“Ah!” I hissed in pain as I grabbed my head.
“Sorry! The roads aren’t really paved this way,” The taxi driver said as I opened my eyes, but I immediately flinched at the sunlight.
“Oh no, it’s fine. I’ve had this headache since yesterday,” I said sitting up in the back seat of the car and adjusting the seatbelt near my neck. I checked my watch and saw that it was almost eleven a.m. I’d meant to be there bright and early this morning but somehow I ended up missing my first flight, which meant I had to catch the next plane out which, due to emergency weather conditions, ended up landing three hours away. And because this little town was in the middle of nowhere, Montana, there was no train station and I found myself paying for a taxi. Which was surprisingly still far cheaper than the fare in city. “How much further?”
“Not far, it’s just on the other side of the lake.”
Glancing out the window I saw the very hard to miss unless you were jet-lagged, hungry and annoyed, bright blue lake which sat at the bottom of the mountain ridge. In the distance I could see a few houses and building in the greens that led up the mountain.
“Wow.” I’d seen things like this in movies and even had something exactly like it as the screensaver on my laptop but seeing it up-close and in person… The vast green treetops that went on endlessly, the beautiful ridged mountains, mountains that even had snow on their peaks.
“Ain’t no New York, but it ain’t’ bad either, huh?” He laughed nodding his head proudly.
“Yeah, it ain’t bad,” I whispered winding the window down which caused my hair to blow around my face but I didn’t care. Holding it back with my hand, I briefly caught a glance of a sign as we drove past.
“Welcome to Lieber Falls… Yours to Rediscover.” I read out loud.
“Kinda catchy right? Ten years ago not many people came up this way—what the—?”
“What?” I looked forward just in time to see the smoke coming out from under the hood. “No!”
“Sorry! Sorry, I’m going to have to pull over!” he said as he swerved onto the shoulder of the road and set the car into park before quickly jumping out. I watched as he waved away the gray smoke that was rising with his coat before he used it to lift the hood. In doing so the smoke spilled into the car.
“Ugh!” I coughed and just as I climbed out the car my phone rang. “H…Hello?”
“Esther? Are you okay?”
“No, I am not okay, Grandpa.” I coughed again as I walked further away from the car. “Where in the world did you send me to, Grandpa? I think this place hates me! It was supposed to take four hours…and yet here I am seven hours…seven and half hours later still trying to get there! Why? Because my taxi broke down right in front of a lake. Not to mention I haven’t eaten anything today. My head feels like it’s about to split in two. And my cellphone reception keeps going in and out.”
I took a deep breath. “I am and it’s not helping.”
Sighing I did as he said.
“One more time, and this time turn to your right.”
“My right?” I turned. “What am I’m I supposed to be seeing?”
“I don’t know, I’ve never been to Montana,” he replied with a snicker.
“I’ve never been but I’ve heard it’s beautiful. Is it?”
This time I knew what he was trying to do and it was working. How could it not when I really stopped to admire the nature around me. “It really is, Grandpa. Kinda feels like I stepped into one of Henry David Thoreau’s novels.”
Of course he’d ask that. Thinking about it as I walked down the trail that sloped towards the water I recited a quote for him so that he’d know which book I was referring to—“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
“Walden.” He sighed happily. “I should reread that one.”
“Me too. I guess it will make more sense when I’m actually in the wild and not on a rooftop in some major city like London.” I teased.
“I’m not sure if you’re trying to guilt me or just sulking, meanwhile I’ve sent you to spend some time with your favorite author.”
“And I’m excited…but on the other hand, finding out your favorite author is an asshole isn’t the greatest feeling in the world.”
“Sorry. Finding out that your favorite author is a jerk…isn’t the greatest feeling in the world.”
