The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
Chapter 2: Locks and Shadows
My dad is so not a DIY sort of guy, but he loves, just loves, going to hardware stores and getting trinkets. Don’t tell him I called them trinkets, ‘kay? To him, they are tools. I don’t mind or anything, because he does come home with cool things. Like the mini chisel set he picked up in the bargain bin last winter. He and I spent two weeks carving scrap wood, while watching our favorite cop shows after my schoolwork was done. We were terrible. Neither of us cared. I loved it.
Another thing he’d brought home once: tiny flashlights with bright beams. And now, standing in the pitch-black gatehouse, Mom and I were digging through our purses for them.
“Remind me to apologize to your father for sighing when he came back with these,” Mom said, straightening. Light burst through our immediate area. She came over and shined her light into my purse. “I’ll make a card from scratch.”
“Don’t make a card, Mom,” I said dryly. My humor was the driest thing in five counties, I would’ve bet. “Crafting plus you equals danger.”
“Stop making fun of me,” she said, but she didn’t sound put out. She was the first to admit that her artistic skills were not only sub-par, but criminally bad. We couldn’t let her around art supplies without proper supervision. There was a firm “look, don’t touch” rule in effect when it came to creative things with my mom. “I could decoupage cut-outs of the word thanks and grateful looking magazine people all over a vintage scrapbook sheet and—“
I whimpered out loud. “Mom! You are not allowed to say ‘decoupage’ or ‘scrapbook!’ You know the rules!”
She sighed heavily. “We’re on vacation! Shouldn’t the rules be suspended while we—”
“This is a change of scenery,” I interrupted, “not a vacation.” I pressed the button on my flashlight and stepped back, shining the beam into the room ahead of me. “We’re here because you have to work.”
Flashlights in hand, we took off our squishy, soaked shoes and went exploring. I hummed a haunting tune as we headed to the kitchen.
“Why are you humming that? I hate that song,” Mom grumbled.
“Everyone hates on Miley,” I grumbled. She flipped the light switch, as if she thought maybe these lights were exempt from the power failure. Surprise! They didn’t come on. I shined my light into the kitchen. In front of us, past the refrigerator, was a wooden table with four chairs. Beyond the table was a window seat. No lie. A window seat!
“I can’t wait to sit there and ask you inane questions while you cook my food!” I exclaimed.
Mom shined her light in my face.
I covered my eyes. “Okay, okay! I’ll help with the cooking! Mercy?”
“Remember who wields the power of the LED,” she said menacingly, but withdrew her weapon. As if I didn’t have my own flashlight!
We ventured further. Beyond the kitchen was the living room. Loaded bookshelves lined one wall, and stairs went from near the back entry of the house to the second floor. The big sofa faced the picture windows and, beyond them, the back yard. Which, right now, was shadowed and kinda scary. There were no blinds, and the curtains were tied back. Swamp monsters or werepires could totally be watching our light beams right now. Eesh! I shuddered and followed Mom.
We found the half-bathroom, which was new and super clean. A small laundry room was adjacent, separated by folding doors. The stairs took us to an open office space. We poked around and found the full bathroom (Yay! A shower AND a bath!), another, smaller sitting area facing the back yard, and the master bedroom.
“There should be a bedroom for you,” Mom said, but I think it was more to herself than to me. “Maisie said there was room for both of us.”
“There was a door at the top of the stairs,” I said. We backtracked to the old, heavy wooden door. It had decorative brass hinges and extra locks and everything. I took it by the handle and…nothing. Nothing except for a little bit of movement and the feel of a deadbolt, turned into the catch. If my room were beyond the door, I wouldn’t be getting to it tonight.
“Hang on,” Mom said, and dug the keyring Daniel had given her from her jeans pocket. One by one, she tried the few keys on it while I held my light on the door. I was starting to feel miserable. My damp skin turned clammy cold, the kind of cold that makes your skin crawl and your bones ache. The musty air collected, thick, in my chest, causing my allergies to kick into high gear. Mom tried the last key.
My neck and arms began to itch and burn. I was glad it was so dark, because I didn’t want her to see. I had my medicine downstairs. A pill, a snack, a shower, and some rest would make things better.
