The Mystery of Dogwood Cross
I always thought that if I were ever in one of those dangerous movie situations, you know, where bad guys were about to destroy all the good things in the world, then I’d suddenly get a jolt of adrenaline and also mad ninja skillz, and maybe a hidden superpower would manifest.
But there I was, in a dangerous movie situation, and I could barely even walk on the road because the thick mud sucked my boots almost entirely off my feet with every step. Heck, I could barely see the road because the torrent refused to relent, even a little. Beside me, Rhys struggled even more with uncooperative muscles.
“You know what would be REALLY helpful right now?” I yelled into the wind. “A car. A car would be REALLY helpful. Remind me to get my license like, tomorrow, if we make it to tomorrow?”
He gave me a pained look in response, but could hardly muster a, “Yeah, okay,” that I, in turn, hardly heard because of the night.
We slogged on, and after what felt like six hours, I could see the bend in the road that led to the cottages. Almost there, I told myself. My senses were so screwed up that for the first time, I couldn’t hear danger approach before the headlights lit up the swampy woods on either side of us. “RUN!” I yelled at Rhys, and yanked him off the road with me. Daniel’s truck barreled past, traveling in the same direction we’d been headed.
He didn’t stop, he didn’t even slow.
We’d gotten so lucky.
Lucky was a relative term these days.
No longer only mud-wet from the road, we were now both knee-deep in the ditch’s stillwater sludge. The edges of the ditch were slick with wet moss and I had a hard enough time finding my footing that I knew it would be next to impossible for Rhys. Once I was up on the road, I fumbled in my bag and pulled out the flashlight, and then shone the beam along the side of the ditch, looking for a better places for Rhys to climb.
Two bright spots reflected my beam. It took a moment for it to register, but when it did, I couldn’t breathe.
“Gator,” I said to Rhys, and held the beam still.
The thing lurked in the water, ostensibly riding out the storm. And here we were, disturbing its reverie.
“On three,” Rhys said, and reached a hand up to me. I kept the light focused on the alligator, even as I slowly moved to lean over the ravine. I dug my heels in and prayed, prayed, prayed to be able to support Rhys’ weight and pull him out.
I took a deep breath.
I exhaled slowly, trying to calm my racing heart.
Our hands clasped together, and holding with all of our might, he got one foot, then the other, up the side of the ditch. I heaved backwards and he emerged fully. And then we both took off faster than either of us thought possible down the road.
Our plan was to split up, Scooby Doo style.
I sort of hated the plan, but we knew we had better chances if we weren’t together.
We paused only for a few seconds at the split to the cottages.
“Be careful, Miya,” Rhys said. He was as worried for me as I was for him, I could tell. We were embarking on equally dangerous missions: he was going to try to get into Maisie’s cottage and get help, while I was going to try to make it to the top of the pavilion to do the same thing, since we knew for sure we could get cell signal there.
“You be careful, too,” I said. “We’ll meet at the willow by the mansion?”
“Yeah. I’m going to freak out if you take too long. So don’t take too long. Okay?”
I managed a smile. “Yeah, okay.”
We stood there a moment longer, both kind of dreading what was before us. He broke the stalemate and stepped forward, then wrapped his arms around me in a full hug.
I totally hugged him back, and when he let go, I gave him the flashlight.
“Are you sure?” he asked. I nodded, and he turned and headed toward the cottages.
I watched him for a only a moment, wishing him luck in my heart. And then I pressed on toward the pavilion.
Miraculously, the rain let up as I approached the labyrinth. And by “let up” I mean “lessened into a normal thunderstorm.” Even though it wasn’t a terribly difficult maze, it became much harder to see the sawgrass in pitch blackness, and a few times I had to reach down and feel for the sharp blades that marked the correct turns. In any other circumstance, I might’ve made the best of the situation by pretending to be Thomas or Teresa from that book series I totally liked. This particular circumstance, however, totally killed my imagination, and its cousins humor and adventure. Finally I made it to the exit.
I paused there to observe. The outside was devoid of vehicles of any kind. Lights shone through the glass panels, but only back toward the service area, where the elevator and stairs that led to the basement were. The staircase that went up to the second floor and the widow’s walk was almost as dark as the outside.
I crept around to the door that had been unlocked earlier, staying carefully hidden just beyond the tree line. The only movement came from the trees and the rain, highlighted by the occasional lightning. I had one shot to get upstairs. That was all. Before I could talk myself out of it, I sprinted to the door.
I would leave muddy tracks, but whoever had been in and out before had left tracks, too. The only difference was that mine veered off in the opposite direction as all the others. That would shorten my window of safety, so I didn’t stop running until I made it up the stairs, to the second floor, and into the stairwell to the widow’s walk. I only paused for a moment to catch my breath and dig out my phone.
A minute or two later, I pushed open the door to the top. Rain came inside immediately. I turned my back to it, checked to see I had at least one bar of service—I had two!—and dialed 911.
On the second ring, the dispatcher answered. “What is your emergency?”
My heart pounded, my brain froze. There was too much to explain, and I needed them to know it was urgent and very, very serious.
“Hello?” the man asked.
“My name is Miya Himura. I’m on the island of Dogwood Cross. Do you know where that is?”
Hesitation came from his side, but after a moment, he said, “Yes. What is your emergency, Miya?”
I told him the highly abridged version, and then I added, “They already killed his dad.”
“I have a car going your way right now, but it will be half an hour. Can you stay on the line that long?”
I thought of Rhys, who should soon be waiting for me at the willow. “No. Please. Hurry. And we’ll need more than one car—there are a lot of bad guys here.”
I called Nadia, but got her voicemail. I shot off a handful of text messages to her, explaining as best I could, and then copied them and sent them all to Jayla. Even though Jay was all the way back in Tennessee, she’d take me seriously and she’d show her parents. I sent the photos I’d taken on my phone to both. A minute after my last text to Jayla sent, she called me.
“Miya! ARE YOU OKAY?!”
“NO, I REALLY AM NOT! PLEASE, you have to get your mom and dad to help me!”
“I’m going to let you talk to my dad,” she said. “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH. BE CAREFUL, OK?!?”
As quickly as possible, I told her dad what was going on. After verifying no fewer than three times that I’d contacted the police, he said he’d call, too. By now, my phone was totally wet, and I prayed hard that the not-cute, utilitarian case my Mom had insisted upon was worth the extra dough. Jayla’s dad was still on the phone as I ventured out to the railing of the widow’s walk. Lighting flashed big and close, and the air exploded around me with thunder.
The thing that scared me the very most, however, was the sight of headlights slowing over at the cottages.
Oh, no.
I bolted down the first flight of stairs, and went as quickly as possible while still being quiet down to the main floor. Just before I hit the bottom step, static crackled through the air. It was followed by a man’s voice. “Maisie, I found the crippled boy in your house. What you want me to do with ‘im?”
The radio crackled again. “What was he doing?” Maisie demanded, then plowed on. “Don’t matter. Put him with the woman at the big house. Both of ‘em are too much trouble.”
“Yes’m,” the man said from the radio. “I’ll take ‘im right now. Oh, and Danny says the water’s gettin’ high, and might wash out the bridge again. We oughtta hurry it up.”
The bridge might wash out?
But, the police—
They had Mom and Rhys now. And even though the police were coming, they might not be able to get onto the island.
It was up to me.
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