“Malachi is…” He sighed. “Like I told you before, Malachi is a good person with—”
“With a bad past.” I finished for him. “I know. I do run his fansite.” Meaning I knew his biography…though it was short. He was born in St. James Parish, Louisiana on November 2nd, thirty years ago tomorrow. He lived there until he was nine, when his mother packed up the family car and moved to New York with the hopes of breaking into Broadway. It wasn’t until a year later, that she met my grandfather at a casting call for Les Misérables, however instead of gaining a role as one of the extras, Grandpa cast her as Fantine. One of the biggest shows of all time, with a big name director, along with dozens of people thinking she was undeserving, must have been the reason why she cracked under the pressure. The night of the show she got drunk, and without leaving him any choice, he kicked her off the set. The next morning she committed suicide. Grandpa had been looking out for Malachi ever since. I’m sure he knew it wasn’t his fault, but Grandpa still couldn’t walk away from it. After that, Malachi’s life was pretty much standard. He went to Princeton on a scholarship, studied English and Art History, and published his first novel a month before graduation which was a runaway bestseller. After that he’d basically dropped off the face of the earth until his accident last week.
“Huh?” I shook my head clear and turned back around towards the slope. “Sorry I got lost in my thoughts for a moment. I’m so tired and this damn taxi…” I glanced to my right and then my left. No. No way. “YOU’VE GOT TO BE KIDDING ME!” I screamed.
“What? What is it?”
“The taxi’s gone!”
“What do you mean gone?”
“I mean gone!” I screamed as I stood on the main road and looked back the way we came. “As in not here! As in I’m in the middle of nowhere without my bags or my wallet! I don’t even have a jacket! GRANDPA!”
He said nothing. Not nothing like he couldn’t believe it nothing, but nothing as in my phone service was gone!
Kicking the air and jumping in rage I turned around and of course because I was obviously cursed, there was not a single car in sight. I fought back the panic that was rising in my soul as I tried to think. I wasn’t sure what else to do but think.
“Okay Esther, breathe.” I coached myself while fanning fresh air to my nose. “That’s right, keep breathing…keep breathing. You’re okay. You’re okay. I mean it feels like the setup of a Stephen King novel, but come on, I’m sure the murder rate is much higher in New York.” I paused. Was I trying to make myself feel better or worse? Whatever the murder rate was it didn’t matter if you were the person being freakin’ murdered!
“Why did I fall asleep?” I didn’t even know how far anything was from here! But chances were there was town close by. Going back was safer.
No. For some reason it didn’t feel right to turn back. I wasn’t far from the house. I can make it.
I wasn’t sure where the confidence came from or why I thought I had the ability to navigate myself to someone’s house. I mean the closest I’d been to the woods was Central Park! “Ugh! That’s kinda of depressing.” I muttered to myself. Staring back at the lake I hoped my service would kick back in as I walked back down the slope to the spot that I was in before. However, not even the signal bar service came up. Just the words No Service as if were mocking me.
“Not all those who wander are lost,” I whispered to myself as I walked closer to the lake. I wasn’t sure if walking on the road was the best choice…especially after reading Hitchhikers by Teddy Grey.
The sun was setting which meant that anybody who’d been fishing around the lake would be going home. So they’d have to come ashore, right? And most houses would be right off the lake, right? I mean why live by the lake if you didn’t want to see the lake…
I don’t know how long I walked but I saw no house, no boat or fisherman, and eventually no sun. Instead of looking for help I walked over to the rocks by lake and sat down.
I muttered to myself, “Lieber Falls, I don’t feel very welcome right now.”
“Is she there?!”
I didn’t know what to say to him other than the truth. “No.”
“Alfred, I’ll find her alright? Just…just let me call you back.” I hung up quickly. I didn’t like hearing him like that. The panic and fear. He’d always been levelheaded and I needed him to stay like that. Leaning forward to grab the handlebar of my motorcycle I was just about to kick off when I saw a ripple on the surface of the water. Then something small, too small for me to see in the darkness of the night, bounced off the top of it. It wouldn’t have been odd if it weren’t for that it kept happening over and over again. It was a man-made like so other than the minor waves brought by the wind. The ripples could only be done by someone or thing falling inside.
