The soft hum of tires on the wet roadway filled Joseph Ark’s head as he entered the city of Ellsworth, Maine. It was the only sound to distract from the silence of the 2 am drive, and it wore at his ability to stay awake. The small city was quiet, the only signs of movement being the changing colors of the traffic lights and the occasional car passing by on the other side of the two-lane highway. The world, it seemed, was asleep.
“Turn here.” He heard Master Arthiss’s steady voice to his right and risked a glance at his passenger before making the turn. Street lights washed over Arthiss’s ghostlike face in a steady cadence of shadow. Joseph had almost forgotten his master–his father–had accompanied him on this trip. “The lake where she’s hiding is another twenty minutes ahead. You ready?”
Joseph nodded and eased the accelerator down in the Toyota Camry. Like flipping a switch on the world, the city’s lights disappeared behind them, leaving nothing but the headlights of the car to cut through the darkness edging around them. The speed limits increased, and he obliged them with a heavy foot. The rain had stopped a while ago, but the road was still wet.
The great excitement that had surged through Joseph ten hours ago when he left New York was all but gone now. Although fatigued from the drive, the passing miles and minutes eroding at his will to persevere, he remained focused. He needed to remain focused. They had drive six hundred miles up the New England coast for his initiation, his final test as a student of the Order.
“Is she still on the road?” Joseph asked. He didn’t know quite what to expect when he caught up with his target and the real test began. One side of his mind played out a car chase through the winding back roads of Maine, but the other side, the one molded into a weapon of knowledge by his many years of studies and training, knew that couldn’t be allowed to happen. Stealth and surprise were his allies. He had to catch her unaware. To do otherwise would put his life in danger and risk exposure, ultimately failing the test.
Arthiss answered his question with a simple shake of his head, and Joseph could tell from the corners of his eyes that his master was watching him closely. “You sure you want to go through with this tonight? Perhaps tomorrow would be better, after you’ve rested?”
Joseph rubbed his blue eyes and stretched as best as he could in the small car. He was tired; he had no doubts about it. He would gladly take rest if only his task would allow it, but he had been on long trips with his father before. When he stopped the car for the final time before he was to engage his prey, his stamina would return like it had never been drained away. It was a curious thing to him: how one could go from nearly collapsing to full of energy from just a simple turn of events like reaching a destination. It was mental. The mind was a powerful thing. It could provide the extra motivation to win a race, but it could take it away just as easily. It could become your worst enemy when pressing yourself for endurance, but luckily, Joseph had been trained and hardened. The Order had shaped his mind into something that, while it still had limits, was further reaching than most, and he took comfort in that.
Joseph shook his head and glanced briefly at his father. “She could be in Canada by tomorrow or someplace else. I need to do this tonight. Otherwise, we may be chasing her for a week or more.”
He saw a slight movement on his father’s silhouetted face and knew the man was smiling. The question had been a test. Although Arthiss could be a tough teacher at times, he let satisfaction and pride show on his face often enough, sometimes too easily. Joseph appreciated it. In the battle of his mind, it helped reinforce his will to continue; it allowed him to see his actions as right. It also motivated him to excel at a great many things that had given him this opportunity. He was the youngest in the Order’s history to attempt his initiation. The Age of Requirement for most was twenty-eight, but his ambitions and skill pushed him beneath the bar at twenty-three. That small detail spoke volumes about him, but it was the attention he received from the other students and members of the Order that he appreciated most. He relished the idea of pleasing others and having them look up to him. It was a drug propelling him to succeed, to stretch beyond his own mortal capabilities to achieve what no others had before him. It was his strength and shield against failure, but it was only possible because of his abilities.
For as long as Joseph could remember, he had learned the secrets of magic through the organization guarding it. The Order had existed in secrecy for more than a thousand years, protecting the world from stray magic users and the Brotherhood, a disorganized group of rival magicians who sought to stand outside the laws of the Order and disregard their efforts to keep magic hidden.
