Heroes Are My Weakness

By: Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Chapter One


ANNIE DIDN’T USUALLY TALK TO her suitcase, but she wasn’t exactly herself these days. The high beams of her headlights could barely penetrate the dark, swirling chaos of the winter blizzard, and the windshield wipers on her ancient Kia were no match for the wrath of the storm that had hit the island. “It’s only a little snow,” she told the oversize red suitcase wedged into the passenger seat. “Just because it feels like the end of the world doesn’t mean it is.”

You know I hate the cold, her suitcase replied, in the annoying whine of a child who preferred making a point by stamping her foot. How could you bring me to this awful place?

Because Annie had run out of options.

An icy blast rocked the car, and the branches of the old fir trees hovering over the unpaved road whipped like witches’ hair. Annie decided that anybody who believed in hell as a fiery furnace had it all wrong. Hell was this bleak, hostile winter island.

You’ve never heard of Miami Beach? Crumpet, the spoiled princess in the suitcase retorted. Instead you had to haul us off to a deserted island in the middle of the North Atlantic where we’ll probably get eaten by polar bears!

The gears ground as the Kia struggled up the narrow, slippery island road. Annie’s head ached, her ribs hurt from coughing, and the simple act of craning her neck to peer through a clear spot on the windshield made her dizzy. She was alone in the world with only the imaginary voices of her ventriloquist dummies anchoring her to reality. As sick as she was, she didn’t miss the irony.

She conjured up the more calming voice of Crumpet’s counterpart, the practical Dilly, who was tucked away in the matching red suitcase in the backseat. We’re not in the middle of the Atlantic, sensible Dilly said. We’re on an island ten miles off the New England coast, and the last I heard, Maine doesn’t have polar bears. Besides, Peregrine Island isn’t deserted.

It might as well be. If Crumpet had been on Annie’s arm, she would have shot her small nose up in the air. People barely survive here in the middle of the summer let alone winter. I bet they eat their dead for food.

The car fishtailed ever so slightly. Annie corrected the skid, gripping the wheel more tightly through her gloves. The heater barely worked, but she’d begun to perspire under her jacket.

You mustn’t keep complaining, Crumpet, Dilly admonished her peevish counterpart. Peregrine Island is a popular summer resort.

It’s not summer! Crumpet countered. It’s the first week of February, we just drove off a car ferry that made me seasick, and there can’t be more than fifty people left here. Fifty stupid people!

You know Annie had no choice but to come here, Dilly said.

Because she’s a big failure, an unpleasant male voice sneered.

Leo had a bad habit of uttering Annie’s deepest fears, and it was inevitable that he’d intrude into her thoughts. He was her least favorite puppet, but every story needed a villain.

Very unkind, Leo, Dilly said. Even if it is true.

The petulant Crumpet continued to complain. You’re the heroine, Dilly, so everything always turns out fine for you. But not for the rest of us. Not ever. We’re doomed! Doomed, I say! We’re forever—

Annie’s cough cut off the internal histrionics of her puppet. Sooner or later her body would heal from the lingering aftereffects of pneumonia—at least she hoped so—but what about the rest of her? She’d lost faith in herself, lost the sense that, at thirty-three, her best days still lay ahead. She was physically weak, emotionally empty, and more than a little terrified, hardly the best state for someone forced to spend the next two months on an isolated Maine island.

That’s only sixty days, Dilly attempted to point out. Besides, Annie, you don’t have anywhere else to go.

And there it was. The ugly truth. Annie had nowhere else to go. Nothing else to do but search for the legacy her mother might or might not have left her.

The Kia hit a snow-packed rut, and the seat belt seized up. The pressure on Annie’s chest made her cough again. If only she could have stayed in the village for the night, but the Island Inn was closed until May. Not that she could have afforded it anyway.

The car barely crested the hill. She had years of practice transporting her puppets through every kind of weather to perform all over, but even a decent snow driver had limited control on a road like this, especially in her Kia. There was a reason the residents of Peregrine Island drove pickups.

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