Seal Island
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Seal Island by Kate Brallier

Seal Island is Kate Brallier's first paranormal romance. 

The story has its origins in Kate's childhood summers on Penobscot Bay where one could still find seals sunning themselves on the island's stony beaches -- including some of the big, dark-eyed breed also found on the misty shores of Ireland, the Shetlands, and the Orkneys.

A friend of Kate's recently confessed that "All [her] nightmares take place on that small island in Maine."  The dense trees, high rocks, and seas of mist can turn the mind to old stories from across the sea.


Image Copyright Tor Books 2005

A Seal Island Sampler...

Sometimes all it takes to change your life is a single instant; no one knows that better than I.  But the last thing I had expected, in early June of what some people might call the new millennium, was to find myself flying to Bangor, Maine with my stable old life behind me, the bulk of my possessions packed into storage, two suitcases of assorted clothes and mementos between myself and the world, and an unknown future stretching out before me.  But that was exactly where I found myself—for reasons I still couldn’t quite comprehend or credit.

Aunt Allegra—not even a proper aunt, just some sort of distant cousin of my mother’s—had possessed little impact on my life beyond a few brief visits in my youth and a bi-yearly phone call given more out of duty, I suspected, than any sort of family feeling.  Not that I disliked her; there was a certain…presence about Allegra that had always struck me.  I just didn’t know her.  She had been my mother’s friend, and I knew nothing about her background, her history, her habits, her likes, her loves.  I knew even less about Seal Island, where she lived.  Which was why it remained incomprehensible hat I—a city girl—was now headed to Seal Island for a visit of unspecified length, to tie up Allegra’s affairs and determine what to do with the house and business that had been unexpectedly deeded to me at her death.

But where else was I to go?  I had no job, no apartment, and the safe, walled place I had built for myself had proved to be founded on sand.  So why not Seal Island?  What more could it take from me than New York already had?  At times, it seemed that my life was a series of losses tempered by brief, intermittent periods of normalcy.  But a false normalcy, that was snatched from me the moment I began to feel comfortable with it.

Only….  That sounded melodramatic and self-pitying, and who was I to complain?   I still had my life.  Allegra Gordon, at 45, had been deprived of hers in an instant.

Part of me still felt numb at the thought.  Not that I was any stranger to violent death; my parents had taught me that lesson well, one snowy night in December.  But, as with all broken resolutions, Allegra was one of those people I had always wished I knew better, had always planned to acquaint myself with.  Tomorrow, next week, when this next crisis was over, when there was time….  Only there was never time, and now it was too late.

I still wasn’t clear how on she had died—something quick and unexpected like a stroke or an embolism, I assumed.  The lawyer who had called me had seemed oddly reluctant to go into detail, but by the catch in his voice as he imparted the news, I imagined her passing must have been harder for him, who had known her, than for me, who had not.  Yet she had left me her house, her business, all that she had acquired in life.  To a girl she had met but twice.  To a girl who accepted her phone calls happily but never quite managed to make one of her own in return.

I stared out the plane window, feeling a sluggish guilt unfurl as I rested my cheek against the cold plastic and watched the scenery of New England, just warming into summer, stream by below me.  Maine.  It conjured up images of blueberries and bears and boats, and beloved childrens’ books.  Of sea and fog and gulls and—presumably—seals.  I had always longed to go; someday.  And now someday was here, and I was on my way with no more than a few remembered phrases and routes highlighted on a hastily-purchased map to guide me.

What, by all that was precious, was I doing?

Panic seized me, sudden as my guilt, and I clutched surreptitiously at my armrests, trying to distract myself with the fields and forests scrolling away below me.  What had I been thinking?  I hated change—especially change unexpectedly thrust upon me, as this had been.  The last time it had almost destroyed me; how would I weather it again?  What was that popular phrase, “that which doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger?”  Only, I wasn’t quite sure I believed it.  I don’t think I became stronger, just harder.  More brittle.  Most days I muddled along quite cheerfully, but on others I felt as if a breath of wind might crack me. 

I had spent eight years shoring up walls around my world, so that the wind might not penetrate, and now look at me.  I was twenty-eight years old, and just “downsized,” as the popular term would have it.  Six years of company loyalty, and now I was unemployed with six months of severance between myself and the future, and homeless to boot.  The lease on the ridiculous box I called an apartment had expired, and a recent bout of “renovations” had skyrocketed the rent beyond my meager means.  So it was either hunt for a new job and a new apartment at the height of the summer crunch, or…retreat to Maine for a few months.  Rest, re-energize, regroup away from the crushing heat, humidity and stench of a true New York summer, and then return in September renewed.

