RACING TOWARD THE LIGHT
© 2009 Sandra Pavloff Conner
If you haven’t read Chapter One yet, you can find it HERE.
Serenity jerked awake suddenly, not sure why until she heard a horrible clap of thunder and realized that the noise of the storm was what had pulled her from sleep so abruptly. Another storm. She sat up and slipped her feet into her house shoes, reaching at the same time for her robe. She turned on her bedside lamp and then started toward the door, intending to check on David. But first, she walked over to put her window down because the rain had started.
When she opened David’s door, she stood speechless and almost stopped breathing. The last thing she had expected to see was an empty bed. But when she saw that the screen had been removed from the window, she almost panicked. Had he been kidnapped? She couldn’t even allow herself to think the words. “Oh, please, Lord,” she whispered. She fought down fear as if it were her worst enemy, which it was in a situation like this. She knew the Word of God enough to know that she had to make a choice right now whether to believe only what things looked like or to believe the promises of God.
“Dear Heavenly Father, I pray Your promises of protection over all of us every day, and I know You’re faithful to them. I believe You’re taking care of David. So please . . . help me to hold onto my faith now . . . and show me where David is.” She took a deep breath, letting it out slowly, and then another, finally sitting down on the bed and trying to settle her mind. She needed to decide whether to wake Gramps or call the police . . . or just go outside and try to find her nephew herself.
But the very next minute the phone rang. She hurried to answer it, sure that it was about David. “Hello,” she said almost breathlessly.
“Hello, Miss Lawrence?”
Serenity thought she should recognize this voice, but she couldn’t be sure. “Yes.”
“This is Noah Bennett. Perhaps you remember that I’m renting one of the cottages on the beach this summer?”
That’s why she thought his voice sounded familiar. “Yes, Mr. Bennett. What is it?”
“I called in case you were worried about your nephew.”
“Yes, I am. I’ve just discovered he’s not in his room. Do you mean you know where he is?”
“He’s with me right now, safe and out of the weather.”
“What on earth is he doing with you!”
Noah chuckled. “Well, it’s kind of a long story, but I take it he’s fascinated with horses.”
“What! You’re not making any sense!”
“I’m sorry, Miss Lawrence. I didn’t mean to upset you. David evidently decided to take a late-night ride on my horse, who had wandered down the beach toward the lighthouse, and he ended up here about the time the storm broke.”
“Your horse! I haven’t seen any horse!” She thought this man sounded sane, but she was beginning to wonder if her mind were playing tricks on her as a result of the lateness of the hour and her nervous state.
“No, I had stabled him with some friends in Pennsylvania until I made sure of this corral, and I just brought him down today.” He chuckled now. “I guess it wasn’t as secure as I thought, because he got out of the corral and wandered down to your place. He doesn’t usually let anyone else ride him, but evidently he and your nephew became instant friends.”
“And David’s with you now?”
“Yes. He’s just finishing off a big mug of cocoa. Would you like to talk to him?”
“Oh, yes! Please!” Serenity felt as if her knees would give out at any minute and she scurried to sit in the chair nearest the phone.
“Aunt Serie,” the dear little voice spoke hesitantly on the other end of the phone. “I’m . . . I’m sorry, Aunt Serie. I thought I’d be back home before you woke up,” David said, and she could hear tears in his voice now.”
“Are you all right, Honey?” was all she could say.
David sniffed. “Yes. I got a little wet and kind of cold, but Noah dried me off and gave me one of his shirts.” His voice was getting stronger now that he was past the time of remorse and seemingly past the time of what he had expected to be a severe scolding. “Aunt Serie, Noah has the most beautiful horse you ever saw!”
“And you rode him?”
“Yes,” he said, just then remembering that he still would probably have to face the consequences of his actions. “But Moondancer wouldn’t have hurt me, Aunt Serie. And Noah said that if I’d promise not to ever go out at night without telling you first, that he’d let me ride Moondancer again in the daytime. Is that all right?”
Serenity was wiping the tears of relief from her cheeks and sniffing just a little herself, but she managed to answer. “Well, we’ll talk about it later, David. Right now I just want to get you home safe and sound.”