Leaning back, I dismounted my bike and placed my helmet on the handle before walking down the slope with the aid of the little flashlight that hung from my keys. The path was clear enough that I could see footprints at the bottom near to the water’s edge. Following them around the side of the waters I didn’t have to call out to see if anyone was there because I heard the singing. It was loud and it wasn’t very good, in fact it was strange…mostly for the song choice.
“I simply must go.” Her voice was high and then dropped to what I guess she thought a man’s voice sounded like. “Baby, it’s cold outside.” And then went up again.
The figure of her, sitting on a rock with her knees drawn up to her chest as she swayed back and forth, and her dark brown hair, which stopped a few inches past her shoulder, swayed with her as she sang the oddest version of Baby, It’s Cold Outside, I’d ever heard.
“Baby, it’s cold outside…”
“It’s not really that cold,” I said as I moved a little closer.
You’d think someone who was described as “scared of her own shadow” and had a tendency to “jump to the wildest conclusions” would be a lot more disturbed that some man she’d never met before was walking up to her. However, she was not, which meant that either her grandfather really didn’t know her well or she had no concept of self-preservation at all. It had to be the latter of the two because she stretched out her legs and stepped into her flats before walking up to me.
Even with the moonlight reflecting off the lake I couldn’t see her until she was close. I’m not sure why, but each step she took felt like it slowed down time until she was finally in front of me. The smile on her face was so wide and so genuine it threw me off. Her brown eyes glazed over but she held back her tears.
“I knew Grandpa would send you. Hi, Malachi. Sorry I’m so late…” And just like that she collapsed and I instinctively reached out to catch her.
Did this woman really just faint?
“Zzzz.” She snored softly giving me my answer…Mid-sentence, while standing, she’d fallen asleep. I wasn’t sure if I should be amazed or annoyed, so I went with both.
“Aye.” I shook her but she didn’t even budge. “If you think I’m the type of man who will leave my bike on the road to carry you through the forest, you’re mistaken.”
I tried again. I tried everything and she still didn’t budge. If it weren’t for the snoring, I would have thought she was dead.
“If anything happens to that bike I’m going to be pissed.” I muttered as I lifted Sleeping Beauty up and started to walk.
“You’ve reached Alfred Benjamin Noëlle, leave a message after the…” I hung up and stared at the phone again. That feeling…that feeling I hated…rising in my chest again. It was already morning and he hadn’t answered any of my calls. I couldn’t remember a time when I’d call and he didn’t get back to me within the hour no matter the time of day. Especially given the circumstances of last night and the fact that he didn’t even know what had become of his beloved granddaughter.
But you’re going to have to get used to this. The rational of part of me thought and yet I found myself redialing the only number in my phone.
“You’ve reached Alfred Benjamin Noëlle, leave a message after the beep…” BEEP!
“Alfred…um…I found her. She’s fine. She’s sleeping…hurry up and answer, you know how I hate…I mean…just call me back.” Hanging up I sat back against the wall of my room and sipped my now cold cup of coffee. I finished the cup before I reached over and turned off the lamp, which wasn’t effective anyway since sunlight was already streaming through the smallest gap between the dark drapes. I contemplated getting up to close them but I didn’t want to get up. Instead, I closed my eyes hoping that I was uncomfortable enough to not dream.
THUD. “Oua… gosh bul-ah!”
My eyes snapped open and I glanced at the wall to my right. What in the hell? That wasn’t even words…followed by the sound of the floorboards creaking as she walked.
“Hello?” she whispered softly.
I rose to my feet as though I were emerging out of a coffin since I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep with her awake and wandering about. Taking a shirt from the floor, I pulled it over my head before I walked into the hall. I expected her to be at the door of the guest room but instead I found her standing at the top of the stairs with her brown hands gripping her pillow as though it were a weapon. Part of me was curious as to how she thought a pillow, out of all the stuff in that room, was going to be her best weapon of defense.
Standing on balls of her bare feet she whispered a little louder, “Hello—”
“Ah!” She screamed and spun around so quickly that all I saw was white as the pillow hit the side of my face so hard I stumbled back as it ripped, sending an explosion of feathers everywhere. “Jesus Christ you scared me!”
