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Lock Tower might be the weirdest place in Florida.
I know that’s saying a lot.
But picture this: a pink marble bell tower, 23 stories high, set inside a moat full of goldfish. The tower stands on a hill in the middle of the state, surrounded by acres of flowery grounds with ponds, trails, and a visitor center. They say Emanuel Lock had tons of black soil trucked to the top of this sandy hill so they could plant the gardens. These days the place gets its share of tourists—those willing to drive the back roads to discover “old Florida.” Of course, the inside of the tower is closed to the public.
But that’s not stopping us today.
“I really believe you need to rethink this,” Ray-Ray warns, as Molly and I approach the gate that leads to a little footbridge over the moat.
From here we have a good view of the stained glass windows and carvings on the tower walls—images of birds, alligators, people in robes, and symbols that I recognize as occult. The front entrance is on the other side, huge bronze doors sculpted with scenes from the Book of Genesis. But the back door is small and narrow, just across the bridge from this gate. Molly spotted two maintenance men going through a few minutes ago. If they left the door unlocked, we’ll walk in. If not, we’ll knock until they open it.
Either way, this seems to be our only chance to get inside.
Which I have to do—for magical reasons.
“It will be fine,” Molly insists. Although to be fair, the No Entry sign on the gate doesn’t exactly boost her case. “We’ve got a story ready. We’re a couple of students doing research. We’re harmless and charming. What are they going to do, arrest us?”
“Uh, maybe,” Ray-Ray says. “More likely they’ll call security and have you escorted off the premises—which, I have to say, would be what you deserve.”
Why is he even here? He’s not my boyfriend anymore, if he ever was. That thought makes my heart cringe as I look up at him, all tall and hunky in his sleeveless T-shirt and Claremont State cap. But I have to sweep those feelings aside. I’ve got more pressing issues than my lack of a love life.
Like trying to awaken an ancient goddess to protect myself from an evil ghost and his monster. And maybe protect the rest of the world while I’m at it.
“Don’t be a doomsdayer, Ray-Ray,” Molly tells her brother. “We’re not being frivolous here. Abby has work to do—magical work. I explained that to you, and you promised that if you came along you’d be supportive.”
“Yeah. I didn’t know that meant breaking and entering.”
“Supportive, Ray-Ray,” Molly says. “And it’s not breaking and entering. At most, it’s criminal trespass.”
“Okay. Okay.” He shows his palms in surrender. “I’ll stand here and do my best to block the view. When they escort you off the grounds, I’ll meet you in the parking lot.”
He steps aside, and Molly opens the gate.
One thing I learned growing up in New Jersey: if you’re not supposed to be somewhere, don’t let it show. Act like you own the place. As we cross the bridge, I put that intention into my stride.
Molly’s a step ahead of me, walking like she really does own the place. She didn’t grow up in New Jersey. For her, it just comes naturally.
She reaches the door and tries the handle. With a click and a creak of hinges, it swings open. Cool, sweet air drifts from the dim interior.
I suck in a breath as we cross the threshold.
© 2019 by Jack Massa