Iona (7 of 29)

Holding the rail tightly, Claudette peered over the cliff. The lookout was famous, even though the story of the suicide couple was variable.

“You would think they’d have leapt to the ocean,” the woman beside Claudette said. “But they had no chance of reaching the water. Anyone could see they’d land there, on those rocks.”

“That would do the job, though,” Claudette said, looking at the jagged surfaces.

“Yes, but messy,” the woman said. “Inelegant.” She looked at Claudette. “You came alone?”

“I prefer it to the tours.”

“You’re so right.” She extended her hand. “I’m Iona. The restaurant here is supposed to be quite good. Join me?”

Claudette hesitated just long enough for it to be awkward, then shook Iona’s hand. “Sure.”

She followed Iona inside. She couldn’t have said what made her wary, what seemed off about the other woman. It wasn’t the invitation. People often invited her to join them for a drink or a meal, especially when she was traveling. But there was something.

She ordered lobster. Iona ordered a dish she described as sausage made of shrimp, coconut, and hot peppers. “You’ll taste it and be amazed,” she said, smiling.

“What made you come to visit this place?” she asked after the server retreated with their order.

Claudette shrugged. “I’ve been working my way through all the attractions,” she said. “And the view from here was noted.”

Iona cocked her head to one side. “Just the sea,” she said.

Claudette laughed. “Spoken like a person who gets to see the ocean all the time.”

“Every day.”

Claudette thought she sounded both angered and saddened by that fact, but Iona didn’t elaborate on her answer.

“Why did you come?” Claudette asked. She fidgeted with her napkin, nervous and uncomfortable and unable to shake either feeling.

Iona waved the question away. “It’s an attraction, right?” She looked around the room. “All of these people, here for the view, for the supposed romance of a couple plunging to their deaths.”

Claudette nodded. It had drawn her, after all, she couldn’t deny that. The story, it’s permutations.

Their food arrived, and Claudette wanted to sweep it off the table. Something heavy sat on her stomach, on her heart. It was crazy, but she had the feeling Iona was causing it.

Iona picked at her food, then pushed the plate toward Claudette. “Don’t you want to try some?”

“No. Thank you.” Claudette leaned away from the table. “I’m actually not feeling well. I’m going to ask them to wrap this for me to take away. I’m sorry, but I should go.”

“Yes,” Iona said. “Sick. But not sick at heart.” She gave another dismissive wave. “You’ll be fine once you leave here.”

Claudette signaled for the server, who came with the check and an apologetic smile. “Do you want me to put this up? You’ll be able to enjoy it later.”

She hurried away with the lobster, and Claudette picked up the check, only to find that it wasn’t the check, was a note instead: Your lunch is on us, it said. We do apologize for the inconvenience.

Claudette stared at the note, not a hand-written thing but a printed one, as if they were given out often. She looked up at Iona.

“I vex them. I do,” she said. “They don’t want me here, I can’t leave. No one of us is pleased.” She looked around the room again. “Thank you for joining me,” she said, standing and straightening her skirt.

The server returned with Claudette’s packed up lobster. “You’re ready to go,” she said.

“Yes, ready to go,” Iona said. Without looking at the server, she walked out to the lookout.

Claudette watched her go then looked at the server. “What’s going on?”

The young woman looked embarrassed. “You’re okay,” she said. “Some stomach upset, but it’s passing.”

“What happened?”

“She’s gone now. She’s just very sad. Very lonely.”

Claudette looked toward the door then back at the server. “It was Iona? Iona made me feel sick? How? And why me?”

The young woman shrugged. “She comes to the women who come here alone.” She shrugged again. “Maybe she thinks you come with the same idea she had all those years ago. Maybe that’s why she invites you to eat with her, so she can bring you back inside, away from the railing.”

“Are you saying she thought I came here to jump?” Claudette looked outside again, but Iona was nowhere to be seen. Then the rest of the server’s words registered. “The same reason she did? Are you saying,” she looked the young woman in the eyes, “that woman is the woman who jumped, half of the couple that make this place famous?”

“She charms you,” she said. “The best I understand it is that, the moment she shakes your hand, she holds you until you start to feel sick, until you begin to understand that something isn’t right. Look at your table.”

Claudette frowned and turned to look at the table, only to find that none of Iona’s dishes were there.

“When you start to feel sick, and she has to go away, and whatever she’s made you see goes away, too. She wants to help, thinks she’s saving you from the cliff.”

Claudette shook her head. “What kind of publicity gimmick is this? Pretending the place is haunted.”

“She came to you,” the server said. “You see her. I don’t. I only know because I see the look on your face when I bring the food. The owner decided a long time ago that you women get your meal as a gift. He says it’s the least he can do.” She patted Claudette’s shoulder again. “You’re okay. Go back to your hotel, drink some water. You’re okay.”


Leap Flash 2016

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