Clearly, I had chosen the latter course.

A coward’s act?  Perhaps; perhaps not.  Maybe it was just what I needed.  As the roar of the plane’s engines rumbled dully in my ears, I forced myself to evaluate what had become of my life.  Or rather, of my existence, because gradually—and without my even realizing it—my life had gained that dull sheen of bare necessity.  I had worked six years at a job I didn’t care about, and which now left no impression in its absence.  I had scraped together a few friends, but none terribly close—or perhaps just none that I let get terribly close.  No boyfriends, no long-term lovers, no one I really cared about.  I lived alone in a box, and my main passions had become cooking and reading.  The former half out of necessity, because I was too poor to eat out a great deal, and half because it added a surface color to my life and gave me an excuse to invite my acquaintances around for meals.  Because then, packed around my cramped table in my even more cramped apartment, while wine and laughter and conversation flowed, I felt a part of something—but a something that departed as naturally as the guests out the door, that cleaned up as tidily as a sink full of dishes.

The reading seemed self-evident.

Surreptitiously, I caressed the Thomas Moreland paperback on my lap.  It was an old favorite: well worn, but as unbuttered as I could manage to keep it.  I had sometimes thought that if only I could meet a man like the one who wrote these books—tough yet sensitive; someone who understood—then everything would be all right.  That the spell would be cracked, that the sleeping princess would come out of her shell, that I would lose my dull fear of the world and its consequences.  But that was a foolish dream, and the author was as much a mystery to the world as my life was at times to me.  No bio beyond the minimal: “Thomas Moreland served as Boston DA before turning to writing full-time;” no author photo.   My friend Meg said that probably meant he was either hideously deformed or flamingly gay, but for me it was yet another instance of something forever beyond my reach.  Thomas Moreland heroes were not for the likes of Cecil Hargrave, and their creator was probably nothing like his creations, anyway.  Besides, if the growing popularity of his books were any indicator, I was not the only contender in the field.

I let a small laugh trickle through my lips, and turned my attention back to the scenery below me.  The further north we flew, the less it seemed that summer—let along spring—had penetrated the land.  There were still large patches of bare, muddy ground, and where I could see the ocean it looked cold and grim.  Yet, oddly, instead of depressing me, this gave me new heart.  Maybe this was exactly what I needed.  Maybe, like the coming summer, Maine could wake something in me, could enable me to return to the city with a new energy, a new outlook.  And maybe it didn’t take a kiss to wake the princess, but only a decent vacation.

I smiled to myself.  Besides, the lawyer who had called me—Harry Cameron, I think his name was—had sounded quite attractive on the phone the few times we had spoken.  There was a comforting resonance to his voice, tinged ever-so-faintly with what I had to assume was a New England accent, and as he had gotten over his shock at Allegra’s death, a natural sense of humor had begun to assert itself that often had me smiling into my end of the phone.  Not that it would be easy, I reminded myself, coming into a small community and claiming the life and possessions of a woman who had only been dead a mere month; I had no doubt there would be repercussions I was not even aware of now.  But if Harry Cameron’s demeanor were any indication, there might still be more of a welcome for me on Seal Island than in impersonal, suspicious New York.

Even the weather seemed to support this, for the plane eventually touched down into one of the most welcoming days I had seen in a long time.  It was sunny and in the sixties, crisp and cool in the shade, warmer in the sun.  The air held an ineffable freshness and I inhaled wonderingly, amazed how I had existed all these years breathing the choked haze of the city.  Everything felt fresh here.  Even the potential complications of picking up my leased car did not occur.  The clerks were both friendly and courteous, and keys in hand, I loaded my two suitcases and one carry-on into the trunk, laid the map out beside me, and took the wheel—grateful I had not let the drivers’ license I had gained in college expire.


The drive to Seal Island was a long one, and could have been tedious had I not been

gripped by a continued excitement.  But that delightful feeling of newness had not yet faded, so I

rolled down the windows and tuned the radio to something joyous, aware beneath the music of the rumble of the engine, the hiss of wheels on asphalt, the rush of wind through the open windows.  When it got cold, I turned the heat up, unwilling to lose the freshness of the Maine air.  And wondered why I hadn’t done this years ago.

As it was, I smelled the ocean before I saw it.  But soon it was before me, steel-blue and frosted with white-caps in the breeze.  At first it was revealed only in pockets, peeping shyly through dips in the hills and gaps in the pines.  And, later, in glittering stretches, revealing islands slabbed with granite ledges and capped with bristling pines.  Sails dotted the water, the boats scudding before the wind.  Picture-book perfect, but too much so to be real?

