Monday, January 29, 2018
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu original scenario â€œWhat Rough Beast â€¦â€ Sunday from 1 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. with Ben Abbott, Austin Davie, John Leppard, Ambralyn Tucker, and Yorie Latimer.)
The youngsters of Sanguis all got together a little before dinnertime on Wednesday, June 19, 1929. They shared the information they had learned from Doc Underwood and Jill Spearman about the ghosts of the plantation and the lost coffin handle.
Jebidiah suggested anyone who had a good view of the plantation from their house might keep a lookout to see if a light came one. Unfortunately, no one did. Richard suggested there might be a good view from the tree house but Michael didnâ€™t think theyâ€™d be able to see from there. Jebidiah also questioned the comfort of staying out in the tree house at night.
â€œI would catch another cold,â€ he said.
â€œWell, we donâ€™t want that,â€ Teddy said.
â€œNo, I donâ€™t.â€
â€œThe last one was so bad!â€
â€œOkay, if weâ€™re all going to meet at Tommyâ€™s grave later tonight, may I suggest we all go to the store and buy some garlic?â€ Michael said.
â€œThat sounds â€¦ sounds fine to me,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œSounds good,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWeâ€™re all going to meet out there?â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, we donâ€™t all have to, but â€¦â€ Michael said.
â€œIs it going to rain again?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œIâ€™m - Iâ€™m not sure,â€ Michael said.
They all looked up. It was a beautiful and sunny day.
â€œShall I get my helmet?â€ Richard asked.
â€œThat is â€¦ up to you, Richard,â€ Michael said.
â€œWould you be taking head injuries?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI dunno whatâ€™s gonna come out of that grave!â€ Richard said.
â€œA helmet would be very good for head injuries,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIt has a spike on it,â€ Richard said.
â€œOkay fine!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œIf you wanna wear that thing!â€
Richard ran off to his house.
â€œWhen are we meeting?â€ Teddy said. â€œWeâ€™re meeting where?â€
â€œLetâ€™s meet back up at the graveyard after dinner,â€ Michael said.
â€œI thought sundown would be a good time,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œSo, around eight?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
â€œSo, eight at the tree house,â€ she said. â€œHave your garlic. Have your stakes.â€
They all split up and went to supper.
* * *
Michael went to the Sanguis Grocery but they didnâ€™t carry garlic. At that time, there wasnâ€™t much call for it in cooking. He looked in the kitchen after dinner and found a dried-up clove in the back of a cupboard. Both he and Ella-Marie set to work making some makeshift crosses. Ella-Marie got some straight branches behind the house and used string to make a couple of crude, makeshift crosses. She sharpened the ends of them. Michael pulled a couple of frames from under his bed, taking them to the shed behind the house, and found a saw to cut it in half. He made two rough crosses from them and sharpened one of them.
* * *
Billy searched his house after dinner for some time, looking for a cross. He didnâ€™t find one but he did find a small Bible with a cross on it. He put it in his room.
Then he decided to look for crosses elsewhere in town. He remembered seeing a cross or a crucifix in Mrs. Pinesâ€™ living room, across the road from his grandfatherâ€™s soda shop and pharmacy. He went over to her house.
Gertrude Pines was a little old lady who had lived in Sanguis forever. As far as Billy knew, she had never been married. She was probably in her 90s and was tiny but feisty. She was very nice to the children of the village and Billyâ€™s grandfather was friends with her. She brought pies or cookies or even casseroles to his grandfatherâ€™s house quite often. She had started doing that right after Billyâ€™s parents disappeared and just kept it up.
He looked in the windows and spotted Mrs. Pines in the living room. She was knitting and listening to a radio drama. It sounded like some kind of scary mystery show. Billy knocked on the front door.
â€œOh!â€ she said, delighted to see him. â€œWhy hello, Billy. Câ€™mon in! Howâ€™s your grandpa?â€
â€œHeâ€™s doinâ€™ pretty good,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œIs he sleeping?â€
â€œHe sleeps a lot.â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you come in? I got some cookies in the kitchen.â€
â€œOh, thank you, maâ€™am.â€
â€œYou want some lemonade?â€
She scurried to the kitchen.
â€œHowâ€™s that friend, Teddy, of yours?â€ she called. â€œIs he any better?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œI hope he gets out of that wheelchair someday.â€
â€œI bet Jesus, the power of Jesus, could heal him.â€
She returned with a little plate of cookies and some iced tea. She chatted with Billy about how he was doing in school and how he was enjoying his summer. Billy eventually steered the conversation to how heâ€™d been feeling troubled due to Tommy Hillâ€™s death. He said he was reading through the bible and seeking salvation. He showed her the Bible heâ€™d found.
â€œI was wondering if I could borrow your crucifix so that Jesus can watch me through my journey,â€ he said.
She put her hand to her chest.
â€œYouâ€™ll find him,â€ she said. â€œYouâ€™ll find your way.â€
She got up and, taking very tiny steps, went to the crucifix and took some time getting it down off the wall. She handed it over to the boy.
â€œYou just take that and you hang onto that for as long as you want,â€ she said.
â€œOkay,â€ he said. â€œI thank you.â€
â€œYouâ€™re a good boy!â€ she said.
He ate a couple more cookies and finished his iced tea before he left.
He put everything in a book bag and put in the Colt .45 revolver that had been his dadâ€™s and probably his dadâ€™s before that in as well. He had an additional six bullets that he pocketed.
* * *
After supper, Richard approached his father who was smoking his after-supper cigarette and reading last weekâ€™s newspaper.
â€œPop?â€ Richard said.
â€œYep?â€ his dad said.
â€œLet me â€¦ uh â€¦ now donâ€™t say no, initially, but â€¦ I was wondering if I could take the gun and go hunting tonight alone.â€
â€œWhat? No! What?â€
â€œIâ€™m almost an adult, dad. I should be learning to shoot on my own.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think you should be taking the gun out at night, especially on a weekday. Weâ€™ll go out this Saturday night? How about that? Weâ€™ll go out shooting this Saturday.â€
â€œI saw a deer in the woods.â€
â€œWell, youâ€™re supposed to have a license to hunt deer, you know.â€
â€œDo you â€¦ do you have a license?â€
â€œThat doesnâ€™t make no mind!â€
The two looked at each other.
â€œAnd â€¦ right now, we donâ€™t need no deer,â€ he said. â€œNo venison. And where did you see a deer?â€
â€œIn the woods, across the trail,â€ Richard said.
â€œAcross the track?â€
â€œWhere, exactly? By the tree house?â€
â€œBy the â€¦ by the river near the tree house.â€
â€œDown by the river, huh? You saw â€¦ when was that?â€
â€œThat was â€¦ this morning.â€
â€œAw, heâ€™s not going to be there anymore. Not if it was this morning.â€
â€œBut it was a big buck!â€
â€œYeah, thatâ€™s fine. But heâ€™s not going to be where you saw him this morning.â€
â€œThink about the antlers!â€
â€œYouâ€™re never going to find him.â€
â€œI donâ€™t - what? Youâ€™re never going to find him. Next time you see a deer, you come right to me, if Iâ€™m here. And you tell me, and weâ€™ll see what we can do.â€
â€œYouâ€™re a good boy.â€
Richard went to the kitchen and got the big carving knife, tucking it into his pants and slipping to his room, hiding it there.
* * *
Jebidiah also looked around his house in search of a crucifix. He didnâ€™t find one but he did find a fancy cross made of varnished wood adorned with a golden-colored metal. He thought it was his grandmotherâ€™s. He put it into his room.
* * *
Before Michael and Ella-Marie left their house, Michael crept back to his parentsâ€™ room and got the .22 rifle his father kept there. They headed for the tree house.
* * *
Jebidiah went to Teddyâ€™s house.
â€œWe canâ€™t let my dad know Iâ€™m going,â€ Teddy said. â€œWhat-whatâ€™re we gonna do. Are we just going to leave and say weâ€™re out playing? What do we do? And do we bring our turtles?â€
A thought went through Jebidiahâ€™s head that he could wear a big coat and Jebidiah could just carry him out. He instantly realized the problem with that. Instead, he manhandled the wheelchair out the window. Then he helped get Teddy out of the window as well. He went back through the house and out the front door after closing Teddyâ€™s door. Teddyâ€™s mother waved him goodbye. Teddyâ€™s dad didnâ€™t pay him any attention. He was drinking something clear out of a mason jar and just grunted. He thought he heard him say something to Mrs. Sanderson after he left but couldnâ€™t make out what the man said. He was glad of that.
He found Teddy around the side of the house and they headed south in the twilight. They saw Richard.
â€œOh, itâ€™s Richard,â€ Teddy said. â€œHey Richard.â€
â€œHey,â€ Richard said. â€œSo â€¦ I have a crazy idea. How about we try and steal Teddyâ€™s fatherâ€™s gun.â€
â€œThat sounds more like a suicidal idea to me,â€ Teddy said.
â€œHave you met Teddyâ€™s father?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œEvery time I see him, I have heart palpitations.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know if you know my father. Heâ€™s not a friendly person.â€
â€œSometimes I fear the breath from his mouth will sicken me.â€
Teddy nodded at him.
â€œWell, do you know when he goes to bed?â€ Richard said.
â€œTeddy, do guns â€¦ do guns kill vampires?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWell, theyâ€™re not wooden stakes,â€ Teddy said. â€œAnd theyâ€™re not â€¦ no.â€
â€œNo,â€ Richard said. â€œWouldnâ€™t it be useful to have it anyway. I mean, what if we run into a wolf or something?â€
â€œWell, in Dracula, there was this little â€¦ crazy fellow named Renfield who wasnâ€™t a vampire, but worked for â€˜em,â€ Teddy said.
â€œSee, we need a gun,â€ Richard said.
â€œWell, Iâ€™m-Iâ€™m not going to Teddyâ€™s father,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œIf you want to go, thatâ€™s on you, but if you come out in a coffin as well â€¦â€
â€œIs there anything that your dadâ€™s going to leave the living room for?â€ Richard asked.
â€œWhen he passes out,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWhen does he pass out?â€
â€œWell, that could be any time. It could be late. It could be early. It depends on his mood.â€
â€œI think weâ€™re barking up the wrong tree with Teddyâ€™s dad,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWell, I canâ€™t get it from my own father,â€ Richard said.
â€œSo, you want my daddy to come and kill you?â€ Teddy said.
â€œNo,â€ Richard said. â€œYou go on ahead. Iâ€™ll catch up to in a minute.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œAll right,â€ Teddy said. â€œWhatâ€™re you gonna do?â€
â€œIâ€™m gonna see what he does,â€ Richard said.
â€œDonâ€™t let him see you peeking in the windows,â€ Teddy said.
â€œOh, I wonâ€™t,â€ Richard said.
â€œDear God, donâ€™t,â€ Jebidiah said.
The two boys continued on and Richard went back to Teddyâ€™s house. They soon met with the others, Billy on his bike with a book bag on his shoulder. Michael was carrying his fatherâ€™s hunting rifle.
â€œIâ€™m slowing you down again, Jebidiah,â€ Teddy said as they walked to the tree house.
â€œI donâ€™t want to go fast,â€ Jebidiah said.
Teddy thought on that a moment.
â€œI can take it,â€ he finally said, bracing himself in the chair.
* * *
Richard peeked into the windows of Teddyâ€™s house and saw his father sitting in a chair in the living room, drinking from a mason jar. He watched a few minutes and could hear Teddyâ€™s mother puttering around in the kitchen. He headed off to the tree house.
* * *
They finally all met at the tree house together, Richard arriving last. He was wearing the pickelhelm and had a kitchen knife in his hand. Everyone else was also apparently prepared. Jebidiah held his fancy cross but it shook in his hand.
â€œWell, I found this,â€ Teddy said.
He pulled out a compact from his pocket with a little mirror in it.
â€œWe can use this to tell if theyâ€™re vampires,â€ he said, looking at them in the mirror. â€œBecause, you see how I can see you in the mirror and you can see me?â€
â€œYes, of course!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œItâ€™s a mirror!â€
â€œYeah,â€ he said. â€œBut if I couldnâ€™t see you â€¦ wait.â€
He looked at each of their reflections in the mirror.
â€œIf I couldnâ€™t see you, then you were a vampire,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWe shouldâ€™ve brought a mirror to the funeral,â€ Richard said.
Teddy just hung his head.
â€œWell, we didnâ€™t think of that, now, did we?â€ Ella-Marie said to Richard.
â€œWell â€¦ no,â€ Richard said. â€œBut it wouldâ€™ve been nice.â€
â€œWe got some sharp crosses!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œDonâ€™t worry Teddy,â€ Michael said.
â€œAll I brought was stupid water,â€ Teddy said.
â€œDonâ€™t worry about it.â€
â€œIt didnâ€™t even do anything.â€
Michael took out the unsharpened cross and offered it, eventually giving it to Teddy. Ella-Marie fussed at Jebidiah for his shaking hands.
â€œWe got crosses, we got guns, we got garlicâ”€â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œStakes,â€ Teddy said. â€œWho brought the stakes?â€
â€œI have the one stake,â€ Michael said.
â€œOkay, hopefully thereâ€™s only one vampire,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWhy do we need meat for this?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œNo, stakes like you stick in things,â€ Teddy said. â€œYou know how you put a stake in the ground?â€
â€œOh,â€ Jebidiah said.
Ella-Marie smacked the boy in the side of the head.
â€œYou gotta have a wooden stake made outta â€¦ wood,â€ Teddy said.
Michael held up the cross that was sharpened at one end.
â€œAnyone bring a hammer to hammer it in?â€ Teddy asked.
Richard picked up a large rock.
â€œWe can use this, I guess,â€ he said.
Billy climbed up into the tree house and pulled off a piece of one by four that was not structurally necessary. He used his knife to sharpen the end of it. It took him about 15 minutes.
They headed to the cemetery.
The sounds of the crickets, frogs from the nearby river, and the occasional night bird seemed very loud.
The Tallapoosa Cemetery was a small graveyard with a few markers and stones. A picket fence about three feet high ran around the place. It was falling over in some places as it wasnâ€™t kept up very well. They knew Tommyâ€™s grave was towards the back of the place on the river side.
Overhead, clouds started to roll in. Flashes of lightning came from the distance. It looked like another thunderstorm was approaching. They figured they might have as long as an hour before the rain started.
â€œShould I wear this helmet?â€ Richard asked.
â€œItâ€™s entirely made of metal,â€ Teddy pointed out. â€œIt might attract lightning. But the trees are higher.â€
â€œYou can take your chances,â€ Ella-Marie said sweetly.
Richard left it on. Billy was looking up at the trees, wanting to climb up into one but worried about the lightning in the distance.
They made their way back to Tommyâ€™s grave, easy to distinguish from the pile of dirt still upon it. Billy spotted a large gravestone off to the left and so crept over and hid in its shadow. The other five walked to the grave as the moon rose in the east.
Richard asked Teddy how they would know if the vampire had left the grave but the boy admitted he wasnâ€™t sure. He noted the stories he read about were mostly of people thinking there was a vampire and so exhuming the dead body. When they opened the coffin, they would find the body bloated with blood on its lips and long fingernails and hair. Richard kicked the mound of dirt.
â€œI donâ€™t know how they get out,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, we canâ€™t just sit here all night,â€ Richard said. â€œWith a storm coming.â€
â€œIf yâ€™all are going to be pansyâ€™s about it, Iâ€™ll go check,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWe just donâ€™t have a shovel,â€ Richard said.
â€œAre â€¦ are we gonna dig up his grave?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œWell, if we canâ€™t tell if heâ€™s there or not â€¦â€ Richard said.
â€œWhat do you think weâ€™re here for!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI thought we were gonna see if he came out,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, the stormâ€™s accelerating our time,â€ Richard said. â€œWe canâ€™t stay out here all night.â€
â€œWhat do you think, Jebidiah?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œWe gotta get going!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI donâ€™t â€¦ I donâ€™t really want to see either way, to be quite honest,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œItâ€™ll take hours to dig up a grave with our bare hands,â€ Teddy said. â€œIâ€™ll help as much as I can.â€
â€œThe rainâ€™ll make it harder,â€ Billy squeaked from his hiding place nearby.
â€œOh my God, I forgot he was over there,â€ Teddy said, startled.
Jebidiah looked in the direction he thought the plantation stood but couldnâ€™t see any lights.
â€œI-I donâ€™t - I donâ€™t - I reckon we shouldâ€™ve brought shovels if we were gonna dig him up,â€ Teddy said.
â€œI didnâ€™t think we were gonna dig him up,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI wasnâ€™t planning on digging him up but â€¦â€ Richard said.
â€œIâ€™m no grave robber,â€ Billy called from his tombstone.
Teddy pointed at Ella-Marie.
â€œYou wanna dig him up?â€ he said.
â€œWell, how else?â€ she said. â€œHow else are we supposed to find out.â€
He looked at her.
â€œExactly!â€ she said.
â€œShe has a good point,â€ Teddy said.
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
Richard volunteered to go back home and get his shovel. He asked to borrow Billyâ€™s bike.
â€œThatâ€™d be fine,â€ Billy squeaked from the darkness.
â€œGod, how could we not bring a shovel!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhere is he?â€ Teddy said, squinting as he looked at that part of the cemetery. â€œI cannot see him at all.â€
â€œBilly is the night,â€ Billy squeaked.
Teddy was startled every time he said something.
Richard took Billyâ€™s bicycle and rode hard for town. Not long after he left, the noises of the insects stopped nearby. The boys soon noticed what looked like a dog or a coyote sitting near a tree just outside the graveyard. It was little more than a shadow.
Michael tucked his garlic and stake away and took the hunting rifle off his shoulder. He worked the action.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€ Ella-Marie said to him. â€œWhatâ€™re you doing.â€
He shushed her.
â€œIs that a dog over there?â€ Teddy asked Jebidiah. â€œThereâ€™s a dog over there.â€
Jebidiah made some strange noises.
â€œGod, how can you see that far?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWait!â€ Billy called.
Michael fired. There was a flash from the rifle and he was pretty much blinded. The other children saw the animal didnâ€™t move at all. They heard the bullet crash through the underbrush.
â€œWhatâ€™re you doing!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œSaw a dog,â€ Michael said. â€œCoyote. Wolf. I dunno.â€
His vision slowly came back.
Teddy was wide eyed and Ella-Marie looked into the woods. When Teddy pointed, she thought she could see an animal of some kind sitting next to a tree.
â€œHeâ€™s awfully still,â€ she whispered.
Billy, hiding in the shadows of the gravestone, drew his revolver from his pants.
â€œThat was very loud,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIt didnâ€™t move,â€ Michael said. â€œI was hoping that would at least scare it away, but â€¦â€
â€œDid anybody bring a flashlight?â€ Ella-Marie asked. â€œGet a better look?â€
â€œI didnâ€™t bring a flashlight,â€ Teddy said. â€œI didnâ€™t think about it.â€
â€œOf course you didnâ€™t.â€
She had also not brought a flashlight as she had not thought about it.
â€œBilly!â€ Michael said. â€œDid you bring a light source?â€
â€œBillyâ€™s gone,â€ Teddy said. â€œBilly, are you still over there?â€
There was no reply. Teddy gasped.
â€œBilly!â€ Michael said.
â€œUh-oh,â€ Teddy said.
â€œHe took Billy!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œOh no!â€ Teddy said.
Jebidiah looked back at the dog or animal. It looked like a really big dog. It made him think of a German shepherd or a coyote.
â€œHey, Teddy,â€ Michael said. â€œDo you know if vampires have anything to do with dogs of some sort?â€
â€œWell, um â€¦ in Dracula, he could turn into a bat and he could turn into mist and he could climb up a wall like a spider and â€¦ um â€¦ I think he could turn into a wolf and he could control wolves,â€ Teddy said. â€œIs that a wolf?â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t look like a wolf,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œIâ€™m not going over there,â€ Teddy muttered.
Michael groaned. Jebidiah held up his crucifix but the animal didnâ€™t move.
Michael walked to the spot where Billy had disappeared. He spotted the boy hiding by one of the large tombstones.
â€œBilly, why werenâ€™t you answering us?â€ Michael said.
In the darkness of the shadows, Billy just put his fingers to his lips. Michael could not see it.
â€œBilly, whatâ€™s going on?â€ Michael said.
He heard Billy moving and then his hand came out of the shadows holding a flashlight.
Michael took the flashlight. Billy changed his position quietly by another tombstone, slinking over and finding another shadow to hide in. A bush grew up the side of that one, making it an even better hiding place.
â€œDid he give you a flashlight?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYes,â€ Michael said.
Jebidiah turned to Teddy.
â€œCan you see that wolf in your mirror?â€ he said.
â€œOh, thatâ€™s a good idea!â€ Teddy said.
He struggled to get the mirror out.
â€œIâ€™m gonna get the mirror,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m gonna get the mirror.â€
When Jebidiah looked back where the animal had been, it was gone. Michael turned on the flashlight but there was nothing there. Jebidiah let out a high-pitched shriek and Teddy, startled, dropped the mirror. Both he and Jebidiah reached down to the ground.
â€œShine it down here!â€ Teddy said. â€œI got it.â€
He picked the mirror back up as Jebidiah looked all around for the animal.
â€œThat thing was there!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhere is it?â€ Teddy said. â€œWhereâ€™d it go?â€
â€œMaybe we should get outta here,â€ Michael said.
â€œIt just disappeared like those bite marks,â€ Ella-Marie said.
Teddy looked scared.
â€œSo, I donâ€™t need the mirror anymore?â€ he asked. â€œAre we leaving?â€
â€œKeep it out!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œAll right,â€ he said. â€œYes maâ€™am.â€
â€œGimme the flashlight! Gimme the flashlight!â€
She shined the flashlight around but they couldnâ€™t see anything in the woods.
â€œListen!â€ Ella-Marie said, noticing it for the first time. â€œThereâ€™s nothing. No crickets. No rustling. No nothing.â€
â€œNo frogs,â€ Michael said.
Jebidiah stood there, holding the crucifix, his hands shaking like he had palsy.
â€œYou need to calm down!â€ she said to him.
â€œIt-itâ€™ll be okay, Jebidiah,â€ Teddy said. â€œTheyâ€™ll protect us. Theyâ€™re our friends.â€
â€œI say we go back to our houses tonight and then go back to the plantation tomorrow,â€ Michael said.
â€œWhy?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWeâ€™re here now.â€
â€œThere ainâ€™t much we can do right now,â€ Michael said.
â€œRichard will be back in a minute,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œMaybe,â€ Michael said.
The night noises started to sound around them again.
* * *
Richard had retrieved the shovel and was getting back on the bike when he heard a gunshot coming from the direction of the cemetery. He went back to his own house and peeked into his parentâ€™s room. It was dark so he crept into their room, opened up the wardrobe, and found the Springfield rifle his father had brought back from the War. He rooted around as quietly as he could until he found a loaded magazine for the rifle. He pocketed the magazine and slung the rifle over his shoulder, closing the wardrobe and the door again.
He biked back, the shovel along the handlebars, trying to ride as quickly as possible. He made it down the road without trouble, but when he turned onto the lesser-used dirt road that led to the cemetery, he took it too fast. The tires slid out from under him and he crashed to the ground, the shovel sliding away. He felt a hot, red pain running down his left leg and realized heâ€™d skinned it from ankle to hip. He slammed his hand down on the ground and started to get to his feet when he saw a man standing in the shadows.
â€œAre you all right, boy?â€ the man said in a strange accent.
Richard scrambled to bring the rifle to bear.
â€œWho are you!â€ he cried out.
He pointed the rifle at the man.
â€œYou have bloodied yourself,â€ the man said. â€œIf you wish, I can help you with your wounds.â€
â€œIâ€™m quite fine,â€ Richard said, backing up towards the road.
The man walked slowly forward and then Richardâ€™s foot came down on a rock that rolled out from under him. He stumbled back, pulling the trigger on the rifle and being rewarded with only a click. He crashed to his back and realized he had never put the magazine in the rifle. He pulled the knife out of his belt.
When he looked around, the man was gone. He leapt to the feet and ran towards town.
It felt like someone was following him, running directly behind him without making a noise, almost like they were flying. He glanced back but didnâ€™t see anyone, though the feeling that someone was there was still very strong and disturbing. He sprinted back to his own house, climbing into his window.
He had enough presence of mind to return the rifle and magazine. He quietly returned to his room and climbed into the bed, watching out the window.
At one point, he blinked. The silhouette of a man was right outside his window. He flung a book from his desk at the shape. It struck the dark form but it didnâ€™t react. He grabbed the helmet and pointed the spiked top at him. When he blinked again, the man was gone. He leapt up, ran over and slammed the window shut, latching it, and leapt back into his bed, laying in the fetal position and watching and listening to the sounds in the night.
* * *
The other youngsters waited for what felt like too long for Richard before Michael finally spoke.
â€œHeâ€™s not back,â€ he said.
â€œI believe that Richardâ€™s probably dead,â€ Teddy said.
â€œDonâ€™t say that!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œIâ€™m scared,â€ Teddy said.
â€œAt the very least, heâ€™s not coming back,â€ Michael said.
â€œHe shouldnâ€™t have taken that long,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWe shouldnâ€™t have let him go by himself,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, he just left, didnâ€™t he?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œDid he have anything to protect himself, like â€¦?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œHe had a knife,â€ Michael said. â€œI think he had a cross.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think that kraut helmet was going to help him,â€ Teddy said.
â€œShall we make our way back and check at his house?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œProbably,â€ Michael said.
â€œWell, I guess we gotta go find him now,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhat about â€¦ Billy, I know youâ€™re out there somewhere,â€ Teddy said. â€œAre you coming with us? Just â€¦ cough once if you are.â€
There was silence.
â€œI think Billyâ€™s gonna stay here,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIs Billy dead too?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œBilly, if youâ€™re dead â€¦ if youâ€™re dead cough twice.â€
It remained quiet.
â€œI donâ€™t think heâ€™s dead,â€ Teddy said.
â€œGo show me where you found him,â€ Ella-Marie said to Michael.
â€œFound who?â€ Michael said.
â€œBilly!â€ she said.
â€œAll right,â€ he said.
He walked over to the gravestone but Billy wasnâ€™t there. He looked around and saw a shape behind another nearby gravestone with a bush growing up against it. A sliver of moonlight revealed part of the boyâ€™s shoulder. Ella-Marie saw him as well. Michael walked over.
In the darkness, unseen by them, Billy put his finger to his lips once again.
â€œWhyâ€™d you move?â€ Michael hissed.
Billy didnâ€™t answer.
â€œAll right Billy, Richardâ€™s not back yet, so weâ€™re going to go back to town,â€ Michael said. â€œSee if we can find him.â€
â€œWe gotta get outta these woods,â€ Ella-Marie said.
Billy put his hand up into the moonlight and gave them a thumbs up.
â€œYou okay?â€ Ella-Marie said.
The thumb stayed up.
â€œAre you coming with us or â€¦â€ Michael said.
The thumb turned down.
â€œAll right,â€ Michael said.
â€œWhat do you mean?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œYou canâ€™t just stay here! He canâ€™t just stay here! Michael, talk some sense into him!â€
â€œBilly â€¦â€ he said.
â€œWe canâ€™t leave him!â€ she said. â€œOut here all alone! This is just idiocy!â€
Michael leaned forward and slapped Billy in the face.
â€œMike!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œBilly!â€ Michael said. â€œBilly! You are not staying out here by your God-damned self!â€
* * *
Jebidiah gasped when he heard the slap.
â€œThat sounds way too familiar,â€ Teddy said. â€œI believe thereâ€™s a fight going on.â€
* * *
* * *
Michael reached forward and grabbed Billyâ€™s ear. It hurt. The boy went completely limp and fell to the ground.
â€œIâ€™m staying,â€ he said. â€œWhether you knock me out or not.â€
Michael reached down and lifted the boy, throwing him over his shoulder. Then Billy tried to grab Michaelâ€™s arm, clutching at it and trying to pull it up.
â€œYou can keep trying all you want, Billy,â€ Michael said confidently.
The two struggled as Michael walked towards the cemetery entrance. Ella-Marie tried to grab at Billyâ€™s arms.
â€œI donâ€™t know whatâ€™s wrong with you, but this is for your own good,â€ she said.
Billy kicked Michael hard in the crotch. Michael grunted in terrible pain and tried to slam Billy down to the ground but the two of them ended up both crashing to the ground in a pile, tangled up with each other.
â€œIâ€™m watching Tommyâ€™s grave!â€ Billy yelled.
Michael elbowed at Billyâ€™s face but Billy held off his arm and gut punched him.
â€œWhat is happening over there?â€ Teddy said.
â€œHey!â€ Jebidiah called. â€œWhat if the wolf comes back?â€
â€œHey! Hey!â€ Ella-Marie shouted.
â€œI regret to inform you all but youâ€™re both being very stupid right now!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œTommy couldâ€™ve gotten away and we would never have noticed,â€ Teddy said.
â€œAnd whose fault is that?â€ Billy squeaked.
Ella-Marie grabbed Michael by his shoulders and flung him back off Billy, sending the boy sprawling several feet away from his opponent.
â€œWhat is wrong with you!?!â€ Ella-Marie shouted at Billy. â€œWhy do you want to stay here!?!â€
â€œâ€˜Cause itâ€™s what we set out to do!â€ Billy squeaked.
Over by the grave, Jebidiah noticed a strange mist or fog around the mound.
â€œYes, but â€¦ we donâ€™t know where Richard is!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWe have to leave and find him!â€
â€œSo why do all of us have to go?â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œWe all have to stick together!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œIt ainâ€™t like those radio shows! You canâ€™t just split up! We have to stick together! Okay?â€
â€œOkay,â€ Billy squeaked. â€œThen two of us stay here.â€
â€œYou okay?â€ Ella-Marie said to Michael.
Jebidiah started to make a strange wailing, hooting noise and pointing at the woods.
â€œWhat is it!?!â€ Ella-Marie called. â€œWhat is it!?!â€
Michael stood up with a groan, holding his crotch.
â€œOh my,â€ Teddy said. â€œLook at that. Oh my.â€
Jebidiah continued to make strange, hooting, distressed noises.
â€œWhat are you saying!?!â€ Ella-Marie called.
Jebidiah said something intelligible in return. Billy got to his feet. All of them saw a low-lying mist near the woods around the edge of the cemetery. It seemed to be blowing away. There was no more mist around the place and it disappeared into the woods.
â€œDid you see that?â€ Billy said. â€œI think you saw that.â€
Jebidiah muttered something unintelligible again.
â€œI wish I hadnâ€™t seen it, actually,â€ he said.
Ella-Marie grabbed Michaelâ€™s arm.
â€œDid it come from Billyâ€™s grave?â€ Billy squeaked. â€œTommyâ€™s grave.â€
â€œItâ€™s about to come from your grave!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œIt looked like it, yeah,â€ Teddy said.
They all looked at each other.
â€œOkay, now we can get outta here,â€ Billy said. â€œTommy is a vampire.â€
Ella-Marie rolled her eyes. Then she felt Michael tense up as the boy went to swing. She tried to stop him but he just pulled her with him. He punched Billy in the face and the boy stumbled to one side.
â€œThatâ€™s for the nut shot,â€ he said.
He walked out of the cemetery, Ella-Marie glaring at him.
â€œWait, theyâ€™re going,â€ Teddy said. â€œLetâ€™s go. Follow them.â€
â€œRichard still isnâ€™t back,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œI think people forgot about him.â€
The youngsters headed up the road and found Billyâ€™s bicycle where the path to the cemetery met the road not far from the Red Bridge. A shovel was on the ground next to it.
â€œOh my Good Lord, heâ€™s died!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œHeâ€™s dead,â€ Teddy agreed. â€œThey got him. They got him! They came and got him while these people were having a rigmarole. Oh. Oh no. Oh no.â€
Michael shined the flashlight on the ground.
â€œThereâ€™s no sign of tracks!â€ Teddy said. â€œItâ€™s like something snatched him off the bike and flew away with him!â€
â€œI see something!â€ Michael said. â€œSomebody crashed.â€
â€œOh my God,â€ Ella-Marie said.
Jebidiah looked around but there was nothing around them. Teddy looked really sad.
â€œLetâ€™s go check his house,â€ Michael said. â€œHe might be there.â€
â€œHeâ€™s gone,â€ Teddy said. â€œTommy flew off with him.â€
â€œMaybe he saw something and took chase,â€ Jebidiah stuttered. â€œOr he - or heâ”€â€
â€œOr he fled or something,â€ Michael said. â€œWe donâ€™t know.â€
â€œLetâ€™s stick together,â€ Teddy said.
â€œYes,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œLetâ€™s go back to town and check his house,â€ Michael said.
They walked back to town, Billy biking. They went to Richardâ€™s house and found his bedroom window closed. That was unusual as it was very hot. Michael tapped on the window. They heard a cry from within.
â€œWho is it?â€ it called. â€œGo away.â€
â€œWell, good news heâ€™s here,â€ Michael said.
â€œAsk him how many times he got bit,â€ Teddy said.
â€œOh God!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œDid you get bit, Richard?â€ Michael said.
â€œYouâ€™re not the man,â€ Richard said.
â€œMan?â€ Michael said.
â€œWhat man?â€ Ella-Marie said.
Richardâ€™s window opened and the boy peered out, wide-eyed.
â€œWe saw your bike,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWhat happened?â€
â€œBillyâ€™s bike,â€ Michael corrected her.
â€œI took the turn too quickly and I crashed,â€ Richard said. â€œWhen I got up, there was a man. Had a weird accent.â€
â€œHow tall was he?â€ Michael asked.
â€œWas he a Yankee?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œHe just looked like an adult man,â€ Richard said. â€œHe asked if I needed help and I told him â€˜no.â€™ I got the rifle from my dadâ€™s bedroom and I fell over - fell over - and when I got back up - when I got back up after I fell over, he wasnâ€™t there. And I felt like I was being watched. So I ran back home and, when I got back to my room, he was at my window. I threw a book at him and he didnâ€™t do anything. When I grabbed my helmet, he was gone. Then I closed the window. Iâ€™ve been here ever since.â€
Billy looked around. He saw the silhouette of a tall man standing by a tree not far away, watching them.
â€œItâ€™s okay Richard,â€ Michael said. â€œJust calm down. Weâ€™ll be back in the morning.â€
â€œIâ€™m closing the window when youâ€™re gone,â€ Richard said.
Billy tapped Ella-Marieâ€™s shoulder.
â€œIs that the man?â€ he whispered to her.
â€œOh â€¦â€ she said.
â€œAs long as youâ€™re okay, Richard,â€ Teddy said.
â€œMike,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œItâ€™s a good thing heâ€™s gone and isnâ€™t here anymore,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œMike,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong?â€ Michael said.
When he looked over there, he saw the silhouette of the man. Billy had put his hand in his book bag.
â€œI would say thatâ€™s true too,â€ Teddy said.
â€œLetâ€™s make sure Jebidiah and Teddy get home safe,â€ Michael said. â€œThen letâ€™s head home ourselves.â€
â€œWhy, thatâ€™s very neighborly,â€ Teddy said. â€œThank you so much.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Jebidiah said.
Ella-Marie took out both of her crosses.
â€œThis is a very terrifying night,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI would agree with your interpretation of the eveningâ€™s events, Jebidiah,â€ Teddy said.
â€œThere was - there was a horrible wood monster. There was a spooky fog. My friends tried to kill each other. I thought Richard was dead.â€
â€œAnd Billy. I thought he was dead too.â€â€™
â€œI thought Billy was dead.â€
â€œWe thought you were dead, Billy.â€
â€œWe thought you were dead, Richard.â€
Richard slammed the window shut.
They all headed towards the Teddy and Jebidiahâ€™s houses as the rain started to come down lightly. Billy kept watching the figure in the dark until it was out of sight. He felt like the man had been watching him. They returned Teddy back to his room and then Jebidiah back to his house. The boy just went in the front door. Then the other two escorted Billy home. He also went into his house by the front door. He found his grandfather sleeping in his chair.
The last two walked carefully home without incident.
* * *
Billy didnâ€™t go to sleep that night. He sat in the dark and watched the window until the rosy light of dawn let him know the terrible night was over.
Most of the other children closed or merely cracked their windows. Jebidiah slept with his cross.
* * *
Thursday, June 20, 1929, was another hot Alabama summer day. The children who had closed their windows woke up stifling in the heat. When Jebidiah woke up, he was terrified to find the cross was gone. He found it on the floor next to his bed and guessed he had dropped it in his sleep.
The thunderstorm from the night before had left a heavy fog that burned off by midmorning.
* * *
Richardâ€™s father was running late. He complained he had trouble sleeping the night before as he dreamt someone was in the room. His mother was busy cleaning the house. Neither noticed the young boyâ€™s thousand yard stare. His sheets had been bloody where his scraped leg had bled after he went to bed.
After breakfast, he headed out to Michael and Ella-Marieâ€™s house. Teddy and Jebidiah showed up shortly after that. There was no sign of Billy.
They saw Doc Underwood leaving his house with his horse and buggy and heading off that morning as well.
â€œAre you okay?â€ Ella-Marie asked Richard.
The boy had scabs running down the left side of his leg where heâ€™d fallen the day before.
â€œYou might need to see the doctor,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œYou might need stitches.â€
â€œI think Iâ€™m physically fine,â€ Richard said. â€œI donâ€™t know about mentally.â€
â€œIâ€™ve had some leg injuries,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYou didnâ€™t see the fog,â€ Teddy said.
â€œFog?â€ Richard said.
â€œThere was fog,â€ Teddy said.
â€œThatâ€™s true,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWe should all recount what happened last night so we are all â€¦ in the know.â€
â€œThere was a terrible fight,â€ Teddy said.
â€œExcept Billy,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWho isnâ€™t here.â€
â€œFire?â€ Richard said.
â€œFight,â€ Teddy said. â€œThere was a terrible fight.â€
â€œOh,â€ Richard said. â€œI was confused for a second.â€
Teddy pointed at Michael.
â€œAnd Billy,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWhy?â€ Richard said.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Teddy said. â€œWe donâ€™t know. Why were you fighting?â€
â€œBilly didnâ€™t want to leave the graveyard,â€ Michael said, matter-of-factly. â€œHe wanted to stay there by himself. I wasnâ€™t going to let him do that.â€
â€œYes, but it looks like you kicked the hell out of each other in the process,â€ Richard said.
â€œYeah,â€ he said.
â€œWhile they were fighting, there was a big fog,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œYou saw it the dog-thing, right?â€
â€œDog?â€ Richard said.
â€œThere was a dog,â€ Teddy said. â€œHe didnâ€™t know about the dog.â€
â€œYeah, there was some kind of coyote,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThere was a wolf or some kind of coyote,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThere ainâ€™t no wolves around here,â€ Teddy said.
â€œYou said vampires can be wolves.â€
â€œIt was an awful big dog.â€
â€œIt wouldnâ€™t move!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI fired at it,â€ Michael said.
â€œIt disappeared like everything else weâ€™ve been seeing,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI thought something attacked you, so I got my Springfield,â€ Richard said. â€œWell, dadâ€™s Springfield.â€
â€œWhat do we do?â€ Teddy asked. â€œWell â€¦ what do yâ€™all do?â€
â€œThe man you saw, did you recognize his voice or face?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œNo, he sounded like â€¦ he was â€¦ not from here,â€ Richard said.
â€œWas he a Yankee?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œWell â€¦â€ Richard said.
â€œHow could you tell that!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œFrom the voice,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWell, they talk different,â€ Teddy said.
â€œHe had â€¦â€ Richard said.
â€œThey talk like â€¦ oh!â€ Teddy said. â€œLike Billy tries to talk. But better.â€
â€œYes, they talk like â€˜Hi. My nameâ€™s Michael. Iâ€™m from Vermont,â€™â€ Jebidiah said. â€œThey talk like that.â€
â€œYou should be on a radio show,â€ Teddy said. â€œYou do that really well.â€
â€œThat is a lot better than Billy,â€ Ella-Marie said.
Richard tried to mimic the manâ€™s accent.
â€œThat sounds just like your regular voice,â€ Teddy said.
â€œYeah, just a little bit,â€ Michael said.
â€œLetâ€™s just â€¦ not,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œIf you have to pick one of us out of the group that sounds most like him,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œMaybe you,â€ Richard said.
â€œOh God!â€ Jebidiah said.
Teddy pulled the compact out his pocket and looked at Jebidiahâ€™s reflection in the mirror.
â€œTeddy, I swear!â€ Jebidiah said. â€œTeddy!â€
â€œNo, youâ€™re good,â€ Teddy said. â€œYouâ€™re good. See. Can you see yourself?â€
â€œSee, I see you. You see me?â€
Richard said he thought the man was wearing a cloak and described it as going over the shoulder and almost down to the ground.
â€œWell, that should be easy to remember,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIt just doesnâ€™t make sense for a man to be out in the woods in the middle of the night,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI would think he would have a terrible problem with sweat,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œNot if he was dead,â€ Teddy muttered.
â€œDo dead people sweat?â€ Ella-Marie asked.
â€œI would say â€˜no,â€™â€ Teddy said.
â€œTeddy, can we still go check his grave?â€ Richard said.
â€œDonâ€™t vampires come back to their graves every night.â€
â€œTraditionally they return to wherever they were placed in the ground, yes.â€
â€œI think Teddy said if we want to definitively know, we need to dig it up,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThis time, weâ€™re gonna bring shovels!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYou really want to do this then?â€
â€œLike I said: â€˜How else?â€™â€
â€œIf we get caught, you realize thatâ€™s against the law,â€ Teddy said.
â€œNo oneâ€™s out there, is there?â€ Richard said.
They realized the trees were thin enough on the river side of the graveyard that someone from the road on the other side could see the site of Tommyâ€™s grave.
â€œWell, weâ€™d have to do it at night or when nobodyâ€™s looking or â€¦â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œIf you do it at night, he wonâ€™t be in there,â€ Teddy said.
â€œAh,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œYou donâ€™t know that!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWe donâ€™t know if any of this is true. We donâ€™t know what weâ€™ve been seeing.â€
â€œSheâ€™s right,â€ Teddy said. â€œItâ€™s been very strange. But, Iâ€™m just pointing it out because â€¦â€
â€œSomeone should keep watch and have a signal if someone comes by,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œAnd they just see a giant hole in the dirt and us standing by it, twiddling our thumbs and whistling?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWhy no,â€ Teddy said. â€œThatâ€™s when you â€˜cheese it.â€™ That means you run away. So the signal comes and we run away.â€
â€œExactly!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œBut Teddy, youâ€™re in a wheelchair,â€ Richard said.
â€œWell, Iâ€™ll have to roll away,â€ Teddy said. â€œHopefully yâ€™all will help me get away quickly. Or I can just say I was visiting the grave and I saw somebody, a tall man, digging up the grave. Theyâ€™re not gonna think I was digging up the grave. I mean, look at me.â€
â€œThatâ€™s very true,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYou could be the scout,â€ Richard suggested.
They discussed it for a little while until someone asked where Billy was.
â€œI think Billyâ€™s angry at Michael,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œTheyâ€™ve had a feud.â€
â€œThey had a fight,â€ Teddy said. â€œIt was quite disturbing.â€
â€œMichael, I realize you werenâ€™t â€¦ malicious â€¦ in your intent, but I feel like, at some point, you might want to apologize to Billy,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThat might be a good idea, Michael,â€ Teddy said. â€œBilly holds a grudge.â€
â€œI wouldnâ€™t want Billy to have a grudge on me,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œYouâ€™ve seen the people he hangs out with,â€ Richard said.
â€œI heard it skips rocks at the old train station!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œYou donâ€™t wanna be on Billyâ€™s bad side for long,â€ Teddy said. â€œNot when we go back to school. â€˜Cause his friends are crazy! His friends there are so crazy!â€
â€œAll right!â€ Michael said. â€œAll right.â€
â€œI saw â€˜em beat up a four-year-old one time!â€ Teddy said.
â€œCâ€™mon, yâ€™all are friends,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œMaybe he was just small,â€ Teddy said.
â€œYâ€™all should know better!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œSmaller than Billy?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWasnâ€™t smaller than Billy,â€ Teddy said. â€œBilly wasnâ€™t fighting. Billy was watching. I think heâ€™s fallen in with a bad crowd.â€
â€œFine,â€ Michael said.
â€œI worry about Billy.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t he say he was going to spend some time sweeping up his grandpaâ€™s shop the other day?â€™
â€œHe always says that.â€
â€œDo you really color Billy as the trustworthy type?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œAll right, itâ€™s day,â€ Teddy said. â€œWe split up and we look everywhere.â€
â€œWell, itâ€™s day. Weâ€™ll meet back at the post office when we find Billy.â€
They split up, heading in all different directions, each of them getting a place to look at Teddyâ€™s direction.
â€œI took command,â€ Teddy said quietly to Jebidiah. â€œDid you see that?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œDonâ€™t get used to it,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI didnâ€™t know you were still here,â€ Teddy muttered.
â€œCanâ€™t you see? Whatever.â€
â€œThatâ€™s the problem with taking command. You gotta pay attention afterwards.â€
* * *
Michael was the one who found Billy. The boy had just finished sweeping the pharmacy and his grandfather patted him on the back and told Randall Spearman behind the soda fountain to give a Pepsi-Cola. Billy had a nasty-looking bruise on his face.
â€œHey Billy,â€ Michael said.
Billy just stared into his soda. Michael ordered a root-beer float from Randall.
â€œBilly,â€ Michael said. â€œIâ€™d like to sit down and have a talk about what happened last night.â€
â€œYeah, I wanted to sit down and have a talk last night,â€ Billy said.
â€œExcept you werenâ€™t sayinâ€™ nothing.â€
â€œI mean, before you punched me, I did.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t punch you.â€
â€œOnly after you kicked me in the groin.â€
â€œI was going to buy you a soda but, seeing as you already got one â€¦â€
Billy just looked into his soda.
â€œWhat can I try to do to make this right with you?â€ Michael said.
Billy just stared into his soda as he drank it.
â€œWell â€¦ weâ€™re all gonna meet up at the post office after â€¦ we found you,â€ Michael said. â€œIf you want to meet us there, you can. I ainâ€™t gonna force you.â€
Billy just sipped at his Pepsi-Cola.
â€œHere ya go!â€ Randall said.
He handed over root-beer float and Michael quickly drank it down.
â€œNow Billy,â€ Michael said.
He put two quarters down on the counter in front of the boy and then walked out.
Billy looked at the money and then finished his Pepsi-Cola. He pocketed the coins and looked around to see if there were any mirrors in the pharmacy. There werenâ€™t so he left the place and headed for the grocery store. There, he purchased a hand mirror and looked at the Albrightâ€™s in it. Then he went looking for Vanzant.
* * *
All of the children met at the post office.
â€œAre yâ€™all friends again?â€ Teddy said.
â€œI dunno,â€ Michael said.
â€œDid you apologize?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah!â€ Michael said.
â€œWhatâ€™d he say?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œUm â€¦ he didnâ€™t say much,â€ Michael said. â€œHe â€¦ uh â€¦ just kept sipping at his soda. I gave him fifty cents and then I left.â€
The children looked at the boy like he was crazy.
â€œYou gave him fifty cents!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œFifty cents!?!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œHe kicked you in the balls!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
â€œYou trying to buy his friendship?â€ Teddy said quietly.
â€œNo, Iâ€™m trying to make things rightâ€ Michael said.
â€œIâ€™d be friends with anybody for fifty cents,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWell, you know Billy,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIâ€™m just hoping that it could start to repair â€¦â€ Michael said. â€œBut he didnâ€™t want to talk at the moment.â€
â€œYou never gave me fifty cents.â€
â€œI never fought you.â€
â€œYou never beat me up, either. So I appreciate that.â€
â€œWhatâ€™re we going to do tonight?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œDo we have a plan â€¦ this time? To bring shovels, at least.â€
â€œWe donâ€™t want to dig him up at night,â€ Teddy said. â€œHeâ€™ll come at us, wonâ€™t he?â€
â€œWell, when else!?! We canâ€™t just dig him up in the frickinâ€™ daytime!â€
â€œWell, you-you had a plan to have a watch and see if you can see.â€
â€œWas that in the day?â€
â€œYeah. We donâ€™t need a watch at night â€˜cause no one can see us in the graveyard.â€
Ella-Marie just shook her head.
â€œSheâ€™s concerned about her brother,â€ Teddy said to Jebidiah. â€œI am too.â€
â€œWell, we can try to wait to see what Doc says,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œHeâ€™s going out of town today.â€
Teddy reminded him that Doc was going to see who was living at the plantation and might return with the sheriff. Michael thought the man wouldnâ€™t be back until the next day but Teddy noted he was to be back that day. Jebidiah again suggested they wait for him.
â€œAs long as we donâ€™t get caught,â€ Teddy said. â€œMy dad would kill me. I mean literally.â€
â€œWeâ€™ve only seen one man going around the town and following Richard and at the edge of the woods when Billy saw him,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œBut there are all those coffins at the mansionâ”€â€
â€œWait,â€ Teddy said. â€œWhat man? I didnâ€™t see no man.â€
There was some confusion about the man who was stalking the town and Jebidiah noted there was only one man who had been seen but there were many coffins at the mansion. Michael suggested the coffins might not yet be in use. Jebidiah wondered if anyone was in them and, when Michael talked about breaking the locks, he suggested breaking through the wood of the coffins. Richard pointed out if they broke the coffins they would open; they wouldnâ€™t be able to reseal them. Teddy pointed out if they broke off the locks, they wouldnâ€™t be able to put them back on.
â€œThen we could close it at least,â€ Richard said quietly.
Michael was of the opinion they should break open the coffins and see what was in them.
â€œAre we talking about in the daytime?â€ Ella-Marie asked.
They nodded at her.
Jebidiah pointed out if they went back in the daytime, they could break them open and see if the vampires were in them. If so, then they could stake them. Teddy noted they would need a lot more stakes. There was some question about daylight hurting vampires but Teddy didnâ€™t think it would. He even pointed out that in Dracula, Dracula walked around in the daylight, which Teddy didnâ€™t like at all. They realized they had not seen any other strangers in Sanguis.
Michael again voted to break into the coffins. Richard asked if staking them when the vampires were corpses would kill them and Teddy assured him it would. Teddy pointed out if one chopped off a vampireâ€™s head and filled the mouth with garlic or burned the body, or both, it could be assured they were destroyed at least according to folklore. Ella-Marie didnâ€™t seem to like that. There was some talk of burning the vampires, Teddy noting the plantation would go up like a tinderbox if a fire was lit there. Richard suggested dragging the body out into the forest before lighting it on fire.
Jebidiah thought they should listen to what Doc learned before returning to the plantation. Richard agreed with him. Michael pointed out by that time, Doc would be getting the sheriff involved.
â€œIf nobody owns the place,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œHowever, if the place is owned, that might explain our mystery person.â€
â€œAnd if the sheriff is involved, isnâ€™t that how it should be?â€ Teddy said. â€œBecause they can â€¦â€
â€œBurn the bodies,â€ Richard said.
â€œWe donâ€™t want to go burning the house if we donâ€™t know whatâ€™s going on!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œExactly!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œArson is against the law as well,â€ Teddy said. â€œI donâ€™t to go to the penitentiary.â€
â€œWeâ€™re already digging up a body,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWe donâ€™t want to make it worse for us.â€
â€œWho would be able to tell it was us?â€ Michael said.
â€œWho else would it be?â€ Teddy said.
Richard was under some confusion about burning vampires. When Teddy tried to explain, he had more questions. Teddy told him heâ€™d just read stories but he didnâ€™t know. Richard didnâ€™t think they should be burning bodies if they didnâ€™t have to. He asked about mist and the mist rising from Tommyâ€™s grave.
They saw Billy walking around with a hand mirror. He went into the post office without a word. They saw him talking to Tim Bowman, the postmaster, and holding up the mirror.
â€œDonâ€™t I look good?â€ they heard him say to the man, who just laughed.
The children realized he was using the mirror to look at Bowman.
â€œHey look, Michael, heâ€™s already spent those 50 cents,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œGood for him,â€ Michael said.
Billy left the post office.
â€œHi Teddy,â€ he said. â€œHi Jebidiah. Hi Ella. Hi Richard.â€
He walked on by.
â€œWhat is up with you today?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI believe he might be holding a grudge,â€ Teddy said. â€œI donâ€™t think 50 cents was enough, Michael.â€
â€œI think if you start giving Billy any more money, though, he might take you out of house and home,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œBefore he likes you again.â€
â€œHe ainâ€™t getting a dime outta me anymore,â€ Michael said.
Richard was still of the opinion they should dig up Tommyâ€™s grave as he was a vampire. Ella-Marie pointed out they didnâ€™t know he was. Teddy noted Jebidiah had said they should wait for Doc Underwood to see what he said. Jebidiah, saying it was a democracy, thought they should reformulate a plan once they saw what Doc said. Richard pointed out that meant wasting the whole day. Teddy thought they should vote on it. When Michael asked for options, Ella-Marie told him they would decide right then what they were going to do.
â€œMan, I wonder how Mrs. Hillâ€™s doing!?!â€ Billy shouted as he walked away.
â€œI know what he means!â€ Teddy said. â€œWho else would Tommy go for if he comes in the night? His mom.â€
Jebidiah physically shook with terror.
Richard suggested he go check on Mrs. Hill and ask if she let anyone in who looked odd.
â€œWell, youâ€™re not going by yourself!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWell, itâ€™s the middle of the day!â€ Richard said.
â€œHow about this?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWeâ€™ll go check on Mrs. Hill and then weâ€™ll wait for Doc and, once he has the information, weâ€™ll make a plan. Thatâ€™s what I nominate.â€
â€œYouâ€™re such a leader Jebidiah,â€ Teddy said.
â€œOh, Iâ€™m not!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œOh, sometimes the meekest people â€¦even Franklin Delano Rooseveltâ€™s a governor,â€ Teddy said. â€œAnd heâ€™s a cripple like me. At least itâ€™s a plan. Is that plan okay with everybody?â€
They called for a vote and Michael suggested they see what was in the coffins at the plantation while they waited for Doc. There was some discussion of that and Jebidiah pointed out if the plantation was owned, they could get in a lot of trouble for doing such. Teddy pointed out such trouble might include trespass, destruction of private property, and vandalism, just for a start. He noted if there were just squatters there, they could uphold the law at citizens.
â€œI doubt a vampire is going to go through the legal process of purchasing a home,â€ Michael said.
