Katherine Wynter

author of distinctive literary fiction and fantasy

Labyrinth – Chapter One

LabyrinthRebekah chewed the eraser on her pencil and read the page of her Principles of Forensic Accounting textbook for the fourth time. Then a fifth. Growling, she shoved her notes into the textbook and slammed the cover closed. Then she tossed it to the other side of the bed for good measure.

There. That’ll teach it.

“Going that well, huh?” Sarah asked from the bunk on the opposite side of their shared dorm room, a crooked grin twisting her features. Although they had the type of bunks with a desk beneath, neither girl liked to use hers. “Couldn’t be distracted by a certain boy who’s your friend but not your boyfriend, could you?”

Rebekah and Sarah had shared a double room in Weatherford Hall for their freshman and sophomore years at Oregon State University, which meant they both knew each other’s quirks and habits a little too well. Going to high school together didn’t help either. Neither did being best friends. Okay, so Rebekah couldn’t hide anything from her roommate.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Rebekah pushed the book off to the side of the bed, then flopped back on the mattress and stared at ceiling, her dark hair spilling across the lavender sheets. Sometimes having a roommate could be annoying. “Jason and I are friends. That’s it.” Unfortunately.

“Um hum. That why you study together almost every day. Because you’re such good friends. And you’re sooooo interested in learning.” Sarah looked up from where she painted her toenails orange, her right knee tucked under her chin, and winked.

Sometimes Rebekah wished she roomed with a deaf, mute stranger. She grabbed the pillow from behind her head and threw it at her roommate.

Sarah squealed, capping her bottle of nail polish before grabbing the pillow and launching it back. “Hey, I know what’ll cheer you up. Why don’t we go to a party tonight? Meet some new guys—you know, ones that might actually want to do more than just study.”

“I can’t. Jason and I are supposed to meet at the library. He said he’d explain this accounting homework.” Rebekah squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the glib remark she knew was coming. After a minute, she opened her eyes to see all four-and-a-half feet of Sarah glaring up at Rebekah from the foot of her bed. For such a tiny girl, her presence commanded authority. Maybe it was her dark eyes and supermodel-like chestnut curls. Rebekah crossed her arms. “What?”

“You’re coming out with me tonight.”

“I just told you why I can’t.”

Sarah shook her head. “No. You’re calling him right now to cancel, and then we’re going to find a nice bonfire party on the beach and cozy up to some sweaty, half naked men and get trashed.”

“No. I can’t. Finals are next week, and I need a good grade in my history class or I’ll have to repeat it.”

“And what’s your grade now?”

She hesitated. This wouldn’t help her case. “97.”

Her roommate gestured for Rebekah to continue. “Okay, let’s hear your next excuse.”

“I’m meeting Jason.”

“We’ve settled that. You’re not. Next?”

Rebekah pulled her blanket up over her head, then peered out from behind it. “Accounting homework?”

Sarah shook her head no.

“Intro to Shakespearean Sonnets essay to write?”

Again, Sarah shook her head.

“I don’t want to?”

Exasperated, Sarah went over to the desk and grabbed Rebekah’s phone. “You leave me no choice. You’ll thank me in the morning. Or not.” Sarah keyed in Rebekah’s password and unlocked the phone, walking out into the hall with it.

This isn’t going to be good. Rebekah jumped down and followed her friend. “Who are you calling, Sarah?”

The girl grinned, backing further away as a couple of guys passed them in the hall. The phone rang once and then again. Rebekah heard the sound like a death knell tolling on the end of her chances with Jason. “This isn’t funny, Sarah. Give me the phone.”

“Hello?”

“Hi Jason, this is Rebekah’s roommate, Sarah. She wanted me to call and tell you that she can’t make your study session tonight…”

“I’m going to kill you!” Rebekah hissed, though not loudly enough that he would hear.

“…because she has to go to a party. This guy—he’s a senior engineering student, I think—invited her out, and between you and me, I think…”

Rebekah reached for the phone. “Hang up. Now.”

“…she’s kinda into him.”

“Oh.”

Was he disappointed? Rebekah leaned in to listen next to Sarah and gestured for her friend to continue.

“Yeah, sorry. You guys are just friends, though, right? So it’s no big deal.” Sarah adopted her most innocent tone. The kind that had gotten Rebekah blamed for whatever trouble they got into together growing up. Well, sometimes Gabe got blamed.

He paused. “Is she there? I’d like to talk to her.”

