Shrounded in Darkness

By: H. D. Thomson

Chapter 1

Fear of self is the greatest of all terrors, the deepest of all dread, the commonest of all mistakes. From it grows failure. Because of it, life is a mockery. Out of it comes despair. — David Seabury

Margot Davenport should never have opened the front door. She should have just kept on getting slowly and thoroughly drunk that night. But the pounding on the door went on and on, reverberating throughout the house and inside her skull. Stumbling from the couch in the living room, Margot knocked over her glass and an empty wine bottle, and grabbed onto her throbbing head with a hand.

“Damn it!”

In the hall, she tripped over her calico cat, Marmaduke, who streaked past her and up the stairs. She swore again. The banging continued. The crazy fool outside had given up on the doorbell long ago.

“John! Come on. Open up! It’s me, Jake!”

At the mention of Johnny’s name, Margot’s stomach twisted and rolled with sudden nausea. “Okay! Okay! Give me a second.”

She groped for the light switch to the hall. Nothing happened.

“Damn, stupid thing!” That’s what she got for not replacing the house’s ancient wiring.

“John, I’m freezing my ass off!”

“What do you expect,” Margot muttered, wondering if this guy was playing some sick joke at her expense.

Margot hit the outside light switch and peered through the glass panel beside the door. A man stood on the front porch. She didn’t recognize him, but then again, the sheet of snow and the light’s glare against the night backdrop didn’t help matters.

A gun or pepper spray for protection sounded pretty nice right now, but Margot hated guns and had never expected the need, living on the outskirts of Greyson, Arizona. It wasn’t like this town up in the White Mountains was loaded with crime. The worst incident had been a case of disorderly conduct last winter, and that had been from a drunken tourist.

“Who is it?”

A pause on the other side followed—almost as if she’d surprised him.

“Margot? Is that you? It’s Jake Preston.”

Though muffled, his words were clear enough to make out. The name sounded familiar, but she couldn’t recall what Johnny had said about him.

Margot frowned and winced as pain cut across her temple, brow and the base of her skull. She should have stopped at one glass of wine. “How do you know Johnny?”

“I worked with him at Miltronics for several years on the outskirts of Boston.”

Margot debated about turning this Jake away as she watched him stamp his feet against the porch. He must be freezing—what with the wind and snow.

“I know it’s late, but I need to talk to John. Please. If you could just get him, you’ll see I’m harmless.”

The urgency in his voice made her decide. He obviously didn’t know about her brother. She sighed heavily. What she had to tell him wasn’t going to be easy.

Margot unlatched the lock and opened the door.

An angry gust of wind burst into the house, tearing the knob from her grasp. The door flew wide and crashed against the wall. Gasping, she reeled back as snow flew in, stabbing her face with icy spikes.

“Here, let me.” He stepped inside and shoved the door closed with his shoulder. He turned his back against the light from the kitchen, casting his face in shadow. His baseball cap further shielded his features—along with sunglasses of all things.

How very odd. Sudden apprehension curled up her spine as Margot stepped away from Jake and the doorway. Topping a good six-feet, he appeared far larger than when he’d stood behind a locked door.

“What are the sunglasses for?” she asked.

“The light.”

“What?”

“My eyes. They’re sensitive to light. I injured both corneas as a child.”

“Oh.” She must have been staring at him like an idiot, but something about him made her uneasy. And it wasn’t just the glasses and pale complexion.

He must have sensed her disquiet, because he explained further, “It’s called traumatic iritis. It’s something I’ve had to live with for as long as I can remember.” He shrugged a large canvas backpack from his shoulder and placed it on the floor. “Can you get John for me?”

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