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A ghost story.

“Without directions on my phone, I might make a wrong turn. There’s always something new going up.” As Will and Hannah approached Highway 30A, the dense pine forest of Florida’s panhandle began to give way to the upscale shopping, golfing, and vacation homes for which this stretch of the Gulf Coast was known.

“I think that’s going to be a new Trader Joe’s. It will probably be closer to the house than the Publix on Highway 98.” Hannah was pointing to a clear-cut area on the opposite northbound side of the road. Nothing but dark, wet soil and a few tufts of grass remained of the longleaf pines and palmettos that still formed a stark, vertical wall on the far side of the lot. A construction trailer stood to one side next to an idle backhoe. The tracks of its tread, running across the soft earth, were already half-filled with water.

“That’s all wetland too,” Will observed. “Building on land like that requires a lot of federal and state permitting. They must be keeping lawyers busy down here.” It was good to have something to talk about. The ride down had been mostly quiet. Will and Hannah hadn’t had much to say to one another lately. Will had been spending more time at the office, losing himself in the endless professional distractions of law practice. There had been less time to spend with Hannah, who was similarly occupied with her new position as an associate director at the art museum. 

“Have you ever thought about trying to pick up some business down here?” Hannah offered. “This whole state is probably wetland. It’s really just a big swamp. I know how much pressure you’re always under to develop new clients.”

“Yeah, we always talk about expanding into Florida, but like most things in life, it’s more a question of relationships than knowledge or experience,” Will explained. “In a lot of ways, my world is still very small. I don’t really know anyone down here.” 

The gulf was not yet in sight but the occasional gull or pelican cutting through the rose-gold sky of the late afternoon meant they were getting close. Highway 30A stretches along Florida’s Gulf Coast between Destin to the west and Panama City to the east. It’s dotted along its length with beach communities popular with professionals from across the Southeast—Watercolor, Seaside, Seacrest, Rosemary Beach, Alys Beach, Grayton Beach. 30A had become a brand of its own, associated with its tasteful homes, walkability, powder-soft sands, and adjacent warm emerald waters. Hannah had been vacationing along this strip of the gulf since she was a child, before much of it was developed. Her grandmother had grown up in the panhandle and her family still owned land inland near DeFuniak Springs, about an hour away.

Will and Hannah had been making the five-hour drive from Atlanta to their beach house just off Highway 30A two or three times per year for the last few years. They had bought the house as a reward for Will making partner at his law firm as well as both a source of rental income and a long-term investment. “They aren’t making any more coastal property,” Will had explained at the time. “It’s a finite resource.” So far, it had proven to be a wise decision. They enjoyed using the house themselves and had little trouble covering the mortgage and other expenses through vacation rentals over the bulk of the year. There was always demand for rentals on 30A, even in the shoulder season.

As they passed the Sand Dollar Golf Club, Hannah winced. “Can you imagine? That was so horrible, what happened.” A massive alligator had emerged from one of the ponds on the golf course and attacked an elderly woman’s terrier just the week before. 

“Oh, I know,” Will replied. “I read that the dog was on a leash too. The gator snatched it right out of her hand and dragged it into the pond.”

Hannah looked distressed. “The golf course backs up right against Sea Haven, you know. People need to be careful.”

Will made a face, imagining himself wrestling with an alligator knee-deep in the murky waters of a golf course pond trying to save a dog—or a child. “At least you don’t have to worry about alligators in the ocean,” Will offered.

Hannah chuckled. “Yeah, just the sharks, right?” 

Will switched on his headlights. It was starting to get dark. He turned on to 30A and followed it about a mile to the entrance of the Sea Haven community on the north side of the highway. He entered his code on the keypad and slowly advanced his car along the brick drive that led deeper into the neighborhood. A few families were still ambling along the sidewalk or riding golf carts, returning from the beach. The ambient sounds of the highway began to grow faint.

The front portion of Sea Haven consists of small two-bedroom cottages fronted by screened-in porches, spaced closely together along the sidewalk. The developers had made the decision to leave much of the native plant life in place. Scrub oaks, magnolia trees, and palmettos filled the area between the houses and provided additional shade from the Florida sun. About a half mile from the highway, Will entered the second, more secluded, section of the community designated as Sea Haven Phase 2. Here the houses were larger and spaced further apart. The road became a one-way loop lined with palms that wound around a large oblong island of land at the front of which was the community pool, surrounded by an iron fence. Will saw that a few adults and older kids were still in the water or talking along the side of the pool as they gathered up their gear to go home for the day. The pool area was immediately adjacent to a grassy, manicured lawn and garden lined with benches. But the bulk of the central island was nothing but dense oak, pine, palmetto, and other native plants.

