Deciding you can’t take another weird incident you turn and sprint up the stairs to your bedroom.
A few minutes later, with the blanket hiding the light of the day and the warmth of the puppy next to you, you fall into a deep, dreamless sleep.
You wake to a cool breeze tickling your nose, and then puppy breath invades your senses.
“Stop.” You push Mystery from your face and sit up.
The yellow light of dawn is barely creeping over the horizon and you let out a long breath.
At least your Dad’s reaction was just a dream.
The breeze is coming through the open window and you stare at it for a moment, trying to remember if you left it open. It’s not like you to do so, but then again, stranger things have happened over the last few days… weeks… month.
The thought of strange things brings to mind the charm you’d found in the mausoleum and you glance over to find it where you’d set it, on your nightstand.
That part’s still not a dream.
You push the thoughts away, knowing there is no rational explanation for what you’ve experienced.
Reaching over, you pick it up and examine it.
It’s roughly the size of a dime. One side is a design carved like a watch with all the gears exposed. You bring it closer to your eyes, it’s not just carved, it’s intricately carved and you’re amazed at the tiniest of details.
You turn it over, on the opposite side is an inscription that looks familiar.
After a moment, you realize it’s the same inscription that was on the wall in the mausoleum.
A small shiver goes through you and you set it back down on the table.
Mystery, who’s occupied himself with chewing on the corner of your blanket lets out a small whine, his eyes falling on the charm.
“I’m going to have to find you some chew toys.” You pull the blanket corner from him, grimacing at the drool, and stand up. Slipping your house shoes, and then a tattered hoodie on, you reach for Mystery. “No accidents in the house.”
He quickly bounds up the bed to the nightstand and licks the charm up.
“No!” You reach for him but he spits it back out before you can get a hold of him. You pause, look at the wet charm and then Mystery. “You can’t eat it.”
He paws at it with a whine and then looks up at you.
“You want me to put it in my pocket?”
Mystery wags his tail.
“This is dumb.” Shaking your head, you pick up the charm, wipe it off with another grimace and slide it into the pocket of your hoodie.
Mystery, seemingly satisfied with your actions, leaps off the bed and trots to the door.
You pick him up before opening the door and then listen.
Everything is quiet.
You make your way outside and let Mystery pee.
An almost nauseating feeling of de ja vu sweeping through you as you re-enter the house and your Dad clears his throat.
You glance at Mystery and then back at your Dad whose eyebrows are raised in expectation.
“I found him by the lake last night.”
“So you just brought him home?”
His question helps you relax as you realize this is reality and he’s not going to say something strange to add to the events you’ve been experiencing.
“I couldn’t just leave him out there.” You plead.
Mystery wiggles his butt at the sound of your Dad’s voice. “Keep him in your room until your Mom and I have a chance to discuss this, and don’t let your brothers see…”
With a robust bark, Mystery wiggles free, jumps from your arms and greets Dale whose groggily coming down the stairs.
“A Puppy!” Dale shrieks, alerting the rest of the house to the new arrival.
Your Dad gives you disapproving look but before he can scold you, your Mom jogs into the kitchen, a smile on her face. “You got us a new puppy?” She hugs your Dad and turns to greet Mystery but not before winking at you.
You shrug your shoulders as Scott joins the other two family members lavishing their attention on Mystery, who’s soaking it up like a champion.
It’s your eighteenth birthday. Of course you’re going to throw a party at the lake. It can be an all day party, like all day Saturday.” Sharon insists as you walk down the hall.
“I’m really liking the idea of just having a little get together at home.” You reply.
It’s been three weeks since the latest mystery at the lake and you’d avoided the place, even forgoing a family trip there to try out the new water jet.
“Nope, Haley and I will have to throw a ‘surprise party’, “She uses the universal sign for quotation marks as she talks, “if you’re unwilling to participate.”
You roll your eyes, knowing you’re not going to win this one.
“Have you seen the new janitor?” Kyrie Johnson walks up interrupting the conversation, one of the many unsavory traits Kyrie is well known for.
“Janitor?” Sharon looks at her like she’s being ridiculous.
“I’d make a mess just to watch him clean it up.”
“Wow Kyrie, you have no shame.” You reply.
Kyrie laughs at your reaction and then points down the hallway.
Both Sharon and you turn to watch as a very large man strolls up the hallway.
Not only is he tall, he is broad and it’s not just his size that demands respect, it’s his demeanor.
You watch as everyone including John Newsom, the star quarterback, moves with haste to get out of the man’s way.
Your mouth goes dry, “That’s a janitor?” You manage to mumble.
“He’s scary,” Sharon replies.
“He’s something.” You respond.
Both of your eyes are glued to the man as his eyes focus on you and he closes in.
You make a quick assessment as he stops a mere foot from you. Despite his size, he doesn’t appear to be more than a few years older. His light ash hair is wavy and hangs just past his collar but is neatly tucked behind his ears.
A virile tone flows from his lips, “I heard you found a pup in the woods by the lake.”
You nod your head, unable to speak as the most beautiful and unusual amber eyes bore into you.
The man continues. “I believe he’s the pup of a family pet that was killed on the road a little over a month ago.”
His words pull you out of your admiration and make your heart pound.
The memory of that night slams into you.
This man could easily be the man you’d seen standing on the side of the road.
Now he was telling you that a family pet had been killed on the road, a pet that you’re sure you hit and then had been convinced by others that it was a bear.
The puppy you and your family have fallen in love with is the puppy of the dog you killed.
The dog that wasn’t supposed to exist. The puppy from a mausoleum that doesn’t exist. A forest that never was, and a long, terrifying night that never happened.
Suddenly you realize you can’t breathe and the world tilts.
You know you are going to fall, probably pass out and maybe even lose your lunch. You only have two choices…
Do you reach out to steady yourself on the man in front of you or do you risk taking the extra moment to try to turn from him and grab on to Sharon?
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