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Adelaide Confused

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Adelaide Confused

  Adelaide Confused

  Penny Greenhorn

  Adelaide Confused

  By Penny Greenhorn

  ADELAIDE CONFUSED. Copyright © 2011 by Penny Greenhorn

  ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. This book contains material protected under International and Federal Copyright Laws and Treaties. Any unauthorized reprint or use of this material is prohibited. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without express written permission from the author/publisher.

  This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  For Lord Cosmotron…


  Theodore Dunn was running for his life, but from what, he wasn’t sure. Like trying to escape time, running was useless. He could sense the unstoppable entity behind him, dogging each step through the familiar brick maze.

  His feet grew heavy and each footfall added to the pain in his knees. His breath was labored, heart thrumming. The only thing that kept Theodore going was the golden string wrapped around his neck. It shined even in this dark web of twisting turns where light was little. The delicate cord was knotted near his heart, loose ends swinging with each step. Theodore imagined the strand turned ‘round, knot resting on the nape of his neck—a noose. And that was what it was, a precious death sentence. But even as it betrayed him, he sought to protect it.

  Down a narrow brick corridor he ran, a twist, another turn. The thing was coming, closer now. Theodore dove through a portal of blackness where a foul stench greeted him. Having a small reprieve from his ghostly assailant, Theodore cautiously walked toward a trickle of light where a large green turtle sat patiently.

  Excitement bubbled as he hurried forward, pulling the golden string from his neck. A last glance over his shoulder assured it wasn’t too late, he wasn’t being watched. So without another moment’s hesitation, he thrust the string down the turtle’s throat, forcing the hulking beast to swallow his horrid treasure.

  The deed was done, now run, run fast! Theodore could not let him find it. Yes, it was a man. Theodore could see his enemy then, growing closer, hunting him.

  His knees were throbbing unbearably, the soles of his feet sore. Stumbling, Theodore lurched forward...

  Theodore Dunn jerked forward in his seat. The high-pitched squealing of tires meeting tarmac erased the last bit of drowsiness that might have remained.

  He hadn’t meant to fall asleep. In fact, the last thing he remembered was reading a magazine wide awake. And there it was, lying open at his feet. Anxious, his fingers flexed around the briefcase, but it wasn’t enough assurance. He glanced cautiously about before slowly unlocking the case and easing it open just enough to peek inside.

  Seeing it safe and snug did nothing to calm Theodore, the dream had shaken him. When sleep took him so aggressively the message was usually dire, and interpreting the dream a priority. But he balked at the task, choosing instead to finish the last leg of his journey.

  The airport was small, and in a matter of minutes Theodore had collected his baggage and found his car. The briefcase did not get locked in the trunk with the suitcase. Instead it was put on the passenger seat, and even that felt far away.

  Driving toward Raindrop Road, Theodore should’ve reached his destination in under thirty minutes. And he would have if his check engine light hadn’t come on. Swearing, Theodore glanced at the dash, half ready to ignore the glowing light. But just minutes away from safely stowing his burden, Theodore cursed some more before pulling the car onto the shoulder of the road.

  He was further south than he’d imagined, stuck in the tourist trap of town. A series of small shops lined the clogged and narrow lane. Hotels and restaurants were peppered throughout until it all came to an abrupt stop at the beach. A few blocks down was a small general store where Theodore intended to buy some oil and coolant. If that didn’t do the trick, he’d call his colleague for help.

  Leaving the briefcase was not an option. He clutched it to his chest as he locked his car goodbye. Theodore hadn’t gone far when his left knee started to ache, they often swelled and gave him trouble. He ignored it.

  Cutting through a hotel’s manicured and picturesque lawn, the stately oaks with their hanging Spanish moss seemed eerie in the muggy twilight. A creeping unease crawled its way up his spine. He shuttered, glancing over his shoulder. All was still. His feet stung as he picked up his pace, each harsh step causing his knees to rebel. Theodore was jogging around the brick corner, running down the empty alley.

