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Chapter Six: Present Day

Chapter Six

Present Day

Cora watched the beautiful owl soaring around over the water and wondered if it was a rare sight to catch a snowy white owl here. It was magnificent — a huge wingspan, a perfect white coat of feathers. And it was heading for the point. She was at least ten yards from the edge of the point, but it was so big she could clearly see it settling in to land below. If she could summon the courage, she only had to peek over the cliff to see it better.

She moved towards the cliff, but creeping fear stilled her movements as she got close. 

Get low to the ground, Cora thought.  Then at least you’re cheating gravity of five feet of fall. She crouched and crawled up to the edge of the cliff, her heart racing. She closed her eyes and summoned courage, then opened them and went just near enough to the rocky ledge to look over.

About thirty feet below her, the snowy owl sat looking at the ground. Injured? She wondered, but dared not speak and scare it off. Its beauty, its regal stillness sent a tingling sense of belonging through her: she was happy she had decided to come here for a year. Her fingers clenched into the soil reflexively at the emotion, dislodging a tiny bit of dirt that tumbled down, and the bird looked up at her. Golden eyes in a wide, flat face stared unblinking at Cora.

She was transported back to the Bowdoin library over a decade before, to the young man she’d always wondered about.

“Owen,” she said aloud in recollection. The bird rotated its head in instant reaction, as if it were focusing on her. Her mother had always said animals know more than mere humans could ever understand. Cora wondered if this was what she meant.

Eoghan zoomed in at the face above on the cliff, illuminated perfectly by the morning sun east off the point.  Long dark waves tumbled around a face with elegant cheekbones, a wide smile and twinkling green eyes. She was stunning, and oddly familiar. Her necklace, the one that had blinded him in flight, tumbled forward to dangle inches from her slender neck. An amulet of ruby surrounded by rough gold.

“Eoghan,” she whispered with a smile, and he flinched on his deck. The bird’s head rotated in answer.

“Cora,” he breathed. But the bird couldn’t betray him; it was incapable of sound. 

At that moment, the ground beneath where she crouched disappeared, showering on the bird as her body crashed down after it. He saw her head hid a tree root, her body bounce off a rock. She screamed the whole way until her body stopped and her head struck the rocky beach with a sickening crunch that he couldn’t be certain was not the sound of bone breaking. Surf from the forty-five degree ocean water rushed up and around her and when it receded, the fresh foam of the wave trailed red.

“Oh my God!” he shouted, ripping off the goggles and gloves to grab his binoculars. It was illogical, he would realize seconds later, as he was closer through the bird’s eyes. “Marca! Get wool blankets, now! Bring them down to the dock. Someone just fell off the cliff at Lighthouse Point.” She let out a wordless exclamation and ran toward the laundry.

In seconds he was firing up his small boat, an ancient wooden Chris Craft with only a handful of seats but a new inboard motor he pushed to forty to tear across the small sound. He was surprised he didn’t gore a hole in its newly-restored hull when he plowed it aground at the rocky base of the point. Leaping out and across the bow, he landed with one knee in the water and one in the grit, then scrambled the last few steps to reach her. 

She was breathing, unconscious, bleeding from a head wound. A scraped forearm, bruises reddening along her pale cheekbone where she had hit the tree root. He knew it was dangerous to move someone who might have a spinal injury, but he couldn’t leave her in the surf that could take a person her size to a hypothermic grave in the time for an emergency team to get all the way out to Lighthouse Point. Eoghan made his decision and damned the consequences, scooping her off the ground and taking her to the boat. He laid her on the back bench seat, tucked the woolen blankets around her. When he moved to get into the driver’s seat, he remembered the bird. With a loud curse he jumped out again for it, but tossed it into the front seat with little care for his expensive creation.

By the time the boat reached his dock again, Marca had worked her local magic and summoned Dr. Flaherty, a retired surgeon who had purchased a house nearby. He was waiting on the dock with the proverbial black bag and sprung into action when he realized his patient was unconscious and bleeding. He clambered into the boat before the engine was off to check her pulse and breathing.

“She fell from Lighthouse Point to the beach. She hit her head on a tree root and then on the ground, it was probably a twenty-five foot fall,” Eoghan explained urgently.

“Did she jump?” he sent Eoghan a concerned look. “As in, head first?”

“No! She was just crouched, looking over the edge. The edge collapsed. It was my fault,” he breathed out, head dropping so he didn’t see the concerned look that the doctor shot him. 

“I see bleeding from her scalp in the front, and I see blood in her hair. But with the seawater and her thick hair — do you think she struck the back of her head?” The surgeon slid both hands carefully, slowly under her neck and into her heavy, wet hair. 

“I — I think not. I think she landed on her side, struck her cheek. I heard the rocks crunch and wasn’t sure if it was bone.”

“I don’t feel any soft tissue damage around her occipital or her neck, or obvious fractures. I think we’re safe for you to carry her inside. Oh, good! Hello young lady. Can you hear me?” he suddenly said with a gentler tone, and Eoghan saw a flash of green under eyelashes that stuttered open.

“The owl...is okay?” she whispered, but then her eyes closed again and she began to shiver deeply. She was unconscious again.

“Shivering is good. Let’s get her inside.” Dr. Flaherty steadied the boat as Eoghan scooped her up again and climbed first onto the deck, then onto the dock. In minutes she was on the couch in his study and Marca was helping the doctor pull off her wet jacket, leggings, shirt, her shoes and socks. They wrapped her again in fresh blankets after Flaherty ensured no obvious broken bones, then he set himself to cleaning and bandaging her arm and forehead. He lifted her eyelids and shined a light in each. Soon her shivering eased, and Marca shyly pointed out the slim wallet she had found in the wet jacket pocket.

