51. A Field of Hibiscus
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The loading dock is mostly mundane: steel overhead doors, raised concrete walkways, and plenty of room for their box truck. In one bay, a rust-covered crane extends its forked arm into the air and looms over everything. Everything but the building itself. Between the two points of the arm's fork, an algae-stained sling flaps in the wind.

From just inside the now open container of the box truck, Thea takes in the moonlit sight. The smell too. Exactly like the Atlantic ocean. Shoving the memory aside, she leans further out with the help of her cane and sniffs down a lungful of air. "I don't think anyone else is here."

Waylon hops: at the apex of his jump, he shoves the container's overhead door and it clatters the rest of the way up its track. "You think?" He says.

She scratches her thumbnail along the side of her cane's handle. "I-I mean—"

Stepping over onto the concrete, Ivan barges through half of Waylon: part muscle, part bone, majority part the fifty pound sack of salt resting on his shoulder. "Back off, asshole. We're lucky she's here to begin with."

Panic vibrates through Thea's skull. No, no, no, no. I was fine—

Waylon rubs at his shoulder and walks off toward the loading dock's door, shaking his head. "Whatever."

Ivan offers a hand to Thea. "Well?"

She'll probably be fine without his help... Still, she plants her cane over the gap and a hand atop his. "Thanks. F-for standing up for me too, but I'm okay. Really. Could you just ignore him?'"

He shrugs. "Least I can do. And maybe, depends how I feel."

A feeling passes over her: an odd comfort amid the storm of jumping nerves and rampant thoughts. Almost how it feels when she's with Frank.

She drags her mind out of her thoughts and bridges the gap. Once over, Ivan drops her hand and pats her on the shoulder. "There you are. All good?"

She straightens some wrinkles in her cassock with a few pats. "All good."

They both follow after Waylon. It's silent besides Ivan's sack-laden footfalls, the clack of Thea's cane, and the odd chime of Ronan's phone from the cab.


Thea jumps, Ivan freezes, and Waylon flinches. They all exchange glances; nothing happens.

Ronan crunches through a mouthful of potato chips and calls back to them. "Don't worry, just an engine backfire. There's a highway just over that way." Leaning out the window, he waves vaguely in the direction of a nearby hill, shrugs, and crams another chip into his mouth.

Ivan perks back up. "Oh yeah, one second." He jumps down from the raised concrete platform of the loading dock to the asphalt ground.

Waylon tiptoes around a triplet of oval windows set into the steel of the bay's overhead door, searching for something. He glances at Thea, but double takes. "What is he doing?" He darts his head around and calls after Ivan. "What are you doing?"

Ivan waves an index finger over his shoulder and disappears toward the front of the truck.

Waylon glares back at Thea.

"I-I don't know." She says.

A moment after the last syllable leaves her mouth, a knock on hollow steel rings through the night. "Hey, dickhead." Ivan says.

Surprise tints Ronan's potato-chip-muffled voice. "Oh? Yes?"

Thea shifts her eyes off Waylon's and onto the concrete. Shaking his head, he shifts to the other side of the door and bends over like an infielder waiting for a baseball to soar toward him. "It's fine, it's all going to be okay." He says, more to himself than to her.

Sputtering, the box truck's engine springs to life and its red brake lights bathe the loading dock in a sinister glow.

A fresh wave of panic washes over Thea. "Is — is he leaving?"

Waylon exhales an inch away from one of the door's panels. Fog rolls out of his mouth and splashes against steel; it seeps over the metal surface, dragging a cloudy coating behind it. "No, he wouldn't leave."

The brake lights go out and the truck shifts forward.

Thea's pitch shifts up a half-step. "Are you sure?"

He rolls up his sleeve, exposing a pale forearm. "I'm sure." He says.

A second later, brake lights drown them in their red glow again and the truck's backing siren wails out steady, shrill notes.

Each pulse of the siren sends goosebumps crawling over Thea's skin.

Ivan appears around the truck's side, back stepping and beckoning all sixteen tons of metal, rubber, and whatever else a truck is made of to follow him. Wheels creep, brakes grind, and all that tension sends metallic pops echoing around the dock. He eyes the gap between the trailer and the concrete platform, alternating between waving the truck on and flashing his palm. "Another foot and a half!" He says.

What are they doing?

Metal scrapes against concrete and the loading dock itself shudders underneath their feet. Thea teeters; her cane slips against the ground and her already uneasy stance falters. She slaps her free hand onto the building's brick wall, bracing herself. Then all the trembling stops with the sputtering of the box truck's engine cutting out.

Legs shaking, she pivots and plants her back against the wall. "Okay, okay. I'm okay."

Ivan flops his salt sack onto the platform and climbs up after it. "Are you sure? Sorry about that."

She breathes, willing her legs to steady. "Yeah, I-I'm okay. I'm fine."

He lugs the sack back onto his shoulder. "Still not done, Waylon?"

In front of Waylon, an uneven, visibly-shrinking hole that didn't exist moments before burrows straight through one of the door's steel panels. He reaches his arm through. "Nearly."

Is that what his breath did?

His face squishes against the metal and he flails his arm about for something on the other side. His words mix with a series of grunts. "What was that about?"

"Just had a quick talk with him. Teleporting gets weird if my salt lines are too broken up, so I —" Ivan winks at Thea. "— politely asked him to close the gap."

Thea's breath skips a second; she darts her eyes between the two men. Why did he— what does that mean?

Wind rushes through the loading dock, whipping her shoulder cape and hair into a frenzy. Both lash against her face in painful streaks; she closes her eyes and brings up a hand to shield herself. Behind the wind, fresh hibiscus bursts into her senses.

Like she'd just fell face first into a field full of the stuff.

Sweat drenches her body in an instant; her eyes go wide; sparks of fear pepper her lungs. "Someone else just got here."