It was the earliest Jeff had risen in his life. He had considered simply staying up all night, but in the end he was too tired, and had settled for getting three hours of sleep before his alarm blared at 3:15 a.m.
He had half expected Stuart to still be up, chattering away at his laptop, back in the solid groove he had discovered after his children had left. “Now we're getting to the good stuff,” he had told Jeff the other night. But he was apparently asleep in his room, a habit that seemed to have stuck after his kids had visited.
Jeff was having a similar experience. He had torn into Danny's Dime like he had something to prove on the evening after the Fourth of July and he had not looked back. He was coming up on 50 pages and his first elaborate crime scene was impending. He couldn't remember the last time he'd been so excited to write something.
Things had quickly returned to normal. Stuart had said goodbye to his children at the house, and Jeff had taken them to the airport. The plan was simply to drop them off, but he felt so guilty about the idea that he wound up paying for parking so he could walk them up to the security check point. Kids shouldn't have to travel alone, he thought to himself, as Riley slouched his way off while Vanessa turned to wave at him.
Jeff's instincts had been right, he had missed them and he had not. He had not been magically filled with energy after they left, though. Between working on his own book and the nightmares, he seemed to always be tired.
“Like getting up at three in the goddamn morning is gonna help that,” he muttered, stepping down off the deck.
The light above the deck partially illuminated the yard and once Jeff broke through the line of trees, the light of the moon and the stars reflected off the ocean was more than enough to see his way down to the beach. He had forced himself to look straight ahead as he crossed the yard, ignoring the post even as it crossed in his peripheral vision.
Thorsen's Victorian looked like a toxic mushroom perched at the edge of the sea. The son of a bitch had, of course, thrown a Fourth of July party the day after the damn holiday, setting off elaborate, whizzing, screaming fireworks until after midnight. Based on the voices that wafted back to them, apparently there were actually people who could stand to hang out with the crazy bastard.
Stuart hadn't minded of course, had barely noticed, as Tomb took him over again. And Jeff had retreated early to the basement to start his own writing, but part of him stayed wary, remembering Stuart's story of the crazy old man fishing with dynamite and waiting or expecting him to cap off his Independence Day celebration with a hand grenade or napalm.
Jeff hadn't even noticed when the party had ended, he'd been so wrapped up in his work.
Stuart and he were talking less lately. Jeff wouldn't have believed that he would prioritize anything over spending time with the writer, but the more they both fell into their books, the more they kept returning to them. They still talked casually, over meals, and Stuart still showed him pages occasionally, which was still flattering and exciting, but they had only had one real conversation since the children had left.
He looked at his sneakers as he shuffed through the tall grass above the beach. He was afraid to look up. Part of it was delaying...what? Not pleasure surely. Excitement, anticipation? Yes, anticipation. He knew what he was going to see and he wasn't excited about it at all. In truth, he was terrified. His heart raced and his hands seemed to be clenching and unclenching all on their own.
“What are you doing?”
Jeff was not quite surprised. The presence of the writer next to him, in the small hours of the morning, felt inevitable. His body still started at the sudden voice, but in his mind, he was not surprised at all.
Jeff was grateful to have somewhere to look other than at the water. He met Vic's eyes, which were points of reflective light.
“It's low tide,” Jeff said. “One of the lowest of the summer.”
“You came out to see them?”
“The tide doesn't have to be that low, but you'll definitely be able to see them tonight. How'd you know?”
“Riley told me. We lost a ball in the blackberries when you were sleeping and I found the other one. He told me about these.”
Stuart broke their eye contact and turned his head to look at the beach. Jeff couldn't bring himself to follow just yet.
“They're part of the weird energy of this place, Jeff,” Stuart told him. “I could tell you things, but they'd be guesses at best. They form a line that points at the house and when I'm drunk, like I am now, I'll admit to you that I think they're what powers me. They're why I can write here and can't write anywhere else.”
“But that's not true,” Jeff said, “You wrote your first book at home in high school.”
