In The Lantern Light

The sunset was beautiful as always while Liam sat in the sand a few feet from the water’s edge, an unlit lantern by his side. He wasn’t sure how long he would sit there tonight, so he had brought the lantern and the thin blanket it rested on. It was the anniversary of the worst night of his life and he had just wanted to spend it alone. Now that he was out here on the beach, however, he regretted that choice. Maybe he should have gone to the bar. At least there would have been noise and people. The beach was too quiet, so quiet. In fact, he was getting lost in his thoughts of that night.

The light faded and his eyes scanned the ocean for any sign of ships, knowing this time of year the water should be as empty as the beach. So, he was surprised when his gaze touched on the lights of a ship floating on the horizon line. Shaking his head, he pulled out a small pair of binoculars from his pocket. Looking out through the glass, he could make out a personal sailboat. He put down the binoculars and leaned back on his elbows. Whoever was out there wasn’t anything for him to worry about. 

A woman’s voice cut through the silence. “You need to let it go, Liam.” She stepped up beside him and lowered herself to the sand. 

“There’s nothing for me to let go. It’s been over for years,” he said, not bothering to shift his eyes from where it rested on the ship. He was wondering what the ship was doing out there, but didn’t think he would find out.

“I don’t think you’ve gotten over anything. Doubt you ever will,” she said.

He shook his head. “I don’t want to talk about it, Irina. What are you doing here?” He asked. He blinked and the light on the ocean disappeared. 

“Mom said you left the house in a funk. I know what day it is. Where else would you be?” she said.

He turned to look at her. “It’s been ten years. How can it still hurt so much?” He asked, thought of the ship falling away from his mind.

She put her arm around him. “Because you loved her,” she said, reaching over and lighting the lantern. “How long do you plan on staying out here tonight?” 

He shook his head. “I don’t know. I was hoping being out here would help me get through the night and keep the memories at bay.” 

“Did it work?” She asked.

“No, I can’t get her out of my head. It’s like I’m stuck in the day. Everything about it keeps repeating over and over,” he said. The sound of the waves brought his attention back to the water and, once more, memories poured into his mind like water over rocks.

It had been a moonless night as Liam and Irina decided they were going to take a moonlit walk on the beach. As they walked along at the edge of the water, a man – Liam would later describe to the police – walked up asking about a local restaurant. The encounter hadn’t seemed all that unusual as they talked about the restaurant, having stopped to have the conversation. They said goodbye. As Irina and Liam walked on, the silence shattered by a sound neither of them had ever heard. The whistle of a sniper’s gunfire. Irina had fallen too quick for Liam to catch her, the light fading from her eyes before she made it all the way to the sand. Liam had never understood, and the police had never solved the why of her death. And no one had been brought to justice for it.

“Liam, sweetie. She wouldn’t want you to still be haunted by this. It was tragic, yes, but you lived through it. She would want you to move past it,” she said. 

He stared at her, anger touching the back of his eyes. “How can I move on without answers? She didn’t just die, she was taken from me.”

Her tone deepened, taking on an edge that set his nerves on edge. “She would have destroyed you. Her death was a blessing. One you should be thankful for.”

He pulled away from her touch and stared into her eyes. The kind, loving blue eyes of his sister were gone. Replaced by cold blue hatred. “What the hell are you saying?”

She stood wiping the sand from the back of her pants as she did. “I’m saying she wasn’t good enough for you. She never would have been.”

He didn’t move as thoughts and memories clicked into place like puzzle pieces. Fear gripped him as he forced a breath in and out of his lungs. “What did you do?” he asked, shifting his weight.

She reached into the little purse she had brought with her as she smiled. “Nothing that didn’t need to be done,” she said, pulling out a 38 special. “I couldn’t have her taking you away from me. But look what’s happened, anyway? Here you are years later, still moping over her.” She finished, pointing the gun at his chest.

He swallowed. “What are you going to do, shoot me? Is that what you did before? We’re you the sniper?” He asked, more to keep her talking than because he wanted to know. The woman standing there wasn’t the sister he knew and loved. She was something cold and dangerous. Something he wanted nothing to do with once this little meeting was over. He shifted again, trying to get his fingers to his pocket and the cell phone hiding there.

“I’m not that good of a shot. I would have hit you. Now, if you keep reaching for that phone of yours, I might have to tonight though,” she said.

He stopped moving and just looked at her. “What good would that do?” He asked.

“Well, it would make it so I don’t have to worry about someone finding me. The police have been looking into me and what happened,” she said.

“What do you mean, looking into you? It’s been ten years. Why are they looking at you now?” He asked, trying to keep her talking.

“Someone found something connecting me to the man who held the gun that night,” she said, shifting her aim so the gun was pointed at his head rather than his chest. “I can’t let them find me.”

Liam noticed someone walking up behind her from the drier sand and focused his attention completely on her. He didn’t want her to realize someone – it looked like a cop or security guard – was walking up on them. He didn’t want her to turn that gun on anyone else. “So shooting me is going to save you? I don’t think so. In fact, I think it might just cost you more than you are willing to pay,” he said. The cop – he could see the uniform now – had pulled his own gun.

Before she could say anything in response, the officer was close enough to steady his gun on her. “Put the weapon down and turn around, Miss,” he said.

She stiffened but didn’t move, and the gun didn’t waver. When she spoke, the words were directed at Liam, not the officer. “You aren’t getting off the beach Liam.” Her words were hard and cold, making his blood run cold. He wasn’t sure she was wrong at this point. Her hand shook and tried to calm his breathing.

“I won’t tell you again. Put the weapon down and turn around,” the officer said. 

Liam could see the officer and, with an exchange of looks, he knew what the cop was going to do. At the nod of the officer’s head, Liam flattened against the sand. He heard both guns go off within seconds of each other. She didn’t scream; she didn’t make a sound, just dropped to the sand in a lifeless heap. Liam lifted his head and looked at the officer. 

The officer spoke, “Are you hit?” 

Liam did a mental check and found everything working as it should. “No, I think I’m fine.” He forced himself to his feet. Looking down at the lifeless body of his sister. “Not that I understand any of what just happened.”

The officer stepped closer. “I’m not sure either. All I know is the man she hired ten years ago spent the last few days telling us everything he knows about what happened. We had enough to put her away for life.” He said, he held his hand out to Liam. “I am sorry for your loss, both then and now.”

Liam shook the man’s hand and felt a weight lift from his shoulders. At last he knew what happened to the woman he loved.

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