â€œWell, Dracula did,â€ Teddy pointed out. â€œHe bought the monastery next to the asylum and he was going to live there. He had Jonathan Harker as his attorney and he arranged everything.â€
â€œThey donâ€™t age, do they?â€ Richard said.
â€œThey do age, but the blood can make â€˜em young again,â€ Teddy said. â€œThatâ€™s what happened to Dracula.â€
Richard noted the vampire had all the time in the world to secure the house. Jebidiah wanted to put it to a vote on going to the plantation. Michael and Ella-Marie were in favor of going to the plantation before Doc got back. Jebidiah, Teddy, and Richard voted to wait until the man returned.
â€œThis is getting us nowhere!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThen weâ€™ll check back when we have our information,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWait!â€ Michael said.
â€œI have another motion,â€ Richard said.
â€œBilly hasnâ€™t voted,â€ Michael said.
â€œYou voted for the â€¦â€ Teddy said to Richard. Then he looked at Michael. â€œWhy donâ€™t you ask Billy what he wants to do? But tell him what you want to do first, â€˜cause I think that will have some influence on Billy.â€
â€œSure,â€ Michael said.
â€œI propose we go see Mrs. Hill and ask her â€¦â€ Richard said.
â€œI thought we were in agreement on that,â€ Jebidiah said.
Michael and Ella-Marie went to look for Billy again while the rest of them went to the Hillâ€™s house.
* * *
Before they got to the house, Jebidiah had a plan.
â€œI donâ€™t think we should ask any questions that could spook her or be confusing,â€ he said. â€œI think we should just how she reacts.â€
â€œOh!â€ Teddy said. â€œSo just tell her were here to see how sheâ€™s doing?â€
â€œBecause if she â€¦ if she has seen Billy coming back, she might not feel bad, but if we ask, she might think sheâ€™s going crazy or she might think we think sheâ€™s crazy,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI was thinking I was going to ask her if she saw anyone around town,â€ Richard said.
â€œYou can do that,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œBut I donâ€™t think we should ask her anything about Tommy unless we get suspicious.â€
â€œMaybe we can ask if sheâ€™s been having dreams about Tommy,â€ Teddy said.
They knocked and Mrs. Hill answered. Her eyes were red as if she had been crying. Richard told her they were stopping by to see how she was doing. Teddy had slipped the compact out of his pocket and peeked at the womanâ€™s reflection in it. Then he gave them a wink and a thumbs up.
â€œWe just came to check on you,â€ Richard said again. â€œI know itâ€™s been hard. Itâ€™s been hard on us too.â€
â€œYes, yes it has,â€ Mrs. Hill said. â€œI know you children are having a hard time. Iâ€™m having a hard time too.â€
â€œIs there anything we can do for you.â€
â€œNo, but I thank you for coming by and looking in. If you ever want to put flowers on Tommyâ€™s grave, Iâ€™m gonna go up there this afternoon, so â€¦â€
Tears rolled down her fact again. Jebidiah thought the woman, wracked with grief, would probably be in a better mood if Tommy had come to her in the night. He felt confident nothing was odd or off about the woman.
Richard asked if sheâ€™d seen anyone non-local around town lately. When she said she hadnâ€™t, he told her heâ€™d seen a man outside his window the night before and it gave him a bad fright. She said it was probably just a bad dream and she had bad dreams. She started crying again and he apologized.
Richard told her heâ€™d keep in mind her going to the graveyard as they might join her.
â€œThank you,â€ she said. â€œYou boys are so good. Youâ€™re so good.â€
She patted one of them on the shoulder and they left.
* * *
Billy had found Vanzant at Mrs. Pines house, standing in the shade of the trees near the river and whitewashing her picket fence. He looked at Vanzant in the mirror and was relieved he could see him. The man didnâ€™t appear to be whitewashing with much effort and Billy guessed he was drunk or something.
Ella-Marie and Michael found the boy shortly after that.
â€œYou really are suspicious of everyone, arenâ€™t you?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œOh, hi Ella,â€ Billy said. â€œYâ€™all check on Mrs. Hill?â€
â€œNo, we didnâ€™t go over there. We came to sort out yâ€™all.â€
â€œDid someone check on Mrs. Hill?â€
â€œYes, Michael said.
â€œOkay, thatâ€™s good,â€ Billy said.
â€œJebidiah, Teddy, and Richard,â€ Michael said.
â€œA lot of people,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œOh, okay,â€ Billy said.
â€œBilly, what can I do to make this right between us?â€ Michael said.
Billy just looked at Ella-Marie.
â€œWell, thatâ€™s good that yâ€™all checked up on her,â€ Billy said to Ella-Marie.
â€œCâ€™mon!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œHeâ€™s right here. Look at him. Please. Talk to him. Yâ€™all are friends!â€
â€œYou see what I mean?â€ Michael said. â€œHe didnâ€™t want to talk.â€
â€œI sure hope Doc Underwood gets back soon,â€ Billy said to Ella-Marie. â€œIâ€™m curious to see what he says.â€
â€œWell, if youâ€™re going to be like this, thatâ€™s one less person we have to worry about,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œOh, did someone die?â€ Billy said.
â€œYeah, Tommy,â€ Michael said.
â€œNot yet,â€ Ella-Marie muttered under her breath.
â€œIâ€™m gonna head on home,â€ Billy said. â€œIâ€™m a little tired. Iâ€™m gonna eat some lunch.â€
â€œOkay fine,â€ she said. â€œFine. If youâ€™re going to do what youâ€™re going to do â€¦ whatever.â€
She turned to her brother as Billy walked away.
â€œLook, we tried coming, talking some sense into him â€¦â€ she said.
â€œI told you,â€ Michael said. â€œJust â€¦ heâ€™s a sour grape.â€
Ella-Marie shook her head.
â€œHeâ€™ll get over it,â€ she said to Michael.
â€œProbably,â€ Michael said. â€œNow, whoever said we had to keep our promise to follow the democracy? Iâ€™m just saying we could go check out the plantation ourselves without them.â€
â€œNo, I donâ€™t want to split up. I mean, heâ€™s off doing whatever heâ€™s going to do â€¦ thatâ€™s on him. But for us, just trying to figure out what the hellâ€™s going on? We gotta stick together. Thatâ€™s what the majority voted. We canâ€™t go back.â€
â€œI guess youâ€™re right.â€
* * *
* * *
Doc Underwood got back around 3 p.m. The children all saw him ride into town on his horse and buggy and up the hill to his house. Billy had been napping but heard the sound of hoof beats.
All of the children headed up the hill and by the time they arrived, they found Doc entering his house. He invited them all in for iced tea. He had butterscotch for all of them and they went into the house. They all sat in the parlor where they had been the day before.
Doc Underwood told them he checked at the courthouse and found the Bennett Plantation had been purchased by a Christopher St. Jordan II, who bought it about a week before. Jebidiah said the man sounded rich. Doc said it did and pointed out that if someone was out at the house, they must belong there. Richard asked him if he found any other records of the man but Doc pointed out he had only gone to see who had bought the property. Jebidiah asked if there was any way to find out more about the man but Doc wasnâ€™t sure. He did say heâ€™d asked the clerk and learned the man was not from Alabama.
â€œA Yankee!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThatâ€™s kind of the impression I got,â€ Doc Underwood said.
â€œI donâ€™t think heâ€™s a Yankee,â€ Richard said.
â€œYou said he talked like a Yankee,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI did not say he talked like a Yankee,â€ Richard said.
â€œHe really didnâ€™t,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œHe just said he talked funny,â€ Michael said.
â€œHe said he talked like someone who talked like this,â€ Teddy said. â€œAnd then he just said the same thing.â€
â€œI think all Yankees talk funny,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWell, I do too,â€ Teddy said.
â€œHe talked like â€¦ I donâ€™t know,â€ Richard said. â€œI forget how he said it.â€
â€œHeâ€™s trying,â€ Teddy said. â€œHeâ€™s trying. Thatâ€™s a good thing, Richard. Itâ€™s good that youâ€™re trying.â€
â€œWell, heâ€™s not from â€¦ anywhere â€¦ from here,â€ Richard said. â€œItâ€™s very distinctive. Itâ€™s not anything Iâ€™ve heard before.â€
â€œThat could anyplace else besides â€¦ within 10 miles,â€ Teddy said. â€œCouldnâ€™t it?â€
â€œNo,â€ Richard said. â€œI donâ€™t think so. Itâ€™s not any voices you hear on the radio.â€
Teddy asked if it sounded like Billy, who was looking out the window as he sat and drank his iced tea. Richard said it wasnâ€™t and it had been unlike anything heâ€™d heard before. Teddy talked a little bit about dialects. Richard was insistent it was not how they talked around there. Jebidiah was of the opinion people who didnâ€™t live in Sanguis wouldnâ€™t want to live there.
â€œThere isnâ€™t much here, is there?â€ Teddy said.
â€œItâ€™s not much of a vacation spot,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œHow often are houses bought around here?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThat plantationâ€™s been abandoned for â€¦ how many years?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œHundreds of years?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
â€œAbout a hundred years,â€ Doc Underwood said.
They asked Doc Underwood if heâ€™d heard stories about a shadowy man or a tall man. He had heard the same rumors they had, of some tall man and hobos around. Heâ€™d also heard about the dead cattle and the wolves that were supposedly in the area.
He told them the place was owned by someone and advised them to stay away from it unless they wanted to go out and meet the owner. He warned them to be careful of trespassing.
* * *
They met at the tree house an hour later.
â€œWell, this means we have a lead on who our mystery man is,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI feel like that nameâ€™s fake,â€ Richard said.
â€œIâ€™ve never heard a name like it,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œItâ€™s very fancy,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIt sounds like itâ€™s very Christian,â€ Richard said. â€œThey have Christopher and Saint.â€
Michael and Ella-Marie grunted.
â€œIt sounds like theyâ€™re trying too hard, to be honest,â€ Richard said.
Billy pointed out that there was a River Jordan in the Bible. Richard noted the entire name was religious and, when Teddy asked what that meant, Ella-Marie guessed the man had religious parents. Jebidiah pointed out there was another one as the man was the second. Michael asked if a Christian could become a vampire and Teddy told him anyone could once they were bit.
â€œThe only way weâ€™re going to make progress is by going back to that plantation,â€ Michael said.
â€œOr Tommyâ€™s grave but his motherâ€™s out there right now,â€ Richard said.
â€œOr we could try to figure out more about this person but Doc said there wasnâ€™t much â€¦ so â€¦â€ Jebidiah said.
Teddy didnâ€™t know where they would look for word on the man, especially if he was from out of town.
â€œWell, we had two options, a while back,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWeâ€™ve already done one.â€
â€œWe only have one left,â€ Michael said.
â€œLetâ€™s try the other,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWell, thatâ€™s trespassing now,â€ Teddy pointed out. â€œIâ€™m just saying. Iâ€™m just saying. Iâ€™ll go along with whatever you want.â€
â€œWhoâ€™s gonna know weâ€™re out there?â€ Michael said. â€œBesides us?â€
â€œIâ€™m saying if somebodyâ€™s home,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, to be honest, Teddy, we were trespassing last time,â€ Richard said.
Teddy shushed him.
â€œCâ€™mon!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWell, if heâ€™s home, couldnâ€™t we talk to him then?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œAnd if he was that man you saw, weâ€™d know?â€
â€œIf heâ€™s home â€¦â€ Michael said.
â€œThat might be even better,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWe could go talk to him,â€ Teddy conceded. â€œIâ€™m just saying, we were trespassing. Donâ€™t tell anybody about that.â€
â€œI wasnâ€™t, but â€¦â€
â€œI know but â€¦ Richard, you talk a lot sometimes about â€¦ stuff.â€
â€œDonâ€™t tell your dad about that.â€
â€œWell, if he asks, I feel like I should.â€
â€œNo no! No! No!â€
All of the children were against that.
â€œAnd donâ€™t tell my dad!â€ Teddy said.
â€œI wonâ€™t tell your dad,â€ Richard said.
â€œI donâ€™t wanna get whipped,â€ Teddy said. â€œIâ€™m not saying we canâ€™t go. Iâ€™m just making sure everybody knows we could get in trouble if we just wander around in somebodyâ€™s house without â€˜em.â€
â€œYes, we know,â€ Michael said.
â€œSo Iâ€™m not saying not to go,â€ Teddy said.
They took account of what they were carrying, including crosses, a clove of garlic, and mirrors. Michael ran back to town for a hammer and a saw. They felt they were pretty thoroughly outfitted.
* * *
It was after 4 p.m. when they returned to the Bennett Farm. Jebidiah carried Teddy again. The plantation house looked exactly as it had when they were there before. The front door was closed and they had left it open when they had been there a few days before. Michael knocked but there was no answer once again.
He pushed the door open. Nothing looked different in the foyer. It was dirty and dusty and awful. They crossed the foyer when they heard a creak of someone on the steps above. Richard darted to the room to the left.
â€œHello?â€ Michael said.
â€œTeddy and I can be the face!â€ Jebidiah said.
Teddy looked confused but nodded.
â€œWhat?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThe person to talk to,â€ Jebidiah said.
The footsteps came down the steps and a man stepped into view in the stair hall beyond the foyer. He wore a floppy hat and ragged clothing. He was as old as their parents and hadnâ€™t shaved in days, at least. They thought he looked like a hobo. He blinked at the youths in the foyer and frowned in confusion.
â€œWhat are you children doing here?â€ he asked.
His accent was not local.
â€œAre-are you Christopher?â€ Michael said.
â€œWho?â€ the man said.
â€œChristopher,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œHeâ€™s the owner of the home,â€ Michael said. â€œAnd sinceâ”€â€
â€œOh,â€ the man said. â€œNo. No, Iâ€™m not him. I work - I work for him.â€
â€œWell, we just wanted to welcome our new neighbor,â€ Michael said. â€œIs he here?â€
â€œNo. No, heâ€™s not here right now. Heâ€™s â€¦ heâ€™s somewhere else. He left me to watch out. He said â€¦ he thought someone had been in the house. Have you been in the house?â€
â€œNo,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œNo.â€
â€œThis is all new to me,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWe just - we just wanted to come say hello to our new neighbor,â€ Michael said.
â€œYou said you work for him?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYes,â€ the man said. â€œYes, Iâ€™m his - Iâ€™m his servant. I work for him. Keeping up the place. For him.â€
â€œOh, is he rich?â€
â€œYes. Heâ€™s very rich. He â€¦ has very much. Someone was here, just the other day. Someone had come to the house. And â€¦ fiddled. They fiddled. Were you fiddling?â€
â€œIâ€™ve never fiddled,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œDefine fiddling,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œIâ€™ve never played any instruments,â€ Jebidiah said.
The man stared at him for a moment, his mouth agape.
â€œI used to play,â€ he finally said. â€œNo. No, I didnâ€™t. Iâ€™m watching the place. Iâ€™m here to watch. The masterâ€™s not here right now.â€
â€œWhen do you think heâ€™ll be back?â€ Michael said.
â€œHe might be back tonight,â€ the man said. â€œSometimes he comes in. Heâ€™s a very busy man â€¦ he â€¦ heâ€™s a mortician! He works with coffins â€¦ and â€¦ dead bodies. He â€¦ puts them in the ground. Thatâ€™s what morticians do, you see.â€
Jebidiah thought the man sounded like a Yankee. Michael looked to Teddy, hoping he was checking the man with his mirror but Teddy was staring at the man in terror, obviously fearing getting in some kind of trouble.
â€œHow long have you been working for him?â€ Michael said.
â€œSome time,â€ the man replied. â€œHe â€¦ he hired me â€¦ to â€¦ he wanted me to watch his house and to perform errands for him. He has errands that need performing. And so Iâ€™ve been â€¦ Iâ€™ve been working for him. I have been working for him. Yes. Heâ€™s my employer.â€
â€œHow much does he pay you?â€ Jebidiah asked.
The man looked confused.
â€œUh â€¦ heâ€™s very generous,â€ the man said.
â€œIf heâ€™s very generous, you donâ€™t look like you have much nice clothes on, sir,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œNo,â€ the man said. â€œNo, I â€¦ I â€¦ uh â€¦â€
â€œWhat is your name?â€ Ella-Marie.
â€œUh â€¦ Match,â€ the man said. â€œIâ€™m Harry Match. Yes. Yes. Harry Match.â€
Billy thought something was seriously wrong with the man though he might just have been very drunk.
â€œIf â€¦ if youâ€™d like to â€¦â€ Harry Match said.
Michael walked forward and got into the manâ€™s face.
â€œIs there anything else youâ€™d like to tell us about the master?â€ he growled at the man.
Harry Match cowered, backing away from the boy. Michael followed him while the others looked on, horrified.
â€œThe masterâ€™s the master,â€ Match said. â€œYou â€¦ you donâ€™t â€¦ you â€¦â€
As they reached the base of the stairs, Match grabbed the boy by his shirt with both hands.
â€œGet away!â€ he muttered into the boyâ€™s face. â€œGet away get away get away get away get away get away! Get away!â€
The last was shriek and he shoved Michael away and the bounded up the stairs in panic, screaming. Michael noticed he skipped one of the steps and realized there was no a broken step on the stairwell anymore. The man disappeared above and they all heard his footsteps run to one of the front rooms and a door slam.
â€œMichael!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œYou have got to know when to - when to hold back.â€
â€œWhat made him do that?â€ Billy said.
â€œWell, you see, without him here, we can now continue checking the house,â€ Michael said.
â€œWell thatâ€™s trespass,â€ Teddy said.
â€œHe didnâ€™t seem to mind us being in the house,â€ Michael said.
â€œHe didnâ€™t tell us to leave,â€ Billy said.
â€œBillyâ€™s right,â€ Michael said.
â€œThis man doesnâ€™t seem like heâ€™s in his right mind,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œHe yelled at you to get out.â€
â€œHe did yell for you to get out,â€ Teddy said.
â€œI didnâ€™t see him tell anyone to get out,â€ Billy said.
Teddy looked nervous.
â€œWhat did we come here to do?â€ Ella-Marie said.
Michael headed for the north wing of the house. Ella-Marie followed him.
â€œTeddy, did you think to bring your mirror?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œOh yeah,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIf we see that man again, we should check him.â€
â€œI hate to suggest this but maybe we could check him right now. He seems quite disturbed.â€
â€œYou want to follow him?â€
â€œNo. But Billyâ€™s here. If it was just the two of us, Iâ€™d say we should leave right now. But we canâ€™t leave our friends and Billy might, if that man gets violent, he got violent with Michael, didnâ€™t he? If he gets violent again, maybe Billy could help us because Billyâ€™s tough. Or we maybe should get with our friends so Ella-Marie doesnâ€™t get mad for us splitting up.â€
â€œBilly, what do you want to do?â€
â€œIâ€™m with you,â€ Billy squeaked. â€œI mean, we should probably go after the other two.â€
â€œOkay, that sounds like a good idea,â€ Teddy quickly said.
â€œAll right,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œLetâ€™s do that.â€
* * *
Michael found Richard in the room with the first coffin. Ella-Marie and then the others joined them shortly. Teddy looked nervously at Ella-Marie, a little worried she would be upset they split up briefly.
The room looked exactly the same as the day before. Michael took out the hammer heâ€™d brought from home.
â€œAnd thatâ€™s going to be vandalism,â€ Teddy muttered.
â€œAre you sure you wanna do this with that man in the house?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œHe can hear!â€
â€œHe doesnâ€™t seem like heâ€™ll remember anything by tomorrow,â€ Michael said.
â€œIâ€™m pretty nervous about this though,â€ Jebidiah said.
Michael started beating on the coffin with the hammer. It took him about 10 minutes to break a hole about a foot across. It was very dark in the coffin and he used the other end of the hammerhead to rip back some cloth inside. Billy took out a flashlight.
â€œItâ€™s weird that that hole just appeared there,â€ he said. â€œI guess Iâ€™ll look in it.â€
Michael covered the hole with his hands as Billy approached.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing in there,â€ Billy said.
â€œBilly,â€ Michael said.
â€œCâ€™mon yâ€™all,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYou gotta get over this now,â€ Michael said.
â€œYouâ€™re blocking the hole,â€ Teddy said.
He turned to Jebidiah.
â€œThis seems aggressive,â€ he said. â€œDoes this seem aggressive to you?â€
â€œWe know youâ€™ve got a grudge,â€ Richard said to Michael.
â€œHeâ€™s the one with a grudge!â€ Michael said.
â€œYouâ€™re the one that put your hand over it!â€ Richard said.
â€œI donâ€™t want to settle this right here,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI donâ€™t want to either,â€ Teddy muttered.
â€œLook, pull your hands back,â€ Richard said. â€œWe can solve this later.â€
â€œLooks pretty empty,â€ Billy said again.
Michael moved his hands away and Billy peeked into the coffin.
â€œItâ€™s empty,â€ Billy said. â€œThereâ€™s some dirt in there. Donâ€™t the vampires need to be in their graves?â€
â€œThey need grave dirt, yes,â€ Teddy said.
â€œLetâ€™s go to another room and check another coffin,â€ Michael said.
â€œIâ€™m kind of nervous about this yâ€™all,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œEspecially if thereâ€™s nothing in there. If thereâ€™s just dirt. Teddy, what do you think?â€
â€œWell, I think â€¦ I think â€¦ I donâ€™t wanna go to jail,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWhat if we find dirt in all of these coffins?â€ Ella-Marie asked. â€œWhat does that leave us?â€
â€œIf we open up all of these coffins that man is gonna know and theyâ€™ll know exactly who showed up here,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œHe can identify us,â€ Teddy said.
â€œExcept me,â€ Richard said.
Teddy glared at him.
â€œYeah, except for Richard,â€ Teddy said. â€œâ€˜Cause Richard was smart and ran away. Thatâ€™s what I always do.â€
â€œBut what good police officerâ€™s going to trust a crazy man?â€ Michael said.
â€œThe crazy man thatâ€™s the help at the house that it happened?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œHave you been hanging out with Billyâ€™s friends?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œNo,â€ Michael said.
â€œHm,â€ Teddy said.
â€œTeddy, do you want to wait outside and â€¦ well, I guess that wouldnâ€™t really help,â€ Jebidiah said.,
â€œHow about this?â€ Michael said. â€œIf he tells the police, Iâ€™ll take the blame.â€
They all looked at him.
â€œDonâ€™t do that Michael,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œYouâ€™ve been in enough trouble.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s some more?â€ Michael said.
â€œHe has?â€ Teddy said.
â€œQuiet, Teddy,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI mean, you got a gonad kicked just the other night and that looked pretty brutal,â€ Jebidiah said.
They looked at each other in silence.
â€œCanâ€™t we all just get along?â€ Teddy said.
â€œI mean, the thing Iâ€™m most worried about is not that we get in trouble, but that we get in trouble and we get nothing out of it if theyâ€™re all just empty coffins full of dirt,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œOne of â€˜emâ€™s gotta have him,â€ Michael said.
â€œI think we should get the dirt,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œWe canâ€™t go through all of â€˜em without encountering that man again,â€ Jebidiah said.
Teddy wondered if Tommyâ€™s coffin might have been in the house but Jebidiah was worried about checking through the whole house if someone was there. When he admitted to being a coward, Teddy told him he was very brave, pointing out he was carrying him.
â€œA stiff wind could put me into the grave,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œThatâ€™s what my mother always said.â€
â€œI say we look around, see if thereâ€™s a childâ€™s coffin in the house,â€ Michael said.
â€œI say we look around, see if thereâ€™s a childâ€™s coffin in the house,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œOkay, fine,â€ Ella-Marie said.
They looked through the north wing but didnâ€™t see any sign of a childâ€™s coffin. The south wing was likewise unchanged. They went up to the second floor, Richard noting which step was dangerous so they could all avoid it. They found the two front bedroom doors closed there.
â€œNow, watch out for the man,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œMake sure he doesnâ€™t spook us.â€
Ella-Marie went to the closed door on the right. Richard borrowed Teddyâ€™s compact. Billy looked in the back bedrooms to check the coffins there. Michael followed his sister.
Harry Match was in the room. He looked startled when the door opened and he looked at Michael, terrified. Richard peeked at the man in the compact and could see his reflection.
â€œUh â€¦ youâ€™re not supposed to be here,â€ Match said. â€œI thought I asked you to leave. Youâ€™re not supposed to be here. The master will not be pleased.â€
â€œWe know somethingâ€™s going on here,â€ Ella-Marie said.
Match picked up a clay jug from the floor, uncorked it, drank from it, and closed it back up.
â€œCan we help you at all?â€ Richard said.
â€œNo,â€ Match said. â€œYou have to go. I said to go and you should go. Itâ€™s not safe here for children.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t seem toâ”€â€
â€œYou need to go. Children. You should go. You should go. Just go. Itâ€™ll be the â€¦ he already knows about you. You should go before he â€¦ donâ€™t anger him.â€
â€œChristopher?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œIf you anger him, then - then â€¦â€ Match said.
â€œWhatâ€™s your masterâ€™s name?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œUh â€¦ um â€¦ itâ€™s â€¦ itâ€™s â€¦ no â€¦ donâ€™t make me say it â€¦â€ Match said. â€œHe â€¦ he â€¦ heâ€™s a mortician. And thatâ€™s why he has the coffinsâ”€â€
â€œBut whatâ€™s his name?â€
â€œSt. Jordan! He is St. Jordan. St. Jordan. Christopher St. Jordan II. And he owns this house and he said you would come back. He said they always come back. You canâ€™t stay here.â€
He looked towards the window.
â€œItâ€™s going to be dark soon,â€ he said. â€œAnd heâ€™s gonna come back and you donâ€™t want to be here when he comes â€¦ he doesnâ€™t like trespassers. He doesnâ€™t like visitors.â€
â€œWhere does he go during the day?â€ Michael growled.
â€œI donâ€™t know!â€ Match said. â€œNot here! Heâ€™s hidden away. Heâ€™s hidden himself away. And he took the keys. And he buried them so that no one could get in. And so, heâ€™s hiddenâ”€â€
â€œWhereâ€™d he bury them?â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Match said.
â€œIf you know what happened to Tommy, you have to tell us!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI donâ€™t know who Tommy is,â€ Match said.
â€œDid he bring anyone back last night?â€ Michael growled.
â€œNo!â€ Match said. â€œHe wasnâ€™t here long enoughâ”€â€
â€œDid he come from the train?â€ Billy squeaked.
Match looked terrified when he said that and gasped.
â€œThereâ€™s â€¦ he â€¦ he found me and he gave me a job,â€ he said. â€œAnd Iâ€™m working for him and you have to get out! You have to get out!â€
â€œSo, he came from the train?â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œStop saying that!â€
Match put his head in his hands and covered his eyes. Michael pulled out the handle heâ€™d found on the tracks.
â€œYou have to go,â€ Match said through his hands. â€œYou have to go before itâ€™s dark. You have to go before itâ€™s dark.â€
â€œDo you recognize this?â€ Michael said.
The man looked up and then looked away.
â€œThat was on the table,â€ he said. â€œI donâ€™t know why he saved it.â€
â€œThis one was from the train tracks,â€ Michael said.
â€œHe told me he was very angry,â€ Match said. â€œWhen it was gone, he said that it â€¦ it â€¦ â€˜it was goneâ€™ he said. â€˜Who was here?â€™ And I said â€˜I was doing your bidding.â€™ And he was very angry. You donâ€™t want to see him when heâ€™s angry. You donâ€™t want to. He gets very angry. You should all go. Go home and just â€¦ just go home. Thereâ€™s nothing for you here. Thereâ€™s nothing you can do. Itâ€™s too late.â€
â€œMind if we see whatâ€™s in that jug?â€ Michael said.
Matchâ€™s eyes opened wide.
â€œNo, this is mine!â€ he said. â€œNo. This is mine. Itâ€™s mine.â€
â€œYeah, what is it?â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œYou canâ€™t have it.â€
â€œWhat is it?â€
â€œYou canâ€™t have it. Whatâ€™s wrong with your voice?â€
Michael went to the man and ripped the jug from his hands.
â€œNooooo!â€ Match screamed. â€œItâ€™s all I have!â€
Michael popped the cork and sniffed. The stink of corn whiskey almost knocked him over. He almost choked on the smell.
â€œYou can have that back,â€ he said.
Match grabbed the jug with both hands, scuttling to the corner and crouching there, glaring at the boy.
Ella-Marie described Tommy to Match, asking if heâ€™d seen the boy.
â€œI ainâ€™t seen any children except for you,â€ Match said. â€œAnd you shouldnâ€™t be here. Heâ€™ll be here soon.
â€œDoes the master have any other servants?â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Match said. â€œNot that I know of.â€
Richard looked at his watch. It was nearly suppertime.
â€œWe need to get going,â€ Billy squeaked. â€œWe only got two hours.â€
â€œLetâ€™s head back home,â€ Michael said.
â€œYeah, we do need to make it to dinner before people are worried,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œDonâ€™t come back!â€ Match said. â€œDonâ€™t come back! Heâ€™ll know! Heâ€™ll know you by your smell! He knows. He knows. He knows you! He knows you!â€
Ella-Marie turned and pushed the others out of the room. She closed the door behind her, looking back only long enough to see the man still in the corner, sobbing.
â€œThis might have been controlled,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œSomethingâ€™s wrong with him,â€ Teddy said.
â€œHe seems like that Renfield person you talked about,â€ Michael said.
â€œThat Renfield, he was crazy too,â€ Teddy said.
He had told them a little about Renfield and his flies and spiders earlier that day.
â€œI didnâ€™t see any flies,â€ he said.
â€œI think we should watch out of our windows at night and make sure nothing comes for us,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œIf he said, heâ€™ll know by our smell â€¦â€
â€œI say we go back to the graveyard tonight,â€ Michael said.
Teddy went pale.
â€œI donâ€™t think digging it up at night will be helpful,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œItâ€™s the only time we can,â€ Michael said.
â€œLetâ€™s go to supper first and talk about it later,â€ Jebidiah said.
They returned to their homes
* * *
Richard went by the Hills before he met with the others after supper.
â€œHow was your visit, Mrs. Hill?â€ he asked her.
â€œVery lonely,â€ she said.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™ll get better.â€
â€œYouâ€™re a good boy, Richard,â€ she said. â€œDonâ€™t go near the tracks.â€
* * *
When they got together after supper, Ella-Marie asked Teddy if there was any coming back from being a vampire. He told her that, according to Dracula, once a person was turned into a vampire, they were just a dead body walking around. Jebidiah asked about Dracula controlling people and Teddy told him Renfield was controlled by the vampire and was crazy. He pointed out that there was a girl who hadnâ€™t died yet in the book they kept giving transfusions. He said Dracula had left a note saying he was going back to Transylvania but when she did eventually die, he could raise her back up as a vampire, having bit her and having fed her some of his blood, tainting her. However, he never read about anyone coming back.
Richard asked if vampires lost their personality and he pointed out Lucy seemed to turn into someone else. She didnâ€™t act like a person: drinking blood and attacking children.
Richard noted Mrs. Hill was home and Michael suggested they go and see if something showed up.
â€œNo, weâ€™re not going to wait to see if something shows up,â€ Richard said. â€œWeâ€™re going to dig up that coffin and weâ€™re going to see if heâ€™s still in there. Before the sun goes down.â€
He was concerned if there was dirt in the coffins, the vampires might have moved their bodies between locations. Teddy told him that Dracula had gone from Europe to England so he guessed vampires could move. Michael mentioned Jebidiah seeing mist around the grave. He also wondered if Tommy went to Jillâ€™s house instead of his mom.
Richard went to check on Jill.
* * *
The Spearmans were sitting on their front porch, enjoying what little breeze there was.
â€œDo you still have those handles?â€ Richard asked Jill Spearman.
â€œYes, I still have those handles!â€ Jill said. â€œYou canâ€™t have them back.â€
â€œI donâ€™t want â€˜em,â€
â€œYou gave them to me!â€
â€œI donâ€™t want â€˜em. Okay. Thatâ€™s all I wanted to know.â€
â€œYou are so weird Richard!â€
â€œDonâ€™t you come around here no more!â€
â€œI gave you those two handles! You should be thankful!â€
â€œOh my God! Thatâ€™s just like a man! Just like a man!â€
She stomped into the house.
* * *
Richard returned to the others. He still thought they should go to the grave. Michael was in agreement. Jebidiah asked Billy what he thought they should do and the boy squeaked that he was going to go scout himself. They discussed Teddy going with them and how to move him quickly if the rest of them had their bicycles. Teddy was willing to do whatever they needed. He didnâ€™t want to get in the way.
â€œIf you donâ€™t want me with you, I understand,â€ Teddy said. â€œItâ€™s just like my dad. He doesnâ€™t want me around either.â€
â€œI donâ€™t feel that way about you, Teddy,â€ Richard said.
â€œItâ€™s all right,â€ Teddy said.
â€œMaybe thereâ€™s something me and Teddy can do to help without being part of it,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œBecause Iâ€™ll get winded, digging this grave.â€
He suggested they be the ones that keep watch to make sure no one came around.
They all headed to the graveyard after leaving Teddy to watch the road where the graveyard path met it. The others went on to the cemetery and Jebidiah continued on into the forest about a hundred feet further on from the cemetery where he could see the road. Both boys planned on hollering if they saw someone come down the road.
The other four children dug up the grave with the shovels they had brought. They didnâ€™t make as fast a progress as they hoped as they had trouble all working in the small space together. The sun was setting before they heard the scrape of a shovel against the hollow-sounding pine box of Tommy Hillâ€™s coffin. They threw their shovels up and out of the grave and shoved the remaining dirt aside, Billy getting his cross in his hand as they did so.
The last rays of the setting sun glinted across the treetops above. Michael pulled the coffin lid open as they all scrambled to find their footing. Billy looked at the corpse in the mirror.
Tommy Hill lay in his small coffin, his eyes open. Michael found himself looking directly into Tommyâ€™s eyes. For a moment, the blue of the childâ€™s eyes seem to engulf him and he felt like he was falling.
Tommy Hill smiled, opening his mouth. There was blood on his lips. Billy saw only an empty coffin in the mirror in his hand. He was horrified to see Tommy in the coffin when he looked.
â€œYouâ€™re here to save me!â€ he said. â€œThank you for saving me!â€
Ella-Marie was shocked and hesitated, unable to even react. Tommy jumped up and looked at Billy, who held a mirror in one hand and a crucifix in the other. Tommy squinted at the crucifix and then leapt up, out of the hole, and landed lightly on the rim near the temporary wooden tombstone. He backed away, not looking at Billy or his crucifix.
â€œYâ€™all!â€ he whined. â€œPut that away! That hurts! No! Thatâ€™s not right!â€
Ella-Marie lunged forward and tried to stab Tommy in the foot with one of her sharpened crosses but fell short, the little makeshift wooden cross digging into the ground. Richard, behind her, struggled to get out of the deep grave.
â€œBilly â€¦â€ Michael said.
He squatted slightly and held his hands together, offering a leg up. Billy ignored him, tucking the cross into the back of his pants.
â€œHey Tommy,â€ he said. â€œHow are you?â€
â€œI would be better if yâ€™all werenâ€™t being so mean to me,â€ Tommy said.
â€œI put it away,â€ Billy said.
Tommy backed away and out of sight of the children stuck in the open grave. Ella-Marie looked back and saw Michael, still waiting to give someone a leg up. She put her foot in his hands and he helped heave her out of the grave. Tommy was out there, kicking stones in the graveyard and looking bored.
â€œTommy!â€ she said.
He turned to her.
â€œHey Ella-Marie,â€ he said in a low voice.
Richard next took advantage of Michael offering a leg up and pulled himself out of the hole. He saw Tommy, who was looking at Ella-Marie.
â€œTommy?â€ he said.
The boy ignored him, looking at Ella-Marie with a sly smile.
Michael climbed out of the grave, kicking down a good deal of dirt. He turned and offered Billy his hand to help him out. Billy ignored him and climbed out of the hole on his own.
â€œHey Tommy, we found your treasure,â€ he said.
Ella-Marie felt herself falling into the little boys eyes as they seemed to engulf the entire world. She felt like she was falling into a void. Then she shook her head and felt in control of herself again.
â€œTommy?â€ she said again. â€œWhat happened to you?â€
â€œI always liked you Ella-Marie,â€ Tommy said quietly, looking down at his hands.
Richard and Michael slow approached Tommy, who was still staring at Ella-Marie. Both of them were empty-handed.
â€œHey Tommy, did you find them treasures I gave you?â€ Billy squeaked. â€œIn your coffin?â€
Tommy held out his hand. There were two flattened pennies there.
â€œIâ€™ll bring â€˜em back to you soon, Billy,â€ Tommy said.
â€œYou can keep â€˜em,â€ Billy said, suddenly uneasy.
â€œIâ€™ll talk to all yâ€™all very soon,â€ Tommy said. â€œWatch this.â€
Tommyâ€™s body seemed to become compact, the arms and legs drawing in unnaturally, as he turned into a bat and flew up into the purple sky. They saw him head towards town.
â€œWait, who would he have drunk from?â€ Michael asked. â€œBecause he had blood on his lips.â€
â€œTommy is alive and on the run!â€ Billy yelled as loud as he could.
â€œGuys!â€ Ella-Marie yelled.
Jebidiah awkwardly ran into the cemetery, breathing heavily. He stopped to lean on a gravestone.
* * *
Teddy, who was still watching, was getting nervous.
â€œItâ€™s awful dark out here,â€ he muttered to himself. â€œIs that a bat? Thatâ€™s a bat. Wait a minute â€¦â€
The bat flew over his head in the general direction of town.
* * *
â€œDoes destroying his coffin do anything?â€ Richard asked.
â€œThe expertâ€™s not here,â€ Michael said.
Billy ran towards town, as Jebidiah caught his breath. The others got their bicycles.
â€œGotta go!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œTommyâ€™s back,â€ Michael said.
â€œHeading to town,â€ Richard said.
â€œI â€¦ heard,â€ Jebidiah gasped.
â€œTake Billyâ€™s bike!â€ Michael said.
â€œHold on,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWhat about Teddy?â€
Ella-Marie tried to push Jebidiah onto her bike.
â€œTeddy!â€ Jebidiah gasped.
â€œCâ€™mon, letâ€™s go!â€ Ella-Marie said.
* * *
â€œItâ€™s dark,â€ Teddy said when he saw Billy running up. â€œDid you kill it?â€
â€œTommyâ€™s back!â€ Billy said. â€œHeâ€™s a bat!â€
Teddy went pale and pointed up at the sky.
â€œYou mightâ€™ve seen him,â€ Billy said. â€œLetâ€™s get going.â€
He pushed Teddy back toward the cemetery as fast as he could, handing off his mirror to the boy. They arrived as the others were getting their bicycles around. Jebidiah went to Teddy and offered to push the wheelchair. Billy ran to his bike. While Michael, Ella-Marie, and Richard rode ahead, Billy hung back with the other two boys.
* * *
When Michael, Ella-Marie, and Richard got to town, it looked normal. Richard peeled off and headed for the Spearmanâ€™s house, going straight up the road, while Michael turned right at the train station, heading down the road there with Ella-Marie close behind.
They stopped in front of the Hillâ€™s house.
â€œMike!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œMike! What are you thinking!?! We canâ€™t say anything to her!â€
â€œI was just seeing if maybe he would show up here,â€ Michael said.
â€œWhat do we do? We didnâ€™t really see where he went.â€
â€œHe sorta just flew off.â€
* * *
â€œDid you see anything?â€ Teddy asked as Jebidiah pushed him pushed him up the road. â€œDid you see him? I saw a bat.â€
â€œNo, I didnâ€™t see anything!â€ Jebidiah gasped.
â€œBilly says the bat was him!â€
â€œI didnâ€™t see anything!â€
Billy rode in silence.
* * *
* * *
Richard tore up to Spearmanâ€™s house and dumped his bike in the road. Seeing lights on in the house, he ran up and knocked on the front door. Mr. Spearman answered.
â€œHey, do you know where Jill is?â€ Richard said.
â€œJust right over there,â€ Mr. Spearman said.
He gestured to the front room where Jill sat on the couch.
â€œIs she in her bed?â€ Richard said, breathing heavily.
â€œNo, sheâ€™s right there on the couch, Richard!â€ Mr. Spearman said.
Richard looked in. Jill was sitting on the couch with a book in her hand. She looked at Richard, turned her head away, and went â€œHmph!â€
â€œDaddy, no,â€ she said. â€œDaddy, heâ€™s not allowed to come in.â€
â€œIâ€™m not trying toâ”€â€ Richard said.
â€œI do not accept your advances, Mr. Messer. Heâ€™s been bothering me, daddy.â€
â€œIâ€™ve been trying to keep an eye out on you. Thereâ€™s been weird men walking around.â€
Mr. Spearman looked confused.
â€œThereâ€™s been someone walking around town late at night,â€ Richard said quickly.
â€œWhatâ€™re you talking about boy!?!â€ Mr. Spearman said.
Mr. Spearman was a big man. He wore coveralls, probably still from his work at a factory in Atlanta. A large, stinking cigar stuck out of one side of his mouth.
â€œIâ€™m just saying donâ€™t let anyone you know in,â€ Richard said.
â€œYou take me for some kind of dummy?â€ Mr. Spearman said.
â€œWhen I take advice from a 15-year-old boy comes â€˜round here mumbling stuff, I hope somebody shoots me in the head.â€
â€œWell, I can do that for you.â€
Mr. Spearmanâ€™s eyes opened wide and he grabbed Richard by his shirt, shaking him.
â€œRichard Messer,â€ he said. â€œDo not make me come over and talk to your daddy about you, all right?â€
â€œSorry,â€ Richard said. â€œSorry.â€
â€œI thought you were
Sunday, January 21, 2018
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu original scenario â€œWhat Rough Beast â€¦â€ today, from 2 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. with Kyle Matheson, Ben Abbott, Austin Davie, Ambralyn Tucker, John Leppard, and Yorie Latimer.)
The summer of 1929 was warm in the town of Sanguis, Alabama. By June, the evenings were usually spent sitting on the porch and sipping lemonade or iced tea and talking about how hot the day had been. But for the children of the tiny town, who were out of school for the summer, it was a time of freedom and fun. They had so much to get done: fishing in the river, swimming in the swimming hole, climbing up into the tree house in the nearby woods, or even playing various games with their friends.
Sanguis was a tiny town of about a hundred people that stood on the Tallapoosa River where the Southern Railroad crossed it. The tiny, unincorporated village was established in 1876 by brothers who hoped to use the Tallapoosa River as a canal. It didnâ€™t grow to more than a few families until the Southern Railroad line came through in 1896. The dozen or so people living in Sanguis at the time moved the entire town 500 yards south in order to be a stop on the railroad and even built a train station.
Many people who originally came to Sanguis worked in the grape industry in nearby Fruithurst or ran small businesses of their own and the village grew until about 1905.
The village lay in a lowland of northern Alabama between wooded hills and was surrounded on all sides by forests. Some small farms stood near the town, but most of the work in the area was done in Fruithurst. There was also a criminal moonshine and wine business with said products being taken by bootleggers.
Most of the houses had electricity and just about everyone had a telephone on a party line with the other homes. Water was mostly provided by wells and brought into houses with buckets, though both the Sandersons and the Pleasants had pumps. There was no indoor plumbing - outhouses were used. Most people did not have motorcars and some still relied on horse and buggy or even wagon. Most used the train or simply walked. The children of the village got by with bicycles.
There werenâ€™t many businesses in Sanguis, only the post office, Sanguis Grocery, the mostly abandoned Sanguis Train Station, the Sanguis Pharmacy and Soda Shop, Roberds Shop and Gas, and an abandoned house that used to be a live bait shop. Additionally, Doc Underwood lived on the side of the nearby hill and, though retired, still looked after the people of the village and surrounding Cleburne County.
Old Sanguis still stood, some six abandoned buildings in the forest on the Tallapoosa Road north of the town. The road went through the small town and crossed the Tallapoosa River at a covered bridge called Red Bridge by the locals. Down there, it turned into the Muscadine Road and, eventually, connected up with that village in a rather roundabout way.
There were six children in town who had all just finished 9th grade at the school in nearby Fruithurst, some two miles west of Sanguis. They were all pretty close friends, being the only children in town of that age.
Theodore Sanderson was called â€œTeddyâ€ by everyone in town, especially his friends. He was a tiny, brown-haired, bowl-cut kid with freckles and glasses. He was in a wheelchair because of an injury in 1926 which had paralyzed his legs. He always claimed it was from playing sports. His father, Robert Sanderson, was a harsh man who worked on a farm outside Sanguis. His motherâ€™s name was Gloria.
Everyone in town knew where Teddy got his name because his dad talked about it all the time. His parents had wanted him to be like Teddy Roosevelt but the boy had ended up sickly and in a wheelchair. The joke his father never seemed to tire of telling was â€œWe thought we had a Theodore, but it looks like we had a Franklinâ€ referring to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the then-Governor of New York who had been stricken with polio. Teddy didnâ€™t find the joke very funny.
Teddy didnâ€™t have any brothers or sisters but he did have a pet turtle named Isaac Newton. He was very quiet and kind of cowardly but very smart. He also read a lot and tried not to disagree with anyone in their group of friends. His house was on the north side of the town off the main road and across the street from the Spearmanâ€™s house. However, his bedroom window faced the Pleasant house, on the main road, and Jebidiah Pleasantâ€™s window.
Jebidiah Pleasant was a spindly, ghastly white, cowering young 15-year-old boy. He had a prematurely oily voice and, though he was always well-dressed, his outfits were disheveled as if they had been put together with shaking hands. He mostly wore hand-me-downs from distant relatives. He was also sickly and had asthma, meaning he carried around a glass nebulizer with him wherever he went though it was a bit of a chore to get it set up for him to use when he had trouble breathing. He was timid but resourceful and caring and had a large scar on his abdomen from when he had appendicitis and had his appendix removed.
The most important people in Jebidiahâ€™s life were his best buddy Teddy, his mother Joyce, and his turtle Throckmorton. His father wasnâ€™t often present in his life, being a traveling salesman and on the road most of the time. Jebidiahâ€™s bicycle had been a present from his father but the boy almost never used it. His favorite place in the world was his familyâ€™s kitchen, where he helped his harried mother as best he could. He also loved his Uncleâ€™s antique shop down in Heflin. He treasured the pocket watch he had gotten from his grandmother.
Michael and Ella-Marie Slayton were twins, brother and sister. They lived with their parents Ted and Eleanor in a little house on the main road on the south side of the village between the abandoned bait shop and Sanguis Grocery. The two had an older brother, Jonathan, who was in his 20s and had moved away after graduating high school. Their father worked on one of the cattle farms in the area while their mother was a teacher at nearby Fruithurst School.
Michael had short brown hair and blue eyes. He was average-looking but very strong and solid. He loved the gym and idolized Jack Dempsey. He always carried a locket with a picture of his twin sister. He was loyal but could be very hot-headed.
Ella-Marie was called â€œMarvelous EMâ€ by her friends at school as she was good at everything she did when it came to sports. She was beautiful, bold, and brash. She had reddish brown short cut hair. She was very athletic and outspoken, some seeing her as rude. She was competitive and believed hard work led to success. She was a great believer in democracy. She loved the Red Bridge as she usually went for runs on Muscadine Road, always starting there. She loved the school fields in Fruithurst as well. She treasured her sports medals and trophies and a locket with a picture of her brother when he was a baby.
Richard Messer was a fairly rough-looking young man with light brown hair. He tended to take care of his appearance a little better than the other children in the village. He idolized his father, Joseph Messer, who had served in the Great War and even brought back a pickelhelm, one of the German spiked helmets, from France. Joseph now worked in a factory in Atlanta, commuting there by train six days a week. Richard idolized him and loved his mother Mary. He also doted over his 3-year-old brother Zach, whom he cared about deeply. Richard always tried to do the right thing and was very honest, stubborn, and demanding.
Billy Hicks was the grandson of the town Pharmacist, Merle Hicks. Billy was very small for his 15 years though he was solid and healthy. He slicked back his dark hair with pomade. His voice had also never dropped and was squeaky. He and his grandfather lived in a house on the main street next to the pharmacy and soda shop. He was cooperative but sneaky and treasured a watch his grandfather had given him.
Billy had lived with his grandfather ever since he was seven years old when, one night, his parents disappeared from their house. He had woken up the next morning and found them gone. The house was undisturbed and their clothing and luggage were still in the proper places. Alone and not knowing what to do, he had ended up moving in with his grandfather. The boy did not adjust well, however, and his grandfather had gotten him a Doberman Shepherd mix Billy named Blitzer, thinking that was the name of one of Santaâ€™s reindeer.
Unfortunately, Billy had fallen in with some of the neâ€™er-do-wells at their school in Fruithurst. They were a bunch of troublemakers who didnâ€™t respect anyone or anything. That meant he had two groups of friends, his school friends, who kept getting him into trouble, and his friends in Sanguis. He also liked to hang out at the train station and enjoyed putting pennies on the tracks to flatten them. He had his fatherâ€™s revolver hidden under his mattress in his bedroom.
Recently, there had been talk around town of several instances of cattle being killed in the nearby area. The animals had their throats torn open but the bodies simply left behind. What was perplexing was that whatever beast did it didnâ€™t maul or eat the carcass. There was also rumors of a hobo skulking around in the area and other rumors of a tall man being seen in the area. A few others said they had seen, of all things, a wolf in the area. All of the sightings were being blamed for the cattle death.
* * *
On the morning of Tuesday, June 18, 1929, the six children were hanging out at the tree house, trying to figure out what to do with themselves that day. The tree house was in the woods south of Sanguis with everything a young boy or girl could want. A set of boards nailed to the tree led up to a trapdoor that actually had a wooden bolt nailed to it so it was even possible to lock it. A little balcony was on one side and the children had set up a rope and pulley system with a little seat on the end to get Teddy up. They usually left his wheelchair at the base of the tree with their bicycles. Blitzer was actually able to climb ladders so he was up there with them.
It was another hot, humid summer day, but there was a little breeze up in the tree house.
Ella-Marie was petting Blitzer and the dog was licking her face. She fed him some crackers from her pocket. Billy was sitting on the balcony, throwing rocks at nearby trees.
â€œWhat do want to do today?â€ Michael asked.
Everyone just looked at each other. It was so hot, even talking was a chore.
â€œHey guys, letâ€™s go to the soda parlor,â€ Billy finally said in his squeaky voice. â€œMy treat!â€
Billy always tried to imitate what he thought was a New York accent as he idolized Al Capone. Since his grandfather didnâ€™t own a radio, he only knew what a New York accent was by people he had talked to, most of whom had never been to New York City. It was the strangest accent.
â€œThat is not a New York accent!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œThatâ€™s just stupid!â€
They climbed out of the tree house, lowering Teddy and Blitzer on the seat, and then went back into town to the Sanguis Pharmacy and Soda Shop. The place had a soda fountain on one side with electrical refrigeration for the ice cream and soda.
Billy went to the other side of the store, where his grandfather worked. Merle Hicks was an old, balding man in his late sixties who wore glasses. He had a harsh and angry-looking face but was actually very kind to everyone.
â€œCâ€™mon gramps!â€ he said to the old man, asking for free drinks for everybody. â€œIâ€™ll sweep the store! Next week.â€
â€œAll right, but youâ€™re gonna follow through this time!â€ he said.
â€œOf course,â€ Billy squeaked.
Both Jebidiah and Michael overheard the conversation and realized Billy wasnâ€™t really treating them.
Randall Spearman was working behind the counter for the summer. He was a year older than the children and lived on the north side of town near Teddyâ€™s house. The Spearmans had one of the only motorcars in town, along with Isaac Roberds, who had an old Ford tow truck at his gas station. Randall loved to drive whenever his father would let him, which wasnâ€™t often. His little sister, Jill, was only 12 but was almost as tough as Ella-Marie.
They all ordered their root beer floats, milkshakes, and the like, each of them enjoying the cold treat. Blitzer lay down in the corner after drinking from a bowl of water.
â€œYâ€™all wanna go to the swimminâ€™ hole a bit?â€ Michael asked as they finished up their drinks.
â€œWhy not?â€ Richard said.
â€œI canâ€™t swim,â€ Teddy said.
â€œItâ€™s okay, Teddy, I wonâ€™t - I wonâ€™t be swimming either,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWe can skip rocks,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIâ€™d like to skip rocks,â€ Jebidiah said.
They went to the swimming hole, stripping down to their underwear and getting into the cool water. Ella-Marie splashed Teddy and he looked at her incredulously.
â€œYou said you couldnâ€™t get in!â€ she said.
â€œI canâ€™t swim,â€ she said.
â€œOkay,â€ she said.
â€œBut watch out,â€ Teddy said. â€œI donâ€™t want to hit yâ€™all with the rocks.â€
Teddy and Jebidiah skipped stones and the rest enjoyed the swimming hole. Jill Spearman showed up at one point and got into the water as well. She was 12 and one of the other towheaded children in town. She usually played with Tommy Hill, who was 10 and closer to her age, but they had heard heâ€™d been sick for the last couple of days or so.
â€œWe can find bugs for our turtles here,â€ Teddy said to Jebidiah.
â€œI would like that very much,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œThrockmorton has been anxious lately.â€
They didnâ€™t leave the swimming hole until around dinnertime. Ella-Marie rolled Teddy back to town by way of apology for splashing him earlier.
â€œThank you,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s mighty sweet of you.â€
The smell of cooking came from the houses they passed as they headed back for their own homes. They had almost reached the Slayton house, where the smell of pork chops was wafting forth, when they saw Doc Underwood walking down the street from the post office, his medical bag in his hand.
They all knew Doc Underwood, Jebidiah better than most. A very friendly man in his sixties, he had delivered all of them and seen to their injuries and illnesses their whole life. Friendly and open, he often carried sweets for the children of town in his pockets.
Jebidiah waved at the man and Michael called out â€œHello.â€ Richard walked towards the man and he approached the children.
â€œHow you children doing?â€ he asked. â€œYou been enjoyinâ€™ the swimminâ€™ hole looks like? Wet heads.â€
â€œYes sir,â€ Richard said.
â€œNo, the water is dirty,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWhere you going?â€ Richard said.
â€œTommy Hillâ€™s still sick,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œHis mother telephoned. Heâ€™s been ill. Iâ€™m guessing itâ€™s just a summer cold or something.â€
â€œHow are you feeling?â€ Doc Underwood asked him.
â€œOh, the same as always,â€ Jebidiah said, sniffing again.
