Highland Shifter
Page 4

 Catherine Bybee

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“The answer is out here somewhere,” she said to herself as she dodged a crater-sized pothole in the road.
The roadside signs pointed off in all directions to castles dating back hundreds of years. The desire to drive up to the nearest one and pull out her camera was strong, but the feeling that doing so would slow down her search stopped her.
As she approached a four way stop, her right hand started to tingle. If she hadn’t been waiting for the sensation, she would have missed it. At the stop she veered northeast onto a tiny two lane road. According to her map, the road would eventually run out and become nothing but dirt. Yet while her hand hummed, turning away wasn’t an option.
Ten miles later the road turned to dust, and weeds of neglect crowded the lane. A large rut forced her from the car. She still had several hours of daylight and a backpack full of snacks and water.
Outside the car, humidity hung in the air like a blanket. Helen rolled up her short sleeved shirt to catch some of the wind blowing off the eastern coast. Following the rolling tingle along her skin, she moved away from the deserted road toward the sound of the ocean. She didn’t think she was that close to the shore, so the noise caused her to pause.
A strange, panicky sensation rolled down her spine, forcing Helen to spin in a circle, searching for the cause. She was alone, but the feeling of being watched made her question the sanity of venturing off the marked road in a foreign country. Anyone could come along and do, God knew what, and never be caught. The only person who even knew she was in Scotland was Philip, and he wasn’t expecting an update for a couple of days.
Hoisting her backpack higher, she pushed aside her unease and tried to walk closer to the noise of crashing waves.
A low stone wall peaked above the grassy field a good two miles from her car. She took a moment to rest and removed a bottle of water from her pack. After taking a long drink, Helen closed her eyes and leaned against the stones. She realized then the ocean sound hadn’t changed since she’d stepped from the car. It hadn’t gotten louder, or softer. It was as if she were walking along a coast, yet the coast wasn’t there.
Her entire body began to hum. A small vibration told her she was close to whatever clue came next. “What the hell am I looking for?” she called out to the empty field. She removed the objects from her pack that led her this far, hoping to find her answer.
First was a picture of the candlesticks. Twelfth century pieces of art sold on consignment at Graystones, a rival auction house. They’d stayed in the possession of the owner for nearly a year before the said owner sent them to Philip to be resold. Apparently, the current economic crisis wasn’t limited to the poor.
When Helen had touched the candlesticks every nerve ending in her body lit up. When an insatiable need to find out more about them rivaled breathing, she decided to discover all there was to find out about their history.
A woman by the name of Myra Doe consigned the candlesticks. Lord, the name Doe put up so many red flags Helen couldn’t see straight. It was worse than Smith or Adams, for that matter. Still, a real live person brought in the candlesticks to sell. Yet when the sale took place, the money was put in another woman’s name. Elizabeth McAllister.
Elizabeth was the mother of Simon. Both of whom simply disappeared without a trace nearly two years ago.
Helen thought she’d reached a dead end. The missing persons’ case was cold. It didn’t seem like anyone cared about these two people vanishing. On further study, Helen learned of another sister who’d gone missing. It was then Helen found herself in the halls of a favorite haunt, the public library. Then she explained her plight to her oldest friend, and only real family-like person in Helen’s life, Mrs. Dawson.
Now the book from Mrs. Dawson’s library warmed her palm as she opened it to the pages of the man with the woman who looked like her. Under their pictures was a simple passage. Love is Timeless. Whoever wrote the book was either a poet or a romantic.
A school picture of Simon dropped from one of the pages. Helen gripped the familiar photo, the same one that had been plastered in newspapers and on milk cartons for months. Even though his mother disappeared at the same time, the authorities always obtained more tips about missing children than missing adults.
Helen didn’t know what to think. Only that her gift was pointing toward the child and not the mother. But something told her if she found one, she’d likely find the other. She shoved her things back in her bag and pushed herself to her feet.
A flicker of white caught her eye. The picture of Simon lifted with a breeze, floating away on the wind.
With bag in hand, she ran after the photograph. She tripped once, scraping her palms on the jagged surface of the rocks, and then took off running again. When the wind calmed for a moment the picture dropped and caught in a weed.
Helen pounced on it.
Out of breath, she placed her stinging hand on her chest, and held the picture with the other. A smudge of dirt layered the picture. Helen brushed the filth aside and left a trail of blood on the image.
Her hands were a mess, full of embedded gravel and dirt with just enough blood to cake it all together.
She shook the picture. “See, here. I’m bleeding to find you, Simon McAllister. So stop trying to fly away.”
The words no sooner left her lips before the sound of the ocean simply turned off. The air around her crackled and rushed out of her lungs.
The colors of the sky disappeared in a swirling tornado. The grass around her flickered and went black.
Panic rose in her throat in a scream, but when she opened her lips the sound didn’t escape. Gravity sucked her down and pushed her back up.
All Helen could do was sit hopelessly by and pray the world found its axis soon.
Wind swirled around her and a loud thunderous roar replaced the nothing.
When Helen’s stomach threatened to rebel, she closed her eyes and crushed her hands to her ears.
I don’t want to die.
As fast as the world shifted around her, it came to a stunning halt.
Squeezing her eyes shut, Helen held perfectly still, fearing any movement would start the tornado again.
Her skin chilled. The temperature felt almost frigid, and the smell of the air had changed.
The sound of a horse neighing forced her eyes to spring open.
She was in a forest, a lush green forest with dew dripping off the trees. A massive black horse stood a couple of yards away and eyed her with curiosity.
“Well now, what have we here?” A deep, tender voice rumbled behind her.
Helen jumped to her feet and let loose the scream that had been lodged in her throat before. Now filling every inch of the surrounding forest with her shock, she spun, dropping her backpack at her feet.