Drew climbs out of the truck and whistles as heat blankets him. Though the drive out was comfortably air-conditioned, sweat mists his forehead in moments. He wipes it away. At least the sloped shoulder where he parked is shaded, though he wonders if the trees on either side only trap the sweltering air. He peers up and down the two-lane road, wary of traffic. There is none. Of course, there wouldn’t be. Evening is coming on, and this is no place to be caught after dark.
He would not be here for anything, save that it’s what Ray wants. Drew doesn’t even think he believes in ghosts, but if it will help his brother forget, he will oblige. For now.
A deep breath, then he plunges into the woods. He ducks under hanging vines, strays from the path to avoid ground still muddy from flooding last month. Dwarf palmettos nod in a breeze. He takes a last look over his shoulder, back at the truck. A single tress of Spanish moss wavers over the cab, gilt by fading sunbeams. He shakes his head and walks onward.
Ray had better be there already, Drew thinks. He doesn’t want to wait. Especially not by the marsh at the path’s end where, Ray told him on the phone this morning, you can see the old Marjorie Rutledge Home where the woman still roams the creekside, searching for lost love. He sighs. The whole thing seems a fool’s errand.
It hasn’t always been like this, Ray’s obsession with the paranormal. Though it’s understandable, considering what he has lost. It’s hard not to worry about him, but Drew calms his thoughts. It’s the first time he’s agreed to meet his brother for one of these insane “investigations,” but then again it’s the first time one of them has been on a forest trail, in pure darkness, in the middle of the sticks. He couldn’t let him go alone.
Why does he have to be the stable one? It’s a role Drew resents. He misses the way things were when they were young, both of them bold and reckless. Yes, it’s been worse since the accident. And no, his brother hasn’t been the same since Julia. But Ray, though older, has forced him to be sober and sane for them both.
Drew jumps as something unseen caresses his face. He laughs: only an orb-weaver’s web, likely the only ghost they will find tonight. A mosquito shrills in his ear, but its voice seems far away. As if the sound itself is a haunting.
Far ahead a flashlight beam waves. He can’t see the marsh yet, but Ray has seen him.
* * *
When blue hour comes the forest cools, though Drew’s body is still damp with sweat and warm with the memory of the sun. Ray trudges beside him now, jittery — from coffee or excitement? Hard to tell. He’s had more late nights in recent months than Drew has ever known him to, so it could be both. On his shoulder a black duffle hangs, their last name Sharpie’d onto a grey strap: Underwood.
Ray stops, stares off to the right where the roots of a fallen pine stretch, hopeless arms that reach in vain for heaven. “There,” he whispers. He leans toward his brother and points. “Straight past that is a shortcut to the best spot to see the house from. We can’t go on the grounds itself; it’s privately owned. Across the creek is the closest we can get.”
“I don’t think we should leave the path,” Drew frowns. “It’s going to be dark in under an hour.”
His brother waves him off. “It’s fine,” he says. “I have flashlights, and GPS if we get lost. Plus, I already came out here yesterday to check things out.”
This is new information. At night, or in daylight? Drew isn’t sure their excursion is entirely legal, since he doesn’t know who owns this land. There were private driveways on the road, but no houses to be seen, not from there at least. And none near the mile where they’ve parked. He shakes his head, imagines what Emma would say if she could see them now. He hopes his worries are pointless.
“Who’s this ghost we’re hunting now?” he asks.
“The Rutledge woman. I told you,” Ray says impatiently.
“Tell me again.”
He sighs. “Fine. Marjorie Rutledge. Lived before the Civil War, couple decades maybe. She had a secret affair with a man from a smaller farm, one of her neighbors I think, who’d just moved in from Beaufort. Her father knew of the man and thought he had slave blood in his veins, though you couldn’t tell by looking at him. So Marjorie kept their love a secret. When her father found out, he said nothing. He had the man sent to the peninsula on an errand, I don’t remember what. But…he didn’t return the night he was supposed to.”
Drew waits, knowing his brother enjoys the drama of these stories. He cringes as a narrow vine (muscadine, he thinks) tangles across his sternum, unseen in the gloaming. He swears below his breath.
Ray doesn’t notice. “So Marjorie, she went out to the creek to watch for him — back then they traveled by boat more than by road. Her lover never came back. She laid in bed for days, claiming to see his image in her fever, begging her forgiveness.”
“And a few days later, she’s dead. I haven’t discovered why yet,” he adds in an afterthought. “Or how.”