â€œAll right,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œYou do your best boy. You just never know. Sometimes people â€¦ you just do your best.â€
â€œMy ankleâ€™s still bothering me,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWell, you play too rough now,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œYou take it easy with them other girls.â€
â€œCâ€™mon!â€ she said.
â€œHey Doc, whenâ€™d you say my growth spurtâ€™s gonna happen again?â€ Billy squeaked.
Doc Underwood looked the short boy over.
â€œI-I donâ€™t know,â€ he said. â€œI was expecting it but â€¦ you never know, you never know. And if it doesnâ€™t, then you got other assets, you know? Youâ€™ll be fine. Youâ€™ll be fine.â€
â€œDoc, whenâ€™s his voice gonna change?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œWell â€¦â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œI think â€¦ uh â€¦ itâ€™ll change. Itâ€™ll change. Some people just grow differently at different rates.â€
â€œI pray it changes every day,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWell, we all do,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œWe all do.â€
He looked the children over.
â€œIâ€™m going over â€¦ Iâ€™m going over to Tommyâ€™s house,â€ he said. â€œYâ€™all visited him? Heâ€™s been sick for a couple days.â€
â€œNot yet,â€ Michael said. â€œNot yet.â€
â€œCan we see him?â€ Teddy asked. â€œItâ€™s okay? Itâ€™s not contagious?â€
â€œOh God, is he contagious?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™sâ”€â€ Doc Underwood said.
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s contagious. Iâ€™m going to take a look. If yâ€™all want to come with, you can. Iâ€™m sure Mrs. Hill would love to have you boys and girls say â€˜helloâ€™ to Tommy. Heâ€™s been in his room for the last couple days.â€
â€œElla, would you push me to Tommyâ€™s?â€ Teddy said.
â€œSure,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI gotta go that way anyway, so â€¦â€ Richard said.
Jebidiah seemed nervous about contagion but Doc Underwood assured him he would be fine and he could just keep a safe distance from the child.
â€œItâ€™s probably nothing,â€ Doc Underwood said.
The children tagged along, Ella-Marie pushing the wheelchair quickly down the road.
â€œOh,â€ Teddy said. â€œI donâ€™t know if these wheels can go that fast.â€
â€œOh you bet your ass they will!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œCâ€™mon, ya pansies!â€
Jebidiah tried to keep up with them, running with flailing arms and heaving breath. He had to stop just short of the Hill house and lean against a tree to catch his breath. The other children and Doc Underwood caught up and they all went on together.
Mrs. Hill was fine with them coming in with Doc. They all went in except for Jebidiah, who walked around the back of the house and stood outside the open window, looking in.
The room had a smell of unwashed child. It was small and stuffy, despite the open window. There was no breeze. Tommy was very pale and seemed tired, smiling weakly at the other children. He wore pajamas buttoned up to his neck and was shivering even in the heat. A brown teddy bear with buttons for eyes sat on the bed with him.
â€œThanks for coming,â€ he said weakly.
Doc Underwood examined the boy closely in the small, stuffy room. He took the boyâ€™s pulse and temperature, checked his heartbeat, and looked in his eyes, ears, and mouth. Mrs. Hill told him Tommy didnâ€™t eat his dinner that night. He told Tommy he needed to eat and to drink lots of liquids. Then he packed up his bag and left the room with Mrs. Hill.
â€œYouâ€™re just skin and bones, arenâ€™t you?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI â€¦ food ainâ€™t been feelinâ€™ good,â€ Tommy said. â€œItâ€™s all bright all the time and Iâ€™m tired.â€
â€œWell, I hope youâ€™re feeling better, little buddy,â€ Michael said.
â€œThank you,â€ Tommy said.
â€œHowâ€™d you get sick?â€ Teddy said.
â€œI dunno,â€ Tommy said. â€œI ainâ€™t been out in the rain in â€¦ a month. Itâ€™s been a whole month. Thatâ€™s when I found those pennies on the railroad track.â€
â€œPennies on the â€¦?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œItâ€™s my treasures,â€ Tommy said.
Billy shushed him. Then he realized he had left some pennies on the railroad track one rainy afternoon and they had disappeared.
Iâ€™m gonna get them pennies, he thought.
â€œItâ€™s part of my treasures,â€ Tommy said. â€œIt was raining but that was a month ago.â€
â€œWhat were you doing when you started feeling sick?â€ Michael said.
â€œNothing,â€ Tommy said. â€œI just started feeling sick.â€
â€œThatâ€™s why!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œYou need to get outside, run around, play some â€¦ play some sports, for Godâ€™s sakes.â€
â€œWell, I play sports. I mean â€¦ I play.â€
â€œYouâ€™re not active.â€
â€œNot since I got sick.â€
â€œIt ainâ€™t all about being active,â€ Teddy said.
â€œThank you, Teddy,â€ Tommy said. â€œThank you Ella. Iâ€™ll try to do better. Iâ€™m sorry.â€
â€œTalk about being active,â€ she said.
Tommy went red in the face and looked away from the pretty girl. She punched him on the shoulder.
â€œItâ€™ll be all right,â€ she said.
â€œTommy, if it feels like youâ€™re never going to get better â€¦ you might,â€ Jebidiah said through the window.
â€œI hope so,â€ Tommy said. â€œThank you.â€
â€œYou sometimes do, in my experience.â€
â€œOh. Okay. Thank you, Jebidiah. Yâ€™all are so nice for coming.â€
Ella-Marie, Michael, and Teddy overheard Doc Underwood talking to Mrs. Hill while they talked to Tommy. He told the woman he didnâ€™t think it was influenza or strep throat and suggested keeping the boy warm, giving him some warm broth and plenty of liquids. He said heâ€™d be back in the morning and if it got worse theyâ€™d see about moving him somewhere.
Doc Underwood peeked his head in the door.
â€œYou children ready to go?â€ he said.
They all left the Hill house.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t seem contagious,â€ Doc Underwood said as they walked back towards his house. â€œWhich is good.â€
He admitted to not recognizing all the symptoms and confessed he thought he boy had picked up a bug or something. Then he handed them each a butterscotch candy.
â€œWhat are the symptoms?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œHeâ€™s pale, looks a little anemic, and heâ€™s obviously very cold, but he seems to have a fever,â€ Doc Underwood said.
â€œSeems normal to me,â€ Jebidiah said.
Teddy thought anemic meant the child was gassy and he giggled when the man said it. The children all split up as they heard their parents calling them for dinner. Teddyâ€™s mother actually met Jebidiah and Teddy as the former pushed the latter home.
â€œIâ€™m so glad you two are friends,â€ Mrs. Sanderson said to Jebidiah. â€œYou two are the best boys.â€
Clouds began to roll in and it started to rain as they got home and went in for supper.
* * *
Jebidiah and Teddy had rooms that faced each other and could see the otherâ€™s window clearly enough that they could use flashlights to communicate with Morse code, which they were each trying to learn, after dark. They usually sent simple messages to each other nightly, mostly concerning what was for supper or how the otherâ€™s turtle was doing. They did so that night as the rain cooled the evening a little bit.
By 10 p.m., thunder growled outside and the constant flash of lightning filled their rooms. Those who went to bed after that found it hard to sleep.
Billy, who had gone to bed around 9 p.m., was woken by the storm. It took him a while to get back to sleep.
Michael and Ella-Marie went out into the storm a little after 10 until their mother yelled at them.
â€œGet in the house!â€ came a call from inside.
â€œWe like watching the storm!â€ Michael said.
â€œGet in the house!â€ Mrs. Slayton called from the front door. â€œWatch it from the porch!â€
â€œMom!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWatch it from the porch!â€ their mother called again.
â€œWeâ€™re on the porch!â€ Michael said.
â€œThatâ€™s not the porch, thatâ€™s the road!â€ Mrs. Slayton said.
â€œFine!â€ Michael said.
The two got back onto the porch. They watched the storm for about an hour before going to bed.
* * *
Everyone was woken near midnight when the telephones in their houses started ringing. Billy heard his grandfather trying to get up.
â€œIâ€™ll get it Merle!â€ he called to the old man.
â€œOh, thank God!â€ Hicks said.
Billy went to pick up the telephone.
* * *
Richard was up when he heard the phone and quickly went to the kitchen to answer it.
* * *
In the Slayton house, both the children were woken by the ring. Ella-Marie groaned and got up, going to the hallway. Her father beat her to the telephone, however. Michael was also woken by the call; he didnâ€™t get up but just listened as best he could.
They heard their father trying to calm whomever was on the line.
* * *
At the Sanderson house, Teddy heard his father get up and stomp down the hallway to the kitchen where the telephone was located. He grumbled under his breath about the time and how a man couldnâ€™t get sleep.
* * *
Jebidiah was still awake, reading by the light of a very small lamp near his bed. Not wanting the sound to wake up his dear mother, he leapt from this bed and ran to the front room where their telephone was, picking it up as quickly as he could, already out of breath.
* * *
On the other end of the line was a frantic womanâ€™s voice.
â€œHeâ€™s gone!â€ she cried out. â€œHeâ€™s gone! Heâ€™s gone!â€
There were numerous other voices from the other telephones in town. As all of them were on a single trunk party line, and whomever made the call had basically opened up the line to everyone, the entire town was on the call. Many were trying to calm the frantic voice on the line, others were confused, and a very few were annoyed.
Richard and Billy recognized the frantic voice as Mrs. Hill, Tommy Hillâ€™s mom.
â€œEverybody needs to shut up, right now!â€ Mr. Sanderson said.
The line went quiet.
â€œMargaret?â€ Mr. Sanderson said. â€œMargaret, is that you? What is going on?â€
Jebidiah recognized the voice and realized it was Mrs. Hill on the line.
â€œI went to check on Tommy just after 11 and he was missing!â€ Mrs. Hill said. â€œHis window, I shut it because I didnâ€™t want there to be rain, itâ€™s wide open and then I searched the house and then I called. Everythingâ€™s â€¦ heâ€™s gone. Heâ€™s gone. Heâ€™s gone!â€
â€œAll right, calm down,â€ Mr. Sanderson said.
â€œHe already went looking. Phillip already went looking but â€¦ but â€¦â€
Others on the line started giving the woman advice and many of the men who answered confusedly said they should form a search party. Mr. Sanderson finally told them all to quiet down. He told Mrs. Hill to hang up and call the sheriff.
Richard quietly hung up the telephone and left the house.
â€œLetâ€™s all meet at the â€¦ letâ€™s all meet at the post office and weâ€™ll figure out where weâ€™re going to go looking for him,â€ Mr. Sanderson said. â€œMargaret, call the sheriff. Do it now.â€
Everyone started hanging up.
* * *
Richard had run out the front door through the pouring rain, crossing the road to the Hillâ€™s house and onto the front porch. The windows were open in the front and he could see and hear Mrs. Hill on the telephone, hysterical. She was agreeing to something and then she hung up the telephone and then told the operator she needed the County Sheriff. A few moments later he heard her telling someone about her son missing. It sounded like the sheriff was going to do something and she began just agreeing and saying â€œokayâ€ to whomever was on the other side of the line.
* * *
Teddy heard his father cursing to himself in the hallway as he went back to his room. He heard a rustling of clothing as he father got dressed in his room and the murmur of his motherâ€™s voice asking him what was going on.
* * *
Mr. Slayton hung up his telephone.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Ella-Marie asked.
â€œTommy Hillâ€™s missing,â€ Mr. Slayton said.
Michael opened his bedroom door.
â€œWhat?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œTommy Hill?â€
â€œTommy Hill,â€ Mr. Slayton said. â€œThat little boy that lives â€¦â€
â€œNot too far away,â€ Michael said.
â€œWe just saw him!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah, heâ€™s missing,â€ their father said. â€œHeâ€™s been sick. Maybe heâ€™s delirious. I donâ€™t know. Weâ€™re all gonna go look for him. You go back to bed.â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œGo back to bed. Just go back to bed.â€
Their father went into his room.
â€œYou wanna go check the tree house?â€ Richard said.
â€œWhy would he be there?â€ Ella-Marie asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
â€œHe could barely get out of bed!â€
â€œYouâ€™re right, but â€¦â€
â€œI mean â€¦â€
â€œWe donâ€™t know the specific details on how he went missing.â€
Michael went back to his room and got dressed. Ella-Marie did as well.
* * *
â€œWho was it?â€ Merle Hicks called from his room as Billy walked back to his own.
â€œIt was everybody!â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œGod damn, boy, I hope your voice drops someday. What did they want?â€
â€œI think itâ€™s that Tommy Hill.â€
â€œOh. Thatâ€™s a shame. I-I gave his momma some medicine. Heâ€™ll probably gonna die. Iâ€™m going back to bed.â€
Billy walked back to his room and got dressed.
* * *
Jebidiah hung up the telephone and returned to his room. He used his flashlight to flash Morse code at Teddyâ€™s window saying â€œYou there?â€
* * *
Teddy saw Jebidiahâ€™s light and made out what the message was asking. He could still hear his father changing in his own room, cursing and mumbling to himself. He carefully picked up his flashlight and signaled back â€œYes.â€ The message came back â€œDid you hear phone?â€ He replied with another yes. â€œTommy gone,â€ came back and he sent back â€œdead?â€ â€œMissingâ€ came back. Then â€œwindow open.â€
Teddy got himself out of his bed and opened his window. It was still raining out and there were intermittent flashes of lightning. Thunder occasionally growled across the sky.
â€œOkay,â€ he signaled to the other boyâ€™s room.
â€œNo,â€ the message came back. â€œTommy window open. Him gone.â€
Teddy closed the windows.
â€œMy dad will find,â€ he sent back.
* * *
Richard ran back across the muddy road to his house, letting himself in the front door and heading down the hall to his room. As he reached his parentsâ€™ door, it opened.
â€œBoy, what the hell are you doing up?â€ his father said.
â€œWhy you all wet?â€ Mr. Messer asked.
â€œUh â€¦â€ Richard said.
â€œGo to bed. Go to bed.â€
â€œI picked up the phone for you. Tommyâ€™s missing.â€
He told about the phone call and claimed he was checking on Mrs. Hill. That was why he was all wet.
â€œIâ€™m going to go look for that boy, damn it,â€ his father said, turning to go back into the room.
â€œCan I come with you, dad?â€ Richard asked.
â€œNo,â€ his father said.
â€œGo back to bed.â€
â€œGo to bed.â€
â€œGo to bed.â€
Richard hung his head.
â€œThe house needs somebody here in case something happens to your momma,â€ his father said. â€œGo to bed.â€
Richard walked back to his room, seemingly defeated. When he got there, though, he got dressed quietly. His father left the house a few minutes later. Peeking through his window, he saw his father leaving the house and heading down the street towards the train station.
He waited a minute or two, put on the pickelhelm and then snuck out his window.
* * *
Jebidiah didnâ€™t want to go out in the wet for fear of catching a cold, but eventually he decided he needed to. He messaged back to Teddy he was coming and then got dressed and put his raincoat on. He left his house through the front door and walked down the road to the Sandersonâ€™s front door, letting himself in. It was dark with only a single light in the living room. He went to Teddyâ€™s room and found him there, completely dressed, in his wheelchair.
â€œI think I misspelled one of them words,â€ Teddy said. â€œMorse codeâ€™s hard when we gotta a lotta things to say.â€
â€œYes,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œIâ€™d like to be more efficient at it. You think we should go after Tommy?â€
â€œWe canâ€™t find him. Look at us.â€
Jebidiah nodded sadly.
* * *
Richard found Michael and Ella-Marie on the road near the train station.
â€œRichard!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI â€¦ I â€¦ I assume you heard the news!â€ Richard said.
The two of them stared at his pickelhelm.
â€œWell, yeah,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œThatâ€™s why weâ€™re out here.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
â€œCan I join you?â€ Richard asked.
â€œSure,â€ Michael said.
â€œI guess,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYou got any more details?â€ Michael said. â€œWe didnâ€™t actually pick up the phone.â€
â€œUh â€¦ I spied on Mrs. Hill,â€ Richard said. â€œTheyâ€™re getting deputies to come.â€
Billy suddenly rode out of the darkness of the night on his bike.
â€œBilly!â€ Richard called.
â€œBilly!â€ Ella-Marie called.
Billy just waved at them and rode by.
â€œBilly what isâ”€!?!â€ Ella-Marie yelled.
â€œIâ€™m going to the train station!â€ Billy called in his high-pitched voice.
* * *
â€œDo you think you know where he would have gone and â€¦ do you think â€¦ do you think someone took him?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œWhat does it matter?â€ Teddy said. â€œOur friends are the heroes. Weâ€™re just the sickly boys.â€
* * *
â€œStop!â€ Richard yelled after Billy, but the boy disappeared into the darkness.
â€œHeâ€™s going to check that out,â€ Michael said. â€œIâ€™m sure heâ€™ll be fine.â€
â€œBilly!â€ Richard called. â€œWait! My father! Train station!â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™m heading to the train station!â€ Billyâ€™s voice called from the darkness.
Richard sighed and turned back to the others. They stared at his helmet.
â€œWhat on earth is this contraption?â€ Ella-Marie asked Richard.
â€œItâ€™s my â€¦ itâ€™s a war trophy,â€ Richard said. â€œMy father got it for me.â€
â€œUh-huh,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI ainâ€™t got time for this,â€ Michael said. â€œIâ€™m going to the tree house.â€
He walked away. Ella-Marie tapped the helmet and found it stout metal.
â€œWe need to â€¦ we need a plan,â€ Richard called. â€œBecause I assume weâ€™re all out here for the same reason.â€
â€œYeah, weâ€™re trying to find Tommy,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhat are we going to do about that?â€ Richard asked.
â€œIâ€™m checking the tree house,â€ Michael called back.
â€œWell that sounds like a good plan,â€ Richard said. â€œIâ€™ll lead the way.
* * *
When he got to the train station, Billy shouted Tommyâ€™s name a few times and peered into the dark windows of the locked building. A minute or two later, the other three found him there.
â€œYou know, if they took Tommy in his state, Iâ€™d be worried about them two,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œAll right,â€ Michael said. â€œAll right. Two of us go check the tree house real quick and the other two go get them. Sound good.â€
Michael grabbed Billyâ€™s arm and headed for the train tracks. Richard and Ella-Marie headed back towards the north side of town.
* * *
â€œDid you bring your turtle?â€ Teddy asked.
Jebidiah looked at him and grinned. Then he pulled Throckmorton out of his pocket.
â€œYeah!â€ he said.
They put their two turtles on the floor. The animals just looked at each other.
â€œHow about, until our friends come and get us, letâ€™s do a turtle race,â€ Teddy said. â€œIsaac Newtonâ€™s gotten faster.â€
He pulled out the piece of cardboard with a track drawn on one side.
â€œThrockmortonâ€™s been training hard since the last race,â€ Jebidiah said.
* * *
* * *
When Richard and Ella-Marie approached Teddyâ€™s window, where they saw the light on, they peeked in to find Teddy and Jebidiah crouched over the cardboard track, quietly urging their turtles on. Ella-Marie was about to knock on the open window when she stop and stared at them in amazement.
â€œWhat are yâ€™all idiots doing!â€ she said loudly.
Jebidiah fell over and Teddy almost fell out his wheelchair.
â€œYou have Tommy, donâ€™t take us!â€ Teddy cried out.
â€œOne of our friends is missing!â€ Ella-Maria went on. â€œAnd youâ€™re doing a God damned turtle race!?! What the hell is wrong with you!?! Christ!â€
She climbed into the window.
â€œWhatâ€™s that spike-headed monster!â€ Jebidiah said, looking out the window.
â€œOh, shut yer trap!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œThatâ€™s Richard! Being stupid.â€
â€œOh, thatâ€™s Richard,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œTake that thing off!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWhat is wrong with you?â€
â€œBut it protects my head,â€ Richard said.
He tapped on the side of it.
â€œNot indoors!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œBut â€¦ it â€¦â€ Richard said.
â€œTake it off!â€ she said.
â€œWell-well-well-well-well, I can - I can - I can - I can push Teddy,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œI know a little bit of the - of the lay of the land.â€
â€œYâ€™all hear the phone call?â€
â€œYes. Yes, I did. I told Teddy about it, I did.â€
â€œAnd you decided to have a turtle race?â€
â€œWhatâ€™re we gonna do?â€ Teddy said. â€œLook at us.â€
â€œHis wheels get stuck in the mud sometimes,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œAnd I have â€¦ asthma.â€
â€œMy dadâ€™ll kill you,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIf I wasnâ€™t concerned about you two, I wouldnâ€™t even be here,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThatâ€™s â€¦â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œNow Tommyâ€™s missing â€¦ and Iâ€™m concerned about yâ€™all,â€ she said. â€œâ€˜Cause youâ€™re about the same â€¦ mentally â€¦ physically â€¦ health-wise.â€
â€œI canâ€™t argue with her,â€ Teddy said timidly. â€œSheâ€™s right.â€
â€œIt sounds logical,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œIâ€™ll give you my helmet if it helps,â€ Richard said.
â€œIâ€™ll-Iâ€™ll go if Throckmorton can stay the night at Teddyâ€™s,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œYeah,â€ Teddy said.
â€œOkay, fine, whatever you want to do with your â€¦ turtles,â€ Ella-Marie said.
Jebidiah put his turtle, Throckmorton, in the bowl.
â€œAll-all-all right,â€ he said nervously. â€œYou do good now with your good friend Isaac Newton.â€
â€œWeâ€™re wasting time here!â€ Richard said.
â€œOkay okay,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œTeddy, do you have your raincoat on? Where is it?â€
â€œIn the closet,â€ Teddy said.
Jebidiah fetched it and put it over the boy.
â€œThere you go,â€ he said. â€œAll right, letâ€™s go.â€
They left the dark house by the front door and headed towards the south side of town.
* * *
The tree house was dark when Billy and Michael got there. The small structure proved to be completely empty, the drip-drip-drip of rainwater from a leak in the roof sounding loud in the small structure. No one was there and there was no sign of anyone having been there since they, themselves, had that morning.
â€œDang,â€ Michael said. â€œI thought he might be here, but â€¦ you see him sometimes at the railroad tracks?â€
â€œYeah, thatâ€™s why I checked over there,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œWhere else could he be?â€
They both realized Tommy used to walk along the track, finding things and calling them his treasure. They knew he was afraid of the train bridge going across the Tallapoosa River, so he probably didnâ€™t go that way. He might have followed the Southern Railway the other direction though.
â€œYou want to check down the railroad track?â€ Michael finally said.
â€œI figure we should wait for everyone else,â€ Billy said.
â€œLetâ€™s head back towards town and meet up with them somewhere.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re probably on the way back by now.â€
They climbed down out of the tree house and headed back. They met the other four on the railroad tracks just east of town. Rain poured down out of the sky, darkness thick except in the flashes of lightning that came with great frequency. They others struggled with Teddyâ€™s wheelchair which was a problem in the mud. They had made it to the gravel covered embankment of the track.
â€œHey Teddy, howâ€™d you like a piggyback ride?â€ Michael said.
He moved over to the wheelchair and put his back to it, waiting for Teddy to climb on.
â€œUh â€¦ I donâ€™t know,â€ Teddy said.
â€œI think it would be a little bit easier than your wheelchair,â€ Michael said.
â€œWe brought it all this way!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWhat are we going to do with the wheelchair?â€
â€œJust leave it here.â€
â€œThatâ€™s his wheelchair!â€
â€œWeâ€™ll bring him back!â€
â€œWe could just pick up the wheelchair,â€ Richard said. â€œWhen heâ€™s not sitting in it, itâ€™s not that hard to move.â€
â€œWell, if yâ€™all get tired, Iâ€™ll be stranded,â€ Teddy said.
â€œI mean, Iâ€™ll grab the wheelchair if I need to.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think yâ€™all can piggyback me that far.â€
â€œNo problem,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhat do you think, Jebidiah?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œWell, I-I-I mean, I guessâ”€â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œYouâ€™re gettinâ€™ tired pushing me.â€
â€œI guess itâ€™ll make us to a little bit faster, if anything.â€
â€œWell, they do say that time is very crucial when someone isâ”€â€
â€œIt is!â€ Richard said. â€œSo get on his back!â€
Teddy looked around at everyone, unable to make out their faces in the dark.
â€œWe never speak of this,â€ he said.
He reached out and grabbed Michael by the back, pulling himself on. Michael got his legs and picked him up. Jebidiah had his hand to his heart.
â€œI wonder if this is what Isaac Newton feels like when I pick him up,â€ Teddy said to Jebidiah.
Michael, Jebidiah, and Teddy thought they heard the sound of a train whistle far away. There were no lights, however, so it much have been far off.
They headed east along the tracks as quickly as they could. Not far down the line, they spotted something lying on the ground. In a flash of lightning, they saw it was a teddy bear. They recognized it as the same one they had seen in Tommyâ€™s bed that very afternoon. Richard picked it up and looked it over. It was soaking wet.
â€œWell, this is a good sign!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWe must be close.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Richard and Michael both said.
They all heard the whistle of a train from the east.
â€œBut this also means that Tommy came out here on his own,â€ Teddy said. â€œWhy would a kidnapper take the bear as well?â€
â€œI mean, Tommy could have just been carrying it,â€ Michael said.
â€œNot necessarily,â€ Ella-Marie said.
Richard put it in the seat of the wheelchair and they continued down the track. Michael started calling for Tommy.
â€œWhat are we going to do about the train?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œTommy!â€ Ella-Marie called.
They moved to the right side of the tracks and soon saw a light in the distance. In another flash of lightning, they saw a white shape lying on the rails.
â€œOh my good God, itâ€™s Tommy!â€ Jebidiah said.
Richard pushed the wheelchair to one side of the track and he, Billy, and Ella-Marie sprinted towards the figure lying there. Michael moved to the right side of the track and Jebidiah grabbed the wheelchair and pushed it along. Of the others, Billy started to fall behind but Richard pulled ahead. Ella-Marie couldnâ€™t believe he was outrunning her. She was the best runner.
Richard reached the white figure first and realized it was Tommy. The light and sound of the train was bearing down in the darkness and he grabbed the boy and pulled him off the tracks as the train roared by. Ella-Marie caught up and started slapping Tommy in the face.
Tommy was very pale and only wore one sock. His pajama shirt was unbuttoned all the way. As Ella-Marie tried to wake him, Richard felt for a pulse.
â€œI â€¦ I think heâ€™s â€¦ heâ€™s dead,â€ Richard said. â€œHe doesnâ€™t have a pulse.â€
Ella-Marie looked at him and then at Tommy Hill.
â€œTommy,â€ she said. â€œTommy?â€
There was another flash of lightning as the train was finally gone. In the brief light, she saw two nasty red marks on his neck, like two bug bites, within about an inch of each other.
â€œRichard!â€ she said. â€œRichard!â€
â€œWhat?â€ Richard said. â€œWhat?â€
â€œWhat on Godâ€™s earth?â€
â€œI canâ€™t see anything.â€
â€œI swear itâ€™s â€¦ itâ€™s two marks.â€
There was another flash of lightning and he saw the two nasty red marks on the boyâ€™s neck. He felt them and they seemed like swollen bug bites. Something warm was on his finger and he smelled it. He thought he smelled the metallic smell of blood. He licked his thumb and realized it was blood.
â€œWhat!?!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œAre you crazy? You donâ€™t know what happened to him!â€
He cupped his hand to try to get some water to clean out his mouth. Ella-Marie was trying to see if there was any kind of other injury to the boy but couldnâ€™t find anything.
Billy, meanwhile, was looking around as the others approached. He noticed what looked like a light out in the trees to the south. He thought, for a moment, it might be a search party, but then he realized it wasnâ€™t moving. The only thing out that way was the old, abandoned Bennett Farm, a plantation house that had been in ruins for as long as anybody could remember.
â€œThereâ€™s a light out there,â€ he muttered.
The other three boys arrived, Jebidiah out of breath.
â€œIs-is-is Tommy all right?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œHeâ€™s dead!â€ Richard said.
â€œOh Jesus,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThereâ€™s blood on his neck,â€ Richard said.
â€œMichael, look at this!â€ Ella-Marie said.
They looked at the marks in the lightning flashes.
â€œIâ€™ve had a couple bites in my time, but Iâ€™m not sure,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œItâ€™s too little to be a dog bite,â€ Richard said.
Billy was ignoring them and looking towards the south. He thought he saw the shape of a tall man near one of the trees not far away.
â€œHey, we got a dead kid over here!â€ he called. â€œHey!â€
The man seemed to vanish, almost as if he faded away.
â€œWho are you talking to?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThe man!â€ Billy said.
â€œIs there someone out there?â€ Ella-Marie said.
Richard picked up Tommyâ€™s body and put it into Teddyâ€™s wheelchair. Teddy frowned.
â€œTeddy, I know some cleaning techniques we can use to clean your wheelchair,â€ Jebidiah said.
Billy could not see the man but the light out in the woods was still there.
â€œThereâ€™s a light!â€ Billy said, pointing out the light.
It was a flickering light and Jebidiah guessed it was a lantern or a candle somewhere far off, barely visible. Ella-Marie yelled for help in that direction.
â€œHey, El, take Teddy for a second,â€ Michael said.
They transferred Teddy from his back to hers. He grasped her closely, his hands just above her breasts and he felt himself pressed closely to her. She gave him a look.
Michael examined the bug bites, putting his finger to them to measure how far apart they were. Then he checked against his own mouth, noting how far his canines were apart. The size was slightly comparable.
â€œThatâ€™s not good,â€ Michael said.
â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ Richard said.
â€œThereâ€™s a chance those might be human teeth marks,â€ Michael said.
â€œNo, it canâ€™t be,â€ Richard said.
â€œWha?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œHuman? Why?â€
â€œI think those are bug bites,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, but â€¦â€ Michael said.
â€œWhat are you trying to say?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œA human bite mark would not look like that,â€ Teddy said.
â€œThe canines â€¦ but â€¦ human canines are perfectly positioned to â€¦â€ Michael said.
â€œDo you know anybody who has that long and piercing of teeth around these parts?â€ Jebidiah said.
There was a flash of lightning.
â€œTheyâ€™d be pretty slender,â€ Billy said.
â€œDonâ€™t squeeze me with your knees!â€ Ella-Marie said to Teddy.
Teddy was confused as he couldnâ€™t even move his legs.
â€œI wanna go see what that light is!â€ Billy said.
â€œLook, we found him, we have to get him back to town,â€ Richard said.
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
Billy ignored them and walked towards the woods where he could make out the flicker of the faraway light.
â€œWe gotta let our parents know,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œHey!â€ Richard called to Billy. â€œStop!â€
â€œWe gotta let somebody know,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œBilly!â€ Richard called.
â€œThat could be a person who could go help us!â€ Billy called back.
â€œBilly, you canâ€™t get lost in the woods,â€ Jebidiah called.
â€œYeah, I know I canâ€™t,â€ Billy called.
â€œThat could also be the person that took Tommy!â€ Michael called.
â€œItâ€™s-itâ€™s the abandoned plantation, Billy!â€ Teddy called.
They had all heard stories about the abandoned plantation in the woods. The place was supposedly haunted and some children had gotten murdered out there or something. None of them were really sure. They just knew it was not a good place.
â€œYeah, so â€¦ why?â€ Billy said, finally stopping. â€œIâ€™m going to go check out that light.â€
â€œThereâ€™s no one over there,â€ Teddy said.
â€œYou reckon he was â€¦ already dead before he was on the track?â€ Ella-Marie said.
She thought on that.
â€œHe was already dead by the time he was on the tracks,â€ she said. â€œSomeone was trying to cover this up.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
â€œDonâ€™t worry,â€ Billy called. â€œIâ€™ll sneak on over there.â€
Jebidiah realized the light was most likely coming from the old plantation house.
â€œBilly!â€ he called. â€œThatâ€™s where the plantation is! Tetanus! And diseases!â€
â€œYeah, but thereâ€™s not supposed to be anyone over there!â€ Billy called back.
â€œThatâ€™s what makes the light scary!â€ Jebidiah called.
â€œWhy isnâ€™t Billy scared like us?â€ Teddy said. â€œIs he dumb?â€
â€œMust be,â€ Richard said.
Billy walked back to them.
â€œFine!â€ he squeaked. â€œI guess we can go back with everybody else.â€
â€œWe gotta call off the search party,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah, we need to inform the town,â€ Michael said.
â€œGod, we just saw him yesterday,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWe could go back to the plantation in the morning,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWhen itâ€™s not raining.â€
â€œBless you,â€ Michael said.
They headed back down the tracks. Jebidiah pushed the wheelchair with Tommyâ€™s corpse in it. Billy left them and went into the woods near the tree house to retrieve his bicycle. The thunder and lightning continued as the rain poured down in buckets. They were all soaked.
They returned to town, Michael saying they should take Tommy to the Hillâ€™s house.
â€œWe need a trained, medical professional to pronounce him dead,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWeâ€™re not gonna walk up to Docâ€™s house!â€ Richard said.
â€œDid you see him?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWe need to at least call Doc,â€ Teddy said.
â€œWe can call Doc from her house!â€ Michael said.
â€œLetâ€™s go to her house,â€ Teddy said.
â€œThatâ€™s what we were talking about!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œDoofus!â€
â€œHey!â€ Teddy said. â€œI did your homework.â€
â€œNo, you did not,â€ Jebidiah said.
They went to Hillâ€™s house and knocked on the door. Mrs. Hill answered. Sheâ€™d obviously been crying and her face was flushed.
â€œTommy!â€ she said when she saw the little boy in the wheelchair.
She ran to him and then started sobbing when she found the boy unresponsive. She was wracked with grief and cried out â€œNo! No!â€ She was hysterical and the scene was very disturbing. Teddy calmly bid Jebidiah to telephone Doc Underwood and the other boy telephoned but there was no answer on the other end. He guessed the man was with the search party.
The children went out and found the searchers. The word went out and Doc Underwood soon arrived at the house. Tommyâ€™s body was taken to his room and Doc Underwood went back to examine it. Mrs. Hill sat on the sofa in the living room, crying. Little six-year-old Marjorie Hill sat next to her, also crying. Ella-Marie stayed with her. Billy got on the telephone and asked the operator to ring everyone on the party line.
â€œYeah, we found Tommy,â€ he said once people had picked up. â€œWeâ€™re back at the Hill place.â€
Richard, Michael, and Teddy went into the room with Doc Underwood. Jebidiah loitered in the doorway, unwilling to get too close to the dead body.
Doc Underwood examined the very pale body, seemingly at a loss as to what had killed the child. Michael and Richard, who had seen the marks on the boyâ€™s neck, were very disturbed to notice they appeared to be gone.
â€œDoc! Doc! Doc!â€ Richard said.
â€œUh â€¦â€ Michael said.
â€œDoc!â€ Richard said. â€œDoc!â€
â€œWhat?â€ Doc Underwood said, buttoning up the dead boyâ€™s pajama shirt.
â€œThere was a bite mark on his neck,â€ Richard said.
â€œThey looked like bug bites,â€ Michael said. â€œBut â€¦â€
â€œI tasted â€¦ they were â€¦ he was bleeding from it!â€ Richard said.
Doc Underwood unbuttoned Tommyâ€™s pajamas again and examined the boyâ€™s neck. There were no blemishes or markings on it.
â€œWhatâ€™s the cause of death then?â€ Teddy asked.
â€œI â€¦ dunno,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œHe mustâ€™ve died from whatever disease he had or whatever was wrong with him. Maybe it was a congenital thing. Iâ€™m not â€¦ Iâ€™m not sure. Weâ€™ll have to ask â€¦ go fetch me Mrs. Hill.â€
He pointed at Michael.
â€œYes sir,â€ Michael said, leaving the room.
â€œHe wouldnâ€™tâ€™ve left the house,â€ Teddy said.
Richard blankly stared at the dead boyâ€™s neck.
â€œHe might have been delirious and just wandered out into the rain,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
When the Hills came back, Doc Underwood took them aside and asked if they wanted an autopsy of the boy but the Hills did not. They said they would prepare the body, which was still normal in that area. Mr. Hill mentioned going into Heflin the next day to get a coffin. They obviously wanted to get the boy buried as soon as possible. Mrs. Hill continued to silently cry and ask â€œWhy?â€ lamenting the death of her child.
* * *
When Teddy returned home, he got a very stern and quiet talking to from his father. That was worse than the yelling because Teddy was used to the yelling. His father wondered aloud if the other children in town were a bad influence on the boy.
â€œTheyâ€™re all I got, dad,â€ he said.
His father told the boy his mother had been worried as she had looked in on him while he was gone. His father then went to bed while his mother got him out of his wet clothes and got him into bed as well.
* * *
Michael and Ella-Marie got a talking to when they got home, but their parents were also proud of them taking the initiative to find Tommyâ€™s body and then actually finding it. They told the two to be careful because they didnâ€™t want something to happen to them like what had happened to Tommy.
Before they went to bed again, Michael told Ella-Marie the bite marks were missing when Doc Underwood examined the body. She laughed.
â€œNo they werenâ€™t,â€ she said, not believing him.
â€œYes, they were,â€ he said. â€œDoc didnâ€™t â€¦ both me and Richard saw there were no bite marks when he was examining the body.â€
She looked at him a moment.
â€œThey were there!â€ she said. â€œHowâ”€?â€
â€œI know they were,â€ he said. â€œThey werenâ€™t there when we got back to the house.â€
â€œI know. Itâ€™s just â€¦ I donâ€™t know how to explain it. They werenâ€™t there.â€
â€œWell â€¦ what else about him?â€
â€œNothing else was changed. He was the same as normal: dead.â€
â€œI know we didnâ€™t just imagine it. Even Richard! He saw it was bloody. He tasted it, for Christâ€™s sake!â€
â€œHe also saw that they were gone when Doc was examining the body! What could have that kind of effect on a kid?â€
â€œThey couldnâ€™t just close up like that. They were there.â€
* * *
Billy was able to sneak back into the house without waking his grandfather, who was snoring loudly in his own room, as usual. Blitzer was glad to see the boy, who stripped out of his wet clothing and went to bed.
* * *
Richard also got a talking to about going out but his parents seemed proud of him.
* * *
Jebidiahâ€™s mother was very upset when he came home. She hugged the boy and worried over him, getting him dried off and into clean clothing. She told him she knew his friends were good people but asked him to be careful and stay away from those trains. She was more concerned than angry.
* * *
The rain had blown over by the next morning, Wednesday, June 19, 1929, and though a child had died in the town the night before, as the day began, everything was strangely normal. Word was spread through town that Tommy Hillâ€™s father had gone to Heflin and returned with a pine coffin. All of the children were told by their parents the funeral was that afternoon at 2 p.m. They were all told they were going to the funeral.
* * *
Teddy went over to Jebidiahâ€™s house after breakfast.
â€œLetâ€™s get everybody to the tree house,â€ he told the other boy. â€œLetâ€™s me and you take charge for once.â€
â€œJust once,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œCan you help me clean my wheelchair?â€
â€œOh yes. I have supplies in my room.â€
They cleaned the mud off the wheelchair wheels. Jebidiah went over the entire machine with an alcohol-soaked rag, just in case Tommy Hill had left any germs behind. After they were all done, they contacted the other children and, by 9 a.m. were all together at the foot of the tree that held the tree house. Billy had brought Blitzer.
â€œWere we going to go â€¦ look at the plantation now that itâ€™s daytime?â€ Teddy said.
â€œI mean, if youâ€™re all scared â€¦â€ Billy said.
Richard reminded them there was the funeral that afternoon but Michael pointed out it was no until much later and they had plenty of time to go. Richard noted he was planning on going to the funeral. Jebidiah said he was going as well, but also wanted to look around the plantation.
â€œWhat happened â€¦ itâ€™s just strange,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œAnd impossible!â€
â€œImpossible?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWhat, pray tell, do you mean?â€
â€œThe bite marks disappeared,â€ Michael said.
â€œOh, the bug bites?â€ Billy said.
â€œThe bite marks!?!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWhat?â€ Teddy said.
â€œThe bug bites,â€ Michael corrected himself.
â€œThe bite marks?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThe bug bites,â€ Michael said again.
â€œWhat?â€ Teddy said.
â€œI can attest to this,â€ Richard said nervously. â€œI saw it myself. There was no bite marks and Doc didnâ€™t know what killed him. Doc â€¦ thinks whatever he was sick with killed him.â€
â€œI hate toâ”€â€ Teddy said.
â€œBut the bite marks â€¦ he was bleeding,â€ Richard said.
â€œI hate to be that person, butâ”€â€ Teddy said.
â€œYou saw it!â€ Ella-Marie said to Richard. â€œYou touched it.â€
â€œâ”€I didnâ€™t see any bite marks,â€ Teddy finished.
â€œIt was real!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI saw a man last night,â€ Billy said. â€œNobody else saw that.â€
â€œI also trust the diagnosis of a medical professionalâ”€â€ Teddy said.
â€œThat was over by the plantation, right?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œâ”€over some kids,â€ Teddy said.
â€œNo, it was over in the woods,â€ Billy said. â€œKind of.â€
â€œWhen we found the body,â€ Michael said.
â€œYeah,â€ Billy said.
â€œBut didnâ€™t-didnâ€™t Tommy seem like he was â€¦ he was in such a bad state when we saw him that he would just go wandering around and â€¦â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œNo,â€ Michael said.
â€œUnlessâ”€â€ Richard said.
â€œIt seemed like he wanted to stay in bed,â€ Michael said.
â€œI doubt he could even get out of bed,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThatâ€™s true,â€ Richard said.
â€œI know whenever I am sick, and it is a great portion of my days, I just lay around and I feel as if I am a rock at the bottom of a well,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œNot able to move myself outâ”€â€
â€œStop with your poetry already!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWe know youâ€™re sick as a dog.â€
â€œActually, I think most dogs are more healthy than I am.â€
â€œI say we go check out this plantation real quick,â€ Michael said. â€œGet back in time for the funeral.â€
â€œBut â€¦ should we prepare at all â€¦ he saw a man,â€ Richard said.
â€œIâ€™m prepared!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œBut â€¦â€ Richard said. â€œIâ€™m not that strong â€¦â€
â€œI think thereâ€™s enough of us,â€ Teddy said. â€œI donâ€™t want to bring â€¦ weaponry â€¦ into the equation.â€
â€œI think we can handle whateverâ€™s there,â€ Michael said. â€œEven if itâ€™s homeless men.â€
â€œHe could have a gun,â€ Richard said.
â€œAnd?â€ Michael said.
â€œIâ€™d knock it right out of his hand!â€ Billy said.
â€œIf he has a gun, weâ€™ll just run away,â€ Michael said.
â€œThatâ€™s a great strategy,â€ Richard said sarcastically. â€œGet shot in the back!â€
â€œIâ€™m not even very good at that part,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œYou end up like him!â€ Richard said, gesturing at Teddy.
â€œYou end up like who?â€ Michael said.
â€œLike poor Teddy over there if you get shot in the spine,â€ Richard said. â€œOr you bleed out!â€
â€œIâ€™ll be fine!â€ Michael said.
â€œIâ€™m gonna need someone to carry me again,â€ Teddy said quietly. â€œI know itâ€™s faster this way.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry, Teddy,â€ Michael said. â€œI got you.â€
â€œI know,â€ Teddy said sadly.
â€œWait, if you are encumbered, could I try taking you, Teddy?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œDo you think you could?â€ Teddy said.
â€œI â€¦ wouldnâ€™t recommend that, son,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI â€¦ I may not be the most dexterous of all, but I have my strengths,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œJust-just-just â€¦ no,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œOkay,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œMaybe for a little bit,â€ Teddy said.,
â€œFor your own good, no,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œMaybe for a little bit,â€ Teddy said.
â€œCould we give it a try right now?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œSure,â€ Teddy said.
â€œHe wants to try, letâ€™s let him,â€ Michael said.
Jebidiah picked up Teddy, piggy-back, and seemed to be able to hold him sturdily.
â€œIâ€™ll be dogged,â€ Richard said.
â€œTogether, we form one functional human being!â€ Jebidiah said triumphantly.
Ella-Marie rolled her eyes.
â€œWhy does this seem easier for you than pushing my wheelchair?â€ Teddy said.
â€œIâ€™ll be damned, son,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œItâ€™s the cardio aspect,â€ Jebidiah said.
There was some talk about taking the wheelchair, Jebidiah pointing out he would have to hand off the boy if they had to run.
â€œI will also make it of note â€¦ I have learned to crawl pretty fast,â€ Teddy said.
He looked over all of them.
â€œSome say I teach Isaac Newton â€¦ but he has also taught me very much,â€ he said.
They headed through the woods to the plantation. It was only a 20-minute walk through the woods before they saw the large plantation house amidst the stunted, sickly trees and overgrown fields around it. The house faced west and was a two-story central building with connecting wings to the north and south. The train tracks were just visible to the north. There were no signs of any outbuildings, which had probably fallen into ruin years ago.
Pillars held up the roof in the front and there was a portico and a balcony, each running the length of the main house. Some shutters were still up in the windows and there was even the hint of glass panes. Crumbling chimneys jutted out of the roof of the main house and the wings.
They approached, Richard and Ella-Marie in the lead as each tried to be ahead of the others. Ella-Marie beckoned them on and they were soon standing in front of the house.
â€œWhereâ€™d you see the light?â€ Teddy asked Billy.
â€œIt was too far away,â€ Billy squeaked with a shrug. â€œIt was in this direction though.â€
â€œDo you think it was coming from the building? If you had to guess.â€
â€œIt was pretty far away. It was storming.â€
â€œWhy, I know it was storming. I was there.â€
â€œThatâ€™s why I wanted to go last night.â€
â€œThat was dangerous. Letâ€™s just go in.â€
â€œI think we should make a thoroughâ”€â€ Jebidiah said.
Michael had walked onto the portico and knocked. The front door creaked opened.
â€œWell, okay then,â€ Jebidiah said.
Billy walked away from the group, heading towards the south side of the house and looking for a cellar entrance.
â€œDoes he ever not wander off on his own?â€ Richard asked.
â€œWe should follow him,â€ Teddy said.
â€œSomeone should follow him at least,â€ Richard said.
â€œI just wanted to see if there was a cellar,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œI think we should all stay together,â€ Teddy said.
â€œI think we should all look around the whole area before we go into places,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI just want to see what the inside looked like a little bit,â€ Michael said.
â€œWhat does it look like?â€ Jebidiah asked.
Michael and Richard peeked into the front door while Ella-Marie, Teddy, and Jebidiah headed around the house to catch up with Billy.
The foyer of the house was a mess. There were open doors left and right and an open doorway directly ahead. They saw stairs through the open door ahead, off to the right. Above was a decorative ceiling medallion with support wires sticking out the center of it but no chandelier or lamp. The place was very dirty with trash, dirt, and debris on the floor. They thought they could see the back door through the hallway directly ahead, dimly lit by sunlight coming through the dirty windows on it.
â€œLetâ€™s go see what the others want to do,â€ Michael said.
â€œSure,â€ Richard said.
As they turned to leave, Michael thought he heard a voice mumbling from somewhere inside.
â€œI heard something,â€ he said. â€œYou want to go check it out?â€
â€œWhat was it?â€ Richard asked.
â€œIâ€™m not sure. Maybe a voice? They might be talking out back and thereâ€™s a back door right over there.â€
â€œSure, letâ€™s go check.â€
The two crept towards the back of the house.
* * *
The other children and Blitzer walked around the south side of the house. The wings were only a single story tall and looked to be in no better shape than the main house. Vines covered the back of the wing on that side of the house and the rear of the house looked to be in even worse repair than the front. The narrow back porch seemed to be on the verge of collapse, as was the small balcony above it. A stairwell connected the two. Between the wing and the main house was some kind of open courtyard, apparently, with wooden walls with slats. A door stood on the far side of the south wing as well.
Ella-Marie went over to the porch and kicked the wood.
â€œThis isnâ€™t structurally sound,â€ she said to the others.
They continued around the north wing, which was not ivy-covered but still in terrible shape. Another courtyard was between the north wing and the main structure of the house as well, seemingly in as bad a shape as the southern one. They also saw an old foundation around back that had probably once been the kitchen. Another door led out of the north wing away from the main house.
Billy saw no sign of exterior cellar doors on the house, nor signs of any cellar windows. It didnâ€™t look like the house had a cellar.
They soon found themselves in front of the house again.
* * *
* * *
Richard and Michael crept into the stair hall towards the back of the house. The steps went up to a landing above and, in addition to the obvious back door, there was a door on either side at the back of the hall. It felt like someone was watching them. The hairs went up on the back of their necks.
â€œWish Iâ€™d brought my helmet,â€ Richard muttered.
â€œI donâ€™t like this,â€ Michael whispered. â€œLetâ€™s wait at the bottom for the rest of them.â€
They heard a noise like splashing water off to the left somewhere. They also saw, just for a moment, the other children walking around the back of the house through the window in the back door.
â€œYou wait here for them,â€ Michael said. â€œIâ€™m going to go check out that noise.â€
â€œYou sure?â€ Richard said nervously.
â€œYeah yeah, Iâ€™ll be fine.â€
Michael walked into the room in the back. It was as dirty and dusty as the ones in the front of the house and he saw a large archway with sliding pocket doors partially opened leading to one of the front rooms. Another door went off to the right and he saw dirty windows looking outside and back of the house. More debris was in the room and wire hung from the ceiling.
He looked out one of the windows and saw a brick courtyard surrounded by a damaged gallery. He thought the sound might have come from that direction. Looking around, he crossed to the room towards the front of the house and found a doorway that led out to the courtyard.
* * *
Alone at the bottom of the stairs, Richard heard a floorboard creak above. He looked up but didnâ€™t see anyone at the top of the stairs. He backed towards the front door, standing in the doorway between the stair hall and the foyer.
* * *
There were doors all around the gallery but the one towards the back of the house, where Michael was more and more convinced the sound had come from, was ajar. He crossed the gallery to it and found it opened into a tiny hall or antechamber with doors in all four walls. He heard another splash. It came from the door directly in front of him.
* * *
Billy headed back around the back of the house.
â€œBilly!â€ Teddy said.
â€œI think we should check on our two comrades who bravely went in the house,â€ Jebidiah said.
Ella-Marie walked onto the portico and inside.
â€œI feel confident following her,â€ Jebidiah said.
He followed, Teddy clinging precariously to his back.
* * *
Richard turned when he heard someone enter the front door and was relieved to see the other three.
â€œWhere-Whereâ€™s Michael?â€ Teddy said.
â€œHeâ€™s â€¦ uh â€¦ he went ahead,â€ Richard said nervously.
â€œWhere?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œAlone?â€ Teddy said.
â€œAnd you justâ”€â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œHe said to wait for you,â€ Richard said. â€œAnd then weâ€™ll go join him.â€
â€œJoin him where?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWhere did he go?â€
â€œHe went that way,â€ Richard said, pointing towards the back of the house and to the left.
â€œWhy did he venture alone?â€ Teddy said.
â€œHe insisted,â€ Richard said.
Ella-Marie headed towards the back of the dirty house, Richard trying to push past her and lead the way. There was a little struggle in the hallway as the two fought to be in the lead.
â€œListen, I-I love this power struggle but did you see anything recently?â€ Jebidiah asked. â€œAnything happen?â€
â€œI heard a creak,â€ Richard said. â€œA creak upstairs. And I think he heard water splashing.â€
â€œThatâ€™s enough to get my heart pounding already,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œJebidiah, your heartâ€™s pounding,â€ Teddy, still on his back, said.
â€œAll right, all right,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWeâ€™re going to stick together. Okay?â€
They all crept into another room that was dirty and dusty. A door stood on the wall to the right and an archway with pocket sliding doors was to their left.
â€œMichael!â€ Ella-Marie called.
* * *
Billy went to the back of the house and started looking through the vines. He wondered if something or someone might have climbed up them but they appeared completely undisturbed. There were no leaves on the ground and they didnâ€™t seem to very sturdy anyway. He doubted heâ€™d be able to climb up them and he was pretty small.
He walked into the courtyard on that side of the house and saw it had a cement floor. More debris lay within it and there were panels with slats built to create a gallery or outdoor hallway with broken doors upon them. He saw doors leading into the house and the wing off the walkway. He crossed the courtyard to the gallery.
* * *
Michael pushed the door open and found himself in some kind of a bathroom. Dirty tiles covered the floors and the lower portion of the walls. A single, shuttered window stood in the wall to his right. A large brass washtub stood near a drain in the floor. The tub appeared to be filled with dirty gray water and was about five feet long by a couple of feet wide and just as deep. A spigot stuck out of the side of the tub near the drain.
â€œNasty,â€ he muttered.
He crept towards the tub and looked at the drain. There was a tiny drip of water from the spigot. He reached down and turned the faucet on the drain. Water started spewing out, almost directly into the drain. He turned it back the other way to turn it off and the faucet snapped off in his hand.
He turned to leave and heard a bubbling from the washtub behind him. Thatâ€™s when he noticed the door to the room was closed. He dropped the handle, gave the tub a look, and saw that, as the water in the washtub was lowering, two black mounds were being revealed. He turned and ran to the door but found it wouldnâ€™t open. It was stuck. The water was splashing loudly out of the spigot behind him.
He kicked the door, knocking out one of the panels. It was not quite big enough for him to get out.
â€œMike?â€ he heard his sister call.
â€œEl!â€ he cried out.
* * *
When Ella-Marie heard Michael yell from somewhere in the house, she ran to the window where she thought his voice had come from. She looked out of the grime into a gallery and courtyard but saw no sign of him.
â€œMike!â€ she called again and heard him call back to her in return.
It sounded like he was in that wing on the other side of the courtyard.
Richard ran through the archway with the pocket sliding doors and found a doorway that led to the north wing.
â€œThis way!â€ he called.
He ran through the door to the gallery. The others followed.
* * *
Michael tried to kick out another panel but only managed to shake the door in its frame. Then the water stopped spraying out of the washtub, leaving only the persistent dripping. There was a noise behind him of something wet moving.
Michael turned around and raised his hands in a boxing stance.
Sitting up in the washtub, mostly obscured, was a colored man. He was soaking wet and had gray hair. He wore old, out-of-date clothing. Terrible bruises were evident on his neck, nasty purple marks. The old man slowly looked his way, and the two locked eyes.
Michael felt the room seem to spin and he felt like he was going to fall as he saw the old man.
Then the features of the man changed as he became pale and white and took on the features of his older brother, Jonathan, who glared at him and shook his head at him. Then he seemed to lay back down in the tub. Michael stared in terror at the washtub, unable to move.
* * *
Billy looked around the gallery and thought he heard the others calling to each other somewhere else in the house. He noted four doors leading into various rooms nearby, some of them with a few glass panes still set into them. The door to his right, which led into the main house, did not have a window like the others.
