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Copyright ©2023 Alexa Piper
I felt the cold fingers of the changing season reach across the café’s outdoor terrace and right up my spine. The warm fall day drew to a close with the trees all along the coast colored in vermilion and gold, and darkness rolled in with the tide, the sky above pretty as pulped roses.
“Need another?” said the very attentive server. Her eyes were ocean blue, and her golden earrings caught the fading light slanting in from across the water. She wore a surgical mask like most of the staff in the region I’d come across, even though they were no longer mandatory. “You seem to inhale them. You know that might cost you sleep, right?”
I smiled back at her and finished the last of my latte. “I always inhale great coffee, but this will have to be my last. I like to work at night.”
True enough, even if I had captured mostly sunlight and shadows, leaves and people today, not my normal fare. The touristy charm of the place had simply lured me in. That all the cafés I found here had great service, view, and coffee didn’t help me regain my work attitude.
She looked me up and down, no doubt taking in my slightly over shoulder-length caramel brown hair, the piercing blue eyes most people liked to comment on, and — last but not least — my pseudo-geeky Schrödinger’s Cat tee.
“My mother would tell you that a good boy like yourself should be in bed at night. What do you do?”
I laughed and tugged a strand of my hair back behind my ear. “I’m a photographer, and I like editing when it’s dark out. Just a night owl thing. Could I get the check, please?” This was beginning to feel more and more like a vacation, even though I was working. I wanted abandoned places for my next exhibition, and if you didn’t mind a bit of driving, this area had plenty.
“Wow, an artist. You’re the first in Brightam this season, or at least my first. Be right back.” She winked at me.
I nodded, and she took my empty glass and walked away.
My bag sat on the chair to my right. I dug for my notebook and phone. My slightly battered but trusty notebook contained my longhand list of places I wanted to go see. I unwound the elastic that held the notebook closed and checked the list I’d bookmarked with an old receipt for a bagel and coffee against a map on my phone to see if I could still get something done today. If I didn’t, this really would be a vacation day, and I was firmly not on vacation. Besides, I was sure some lowlight photos might add a creepy aspect to my work people often told me was there to begin with, even if I never saw it.
The seventh item on my list was a church that had been abandoned for decades, complete with a garden of headstones surrounding it, and it was only a thirty-minute detour from my way back to Cromere where I had booked my hotel for the month. I had my external flash in the car. Going to the church and getting photos of headstones and a dilapidated building in the background in the almost dark would be perfect.
“Here you go,” the server said and dropped the check on the table. “I put my number on there in case you’re staying in town and want to do something later. Together.”
I had seen that coming about two lattes ago, and I did consider it. Yet, the church actually sounded interesting, more interesting than vacation sex when I wasn’t even on vacation.
“I’m afraid I have to get some work done, actually.” I indicated my notebook before putting the receipt back to mark my spot and packing everything back into my bag. “But thanks for the offer. Maybe another time,” I said and tipped her generously.
She shrugged. “Keep the number. In case you change your mind.”
I did and smiled at her over my shoulder when I left the café.
Over the ocean, the pinks were surrendering to indigo and teal. Night’s breath was icy on the breeze.
* * *
I pulled on my jacket and left the car back at the mouth of the path that led to the church. It was a short walk of not even ten minutes, and I was glad that I also kept a flashlight in the trunk, because even with an almost full moon above, it was dark out here.
The trees grew tall on all sides, branches eating at the dusky sky. Insect noises and the sound of me walking were the only things I could hear, and there was something wonderfully peaceful about that.
I hadn’t lied to the server, I was a night owl and always had been, but I lived in the city, and night in the city was never really dark nor silent. Being out here was a different experience and refreshing in its way.
The church came up ahead of me like a looming scarecrow, raggedy and weather-beaten, but its former function clear even in its current condition. It was slightly uphill, which helped with that perception, but there was something… I had the overwhelming sense that the church had been waiting for me. That was nonsense. Buildings didn’t wait or want. They just were and aged and crumbled, but the fact this place did make me feel like the church was a living being boded well for the photos. I snapped a couple, looking up toward the church.
The church itself was really just a small building that might have held a congregation of maybe two hundred. From what I had read, there had been an abandoned mining town nearby, and the church had been left behind when the ore ran out. The bodies already in the earth had been left as well, a strange sort of exchange for the ore, iron paid for with bone.
When I reached the cemetery grounds, my flashlight licked against dark headstones that were leaning this way and that in time’s pull. With the dark church behind them, all this needed to be a perfect set for a horror movie was some fog and maybe a wolf howling. I chuckled. This was wonderful.
I decided that I would just walk around a bit so I could get a feel for the place, take some shots as I did so to begin with. I turned the flashlight off, put it in my camera bag, and started. The strobing light of my camera flash threw odd shadows that lingered on my retinas. I made my way toward the church doors in a slow half circle, not really planning anything, just going by instinct. Then, with a shot of a cracked church window, I saw that the door to the building was open, just enough to draw a hard shadow in the light of my camera flash.
I stopped and turned my flashlight back on, aiming it at the door. I took another picture even if the flashlight would mess up the lighting. I wasn’t sure why, because I was pretty good about not wasting shots. Some instinct maybe, or a random muscle jerk.
“Oh, opportunity, you call me,” I whispered, running the flashlight up the door, which was indeed open.