EPISODE NINE: The Lighthouse
“I thought you said it was called Christ Fellowship Redland.”
Toby opened the door for his wife. She hadn’t heard him. The color had returned to her face, which was a start. He had never seen her afraid in the years they’d been together. Lyn always kept her emotions under control. It wasn’t until she met up with her family again that she started to unravel.
It’s a good thing for me to see this now, he thought to himself. Wouldn’t want any of this to spring on me in ten years. By then, we’d have so many more problems, I’m not sure how I would handle it.
They had met the last year of high school. She was sweet, kind, and took care of him. He dated her for about two years before asking her father for her hand in marriage. Jamison didn’t like him, but Emmy thought he was sent from heaven. She convinced her husband to let him marry Lyn, and they lived happily ever after.
He had received the phone call from Custar Institute of the Arts three weeks ago. They loved his research on the influence of music on the lives of teenagers, and they wanted him to come in for an interview. He could have the job if he wanted it, they said; the interview was just a formality.
Lyn wanted him to take the job. She had already scouted ten possible homes close to the school. She wanted to get away from Miami, and she’d been begging him to move since the day they got married. He told her he would think about it. The next day, he purchased two tickets for Tennessee.
But what kind of future are we going to have now?
He couldn’t think of their future. With everything going on, he wasn’t sure if there would be one. The only thing he knew for certain were the next few hours before the quarantine set in. That was as much future as he could possibly handle.
“You said this was Christ Fellowship Redland.”
“That’s what it used to be called.”
The lot they pulled into was well lit, revealing two buildings connected by a covered walkway. He slipped his arm around Lyn and led her to the first building. It had a glass door framed in purple. He reached for the handle.
“Wait, what does that say?”
His wife pointed to a sign hanging on the door that he’d missed.
“Because we love our children, no sick kids allowed inside.”
Toby shook his head. “It’s for their church.”
“Their issuing their own quarantine,” Lincoln said from behind. “Keep the sick people out, leave the healthy ones inside. I still don’t see the sense in it.”
“Well, when all the sick ones die out, the healthy ones can emerge from the quarantine and start over.” Toby tugged on the handle. It didn’t budge.
“Just bust the glass.” Lincoln bent to search for a rock.
“That wouldn’t do,” Toby said, stepping away from the door. “We’re trying to find people to help us with my car. Breaking down their doors wouldn’t leave a good first impression.”
“We can check the other building,” Lyn said, pulling him away. Toby knew she was still afraid. He wanted to ask her what she had seen, but he wasn’t sure if she was ready. Whatever it was, it had changed her countenance completely.
“Lyn, what’s the matter?”
She looked up at him, her eyes still wide. “I saw my friend, Toby. And she’s been dead for years.”
Toby nodded slowly. “I can understand that. You were visiting a place where the two of you made memories. You were just remembering her.”
“No, Toby. We didn’t go to school together in middle school. She was already dead by then.”
“But you said…”Toby sighed. He knew she needed his patience. He took a deep breath. “How did she die?”
Lyn pulled away from him. “I’m not going to talk about it.” She turned her body and began to walk toward the car.
“Lyn, come back. We don’t have to talk about it.”
“Give me some space, Toby,” she said, opening the car door and stepping inside.
Lincoln put a hand on his shoulder. “Let the lady go,” he said.
“But she’s not well.”
“Yeah, well, what are you gonna do about it, huh? Do you have any control over her?”
“What are you talking about?” Toby turned to face his brother-in-law.
“I’m not saying she doesn’t respect you, I’m saying you don’t control her. Let her figure out what she saw and deal with it on her own. She’ll get over it.”
He raised an eyebrow. “I am beyond shocked hearing this from you, Lincoln. You’ve displayed nothing but hatred toward Lyn in all the years I’ve known you. Why all of this out of the blue?”
Lincoln frowned. “This isn’t anything at all. The girl that died was a family friend. Regardless of how it happened, she’s still dead, and we all lost her, including Lyn. She may have hated the girl’s guts, but once she was dead, Lyn changed her song.”
Toby crossed his arms. “Is that why you can’t stand Lyn? Because she pretended to miss the friend once she was dead?”
“No, Toby.” Lincoln leaned against the building. “Do you want to hear this now or later? Because it’s going to wreck you.”
What is this kid talking about it? Does he even know who I am or what I’ve been through? How many of his family has he had to bury, to disown, to pull out of the worst places? What could Lincoln possibly say that would wreck me?
“You know what, never mind. I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” Lincoln said. “Let’s keep searching for a way into this place. Maybe, like you said, there are people inside that can help us.”
“Way to leave me hanging, Lincoln,” Toby said, hitting him lightly on the head. He made his way over to the second building. This one had an ornate wooden door with tiny glass panes. He pulled on the handle, but it, too, was locked.
“There’s a building out back.” Lincoln gestured to the darkness behind the two buildings.
“How can you tell?”
“My eyes have adjusted to the dark.”
Toby shrugged and allowed Lincoln to lead the way to the back. The buildings were connected by a small walkway. The walls of the walkway were covered in paintings of cars, trains, palm trees, and flowers.
“Wow, these are some awesome paintings,” Toby said, running his hand on the wall. When he was younger, he’d been more interested in art than music. His mother told him that he had no talent in that area whatsoever, and that he should stick to his instruments. He had obeyed her, but still enjoyed marveling at paintings and learning about them.
Lincoln scoffed. “Looks like silly “kid church” nonsense. As though it has to be colorful and splashy for kids to enjoy it.”
“Hey, man, adults are the same way.”
They walked the rest of the hallway in silence until it opened into a huge field.
“We’ve just gotta cross over, and we’ll be there.”