For once, I refused to let my native suspicions spoil the moment.

Unerring signs directed me toward Seal Island, amidst markers for such places as Blue Hill, Sedgewick and Brooklin—the latter delighting my New York soul. I was deep in the heart of the country now, the houses scattered along the side of the road an odd mixture of tumble-down and gracious.  They ranged from gleaming, whitewashed residences to little more than tarpaper shacks, their large yards spanning a spectrum from manicured lawns and gardens to piles of rusted-out autos and other appliances.  There seemed to be no order to their placement or distribution either, and this delighted me as well, for there was something oddly comforting about such utter randomness.  The few towns I passed were growing smaller as well, shrinking from metropolis to tourist center to bump-in-the-road.

I was aware from the signs that I was getting close to my destination, but even I was amazed at the suddenness of how my leased Honda seemed to be swept bodily around a bend and onto the Seal Island causeway.  The scent of the ocean increased threefold, the salt stinging my nostrils, and the air grew perceptibly colder.  Seal Island, as Harry Cameron had informed me, was a true island, but set close enough to the mainland that it didn’t even need a bridge to connect it, just this winding stretch of roadway across Jericho Bay.  It must have been high tide, for the waves lapped aggressively against the large rocks bordering the causeway, as if given reason they would wash against my tires, driving me back.  I imagined the water as a guardian spirit, carefully considering each visitor, choosing to grant or deny them access on the whims of its perception.

Fortunately, I must have passed, for four sweeping arcs of causeway later I was on Seal Island.  The houses were more unassuming, here—some clapboard, some shingle: the latter weathered to a ghostly silver-grey, the former painted white and red and pink and green.  And, once, even an improbable purple.  In the yards were lawn ornaments and more rusted cars; lobster traps and buoys.  Quaint signs proclaimed bed-and-breakfasts, announced craftsmen and artisans.  One—Cassel’s Woodcrafts—showed a distinct lack of planning, the letters dribbling off into a crooked heap at the end of the sign.  Private drives yawned off the main road at intervals, presumably leading to the grander, sea-side dwellings such as I had seen on the mainland.

Then the road curved again and regained the coast, and I could see the smaller islands dotting the bay, giving shape to the view.  Larger house ghosted from clearings by the water: some traditional like the whitewashed Victorians; some more modern, often shingled and more than half glass.  Save for a few exceptions—and those strewn with boulders as if from a giant’s hand—the beaches seemed to consist of slab-like ledges of pink-and-grey granite.  One island, not far off the coast and consisting of no more than barren rock, was scattered with black blots,

curved up at both ends like a series of miniature anvils.

The road turned inland again, the houses growing denser, then swept back out into a half-moon cove, around which clustered the town and the public docks.  Boats bobbed at anchor—twenty or thirty, as near as I could tell—ranging from tiny motorboats to luxury sailboats, with a handful of what could only be working fishing boats thrown in.  There seemed a bustle of activity around the longest of the docks; less so on the streets.  A scattering of summer folk—the merest tickle before the seasonal flood, I would later discover—browsed the shops, dressed in outfits from J. Crew, Eddie Bauer, and L.L. Bean.

I had dressed carefully for the occasion—neither too formal nor too fancy, not wanting to either underdress or overwhelm—but now my jeans, boots and green chenille sweater seemed hopelessly out of place.

I pulled my car into parking space, rolled up the windows and locked it out of sheer force of habit, then shrugged into a leather jacket as I examined the main street.  It stretched about two city blocks long, anchored at one end by a brown and green post office, and at the other end by what looked to be an upscale restaurant and inn, backed by a garden that swept down to the water.  There were tourist shops and galleries, a hardware store and a supermarket.  And, to my delight, a smallish library.  About three more streets angled off the main road, seeming to contain

further shops and galleries.

At a glance, none of the establishments I could see seemed to boast a lawyer, or house what might pass in these parts as a law office.  I debated going into the library—as much to survey their collection as to ask directions—but then decided against it, not wanting to disturb anyone with my inquiries.  Instead, I stood uncertainly on the sidewalk for a minute, brushing at hair that the wind seemed determined to disorder, then chose a shop at random.

It was a tourist shop, but tasteful.  It was called simply The Gull, and had a welcoming exterior, with flower-boxes beneath the windows—though the blooms had been blown somewhat ragged by the breeze.  As I opened the door, the wind chimes mounted above it tinkled.  Inside was an eclectic collection of cards and books and local crafts, mingled with the inevitable t-shirts and postcards.  And, of course, stuffed seals.