  His gift was the interpretation of dreams, and yet it was as if he could sense something following, stalking. But he couldn’t really, it was just the dream coming to life—the warning. He’d dreamt his death numerous times, but always it had held a symbolic meaning. Not this time. And he’d known, known it the moment he awoke, and had done his best to ignore and forget it.

  Out of breath and aching, he could see the general store across the street, a glow of neon signs declaring milk and cigarettes available. He knew he wouldn’t make it. And he knew his murderer drew near. Desperate to finish his last task, Theodore backtracked down the shadowed lane. A dumpster partially blocked the entrance, warding off the average passersby with its reek.

  The glow of a streetlamp filtered in the far end, illuminating what could only be the big green turtle. No need to look behind, from the dream he knew he had just enough time to do what he must. Fumbling to unlock the case as he ran, he extracted its contents and shoved them down into their new resting place. Theodore hurried off then, going around the brick building so as to make the general store his destination once more.

  But who was this being, this creature, which pursued with diligence so extreme that the dream warned it was unavoidable as time? Curious until death, Theodore Dunn looked back just once, the image of a man his last.

  Chapter 1

  “Oh crap,” I muttered. “She’s going to talk to me.”

  Admittedly, these tiresome trips to town were my own fault. Forced treatment, part of getting well and becoming my old self, the girl I was before the accident.

  I’d bought a bag of yellow apples from the general store and was strolling between shops. The month was May, so the weather was tolerant, even pleasant. Shortly the island would begin to fill with high income earners who could afford a second house on the Golden Isles.

  I’d just bitten into my apple when a wave of emotions washed through me. They were quiet emotions, not quite as addictive as the passionate types, but I was caught all the same. I took in calm, content, serene, and my favorite—relaxed. I had a hard time relaxing on my own.

  Desperation interrupted relaxation and I blinked my eyes open, glancing around to see if anyone had witnessed my momentary slip—standing stupidly with apple in hand.

  That was the moment I caught sight of desperation, and she was aimed right for me. “Oh crap, she’s going to talk to me.”

  A middle-aged woman with frizzy yellow hair waddled closer, her eyes never leaving mine. The inch of gray showing at her roots mutely confessed her lack of vanity, along with the tunic top and peasant skirt. A mangled mix of feelings stirred as she stopped a few feet before me, staring. Mainly I could feel her confused reluctance.

  I took a step away, hesitantly, my own confusion surfacing. But my reaction spurred her on, solid intent replacing all as she gestured lamely to my transparent bag. “Could you spare an apple?”

  “You want an apple?
I couldn’t recall having ever seen a homeless person on St. Simons, but suddenly her frazzled appearance was making more sense, not to mention the waves of desperation she was giving off.

  I was desperate myself, desperate to get away. But over the years I’d gotten better at differentiating my feelings from the rest. And at the moment I couldn’t possibly be feeling this desperate.

  “Well, I won’t just take it.” She began to pull at her pudgy finger, twisting and turning until a ring popped off. “We’ll trade,” she suggested, holding out the ring for my inspection. It was simple, a thin brassy wire twisted around twice and knotted to hold a milky glass bead in place.

  I shook my head, prepared to just give her an apple, but her desperation increased. Jerking her hand toward me, she insisted, “Take it. It’s just a trinket, nothing more.”

  Reluctantly, I accepted, worried a refusal would insult her pride. I held the bag open, allowing her to choose an apple. She did, and with one last look which I couldn’t begin to interpret, even with her feelings as guide, she turned on her outdated brown sandals and left.

  * * *

  I got to work a few minutes early. I covered the evening shift, manning the front desk from one in the afternoon to nine at night for a small and outdated motel called Sterling’s.

  Years ago it had been called Motel Mirage, the slogan: Too good to be true. Ben Sterling and his wife Mary bought the place, changing the theme from exotic desert to cozy seaside. The inside and out were done in shades of blue and ivory, and luckily they hadn’t installed any cheesy seashells or ocean paintings. Truthfully, the place was sweetly quaint, even if outdated.