Magicians–a worthless term, Joseph thought, wondering who had been responsible for coining it. He didn’t like labels of that nature, especially considering that those who donned the label were usually nothing more than illusionists, tricksters set on fooling those around them. Magicians, sorcerers, and so on all brought to his mind the image of an old man in robes and maybe a pointy hat, someone wise like Gandalf or Dumbledore or a handful of the other figures he had read about in books or seen in movies. It was the wrong image. In the days of old when the Order first came into existence, the labels and fashions associated with magic may have been popular then, but it was the twenty-first century. Times had changed; and true wizards, witches, and warlocks were no more. They were just magic users or wielders now; magic itself had changed over the centuries. Once capable of a great many things, it was nor educed to two forms: light and dark or black and white–some said good and evil. Although Joseph had read books about uses for magic and spells far beyond these two forms, he had never seen anything more than the white practiced. Black magic only existed in textbooks and stories, and there were stories, haunting stories, about how it appeared as a mass of snakes dashing through the air, how it was invisible in the night, and how it seeped into your insides and shut down your vital organs. It was killing magic, forbidden by the Order, but harnessed and used by the Brotherhood.
Joseph’s magic had once been dark. Arthiss had told him that all magic users developed the dark magic first as that was its raw form. It came naturally. The Order’s guidance helped them acquire a less lethal construction of it, one that was white and pure. However, the white could still cause harm. It was a physical force, and if used to push someone off a cliff or beat them to a pulp, it could easily be considered killing magic, too. But the magic itself could not kill simply by touching its victims.
Joseph had no memory of ever using dark magic, of being a “tainted one”–the label given to those who wielded it. Patricia, the girl he hunted, was a tainted one, also a member of the Brotherhood. Joseph’s initiation was to capture and take her back to the Order so they might help her. Help her, he thought the words felt out of place. He didn’t know how they planned to do this. As a student, he had seen the senior members of the Order bring in many tainted ones, but he never saw what became of them. Arthiss said they were shown a better way to use magic and then taught in the ways of the Order. But they never reappeared at the Order’s mansion, the school where he lived. He had always harbored desires to find out what became of them and how they were “helped.” Perhaps he would be allowed to learn with the completion of this assignment.
The car suddenly slipped off the edge of the road into the gravel, and Joseph jerked it back onto the asphalt. He saw Arthiss looking at him again, but his father said nothing. Yea, they’ll show you, just as soon as you finish explaining how you drove the car into a tree, he thought, redoubling his efforts to watch the road. Focus, Joseph!
The road seemed endless, weaving its way through the Maine countryside, wrapping around small hills, diving into shallow dips, and twisting with the shoreline of a swampy lake. The clouds had parted, and a crescent moon gave their surroundings some light. They crossed a small, single-lane bridge over a dam, and Arthiss warned Joseph to slow down and take the next left. He turned the silver Camry onto a single-lane back road that disappeared into the distance beyond the reach of the car’s headlights. A few old houses, worn and rotten fences, and a variety of pine and deciduous trees filled the fields alongside the road. Little by little, the trees shut out the faint moonlight, and darkness encroached upon the small car again.
“What’s she doing here?” Joseph asked. “Seems a long way to run and hide.”
“Do not concern yourself with it,” Arthiss replied. “The why of her being here has little to do with what you need to do. It is a distraction.”
Here we go, another lecture, Joseph thought. Can’t just answer a simple question.
“You must be ready to gauge the situation carefully and act,” his father continued.
“I know,” Joseph said. “It’s just that we picked up her trail in New York City, and she basically ran to this location, only stopping for gas. What’s here?”
“A lake. Turn here.” Master Arthiss pointed toward a small, gravel road hidden beneath a canopy of trees to their left.
Joseph spun the car onto the dirt path and slowed it to a crawl over the rigid bumps and deep potholes that coated its surface. The tunnel of trees cut away at the cone of light coming from the Camry and cast eerie shadows further into the forest. The excitement the day’s drive had stolen from Joseph returned with the realization that his initiation was about to begin. They crossed a few makeshift bridges over small creeks, and Joseph brought the car to a stop when he rounded a curve and spotted a black Honda Civic sitting in a gravel parking lot. According to a weathered sign with chipped paint posted on a tree in front of the other vehicle, Beech Hill Pond’s private beach was a quarter mile in through the trees. A well-worn footpath led the way into the dark of the forest.
“Do you see her?” Joseph asked. He gripped the steering wheel until his knuckles whitened to keep his hands from shaking.
“She’s on the beach,” Arthiss replied. “Out of sight. You can park here.”
