A Writer’s Book of Days — 12 October 2016

12 October 2016She kept it in a box under the stairs

Tanya slammed the door behind her as she raced into her house and down the stairs into the basement. She found the old, wooden box of memories under the stairs, where it always was

She hesitated.

It might have been nothing. A chance encounter at a local bar. Nothing to get upset about.

But the way he had watched her. His eyes following her movements to and from her table throughout the night. Like a cat following the back and forth ticking of a metronome.

Or like a cat on the prowl, tracking the movement of its prey.

Tanya shuddered and wrapped her hands around her elbows for warmth. It was just the basement, she told herself. The basement was cold no matter what time of year it was.

If the man had been alone, Tanya would have said something. Not to him, of course. No.

Well, probably not to him.

But to the bartender, certainly. Though the man hadn’t said or done anything, the way he watched Tanya had made her noticeably uncomfortable and self-conscious.

But she didn’t say anything because he was clearly with friends.

And not the rowdy, bawdy, disrespectful, or threatening kind of friends, either. There was a big man who nonetheless came across as non-threatening and friendly, and a petite young woman who could barely be at the legal drinking age, if at all.

The three of them joked and laughed and if the man watching Tanya didn’t smile as often as the other two, that was okay, right? It didn’t have to mean that he was unhappy or angry or sociopathic. Only that he was a bit more withdrawn than others. Tanya could accept that.

But then the second woman arrived, and Tanya’s entire world snapped into focus.

She was tall, with long, full, golden hair and a stride that spoke of both confidence and impatience. As she entered the bar, at least seven different sets of eyes turned to regard her, including Tanya’s own.

But not the man’s. His attention stayed fixed on Tanya.

The woman wasted no time looking around. Whether this was a regular meeting spot or she simply had a strong sense of place, Tanya couldn’t say, but the woman strode directly to the other three and joined in their comfortable familiarity.

Tanya remembered what it was like to have that kind of companionship. But it was a distant memory.

Looking at these four, however, as the man turned to greet the newcomer, Tanya suddenly had a notion that she knew them from somewhere.

An unshakeable certainty that they were important to her life. Especially the blonde woman and, though she was loathe to admit it, the man who had been staring at her all night.

Tanya spent the next ten minutes wracking her brain for some inkling of where she might have known them. Then she took out her phone and scrolled though all her past pictures, and all her friends’ pictures, looking for these four strangers.

Nothing.

Then, as she looked up, she met the eyes of the man who had been watching her.

And suddenly she knew without a doubt, from where, and more importantly when, she must know this man.

So now she sits at the foot of her basement stairs, staring at the old wooden box she had hidden there.

She had hoped to never have to look inside it again. But if he was here, in her town, then she has no choice.

She has to stop him. At all costs.

Tanya tears open the lid of the box.

Inside is just as she left it. Photographs from when she was young, the only remaining copies. A charred cross that once sat above the fireplace mantle at her parents’ house, one of the only things they could recover from the fire.

And at the bottom of the box, beneath all the rest, wrapped in a simple, teal cloth, sits a silver coin.

Tanya reaches past all of the memories from her own life and touches the cloth. Even with the insulation afforded by the material, Tanya feels the memories beginning to press at the edges of her mind.

Memories of the past. Of hidden worlds.

Memories of her ancestor.

Foreign memories.

Tanya’s hand flinches away. Can she really let all of that back into herself again? She had barely escaped her first encounter with the coin, managing to salvage her sanity and identity only when she begged the persona who dwelt within the coin to let her go. Let her live her own life.

At that thought, however, a notion begins to nibble at Tanya’s mind.

Had she escaped?

If the persona of her ancestor had retreated into the coin, then why had Tanya recognized those four people in the bar? Shouldn’t she have thought nothing of the strange man incessantly watching her?

For that matter, why hadn’t she been more worried about the man’s obvious stalkerish behavior? Tanya wasn’t the type of woman to ignore such harassment, and yet she had written it off as “non-threatening.” Why?

Because he was with his friends. And a piece of her-

No. A piece of her ancestor that is still inside her. It recognized them.

Tanya shoves the box away from her and falls back on her butt. She scrambles partway up the stairs, her heart racing, her breath coming in panicked gasps.

A minute or two later, following several long, slow, deep breaths, Tanya manages to calm herself. Tears streak down her face, and her arms and legs tremble (though whether from panic or weariness, she cannot say).

She watches the box now with that same predatory gaze that the man had watched her in the bar.

But even that thought begins to make her panic. No doubt he had gained that hunter’s instinct from his ancestor coin, just as Tanya had gained hers from her own.

There was little hope that Tanya could ward off her ancestor’s foreign mind with a vigilance gained from that same mind.

Besides, said a small voice, Tanya needed the full power and knowledge of her ancestor coin if she was going to protect her home from that man.

He was dangerous. The most dangerous foe she had ever faced. The Stalker. The Nightveil.

The Traitor.

He had to be stopped. Punished. And she was the only one still left who could do it.

Tanya blinked and suddenly found herself standing.

For a moment, she was confused. Then she looked down at her hand in a panic.

Her eyes widened as she held up her hand, clenched tight, with the corner of a teal cloth poking out from between her fingers.

Tanya didn’t even have time to scream before the voice of her ancestor drowned out her own.

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