“I’m safe and sound right here, Aunt Serie. Oh, Noah wants to talk to you again.”
Before Serenity could respond, Noah was back on the line. “He really is all right, Miss Lawrence, and he can stay right here until the storm abates enough for me to bring him home.”
“There’s no need for that, Mr. Bennett. I can come and get him.”
“Please call me Noah. I realize you don’t know me all that well, but you do know something of my family. Don’t you think you could trust me to keep him safe for just another hour or so? The wind is driving that rain pretty hard right now, and none of us needs to be out in it, even in a car.”
Serenity sighed. “Could you give me your phone number there, and I’ll talk to my grandfather about it.”
“That’s a good idea. I think he’ll agree with me,” Noah answered, and then proceeded to give her his number.
Serenity hung up and went to Gramps’ room. He was just putting on his robe, having been awakened by the conversation, but not knowing what it was all about. Serenity explained the situation to him, and he nodded, smiling just a little. “I’ve known the family pretty well for the past three years. His sister and brother-in-law come down every summer, you know, and Noah has spent a week or two with them each time. I don’t know him as well as I do June and Keith, but I’m positive he’s trustworthy in a situation like this. He’s been a policeman and then a county sheriff for many years, so he’s spent his life protecting and helping people.” He put his arm around her shoulders in a comforting squeeze. “David’ll be fine with him, Serie. The Lord’s taking care of things.”
So Serenity breathed a sigh of relief and said she guessed she’d call him back.
“Would you like for me to call him and feel things out one more time?” he asked.
“Yes, Gramps, I think that’s a good idea,” she said and moved to sit down close to the phone while he dialed the number. As he talked, he sounded pleased with the way the conversation was going, so she leaned back on the sofa and began to relax. As she did so, she began to think in more detail about Noah Bennett. She had met his sister June Campbell and her husband the year before last, when she had been vacationing here at the lighthouse.
They were a young African-American couple, married only four years and still waiting and hoping for children. Serenity had had a number of conversations with them, and they had all enjoyed community picnics on the beach during the weeks she was here. And then last year, she had met Noah while he was visiting, but she had spoken with him only that one time, because she had needed to leave the next day for home.
He was an attractive man, tall and strongly muscled, as would be expected of a man who lived his life enforcing the law. He had the deep brown skin of his race, of course, but his eyes were light brown, almost the color of caramel. She had guessed his age at around forty, since his short black hair had been showing just the first traces of silver. But his closely trimmed beard was still its original black. He was obviously well educated, and she remembered that she had responded warmly to his deep, resonant voice.
Anyway, she’d liked him. He’d been open and friendly . . . and she had been intrigued by the small, gold ring he wore in one ear. It was made even more interesting by the tiny cross that hung from it. There was certainly nothing ostentatious about it, but, somehow, she hadn’t been able to equate an earring with a law enforcement officer at all. Well, the main thing was that now that she was remembering all of these things, she was feeling much more at peace about David’s being with Noah Bennett until the storm was past. Gramps was off of the phone by now, and he still seemed totally at peace, so she decided she needed to make a pot of coffee and get out the cake they had sampled at supper.
While they ate, she and her granddad talked about June and Keith Campbell and how they had decided to forego their summer on the beach since June was finally expecting a baby in July. Keith had come down to open up the cabin and air it out last week, and that was when Serenity had found out that June’s brother would be taking it for the whole summer. Keith had said that Noah had been through some trying experiences during the past year, and he was planning on taking the summer on the beach to get some much needed rest and restoration. Serenity couldn’t help but wonder what had happened, and she let her mind drift over a few possibilities as she finished her coffee.
In about an hour, they could tell that the storm was pretty well past their area, and even the rain had stopped, so they were watching out the window for Noah and David. Finally, Serenity saw them, David sitting in front of Noah on the back of a large white horse, coming toward the lighthouse. As the bright beam passed over them methodically, she could see that they were talking and laughing. David apparently still had on Noah’s shirt. She could tell that it engulfed him, but she was grateful for Noah’s thoughtfulness.