He realized Blitzer wasnâ€™t with him and when he looked towards the back of the house through the courtyard, he saw the dog sitting some ways behind the house just looking at him.
â€œStay!â€ he shouted at the dog.
He headed into the main house.
* * *
As the others entered the gallery on the north side of the house, they didnâ€™t hear anything.
â€œMike, are you okay?â€ Ella-Marie called.
Only silence answered her.
â€œWe should check all the doors,â€ Teddy said. â€œQuickly.â€
â€œMaybe straight ahead first,â€ Jebidiah said.
Richard ran to the door straight across the gallery that looked out onto the courtyard. Ella-Marie ran to the nearest door, which stood on the left, and kicked it. It crashed open to reveal a smallish room with a single window that, other than dust, dirt, and debris, was empty. She ran to the next door.
Richard arrived at the door and saw it had glass mounted into it that was intact. He put his shoulder to the door and hear something snap in the handle. It flew open. In addition to the dirt, dust, and loose debris, a coffin sat on the floor in the center of the room.
Ella-Marie ran to the next door and tried to kick it open but it merely rattled in its frame. One of the panes of glass set in it shattered.
* * *
Michael turned away from the horrible tub and grabbed the handle of the door, pulling it violently open. He fled the room and heard Richard call his name.
â€œIâ€™m right here!â€ he said, exiting the antechamber into the gallery.
â€œMike!â€ Ella-Marie called, turning away from the door she was standing in front of. â€œGod! What is wrong with you? Why didnâ€™t you answer me!â€
â€œI did!â€ Michael said.
â€œI didnâ€™t hear anything!â€ she replied.
â€œI answered you twice.â€
â€œBut not the third time!â€
â€œYou called me a third time?â€
â€œYes! Are you okay?â€
* * *
Billy walked through the house and, as he did so, he thought he heard weeping or crying coming from somewhere nearby. He heard Michael and Ella-Marie arguing and stepped out into the gallery around the other courtyard where the rest of the children were.
â€œAre you scaredy-cats crying?â€ he squeaked.
â€œMichael, what have you found?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œThereâ€™s a body in there,â€ Michael said.
â€œA what?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œBody,â€ Michael stammered. â€œThereâ€™s a negro body in the tub.â€
â€œOh God, what happened?â€ Ella-Marie said.
She put her hands on his shoulders. Michael sighed.
â€œFor a second, he leaned up â€¦ looked at me â€¦ and he looked like our brother,â€ Michael said.
â€œIâ€™m interrupting!â€ Billy squeaked. â€œAnybody else hear that crying?â€
Everyone ignored him.
â€œYour brother is a negro?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œNo,â€ Michael said. â€œNo no no no. He changed.â€
â€œHold on!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œGuys, thereâ€™s someone crying back there!â€ Billy squealed.
â€œEverybody shut up!â€ Ella-Marie shouted. â€œWe need to figure out what to do!â€
Billy went back through the doorway to the main house.
â€œRichard?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWhere is Richard?â€
â€œThereâ€™s a coffin,â€ Richard said.
â€œA coffin?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œA coffin,â€ Richard said.
â€œIf thereâ€™s a body in there, weâ€™re not touching it!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI think heâ€™s dead but he sat up,â€ Michael said.
â€œThatâ€™s why I didnâ€™t want to bring the wheelchair,â€ Teddy whispered into Jebidiahâ€™s ear.
Ella-Marie closed the door to the antechamber that led to where the body was.
â€œWe need to stick together and we canâ€™t do this if Billy keeps running all over the damned place!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œThen letâ€™s go find Billy,â€ Teddy said. â€œIf weâ€™re not going to go touch the body then lets at least stay together.â€
â€œBut the coffin!â€ Richard said.
â€œWell-well, I think the most safe and sanitary things of all is the crying rather than the dead body or a coffin that could possibly have a dead body,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œDid you check?â€ Michael said.
â€œThe coffin?â€ Richard said.
â€œWhy would you open a coffin?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œI havenâ€™t opened the coffin,â€ Richard said.
â€œLetâ€™s not be concerned about that right now,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWe need to make sure everyone is in the same place.â€
â€œWas it Tommyâ€™s coffin?â€ Jebidiah suddenly said.
â€œI donâ€™t know!â€ Michael said.
â€œWhy would it be here!?!â€ Ella-Marie said.
Richard looked into the room. He had heard Mr. Hill was getting a pine coffin for Tommy. The one in the room seemed to be a nicer coffin of a more expensive design. However, looking more closely at it, he noticed it had three hasps and three staples on top of it where the lid met the body of the coffin, each held shut with a solid lock.
The others had looked into the room as well.
â€œWe should go find Billy,â€ Richard said.
â€œWhy would a coffin be locked?â€ Jebidiah asked.
* * *
Billy headed through the room to his left, through a set of sliding pocket doors, into one of the back rooms of the house. He thought the crying was coming from behind yet another closed door towards the back. It was a soft sobbing.
â€œHey, is there anybody in there?â€ Billy squeaked. â€œJill? Marjorie? Billy Number Two? Jimmy? Zach?â€
The crying continued.
He turned the doorknob and found it not locked so pulled the door open. The empty, dirty room had shelves on the walls, some of them having long-ago fallen to the floor. There were doors to his left and right; he guessed they led outside from the light coming under them. A dirty, shuttered window stood in the wall directly ahead of him.
Though there was no one in the room, the noise of someone crying continued. He looked up at the ceiling but saw nothing out of the ordinary there, not even the ceiling medallion or wires were evident in the room.
He closed the door. As soon as he did, the crying stopped. He felt a shiver run down his spine.
* * *
â€œI mean, itâ€™s a nice coffin,â€ Richard said. â€œThere could be something nice in there.â€
â€œLetâ€™s go find Billy!â€ Michael said.
â€œWhy would they put three locks to ward off grave diggers?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Richard said. â€œIâ€™m not a coffin maker.â€
â€œWe can speculate about this later!â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œItâ€™s spooky,â€ Jebidiah told her.
â€œYeah, but we need to find Billy!â€ she said.
â€œFine, letâ€™s go find Billy,â€ Richard said.
As they turned to head back into the main house, Billy walked out onto the gallery again.
â€œHey yâ€™all, I couldnâ€™t find the crying person,â€ he said.
â€œYou just gave up?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThanks for just running off like that!â€ Ella-Marie said sarcastically.
â€œWell, I meanâ”€â€ Billy said.
â€œAs per usual.â€
â€œâ”€as per usual, it was â€¦ it was gone. If I waited, itâ€™d be gone too. Still.â€
â€œWhy would I ever listen to you?â€
â€œTeddy, what are your thoughts on the coffin?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI think anything with three locks is â€¦ something worth investigating,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIf it is for grave robbers, why have they not buried it?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œAre any of the locks already open?â€ Billy asked.
â€œI donâ€™t think we should open the coffin,â€ Richard said. â€œI mean thatâ€™s â€¦ thatâ€™s â€¦â€
Yeah, but are the locks unlocked?â€ Billy asked again.
â€œâ€¦ thatâ€™s awful,â€ Richard said. â€œI donâ€™t know. I didnâ€™t check.â€
â€œWeâ€™d have to get the locks off somehow,â€ Michael said.
â€œLet me see if I can put all this together,â€ Teddy said. â€œThis place is supposed to be abandoned. You think youâ€™ve seen a person. You think youâ€™ve heard a person crying.â€
â€œI heard a creaking upstairs,â€ Richard said.
â€œHeâ€™s heard creaking. We found a coffin with three locks on it.â€
â€œAnd itâ€™s clean.â€
â€œAnd itâ€™s clean. If there happens to be another body here or something of importance, this could get the sheriff involved and solve all of this right here. I say we open the coffin and find out whatâ€™s going on.â€
â€œShouldnâ€™t we check on your body that you say moved?â€ Jebidiah said to Michael.
â€œNo,â€ the boy replied.
â€œAgreed,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œDo we need to open the coffin?â€ Richard asked. â€œWe have a dead body here.â€
â€œIt looked as if it had been strangled or something,â€ Michael said.
Billy went into the room and looked at the coffin. He found the padlocks were fairly new and required a key. They were all clicked shut, which he carefully checked. The hasp and the staples were also new and screwed into the lid and body of the coffin. He didnâ€™t think there would be any way to get the coffin open with some heavy tools.
Richard suggested they go upstairs, thinking there was someone up there. Or something. Ella-Marie said no one was going to go on their own. Everyone should be with someone else. Teddy agreed with that. There was a general agreement and Richard led the way back to the main part of the house. Jebidiah looked back at the door Michael had come out before he left the area behind the others, Teddy on his back.
They all entered the stair hall and then headed up the steps with Richard in the lead. Halfway up the steps, one of the treads collapsed under his foot and he felt something pierce his shoe and his foot. He let out a shout and jerked his foot out of the hole. It hurt intensely and he saw blood on the stairs. He fell backwards, hopping down a step, as all of this friends put up their arms to stop him. Blood dripped from his foot.
â€œGod, what happened?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œI donâ€™t know!â€ Richard said. â€œThe floor fell out - the step â€¦ whatever it is. Something stabbed me.â€
Michael looked into the hole where the two pieces of the tread had fallen. A foot down, several knives and nails stuck up.
â€œYouâ€™re lucky your foot isnâ€™t more hurt,â€ he said.
Ella-Marie shoved Richard up against the banister and ordered him to take his shoe off. She found a round hole in his foot, like a nail, and wrapped his foot tightly in his sock before having him put his shoe back on. Billy, meanwhile, reached into the hole and grabbed the handle of one of the knives, eventually pulling it free. It proved to be an old, rusty kitchen knife.
â€œWhy are these down here?â€ Ella-Marie asked.
â€œAre they rusted?â€ Richard asked.
â€œTetanus!â€ Jebidiah said, pointing at Richard. â€œTetanus just as I said!â€
â€œEveryone be careful with your steps,â€ Michael said.
â€œIt seems someone doesnâ€™t want us to go to the upper floors,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThen we must!â€ Teddy said.
â€œTeddyâ€™s newfound bravery inspires me greatly,â€ Jebidiah said.
Billy tapped on the next tread up the steps. Then he moved to the next one and the next one and the next one, leading the way up and testing the stairs as he went. The others followed after him, Richard limping and trying not to put too much weight on his hurt foot. Jebidiah asked for help as he carried Teddy and Michael made sure he didnâ€™t lose his balance.
The second floor had a hallway that ran from the front of the house to the back. Doors stood on each end of the hallway, some light coming in through the dirty glass mounted on them. There was a door at the top of the stairs and three other doors in the hallway making two on either side. Another staircase went up over the staircase they had come up.
As they watched, a door towards the front of the house and to their left slowly closed.
â€œYou got that knife, Billy?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah,â€ Billy said.
â€œHope you know how to use it,â€ Richard said.
â€œLetâ€™s go check it out,â€ Michael said.
â€œTeddy, I trust you have my six oâ€™clock,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œAlways,â€ Teddy said.
Ella-Marie led the way to the door with Richard close behind. Billy followed them. The others approached more slowly, looking around nervously.
When Ella-Marie touched the door knob, it felt like ice. An uncomfortable and terrible feeling assaulted her as she turned the knob and pushed the door. It creaked slowly open, revealing a man hanging by his neck from a rope from the rafter in the center of the room. His face was purple and puffy, and his tongue stuck out of his mouth, black and swollen. There was a stench in the room like rotten meat. As the three watched, the apparent dead man opened his eyes and stared at each of them.
As suddenly as he was there, the man was gone, leaving the children shaken.
â€œMike â€¦â€ Ella-Marie muttered.
â€œDead guy!â€ Billy cried out. â€œThereâ€™s a dead guy!â€
â€œMike,â€ Ella-Marie said as the other three boys finally reached them.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Michael said.
â€œThere was â€¦ there was a man â€¦ right there!â€ she said.
â€œHanging,â€ Richard said.
â€œLike you said!â€ she said. â€œLike â€¦ how â€¦?â€
â€œHis face was purple.â€
â€œHow could he have gotten downstairs and â€¦ here â€¦ but you said he was â€¦ negro â€¦â€
â€œThey could be two different people,â€ Michael said.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWeâ€™re here now,â€ Teddy said.
Ella-Marie, Richard, and Billy could all still smell the stench they had noticed when they came into the room.
â€œDo you not smell that?â€ Ella-Marie said.
Jebidiah, Teddy still on his back, entered the room. There was some dirt and dust within, but otherwise it was empty.
â€œNo,â€ Michael said.
â€œItâ€™s like a rotting corpse,â€ Richard said.
â€œItâ€™s a terrible stench,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œLike meat,â€ Richard said.
Jebidiah sniffed but smelled nothing. Neither did Michael or Teddy.
Michael closed the door.
The other three doors were already closed.
â€œWhat are we even here to do?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œTo see if we could find the person who did something to Tommy,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œOr clues,â€ Teddy said. â€œClues. Anything.â€
â€œWhy would Tommy have just gone out of his window?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œNothingâ€™s making any sense,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWeâ€™re not tying up any loose ends here.â€
â€œWell the only thing that wasâ”€â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œItâ€™s just getting stranger and stranger!â€
â€œThe only thing that was put here recently was the coffin. And if we saw a light here last night, it looks like the only thing that weâ€™ve seen so far that could have been put here. It could be that the coffin was moved in and the light was on because the people were bringing the coffin here â€¦â€
â€œAlso, I just want to say, it seems the coffin is the only thing that we have seen that still remains there,â€ Teddy said, â€œwhile these other things, I have not personally seen.â€
â€œThatâ€™s true,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œObviously, we could look into every room and see if we can get anything, but if, like you say, there are more, strange things or terrors that go away â€¦â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œLetâ€™s go back to the coffin room,â€ Michael said. â€œThatâ€™s my vote.â€
â€œSo, weâ€™re not going to the third floor?â€ Billy squeaked.
Jebidiah went to the door at the end of the hall towards the front of the house. Peering out, he realized he could see the railroad tracks in the distance, once he cleared away some of the dust. He guessed the front of the house, or perhaps the north side, was where Billy had seen the light come from.
â€œIf there was a light on in the house, it had to have come from one of the rooms in the front side of the house,â€ he said. â€œSo, we could check all the front-side rooms to see if thereâ€™s any evidence of people being there before we go back to the coffin, just to make sure weâ€™re not missing anything.â€
â€œBrilliant,â€ Teddy said.
Jebidiah suggested they check in the room across the hall from the room that had allegedly had the body hanging in it. Michael opened the door.
The rough and dirty room beyond looked like it had been inhabited. An old kerosene lantern stood on the mantle of the fireplace, along with a few other items: a few tins of food, an empty bottle or two, and other personal items. A large jug sat near the fireplace and there was evidence of a fire there. A table stood to one side and the remains of a bed, more of a box filled with hay, was to one side. Someone had apparently been living in the house. On the table sat a golden handle. The room smelled of wood smoke.
â€œThis might be where the light came from,â€ Michael said.
The handle appeared to be a rod with connectors on either end. Michael went over and picked it up. It was relatively heavy. Billy, Ella-Marie, Jebidiah, and Teddy all recognized it as a coffin handle. Billy realized it was not a match for the handles on the coffin theyâ€™d found downstairs.
â€œWhy would a piece from the coffin be up there?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œBecause they brought it here and it broke in transit,â€ Teddy said.
â€œI donâ€™t know about it, guys,â€ Billy said. â€œThat doesnâ€™t really look like the ones on that coffin.â€
â€œWell, I guessâ”€â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œIâ€™m not saying that itâ€™s not weird,â€ Billy said. â€œIâ€™m just saying itâ€™s not from that coffin.â€
â€œSo, could there be another coffin?â€ Michael said.
â€œHow is any of this related?â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œItâ€™s got to be here for a reason.â€
â€œWell, it seems to me like the people who stay here took the coffin,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œAnd â€¦ Billy, you said you saw a man last night in the woods.
â€œYep,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œAnd also the light.â€
â€œBut he said he disappeared into thin air,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYep,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œIt couldnâ€™t have been human.â€
â€œI mean that noose man also disappeared into thin air.â€
â€œThere arenâ€™t people that arenâ€™t human,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œ Could they have been the same?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œListen, I havenâ€™t seen any disappearing men,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œHe was too far away to tell the race.â€
Billy sifted through the bed of straw with his knife, trying to see if he could find anything within. He didnâ€™t find anything after a few minutes of searching, going so far as to pull out the old, slightly smelly hay. He thought he could smell a musky smell, like someone who hadnâ€™t bathed had been sleeping in the bed.
â€œI vote we go back to the coffin,â€ Michael said.
â€œGuys, we got one more floor,â€ Billy squeaked.
Billy went to the stairs up and started checking the steps with his knife again. They were all solid.
The third floor was a little darker as the windows were much smaller and there was a slot between the wall and the outer wall of the house. There were two doors on either side of the hallway, all of them open. Billy went back to the lived-in room and retrieved the lantern. Unfortunately, none of them carried any matches. Billy thought it felt chilly up in that horribly hot place.
Jebidiah suggested peeking into the rooms quickly and then leaving. the others agreed.
They peeked into the rooms and saw that the nearest one across the hall from the stairway had another coffin within. It had dirt on it but was otherwise relatively nice. They saw it had the three hasps and staples, each of them closed with a lock as well.
â€œAll right, gang, thereâ€™s another coffin in here, but it looks like itâ€™s been here a while,â€ Jebidiah said.
Michael compared the handle he had found with the coffinâ€™s. They did not match.
The door right next to it opened into a dirty room with a coffin within as well. It was not as nice a coffin, but was better than a plain pine box. There were wooden handles on the sides. It, too, was locked shut.
â€œHey, coffin number three everyone,â€ Jebidiah said nervously.
He was shaking with fear.
Across the hall from that room, still on the front of the house, the bedroom contained another coffin. It was clean but still not as nice as the first one theyâ€™d found. The handles didnâ€™t appear to match the one Michael had.
â€œCoffin number four!â€ Jebidiah shrieked. â€œItâ€™s a new one! Whatâ€™s going on?â€
The last room on the third floor was empty except for dust, dirt, and debris. However, there was a cleared space in the center of the floor where something had obviously been at some point. It seemed to be coffin-shaped.
â€œAmazing!â€ Jebidiah said hysterically. â€œOh good!â€
â€œWhere is it?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œWe should â€¦ we should open one,â€ Teddy said.
â€œTeddy!â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œJebidiah, set me down beside the nice coffin, please,â€ Teddy said.
â€œAre you quite sure, Teddy?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œIâ€™m not. Donâ€™t talk me out of it.â€
Jebidiah took the man to the last room theyâ€™d looked at with a coffin and put the boy down on the dirty floor next to it. He started to examine it as closely as he could. Jebidiah asked if he could see what was in it but the thing was locked down tight.
The coffin wasnâ€™t dirty or dusty and was probably a decent coffin, though not as nice as the first one theyâ€™d found. Teddy had read Dracula by Bram Stoker and a few folklore stories about vampires. He had also read the Varney the Vampire series of stories. He knew that mythical vampires lived in coffins during the day and reverted to dead bodies if they were struck by sunlight. He knew they bit people in the neck and fed on their blood and could only truly be destroyed by a stake to the heart. He remembered Dracula had bit people three times before they became a vampire, or perhaps fed them some of his own blood to change them. Crosses and crucifixes warded off vampires and they left no reflections in mirrors. Garlic repelled the things and they couldnâ€™t cross running water or enter a home unless invited. Dracula was strong and immortal, looking old until he feasted on blood, which made him young again.
â€œWell, what do you make of it, Teddy?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œHold on, I have an idea,â€ Teddy said.
He put his ear to the coffin but didnâ€™t hear anything. He knocked on the side of the coffin to no effect.
Michael went to the coffin and slammed the handle he had found onto one of the locks, trying to break it. It had no effect.
â€œDoes that handle fit with any of the coffins?â€ Jebidiah asked.
â€œNo,â€ Michael said. â€œThis handle doesnâ€™t fit any of them.â€
â€œHm,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIâ€™ve been keeping track,â€ Michael said.
â€œSo, thereâ€™s possibly a fifth coffin,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œMaybe,â€ Michael said.
â€œLooks like it to me,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œBut itâ€™s not here.â€
â€œWe could go back downstairs and check the second floor,â€ Michael said.
â€œWe could ask around,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œSee what happens this night. I mean, unless we find a way to open any of these coffins, I donâ€™t think we check and see if thereâ€™s anything actually in them.â€
A door slammed downstairs and they all looked at each other nervously.
â€œLetâ€™s go back downstairs,â€ Michael said.
Jebidiah picked up Teddy and, after he quickly looked into the rooms to make sure none of the coffins were open, they carefully walked down to the second floor.
â€œIf anyone is too weathered by the things they have seen, I can go,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œBut, I am of faint heart.â€
They examined the room across from the stairway on the second floor and Michael and Billy noticed that, though there was only dirt and debris in the room, there was a cleared spot in the center of the floor that was the right size for a coffin. Billy was certain there was a coffin there.
â€œAt least six more coffins,â€ he squeaked. â€œOr no â€¦ still five.â€
â€œSix more?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œFive. Five more still. It could be six.â€
â€œSo â€¦ ten? What are you â€¦?â€
â€œSo, missing coffin again,â€ Michael said. â€œNot good.â€
They looked in the room at the top of the stairs and found it held an older coffin with verdigris-covered copper handles and fixtures. Richard peeked into the rooms off both of those rooms and found a locked coffin in each of them. None of them matched the brass handle Michael carried.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t make sense that they would store them in different rooms on different floors,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œOr that they wouldnâ€™t smell in the summer or be locked from the outside,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œUnless they were assigned rooms?â€ Michael said.
â€œAssigned rooms?â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYeah?â€ Michael said.
â€œFor a coffin?â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œI think unless we try to look for more keys or things to do, it might be best to get information,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI say we just check the last few rooms and then go back to town,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œIâ€™m pretty spooked,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWhat are we trying to figure out today. Do we want to try to find a match for the handle? Do we want to try to find keys for the locks? And how long do we want to stay? Do we want to check every room?â€
Billy went to the inhabited room but came right back, having returned the lantern to the place he had found it.
â€œI was hoping we would find all of it, but â€¦â€ Teddy said.
They realized there were several rooms of the ground floor they had not yet explored. Jebidiah suggested they explore the rest of the rooms quickly and then decide if they should go back to town and talk to someone. Teddy noted they should return better prepared now that they knew something serious and perhaps supernatural was taking place there. Ella-Marie pointed out the plantation was the only lead they had to what had happened to Tommy. Jebidiah wanted to decide what to do after exploring things.
They agreed and went down to the first floor. The only room they had not been in within the main house was empty aside from debris. However, the north wing proved to have more coffins in the front and back bedrooms.
Michael refused to enter the bathroom there. The others found the room empty and dry and holding only an empty brass washtub full of cobwebs.
When they explored the south wing, they found a coffin in each of the three bedrooms.
None of the coffins they found matched Michaelâ€™s coffin handle. All were different types and designs, some of them with dirt or dust upon them. Others were clean. All of them were locked closed with three locks.
By the time they had explored the whole house, they all felt dirty, dusty, and tired. When they headed out of the house, Billy went out through the south courtyard to get Blitzer. He brought the dog around to the front of the house where the others had gathered on the portico. It was so hot.
â€œI am both scared and disappointed,â€ Jebidiah said.
Teddy told them everything he had read about Dracula and vampires.
â€œI didnâ€™t want to jump to conclusions, but thatâ€™s a lot of coffins,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™ve maybe jumped to the conclusion that Tommy might be becoming a vampire if the marks have disappeared. So, I think even though it may be a bad idea, we should open up his coffin somehow at the funeral while itâ€™s daytime.â€
They looked at each other.
â€œMaybe we could just say we want to see Tommy one last night,â€ Teddy said. â€œWe donâ€™t want to remember him in his pajamas, naked, cold, and in the rain.â€
â€œI gotta give him these pennies,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œLetâ€™s just see what happens if we open the coffin in the daylight,â€ Teddy said.
â€œAll right,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œAnd if we have to make another quick run back by here tomorrow once we know more or something like that. You said that sunlight destroys them, right?â€
â€œMany things destroy them, but no,â€ Teddy said. â€œBut we can come back, better prepared, with the knowledge that I have.â€
â€œAnd, as much as it bothers me to see these coffins, if theyâ€™re all locked up, except for the ones that are missing, it seems pretty safe,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œCould they be opened?â€ Richard said.
Teddy remembered stories of vampires coffins being opened up after several people had identified the dead as being seen after their deaths. When the coffins were opened up, they found, under six feet of soil, in a closed coffin, the vampire, bloated, blood on their mouths, with long fingernails and hair. He was unsure how a vampire got out of the its coffin from under six feet of dirt and returned without disturbing the soil above.
They all returned to their homes and got cleaned up. Richard walked to Doc Underwoodâ€™s house and told him of stepping on a nail at the plantation. Doc Underwood cleaned the wound and gave the boy a tetanus shot as well. He sent the boy on his way and he went home to get ready for the funeral.
* * *
* * *
Billy had ridden his bike around town in search of Morris Vanzant. Vanzant was a vagrant almost as old as Doc Underwood who did odd jobs around the town to by. He allegedly lived in one of the buildings in Old Sanguis, the tiny town of six shacks some 500 yards up Tallapoosa road. Old Sanguis was the original settlement until the railroad had come through 30 years before and everyone had pulled up stakes and resettled the town near the tracks. That was why there was a train station in the village. The townsfolk had built it in hopes of becoming a regular stop. It hadnâ€™t worked and the station was now abandoned.
Billy found Vanzant pulling weeds at one of the houses in town.
â€œHi Mr. Vanzant,â€ Billy squealed when he saw him.
The man looked hard at him.
â€œWell, hello there Billy,â€ he said.
Vanzant called all of the children in town â€œBilly.â€
â€œMe and my friends are wondering if you ever go near that plantation,â€ Billy said.
The old man stared at him.
â€œThe Bennett Farm?â€ he finally said.
â€œYeah,â€ Billy said.
â€œHell no! Thatâ€™s probably haunted. Huh-uh. No. Thereâ€™s â€¦ thereâ€™s ghosts out there. I donâ€™t like spooks.â€
â€œSo whatever happened over there?â€
â€œUh â€¦ I donâ€™t know. When I was a kid, they was wanting me to go out there and look â€¦ but I wouldnâ€™t. Who went out there? Somebody â€¦ Jesse Underwood. He went â€¦ I should take a break.â€
He sat down.
â€œJesse Underwood went out there,â€ he said, pulling a nasty-looking flask out of his jacket. â€œDonâ€™t tell anybody Iâ€™m not working.â€
He took a swig and coughed violently after it was down. Billy smelled moonshine.
â€œWoo,â€ he said, getting back up. â€œYep, yep, yep. I think that he went out there as a child. I think.â€
â€œThank you Mr. Vanzant,â€ Billy said.
â€œYouâ€™re welcome, Billy,â€ Vanzant said. â€œYou be a good boy.â€
He patted Billy on the head.
â€œYou be good in fifth grade,â€ he said. â€œAnd you study. Donâ€™t wanna end up like olâ€™ Morris Vanzant.â€
He went back to work and Billy went home.
* * *
The funeral was at 2 p.m. that afternoon. All of the children were there, uncomfortable in their Sunday best. When people arrived, the grave had already been dug but the pine coffin sat on the ground next to it. It was opened once everyone arrived in order to allow people to pay their respects and the Baptist preacher from nearby Muscadine had come to conduct the ceremony.
Mrs. Hill and Marjorie cried the entire time. Mr. Hill looked on stoically, thanking people for coming though his chin sometimes quivered.
Teddy noticed the sun was hitting the corpse of Tommy Hill. The coffin was so small. Tommy had obviously been cleaned and prepared by the family as his hair was brushed and he wore his Sunday best, his hands crossed over his chest.
Teddy had brought a little tin cup filled with water, keeping it in his lap. He sought out the Baptist minister before the ceremony began.
â€œFather, can you bless this?â€ he asked.
â€œBoy, I ainâ€™t no Catholic,â€ the minister said.
â€œJust do it.â€
â€œWe donâ€™t believe in that kind a thing. Ainâ€™t no blessing water.â€
â€œJust pretend. What would you say if you was Catholic?â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you sit down?â€
â€œCan you just pretend youâ€™re Catholic?â€
The man put his hand on the boyâ€™s shoulder and then his head.
â€œGood Lord, please bless this feeble-minded and crippled child,â€ the minister said.
Teddy held the water up near the manâ€™s hand.
â€œAnd the water,â€ he said.
He rolled over to Tommyâ€™s open coffin and carefully poured a little on him. Nothing happened.
â€œJust like when we was at the watering hole, bud,â€ he said.
His father came over and grabbed the back of the wheelchair with a grumble, moving it away from the coffin with speed.
â€œWhatâ€™re you doing?â€ he muttered to Teddy once he got him a little ways away. â€œYou donâ€™t be pouring no water on no dead body! Whatâ€™s the matter with you?â€
â€œHe loved the watering hole,â€ Teddy said.
His father grumbled and mumbled at him, angry but not wanting to make more of a scene.
* * *
Someone poked Ella-Marie in the back. She turned around to find Jill Spearman there.
Jill Spearman was a 12-year-old towheaded girl who had been one of Tommyâ€™s friends in the village because they were the only ones of their age in the town. She had been at the swimming hole the day before.
â€œOh,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œHi Jill.â€
â€œDid you know about Tommyâ€™s treasure?â€ Jill said without preamble.
â€œYes, he accumulated treasure from the railroad tracks. Heâ€™d been doing that for â€¦ two years.â€
â€œOh â€¦ yeah.â€
â€œHeâ€™s been collecting things and â€¦ no, four years. Since he was six years old. And his parents donâ€™t know about it so they probably ainâ€™t looked but I seen a little bit of it, including the golden handles that he found in May and I was there when he found â€˜em and he didnâ€™t even share. So, I think somebody needs to get me them golden handles â€˜cause those are mine. I have rights to half that because I was there when he found â€˜em but he didnâ€™t share at all.â€
â€œWait! Slow down. Golden handles?â€
â€œIt was a handle. It was like a handle. It was a little rod with little hooks on it. It was a golden handle. He found it down by the railroad tracks amongst all that broken up wood and stuff. And junk. So, I think you should help get â€˜em. You should help get me my handles back. There were two of them and I think I should have half.â€
â€œI â€¦ Iâ€™ll look in that.â€
â€œOkay, Iâ€™ll ask you about it â€¦ tomorrow.â€
â€œWell thank you very much. I thank you.â€
* * *
Billy had found time to put his flattened pennies into the coffin.
* * *
When the ceremony started and they had closed the casket, Ella-Marie turned to her brother.
â€œMike!â€ she hissed.
He looked at her.
â€œJill just told me something strange,â€ she whispered. â€œYou know those flattened pennies?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Michael said.
â€œShe said he had â€¦ handles. Gold handles that he found down by the railroad tracks.â€
â€œWell, the handle we found was brass.â€
â€œStill, did you see how many coffins were there? They were all different.â€
Their mother shushed them.
â€œShow a little respect!â€ she said to Michael.
The rest of the ceremony passed without any other incident and several of the men from town lowered the tiny coffin into the ground. A temporary wooden marker had been set at the top of the grave and Morris Vanzant was there with a shovel, having obviously been paid to fill in the grave.
Jebidiah had paid especially close attention to the coffin, which was a cheap pine box with rope handles and leather hinges. The Hills were pretty poor and it was probably all they could afford, especially at short notice. When he had paid his respects to Tommy, he had noticed the interior was lined with simple cloth. He thought sure if he ever saw the coffin again, heâ€™d recognize it.
Richard looked around to see if anyone looked any younger than he remembered, but everyone looked normal to him. He remembered Teddy had told him about Dracula getting younger when he drank blood.
The children all got together after the funeral as Morris Vanzant shoveled dirt into the grave.
â€œI talked to Vanzant and Vanzant says Doc Underwoodâ€™s only person he knows who ever went to that place,â€ Billy told the others.
â€œThe Doc?â€ Michael said.
â€œBilly, that may be a clue, but also Vanzant calls all of us â€˜Billyâ€™ so I donâ€™t know,â€ Teddy said.
â€œI donâ€™t see a problem with it,â€ Billy squeaked. â€œHeâ€™s always right for me.â€
â€œItâ€™s because your name is Billy,â€ Teddy said. â€œHe calls you Billy.â€
â€œWell, the least we can do is go talk to the Doc,â€ Michael said.
Ella-Marie told them what Jill had told her about Tommyâ€™s treasure.
â€œWell, if itâ€™s not likely any of us will be in any trouble, do we want to have a handle team and a doc team?â€ Jebidiah said. â€œI know the Doc probably better than anyone around here.â€
â€œYou probably do,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œIâ€™d love to go speak to him at any time thatâ€™s not for sickness,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œI go where Jebidiah goes,â€ Teddy said. â€œHeâ€™s good at carrying me.â€
â€œIâ€™ll go with them,â€ Billy squeaked. â€œIâ€™m suspicious of this Doc.â€
They saw Doc Underwood at the funeral, talking to some of their parents and others.
Richard said he could probably try to sneak into the Hill house to find the handles. They all knew the windows would all be open, like they were at all their houses, and the front door probably wasnâ€™t even locked. No one locked their doors or windows.
â€œYou want to do a handle team and a doc team, but I think thereâ€™s a third team that weâ€™re going to need for tonight,â€ Teddy said. â€œSomeone should watch over Tommyâ€™s grave and see if anyone digs it up or he â€¦ arises.â€
â€œBut he would only do that at night,â€ Richard said.
â€œExactly,â€ Teddy said.
â€œSo we donâ€™t need to worry about that until sundown,â€ Richard said.
â€œCould we try to regroup before then and try to have a look at that together?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œItâ€™d probably be easiest for me to do it, I guess,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œFine!â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œYouâ€™re always going off alone anyway!â€
â€œI ainâ€™t scared,â€ Billy squeaked.
He looked away because he was afraid there was a terrified look on his face.
* * *
Richard and Michael went to the Hillâ€™s house after they had changed out of their Sunday best and figured the Hills were back that afternoon.
â€œYou go through the window,â€ Michael told the other boy. â€œIâ€™ll distract them at the door.â€
Michael went to the front door and knocked. Mr. Hill answered it.
â€œUh, hello Mr. Hill,â€ Michael said.
â€œHello Michael, how are you doing?â€ Mr. Hill said.
â€œIâ€™m doing â€¦ Iâ€™m doing fine. Iâ€™m doing fine. Very sorry about your loss.â€
â€œYes, we all our. What do you need?â€
â€œJill, Tommyâ€™s little friend, was talking to us earlier at the funeral.â€
â€œAnd she said something about him having some kind of treasure around the house, maybe, or somewhere he would maybe hide it?â€
â€œI â€¦ I donâ€™t know about his â€˜treasure.â€™â€
â€œOkay, well, according to her, she said something about him wanting her to have it. I didnâ€™t know if you had any idea where it could be?â€
â€œWell, letâ€™s go look in his room.â€
* * *
Richard climbed into Tommyâ€™s window and looked around the room. There was a bed, small wardrobe, desk, and chest of drawers. He looked under the bed and spotted an old hatbox with the word â€œTresurâ€ written on it in ink. He pulled it out and found it filled with various items and mixed junk. On top of it all were two brass handles. They looked like the one theyâ€™d found in the house. He took them out of the hatbox and put the hatbox back. He pocketed the handles and then climbed out of the window.
Just as he got outside the window, he heard the door opening. He dropped to the ground.
* * *
â€œSo, where do you think this treasure is, Michael?â€ Mr. Hill said as they entered Tommyâ€™s room.
The two of them searched the room and soon found the hatbox under the bed and opened it up.
â€œWhat does she want out of this?â€ Mr. Hill said.
They went through the box and Michael picked up the two crushed pennies in it.
â€œThese,â€ he said. â€œThese are what she was asking for.â€
â€œYeah, she can have â€˜em,â€ Mr. Hill said. â€œIf itâ€™ll make her happy.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Michael said.
Mr. Hill closed up the hatbox and shoved it back underneath the bed. Then he saw Michael out.
Michael left the house and saw Richard on his porch across the road. The two went inside and to Richardâ€™s room. He showed Michael the handles and the boy recognized them as the same as the one he had gotten from the house.
â€œOkay then,â€ Michael said.
â€œSo, these are gold?â€ Richard said.
â€œNo â€¦ maybe,â€ Michael said.
Both boys doubted they were gold.
* * *
Ella-Marie, Billy, Jebidiah, and Teddy went up the hill to Doc Underwoodâ€™s house. It was a little larger than the other houses in town, being two stories high and built into the side of the hill. It was a bit of a push getting Teddy and his wheelchair up the hill, but they made it, getting Teddy onto the front porch.
Doc Underwood answered the door and invited the children in. He had some candy for them and poured glasses of lemonade. They all sat in his parlor, the open window looking down over the little town.
â€œDoc, I need some advice from you thatâ€™s not of a medical nature,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œShouldnâ€™t you be talking to your parents?â€ Doc Underwood said.
â€œWell, I think â€¦ youâ€™re the only one that has experience with this.â€
â€œUh â€¦ Billy, last night saw light on coming out near the old plantation. The night we found Tommy. And we went to look at it today and we saw some â€¦ disturbing things. I wanted to know â€¦ Iâ€™ve heard youâ€™ve been there before and that you know about it. I wanted to know what you know.â€
â€œWell, when I was young â€¦â€
â€œWait, what disturbing things did you see?â€
â€œWell, we saw lots of coffins. There was boards that had been trapped and some people thought they saw things that â€¦ didnâ€™t stick around.â€
â€œBut regardless,â€ Ella-Marie said. â€œWhat do you know?â€
â€œNow, my grandmother told my mother this story,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œShe told me I was too young to remember it. She had lived in Sanguis before it moved down here towards the tracks in the 1890, thirty years ago. Well, forty now. She was living in a farm near here when the original Sanguis was established in the 1870s. She was old even by then and had lived her whole life in the mountains here.
â€œShe told my mother that Bennett Farm had been established well before Sanguis, in 1832, when the Creek Indian Land here was opened to settlers. You see, plantations never really grew up in the hills around here because there wasnâ€™t any place to really grow the kind of crops that slave labor was used for: thatâ€™s cotton, tobacco, and that kind of thing. But E. Charles Bennett, that was his name, he thought differently. He came with his family and a handful of Negros and set up south of the river. He built a good-sized house. There was a few outbuildings and places for the slaves. Started clearing land. He brought his wife, his family, his three daughters.
â€œIt didnâ€™t go well.
â€œSee, the land hereabouts isnâ€™t good for those kinds of crops in great amounts, like I said, and the isolation didnâ€™t seem to suit any of them, white folk or slaves. Strange stories began to circulate in the nearest towns, that was probably Carrollton in Georgia, 20 miles away.
â€œSo, itâ€™s no surprise that when things went bad there, nobody found out for quite a while.
â€œI think it was the summer of 1835 when they came to look in on the Bennetts. Thereâ€™d been no word from them in some weeks. The men who came to investigate found the farm empty and quiet. Doors had been left open and there was a terrible smell about the house.
â€œThey found E. Charles Bennett hanging in one of the rooms upstairs by a crude noose. There was no sign of whatever the man had stood on to hang himself, or what had been pulled out from under him when he hung. They found no trace of his wife or young daughters.
â€œThe slave shacks were empty. Everyone was gone. Same with the animals. All gone. Everything was gone.
â€œThere was no sign of any kind of struggle or attack. Some blamed the Creek Indians, most of whom had emigrated out west by that time. Others wondered if the slaves had murdered everyone and then fled north.
â€œThey couldnâ€™t explain some things though.
â€œIn the kitchen, they found a mortar and pestle had been used to grind up a good deal of glass, the work left was at the table. And across each doorway and window, a line of salt had been placed, though much of it had blown away by then.
â€œThatâ€™s what my grandma told me.
â€œNow, when I was your age, we all knew about the place. Haunted Bennett Plantation. The other kids claimed the house was haunted by the ghost of E. Paul Bennett, who was said to roam the place looking for something, usually they said it was his lost treasure. There was also tales of lights in some of the upper windows at night and strange sounds that came out of part of the woods: cries sometimes, or voices. I never heard any of them myself but some of my friends claimed they had.
â€œI went there once. I was probably 12 or 13 years old and went on a bet my cousin made me about the place. He claimed I wouldnâ€™t go upstairs and find something to bring back to prove it. It was an old bet. Lots of kids had done it.
â€œA few of us went out to the farm. It was a bad place. The woods had grown back up in the 40 years or so since the place had been abandoned though they all had a sickly look to them. Nothing ever seemed to grow quite right out there.
â€œThey waited near the house while I went in the front door and up the narrow staircase to the second floor. There was a bang or a bump in the house somewhere and I tried to reassure myself it was just a raccoon or opossum. As I reached the top of the stairs, a door slammed somewhere but I told myself it was the wind.
â€œThe door at the end of the hall on the left was the only one closed so I figured that must have been the one. I walked slowly up to it and opened it, looking for some trinket from the house to prove Iâ€™d been up there.
â€œAnd hanging from a rafter in the center of the room, believe it or not, I know youâ€™re probably thinking Iâ€™m just telling a story, was a man.â€
Jebidiah looked at Ella-Marie who was staring at Doc Underwood in horror.
â€œHis face was dark purple, like a bruise, and his tongue swollen and hanging out of his mouth,â€ Doc Underwood went on. â€œHe wore rough, homespun clothing and swayed slowly back and forth, the rope creaking in the silence of the house.
â€œThen his eyes opened, bulging out of his head, and he looked right at me.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I saw!â€ Ella-Marie said.
Doc Underwood looked at the girl in silence.
â€œI saw him,â€ she said.
â€œYou saw â€¦ you children should not be going up to that house,â€ Doc Underwood said.
He seemed a little shaken by the revelation.
â€œDid-did you find something?â€ Jebidiah asked. â€œTo prove you were up there?â€
â€œI donâ€™t remember much after I saw him,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œThe other boys told me they heard me scream from upstairs somewhere and then I came running out of the house, shrieking. I collapsed near them in a faint and they had to carry me back home, a pretty good ways. You know how far it is. They werenâ€™t happy about that.
â€œI â€¦ I donâ€™t think they believed me when I told them what I saw. You see, they went back, in a group of course, and told me there was no rope or man of any kind in any of the rooms upstairs. My footprints were pretty visible in the dirt and dust of the place, however. It looked like Iâ€™d gone to the room at the end of the hall but they swore there were no footprints leading back.â€
â€œWhen we were there, things just disappeared before our eyes,â€ Ella-Marie said.
â€œYou shouldnâ€™t â€¦ thatâ€™s â€¦ you children should not be going out to that place. Itâ€™s a bad place. I wouldnâ€™t normally tell anyone this story. People â€¦ are doubtful. Whatâ€™s this about coffins?â€
â€œWhat are we supposed to do? We donâ€™t know what happened to Tommy and that was our only lead.â€
â€œWhat did you say about coffins?â€
â€œWell, there were coffins in all the rooms,â€ Jebidiah said. â€œAlmost all the rooms.â€
â€œWell, nobody lives there. Well, I donâ€™t think.â€
â€œWell, the coffins are locked.â€
â€œWith new locks too,â€ Billy squeaked.
â€œLooked like somebodyâ€™d been up in one of those rooms,â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œWell, I tell you what, I can go into Heflin, I can ride into Heflin tomorrow and I can go check at the county seat and see if anybodyâ€™s â€¦ if anybody owns the place,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œMaybe itâ€™s been sold by the state.â€
â€œWhy would you have coffins in your new house?â€ Teddy said.
â€œThat is really very strange.â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you come out there with us?â€
Doc Underwood went pale but then took a drink of his lemonade and composed himself.
â€œWell, Iâ€™ll tell you what Teddy, I have not been out to that house since I saw what I saw and I donâ€™t want to see it again,â€ he said. â€œElla-Marie says she saw things that - she saw things that disappeared? I donâ€™t think any of you or me or anybody should be going to that house. Hopefully that place will fall down.â€
â€œYou telling me you wonâ€™t go someplace a crippleâ€™s been?â€ Teddy said.
â€œMaybe Iâ€™m smarter than a cripple,â€ he said to Teddy with a wink.
Teddy smiled back at the joke.
â€œIâ€™ll tell. you what, tomorrow is Thursday,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œIâ€™ll ride down to Heflin tomorrow. Iâ€™ll go down to the courthouse and Iâ€™ll see if anybody owns the house. If not, was there anything else there? Just a bunch of old coffins?â€
â€œWe think thereâ€™s vampires in â€˜em,â€ Teddy mumbled.
â€œWell some of â€˜em looked new,â€ Billy squealed.
â€œDonâ€™t listen to him,â€ Teddy mumbled. â€œWe think thereâ€™s vampires in â€˜em.â€
â€œHave these coffins been there for â€¦ are they covered with dust and dirt and grime?â€ Doc Underwood said.
â€œSome,â€ Teddy said.
â€œSome but not all,â€ Billy said.
â€œAll right, I will go into town tomorrow,â€ Doc Underwood said again. â€œIâ€™ll go into Heflin and Iâ€™ll check at the county seat and, if the house has not been sold, I will go get the sheriff and he and some deputies can go in there. Obviously somebody must be squattinâ€™ there which is against the law. And if they got some coffins â€¦â€
â€œDigging up graves?â€ Jebidiah said.
â€œThey might be digging up graves and stealing jewelry and valuables from peopleâ€™s dead bodies,â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œAnd we will â€¦ and then â€¦ we will take care of it.â€
He looked over the children.
â€œIs that all right?â€ he asked. â€œWill that put yâ€™alls minds at ease?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know itâ€™s gonna be fast enough,â€ Teddy said.
â€œItâ€™s gonna be what?â€
â€œWe could â€¦we â€¦â€ Jebidiah said. â€œWe could keep watch over it tonight and make sure that nothing is up there.â€
â€œKeep watch over the house!?!â€ Doc Underwood said.
â€œYou children should not be going out there at night. Jesus Christ! Do not â€¦ do not go out to that house at night!â€
â€œYou said there was â€¦ it was just stories and stuff.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t you just hear the story I just told you about what I saw? Iâ€™m a believer in science but â€¦ I donâ€™t know what I saw when I was â€¦ maybe I was hysterical, but it was â€¦ hm â€¦ it looked real to me and I still believe that something awfulâ€™s in that house. Donâ€™t be going out to that house at night.â€
â€œWell, still, we can keep an eye on it from town, is what I was meaning. Seeing if anything comes up tomorrow.â€
â€œHow can you keep an eye on it from town?â€
â€œWe saw the light on in the window from out on the train tracks.â€
â€œSomebody couldâ€™ve bought that house and be trying to live out there. Some â€¦ fool. So, we gotta find out if somebody owns it first and Iâ€™ll find out for you. Iâ€™ll let yâ€™all know by dinnertime tomorrow night. Itâ€™s 10 miles, itâ€™s going to take me a few hours to get there.â€
â€œCan you at least tell the sheriff thatâ€™s what youâ€™re gonna do?â€ Teddy said. â€œJust in case you â€¦ go missing.â€
â€œWhat do you mean tell the sheriff?â€ Doc Underwood said. â€œYou mean go to his office tomorrow?â€
â€œIâ€™m just covering our tracks,â€ Teddy said.
â€œIf I find nobody owns that house, Iâ€™ll go straight to the sheriffâ€™s office in Heflin and I will tell them what yâ€™all have told me,â€ Doc Underwood said.
Doc Underwood asked Ella-Marie what sheâ€™d seen and she gave him as much information as she could, telling him about the man sheâ€™d seen hanging and the negro Michael had seen in the washtub. She talked about the coffins and the trap on the stairs. That perplexed him and he told her he remembered those stairs as heâ€™d walked up them decades before.
Jebidiah described the inhabited room they had found and that seemed to make Doc Underwood want to find out the information from the county seat even more. He believed the children and wanted to figure out what was going on out that plantation.
* * *
Richard went to the Spearman house and talked to Jill.
â€œI heard, Jill, that Tommy found some handles,â€ he asked.
â€œYes, I was there,â€ Jill said. â€œI was there when he found them handles and I deserve half.â€
â€œWhere did he find it?â€
â€œIt was up â€¦ it was up the rail line a little ways.â€
â€œWhere would that be relative to where we are?â€
â€œUp the rail line a little ways.â€
He took out the handles and showed them to her.
â€œCan you be more specific?â€ he asked.
â€œThose are mine!â€ she said.
â€œYes, but Iâ€™ll give them to you if you tell me where it was.â€
â€œOne of them. All right. Fine. Iâ€™ll show you.â€
He gave her the handles.
â€œCâ€™mon,â€ she said. â€œYou boys think you know everything.â€
She led him up the track and, Richard and Michael thought, a little ways past where they had found Tommyâ€™s body. They could see the plantation house from the spot and, a search of the area found some old wood and cloth. Everything was rotten and had been out in the weather for a few months.
When they looked around, Michael found a brass hinge and another handle. He tucked both of them away. The handle looked identical to the one they had found in the house. He wondered if they were gold.
â€œYeah, thereâ€™s all these pieces of wood and thereâ€™s all this old rotten cloth,â€ she said. â€œAnd then he found the handles. He found two of â€˜em. And one of â€˜em is mine but he wouldnâ€™t give it up. And I forgave him â€˜cause Iâ€™m a good Baptist. But, he shouldnâ€™t have done that.â€
â€œDid he find anything else?â€ Richard asked. â€œBack then?â€
â€œNot anything he told me.â€
â€œWhen did you find it?â€ Michael said.
â€œThis was a couple months ago,â€ Jill said.
Richard picked up a piece of wood.
â€œHow good a condition was this in originally?â€ he asked.
â€œWell, it was better â€˜en that,â€ she said.
He frowned and tossed the piece of wood away.
â€œThey were new when we found â€˜em,â€ she said. â€œIs that all you need from me?â€
â€œYeah, you can head back,â€ Richard said.
â€œI will,â€ she said.
She walked back to town. The boys looked around the spot a little longer before they went back to town and found the others.
I have been running three players through this classic campaign for a good number of months now. We have been pretty good at getting together Monday nights online and playing for a couple hours.
TWO HOUR GAME LIMIT.... This actually works out so well for me as a keeper. The prep I have to do is so minimal. They can only get so far off track in two hours!
I do not discourage any tangent they want to go on, and I have a week to figure out a clever way to let them do what they want and still progress through the campaign.
Because of this I have dropped whole chapters from Shadows as written. Sometimes I skip something completely, other times I substitute a completely different published adventure.
I have done a lot of writing.
I have learned how to read a chapter of the campaign, strip out everything that doesn't matter, and focus on the main thing that does.
I have learned to set up set pieces that must happen, but leave them open ended enough so they can crop up whenever the opportunity presents itself.
I have learned how to gently herd the players to these set pieces and edit them on the fly.
I have learned how to use the NPCs as the main thing that drives my end of the story.
Once I read the scenario I figure out who the NPCs are, and what they are trying to achieve. I then contemplate how they plan on doing this. I try to plan for what my PCs most likely will do, predict possible outcomes, make a few notes and run with it.
I think Shadows of Yogsothoth is a fantastic campaign.
I do not think it flows well from chapter to chapter. I do not think the chapters really even relate to each other very much.
Some of it is even ridiculous I dare say.
BUT! I have learned so much about running this game through my efforts in trying to make Shadows work.
We have about three sessions until the end.
I would recommend this campaign to any Keeper out there. I have been having a great time with it, and so have my players.
So as 2018 rolls in, let me see how things are looking with writing.
The Perishing of Sir Ashby Phipps - secondary revisions relating to Victorian theories of dreaming Echoes Will be Found - remembered this exists, need to plan to run it The Man Who Wasn't There - on hiatus, needs substantial work The Sprawling Campaign - have recruited friendly archaeologist advisor, need to do some reading and knuckle down to it, also reread the Archaeologist's Handbook The Neighs Have It - purely skeletal but concept seems good Upon Their Backs to Bite Em - done, playtested, finished
Various other things - deliberately sidelined for sanity's sake
I've been struggling with reading recently due to some health issues, just finding it difficult to focus on reading for any length of time due to tiredness. This is not helpful! But I do have many supportive friends who encourage me to keep working on these projects.
I'm looking forward to the upcoming publication of a scenario I was lucky enough to offer some input on; it's the closest I've got to authorship so far, so quite exciting for me.
Gamingwise, a lot of my time has ended up with Pathfinder, as the group I'm now in run several campaigns. However, a couple have now gone on hiatus, so I may be able to find time soon to run another scenario or two. Let's hope!
Well I was a little shocked to see that I returned to Cthulhu's slightly damp embrace seven years ago and it was all thanks to the internet and this website. I have gamed with several groups and overall I've been very lucky as so far all the people I have met been fun and enthusiastic about the hobby but there has been a few bumpy patches along the way some of which have been fairly big. I wonder if gaming over the net makes the problem of group collapse more likely as it makes off table chat more difficult, the feeling of isolation? and personal disconnect greater. My first group died of ennui which was possibly helped along by my desperation to keep something going the infamous four part Eclipse Phase game that I tried was only fun on the last session for example. The second group had two phases, phase one was as a player in a fantastic adaption of Masks for Delta Green but it was a weekly game and I think it became pretty gruelling for the Keeper especially when he moved into the big city and the distractions within. And so towards the end he seemed to lose enthusiasm for it and the mechanics started to crumble around the edges some of my misgivings about certain play styles and narrative started to ramp up and whilst I was still excited to play (Sometimes looking back a little too much) I was becoming unhappy after the games and I started to feel boxed in and railroaded, also their was a somewhat large communication problem which fed back into my general unhappiness. So that ended with me barely taking part in the last few episodes (Things had become so bad that my new character ended up being shot by them) Phase 2 The Keeper trailed away and soon disappeared for all intents so the players got together and started to run games and I came back after a brief break to clear my head but unfortunately things soon started to return to the bad old ways and things started to make less sense (The Derelict is a great game but I hated the rich friends voyage option the comedic way the guy played the Captain didn't help) so I ended up dropping out of games more and more often which was not one of my most proudest moments but things came to a head after a big bust up over a Cthulhu Dark play test of one of the groups potential convention games (Cthulhu Dark is pretty awesome by the way) the Keeper kept throwing things at us and we ended up trying to deal with them but it seemed not in the way the Keeper had wanted. For example he seemed shocked when my character decided to drive faster and away from the horde of monsters instead of stopping and doing ?. The game ended badly things were said and I swore a bit and that was that game over man game over. It seemed that we had totally different ideas on how games should go and I admit I have a problem sometimes suspending my disbelief and ignoring certain aspects of plot and game play and just carrying on which I admit is an annoying habit especially in Cthulhu. For example I will board a ship but not by climbing up its iced up sides for example but I should have as it ended up just being background fluff and if I had I could have got on with the game. Group 3 is in its early stages and its having a few starting hiccups getting player consistency is the main worry at the moment and there have been a few technical issues mainly down to me forgetting how Hangouts works but I'm hopeful that things will balance out in the new year which will hopefully be an awesome eighth year of gaming.
