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A Spirited Delusion

Chapter One

My eyes fluttered shut as I let go of the last bit of tension in my body and listened to the velvety voice of Georgina, my hypnotist.

“Picture a beautiful staircase,” she said. “The banister is smooth and polished. You put your hand on it and feel safe and secure. As you go down the stairs, you become more relaxed and comfortable.”

Following her instructions, I visualized a staircase. Step-by-step, my limbs grew heavy as I descended.

“In front of you is a door,” she said in a tone that purred. “On the other side are the answers you’re looking for.”

I hope so. The recliner made it easy to relax. Georgina had even provided a blanket, so I felt warm and cozy. I pictured a door, sunshine yellow, on a beach.

“Take a deep breath and go through the doorway.” Georgina paused.

The warm sand pressed between my toes as I moved forward into my imaginary world.

“You’ve now entered a place where dreams and reality blend together. You are even more relaxed here.”

Dreams and reality blend together. That notion made me uneasy. I tried not to think too much about what it might mean, considering my past. I’d learned, but not firsthand thankfully, that dreams could be doorways into other worlds, an experience I did not covet. Today, I was looking for a specific answer, so I pushed everything else from my mind and listened to my therapist.

Inside my head, a scene formed, a misty beach where I could hardly make out the horizon over the water. To my left, the rising sun cast a pink hazy glow.

“Think back to the dream you want to remember,” she said. “Now, picture yourself inside that dream. Feel yourself there.”

I exhaled slowly and recalled Georgina’s promise that this dream-recall-hypnosis was utterly safe because the dream I’d had three nights ago had been more like a nightmare. Of course, it was safe, I told myself, but doubt still niggled me. Just because Brielle, my twin from a parallel world, crossed into my life when she dreamed, didn’t mean I was traveling the galaxies when I hit the pillow at night. And just because Brielle could physically interact with things in my life didn’t mean I could do the same. It didn’t mean I’d done damage in some other universe.

I just had to be sure.

Since I was trying to confirm that I didn’t dream-travel to parallel worlds, I made myself step inside the memory of the dream I’d had three nights ago. It might be the only way to get it out of my head. I’d never had a dream like that—so real and shocking. I hadn’t been able to concentrate on anything else since.

It’s okay. Step into the dream.

“Think about where you are, what you see, feel, and smell,” Georgina said. “If you like, you can tell me about it or just experience it quietly.”

I hadn’t told her any specifics, just that the dream had unsettled me. I didn’t want to share details and open the door for a conversation about my paranormal life. “It’s too misty for me to see much of anything.”

“That’s okay. Try walking through the mist. Take your time. Some images might become clearer after our session.”

I pictured myself moving forward, walking along the beach, breathing in the moist air and feeling a cool vapor settle on my arms. The sky lightened, but the clouds remained, and the wind picked up as if a storm was coming. A gust blew over my face, carrying the scent of algae and ruffling my hair. Maybe because it had been unseasonably cold that spring, I thought about November gales when the fiery Lake Superior drew award-winning photographers to catch the unpredictable storms some people called witches.

Don’t think about witches.

“You recall your dream in great detail,” Georgina prompted, which seemed true.

A gull’s scream cut across the water. At least I thought it was a gull. Was it?

“I think I see something,” I said, moving toward a dark shape on the shore. Was I getting closer to the horrible murder I’d seen in my dream?

My shoulders tensed. I took a deep breath and willed myself to relax on the exhale. Since this was a dream vision, it was possible that whatever was up ahead still wouldn’t make sense.

Or maybe everything would be obvious.

I braced myself and recalled what I’d learned—that dreams about murder were symbolic and might represent my aggression or anger toward someone. If that was true, and since I hadn’t seen the face of the murdered person, I didn’t know who was the recipient of my anger. I couldn’t think of anyone I was that furious at and certainly no one I wished dead. Not even my cheating ex-husband, who I hardly thought about anymore. So why would I dream such a horrible thing?

I wasn’t even positive I’d been the killer in the dream. Maybe I’d just been seeing things up close. That was the question haunting me, so I wanted a better look at the hands of the murderer to know for sure.

“Move toward whatever it is so you can have a look.” Georgina’s voice seemed far away. “Remember, nothing can hurt you. You’re just a spectator.”

A good thing to keep in mind. I moved closer to the large, dark object lying half on the beach and half in the water. The mist lifted, revealing a rowboat. A narrow one, perhaps used for racing. The bow was caught in the branches of a fallen tree as if the boat had drifted to shore. It looked expensive. Gleaming wood floor, seats, and gunwales. But where were the oars? Who would abandon a boat like this?