On their right, as Will and Hannah approached the far side of the loop, they noticed the semi-skeletal structure of another house under construction. It looked almost exactly like theirs. The walls were up but the exterior was unfinished. The windows were also not yet installed but the ornamental hurricane shutters were in place over the window frames, making them look like dark eyes set in a brooding face. Lumber, drywall, and other construction materials were stacked neatly in front of the house and along its sides. Soon the new owners would have to choose their exterior color scheme—Spruce Blue, Silver Strand, Skipping Stone, or Summer Foam—and also come up with a name for the place.  Will and Hannah had chosen a pale green color with white trim for the exterior of their house—seafoam something-or-other, as best Will could recall. The right name was important too. It was a way for the owners to baptize their house with a touch of humor and personality.

Just on the other side of the loop, they pulled into the parking area next to their house. The golf cart was covered and parked in its designated charging station. A single flood light illuminated a sign in the front yard reading:

Ex Coast Facto
Atlanta, GA

The management company that cleaned and inspected the house after every rental had left a security light on next to the parking pad and a single light inside gently illuminated the open floorplan kitchen and entertainment area. It was more house than they needed—one bedroom downstairs and two more upstairs—but it had turned out to be easy to rent out a house of this size. They rarely bothered going upstairs. The single master suite on the main floor was plenty for the two of them. They unloaded their luggage and settled in for the evening.

Will and Hannah spent most of the next day at the beach. They preferred walking rather than taking the golf cart, but Will had made sure to reserve a beach set-up of lounge chairs, a small table, and an umbrella in the Sea Haven private beach area for the week. The row of uniformly spaced blue and white beach furniture was a marked contrast to the chaos of the neighboring public beach. Will watched a heavy-set man in a Florida Gators tank-top struggling to secure a polyester cover to the top of his beach canopy. His kids were already splashing happily in the surf while his wife was sorting through a hodge-podge of beach chairs, towels, and sand toys. 

Hannah took a long sip from her insulated water bottle and pulled a book out of her beach bag. It was a historical mystery novel set in La Fenice opera house in Venice. “We should go to Venice, Will. Have you ever been?”

Will pivoted towards her in his lounge chair. “I’ve never been to Venice. I went to Rome and Florence in college but never Venice. It’s really too bad. I hear tourism has almost ruined it. There are just too many people with all the cruise ships.” Will fished his own water bottle out of the beach bag.

Hannah frowned. “Well that’s a shame. Maybe we could go in the winter? It might not be as crowded then.” She took a bottle of sunscreen out of her bag and handed it to Will. “Here. Could you put some more on my back?” She turned away from him and leaned forward, holding up her dark ponytail to expose her upper back.

Will rubbed the sunblock between his hands before carefully massaging it across Hannah’s shoulders. “That’s not a bad idea. I have a little more control over my work at the office now and our schedule during the school year should be free.” Will felt Hannah’s shoulders grow tense. “Yeah,” she said, “we should look into the details maybe when we get back to Atlanta.” She leaned back in her chair with her book. As they lounged the rest of the day away, they took little notice of the line of clouds forming over the gulf to the southwest.

By late afternoon, the sky was slate gray. A great mass of clouds had formed and had rolled across the coast. The wind began to whip the red beach warning flag that flew over the public-access beach. It was getting dark early. Summer storms come and go along the gulf all the time, and so Will and Hannah weren’t worried until a burst of lightning illuminated the clouds to their right, followed not long after by an accompanying rumble of thunder. They gathered their things and made their way back across 30A to Sea Haven and began the half-mile walk to their house. 

“Should we run? I don’t want to get caught out in this,” Hannah asked. 

“You go on ahead,” Will suggested. “I don’t mind the rain so much. Here, hand me your bag.” Hannah handed over her things to Will.

“You sure you’ll be ok?” she asked.

“It’s fine. Go on,” Will reassured her. “It hasn’t even started raining yet.”

