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Thursday, February 13, 2014

Stepping Off the Cliff by Doug Dillon

*YA Paranormal*
Chapter 1
After the Funeral
It felt good sitting there fishing on Lobo’s dock with Carla in the quiet warmth of that late Friday afternoon in the middle of March, the day after Mom’s funeral.

The horror of finding her body like I did still haunted me, but the comfort of feeling Carla’s arm around my shoulders sure helped me stay balanced. Without that girl being by my side back then, I’m sure I wouldn’t have made it to today in one piece—especially when I think about what was yet to come.

I glanced over at her and smiled at how great she looked, even dressed in an old blue work shirt, a pair of brown cutoffs and sandals. That type of outfit she calls her fish-hunting uniform.

Before meeting Carla and Lobo, I had never even held a fishing rod, and there I was making an accurate cast off the tip of the old guy’s little peninsula out into Matanzas Bay.

In the distance though, things didn’t look the way they were supposed to for some reason—not to me anyway. On the waterfront, just past our neighborhood, the grey coquina walls of the old fort—the Castillo de San Marcos—made me think of a jail for some odd reason.

Jail? Really? The thing was built by the Spanish over 100 years before the American Revolution to defend St. Augustine. It had nothing to do with jails.

And when I glanced at the Bridge of Lions beyond the Castillo, I had this feeling there shouldn’t be a bridge over to Anastasia Island. That reaction made me wonder more since the original bridge was built in the 1920s. And Carla tells me a wooden one, close to the same spot, existed further back in time.

I figured all that strange stuff going through my head must be from all the stress I had been under in the last week.

“Not bad for an amateur.” Carla’s comment was aimed at my casting skills. “But can you catch any fish today?”

At that point, she had pulled in two sheepsheads and a seatrout to my one blue crab. By stirring up a little competition, she seemed intent on keeping my mind busy and not thinking about my mom and Eddie.

“Why work that hard when I can let you do it all?” I replied, faking a yawn.

To be honest, I was just happy sitting there with her and not having to attend school. Carla’s grandma knew there was no way for me to function in my classes yet, so she let both of us stay home. St. Augustine High, she figured, could survive another twenty-four hours minus our involvement.

And with the weekend coming up, she said, that would give me some more time to pull myself together.

That morning, Grandma had fixed us a big breakfast, which was wonderful as always. Can she ever cook, and no matter what, I’m always ready to eat. Those pecan pancakes and homemade sausages of hers are really something else. Carla just watched me stuff my face and shook her head. That’s because besides eating like a bird, she’s also a vegetarian.

Just as we were about to wash the dishes, Grandma got a disturbing phone call from a hospital in Jacksonville. Turned out her sister broke a hip.

Normally, Grandma would have been on the road in minutes, but now I figured into the picture. Yeah, me. Only a few days before, I had joined her family under the temporary custody arrangement, and that presented a problem.

Grandma was not about to take a chance the authorities in America’s oldest city would take me away because she let me roam free without adult supervision.

Just as importantly, she didn’t intend to allow Carla and me to stay by ourselves overnight for who knew how long. Even when we promised she could trust us, Grandma said, “That’s simply not going to happen in my house.” No discussion. End of story.

Grandma is a very sweet and kind lady, but she can turn very firm in the blink of an eye. I see where Carla gets it from.

The solution to both problems came when Lobo volunteered to let me stay at his place until Grandma returned. The idea of actually living with Lobo, even for a short amount of time, wasn’t very appealing, especially without Carla. Of course, Grandma didn’t give me a choice.

Lobo and I get along OK, but he’s the kind of person I can only takes in small doses. The man can be a very tough, abrupt, controlling, and critical kind of character. In fact, when I first met the guy, we clashed, and I mean a lot. He was tough on me at the time, and I mean really tough. But in the end, he helped save my life and that’s no small thing.

Since then, we’ve gotten along better than I ever thought possible.

So, yeah, I moved in with Lobo just before Grandma left for Jacksonville on that Friday afternoon. And as soon as she was on the road, Carla came over and joined me out on Lobo’s dock where we fished and talked. The old guy sat in one of the three rocking chairs on the front porch of his house behind us, reading a newspaper.

With the tide on the way out, the shallower water made for increasingly poor fishing but it really didn’t matter. Just being with Carla and petting her black lab, Spock, continued to make life bearable. Spock licked my hand as he often does when he senses someone is sick, upset or hurting in some way.