Joseph eased the car forward into a space next to the Honda Civic and killed the engine. A slight chill swept over his body, and the doubts that he didn’t know what he was doing, nor realize what he had gotten himself into crept into the back of his mind. His eyes nervously danced across his surroundings, but he saw no sign of the tainted one. He took a deep breath, opened the door, and stepped into the night air. The smell of pine needles and vegetation filled his nostrils, a nice reprieve from the vanilla air-freshener scent of the Camry. He stretched again as the trees surrounding the small parking lot creaked and groaned against a raging wind sweeping in from somewhere off to the northwest. Somewhere further in the thick of trees in front of him, just beyond the light’s edge, the crackling of leaves and branches rose up, like footsteps. His eyes focused on the noise, but he was unable to see its source. So drawn to the sound, Joseph failed to notice Master Arthiss climb out of the Camry and approach him.
“You need to wake up,” Arthiss scolded. “This isn’t going to be easy.”
Arthiss moved close to him and gripped his face with a rough hand, moving it from side to side in a manner that may have looked as if he was inspecting Joseph’s hygiene to anyone else, but Arthiss did this often before Joseph was to be tested. Often enough that Joseph wondered how his face hadn’t developed calluses of its own. He knew his master was just examining him, making sure he was ready.
“You’re tired; your eyes have shadows. You sure you want to do this?”
Joseph nodded, and Arthiss released his grip, turned away from his student, and stared momentarily down the narrow path that disappeared into the darkness between the trees.
“There is no turning back from this point,” Arthiss warned. “You have to be certain this is what you want to do. If not, she can kill you. Leave all hesitations and doubts behind with me. You need to be fast, cunning, and act first–always act first. Remember your training. This is for real, Joseph.”
Joseph thought about the newly arisen doubts in his mind and cast them aside. He could do this. He was ready. All he had left to do was prove it. “Master, it’s one woman; I can handle her,” he said, but the look Arthiss gave him seemed doubtful.
“You are just one man, Joseph, and a young man at that. Her sex has nothing to do with it. Patricia’s magic is not any less dangerous or powerful because she’s a woman. She has been evading the Order for more years than you’ve been with us, son. She’s experience and smart. She’s killed many agents in her flight. You need to take this matter seriously. You’re going up against her tired. If it were up to me, I would make you rest another day before this, but it’s your initiation. The Order has restricted my involvement from anything more than getting you here. The choices or pursuing from this point are yours.”
Joseph let his eyes drift to the trail ahead of him and took his first step. Maybe he had mistaken his master’s proud smile in the car earlier, but it did not matter. He understood his master’s behavior, his lecturing, whether he needed it or not. After all, the man had raised him like a son when Joseph’s biological parents had left him in the woods for dead. Arthiss had been his selected mentor in the Order, and somewhere along in his training, the man had come to love Joseph, just as he loved Arthiss. He knew, as well, that Arthiss’s inability to be able to assist him with the task at hand was bothering him. Arthiss wanted nothing more than to keep Joseph safe, and his hands were tied. He had to allow Joseph to fend for himself.
Joseph stepped to the entrance of the small trail leading into the forest. The lake and his destination were just a short walk away now. All thirteen of his years with the Order had come down to this. He turned back and gave one last look at his master. The sudden doubt that he may never see the man again entered his thoughts, and he quickly cast it aside. No more doubts, Joseph, he told himself.
“I’ll wait for you here. Be careful,” Arthiss said, moving back to the passenger side of the silver Camry.
For the first time, Joseph noticed the age coming to his father. He had seemed so young when Joseph first met him, and time appeared a thing that never moved within the walls of the mansion. But now, his father, drenched in the headlights of the car, had noticeable indentations and lines stretched across his face from the hardships of his life. His brown eyes still held their determination, but the color had faded a bit. Arthiss’s once black hair had all but washed itself in gray. Joseph wondered what a man had to go through for such changes to happen. Was it just the passing of time–age–or was it what you encountered in life that started the transformation?
Joseph nodded and turned down the path into the woods. He cleared his mind of thoughts about his father, his life at the mansion, of all but the task at hand once he stepped to the light’s edge. Then, darkness surrounded him; his safe haven of light left behind. Into the void he pressed, stumbling blindly down the small path cutting neatly through the Maine forest. He felt his way along from tree to tree, occasionally scuffing his shoes on emerged rocks and roots. Twice, he nearly fell from such obstacles, and it wasn’t until he was about a hundred yards into the trees, the parking lot and cars no longer visible at all, that he stepped into a mud puddle deep enough to let water slip over the edges of his shoes and dampen his socks. Irritated, he trudged on.