Had I been the type to credit premonitions, I might of felt a frisson of inevitability, but as it was I simply felt at home.  Behind the counter, a woman—the shop owner, presumably—was engaged in a sale.  She looked to be about thirty-five, slightly plump, with reddish-blond hair, erratically curled, and a sparkle in her hazel eyes.  Her customer—as pampered and sour-faced as I have ever seen—could not seem to make up her mind between a blue t-shirt and a green sweatshirt, both with ‘Seal Island’ inscribed on them.  As evidenced by her comments, she seemed to dislike both equally.

The shopkeeper spared me a fraction of a glance—enough to assure herself I was not a similarly high-maintenance prospect—then went back to her sale.  Not wanting to interfere (and wishing her the best of luck with it), I drifted toward the back of the shop, delighted to discover a rack of paperbacks.  Someone, it seemed, liked Thomas Moreland as much as I did.  I skimmed though the titles, vaguely aware of the two women’s voices behind me concluding their sale, the tinkle of chimes as the elder of the two departed, leaving myself the sole customer.

Nonetheless, I still found myself startled when a soft voice from behind me said, “I’m sorry about that.  Is there anything I can help you with?”

I jumped and whirled, restoring the book I was examining to its rack, perhaps feeling guilty about handling merchandize I had no intention of buying and in fact already owned in multiple editions.  But if my reaction was a bit extreme, I was not in the least prepared for the


She literally tottered two steps backwards, her face draining so severely of color that it revealed a scattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks like rocks uncovered at low tide.  One hand was clutched to her breast as if to hold her heart within it by sheer force of will.

“Allegra?” she breathed.

Her words caught me completely by surprise.

“Excuse me?” I stammered, and the woman took a deep breath, pushing back her red-gold hair.  The color flooded violently back into her cheeks, obscuring the freckles.

“It’s nothing,” she said, waving a hand.  “Foolishness.  You just caught me off guard.”  She fashioned a smile, then recognition grew in her eyes.  “Of course; you must be Cecilia Hargrave.  Harry Cameron said you were coming.  I just didn’t expect you to walk in so…well, unannounced!”

I blinked.  “I’m sorry?”  I still felt somewhat in the midst of a Mad-Hatter-esque tea party, comprehending only about half of what was going on.  “I just got into town and was looking for Harry Cameron’s office, and when I couldn’t find it I just…”

“…walked into the first place you saw to ask directions?”  The woman completed my sentence then paused, looking chagrined.  “Oh, dear.  I really have made a muddle of things, haven’t I?”


“So you really don’t know?”

Despite my best intentions, my voice became a little sharper.  “Know what?”

She took another deep breath, which seemed to anchor her.  “I’m sorry; I have gone about this all wrong.  You are Cecilia Hargrave, aren’t you?”

“Cecil,” I said.  “But yes.”

She stuck out a hand and we shook.  “I’m Abby Cantwell,” she said almost sheepishly, peering at me as if she expected recognition to dawn.

An instant later, it did.  I knew that name from Harry Cameron’s briefings.  Abby Cantwell had been Allegra’s assistant and second-in-command.  She had even offered to buy Allegra’s business from me if I was interested in selling—though Harry Cameron had seemed to have some unspoken doubts on that issue.  I felt another sluggish stirring of guilt.  Here I was, come to tie up Allegra’s affairs, and it had apparently never occurred to me—in all my conversations with Harry—to determine exactly what the nature of her business was.

From what I recalled of Allegra, this was the last thing I would have expected.  And yet, in another way, it made perfect sense.  I looked around the shop with new eyes.  It had Allegra’s sense of style written all over it, yet why had she chosen to deed it to me instead of to Abby Cantwell, who had managed it with her for years?

Just what sort of tangled web had I landed myself in the midst of this time?

“Abby,” I managed, since my new…employee, I suppose, was looking at me with expectant eyes.  “Good lord.  Well, it’s…it’s nice to meet you, I guess.”

She smiled, revealing a faint trace of dimples.  “And you,” she said, adding more seriously, “I am sorry for your loss.”

I sighed.  “I expect I should be sorrier for yours.  I… didn’t really know Allegra; she was more my mother’s friend than mine.  I don’t know why she…” 

I halted, not wanting to get into the ramifications of that quite yet, but Abby was already plowing ahead.  “I suppose Harry already told you about my offer to buy the shop?  I know you’ve only just got here, but...”  Then she caught sight of my face and amended, “I’m sorry; you’re right.  There’ll be plenty of time to talk about that, later.  Everyone always says I don’t know when to take a hint, that I am always bulling in when I am not wanted…”  She grinned then, a genuine expression that made her dimples dent in earnest.  “Why don’t we just start this all over again?  Hi, I’m Abby Cantwell.”