  Ben was sitting in his usual spot at a picnic table beneath the behemoth oak tree that was tucked just off to the side of his lot. I passed the office to join him, offering up an apple as greeting. He uncrossed his arms to wave me off, the corner of his mouth lifting in a lazy sneer. Ben was crotchety.

  “Afraid you’ll pop your dentures out?” I asked.

  “Piss off, Adelaide,” he replied halfheartedly.

  I sat down.

  A few minutes passed while I chewed on my apple. His melancholy trickled in as we sat in silence. Eventually he leaned his weight forward, resting his age splotched arms on the rough tabletop. “Arnie and Renee are still in three.”

  “Did you knock?” He looked at me blankly, but I could feel the amusement. “No, of course you didn’t,” I answered myself.

  I dropped my apple and stalked toward room three. The motel was L shaped; the office and a few rooms making the little line while the majority of our rooms sat parallel with the road.

  Arnie and Renee occupied a room where the two lines meet. I knocked a solid three times, waited a few beats, and began to pound in earnest. Petit and pretty, Renee opened the door while rubbing the sleep from her eyes.

  “It’s hours past check-out,” I stated. “If you’re not out in ten minutes you’ll be paying for two days.”

  I could see Arnie through the gap in the open door, sitting in bed bare-chested and hairy. “Aw, come on, Adelaide,” he griped. “Stephen won’t be cleanin’ rooms ‘til school lets out.”

  “This is a place of business, Arnie, not your own personal bordello.” I glanced at Renee. “No offense.”

  Turning back to the clock on the nightstand, she said, “No, you’re right. Peter’s probably wondering. We’ll be out in ten.”

  Peter would not be wondering where his wife had spent the night, rather what had taken so long. Adultery was frowned upon by most of the island’s year-round conservative inhabitants, but the gossipmongers made an exception for Renee.

  Renee and Peter had married young. He’d ignored his unconventional attractions, and she’d ignored his subtle lisp. But things fell apart, their marriage was a failure, and yet, they couldn’t bring themselves to split. They’d built their relationship on a foundation of friendship, not attraction, and so they formed a strange and successful Will and Grace lifestyle. But while Renee cared for Peter and didn’t want to leave him, she still felt rejected, lacking self-esteem.

  Arnie was not good-looking, and under normal circumstances he’d never make Renee’s league. But he was fortunate enough to be the polar opposite of Peter. And although he was an ugly man, he was a man’s man, burly-like. Plus, he adored Renee, which was what she’d needed.

  They’d been meeting for years (like most of Sterling’s regulars, there was no place better for adultery and one night stands).

  Ben ignored me when I returned. I stayed only long enough to retrieve my apples, heading for the office. I needed to prepare for a check-out.

  * * *

  I was sitting on a swivel chair, feet propped on the front desk, reading a smutty romance novel when Stephen breezed in. Rangy and pimpled, ‘awkward teen’ didn’t begin to describe Stephen.

  He’d soon be finishing his sophomore year of high school. I’d hired him the summer before to be our cleaning lady. He hadn’t been the only applicant, but he had been endearingly honest.

  While others had professed a desire for reliable work, I had sensed their indifference during the interview. Don’t get me wrong, indifference was a blessed emotion. Frankly, it was probably the only reason I was still sane. But it wasn’t what I was looking for in an employee. For once I’d been hoping for desperate. But then I met Stephen.

  “Why do you want to clean rooms at Sterling’s?” I’d asked.

  He squint-blinked at the question for a moment before answering. I thought he had a nervous tick, but no, he just had the wrong eyeglass prescription. “I don’t want to clean rooms, but my mom says I’m old enough to buy my own video games now. She says I have to get a job.” I’d hired him then and hadn’t regretted it since.