“Okay, but don’t take too long!” Hannah put one hand on her sun hat and began running awkwardly in her sandals towards their house. There were a few other families hastening indoors but the street was quickly emptying. Will watched Hannah slowly disappear in the gloaming.

By the time Will reached Sea Haven Phase 2, the sky had grown grayer and he could see the tops of the tall palms flanking the loop road undulating in the wind above him. No one could be seen anywhere. As he walked along the edge of the fence, he could hear the little waterfall feature trickling gently into the water. The pool itself was deserted. It was not quite dark enough for the automatic lights to come on but the thick clouds had washed out all the color from his surroundings. The tropical plant life around him had been reduced to various shades of gray, matching what he could see of the exterior of the houses here, tucked further back from the road and partially sheltered from view by the numerous trees and ornamental bushes. 

As he rounded the front of the pool, crossing towards the opposite side of the loop road closer to his house, he noticed something peculiar out of the corner of his eye—a shape on the other side of the pool. As he turned his head, he felt a sudden jolt of surprise as he looked through the bars of the gate and across the untroubled surface of the pool to a stand of palms on the far side, hidden from the road by hibiscus bushes. There, partly obscured by a palm, stood a girl—possibly a young woman—with one hand on the trunk and the other by her side, staring in his direction. For a moment, he thought it might be Hannah. The girl wore a white gown that hung to her feet and her pale, lightly freckled arms were covered to the elbows. She had coal-black hair pulled over one shoulder and dark, unblinking eyes. Her face betrayed no expression of either benevolence or malice. She stood there, unmoving. There was something else unnerving about her appearance and he felt the faint fluttering of vertigo rising in his chest. While the wind continued to whip the branches of the trees and bushes around her, it seemed to have no effect on her gown or hair. She remained perfectly still—looking, or perhaps watching, for something in the distance.

Will stood there, not knowing whether he should greet her in some way. The concentration of her gaze seemed to pierce through him, aimed at some obscure point either deep inside him or beyond him into the trees. The intensity of her scrutiny became too much. Almost as an involuntary reaction, he slowly started moving along the fence line. Her figure became obscured by the pool furniture and plants between them. As he approached the corner, he raised his head in her direction again, hoping to get a better look at her, as if a change in geometry might resolve the contradictions in her appearance. He should at least warn her to get indoors and out of the coming storm. But when he looked up again, the girl was gone.

It started to rain. Will felt the thick, warm drops of a Florida summer shower on his shoulders. He quickly turned on to the loop road and continued walking towards his house, more briskly than before. He hurried past the houses on this side of the road. Some girl from one of the nearby houses, probably, he thought to himself. Maybe she’d been waiting for someone. She’d probably slipped out on the other side of the pool, somewhere behind the bushes. But wasn’t there only one gate to the pool? Had she crouched behind one of the trees? She couldn’t have left without him noticing. 

Hannah was waiting for him on the screened-in porch. She had a glass of white wine in one hand and a towel for him in the other. “What took you so long? I was worried maybe you’d gotten lost but I don’t think even you could get lost here!” She laughed.

Will was still rattled by whatever he’d seen but he tried to smile as he began drying himself off. “I was just taking my time. Everything looks so different around here when a storm’s coming. I thought I saw someone by the pool but it may have just been my imagination.” He finished drying off, poured himself a glass of wine, and sat down on one of the plush outdoor chairs. Hannah turned on some music. They began to talk about other things. Will got caught up in the details of Hannah’s plans to fix some things around the house. She also had some ideas about how to better market the rental on social media. Will started to forget about the girl.

Will had trouble getting to sleep that night. When sleep finally came, he had strange dreams. He was in a dense pine forest. Longleaf pines, scrub oaks, cabbage palms, and greenbrier crowded in around him. It was hot. The sun was high above and the air was still and thick with moisture. There was no path anywhere around him. He was lost. He could see a pond through the trees, somewhere to his right, covered in water lily blossoms. As he struggled through the undergrowth, he began to hear someone sobbing not far away. It was a young woman’s voice. He pushed forward through the vegetation, crossing a tannin-rich creek winding its way through the undergrowth. Saw palmettos reached out towards him, menacingly, tearing at his skin. The sandy soil under his bare feet grew hotter. He looked but he couldn’t find her. The voice grew distant. As he became ever more entangled in the exuberant life around him, the scene faded and everything went black. Then he woke up.