He sounds angry. Rebekah shook her head no.

“No. She went to the showers to get ready.” Rebekah flashed a one and then a five. “She should be back in about fifteen minutes and then we’re going to the beach for the bonfire. Should I tell her you’ll call back?”

Another pause. “No. No, don’t mention anything.”

He hung up the phone.

“And that,” Sarah beamed proudly, handing the phone back to Rebekah, “is how you do it. You can thank me now.”

Rebekah took the phone and shoved it in her pocket. “What if he doesn’t come over? What if he thinks I don’t like him and stops hanging around?”

Sarah shrugged. “There is still a party tonight. Fish in the sea and all that.”

“I thought it was supposed to storm? Are you sure a bonfire is a good idea?”

The girl winked. “What’s the worst that could happen, he sees you all hot and wet? Sure. Sounds terrible. I think we should definitely hide in our room and eat cookies and watch television.”

“Well, when you put it like that, I guess I don’t really have a choice, do I?”

“Nope!” Sarah grinned and looped her arm through Rebekah’s, leading her back to their dorm. “That’s why you love me.”

“We’ll see.”

 

 

“Isn’t it a little cool for this?” Rebekah tugged down on the top of her cutoff jean shorts so the top straps of her black bikini bottoms just showed. She twisted in front of the mirror. Maybe she should get something to wear over her bikini top? “Shivering isn’t attractive.”

Sarah scoffed, checking her yellow striped sundress. “Then sit close to the fire. You’ll be fine. It’s better to be cold than dress like an old lady. Trust me.”

So no top then. Rebekah felt something tingle and glanced at her phone. Phantom ring. Jason still hadn’t called. Or texted. Stop moping, she chided herself, shoving the phone into her pocket. Sarah’s right. There are plenty of guys out there. Fish in the sea, blah, blah, blah. You can do this. “Okay. Let’s go.”

They left their room and took the stairs down to the ground floor where a few other groups of students were milling about near the parking lot. Rebekah knew most of them since their dorm was primarily home to business students, and she’d taken a class at some point or other with most of them.

Jason stood off to the side, whispering something to a girl Rebekah didn’t recognize. His chestnut hair was perfectly disheveled and his strong Roman nose bent down just a little at the end in a way she’s wanted to kiss since the first time she saw him. Standing there in a navy polo shirt and plaid shorts, he could have been on the cover of a golf magazine. The girl laughed at whatever he said, tossing her blonde hair back as she touched his arm. A golden streetlight showered down on the two like a spotlight.

A shiver spread down Rebekah’s spine and she rubbed her arms. Did he pick that spot just to make me jealous?

Jason glanced up to see her staring and frowned. He blinked a couple times as if startled and rubbed his eyes. The girl glanced at Rebekah, grabbed Jason’s arm, and pulled him away into the shadows.

“Come on.” Sarah took Rebekah’s elbow and steered her toward the path that would take them to her car. “He’s just trying to make you jealous.”

“Well, it’s working.” Rebekah’s instincts cried out for her to chase the girl down and strangle her pretty little throat. The urge was so strong she had to stop herself from doing something violent. That wasn’t like her at all. “I think I need a drink,” she muttered. “Maybe two.”

While the beach wasn’t exactly close to campus, it was within driving distance for those lucky enough to have a vehicle, and it took them about an hour and a half before they finally parked and walked down the grassy slope leading down to the beach. Night was in full effect, but the lights of bonfires warmed the shoreline. The echoing boom of music and laughter filled the beach but still couldn’t drown out the kiss of the waves.

They walked to the nearest fire where forty or so people danced and drank. A shirtless Alpha Sig thrust a shot of something into their hands.

“Thanks,” Rebekah said, then chinked her little plastic shot glass against her friend’s. “Let’s party!”

The Alpha Sig joined in, raising a shot in salute. “Let’s party!”

She drank as the others at the fire cheered, then downed a second shot. The bonfire roared to life with a flash of heat as someone tossed a shot onto the wood. Rebekah, head spinning lightly from the first two drinks, grabbed a bottle of beer from one of the coolers and took a sip. The music and fire were hypnotic, and she danced for a while in the undulating mass that writhed around the fire. Several of the Alpha Sigs danced with her for a little bit, their bare chests glistening with sweat in the firelight, but each time their hands started to grab for her waist or hips, she backed up and drifted over to another area.

After the beer, Rebekah grabbed Sarah and pulled her toward the next fire maybe a quarter mile down the beach.