Drew peers at his brother, frowns. There is no hint of grief or pain in his voice, talking this way about death. That’s a good thing, isn’t it? But it doesn’t feel right.
Would Ray be so detached if he were to mention Julia? Drew doesn’t think so. His tongue curls to shape the name, as if her memory wants to be given voice. For a moment its will seems irresistible, but he masters it.
The unspoken name still hovers in the air, though. Ray turns sharply and stares at him as if hearing it.
“What was that?” he says at last. Drew shakes his head. Ray does not break eye contact.
He crouches, brings out a small black device with a screen and lots of options. He presses the small red RECORD button.
“I didn’t hear a thing—” Drew answers. Ray hushes him. At last he puts the device away, apparently satisfied.
Not ten minutes later they reach the path again and soon see the darkened form of a house. It looks lonely from where they stand here, across the creek and the plain of golden marsh. White siding, black-shuddered windows; or the kind of green that’s almost black. Brick columns hold a wide upper porch till it spills down in a flight of white stairs. An old plantation home. Late antebellum, maybe. Emma would know.
“Okay,” Ray says. “Let’s see if we can reach her.”
Three small flashlights emerge from his bag. Cheap ones, the kind you can find at a dollar store. He unscrews the handle of each just enough to get the battery loose, and flips the switches on.
“Hello? Is anyone here with us?”
Drew can barely see the flashlights on the forest floor, but he squints down at them anyway, wondering what to expect.
“If you’re here, you can turn on these lights by touching them. Two flashes for yes, one for no.”
Nothing happens. Drew waits, wonders what Ray is thinking. He begins to let his thought drift off, remembering how they’d kayaked creeks like this nearer to home with their parents. How once, when both were so much younger, Ray had rowed so far ahead that Drew could not see them past a bend in the marsh, and for what had seemed like hours (probably no more than minutes) they had sat in stillness watching a white bird stand still as a statue. “Hello, Mr. Egret,” Drew had sung out. The way he’d formed the words sounded like Mister Regret. Drew smiles, remembering how Ray had laughed at that for days after.
A slow yawn sneaks his breath away. He clears his throat, wonders how long they will stay here and wait — when the first bulb ignites. One, then another. The third, for whatever reason, remains off.
He watches, mouth gaping. Ray smiles and nods, reaches again into his bag.
“Are you looking for something?” he asks. “Or maybe someone?”
The light flashes twice.
“Did someone important to you disappear?”
Ray grins, unable to speak. His breathing quickens. He holds another device up and numbers blink on its pale screen. Drew doesn’t know what they are, but the numbers make him shiver.
“Hold this,” his brother commands, and Drew accepts a small camera. He watches a psychedelic array of yellows and oranges and purples form and shift, till he recognizes the shapes of trees and then Ray himself.
“It’s a thermal camera,” Ray sputters. “Measures heat differences. See if you can see anything in it.”
Drew squints into the mess of color as Ray queries on. “Have you been here long? Since the eighteen-hundreds?” Two flashes. Still nothing on the camera but the cold creek and marsh, a stray crab or two climbing in the stalks.
He looks up. The world is dim around them. Dark has fallen; he hasn’t noticed when, but it is here. Something snaps in the marsh grass. He can see movement there, but no shape. His throat closes. A chill creeps over his sweat-damp back.
“Did you die of lost love?” One flash. Ray frowns. “Maybe it’s not her.” Another flash, weaker this time.
“Do you see anything on the camera? Point it at the flashlights.”
There is nothing to see on the screen, not even the now flickering beams.
“Damn,” Ray swears. “Nothing on the EMF, either.”
Nothing else happens after this. Ray makes a few recordings, takes more readings with his instruments. He doesn’t seem disappointed. He tells Drew this is how things usually go. A lot of work and little to show for it. But it’s the hunt that matters, he says.
Drew doesn’t see it. He’s never been a hunter. Nor has Ray, for that matter — not before his girlfriend died and he couldn’t seem to stay still a single hour. He remembers his brother’s face when Julia’s father called him to let him know she was gone. The broken look that had swam in his eyes.
It’s gone now, that look, but something else is in its place. Drew isn’t sure what just yet. This sort of chase, the relentless search his brother is caught up in — something about it bothers Drew. He feels unnerved, but doesn’t know why.
