“Reminds me of a bit of bad happenin’s goin’ on a decade ago.”
Lou Nolan used to be a married man. He used to be a sheriff too. But his wife had passed and he had retired. It didn’t take anything away from the man. In a way, it added a lot. She could see his strength. She could feel his loss when he spoke.
Lou was a beautiful man on the inside and that’s why she aged backwards a little bit every moment she spent with him.
They would occasionally meet like this at Perks coffee shop in Hendersonville just right off of I-26. She would sometimes go there around ten in the morning and wait an hour or more just to see if he’d stop by. Lou would always stop there around that time, but it wasn’t every morning. He assumed it was simply part of her routine. But the truth was Gloria didn’t like coffee. She liked Lou. Enough to order a decaf and sip on it and wait.
On this morning after the incident with their dog, Gloria had waited and finally seen him coming through the door. He gave her a nod and ordered his coffee, then walked over by her to sit down. Lou never sat at her table but at a nearby one. Maybe that felt too intimate. He knew she was married, but it wasn’t like they were twenty-somethings connecting in a coffee shop flirting and hoping this might lead to something else.
This was what she wanted. What she sometimes believed she needed.
Someone there to smile and ask how I’m doing.
“What happened a decade ago?” she asked Lou as the bitter taste of the coffee seemed to cling to her gums.
Lou usually always kept his eyes on her—one of the many things about him she liked—but for a moment he glanced down as if to think about the answer.
“You don’t want to know, to be honest,” he said to her. “Trust me.”
Now she really wanted to know.
“Bad things in a big house,” Lou said. “There was some wealthy nutcase who owned a lodge not too far from here—called Edge Hill—and a missionary family ended up moving into it. The thing was haunted. Cursed. Full of demons. Like real bonafide demons. And I didn’t even believe in them. Not until I saw everything that happened.”
A cold seemed to settle over her. Maybe it was just her imagination.
“What happened to them?” she asked.
“They’re lucky to be alive. ‘Specially their young boy. They all almost died on that mountain.”
“But they made it.”
Lou nodded. “Yeah. But there were things—weird things—things like your dog. Things I ain’t never seen before. But now—anytime I see or hear about something weird like that, I just realize that there’s black far more black in this world than I ever used to imagine.”
“You think this is connected?” she asked.
“Nah,” Lou said. “But evil is evil. A mass murderer gets caught and shares a quote from Hitler. Are they related? No. But evil’s evil. It’s always there.”
The statement sounded out of character to good ole’ Lou, the guy who liked to ask her questions and listen to her answers.
“I know that probably doesn’t make sense,” he said, probably looking at her expression. “Listen, do you want me to come by your house?”
Her answer was a bit too quick.
“Jim doesn’t know, does he?”
Gloria shook his head.
“Okay. But have you seen anything else strange or different?”
“No,” she said.
Unless it’s my mind you’re talking about.
“I never thought I’d see and hear about some of the things that I did. I almost stopped being a cop. I’d had enough. But I stuck it through until retirement. Eventually I told the Devil he wasn’t going to get the best of me.”
“You think this is related to the Devil?” Gloria asked.
He hadn’t even waited to respond.
“You’re sounding like my husband,” she told him.
Sometimes it felt better to use that expression than saying Jim’s name out loud.
“People are messed up these days, Gloria. You guys need to be careful, okay?”
The wrinkles under his eyes looked friendly and safe. He always acted like he’d never stop listening to her. He looked at her and didn’t look away.
Jim had stopped looking. She knew why.
The girl her husband had fallen in love with was gone.
But she’s still here deep down inside and she’s still just as fragile and insecure as she ever was.
Jim used to wrap himself around her and tell her how beautiful she was and how he’d love her until the world ended.
The world was still there. But Jim’s love wasn’t. Not anymore.
“We’ll be careful,” Gloria told the former sheriff.
“That missionary-the father—said the same sort of thing. Right before all hell broke loose in that house.”