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SunLit

In an excerpt from “Once Again,” a mother suddenly finds herself reliving the loss of her daughter

Author Catherine Wallace Hope introduces a grieving woman, barely clinging to her sanity, who's jolted back in time by a phone call from the girl's school

Part I

Demeter, the harvest goddess, and Zeus, the sky god, had a daughter, Persephone—a girl as delicate as the flowers she loved to pick. One day, tempted by wondrous narcissus blooms, she wandered away on her own. Suddenly, the earth opened beneath her, and Hades, the king of the underworld, lunged upward out of the ground in his chariot driven by four immortal black horses. He seized her against her will and dragged her down into the abyss and made her his queen.

Science Fiction/Fantasy

Demeter knew nothing of what had happened. Her grief at the loss of her child was so deep that she allowed no crops to grow, and the world starved. She neither ate nor drank but traveled over land and sea, searching for the truth. When at last she learned of the abduction, she approached the gates of hell and demanded her daughter’s return. But before he conceded, Hades sat on a funeral couch with his three-headed hellhound at his feet. He drew his bride close and tricked her into eating a few seeds of pomegranate to make their bond indissoluble so he could keep her, at least for a portion of each year, in his dark realm. And so it was that she could never escape the land of the dead during the season of winter’s bitter sleep.

—Drawn from the Homeric Hymns, anonymous

1. Summer

9:20 a.m.

Sunday, June 20, 2021 | The 500th Day | 371 Nysa Vale Road, Boulder, Colorado

Erin Fullarton sat at the island in her kitchen, alone. Wearing the T-shirt and sweatpants from the day before, or maybe the day before that, she shivered slightly even though the room felt warm. She cradled a cup in her hands, but the remnants of her coffee were cold. Once there was a ghost, she thought. This was the game she and her daughter used to play, telling each other little stories they made up together, five words a turn.

Erin closed her eyes and let herself see Korrie’s face, those round, lucent gray eyes, the way she used to gaze to the side as she searched for words. In the beginning, when Korrie was three and just starting to figure out the game, she ended every story with her main character—a fairy, a hamster, a fish—successfully going potty, which she found hilarious. She had that little-girl laugh that tumbled across the room as loud as a chord on a harmonica. By the time she was six, shortly before her death, the stories had become more sophisticated, with missions to rescue captured sisters and find lost undersea homelands.

Catherine Wallace Hope grew up in Colorado, the setting for her thriller, ”Once Again.” She earned her degree in creative writing at the University of Colorado and also delved into dance in New York and art and psychology in California. When she returned to Colorado, she became an instructor at the renowned Lighthouse Writers Workshop, offering creativity workshops for writers. Currently, she and her family are living on an island in the Pacific Northwest, where they serve at the pleasure of two astonishingly spoiled dogs. You can find more at catherinewallacehope.com.

Now, Erin took Korrie’s turn and filled in the words for her. …who lived in the woods. Erin put her cup down on the white countertop of the island. “Stop it,” she muttered. “Stop turning it in to a story for her.” But she couldn’t make herself stop. It had been nearly a year and a half since Korrie died—five hundred days—and still, all Erin could do was think of her. She couldn’t start new things. She couldn’t make lists. She couldn’t reach out to other people. She couldn’t find her way back to the normal world. Because, she thought, this is what becomes of the mother of a murdered child. And the threads that bound Erin to this world now were so thin, spun glass finer than spider silk. So easily snipped between her fingernails. She could sever them in a heartbeat. 

Her phone startled her, humming with an incoming call. When she saw the caller ID, she couldn’t make sense of it. Peregrine Elementary. She stood as she accepted the call. 

UNDERWRITTEN BY

Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.

“Hello?” she said.

A woman replied. “Ms. Fullarton?”

Cool, white panic slid over Erin’s face. She knew the voice. It was unbelievable that this woman was calling her. Speaking to her again.

“Ms. Fullarton?”

Erin repositioned the phone against her ear. “Yes?”

The voice came back over the line. “This is Jeanna in the office at Peregrine Elementary.” An image of the woman surfaced from a murky pool of memories, faces of those who were involved during the days after Korrie’s death; Erin wrapped a protective arm over her chest. “Why are you calling me?”