“I’ve come across a boat, but that’s all I see.” I scanned the beach, looking for the owner, but no one was nearby. At the end of the cove, off in the distance, a piece of the land jutted out like a long, green finger. For a moment, I wasn’t sure I wanted to find the person who owned this boat. But avoiding the issue wouldn’t do any good. The whole point was to learn who’d been on this beach. And this hypnotism seemed to work, so I’d better look around.

“This place is familiar,” I said, recognizing the shape of the sheltered cove. “I think I’ve been here before, but not recently.” The cove wasn’t the one near my café in Bookend Bay, and it wasn’t at Beach Meadows, in the park where I’d lived last summer. I knew those beaches like the back of my hand. I cringed at the thought of that cliché, praying I’d not see the backs of my hands forcing anyone under the water in this dream world.

“Don’t overthink,” Georgina said. “Allow yourself to sink deeper. You may even feel a sense of excitement.”

I don’t know if I’d call what I was feeling excitement. More like trepidation. “Okay,” I said, unfurling my fingers. I looked inside the boat and realized everything was wet. No wonder the wood was gleaming.

As I leaned over to peer at the water sitting in the bottom, a shadow shape formed, reflecting off the surface as the sky lightened. Startled, I flinched. The figure flinched, too. I swallowed. Holy cow.

It was me, I realized, with relief. Just to be safe, I looked behind me. Nothing.

“You look startled, Quinn. What are you seeing?”

I let out my breath. “Nothing, just my own reflection.”

Georgina said something else, but I didn’t pay attention. I was starting to find her voice a distraction. She was pulling me out of this place. I stepped over the tree and walked farther down the shoreline, stepping around grasses and over driftwood. A flash of orange caught my eye. There, in the bushes, something caught on a branch.

I moved closer to see what it was.

A glove, with a thick stripe of orange across the back. It looked large, bigger than what I would wear. I’d seen these gloves before. My heart started to pound.

The gull cried again, although maybe it wasn’t the gull at all. Maybe the cry came from my own throat.

The nightmare came back to me. This glove had pressed the back of someone’s head under the water. Held them there.

My own hands were gripping the arm of the recliner. I cried out.

“Quinn, it’s time for you to return to this room,” Georgina said from a distance. “Feel yourself coming back into your body.”

I focused on her voice.

“I’m going to count to five and with every number, you will feel more and more relaxed. When I reach five, you’ll feel at peace and happy. You’ll remember what you saw, but it won’t upset you. One…”

As I concentrated on each number, it was as if I was swimming out of the dream world and surfacing into the chair in Georgina’s office.

“Begin to stretch slowly, then open your eyes. You’re feeling happy and refreshed,” she said cheerfully.

The pull of my back muscles as I stretched was grounding. I opened my eyes, feeling calm and present in the room.

“Good. You’re back.” Georgina leaned forward in her chair, her ruby lips lifted in a reassuring smile. “You looked stressed, so I thought it best to end the session. I hope you don’t mind my bringing you back. How are you feeling?”

“I feel fine, thank you, and it’s not a problem that you ended the session. I’m going to let things resonate, but I think this was a productive experience. Thank you, again, Georgina.”

I moved the chair out of its reclined position and stood. Surprisingly, the shock and fear I’d felt a minute ago were completely gone. A burden lifted. The glove I’d seen with the orange stripe did not belong to me. I was confident I was not the actor in some parallel existence. Relief washed over me.

As I left Georgina’s office and no longer felt like I’d been dropped into a scene from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, it suddenly seemed preposterous that I’d flooded my thoughts with the possibility I’d murdered someone in another universe. Just because my life was The Twilight Zone, and I spoke to ghosts and had a twin who most people couldn’t see, didn’t mean my dreams were real-life events. It was a dream—a random, albeit macabre, synaptic occurrence that had no more truth to it than the dream I’d had last week that my cat Oreo could fly. True, he had the leaping capacity of a cougar, but so far he hadn’t sprouted wings.

I slipped into my truck and headed back to my café, Break Thyme. It wasn’t far, about ten minutes. Georgina’s office was on the other side of the Malia River, which ran through Bookend Bay. I used to own a house on the river, but thankfully it had sold last summer. I’d worried it would never sell and would always be known as the house where my tenant was murdered. Geez, no wonder I was dreaming of murder. Thanks to a newspaper article in the Bookend Bay Bugle, even the townsfolk were starting to call me and my best friend Toni the Murder Gals, an epithet we didn’t appreciate, even if we’d brought a few murderers to justice. Who wanted to be known as a Murder Gal? Maybe that moniker, having worked its way into my subconscious, was responsible for my dream.

Having been a homeowner for twenty-five years, selling the house had been freeing in ways I’d not expected. I no longer worried if I could afford to re-shingle the roof over my head. Yard maintenance was inconsequential. My energy costs had decreased drastically—mainly because I’d lived in my recreational vehicle, Longfellow, last summer. But the trailer wasn’t winterized.