Serenity belted her robe a little more securely around her waist and rushed to the door, flinging it open just as they came into the yard. “David!” she cried, holding out her arms as soon as the two had dismounted. Her nephew ran into her embrace, grateful that she was hugging him instead of scolding him. But he was smart enough to know that scolding still might come later. “Oh, David, you had me so frightened,” she said, gently pulling him farther into the house and stooping down to look him in the eye. “You promise me that you’ll never, and I mean never, do that again!” Her voice was stern, and her eyes sparked with fire, but there was such obvious love in both her voice and her eyes that David’s remorse was immediate.
He nodded his head fervently. “I promise, Aunt Serie. I’m real sorry,” he added, the truth of his words reflected in his eyes, which were so like her sister’s.
She tousled his hair. “All right. You’re forgiven,” she said and then hugged him again.
“I promised Noah too, and he said I could ride Moondancer in the daytime if it’s all right with you.”
“Well, I’ll tell you what,” she said, taking his little hands in hers, her eyes twinkling at him enough to take the sting out of her words, “I think we’ll have you wait one whole week before you get to ride any more . . . just to make sure that you don’t forget that what you did was serious and never to be repeated.”
“Oh, Aunt Serie . . .”
Noah spoke up then from where he stood just inside the door. “I think that’s an excellent idea, David. It will help you remember. So let’s say you can have a ride a week from today, how’s that?” Noah glanced at Serenity to get her approval, and he could see gratitude in her eyes for his support. He saw more than that in her eyes though. He saw a light and an energy that captured his attention, and the smile she beamed at him made him feel as if the sun had just come out. That was what impacted him about this woman tonight. She seemed to radiate life. How had he missed recognizing that before? Too busy with his own problems to notice much of anything, he guessed.
But he was noticing everything now. He was taking in her thick, shining, black hair that hung in a curtain past her shoulders, curving under just a little at the ends. She had worn it pinned up on the back of her head with a clip the other two times he’d seen her, and it hadn’t had this effect on him. Tonight, standing here looking at her in the soft living room light, he was getting a whole different picture. Even her modest robe didn’t hide the fact that she had a very womanly figure. And she seemed just plain nice on top of everything else. All in all, she was a woman to be noticed, and he had to remind himself that he was here for only one reason . . . to recover his own equilibrium emotionally . . . and he certainly didn’t need any other emotional upheavals to add to his list.
Serenity’s grandfather stepped forward now and shook Noah’s hand. “Thank you, Noah, for taking such good care of my great-grandson.”
“No problem, Clint. He was good company.”
“You might as well stay and help us finish up the coffee and cake we started on about an hour ago. I don’t think any of us is likely to be ready for sleep right now.’
“Oh, that’s all right,” Noah said, waving his hand slightly to indicate that he didn’t need anything. The truth was that he wanted to stay. This home was full of love and warmth and light, and he felt good in it, but he didn’t want to intrude at 12:30 in the morning.
“Nonsense,” Clint said now. “We insist. Don’t we Serie?” he added, looking at his granddaughter.
She looked up at Noah again from where she still knelt in front of David, unbuttoning the shirt so that she could give it back to him. “You’re very welcome to stay, Mr. Bennett.” She beamed a smile at him. “Gramps is right. We’ll be wide awake for a while yet.”
“All right . . . on one condition,” he said. Serenity lifted an eyebrow enquiringly. “That you call me Noah.”
She laughed at that. “All right, Noah it is.”
“And if you don’t mind, I’ll call you Serenity. That’s a beautiful name. It creates a peaceful feeling just hearing it.”
Serenity was so obviously surprised by the compliment that she couldn’t answer for a moment. “Thank you,” she finally answered. “And no, I don’t mind at all.”
“Good, now come on into the kitchen,” Clint said, leading the way.
Noah had changed into some dry jeans and a knit shirt before they started for the lighthouse, and he took off his jacket now and hung it on the back of the chair where he sat. Then he accepted a plate bearing a large piece of chocolate cake with white fluffy icing and coconut sprinkled over the top. “Wow! This looks absolutely delicious!” he said, picking up a fork and digging in.
“Do I get a piece too, Aunt Serie?” David asked a little uncertainly, obviously thinking that his night’s activities might keep him from getting to take part in this midnight feast.