“Cecil Hargrave,” I said, echoing her smile, and this time our handshake was warmer.  “And, Abby, I’m sorry, but I honestly don’t know what I am going to do, yet.  Allegra just died; I just lost my job and my apartment.  I probably will move back to New York in September and sell you the business, but I can’t decide that right now.  I just…  Well, I just need a little time to figure to all out.”

“No, I’m sorry; I shouldn’t have even brought the issue up.  Believe me, there’s time.  Time is something we have in spades on Seal Island.  And, frankly, the longer I have to save my money, the better.  Businesses—even small ones—don’t come cheap.  And there’s my daughter to think of.  Jessie; she’s twelve.  Besides, you seem a reasonable sort; I’m sure we’ll get along just fine.”

I had a feeling she was right.  For all her scatter-brained exterior, there was a solid core to Abby Cantwell that I liked.  I had a feeling that, once she accepted you, she would be loyal nigh unto death.  And suddenly, I very much wanted her in my corner.

“Look,” she added, “why don’t we do this in the proper order?  Go see Harry Cameron first; he’s around the corner and three doors down on your left.  Then come back to see me later, and we’ll have a proper chat.  And no pressure, I promise.” 

“Fair enough,” I said, then, “Thank you.  I’d like that.”

“My pleasure.”  She smiled again, and turned back to her post behind the counter.

I walked back to the door of the shop, then paused with my hand on the knob.  “Abby,” I said, turning.

She looked up.  “What?”

“That woman, the one with the sour face.  Did she end up buying the blue t-shirt or the green sweatshirt?”

Abby grinned.  “Thanks to a little persuasion, she bought both.”  And when I gaped at her, she laughed and added, “Whatever else has been said about me—and many things have been said, both for and against—I do know how to do my job!”


Setting off the wind chimes in my wake, I left the shop, letting the wind tug idly at my hair.  It was shoulder-length and impossible to pin back, and the wind seemed determined to blow it straight into my mouth.  I spat it out again, smiled slightly, straightened my jacket, and rounded the corner, following Abby’s directions.

Cameron and Rowe, the sign said, small but unmistakable.  I swallowed another surge of panic—this time, I knew which establishment I was entering—and pushed open the door.

Somewhere in his mid-sixties, overweight and balding—with a wedding band planted firmly on his finger—Harry Cameron stood up from behind his desk to greet me.  

I nearly laughed.  So much for expectations.

I was also getting used to being recognized on sight—though presumably there were not that many strangers on the island at this time of year to confuse me with.  Still, it was rather odd to see him—like Abby—go subtly pale at my appearance.  Allegra and I may have shared a basic coloring, but my memories of her were of a profoundly beautiful and very stylish (yet oddly down-to-earth) woman.  I, myself, had none of her flair, and knew it only too well.  So why was

everyone acting as if I were Allegra incarnate?

I would have to ask Abby, later.

To Harry Cameron’s credit, it didn’t take long for him to pull himself back to order.  “Cecil Hargrave, I presume?” he said, his voice as rich and resonant as I remembered.  But, coming out of that body, it suddenly seemed less fraught, less flirtatious.  Still, it didn’t change my impression that he was a nice man.  He smiled and waved me to a seat.  “Welcome to Seal Island.”

“Thank you,” I said, settling in across from him.  “It’s good to be here.”  I meant it.  There was something about my brief view of this place that appealed to me—and not just because it was so different from the city.  Even in the few minutes I had been here, I sensed a community at work—a community that I suddenly wanted to be a part of.   Six years in one apartment in New York, and I had never so much as met my neighbors.  Here, I already felt as if I might have two friends—even if one was eager to purchase my inheritance.

I smiled.  “Ironically, I went into The Gull to ask directions; I hadn’t realized it was Allegra’s shop.”

“Yours, now,” he said.  “And she’s done…she did”—he winced—“some wonderful stuff with the place over the years.  It’s quite popular with the summer folk.”

“I can see why.  It’s lovely.  And Abby seems a darling.”

“Yes,” he said, though again his voice seemed fractionally cooler.  “Abby has run the place well enough since Allegra’s…passing, but just remember that you don’t have to make your mind up right away about The Gull.  There are those of us who don’t believe Abby Cantwell is quite…sober enough to ultimately handle such a responsibility.”

A reference to her character, I wondered, or something more serious?  I kept silent.

“It might even be best,” Harry continued, “if you were to run the place with her for a while this summer—that is, if you are planning to stay for a while—to see what it is you are giving up before you do so.”