Stuart nodded in the dark, his face a soft, dark profile against the lighter color of the Victorian behind him. “Maybe I cheated and now that I did, my own gift is gone.
“Wanna hear something scary?”
“No,” Jeff said. He really didn't.
“Who is the one writer people compare me to the most often?” Stuart asked.
“Lovecraft.” It was an easy question.
“Right. And it's not because I write boring, meandering sentences or refuse to actually tell you what something looks like. It's because of the mythos, they call it. All his Ancient Ones and parallel worlds and monsters with names with no vowels. That stuff is all over my books.”
“How is that scary?”
“Because I read one of his stories, once. When I was 25 and people really started comparing me to him all the time. And I'll tell you something else, I hated that story, too. Not because it was like my stuff but because it was fucking boring.”
They stood in silence, Jeff looking at Stuart, him looking out, Jeff was sure now, at the posts.
“I think all that stuff, the cracks in the Earth, the monsters, the tentacles, that's,” he shivered and swallowed. “I think that's the posts telling their own stories.”
Stuart turned then. “I'm going back to the house. You should come with me. We'll get you a drink and then I have something for you to read. Something about them.”
“But I didn't...”
“Look at them, then. Go ahead. Do it quick. Then you can come back with me.”
They held eyes again for a moment and then Jeff broke the gaze, turning his head to the left to look at the water.
The line of the sand was paler than the water and the tide was, indeed, very far out. The hushed sounds of the ocean moving continued and he could see rills of white as the foamy surf broke on the dying waves.
He couldn't see them and he had a relieved moment when he thought Stuart was fucking with him again, of course he was, the great goddamn prankster just making stuff up, pulling his leg—
And then there they were. Impossibly, he became aware of both of them at the same time, each at one edge of his vision. One was just a stub, beaten down by the ocean, or boats, or weather, or human hand. The other was tall, the tallest, and proud. It stood on the beach, solid black against the sand, like an emphatic finger.
Jeff's focus leaped back and forth between them, taking one in and then the other. Eventually his eyes settled again and he was looking at both at the same time. The tall one would be visible at most low tides, he supposed, and you would be forgiven for mistaking it simply for a broken off part of a dock.
He was beginning to think he could feel them...what? Speaking to him? Reaching out for him? Trying to touch him? The sensation was indistinct, but the intent was clear. They wanted him. Whether it was to be broken over one, like in his dream, or to simply go out and cling to one as the tide came in, he didn't know, but they wanted him. It was nice to be wanted. He felt wanted so little of the time. Stuart needed him sometimes, but he never wanted him exactly.
“Kid,” Stuart said softly, but Jeff did not hear him.
The hand placed on Jeff's shoulder shook him from his stupor. “What?” he asked, his voice high and child-like.
“We have to go,” Stuart said. “Now.”
Jeff blinked at the interruption, remembering who he was, where he was, what had happened. “Oh. Yeah. Yeah, let's go.”
Stuart kept an arm over Jeff's shoulders as they walked back to the house and Jeff closed his eyes as they walked through the yard, not wanting to see another post that evening, or ever again. His body trembled, but then again, it was quite chilly at 3:30 a.m. and he was just wearing a t-shirt.
It was warmer inside and his body began to regain control. It wasn't until Stuart walked into the kitchen, tore off a paper towel, and then handed it to Jeff that the younger man realized that he had been weeping, his nose oozing and his cheeks wet with tears.
“I don't think you need a drink after all,” Stuart said. “You just need some sleep.”
He went into the kids' room and brought out a blanket. He spread it on the couch and led Jeff over to it.
“I don't think—“
“You'll be able to sleep,” Stuart interrupted. “Trust me. You'll sleep fucking hard, too. They wear you out, believe me.”
At that moment, Jeff loved Stuart more than he ever did before, more than he'd thought he would ever be able to love anyone. At the same time, he had never been more afraid.
Sleep came, quickly, as the writer had said it would, and when it did, it was blessedly dreamless.