  I set my book aside, leaning for the clipboard. “Rooms one through three, and take—”

  My instructions were interrupted when a young couple, toddler in tow, bustled through the door. I could guess that staying at a cheap motel was part of their frugal vacation planning, we got these types.

  Stephen waited while I helped the husband check-in. The wife attempted to pick up her runny-nosed daughter, but the girl squirmed and wiggled, so the wife abruptly set her back down. Without bothering to wipe up its nose, I noticed.

  When they were gone I continued giving orders. “Take the bug spray with you, it’s been a few weeks.”

  Stephen nodded absently, then asked, “Why do you hate kids?”

  Most teenagers were not observant. To be observant you had to pay attention to something other than yourself. I’m not judging teens—I thought I was the center of the universe at fourteen too. I’m just reiterating that ‘awkward teen’ did not begin to describe Stephen. Like I said, he was observant.

  I shrugged noncommittally, trying to give him an honest but uncomplicated answer. “They’re diabolical,” was the best I could come up with.

  He abstractedly brushed the greasy curls from off his forehead. I could feel his interest; he wanted to discuss this further. “Most people describe children as innocent,” he said, verbally prodding me to continue.

  “They are innocent, guileless, but that’s kind of what freaks me out. Since they lack experience, they haven’t grown a conscience yet. So they can lie to your face and not feel a thing. They smile when they want to cry, and cry for no reason at all. They’re little bags of unfitting emotions.”

  He stood, collecting the clipboard. “Yeah, but I still don’t see why that should bother you.”

  I shrugged. He left. Of course he wouldn’t understand, no one would, because no one knew that I was empathic.

  Chapter 2

  My shift had been uneventful until Francesca called. Up until that point I’d been nose-deep in one of my many raunchy novels. On the cover a gasping breasty woman was clutching her beefy tanned man. It was probably titled something absurd but catchy like Poked by a Pirate. Stephen, who’d been loitering around
the office for the last hour, wandered over to flip through the pages as I set it aside to reach for the ringing phone. He was probably hoping for more pictures.

  “Sterling’s Motel, how may I help you?”

  Francesca didn’t beat around the bush. “My car’s broken.”


  “No, still, it’s not fixed yet.”

  “What’s wrong with it?”

  “I’m not sure. Maybe the mechanic said something got too hot, I really don’t remember.”

  “Where did you take it to get fixed?” I asked.

  “I didn’t take it anywhere, Brock did. But I told him I’d meet him at the club.”


  “Eight,” she confessed.

  “You know I don’t get off until nine.”

  “’Kay, pick me up at my apartment when you get off.” The conversation ended as abruptly as it’d started. I hung up when I heard the dial tone.

  “I need a ride home,” Stephen muttered, his wide eyes glued to an open page.

  “Liar,” I said as I snatched the book from him. “You just want to see Francesca. But is it really worth pissing off your mom?”

  Stephen’s mother didn’t approve (as she had put it) of his riding around with older women. Not that he really needed a ride. The walk home for him was less than ten minutes, but rainy days did happen.

  “I’m not going to obey inane rules. That would only encourage stupidity.”

  “Fine,” I relented. I was of the opinion that he needed to experience more than video games, work, and an overbearing mother. “You can come along, but finish your homework before we go.”

  Missy arrived five minutes before nine; she worked the night shift. I was uncertain of her age as she regularly wore a layer of pale foundation and colored her eye sockets black. I surmised Missy wanted to be a vampire.

  Appearances aside, she had an outgoing personality and conversed well with most everyone, with one exception—me. She wasn’t obvious about it, and I might’ve never known she harbored negative feelings if it wasn’t for the fact that I could feel them. A common mesh of irritation, contempt, and envy dripped from her whenever I was near. Honestly, I was pretty numb to stuff like that. It didn’t bother me to work with Missy, and I never let on that I knew how she felt. I gave her an update and escaped the negativity. Stephen said goodbye and followed me out.

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