Is That Cheese? – Rhiannon Matlock

To my friend Erika Lance for such a great line!

 

She couldn’t tell if that was cheese or a dead body. She hated both but possibly cheese was worse.

 

The former was a rancid smell that got on her hands and clothes and just never seemed to leave. The latter, however, was something she could deal with easily, especially since it was a Thursday night and the stars so to speak were aligned.

Stepping over the burned threshold of the house that had been cindered, she took another whiff. The fire was old so the lingering scent of ash was faint, not enough to block that putrid, gamy smell drifting along the stale air. As she got closer to it, she had the sense that it was a dead body she would be encountering rather than the cheese.

This was possibly the best news. Aside from the stench factor, she’d been hired to find someone and it had been a bit of a bitch up to this point. False leads and trails obfuscated had made the task harder than usual. Either that or she was really off her game.

Rather than let her mind drift into that particular minefield, she sniffed the air again and moved laterally in the direction her nose lead her. Broken wood crackled under foot as she carefully made her way over the debris and a soft wind gentled through the battered structure, lifting her hair and stifling the oppressive heat if only for a moment. The sweat gathering on her forehead and back cooled for a quick spell before the humidity zapped it dry once more. Normally she didn’t mind the heat, preferred it in fact but not today. Not when it made what she was about to do nearly impossible. Her foot touched something rather solid then and she stopped abruptly. The light streaming in from the broken windows should’ve helped her to see better but in her case it was rather blindly. Waving her hands around in front of her, she knelt down slowly until they caught the edges of what felt like a jean jacket.

What the person was doing with any kind of coat in July in Florida she didn’t know, but it wasn’t her concern at the moment. It was the something that the person she’d been hired to find had been wearing when they went missing.

She had to keep thinking of this as just a person she was looking for rather than a kid as otherwise she’d lose focus. With deliberate pats, she sized the small body up and then paused when she got to the neck. Her heart started beating faster and her palms started to feel clammy. The knot that had been forming since she’d seen the picture of the little boy on TV two nights ago tightened. She had little doubt that she was where she needed to be and the thought was making her sick.

Cuts had lined the small figure, evident even through his clothes and she’d bet that there were bruises lining the arms and torso she’d just felt. Not for the first time, she was glad for the fuzz created in her vision by the white light. Some things people should never see.

Taking a deep breath, she willed herself to continue. She had to be certain it was him before she took her next step. With attentive but definite strokes, she mapped the face of the prone body and confirmed that Jacob Hallsby had been found and that he was dead.

Her hands jerked back as if burned and she leaned to the side, what little remaining in her stomach being hurled with abandon as she retched. It wasn’t that she could feel what he felt in the final moments or that she could even ascertain what had happened to him precisely. Others had those gifts but not her.

No, her problem at discovering this little boy lay in a completely other arena.

When there was nothing left to dispel, her stomach still heaved uncontrollably for several moments and her body shook visibly. Finally, she started to calm and thankfully, the sun had started on its descent. Even the slight change in brightness allowed her to see better. Wiping her mouth clear, she reached up and donned her sunglasses. Seeing obscured her other senses so when she tracked, she allowed herself to be as blind as she could be.

Blinking a few times, the white and red spots began to clear and she started to get a clear picture of the scene. The last thing she wanted to do was see Jacob’s face but she forced herself to. It was time for her to do what she came to do and she couldn’t do that unless she looked into his eyes.

His face was small and pointed, almost like an elf’s and the jacket he wore was twice his size, making him appear even more slight than he already was. His lids were closed and his mouth was ajar as if he was surprised. She felt her body begin to tremble again in anger and grief as she assessed him with her eyes now. This one was never going to be easy, not after what she’d recently experienced but it was perhaps because of what happened that she’d pushed herself so hard to find him.

As if commanded, her hand reached for him again, only this time she went straight for his eyes. Lifting his lids she forcefully pushed aside her own fears at what she was about to do, took off her glasses and leaned over him so that she could look directly into his eyes.

Pale blue orbs stared up at her. There was the tiniest of sparks still there, buried deep, deep within. She took a deep breath and then started humming.

Sight faded again as the sound bled from her into the thick, heavy air. Words were unnecessary as soulful, passionate resonance came from her heart, the tendrils wrapping around the energies in the room and weaving what someone long ago so aptly named a calling spell. The song continued for several minutes and Cassie poured everything into it, her emotions running too high at this point to hold anything back. The nudge she felt came quicker than she was expecting. Letting the song finish, her vision began to crystallize once again and the spark she’d seen earlier was ignited.

Looking up, she saw the incorporeal form she was hoping for. A small smile lifted the corners of mouth as she leaned back on her haunches and stared.

“Hello Jacob,” she said in an almost mothering tone. “Welcome back.”

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