I stood there in shock, my jaw aching, while the white feathers fell around us like snow. “I. Scared. You?” I repeated softly at first before losing it as feather nearly entered my mouth. Smacking it away and I stomped closer to her and screamed. “ARE YOU INSANE?!”
Eyes wide she attempted to step back though she didn’t have the space, and as she did, she reeled at the top of the stairs as her body tilted backward. I reached out and grabbed ahold of her wrist but she only managed to drag me along with her. We tumbled once before I was able to clench the wooden railing while she held on to me.
“Are you okay? Are your hands okay?!” she asked when she was able to break free of my arm and sit on the stair.
Pulling myself upright, I bit my tongue and exhaled.
“You’re bleeding.” She moved to reach for my elbow but I stuck my hand out which luckily was the universal sign for STAY BACK!
“Go downstairs. Do not touch anything. Do not go anywhere. Don’t breathe if will cause another disaster.” I hissed out as I rose and walked back upstairs towards my room and slammed the door behind me before I moved to the bed and picked up my phone.
“You’ve reached Alfred Benjamin Noëlle, leave a message after the beep…” BEEP!
“She’s not trouble?! I’ll hardly notice she’s here?!” I hollered into the phone. “Alfred, your granddaughter radiates trouble. If trouble was within a ten-mile radius of her, it would come running until it knocked her over. I notice her. I notice her a lot! Call her and tell her to go somewhere else!”
Hanging up I tossed the phone back onto the sheets. Taking a deep breath and wincing at my scraped elbow I lifted it higher to see. Walking to my bathroom, I ran cold water over it and covered the wound with a clean hand towel before I headed back into my new battlefield. I was worried that if I left her alone for any period of time she’d accidentally start a damn forest fire.
“I deserved that,” she said as she sat on the second-to-last step of the stairs looking out the window. “I mean, I haven’t even been here for even a full day yet and I’ve managed to…oh, where do I start? I missed my flight, flew to the wrong town, got robbed by my taxi driver…” She started to laugh but put her hand over her head. “Sorry! Urgh! But seriously, who does that happen to? From there I got lost in the woods, and now I’ve maimed you.” She glanced over her shoulder up at me with a smile, though it wasn’t the same smile she’d given me last night. This one was forced. She nodded at my elbow “I’m really sorry. I fell off the bed and panicked because I didn’t know where I was…I’m not normally such a klutz, I swear. I’ll talk to my grandfather and—”
“You’re annoying,” I said to her.
She frowned as she rose to her feet. “I’m trying to apologize here!”
“I know which is why you’re annoying,” I said as I sat on the same step she’d just been sitting on. I dabbed my wounded elbow. “You should allow me the courtesy of being annoyed with you for a little longer before apologizing and then making me the asshole who doesn’t want to accept your apology.”
“What kind of logic is that?”
I looked up at her. “My logic. And since this is my house and I’m your client. My logic is the only logic that matters.”
She made a face and eyed me up and down before she sat down beside me. “Esther Noëlle. Translation Editor at Penohxi Publishing House, retiring klutz, persona non grata of Lieber Falls, and creator of Lord Nation online. I’m your biggest fan.”
She stuck her hand, which had about four different rings on each of them, out and I stared at it for a moment then at her.
“If you don’t shake it, I’ll feel super lame and if my defenses are down who knows how much trouble will find me.”
She was right. She was lame.
“Malachi Lord,” I said as I reached out and took her hand, and the moment I did, a pain unlike anything I’d felt before rushed through me. I dropped the towel as my vision blurred and I fell forward.
“Don’t…call 911.” Was what I wanted to say but everything went black as I fell into the past.
Please Remember “Malachi and I” is an original story of J.J. McAvoy, shared on this blog by J.J. McAvoy. Copying, duplicating, printing, publishing in any form of media including web, manipulating, transmitting or reproducing without the prior written permission of J.J.McAvoy is strictly forbidden and would constitute a breach of copyright.