"I didn't know the island had actual woods."

Clara looked behind her at Nicholas' car, now only a silhouette as the setting sun dipped behind the top of the hill. She could still hear the car's fan clicking between her footsteps on the gravel path. With each step forward, she and Nicholas descended.

"We're almost at the south end," Nicholas responded from a few feet ahead. "It's narrower down here, so there's less houses and more trees."

"Right," Clara said. In less than a minute of walking down the rough hillside, she and Nicholas had already lost sight of the makeshift parking area above. The path twisted tight against the landscape's natural curves. Clara kept her pace slow, making sure her feet didn't stray from the inner edge for fear of tumbling down the steep rock-covered ridge that led to the beach below.

It was already darker than it was when they'd arrived. A cold wind blew up from the ocean – now just a black expanse somewhere forward from their current direction. Clara could hear faint sounds below – people talking, she thought.

"Hey, you never told me what you talked about with Greg and Darlene," Nicholas said.

"They told me about their jobs," she said. "About what they did at the Castle."

"Did they talk about Eric?" Nicholas asked.

Clara's next step landed outside the path. Her foot hit a loose clump of dirt causing her to slide forward, slamming into Nicholas' back. He managed to brace himself against the rocks and dirt, grabbing Clara in the process. They both listened as a dislodged chunk of rock thudded onto the sand below.

"Thanks," Clara said. They both started off again down the path.

"No problem," Nicholas responded. "So did they?"

Clara felt annoyed – mostly that Nicholas had waited until now to question her on the encounter. It felt like an interrogation.

"Yes, they did," she said. "Greg made himself pretty crazy when the topic came up. I left as fast as I could."

"Hmm," Nicholas said. "Strange."

"What isn't strange?" Clara asked. "And you know what you never told me?"

"No," Nicholas said.

"How Rudderow knew who you were," Clara said.

They rounded a sharp turn in the path. Once they'd made it past, Clara saw a separate area of woods nestled between the hillside and the shoreline. She felt relieved at the change in landscape.

"He didn't. I never met that guy before," Nicholas said. His voice sounded calm.

Clara made no attempt to hide her annoyance. "Then why did he call you 'Young Gilmartin'? And how did he know that Kenny was your cousin?"

"He used to be a reporter," Nicholas said. "Maybe he remembered me from his research back when he wrote the articles about the fire."

"But how would he know what you look--"

Clara froze as two hands landed on her shoulders and a voice behind her groaned "Claaaraaaaa..." in an ominous tone.

She was too scared to move. In front of her, Nicholas spun around. Clara watched his face change from surprised to relaxed. She turned to see Dennis chuckling behind her.

"Sorry, but I had to do it," Dennis said. He wore gray sweatpants and a black hoodie. Clara could barely see his face in the dark. It took her brain a second to remember who he was.

"You asshole," she hissed, catching her breath.

Dennis and Nicholas both looked at Clara with surprise.

"I didn't know Little Miss Priss cursed," Dennis said. "I feel honored!"

"Feel honored that you didn't get kneed in your balls," she said. Both boys laughed outright at her venom. Clara liked the feeling of defying their expectations.

"Where is everybody?" Nicholas asked Dennis.

Dennis wrapped one arm around Clara's shoulder and the other around Nicholas.

"This way," he said, leading them toward the woods.

###

The tall trees opened up. As Dennis ushered them along a dirt path, Clara realized that what she at first thought was a dense thicket was really an illusion. Only the outer edge of the woods was tightly packed. Once they'd passed through, the trees lessened and a different set of objects emerged from the ground: tombstones.

Clara realized that they were at the back end of the graveyard. She couldn't see the front, but the road that wound around the markers appeared to lead to a newer section of graves somewhere off toward the main road, below the hillside where Nicholas had parked. They moved forward toward a flickering fire in front of a mausoleum.

Clara saw cracked gravestones with dates more than a hundred and fifty years before her birth. She felt a chill, but it was offset by the pride that she'd ventured so far from her comfort zone – walking through a creepy old cemetery at night. She still wanted to know what had happened to Aunt Maureen, but the mystery seemed so much bigger now. She was lancing Breach Point's long-festering wound.

They followed the road over an incline, and as they stepped down, Clara saw the fire more clearly. It burned inside a rusted steel trash can, tended to by a group of kids with cigarettes and liquor bottles in their hands. She heard a girl laugh as she stoked the flames. Clara got a better look at her face – it was Gaby.

The group turned as Clara, Nicholas, and Dennis came into view.

"Hey guys," Dennis called out, "look who I found."

------------------

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- Steve


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