Oh and the Renaissance game I'm in is still awesome and luckily going strong in all its beautiful weird 17th century styling. I hope anyone who reads this has an awesome year of gaming ahead of them in 2018.
Monday, November 20, 2017
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu original scenario â€œThe Lurker in Tunnel 13 on Sunday, November 12, from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. with John Leppard, Jacob Marcus, Austin Davie, and Katelyn Hogan.)
James Cloverfield had returned on numerous occasions to Columbia University to talk to Karl Sappington. Though Sappington didnâ€™t really want to hear it, Cloverfield told him about the strange events that took place in the city in May of 1923. Sappington mentioned the name Nyarlathotep but admitted he didnâ€™t know a lot about whomever or whatever that was. However, he knew someone who did. Dr. Joseph Murrow was a Ph.D. of Classical Studies who used to work for New York University. He had since retired, but now lived in McAlveys Fort, Pennsylvania. However, Sappington warned him that, from what little he knew of Nyarlathotep, the Messenger of the Gods of a Thousand Masks, it was a very dangerous thing to pursue. He advised against following up on it.
Cloverfield ignored his advice.
He got a letter of recommendation from the professor. Sappington wrote on the back of one of his cards: â€œDr. Murrow, please tell this gentleman anything he wants. I trust him.â€ He signed it and gave it to the man.
When Cloverfield asked about other information, Sappington doubted heâ€™d be able to easily learn anything. He mentioned rare book rooms, Miskatonic University in Arkham, Massachusetts, or occult or rare book stores.
â€œPeople donâ€™t look into this and those who do â€¦ bad things happen to them,â€ Sappington said.
He asked for Cloverfield not to use his name except with Dr. Murrow.
Cloverfield later asked his butler Winters to look for such strange and esoteric tomes whenever he was out. Winters assured him he would. However, in the months since the strange occurrence with Leroy Turner and his cursed trumpet, Winters was not able to find any occult books for sale that seemed relevant.
* * *
Marco Pavil, from Jonestown, Pennsylvania, had become a recluse over the span of time after he had visited the strange Clarke House in Massachusetts. He continued doing his job in the steel mills but he found himself have more and more trouble dealing with repetitive noises. He had smashed every clock in his house and left them on the walls, the time they were smashed within minutes of each other.
He had written his mother and father in Poland, telling them everything that had happened in the horrible Clarke House. He tried to describe it in detail in the letter. He received a letter back from his mother, advising him to remain calm and noting his Great Aunt Needa had a similar experience. She also recommended he talk to a priest about it and possibly go to confession and join the church once again. She went into more detail about Aunt Needa, who lived in a haunted house for 48 years. She noted Aunt Needa had been fine by the end.
Pavil was not sure who Aunt Needa was but assumed she was a great aunt, perhaps one of his grandmotherâ€™s sisters. His family was very large.
He went to St. Columba Catholic Church there in Johnstown. The church was only about 10 years old and he worked to become a devote Catholic. The priest at the church was Father Patrick Donald. Pavil converted fully to Catholicism, going to confession and being confirmed in the church. He became an active member of the congregation. One of his most treasured possessions became a crucifix he was gifted after his confirmation.
At one point in 1923, he talked to Father Patrick about everything that had happened to him at the Clarke House in Massachusetts. He actually opened up about it but Father Patrick was not as receptive as he thought he would have been. The man of the cloth tried to comfort him and dismiss what he saw as hallucination, which put Pavil off. The priest also had a cane and tapped it quite a bit.
Pavil found another Catholic church to attend in Johnstown. He didnâ€™t trust Father Patrick anymore and didnâ€™t want to see the man.
Pavil also knew his friend Deryl Wallin had been seeing a psychologist ever since he had visited James Cloverfield in New York in May of 1923. Cloverfield was paying for it, according to Wallin. Unfortunately, the therapy had not helped the man very much. He got together with Deryl when his brother James Wallin came to visit him. The three men spent time together and Pavil was a little surprised the other man was a lumberjack who lived in Cleveland, Ohio. James Wallin told him he traveled out of town to do his work as well as work trimming and felling trees for individuals and the city. Pavil and James hit it off though Deryl was rather disturbed.
James Wallin knew what was going on with his brother and was not only sympathetic but also seemed to actually believe the madness that had befallen him. Something had happened out west to James Wallin and, though he didnâ€™t talk about it, it seemed very important.
* * *
James Wallin, Deryl Wallinâ€™s brother, went on an anniversary dinner with his wife, Elizabeth. They had a tiny baby boy named Michael. He and his wife had a good relationship. Elizabeth was Catholic and James more a realist and naturalist.
He had bought a few steaks and they went to a small cabin in the woods they owned for a romantic night to celebrate their four year anniversary. It was the same place he and Deryl had the fire a year or so before. Wallin cooked the steaks and they spent the night alone, having gotten a sitter for their child.
* * *
Nurse Edna Petrov continued to search for her lost love.
Mikhail Chernykov had been a very small man in the Russian Army before the July Offensive in October 1917. Chernykov had often come to Nurse Petrovâ€™s medical tent before that. He was a sweet man who was obviously very fond of her. Most other men found her intimidating due to her brusque nature even though she was a handsome woman. She had grown to love the weak little man.
A month or so before the Russians pulled out of the Great War, Chernykov disappeared during a Russian attack. His body was not brought back and there was no word of the man. Nurse Petrov made inquiries as to his disposition, as he was not listed among the rosters of the dead or missing. He was simply not listed at all.
When Russia pulled out of the war in 1917 and the Bolshevik government had signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, Nurse Petrov, like others, went back to Russia where there was great confusion and continual fighting. She stopped making inquiries as she was very busy.
Sometime after that, she immigrated to the United States but she continued her inquiries via mail through one of her brothers. That continued for some time until, in 1923, she received a disappointing letter. â€œWe canâ€™t look into this anymore,â€ the letter stated. â€œPlease do not write me about this anymore.â€
This understandably upset her and she wrote him back, demanding why he was rebuffing her and refusing to help her find the â€œonly man who would love me.â€ In response, she got a short telegraph from Berlin, Germany. It was signed by her brother and she wondered why he was in Germany. It read:
â€œLetters are being read by the government. Stop. Cannot pursue this. Stop. Family under investigation. Stop. Everyone in danger. Stop. Look in northern France. End.â€
She guessed the telegram had been sent from Berlin as her brother felt safer sending from there than Russia. She didnâ€™t know why the government would care what had happed to Chernykov as the man was not even an officer. It was all very perplexing.
Not long after the telegraph arrived, a letter came from the same brother, obviously meant to be read by whoever was opening the familyâ€™s mail. Her brother simply wrote he was happy she decided to stop pursuing her investigation and asked for her to confirm she would no longer pursue it. It felt like the letter was asking for a confirmation just for the people spying on the family to get the government off their backs. The letter was not written in her brotherâ€™s usual style and she picked up that it was meant for dissembling. It mentioned an old game they had played with their mother and she remembered the lying game, where they would try to deceive each other.
She wrote a letter back with just one word: â€œFine.â€
She stopped all correspondence about Chernykov.
* * *
James Cloverfield looked up McAlveys Fort in an atlas and found it lay in Huntingdon County, Pennsylvania. A little research showed trains ran to nearby Huntingdon, the county seat. From there, he guessed they could take a motorcar.
He telephoned Deryl Wallin to see if he could come with him.
â€œI-I canâ€™t come,â€ Wallin said. â€œIâ€™m not ready yet. I-I could call my brother and â€¦ um â€¦ he could potentially help you out.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œWeâ€™ve got to go to McAlveys Fort, Pennsylvania. If you want to meet me there in a week. And can you contact Marco and ask if heâ€™ll come?â€
â€œYes. Iâ€™ll give my brother Marcoâ€™s information.â€
â€œRemember that nurse from two years ago?â€
â€œMaybe you should invite her along. Just so â€¦ in case we get into it or something. I donâ€™t know. Iâ€™m just going to ask this guy but â€¦ I donâ€™t know. Maybe â€¦ maybe some closure or something.â€
â€œIâ€™ll go to the hospital and tell her you asked for her.â€
After he was off the telephone, Cloverfield had Winters arrange the train tickets and the butler told him that after inquiries he learned a car could be rented in Huntingdon. He had Winters arrange to rent a four-seat car there and made plans to take the train.
* * *
Wallin went to the hospital in Bristol and asked for Nurse Petrov. He told her Cloverfield asked for her to potentially go help him. When she asked about what, he noted the rich man was checking out a lead in central Pennsylvania.
â€œLead for what?â€ she asked.
â€œIâ€™m not entirely sure,â€ Wallin admitted. â€œI didnâ€™t stay on the phone too long to ask.â€
â€œI know but donâ€™t worry. Marco is going to be there as well.â€
She realized Wallin was not acting quite right.
â€œYou have number so I can get questions answered?â€ she asked.
â€œHuh?â€ he said.
â€œYou have number?â€
â€œYes, uh â€¦â€
â€œNot for you. For boy. Cloverfield.â€
He wrote down Cloverfieldâ€™s information for her.
â€œOkay,â€ she said. â€œI call. I ask questions.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Wallin said.
â€œGet rest,â€ she said.
* * *
Nurse Petrov sent Cloverfield a telegram. It read:
â€œNeed details. End.â€
She received a reply that read: â€œFound lead. Stop. Doctor Murrow. Stop. Lives in McAlveys Fort, Pennsylvania. Stop. Knows about strange things relating to house. Stop.â€
He included information on Huntingdon and the date they were to meet in the city. He also noted he offered negotiable compensation if she came.
She decided to go.
* * *
James Wallin, after his brother called him, told his wife good-bye and for her to take care of little Michael.
â€œWhere are you going?â€ Elizabeth asked.
â€œDeryl told me one of his friends needs help with something.â€
â€œThis rich man named Cloverfield.â€
She was confused and wanted details. He told her Cloverfield lived in New York and they met twice. He told her he was going to Pennsylvania, only one state over, and wouldnâ€™t be gone too long. He promised.
â€œWrite me every day,â€ she said.
â€œI will,â€ he said.
â€œWait, heâ€™s rich? Call me every day. Let him pay for it.â€
â€œAll right. I will.â€
She was not happy with him going off without her. It was his first trip to another state alone. He had taken shorter trips for his work as a lumberjack but she hadnâ€™t liked that either.
He took the train to Huntingdon.
* * *
Marco Pavil got a telegram from Deryl Wallin. It read: â€œCloverfield says meet in Huntingdon Pennsylvania on February 15. Stop. Has a lead. End.â€ He contemplated on it for a day before replying with a telegram that simply said. â€œIs this about the house. Stop. Where can I find him. Stop. Contact information please. End.â€ The reply came within a few hours: â€œMaybe. Stop.â€ It also contained contact information for Cloverfield. He sent to Cloverfield.: â€œIs it about the house. Stop. Where can I find you. Stop. Tell me what you know. Stop.â€ The response was â€œRelated to house. Stop. Meet me in Huntingdon Pennsylvania February 15. Stop. Will tell you there. Stop. Will pay. End.â€
* * *
On Friday, February 15, 1924, they each arrived in Huntingdon on various trains from various parts of the country. It was very cold in Huntingdon and snow lay on the ground. Huntington was a small city with a population of about 7,000 and they all met at one of the hotels. Cloverfield had a rented car ready for them but it was in the afternoon when they were all ready to head for McAlveys Fort. Cloverfield had gotten instructions and maps for the trip and knew the way to the tiny town only about 20 miles away. Even on the snow-covered road, they would make it in an hour or two. They expected to arrive at the town before dark.
Wallin asked Cloverfield for money to telegraph his wife before they went and went to the telegraph office to send to her: â€œEverythingâ€™s going well. Stop. Met him. Stop. Couldnâ€™t find a phone. Stop. Sent this instead. End.â€
Even with the delay, Cloverfield expected to arrive before dark. He drove and the rest loaded into the newish Chevrolet hardtop sedan. They drove into the mountains of Pennsylvania.
It started snowing as they left Huntingdon and the weather got worse as they passed through the tiny, practically nonexistent towns of Gorsuch and Donation, slowing their progress considerably. They were looking for Ennisville, but they drove for several more miles and took more turns without seeing the town, unless they had missed it in the snow and the dark.
The motorcar reached a particularly steep downward incline in a thickly wooded area, the road feeling very narrow. As they headed down, Cloverfield pressed on the brakes but the car didnâ€™t slow at all as the wheels locked and the machine slid down the hill, out of control. As they plowed down the incline, an old man stepped out from behind a tree on the right, looking around. He seemed oblivious to the motorcar, which struck the man, who went down in front of the machine. There were two bumps as the passenger side front and back tire went over him.
They slid down to the bottom of the hill where the Chevrolet crashed into a large snowdrift and was partially buried in the snow as the engine died. Both Pavil and Nurse Petrov, in the back, were slammed around and injured in the crash. The two in the front seat were fine.
Cloverfield put his head in his hands while Wallin climbed out of the motorcar and headed back up the hill towards the man theyâ€™d hit. Nurse Petrov climbed out with her medical bag. Pavil also climbed out and pulled out his flask, taking a swig. He headed up the hill as Cloverfield climbed out, cane in hand, and followed.
It was terribly cold and the snow continued to fall heavily. When Nurse Petrov and Wallin got to the old man they saw he had a beard and wore overalls but no coat or hat. The overalls appeared to be homemade. He was breathing heavily and obviously badly injured. His hands were pulled up into near-fists, almost like claws. Nurse Petrov examined the man but didnâ€™t want to move him.
He suddenly grabbed Nurse Petrovâ€™s coat.
â€œItâ€™s too late,â€ he muttered. â€œToo late to help me now.â€
Nurse Petrov reached into her medical bag and prepared a syringe with morphine.
â€œIf youâ€™re a stranger in these parts, stay a stranger,â€ the old man said. â€œWhatever you do â€¦ donâ€™t go into Perdition.
â€œNot that Perdition wasnâ€™t a good town once. It was a fine town. A mining town. Rich in coal and precious ores. But then the coal ran out and the people starting running out as well. There wanâ€™t any natural way to restore the mines. So, Monroe â€¦ Abraham Monroe â€¦ he started looking into unnatural ways â€¦ the occult. The supernatural.
â€œThen, one night, I guess he thought he was ready. He gathered up all the mystic books and such heâ€™d been collecting and carried them into the mine â€¦ and that was the last anyone ever saw of Abraham Monroe.â€
She injected the man with the morphine.
â€œOh, there was the scream that night of course,â€ the old man rambled on. â€œIt came rolling out of the mine, spilling across the streets of town. But never any sign of the man who made the horrid sound â€¦
â€œThings havenâ€™t been the same in Perdition since then. The strange disappearances of anybody going too close to the mines, the gnawing fear that everybody lives there with â€¦ and the fact that since Monroe vanished â€¦ nobody else has ever left town.
â€œUntil me that is. I was leaving town. I was running from it â€¦ Now I guess theyâ€™ll never get me back there again â€¦â€
The man breathed his last. His age and his injuries were simply too much for him.
â€œOkay, then,â€ Wallin said.
It seemed to get colder and Nurse Petrov picked up the old man and moved him to the side of the road. She packed some snow around him, but her gloves were not meant for the wet snow and quickly became soaked, her hands freezing cold.
â€œDoes he have a map on him or anything?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œIâ€™m not going to rummage through dead manâ€™s pocket,â€ she said.
â€œI donâ€™t have a darn clue where we are at the moment,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œAnd weâ€™re freezing.â€
â€œWell, he was walking away from the town so â€¦ if he came out of the woods over there, that should mean townâ€™s that way,â€ Wallin said.
â€œBut, didnâ€™t he say he wanted to â€¦ that â€¦ stay out of â€¦ the town,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œYeah, but isnâ€™t that the town weâ€™re heading to anyways.?â€ Wallin said.
â€œWell â€¦ no,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œIt was Fort â€¦ McClay? McAlveys Fort. Old man said it was â€¦ the town was â€¦ but I donâ€™t think it was the town that we were trying to go to.â€
â€œYouâ€™re right, he didnâ€™t say the word Fort,â€ Wallin said.
â€œHe didnâ€™t say Fort,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œWhich means it might be in the other direction,â€ Wallin said.
â€œPerdition,â€ Pavil said.
â€œLetâ€™s try going the other direction, then,â€ Wallin said. â€œHe was coming from the right, maybe we should go left.â€
There was no road to the left. They went back to the motorcar and Cloverfield got it started but it was stuck in the snowdrift. They didnâ€™t have any shovels or tools to dig the motorcar out with and if they dug with their mittens and gloves, they would quickly become soaked, threatening them all with frostbite.
They noticed a sign near the road. The top appeared to have been rotted or ripped off but the bottom said â€œOne Mile.â€ It looked like it was very, very old.
â€œLetâ€™s find shelter or freeze,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
Pavil pointed out if they started walking, they would warm up about halfway there.
â€œHalfway where?â€ Wallin said.
Nurse Petrov pointed to the sign.
â€œGoing one mile there,â€ she said. â€œMaybe someone point us in right direction.â€
They all grabbed some of their luggage and headed down the road through the drifts of snow. Pushing through was not easy but the remains of the road through the thick oak woods was not hard to follow. The snow started letting up and roughly a mile from the spot where they struck the old man, they came to a spot where the road dipped down into a valley. The clouds parted and the nearly full move shone down.
The light shined eerily down into the snow-covered town and smoke was evident from some of the chimneys of the village filled with quaint little two-and three-story houses and businesses. Just as evident was the ruined nature of many of the structures. Several had wrecked upper floors, the windows that survived on the bottom boarded up. Debris was evident near the fronts and sides of the buildings and a few of the structures had collapsed entirely. Decrepit picket fences lined the yards by some of the houses on the edge of town and most of the structures appeared deserted.
Wallin set his suitcase down and slid part way down the hill before the snow built up in front of it.
â€œI was tired of walking,â€ he said to the others as they walked down the hill.
Pavil began to feel the beginning of a headache or some kind of pressure on his mind. It was not pleasant.
They passed several houses that were obviously abandoned. The village appeared to be in a shambles, looking even worse than it did from the entrance to the valley. Houses and homes had obviously not been kept up and the entire place looked shabby. A signpost stood near the edge of town but the sign was not upon it.
Though there was no light from any of the houses or buildings, smoke trickled up from several that werenâ€™t abandoned. The newly-fallen snow on the road and the ground was unmarked and not shoveled, standing nearly two feet deep in places. It was very cold.
They reached an intersection and saw the smoke coming from houses on either side.
â€œWell,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œI say we go to house with fire.â€
â€œProbably a good plan,â€ Wallin said.
â€œYeah,â€ Pavil said.
â€œYeah,â€ Cloverfield said.
They went to the house on the left and knocked on the door. After a short time, they heard movement inside.
â€œWhoâ€™s there?â€ a gruff voice called.
â€œUh â€¦ we are four people,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œWe lost control of car. Cannot bring out of snow. Need shelter temporarily.â€
It was quiet for a long time and then a flickering light appeared in one of the windows. After that, the latch clicked and the door opened timidly. A man stood there in a nightshirt with a jacket thrown over his shoulders.
â€œYouâ€™re â€¦ youâ€™re strangers?â€ he said.
He looked back into the house.
â€œItâ€™s someone from the outside world!â€ he called.
He looked back to them.
â€œCâ€™mon in,â€ he said. â€œCâ€™mon in outta the cold.â€
He backed up, opening the door wider.
This isnâ€™t the reaction I expected, Pavil thought.
The home appeared to be worn but well-furnished. The man closed and locked the door behind them. They saw two children peeking out from behind the doorway.
â€œGo get Ezekiel!â€ the man said, pointing to one of them. â€œGo get Ezekiel! Theyâ€™re strangers!â€
The child ran to the door and put on rugged and rough-looking homemade looking clothing and pulled on a pair of very work and patched boots. He ran out the front door and into the darkness.
A low fire burned in the fireplace with red-hot coals all around it. An alcohol or kerosene lamp flickered with light nearby. The room smelled of fried food or grease and they guessed the lamp might have been filled with some kind animal or vegetable oil. The man looked at all of the nervously as the warmth from the room started to thaw them out. Nurse Petrov went over and sat by the fire. Cloverfield and Wallin both realized the man was obviously terrified of them, eyeing them warily and keeping his distance.
â€œSir â€¦ where are we?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œUh â€¦ this is Perdition,â€ the man said. â€œPerdition, Pennsylvania. But Ezekielâ€™s coming. You can talk to him. Heâ€™ll know what to do. Heâ€™ll know what to do.â€
â€œDo you know where Fort â€¦ Mc â€¦ El â€¦?â€ he said.
â€œFort Mickle?â€ the other man said.
â€œFort Mickle, yeah.â€
â€œFort Mickle? No.â€
â€œI believe you meant Fort McCray?â€ Walling said.
The man shook his head.
Wallin went to the man and offered his hand. The man backed away as if he thought Wallin was going to kill him.
â€œThank you for your hospitality,â€ Wallin said.
The man shook it tentatively.
â€œWhat are you scared of?â€ Pavil asked.
â€œHow rude,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œWe donâ€™t get many strangers around here,â€ the man said. â€œSometimes â€¦ I mean â€¦â€
â€œIt is out in the middle of nowhere,â€ Wallin said.
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ the man said. â€œThatâ€™s right.â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you get many strangers?â€ Pavil said.
â€œWe just donâ€™t,â€ the man said. â€œAinâ€™t no train.â€
â€œMost people probably think â€˜abandoned town,â€™â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œNo offense.â€
â€œNone taken,â€ the man said.
â€œDo you know an old man?â€ Pavil said.
â€œUh â€¦ I know some old men,â€ the man said.
â€œMaybe one that might have gone missing? Tried to get away, leave this place?â€
â€œNobody leaves. No. I donâ€™t â€¦ I donâ€™t â€¦â€
â€œLong white beard,â€ Wallin said. â€œNo mustache. Bald head.â€
â€œUh â€¦ might be â€¦ Johnson Bice,â€ the man said. â€œHe sounds kind of like youâ€™re talking about. I donâ€™t know where he could go. Itâ€™s got arthritis really bad. He couldnâ€™t go nowhere. Especially not in that.â€
He gestured towards the door.
â€œItâ€™s been a bad day,â€ he said. â€œItâ€™s been a really bad day.â€
Pavil suddenly realized, in the silence when no one spoke, there was the constant tick-tock of a clock from some other room nearby. The repetitive, unending noise started to grate on his nerves and he found his eye twitching with every tick and every tock. Nurse Petrov noticed it and narrowed her eyes. She realized he had some issue and soon recognized the twitch was synchronized with the clock.
â€œDo you need to leave?â€ she asked.
â€œIf you could make that clock stop itâ€™d be even better,â€ Pavil said.
â€œExplain,â€ she said.
She could hear the tick-tock of a pendulum, probably to an old grandfather clock, somewhere in the place.
â€œPlug ears,â€ she said.
â€œItâ€™s been like this ever since the house,â€ Pavil said. â€œCouldnâ€™t get it to stop.â€
â€œPlug ears,â€ she said again. â€œHere you go.â€
She pulled earplugs from her medical bag and Pavil put them in his ears. He could no longer hear the ticking and he felt a great relief.
The front door opened with a blast of cold air and the boy the man had sent off came in. Three more people were behind him, a man, a woman, and a young boy. The man was handsome and young with thick hair that was out of style. The woman was blonde and pretty. The young man was obviously their son and looked at the four people curiously.
The man whose house they were in rushed over to the door.
â€œWhatâ€™s someone from the outside world doing here?â€ he said to the man.
â€œI donâ€™t know, but I intend to find out,â€ the man replied.
He patted the old man on his shoulder.
â€œNot here on purpose,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œHowdy folks, we donâ€™t get strangers here often,â€ he said. â€œWhatâ€™re you all doing in Perdition?â€
â€œI crashed our car out on the hill,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œOh,â€ the man said.
â€œCaught in snowdrift,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œYeah, itâ€™s been bad, bad weather,â€ the man said. â€œWell, listen, we donâ€™t have much in the way of â€¦ what were you doing coming this way?â€
â€œI was trying to get to Fort Mickle?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œWhat is Fort Mickle?â€ the man said.
â€œFort McCree?â€ Nurse Petrov guessed.
â€œI just know itâ€™s a fort,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œSo, youâ€™re lost,â€ the man said.
â€œWell, we were trying to get this â€¦ Fort place â€¦ and thereâ€™s a doctor there we were trying to speak to,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œWe got two doctors in town,â€ the man said. â€œIs somebody sick?â€
â€œNo, a professor,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œOh, I see,â€ the man said. â€œWell, youâ€™re not going anywhere tonight.â€
â€œToo late,â€ Wallin said.
â€œObviously,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œTell you what, Iâ€™ll go wake up Mr. Oâ€™Brien at the hotel, weâ€™ll get you all some rooms,â€ the man said. â€œUm â€¦ is anybody hurt? I can send for Dr. Reddick and wake him up.â€
â€œOnly bump,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œNothing too bad,â€ Wallin said.
â€œAfter all, we wouldnâ€™t want to lose the first visitors this town has had in years, now, would we?â€ the man said.
â€œDo you know man with long, white beard, no moustache, balding?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œUh â€¦â€ the man said.
â€œIt might be Johnson Bice?â€ the first man said.
â€œJohnson Bice?â€ the man said. â€œWhy heâ€™s all wracked with arthritis. He wouldnâ€™tâ€™ve been out. Why? He lives on the other side of town.â€
â€œUnfortunately, car lost control,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œWe slide. We hit man. Look like that. By accident.â€
â€œOh,â€ the younger man said.
â€œHe was also in some overalls,â€ Wallin said.
â€œBefore he died, he rambled about how nobody can leave this place and that he was sad that he was never going to because we hit him with the car accidentally,â€ Pavil said.
â€œOh,â€ the younger man said.
â€œHe was mental,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œCame out of nowhere.â€
â€œSounds like he was just rambling, then if you hit him with a car,â€ the younger man said. â€œIt might be. Iâ€™ll go check on his house and see if heâ€™s home.â€
Cloverfield told him where the body and the motorcar both were.
â€œIâ€™ll see what I can do about that,â€ the man said. â€œIâ€™ll see what I can. If youâ€™ll come with me. Just put your coats back on. Iâ€™m sorry about this. We donâ€™t want to keep Mr. McKensey up, do we?â€
The other man shook his head, still very frightened.
â€œApologies,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
The man nodded his head.
â€œDid I say that right?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œYes,â€ Wallin said.
The younger man led them down the street. They passed more homes, a bank, a restaurant, a billiard hall, a drugstore, and a boarded up building marked â€œPerdition Post.â€ Then they passed a Dr. Reddickâ€™s, a meat shop or butcher, and finally to a three-story building with the sign â€œHotelâ€ out front. The man knocked and the man who answered seemed very nervous as he opened the door to the young man, saying â€œItâ€™s Ezekiel!â€
â€œAndrew, we need some rooms,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œWe got some strangers in town and they need a place to stay. And â€¦ uh â€¦ this is Andrew Oâ€™Brien, he runs this hotel.â€
The building stood on cross-streets.
â€œIâ€™ll have to clean â€˜em up,â€ Oâ€™Brien said. â€œWe havenâ€™t had anybody in so long. Sorry the rooms are going to be kind of cold but Iâ€™ll get you extra blankets. The old wood furnace, it doesnâ€™t work like it used to.â€
Oâ€™Brien scurried up the stairs. Ezekiel hesitated.
â€œIf you want to come over for breakfast tomorrow morning, Iâ€™ll have some breakfast,â€ he said. â€œI live right across the street here.â€
They could see the large house directly across the street.
â€œVery kind,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œYouâ€™re lucky you found the town,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œA night like this â€¦ people wonâ€™t live through a night like this. Not in the Appalachians.â€
â€œHeck no,â€ Wallin said.
â€œWell, Iâ€™ll leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Oâ€™Brien here,â€ Ezekiel said.
It was several minutes before Oâ€™Brien came back down. He led them upstairs nervously and they noticed dust in the air of each room. The rooms smelled musty, as if no one had been in there for years. It was very cold in the rooms but Oâ€™Brien brought them each several blankets and quilts. He left a burning candle in each of their rooms before he left. Cloverfield seemed very displeased with the accommodations.
Each room had a single bed, basins and jugs on a dry sink, chest of drawers, and chests with more blankets and quilts. Velvet curtains covered the windows and the whole place felt very out-of-date. Oâ€™Brien took the jug from each room and returned with it filled with cold water. He pointed out the chamber pots under each bed. He finally bid them each goodnight, telling them if they needed anything they could find his room behind the stairs. They thanked him and he nervously left them.
Pavil was relieved he could not hear any clocks.
They were not given keys to their rooms and the bolts in the inside of the doors had obviously been removed long ago. Both Cloverfield and Pavil slept with their pistols under their pillows.
Pavil sat in front of the chest at the foot of his bed and reassembled his Springfield rifle before he went to bed.
Nurse Petrov pulled back the curtains to look out her window. She couldnâ€™t see much outside but noticed the frost that had already formed on the inside of the window. She realized the curtains were closed to act as further insulation.
Wallin slipped his chainsaw out of his bag and under the bed.
* * *
All of them had nightmares and unsettling dreams through the night, though only Wallin could remember what he had dreamed.
He dreamt he was carrying books and scrolls that were old and hoary through a mine shaft. He put them down and started to intone a chant. It seemed to last for a long time. When he stopped, nothing happened. Then he felt something moving on his arm. He reached down to pull back his shirt at the sudden large, strange bulge there â€¦ and awoke.
* * *
Pavil woke up very early on Saturday, February 16, 1924, as was usual for him. He got up from the warm bed into the cold room and opened up the curtains. Outside, a layer of snow made the scene almost picturesque, were it not for how terrible the town looked. It was worse in the daylight. Buildings hadnâ€™t been painted in years and even the sky was gray and dreary.
â€œI donâ€™t know what I expected,â€ he muttered to himself.
There was a knock on the door. He found James Wallin there. Wallin noticed the Springfield rifle on the chest.
â€œYou still got that flask, buddy?â€ Wallin said.
â€œYes, I do,â€ Pavil said.
â€œYou mind if I have a swig?â€
â€œNot at all.â€
He produced the flask and Wallin took a drink of the whiskey. Pavil joined him, warming himself.
â€œI had a horrible dream last night,â€ Wallin said.
â€œI had some bad ones but I donâ€™t remember â€˜em,â€ Pavil said.
â€œOh. I was in â€¦ a mineshaft. Had some books on me. I â€¦ I donâ€™t know what that is.â€
â€œI started speaking some â€¦ weird mumbo jumbo. Donâ€™t really know what it was â€¦ and then everything just sort of stopped and I felt something on my arm. It was bulging.â€
â€œYou were in a mineshaft with books, you started speaking some weird language, and something touched you?â€
â€œNo. Not something touched me. My arm just sort of started â€¦ bulging.â€
â€œYeah. Donâ€™t know what it could mean. All I know is, Iâ€™m ready for some breakfast. Didnâ€™t Oâ€™Brien say â€¦â€
Pavil had taken out a little notebook and jotted down what Wallin had told him about the dream.
â€œDidnâ€™t that bald man say there was a mine somewhere in this town?â€ Wallin said.
â€œYes, he did,â€ Pavil said. â€œAnd that makes it even more disturbing. Did Deryl ever talk to you about the house?â€
â€œHe talked to me a little bit about it. We were really, really drunk the night he talked to me about that. He later told me about more about New York City thought.â€
â€œWhat happened in New York City?â€
â€œBasically, some mobsters shot at him and then there was this man who was playing a trumpet that was apparently raising the dead? I donâ€™t know if I believe that. But, from what I can remember about the house, he told me there was some sort of haunting in there.â€
â€œThatâ€™s one way to put it.â€
â€œAnyways. Iâ€™m ready for breakfast. Hopefully, Iâ€™ll see you down there soon. By the way, nice weapon.â€
â€œThank you. I kept it from the War. And I will never let it go.â€
Pavil had pulled a rosary from his pocket and handled it nervously.
Wallin left the man, using his chamber pot and heading downstairs. He found Oâ€™Brien down in the kitchen, cooking some eggs and ham. He was also toasting homemade bread.
â€œOh!â€ he said when Wallin entered. â€œOh. Hello.â€
â€œHello,â€ Wallin said.
â€œJust cooking â€¦ thereâ€™s a dining room right there. Through there. Iâ€™ll bring you something to eat.â€
Wallin went into the simple dining room and Oâ€™Brien brought him food. It was very bland and there were no seasonings on the table either. He also brought him a glass of well water.
* * *
* * *
Pavil put his gun cleaning kit away and slung the rifle on his shoulder. He donned his backpack before going downstairs. He found Wallin in the dining room. Oâ€™Brien came in with a plate of food and stared at the rifle in terror. He quickly left the dining room.
They waited for a couple of hours before Cloverfield came down, wandering into the dining room.
â€œGood morning,â€ Wallin said.
â€œDid you sleep well, New Yorker?â€ Pavil asked.
â€œYeah,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œIâ€™ve slept better. I prefer my bed at home.â€
â€œThat bed, Deryl told me, was amazing,â€ Wallin said.
â€œUh-huh,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œSpent a pretty penny on it.â€
Cloverfield eyed Pavilâ€™s rifle suspiciously. Nurse Petrov came down the stairs after that.
â€œMorning, Nurse,â€ Wallin said. â€œHowâ€™d you sleep?â€
â€œHmm,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œOkay, I suppose. Not sure if slept well. Canâ€™t remember.â€
Oâ€™Brien brought more food out for the other two. It was filling but very bland. The water had a slightly metallic taste and was evidently from a well.
Wallin left as the other two ate and returned with a chainsaw.
â€œThis is really good food, Oâ€™Brien,â€ Pavil said.
â€œThank you,â€ Oâ€™Brien said.
He scampered away.
â€œHe seems more nervous than usual,â€ Pavil said.
â€œYeah, more nervous than he was last night,â€ Wallin said.
â€œI wonder why,â€ Cloverfield said sarcastically.
â€œWhat do you mean by that?â€ Pavil said.
â€œYou have a gun and he has a chainsaw,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œIâ€™m a lumberjack,â€ Wallin said.
â€œOh,â€ Pavil said.
â€œThis is my job,â€ Wallin said.
â€œYeah,â€ Pavil said.
â€œTrue,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œBut he doesnâ€™t know that.â€
â€œNot very inconspicuous too,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œNext time he comes by, Iâ€™ll let him know why,â€ Wallin said.
â€œDonâ€™t think he wants,â€ Nurse Petrov said dryly.
â€œI reassembled it,â€ Pavil said. â€œI donâ€™t feel like taking it back apart. Or putting it back together again.â€
â€œTrue, but the chainsaw is â€¦ a bit â€¦ much,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œWhat if weâ€™ve got to cut something out of our way?â€ Wallin said.
â€œI think it adds a nice aesthetic touch to our table,â€ Pavil said.
â€œLike murder pictures,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
When Mr. Oâ€™Brien came in to get the plates, Wallin told him he was a lumberjack. The hotelier just looked nervous and got out of the room as quickly as he could.
It was around 10 a.m. when Ezekiel entered the hotel.
â€œI thought you folks were coming over for breakfast,â€ he said, sitting down at the table.
â€œOh well, Oâ€™Brien made some breakfast for us,â€ Wallin said.
â€œOh,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œThatâ€™s good.â€
â€œMe and Petrov slept in,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œI didnâ€™t feel like denying his hospitality,â€ Pavil said.
â€œI see,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œI see. Well, yeah, thatâ€™s fair.â€
They made small talk for a little while. When they asked for Fort Someplace, Ezekiel said he might be able to look it up but noted he hadnâ€™t been out of town for a while. Cloverfield asked for a map and Ezekiel said they could probably scare up an atlas from somewhere.
â€œWeâ€™re going to send some people out to see whoâ€™s body that was,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œNobodyâ€™s at Mr. Biceâ€™s house so maybe he was him.â€
â€œUnfortunate,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œYeah, it is. It is. Heâ€™s â€¦â€
â€œSorry for loss.â€
â€œYeah, itâ€™s a shame. Itâ€™s a damn shame. He was a pretty old man. He was all tore up with arthritis, unfortunately. He wasnâ€™t able to really work. But â€¦ weâ€™ll get him settled. If thatâ€™s him. It probably is. His jacket was there. His coat and everything. I donâ€™t know why he was going out in the snow wearing nothing â€¦ but â€¦â€
â€œHe was old. Maybe â€¦â€
Ezekiel waved his hand near his head, pantomiming craziness.
â€œSome things just donâ€™t deserve explanations,â€ Pavil muttered.
â€œBut youâ€™re welcome to stay as long as you need to until the weather clears a little bit,â€ Ezekiel said.
â€œDo have the means of getting my car removed from the snow bank?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œIâ€™ll-Iâ€™ll tell the boys to see what they can do. Iâ€™ll have â€˜em take some shovels. Itâ€™s in a snow bank?â€
â€œYeah. Yeah. Iâ€™ll have â€˜em take some shovels out there.â€
â€œIâ€™ll more than happily pay.â€
â€œDonâ€™t worry about that. Donâ€™t worry about that. Weâ€™re glad to help. Glad to help.â€
â€œDo you need any work around town?â€ Wallin asked.
â€œUh â€¦ no,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œWeâ€™re pretty settled. Everybodyâ€™s kind of dug in for the winter. Most of the work around here stops most of the time during the winter, but youâ€™re welcome to stay as long as you want.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s the big kind of work around these parts?â€ Pavil asked.
â€œUh â€¦ well â€¦ weâ€™re just making do right now,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œMines played out some time ago so weâ€™re just â€¦ uh â€¦ we â€¦ weâ€™re just â€¦ trying our best to, you know, get by. Day by day.â€
â€œFair enough,â€ Wallin said. â€œFair enough.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t even introduce you to my wife or son. It was a surprise seeing people â€¦ we donâ€™t have electricity up here so people pretty much go to bed when it gets dark. Save on the candles and everything. But yeah, welcome to town. Welcome to Perdition. Sorry it was such a strange â€¦ terrible thing that happened when you got here.â€
â€œItâ€™s all right.â€
â€œWell, weâ€™re glad to have you. Glad to have you.â€
â€œSince you missed breakfast, if youâ€™d like to come by the house for supper tonight â€¦â€
Ezekiel pointed towards the front door.
â€œLike I said, itâ€™s right across the street,â€ he said. â€œWeâ€™d be glad to have you.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Wallin said.
â€œIâ€™ll make a note of it,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œItâ€™ll be a simple meal but weâ€™ll probably have some of the people from town here,â€ Ezekiel said.
â€œVery nice,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œGet Dr. Reddick down,â€ Ezekiel went on. â€œMaybe have Oâ€™Brien come. Maybe Mr. McKensey, although heâ€™s a little shy, so â€¦â€
â€œYes,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
Ezekiel nodded, excused himself, and left.
â€œWell,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œHe seemed far less nervous,â€ Pavil said.
â€œHe is very kind,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œHe seems pretty insistent on us coming to eat with him,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œIs he mayor?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œIâ€™m going to assume he may fill that function,â€ Pavil said.
â€œOr effectively the eldest person in the town?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œSmartest maybe,â€ Pavil said.
â€œTown has to get by,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œMaybe he deal with outsiders.â€
â€œWell, he did seem, as you put it, very insistent on us going for a meal with him,â€ Pavil said. â€œSo I suggest we do that.â€
â€œWhat should we do in the meantime?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œWe do have quite a few hours before supper,â€ Wallin said.
â€œNot sure,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œNot much to do.â€
â€œWe could go look at the mine,â€ Wallin suggested. â€œOld man was talking about it last night.â€
â€œWhy would we do that?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œWhy would we go to the mine?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œYeah,â€ Pavil said.
â€œWhatâ€™s there?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œI mean â€¦ I donâ€™t know,â€ Wallin said. â€œHe was talking about how some man had some books or something.â€
â€œShouldnâ€™t we ask Ezekiel first?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œYou had a book â€¦â€ Pavil said.
He took out his little notebook.
â€œIsnâ€™t that your dream?â€ he said.
â€œYeah!â€ Wallin said.
â€œBooks in a mineshaft?â€
â€œYeah, it was.â€
â€œWhat dream?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œWhat?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
Wallin described his dream to them: of going through a mineshaft with books, chanting something, and something appearing on his arm that he was not able to see before waking. Pavil helped him remember the chanting and that the strange bulge had appeared on his right arm. Nurse Petrov didnâ€™t know what to make of it.
â€œStrange,â€ she said. â€œSo, you believe because of this dream we should go check out this mine where your arm will bulge?â€
â€œUh â€¦ we donâ€™t know that will happen,â€ Wallin said. â€œI donâ€™t know that thing I was speaking.â€
â€œBut old man wanted to run,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œDreams have always been weird, Miss Petrov,â€ Pavil said.
Cloverfield looked at Wallin carefully, remembering the house.
â€œDreams are strange, Miss Petrov,â€ Pavil went on. â€œThereâ€™s many cases of dreams in the good Holy Book of dreams leading people to both their doom and their salvation.â€
â€œHm,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œWhat this is, I have no idea.â€
â€œHoly Book have arm bulge?â€
â€œPotentially?â€ Wallin said.
â€œHoly Book had talking burning bushes, so â€¦â€ Pavil said.
â€œI wouldnâ€™t be surprised,â€ Wallin said.
â€œHoly Book very strange,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
Wallin realized the dream might have simply been in relation to the story the dying man had told them by the road outside of town. It was a terrible occurrence. Heâ€™d never seen someone die before. He mentioned that to the others. Nurse Petrov still found it strange.
They got up and parted ways.
* * *
Cloverfield and Pavil donned their coats and headed up the street to the bank. The building was made of stone and seemed solid but proved to be boarded up. The word â€œBANKâ€ was carved onto the faÃ§ade. Looking in through the thick, glass-paned doors on the front revealed teller stations and a marble floor. A large safe stood near the back. It didnâ€™t look like it had been used in a long time.
â€œIs there anything else in town?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œWe could check out the local billiard hall,â€ Pavil said. â€œItâ€™s always nice to see what the watering hole offers.â€
They headed back up the street.
* * *
Wallin left the hotel to look for a telegraph office. He wandered the opposite direction the other men had gone, crossing the intersection outside of the hotel to a general store that stood on the other corner. He found the building still in use with a couple of old men playing checkers by a wood stove. A third man wore an apron and watched the game. There were very few goods on the shelves and racks. The place was nearly empty and all three men seemed surprised to see him.
â€œCan I help you?â€ the man in the apron asked.
â€œOh, Iâ€™m one of the visitors that came in last night,â€ Wallin said.
The men looked at each other and nodded.
â€œI was just trying to find something to pass the time before â€¦â€ Wallin said. â€œEzekiel asked us to come to supper.â€
â€œOh, Ezekiel,â€ one of the old men said. â€œOh.â€
â€œDo you need any wood for that stove back there?â€ Wallin asked.
â€œNo,â€ the man in the apron said. â€œWeâ€™re fine.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Wallin said.
The men eyed the chainsaw warily.
* * *
Both Pavil and Cloverfield couldnâ€™t help but notice they were constantly under observation. As they walked up the street, they saw the villagers kept a constant eye on them. They passed villagers who would wave but then try to surreptitiously watch them after they had passed. There was always someone around where they were. After leaving the bank, they noticed someone walking down the street towards the south side of town. Another person peeked out of a window, keeping them in view as they passed a house. Yet another came out of their house as they passed and started to sweep snow from the porch, smiling at them and then watching them.
They found the billiard hall tucked between the drug store and the restaurant, the latter obviously closed up. They went inside and found two billiard tables and several cues in racks on the walls. Several of the billiard cues seemed to be homemade and the professionally made cues, of which there were few, looked old and worn. A wood stove warmed the place and a man stood behind a short bar at the far end. A large keg was on the floor beside him. Two younger men played billiards.
â€œYou want something to drink, sir?â€ the man behind the bar asked.
â€œI would love that,â€ Pavil said.
â€œAll right,â€ the man said.
He got out a jug and poured clear liquid into an old glass. It was about a swallow and he handed it to the man. Pavil slammed it down. It burned as it went down and he nearly coughed as it was very strong corn liquor, obviously homemade. The man looked at him, looked at the jug, and raised his eyebrows as if asking â€œAnother?â€
â€œYes!â€ Pavil said.
The man gave him another swallow of the harsh liquor.
â€œYou, sir?â€ the man said to Cloverfield.
â€œUh â€¦ no,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œNo thanks.â€
Pavil slammed the second shot of moonshine. It was horrible but also a wonderful distraction. The man offered him another one but he waved him off.
Pavil asked the man behind the bar to fill his flask with the moonshine and the man shrugged and searched for some time for a funnel small enough to do so but ended up filling up the flask.
* * *
Nurse Pavil, bored, finally left the hotel and went outside. She started to build a snowman and saw Wallin come out of the general store. They both realized people were not bothering to shovel snow from the street or their front walks. The snowman Nurse Pavil was making was very large.
â€œRemind you of back home?â€ Wallin said as he approached.
â€œMuch more snow home,â€ she said.
â€œFair enough,â€ Wallin said.
â€œMake igloos at home,â€ she said.
Wallin remembered a sign they had passed on the way into town that said â€œPerdition Post.â€
â€œIn Soviet Russia, you jump in pile of snow and be fine,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œFrom tall tower.â€
â€œDo you know where the other two went?â€ Wallin asked again.
â€œNot been paying attention,â€ she said. â€œBeen rolling snow.â€
â€œFair enough,â€ he said.
He headed down the street towards the Perdition Post. He realized when he got there it wasnâ€™t a post office but a boarded up newspaper office. He noticed someone loitering across the street, shoveling snow ineffectively but obviously keeping an eye on him. When Wallin looked his way, he quickly looked away. Then he glanced back at him. He headed back to the hotel, waving to the villager who ignored him like he didnâ€™t notice.
He found Nurse Pavil next to an unfinished snowman that collapsed under its own weight.
â€œSnow is not very packed,â€ she said.
* * *
Cloverfield left the billiard hall and went next door to the drugstore, which proved to be closed and obviously long-abandoned. He saw the others up the street and went to join them.
â€œNice â€¦ snow man,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œIt collapsed,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œNot very good snow. Better in Russia.â€
â€œDo you know where Marco is?â€ Wallin said.
â€œGetting alcohol,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œAh!â€ Wallin said. â€œIâ€™m assuming from the place you just were?â€
â€œItâ€™s some sort of alcohol but â€¦ yeah,â€ Cloverfield said.
Wallin headed down to the billiard hall.
* * *
Pavil had a filled flask of moonshine. He pulled out his wallet but the man just waved him off. Pavil took the manâ€™s hand and shook it graciously. He turned to find the two men who had been playing billiards had stopped and were just staring at him. He walked over to them.
â€œWhat you looking at?â€ he said.
The front door opened and Wallin walked in. The two men looked towards him.
â€œHey,â€ Pavil said.
â€œHey, Marco,â€ Wallin said.
â€œYouâ€™ve got to try this!â€Pavil said.
He waved his flask and handed it to him. Wallin took a swig and choked on the rough corn liquor. It burned going down.
â€œThat reminds me of a night with my brother,â€ Wallin said.
* * *
Cloverfield approached one of the villagers who was walking down the street.
â€œHello there,â€ he said.
â€œHowdy,â€ the man said.
He continued down the street. Cloverfield moved to walk at the same pace.
â€œSo, uh, how are you doing?â€ he said.
â€œIâ€™m fine,â€ the man said carefully.
â€œThatâ€™s good. Where are you going?â€
â€œIâ€™m just going down to Dr. Reddickâ€™s.â€
â€œYou mind if I â€¦ uh â€¦ join ya.â€
â€œUh â€¦ itâ€™s right over here.â€
The men went into the house with the sign over the door that read â€œDoctor Reddick.â€ The front room was obviously a place for patients to wait. The older gentleman there seemed surprised to see him.
â€œWhat you need, Barrett?â€ he said to the villager.
â€œIâ€™m - Iâ€™m just coming to have you look at my cut, Doc,â€ Barrett said. â€œJust make sure itâ€™s okay.â€
Dr. Reddick looked at Cloverfield.
â€œCan I help you, sir?â€ Dr. Reddick asked.
â€œHelp him first,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œI have some questions for you.â€
â€œAll right,â€ Dr. Reddick said. â€œCome on, Barrett.â€
Barrett and Dr. Reddick went into what looked like an examining room, Dr. Reddick looking out at Cloverfield as he closed the door. Cloverfield heard movement and the mumble of conversation from the other room. A few minutes later, Barrett came out with a fresh bandage. He left and Dr. Reddick approached Cloverfield.
â€œYou one of them strangers in town?â€ Dr. Reddick said.
â€œYeah,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œHmm. Are you â€¦ you hurt?â€
â€œNo. Iâ€™m quite fine. I just had questions.â€
â€œDo you know â€¦ anything about the town weâ€™re in?â€
â€œI would hope so. Iâ€™ve lived here for 30 years.â€
â€œBut â€¦ do you know about a town called Fort Mac â€¦ Something?â€
â€œSeems to be the common answer here.â€
â€œWell, I donâ€™t know what the â€¦â€
â€œHow would anybody know if you donâ€™t know?â€
â€œDo you know this person?â€
Cloverfield took out Dr. Sappingtonâ€™s card. Dr. Reddick didnâ€™t know any names.
â€œWell, do you know anything about the mine?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œWell, it ran out,â€ Dr. Reddick said. â€œAbout 20 years ago.â€
â€œI heard someone went in there, though.â€
â€œYou heard someone â€¦ whereâ€™d you hear that?â€
â€œWell â€¦ I just heard it from one of the townsmen. Ezekiel was talking about it.â€
â€œWell, you should ask Ezekiel about it then.â€
â€œBut â€¦ true.â€
Cloverfield awkwardly walked out.
â€œGood day,â€ he said over his shoulder. â€œSee you at supper.â€
He left the office, red-faced and embarrassed. He saw Nurse Petrov was making three tiny snowmen out of the remains of her larger one.
* * *
Wallin got a glass of moonshine at the billiard hall. It was very rough and very strong. He started to feel it after only the couple of drinks. Both he and Pavil could feel it though they were fine for the moment.
â€œWe should go back to Nurse Petrov,â€ Wallin said.
They left the billiard hall and found Cloverfield with the woman.
â€œDo we want to go look at the mine?â€ Wallin said.
â€œYou are one about that mine,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œNo one wants to talk to me about it,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œReally?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œSee thatâ€™s why I thinkâ”€â€ Wallin said.
â€œWell, the doctor refused to speak about it,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œHe told me I need to speak to Ezekiel, when I tried to divert around plowing down the man.â€
â€œThatâ€™s why I think we should go check it out ourselves,â€ Wallin said. â€œJust take a quick look around the general area.â€
â€œAs much as I hate to admit it, that is sound logic,â€ Pavil said.
â€œDo you know the location?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œNot a clue,â€ Wallin said.
â€œWell, we donâ€™t have any light sources,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œSo, we go there ourselves without asking?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œYep,â€ Pavil said. â€œYouâ€™re right about that. Iâ€™m not going to go anywhere near it without a flashlight.â€
Cloverfield went to the general store in search of lanterns but the place only had the ones they used to light the place. When he offered to buy one, the man refused him though he noted he had a lot of money and even flashed it around. The man apologized but wouldnâ€™t sell him anything. Cloverfield left and walked down the street.
â€œThere was also a newsstand that was all boarded up,â€ Wallin said to the other two.
â€œI say we should actually meet with Ezekiel before we go near the mine,â€ Pavil said. â€œWe should talk to him first.â€
â€œI mean â€¦â€ Wallin said.
â€œHe makes me wary,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œEverybody makes me wary, so Iâ€™ll take your word for that,â€ Pavil said.
Wallin looked up and guessed it was about noon.
â€œAbout what time is it?â€ he asked Nurse Petrov.
She looked at her watch.
â€œAbout 11:30,â€ she said.
â€œWe could maybe head over to Ezekielâ€™s for lunch,â€ Wallin said.
â€œDid he offer lunch?â€
â€œNo, he offered supper.â€
â€œI thought he offered dinner.â€
â€œHm. Maybe not impose. I would not impose.â€
* * *
Cloverfield arrived at the bank and walked around to the back, where he found a back door. It was nailed shut as well. When he tried the handle, he found it locked. The windows all had bars on them as well as boards. He looked around but the buildings seemed to be inhabited nearby. He went further down the street, past McKenseyâ€™s house, but across the street, one house had a collapsed roof but otherwise seemed intact.
He moved behind the house and, though the door and windows were boarded up, the back door was not locked and the boards nailed up were not attached to the door, only the frame. He crawled through the boards. It was cold and dark though light came in through the windows. The curtains were pulled back.
He looked for lanterns and soon found the house had been ransacked and most of the items removed. The drawers and the cupboards were all open. Rooms were empty of furniture and the lanterns he looked for. Of note in one of the upstairs rooms was a noose hanging from a rafter. Though there were hooks where lanterns or even hanging lamps might have been on the walls, they were all gone.
* * *
The others discussed using the candles they were given at the hotel though Pavil was against it. Wallin didnâ€™t particularly want to go into the mineshaft but wanted to see the entrance. Pavil was willing to do that, noting they didnâ€™t even need a light to just find the place.
They headed out of the town to the north, passing a post office and a Dr. McMillenâ€™s house, when they spotted what looked like mine works on the mountainside in that direction. They trudged out of town through the deep snow and saw the hillside was less than an eighth of a mile from town. There were several mine entrances with narrow gauge rail tracks. Everything was very rusty. Paint peeled from the numerous structures built there.
â€œWhat do you think?â€ Pavil said. â€œAbout what I was expecting. He said it dried up about 20 years ago.â€
â€œNot much to go on,â€ Wallin said.
â€œWhat were you looking for exactly?â€ Pavil said.