The crunching of leaves and snapping of twigs returned somewhere to Joseph’s right, and he froze. The footsteps sounded like they were moving parallel to him, but even with his eyes adjusted to the dark, he couldn’t see more than the outline of his hands in front of him and nothing beyond that. His mind unwittingly called up images of bears and wolves and all manner of predator-type creatures that roamed the woods at night. Thoughts of them being able to see him coupled with the knowledge that he couldn’t see them kept him silent, still, and listening all the harder. His friends at the mansion, maybe Master Arthiss too, would have called it a fear of the dark, but he knew better. The dark couldn’t hurt him; however, what was in it could.
The footsteps stopped as suddenly as they began, and after what seemed like ten minutes, Joseph decided to take a chance. He swallowed and stepped forward. No movement or sound echoed it. He forced his other foot to the front and began slowly walking down the path again, trying to reinforce his wits with the thought that whatever had crunched the leaves and snapped the twigs was nothing more than a squirrel. Even if it wasn’t, all he could do was keep moving forward, one foot in front of the next until he reached his destination, and to his great relief, the footsteps did not return, though his eyes continued their search.
Joseph moved forward a few hundred yards before he heard the crashing of the lake’s small waves upon the beach ahead. He let the sound guide him along the path out of the darkness. The trail smoothed as it emerged onto the white sand of the beach, and Joseph stepped out from the cover of the trees into the safety of the moonlight. The wind pushed his hair back against his scalp and filled his ears. He walked to the water’s edge and let his eyes scan down the length of the lake’s shoreline. Even in the faint moonlight, the lake’s surface appeared black with the occasional wave catching a glint of light and reflecting it Joseph’s way. The vastness of the shoreline was dark, too, except the few houses and cottages with lights still shining from their windows. He doubted if any of the people here were still awake. Magic was required to do what he needed to do, and there could be no witnesses.
He brought his eyes back to the beach. It stretched along a two hundred yard peninsula that separated the lake from a small swamp behind it. Four massive boulders, each reaching ten to fifteen feet in the air, sat at each of the far ends. He traced the outlines of the rocks, bushes, and thin pine trees along the outer edge of the white sand that separated the beach from the swamp. His eyes scanned the trees and moved slowly toward the far end of the beach, and then, he stiffened. He spotted her, nothing more than a dark silhouette sitting atop one of the boulders against the water’s edge. She appeared to be looking out over the lake. She leaned forward, and Joseph saw another shadow move behind her. She wasn’t alone.
He dashed to the cover of the trees and peaked around to see if they had noticed him. Neither moved or left the rock, and Joseph relaxed a little. He knew Patricia was one of the shadows atop the rock, but who was the other? Master Arthiss had said nothing of a second individual. Had this other figure traveled with Patricia or had they met here? If it was someone she knew, it was likely another tainted one, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was just a civilian with no knowledge of magic? How could he engage her then, when civilians were to be kept in the dark? How could he tell the difference? His training hadn’t prepared him for this, and he suddenly felt the doubts rekindling in his mind. His hands shook with nervousness, and he grabbed hold of a small tree to still them.
You mustn’t guess, Joseph heard his master’s voice again or remembered it–he wasn’t entirely sure. That will lead you to false expectations. Gauge the situation carefully and act.
His thoughts turned against his master. He imagined it unlikely that the other figure had slipped past Arthiss’s efforts to track Patricia if the person had been traveling with her, which meant that it was more likely this other figure was a civilian and Joseph could do no more. He started to turn away from the beach toward the path leading back to the vehicles but stopped. He wouldn’t get another chance at this for five more years. He wouldn’t be able to rise above his fellows again. He wouldn’t be the exception if he failed or returned empty-handed. It was now or never, and civilians be damned.
He began creeping down the length of the beach against the tree line. He was less concerned about the noise of his approach. Any sound he made vanished into the constant crashing of the waves against the beach and was wept away with the raging wind. Joseph paused every few feet and squinted into the dark, trying to tell which direction Patricia and the other figure’s heads were turned, but he could only make out a hazy image of their shapes, no content or details. He could do nothing more than hope the darkness hid him as well or better than it hid his prey.