“Dr. Cora Killigrew. Recently of Atlanta. Okay, Mr. Grant. It’s time for me to be direct. How do you know this woman and why is her fall your fault?”

Eoghan didn’t need a prompt to be honest. Lying wasn’t something he had ever done well, and lacked the motivation to improve upon. When he had visited the housewarming party Flaherty’s wife threw when they moved, he politely had informed Flaherty that his deck was poorly engineered and even more shoddily built. After that, Dr. Flaherty always referred to him as “Mr. Grant” or “Grant,” which made Eoghan feel like saluting. They hadn’t invited him again since. 

“I think she and I met back in college. But today, I was on a remote flight — it’s basically a drone I’m developing for the military. I pilot it from my deck. It looks like a real bird, and it landed on the point, at the base of the cliff. She must have been curious, because she peered over the edge when I know she used to have a severe fear of heights. Then the edge just...disintegrated.” He looked to Cora, pushed her damp hair back off her face with a tenderness that brought a wisp of a smile to Flaherty’s face. “I haven’t seen her since college. But I’m sure it’s her. Cora.”

Flaherty abruptly ruined the tender scene by leaning down closer to her.

“Cora!” he barked. “Cora, wake up!”

Cora’s ears rang and her brain throbbed. She slowly opened her eyes, wincing at the light in the room.

“Cora. Dr. Killigrew? You’ve had a fall and I suspect you’ve sustained a concussion.”

Cora focused on the man, whose white mustache evoked the chimney sweep from an old musical. “I have?” She thought on it. “The ledge. The owl.”

“Yes, that’s right. I’m Dr. Dan Flaherty. Now, can you tell me your full name?”

“Cora Killigrew.”

Flaherty nodded. “And what is today?”

Cora blinked, composed herself. She remembered the answer and knew what would come next.

“It’s Friday. The 11th. October. We’re in Sealport, Maine. I was hiking in the morning. How long was I unconscious? Have you checked my pupils?”

Flaherty’s smile was almost proud, and he patted her shoulder with a nod.

“Yes. Not much lag between them on dilation. But you did take a conk to the cranium so I want you under observation for a few days.”

Cora glanced around.

“This isn’t a hospital.”

“No, you’re at the home of Mr. Grant, he saw you fall and brought you here. You shouldn’t need a hospital. But I will want you to be nearby someone at all times for at least today and tonight. We can talk after that but I imagine the next three days you’ll want to keep a friend close. You could have dizziness and fall again.”

Cora covered her eyes with one hand, started to take an assessment of herself. Her arm seemed scraped and bruised, her shoulders felt abraded, and her head pulsed with pain. She touched where her cheek felt singed and her fingertips read tiny lacerations in her skin.

“Grant, you have some Advil?” the doctor asked someone.

“Yes. Marca, can you get that?”

She continued to review her injuries in silence, eyes closed. “I’m half naked,” she realized aloud. Another man sat down near her on a table, and she carefully opened her eyes against the sunlight to measure him. He was tall, lean but well built, and she appreciated his wide shoulders blocking the sun through the window. Dressed in gray dungarees and a green flannel, he had waving dark blonde hair combed back from a face both rough-hewn but clean-shaven, almost fine boned despite his size. His gray eyes were watching her with real concern, and she felt a rush of familiarity.

“We needed to get you out of your wet clothes. You were hypothermic. Here, Marca’s got hot tea and some Advil. Do you like tea?”

“I love tea,” she admitted, and sent an appreciative smile to the woman he called “Marca” carrying it in. When he offered, she didn’t shy from his help to move to a sitting position with her back against the couch’s arm, but colored when his warm hand slid behind her back and touched bare skin. “Thank you.” Taking the mug and medicine, Cora swallowed both and then took another grateful sip of the hot black tea tinged with ginger. “I think I owe you all sincere thanks. It seems I was incredibly clumsy.”

Flaherty sent a raised brow over to the younger man, who looked pained.

“It was entirely my fault. You were trying to get a look at me — I mean, at the owl — and the ledge crumbled under you.”

Cora shook her head in confusion.

“The owl,” he explained, “it’s a robot, actually. A drone, technically, and operated remotely. I landed it at the point’s beach and when you went to take a look — ”

Marca interrupted him by hauling in the large white bird and placing it back on a tall pedestal. It was as stiff and lifeless as a museum piece, and Cora looked from it to Marca, then to the tall man watching her so closely.

“Damned thing was tossed in the boat and probably banged up. Not a way to treat yah three million dollar toys,” Marca chided, her Mainer accent strong.

“I was in a rush, Marca. And it’s two.”

“That thing’s worth two million? Damn, boy. I thought surgery was a good profession. No wonder you’re retired before forty,” Flaherty laughed. “Can I still invest?”

“Yes,” he replied so simply and without ego that Flaherty laughed harder. 

Cora looked back to the snowy owl, evidently a model or stuffed replica, while she tried to piece together what they were saying. She’d seen it look up at her. She had seen it flying. Maybe it was a worse concussion than she thought.

“Cora, are you okay?” the younger man asked.

Cora shook her head slowly so it wouldn’t sing with pain.

“I’m...I think I’m having hallucinations. This is very confusing. That snowy owl isn’t real, but you were flying it, and it’s worth two million dollars?”

Next Chapter: Chapter Seven