They followed the mountainside past the unnamed and unnumbered mine entrances until they reached the 13th. Wallin recognized the last one: Number 13. It was eerily and terrifyingly familiar and Wallin realized it was from his dream the night before.
â€œOh,â€ he said. â€œIâ€™m starting to think my dream wasnâ€™t just a dream.â€
â€œAre you sure?â€ Nurse Petrov asked.
â€œYeah, this looks too familiar and Iâ€™ve never been here before, so â€¦â€
â€œHm. Interesting. Well, lead us the way since you know this place.â€
â€œI ainâ€™t going in!â€
â€œWell, continue â€¦â€
â€œI say we ask Ezekiel more about this at dinner.â€
* * *
Cloverfield peeked into the uppermost floor of the house, which had collapsed, the stairway was choked with debris. As he came down the steps, he heard a door slam below. He put his hand in his pocket with his pistol.
â€œWhoâ€™s there?â€ he called.
There was no answer. He drew his pistol and crept towards the back door again. It was closed. He had not closed it. He pulled it open and saw no one outside. He kicked one of the boards several times before it came free. He crawled out of the building, looking around nervously. No one was around.
He put his pistol away and hightailed it back to the hotel. It seemed like everyone he passed was watching him. He stumbled and fell at one point but quickly got back up and continued towards the hotel.
* * *
The other three walked back to town. Nurse Petrov was not sure what the point had been to visit the mine and Wallin pointed out he wanted to make sure he wasnâ€™t going crazy. Nurse Petrov spotted Cloverfield running up the street towards them, stumbling in the snow and leaning heavily on his cane. She broke into a jog towards the man.
When she reached him, she grabbed him by the shoulders.
â€œWhat happened?â€ she said.
Cloverfield was out of breath.
â€œI â€¦ I â€¦ I was â€¦ checking out one of the â€¦ abandoned houses â€¦ for a lantern,â€ he gasped. â€œFor the mine. And â€¦ uh â€¦ uh â€¦. um â€¦ and there was a â€¦ I saw a noose in there â€¦ not important though. I was looking for a lantern.â€
â€œWas there a body?â€ Nurse Petrov asked.
â€œWas there body?â€
â€œNo. It looked like itâ€™d been there for a while.â€
â€œJust a noose? No one there?â€
â€œHanging from the rafters.â€
â€œI wonder if it was old man.â€
â€œMaybe. The house was stripped clean of anything of worth. Thereâ€™s no lanterns. But someone slammed the door, the way I came in. And then everyone was watching me as I ran up the street.â€
â€œI â€¦ I imagine.â€
â€œBut â€¦ but someone slammed the door behind me and I â€¦ I donâ€™t know who it was. I hurt my leg on the way over here. I tripped.â€
â€œThat is why you limp. Give me arm. Take you back to inn.â€
â€œI can walk on it.â€
â€œAre you sure?â€
â€œI â€¦ ran up here using the cane.â€
â€œDoes it hurt, though?â€
â€œAfter adrenaline. You know.â€
â€œIâ€™ll â€¦ be fine.â€
â€œOkay. I want to see house if you can.â€
â€œThat â€¦ noose house.â€
Cloverfield looked around. The few townsfolk were around but he didnâ€™t see anyone specifically looking at them. Pavil noticed them keeping an eye on them, though. He didnâ€™t see any familiar faces. The people heâ€™d noticed watching them before were not the same ones watching now.
â€œBetter idea,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œWe go ask Ezekiel. Ezekiel? Ezekiel. What house? Whose house that is.â€
Cloverfield led the way to the house across from the hotel.
â€œSo, we are going to lunch,â€ Wallin quipped.
No one laughed.
Cloverfield knocked on the door when they arrived and a young boy answered. They recognized him as the boy Ezekiel had brought to the house the night before.
â€œHello!â€ the boy said.
â€œIs Ezekiel in?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œNo, heâ€™s doing chores.â€
â€œWhere is he then?â€
â€œI â€¦ uh â€¦ the north field? Maybe?â€
â€œThe north field?â€
â€œThe south field? Maybe the east?â€
â€œIs he a farmer?â€
â€œCould be the west field?â€
â€œIs your mother home?â€ Wallin asked.
â€œAre yâ€™all coming over for supper already?â€ the boy said. â€œIt ainâ€™t suppertime.â€
â€œNo, weâ€™re just looking for Ezekiel to ask him some questions.â€
â€œMomâ€™s doing chores too. Sheâ€™s not here. Iâ€™m cleaning.â€
â€œOkay. Thank you.â€
â€œBe good boy now,â€ Nurse Petrov said to the boy, who was closing the door very slowly.
â€œYouâ€™re a big lady,â€ the boy said.
â€œYes,â€ she said.
The boy closed the door.
â€œDo you want me to show you the house, then?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œPerhaps we wait,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œYeah, we should just wait,â€ Pavil said.
â€œI guess weâ€™ll just â€¦ wait then,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œLetâ€™s go back to the hotel for lunch,â€ Wallin said.
They returned to the hotel where Oâ€™Brien was surprised and terrified to see them, seemingly. He ran to the kitchen, calling back he would get them some lunch. He soon returned with cold roast beef sandwiches. There were no sides but just the sandwiches and they were not spiced or salted. He also brought a pitcher of water and glasses for them all.
While they ate, Nurse Petrov and Cloverfield noticed the door to the kitchen was slightly ajar. Nurse Petrov assumed they were being watched. Cloverfield got up and walked over, giving the door a little push. He felt pressure against it that went away as soon as he started to push it. It bumped into something.
He pushed it open all the way and peeked into the kitchen. Oâ€™Brien was scuttering away from the door almost as if he had been spying on them. Cloverfield sighed and let go of the door. He kept an eye on the door after that and soon saw it open a crack once again. Nurse Petrov noticed Cloverfield looking and the door open slightly again. Cloverfield realized she saw it as well.
They finished lunch. It was bland but filling.
Wallin and Pavil went back to the billiard hall to play billiards. Nurse Petrov looked at Cloverfieldâ€™s leg but it was fine. After that, Cloverfield joined them at the billiard hall.
Nurse Petrov walked down the street to the Perdition Post. It was boarded up and she peeked into the windows that showed an office in the front with a printing press, typewriter, and desk. A door led to the back room of the place. She couldnâ€™t see if there were any newspapers in the place, however. She didnâ€™t want to break into the building.
Next door was a residence. She passed a closed restaurant that was boarded up. The house next to it was boarded up as well. The drugstore was also closed up and boarded up as well. She was surprised the meat shop was open. She entered the meat shop and saw there was nobody there.
â€œHello?â€ she called. â€œHello?â€
A noise like the hacking of meat came from the back of the place.
â€œHello?â€ she called more loudly.
The noise stopped in the back and Oâ€™Brien came out. He wore a bloody apron and had a large, bloody knife in his hand.
â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ he said. â€œIs something wrong?â€
â€œNo, I was just â€¦ wondering if you sold salt here,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œAh â€¦ no. We ainâ€™t had salt in Perdition in some time. Canâ€™t mine it, you know. I was just â€¦ slaughtering some meat â€¦â€
A woman entered the meat shop.
â€œWhat do you hunt?â€ Nurse Petrov asked Oâ€™Brien.
â€œWell, we slaughtered a cow,â€ he said. â€œSometimes the men in town will bring me â€¦ whatever they need cut up for them. Squirrel or deer or possum or raccoon â€¦ uh â€¦â€
â€œâ€¦ whatever they can bring. Okay.â€
â€œSorry for disturbing you.â€
The woman just stared at Nurse Petrov.
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€ Oâ€™Brien said.
â€œIâ€™ll be on my way,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
She left the place. As she closed the door, she realized the woman merely stared at her as she went.
She headed towards the fields to the north in search of Ezekiel without luck. The people she found seemed nervous around her. She merely nodded at them and then continued her search for Ezekiel. She ended up finding the man eventually. He seemed surprised to see her. He was in a barn where some cattle and sheep were kept, busily working with the animals.
â€œCan I help you?â€ he asked.
â€œI wish I had my friends with me but â€¦ we went to the mine and would like more information about that mine,â€ she said. â€œI know it was dried up.â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™m kind of busy,â€ he said. â€œI can talk to you about that tonight.â€
â€œVery well,â€ she said.
She left, angry at the lack of answers she was getting. She went to the billiard hall and joined the others.
* * *
* * *
The three went to Ezekielâ€™s house around suppertime, just before it got dark. Wallin showed up with his chainsaw. It was snowing again.
â€œWhy?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œWhy?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œIt might come in handy,â€ Wallin said.
â€œYouâ€™re going to chop wood in a manâ€™s house?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œIf he asks me too.â€
â€œYou can go back to the inn and get your chainsaw.â€
â€œItâ€™s already here!â€
â€œMom always said donâ€™t bring the gun to the table,â€ Pavil said.
He had left his rifle in his room.
â€œWe might need to start a fire someday,â€ Wallin said.
â€œIâ€™m pretty sure it will be fine,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
They had a filling but again bland meal with Ezekiel and his family as well as Dr. Reddick and a few others, including Oâ€™Brien and McKensey, the last two men looked terrified of the strangers. There was a bottle of homemade wine and the entire room was well-lit with candles and lamps. They had a little small talk after the meal.
â€œI heard you were asking questions,â€ Ezekiel said after the meal. â€œWhat do you need to know?â€
Nurse Petrov just glared at the man, still angry heâ€™d snubbed her earlier that day.
â€œDo you know anything specifically about mineshaft number 13?â€ Wallin said.
â€œUh â€¦ well â€¦â€ Ezekiel said. â€œWe havenâ€™t worked it in 20 years since the ore ran out.â€
â€œOther than that. We heard a rumor that someone potentially went in there a while back.â€
â€œWell, my father Abraham was a strange duck.â€
â€œOh, your last - youâ€™re Abrahamâ€™s son.â€
â€œIâ€™m Ezekiel Monroe, yes. He began looking into other ways to renew and restore the mines. Iâ€™m not going to lie. I found it worrisome even though I was but a child. He invested good deal of time and family money into buying strange books from far-away places and unearthing books in our own library. One of them was called â€¦ Visions of a Dead Priest written by â€¦ some relative of ours hundreds of years ago.
â€œThen, in 1904 I think, he went into Number 13 and never came out. We searched all overâ”€â€
â€œDo you still have some of the books?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œHe took â€˜em all,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œHe took everything. We never found him. He might have fallen down a shaft or he mightâ€™ve gotten caught in a collapse. The mines had been abandoned for several years by that point. No one ever saw him again and a few men disappeared trying to locate him. Some people claimed they saw something around one of the mines, number 13. Something lurking, but I donâ€™t hold much truck with that.
â€œSince then, weâ€™ve stayed here and made the best of it we can. We donâ€™t go to the mines. We get visits from the outside: tax collectors, policemen, government men mostly. Sometimes a hiker or a camper. Thatâ€™s why everybody was so surprised to see you, especially in the winter. No one travels through the mountains in weather like this.â€
â€œAny luck on the car, by the way?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œThey â€¦ were not able to get it out but we should have it by tomorrow,â€ Ezekiel said.
â€œDid you also find an Atlas?â€
â€œIâ€™ve not had time to look today.â€
â€œDo you know where I could find one?â€
â€œIâ€™ll try to get you one tomorrow.â€
â€œHeâ€™s busy with his cows,â€ Nurse Petrov muttered.
â€œDo you, by chance, have any extra lanterns or anything?â€ Wallin said.
â€œUh â€¦ we could probably get some for you,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œAgain, by tomorrow. Most people in town have probably gone to bed by now or are going to bed. This is a special occasion. Thatâ€™s why weâ€™re still up.â€
â€œWell, thank you.â€
â€œAny time. Well, weâ€™re going to serve up some more of this wine, make kind of a party of it, since â€¦ weâ€™ll do anything to celebrate something around here, wonâ€™t we? Iâ€™m sure you all find us pretty dull, but â€¦ but weâ€™re getting by as best we can.â€
â€œNo, we were having some fun in the billiards hall.â€
â€œThatâ€™s where people go relax, I understand. When I have time I get there. But itâ€™s not very often.â€
A woman screamed. It was Ezekielâ€™s wife.
â€œEzekiel!â€ she called out, running into the room. â€œItâ€™s Mitchell!â€
Ezekiel went to comfort his wife.
â€œHeâ€™s got to be somewhere,â€ he said.
â€œBut heâ€™s not Ezekiel!â€ she said. â€œIâ€™ve searched the entire house! My God, Ezekiel, our child is wandering lost. Outside!â€
â€œAll right, all right,â€ he said. â€œIf heâ€™s not in the house, heâ€™s got to be outside. Letâ€™s go look.â€
They all grabbed their coats and hats. A few of the men grabbed lanterns and some went to get torches. Cloverfield grabbed a lantern as well. They left the house and quickly found a line of tracks leaving the house by the front door and going up the street. It had stopped snowing again.
As they headed up the street, Cloverfield took Pavil aside.
â€œGet the rifle,â€ he whispered to the other man.
â€œThatâ€™s a good idea,â€ Pavil said.
â€œWould you get my medical bag too?â€ Nurse Petrov said to the man.
â€œGladly,â€ Pavil said.
He raced into the hotel, retrieving his rifle and Nurse Petrovâ€™s medical bag before running up the road to catch up with the rest of the group. The tracks went up the street and out of the town towards the mines, going right up to Tunnel 13.
â€œThere, do you see?â€ Ezekiel said. â€œMitchellâ€™s path trails off into the darkness!â€
â€œEzekiel!â€ McKensey said. â€œDonâ€™t you realize which tunnel this is? Itâ€™s tunnel 13! We canâ€™t follow Mitchell in there.â€
â€œMaybe you canâ€™t, but heâ€™s my son!â€ Ezekiel said. â€œIâ€™m going in there alone if I have to.â€
Cloverfield volunteered to come looking with Ezekiel, as did Wallin, Pavil, and Nurse Petrov.
â€œPlease, donâ€™t go Ezekiel!â€ the manâ€™s wife cried.
She pulled at his clothing and cried hysterically. He tried to comfort her but obviously also didnâ€™t want to leave her.
â€œWeâ€™ll make sure he gets back okay, maâ€™am,â€ Wallin said.
â€œNo!â€ she shrieked at him.
She was obviously hysterical.
â€œYou stay here,â€ Nurse Petrov said, putting a hand on Ezekielâ€™s shoulder. â€œComfort wife. We go. Might as well be strangers.â€
â€œCan we get some more of those lanterns?â€ Wallin said.
Several villagers handed off lanterns.
â€œBut tell me, what are we going to face?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œBe honest,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œWhatâ€™s in here?â€
â€œThereâ€™s no time!â€ Ezekiel said. â€œIf youâ€™re not going, Iâ€™m going!â€
Nurse Petrov, angry, pushed the man back and turned to enter the mine. The other three followed her.
If they had looked behind them at the crowd gathered behind them, they might have noticed the most bizarre expression on their shadowed faces: a gleaming grin of triumph. But they did not glance back.
Tunnel 13 was dank and dirty with a hard, rocky floor, a narrow gauge rail line that ran from the entrance, and various mining implements that had long been abandoned. As they moved through the main tunnel, the tracks abruptly ended, impossible to see once the snow and water upon them dried up. Something seemed to draw them forward, however, almost like an inner voice calling to them.
After they had walked several hundred yards, the rail line ended in a buffer stop made of thick pieces of wood but a strange, dim phosphorescent light came from ahead of them.
â€œMitchell!â€ Wallin called out.
It startled everyone a little bit. They moved cautiously forward and saw that the tunnel opened into a large natural cave, the ceiling some 20 feet above. A ledge in the cave opened into what appeared to be a large pit below. Wallin recognized the cave as the place from his dream. It appeared to be a wide, deep pit and, remembering the window in the Clarke House, Cloverfield remained far from the edge of the pit, instead lingering near the end of the mine tunnel. Pavil drew his pistol.
Wallin started his chainsaw, filling the entire cave with a terrible roar of the engine. It practically deafened them all. Pavil took out his earplugs and put them in. Then he realized there was a rhythm to the noise of the chainsaw, amplified by the earplugs. He pulled them out immediately.
â€œWallin!â€ Cloverfield yelled. â€œTurn it off.â€
Wallin ignored them and, instead, crept to the edge of the pit. He looked down and saw, some 40 feet below, a slightly glowing mass of flesh, skin, bones, and fur, as large as a house or larger and with a great, terrible eye in the center of it. The eye looked directly into his own. He backed away and turned off the chainsaw. All of their ears rang.
â€œWelcome Wallin, Cloverfield, Pavil, Petrov,â€ a voice spoke in all of their minds, a guttural whisper from beyond the grave like a flesh-curdling hissing out of hell. â€œMâ€™nagalah has been â€¦ expecting you. Come to me. Mâ€™nagalah has need of you.â€
Several tentacles came up over the edge of the pit. Cloverfield dropped his cane in terror and fumbled for his pistol, dragging it out of his pocket.
â€œTurn it back on!â€ Cloverfield yelled at Wallin. â€œTurn it back on!â€
Pavil shot at one of the tentacles, hitting it. The bullet ripped through it and ichor spewed out. It drew back quickly. The other tentacle whipped forward, grabbing at Wallinâ€™s leg and squeezed it. He stumbled forward as he tried to keep from being pulled towards the edge.
Pavil fired another bullet at the tentacle grasping Wallinâ€™s leg but missed.
â€œCome James Wallinâ€ the horrific voice whispered in their heads. â€œDo not be foolish! You cannot hope to deny Mâ€™nagalah. For Mâ€™nagalah is eternal â€¦ the giver of all things.â€
Cloverfield fired at the tentacle as well, the bullet striking it. The tentacles burst and slithered away. Other tentacles waved in the air over the edge of the pit. Nurse Petrov ran to Wallin and dragged him back. They all huddled near the edge of the cave where the tunnel reached it.
â€œIt was Mâ€™nagalah who decreed the birth of life on your world,â€ they heard in their heads. â€œMâ€™nagalah who saw the coming of man â€¦ and bestowed him with the capacity for mindless violence â€¦ but Mâ€™nagalah has been generous as well â€¦ for Mâ€™nagalah has touched the minds of your greatest scribes: Poe, Bierce, James, Le Fanu, Hawthorne, Wilde, Stoker, Shelley, Blackwood, Lovecraft.
â€œBut Mâ€™nagalah had done all this from a very far place â€¦ a place not of your world â€¦ and there, alone, Mâ€™nagalah would have stayed â€¦ had not Abraham, father of Ezekiel, grandfather of Mitchell, spoken the spell that freed Mâ€™nagalah from his distant prison.
â€œMâ€™nagalah came into your world most slowly â€¦ as a growth on the limb of he who released Mâ€™nagalah â€¦ until at last Mâ€™nagalah consumed him â€¦ and took Abrahamâ€™s physical mass as Mâ€™nagalahâ€™s own.
â€œBut Mâ€™nagalah grew hungry then â€¦ hungry for more mass to claim as Mâ€™nagalahâ€™s own â€¦ hungry to drink the minds of those whose mass Mâ€™nagalah claimed â€¦ and so Mâ€™nagalah went searching â€¦ and found more mass to thrive on â€¦ more minds to enjoy â€¦ large mass â€¦ small mass â€¦ all the same to Mâ€™nagalah â€¦ for Mâ€™nagalah must have much mass to grow â€¦ to grow to Mâ€™nagalahâ€™s full size â€¦ before the stars are right â€¦
â€œFor soon â€¦ soon â€¦ the great progression that was begun at the birth of the cosmos will be over at last â€¦ soon the intergalactic bodies will be in position to complete the vast celestial circuitry that will make Mâ€™nagalah the master of all that is â€¦ but only if Mâ€™nagalah has achieved full mass â€¦ and you were sent â€¦ sent by the messenger of the Gods â€¦ sent by the black man of the woods â€¦ sent by he of a thousand masksâ€¦ so come â€¦ come to Mâ€™nagalah â€¦â€
Wallin and Nurse Petrov suddenly noticed Pavilâ€™s eyes go blank. He started to walk towards the pit. Nurse Petrov leapt at the man, grappling him. Wallin rushed the man, running around in front of him and holding him back. Pavil struggled with the two.
â€œMake sure no tentacles come!â€ Wallin said.
Cloverfield ran forward and grabbed the man by the arm as well. Pavil stopped moving forward but they were unable to pull him back into the mine tunnel. They pulled on Pavil with all their might and managed to push the man back from the edge of the pit. Three tentacles came over the edge and reached for them.
â€œDo not deny what is Mâ€™nagalahâ€™s,â€ they heard in their head, the horrible hissing voice of the abomination. â€œThere is no escape from this valley. No so long as Mâ€™nagalah is here.â€
They felt a terrible pressure in their minds.
â€œAnd Mâ€™nagalah is everywhere,â€ they heard.
â€œYouâ€™re in a hole!â€ Nurse Petrov screamed.
Wallin bent over and picked up Pavilâ€™s legs. Nurse Petrov was not expecting the shift in weight and suddenly fell over, Pavil sprawled atop. Cloverfield dragged the man off her.
Something grabbed Cloverfield by his good leg and squeezed. He cried out in pain and looked down to see another tentacle grasping him. Another tentacle grabbed Pavilâ€™s leg. Another grabbed Wallin. Both men were badly injured by the grasping things that were stronger than they looked.
â€œCome to Mâ€™nagalah!â€ they heard in their mind the rasping voice of the beast. â€œCome to Mâ€™nagalah. Come to Mâ€™nagalah!â€
Pavil suddenly came to his senses. He cursed loudly. He had seen, heard, and felt everything that had happened.
â€œGod damn it!â€ he shouted. â€œLet go!â€
He looked around and saw his pistol on the floor several feet away and closer to the pit.
Cloverfield shot the tentacle that grasped his leg. The bullet didnâ€™t rip the tentacle in pieces but it let loose anyway.
â€œMâ€™nagalahâ€™s mass!â€ they heard the horror hiss in their minds. â€œDo not injure Mâ€™nagalahâ€™s mass!â€
Nurse Petrov climbed to her feet and ran to Wallin. She reached down and grasped the tentacle holding the man, wrenching him free. Nearby, Pavil grabbed the tentacle upon him with both hands and pulled it apart, ripping it asunder with his great strength. They heard Mâ€™nagalah scream out in their minds.
Walling started his chainsaw. The roar filled the cave.
The tentacles had pulled back into the pit.
â€œWeâ€™re leaving!â€ Pavil screamed. â€œWeâ€™re leaving!â€
â€œCome to Mâ€™nagalah,â€ the voice hissed in their minds.
â€œLeaving!â€ Pavil said.
â€œBurn it with fire!â€ Petrov said.
â€œWeâ€™re leaving!â€ Pavil said.
He ran to the mine.
â€œBut we canâ€™t leave this thing here!â€ Cloverfield cried out.
â€œYou do not need to leave,â€ they all heard in their minds, even over the roar of the chainsaw. â€œCome! Come to Mâ€™nagalah! Come!â€
â€œp*** off!â€ Pavil screamed, fleeing.
â€œGive me the torch!â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œWho has the torch?â€
Nurse Petrov picked up the torch from the floor. Cloverfield flung his lantern over the edge of the pit. The roar of the chainsaw meant they couldnâ€™t hear anything. Then more tentacles came up and over the side of the pit, one for each of them.
The first one flung itself at Nurse Petrov. She swung the torch, striking the thing as it came at her and smashing the end of the thing and burning it. The torch was extinguished by the blow as sparks flew. The tentacle withdrew back into the pit. A second one tried to grab Wallin but he swung his chainsaw at it and cut it off. The rest of the tentacle pulled back into the pit as well The last tentacle came at Cloverfield and he tried to fight it off with his pistol and bare hands. The tentacle grabbed him by his bad leg and squeezed it, pulling him off his feet. He let out a shriek and was being pulled towards the edge of the pit though he remained on his feet.
â€œCome to Mâ€™nagalah!â€ they heard in their heads. â€œLook upon Mâ€™nagalah!â€
â€œp*** off!â€ they heard Pavil cry from somewhere in the mine.
Nurse Petrov dropped the extinguished torch and then grabbed the tentacle with both hands. She strained her considerable muscles and ripped the tentacle in two. She heard Mâ€™nagalah shriek in her head, a sound more angry than pained. Cloverfield put his hand on Nurse Petrovâ€™s shoulder, trying to keep his balance. Wallin went to Petrov and told her they got him up. Cloverfield staggered towards exit, dragging his bad leg, and screamed.
â€œMâ€™nagalah has grown tired of this,â€ they heard the voice.
At least a dozen tentacles rose up out of the pit.
â€œRun?â€ Wallin said.
Nurse Petrov turned and ran, grabbing Cloverfieldâ€™s right arm as she passed the man and pulled him along with her. Wallin was right behind her, running with the still-roaring chainsaw.
* * *
Pavil ran out of the mine tunnel and found the townsfolk still standing outside. They looked surprised and terrified to see him. They all turned and fled back towards town.
â€œWait!â€ he shouted. â€œI need to know something! Wait! Stop!â€
He saw Mitchell Monroe with the villagers as they fled. The only one of them to stop was Ezekiel.
â€œWhereâ€™s the powder monkey shed!?!â€ Pavil yelled at him.
â€œWhat?â€ he said. â€œI â€¦ I donâ€™t know!â€
â€œWhereâ€™s the dynamite?â€
â€œThey stopped mining when I was a kid. I donâ€™t know.â€
The others ran out of the mine.
â€œWe didnâ€™t have any choice!â€ Ezekiel said. â€œWe had to do it! Mâ€™nagalah made us! It can control minds!â€
â€œWe know,â€ Wallin said.
â€œI know, you piece of garbage,â€ Pavil said.
Cloverfield whimpered in pain. Nurse Petrov tended to the man.
â€œIt wears you down,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œIt wears you down. Until you give in. And then it sometimes takes you over completely.â€
â€œI â€¦ imaging so,â€ Pavil said.
â€œWhere the dynamite at?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œI donâ€™t know!â€ Ezekiel said.
Pavil looked around but didnâ€™t see anything that might be used as storage at the mine entrance.
â€œGive me morphine,â€ Cloverfield said to Nurse Petrov.
â€œIt is addictive,â€ she replied.
â€œI donâ€™t care,â€ he said.
His leg was not broken, thankfully, but it ached.
Wallin was angry and breathed heavily. He went to the nearest wooden structure and used his chainsaw on it to destroy it.
â€œDid anyone get my gun?â€ Pavil asked.
â€œNo,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œSorry.â€
Pavil took the rifle off his shoulder and worked the action, putting a bullet in the chamber.
â€œCome back to Mâ€™nagalah,â€ the voice came in their head as clearly as it had in the mine shaft. â€œMâ€™nagalah is always with you.â€
â€œp*** off!â€ Pavil yelled.
Wallin turned off his chainsaw and the resulting quiet was unnerving.
They headed back to town, Cloverfield limping badly. The town was as dark as the night before. No light shined from any of the windows though the trickle of smoke came from chimneys as it had before. Nurse Petrov suggested they leave.
â€œLet them rot with it,â€ she said.
â€œBut itâ€™ll still be there,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œLet them rot with it,â€ Nurse Petrov said again.
â€œI have a grudge against that thing,â€ Wallin said.
â€œThey tried to sacrifice,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œThey lie.â€
Nurse Petrov went to the nearest boarded up house, the second on the left as they came into the town, and ripped the boards off the front door. She found the front door unlocked and stomped in. It was dark and cold inside and only the light from the moon without gave her light. A short search of the building proved that it had already been ransacked. Drawers and cupboards were open and most of the furniture seemed to be missing. She realized that as poor as the people in Perdition were, it was a good bet whenever a house became abandoned for whatever reason, they took everything from the house to use for their own. She headed down the street with speed.
Pavil suggested to Wallin they go to the billiard hall and grab as many of the moonshine kegs as they could. Nurse Pavil heard but merely rolled her eyes. She had no intention of returning to the terrible mine.
â€œWeâ€™re going to roll it down there and light it on fire,â€ Pavil said.
He and Wallin went down the street to the billiard hall. Though the place was closed and dark, the front door was not locked. He went in, the light from the street enough to show that no one was there. He found a lamp and lit it with a coal from the still-warm pot-bellied stove. Then they found their way to the back room. There were two full barrels in the back, each of them about four to four-and-a-half feet tall and three feet wide. A third barrel was in the front and mostly empty.
They headed out to explore the town to try to find explosives.
* * *
Nurse Petrov, followed by Cloverfield, walked around Ezekielâ€™s house. There were a few outbuildings but there was no sign of a shovel. She went to the front door and pounded on it. She heard movement from inside but no one answered the door.
â€œOpen door or I kick it down!â€ she said.
There was a click of a latch. The door opened and Ezekiel stood there with Mitchell.
â€œYou lie,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œGive us shovel so we leave.â€
â€œYou canâ€™t get out,â€ he said. â€œNobody leave the valley.â€
â€œGive me shovel.â€
â€œNobody can leave.â€
He left the door. Mitchell just stared at her.
â€œAll the shovels,â€ she called after him.
â€œYou canâ€™t leave,â€ Mitchell said to her.
â€œDonâ€™t care. Shovels.â€
â€œMâ€™nagalah wonâ€™t let you leave.â€
â€œHush, kid. Go to your room.â€
â€œCan she be my wife? I like her.â€
Mitchell left the doorway.
A few minutes later, Ezekiel returned with a couple of spades. She took them and left the man.
She crossed the street to the hotel and went in, going upstairs to her room. She got her suitcase and left the hotel, handing the shovels to Cloverfield at the bottom of the stairs. He stumbled up the steps and got his suitcase from his room before limping back down to the street. He saw Nurse Petrov up the street stomping down the road the way theyâ€™d come. He tried to catch up to the woman but with his reinjured leg, he fell behind pretty quickly. He was unsure he could make it a mile. He looked around for Pavil and Wallin but didnâ€™t see any sign of them.
* * *
Pavil and Wallin wandered the back streets of Perdition. They saw a darkened church and soon located sheds and warehouses on the southwest side of town. They found a foundry and, cattycorner to it, another few buildings that looked like they were some kind of warehouses and the like.
Pavil felt like he was back in France in the trenches in hostile territory. He looked about himself warily.
* * *
Nurse Petrov was just past town and heading up the light incline that led back up the road when nausea gripped her. She felt deathly sick, like she was going to vomit any second. It was awful. Her stomach cramped up but she pressed on.
Cloverfield, some way behind her, stopped and rested, his leg aching. He noticed sheâ€™d slowed her march.
Nurse Petrov felt weak and so dropped the suitcase and medical kit in the snow. Then she suddenly couldnâ€™t see. All she saw was white. She stumbled and held out her hands.
Cloverfield noticed her and ran up the incline to help the woman. He grabbed her by the arm and led her back to town. As they got closer, her vision came back and her stomach felt better as she saw the town ahead of her once again. She remembered the old man said no one had left the valley in 20 years and realized Mâ€™nagalah must have ways of keeping people there. She thought she had just felt some of those ways.
She frowned, angry. Cloverfield was there. Heâ€™d picked up her medical kit when they passed it on the way back. She turned around and headed up the incline. The nausea and pain came back and then she went blind once again. Cloverfield, limping in pain, went after her when he saw her wandering aimlessly again. He led her back.
â€œWhy are you not experiencing this!?!â€ she said when her vision returned again.
Both of them felt cold. Nurse Petrovâ€™s anger had fueled her up until that point.
â€œPlease donâ€™t try and leave,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œIt obviously hasnâ€™t worked out for you.â€
* * *
The other two found that the foundry had obviously been abandoned for years. The other buildings were also abandoned but still held old but useable mining equipment from the 19th century. There were picks, shovels, mine carts, and even posts for shoring up the tunnels. After they searched for about an hour, they found two small crates marked â€œdynamite.â€ Each was filled with about 30 sticks of the explosive but crystals had formed on the outside of the sticks and the bottom of the crates. Nearby were fuses, wire, blasting caps, and blasting machines.
They didnâ€™t know what the crystals on the dynamite were. It didnâ€™t look good though.
Then Wallin remembered that old dynamite would sweat nitroglycerin which would, over a great deal of time, crystallize. It was extremely unstable and highly explosive. It would be very dangerous to move it. It was a long way to the mine from the building.
They were looking at the dynamite when Nurse Petrov and Cloverfield found them. Wallin told them what theyâ€™d found.
â€œHow are we going to transport this stuff?â€ Wallin said. â€œDo not touch it.â€
â€œSo, even if we just pick it up, it could explode?â€ Cloverfield said.
They discussed the difficulty in moving the dynamite but realized there was enough there to completely destroy the tunnel and possibly Mâ€™nagalah. Cloverfield suggested collapsing the entrance of the tunnel but Nurse Petrov noted they would be there too. Cloverfield told them about Nurse Petrovâ€™s inability to leave the valley and Petrov guessed even if they sealed it into the tunnel, theyâ€™d still be trapped in the valley.
Pavil talked about using the alcohol from the billiard hall to somehow burn the thing. Cloverfield asked Wallin about his dream but the man didnâ€™t see any help there. Nurse Petrov grumbled about the townsfolk and Pavil thought they were a fantastic place to start. Wallin suggested they ask Ezekiel where the older members of town were as they might know how to safely transport the old dynamite. Pavil noted they might have other ideas of how to deal with Mâ€™nagalah. He also noted they hadnâ€™t explored the town completely.
They eventually decided to explore the town some more and headed up the street as a group. They noticed the abandoned church once again and saw that most of the houses on the outskirts of town were abandoned. Pavil wondered what the townsfolk were doing with the goods from the abandoned houses.
â€œWe need to find Ezekiel,â€ Wallin said.
â€œNo, I think we need to find a little person with a smokestack going,â€ Pavil said. â€œBecause I donâ€™t want to have to shoot Ezekiel in front of his son.â€
â€œLetâ€™s go to the doctor,â€ Cloverfield suggested. â€œHeâ€™s 60 years old.â€
â€œSixty-year-olds arenâ€™t afraid of death,â€ Pavil said. â€œLetâ€™s find somebody young.â€
â€œWe could threaten Ezekiel with Mitchellâ€™s murder,â€ Wallin said.
â€œLetâ€™s go find Ezekiel,â€ Pavil said.
They went to Ezekielâ€™s house. Cloverfield went first in an attempt to negotiate. He knocked several times before there was an answer by Ezekiel. The man wore a nightshirt with a rough jacket thrown over his shoulders. His son stood behind him, as did his wife. Pavil leveled his rifle at the manâ€™s face.
â€œEzekiel, I know that this thing has trapped the people here,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œIf you help us figure out how to kill it, you could leave or trade could come in. More so, you could just leave. Youâ€™re all going to die here if you donâ€™t do something about it.â€
â€œWeâ€™re all going to die here anyway,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œWhy do you think so many of these houses are abandoned?â€
â€œYou could live somewhere else if you fought back.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t know what youâ€™re dealing with. My pappy called down a god! That thing is a god out there! Did you know that?â€
â€œYes. I â€¦â€
â€œI had a theory,â€ Pavil said.
â€œI had a feeling it was,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œSo, how do you kill a god?â€ Ezekiel said.
â€œWell, we killed â€¦ or defeatedâ”€â€ Cloverfield started to say.
â€œWith high explosives!â€ Wallin said.
Pavil lowered his rifle.
â€œWe donâ€™t have any!â€ Ezekiel said.
â€œWe found some,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œAnd it wonâ€™t let you kill me,â€ Ezekiel said to Pavil. â€œBecause it wants us alive.â€
â€œTo add to its mass.â€
â€œSo, if we tried to kill you, what would it do?â€
â€œItâ€™ll take your mind. Those it takes â€¦ sometimes it takes those at night. Sometimes â€¦ havenâ€™t you had any of the nightmares? Itâ€™s letting me tell you all this. It doesnâ€™t care. Because it knows you canâ€™t do anything.â€
â€œYeah, and I saw what your father did,â€ Wallin said.
â€œThen youâ€™ve had the nightmares,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œImagine having â€˜em every night â€¦ for 20 years. It doesnâ€™t leave much up here.â€
He tapped the side of his head.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t leave much,â€ he said. â€œOf any of us. It lets us breed. It takes the old. Itâ€™ll take us all someday. It says itâ€™ll keep us warm and safe and we wonâ€™t have any need for nothing.â€
He shook his head.
â€œSo, it donâ€™t matter,â€ he went on. â€œIf it doesnâ€™t take you tonight, itâ€™ll let you stay. Let you get a woman. Let you have some children. It ainâ€™t good, but itâ€™s not like we can get out.â€
He gestured up the street to the south.
â€œâ€˜Cause it â€¦ why do you think nobody knows about this place?â€ he went on. â€œPolicemen have come here. Tax collectors have come here. And then they leave because Mâ€™nagalah knows that if too many people disappear here, then moreâ€™ll come but maybe too many for it to deal with. Maybe. I donâ€™t know.â€
â€œThen how did that old man get out?â€ Wallin said.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œHe â€¦ I donâ€™t know. I have no idea how Bice got out.â€
â€œWhere did he live?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œWhere did he live?â€ Pavil said.
Ezekiel gestured towards the northwest side of town.
â€œThereâ€™s a house on the corner a block over,â€ Ezekiel said.
He told them where the house stood.
â€œHave you been in that house yet?â€ Pavil said.
Ezekiel looked a little embarrassed at that.
â€œYes,â€ he said. â€œWe have. We took everything out when he wasnâ€™t there.â€
â€œWhere is it now?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œAll of it,â€ Pavil said.
â€œWhere is it now?â€ Ezekiel said. â€œItâ€™s been spread out amongst everybody.â€
â€œWere there any books?â€ Pavil said.
â€œThings wear out: knives, forks wear out,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œTheyâ€™re not any good.â€
â€œBooks,â€ Pavil said. â€œInformation.â€
â€œThereâ€™s no books in there,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œAinâ€™t been books in this town in years. With all due respect, they make good toilet paper. We didnâ€™t find any.â€
He looked at them all.
â€œThat old man managed to get out,â€ Pavil said.
â€œI donâ€™t know how Bice got out,â€ Ezekiel said.
â€œHe managed to get out.â€
â€œYou found him a mile away, you said.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œYeah,â€ Wallin said.
â€œOver a mile away,â€ Pavil said. â€œâ€˜Cause we hit him and he slid for a while.â€
A pained look passed across Ezekielâ€™s face.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ he said. â€œI donâ€™t know how he got out. But all I know is Mâ€™nagalah can erase the memories of being here. Thatâ€™s why when the police have come â€¦ they havenâ€™t been here in years â€¦ thatâ€™s why â€¦ I donâ€™t know. Thatâ€™s why the people in the surrounding towns donâ€™t even remember this place exists. I donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s a god. Itâ€™ll do what it wants. Half the time I donâ€™t if itâ€™s my thoughts or Mâ€™nagalahâ€™s that Iâ€™m thinking.â€
â€œWell, usually he makes it pretty clear,â€ Wallin said.
â€œYeah, when itâ€™s talking to you,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œOther times you get these thoughts in your head that canâ€™t be right. Why do you think most of these houses are empty? Wandered off to the mines sometime late at night. Either sleeping or once their minds have finally gone, they just disappear. Once we find â€˜em gone, we do what we have to.â€
â€œWell, we found the dynamite, thatâ€™s all Iâ€™m saying,â€ Wallin said.
â€œI donâ€™t know nothing about any dynamite,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œThe mines have been shut down for 20 years. I was a child when all of this happened.â€
â€œWe found dynamite,â€ Pavil said.
â€œHighly explosive dynamite, according to him,â€ Cloverfield said, gesturing at Wallin.
â€œVery old dynamite,â€ Pavil said.
â€œOkay,â€ Ezekiel said.
â€œBut we need a means to get it to the mine without it blowing up,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œWell, just carry it,â€ Ezekiel said.
â€œDo you know how dynamite works?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œNo!â€ Ezekiel said. â€œI was a kid when this happened. My education ended at age eight.â€
â€œDo you know any miners still in town?â€ Wallin said.
â€œOr are they all gone?â€ Pavil said.
â€œUh â€¦â€ Ezekiel said, scratching his head. â€œUh â€¦ I think Mr. Spur used to work in the mines.â€
â€œWhere is he?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œHeâ€™s down the street, on the left,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œHeâ€™s next to the old newspaper office.â€
â€œWell, youâ€™re coming with us and weâ€™re going to go see him.â€
â€œWhat? Why? Thereâ€™s nothing you can do. What can I do?â€
â€œBecause you might know something we need to know.â€
â€œI was seven years old when all this happened in 1904.â€
â€œThis is useless,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œWell, how about this: youâ€™re responsible for trying to kill us,â€ Wallin said.
â€œUh-huh,â€ Pavil said.
â€œI was not in control of my actions,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œNone of us were at that party. I didnâ€™t even want to have that party. You think I wouldnâ€™t have told all this to you before if I couldâ€™ve?â€
â€œIn his defense, he is correct,â€ Pavil said.
â€œMâ€™nagalah had us do it,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œHe made us do it. He controlled us all, including Mitchell.â€
â€œWhy didnâ€™t he take Mitchell?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œBecause Mitchell can breed,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œAnd thereâ€™s more bodies for Mâ€™nagalah when he gets older. He takes the crazy and the old and the infirm â€¦ as long as itâ€™s alive. Hell, when I was a kid, they were made to send cattle into that damned mineshaft. Heâ€™ll take anything he can to make him bigger or something â€¦ I donâ€™t know. Itâ€™s so confusing.â€
â€œHe was quite large, Iâ€™ll give you that,â€ Wallin said.
â€œYou saw him!?!â€ Ezekiel said. â€œAnd youâ€™re still alive?â€
â€œAnd his giant eyeball,â€ Wallin said. â€œHeâ€™s a giant flesh ball.â€
â€œEven if we get close to defeating him, heâ€™ll just stop us,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œWait here.â€
He slammed the door shut. A light came on in the house and in a few minutes, the door opened again. Ezekiel had dressed and donned a jacket and his boots.
â€œAll right,â€ he said. â€œLead on.â€
They had Ezekiel lead them to Spurâ€™s house, which was, as he said, next to the old newspaper office. They woke up Spur, a man of 60 to 65 years old. He was very confused.
â€œWhat is going on Ezekiel?â€ the man said.
Ezekiel looked at the others.
â€œWe need to know how to transport dynamite to the mine,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œWhy?â€ Spur asked.
â€œTo blow up your friend!â€ Nurse Petrov said.
Cloverfield pointed at Wallin.
â€œTo blow up the guy controlling your minds,â€ Wallin said.
Spur looked at Ezekiel, who just shrugged and shook his head.
â€œWell, you just pick it up â€¦ and you carry it,â€ Spur said.
Wallin explained the condition of the dynamite. Spur was surprised there was still any explosives in the mechanical sheds. His only suggestion was a sled â€¦ pulled by a very long rope. He suggested if they got it to the mine, putting it on a mine cart and rolling it down the tracks. Cloverfield pointed out the tracks didnâ€™t reach all the way to the hole the thing lay in. Spur noted if it was 20-year-old dynamite, it would mostly be a matter of luck getting it there at all.
Pavil wondered aloud what would happen if they trapped it in the mines but then answered himself when he noted it would probably command all the villagers to dig it out. Cloverfield pointed out they could even be forced to do so with their bare hands.
Ezekiel said there were still some childrenâ€™s sleds in town and there were mine carts still at the old rails that led into the various mines.
â€œHe might have gone back to sleep,â€ Ezekiel said.
â€œMâ€™nagalah?â€ Pavil said.
â€œI think Mâ€™nagalah sleeps sometimes.â€
â€œSometimes there are times for weeks when no one feels it. But still, when someone tries to leave town, it wakes it up. Someone new comes into town, it wakes it up. I think. Maybe it sleeps. It might figure that you are all trapped here now. Youâ€™re all young.â€
â€œCould Bice have escaped while it slept?â€ Wallin said.
â€œItâ€™s very possible,â€ Pavil said. â€œBice just reached an age where he was no longer important and slipped out.â€
They learned some people did escape the valley, but not alive. Ezekiel mentioned Story had blown his brains out. That man had run the newspaper but had killed himself about a year after the valley had fallen into the throes of Mâ€™nagalah. A tiny handful of others had likewise killed themselves. Not many. The reverend had disappeared one night and he thought Mâ€™nagalah called him.
â€œSo, would Mâ€™nagalah stop us from trying to kill ourselves?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œProbably,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œIf he could.â€
â€œIf we stay here, weâ€™re dead,â€ Pavil said. â€œIf we try to leave, weâ€™re dead.â€
He suggested moving the dynamite using a sled and a long rope. Cloverfield suggested waiting a day or two. Nurse Petrov had already returned to the hotel.
â€œYou say that sometimes you feel that he goes to sleep?â€ Cloverfield asked Ezekiel.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ the other man said. â€œMaybe.â€
â€œDo you have nightmares every night?â€
â€œMaybe he put that in my mind. I donâ€™t know.â€
He didnâ€™t think the nightmares were directly connected to Mâ€™nagalah sleeping or not. He noted people in the village had terrible dreams most of the time and a lot of people were a little off.
â€œOâ€™Brien is crazy,â€ he said. â€œHe has gone mad. Heâ€™s scared of everything. Terrified of everything and everybody.â€
Wallin suggested they get a good nightâ€™s sleep.
* * *
Wallin had another terrible nightmare that night. He was a child, playing with a simple ball behind the house. Then he felt a tugging and started walking. He heard his mother calling behind him and heard her approach, put her hand upon his shoulder, and then suddenly stop. When he looked up at her, she was looking blankly ahead. It didnâ€™t matter. He continued towards where he knew and feared he must go.
* * *
* * *
Sunday, February 17, 1924, dawned cold but sunny. Oâ€™Brien acted as if nothing had changed, getting them their simple breakfast and getting out of the dining room as quickly as he could. They noticed he was not listening in on their conversations anymore. Perhaps that had been Mâ€™nagalah.
Wallin told them of his dream. Cloverfield suggested they talk to Ezekiel about it. Wallin thought it merely meant Mâ€™nagalah was taking more people. Nurse Petrov thought it was Ezekielâ€™s child and wife but when they went to Ezekielâ€™s house, his family was still present. He told them heâ€™d see if anyone was missing in town. Later he confirmed no one was gone.
Pavil suggested the dreams were the memories of the people being taken.
They spent the day searching the town.
They broke into the newspaper office. The front area had a printing press and a smaller room in the back was filled with back issues while a larger room in the back had living quarters. A copy of the last issue of the paper was there and some of them noticed a splattered bloodstain on one wall with a bullet hole in the center of it.
They looked through the newspapers and found the last was dated Friday, January 20, 1905. It seemed fairly typical except for a strange editorial with a different style from the other articles. It was flowery and strange. It read:
Last Issue as Editor Leaves Once For All
Revelations and news end for this tiny venue as your own editor is no longer really necessary to elucidate the local news. Damned if you do or donâ€™t.
Clues are here. Sometimes they lie in mostly plain sight interesting to view to the layman but hard to find.
First letters sent have never hidden among the simply silent.
Redemption is only happening along the inside of a motherâ€™s den. But this doubting reporter is ensured someone will notice his warning.
But be warned: no justification for the ornery or the unilaterally ignorant really matters. If no one finds the already obvious clues lying about: doom.
Sometimes the niggardly way is the only one that works really well. The truest words are hardly the easiest when dealing with entrusted secrets styling themselves as truth.
Find the answer coming to you, but only if you are wise regarding what niceties you read and espy the writing right before you!
They pored over the strange editorial for some time. It was oddly written and, for the most part, didnâ€™t seem to make any sense. Other stories were concise and not flowery. Even editorials in older newspapers were not written as strangely as that one was.
A further search of the building found nothing out of the ordinary. Searching through the older papers didnâ€™t reveal anything either.
Nurse Petrov read aloud: â€œFirst letters sent have never hidden among the simply silent.â€
Cloverfield thought they should go to the post office. Pavil wondered if the other editorials might have a clue. Pavil still thought the first letter thing was important, either in reference to the post office or the first letters of every word. That didnâ€™t help, unfortunately. Cloverfield suggested down the side of the editorial and Pavil guessed the first letter of each line.
â€œWait!â€ Wallin said, looking at it. â€œâ€˜Reverend Smith has â€¦â€™â€
â€œWhere are you seeing that?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œItâ€™s the beginning letters of each line,â€ Pavil said.
â€œâ€˜â€¦ journal northwest corner,â€™â€ Wallin finished reading.
Pavil had been correct. The first letter of each non-indented line spelled out a secret message.
They realized they had to look in the church on the back street. They went to the church which was partially in ruins and boarded up. They broke in to find the interior was dirty but not damaged. A small living area was in the back that doubled as an office. They found church records and looked through them, noting the records went back to 1827 when the church was first established by the young Reverend Marcus Smith. His son, Jackson Smith, took over in 1900.
They figured out which corner of the church was in the northwest and found loose floorboards there. They pried them up and pulled out a small, wooden box. Within was a book that proved to be a journal. The notes found stated that since Smith took over the church in 1900, the town continued to lose villagers as the mines had played out. In 1904, there was talk of trying to convince Abraham Monroe to turn aside from the teachings he had been studying as they were the way of the devil.
In July of 1904, Reverend Smith noted a change as well as the loss of Abraham Monroe in the abandoned mines, specifically â€œthat tunnel.â€ It also noted the feeling of being watched that grew in the town after.
By the fall of 1904, Reverend Smith was talking of â€œThe Lurker in Tunnel 13,â€ noting he had been preaching against the thing brought by the devil and the townsfolk who would not resist it. He mentioned â€œMâ€™nagalahâ€ several times in context with the lurker and, over the months until early 1905, noted he had begun trying to secretly confer with John Story of the Post, who also tried to fight against â€œthe beastâ€™s incessant but elusive influence.â€ A note in January 1905 merely stated â€œJohn Story took the only way out he knew, that of his pistol. I pray for his eternally damned soul.â€
The writing become more disjointed until the spring of 1905 with paranoid ramblings about â€œwhat can the lurker see through our eyes?â€ and â€œit influences thought in Perdition and outside of it. What is this thing?â€ The final entry, dated April 2, 1905, read:
I fear I can no longer hold out against the lurker. It calls to me. It needs me. It promises me eternal life and existence though not one I would choose, not one any sane man would choose. I do not know why it allows me my own thoughts and I do not know when it looks through my eyes or that it looks through my eyes or what it sees or what it senses. Is it reading this even now?
I spoke against Mâ€™nagalah for as long as I could but I find thinking hard and the people will not listen. They are either content or influenced by this evil or both. I cannot tell which anymore. I know merely that I feel it calling to me and it has become harder and harder to resist.
I at last receive the call. Others have gone. Others have stumbled into Perdition and never left. I doubt I can resist much longer. Mâ€™nagalah knows me. It knows I fight against it still. It knows all. Is it God, as it claims? Is everything I believed a lie?
I fear it is.
They discussed the journal, Cloverfield noting it seemed to relate to their eyes. Nurse Petrov said she went blind when she tried to leave. Pavil said the journal implied that Mâ€™nagalah saw through their eyes and spoke of an idea of doing everything they wanted to do blindfolded. He pointed out they might be able to hike out of town blindfolded. He couldnâ€™t imagine their fighting the thing blindfolded.
Cloverfield pointed out heâ€™d gone up the hill and grabbed Nurse Petrov but hadnâ€™t gone blind himself. She thought it was because he was going to bring her back and Mâ€™nagalah knew that. Wallin said the thing could also read their minds. Pavil thought it was because the thing knew Cloverfield couldnâ€™t have survived long enough to get out of there. He said Nurse Petrov could have walked all the way to the next town but Cloverfield was injured.
Wallin checked to see how much gasoline his chainsaw had left and found it was about a quarter full.
They spent the rest of the day searching the rest of town without finding out anything else of use.
* * *
Nurse Petrov had a nightmare that night. She found yourself in a small, dimly lit room on the edge of a bed. She recognized it as the living quarters behind the newspaper office. She fiddled with a pistol in her hand and looked around at the room before putting the gun to her head and pulling the trigger. There was a loud noise and a white light.
* * *
On Monday, February 18, 1924, they woke up from more disturbing dreams and had breakfast together in the hotel dining room. Nurse Petrov told them about having a nightmare of the newspaper man blowing his brain out.
â€œThatâ€™s pretty specific,â€ Wallin said.
Pavil was reading through the journal theyâ€™d found.
â€œâ€˜I do not know why it allows me my own thoughts,â€™â€ he read aloud.
â€œItâ€™s sadistic,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
They also talked about the old man who had escaped the town. Nurse Petrov suggested Mâ€™nagalah had let him go just to lure them there. Pavil wondered if the old man had been blind. Wallin pointed out he had arthritis. Cloverfield suggested talking to Ezekiel or Dr. Reddick about his condition and Nurse Petrov pointed out he had already told them he had arthritis.
Pavil thought that Mâ€™nagalah could not influence thoughts, only control. It could control by wearing a person down or taking direct control.
When Pavil questioned Ezekiel about blind people in the village, the man told him there had not been any, including Bice. Cloverfield asked Dr. Reddick about the medical health of everyone in town, specifically Bice. People were people was what he learned and Bice was practically crippled with arthritis and was in constant pain.
Cloverfield told the others when he had gone to get Petrov, his leg was killing him with pain. He noted he had not been affected by Mâ€™nagalah at all when he had brought her back to the village. He pointed out Bice was in constant pain as well. Pavil noted, when Cloverfield told him about returning Petrov, that he didnâ€™t need his cane to pull her back into town. Cloverfield said she didnâ€™t resist him at all.
They discussed how often Mâ€™nagalah watched them, what it knew, and if it could control more than one person at a time. When he asked Ezekiel about that, the man noted Mâ€™nagalah controlled everyone at the dinner party the night they had entered the mine. He asked if that was the way heâ€™d been physically controlled in the mine or if it had just told them what to do. Ezekiel said it made them do what they did: fake Mitchellâ€™s disappearance, control what Jewel said, and the like.
â€œThen why didnâ€™t it just seize us when we were in the mine and have us all just walk off the cliff?â€ Pavil asked.
â€œPerhaps you were in a weaker state,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œItâ€™s alien,â€ Ezekiel said. â€œIt does things I donâ€™t understand. Why are any of us still alive?â€
â€œThe pastor talked about resisting,â€ Pavil said.