“They must’ve forgotten to put the key to this door on the ring,” she said, giving up. She turned to me, and even though we were in the dark, I could tell she knew what was up. “Are you okay? I can hear gunk in your chest from all the way over here.”
Sure, she was no more than a foot away, but really, no one should hear gunk in other people’s chests, you know? “I need to take my meds,” I answered.
“Okay. Let’s get you taken care of.”
We went downstairs. I found my phone and my medicine in my bag—I’m super careful to always put the pills right back, because when I need them, I need them pronto—and Mom said the best words EVER:
“There are Cokes in the fridge!”
I praised Maisie loudly for her hospitality and joined Mom. Sure enough, the fridge was stocked with the necessities: soda, milk, orange juice, cream cheese, yogurt, and a few other things. I opted for a little juice, with which I knocked back my white pill of health and goodness. We shut the door quickly, since the power was out and we didn’t want the dairy going bad.
Mom smoothed my damp hair back. “The thunder and lightning have passed. Go shower. I’ll get our stuff unpacked and then we can crash for the night.”
There was no power, and the only light I had was from my flashlight, but the water from the shower was clean and hot. As I pulled on my favorite sleep capris and tank top, I was feeling much better. I gathered my stuff up and went back downstairs. “Mom?”
She came out of the downstairs bathroom, her arms full of linens. “I’m going to make up the sofa down here to sleep on,” she said. “You can have the bedroom until we figure things out.”
I shook my head. “Nope,” I said, grinning a little bit. “That’s your punishment.”
“My punishment?”
“Yeah. For being old.” She laughed, and I was glad I didn’t offend her. I held up my phone. “There’s no signal upstairs or down here.”
“Mine’s not getting service, either,” she said. “I checked the phone in the kitchen, though. It still works. It’s the antique kind. It has wires.”
“Everything is so nostalgic here!” I tried to sound excited, but instead I yawned.
“It’s like Downton Abbey,” she agreed.
I don’t think she understood. Without service, how would I do the most important things, like check my Tumblr for amusing GIFs or take the Which Variety of Lemon Are You? quiz? (I was hoping for Meyer, BTW.) And how was I supposed do things like text Jayla or stalk my celebrity crush’s Instagram? Colton Haynes, I’m lookin’ at you, boy.
As I settled in for the night, I took in the gray and indigo shades of the room and the night outside. Except for the heavy air and my sticky skin, and, you know, all the creepy darkness swaying around outside, this could be pretty cool. I wondered, though, about the nice furnishings and the clean everything. It didn’t mesh with the old, the shut-up, the unlived-in feeling of the place.
Who lived here before us? How long had they been gone? And why weren’t they here anymore?
I woke up to a CRASH loud enough that I jerked halfway up, heart pounding so fast. I tried to catch my breath and get my bearings. Where—okay, on the couch. Right. I blinked a few times, but was startled by another flash of light and its accompanying BOOM. That’s when I realized I was freezing. It was still stuffy and humid, though. I was cold because I was sweating. Not awesome.
The rain pelted the windows, loud and angry. Worse was the sound the wind made, something between a howl and a scream.
My heart would not stop pounding.
I went to the entry, where I’d hung up my hoodie to dry. It was still damp. It would do me no good at all. So I went back to the bathroom, where Mom had gotten the bedding. Score! In the laundry room, I found a thermal blanket and wrapped up in it, and then returned to the living room.
Another flash of bright made me look out the wide windows.
My heart stopped.
For that brief moment, I saw the figure of a person.
It was distinct: head, shoulders, arms, legs, all of them black against the lightning, standing strong against the wind and the rain.
Frozen, I clicked off the flashlight.
How far off was it?
Had I even really seen it?
“You are tired,” I whispered to myself. “You are exhausted and freaked out and—”
Another burst of light and I strained my eyes, trying so hard to find the figure again. It was like seeing a spider on the bathroom wall, going to get something to smoosh it with, and then losing it. You’re half glad it’s not visible, but then you’re terrified it like, leapt into your hair and was planting spiderbabies in your brain or something.