“Isn’t this great?” Sarah asked, her words more than a little slurred. She clung to Rebekah’s arm.

“Yeah.” Rebekah tried to put more energy into the word than she felt. “Great.”

Where was Jason? Had he really gone off with that blonde? He hadn’t struck her as the type to be distracted by the nearest pretty face. Maybe she’d been wrong.

The next fire was a little more subdued, couples whispering and seeming lost in their own private worlds. Rebekah pulled Sarah past it and on to the next fire where someone had an acoustic guitar out and strummed a tune to a small but appreciative audience. “Let’s hang here for a bit,” Rebekah suggested, gesturing to an isolated piece of driftwood.

Sarah bounced on her toes, some of the slur already gone from her speech. The walking must have cleared her head. “But I wanna dance some more. Can’t we go to the next fire?” She pointed at where another fraternity had volleyball and torches and keg stands and pulsing music.

“Why don’t you go without me?”

“But you’re supposed to have fun tonight! That’s the plan.” She hiccoughed. “Come have fun.”

Rebekah gave her friend a playful shove. “Why don’t you go get started, and I’ll join you in a few minutes?”

“Promise?”

“Promise.”

As Rebekah settled in to listen to an acoustic version of “Stairway to Heaven,” she angled herself against the driftwood so she could see Sarah.

Sliding off her flip flops, she buried her toes into the sand and rubbed the bumps on her arms. Maybe sitting had been a bad idea. Now that she wasn’t moving, the cold air blowing in from the ocean seemed stronger, curling around her body and freezing every bit it could touch. Someone passed her a shot of something clear and a beer. Rebekah dropped the shot into the solo cup and guzzled the beer down, the warmth radiating up from her belly. That was better.

She glanced over at the next fire and could just make out Sarah’s short silhouette dancing with a guy about twice as tall as she was. Most of the other figures were shadowy, forms that flitted in and out of the firelight like apparitions.

“There you are.”

Rebekah turned to see Jason appear from the other side of the fire. She held up her hands in surrender. “Here I am.”

He chuckled, a hint of a smile turning up the perfect corners of his mouth. “What happened to your engineer?” he asked.

“He didn’t work out.” She gestured for him to sit next to her. “What happened to your blonde?”

“Not my type.” He settled in the sand next to her, his leg brushing up against hers. With the fire off to his left, the light gathered on the side of his face nearest her, as though all the heat was drawn her way.

She didn’t pull her leg back. “What is your type then?”

“Intelligent. Fierce.” He reached out and brushed her dark hair behind her ears. “Kind eyes.” His fingers left a trail of fire across her shoulder and down to the small of her back as he caressed her. “Cute little nose.”

I think he’s going to kiss me.

“What will you do when you find this mysterious girl?” she asked in a whisper.

His lips crashed against hers, small waves of heat that built in intensity with each touch as his hands pulled her toward him. She moaned in pleasure as he released her lips and traced a line of kisses down her jaw. “Anything she wants,” he answered, nipping her ear with his teeth as he attacked the gentle slope of her neck.

The spice of vodka and something sweet lingered on his tongue, and she pulled his lips back up to hers for another taste. The gentle but insistent tug of his fingers on her back and inner thigh pulled her near, so she straddled him around the hips, her knees digging into the soft sand as the space between them continued to shrink.

Head swirling with drink and emotions, she closed her eyes in ecstasy as his hands explored down the length of her back and over her hips, pulling her even closer.

If he wants me to, I might have sex with him right here. In front of everyone.

Oh, but I shouldn’t. That would be a bad decision.

God but I want to.

Jason’s tongue licked around the edge of her lips before trailing down her throat. He paused at the tops of her breasts, kissing the crescent moon of visible flesh. He gasped and pulled back just a little, his breath coming in short, quick pants. “Maybe I should get us something to drink?”

Rebekah nodded, trying to catch her breath. “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” She licked her lips.

“You’re so beautiful,” he exhaled and kissed her again like she was the last drop of water on the planet and he was dying of thirst.

She sat up, startled, as someone applauded.

Rebekah’s cheeks lit on fire at the reminder of the audience, and she buried her face against Jason’s chest and laughed. Someone started up another song so she stood, the breeze reminding her that she’d been cold only a few moments ago.

“I know a nice little place we can go,” Jason whispered, his voice husky as he took her hand and led her away from the fire. “You’ll like it.”