There was an unspoken question in his voice that I didn’t see the harm in answering.  “As I told Abby already, I’m not certain what my ultimate decision will be—about any of this.  But I will be staying at least through September, so I will have time to decide.”

A definite expression of relief crossed his face at that, and he abruptly became more businesslike, handing me two bank statements.  “Allegra’s accounts; checking and savings.”  He frowned slightly.  “Not very much, I’m afraid, which is odd, since The Gull can turn a tidy profit at the height of summer.  When I checked into it, the bank manager said she had been regularly withdrawing large sums of money out of her savings account throughout the winter, claiming she was planning to invest them with a friend, but none of us have been able to find records of those investments.  But then, perhaps you’ll find something in the house we’ve overlooked.”  He shrugged.  “In any case, I’ll see about getting the remaining balance transferred to your accounts.  You’ll want to open something local, I assume?”

“Most likely.”

“Well, tomorrow will suffice for that.  In the meantime…  Well, you’ve seen The Gull, you know her assets—at least, those we’ve been able to discover—so all that really remains is the house.”

“Yes, the house.  Is it in town, or...”  I doubted it would be one of the grand mansions by the ledges, but I had, I realized, been expecting a water view.  The very name—Seal Island—conjured images.  And until I had actually seen the island and the cluster of houses around the town, it hadn’t even occurred to me that the place might be inland.

“Not in town, no,” Harry was saying.  “It’s about two miles out, on the Drew’s Point road.  Would you like to go out there now, or explore the town a bit more first?”

While the town did have a certain appeal, I had never owned a house before, and found myself eager to see it, hoping I liked the proportions, the furniture.  The setting.  For even if it was only until September, it would be a welcome novelty to have a place I could completely call my own.  So, “The house, please,” I answered.  “If you don’t mind.”

“Not at all.”  He levered himself up from behind his desk, and as he moved around it, I noticed that he walked with a pronounced limp.  I tried not to stare, uncertain if it was congenital or a recent injury, but he noticed my covert attention anyway and smiled.

“Walking cast,” he said ruefully, exhibiting it.  He reached for a cane I hadn’t noticed in one corner.  “I’m afraid it plays havoc with my driving, which is why I was unable to offer to pick you up at the airport.  And why I’ll have to ask if you don’t mind doing the honors and driving us to the house.  I’ll direct you, of course, and my wife will come pick me up when we’re finished.”

“It’s no trouble at all.  I’m parked a fair bit down the street, though.  Will you be okay with the walk, or shall I bring the car around?”

“No, no, my doctor said that walking is good for me; gets the circulation moving and all that.  So as long as you don’t mind a slowish pace...”

“I don’t mind at all.”

“Thank you,” he said, patting my hand.  “You’re a sweet girl.  I think you’ll be a welcome addition to our little community—even if it is only for a summer.”

From anyone else, such words would have sounded condescending, but from Harry Cameron—with his guileless, round face and spaniel-brown eyes—they merely seemed sincere.  I wondered if he was as genuine as he appeared, or if that was all part of his lawyer’s facade, playing the innocent to put people off their guard.

Then, as he locked the office door behind us and began his halting progress along the street, I chided myself for my suspicions.  We were far from the city now, and things worked differently in small towns.  Lawyers did not have to be sharks, and young heiresses did not have to look every gift horse in the mouth.

However, as we wended our slow way to my car, I did become aware of the attention we were drawing.  Now that I was in Harry’s presence and identified—no longer the anonymous tourist—every eye seemed to track me, aided by our snail’s pace: curious, assessing, surreptitious.  Allegra Gordon’s not-quite-niece, coming to claim her inheritance.  I wondered how many of them were judging me, and how many were finding me lacking. 

Too young; too callow.

Maybe this town wasn’t quite as accepting as I had naively assumed.  The back of my

neck was red and hot by the time we reached my car.

As I unlocked the doors—and there was no way not to make it a production—I blushed again at the obvious lack of trust such a gesture implied.  But Harry Cameron must have noticed my distress, for he just smiled and said, “Don’t mind the eyes.  Everyone is curious, that’s all.  Allegra was an important part of this community.”  You have big shoes to fill, was my unspoken assumption, but all he added was, “She’ll be missed.”

I just nodded, and opened the door for him.  As he maneuvered himself in, hampered by the awkward cast, I went around to the driver’s side and unlocked it.  When we were both seated and underway, he turned to me and said, “And don’t worry about people’s opinions; you’d be wisest to continue locking your doors.  This may seem like a small island, and safe, but we have our share of problems.  And I don’t mean to alarm you, but there have been rumors of some rather shady characters hanging about the island recently, and a few houses have been broken into.  You’d be wise to hold onto your city suspicions, and keep everything locked as tightly as possible—especially the house.”