The rain continued off and on throughout the morning. After lunch, the sky began to clear. Hannah suggested spending the afternoon at the pool. The sun had brought several other families out too. There was a group of teens lounging at one end, giggling conspiratorially among themselves. A woman about his age was reclined in a lounge chair, reading. A couple were wading in the shallow water near the zero-point end of the pool with a toddler wrapped in a bright green puddle jumper. The teens had brought a wireless speaker with them and were playing some sort of radio hits of the 80s playlist quietly in the background. Hannah made herself comfortable beside one of the umbrella-shaded tables, pulled out her book, and started to read. Will took off his shirt and eased himself into the chest-high waters of the pool’s midsection near the little waterfall and leaned back with his elbows along the edge.

From behind his sunglasses, he began to scan the pool and the people around him. No one took any notice of him. The girl he had seen by the pool the afternoon before was nowhere to be seen now. She certainly hadn’t looked like the others at the pool. She had lacked their uniformly bronzed skin, hair highlighting, and beachwear accessories that seemed de rigueur among both the young and old who frequented Sea Haven. Her gown and sleeves, no doubt, would have been unfashionable and unacceptably frumpy to this crowd. She had looked somewhat familiar, however. Her brow had appeared faintly creased over her thin, arched eyebrows the same way as Hannah’s whenever she was deep in thought or concentrating on a sudoku puzzle.

Will now turned towards Hannah and saw that she was watching the young couple and their toddler at the shallow end of the pool. There was no expression on her face at the moment. Whatever she was thinking was hidden behind the dark mirrors of her sunglasses. Will watched a number of kids and adults come and go. Hannah eventually joined him in the pool. She smiled at him as he put his arm around her shoulder. “We should go somewhere tonight,” she said, drawing closer. “There’s a new cantina near Rosemary Beach with live music every night. We could go down to the beach from there to watch the sunset. The sky is clearing up nicely.” She was right. Will looked up and saw that the clouds had mostly disappeared from the sky and that the sun was shining brightly down on them.

“That sounds great,” he answered. “I think I’d like to get away from here for a bit.” It was true that he needed to get away from Sea Haven for a while. He found that his thoughts kept circling back around to the girl he had seen. Will and Hannah got out of the pool and headed for home. On the walk back, Will couldn’t help but observe the details of his surroundings—the houses, faces, and the woods—as they made their way along the loop road. He was still looking for a clue—some explanation or hint about the girl he had seen the night before. But none was forthcoming.


Will slept peacefully that night and woke early. He lay in bed with his eyes open thinking for a few minutes before rising quietly so as not to wake Hannah, who was still sleeping peacefully on her side of the bed. After making a pot a coffee, he sat out on the porch, contemplating the neighborhood as it slowly awoke with the new day. He slipped on his loafers and began to walk. He first made a figure-eight around the neighborhood, walking up the loop road counterclockwise, around the pool in the other direction, and then back towards his house on the far side. There were a few people out already too, taking a morning stroll like him or loading their cars for the return trip home, wherever that might be. 

Will passed by the house under construction. The crew was already at work. He heard the sound of a circular saw and noticed a couple of men unloading a fresh palate of drywall. They looked up and nodded towards him as he passed. He raised a hand in salute and nodded back. Soon he reached the front of his own house again. He stopped for a moment, looking toward the central, densely wooded island that the loop road wound around. Here was the last unexplored portion of the neighborhood—Sea Haven’s dark, untouched center. As he stood contemplating the woods in front of him, he realized it reminded him of the unsettling dream he had had the previous night. It felt familiar in some way that the higher faculties of his mind were unable to process. He could hear a cicada buzzing somewhere far above in one of the pines. And, with a moment’s hesitation, he left the road and gingerly plunged into the island’s thick, wooded scrub.

He couldn’t move quickly. The vegetation pressed in around him. Within just a few feet it was hard to see the road he’d left behind. He had to be careful not to get his arms and legs scratched by the serrated palmetto leaves fanning out around him. Clumps of Spanish moss hung from the limbs of the more established live oaks. It was slow going. He worked his way laterally across the island not knowing exactly what he was looking for. The loamy soil and leaf litter were soft under his loafers. Almost immediately, he noticed the island was on a gentle grade sloping towards its northern end. The development company must have built the loop road around the island in part to avoid having to further grade the area. He pushed away the vegetation around him and worked his way up the gentle rise of the island to its crest, perhaps no more than forty or fifty feet south of the bend in the loop road. 