Joseph moved in as close as he could without wishing to press his luck and stopped. He watched the girl for a few minutes, her features barely visible now albeit drained of color from the lack of light. Her shoulder-length hair danced wildly in the wind behind her head, occasionally dropping just enough to rest against the collar of her fleece jacket. Joseph saw that the other figure was a man with a ragged mop of hair on his head. They were talking, but the words drifted by in the wind too shallow for Joseph to make out, and as their conversation slowly died, they remained, arms wrapped around one another and heads tucked together and focused on the rabid waters of the lake.
Joseph slowly realized they were lovers and Patricia had not been running from him and Arthiss to reach this destination. Even against his master’s lectures, he wagered a guess that she knew nothing of them even being on her trail. She had come here to see this man for reasons completely unrelated to magic and the struggles between the Order and the Brotherhood. Joseph continued to watch the two figures draped around one another in mild curiosity. He had never experienced love before, though he had dreamed about it. Some part of him knew that love was what he was looking at, and he nearly laughed at the thought. He had imagined tainted ones being something not quite human or at least incapable of human feelings. The teachings at the mansion had taught him otherwise, but the images that had sank into his mind differed from the textbook descriptions. He imagined something grotesque and unrelated to what he knew about people. Tainted ones were evil; they were bad; they were against all the things he and the Order stood for. Yet, here two tainted ones sat, holding onto one another and enjoying a night alone and apart from the world’s conflicts like ordinary people. He could hardly believe his eyes when the couple moved and began kissing, long and passionate.
Joseph’s thoughts momentarily drifted back to the mansion to the girl he fancied. Caitlin, if only … No! Stay focused and do what must be done! Time for observation was over. However much he didn’t like it, he had to act. Always act first! His master’s words echoed in his mind, and he stood, bringing his hands up from his sides. He let the magic rise up inside him, it warmth spreading through his body quickly, and then, it poured from the pores in his hands in a bright white mist, illuminating him and everything within twenty feet like a powerful lantern. Patricia and the man took immediate notice. Their eyes snapped open, their kiss ripped apart by what would be an attempt to stop Joseph, but their efforts would be in vain. They were too slow, too unprepared, and could do no more than climb to their feet atop the boulder before Joseph pushed his energies with the speed of a striking snake into the man, tossing him like a plaything out into the ferocious black waters of the lake.
Patricia abandoned her efforts to block Joseph’s attack in hopes of keeping the man from falling off the rock, her movement similar to a batter who swings knowing the baseball has already found the catcher’s mitt. Joseph jerked his magic back and guided it over Patricia, forming a misty bubble around her body, as impenetrable cocoon that once closed would meld her mind into his. He pulled it down around her as fast as he could manage. Sweat beaded on his forehead and rolled down his cheeks from the rising heat of his blood. Black magic flooded from Patricia’s fingertips as she tried to blast her way free of the misty shell, but it was useless. Joseph held the mists intact and continued to pull them around her. Like a caged animal, she gave up on her magic and beat against the white walls of the cocoon with her bare hands, but nothing worked. Then, the bubble latched onto the boulder at her feet.
Joseph closed his eyes and concentrated, pushing the white mists through the fabrics of the rock. Then, he lifted her into the air and sat her on the beach next to him. She screamed at him, wild and raging, but the noise disappeared with the wind. She stopped struggling, staring at him in confusion, a slight recognition in her eyes.
“No,” she whispered, and her expression turned fearful. “It’s you. It cannot be you. You cannot do this; you’ve been tricked.”
Joseph ignored her. He expected her to try any number of techniques to gain an advantage. Arthiss had warned him of such tricks, that once he had the advantage he must continue pressing the attack. He tightened his grip, and the cocoon of white mist began enclosing upon her.
“No! Listen to me!” she begged, but Joseph only quickened his magic. “They’re just using you, Joseph Ar–”
The magic sank into her body, and her words went silent. Joseph wondered how she had known his name when a sudden pain clawed at the insides of his head. His vision split and his left eye brought to his mind a foreign image. Through it, he saw himself standing before Patricia on the beach, the waves beating against the shore behind him, the light from his magic fading away. He had gained control over Patricia’s mind and her motor functions and sight. In his right eye, he was still looking at Patricia’s pale, expressionless face. It was a nauseating effect that nearly caused him to double over and vomit, but he held his constitution. Although he hadn’t perfected the magical technique–a method of possession the Order had developed to capture tainted ones–he had managed to make it work, and all he had left to do was to get back to the vehicles and leave. He started Patricia forward, struggling to keep both his and her balance as their feet sank into the sandy beach. He imagined he looked like a caterpillar trying out its newly grown wings for the first time, and wondered how anyone could master making two bodies walk at the same time from the same mind.
