Author's Note: I'm not super happy with this chapter, but all things considered, it could have been a lot worse. I just have a very hard time building suspense without it dragging on and on. Things are about to happen, though, so that's good. Too bad the things that are about to happen aren't.
I don't know how long I was unconscious for. As with all the other times, I was very cold, and my whole body felt damp. There was no light, and there was no sound. Not until I heard the Witch Princess calling for me. I could hear her voice above my head. It was distant at first, but it slowly became closer and closer until I could almost feel her breath on my face.
"You took your sweet time coming back," the Witch snapped. "Didn't you hear me? Why didn't you come back like you were told?"
"I would have if I heard you sooner."
"But I've been calling for you all night," she insisted. "I used every spell and potion I had to get you up. No living person could have held on that long, and you know it." She ran her hand through her frizzy hair. "Damned psychics. You and magic never go well together."
I wanted to ask her why she even tried to help if that was the case. I knew the reason, but I wanted her to admit it. She was just as afraid of the Voice as I was. She was afraid of Chelsea.
"Did you recognize the name at all?" I asked, picking myself up off the floor. The walls seemed to give at first, but I recovered quickly. It was either impressive or sad how used I was becoming to losing consciousness. "You heard her, too, didn't you?"
"Of course I heard her." The Witch Princess began to pace, and the skulls around her waist rattled with every step. I realized then how intimidating she could be. "That doesn't mean I know who she is or what killed her off." She kicked a teddy bear across the cottage. "The only one who could care enough to remember is the Harvest Goddess."
"I know you said something about her before, but why can't She come back?" As a goddess, I figured she would have no difficulty appearing. "Is She sleeping? They always said in my town that was why She never appeared to us."
"That's just stupid," the Witch scoffed. "She was probably too busy to bother. Either that or your town was too boring. No, the reason is more serious than that. The Harvest Goddess can't come because the water here is tainted."
"By Chelsea?" I asked. "How could she have that much power over water? I know spirits can affect their surroundings a little, but this would be too much for anything other than the Harvest Goddess… or you."
"You say that, but you know it's true. We both know that Chelsea flooded your field." The Witch Princess sniffed in distain. "That's probably why she was able to sneak up on me- the storm, you know."
"That's right, the storm! I've got to make sure Denny made it through all right."
Although I knew it was strange for me to up and leave when I was finally getting some answers, I was worried. If Chelsea really could manipulate water as much as the Witch Princess said she could, then what chance did Denny have against her? He was only a few steps away from the water's edge, after all.
The sun had just risen when I got to the beach. Thankfully, nothing looked too unusual. The sand was still wet and littered with seaweed and other natural debris, but none of it was unexpected after a storm. What worried me was the fact that Denny's boat was already tied to the dock. He was never back from fishing until nine at least.
"Denny?" I opened the front door and stepped into the shack. The lights were off. "Are you all right?"
I found him lying in his hammock. He was curled up in a tight ball with Kuu nuzzled into his neck. His eyes were wide open and bloodshot. I wasn't even sure if he was breathing. However, when I said his name again, he blinked.
"Goddess, Denny, what the hell happened to you?" I asked. "Did something happen last night? What did you see?"
"Felicia." He blinked again. "Felicia was out in the storm. She was in the water… It was up to her knees, and the waves were getting bigger and bigger. I went to bring her inside, but…"
"When she turned around, she was someone else. A girl with an orange jacket and red boots was there instead. She told me her name." Denny closed his eyes and shuddered. "It was Chelsea. Then another wave came crashing down, and she was gone."
"So she spoke to you, too." I picked Kuu up out of Denny's hands. The bird blinked and fluffed its feathers as if he had no idea what had happened the night before. "I'm going to check on Felicia," I said. "Do you want to come with me, or do you want to stay here?"
"I'll stay here," Denny mumbled. "I don't know what I'd do if I saw her right now."
Kuu and I didn't waste any time in visiting the Phillips family. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Chen and Charlie standing outside of their store. They were watching, but I didn't know what they thought they might see. Maybe it was time to ask them.