“Of course,” his aunt said, smiling at him and handing him a smaller piece. “And a glass of milk if you think your tummy can hold that much at this time of night.”
“I only had cocoa at Noah’s house, so I’m hungry enough for milk too.”
“Here you go then,” she said, setting his milk in front of him and then taking her own seat. Clint had poured coffee for the three adults, and now they all just enjoyed the snack without saying anything for a few minutes. Then David spoke again.
“Aunt Serie, I know why Noah wears that ring in his ear.” He looked at her expectantly, and she answered, knowing that he wanted to tell her the story.
“Unhuh,” he said, nodding his head. “He told me all about it. Do you want to know?”
“Well, only if Noah wants us to know, Dear.”
David looked at Noah. “You want them to know, don’t you, Noah?”
“I’m not sure anybody but you will be that interested, David,” he answered, unable to hold back a laugh. He looked at Serenity and Clint now and continued. “David kept eyeing it and wanting to know why I wore it, so I figured answering that question was as good as anything else we could do while waiting out the storm.”
Clint answered him. “Well, to tell you the truth, I hadn’t given it much thought until now. These days, I see men wearing an earing now and then. But did they let you wear it in your police work?”
“Some agencies do, and some don’t . . . depending on what kind of uniform code they have. When I was on the beat in the city, they frowned on it, but when I applied for a deputy position and explained to the sheriff why I wore it, he just shrugged his shoulders and said he figured it was part of my religious freedom and let it go.”
“Well now my curiosity is aroused,” Clint replied, “so you’re going to have to satisfy it.”
“I’ll tell you,” David said, looking at Noah to make sure that was okay. When Noah nodded at him, he continued. “Noah said that after he gave his life to Jesus, he was reading in the Bible and read about a slave that was getting set free. But he didn’t want to leave the man who owned him. He wanted to stay and work for him as a servant. Noah said that’s kind of like a slave, except you get paid.” David glanced at Noah to make sure he was telling the story correctly, and Noah nodded again.
“So anyway,” David continued, “the rule was that if somebody wanted to be one of these servants, he was supposed to let the man who owned him put a hole in his ear and put a ring in it, and that meant that he would stay and work for him all the rest of his life. And when Noah read that, he decided that since he was going to be the Lord’s servant for the rest of his life, he would put a ring in his ear to show that that’s what he was.”
Clint spoke up then. “Yes, I think I remember that in scripture. I had forgotten about it, and I’ve never known anyone personally who took it so literally for today.”
“I’m going to serve Jesus all of my life too,” David piped in again. “So can I have a ring in my ear, Aunt Serie?”
“Oh-oh, David. You may get me into trouble now,” Noah said, grinning at him and then at Serenity.
She was trying hard not to laugh out loud, but she managed to answer her nephew as seriously as possible. “Well, we’ll have to think about that, David. I know you’ve given your heart to Jesus, but I think you need to be a little older before you decide about having your ear pierced.”
“Okay,” he said around a big yawn that almost drowned out the word. Then he added. “Aunt Serie, when you wear earrings, you always wear two. What does that mean?”
Noah answered him. “David, your aunt wears her earrings to make her look pretty when she goes somewhere . . . although . . . I don’t think she needs anything extra to make her pretty, do you?” He glanced briefly at Serenity as he spoke and saw her blush. Then he felt his heartbeat quicken. He was definitely going to have to be careful.
But David piped up with an answer. “No, I don’t think she needs anything. She’s beautiful as soon as she gets up in the morning with her hair all over the place and only her gown on.”
Serenity blushed again and spoke to her nephew as she rose from the table. “That’s a nice compliment, little man, but I think it’s time we get you into your bed . . . where you supposedly were headed when you took off for your midnight ride. I have to get your screen back into your window too, where you pushed it out. I forgot all about it in the confusion of trying to find you. I hope the rain was coming from the other direction.”
Noah spoke up then. “Is it outside? I’ll go get it and put it back in for you.”
“Oh, thank you. That’ll help,” she said as she moved to David’s side and wiped his mouth with a napkin, doing a better job than he had done himself. “Say goodnight now, Dave.”
