Prisoner of the Pearls by Karen Cogan
Though Debra is saddened by the death of her beloved aunt, she treasures the historic home in Galveston, Texas the dear woman left to her. Also, bequeathed, are a string of flawless pearls and a note warning her to never wear them. Unable to resist, Debra fastens them around her neck. She never dreams of the history behind the pearls, or the power they will have over her life. Will she solve their mystery, or wear them to her death?
Copyright 2015 © Karen Cogan
Delighted by the mystery surrounding the pearls, Debra ran them through her fingers. They were too fine to stay hidden—they should be enjoyed, admired, and cherished. In fact, they’d go perfectly with her sweaters and black dresses. Despite her aunt’s warning, she could no more leave them in a metal container than tear down Lacy’s house.
She took the velvet box and left the room. Then, after canceling the rental on the safety deposit box, she left the bank.
In the car, she unlatched the clasp and secured the pearls around her throat. She giggled when she looked into the mirror above the dashboard. Though the delicate strand complimented her blue eyes and ash-blonde hair, she felt like a little girl playing dress-up. She’d never owned anything half as valuable as the pearls.
When she arrived home, she found an envelope propped against the door. She opened it to find a sympathy card from the neighbor next door, Mrs. Morgan, a relative of Lacy’s lawyer. Aunt Lacy had lived in this house for many years and knew several of her neighbors well.
Though Mrs. Morgan was elderly now, Debra suspected she would devote much of the time she sat at her window or on the porch to keeping an eye on Debra and the house. She was a lovely woman whom Debra had known since childhood when she spent summers with her aunt.
After she entered the house, Debra draped her jacket over a chair, for the morning had grown warm. She made a glass of tea and carried it to the back garden where little had changed since her childhood. Ferns still bordered the house and lily pads floated in the fountain.
She sat upon the fountain seat and admired the azaleas coming into bloom. Lilies and bleeding hearts lay in several round beds set amidst the rich green grass. The tall Oleander awaited its turn to bloom in the fall.
When a shadow fell across the pond, she glanced up. A man studied her, his heavy head cocked to the side. After a moment, he said, “You must not remember me, Debra. I’m Dave, Lacy’s ex-husband.”
She stared hard at him as she struggled with feelings of misgivings. He’d proved to be a bit of a leech with Lacy and less than honest with Debra. Since the last time she’d seen him, he’d grown stockier and his hair had turned entirely gray.
“What do you want?” she asked, placing a protective hand on her pearls.
“To talk to you about the map.” He paused as his gaze fell upon the strand around her neck.
As she stared into his dark, greedy eyes, her apprehension grew. “They’re worthless,” she said, hoping he’d leave.
He shook his head. “Lacy set great store by them. She kept them locked away. She showed them to me once when we went to the box for stock certificates.” He reached out to touch the pearls.
Debra flinched away, thinking of making a run for the house.
Withdrawing his hand, he smiled. “They remind me of your aunt. I’ll always love her.”
Struck by the melancholy in his face, Debra suddenly pitied the man. “She loved you, too, at first.”
“May I sit? I was shocked to learn of Lacy’s passing. I get light-headed when I think of it.”
Nodding, she stared into the pond and watched the koi that were Lacy’s pets—so friendly she could hand feed them. Three were orange and two were yellow. Debra wondered if they responded to their names.
While she was musing, Dave moved closer. “I’ve always had a soft spot for you, Debra. Now that you’re trying to start a business, I want to help. I’ll give you two hundred dollars for those pearls. It’s probably more than they’re worth. Still, I’d treasure them always.”
Debra shook her head. “I’m sorry, but they were Lacy’s. I can’t part with them.”
“They’re not for sale.”
“They should be mine. Lacy would have wanted that. The pearls want it. It’s like they’re calling to me.”
Before she could stop him, he reached out and touched them. Debra jerked away. How dare he touch her!
She pulled on his fingers as they curled around the necklace. She couldn’t loosen his grip. And then an incredible thing happened. A great, gasping portal shaped like a funnel appeared before them. They were sucked inside, whirling in a tight, white circle, bound together by his clasp upon her beads. Debra’s stomach lurched as vertigo overtook her.
When would it stop? Was she dreaming? She closed her eyes, longing to awaken. Yet they swirled on in the mist until their rotation gradually stopped. Debra opened her eyes. What she saw made her close them again.
They were no longer in her front yard. They stood on bare ground, with only scrub growth around them and no habitation as far as she could see. It was Galveston Island, but not the one she knew.
Still dizzy, she swayed and shook her head trying to clear it.
Dave didn’t resist when she pulled the pearls from his grip. Instead, he sputtered, “Where are we? I don’t recognize this place.”
“I haven’t a clue,” she answered. “The last thing I remember is you’d grabbed the pearls.”
“I don’t remember grabbing them.” He closed his eyes so tightly his ample cheeks covered them. Finally opening them, he said, “I guess you know the legend of those things.” He nodded at the pearls. “I never believed it could be true.”
“I thought the same thing.” Her heart thundered in her chest as she fought panic.
“What do we do?”
“Let’s walk and look around.”
He gestured in a circle. “Walk where? Nothing’s here.”
“We’re here for some reason. You must have talked to Lacy about these pearls. What do you know about them?”
He held up his hands in protest. “Nothing really. Just an old tale.”
Needing to take action, she set off toward the Strand, not caring whether he followed or not. Still, it didn’t surprise her when he did, huffing along beside her.
They’d walked over salt grass and around dunes, finally coming to a worn path. Debra frowned. If they were still on the island, they should have reached the port by now.
She stared in surprise when she spotted the harbor. It lay before them, populated with old-fashioned wooden ships, complete with masts and rigging. She shaded her eyes and peered up at the colorful flags fluttering near the crow’s nests. They reminded her of the old car show she’d seen once in the Astrodome—Model Ts and As, as well as cars dating from the 1940s.
Unlike those cars, these ships looked new, yet nearly two hundred years had passed since ships like these had filled the harbor.
She heard Dave gasp. “This is the past.”
“Nonsense,” she answered, knowing she had no better explanation.
Further down the beach, she spotted a few buildings, suggesting a small town—a town with no cars, no streets, or electric wires. Wherever or whenever they’d come varied greatly from the Galveston they had left.
Sand blew from the dunes. The gritty grains stuck to Debra’s moist skin. She licked her lips and tasted salt. The familiar sensations told her nothing had changed, but her eyes told her differently.
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