In honor of returning to one of my favorite places in the world, I want to introduce readers to my main source of Pacific Northwest inspiration, Jeremy Jeziorski. In addition to being an amazing photographer, Jeremy is one of my oldest friend and has been hit hard by the pandemic. It’s hard to photograph large social gatherings when there aren’t any. However, his prints are available online for purchase. I’ll be adding them to story-links for this chapter.
Now, here’s your story.
It wasn’t a beach you swam at, even if the weather co-operated. And if the wind, rain, and fog ever did let up, the water would shock the breath from you no matter the time of year. Chelsea wasn’t there to swim though.
She had asked for this meeting at the beach for the ocean itself. The salt and sound; the glory of being at the place where land became water. She tossed the blue rubber ball for her dog, smiling as Bentley scattered sea gulls.
After a while she checked her watch. Her meeting had started five minutes ago.
I hate the West Coast.
She snorted a laugh as the wind tugged at the fringe on her duster. Her father, the kickboxing CFO, had hated people who couldn’t manage their time or fix their own cars. That hatred had been his mantra when dealing with certain investors.
She, herself, didn’t mind. She had nowhere else to be.
Eventually, a tall woman walked out of the thinning mist. Chelsea cataloged her long, black hair, ripped jeans, and flannel shirt under the heavy sweater.
She smiled easily and held out her hand. “Chelsea Childling?”
Chelsea nodded, causing her loose knit cap to bounce about her ears. “You must be Clara Ho.” She didn’t take Clara’s hand. Instead, she called over Bentley.
Blue ball glistening with drool, the huge mutt rushed over, tail waving. Clara transferred her gesture to Bentley, who sat and shook.
Clara scratched at his ears despite turning back to Chelsea. “You ever hunt fairies before?”
A worried look flashed across the woman’s face. “You good with a gun?”
“Nope.” Chelsea shifted on the rock, suddenly uneasy as well. “I shot a rifle once or twice, but that’s about it.”
Clara shook her head, loose black hair blowing in the wind. “I don’t have any experience with hand guns either. That’s the fastest way to kill fairies.”
“Oh.” Unease drifted towards stress. “Any other options?”
“Well…” Clara flinched. “Honestly, I’m not sure. I’m—”
“New at this?” Chelsea flashed a grin. “Me too.” She held out her hand, and Bentley dropped the slimy, sandy ball on it. Chelsea chucked it towards the waves. “The closet haunt is Ocean Shores, right?”
Distaste settled over Clara’s face. “Yeah.”
“What’s up with the haunt?”
Clara folded her arms over her chest. “It’s not the haunt so much as the town.”
Chelsea’s eyes opened wide, and she sat up straight, smiling.
“Oh, no.” Clara rolled her eyes. “You’re a tourist.”
“Damn right.” Chelsea adjusted her black leather duster, making the fringe on her arms sway. “South Dakota, at a roadside attraction.” She stuck out her arms, showing the matching copper bangles. “Montana, at a diner.”
A laugh escaped Clara, interrupting the show. “Well, you’ll love Ocean Shores. There’s a restaurant where the doors are in a giant shark mouth.”
“I am so in.” Chelsea glanced around. Bentley was coming back with his ball. “You need a ride?”
Clara paused. “Actually, yeah.” A smudge of color stained her face. “I’m a little low on gas money.”
Which is why you need this job, against a monster you don’t know have the means to fight.
The drive down the coast gave a little view of the shore. The fog-laden trees blocked the ocean. Chelsea was okay with that. These huge trees gave the feeling of being ancient, and despite the chill that still hung in the air, they were a riot of green.
The beach returned quickly enough. Ocean Shores was definitely Chelsea’s kind of town. Everything was ocean-themed, right down to the lawyers and real estate agents. Bigfoot held a surfboard outside of a souvenir shop. Sand and fake palm trees dotted the town instead of weeds.
Even hunters couldn’t resist the pull. The Ocean Shores haunt was a surfer’s dream house. Facing the beach, a fire pit under the deck, festooned with buoys and netting, it didn’t seem out of place on the lonely road.
But the folks under the porch all eyed her car with a certain wariness that she recognized. The cheap, sturdy clothes were another clue. As were the partially hidden knives and axes.
The camping gear and kayaks that lay scattered about probably disguised this place for most. But hunters knew their own. Chelsea allowed the suspicion to roll off her and forced a smile. “How does someone get a drink around here?”
Clara waved at the fire. “Hey, Bill.”
A man with long, gray-streaked dark hair and round glasses gestured to them. “Come, warm up. Beer is in the cooler.” He shook Clara’s hand. “Good to see you, again.”
The crowd relaxed. Bill turned his smile to Chelsea. “You can bring your dog if you want.”
“Thanks.” She rushed over and let Bentley out. He immediately made the rounds, sniffing and getting pets. Chelsea kept one eye on him. Bentley was an expert beggar who could get food from even the most hardened hunter.
Beside the cooler was a large jar with a sign: “Beer and food aren’t free. Help keep this place open.” She dropped a twenty into the jar and grabbed two beers.
Chelsea handed one to Clara and plopped down on a driftwood log by the fire. “So we need some help with fairies.”
Bill sat up fast. “Fairies? I hadn’t heard about fairies.”
Clara nodded quickly. “Ocean fairies.”
“Ocean fairies?” Chelsea flashed her new partner a glare. “How were we gonna use guns against ocean fairies?”
For a long moment only the crashing ocean and crackling fire had voices. Then a snicker came from the right. Smiles ringed the group, but nobody laughed out loud.
Bill cleared his throat. “Ocean fairies. That’s a rough one. Where were they spotted?”
Clara swallowed, her face glowing. “Up north, about an hour.”
He rubbed at his stubbly chin. “We’ll have to take the boat out.”
An older woman nodded. “Those two, us, and one more?”
“Bentley’s coming too.” Chelsea rolled her eyes as they opened their mouths. “If I try to leave him behind, he’ll just come after me. He’ll end up on that boat.” Fear thickened her voice as she scratched at his neck. “I’d rather he didn’t, believe me, but I haven’t been able to stop him yet.”
The woman smiled. “We have a dog safety vest. It might fit him. I’m Mila, by the way.” Her smile warmed her wind and sun-burnt face. “But unless he’s smart enough to wield a harpoon, we’ll need a fifth.”
“I’m free tomorrow.” A young man folded his arms over his chest, dark hair buzzed short. “And I’ve done some deep sea fishing.”
“That’s five. Thank you, Gene.” Bill put his arm around Mila. “Okay, we’ll plan tomorrow. Tonight, eat up and sleep well.”
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