They walked hand in hand down the beach, and he stopped at a few fires to pilfer some more drinks. Her body sung with energy from his kiss, and every so often he’d look over at her like he was surprised to see her there. She finished another beer as they walked, her feet getting soaked by the incoming tide, and they left the rings of light and laughter of the many parties.

Twice in the darkness they passed couples in the throes of passion, faces and forms hidden by the night, but even the waves couldn’t hide the sounds they made. Was that what he was bringing her out so far for? Was that why he knew a special place because he’d taken so many other girls out here for sex? Did she want to sleep with him?

The beach ended in a pile of boulders, and he led her up, helping her on the longer reaches and steading her with his hand to her back. She was too tipsy to be out on the rocks where one misstep could break her leg or neck. She almost turned around. She almost stopped and turned around.

Then she looked up and saw it.

Golden light beckoned in the distance, reminding her of home. It spun eight times, flashing green on the ninth. She counted it out twice, remembering how her mother had taught her to look for that tell-tale green flash. She said that meant it could be trusted. The lighthouse stood on the bluff above, tall and proud, the soft moonlight glowing against the white paint. Two bold horizontal black stripes broke the tower.

“It’s beautiful.” Rebekah leaned back into Jason as he wrapped his arms around her waist. “How did you know I’d like it?”

He hesitated a moment before answering. “I remembered you mentioning that you grew up by a lighthouse. I’ve wanted to bring you up here ever since. Thought you might enjoy it.”

“Mmm. You’re right.” She turned in his arms and stood on her tiptoes, kissing the end of his downward turned nose. “And I’ve wanted to do that ever since I saw you.”

Thunder growled a distant warning, and she looked over her shoulder to see lightning flash out over the ocean, forking down with white light and stabbing the water. Her parents had always made her stay in the basement during storms—in case the wind blew out one of the windows—and she’d never really been out in one even in college. “It’s so beautiful.”

“And deadly.” Jason’s arms tightened around her waist. “We should be getting back to the cars. It’s a long walk, and you don’t want to be caught in the rain.”

“Why not? I’m dressed for it.”

His eyes traced the outline of her bikini in appreciation, but worry still knit his brows down. “What about the lightning? Most strikes happen close to shore.”

She signed and dropped down flat on her feet. “Now you sound like my mother.”

“She must be smart lady.” He kissed her as more thunder rolled to shore. “I’d love to meet her someday.”

No, Rebekah thought, you wouldn’t. She’d eat you for dinner. “That’d be nice.” Like getting run over by a bus.

Jason jumped down to the next rock and held out his hand. “We should get back to your friend. She’s probably worried about you.”

Taking his hand, she followed him back down the damp rocks and across the beach. From a distance, the fires looked a little sad, their attempt to hold back the encroaching darkness feeble. Even the stars overhead—those that hadn’t disappeared behind the storm front—seemed depressed. Her father was like those fires. A lighthouse keeper for the Parks Service, he’d manned their light at Willamook for as long as she could remember, braving the darkness and storms to make sure a light which no one needed anymore was shining bright. He was so proud of his work, too. So confident that his efforts for the Parks Service really made a difference in the world.

Another bolt of lightning struck, this time closer to shore, and Jason rubbed her arms. “It’s okay,” he said, kissing the top of her head as they neared the first fire. “I’ll make sure you get back safely.”

What an odd thing to say.

Okay, not so odd. Guys always think they need to protect me from something, but most worry about me passing out somewhere or getting attacked or walking into traffic. Jason wants to save me from the terrible lightning.

He draped his arm around her shoulder, pulling her close, and she wrapped her right arm around his waist as they walked.

It does feel kinda nice though.

 

 

Rebekah knew something was wrong when they reached the first fire. Instead of dancing or drinking, people huddled around the dying coals and each other, sitting in clusters like kittens piling up for warmth. A soft purr of indistinct voices hung around the group like a cloud.

“Look for your friend,” Jason said, squeezing her hand. “I’m gonna see what happened.”

“Don’t go far.”

He turned back around and kissed her softly. “Never. I’ll just be a second.”

As a kid, she’d always had a strange feeling whenever something bad was about to happen. Every time some hiker got killed by an animal or sent to the hospital, she’d spent the night before with a sick feeling in her stomach. When she told her mom about the feeling, she had laughed and claimed it was just indigestion and dismissed the sensation.

Rebekah had that feeling now.

Sarah wasn’t at the first fire, so Rebekah wandered over to the next but it was abandoned. So was the third. The fourth bonfire was nearly banked it’d fallen so low, and when she peered at the faces huddled around it, she didn’t recognize anyone.