â€œWhy doesnâ€™t the town get more people in and get more people?â€ Ezekiel went on â€œItâ€™s a thing!â€
When he was alone with the others, Pavil once again pointed out the reverend talked about resisting but how Mâ€™nagalah wore people down. Ezekiel had mentioned that as well and Pavil guessed one had to stay around it for a while before it had a level of control that it had over the locals.
â€œBut you?â€ Petrov asked.
â€œWhat about you?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œIt seized me,â€ Pavil said. â€œComplete control.â€
â€œBut why did you think it did that to you?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œWell, weâ€™re strangers,â€ Wallin said.
â€œBut why do you think it specifically targeted him rather than one of us?â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œIt might not have,â€ Pavil said. â€œIt might have just tried to grasp at straws and landed on me.â€
They discussed leaving the valley. Pavil suggested blindfolding themselves and plugging their ears as well as trying themselves together and then walking up and out of the valley. They decided to try out something.
They blindfolded Cloverfield and plugged his ears. He tried to walk out of town but the same things afflicted him: nausea, pain, disorientation, blindness. When Pavil went to retrieve him, he also felt the same terrible and uneasy feelings. Pavil managed to get to him and drag him back. When Nurse Petrov tried to simply close her eyes and go, she got the same symptoms before returning to the edge of town.
It didnâ€™t work.
They realized there was a difference from when Cloverfield had retrieved Petrov two nights before and Pavil had retrieved him just then: Cloverfield had not felt nauseous when heâ€™d gone to get the woman but Pavil had felt it when he had just done it.
â€œHeâ€™s starting to get more control over us,â€ Wallin suggested.
â€œThe only thing that was different was that I was cold and my leg was injured,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œYou were injured,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œMaybe I should just kick your leg in.â€
It started to snow heavily again.
â€œPetrov, do you have an idea about how I can irritate my wound?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œNot good idea,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œWell, I want to try it anyway.â€
â€œI think the key to getting out of town is immense pain,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œIt canâ€™t mentally connect with you if youâ€™re in pain?â€ Pavil said.
â€œBecause I feel like, at some point, the painâ”€â€
â€œIt wonâ€™t endanger itself.â€
â€œWhack his leg with a shovel?â€ Wallin said.
â€œHit me with a shovel,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œOn the leg. Do it. Do it!â€
â€œNo,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œMaybe itâ€™s how mentally inhibited your mind is,â€ Cloverfield guessed.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Pavil said. â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s pain but â€¦â€
They discussed the possibility of getting drunk. Pavil wondered if there was something different about Cloverfield two days before, whether it was the pain or something else. Cloverfield admitted he had been in great pain. Nurse Petrov suggested the pain was all he could think of but Pavil wondered if it was because the other manâ€™s intention had been to pull her back. Nurse Petrov pointed out that had not been like that this day, when Pavil had pulled Cloverfield back. Cloverfield pointed out perhaps that was because they were testing it as a plan to get away. Pavil wondered if Mâ€™nagalah was listening to them all but Nurse Petrov pointed out it wouldnâ€™t have used villagers to listen to them and watch them earlier.
Pavil also wondered why the villagers, who had watched them when they first arrived, had suddenly stopped. He guessed when they first arrived, Mâ€™nagalah couldnâ€™t see through their eyes. He guessed it could now because they had been near it. Nurse Petrov pointed out that still didnâ€™t explain why Cloverfield was not affected when he brought her back into the village.
Cloverfield wondered if it was because they spoke. Nurse Petrov apologized for running away and Cloverfield remembered she had not said anything to him but was still affected. He wondered if it was related to faith or devotion.
They were still unsure what to do.
â€œA surefire way to escape this place is to kill it,â€ Pavil said.
â€œIt was made out of flesh, I can tell you that,â€ Wallin said. â€œFlesh burns.â€
â€œFlesh burns,â€ Pavil said. â€œExactly.â€
They realized even the moonshine, an alcohol, would not burn as hot as gasoline. Cloverfield suggested throwing the tank from Wallinâ€™s chainsaw into the hole but the other man shook his head. It wasnâ€™t enough gasoline to burn the mass heâ€™d seen in the pit.
Wallin suggested getting a sled and some rope. The others were not excited about that prospect at all.
In the end, they decided to explore the other 12 mineshafts. They procured lanterns and oil and headed off, spending the rest of the day looking for clues or information. Unfortunately, they found nothing of use or interest in any of the other mine tunnels. Unlike the horrible tunnel that held Mâ€™nagalah, these mines ended without the great pit. Side tunnels didnâ€™t lead anywhere either. It was somewhat disappointing.
* * *
It was snowing again on Tuesday, February 19, 1924. At breakfast that morning they talked about how to leave the village. Cloverfield noted he was tired when he rescued Nurse Petrov but he guessed she was as well. Pavil wondered what would happen if someone was involuntarily moved out of the village. Cloverfield wondered if that would really be against their will.
Pavil wanted to test ways to possibly escape or learn of what Mâ€™nagalah could detect. He noted he might want to hit Cloverfield in the leg with a shovel. Nurse Petrov went to get her medical bag. She vetoed hitting Cloverfield as he had been badly injured and another injury could kill the man.
They talked about using the alcohol and realized how much work it would take to get the large barrels to the mine and then to Mâ€™nagalah. Wallin was also not opposed to using the dynamite, however. He was willing to try to load up the dynamite and Cloverfield agreed with letting him do that. Pavil didnâ€™t trust the alcohol, figuring it would burn it but it might not kill it unless they were going to burn it and then make a mad dash while it burned, if they could even escape. Nurse Petrov noted she had batted one of the thingâ€™s tentacles with a fiery torch while Pavil was possessed and he was not released from Mâ€™nagalahâ€™s grip.
The others continued to discuss how Bice had escaped. Though Nurse Petrov guessed Mâ€™nagalah had simply let the old man go, Pavil pointed out that the thing took the villagers when they got old. Nurse Petrov noted that, according to one of Wallinâ€™s dreams, it had taken a child.
* * *
Wallin was through talking. He got the sled and headed to the warehouse with the dynamite to load it up. He took the sled to the shed and started very slowly and carefully moving the crates of high explosives. He had also found blasting caps, fuses, electrical wire, and a plunger box. It would take him hours, he knew, to get them on the sled, across town, and up to the mine. If he survived.
* * *
The others discussed how Bice had escaped the valley. Pavil wondered if it had anything to do with how cold it was that night. He pointed out that Mâ€™nagalah was underground in an environment that was the same despite what time of year it was. He suggested it could have been incredibly sensitive to temperature.
Pavil went to Wallin to tell him that if he got to the mine to wait as theyâ€™d help him. The latter started to very slowly move the sled towards the mine.
Pavil, Nurse Petrov, and Cloverfield headed to the edge of town. Pavil stripped down to his underwear and his boots and headed up the hill. He started to feel nauseous. He tried to go further but it got worse so he returned to the others and quickly donned his cold clothing.
Cloverfield wondered if any of the doctors in town might have some medicine that would cause some extreme pain. Nurse Petrov said medicines werenâ€™t made for that. Pavil remembered a grandmother who had terrible arthritis and was in so much pain she couldnâ€™t get out of bed. He became more and more convinced pain was what was needed to escape the village. Nurse Petrov noted she could punch him hard in the arm or the face. He didnâ€™t seem to be interested in that.
â€œI think itâ€™s pain,â€ Pavil said. â€œI really do.â€
â€œWell, Iâ€™m not being the test subject,â€ Cloverfield quipped.
Pavil thought about he and Nurse Petrov fighting until they were both in great pain and then fleeing from the town. If they could.
* * *
Wallin had decided to forgo the rope and actually push the sled carefully through town. It was more dangerous but gave him more control of the sled over the uneven snow. If the dynamite exploded, he would surely die, however.
He made his way very slowly and painstakingly down the street.
* * *
Cloverfield went to Ezekiel and they found him and learned Spur was the oldest person in town.
â€œCan we use Spur as a test subject?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œNo!â€ Ezekiel said. â€œFor what?â€
â€œNo! You want to stab Spur? No! Why are you asking me!?!â€
He returned to the other two. He looked embarrassed. He tried to convince the two of them to use Spur as a test subject.
â€œWe need pain,â€ Cloverfield said.
â€œWe donâ€™t know that!â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œBut we canâ€™t know until we do it,â€ Cloverfield said.
Nurse Petrov frowned and then punched Pavil squarely in the face. There was a distinct snap and the man stumbled back. Blood spewed out of his nose. He let out a cry.
â€œWhat the hell!?!â€ he screamed at her.
â€œYou wanted pain!â€ she said. â€œGo!â€
â€œGo!â€ Cloverfield said, pointing up the hill.
Pavil sprinted up the hill, out of the valley, and disappeared into the woods.
â€œIâ€™ll be damned,â€ Nurse Petrov said.
* * *
Pavil ran and ran, expecting the nausea or the gut-ache heâ€™d felt before. He ran hard and fast and it was a couple of minutes before he realized he was well past the edge of town. He looked back at his footprints in the newly fallen snow back through the bare trees to Perdition. The town was out of sight and his head throbbed with the pain of his broken nose. He didnâ€™t want to go back.
But he was happy. He was in agony and had never been happier than at that moment. Blood dripped from his nose and his chin.
He walked back.
* * *
It felt like Pavil was gone for a very long time before he stumbled back out of the woods. Both of the manâ€™s eyes were going black and blood dripped from his broken nose. He was smiling like a madman though. He hesitated just before he entered the spot the others couldnâ€™t leave before walking down to get the shovels still lying there.
Nurse Petrov realized another possible way to give a great deal of pain without actually physically injuring someone was the nerves of the gums. A needle stuck into the gum would hurt terribly and probably produce a great deal of pain.
Pavil looked at Nurse Petrov.
â€œYou can go get him,â€ he said, nodding towards town. â€œOr you can tell him and let him see if he wants to blow it up. If he wants to, let him.â€
She handed him a handkerchief.
â€œIâ€™m going to dig the car,â€ he said.
â€œThis is going to sound strange,â€ she said.
â€œFigure out how youâ€™re going to hurt yourself,â€ he said.
He left, disappearing back into the woods.
Nurse Petrov got into her medical bag and put a little saline into a syringe. She handed it to Cloverfield.
â€œIf you want to follow, stick in gum,â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t want to hit you.â€
She headed off to find Wallin. She found him near the hotel, pushing the sled filled with dynamite down the street, very slowly. She stopped and watched him from a distance before carefully calling out.
â€œWallin,â€ she said. â€œStep away for a minute.â€
He did so, walking over to her.
â€œYes?â€ he said.
â€œWe found a way to leave,â€ she said. â€œBut â€¦ it will not free everyone. It only frees us.â€
â€œCause pain. I punched Marco in face â€¦ too hard maybe. But it caused broken nose and he left with the biggest smile Iâ€™ve ever seen on that depressed manâ€™s face.â€
She more carefully explained that pain seemed to allow them to leave. They heard a tapping nearby and saw Cloverfield on Ezekielâ€™s front porch, knocking on the door.
* * *
The door to Ezekielâ€™s house opened and Mitchell stood there.
â€œHello,â€ he said.
â€œDo you know where your father is?â€ Cloverfield asked.
â€œHeâ€™s doing â€¦ heâ€™s working. Heâ€™s out in the â€¦ north field. Or the south field. Or maybe the east field. Or the west field.â€
â€œDo you know when heâ€™ll be back in?â€
â€œTonight? He usually works â€˜til dinner.â€
â€œThatâ€™s why he takes a bucket. Itâ€™s got food in it.â€
Cloverfield left, walking down the street towards Dr. Reddickâ€™s office.
â€œMr. Rich Boy, what are you doing?â€ Nurse Petrov called to him.
â€œIâ€™m sharing information,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œI donâ€™t want to leave them here.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know if theyâ€™d believe you.â€
â€œIâ€™m leaving them to their own devices. If they donâ€™t believe us, itâ€™s their own fault.â€
â€œMaybe not best idea: let everyone know.â€
â€œBut â€¦ I want to save them.â€
â€œThatâ€™s â€¦ very good. But, if monster catch on: not good.â€
â€œThe book did say that it sees through other people.â€
â€œNot sure if self-inflicted pain would be effective or not.â€
â€œSo, whatâ€™s our plan then?â€ he said.
â€œIâ€™m going to keep pushing,â€ Wallin said.
â€œYouâ€™re determined, even though we found a way out?â€ Nurse Petrov said.
â€œI have a grudge against this thing,â€ Wallin said.
â€œAll right,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œYou have fun. Iâ€™m going to go a little ways away.â€
She was curious as to how it turned out and so decided to stay and watch. Cloverfield stayed with her.
* * *
Pavil found the car covered with another foot and a half of snow and so got busy digging it out. It was long cold work and the blood dripping from his nose eventually stopped, leaving a huge bloodstain on the front of his jacket. By nightfall, he had the car dug out and turned around. He was unable to get purchase when he tried to drive it up the hill but at least had it pointed in the right direction.
His broken nose had settled down into a dull ache that was only sharp when he touched it.
He climbed into the back seat of the motorcar and sat down, exhausted. He soon fell asleep.
* * *
By the time Wallin reached the edge of town near dusk, having taken several hours just to push the sled through town, he was shivering with the sweat that had gathered under his warm clothes. He was exhausted and felt terrible, having difficulty breathing and coughing occasionally. He found a mine cart and got it on the rails. Nurse Petrov approached carefully to advise him to make sure it was the right tunnel. It was.
â€œI would appreciate it if one of you came with me so he doesnâ€™t take control of my mind,â€ Wallin said.
â€œI was under impression that you were going to roll down track,â€ she said.
â€œI am â€¦ but that doesnâ€™t go all the way to him,â€ Wallin said.
She remembered the track ended some 50 feet before the nasty cave that housed Mâ€™nagalah. Cloverfield walked over.
â€œWhat are you going to do?â€ he asked Wallin.
â€œBlow him up,â€ Wallin said.
â€œBut how are you going to achieve that?â€
â€œYeah, but how are you going to get it to him?â€
â€œRail cart. And then, once I get as far as I can take it, take it out of the cartâ”€â€
â€œWhy arenâ€™t you going to bring it directly to him?â€
â€œWould doing that be close enough, do you think?â€
â€œWould even the ceiling collapsing above the hole be enough?â€
â€œTheyâ€™d eventually just mine it out.â€
â€œBut if it squishes it â€¦ the rocks crush it â€¦ itâ€™ll die.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think thatâ€™ll do it.â€
â€œNot sure,â€ Nurse Petrov said. â€œNot sure what is â€¦ tentacles connected to.â€
â€œIf you want a helper, Iâ€™m not going to help you,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œI have a crippled leg.â€
â€œThatâ€™s fine,â€ Wallin said.
â€œI canâ€™t help you effectively. Even if I did help you and I tripped, it would be over.â€
Nurse Petrov just looked at the man silently and frowned.
â€œDo you mind if I take your firearm?â€ Wallin said.
â€œSure,â€ Cloverfield said. â€œI can buy another one.â€
Wallin broke open the pistol and found there were four rounds left in it. He asked Cloverfield for replacements for the missing two, but the man didnâ€™t carry any extra ammunition.
â€œThatâ€™s fine,â€ Wallin said. â€œWorse comes to worse, Iâ€™m not getting out.â€
Cloverfield and Nurse Petrov retreated when he started to move the explosives. It took him another 20 minutes to slowly and carefully move the dynamite into the mine cart. He placed the blasting caps, fuse, wire, and plunger into the mine cart as well.
Cloverfield and Nurse Petrov had retreated to a safe distance to watch. Nurse Petrov also kept an eye out for villagers but no one was around. Cloverfield wondered if they should inflict pain upon themselves.
* * *
Wallin slowly pushed the mine cart from the back, moving it very slowly. It was a hundred yards or more in the dark to the back of the mine and it took him a good half hour to get there. He made it to the end of the line without incident and could see the phosphorescent light ahead of him. As slowly and carefully as possible, he lifted one of the crates. He made his way slowly and carefully to the ledge. It very quiet.
He looked down when he reached the ledge.
Mâ€™nagalah was there. As large as a house and made of various kinds of flesh, bone, and sinew, the horrible thing lay at the bottom of the cave. Portions of it were obviously parts of animal and a small rabbit seemed to sit atop it, partially in and partially out of the thing. Numerous tentacles lay atop it and the great eye he had seen before was closed. It was disturbing and shocked him to the core, but he kept his resolve.
Wallin carefully put the crate down on the edge of the ledge. He thought for a moment about whether or not to get the second crate from the mine cart. He looked down and could see the closed eye of the horrible thing.
He picked the crate back up, held it over the edge, and dropped it. He saw Mâ€™nagalahâ€™s eye suddenly fly open as he turned to run. He only made a few steps before a massive explosion ripped through the cave behind him. He was flung right out of his shoes, tossed down the corridor all the way to the buffer stop some 50 feet away. He crashed into the wooden structure, flipping over it, most of his bones broken, crashing onto the rails. The mine cart was also set into motion by the explosion and slammed into his broken body on the tracks. The secondary explosion from the second crate on top of him ripped the mine cart to shreds and completely destroyed his body as well.
The last thing he saw before he died was his chainsaw flying through the air. Or maybe it was just a hallucination.
* * *
Nurse Petrov and Cloverfield, well away from Tunnel 13, heard the thump of the explosion and felt the ground shake. Debris flew out of the end of the tunnel. Both ducked. Nurse Petrov cursed, realizing everyone in the valley was going to know what just happened.
â€œI donâ€™t think he made it!â€ she said. â€œLetâ€™s run!â€
â€œLetâ€™s run!â€ Cloverfield agreed.
They fled from the mine. As they ran through town, lights came on in the houses and people came out into the street. They looked surprised at first and many of them looked towards the mine. Someone let out a cheer. Others started crying. People seemed very happy as if they realized what had just happened. Some called out thanks to them as they fled.
They ran to the edge of town and up the hill without feeling anything. They ran most of the way to the motorcar before Nurse Petrov had to stop to catch her breath. Cloverfield stopped and waited for her and then they made their way to the auto as quickly as possible.
Cloverfield climbed into the driverâ€™s seat and started the motorcar.
â€œGod! What?â€ Pavil cried from the back seat. â€œWho the hell is it!?!â€
â€œHey!â€ Cloverfield said.
It took him a moment to realize it was Pavil.
Nurse Petrov leapt into the passenger side of the motorcar.
â€œJesus Christ!â€ Pavil shrieked.
She didnâ€™t say anything. She was trying to come to terms with Wallinâ€™s obvious death.
When Cloverfield turned on the motorcarâ€™s lights Pavil realized who was in the machine with him.
Cloverfield put the auto into gear but couldnâ€™t get it up the hill. With Nurse Petrov and Pavil pushing and digging up snow, they were able to get up the incline and out of the area in an hour or so. They eventually found their way back to Huntingdon.
* * *
In Perdition, the villagers were torn that night after Mâ€™nagalah was destroyed. Some of them wanted to leave the village forever while others thought they should try to make a go of it in the valley. It seemed some would go and some would stay, but there was no hurry.
Ezekiel felt a pain on his arm. He reached down to the sudden thick mass that was there and his eyes went wide.
Some things never ended â€¦
The annual Yog-Sothoth.com (YSDC) Games Day took place in October, and I was lucky enough to make it for the third time. As always, it was a great, relaxing weekend full of regrettably short conversations, delicious food, and of course, games!
I managed to get a couple of recordings, and one partial recording, and am posting them on my main gaming blog, but of course I need to flag them up here as well. Steve Dempsey's The Fallen World
Fearful Symmetries is a campaign for Trail of Cthulhu inspired by William Blake. The characters are caught up in an occult war and must use the double edged sword of magical power to reunite Albion, split asunder by time and the Mythos. The campaign will soon be published by Pelgrane Press, along with The Book of the New Jerusalem, a gazatteer of English folklore locations and people that takes up where The Book of the Smoke left off. Steve Dempsey, the keeper for this scenario, has been running his Fearful Symmetries campaign since May 2016, achieving 61 sessions so far. This scenario, The Fallen World, was improvised by Steve at the convention. The characters are members of the Ordnance Geology Survey (Section D). Their job is to contain and clean up suspected supernatural events, and provide a suitable mundane explanation. They have been brought in to clear up in Upper and Lower Quinton in Southern Warwickshire where a number of people have suddenly died - possibly something to do with aforementioned Fearful Symmetries campaign.
Episode 1 is now available on my usual spot in the Internet Archive*. More to follow.
*okay, yes, there's a typo in the URL. That's actually there. Due to technical problems at Archive.org, I made four attempts over several days to get this uploaded, and apparently lost the second L in LnL during repeatedly typing in all the same metadata T_T I don't think it's possible to do anything about it though. I may at some point beg an admin to move it for consistency.
Tuesday, November 7, 2017
(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario â€œHalloween in Dunwichâ€ by Oscar Rios from the Halloween Horror Monograph Sunday, October 29 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with Ashton LeBlanc, Collin Townsend, Ambralyn Tucker, Ben Abbott, and Katelyn Hogan.)
Dunwich was beautiful in the fall with the leaves turning shades of orange and gold. It was also that time for one of the favorite time of the year for several cousins and their families: Halloween. All their lives, each of the six cousins had six favorite days during the year: Christmas morning, even if it often was at stuffy Great Aunt Normaâ€™s house in Kingsport; the last day of school; their own birthdays; and Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s Halloween party.
Most of them made the trip to Dunwich village, their folks leaving their motorcars there and being driven by horse and wagon up to Great Grandpa Silasâ€™ farm way up north of the township. Even the local children from Dunwich met in the village proper to ride up with the others. The trip was like going back in time to a simpler age. It was a warm day for late October in 1928 without a cloud in the sky. It was going to be a wonderful day.
Gertrude â€œGerdieâ€ Pope was a cute little 11-year-old girl who lived with her parents on Mill Road just north of Dunwich Village on the side of Round Mountain. She had very pale skin, platinum blonde, curly hair, and piercing blue eyes. She was a strange little girl whom many of the local people thought was crazy but she was really just confused sometimes, or so she thought. During the warmer parts of the year, she wandered around the hills and valleys of Dunwich until dark. Once in a while, sheâ€™d be somewhere new, a place sheâ€™d never been before, but she remembered it somehow, not as it looked normally, but with glowing lights and magic, streets, towers, and shops. She had sometimes gotten the urge to dig and found strange things: old clay pots or pieces of statue, and sometimes the pretty coins she still carried in a handkerchief at all times. Though the writing was strange, she could clearly read it. She carried five of the strange coins and sometimes showed them to others.
She wasnâ€™t the first person born in Dunwich with her features, the elders said. It cropped up once in a while, usually in someone â€œtouched.â€
She sometimes thought of herself as Solinia and had to remind herself she was Gertrude Pope. She knew she had been someone else once before, long ago, and she would be someone else again. The strange flashes of memory werenâ€™t so bad when she wasnâ€™t in Dunwich but today was Halloween. She loved Halloween and loved being around her cousins. She didnâ€™t see them most of the year so they didnâ€™t treat her like a loony. She looked forward to a day of food, games, and ghost stories. It was one of her favorite nights of the year, not like that one night when the city was burning â€¦
Gordon Brewster was also from Dunwich. Twelve years old he was a blue-eyed, dark haired little boy. He was strong and fit and large for his age. He knew Dunwich was good country if one was willing to work it. His family had been there a long time, going back to when the village was first settled. Heâ€™d taken his place beside his father and brothers working the family farm on Dunlock Creek Road, earning extra money by cutting firewood for the neighbors with the axe that was always with him.
When he was eight, kids around Dunwich started to go missing. His parents kept him close to home or weeks. Eventually one of the kids got away from the folks doing it. Polly-Ann had been missing for a week before she turned up at the Brewster farm. She had been all beaten up and covered with scratches. She didnâ€™t talk, just rocked back and forth, screaming if anyone touched her. Soon after that, folks showed up with shotguns, rifles, and hunting dogs. They set off to follow her trail back to where sheâ€™d come from.
After her parents took her home, Gordon had gotten his squirrel hunting rifle and ran after the others when his ma wasnâ€™t looking. He caught up to them as they were setting fire to the cabin of one the neighbors. The members of the Gardner family had already been shot dead by the time he go there. They were horrible to look at in the light with faces and limbs twisted, hunch backs, and sharp teeth. They looked like monsters. His father spotted him hiding nearby and ordered him to stay close after smacking him for being there.
The men found the remains of the missing children under the chicken coop. There were only bones left and they had been gnawed on after the flesh had been butchered from them. Gordon didnâ€™t remember anything after that. They told him later he seized up and didnâ€™t come out of it for three months. He tried not to think about it.
He loved Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s party and knew it would be a great day of fun. He visited the man often, cutting firewood for him and helping out at the farm despite the long walk it always was. In the winter, he hunted on his land with his father and Grandpa Saul and sometimes Great Grandpa Silas even joined them.
Both Gerdie and Gordon knew only a little about the Horror that had struck Dunwich in September of that very year. Their parents hadnâ€™t said much about it, just like they had rarely talked about Wilbur Whateley, who had been killed by a guard dog at Miskatonic University in Arkham back in August. All they knew were the rumors: rumors that something huge had broken out of the abandoned Whateley house in early September; rumors that huge, unnatural footprints were found in the Glen Road and wounded cows belonging to Seth Bishop were discovered near Devilâ€™s Hopyard; rumors the Horror had disappeared into Cold Spring Glen; rumors of two attacks on the Elmer Frye farm, one destroying the barn and taking the cattle, and the second destroying the house and wiping out the entire family; rumors that several state policemen disappeared near Cold Spring Glen, never to be seen again; rumors that on September 15, the Horror had returned, destroying Seth Bishopâ€™s house and killing all within before it was followed to Sentinel Hill by three professors from Miskatonic University and then never seen again. Nothing but rumors.
Alice Sanders was one of the oldest of the cousins at 13. She was from Innsmouth and had light hair and very large blue eyes. Sheâ€™d always loved living on the water and had always been fascinated by the sea. Her familyâ€™s business was fishing and sheâ€™d been working on the docks with them since she was eight years old. Sheâ€™d always been told her father died before she was born, but she was starting to think that might not have been true. Her mother kept things from her, telling her not to worry about it for the moment and enjoy her childhood while it lasted. Alice always told her she was already a teenager and had a right to know what was going on. Her mother promised to tell her everything â€œwhen her friend comes.â€
Her favorite member of the family was her Aunt Margie. When Alice was 11, a man grabbed her and pulled her into an alley, tearing her clothes and touching her. He was drunk and she could smell the alcohol. He covered her mouth so she couldnâ€™t scream, but she had her fish-gutting knife in her pocket. She grabbed it and there was a lot of blood. He let her go but she couldnâ€™t move and he fell at her feet. There was so much blood. Aunt Margie had found her, taken the knife away from her, and dragged the manâ€™s body to her uncleâ€™s boat. She told Alice she had done the right thing but not to tell anyone what happened. She covered Alice with her coat, took her to her house and washed her up. She told Alice she was a good girl and that her father would be proud of her. Then she gave her a switchblade knife and told her to always keep it with her. The next day, she told Alice it was all taken care of and not to worry about it. Sometimes Alice wondered if she was a bad person because sheâ€™d never felt guilty and was glad the man was dead.
In 1927, Aunt Margie got sick. The family said she was going to â€œgo awayâ€ to get better. But after that, her house was deserted. Sometimes when Alice passed it, she saw someone in the attic, staring down at her. Sometimes at night, she saw a light up there. Sheâ€™d been thinking about breaking into the house to see who was up there. But she thought she knew what sheâ€™d find. Aunt Margie wouldnâ€™t have left without saying goodbye.
Just last February, Alice and her mother had fled Innsmouth. Alice remembered it was late at night when she heard someone come to the front door. She was already in bed but couldnâ€™t help hear the deep voice from downstairs. She had peeked out her window and saw a figure walking away from the house in a strange, hopping shuffle that made her uneasy.
The next day, her mother had packed what little money and possessions they owned and they had fled to Ipswich, only a few miles away. She learned that only a few days later, the Federal Government had raided Innsmouth, arresting many people from the village, and putting the entire place under lock and key. No one was allowed in or out. She didnâ€™t know why. Her mother wouldnâ€™t tell her.
Edward Derby was 12 years old and from Arkham. He was a small boy with brown hair, glasses, and large front teeth. He wasnâ€™t very strong but he was probably the smartest of the cousins. His father was an ancient history professor at Miskatonic University and since Edward was old enough to walk, heâ€™d been able to read. Two years before, heâ€™d discovered his father kept certain books locked in his desk. Instead of asking him about it, Edward made a copy of the key and snuck into the library when his father was at work. He found some rare books: a Latin one called Othuum Omnicia, and two in English: The Secret Watcher and Marvels of Science. It took Edward more than a year, but he managed to read all three without being caught.
What he read fascinated him. They told of another world hidden just below reality and illuminated secrets most men would run screaming from. Edward applied himself in school, learning Latin, astronomy, and physics. While other boys were building soapbox racers, he was reading any occult books he could sneak out of the library.
He had a theory. Certain angles, in certain places had power. These powers could be heightened by the positions of the starts, making it possible to open gateways between various times, places, and maybe even realms of existence. He knew that with enough time, he could figure it all out. Part of him was eager for that while part of him feared what might lay behind the doorways. From what heâ€™d read, some of them appeared to have been carefully constructed and shut, as if barriers were in place to stop travel from one side to the other.
He looked forward to the trip to Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s farm. The air, the food, the simple-mindedness of it all really recharged his mind. Maybe heâ€™d figure out what was bothering him about those books and theories. Maybe not. But he was sure thereâ€™d be candy apples there. He just loved those things. Besides, if his calculations were correct, Dunwich was supposed to have lots and lots of those sealed doorways between this reality and what lay outside of it. Not quite as good as candy but something to keep an eye out for.
Donald Sutton was 11 years old and the only cousin of their age from Kingsport. He was a small boy with short brown hair. He was quick and smart. Both his parents were artists who owned their own gallery in Kingsport and he hoped to follow in their footsteps one day. He was seldom without his sketchbook and was told he had a remarkable gift for one of so young an age. He was a rather sensitive person and able to see things in a way few others could.
Sometimes he saw things, people mostly, who were dead. He guessed they were ghosts and heâ€™d always been able to see them. It didnâ€™t happen every day but usually at least a couple times a week. Mostly he ignored them but, once in a while, heâ€™d give them a nod to acknowledge their presence. They usually kept to themselves â€¦ except for Simon.
Simon seemed to never be far away. He was a nine-year-old boy who died in a carriage accident a long time ago. Heâ€™d been hanging around with Donald since he was six and they talked almost every day. Simon looked out for Donald by giving him advice or warning him if a bully was planning something mean. Heâ€™d always been a good friend and Donald guessed he was just lonely. When people caught him talking to Simon, he just told them the boy was his imaginary friend. That excuse wasnâ€™t working as well lately, though. He asked Simon to be more careful when he talked to him. He didnâ€™t want to get caught talking to himself again. Heâ€™d overheard his parents talking about it and they were worried, thinking he needed some â€œrealâ€ friends.
Donald always loved the parties at Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s farm. The food, running around playing, picking apples: it was something he looked forward to all year long. He knew heâ€™d be sketching for weeks after all the things heâ€™d remember seeing on the trip. It was a great inspiration for him. He usually saw lots of ghosts in Kingsport around Halloween; that was another reason he enjoyed being in Dunwich for the holiday.
George Weedon was a 13-year-old boy from Arkham and the last of the cousins their age. He was a strong kid and very much into sports of all kinds. There was nothing he enjoyed more than a good game. Baseball and football were his favorites and he hoped to be a pitcher or a quarterback one day. His father always pushed him to do better, try harder, and be the best. It certainly wasnâ€™t easy to try harder when he was already giving it all heâ€™d got.
Sometimes he dreamed about his father, screaming at him as he struck out with the bases loaded. In the dream, his father had called him worthless and weak, making everyone laugh at him. Sometimes in those dreams he just stood there. Other times he dreamt of showing his father how hard he could swing that bat.
He thanked goodness for his mother, though. If it werenâ€™t for her, heâ€™d be lost. She was always there, telling him sheâ€™d be proud of him and love him whether he came in first or dead last. When he pushed himself, it was for her, not for his father. When he made it to the majors, it would be for her.
Arkham wasnâ€™t a big city but he liked it well enough. Moving about town on his paper route, heâ€™d glimpsed things out of the corner of his eye though. There were storm drains heâ€™d never get too close to, abandoned houses he stayed out of, and things he just didnâ€™t talk about. People said the college had lots of spooky old books and things professors brought back from Egypt and the Amazon that were cursed. Sometimes at night, when the air was still, he could hear things whispering and moving about in the graveyard across the street from his house.
Heâ€™d been looking forward to the trip all year. With baseball season over, Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s party was how he liked to celebrate. He looked forward to running around all day long with his cousins and just enjoying the time outside. Great Grandpa really threw a great party, going out of his way for Donald and the other kids. He wished all adults were as nice as he was.
The cousins hadnâ€™t seen each other since Christmas in Kingsport at Great Aunt Normaâ€™s the year before. That had been an adventure in and of itself when their cousin Melba had taken them all to the dreamlands and theyâ€™d saved the children there from the Krampus, who turned out to be the father of Gretchen von Khol, the wife of their cousin Wally Weedon. It had all ended happily, however, when Gretchenâ€™s father had appeared in Kingsport to share Christmas with the whole family.
Nobody knew hold old Great Grandpa Silas was, but he was old. Really old. Maybe close to a hundred. That didnâ€™t stop the man from working his farm or being more active than men half his age. Great Grandpa Silas was a very fortunate man, well-liked by his neighbors, with a prosperous farm, which was a rare thing in Dunwich, and a large family. He was a tough old bird who enjoyed the simpler things in life, good food, a good pipe, and parties. The only thing Great Grandpa Silas liked more than a good party was Halloween.
The trip to the remote farm was a long one, the roads poor, but the six families wouldnâ€™t miss it for the world. During the day, thereâ€™d be loads of activities for the younger family members to enjoy - apple picking, pumpkin carving, hayrides, and potato sack races. After dark, there would be a huge feast followed by lots of desserts. As the hour grew late, the adults would tell ghost stories before retiring for the night. The families would then leave the next morning, returning home and starting to look forward to the next year.
They all arrived at the large house deep in the hills of Dunwich, a place all of them could trace their roots back to. Great Grandpa Silas had plenty of land; his nearest neighbor was almost three miles away. As the families gathered in front of the house, exchanging greetings, Silas came out of the house. Greeting everyone by name, for the old man was still sharp as a tack, he saved his warmest welcome for his six great-grandchildren.
â€œWelcome back ta the farm!â€ he said. â€œAhâ€™m ah hopinâ€™ yer ready for ah good time, cause ahâ€™ve gots plenty planned fer ya today.â€
He hugged each of the children as his rough hands snuck a silver dollar to them with a sly wink. He was a rugged old man with a thick gray beard and mustache and a full head of gray hair
â€œLetâ€™s keep dis quiet,â€ he said. â€œDonâ€™t want ma grandchildren to think ahâ€™m spoilinâ€™ ya. Ah did da same when dey were yer age donâ€™chaâ€™know. Come on now, round back. Ahâ€™ve got some cake laid out. Who wants some cold cider?â€
The children were delighted, Edward asking about candy apples. Great Grandpa Silas told the boy they had candle apples and cake, cookies and pie, as well as apple cider.
â€œBy my calculations, those are the best!â€ Edward said.
â€œYouâ€™re a calculator,â€ Great Grandpa Silas said. â€œI knew that.â€
â€œOh, I am, I am,â€ Edward said. â€œThatâ€™s what they call me in school.â€
â€œCan I please have some apple cider?â€ Alice asked.
There were two large buildings on Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s farm: the house and the barn. The barn had three horses, a cow, a wagon, and lots of stored farm tools. The house was two stories tall and large. There was also a chicken coop, a pig pen, and a small pond with a few geese within. Behind the buildings was the apple orchard and the pumpkin patch with barley fields and cornfields beyond those.
They had arrived around 11:30 a.m. Tables and chairs were set outside with food and drink laid out for the adults. They sat around and chatted, relaxing.
The first thing Great Grandpa Silas had for the children was apple picking.
â€œWhoâ€™s ready?â€ he asked.
The children hollered in delight. Each of them was given two large baskets to fill with apples.
â€œOne of â€˜ems for you ta take home,â€ Great Grandpa Silas said. â€œThe otherâ€™s for me ta keep â€˜cause I need help on the farm, pickinâ€™ apples.â€
Edward and Gerdie noticed that most of the apples had been picked off the trees but a small section had obviously been left unpicked for the children.
â€œWell-well-well-well, gee Grandpa, if you didnâ€™t leave apples for us to pick each year, you wouldnâ€™t - you wouldnâ€™t need the help,â€ Edward said.
â€œYouâ€™re too clever for your own good, little man,â€ Great Grandpa Silas said.
â€œThatâ€™s what everyone tells me,â€ Edward said.
Great Grandpa Silas ruffled the boyâ€™s hair.
â€œGet out there and help them pick them apples,â€ Great Grandpa Silas said.
He raised his voice so all the children could hear.
â€œBut donâ€™cha think ahâ€™m not gonna pay a good dayâ€™s wages fer da help,â€ he said. â€œNow, get ta pickin ya lazy youngin, letâ€™s see how long et takes yâ€™all. Hurry up now! When yer done theyâ€™ll be a hayride to da pumpkin patch. Scoot!â€
â€œGonna get â€˜em first!â€ George said.
He ran towards the apple orchard with a basket in each hand.
â€œHey!â€ Alice called. â€œNo fair!â€
â€œYou get back here, George!â€ Gordon said.
He ran after the boy, taking up the challenge.
â€œThereâ€™s no point in racing,â€ Gerdie said to Edward. â€œThe baskets are the same size.â€
Alice and Donald ran after the others.
â€œWell â€¦ well-well some of the apples - some of the apples - theyâ€™ll get - theyâ€™ll get the best apples,â€ Edward said. â€œIf-if they get there first, theyâ€™ll pick the best apples.â€
George didnâ€™t seem to be following that theory as the boy was picking any apples within reach as fast as he could. Edward was quickest though, picking the biggest apples up fast and grabbing the ones he liked. Alice was fast as well, using her switchblade to cut the apples and filling two baskets very quickly. George actually came in third for his own race. Gordon filled his fourth, followed by Donald and Gerdie. She didnâ€™t seem to care to race but picked the best apples she could at her own pace.
â€œIâ€™ve-Iâ€™ve read up all year, looking at signs of good apples,â€ Edward said.
They returned to Great Grandpa Silas, who had another silver dollar for each of them as well as a hug for the girls and firm handshake for the boys.
â€œThank you Grandpa!â€ Alice said.
It was time for the hayride after that. Going along with the children and Great Grandpa Silas was Grandpa Saul, Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s son and Gordonâ€™s grandfather. Grandpa Saul had a face like a shrunken apple and was clean shaven. He was going bald and wore a newsboyâ€™s hat. A pipe was firmly clenched in his teeth though he wasnâ€™t smoking at the moment.
The hayride left the farm and followed the bumpy trail between the fields, circling around for almost a mile. There was singing with Silas leading the children. They saw the large barley field and, on the way back to the house, they passed the huge cornfield with the forest beyond it. Scarecrows stood guard over both fields. Great Grandpa Silas pointed out the ancient trees.
â€œDats tha haunted forest where witches once gathered fer dark rites,â€ Great Grandpa Silas said. â€œDid aye ever tell ye youngin bouts that?â€
The children shook their heads.
â€œNo?â€ he went on. â€œWell, ahâ€™ll be tellin dat one tonight, when weâ€™re tellin ghost stories ba da fire, if ye children kin stay up dat late.â€
The scarecrows made Alice think of dead bodies hanging from poles.
â€œWhat does Gerdie think?â€ Gordon asked.
â€œThey like to come to life and dance in the field,â€ Gerdie said. â€œBut theyâ€™re made of straw.â€
They returned to the farm. Shortly after, around 2 p.m., a small band of local musicians arrived to perform.
It was time for pumpkin picking after that. Each of the children was given a sack and work knives to cut the pumpkins from the vines. Gordon ran to fetch his axe from the front porch. All the other children except George noticed that one third of the field hadnâ€™t been harvested, left for the children just for that occasion.
â€œGo get a pumpkin,â€ Great Grandpa Silas said to them when Gordon returned. â€œTo make Jack-o-lanterns out of. Weâ€™ll be needen um ta scare off da spooks en hobgoblins dat are sure ta be out tonight. Donâ€™cha be fergettin wot tonight is now. Da fate of the entire family es en yer hands! Now scoot!â€
The children went into the patch to pick out pumpkins.
â€œHey Gordie, can I borrow your axe sometime?â€ Alice asked.
â€œHmm,â€ Gordon said. â€œNah. I mean, Iâ€™ll cut something for you if you want, but Iâ€™m not going to give it up.â€
â€œOh please! No?â€
â€œYou got a knife. You donâ€™t need an axe.â€
â€œBut this thing is â€¦ okay.â€
â€œIâ€™ll think about it.
â€œHey, do-do you all - do you all know that pumpkins are actually fruits and not vegetables?â€ Edward said.
They all looked at him.
â€œReally?â€ Alice asked.
â€œAugh!â€ Donald said.
â€œEverybody knows that, Eddie!â€ George said.
â€œI-I-I didnâ€™tâ”€â€ Edward said.
â€œI didnâ€™t know that!â€ Alice said.
â€œI didnâ€™t know that until I read it in a book,â€ Edward said.
â€œI knew it,â€ George said. â€œI knew it. I knew it.â€
â€œThese city boys think they know something about farms,â€ Gerdie said.
George glared at her.
They picked out their pumpkins. Gerdie found a strange, twisted pumpkin that was oddly colored. She also found a tiny pumpkin for her pocket. George, Donald, and Alice picked out the biggest pumpkins they could find. Edward got a little pumpkin that could fit in his hand but was also big enough to carve.
They returned with their pumpkins and Great Grandpa Silas had them sit them down on a table prepared for them. They were given kitchen knives and spoons to carve their jack-o-lanterns, Great Grandpa Silas promising them a reward if they met his high standards.
â€œOh wow!â€ Alice said, pulling out the pumpkin innards. â€œDouble the fun!â€
Edward, Alice, and Gordon had really nice looking pumpkins. Gordon make his like one of the scarecrow faces out in the field. Edward had carved a simple, happy face with very large eyes. He had been going for the look of his own glasses but it hadnâ€™t quite worked out. Aliceâ€™s jack-o-lantern had really big eyes and really sharp teeth. Gerdie had carved the strange runes she understood into the pumpkin but didnâ€™t put a face upon it. It didnâ€™t really look like a jack-o-lantern. Donald had gone for a regular face that was a little more intricate face of a krampus but it hadnâ€™t turned out very well. Georgeâ€™s had triangular eyes, a lopsided mouth, and a triangle nose. It was not very good.
â€œItâ€™s good enough,â€ George said. â€œI donâ€™t care. Iâ€™m no artist. No little pansy.
He looked at Donald but he obviously cared.
Gordonâ€™s father praised his excellently carved pumpkin.
As they finished up working on their pumpkin, a beautiful young girl walked up the road to the house. She carried two baskets and introduced herself as Cousin Maureen from the other side of the valley. She wore a simple dress and shoes. The baskets contained cornbread, an apple pie, and two jugs of fine applejack moonshine. She had features that resembled the rest of the family and she was obviously related. She was 16 years old and had strikingly pale, ice-blue eyes. She introduced herself to each of the children.
Over the next couple of hours, she talked to each of the children, getting each of them alone for at least a few minutes to find out their names, where they were from, and introducing herself to them. She smiled happily at each of them.
â€œWe have the same blue eyes!â€ Gerdie told her.
â€œWe do!â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œYouâ€™re so pretty.â€
â€œI read a book one time about alligators,â€ Edward told her.
She seemed amazed by that.
She doted on Aliceâ€™s prettiness and told Donald she wanted him to draw her. He did so, at least making a basic sketch.
She told each of them: â€œNow, ahâ€™m knowin ye youngins might be tempted ta git into the moonshine. Etâ€™s mighty strong stuff en kids yer ages shouldna be drinkinâ€™ et no-hows. Stay clear oh et, ya hear?â€
Neither Gordon nor George was pleased to meet the girl as, when she walked over to each of them, just for a moment they saw her as an ancient, rotting corpse in a filthy dress and stinking like rotten bodies. It only lasted a moment before it was gone but it was quite disturbing. Gordon gripped his axe a little tighter.
The adults were not shy about trying the obviously very hard applejack.
Great Grandpa Silas called the children over for the potato sack race. Each of them got into a potato sack and Great Grandpa Silas lined them all up. It was a hundred yards.
When Great Grandpa Silas said â€œGo,â€ Edward immediately fell over in his potato sack. The others got a good lead on him. It was a close race but Gerdie came in first place. Donald was close behind her with the other cousins behind them. Edward was in the rear, glasses askew.
As the sun went down, everyone gathered for a delicious dinner. The adults filled the huge main table while the children were relegated to the smaller â€œChildrenâ€™s Tableâ€ in the kitchen. Roast goose with all the fixings was served, followed by various pies, cakes, and puddings for dessert.
They noticed Cousin Maureen was no longer at the party. Gerdie was disappointed and Donald was upset that he didnâ€™t get to finish his drawing of her.
â€œI didnâ€™t get to show her my switchblade,â€ Alice said with a frown.
They heard some talk about her from the dining room where the adults discussing her leaving early. They guessed she had a long walk and wanted to get home before it got to dark. Someone mentioned it was going to be cold that night and someone else wondered if there was going to be a frost. It sounded really dull.
â€œAlice!â€ her mother called to her from the dining room. â€œEat your supper first.â€
Alice had gone over to the bowl of pudding before they finished and put a finger in. She groaned.
â€œYouâ€™re going to go to bed before the ghost stories if you donâ€™t finish your supper,â€ her mother called.
Alice stamped her little foot and groaned. She sat down at the table to finish the meal.
Donald looked around for a dog, slipping his vegetables to Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s old bloodhound, Boomer. His parents narrowed their eyes at him but they didnâ€™t say anything. Donald wasnâ€™t sure if they had seen or not. The ghost of Simon, whom the rest thought was his imaginary friend, sassed him when he did so.
â€œDonald,â€ Simon said. â€œYouâ€™re supposed to eat those. Theyâ€™re good for you, you know?â€
â€œBut they suck,â€ Donald said.
â€œI know but â€¦ no they donâ€™t!â€ Simon said. â€œYou didnâ€™t even try them!â€
â€œI tried them before,â€ Donald said. â€œThey suck!â€
â€œYou didnâ€™t try them at your grandpas!â€ Simon said.
â€œDonald, shut up!â€ George said. â€œWhy are you always talking to that â€¦ fake guy.â€
â€œNo, you shut up!â€ Donald said.
â€œNo, you shut up!â€
â€œNo, you shut up!â€
â€œNo, you shut up!â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you both shut up?â€ Gordon said.
â€œNo, you shut up!â€ George said to Gordon.
â€œHow can he see you?â€ Donald whispered to Simon, thinking Gordon was talking about the two of them.
Simon just shrugged.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, why donâ€™t all three of you shut up?â€ Gordon said sarcastically.
â€œHe does see me!â€ he said.
Donald gasped as well.
Dessert was served and the parents let their children eat a little bit more as it was a special occasion. Alice ate her pudding with her fingers until her mother stopped her.
â€œAlice!â€ her mother said. â€œStop!â€
â€œBut I ate my dinner!â€ Alice said.
â€œUse your â€¦ thereâ€™s a spoon right there!â€
â€œThis is fine!â€
â€œJust eat with your spoon. Please.â€
Donald showed off his empty plate.
â€œIâ€™m done!â€ he called.
â€œYou havenâ€™t been feeding it to the dog, have you?â€ his father asked.
â€œNo,â€ Donald said. â€œNot me.â€
â€œAll right,â€ his father said. â€œHave some dessert. Have however much you want. Itâ€™s a party.â€
â€œYes!â€ Donald said.
After dinner, everyone gathered in the living room which was the largest room in the house. Jugs of moonshine were passed around with pipes being smoked and dips of chewing tobacco enjoyed. The adults filled various couches, armchairs, and rocking chairs, all making a semi-circle around the enormous brick fireplace. The children were seated in the center of the gathering on pillows on the floor. Great Grandpa Silas occupied his favorite rocking chair beside the fire.
Alice stared at the fire.
For several hours, the adults all took turns telling ghost stories. The Morgan Family, living across Massachusetts, had heard plenty of them over the years, more than a few of them even being claimed as being true. The parents of Gordon and Gerdie had the most stories as so many odd things often happened in Dunwich. They talked about Sentinel Hill and Table Rock. Gordonâ€™s father, Randolph Brewster, told them about the four boys who had died in the mill near the town right before it was to open.
â€œCut right in half!â€ he said dramatically. â€œNow their ghosts are there, haunting the place. Thatâ€™s why the mill went out of business.â€
Edward raised his hand.
â€œWhat, Edward?â€ Uncle Randolph said.
â€œAre-are-are the ghosts cut in half also?â€ Edward asked.
â€œYes!â€ Uncle Randolph said. â€œAnd their guts are hanging out!â€
â€œWhich way?â€ Alice asked.
â€œThey were cut long ways!â€ Uncle Randolph said.
â€œOh, goodness,â€ Alice said.
Edward raised his hands.
â€œYes Edward?â€ Uncle Randolph said.
â€œI-I donâ€™t think that - I donâ€™t think if their guts were out that their-their-their normal body functions would happen the same say,â€ Edward said.
â€œTheyâ€™re ghosts, Edward!â€ Uncle Randolph said.
â€œHow can they walk if theyâ€™re cut in half long ways?â€ Gerdie said.
â€œBecause they flop,â€ Uncle Randolph said. â€œLike weird â€¦ cut-in-half â€¦ spiders. Yeah.â€
â€œBut donâ€™t ghosts float?â€ Alice asked.
â€œThese donâ€™t,â€ Uncle Randolph said. â€œThese donâ€™t float.â€
Donald looked at Simon, who just shrugged.
â€œJust because their bodyâ€™s cut in half doesnâ€™t mean their spirit is,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œThese are,â€ Uncle Randolph said. â€œItâ€™s terrifying. Theyâ€™ll wrap their intestines around your throat!â€
â€œHow can a spirit be cut in half?â€ Alice asked.
â€œThey just â€¦ Oh God!â€ Uncle Randolph said. â€œWhat, Edward?â€
Edward lowered his hand.
â€œDo they have to be cut in half again?â€ Alice asked.
â€œIs there a spirit blade?â€ Gerdie asked.
â€œThere must be,â€ Alice said.
â€œDo they wrap their intestines with their hands?â€ Edward said. â€œBecause I-I think a rope would be more handy for that job.â€
â€œNo!â€ Uncle Randolph said. â€œTheir intestines just come and wrap around you and strangle you and then they take you with them.â€
Edward slowly raised his hand again.
â€œWhat, Edward?â€ Uncle Randolph said.
â€œIf-if their intestines - if their intestines - if their intestines go-go on their own, what-what controls them?â€ Edward asked.
â€œNobody knows!â€ Uncle Randolph said dramatically.
Donald and Simon exchanged a look. Simon shrugged again. He poked himself in the belly.
â€œMaybe thereâ€™s little people in the intestines,â€ Gerdie said to Uncle Randolph.
The man just frowned and sat down, finished with his story. Some of the other adults rolled their eyes. Others laughed politely behind their hands.
Just before midnight, Great Grandpa Silas took his turn. He leaned forward in his rocking chair. Gerdie asked to sit on his lap and he patted it and she climbed up onto him.
â€œNow, tanight be been hearin lots ah stories,â€ he said. â€œAll of em good, all of dem entertain, but how many kin say der story es true? Not many, ah gather. How many kin prove der story is true?â€
â€œIt doesnâ€™t seem to me that many have proved their stories are true,â€ Edward said.
â€œDonâ€™t interrupt, Edward!â€ Edwardâ€™s mother hissed at him.
â€œEven fewer ahâ€™d be guessin,â€ Great Grandpa Silas went on. â€œNow â€¦ ma story kin do both. Etâ€™s true, en ah kin prove et ta be so. Why, en dis very house lies some oh da possessions oh da Witch of Altar Rock, encludin her black dagger which she used to offer children up as sacrifice ta da dark forces pushin ta get en our world.
â€œNow, when ma father was alive, long afore any here wus born, he told me dis story. Da familyâ€™s been passin et down ever since. When ah was just ah baby, living in dis house, which ma grandfather built wit his own hands, ah went missin. Now, first off, I couldnâ€™t yet walk. Second, et was night time. And lastly, et was Halloween night! Snatched outta ma crib, right out from under my ma and paâ€™s nose! How, ye sez? Well, cause ahâ€™d been carried away ba evil spirits, taken by a servant of tha dark lord himself. Ah was kidnapped by tha Witch of Altar Rock.
â€œMa daddy knew just what ta do. He had no time ta spare. He gathered up his five brothers, one ma uncle Jonas was a preacher. They took up their Kentucky rifles, da good book, en a couple oh trusty huntinâ€™ dogs and set out ta track her down! Her trail led into the woods, da very woods out behind where ma cornfield now sets.
â€œThey say that evil spirits rose up to try ta spook â€˜em, but our kin er made of sterner stuff den dat, ainâ€™t we? Yes sir, da Morganâ€™s always had nerves oâ€™ steel en letâ€™s hope we always do! Anyhows, inta dat forest dey went, following tha dogs to a place deep in the woods up on the hill. Der was a set of boulders set there, one of â€˜em covered with carvinâ€™ with a flat top. Et was a place dey all knew about, a place ye kin still find if yer brave or foolish enough: Altar Rock.
â€œDat night der was ah bonfire set up. Der I wuz, laid out on da table surrounded by jack-o-lanterns. Why, ye say, well Uncle Jonas always set et wuz to keep da evil spirits at bay, cause ma soul was to be offered to something else, something far more foul. Da Witch was there beside me, beautiful they say she wuz, with eyes glowinâ€™ in da night. She took up her dagger and raised it above ma head, callinâ€™ on Da Dark Demon ta save her. Our kin shot, jus en da nick oh time. Da witch went down, calling out ta her master as she lay dyin. Den something, something big and dark en evil came outta da woods. Ma pa en his brothers shot et, da dogs attacked, but it jusâ€™ kept comin.
â€œAll seemed lost â€¦ until da witch drew her last breath, den all da evil sheâ€™s conjured up went with her when her soul got sucked enta da pit of hell. Da evil spirits, da dark demon, dey all faded away like wood smoke en da wind. Dat night something else happened too. Two people who suddenly went blind en another who was mute were suddenly cured! Ya see, theyâ€™d been cursed by da Witch oh Altar Rock.