He gave one last look back at the beach as he neared the trail to the parking lot. He didn’t know how far he had thrown the man or if he had made it back to shore, but there was no sign of him. Joseph headed into the forest with Patricia a step ahead of him. He needed to hurry. He had captured the woman almost effortlessly, but her friend was still out there somewhere. Joseph ignored the sounds of the forest that had frozen him earlier, the crackling of footsteps on dry leaves and the snapping of twigs, and pushed them onward toward his goal of the vehicles.
The short walk along the path proved to be twice as difficult as before. He no longer had to worry about just his feet catching on the rocks and roots littering the trail. Stumbling Patricia through the forest’s obstacle course was tiresome. Twice, he had let her trip and fall down, and the second time when he helped her back to her feet, a task that took great mental effort controlling both bodies, he felt something warm and wet smear on the hand he gripped around her arm. It was too dark to see what it was, but when he felt her arm beginning to throb in his mind, he imagined it was blood. She’d been cut.
The Camry’s headlights appeared in the distance, and Joseph urged them on until they emerged into the parking lot. Master Arthiss stood near the driver door patiently, but offered no assistance as they approached the car. Joseph guided Patricia to the back seat, opened the door, and shut it behind her. Arthiss looked at him over the roof of the car.
“You okay?” he asked.
“Why didn’t you tell me there were two?”
“Two?” Arthiss paused, confused; then his features sharpened and he appeared to understand the question. “I didn’t know. Get in; we need to go now. We can discuss it on the way.”
Joseph climbed into the passenger seat and shut the door behind him, and Arthiss started the car and headed it back the way they came. Soon, they were on their way away from the lake and turning onto the paved roads leading to Ellsworth. Joseph glanced at the clock on the car’s radio. It was half past four. He sighed. Just walking to the beach and back had taken him two hours. It had felt like minutes.
“She knows who I am,” Joseph said as the traffic lights of Ellsworth came into view in the distance.
“What? You spoke with her?”
“No, she screamed my name when I captured her. How is that possible?”
Joseph rubbed at his aching head. The split vision was beginning to make him sick. In one eye, he stared at the back of his head, while in the other he watched the road disappear beneath the front of the Camry. He couldn’t seem to find a way to allow Patricia to rest comfortable, which added to his own discomfort. He shifted anxiously.
“I don’t know, Joseph. It’s possible that you are known to the Brotherhood; you’re practically famous for someone so young.”
That had to be it, Joseph decided. He was well known at the mansion, and it was more than likely that his name had slipped out beyond its premises. But she knew more than his name, didn’t she? She saw his face and put his name to it. A name drawn from a hat, no matter how well she had known it, would’ve been useless without the recognition of the face. “She recognized me though, master. Unless the Order has been sending them pictures of me, how?”
Arthiss was quiet for a moment. Joseph wanted to press the question, but his splitting mind forced him to close his and Patricia’s eyes in an attempt to obtain some relaxation, some measure of peace.
“I didn’t …” Arthiss started but drifted off.
Joseph opened his eyes and waited. “What?”
“You didn’t what?”
“Oh,” Arthiss said, appearing to fumble with his words again. “I didn’t … realize you could take on two tainted ones. Quite the achievement. Joseph, you’re an agent now. You’ve finished your initiation. I’m proud of you, son.”
Joseph tried to smile at the words, at the appreciation, but he knew his master meant to say something else.
“I want to speak to her when we get back to the mansion,” Joseph said. “Once she’s been secured and I’ve released her. She knows something.”
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Arthiss said, as they passed through Ellsworth and continued toward New York. “We’ll have to get the Headmaster’s approval though. Get some rest; I know you’re tired.”
Joseph closed his eyes and tried, but sleep didn’t come to him immediately. He thought about the night, the approach to the beach, the couple kissing, and Patricia yelling his name, her face twisted in fearful recognition. How did she know him? He searched his memory looking for the answer, but it wasn’t there. He thought about searching her memory, but he didn’t know how, didn’t even know if it was possible. He continued to repeat the question in his mind, echoing it back and forth, hoping for an answer, but the soft hum of the tires against the road lulled him to sleep before it came.