“Very well.  But is it...”

“Dangerous?  No.”  For the first time, his heartiness sounded forced, but before I could elaborate he said, “Now, make a right out of the village and just keep going.  I’ll tell you where to turn.”

Since I didn’t seem likely to get more out of him, I complied, continuing out a road that once again grew more woody and isolated the farther we got from the town.  The houses out this way, while not exactly more affluent, at least seemed a little less run down.  I was even happier when we turned right up a smaller, pine-lined road and I began to catch occasional glimpses of water through the trunks.

The road swooped closer to the shore, and a succession of clearings opened up, separated by stretches of pine, revealing green lawns sloping down to the same slabbed-granite ledges I had noticed earlier.  The houses were widely separated, and further hidden from each other’s view by the swooping curves of the road as it navigated the winding shoreline.

There was another long stretch of woodland, then, “Turn here,” Harry Cameron said.  “And there.  What do you think?”

I drew in a breath.  A short hop of badly paved road led through a clearing and down to grey-shingled house.  It wasn’t large, and was built very simply in the New England style, but I loved it instantly.  There were three gabled windows under the eaves, the wood trim painted white against the silvery cedar.  Two large windows and one small one graced each side of the door, and what looked to be a sun-room was attached to one side, while a screened porch lay to the other.  On the far side of the screened porch was a garden, once laid out with care but now gone rather badly to seed.  Beyond the garden was a small greenhouse.  And beyond that, far off to my right, was a dense stretch of woodlands. 

There were more woods to the left, with a free-standing garage tucked discretely beneath the branches.  And—glory of glories—stretched out before me, the water, sparkling brightly in the sun.  The beach was ledged, and curved away to both sides, as if the house lay on a smallish point.  There were a few distant islands scattered in the bay, and—nearer to hand—a smattering of half-exposed rocks, one of which bore at its top an oddly bulbous, anvil-shaped form, much like the ones I had seen scattered across that rocky island, earlier.

“What is that?” I exclaimed, pointing.

Harry laughed.  “Haven’t you ever seen a seal before?”  And when I stared at him, he added, “Where do you think our island gets its name?   The harbor seals will often haul out on those rocks at low tide, but every so often you will see one at high tide, like now.  It must be a good omen, welcoming you to the island.  How do you like the house?”

“ it,” I said, sounding oddly tentative—not from any lack of enthusiasm, but more because I was struggling to believe my good fortune.

Harry fished a set of keys from his pocket and handed them to me with a grin.  “Then why don’t you open it up and have a look around?”

I bumped the car to a stop near the side of the house where the road petered out into gravel, and was out of it almost as fast as I could scramble, with Harry following more slowly behind.  At the commotion, the seal slid from the rock and disappeared beneath the waves, but I paid it scant heed.  So eager was I that I fumbled the keys on the first try, dropping them clanking to the stoop.

As I scooped them up, I froze, convinced that I had seen a flash of movement out of the corner of my eye: a shadowy figure disappearing into the trees behind the greenhouse.  I glanced over at Harry to see if he had noticed, but he had pulled a mobile phone out of his pocket and was dialing, unaware.  I looked back at the woods, but now could see nothing: no hint of a figure, no motion among the densely-packed trunks.

Most likely it had been my imagination, whetted by talk of unsavory lurkers.  I retrieved the keys and examined the locks, both of which seemed uncharacteristically new and shiny.  Recently replaced, perhaps?  I inserted the proper key into the lock more cautiously—Harry or an associate had obligingly labeled the keys for me—then pushed open the door.

The air inside the house was hot and somewhat stale from sunlight and lack of ventilation, but even so I felt at home.  The front vestibule was shaped like an upside down T, one side leading off into what looked to be the kitchen through a door at the base of the stairs, and the other, longer hall to my right passing a row of windows before opening into the sun room.  Ahead of me, through a wide archway, was the living room—three sets of French doors at its far end leading onto a wide deck.

I passed though the arch, intent on that deck, and was delighted to observe in passing that the living room contained not one but two fireplaces, mirrored to either side.  What a joy on winter nights, I thought, temporarily forgetting that I was leaving in September.  But it seemed an unusual design—and now that I noticed it, something else struck me as unusual about this room.  But such concerns quickly vanished as I reached the far wall, for then I was undoing the latches of the leftmost French door, pushing wide the panes, and emerging onto the broad

expanse of deck.