“Okay,” he said, yawning again, sleep fast catching up with him now. He went to his grandfather’s chair and reached up to give him a hug. Then he turned to Noah and held out his hand for a handshake. “Thank you for the cocoa, and don’t forget my ride,” he said, blinking his eyes to keep them open just a little longer.
“It was my pleasure, David, and I won’t forget. Goodnight.” Noah stood and started for the back door, not bothering with his jacket. “I’ll go get your screen.”
Ten minutes later, David was snuggled beneath the covers, closing his eyes, his window back intact, and Serenity and Noah slipping quietly out of his room. As they walked back to the kitchen, Noah said, “I need to get my jacket and take off too.”
They were just entering the room when he thought of something else, and he asked the question of both of his hosts. “Did I understand David correctly that you’ve had a storm like that every night for almost two weeks?”
Clint answered, motioning for Noah to sit back down. “About that I guess. It’s certainly been much more frequent than I can ever remember.”
“Having been here only three days myself, I haven’t had a chance to hear much about them. Have they caused any damage?”
“Not right here close to the lighthouse, but farther in, close to town, there were one or two roofs blown off and some outbuildings torn up,” Clint said. “And then some pretty large hail did a little damage here and there. No people hurt though, thank God.”
Serenity had returned to her seat too, and she sat nodding her head now. “Yes, thank God, because there’s something about these storms.” She paused for a moment, as if trying to search for the right words. “I can’t put my finger on it, and I didn’t even notice it for the first three or four nights, but especially this past week, I feel as if there’s something . . .” she stopped again and looked a little sheepishly at Noah. “You’ll probably think I’m weird . . . and I guess I am a little more sensitive to the spiritual side of things than a lot of people . . . but it just seems as if there’s something particularly evil in the way these storms keep coming and coming and coming.”
Noah just looked at her for a moment, his eyes piercing. She had felt it too . . . what he had felt when he’d stepped out of the cottage earlier . . . something sinister. But he didn’t want to go there. He’d had enough of that kind of thing to last a lifetime.
Serenity looked at him almost apologetically. “I’m sorry . . . I . . . well, as I said, I figured you’d think I was weird.”
Now Noah felt sorry for her because, obviously, she thought she had let her imagination run away with her and was embarrassed now that she’d been so open with him. So he had to at least tell her that he’d felt something too. “Well, actually, I was wondering if my imagination were playing tricks on me earlier, because I sensed something . . .” he waved his hand in the air, trying to express the frustration of finding the right word to use. “I guess ‘evil’ or ‘sinister’ would be the best way to describe it. I’ve worked in the midst of a number of severe storms, but this one had another element about it.” He just shook his head. “I can’t explain it any better than that right now.”
Serenity breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, at least I know it wasn’t just my imagination. Thank you for telling me that, Noah.”
He rose as he spoke again and began putting on his jacket. “Hey, it doesn’t help much, but at least there’s two of us.” He reached out to shake Clint’s hand again. “Thanks, both of you, for the midnight snack and the good company. I’ll no doubt see you several times on the beach for the next couple of months, but maybe you can join me for a barbecue after I get settled in.”
“We’d like that,” Clint said, rising to see Noah to the door.
“Thank you, Noah,” Serenity said. “You’ve been more than a good neighbor tonight.”
“Glad to do it,” he said, and waved a hand as he stepped out the door and started across the yard to where he’d tied Moondancer. He breathed in the air from the sea now. It smelled good, and everything felt fresh. There was no sinister heaviness left. He could almost make himself believe it had been his imagination . . . almost . . . but not quite. He’d experienced too much this past year. But he’d made up his mind he would let nothing keep him from getting the rest and restoration he needed this summer. And that meant nothing . . . nothing and no one!”
About two miles away, in the little coastal town of Hamsted, five middle school students were gathered in a garage, sitting in a circle, their only light that which came from the candles they had lit to carry out the ritual they were involved in. Their parents had no idea they had sneaked out of their respective homes, but then they were getting quite good at doing so, since this was their seventh time to meet this way since school had been out. One of the girls, blond-haired Lacey Dillard, who had just finished seventh grade two weeks ago, seemed to be in charge of the meeting, but she was being confronted by her brother Troy, who was a year younger.
