By William j. seymour
Trail of Darkness
This Christmas means a new home for Liz and her family. Portswell, New York. A small, sleepy town tucked into the deep woods of the Adirondack Mountains. Portswell is nothing compared to the big cities she grew up in, but she is determined that she will make this the home she has always wanted.
For Detective Marc Stutton it’s a new case taking an unexpected twist. A family with a file full of secrets moving not only into his jurisdiction but into a house with a dark history buried in files everyone would rather have forgotten.
This Holiday Season, Liz and Detective Stutton find themselves brought together on a path where questions will be answered, lies will be laid bare, and where the night before Christmas is the darkest of them all.
Liz felt the squeeze of her mom’s hand as she wrapped her fingers around her shoulder, the fingers digging deeper than she wanted. Together they followed her dad through the door. Stale, musty air escaped into the open as they entered the house. It wasn’t great, and Liz could feel the butterflies in her stomach doing a dance that made her just a little sick, but it was home. Her father had promised her it was.
It’s always darkest before dawn. That’s what Liz’s mother always told her. She didn’t understand the saying, but she usually didn’t understand much when her mom started talking all philosophical. Dad shook his head whenever she would get into one of her soapbox speeches, something he said that she didn’t understand either. She never caught mom standing on a soap box, nor would the plastic hold her since it would crumble even when Chester and his pudgy little hotdog body stood on it.
Street lamps, their light burning away the darkness of the early morning, passed like signal flares as the family’s Prius drove down Main Street. Liz leaned her head against the window and looked out, the cold glass a welcome feeling against her skin, watching the last drops of the rain that had welcomed them this morning chase each other down streaky paths to the frame where they disappeared.
Christmas was only a week away. Why did they have to move again? For the third time since she turned nine they had packed up their stuff and without warning moved, and even her mother wasn’t happy about it this time. They had been fighting for two nights before they stuffed all of their clothes into suitcases and pushed what they could into the trunk.
Stevie didn’t mind. He was too young. Liz looked at her brother, eighteen months old with his head tilted to the side in his car seat and a pacifier in his mouth. He was a good baby. Didn’t cry much, outside of when he was hungry or wet. He loved playing with blocks. Liz smiled as her hands wrapped around the small box in her sweatshirt pocket.
When they got to their new home, it would be a Christmas gift to him. Something that would make him smile, though she knew he wouldn’t understand. He was too young, but she was old enough to understand at least the difference each new home made.
They hadn’t moved during the first nine years of her life, or at least she couldn’t remember moving. One week before her ninth birthday her father broke the news to them. His job was finished up, but something new had come up outside of Chicago, Illinois. Liz didn’t know where that was, but her mother, after coming from her room with red, swollen eyes had shown her on the family computer. It was a big city near the middle of the country, days and days of travel away from their home in Los Angeles.
Mom denied she had been crying, but Liz knew better. She was older than her mom wanted to admit, always talking about how she was still her little angel. Now at twelve, and after living only one year in another big city called Baltimore, they were moving north, to a town called Portswell, New York.
At first, she had been angry when her dad broke the news yet again. Becky down the street had finally gotten permission to invite her over for a sleepover, but that hadn’t happened. They were supposed to spend the day before Christmas Eve eating candy canes and watching One Direction on Netflix, but the time to move had stepped in to ruin her plans again.
“This will be the last time, I promise,” her father said while they sat at the dinner table.
Cooked ham with rice and vegetables. It was one of Liz’s favorite. Even Stevie ate most of his plate, though a lot of it made it to the floor where Chester enjoyed dinner as well. Since it was one of the few times they all sat down at the table together, she figured it was everyone’s favorite.
“You said that last time, Robert,” her mom answered without looking up from her computer, which she had begun to use even at the dinner table.
She carried the silver case with her everywhere now, and Liz enjoyed playing the games on it. Candy Crush was her favorite, though Mom limited her to only times when she was too busy cooking or on the phone.
“I promise. The men at work told me that this was the last. There is nowhere to go after this,” Dad said before swallowing the remainder of his Molson beer.
Liz wrinkled her nose at the smell anytime her father drank at the table.
“There is always somewhere else to go. There will always be somewhere else to go,” her mom said.
Stevie never complained. Only when their voices raised did he start to cry. Liz always giggled when she watched him drop a piece of ham down to Chester. Mom and Dad never said anything when he did it. She wasn’t sure they paid enough attention anymore to know what he had done.
The street lights quickly faded as the car made a hard turn to the left and headed out of town. Stevie stirred in his seat, gave a long sigh, and with a soft touch on his cheek from his big sister and he was back to his dreams. Chester opened his eyes and beat his tail a few times until she scratched behind his ears, then he laid his head back down and began his soft snoring.
Liz couldn’t sleep, when they first turned away from home she had closed her eyes, intent on sleeping to help the hours go by, but dreams only came a little at a time. There were butterflies in her stomach, and they wouldn’t stop. Dad had promised a house all their own, not an apartment with neighbors who were too loud. Mom even talked about having a garden where they could plant beautiful flowers in the spring, and pumpkins in the fall. Chester would have an entire yard to run around in and she could teach Stevie to ride a bike when he got older.
It was a dream come true for Liz. A home they could call their own, and her dad insisted it was the last time. They would stay, for the good or bad they would not move. She believed in him. Her mom would whisper under her breath, but Liz knew her dad wouldn’t disappoint her. Not this time, not so close to Christmas.
Off into the east, the dark sky was beginning to turn shades of red with streaks of shadowed clouds as the sun would soon rise. Liz fought back a yawn of her own as the hum of the Prius’ engine purred along. White snow blanketed the ground beneath the trees that began to thicken along the road where piles of leaves stuck out like tiny graves.
She liked snow. It meant no school and lots of fun, especially around Christmas. She trusted that it was a good sign; she could feel it in her heart she would be happy.