"Mark, you're back," the mother greeted us as we walked in through the door. She kept her back turned to me while she shut off the stove. "Come on in. I have the kettle all ready for you."
As soon as I set foot inside the kitchen, I felt Kuu tense in my hand. He tucked his head under his wing and refused to look up.
"I know," I whispered. The air was thick, and I was starting to feel cold. "I know…"
"You look pale, Mark," Felicia rambled on. She set the tea down on the table before starting to rummage through one of the cupboards. "Do you want some honey in your tea, or would you rather have peppermint? I can put in cinnamon in there instead if you want. It might make you feel better."
"Felicia, have you ever gone down to the beach by yourself?"
The mother stopped and closed the cupboard door. She wasn't shaking, but she was still holding on tightly to the counter. Finally, she nodded.
"Did you go last night?"
"No," she said. "I wouldn't go down there during a storm, and I can't say I like the thought of being down there at night, either." Felicia became quiet for a moment. Her head was bowed, and her voice had begun to shake. "I haven't done that in a very long time, not since my husband died. That was… almost ten years ago."
I sat down at the table and sipped at my tea. It burned my tongue, but I didn't complain. "Can you tell me more about him?"
"He was a lot like you, actually." Felicia sighed and sat down next me. She was fighting to keep her usual smile on her face. "He was always warm and kind. He was brave, too, but he wasn't stubborn. He just did whatever had to be done."
"Can you tell me his name?"
"I'd rather not." She bowed her head and gripped her tea cup tightly with both hands. "He was a sailor," she explained. "He was on a freighter, so I never would have thought something would actually happen. The next thing I knew, I was told that he and his crew had died at sea. I don't know what happened. No one did, but I guess that's no one's fault."
My heart sank. I recognized that look in her eyes, and I didn't know what to say. I couldn't tell her the truth. After all, if I did, she might actually run into the water for real. I didn't know what I'd do then.
"Mark, I normally wouldn't ask this, but I've been thinking about this for a while now." It was coming. I could hear it on the tip of Felicia's tongue even before she said it. "Can you tell me about my husband? Where is he now? Do you know?"
"I don't," I lied. "Like I've said, even I don't know what happens when we go."
"I thought not." The mother sighed one last time and flopped back in her chair. She looked so thoughtful yet so sad at the same time. "It's all right. I'll just have to see him when I can. That's how it's supposed to be, right?"
"In theory," I agreed. Before I could stop myself, I put my hand on hers and squeezed. "I'm sorry I asked. I won't ask you again."
As I stood, Kuu turned his head and looked up at me. Denny had told me before that the bird was expressive, but I couldn't shake the feeling he was trying to convince me to stay. "Come on, Kuu," I urged the little bird. "I have something I need to ask Chen before I take you back home."
After I closed the door behind me, I looked across the road to Chen's shop. The father and son were gone, and the blinds were pulled over their windows. They didn't answer when I knocked on the door, either. "Come on, I just saw you out here," I demanded. "You have to talk to me at some point."
Neither one answered.
"All right, then I'll ask you one thing," I continued, unfazed. "Does the name Chelsea ring a bell? I think she may have lived here before." I waited for a moment and then pressed on. "If you could find out anything, I would appreciate you telling me. It might put a stop to everything that's going on here."
Just when I turned to leave, I heard the door creak open. It was Charlie who poked his head out, and I could see the fear in his eyes. It was the first time I had ever seen someone genuinely afraid, not of spirits, but of me.
"We know her," he said quietly. His little hands clung to the door knob, and the more he said, the more it rattled in his grip. "No, we knew her. We knew Chelsea." He paused and shut his eyes tight. "She was… very nice, back then. She was a very nice lady."
"What happened to her?"
Charlie looked behind him. I was sure I heard Chen say something to him, but before I could make out what it was, the boy turned back to face me again. "I'm sorry," he mumbled. "I have to go now."
I watched the door slowly close and heard the lock turn. I stood there for a time, not sure what to say or do, and it was only after Kuu chirped, that I decided to leave. Whatever had happened on the island, whatever had ended Chelsea's life, it was nothing compared to what was about to happen. I was sure of that if nothing else.