He walks Ray back to his sedan, a hundred feet or so ahead of where his own truck is parked. The road is still empty, but now it looks smaller, more remote. Its own little world in the dark, no street light at all. It’s an intimate loneliness. Does Ray feel it, too?
Ray climbs into his car. “Give you a ride back to your truck?” he asks. Drew shakes his head.
“What’s that?” he asks, catching sight of something red on his brother’s arm. Ray blinks, studies his inner wrist: a small constellation of red mounds.
“Damn bloodsuckers,” he says.
* * *
A phone call wakes him in the morning, a full hour before he’d planned to rise. He throws off sheets raveled around him, grabs the glowing screen, presses the glass to his stubbled cheek. “Hello,” he murmurs.
“Drew? Is that you?”
He sits up, eyes wide and alert. “Emma! I forgot to call yesterday.”
“I knew you would,” her voice creaks in that way he loves. “It’s fine. I had a great time Friday night.” She hesitates. “It’s been too long, Drew.”
He agrees. He thinks of her often. Even when they’re broken up, which is not infrequent, he wonders if she will come back soon. They know each other too well, after all. Good and bad. He winces, catching an angle of sunlight that glares in through his window. It blinds him like her own image would if she were here now, her black hair and olive skin and darkened eyes.
“How did the thing go?” she asks.
“Thing?” He knows what she means, but makes her say it.
“With Ray. The ghost thing.”
“Mm. About what I thought. Tripping through the woods in pitch dark, like a couple of moonshiners.”
Emma snickers. He pictures the tilt of her head, the smile lines that form when she laughs. He can nearly see it.
“I almost wish I’d been there for that,” she says. “I’m glad you went with him. How did he seem?”
He draws a breath to answer, but it sticks in his throat. He isn’t quite sure what to say. He’d seemed like Ray, for one thing — for one of the first times he can remember in a good while. And there’d been a light in his eyes that was new. A light Drew has never seen there before. It pulls at his mind, nagging.
“I mean,” Emma says, “These ghosts of his—”
“There was no ghost, Emma. The cake is a lie.”
She’s silent a moment. He wonders if his tone was harsher than he’d meant. “I’m just worried about him,” she says. “I mean, this isn’t something you just get over. They were made for each other. That’s rare.”
He seems to hear a wistfulness in her voice, one he almost resents. Then resents himself for feeling it. “I am too, babe. But I really think he’s fine. Or will be fine. Give him a while. It’s been, what, a few months? He’s coping with it in his own way.”
“That’s what I’m worried about. He’s not coping. What he’s doing, what y’all were doing — that’s not coping. It’s running away from the world.”
Drew frowns. He knows somehow that she is right, but doesn’t want to admit it. He remembers vividly how alive and present Ray was. Nevertheless. “Maybe,” he allows. “Maybe he is. I’ll talk to him.”
“Drew,” she murmurs. “Just look out for him, is all I’m saying.”
Her words stick in his head the rest of the morning. He wolfs down cold pizza, showers quickly, and sits under the fan on full-hurricane-blast at his computer. Pulls up Google, types:
ghost hunting debunked
172,000 results. He swears.
But Drew is patient. He can’t get this niggling thought out of his head, anyway, nor the memory of last night. He sees lights flashing in his mind’s eye, shakes them out of his head. Did you die of lost love? Have you been here for long?
* * *
An hour later, he’s satisfied. He’d felt unnerved before, but it’s amazing how quickly that fades when you have answers. It all comes down to thermodynamics. Flashlights generate light and heat, heat causes expansion, breaking the circuit and cooling the insides. Cooling causes contraction, which pulls the insides together, forming a circuit again — and on and on. Basic physics. Not ghosts.
His phone vibrates. A text from Ray.
u need 2 c this
Drew stops for a cold-brew on the way, revels as the caffeine enters his bloodstream. He would offer to buy Ray something, but the guy is probably jacked up enough. Traffic slows on the way over. His fingers thrum the wheel, then stop. He stares at them. Is he nervous? He’s never been one for such idle habits. But what is there to be nervous about?
No one answers when he knocks at Ray’s apartment, so he lets himself in. Signs of neglect abound. It hadn’t been this bad when he was last here, a week ago maybe. Books lay stacked or left open, spines up, around the sofa. Empty beer bottles line shelves and tables. A smell wafts out from the kitchen, unwashed dishes, mingling with the vapor from his brother’s e-cig, faint and sickly sweet. He cringes.
“Oh, hey,” Ray stumbles out from the hallway. He seems surprised to see Drew.