It was there that he noticed a discrete mound of some sort no bigger in circumference than the round coffee table in their beach house, rising no more than about a foot off the ground. He began to brush aside the leaf litter and woody debris that had built up around and on top of it. Beneath, he found a neat pile of stones. They had clearly been arranged by someone but there was no telling how long the stones had been there. Nor was there any indication of its purpose or meaning. It appeared to be a cairn, memorial, or marker of some sort. Perhaps it was part of an old structure or building that had been in the area, he thought to himself. It didn’t seem likely that a farmer would have moved these stones uphill to clear nearby land. Perhaps it was meant as a navigational guide of some sort. Will felt queasy as he considered another explanation—that something was buried here. He was reluctant to move or disturb the stones. He tentatively picked up one of them and examined its cool, smooth surface and then gently put it back in place. He took a couple of pictures with his phone and then worked his way slowly back towards the ring road.


When he got back to the house, Hannah was in the kitchen making breakfast with the television on in the background. “Did you go out for a walk? I didn’t even hear you get up.”

“Yeah, woke up early and just felt like getting out for a bit.” He decided not to mention anything about the stones, for now. There really wasn’t much to tell and he had no immediate explanation for whatever impulse drove him heedlessly into the woods. “It looks like construction on that new house is coming along pretty well. I think the crew must have been out there early. They’ve got the windows in and it looks like they’re finishing up the drywall inside.”

“It will be nice to have some new folks in the area. I think I’ve only spoken with the Smiths once before.” She gestured towards the neighboring house on the other side.

“It’s hard to get to know anyone unless you’re here for at least half the year,” Will said. “I think only the Andersons come down here that much.” The Andersons were a retired couple of snowbirds who spent much of the year in Michigan. Will and Hannah had met them at the pool last year. “You know, I don’t think I’ve ever met the couple who own the house on the other side of the Smiths just up the road.”

The next two days were uneventful. The weather was warm and clear. Will and Hannah spent more time at the beach and an afternoon at one of the new upscale shopping areas on highway 98, just up the road from 30A. While Hannah was out getting a pedicure, Will picked up a few things at Home Depot, repaired a toilet in one of the upstairs bathrooms, and replaced the propane tank in the grill on the side of the house. A couple of times he looked at his pictures of the stones, but they were even less revealing than what he had been able to discern from inspecting them in person. 

Will made sure the upper floor of their house remained in good shape for the renters who would be filling the space in a few days, not long after they returned to Atlanta. The back bathroom needed a new lightbulb over the vanity. The other bedroom at the front of the house, overlooking the loop street, was appointed with a pair of bunks suitable for four kids or so. A previous guest, presumably a child, had managed to splatter flecks of some purple drink on the ceiling directly over the bunks. It only took a little Clorox spray to remove the remaining traces of the child’s presence in the room. Renters expected houses around here to be immaculate, free from any sign of previous habitation by other renters just like them. 

His tasks complete, he stood for a moment at the bedroom window, looking out onto the road and the woods on the opposite side. If the woods and underbrush were thinner, you could probably see the little mound of rocks from here, rising slightly above the surrounding ground. He tried to recall what he knew of the area’s history. Native tribes had lived throughout the panhandle for thousands of years. The Spanish had come later, and then the English. Hannah had wanted to visit one of the small local museums in Destin when they first bought the house. He couldn’t remember much. The English settlers had been more successful than the Spanish before them, their precarious settlements slowly growing into stable isolated communities. Many of them had perished toiling under the relentless Florida sun, in skirmishes with local tribes, or succumbing to one of the ubiquitous diseases of the coastal lowlands—yellow fever, malaria.

