At night, the streets really calm down. You'd be surprised at how few people seem to be living here at midnight, even if they're all just sleeping. It feels somehow empty, like it was twenty years ago.
Yes, I've lived in a virtually empty town before. The same town that I live and work in now, the same town that years ago was host to a devious plan that would have destroyed it entirely. That town.
During the day, everything is bustling. But I honestly prefer our town at night. I can be alone with my thoughts. Everybody's sleeping, and each time the wind rises from the sea you can hear it. It's nice, really. Peaceful. You can see the lighthouse lantern from anywhere in town, letting ships know that the coast is near.
Stain'd-by-the-Sea is only a small speck on any real map, but the six hundred people who call it home are grateful for it. It really is a thriving town, with a successful ink business, beautiful views of the sea, and a well-regarded newspaper. And as I walked through the town, watching all of the establishments close down, I couldn't help but think of what had happened here before.
This is not the story of my walk through town, however. This is another story altogether.
. . .
Twenty years ago
I lay awake in bed as I listened to the unfamiliar sound of my parents fighting.
Their voices rose enough that it kept me awake for an hour. Skilled writers make skilled debaters, and pairing two angry, skilled debaters is a bad idea. The fight could last for hours. Thankfully, it was over by eleven p.m. I didn't hear anything they had said to each other, but I knew that something was wrong. My parents never fought. Not like this.
I finally fell asleep at 11:30.
The next morning I awoke to find a letter taped onto my typewriter. I took it off carefully and started reading. It was in my mother's handwriting. My heart sank. I could not think of many reasons why she would leave me a note.
Dear Moxie, the letter read, I have received an invitation to join a newspaper in the city, and I accepted the position. I left town on last night's train. Don't worry, I'll send for you and your father eventually, once I have secured my job here. I love you, Moxie. Everything will be all right.
Everything was not all right, nor would it ever be.
He came bolting into the room. "Moxie! What's wrong?"
I didn't answer. I just stood there silently, reading Mom's words over and over. A newspaper in the city. Eventually. I love you.
Everything will be all right.
Dad stood above me, reading the letter Mom had left. Maybe I should have cried. Maybe I should have let my sadness out back then. But I didn't, and it only made things more difficult later on. I didn't know that at the time. Instead, millions of questions flooded through my mind. I only asked one.
"Does this have anything to do with the fight you and Mom had last night?"
This took Dad by surprise. His eyes went wide, and then he smiled sadly at me. "I'm sorry you had to hear that."
"It's okay," I said, looking down. I was lying. I was a bad liar. When you have two parents as journalists and newspaper editors, you learn to be honest. It just comes with the territory. And speaking of the truth, in order to understand this story completely, you'll have to understand a few things.
First of all: You have to understand that, at the time, Stain'd-by-the-Sea was not by the sea. It was barely even a town at that point, after its main industry, ink, crashed and burned. The sea had been drained two years before to salvage the business, but the plan proved ineffective, and very few people still lived there.
Which is why when my mother left, I began to suspect that its effects had finally spread to our own home, no matter how long we had tried to hold it back.
We printed one more edition of The Stain'd Lighthouse. It wasn't even an edition, really, but essentially a flyer telling the town - or what was left of it - that we were shutting down publication. We were running out of the ink we sorely needed to print the newspapers. So much had happened, all at once, that it felt as though Mom leaving us in this fading town was just a part of the equation.
Not much happened over the next half year. I guess that Dad and I continued living, as best as we could, without Mom. The only thing that's worth telling about was a strange telegram my father received.
The telegram was regarding a small statue of a local legend, a sea monster called the Bombinating Beast, that was worth almost nothing. It had been passed down in my family since forever, and not worth much. I wasn't sure why anyone would ever be interested in the statue. And yet, here we were, with someone willing to offer a great sum of money for it.
It interested me, but we couldn't respond. The telegraph office closed a few days later.
Six months went by.
And along came something interesting. A mystery. Two, actually.
The day both arrived, I was sitting on the stairs. My father was reading something in the living room. I've always loved sitting on the stairs. It's the perfect place to simply sit and type, even if the news wasn't interesting. My business cards, stating my name and occupation as a journalist, were tucked into the wide brim of my hat for safekeeping. I typed and typed, and suddenly the doorbell rang.
I don't know what I expected. Maybe the Bombinating Beast. Maybe my mother. I hoped for the latter.
The door was opened by my father, and the first mystery stepped through the door.