Chapter 1: The Squatter
George had been watching the house at the end of the coast road for a week.
The weather was getting colder, and he needed a place to crash for the winter. Tucked away at the end of the road with almost no vehicle traffic and only a few people who walked by, the little white and green clapboard house looked like it would be fine.
Plus, since it was so small, the police wouldn't be looking at it when they made their winter rounds. Only the big houses drew special attention.
The engine of his car sputtered and a noxious burnt rubber smell drifted in through the heating vents.
He took his foot off of the brake and made his way back to the parking lot for Moody Beach. He could leave the car there and walk back up to the house. A car, especially one with Maine plates, wouldn't attract any attention from the police.
Just another local out for a walk down to the Marginal Way and back. George grinned, turned off the lights, killed the engine and put away the keys. The pockets of his jacket contained a couple of cans of beans and some candy bars.
George may not have liked to work, but it didn't mean he couldn't take care of himself when he needed to.
He turned his collar up against the bitter wind coming in off of the Atlantic and tried to pull himself into his pea coat. His pants were pressed against his legs by the stiff breeze and the sound of his boots on the pavement was ripped away by the same harsh wind.
Five minutes of walking brought George to the house, the darkness settling in around him. His wristwatch beeped loudly in the middle of a sudden lull in the wind.
He walked up the driveway, scattering stones with each step.
A child's laughter brought him up short.
The sound seemed to have come from the beachfront side of the house. The wind howled then dropped down again.
George stood still.
He had no good reason to be at the house. But there were no lights on, there was no car in the driveway.
The laughter grew louder.
Cautiously George stepped off of the driveway and eased his way around the edge of the building. He heard voices, people making small talk although he couldn't quite make out what they were saying.
George took a deep breath, stuffed his hands deeper into his pockets, put on an air of nonchalance, and stepped out like he was cutting through the yard to get to the beach.
And there was no one.
The voices continued.
Laughter rang out.
A child let out a happy, shrill laugh.
And someone shoved George in the back with enough force to launch him forward. He tripped over his own feet and landed in the soft sand on his hands and knees. George struggled to stand, and someone kicked him in the ribs with enough force to knock the breath out of him.
A second blow to the back of his head caused his limbs to go rubbery, and he fell face first. He tried to turn away from the sand and succeeded, for the briefest of moments. Then someone grabbed him by the hair and pushed him down.
He couldn't breathe.
He flailed his arms and reached back. He tried to grab hold of the hand of his murderer, and he found nothing.
Sand was ground into his eyes, packed into his nose.
Finally, he was forced to take a breath, and he inhaled nothing save dry, brutal sand.
The voices continued, as did the laughter.
George kicked out.
"We know what you wanted," a woman's voice said suddenly in his ear. "You're not welcome here. We won't even let you stay once you're dead."
"The dunes await, you charry man," a much younger female voice said in a thick Irish brogue. "The dunes await."
George couldn't answer.
He couldn't even breathe.
He was drowning slowly in the sand.