sodden, matted bathrobe and flimsy pajamas I'd walked out in, because I don't have real clothes anymore. Or, if I do, I don't know where to find them. The pale of the moon glows beyond the rain. Trees overgrow the narrow old road, mostly pine, some maple. I smell pitch in the darkness.
I don't know where I am.
"Charlie," I begin, out loud, because who is going to tell me to shut up here? I wrap my thin arms around my thinner garments and squeeze. "Charlie, what now? I did everything you said and it worked, just like you said. But what now? What do I do now?"
The night answers me with rain.
Maybe if I listen just right, I'll hear Charlie's voice in the wet splats of the drops on the leaves of the trees. Or maybe I'm having a lucid moment, in which case I won't hear Charlie at all.
"C'mon, answer me Charlie! It's only been a few days since you died, you can't have moved on already!" I'm surprised by the angry edge to my voice.
Splat, splat, splat goes the rain.
I'm cold enough that the drops hurt where they fall on my hands and face. Not on my feet though, my feet are numb and I'm scared to look down. I must've run miles in my skin, miles over grass and gravel and pavement and things I don't recall.
I shiver into the rain. Despite the cold and the dark, I'm more clear-headed than I have been since childhood. And that scares me more than anything else.
The moon-glow brightens, slipping its way down the sky suddenly fast. I pinch myself to find out if I'm awake or in a nightmare. I feel the pinch all right, but the moon splits in two anyway. Two moons now come at me very fast, very bright, so bright they are turning into suns. Two suns and--
"Charlie! Charlie's that's a car!" I stick my thumb out so fast I don't know I've done it till the car slides to a stop and the passenger's door swings wide.
Turns out it's not a car--it's a taxi. A bright yellow taxi, with a bent front fender and a big wide front seat. I can't see the driver but right now I don't care. Even if it's a homicidal axe-wielding maniac, that's got to give me better odds than staying where I am. "Charlie keep me safe," I mutter, as though she can protect me, as though she is even real, and I duck my head in.
Inside the cab is warm and dry. I'm icy and wet and the heat hurts at first and I'm glad it's not January or I'd have hypothermia. Not that it would be raining in January. Here in Maine the snow lies thicker than the crust of the Earth in winter.
The driver is older than me, but not too old, probably in her 30's. Her thick, wiry hair is worked up into a bun on the top of her head, away from a face both pretty and weary. Her skin is the color of strong chai tea--she even has nutmeg freckles--and her brown eyes are the color of kindness. I spread my own icy shaking hands out across my lap, the frozen white of the dead.
"Funny place to wait for a taxi," the driver smiles at me. She's got no make-up, no jewels, no frills.
My heart sinks. "I got no way to pay." My teeth chatter as I say it.
The driver shrugs shoulders padded by a thick, dark, wool sweater. Can't tell the color in the bad light. "I'm not on duty yet," she smiles in a way that makes me have to smile back. "Even cabbies have to drive in to work, you know."
She takes off and we drive for a long time before I'm warm enough to say, "I'm Serena."
She nods her head, pleased. "Deliverance," she says, "Deliverance Brown. And before you laugh, my momma gave me that name, fair and square!" Then she looks at me and laughs.
"Where are you--"
"Where are we--"
"About 20 miles northwest of the city, driving down the old Grey Road."
Thank you, Charlie. I sink into the warm seat and close my eyes. Behind the lids, big men reach for me, hands hard on my wrists and ankles, grinding bone. Their dead-fish gaze drinks me in as I scream and fail to get away.
Annoyed, I open my eyes and focus on the pavement going by instead.
Deliverance makes complex shapes in my heart: warmth and safety, pain and anger. Something broken, someone who fixes.
"I'm gonna find out, Charlie," I take care not to talk to her out loud this time, I just do it in my head. "I'm gonna get to Portland and I'm gonna find out who killed you."
I'm afraid again. I want to turn the cab around, run back time. But I'm not the one in control of the wheel.
Deliverance turns her warmth on me, and her smiles, and her kindness, and says, "Serena Lynn Penny, that's your full name, right?"
I can't breathe, for the racing of my heart. Maybe there really are worse things than the place I just left.
"Funny thing meeting you here," the driver's eyes are back on the road, one hand lightly on the wheel. "I had this passenger a few days ago, told me you'd be out here. Told me to pick you up and take you to 315 Grant Street, tell you apartment 2A. You know anything about that? Know anyone in apartment 2A?"
Fear becomes hope so fast I wonder if they're the same feeling. "What'd your passenger look like?" I squeak out with someone else's voice.
"Woman. Tall, thin, redhead. Real green eyes. Soft voice."
Charlie! She just described Charlie!
But no, that can't be. I'm not lucid after all.
I huddle back in the seat, nursing my thumping heart.
A long time later the sky reddens along the horizon of the road. There have been more houses, and more often. The red light is different from dawn.
"That's Portland," Deliverance points. "We're almost there."
I swallow, glad of the thinness of my robe and PJs now, glad because the heater in the cab has dried them. My feet throb and I don't look forward to standing up.
"My passenger, the red head?" Deliverance says causally, eyes still on the road. "She told me to get you in safe. Told me you were gonna save the world."
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