The hotel was closed.
“But I made reservations. How can they be shut down?”
“You made them online?” Amanda asked.
“Well yeah, but…”
“I guess it’s possible their computers haven’t been updated.” She reached over from the passenger seat and patted him on the thigh. “This was a sweet idea, and I’m happy that you went to all the trouble to give me a special day. Why don’t we explore for a while? Then we can go home tonight.”
Joe shook his head. “We’ll find somewhere else to stay. There’s a tour tomorrow of an old working mill that I think we’ll enjoy. We can buy a few pounds of stone-ground flour and cornmeal.”
She laughed. “All this so I’ll make your cornbread. I see right through you, Mister.”
“Yep, you got me.” He smiled for effect and found it wasn’t completely forced.
At their first tourist stop, Joe got recommendations for lodging. By the time they were ready to slow down late in the afternoon, they pulled up to a cozy bed and breakfast.
Birdie’s B&B was a farmhouse built in the late nineteenth century. The proprietress, the aptly named Birdie, was a thin, graying woman who was nearly six feet tall. She wore overalls with a t-shirt, and a brightly colored kerchief held back a ponytail.
She gave them a tour of the home and invited them to explore the homestead at their leisure.
“If you plan to go outside, do it soon. They’re calling for heavy storms to roll in over the next few hours.”
Before sitting down to a home style meal, Joe slipped out to make a few calls.
“There’s been no activity around your house,” Bill told him. “Are you sure this guy is dangerous?”
“Some of the predictions have involved car wrecks and heart attacks. They all came true. You tell me.”
Bill grunted from the other end of the line. “We’ll keep an eye out, but I don’t think you have anything to worry about. Have fun on your little vacation and take care of that pretty girl of yours.”
“You got it.”
The next call went to WhizKid.
“I’ve been trying to get a hold of you,” the boy said. “I have news, and it’s weird.”
Joe gripped the phone tighter. His knuckled ached. “I lost my signal in the hills. What’ve you got?”
“One of my programs that doesn’t exist traced the origin nearby, like you thought. It’s in the Old Oaks neighborhood.”
Joe knew the area. He spent many summer days and afterschool afternoons trolling the streets with his buddies, doing the things boys used to do before video games took over. His grandmother’s Victorian home was run down but proud, and he always loved it.
“What’s so strange about it?”
WhizKid hesitated. “I don’t understand it, but apparently source is recorded at a location on Mulberry Drive. What’s strange is that the house there is abandoned. There are no electricity or phone lines. It’s been off the grid for years.”
“Can’t a good hacker make a false location?”
Amanda interrupted him from Birdie’s front door.
“Joe! Come get dinner before it gets cold!”
“I’ll be right in!” When she grumbled about him being all work and no play, he covered the phone and added, “I promise. Give me five minutes.”
“We’re not waiting,” she said. “I told Birdie not to keep it warm for you.”
He waved her inside with a laugh.
“Sorry about that. So, can someone falsify the source?”
“Generally, yes. And it’s cracker. Hackers play legally.”
“Get to the point, Kid.”
“My program is designed to punch through the layers they use to hide their true location. It can get to the dirt floor and dig deeper. When I say the source is on Mulberry Drive, it’s on Mulberry Drive.”
A long-forgotten memory popped into Joe’s mind. His grandmother’s sister passed away while he was a little boy. She was sickly her entire life. The family didn’t speak much of her, however, because she was never right in the head.
“What’s the address of that location?” He was sure he knew the answer.
“It’s a single-family home at 313 Mulberry.”
“Oh my God.”
His heart felt like it was going to stop. Great-Aunt Caprice was treated as a mental patient because she insisted she knew the future. Joe hadn’t been allowed to go near her, but he used to sneak in to her attic hideaway and listen to her stories of days to come.
“What is it?” WhizKid asked? “Do you know the place?”
“Is there a name to that source?”
He heard the boy rapidly tap on a keyboard. As he waited, he heard a burst of static on his cell phone followed by rumbling thunder in the distance. He looked to the horizon to see the predicted storm billowing in.
“Here it is,” WhizKid announced. More static in the signal corresponding to lightening strikes Joe saw in the approaching storm. “Prophetic View Academy.”
He dropped the phone. Aunt Caprice used to prattle on about creating a school for people with the Sight. To a young boy, it had a fantastical ring to it. He hadn’t thought of Caprice’s Academy since her funeral.
“Joe, you there?”
WhizKid’s voice was tinny from the dropped cell. Joe scooped it up.
“Thank Kid. I owe you a shitload of favors.”
He hit the End button as a bolt of lightening arced from the low clouds into nearby trees. Thunder shook him to the bone.
Don’t let your wife do the dishes.
Aunt Caprice was the Precog. She was never wrong, even though the adults around him pretended her predictions were empty.
“Amanda!” he screamed. “Amanda, stop!”
He suddenly knew what she was doing. She wouldn’t let her role as a paying guest keep her from helping Birdie in the kitchen.
Joe barged into the kitchen as Birdie handed his wife a delicate wine glass. Heavy rain began outside, lashing the windows with fury. Thunder shook the house.
“Get back!” he shouted. “Get away from the sink!”
Amanda jumped, dropping the wine glass. She followed the instinct make the save. Lightening just outside the outside blinded Joe less than a second, but that’s all it took.
Amanda’s arm was in the sink where running water sizzled with electricity. Her body was rigid, her eyes wide without seeing, while Birdie fell backwards from an invisible force. It was over before he could move.
Amanda crumpled to the floor. Tendrils of smoke rose from her scorched hand to brand his nostrils.
“Mandy. Baby. Honey, can you hear me?”
His wife, lover, best friend didn’t move. He searched for signs of life. Nothing throbbed her neck. There was no flutter in her chest.
He started CPR. Behind him, Birdie used his phone to call for help. When the paramedics arrived ten minutes later, he was still trying to save his wife.
A month later, Joe walked down Mulberry Drive. Autumn leaves floated to the sidewalk as a chill breeze slipped through his wool jacket. He stopped before a shabby Victorian house. Boarded-up windows sported the kind of graffiti he and his friends might have been guilty of as kids. Peeling siding and a sagging porch cried for attention.
He hadn’t seen his grandmother’s home in twenty-odd years, his Aunt Caprice in fifty. How she’d started an anonymous blog on the Internet, he would never understand. To the little boy inside him, the why was obvious.
He turned the key over in his hand. The blog had ended with Caprice’s warning to Joe. WhizKid’s programs now showed nothing from the house on Mulberry Drive. Still, Joe had to know.
The door was the same as he remembered, hand-carved detail with metallic inlays made it unique. He wiped as much dust from the cracks as was possible, then he put the key in the lock and turned. The door swung open without sound or resistance.
Joe stepped in.
This story may not be reproduced in any form without express written permission from MJ Twain.