“Bit distracted lately?”
“No, no. Just have a lot of things running through my mind.” His eyes flit here and there across the apartment, but if the mess embarrasses him it doesn’t show.
“I know what you mean. I forgot to call Emma yesterday.”
Ray shoots him a look. “Emma Flores? Y’all are back together again?”
“Yeah, we went out Friday night. Didn’t I tell you that?”
His brother seems unsure for a moment. His eyes glaze over, his lips part. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess maybe you did.” He gives a playful smirk, and again he is the same familiar Ray. “Well, good luck to you.”
“Ray,” Drew warns.
“What? I didn’t say a thing.”
Drew sighs. “So. What is it I need to see?”
“Well…hear, actually. Let me pull it up.”
Ray grabs his notebook from the coffee table and turns it on. “Okay, here it is. Listen closely.”
Drew listens. There isn’t much to hear. The notebook’s speaker sings the droning of insects, the faraway rasping of frogs. A breeze whispers, sounding halfway like static. Then Drew hears his own voice. “I didn’t hear a thing—” Then the frantic hiss of his brother.
Ray closes the notebook. “Tell me you heard it.”
“I heard you and me, and some marsh sounds, but…” He shakes his head.
“What? No, no. There’s a voice! I’ll play it again.” He does.
Again Drew shakes his head, shrugs. “I don’t hear any voice but ours, Ray.”
Ray sighs, exasperated. “It’s there. You just have to listen. It says, ‘He will return’.”
Drew sits on the sofa’s arm. His lips purse, and he wonders what to say. “Listen, I’ve been reading about things like this,” he begins. “They have different names for it. Matrixing, apophenia. It’s when the brain imposes order and meaning on something where there isn’t anything there. And there’s something called confirmation bias: when you cling to anything that fits what you expect, but reject anything that doesn’t as irrelevant.”
Ray’s features harden. “You don’t believe me.”
“I don’t hear anything, Ray. I didn’t hear anything that night, either.”
“But you saw—” He screws his eyes closed, touches his temples. “Confirmation bias, you said? Isn’t it possible you’re doing the same thing?”
Drew looks away. He surveys the apartment again, noting an absence amid the disorder. “Where’s your Les Paul?”
He remembers it clearly, the ocean-blue electric guitar his brother had saved for for years, setting aside what he could from late-night coffee shop or bar gigs he’d scraped together, long before his graveyard shift job at the Vendue as night auditor. Drew had been one of the few to see him play it the first time. He and Julia and Emma. Normally it hung over the mantle, between a bookshelf and a potted cactus, but the space was empty now. It had the air of a mural that had been painted over and forgotten.
“Sold it,” Ray grunts. “How else do you think I can afford all this equipment?”
It feels like a punch in the gut. Drew’s eyes flutter closed and he draws a deep breath, wishing this wasn’t happening. He glances at the mantle again, studies a photo of Ray and Julia smiling, her small hand pressed against his chest. Drew stands.
“I’m sorry, Ray,” he murmurs. “I’m not going to help you with this anymore. I can’t…I just can’t do this.”
Ray’s gaze rises toward his brother, pulling Drew’s own attention back to him. Neither speak, but neither have to. A long span of time slips by before Drew takes the first step away, clunky and awkward in his ears, and leaves his brother alone.
* * *
He feels guilty as soon as he leaves, but there’s no help for that. Ray is set on a course he cannot stop, is living in a world he cannot reach. Nor had he ever had much luck in swaying his brother’s mind. When Ray is set on something, you either climb aboard or jump ship.
It’s fine, he tells himself. This ghost thing will lose its appeal and he’ll run out of steam eventually. And when he does, I’ll be there.
He shakes the thought from his head, turns on the radio. Traffic is heavy, more than usual. It’s going to be a long drive home.
For the next week or so he passes by Ray’s apartment when he can, and monitors his social media, which tends to be inactive. This isn’t unusual. Ray is more concerned with living life than documenting it, a trait Drew both admires and envies. Again he asks himself: why does he get to be impulsive, the irrepressible free spirit? Why should I color inside the lines just because he never can?
Such thoughts do not erase his guilt, nor ease his concern.
And they only grow when he speaks of Ray to Emma on Thursday night in his car, on their way to tacos at Santi’s.
“I saw him at the library yesterday,” he says, “but he didn’t even acknowledge my wave. He looked right through me. I don’t think he even saw me.”