“Wouldn’t they have turned the lights on if they were there?” Toby tried to make out any shapes in the darkness, but his eyes weren’t used to it yet.
“Hey, I can’t account for their actions, okay? Let’s just keep moving.”
Toby crossed his arms. “You’ve been here before, haven’t you?”
Lincoln shook his head. “What makes you say that?”
“Don’t lie to me, Lincoln,” Toby said, placing a hand on his shoulder. The kid looked up.
“Okay, maybe I’ve been here once or twice. What does it matter?”
“Why’d you keep it a secret?”
“Can we walk as we’re talking?”
Toby wouldn’t budge. “Answer my question, Lincoln.”
He sighed and shook his head. “Why are you making me dig up all these old things? I came here when I was still in high school. The church was just making its transition into Lighthouse Something-or-other. It was with a girl I used to date.”
“I take it you didn’t have a good experience here?”
Lincoln laughed. “As good of an experience anyone can have in church. Are we done with the interrogation, sir, or would you like to hear anything else?”
“No, I have what I need. Show me where the back of this place is.”
“Well, that was a waste.”
They’d walked all the way to the back to find two more buildings, both of them locked tight. They had also discovered some light switches, three of which still worked, and, when turned on, revealed a wide spread of concrete with a metal covering. It reminded Toby of the gym at his old school. They were too lazy to have it walled in, so it remained open and susceptible to the best, and worst, weather Florida had to offer.
Toby made his way back to the car as quickly as possible, with Lincoln closely in tow. He had to find a way to get that car working. There was no way he was going to sit here while Rosemarie was unaccounted for.
Toby had always had a soft spot for Rosemarie. She was the most conflicted of the family members, but she was also the strongest. Although he loved his wife to death and wouldn’t trade her for the world, Lyn pretended to be strong and put up acts. For Rosemarie, that strength was real. If there was one person that could bring the whole family back together again, it was Rosemarie. He knew she didn’t believe it, and he knew she wouldn’t believe him when he told her either. He had hoped for an opportunity to talk to her, but Lyn had prodded too many wounds, and she was gone before he could say anything.
That’s why he wanted to find her. Not because he thought she was in any real danger, but because he knew that the Varela family needed her. And, as much as he’d tried to stay away from them, he’d become a part of that family. He couldn’t let their family—no, his family—fall apart without at least trying something. It may not have been the best plan, but it was one he believed in.
“What are we going to do now?” Lyn stepped from the car and reached for his hand, thin, cold fingers weaving through his own.
“Well, we can’t push this car. There’s no way it would make the distance.”
“And, Homestead’s about six or so miles from here,” Lincoln put in. “We could walk it, but it’d take a couple of hours, and we don’t know what’s out there in the darkness.”
“But whatever we do, we can’t stay here,” Lyn said, squeezing his hand tighter. “We have to either continue toward Homestead, or head back home.”
“We’re not going back home,” Toby said. His voice was strong and forceful, and with the look she gave him, it was clear that he’d startled his wife. He lowered his voice. “We will find a way.”
They sat in silence for a full minute before the crying started. Toby looked down at his wife, but her face was emotionless. He glanced at Lincoln, but the young man only looked startled.
And that’s when he saw her. The little girl was crouched on her knees, pounding at the glass door leading to the first building of the church, sobbing.
“Okay, where’d that girl come from?” Lincoln turned to Toby, confused. “We were just over there, and there were no people inside.”
Toby released himself from Lyn’s grip. “It looks like this girl is just as lost as we are. She must’ve crawled up without us noticing.” He started to walk toward the girl when Lincoln put a hand on his shoulder.
“Wait a second. She crawled up without us noticing?” He gestured to the empty lot around them. “I’m pretty sure we would have seen her. There isn’t much seclusion in this place.”
“Unless she came from the back,” Toby replied, pushing the younger man off his shoulder. “I’m going to talk to this girl. You can come with me if you like.”
He walked on, not bothering to see if Lincoln would follow.
The little girl kept pounding on the door, shaking the sign plastered to the glass. Toby knelt beside her. She wore a long blue dress, no socks or shoes, and she didn’t look up when he spoke.
“Hey, there,” he tried again. This time, he touched her shoulder and got an immediate reaction.
“Who are you?” The girl asked, backing away from him. She wiped a few tears with her sleeve. “Are you from the church?”
Toby shook his head. “No, sweetheart. My car got stuck.” He pointed to the parked vehicle behind him. “That’s my wife, Lyn, and her brother Lincoln.” He smiled at her. “And my name is Toby. What’s your name?”
The girl sniffled and took another step back. Toby sighed. It was gonna take more than an introduction to get this girl comfortable with him.
“Where are your parents?” He asked.
She shook her head. Toby frowned.
“How’d you end up all the way out here?”
The little girl shook her head again, her stringy brown hair whipping from side to side.
“Do you live around here?”
Her eyes darkened. “I live inside there.” She pointed to the glass door.
“So there are people inside the church?”
“Yes.” Her face crumpled as the sob returned.
“There are people inside the church, and it’s where you live.” Toby reached for her shoulder as her spoke. “Well, if you live in the church, why are you out here instead of with your family?”
She balled her hands into tiny fists and shook them in anger. “It’s because I’m sick and they won’t let me back inside!”
Toby froze. They threw this little girl out because she was sick? He looked up at the sign on the door: “Because we love our children, no sick kids allowed inside.”
What kind of —
“Hey, Toby, take a look!”
He turned around. Lincoln was pointing to the far end of the building. Toby followed his hand and realized something he hadn’t before — a wooden door. A second entrance. We have to try that door. Whoever is inside may have left it open by accident. How did we miss that the first time around?
He barely had time to register his mistake when the wooden door banged open and a man stepped out, shotgun against his cheek, barrel pointed in their direction.