“Are you sure you’ve thought of everything we’re supposed to do, Lace? It seems to me we must be missing something.”
“Listen, you little pea-brain, I know what I’m doing! Get out your copies of the pages I copied from the spell book.”
Each member of the group dug around in their pockets to get their copies of the pages Lacey had copied from the book of spells that had been part of a spell kit she and Troy had ordered via the Internet. The kids had been reading the series of Sally Stone books for the past year and a half and had just finished book number five. They were enthralled with how Sally and her friends were being trained in the arts of witchcraft. And when they had scoured the sites listed on the Sally Stone web page, they got some clues as to other web pages concerning witchcraft, and finally found the one where they had been able to order the spell kit and other information concerning mixing potions and casting spells.
But the sixth Sally Stone book had come out just last week, and they were anxious to get their hands on it too. They were also excited about going to see the third movie based on the series. It would be a while before it came to their small town, so Troy’s parents had arranged to take him and Lacey, along with their closest friends, into one of the larger cities to see it as part of Troy’s birthday party next month.
“Since they didn’t give details of real spells in the books,” Lacey was continuing, “it took a little searching to get what we were after, but it was worth it.” She was looking through her pages and finally stopped and held one up. “See . . . it’s this one. It has the whole thing here. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t work. It’s probably the rest of you who aren’t concentrating and really believing with me!”
“Now, just a minute,” said Darrin, who was also Lacey’s age. “Don’t go blaming us. We all did our part. But you’ve got to admit, conjuring up a hurricane is a pretty big job. We’ve only done little things so far, like making the Mitchell’s cat run around in circles for two days, and making all three of Tommy Miller’s gold fish die at the same time.”
“Yeah,” agreed Kelly, who would just be entering sixth grade next year.
Nick was the only member of the group who hadn’t spoken yet. He too would be starting sixth grade next year, and he wanted to sound as grown up as the rest of them. He added his thoughts now. “And after all, we have been getting some real storms every night.”
“But you know what Sally’s professors at the school of witchcraft told her when she was learning to work her spells,” Lacey said. “You have to really concentrate and believe.”
“Well, I don’t know how much harder we can concentrate than we are now,” her brother said.
“Maybe we need to meet more often than we have been,” Lacey suggested now.
“I can’t take the chance on sneaking out of the house any more than I already do,” Kelly said. “I almost got caught last time. Besides . . . I don’t know why we have to conjure up a hurricane anyway. It was your idea, Lacey, but I’m still not sure I want to be in a hurricane.”
Lacey turned angry eyes on Kelly. “See . . . you weren’t really agreeing with the rest of us and believing with us! You’re the problem!”
“I am not! I was believing the best I could. It’s just that I’m scared!”
Darrin was Kelly’s cousin, and he patted her on the shoulder as he spoke. “There’s nothing to be afraid of, Kelly. We’re the one’s in control of this stuff. We can conjure up the hurricane just enough to enjoy all the excitement, and then we can get rid of it . . . right, Lacey?” He looked at their leader as he asked the question.
“Of course. Stop being a baby, Kelly.”
“Well, I have to go home now,” Nick said. “Are we going to try to meet more often or not?”
“Why don’t we wait and see if everything we did tonight will make the storm tomorrow night any worse than this one,” Troy said. “Then we can decide.”
“Okay,” Lacey agreed. “We won’t meet again until the night after tomorrow, but let’s start a little earlier. Maybe that will make a difference. Unless, of course, we get our hurricane tomorrow night. We said those extra chants tonight after the storm died down, so maybe that will be enough.”
“Okay,” they all agreed in chorus and got up from their positions and began blowing out the candles. They collected the various symbols and potions that it was their responsibility to bring to the meetings, and began to disperse to their own homes, slipping through neighbors’ yards and down alleys.
They all lived within three blocks of each other, so it wasn’t hard to get around that way, but as soon as they left the garage, all five of them ran as fast as they could to get home. For some reason . . . even though they never admitted it . . . they always felt scared after they’d had a séance or been conjuring. But they believed what they’d read in all the Sally Stone books: They would get over being scared as they gained power.
Look for Chapter Three tomorrow.