It was newer than the house, the wood still faintly golden rather than weathered into ghostly paleness.  It should have looked odd, and yet it didn’t.  I leaned against the railing at the far end, letting the wind whip my hair, and listened to the whispered kiss of waves against the ledges.  The seal that had left the rocks bobbed up again, closer to shore, and I saw its head more clearly now.  It seemed to be looking straight at me.  Its long muzzle drooped mournfully into wide, W-shaped nostrils; its whiskers added the appearance of a walrus mustache.  It stared at me for several long seconds until I began to wonder uncomfortably if I should somehow hail it, then turned away, briefly presenting me with an elongate profile, nose curved and almost equine.  Its coat was dark with white flecks.  Then it submerged again, and was gone.

I became aware of footsteps off to my right.  Remembering that half-seen glimpse of the figure in the woods, I started, but it was only Harry Cameron coming around the side of the house, casted leg thumping awkwardly after good.  He grabbed the railing of the side stairs and, grunting slightly with effort, pulled himself onto the deck.

“Lovely spot, isn’t it?” he said, crossing to where I was standing.  And when I voiced my agreement, he added, “This land has been in Allegra’s family for generations.  I’m glad it didn’t have to pass out of family hands just yet.”

“As am I,” I said, envisioning the long, lazy summer ahead, getting acquainted with this

house and this view.  After another moment of silence, I added, “I saw the seal again.  He came up closer to the shore, almost as if he were studying me.”

My companion chuckled.  “I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot of that in the months to come.  Seals are naturally curious creatures, always willing to investigate a new sight or a new face.  They also tend to return rather frequently to their favorite haul-outs.  After a while, Allegra came to recognize individuals.  She had even named a few, though I’ll be damned if I can remember what she called them.  Except, of course, for Ragnarok.  A great woman for seals was Allegra.  She used to say they were her greatest passion.”

I shivered slightly, remembering that dour, elongate face bobbing atop the waves, the steady regard of those obsidian eyes.  I don’t know why it struck me as sinister.  Maybe because I had always thought of seals as playful creatures.  But then again, maybe this particular seal had been old and venerable, far beyond its carefree youth.  Certainly, there had been something about it that seemed almost ageless.  Or timeless.

“Cecil?  Are you all right?” Harry asked, as my silence stretched out.

I blinked, then smiled.  “I’m fine.  I’m just...getting a little cold.”  The wind was stiff, and fierce.  “Shall we go in?”

Harry hesitated, as if loathe to intrude on my first moments in my new house.  I was about to insist when I heard a crunch of tires on gravel, and moved curiously to the side rail of the deck.  A battered, pea-green station wagon was rolling into the drive behind my car.  “Ah, there’s Martha, now,” Harry said—though I could see no more of his wife than a curly grey head behind the steering wheel.  “I’ll introduce you later; for now I’ll leave you to poke around on your own.  Should you need anything, I left my number—and yours, by the way—on the fridge.  I’ve kept the phone bills, the electric bills, and the heating bills paid and current, so you shouldn’t have any problem with that.  We haven’t gone through any of Allegra’s things, yet; we figured that was best left to you.” His face closed off again, briefly.  “But any clothes and such that you don’t want can be donated.  Just let me know, and I’ll arrange it.  The local market has a decent selection should you want to cook in.  Of the local restaurants, I’d recommend the Clam Digger, or the Myrtle Inn if you want something more upscale.  Unless you’d care to join

Martha and myself?  I believe she has a roast...”

I felt suddenly overwhelmed.  “Thanks, but I think I would rather get settled in first.  Another time?”

He smiled, seeming not the least put out by my refusal.  “I figured as much, but I wanted to extend the offer nonetheless.  How about next Friday?”  It was Thursday, now.  “We’ll make a small party of it, have some of the neighbors around as well.”

“That sounds lovely,” I said.  “And thank you.  For your hospitality.  For everything.”

“It is,” he said, “my pleasure.  And please do call me if there is anything you need.  But, remember...  Do keep the doors locked when you are not around.  Do you promise?”

His tone was oddly intense, and I nodded.  But I couldn’t help wondering—with another shiver—if there was far more to those simple words than he was admitting.

Almost absently, I watched him totter back across the gravel to the waiting car, climb in awkwardly with his casted foot.  But as the car pulled away and silence descended once again over the clearing, I suddenly remembered the half-glimpsed figure from earlier that afternoon and, on a whim, walked over to the garden.  The plots looked generous, and I had always wanted to try my hand at gardening, but it wasn’t that sort of surveillance I was after.  More than anything, I wanted to reassure myself that there was no sign of trespass, that it really had just been an illusion.

I circled the greenhouse, and stopped dead in my tracks.  For there, in the soft dirt by the far corner, was the unmistakable print of a man’s workboot.


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