Back at the dorm room Lizzy shoved what clean clothes she had left into a duffel bag along with her mp3 player, headphones, and a book. She never knew what interactions to expect when she went back home. She hadn’t quite told her dad that she was agnostic, or that she’d been learning about Wicca, but he was a preacher. He just had a sort of sixth sense for these kind of things. On her last visit, he’d given her a gold cross necklace as a gift. She fished it out of her jewelry box and clasped it around her neck. Jenny’s BFF necklace caught her eye, so she grabbed it too and stuffed it in her pocket. She wasn’t sure why she’d grabbed it, but it just felt right.
She closed the duffel with a decisive zip and shouldered it, then hefted her laundry basket and headed out and down the old stairs to her car. The laundry and duffel just barely fit in her trunk, so she needed these bi-weekly trips back to podunk to keep the washing to a minimum.
Lizzy started the car and headed east towards her hometown of Harriet. Driving down the long stretch of highway alongside the river as the sunset pinked the sky was usually a peaceful experience, but Lizzy’s mind was troubled by the dream and the call. She thought about searching for the cave from her dream, but definitely didn’t want to be out there after dark.
Before long she was pulling into the driveway of a little 1950s prefab house, a relic from when the town of Harriet thought it might one day become a true suburb. Her teenage brother bounded out the door to greet her and even helped her carry in the laundry. Her dad watched quietly and held the door as they came inside. She stood, duffel over one shoulder, staring awkwardly at her dad, not knowing quite what to say. He eyed the cross necklace then broke into a grin.
“Good to see you, Lizzy,” he said before pulling her into a hug. She hugged him back firmly and said, “Good to see you, too.”
Her brother Johnny stood a few feet away smirking and just barely suppressing laughter. Lizzy glared at him but that only increased his mirth. Finally her dad released his embrace and asked what she wanted for dinner. She knew her dad wasn’t much of a cook, and since her mom passed away it was mostly tv dinners for him.
“Let’s walk down to Harper’s tonight,” she said. “I’d like to see Tizzy if she’s working tonight, and we can ease you into ‘real food’ before I cook tomorrow.”
“You don’t have to cook for me, besides I don’t have any groceries.”
“Well then, let’s stop at Quigley’s too. It’s the least I can do and I can’t have you forgetting what a real vegetable looks like.”
He averted his eyes before replying, “Alright I guess you talked me into it.”
Lizzy shuffled a bit and gave a quick ‘be right back’ before stashing her bag in her room. She found a light jacket still in her closet and put it on, both astonished and grateful that it still fit. She stepped out of the room to rejoin her family, but practically ran into her brother Johnny.
“Don’t worry, I won’t tell dad,” he whispered. She nodded and they walked down the hall back to the living room. The trio headed out and walked down the sleepy sidewalks as the sun slowly set behind the river, leaving them in dusky light lit faintly by streetlights.
Dinner at Harper’s was greasy as ever, but that’s what they liked about it. It was a small family diner, run by Tizzy’s uncle Paul. Unfortunately Tizzy had the night off, so Paul’s ex Janice was filling in. Lizzy had hoped to get a chance to talk to Tizzy about the dream, since she’d known Jenny too, but that would have to wait.
After dinner they hit up Quigley’s, the local grocery store, for ingredients for spaghetti, pancakes and sausage, and premium BLTs. Johnny joked that she must be getting old since she was too big for cereal, but she knew he appreciated having hot breakfasts on the weekend as much as she did.
The evening was quiet and uneventful but there was a peace to it that Lizzy loved. She hoped it would stay this way, but still didn’t know how she could ever face her dad if he really knew her. For the night, she kept those thoughts to herself. The bright moon overhead shone comforting rays down on her. For the moment, she forgot about the unsettling events of the past day and allowed herself to enjoy the company of her family.
The next morning, Lizzy was up early to make the pancakes and coffee, a new vice for her since going off to college. The little family ate happily while dad read the paper, and Lizzy and Johnny watched cartoons. Later in the afternoon, Mr. Parsons started reviewing his sermon for the next day. Johnny took this opportunity to ask his sister to take a walk through the woods and she agreed. She told him about the weird dream she’d had, followed by the call. Johnny thought it was nonsense, but insisted that they should go check out the cave to put her mind at ease.
They wandered through the woods for a bit before coming to the creek. Lizzy hadn’t been back to the creek since that day; she’d never had the courage to face it alone. All her childhood fears and guilt came rushing back and she burst into tears. Johnny pulled her into a hug and let her cry it out. Jenny didn’t come back.
With Johnny’s encouragement she found her strength and was able to carry on to the cave. When they reached the mouth of the cave, Lizzy stared blankly into the darkness, wondering if they would have ever found Jenny if she had been here. Just then, a cold breeze seemed to come from the cave and she shivered.
“It’s really dark,” she said. “Maybe we should come back with a flashlight.”
Johnny didn’t respond. She looked around and realized he was missing.
“Johnny? Johnny!” she called, but still he didn’t answer. She felt dizzy, and sick to her stomach. She grabbed ahold of a tree to steady herself. Just then, a figure appeared behind her, and leaned in close to her.
“Liiizzzyy…” the voice whispered, “I’m going to get you!”
Lizzy shrieked and turned to face her assailant. She reactively shoved the figure away from her, toppling it in an instant. The figure doubled up on itself in the grass and leaves, howling with laughter.
“Dammit, Johnny! Why would you scare me like that?”
“It… was… funny…” he choked out between laughs.
Lizzy put her hand out to help him up and Johnny accepted, but Lizzy jerked him up by the arm so fast he nearly toppled over again. She muttered a ‘let’s go’ and dragged him away towards home.