You Can Never Leave © 2019 Valerie Heidt
There are secrets people keep, even from themselves. But when dusk settles along the California Baja, it seeps into the desolate landscape with a hypnotic darkness that washes up on the very shores of the soul.
Neal Donnelly felt this as he nudged the ‘69 convertible Mustang down the lonely Baja strip, the pale blue pony a shifting blur against the desert backdrop. His trusty 8’ Stewart occasionally jostled under the far lighter 6’8” shortboard, both angled in the back seat as if pointing accusingly to God.
There was nothing to indicate this wasn’t just another aging California boy on a surf trip to the promised land of Los Cerritos where waves flowed as steadily as Tecate; except perhaps, the faraway look in his eye indicating the darkness had reached his soul.
CHAPTER 1: GOING, GOING, GONE DAKINE
Rain pelted his face, wet sand clumped to his sneakers like mud, his lungs burned, his mind raced. And then he saw it. Neal Donnelly stopped short, breathing hard.
The Red Flyer wagon was collecting water, floating a scattering of Jake’s sand-toys and soaking into the picnic basket loosely wrapped in a soggy beach blanket. Jake’s small blue flip flops were kicked off next to the wagon, her cover up shed nearby.
Neal scanned the California shore, his heart pounding. Water ran in rivulets off the bill of his Hobie hat. He wanted to believe she knew better, knew not to let Jake go in the water in these conditions no matter how much— There.
His heart sank as something yellow flashed in the churning surf, disappearing quickly.
He sprinted toward it. Another flash. Neal spied a lone red and white flip flop and pulled himself up short to grab it (Cassie. Oh God no, please no), reaching the shoreline just as Jake’s yellow surfboard spit up onto the shore at his feet, red algae already clinging to its jagged edge.
“Neal…I’m sorry, son. We had to call off the search. We’ll try again tomorrow but—”
You Can Never Leave: GOING, GOING, GONE DAKINE continued here
CHAPTER 4: THE BORDER
Neal slapped his passport in the official’s extended palm at the El Chaparral Tijuana border crossing. She scanned it and stared at the computer screen without acknowledging him. Neal supposed she’d already sized him up on approach and dismissed him—Just another surfer. Next.
California stretched behind him like a satiated lioness bedding down for the night. He stared into the sordid city before him just beginning to awaken in the gloam, lights flickering on here and there to falsely illuminate her darkness. He heard the ka-whump as the woman stamped his passport and held out his palm expectantly.
She reached out the window and pressed the passport into his palm. And then her fingers unexpectedly tightened on his.
“¿Señora?” he asked.
The woman stared at him. At him, through him, past him he didn’t know. But she didn’t look away and she didn’t let go. “You must go back,” she said softly. “What lies ahead… There is nothing. Nothing but oceans of gray, all around you…” She shook her head, as if negating an unheard voice. “You have grief but this is not the soft gray of sorrow I feel.”
Her grip softened and her eyes focused on his, kind eyes filled with pain certain knowledge can bring and he sensed in a strange way, it was for him.
“You will not find what you seek by escape. You have tried, no?” She nodded. “She is deep, mysterious. But be careful. Before you ask her to reveal her secrets, be sure you’re ready to know what they are…”
CHAPTER 10: The Hotel
The lobby had a regal feel to it despite its apparent age.
Oil-lamps lit the spacious entry casting a feeble glow against brocade style wallpaper, red velvet to the touch threaded with gold. It had a musty smell to it as old buildings by the sea do and there was a stillness so absolute it chilled his skin like a cemetery breeze.
“Welcome, Mr. Donnelly.”
His name spoken softly and unexpectedly startled him.
She stood in the doorway as if she’d always been, a dark whisper of a woman with soft features and hypnotic eyes of Spanish descent now aged by untold decades of time. She seemed oddly familiar yet he knew he’d never met her before, like someone he might have passed on a side street in La Paz coming from the bakery with fresh pastries for generations of children.
She might pass with a nod, perhaps a smile, but never a word. Until now.
Neal spoke and his voice sounded strange to his own ears, so long since he’d heard it.
“How did you know my name?”
“Your card, sir.” She indicated the desk and indeed, there it lay.
There was no memory of it.
You Can Never Leave: THE HOTEL continued here
This psychological thriller follows widowed surfer, Neal Donnelly, on a road trip down the Baja to a remote hotel where mysterious events and travelers converge, forcing him to confront the dark secret that not only brought him to this place but threatens to trap him there forever.
You Can Never Leave ©2019 Valerie Heidt
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