Emma smiles ruefully. “I’m sure he’s just in his own head,” she says.
“He’s been that way more and more. I don’t know, Em. Do you think I was wrong? Maybe I should fight harder for him, help him with whatever he needs me for.”
She studies him as his Nissan slows for a red light. “You’re his brother,” she says. “If you don’t stick close to him, who will?”
Drew doesn’t respond. His brow furrows, laden with the weight of his thoughts. “He’s never been like this. Unfocused, imbalanced.”
“No. Not before Julia. They were so happy.”
“And healthy. At the library, he was covered in bites again, more than last time. I think he’s been going back out into the woods without me.”
Emma is silent at this. It feels like she wants to speak, but no words come.
“Don’t worry,” he rushes, “I won’t let it happen again.”
“Drew, I’m not sure I want you out there, either. You could contract zika, either one of you. There’s been what, forty-some cases in the state this year? Up in Myrtle, then in Florence, even as far as the Upstate. It’s definitely spreading.”
Drew makes the turn onto Meeting. They are nearly there. He smiles. “Aww, that’s sweet, babe, but I don’t think you need to worry about that. It’s just a mild flu.”
“Unless we’re pregnant.”
He brakes, harder than he needs to, as they pull into a parking spot at the restaurant. He searches her face, half stunned. “A-are you?”
“No,” she shakes her head. “But what if we wanted to?”
She bites her lip. Thinks for a long time.
“Babe, I want to tell you something. Something I’ve never told anyone else. I don’t think even Ray knows. I don’t think she had the chance to tell him.”
He frowns, confused. “Okay.”
“Julia… When she died on that highway, she…” Emma swallows. “Drew, Julia was pregnant.”
* * *
It takes Drew a few days to find some pretext to visit again. In the end, he can’t think of one, and it is Ray who comes to him.
“Hey,” Drew greets his brother, finding him parked by his truck in the lot outside work. “I didn’t expect to see you any time soon.”
“You’re my brother,” Ray smiles faintly. “I’m not going to cut you off just because you ditched me. Besides, I need you out there. We have to go again — out to the marsh.”
Drew laughs, but feels no humor.
“Listen, I know we don’t see eye-to-eye on everything. But I’ve taken a page from your book. I’ve done some research. And I’ve found something.”
“You’ve found something,” he repeats dumbly.
Ray smiles. Drew can see the glow in his eyes even behind the Aviators. “A connection. Something real. It’s even documented.”
Drew is intrigued. He’s certain whatever his brother has dug up won’t convince him, but he shrugs. “Okay, let’s see it.”
Ray fishes a library book from the passenger side of his car, an old cloth-bound green tome with thoroughly yellowed pages and crabbed type. He flips through, finds the gas station receipt he’d used as a bookmark, and points halfway down the left-hand page. “Here,” he taps the book and hands it to Drew, who reads:
Joseph’s letters show high ambition for his daughter’s fortunes, and a keen insight into her worth as a bride. His intention was to marry her to a neighboring planter family, the Jenkinses, whose holdings would have doubled the estate he’d inherited from his father, Branford Rutledge. Tragically, Marjorie died of malaria when she was sixteen years old, just before the family was to leave for their summer house in the pine forests to the north.
Drew reads on, but finds no further mention of Marjorie Rutledge. He sighs. “I’m not going to guess, Ray. What the hell does this prove?”
Ray shakes his head, grins. “She died of malaria,” he says. He waits a moment. “Don’t you see? It was her! The ghost. I thought it wasn’t, since she said she didn’t die of lost love. One flash when I asked, remember? But she didn’t. She was telling us the truth the whole time.”
“Telling us?” Drew’s eyebrow raises. “Ray, that’s a stretch.”
“Okay, maybe, but you saw. You were there, Drew. You saw.”
“Ray, I didn’t see anything. You know I don’t really believe—”
“Don’t believe what?” There is a manic look in his eyes.
Drew throws up his hands. He doesn’t want to do this a second time. It’s not why he’s here, having this conversation when he could have been halfway home by now. No, he’s here for Ray.
He thinks: Malaria, huh? And now we have zika. With all the ways people have advanced in the centuries since Marjorie’s death, mosquitoes are still wreaking havoc on us. Only zika won’t kill you.
“You want to go out there again?” he asks. “Okay. But this time we’re bringing bug spray.”