I was pretty sure the ShadowMan was not in my hair, though.
My heart pounded in my ears. Nothing. I took a few steps, passing behind the couch, toward the stairs.
I wanted my mommy.
I crept to the stairs, knowing full well that noises and sudden movement attracted zombies. I took a moment to hate on whoever thought of putting the foot of the staircase near the back door and those glass windows, because CLEARLY they only designed this house with potential murderous shadow monsters in mind.
Just breathe.
I made it to the bottom of the stairs and took one more deep breath. If I were going to make it to Mom, I’d have to turn my back to the outside.
Where the scary thing prowled.
Unless I went backwards.
Yeah. Yeah, I mean, that was reasonable in this circumstance, right?
Wrapped in the blanket (and wishing it was an invisibility cloak), with my phone in the pocket of my capris and the darkened flashlight in my hand, I slowly backed up the stairs, keeping my eyes trained past the windows. The storm silenced but for the rain. I heard every creak of the wood under my feet.
A quick series of lightning bolts kept the yard and the road and forest beyond it lit longer than usual and—
Clear as my OPI topcoat, the figure of a manthing.
But this time, closer to the house.
I turned and bolted up the stairs.
I made it to Mom’s bedroom door and stopped short.
I closed my eyes and tried to catch my breath and thoughts.
You are too old to sleep with your mom.
You are too old to sleep with your mom.
Mom is tired and if you wake her up—
I tossed the new blanket on the little loveseat in the nook that overlooked the back, and tried to get another view of the ShadowMan.
I waited several minutes—nothing.
No new sounds in the house. No one was coming to get me.
Eventually I talked myself into going back downstairs and getting the rest of the bedding. Then I hurried back upstairs and curled up on the short loveseat.
I sort of love how Weather can be all, “I hate everyone! Death and water and a pox on you all! GROWL!!!” for hours and hours and then the next morning, Weather is like, “Oh em gee TODAY IS THE GREATEST! Let’s pick flowers and sing ‘Kumbaya!’ WE SHOULD TOTES GO TO THE BEACH YOU GUYS!” And the rest of us look around at the destruction, and spend the day doing super fun things like dragging fallen branches out of driveways, searching a quarter-mile radius for trashcan lids, and pulling lawn furniture out of trees.
That’s kind of how I felt the next morning. Mom and I puttered around each other, getting breakfast ready. The day was gold and green, the team colors of Sugar Heights Jr. High, the last school I attended before Mom and Dad decided to give homeschooling a shot. Pale yellow drifted in, lazy, through the windowpanes.
Outside, we could see the remains of Weather’s temper tantrum. Standing water, disheveled landscaping. Broken trees, roots showing. It was barely eight o’clock and already the day was heavy with humidity. We’d gone through the house, opening windows, glad to find screens in most of them. The heat didn’t really bother me, because we’d gone camping a few times every year, but neither of us could wait for the power to come back on. Some AC would be nice.
Mom was busy doing magical things involving the kettle and something she called a French press. She promised coffee would be the product, so I left her to it. I sliced pears to go with our yogurt. I was, of course, exhausted after my creeptastic night. A shower helped, but I looked forward to the coffee.
“Sugar Booger, set the timer for five minutes?”
“Yes’m.” She’d been calling me that so long, I didn’t even wince at the nickname. I snagged the old-fashioned egg timer from the counter and did as directed. And then I heard the rumble of an engine pulling up out front.

Mom glanced out the gateside window. “It’s Daniel. Maybe now we can find out what to do about the power.” She headed to the door, and a few minutes later, Mom was telling him about the outage as she poured coffee for the two of us. He declined a cup, but shot me an easy smile and accepted the pear I offered.
Today, out of the rain and slicker, I could actually see him. He was tall and lean, with dark brown hair and eyes to match, almost as dark as mine. He wore a T-shirt and fitted jeans and aged leather boots. The way he leaned back against the counter as he ate a pear slice told me he was comfortable here. I liked that.
“I’ll call the electric company,” he said. “They’re pretty good about getting out here fast, believe it or not.”