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

“Well—” Jeanna paused as if she were the one who was surprised. “We have Korrie here in the office. And she’s running a temp of one hundred one point eight.”

Erin flinched from the sting of this woman saying her daughter’s name. Her lungs shrank in her chest, and she grabbed the edge of the island’s counter. “What?” The world seemed oddly slanted, and she thought she might lose her balance. She looked again at the ID and then put the phone back to her ear.

Jeanna spoke again, slow and clear, highlighting each word. “Someone will need to pick her up. Because she’s running a temp.”

“Why are you doing this?” Erin pulled her hand to her damp forehead. She couldn’t imagine how someone could make this call more than a year later, knowing full well what had happened.

Jeanna exhaled, sounding impatient, before she spoke again. “Is this Korrie Fullarton’s mother?”

“Yes!” Erin snapped.

“Then you need to pick her up,” Jeanna snapped back.

“What is wrong with you?” Erin paced across the kitchen tiles. “Don’t you know what a horrible thing you’re doing?”

The quiet lasted a few seconds. Erin thumbed her ring into place. She narrowed her eyes, sharpened her vision, as if this contemptible woman were standing in front of her.

“Mrs. Fullarton, I’m gonna have someone else talk to you.” Then there was the off-key music of being on hold.

Erin’s pulse thrummed in her ears, and she couldn’t swallow. She had to have water. She grabbed a cup and filled it from the tap. It was then that she looked up through the windowpane.

Outside, it was snowing.

She dropped the cup, and it clattered into the sink.

Snowflakes chased down from the pearl-gray cloud cover. Half a foot of new snow lay on the ground, and the limbs of the spruce trees hung heavy with the slow-falling burden. She leaned on the counter with a hand over her eyes. This is what happens, she thought. Eventually, you lose your grip and start to fall.

Tin sounds rose from the phone, and she listened.

Jeanna said, “If there’s a problem—” 

“No,” Erin interrupted, scrutinizing the snowfall. 

She dropped the phone on the counter and ran to the stairs and up toward Korrie’s room. She froze in front of the closed door. Impossible, she thought. She should count to five, her self-care instructions. Stop. Breathe, Count. Step back. Break the loop. 

Her thought was to open the door slowly so the dust wouldn’t stir, the air wouldn’t shatter—the quiet that had accumulated over all the months when she had stopped outside the door and held her breath and listened. The empty room should be just as it was, nothing but dark space; and in the closet, the neat white boxes of Korrie’s things that Erin’s mother had packed up and placed in stacks. For an instant, Erin wondered if Korrie’s specter would wake, silver light in the dimness, and turn to her, a stunning, beautiful, living absence.

She reached for the knob, turned it, and flung the door open wide. The riot of color sent a shock through her. Color and light and clutter. All of Korrie’s things were back—her bed, tumbled with her purple covers and fuzzy pillows, her turquoise curtains, her lamp revolving with lavender lambs, her clothes, her toys, her games, books, shoes, socks everywhere. The world—as it was supposed to be.

Who would do this? Who could have done it? No one had been in the house but Erin.

She let herself slide slightly forward into this new illusion. “Korrie?” she said. Nothing. She called down the hallway. “Korrie?”

No answer. Because you’re insane, she thought. Could I have done this? Walking in my sleep or something? She needed some kind of confirmation. She pulled herself from the enchantment of Korrie’s room, ran back down to the kitchen, and grabbed her now-blank phone. The school had hung up. The display read 9:35 a.m. February 7. Snow showers and a temperature of twenty-eight degrees.

Specks of white tumbled down outside the window.

Erin’s hands shook. Her mind became a maze. But it’s June now. Not winter. February seventh? The seventh? But it’s summer, Erin. She powered off the phone, waited for the gear wheel to spin and go dark, and then she held down the button and turned it on again. The glass face bloomed with the background image of Korrie at Christmas and the date read February 7, 2020—the time, 9:35 a.m. Snow showers and a temperature of twenty-eight degrees.

Copyright © 2020 by Catherine Wallace Hope. Excerpted by permission of Alcove Press, an imprint of The Quick Brown Fox & Company LLC. All rights reserved. 


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