On the morning of the day before they were planning to leave, Hannah had run into Rebecca Smith at the pool while Will had taken an urgent call from work. Rebecca and her sister had just arrived the day before while Will and Hannah were out shopping. “It turns out we have a lot in common. Did you know the Smiths grew up in Buckhead too? Apparently we know some of the same people. After college, Rebecca moved to Charlotte and met Brett there while they were both working for Wachovia. Such a small world. Her sister still lives in Atlanta too. I think she might be interested in working with me at the art museum.” Hannah set her bag and hat down on the reclaimed wooden dining table. “I know it’s our last night here but would you mind if I had a girl’s night out with Rebecca and her sister? I’d really like to get the chance to know them better.”

“Oh, that’s no problem at all,” Will reassured her. “I didn’t have anything special planned for tonight. I need to catch up on some work. I’ve hardly looked at these draft briefs I’ve brought with me and it won’t be long after we get back that we’ll need to file them. Steven just called and I’ve got to have something for him as soon as we get back.” After a brief pause, Will added, “Maybe you can set something up sometime so I can meet Brett if they’re ever in Atlanta. I think he’s still in banking up in Charlotte. That could be a great contact for me.”


Will spent the early evening reviewing the draft briefs he’d brought with him and catching up on work emails. He was not looking forward to going back to the office. He left the television on, droning away in the background. After finishing some leftovers in the fridge, he sat out on the screened-in porch with a Miller Lite and his briefs until the sun started to set. It was almost 8:00. A few clouds were beginning to roll across the sky again and a slight breeze was in the air. He dreaded the thought of driving back to Atlanta in the rain the next morning. Within an hour, it had gotten dark. The clouds had grown thicker, obscuring the moon and stars from view. A couple of streetlights along the loop road had come on automatically. Will set his papers down on the table in front of him next to his laptop, pushed open the screen door, and began to walk.

As he approached the pool, he could see the illuminated interiors of some of the other houses. He saw his neighbors cleaning up after dinner or sitting in front of their televisions in living rooms uncannily like his own. It was as if each house were really the same house but existing on parallel tracks of reality. Perhaps this house, with its light blue exterior and wicker porch furniture, was a vision of a different life he could have lived. From the road, he could see two couples through the window, perhaps a little younger than him and Hannah, putting away some dishes fresh out of the dishwasher, steam rising up from the dishwasher around them. A girl who looked about twelve years old was helping them dry and put away a roasting pan. A pair of boys, a little younger than her, sat at the stools along the kitchen counter and were turned towards the living room television, deeply engaged in whatever they were watching. It looked like they were already in their pajamas, getting ready for bed.

He crossed in front of the pool. Its underwater lights had come on and were illuminating it through a cycle of colors—red, green, blue. It sounded like some older kids were enjoying a night swim. He continued his walk around the loop. He passed the now silent and dark unfinished house. The interior was pitch black. Whatever parallel world this house would represent had not yet come into being. It would be funny, he thought to himself, if this somber shell were the finished product the builders intended—a separate little world of night and shadow, nestled among all the cheerful, pastel vacation homes.

Will completed his walk around the loop but continued on, retracing his steps once more around. And then a third time. The neighborhood grew increasingly quiet and dark. The tree frogs were out and chirping all around him. 

As he passed in front of the construction site a third time, he froze. There, in the upper window, he could see her. Her face was obscured in shadow but the distant street light was enough to highlight what was clearly a white gown. She was standing not far from the window, turned towards the silent, wooded island of trees and brush in the middle of the loop. Will stood in the road, watching her. After a few moments, it appeared that the figure in the window was starting to pace back and forth in nervous expectation. Occasionally, he thought he could see her hair and the silhouette of her face. The view from there must have been very similar to the view from the front bedroom on the second floor of his own house. 

Against his better judgment, he walked towards the house. He knew his way through its floorplan and could easily make his way in the dark to the upper room. The house was unoccupied and if she turned out merely to be a guest at one of the other houses in the neighborhood, she should be warned not to trespass on a construction site like this. It wasn’t safe. At least it gave him a plausible excuse to satisfy his own curiosity.

