Growing up in Pacific Grove, a coastal town on the Monterey Peninsula in California, I had spent many Sunday mornings combing beaches, hunting for sea glass. I once believed the surf-tumbled glass had come from mermaids when the mythical creatures wept for sailors lost at sea, their tears hardened and washed ashore by the latest storm front.
Mermaid tears were treasure, meant to be guarded close to one’s heart. They brought wishes of true love and kept you safe from those who meant harm.
But time taught me two valuable lessons: fairy tales and fables paled in comparison with real nightmares, and psychic abilities were a power the human body should not possess.
Monday, before dawn
Burrowed under a down comforter and a silver blanket of light, I stared at the crescent moon outside my window and waited. The moon, looking like a tear in black silk, journeyed across the sky. The night grew older and the air colder. Still, I waited.
I inhaled deeply and scrunched my nose against the odor that was part of the house. Musty wood, damp towels, and molding leaves. We lived in San Luis Obispo in a small bungalow built before World War II, where over time the windows had been painted shut inside their frames. Brittle air stole through warped doors, and thin cracks webbed plaster walls. Black mildew spotted the baseboards where water had leaked into walls the landlord had shown no interest in repairing.
A dank, musty odor stung my nostrils with each breath. Pressure built in my sinus cavities as though I had an infection. Cassie had been sick, too, several times this past winter, but there were other reasons aside from our unhealthy environment that contributed to our colds. Lack of sleep, for one.
We needed to find a new place to live. Hopefully somewhere in the neighborhood so Cassie wouldn’t have to relocate to another school.
I rolled to my side, pulling my knees to my stomach, and squinted at the clock’s glowing digital numbers: 2:58 a.m.
The lease is up in June.
It’s only April. I’ll start looking for a rental next month.
I held my breath, listening, and counted. Five seconds. Ten.
Pressure built in my chest. Twelve. Thirteen. Fourteen.
Cassie’s sob whispered through the house. My ears pricked up. It drifted into my room, seventeen seconds after the hour. Like clockwork, I thought, exhaling in a whoosh. Rolling to my back, I coaxed my weary limbs to move, dreading what I knew would come next.
The scream pierced the air, a blade of noise that sliced down my spine. It tore through my chest. Cassie screamed again, the sound rattling my bones, jolting my legs into action. I leaped from the bed and stumbled to the floor, my foot caught in the sheet. I landed hard on my knee. Pain shot down my shin and up my thigh like a starburst.
I pushed to my feet, then limped-ran across the hall and into her room. In the dim glow of her night-light, she lay curled on her side under a pile of blankets, both hands clutching her head.
Cassie screamed, eyes squeezed shut. Her knees pushed farther into her chest, and she rocked onto her elbows, face pushed into her pillow, then flopped back to her side. She whimpered.
I rushed to the bed and shook her shoulder. “Cassie, wake up.”
She rocked back and forth, fingers gripped like turkey prongs around her head. Tears leaked from the corners of her closed eyes. She groaned.
I gave her shoulder another shake. Tried prying her hands from her head. Her elbows were locked. “Cassie,” I demanded. “Wake up.”
Her eyelids fluttered open, and her hands eased away. She straightened her legs and rolled to her back, gazing at the ceiling with a blank expression.