I’m working on the second Jamis Bachman novel right now. Here’s an early glimpse at Jamis, shortly after we left off in the first!
The dirt covered wood under her feet splintered and Jamis dropped. She hit the dirt below with a thud and a groan. Dust fell from above and she closed her eyes and mouth to avoid it. She rolled to her side, pulled her knees up to her chest, and held still. After a few moments, Jamis opened her eye closest to the ground. There wasn’t much to see. After a few more moments, she opened her other eye. Jamis relaxed her legs and let her knees drop back down and rolled onto her back. The floor above had split under her weight. Pieces of wood dangled above her and she shimmied to the right, out from under them in case they fell.
The room around her was dark, but the light above lighted a path in front of her. She pulled her iPhone from her pocket and turned on the flashlight. An open doorway arched in front of her. Dust covered crates and shelves were stacked around the small space, filled with bottles of alcohol. Lanterns hung on the wall. She pushed to her feet, grabbed her side. Her ribs were freshly healed, and they screamed with pain. For a terrified moment, she was afraid they were broken again. As she caught her breath, the pain lessened, and then disappeared into a dull ache.
Now on her feet, Jamis spun around the room with her phone light. She’d fallen into a small room underneath the tunnel she’d impulsively decided to visit.
“Go visit one of Sage Creek’s tunnels, I said. That will be so much fun. I need to get out of the house.” Jamis spoke out loud to the empty space and brushed dirt from her clothes with her hand. “I did not say, oh, gosh, today I want to plummet to my death.” She looked above her. “Ten feet at least,” she said, hand in the air. “Why does this shit happen to me?”
She stomped her feet up and down and walked into the path of light shining from above.
“Help,” she yelled, hoping someone would hear. A larger group was behind her in line. The tour guide had recognized her and let her go alone. “Oh, I can go alone. Is that okay? I’m a professional, after all,” she said to the empty space around her.
“Help,” she cried upward, hoping someone heard her.
She pointed her flashlight at the doorway. She could text Johnna but didn’t want her to know she’d fallen. She queried up her chain of text messages with Sapphire, the town archivist. She’d met her a few months earlier and together; they solved a twenty-five-year-old murder.
Help. I’ve fallen in the tunnel beneath the old Woolworth building. I think someone will come but if they don’t, can you please rescue me? She hit send. She had just one bar of service and held her breath as the blue line crossed the top of the screen. Finally, it finished the long march across the screen, her message travelling the ether to Sapphire.
Then, suddenly, there was a tall figure in the doorway about ten feet from her. She jumped back, yelled, “Well, hell.” She turned her phone light on the figure. It looked like a man, probably six foot four, in a long, dark coat, with a tall hat. “Who are you, Abraham Lincoln?” He didn’t move.
“Are you a person or a ghost?” The figure still didn’t move. She walked toward him, flashlight up. The light caught on his eyes and they glowed red. He smiled then, his lips curled up and back, showing his moth covered green teeth. He lurched forward and opened his mouth. A black cloud emptied from his mouth, like water falling from a bucket, and then swirled around him like a cloak. Jamis screamed.
The dark figure moved toward her in a fluid movement of shadows and smoke. She felt him settle over her like a hand covering her mouth, trying to suffocate her. She gasped for air and her knees buckled. Her phone dropped as she fell. Frigid cold seeped into her bones and she flailed against it, struggled to stand. Her sore ribs screamed again.
Jamis closed her eyes against the assault and centered her breath in her stomach and thought about Johnna. Thought about climbing from the guest bed over a month ago and sliding into her bed. Jamis hadn’t slept alone since. She thought about their legs tangled in bed the night before, talking about their next day. She’d told her she was going to get out of the house, take a walk, look at the tunnels as they opened for summer. Jamis thought about Johnna climbing from bed to run, the sound of the shower running later, and the kiss she’d given her before leaving for the day.
Johnna, she thought, and pushed up to her feet. The dark cloud flew off her, as if in pain, and resettled back into the figure in the doorway. “What am I doing down here? I could be doing anything. Why am I down here with you?”
She shook her arms and kicked out her feet. “What the hell were you doing to me? That was so rude.” He shimmered in and out of phase and then solidified. “I have an amazing girlfriend. She saves animals and doesn’t eat them. She has these long legs, all muscular from running, and she cooks. She always smells good, has an adorable dog, and operates on kittens. And I’m down here with you?”