* * *
They ride together this time, in Drew’s truck, with all of Ray’s things in the back of the cab. There is more traffic today, and the hour is earlier. It’s a concession Ray has made. “There’s no reason,” Drew had argued some days before, “why ghosts would be more active at night. And if they’re shadowy and pale like people say, why would you look when there’s no light to see by?”
Ray can see the reason in this. He sits back, lost in the hypnotic sight of tree after tree slipping by as they drive the narrow road. Drew glances at him, wonders.
Should he tell Ray? Emma didn’t say not to. Surely he has a right to know.
Then again, the loss of Julia has been painful enough. Is it right to add to Ray’s grief with the loss of his child as well?
Why is it that Ray is obsessed with ghosts? With a start, he realizes he has never stopped to ask himself the question. Not to find proof of an afterlife, he thinks. Ray has faith in that already, though he seldom talks about it. It has to be something else. Something more.
Maybe, he thinks, maybe ghosts linger (if they do) not because they cannot let go of this world, but because this world cannot let go of them.
They arrive at the path, and Drew parks his truck beneath the oaks again. Their feet make half-hearted sounds as they crush dead leaves and mats of orange needles. The air all but clings to them, full of damp fingers whose heat they can feel in their skin. They pass a palmetto, shaded and mournful, its trunk scarred.
Ray glances at him with appraising eyes and Drew smiles, reassuring him. Whatever it is he believes or doesn’t believe in, he believes in his brother. Or wants to. Is he doing the wrong thing? Is he helping at all, being here?
A black smear drifts across his face, and he ducks. He looks again. A mosquito, bigger than the kind he’s used to seeing. He’s heard of them before, though he’s never seen one, these zebra-striped, feather-legged things. They’re subtle and mean. And relentless.
Except when Off is part of the equation. He smirks as he sprays and the insect falls away.
They are quiet as they make their way to the marsh. Ray stops every now and then, checks his EMF detector, makes a note in his Moleskine. Drew watches him. He doesn’t know what to say, how to contribute. He’s just happy, he realizes, to be here with his brother. To not have lost him when Ray has lost so much.
The marsh lies close ahead, brimming with scents of mud and silt and the effluence of life. The shrimp are snapping in the water. Frogs sing unknowable songs in their alien voices. Ray takes his voice recorder out, switches it on.
“Are you here?” he begins. The air is stilted, silent.
“Marjorie,” Ray tries again. “We’re waiting for you. We’re here to listen if you want to talk.”
The forest seems hollow, no hint of any presence. Drew yawns.
Then a motion catches his eye. At first he can’t see it. The air itself seems to move, but it isn’t the air, it’s a cloud of insects. Mosquitos. They gather in the space between Drew and Ray and take on a shape, a flowing, billowy shape, a figure half forgotten by the past. They hover there, holding their form. An arm swarms upward and gestures to Ray, who has just spotted it.
His mouth opens, wordless. He steps toward the shape. A single mosquito flees the beckoning finger, lands on his outstretched hand. Drew is just close enough to see it bite him, then fly away.
The swarm wavers. Ray steps closer. A breeze flits under the shade of the live oaks and strokes Drew’s brow. It seems to make the shape’s long hair flutter.
“Marjorie,” Ray whispers.
“Ray,” Drew warns. “Listen to me.”
The shape trembles again, then scatters. The insects vanish into the forest, drunk with their burdens of blood. “No,” Ray calls after them. “Marjorie. Don’t leave!”
Drew wants to reach out, to place his hand on his brother’s shoulder, but the shoulder is gone.
“Ray! Ray, no! Stop!”
His brother’s footsteps clatter off into the woods, ringing in Drew’s ears. And somehow Drew cannot move.
Then he does. He runs after, spotting a flash of his brother’s orange shirt. His pace quickens. He can see motion now, ahead through the press of pines and palms, but no color. He is catching up, though. “Ray!” he shouts. “Stay with me! Ray, wait!”
Drew dodges a low-hanging oak branch, leaps over a ditch dulled with standing water. He halts. This is it. The place where Ray had been. He should be here.
Trees surround him. Trees and orb weavers and the slow clambering of possums. But Ray is gone.
“Ray!” he gives a mournful shout.
Drew shivers with energy, and with something else as well. He is surprised at how cool the afternoon has grown. The heat has broken, giving way to that relief and resignation that come with the Lowcountry autumn. A release of tension. He stops, calls again after his brother. “Ray!” There is no answer.
Evening is falling. The woods are empty, hushed. The sky is clear of clouds, but the waning moon is faint as it rises.