The town of James Harbour was just a few short kilometres up ahead. Jake Fox, a detective, was hoping the narrowing of the highway was an indication that this god-forsaken bus ride was nearing its end. The eight-hour drive from where the ferry had landed him had finally taken its toll. Looking out his window, Jake was starting to realize how remote this community was going to be. A complete contrast to the big city in which he just came. ‘People actually live out here?’ He mumbles under his breath. Surveying the landscape some more, he couldn’t deny its beauty. Rolling hills and rugged mountains sheltered the tiny hamlet on three sides, tucked away from the mood swings of mother nature. Jake’s view suddenly changed from a picturesque backdrop to a rocky cliff-front. The bus had begun a descent down a steep winding road, at the bottom, a causeway that led directly into the center of town.
“Welcome to James Harbour – By Land, by Sea.” It was the first road sign Jake had seen in hours, but it didn’t matter, he was finally here. In a random town, his father had run off to since the very day he walked out on Jake and his mother, some forty years ago. His father was dead, he died in a diving accident and even though Jake’s father had lived his whole life in James Harbour, there were no other next of kin. The town mortician, Christopher Finley, who was also a close friend of Jake’s father, had come across an old address book. By pure luck, Mr. Finley was able to track down and connect with Jake’s mother to give her the bad news. She immediately called her son.
Mr. Finley told Jake that he had to come to James Harbour as soon as possible, there was no one else to deal with his father’s estate. Jake’s reaction was immediate anger, why should he have to deal with this? He had long washed his hands of his father and swore he would never do anything for that man, a man who had disowned him from day one. The decision was easy and he was about to turn Mr. Finley down until the mortician told him that he had found a letter with Jake’s name written on it. Jake hated his father, despised would be a better word to describe how he felt. But, at the same time, there had always been something deep down inside him that strangely, made him still have feelings. Feelings he spent his whole adulthood trying to suppress. Jake remembered telling Mr. Finley before their call ended, that he would need a few days to think about it and now here he was, about to get off a bus in his father’s hometown.
The bus slowly pulls to a stop in front of a small motel, “Midge’s Place”. Jake descends three quick steps, each step, he used to kick life back into his limbs. As he exited, the salt of the sea pierced his nose. The smell of the ocean was oddly familiar, he felt slightly rejuvenated by the crisp cool air. With one quick motion, the driver dropped his luggage by his feet, gave Jake the all good, and pulled close the door. As the bus hissed its brakes, Jake noticed there were still passengers remaining on the bus. He thought for sure James Harbour had to be the last stop, apparently, he was wrong. This wasn’t where all civilization ended.
Jake picked up his bags and entered the quaint motel, a bell rang as he entered. The place was completely empty. The only sign of life was a lazy gray cat, and he showed zero concern that Jake was even there. The old tom stretched its tiny little legs, turned and went back to finish his nap. A notice was taped to the cash register: ‘Heard the bell, be right with you.’ It was handwritten in big bold letters. Jake sat his belongings down and before he could get a chance to take a good look around, a petite old lady appeared through a threshold of plastic beads. ‘Hi, hello, can I help you?’ He presumed it was Midge. She looks at Jake with a gentle smile. ‘Room for one?’ Jake, now looking down at the room rates listed on a cue card taped to the countertop. ‘Yes, I’m looking for a room, just for tonight, anything available?’ ‘We certainly do!’ She replied. ‘My name is Midge, by the way, the owner of this fine establishment.’ ‘Jake…Jake Fox.’ He replies. Midge reaches for a guest book underneath the front desk. She flips to a blank page while simultaneously flicking her pen, making sure it was working. Her eyesight looked to be in question. ‘No rush!’ Jake patiently mentions. He had a soft spot for old people, he found her to remind him of his own grandmother. Her voice was comforting. ‘So, what brings you to town?’ She asks, now confident the pen is ready. ‘My dad just died, John Fleming. You may know him?’ Midge looks up, eyeballing Jake with more interest. ‘Oh my, poor John. You’re his son? Wow! I never knew he had a son. I never knew he had anyone really.’ Midge was still struggling with her vision as she quietly read the numbers back to herself from Jake’s credit card.
Midge finally finished writing Jake up, she tears a couple of pages from her receipt book and hands him a copy. ‘I mean, your dad did use to drop by frequently, but in recent years, as far as I know, he spent most of his time alone. Only coming into town for food and supplies, then, back out to the point, by himself. Tragic what happened. He was a well-liked man around here.’ Midge’s voice had dropped and she was now looking at Jake with a more consoling expression. ‘How long are you in town for?’ She asks. ‘Not long, just enough to get the place ready to be sold. That, and a few more loose ends and then, I’m on my way.’ Midge looks at Jake shaking her head. She could sense that he was uncomfortable talking about his father. She quickly changed the subject. ‘Well, none of that’s my business now, is it? Let me get your key, you must be exhausted from the drive.’ Jake nods in agreement and turns towards the stairway.