Will slowly rounded the front of the house, avoiding the construction materials scattered about, and made his way to the side door adjacent to the car port. He put his hand on the knob and gently pushed. It was unlocked. The door gave way as Will breathlessly eased his way inside, the new weather stripping along the bottom of the door gently sliding across the new hardwoods. He was greeted with the smell of fresh lumber, drywall, and plaster. He felt for his phone in his pocket but refrained from using its light, for now. There was just enough outside light for him to make out the familiar interior layout. To his right was the unfinished central living area. He could see the bone-white, unfinished walls. The lighting fixtures had not yet been finished and capped wires stuck out of the wall and ceiling in places. In the dark, they looked more like vines slowly reclaiming some abandoned temple or other forgotten outpost of civilization. The marble countertop and sink were already in place but the kitchen area was bare of any appliances. A circular saw table stood near one wall, its toothed blade resting in quiet expectation. The floor was partially covered with white paper rolled out in paths along the floor. The work crew had left dark footprints in places, sullying the purity of the shroud-like paper. Across from him was the closed door to the half bath. To his left was the short hallway leading to the master suite. 

Directly in front of him, rising to his left into the darkness of the second floor, were the stairs. Will stood perfectly still. There was no sound in the house. He couldn’t hear her moving. He took the phone out of his pocket and turned on its light, plunging his peripheral vision into darkness but illuminating the area immediately in front of him. He could see dust motes from the recent construction gently floating in the air. He slowly advanced towards the stairs. The emptiness of the house made it impossible to muffle the sounds of his movement. His soft steps on the paper quietly reverberated through the still air. The hardwood steps were bare. He tentatively mounted the first step, the light of his phone shining just ahead of him. The upper floor of the house was silent. He could feel his pulse beating in his ears as his breath grew shallow and rapid. What was he doing here? Two steps. Three. 

From halfway up the stairs he now heard something. A muffled sound that resembled one side of a conversation, as if he were eavesdropping on a phone call. He couldn’t make out what was said. He took two more steps. The sound stopped momentarily. Then he began to pick out words.

“Where are you? … William? ... When will you come back?”

His heart was now pounding in his chest and his vision tightened around the central beam of light from his phone. Did she say his name? He hastened his pace and quickly mounted to the top of the stairs, worried that she might be in some sort of trouble. Even in the dark, he knew his way through the house, so much like his own. He rounded the balustrade at the top and entered the narrow hallway leading toward the bedroom at the front of the house, facing the road beyond. With mounting trepidation, he approached the bedroom. The door stood partially ajar. With his free hand he pushed, gently. Across the empty room, the light from the moon shining through a momentary break in the clouds partially illuminated the area immediately in front of the window. Beyond the edge of his phone’s light, he saw her silhouette against the dim night sky. From this angle, her figure looked thinner than before. Her gown hung limply around her emaciated form. She appeared to be gazing out the widow towards the woods across the street when she abruptly turned towards him. He momentarily saw her face. A look of worry and exhaustion had replaced the intensity he had seen in her eyes by the pool. As she weakly stepped towards him, slightly raising her arms, her image became obscured and dissipated in the still darkness of the empty room.

On the drive home, Will tried to explain to Hannah what he had seen but couldn’t express the convincing tangibility of the experience. She was skeptical, and the more he talked about it, the more unreal and absurd it all sounded. She was quiet for a moment, looking out towards the road that stretched before them.

“I just can’t believe you’d walk into someone else’s house like that. I mean, that’s trespassing, isn’t it? You of all people should know better.” Hannah made a face. The rain started coming down in sheets across the windshield. “I mean, maybe you did see something. But maybe you shouldn’t have been there either.”

Will didn’t want to argue with her. “Who do you think lived there before all the condos and neighborhoods? Before Sea Haven?”

“I don’t know, Will. Indians?” She sounded exasperated. Will slowed the car as the rain began to obscure his view of the road. “Now that you ask, the promotional material they gave us when we first visited Sea Haven mentioned it was on an old road that lead from Choctawhatchee Bay inland to the settlements near DeFuniak Springs. That was before the railroad, before the highway.”

Will let the subject drop. They were quiet for most of the trip back.

Will awoke in his bed in Atlanta sometime in the middle of the night. He looked over at his bedside clock. 2:15am. Four hours still before his alarm would sound. He was thirsty. He quietly got out of bed and, not finding a glass by the sink, walked towards the kitchen. He turned on a single lamp in the living room as he made his way to the kitchen sink in the dim quiet of the night. He filled his glass while staring at his own reflection in the window’s black mirror. On his way back, as he passed the room where the baby would have slept, he stopped for a moment, torn between whether he should return to his spot in the bed next to Hannah or make his way south in the darkness to Highway 30A, to find her, and to comfort her.