Part J, in a continuing story from A to Z [link to the beginning]
Writing a lesson plan didn’t take as long as Zoey had thought it might, mostly because she decided not to write one. She figured she could just wing it for the short time Sam would be there. How long did it take for a broken hip to heal, anyway?
But there was also the fact that she was unable to concentrate. She felt unsettled, on edge. As if she sensed something important was about to happen and didn’t know what it was. Her skin felt too tight and she couldn’t sit still.
So she paced her room. And then the hall outside her room. When that didn’t help, she collected the quartz from her nightstand and made her way down the stairs and out through the back door off the kitchen. Sometimes just being outside and breathing fresh air helped calm her. If that didn’t work, she’d have to go down to the basement gym for a full workout. And then it would be hours before she could sleep.
That was the problem, she decided. She’d worked out every day since arriving but hadn’t even so much as gone for a run since Ferraro showed up. Granted, she’d been a little busy with other things the past two days, but she needed to get back to a regular workout schedule.
She stood in the dark, taking deep breaths of cold night air, and couldn’t shake the unease. She suspected lack of exercise wasn’t the problem. This was a different kind of edginess. All her senses were on high alert, nerves strung tight.
She heard rustling in the bushes and a noise that sounded like a hiss. She dropped low and spun toward the noise, her hand going for a weapon even as she realized she didn’t have one. Damn it.
There was the hiss again, only it was more of a psssst. Like someone trying to get her attention.
She knew that hiss. Fine. Attention gotten.
She stalked over to the bushes and wasn’t surprised to see Ermie, gesturing at her to come around to the other side. She crouched down next to him, ready to read him the riot act about the dangers of sneaking up on her in the dark, and was shocked when he batted the quartz out of her hand and sat on it.
“What are ye thinking, lass? Wandering around out here in the dark, making a target of yerself. A target.”
“Excuse me? Why would I be a target? And for whom?”
He didn’t answer, just raised one paw toward the sea.
“Seriously? You think there’s someone on a ship several hundred meters out, beyond those rocks, who is going to shoot me? With what, a cannon?”
“Targets don’t always get shot. Get shot.”
But Zoey wasn’t really listening anymore, because now that her eyes had adjusted to the dark she could see there was a ship. Just beyond the rocks. Its rigging illuminated by the waning half moon.
“Good god, that’s a Chinese junk. I haven’t seen one of those since– what are the Chinese doing here?”
“Can’t rightly say. But they’re not Chinese. Not Chinese.”
“How do you know–” Zoey narrowed her eyes at him. “Can’t say? Or won’t.”
“It’s all of the same cloth, lass. Point is, Bubbie sent me to tell ye to leave off standing there like a beacon. And to offer an apology. An apology.”
“Had I known there was a ship– never mind. Point taken.” She pulled her quartz out from under him and stuffed it in her pocket. “Apology for what.”
“For the wee ghosties last night. Ghosties.”
“The wee children. They heard about ye and wanted to see for themselves. They meant no harm. No harm.”
“Why would Bubbie apologize for them? Wait. She keeps ghosts? As treasure?”
“Not ghosts the way ye’re thinking of them. It’s more that she keeps their memory safe. For the ones left behind. Left behind.”
“For . . . the parents.”
“Aye. She lets the wee dears out sometimes, to play. They all were friends, in life, and often get silly and carried away. Carried away.”
“Friends? But . . . Ermie, there were a couple dozen of them.”
“Thereabouts, aye, lass. Aye.”
As the realization sank in, Zoey swore low under her breath, her throat suddenly tight. “The world is a fucked up place, Ermie.”
“Aye. That it is, lass. That it is.”
After a long silence, Ermie continued. “She also said to tell ye that the other thing ye saw last night, the dark thing that got out– ye will nae be seeing it again. She’d have told ye herself, but is a bit preoccupied just now. Just now.”
Zoey had been watching the junk and was sure she’d seen a smaller vessel rowing out over the rocks toward it. It shouldn’t have been possible, but it slipped between the rocks like a shadow, undamaged. A dark shadow.
“What’s going on down there, Ermie?”
“Naught to concern yerself with, lass. Naught.”
“Why didn’t Bubbie want them to see me standing here? Who are they?”
“Ach, lass, ye’re going to fret about it, aren’t ye? Fret.”
“Aye, Ermie, I am,” she said, fed up with secrets. “So just tell me.”
The ermine heaved a sigh that sounded more like a hiss. “Sometimes a treasure becomes a problem and needs to be relocated. Relocated.”
“What kind of problem?”
“That’s all I’ll be telling ye, lass. Go to bed, ’tis late. Ye have work to do tomorrow. Work to do.”
Zoey couldn’t argue with that. Between Ferraro and his niece, she expected the day would be trying. No doubt that prospect should have irritated her more than it did.
“Ermie,” she called softly as he made to leave. “Tell the wee ghosties–” she paused, swallowed hard. “Tell them they’re welcome to come play. Any time.”
Ermie nodded, once, and was gone.
Zoey stood in the deep shadows for several minutes after Ermie left, watching the junk slip silently away toward the horizon, and realized the unease she’d felt earlier had faded. Leaving in its place a quiet, weighty melancholy. She went back inside, locked up after herself and got ready for bed. She lay there for a very long time before she finally fell asleep, staring up at the ceiling, thinking about kept memories and dark treasures and ancient sailing ships.
J is for Junk