The figure rose up in the doorway, creating wind that raged at her. Jamis jumped up and down, pumped her arms up and down in front of her. “Oh no you don’t. I’ve been through this before. I’ve been avoiding getting myself into these situations. I’m so bored I can’t stand it, but I’m abstaining. Now, here you come. I don’t think so!” She continued to throw her fit, standing in place, in the path of light. “Shut up. Your hat is stupid,” Jamis said. She threw dirt at the figure.
The figure raged toward her before pulling back, to disappear back into the hallway from where it came. She jumped up and down again. “God damn. That was scary.”
She lifted her head to the hole in the floor and screamed, “Someone help me.”
“Oh my god, ma’am, are you all right? Where are you?” A young man crouched down on his hands and knees. He was the eighteen year old tour guide who’d let her go ahead. His head cast a shadow in front of her.
“I fell through the floor, and now I’m under it. That’s where I am. Please get me out,” Jamis said.
“I have to call 9-1-1. I don’t know how to get you out.” Jamis covered her face with her hands. The paramedics in town were going to get sick of her. “Don’t go anywhere. I’m calling right now.”
“Where would I go?” She snapped and looked quickly back at the open doorway. It was empty.
Jamis fled the scene, even though photos were likely already blowing up social media. The fire department had stuck a ladder down in the hole and she climbed out. For her drama, it was pretty anti-climatic. Sapphire rushed in just as a firefighter helped her from the ladder. She’d fussed over her for nearly twenty minutes before she was satisfied Jamis wasn’t injured again, and then left to return to work.
Jamis felt sore from her fall and settled into a powder blue 1980 Bronco and started the engine. It roared to life. Johnna kept it in her barn. It was a gift from a client who couldn’t pay for the surgery Johnna performed on his dog, Butch, who ate a tube sock. Instead, he drove the fully restored Bronco to her house and left a note on it. Johnna suggested Jamis drive it instead of the rental car. They’d made a day trip out of returning the car to Salt Lake City. Jamis had been in the Bronco since.
Jamis glanced in the rear view mirror and jumped. There was a woman in a white bonnet in the back seat. Her skin was grayish green and cracked in the middle of her forehead and on her left cheek. Jamis could see her teeth through the hole in her skin. Black tears ran from her eyes. She opened her mouth as if she spoke but no sound came out. Jamis spun around in the seat and looked behind her. There was no one there. She turned back around and hit the steering wheel with her fists.
“Holy hell,” Jamis said. A couple on the street stopped to look at her. She smiled and waved. “Ghost in my backseat,” she said and put the Bronco in drive.
At the stop light, she forced her gaze to the mirror again. The woman was there. “You’re kidding me.” She held eye contact. “You can’t follow me home. You just can’t. You have to get out of the car. I can come back and talk to you later, but you can’t come to Johnna’s house.” The woman continued to open and close her mouth. “I’ll pull the car over.” The woman opened her mouth and screamed before unfurling from the backseat in a haze of blue smoke. Her phone rang. It was Johnna. “You better go,” she yelled out her window as the blue smoke retreated. She slid the button to answer. “Hi.”
“Jamis, Sapphire just told me you fell into an abyss of never ending darkness where a black cloud tried to assault you. Is that true?”
Jamis turned right. “Are you wearing scrubs?”
“Don’t deflect,” Johnna warned.
“Really. It would be nice to think about.”
“Yes, but don’t get frisky. Someone just brought in a box of kittens and they’re watching me. It feels wrong.” She paused and Jamis laughed, while thinking about Johnna’s strawberry blonde hair pulled up tight in a bun on top of her head, to keep it out of the way. “Really, Jamis?” Her bright green eyes and perfect smile. “Are you still there?”
“I was thinking about your smile. I’ll tell you about when you get home. When are you coming?”
“Around six,” Johnna said. It was almost three hours away. Johnna paused again, her even, calm tone soothing and peaceful. “An endless abyss is what she said.”
“Johnna,” Jamis said, “I’ll see you when you get home, and I love you.” She said this quickly and hung up the phone before Johnna could respond. What would she do if Johnna didn’t say it back? A few moments later her phone chirped. She paused at the stop sign to look at her phone. There were two texts from Johnna.
I love you too.
An endless abyss of darkness and black smoke?
Jamis replied. I should have stayed home.