NOTE: This is part of the new novel I am writing. I am posting it here as a diversion for readers who may be living under shelter-in-place policies while the world waits for the coronavirus pandemic to pass. For an explanation of this project, please click here. To read the chapters I’ve posted in order, click here.

Coldwater, N.M.

Gloria was pouring herself a drink when she felt the tremor coming from somewhere in the direction of the mesa. Vodka sloshed all over the little mirror-topped bar cart, and the bottle crashed against the highball glass, knocking it over and cracking both the glass and the mirror, as Gloria lost her balance and sat down very suddenly. Pictures fell from the walls, and Gloria wondered for a moment if the house were going to cave in around her.

As quickly as it had begun, the earthquake stopped. Gloria braced herself with her hands as she struggled to her feet, narrowly avoiding the broken glass that littered the floor. She made certain the ground really had stopped moving before taking a careful step. 

Dammit. Several glasses on the cart had cracked, and a crystal decanter had fallen onto the floor, spilling a 50-year-old Scotch that she’d bought Bill for their last anniversary before he died. She stumbled into the utility room to retrieve a broom and some paper towels. The last thing she needed was to step on a shard of glass in the middle of the night.

She righted the decanter and dropped a handful of paper towels onto the Scotch to blot it up before she set to work sweeping up the glass. 

Gloria had just finished rehanging the last picture — a red-tinged print from her wedding in 1971 — when the ground wobbled again, briefly. She kept her feet under her this time. Something told her to look out the window. 

What seemed to be thick, black smoke was rising from the mesa. Had something caught fire in the earthquake, or were kids burning tires up there again? Hooligans. She remembered the night a few years ago when a group of seniors had dragged a pile of tires up there and lit them on fire. A few people in town were duped into thinking the mesa was about to erupt like Mount St. Helens, but most of Coldwater’s population had sense enough to know Sangre Mesa was a sandstone formation, not a dormant volcano, and the prank mostly fell flat. 

As she considered whether to call the police, the smoke began moving strangely, forming itself into a cloud shaped like an enormous bird. The bird flew above the mesa, spiraling downward until it finally disappeared. 

Gloria’s eyes narrowed. She’d bet her next paycheck if she went up there now, she’d catch those damned banshees up there trying to summon demons or somesuch on top of the mesa.

Well. If they could play pranks, so could Gloria. She poured herself the drink she’d been trying to have when their shenanigans interrupted her. Taking a decidedly unladylike gulp, she headed into the spare bedroom to dig one of Bill’s old coats out of the closet.

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