My first Find was a Barbie buried in the sand in our Hermosa Beach back yard, a doll long remembered by the little girl living there before us. Finds like that, never forgotten, are the easiest. My scent lines, breathing, flowing ribbons of light, drew me to the doll’s tomb.
Alistair, one of my best friends at the time, said it was St Anthony, the finder of lost things, who uncovered that doll. But I knew he was wrong.
She’s here, somewhere under sunbaked bricks, near gaudy bougainvillea splayed over the archway to my left leading to another courtyard. Vapor ribbons spiraled vortex-like around the courtyard, huger and richer in color than I had ever seen before. Resting my hand against the Chapel wall, I waited as a couple of tourists glanced at me curiously before passing through to photograph the bells.
The vapors had never hit me this strongly before.
Under. Under. Under.
“Young lady, are you all right?”
A woman dressed as a Franciscan nun watched me. Is this nun real? Where had she come from, out of the chapel or out of the past?
Nodding, I drew in a quick breath. “Oh, yes, it’s beautiful. I think I was just overwhelmed by the sense of peace and the divine still present here.”
The woman gazed at me with a slight smile, and I sensed her skepticism about my remark, but she was too polite to comment.
“The Sacred Garden is a special place. But, it is very hot today. Perhaps you should move into the shade and have a drink of water.”
Back in the chapel under the heavy beams and cool adobe, my headache subsided, and obeying orders, I gulped water from my bottle.
There was something strange about the ease of this Find, so much simpler than the Barbie doll twenty years ago. My prize—a princess, sorceress, or simple Salinan Indian girl—lay buried somewhere near the Mission San Juan Capistrano’s Sacred Garden and Bell Wall. The last time I had spent such a short time finding a lost legendary object was when I received a commission to locate a golden arrow, artifact of Brigid, the patroness of the Druids, and was led to an old man’s basement in Detroit.
Searching for the body of a girl rumored to have been murdered by Franciscan priests two hundred years ago—that accusation in itself layered considerable difficulty to the Find—was not as glamorous as finding a Celtic prize, but the Tribe was paying me good money for this. I would locate the remains, acquire them, deliver them to the Tribe, and be back home in Berkeley by tomorrow night. Here, as the visage of St Peregrine, saint of sufferers, gazed at me with pity, I made my plan.
By the time I reached my car and turned on the air conditioner the vapor disequilibrium had dissipated. A tall adobe wall shielded Mission San Juan Capistrano from the El Camino Real, but between the school and the Mission was only a chain link fence. Easy enough, I figured, to retrieve the body, likely curled tightly and wrapped in hemp, from the narrow garden plot between the bricks and the Chapel wall. I would bring my largest duffel bag. I shut down the guilt that always pushed at me before a job. It wasn’t really stealing if the current Mission owners didn’t even know the body was there.
I tried to dismiss the intensity of my physical reaction to the Find. It happened sometimes, where thought and heart ensorcelled the object so fiercely that I felt as if I had been hit in the stomach. This felt more acute than any I had known before. It was bound to happen. Native American magic. Different from any other. I needed something to distract me completely until tonight when I could return to the Mission.
An hour and a half of traffic jams brought me north to Hermosa Beach. Following Pier Avenue toward the water, I drove the familiar streets of my childhood. A cool breeze shuffled through my window from the direction of the Pacific, where off shore a fog bank lay like a rolled-up rug.
My parents lived on a quiet street just west of the Pacific Highway. By now I was very hungry and looking forward to making myself a sandwich. I was relieved to see Mom’s car was not in the driveway. She would be at work. I’d sent a text that I was coming by, maybe to stay a few nights, and I didn’t see Dad’s car either as I slid the Mini into the drive; disappointment nudged me, but I got out anyway and walked into the back yard, found the key under the birdbath, and approached the back door before I noticed anything strange.
The back door of the bungalow was slightly ajar. Maybe Dad was home after all; the old Mercedes was always in the shop; or maybe he sold it. Pushing the door open, I called out as I entered the kitchen.
Stopping in the doorway, warning whispered in my ear. Total silence met me. Two settings at the breakfast nook, half-eaten bagel, unfinished bowl of oatmeal. Counter littered with crumbs and the butter dish uncovered. Very uncharacteristic of my cleaning-Nazi mother.
“Dad?” Turning left into the back hallway toward Dad’s office, which had once been my bedroom, I passed their master suite, saw the bed unmade, clothes littering the floor, one of their suitcases propped against the bed, half-open.
I stiffened, listening. Nothing. Checking Dad’s office, it looked as if he had just left it. Dad was not a slob by any means, but he was not as tidy as Mom. He was retired now and spent a lot of time at home and kept the place neat under Mom’s interdiction. His laptop sat open and running on the table. Papers and books littered his sofa. A half-drunk cup of cold coffee sat on the wooden chair next to his work table.
My palms dampened. A shiver snaked up my spine. Checking the other bedroom and the living room, I found all the signs of a hasty departure, as if they had grabbed a few clothes, thrown them into a bag, and left in a hurry.
Very, very strange.
About the Author: Author of numerous novels and short stories, Jill Zeller is a Left Coast writer, 2nd generation Californian, retired registered nurse, and obsessed gardener. She lives in Oregon with her patient husband, 2 silly English mastiffs and 2 rescue cats—the silliest of all.
Her works explore the boundaries of reality. Some may call it fantasy, but there are rarely swords and never elves. More to the point, she prefers to write as if myth, imagination and hallucination are as real as the chair she is sitting on as she writes this.
Jill Zeller also writes under the pseudonym Hunter Morrison.