The hint of saltwater in the air coming from the bay and the Atlantic beyond mixed with the more putrid smell of newly exposed mud flats. My overly sensitive nose picks it all up, both the good and the bad. At times, I really wish I could turn down the volume on what I smell.

Overhead, the hazy sky was slowly giving way to heavy, dark colored clouds coming in from the west. According to the weather report, rain, wind and cooler temperatures were heading towards us. Out on Matanzas Bay, a flock of seagulls screeched, dived and fought over some kind of food people on a large boat kept tossing up in the air.

Watching the seagulls made me think of Lobo’s crazy pet crow, Edgar. On his single leg, he kept jumping around on the dock near our feet hoping we would send a piece of bait his way.

Even though that bird has a nasty habit of dive-bombing my head, since the fish weren’t biting, I figured he might as well enjoy himself.

To make that happen, I hoisted the bait bucket out of the water, pulled a big squirming shrimp out of the chilly water and chucked it in his direction.

Bam! Edgar flapped up into the air, caught the shrimp before it hit the dock and winged his way over to Lobo’s porch.

Both Carla and I had to turn around on our bench to see where he went. As we watched, old Edgar dropped his tasty little morsel near Lobo’s feet where he proceeded to alternately pick at it and flip it into the air, over and over again.

“Oooo,” Carla said, her eyes flashing. She sang the rest of her words like little kids will do, while pointing at Edgar, the shrimp and Lobo. “You’re gonna get in trouble.” Stifling a laugh behind a cupped hand, but also giving me the gift of one of her dazzling, wide smiles, she sang it to me again.

“You’re gonna get in trouble.”

The thing is, I got lost in her smile. So instead of responding, or really even hearing what she said, I just stood there with what I’m sure must have been a silly grin on my face as I stared at her.

“What?” she asked, arching a slender eyebrow and catching me in my hypnotic-like trance. In one of the huge oak trees around Lobo’s house, a dove cooed softly.

That girl has the most expressive eyebrows. Seriously. I swear they have a whole language of their own with a whole bunch of meanings I can’t always interpret. But this time those eyebrows just reflected simple curiosity.

“I was just, uh, admiring you as usual,” I replied, really meaning it. But what I really wanted to say was that I still didn’t believe I could be so lucky as to have such a tight connection with such a beautiful and fantastic girl. Maybe I would say it to her someday but not right then.
Physically, we make such an unlikely couple. Truly. Tall, bulky me, and slender, curvaceous Carla. I’m right at six feet and she’s five-four. Her flawless cocoa skin makes my pale white surface look like the color of a dead fish you might find on the beach. And the short, shaggy blond mop that covers my head is quite a contrast to Carla’s long, dark brown hair. Yeah, we are quite a pair.

“Oh puleeease,” she shot back at me scrunching up her face like she didn’t believe what I had said about admiring her, but down deep, I know it pleased her.

You see, that’s one of the things I really like about Carla. So many good-looking girls know it and show it, if you catch my meaning. They kind of expect to be admired because they’re hot and it’s all they care about.

Well, that sure isn’t Carla. I really don’t think she understands how gorgeous she is. The best thing though is, even if she did, she wouldn’t let it go to her head. Never.

“Jeff!” Lobo’s bellow shook me out of my thoughts. He had folded his newspaper and put it in his lap.

When I looked up, I saw him staring in disgust at Edgar as the stupid bird continued to flip and peck what was left of his shrimp. “Stop feeding your bait to Edgar!” he shouted. “He’s getting it all over the porch, and it’s going to stink eventually.”

As I opened my mouth to offer Lobo an apology, something stirred in the air between him and me. What, I didn’t know, but it made me think of rippling water. Right after that, I had the weirdest feeling. I couldn’t explain it to myself except it definitely seemed familiar somehow.

That’s when I realized both Carla and Lobo were sensing something as well. I felt Carla grab my hand, and I watched as Lobo’s head slowly swiveled as he scanned his front yard.

Almost in that same instant, Edgar the crow let out a squawk and flapped himself wildly up into the air until I lost sight of him somewhere in the branches of Lobo’s oak trees.

As Edgar vanished, Spock jumped to his feet, stared intently at where Lobo’s dock met the tip of the peninsula and let out the most eerie howl you have ever heard a dog make.

With Spock continuing to howl, Lobo slowly stood up, letting his newspaper fall to the porch floor.

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