“Thanks,” Mom said gratefully. “Our cell phones aren’t getting reception, either.”
“Oh, that happens sometimes,” he said and shrugged. “This is a real weird spot for service.” I liked the relaxed way he talked, as if he had no hurry or worry. “I’ll ask Maisie about it for ya.”
“I’ll do it,” Mom said. “I need to talk to her about the extra bedroom, too. We looked everywhere, but we couldn’t find it. There was a locked door upstairs—is that it?”
Daniel paused with the pear to his mouth, then put it down and smiled again. This time the smile didn’t come so easily. “Yeah, ah, the door’s locked for a reason. The couch down here’s a pull-out,” he said, with an apologetic look at me. “I can help ya set it up.”
Mom frowned at this, clearly as dismayed as I was, but kept her tone polite. “No, thank you. We can manage on our own.”
Having polished off the last of his pear, Daniel wiped his hands on a dishrag. “All right. Well, if you’re ready, we can go get your stuff from the car. Mud’s still pretty thick, so it’s probably not a great idea to drive it over.”
Mom didn’t like that either, I could tell, but she screwed the lid onto her travel mug. “You want to come?” she asked me.
I was curious about a lot of things: the locked door, the grounds, what I’d seen last night. I wanted to stick around here and do some investigating.
“Nah, I’ll stay here.”
Mom excused herself to get her keys and shoes.
Which left Daniel and me alone.
“So,” I said, trying to break the silence before it got awkward. “You work here?”
“Yep,” he said. “Maisie’s my aunt. She takes care of the Fontaines, but I take care of the grounds.” He pushed away from the counter and joined me at the table, folding his frame into the chair comfortably. “I dropped out of school last year,” he explained. I was glad—I didn’t want to have to ask. “I liked working more than I liked sitting in a chair, you know?”
I grinned. “Yeah, I know. I’m homeschooled. I liked school, but I don’t miss all the sitting.” I didn’t want to like, encourage dropping out of school, but I figured preaching at him wouldn’t help us be friends. “So…who else is on the island, other than Maisie, the Fontaines, and us?”
“Just me. I have a little house over by Maisie and the Fontaine cottage.”
“Oh,” I said, and twirled a slice of pear around on my plate with my spoon. “You weren’t out last night, were you? I mean, after you dropped us off?”
He laughed. “No way. I like nature and all, but I don’t mess around with lightning. I had a friend get struck before. He didn’t die, but MAN, I never want that happening to me!” He leaned in, resting his elbows on the table, and made eye contact with me. “Why’d you ask?”
I felt my face get a little bit hot. “Oh, ah,” I stammered. Nice and smooth, way to go! “I thought I saw someone outside. Around three in the morning.”
He seemed to withdraw, even though he didn’t move away from the table or anything. “Really? You’re sure you saw someone?” His tone was different. More serious.
I shrugged. “I—no. I’m not sure. It was late and I was really tired, and I was in a new place.”
He nodded, eyes on me. He looked concerned. “I’m sure it wasn’t anything to worry about. I know I locked the gate up real good when we left you, too. Nobody could’ve gotten in. There’s a wall.”
I nodded, remembering seeing a glimpse of it upon our arrival last night. I was hardly convinced, especially with how serious he’d become, but I flashed him a smile. “Yeah. I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about.”
Mom came back then, and kissed my cheek. “We’ll be back soon, Sweetie.”
Daniel stood up and grinned at me. “When we get back, I’ll take you on a tour, all right?”
“Sounds good,” I said. They left, and I finished my breakfast and coffee, then grabbed my camera. I was about three steps out of the front door when I realized we were only living in half of the house.
The gatehouse was broken up into two symmetrical sides. The second floor stretched over the gated space, and joined the two sides together.
That’s where the locked door led.
To the other side of the house.
Why wouldn’t we have been given the whole house? And what did Daniel know about the thing I’d seen last night?
Author’s note: Thank you so much for your comments, hearts and reposts on chapter one! Comment and give me your thoughts on what should happen in the next chapters. I read everything I get from y’all and try to respond to all the comments! You are AWESOME. -Eliza
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