Midge takes a key from one of the hooks behind her. ‘Here you go sweetie, room nine. Top of the stairs, down the hall, it’ll be on your left. I gave you the room with the best view in the motel, and, come to think of it, you can see your dad’s place from there as well.’ Midge hands Jake the key and motions to head out back where she originally came. Jake could hear a TV in another room, it sounded like some sort of game show. ‘Oh, and one last thing.’ She says catching herself mid-step. ‘Mr. Finley left something for you, he came by a few days ago and told me to expect a stranger. Given that my place is the only spot in town where you can eat, sleep and drink, he was confident you’d wind up here at some point.’ She reaches below the counter again and pulls out an envelope with “Jake Fox, Private and Confidential” written on it. ‘Here you go. Good night, Mr. Fox, and please accept my condolences.’ Jake takes the envelope, jams it in his armpit and grabs his luggage. ‘Thank you, Midge, and thanks for the room. Good night to you as well.’ Then, just as she appeared, Midge slips away, behind a clatter of plastic beads.
Jake makes his way upstairs. He follows Midge’s directions and quickly finds himself in front of room number nine. He jiggled the key and with a little push, the door swung open. Midge was right, it did have a great view. You could see the whole port from the window. There was a breakwater that went straight through the center of the harbour, protection for boats against the violence of the Atlantic Ocean. Rain started to slap against the plate-glass window, it began to pour. Jake noticed a blinking light at the far end of the southern side of the harbour. As he stood there, fixated, his eyes began to grow tired and achy. Jake could no longer fight off sleep. He finally gave in and made his way over to the bed. The motel room was nice, you could really tell Midge took pride in the place. There wasn’t a pick of dust anywhere, and not a thing in the room looked disturbed. Jake took off his clothes, his entire body hurt. Five days a week in the gym, you’d think he could take a short bus ride to hell. He collapsed on top the sheets, far too lazy to slip under. He turned to his side, closed his eyes and tried to drift to sleep. Immediately, they opened again staring straight ahead. He was wide awake; fatigue had somehow disappeared. Questions started flooding his conscience, consuming his every thought. He immediately shifted to his left side trying to get more comfortable. Across the room, in the direction he was looking, he saw the envelope Midge had given him. The letter from his father was most likely inside. He could deal with not being able to fall asleep, but could he deal with what was in that envelope?
He shifts once again, this time to his back. Jake reshapes his pillow and plunges it down across his face, drowning all sound in hopes that maybe, he could nod off. The letter was now all he could think about. His detective mind was in full effect. ‘Damn it.’ Jake cursed. He rose up from the bed, walked toward the nook by the window where the envelope was laying. Jake sat down, picked up the package and began to peel it open with some help from his room key. He reached inside and withdrew the letter. Something else fell out with the paper. It landed at his feet, a key…a really old one. Looked like it was made of bone or possibly even ivory. Now Jake was full-on detective mode, growing more curious by the second. Why would his father leave him a key? Was it for the house? Would there be a luxury boat for his troubles? Or maybe his father left him a treasure? Jake smirked. He scanned the key for a second then picked up the letter, unfolded it, and started to read it to himself.
If you are reading this letter, then I must be dead. Do not tell a soul what is enclosed with this letter. The reason for that secrecy will be explained very soon. This key will provide you with all the answers.
Take the key to the house. You need not know where this key fits, for it will find its own way once it is returned to its rightful home. Follow the key Jake, follow the key…my son.
I know you may be confused by all this, but trust me, Jake, the key will show you the way.
‘By skull and moonlight, the path be shown.’
Jake sat there for a moment, puzzled, emotional, and confused just like his father had written. He had never felt this way before, ever. This single piece of paper was the only communication he and his father had ever had and he wasn’t quite sure how to feel about it. His father’s words, were for his eyes only, words that his dad had written specifically for him. Jake felt strange, he had waited his entire life to be acknowledged. It came in the form of this letter; all of the sudden, Jake felt some sort of connection with his dad. He was slowly changing his mind about coming here. Jake set the letter down next to the bed, he then reached for the key. While twisting the key in his fingers, he read his father’s riddle. Repeating it aloud ‘By skull and moonlight, the path be shown.’ Over and over, he recited. So much so, it was beginning to give Jake a headache. It might have been the lack of sleep. Jake massages his face, pulling his fingers tight, pinching the bridge of his nose between his eyes. ‘A headache? My headache? …head…skull… by skull? That’s it.’
Jake squeezes the pillow and throws it on the bed next to him. Using what little light there was from an old desk lamp next to him, he twists the key between his fingers while tilting the lamp toward it. He could start to see an image forming on the floorboards and the key began to aluminate. He couldn’t quite make sense of it. He stood up and turned on the room light. The keys glow dimmed, it was brighter with the room light off. He hit the switch, turning it off, the room grew dark once again and the keys glow grew slightly. ‘Maybe, it needs natural light?” Jake says to himself while returning to the window. The closer he got, the more the key flickered. ‘That’s it!’ Jake thought. ‘The moonlight must be the other part of the riddle. The moonlight could be what the key needs.’ Jake quickly holds the key up toward the window. The rain was still slapping against it. Dark clouds filled the night sky. There was nothing more from the key, and the image on the floor was far too distorted. There was no way, tonight at least, that he could test his theory. He took one last look across the harbour. The little light he had seen earlier was still blinking. Jake stood there trying to figure it all out. Twenty-four hours ago, his life was somewhat normal. Now, here he was looking from a window, in a strange town, headed for a strange house, trying to solve a strange riddle he had received from his estranged father.