“Sarah!” The crash of the incoming tide took her voice and threw it to the ocean. The red and blue swirl of police lights shone from the bluff to her right, enough for two or three cop cars. The sinking feeling in her gut worsened.

She cupped her hands around her mouth. “Sarah! Where are you?!”

A mob of people surrounded the next bonfire, their presence nearly blocking the light. Rebekah pushed her way through, examining each face.

“Did you see it?” One girl whispered to another. “I’ve never seen anything like that.”

“…ripped them both to pieces.”

“There wasn’t much left.”

“…thought I heard someone mention a bear…”

“They don’t come this close to the city.”

Please don’t be Sarah. Please don’t be Sarah. Rebekah pushed through the last group of people, one hand holding her stomach. The buzz she’d built up over the course of the night fled in an instant. Police officers stood in groups taking statements. Behind them, something or someone lay in the sand. At least, their foot was. So was a hand.

Dazed, Rebekah walked toward the pieces, unable to stop herself.

One of the feet had bright orange toenails, the same color Sarah had used earlier. I’m sure lots of girls wear that color. She couldn’t have been the only one.

“Sarah…” The word dropped out of her mouth as she saw the edge of a yellow striped sundress. She collapsed to her knees not more than a few feet from the blood-stained sand and hugged herself as she rocked back and forth. “It can’t be.”

“Do you know her?” One of the officers turned toward her. “Miss? Do you know this girl?”

Rebekah nodded, unable to speak.

Hands grabbed her shoulders and pulled her back. Rebekah fought. “Let me go! I have to help her!”

“Shhh,” Jason whispered in her ear. “Shhh, it’s going to be all right. Look at me. Can you do that? Can you look at me?”

Trembling, she turned toward the sound of his voice and buried her face in his shirt.

“It’s her, isn’t it?” Jason held her tighter and she nodded. “Let me get you out of here. You can come back to my apartment.”

She pulled back. “There has to be something I can do. I need to see her.”

His voice said everything. “No, Beks, you don’t.”

“Oh God,” she whispered. “Oh God, oh God, oh god!” She ran away from the fire, shoving through whoever was in her way, then fell to her knees. She closed her eyes and held her stomach, breath coming in short, wheezing gasps, then fell forward and emptied her stomach in the sand.

He pulled her hair back out of her face as she heaved. The liquid burned her throat, and several spasms shook through her before it stopped. Someone handed her a bottle and she took a sip of water, then spat it out to clear the taste from her mouth before taking a second swallow.

“Miss?”

Rebekah turned to see a police officer twist the cap back on his water. She rubbed her mouth with the back of her hand and sand stuck to the side of her face.

“We need to talk to you about what happened tonight. Are you up for talking?”

She shook her head no.

“She’s still in shock,” Jason stepped in, putting himself between her and the officer. “Do you have to do this tonight? That was her best friend.”

“No. But we’ll need to do it tomorrow. You both are from the university?”

Jason nodded.

“Does she have someone who can stay with her tonight? A friend or relative.”

“I can.”

“And you are?”

“Jason Riggs. Her…boyfriend. I hope.”

The officer chuckled. “Isn’t that always the case?”

“You think this is funny?” Rebekah shouted, stepping past Jason and shoving the officer. “That’s my friend over there!”

“Beks, calm down, okay?” Jason pulled her away from the cop, restraining her as she tried to break his grip.

She kicked his legs, but he didn’t let up as he pulled her away from the crowd of students and the greedy eyes of the bonfire.

“I know you’re hurting right now,” he said when he finally let her go, “and you’re angry, but getting yourself arrested won’t help your friend.”

But she couldn’t stop herself and she couldn’t calm down. “It’s my fault. My fault she died,” Rebekah said between sobs as she paced in the sand. “I shouldn’t have let her go off by herself or…”

“Or what?” Jason grabbed her arm and stopped her. With both hands, he wiped the tears from her cheeks. “You could have saved her? No. That’s not how it works, Beks. You might be dead, too.”

She turned away from him, then looked back toward the fire, then looked back toward him. “Maybe that’d be better?” She hugged herself, voice falling to a murmur. “Then I wouldn’t feel like this.”

Something changed in his voice. “That’s it. Time to sleep.”

Rebekah flinched as he blew sand in her face. “What was…” She rubbed her eyes, but her eyelids were too heavy to keep up. He caught her as she collapsed.

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