Break Thyme had done so well since I’d opened it two and half years ago that I’d renovated the second floor of my café into a small apartment where I’d spent the winter. Ray, my contractor, put up walls to give me a living and bedroom space. Break Thyme’s kitchen was a decent size and completely functional, so I used that to cook my meals. But as convenient as it was living at Break Thyme, I planned to move back into Longfellow for the summer to take advantage of a lakeside view.

I pulled into a parking spot in Moose Harbor, locked the truck, and took the boardwalk to the back entrance of the café. Unlike my hypnotic dream, there was no impending gale. The lapping waters of the majestic Lake Superior were brilliant blue and reflected white puffs of clouds so bright my eyes hurt making me regret I’d left my sunglasses in the truck.

I waved to Olivia and Henrietta, sitting on a bench in Courtesy Park. Olivia co-owned Ollie’s Outfits with her twin brother and Henrietta had the bakery. If I hadn’t been away from my café for the last two hours, I’d have wandered over to catch up, but I wanted to get to work.

The aroma of our Glazed Strawberry Almond Scones met me as I entered the kitchen. Yum. I loved that the café smelled like whatever baked goods we featured that month. A dozen scones sat cooling on a rack. It looked as if Toni had just baked another batch, meaning we’d likely sold out. Our June scones were proving to be extra popular.

I hung my coat in the closet and grabbed my apron as Toni came into the kitchen carrying a pastry plate.

“Hey,” she said. “How was your session?”

“Revealing. I’m glad I went. I feel much better and think I can put the dream behind me now.” I didn’t want to go into details in case someone overheard us. Besides Toni, no one else at Break Thyme knew I talked to dead people and had a twin from a parallel world. It had seemed prudent to keep those aspects of my weird life on the down low.

“Glad to hear it.” Toni set the plate on the counter, moved closer to me, and lowered her voice. “And for the record, I didn’t think for one minute you’d been involved in a murder in this world or any other.”

“Thank you for that vote of confidence, but don’t you think everyone has the capacity to kill? Given the circumstance.” I lowered my voice, too. “What if I’d been in a fight for my life? Or in a fight for someone else’s life? One of my kids? Or you?”

“Do you think that’s what happened?”

Not after I’d walked the beach, found that glove, and not seen the victim or the murderer. “No, I don’t. Now, I think it was just a random dream, albeit a vivid one.”

“Well, don’t have any more murder dreams, okay?” Toni said, picking up tongs.

“Yes, Ma’am. How’s everything been here?”

“We’ve had more customers than usual, which gave the Luddites something to complain about when we ran out of scones, so I whipped up another batch.”

The Luddites were regulars at Break Thyme, a group of retired men who longed for the good old days. “You are amazing. I probably would have told them tough luck.”

“I nearly did, but then I realized it gave me an excuse to take a break from you know who,” Toni whispered.

I closed the door between the kitchen and the café. “Oh, dear. What did she do now?” I’d hired Ivy last fall when my summer staff left at the end of the season. One thing about small-town living was that the potential employee pool was also small. Ivy was competent, but her strong personality rubbed Toni the wrong way, especially since Ivy was only nineteen years old and knew everything under the sun. Thankfully, I still had Poppy, my star employee who was on vacation in Bermuda with her boyfriend, Deputy Cody Wilson.

Ivy’s laughter drifted into the kitchen through the door. I couldn’t complain about her rapport with the customers. Most of the townsfolk had known Ivy’s family for decades and took her precocious airs with a grain of salt.

“She tried to tell me how to cut in my butter the proper way,” Toni said, rolling her eyes. “As if I hadn’t been baking since before she was a thought, and I needed guidance from a kid.”

I laughed at the nerve of Ivy giving baking advice to Toni, who, short of Henrietta, was the best baker I knew. “One day, she’ll look back on these years and realize she still had a few things to learn about life.”

“I’d love to be around to see that.” Toni finished filling the pastry plate, and I went up front to check on things.

“You’re back,” said Ivy, looking a little disappointed. Hmm, maybe she preferred not having the boss around. She continued emptying the dishwasher with one hand and swiping mugs dry with the other. No one could complain about her efficiency.

“Everything good?” I asked.

“Of course. It’s all under control. I’m putting the mugs on the right side of the coffeemaker, though. It makes more sense, don’t you think, since we’re all right-handed here?”

“Okay.” I wasn’t sure if it made more sense, but I wasn’t an anal person, unlike my OCD invisible twin.

“I think that’s a great idea,” came Brielle’s voice behind me. Speak of the devil.

Ah, finally, she was gracing me with her presence. I might think I’d conjured her with my thoughts, but that couldn’t be true since I’d thought of her a lot lately. I was eager to talk, wanting to know where she’d been for the last three weeks. By her expression, I could see something had changed.

Coming August 30, 2022