â€œAnyhows, dey took me home en warned everyone ta stay outta da forest near Altar Rock, en never ta go near it on Halloween night. But, ye know people, some hadta see fer demselves. Folk went dere en not all of em come back. Some who returned said they saw something up there. The ghost oh a beautiful woman, coming towards em with outstretched hands. Ya see, such a dark soul ainâ€™t even welcome in hell. The devil spit that witch back out en ta dis day her ghost haunts the woods round Altar Rock.
â€œYe don believe me ye say? Yer thinking oh seein fer yerself? Well, like ah said, ah kin prove ma story es true â€¦ why â€¦ upstairs en dis very house es â€¦â€
At that point, the grandfather clock began to chime the stroke of midnight and Great Grandpa Silas stopped speaking with a mighty yawn. Donald was startled by the noise from the clock, almost letting out a shout. Edward, Donald, and George noticed that not only was great grandpa yawning but all of the adults in the room were as well. By the final stroke of midnight, everyone other than the children was asleep.
Donald looked around, nervous.
â€œWhy are they sleeping?â€ Alice said. â€œThe story was just getting good.â€
â€œThatâ€™s rude,â€ Gerdie said. â€œGrandpa hadnâ€™t finished with his story!â€
â€œGrandpaâ€™s sleeping too!â€ George said to Gerdie. â€œHowâ€™s he going to finish?â€
Gerdie turned and shook his shoulders but the old man didnâ€™t awaken. Gordon went over to his parents and shook them but they wouldnâ€™t wake up. The other children likewise tried to rouse their parents without any effect. Donald slapped his father firmly across the face. It didnâ€™t wake him.
â€œWhy are we still awake?â€ Gerdie said.
Donald hid under a pillow.
â€œWell, if theyâ€™re breathing, at least,â€ Alice said. â€œThey must be dog gone tired.â€
â€œWhat?â€ George said.
â€œWe did do a lot today,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYeah,â€ Alice said.
â€œWhat?â€ George said again.
â€œDo all adults fall asleep at midnight?â€ Gerdie asked.
â€œI guess so,â€ Alice said. â€œI mean, we should be asleep right now.â€
â€œNo!â€ George said. â€œThatâ€™s â€¦ no! They didnâ€™t! Somethingâ€™s wrong!â€
â€œUh-huh!â€ Donald said from under his pillow.
â€œHow do you know?â€ Gerdie said. â€œItâ€™s past our bedtime.â€
â€œIâ€™ve stayed up late lots!â€ George said. â€œIâ€™m a city boy, remember? We do what we want.â€
â€œI-I stay up - I stay up - I stay up late too,â€ Edward said. â€œBut â€¦ itâ€™s usually to read.â€
â€œYour parents are up late sometimes, right?â€ George said.
â€œI guess,â€ Edward said.
â€œRight?â€ George said.
â€œYeah-yeah-yeah-yeah,â€ Edward stammered. â€œHe-he-he reads too.â€
â€œSee?â€ George said. â€œItâ€™s not just midnight, they go to sleep. Somethingâ€™s wrong.â€
He shook his dad very hard. A little too hard.
â€œHey, Iâ€™ve got an idea,â€ Alice said.
â€œOh no,â€ Donald muttered from under the pillows.
â€œGet out of there!â€ George said to him.
â€œYou know how all the adults are asleep, so thereâ€™s no one stopping us from going into the attic!â€ Alice said.
â€œGrandpa did say it was upstairs,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYeah!â€ Alice said.
â€œI know something thatâ€™ll wake my dad up,â€ Gordon said. â€œHey, pa. Iâ€™m gonna go get some of that moonshine.â€
Donald perked up. Gordonâ€™s father didnâ€™t even stir in his deep sleep.
â€œOh â€¦ wow,â€ Gordon said. â€œHe really is out.â€
Gordon nudged Donald and they headed for the kitchen. Edward followed them.
Gerdie, meanwhile, went over to the grandfather clock. It was an ancient machine but had been kept in tip-top condition, the exterior polished and very clean and the beveled glass on the lower door spotless. She opened it up and saw it was working normally, the weights and chains hanging pristinely and the pendulum swinging back and forth. It ticked contentedly and was empty aside for a few clock keys on the floor in the back.
In the kitchen, Gordon and Donald opened up one of the bottles of applejack.
â€œCâ€™mere Boomer!â€ Gordon said to Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s bloodhound.
Donald sniffed at the applejack and was appalled at the stench of something that had been dead for days. He felt his stomach turn at the horrible smell.
â€œThis doesnâ€™t smell like mommyâ€™s wine,â€ he said, shoving the jug at Gordon.
He gagged. Gordon smelled the bottle and it almost made him sick as well. It wasnâ€™t moonshine. It was like the stink of a dead rat heâ€™d found under an abandoned shed two years ago, late in the summer. The stink was terrible.
â€œWho brought the moonshine?â€ Donald asked.
â€œCousin Maureen,â€ Gordon said.
â€œSheâ€™s a witch!â€ Donald said.
Gordon called Boomer over and put the jug near the sniffing dog. The animal turned his nose up to the terrible smell, stumbling away.
â€œBoomer eats everything,â€ Gordon said, concerned. â€œBoomerâ€™ll eat anything.â€
The girls entered the kitchen. Theyâ€™d heard what sounded like the boys getting sick and decided to investigate. Donald looked a little green and Boomer was in the corner and didnâ€™t look well.
Gordon took the jug back out to the living room and held it under his fatherâ€™s nose. The man didnâ€™t react at all.
â€œJ-J-J-J-Jiminy,â€ Edward, who had followed him, said. â€œSmells like something died in that.â€
â€œHow ya figure, Ed?â€ Gordon said. â€œHow ya figure that Ed? Was it the smell?â€
â€œIt-it-it â€¦ was the smell, yeah,â€ Edward said.
â€œIt was the smell,â€ Gordon said. â€œAh.â€
They returned to the kitchen.
â€œMaybe it poisoned them,â€ Gerdie said. â€œBut Cousin Maureen wouldnâ€™t do that.â€
â€œSheâ€™s really nice,â€ Donald said.
â€œWhat?â€ George said. â€œNo!â€
â€œTheyâ€™re still breathing!â€ Alice said.
â€œLet me see that stuff!â€ George said to Gordon.
â€œYeah, here, have some,â€ Donald said.
George took the jug from Gordon and sniffed it carefully. He made a face.
â€œThat smells like Cousin Maureen smell!â€ he said.
â€œWhat?â€ Donald said.
â€œOh, you smelled it too?â€ Gordon said.
â€œWhat?â€ George said. â€œDidnâ€™t everybody?â€
â€œI did,â€ Gordon said.
â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ Alice asked.
â€œShe looked all messed up and stank!â€ George said.
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you say anything, dummy?â€ Gordon said.
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you? Dummy!â€
â€œBecause they didnâ€™t act like it!â€
â€œYou didnâ€™t either!â€
Donald looked at Simon, standing nearby.
â€œDid you know about this?â€ he asked the ghost.
Simon shrugged and shook his head. He went over and sniffed at the jug George held, making a face.
â€œYou can smell?â€ Donald said.
Simon nodded and smiled at him.
â€œYeah, Cousin Maureen, thereâ€™s something wrong with her!â€ George said. â€œRight?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Gordon said.
â€œOkay, it wasnâ€™t just me,â€ George said.
â€œLooked all bloody and weird,â€ Gordon said.
â€œDid she smell likeâ”€?â€ George said.
â€œI-I-I-I thought she was really - she listened - she-she really liked when I talked - when I talked aboutâ”€,â€ Edward said.
â€œNobody likes when you talk, Edward!â€ George said. â€œThat should be a clue right there!â€
â€œShut up!â€ Alice said. â€œWhat are you talking about?â€
â€œCousin Maureen. Thereâ€™s something wrong with her. And she broughtâ”€â€
â€œSheâ€™s a wonderful lady! How dare you say that about her!â€
â€œWhere is she now? Why isnâ€™t she here, helping us?â€
â€œSheâ€™s probably gone home. It was getting late!â€
â€œYou know Cousin Maureen?â€ George said to Gerdie.
â€œWell, she says she was around here,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œDo you?â€ George said to Gordon. â€œYou ever seen her before?â€
â€œI never seen her,â€ Gordon said.
They all looked at each other.
â€œCâ€™mon Edward!â€ George said. â€œWake up! Youâ€™re the smart one here!â€
â€œWhat?â€ Edward said. â€œWhat? What? What? Well-well-well looks like - looks like we found a common element in this mystery puzzle.â€
Donald gave him a look.
â€œDidnâ€™t the adults seem to know her?â€ Gerdie said.
â€œPa didnâ€™t even know her,â€ Gordon said.
When the children all talked about it, they realized none of the adults had acted like they had ever seen Maureen before in their lives.
â€œWell, she was invited, right?â€ Alice said. â€œSomeone had to have known her!â€
â€œYeah, Grandpa wouldnâ€™t let her in if she was a stranger,â€ Donald said. â€œWould he?â€
â€œGrandpaâ€™s mind ainâ€™t what it used to be,â€ George said. â€œMaybe he didnâ€™t remember and so he just â€¦ why would â€¦ how we she even know about the party?â€
â€œWhatâ”€?â€ Edward said.
â€œIunno,â€ Alice said.
â€œIf she wasnâ€™t invited?â€
Edward raised his hand.
â€œJust talk, Edward!â€ George said.
â€œWhatâ”€?â€ Edward said.
â€œWeâ€™re not in school,â€ George said.
â€œWhat-what-what-what- what did - what-what did - what did she - what did she look like to you?â€ Edward stuttered.
â€œLooked like she was all rotten,â€ George said. â€œLike her skin was all tight up, close to her skull. She was all messed up in the face. There was blood! There was blood!â€
â€œYeah,â€ Gordon said.
â€œIt only lasted a second,â€ George said.
â€œDonâ€™t it make her seem like the ghost in the forest?â€ Alice asked.
â€œI didnâ€™t know about the ghost in the forest when I saw her earlier!â€
â€œBut youâ€™re just saying it now! After we heard the story!â€
â€œYouâ€™re trying to spook us, arenâ€™t you?â€ Donald said.
â€œCâ€™mon,â€ Alice said.
â€œBoth of you,â€ Donald said.
â€œCross my heart, hope to die,â€ George said, going through the motions of crossing his heart. â€œStick a needle in my eye, if Iâ€™m lying. May my parents never, ever wake up if Iâ€™m lying.â€
â€œBut what are weâ”€â€ Alice said.
â€œCut me!â€ George said. â€œIâ€™ll give you a blood swear.â€
â€œEw,â€ Donald said.
â€œAs much as Iâ€™d like to, Iâ€™d rather not,â€ Alice said.
â€œGor-Gordie-Gordie Iâ€™d like to hear your end - your end of the story,â€ Edward said.
â€œI agree with him,â€ Gordon said. â€œAnd I never do that.â€
â€œYeah, we donâ€™t get along,â€ George said.
â€œI never agree with this dummy,â€ Gordon said.
â€œThatâ€™s true,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYeah, heâ€™s so mean,â€ George said.
â€œYouâ€™re trying to scare us,â€ Donald said again.
â€œYou make a little mistake and heâ€™s all over you,â€ George said.
â€œUh-huh,â€ Gordon said sarcastically.
â€œNow now,â€ Donald said.
â€œW-W-Wâ”€â€ Edward said.
â€œI ainâ€™t lying,â€ George said. â€œDonâ€™t say Iâ€™m lying! Iâ€™m not lying.â€
â€œWell-well we need - we-we-we need to find an explanation for - for why - for why the rest of us didnâ€™t see an-an-an old - an old skin bag, and instead saw the - the beautiful lovely woman who likes talking about a-a-astronomy with me,â€ Edward said.
â€œI thought it was alligators!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œHow we gonna do that?â€ George said.
Donald looked at his sketchbook sadly.
â€œI-I read - I read - I read a - I read - I read a lot - lots of things,â€ Edward said.
â€œWait!â€ Gordon said to Donald. â€œIf we describe it, can you sketch it?â€
â€œProbably,â€ Donald said.
They did so, Gordon and George describing what they saw over several minutes and Donald sketching it as best he could. In the end, the boys agreed Donald had made a passable image of what they both had seen. It was unpleasant and none of them liked what heâ€™d drawn. Cousin Maureenâ€™s face was drawn and bloody and disgusting-looking.
â€œThis is what they said she looks like,â€ Donald said, handing around the sketch but still unsure.
â€œThatâ€™s pretty good,â€ George said. â€œYouâ€™re pretty good, Donald.â€
Donald just stared at it in disbelief.
â€œMaybe we should go upstairs and find Grandpaâ€™s â€˜proof,â€™â€ Gerdie said.
â€œThatâ€™s what Iâ€™ve been saying!â€ Alice said.
â€œLetâ€™s go!â€ George said.
â€œAll right I-I-I-I-I like proof,â€ Edward said.
â€œThe proof is in the pudding,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYeah!â€ Alice said. â€œLetâ€™s go.â€
George rolled his eyes but followed the girls, as did the rest.
The second floor had three small bedrooms, all with the doors open. They quickly found Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s room and searched it. Gordon, Alice, and Gerdie all found a box under a floorboard in the closet. The box was wooden and locked. Donald and Edward found, in a womanâ€™s dressing table in the room from when Great Grandpa Silas was married, a drawer with a false bottom. When they removed the bottom, they found a rotten, ancient book.
â€œI-I-I-I-I-I heard - I-I - I read onceâ”€â€ Edward said.
â€œJust read it,â€ Donald said. â€œJust take it.â€
â€œI-I â€¦ okay,â€ Edward said.
â€œAlice, give me your knife,â€ George said. â€œI want to cut open the mattress.â€
The book fell apart when Edward carefully lifted it out of the drawer. The binding was rotten and the pages loose and moldy. He held the pages together as best he could.
â€œIf thereâ€™s any pictures, show me,â€ Donald said.
Edward found that it was a handwritten journal in English. It was obviously the journal of Maureen Whateley-Morgan.
â€œI-guys!â€ Edward said. â€œI-I-I - I found her - I found her journal.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Donald said.
â€œWho is she?â€ George said.
â€œWe found something too!â€ Alice said.
Donald looked over Edwardâ€™s shoulder.
â€œWhat is this?â€ he said.
â€œItâ€™s-itâ€™s-itâ€™s Cousin - itâ€™s Cousin - itâ€™s Cousin Maureenâ€™s journal,â€ Edward said with a smile. â€œWell â€¦â€
â€œWhat?â€ George said.
â€œSee, she-she was invited,â€ Alice said.
â€œSheâ€™s sixteen,â€ George said. â€œThat book is 50 years old.â€
â€œWe shouldnâ€™t be going through her diary!â€ Alice said.
Gordon went to get his axe to smash the box open.
â€œMaybe Grandpa has a key,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œIâ€™ll go check,â€ Gordon said.
â€œHey! Gordon!â€ George called. â€œGet my baseball bat!â€
â€œYeah, Iâ€™ll look for it,â€ Gordon called back.
â€œHe donâ€™t even know where it is,â€ George said.
Alice made sure everyone knew about the book and the box. Gordon came back with his axe and a small ring of keys from Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s pocket. One was small, just the right size to fit in the box. Gerdie took the key and opened the box. Inside was a wicked-looking dagger that seemed to have a black blade. It took them a few moments to realize it was a silver blade that was badly tarnished. It had a wavy blade and a handle wrapped in black leather. There was also three short, fat, black candles.
George went to get his baseball bat.
â€œThis must have been the knife the witch had,â€ Gerdie said.
Alice noticed something on the bottom of the candles. It looked like some kind of dried vegetable matter. She picked up the candles and smelled the bottom but they didnâ€™t smell like anything and the vegetable matter was old and dried up. She thought it was old pumpkin residue. Then she looked at the dagger in awe.
â€œCan I have that?â€ she asked.
â€œYou already have a knife!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œI want that one!â€ Alice said. â€œItâ€™s so wavy.â€
â€œDo you wanna trade?â€
â€œNo! This is mine!â€
â€œOkay. This must be the knife the witch had that Grandpa was talking about.â€
Alice pouted. George returned with his baseball bat.
Alice asked to see the knife and Gerdie handed it to her. She thought it was a bad knife, guessing it might have been magical and might have even been used to murder or sacrifice people.
â€œOh, this is bad,â€ Alice said.
â€œHey-hey-hey-hey-hey-hey everyone,â€ Edward stuttered. â€œI-I found - I-I found - I found some neat stuff about Cousin Maureen. You want - you-you want me to read - you want me to read it to you?â€
â€œPlease,â€ Donald said.
â€œI told you not to read her diary!â€ Alice said.
She want to Edward and looked over his shoulder.
â€œâ€˜â€¦ fears of death are no longer within my mind,â€™â€ Edward read dramatically in a deep voice, his stutter suddenly gone. â€œâ€˜The pain and suffering that brought me to deathâ€™s door will be only a memory. My master has consented to teach me yet another ritual, one greater than all the others. There is a price I must pay, a deep one, but one I willingly pay. I will mourn, cry perhaps but I will pay it just the same. I would fear for my eternal soul in paying this price, but the thing I will obtain will make such concerns a thing of the past. One cannot be sentenced to eternal damnation after death if one lives a life everlasting. I shall be as deathless as the turning of the seasons, able to further serve my lord and master for all times. I must not fail, I cannot, the price of failing in this will be great.â€™â€
Donald moved away from the boy while he read.
â€œThatâ€™s-thatâ€™s all I - thatâ€™s-thatâ€™s-thatâ€™s-thatâ€™s all Iâ€™ve read so far,â€ Edward said.
â€œEd, youâ€™re some sort of freak, arenâ€™t you?â€ Gordon said.
â€œI-I-I-I-â€ Edward said.
â€œHow come you canâ€™t always talk like that?â€ Gordon said.
â€œI-I-I-I-I-I speak - I speak better - if the words are in front of me,â€ Edward said. â€œNot in my head.â€
â€œThat was Cousin Maureen?â€ Alice said.
â€œI â€¦ this is her diary,â€ Edward said.
â€œVery good, Ed,â€ Gordon said.
Gerdie was glad she hadnâ€™t shown Cousin Maureen her coins.
â€œOh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh-oh guys,â€ Edward said. â€œH-h-h-hereâ€™s another one. You want - you-you-you-you want - you want to hear it.â€
â€œYes,â€ Gordon said.
â€œâ€˜Edith spoke out against me in the market place,â€™â€ Edward read. â€œâ€˜She claimed to have seen me meeting with a strange man in the woods while she looked for a lost lamb. Luckily, my husband knows of her spiteful nature and I was able to convince him that her words were nothing but lies.â€™
â€œâ€˜Other whispers she does against me, drawing eyes to me. Her jealousy of me has been a thing I have put up with for far too long. Her husband has great wealth; her family good standing. She thinks she can slander me, say anything she likes and get away with it. She is wrong. Tomorrow when she awakens her voice will be gone, ripped from her and devoured by a spirit I have summoned.â€™
â€œâ€˜I am certain her husband will speak out on the pulpit, voicing his suspicion of vile magicks and witchcraft. I cannot have him stirring up trouble. I will give him a chance, one chance. If he takes his wifeâ€™s punishment as a warning and heeds it I will spare him. If he is filled with words of warning and damnation I will poison him with the Venom of Midnightâ€™s Sleep. His sleep will deepen through the hours between midnight and dawn, death claiming him with the first cockâ€™s crow.â€™â€
â€œWhat?â€ Donald said.
â€œHey!â€ Edward said.
â€œThatâ€™s what our parents have!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œThat-that-that-that-that-â€ Edward stuttered.
â€œWhat?â€ George said.
â€œThat-that-that-that-thatâ€™s-that-thatâ€™s exactly - thatâ€™s exactly what I was going to say,â€ Edward stuttered.
Donald ran out of the room, going down to the living room and grabbing his father, screaming â€œDad!â€ in his face, slapping and hitting him, and trying desperately to wake him up. The man didnâ€™t stir at all.
â€œNooo!â€ Donald cried out.
Gordon came into the living room, the others following behind. He tucked Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s keys back into his pocket.
â€œBut what if we need â€˜em?â€ Gerdie asked.
He took the key to the box off the little keychain and handed it to her.
â€œBut what if we need the other ones?â€ she asked. â€œWho knows what they go to?â€
â€œFine,â€ Gordon said. â€œIâ€™ll hold onto the keys.â€
â€œHow do we fix this!?!â€ Donald yelled.
â€œYeah, Edward!â€ George said.
â€œWhat?â€ Edward said. â€œWhat-what? Well-well-well-well what I - what I always say is â€˜for every concoction, thereâ€™s a cure.â€™â€
â€œBut what is that!?!â€ Donald said.
â€œI-I-I-I-I-â€ Edward stammered.
â€œHave you read any more about this?â€ Alice asked.
â€œYouâ€™re the smart one!â€ Donald said.
â€œThatâ€™s magic!â€ George said. â€œHow do you cure magic?â€
â€œWell-well-well-well-well Iâ€™ve never - well-well Iâ€™ve never - Iâ€™ve never heard of a thing called a curse of midnightâ€™s sleep,â€ Edward said. â€œBut I am â€¦ I-I-I-Iâ€™m sure - Iâ€™m sure - Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s a way we-we-we just have - we just have to put together the pieces of the puzzle.â€
â€œI bet Cousin Maureen would know,â€ Gerdie said. â€œMaybe she has some sort of magic book.â€
â€œBut if this is her stuff â€¦â€ Donald said.
â€œWait, but Grandpa said â€¦ wait â€¦â€ George said.
â€œBut she looks like this?â€ Donald said.
He pulled up the terrible drawing he had made of the other boysâ€™ description.
â€œYes,â€ George said. â€œSomethingâ€™s wrong with her.
â€œThen why are we going to her?â€ Donald said.
â€œBut if thatâ€™s her, that books hundreds and hundreds of years old,â€ George said.
Edward didnâ€™t think it was that old.
â€œWell, this looks hundreds and hundreds of years old!â€ Donald said, gesturing towards the horrible sketch.
â€œW-w-w-w-w-well she did - she did talk about a-a-a-a-a life everlasting,â€ Edward said. â€œSo-so maybe she - maybe - maybe she - maybe she found the fountain of youth.â€
â€œHuh,â€ Gordon said.
â€œOr maybe sheâ€™s a ghost,â€ Alice said.
Donald looked at Simon.
â€œI-I-I-I-I-I donâ€™t - I donâ€™t - I donâ€™t think ghosts are scientific,â€ Edward said.
Donald looked at Edward.
â€œWell, Grandpa said the ghosts will be at Altar Rock, right?â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYeah!â€ George said. â€œYeah! He did!â€
â€œSheâ€™s being controlled by someone else!â€ Alice said, looking at the scattered journal pages. â€œShe has to be. This isnâ€™t her!â€
â€œW-w-w-w-well, she did say she had a master,â€ Edward said.
â€œExactly!â€ Alice said.
â€œWhat do we do?â€ George said.
â€œGo to Altar Rock,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œWasnâ€™t the master the devil or something?â€ Donald said. â€œLike Grandpa said?â€
Alice grabbed the knife back from Gerdie.
â€œAnd weâ€™ll end this!â€ Alice said.
â€œYouâ€™re gonna kill her?â€ Donald said.
Gerdie gave Alice a dirty look. Edward grabbed Aliceâ€™s hand and looked more closely at the knife. He thought it was some kind of sacrificial knife.
â€œHey-hey-hey-hey-hey look,â€ he said. â€œI read - I read - I read - Iâ€™ve read books about - uh - about South-South American in-in-indigenous people-tribes. They used to sacrifice people on altars. With knives like that.â€
â€œWhatâ€™s indigenous?â€ Donald said.
â€œIt-it means - it means a group of people who live - who live natively to the land,â€ Edward said.
â€œSo, are we indigenous?â€ Donald said.
â€œOh, I thought that meant when you were mad at people,â€ George said.
â€œI know itâ€™s not good,â€ Alice said. â€œBut this might be the only way we can solve this.â€
â€œW-w-w-w-what I want to know is-is w-why-why-why-why did - why did - why did â€¦â€ Edward said.
â€œGet it out!â€ Alice said.
â€œW-w-why did Grandpa - why did Grandpa keep the knife?â€ Edward said. â€œThat-that they tried to use on him?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Donald said.
â€œHe wouldnâ€™t have,â€ George said. â€œHe was just a baby. He said he couldnâ€™t even walk. Which means Great Great Grandpa kept it.â€
â€œOh,â€ Donald said.
â€œAlso, if he kept it that means the witch canâ€™t use it,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œAh,â€ George said.
â€œSo, should we put it back?â€ Donald said.
â€œNo!â€ Alice said.
Gerdie took the knife theyâ€™d found back from Alice. The other girl pouted.
â€œYou already gots one!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œI donâ€™t have one,â€ Donald said.
â€œYou know how to use that thing?â€ George asked Gerdie.
â€œSure!â€ Gerdie said. â€œYou stick the pointy end at the bad guys.â€
â€œOh câ€™mon!â€ Alice said.
George gave Gerdie a look.
â€œUh-huh,â€ he said.
â€œSays the guy who uses a baseball bat,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œI know how to use it!â€ George said.
â€œAnyone can use a baseball bat!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œAnd poindexter here knows how to use a - use a axe,â€ George said, pointing at Gordon.
â€œAt least my kind of has a sharp end though,â€ Gordon said. â€œYours is just blunt.â€
â€œIâ€™m not comparing â€˜em, moron,â€ George said.
â€œUh-huh,â€ Gordon said.
â€œH-h-h-h-hey - hey guys,â€ Edward said.
â€œAny dummy can use a baseball bat!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œGet back in the hayloft!â€ George said to Gordon.
â€œHey guys, the pen is mightier than the sword,â€ Edward said with a grin.
They all looked at him. Then Gordon smacked him in the back of the head.
â€œAw jeez!â€ Edward said. â€œAw!â€
â€œShut up Ed!â€ Gordon said.
â€œYou really - you really got me that time,â€ Edward said.
â€œWait, do you know where a sword is?â€ Gerdie asked.
â€œW-w-w-w-what will - swords-swords are - swords are usually kept-kept-kept near the - near the armory in castles,â€ Edward said. â€œI read a lot about â€˜em.â€
â€œBut this isnâ€™t a castle!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œWell â€¦â€ Edward said.
â€œA manâ€™s home is his castle!â€ George said.
â€œThat makes no sense!â€ Donald said.
â€œWe only have until dawn!â€ Gordon reminded them. â€œIf that journal this is â€¦ â€˜cause they fell asleep at midnight if that was what that moonshine stuff is.â€
â€œIt seems timeâ€™s of the essence!â€ Edward said.
â€œBut why our parents?â€ Donald asked.
â€œI-I-I-I-I like - I like the idea - the idea of r-r-r-running an experiment where we - where we go out to Altar - to Altar Rock and-and see if - see if - see if there really is something - something there,â€ Edward said.
â€œYou use big words,â€ Donald said.
â€œWe need lights first,â€ Gerdie, ever practical, said. â€œWe need to find some lanterns.â€
As there was no electricity in the house, it was easy to get together a half dozen full lanterns.
â€œWhat about them candles?â€ George asked.
â€œIâ€™m not using candles!â€ Gerdie said. â€œYou canâ€™t see far with candles!â€
â€œOkay,â€ George said.
â€œYou canâ€™t,â€ Donald said.
â€œOkay!â€ George said.
â€œI mean you can take â€˜em!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œOi-oi-oil-oil burns longer than - than wicks too,â€ Edward said.
â€œOkay!â€ George said.
â€œWhat he said,â€ Alice said.
Edward examined the black candles but wasnâ€™t sure what occult significance they might have had. When he looked at the vegetable matter on the bottom, Alice piped up.
â€œItâ€™s pumpkin!â€ she said. â€œIâ€™m sure of it.â€
â€œIf she uses these candles for spells, maybe she needs â€˜em to reverse the spell,â€ Gerdie said.
She got a pillowcase, using it as a sack, and put the candles into it. Everyone but Gerdie and George remembered Great Grandpa, in his story, mentioned using jack-o-lanterns to protect him from evil spirits.
â€œHey-hey-hey-hey guys,â€ Edward said. â€œI gotta small - I gotta small pumpkin! And Grandpa did say they used pumpkin to scare off the spirits so, if the spirits are there, we should - maybe - maybe some of us should carry - carry pumpkins. I-I donâ€™t - Iâ€™m notâ”€â€
â€œMaybe we could put the candles in the pumpkins,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œThatâ€™s what I was going to say!â€ Donald said. â€œIt already has pumpkin stuff on it.â€
â€œI ainâ€™t putting â€˜em in mine,â€ George said. â€œMine looks like crap.â€
â€œMy didnâ€™t come out the way I wanted,â€ Donald said.
Edward got his own pumpkin, which was small, and Gordon got his, which was huge. Aliceâ€™s was normal sized, still needing two hands to carry. Those were the three that looked the best.
â€œIâ€™ll bring Leopold,â€ Alice said. â€œHeâ€™ll ward off any bad spirits.â€
â€œLeopold?â€ Donald said.
â€œYou named your pumpkin?â€ George sneered.
â€œYes!â€ Alice said. â€œYou can do that! Itâ€™s not in the rules!â€
â€œHey, donâ€™t knock it,â€ Gordon said. â€œI named mine Terry.â€
â€œMineâ€™s-mineâ€™s nameâ€™s Lâ€™il Ed,â€ Edward said.
â€œLead?â€ Donald said.
â€œL-Lâ€™il Ed,â€ Edward said.
Gerdie wanted to take her strange-looking, twisted pumpkin.
â€œIt has runes on it!â€ she said.
They gathered some of their jack-o-lanterns and made sure they had plenty of wooden matches.
â€œThe kitchen probably has more knives,â€ Gerdie said.
Gordon hefted one of the big jugs of the poison moonshine. It was very heavy.
â€œShould we pour that out?â€ Donald said.
â€œEither pour it out or pour it in something smaller so we can take some with us,â€ Gordon said.
Donald found a mason jar and they poured some of the moonshine into it. Gordon tucked it into his overalls. Donald went to look for a Bible but only found the really big family bible. He couldnâ€™t find another one.
Gerdie went looking for guns, remembering several on a gun rack in the living room. There was a Remington Model 14A slide action rifle, a Springfield M1903 rifle, and a Remington M1894 double barrel shotgun. She couldnâ€™t find any ammunition for any of the guns except for the Remington rifle, which had five bullets in it. She took the rifle to Gordon, who she knew was a good shot. He checked to see how many bullets there were and shouldered it.
Gerdie also grabbed a kitchen knife.
â€œHey, Ed, you wanna hold this book?â€ Donald said, coming into the kitchen with the huge family bible.
â€œOh Iâ€™m good at holding books,â€ Edward said. â€œI do it all day.â€
Donald handed him the large family Bible.
â€œOh,â€ Edward said, disappointed.
â€œThanks Ed!â€ Donald said. â€œKeep that book. Remember, he said he had to bring the good book. I think thatâ€™s what he meant.â€
â€œI-I-I-I-Iâ€™ve read a lot - Iâ€™ve read a lot of good books that didnâ€™t - that told me more about the world than this,â€ Edward said.
â€œWow!â€ Donald said.
â€œWow,â€ Gordon said. â€œHey, George, you can have your own wood axe now.â€
He had seen another one behind the house.
â€œI donâ€™t want no damned wood axe,â€ George said. â€œI got my baseball bat. Iâ€™m gonna beat some witches.â€
Gordon got some other candles in the kitchen so they didnâ€™t have to use the black ones. He cut them in half as they were very tall.
â€œDidnâ€™t they say something about dogs?â€ Alice said. â€œHunting dogs?â€
â€œBoomer!â€ Gordon called out.
They found Boomer in the corner of the kitchen, still distressed from sniffing the horrible poisoned applejack. Gordon tried to get the dog to come with them but he was terrified of everything and snapped at the boy. Donald tried to pet him but he shied away from the boy, showing his teeth.
â€œWell, no dogs for us,â€ Donald said. â€œBut weâ€™ve got a Bible. Ainâ€™t that right, Ed?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Edward said. â€œI-I-I-I still - I still have it.â€
â€œGood!â€ Donald said. â€œWeâ€™re gonna need it, probably. I donâ€™t know.â€
He looked at the loaded down Edward with the Bible, jack-o-lantern, and matches.
â€œMaybe we should bring a backpack,â€ he said.
â€œWhy?â€ Alice asked.
â€œSo he donâ€™t have to carry all that,â€ Donald said.
â€œI-I didnâ€™t bring a backpack,â€ Edward said.
â€œYou got one?â€ George said. â€œNo!â€
â€œI was gonna look!â€ Donald said.
â€œ None of us have backpacks!â€ George said.
â€œIâ€™m going to look and see if Grandpa does,â€ Donald said.
He looked in Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s closet but didnâ€™t find anything they could use.
â€œH-H-H-Had we been on - had we been on a school trip, I would - I would always have my backpack,â€ Edward said.
â€œThatâ€™s great!â€ Donald said.
â€œAnd his pencil box,â€ George said.
â€œYeah!â€ Edward said. â€œAnd-and my pencil box.â€
â€œYou can put it in this pillow case,â€ Gerdie said.
George grabbed Edwardâ€™s jack-o-lantern and tucked it under his arm.
â€œYou canâ€™t walk around like that, you idiot,â€ he said.
â€œWhat?â€ Edward said. â€œI-I-I-I-I was doing just fine.â€
â€œYouâ€™re â€¦ shut up,â€ George said. â€œPut the matches in your pocket, dummy.â€
Edward did so.
Donald grabbed a big butcher knife. His mother wouldnâ€™t let him hold the one at home. Simon gave him a big smile.
Gordon led them out of the house and they headed for the apple orchard. As they walked away from the house, the back door suddenly flew open with a crash. No one was standing there.
â€œWhat if sheâ€™s gonna kill our parents while weâ€™re gone?â€ Donald asked.
â€œThatâ€™s what the poisonâ€™s for,â€ Gerdie said. â€œTo kill â€˜em.â€
â€œWell the door flew open,â€ Donald said.
The wind picked up and Alice ran for the apple orchard with her switchblade out.
â€œYouâ€™re not supposed to run with scissors, let alone a switchblade,â€ Gerdie called, ever the voice of reason.
Alice stopped to wait for the rest.
As they headed for the apple orchard, one of the apples on the ground flung itself at them, flying over their heads and barely missing Gordon.
â€œWhat was that!?!â€ George cried out.
â€œMaybe we shoulda brought more pumpkins!â€ Donald said.
â€œHow can pumpkins protect us?â€
â€œMaybe youâ€™re hiding it and they canâ€™t see it.â€
â€œItâ€™s right here!â€
â€œWell! Why are they flying at us?â€
â€œWell-well-well-well, we can - we can conduct an experiment,â€ Edward said. â€œIf we - if we - if we light one of the pumpkins and see if it happens and, if it happens again, then they donâ€™t protect us.â€
â€œYeah, light it up!â€ Donald said.
â€œThereâ€™s not a candle in this pumpkin,â€ George said.
He still held Edwardâ€™s jack-o-lantern.
â€œPut one in there,â€ Donald said.
Gerdie took one of the black candles out of the pillowcase and put it in her terrible-looking jack-o-lantern. She lit it and it flung strange lights all over the place.
â€œThatâ€™s not even a jack-o-lantern!â€ George said to her. â€œItâ€™s just a pumpkin with weird holes in it!â€
â€œSoâ€™s yours,â€ Gordon said.
George looked at Edwardâ€™s jack-o-lantern.
â€œThis is a jack-o-lantern!â€ he said. â€œWill be if thereâ€™s a candle in it.â€
Edward lit one of the black candles and put it into the jack-o-lantern. Alice did the same, taking one of the black candles into her own and lighting it up. Gordon put a regular candle in his own jack-o-lantern and lit it. A couple of more strange things happened but neither was anywhere near Aliceâ€™s or Edwardâ€™s jack-o-lanterns. Donald guessed it was because they had the black candles in them. Edward and Gordon figured the well-carved jack-o-lanterns, when they had a black candle within, were keeping the terrible spirits away.
â€œE-e-e-excuse me, group,â€ Edward said. â€œI-I have an announcement. My hy - my hypothesis was correct.â€
â€œYour what?â€ Donald said.
â€œOh. Whatâ€™s that?â€
â€œIt-it-it-it is - it is a reasonably concluded prediction based-based-based on a â€¦â€ Edward said.
â€œWhat did you find?â€ Alice asked.
â€œI-I think that - that the - that the pumpkins - that the pumpkins that turned out - that turned out well,â€ Edward said. â€œSorry - sorry Gerdie. W-w-when they - when they have the candles in them, they-they n-n-nothing bad has happened to people who have those.â€
â€œJust â€˜cause mineâ€™s different doesnâ€™t mean that itâ€™s bad,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œI-I-I-I-I didnâ€™t mean - I didnâ€™t mean - I didnâ€™t mean to say that but-but-butâ”€â€ Edward said.
â€œItâ€™s bad, Gerdie,â€ George said. â€œItâ€™s so bad.â€
â€œWhat do you know!?!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œI have eyes!â€ George said.
â€œBut-but-but-but what I, wellâ”€â€ Edward said.
â€œLooks like a potato!â€ George said.
Edward, with some difficulty explained how the other two pumpkins with black candles seemed to be keeping the things at bay while Gerdieâ€™s hadnâ€™t.
â€œWell, you didnâ€™t give me your pumpkin,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œMine sucked anyway,â€ Donald said.
â€œWhy, you want this one?â€ George said.
â€œYeah,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œAll right, here,â€ George said.
He handed Edwardâ€™s jack-o-lantern to her and she put her own on the ground. Gordon replaced the candle from the kitchen in his own jack-o-lantern with Gerdieâ€™s black candle. George picked up Gerdieâ€™s pumpkin.
â€œDonâ€™t hurt my pumpkin!â€ she said.
George moved it from the center of the path, putting it next to a tree.
â€œSo nobody steps on it, dummy,â€ he said.
Alice continued walking through the orchard. The strange things stopped happening to them completely, as if whatever was causing it feared the jack-o-lanterns and was keeping its distance. They crossed the apple orchard without any other problems. On the other side was Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s cornfield, which had very few stalks left though a few still stood, scattered around the field.
Gerdie noticed some of the scarecrows seemed to be missing.
â€œGordie, you did take the scarecrow costumes, didnâ€™t you?â€ she said.
â€œI did not!â€ Gordon said.
â€œYou took it down!â€
â€œI did not!â€
â€œWell, where is it then?â€
â€œTheyâ€™re right over â€¦ oh,â€ Gordon said.
The other children looked around.
â€œOh, there it is!â€ George said. â€œItâ€™s over there.â€
â€œWait a minute,â€ Donald said.
â€œThatâ€™s closer than it was.â€
â€œDidnâ€™t you say they walked around? You said they walked around.â€
â€œI thought they were bodies!â€ Alice said.
â€œMaybe they were,â€ Donald said.
â€œThey shouldnâ€™t be able to walk around,â€ Alice said.
â€œWeâ€™re not supposed to be out here late,â€ Gerdie said.
It looked like several of the scarecrows were missing. One was nearer to them off to the right, not in the same place any of the children remembered it being during their hayride earlier. Alice pointed it out.
â€œI told you they moved!â€ Gerdie said. â€œYou didnâ€™t believe me!â€
â€œThis is strange,â€ Alice said.
â€œHold on!â€ Edward said, not stuttering at all. â€œNobody look at that scarecrow!â€
â€œI already did,â€ Donald said.
â€œThen look away!â€ Edward said.
â€œOkay,â€ Donald said.
All of the children looked away from the scarecrow. Edward waited a little bit and then turned back. The scarecrow was standing right next to him. Then it lifted up its arms and brought them down on the boy.
â€œMy hypothesis was correct!â€ he cried out as the scarecrow beat on him.
Edward was not hurt though he was terrified.
â€œHey guys!â€ he cried out. â€œHey guys! Gimme a hand with this!â€
Two other scarecrows stood up in the cornfield where they had been laying down and started shuffling towards the children. Alice ran over and grabbed Edwardâ€™s arm.
Donald rushed the scarecrow with his butcher knife, stabbing the thing. It didnâ€™t seem to do much of anything. He grunted in frustration. Gerdie moved towards the scarecrow and held up Edwardâ€™s jack-o-lantern so the light from it fell on the thing. There was a strange hissing noise as the light seemed to burn the cloth that made up the body of the scarecrow.
â€œLook out!â€ George yelled.
He rushed the thing, swinging away with his baseball bat. He struck it in the head, knocking the painted on smiling face of itâ€™s horrible burlap-sack head sideways. The thing stumbled but did not fall. Gordon, having seen the light hurt the thing, also rushed forward and shined the light from his own jack-o-lantern on it.
Alice started to pull out her switchblade but, when she saw the light from the other jack-o-lanterns hurt it, she moved forward to shine her own upon it. Edward backed away, cowering from the scarecrow.
â€œGet behind me!â€ Gerdie said.
â€œThatâ€™s a very astute observation with the jack-o-lantern Gerdie, thank you!â€ Edward said quickly.
The scarecrow beat George about the head and shoulders but it didnâ€™t seem to really hurt the boy. Hay flew from the thing, scattering around the field and the children. Donald held up his lantern but the light from it didnâ€™t seem to do anything to the scarecrow.
â€œGet him, Donald!â€ Simon called.
Donald stabbed the scarecrow but didnâ€™t seem to harm or injure it in anyway. He cursed. Gerdie held up her jack-o-lantern, burning the thing once again.
â€œHome run!â€ George yelled.
He swung and completely missed the scarecrow, leaning back to far during the swing.
â€œYou call â€˜home runâ€™ after you hit it,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œShut up, Gerdie!â€ George yelled.
â€œWhoopsie daisy!â€ Alice said.
Gordon put down his jack-o-lantern and pulled his axe out of his belt. He swung away, cutting the scarecrow in half. The burlap tore, straw flew out, and the scarecrow crashed to the ground in pieces.
â€œSee, thatâ€™s how you do it, George!â€ he said.
â€œNow you can shout â€˜home run,â€™â€ Gerdie said.
George stared at the two for a moment.
â€œI loosened it for you,â€ he said lamely.
â€œThat couldâ€™ve been my head,â€ Donald said.
Alice stared down at the scarecrow. She had not been expecting just hay, but thought a person was in the scarecrow or at least a dead body. Edward was also surprised that the scarecrow was only filled with hay. It had felt like something a lot heavier had struck him before. He looked around and saw Gordonâ€™s jack-o-lantern on the ground. He picked it up and pointed it at the nearest scarecrow, quaking in fear.
The things walked towards the children. Donald didnâ€™t think his knife was hurting the scarecrows so he backed up, putting the children with jack-o-lanterns between him and the scarecrows. Gerdie moved a little in front of Edward, guessing he was terrified. George moved just in front of the children with the pumpkins and waited with his baseball bat, choking up on it. Gordon joined him. Alice moved up to where Gerdie and Edward shined their lights at the scarecrows.
Edward let out a cry as the scarecrows stepped into the jack-o-lantern light.
â€œItâ€™s okay, Edward!â€ Alice said. â€œItâ€™s okay!â€
The scarecrows started to blacken and burn. They still tramped forward and beat on George and Gordon. The one beating on George didnâ€™t really hurt him but the one attacking George injured him a little but, smacking him in the head. Donald, behind everyone, looked behind them to make sure nothing was sneaking up on them. Nothing was.
As the light burned the terrible scarecrows, George swung away again, knocking the scarecrowâ€™s head off and then smashed the body and the legs of the thing, hay flying as it collapsed and stopped moving.
â€œYou got your costume now, Gordie,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYeah,â€ Gordon said.
He brought his axe down, cleaving the scarecrow right down the center and ripping it to shreds.
â€œCut in twain!â€ he shouted.
â€œThat costumeâ€™s no good anymore Gordie,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œWe have two others,â€ Gordon said.
George was still smashing the scarecrow heâ€™d knocked down, bringing his baseball bat down again and again on the clothing lying in the dirt.
â€œGeorge, you donâ€™t have to prove a point,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYouâ€™re right,â€ George said.
â€œI just did.â€
â€œWow, you guys,â€ Edward said. â€œThat was - that was - that was some really good fisticuffs.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Donald said.
â€œYou did really good with your pumpkin,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œThank you!â€ Edward said.
â€œYeah, you just keep holding that,â€ Gordon said. â€œAnd Iâ€™ll hold onto my axe.â€
They continued across the cornfield, George and Gordon leading the way with their weapons ready. A few stalks still stood, along with a few overlooked corncobs. About halfway across, some of the stalks leaned in and the corncobs tried to bite at them. When the light from the jack-o-lanterns hit the stalks, they started burning.
â€œThe cornâ€™s getting revenge!â€ Gerdie yelled. â€œItâ€™s eating us! I knew this day would come!â€
Donald grabbed one of the cornstalks, brandishing his knife to cut it. Gerdie held up her jack-o-lantern and some of the nearby stalks burned.
â€œAh!â€ Donald yelled. â€œI never liked corn!â€
â€œMe either!â€ George replied.
George smashed some of the stalks with his baseball bat. Gordon smashed a few stalks that didnâ€™t seem to be moving. Alice and Edward brandished their jack-o-lanterns, Alice burning an ear of corn, the corn teeth falling out. She reached over to pick up the horrible teeth and found them just pieces of corn. Edward held his jack-o-lantern over his head in defiance of the terrible field.
Corncobs came at Gordon, one of them biting him with strange, corn teeth. He was bleeding and it hurt. Donald cut the stalk that he had grabbed. Gerdie burned more stalks with her jack-o-lantern and then George tore through numerous corncobs and stalks.
â€œDie! Die! Die!â€ George cried as he smashed at the field. â€œYou okay, Gordie?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Gordon said.
They crossed the rest of the cornfield without incident.
As they entered the forest, they found an old trail. Gordon and Gerdie realized there had never been a trail there before.
â€œHey guys, itâ€™s-itâ€™s-it-itâ€™s a convenient trail for us to follow,â€ Edward said.
â€œYes, very convenient,â€ Alice said, suspicious.
She reached down and touched it.
The ground of the trail looked black and they realized it was a very old trail that had been overgrown. The reason it was visible was all the plants growing on it were dead. Plants on either side of the path seemed to be fine.
â€œMaybe they wonâ€™t attack us anymore,â€ Alice said.
â€œW-w-w-what this reminds me of-of-of-of-of when the Romans salted the earth in the Battle of Carthage,â€ Edward said.
They all looked at him.
â€œI guess so,â€ Alice said.
â€œOkay,â€ George said.
â€œOr maybe the witch poisoned it,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œWeird,â€ Donald said. â€œMaybe there was a fire.â€
They followed the trail, that led up into the hills of Dunwich. The dark forest of nearly bare trees loomed all around them and they couldnâ€™t see far to either side. It was deathly quiet. No nighttime animals made any noises.
Eventually, they came to a large wooded hill. Strange stones all around the base of the hill glowed softly in the darkness. They examined the stones and found odd writing upon them. Gerdie recognized it as Hyperborean and saw the words spelled out â€œZerrowâ€™s Tower.â€ Other strange writings and glyphs upon the stones didnâ€™t spell out anything in particular.
A little boy was standing not far from Donald. He wore out-of-date clothing and a newsboyâ€™s cap. He had dark hair and looked to be about nine years old.
â€œHey-hey-hey-hey-hey-hey-hey group,â€ Edward said. â€œWhoâ€™s that?â€
He pointed at the little boy and Donald noticed he was pointing right at Simon. Donald looked past Simon but didnâ€™t see anyone there.
â€œHey!â€ Alice said. â€œWho are you?â€
Simon looked behind him too.
â€œNo,â€ Gordon said. â€œYou with the hat, dummy.â€
â€œMe?â€ Simon said. â€œYou can see me?â€
â€œYeah,â€ Gordon said.
â€œYes,â€ Alice said. â€œOf course.â€
â€œWhy wouldnâ€™t we be able to see you?â€ Gerdie said.
â€œâ€˜Cause Iâ€™m always around,â€ Simon said. â€œMy nameâ€™s Simon.â€
â€œWait,â€ Donald said. â€œYou can see â€¦ Simon? Oh.â€
â€œItâ€™s me!â€ Simon said. â€œThey see me.â€
He suddenly frowned.
â€œOh,â€ he said. â€œTheyâ€™re all dead. Youâ€™re all dead.â€
â€œNo,â€ he said.
â€œThey mustâ€™ve died,â€ Simon said.
â€œAre we dead now?â€ Gerdie said.
â€œWhat are you talking about!?!â€ Alice said.
â€œYou mean youâ€™re already dead?â€ Gerdie asked Simon.
â€œYou could see me when you were alive,â€ Simon said to Donald.
â€œYeah,â€ Donald said.
â€œDo you know him?â€ Alice asked Donald.
â€œYeah,â€ Donald said.
â€œIâ€™m Simon,â€ Simon said. â€œIâ€™m his friend.â€
â€œYeah,â€ Donald said.
â€œHey â€¦ does that mean Iâ€™m the only one with an imaginary friend?â€ Edward said quietly.
â€œI hear voices,â€ Gerdie said. â€œDoes that count?â€
â€œOh thatâ€™s-thatâ€™s-thatâ€™s good too,â€ Edward said.
â€œIâ€™m not imaginary,â€ Simon said. â€œIâ€™m dead.â€
â€œYeah, heâ€™s dead,â€ Donald said, dazed.
â€œSo, youâ€™re a ghost,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œAh â€¦ okay,â€ Simon said.
â€œYeah,â€ Donald said.
â€œWhy-why donâ€™t you float?â€ Gerdie said.
â€œIunno,â€ Simon said.
â€œWhat happened to you?â€ Alice said.
â€œI died in a carriage accident,â€ Simon said.
Edward had raised his hand.
â€œEd, just ask the question,â€ Gordon said. â€œWeâ€™re not in school.â€
â€œEx-excuse me,â€ Edward said.
â€œYeah, I got killed in a carriage accident,â€ Simon said. â€œI got squished.â€
â€œExcuse me, Simon,â€ Edward said. â€œExcuse me, Simon. Are-are there little people in your intestines?â€
Simon looked at him.
â€œSee? I told you!â€ Gerdie said. â€œHe got squished but heâ€™s no longer squished.â€
â€œI dunno,â€ Simon said. â€œI donâ€™t know. I canâ€™t get in there. See?â€
He poked at his midsection.
â€œSee?â€ Gerdie went on. â€œGhostâ€™s spirits arenâ€™t affected byâ”€â€
â€œYeah, I got squished,â€ Simon said.
â€œThatâ€™s why I thought Uncle Randolphâ€™s story was weird,â€ Donald said.
George and Alice just stared at the little boy. Alice was a little surprised she couldnâ€™t see through him. He looked solid.
â€œBut youâ€™re not see-through,â€ Alice said.
â€œI wanna poke him,â€ Gerdie said.
She poked Simon but her finger went right through him.
â€œAh!â€ he said.
â€œDoes that feel weird?â€ Gerdie asked.
â€œNo, it doesnâ€™t feel like anything,â€ Simon said. â€œDonâ€™t do that.â€
Simon poked himself.
â€œHey, he canâ€™t get in there but you can get in there!â€ Gordon said. â€œSee if thereâ€™s little people.â€
Gerdie bent her head down and moved towards Simon, shoving her head into his midsection. He leapt away from her.
â€œNo!â€ the ghost said. â€œGet away from me, you crazy girl!â€
â€œGhosts are different,â€ Donald said.
â€œYouâ€™ve seen him?â€ Alice said.
â€œHeâ€™s been here the entire time. I kept it a secret â€˜cause people would think Iâ€™m crazy.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t know he was a ghost! I thought you were joking!â€
â€œUh â€¦ yeah.â€
â€œYeah Donald!â€ George said.
â€œI didnâ€™t see any little people, but â€¦â€ Gerdie said.
â€œNo little people,â€ Gordon said.
â€œWhat?â€ Donald said. â€œWhatâ€™d I do?â€
â€œHeâ€™s real!?!â€ George said.
â€œYeah, heâ€™s real. You wouldnâ€™t have believed me!â€
â€œNo way thereâ€™s little people,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYou were lying to us all this time?â€ George said.
â€œYou wouldnâ€™t have believed me if I said I saw ghosts!â€ Donald said.
â€œI mightâ€™ve. I mightâ€™ve. Would I have told you? Maybe.â€
â€œYou wouldâ€™ve told me I was crazy and I was lying.â€
â€œWell, you are crazy. And you are obviously a liar if you told us he was an imaginary friend.â€
â€œHeâ€™s right there now. Now you can see.â€
â€œYeah, but you were lying before!â€
â€œHeâ€™s not the only one I see!â€
â€œHe just hangs around me all the time.â€
â€œWait. Wait,â€ Alice said. â€œWhy can we see you now?â€
â€œIunno,â€ Simon said.
â€œIs it the lights?â€ Donald said.
â€œI-I-I-â€ Edward stuttered.
â€œIunno,â€ Simon said.
â€œThatâ€™s-thatâ€™s the connection that I made!â€ Edward said.
â€œHuh,â€ Donald said.
â€œMaybe,â€ Simon said.
â€œThis doesnâ€™t hurt you does it?â€ Alice said, pointing her jack-o-lantern at Simon.
â€œWhat?â€ he said.
He noticed her jack-o-lantern.
â€œNope,â€ he said.
â€œâ€˜Cause heâ€™s good!â€ Donald said.
â€œThat-that was - that was - that was - that was - that was a good experiment,â€ Edward said. â€œThank you.â€
Alice looked at her pumpkin and nodded in agreement.
â€œAnyway,â€ Donald said, a little embarrassed that his secret was out.
â€œLying to me all these years,â€ George said to himself.
â€œWell, you wouldnâ€™t have believed me!â€
â€œSeeing ghosts â€¦ there any ghosts in my house?â€
â€œI dunno! I never been to your house!â€
â€œYes, you have. Oh. That was a long time ago though.â€
â€œI donâ€™t remember then.â€
â€œThat was five years ago.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so.â€
George started to describe the last time Donald had come to visit when the two families had met for dinner for some occasion that Donald didnâ€™t remember at all.
Gerdie dug around the large rocks but didnâ€™t find anything else of interest on them.
â€œHey-hey,â€ Edward said, noticing Gerdie staring at the letters. â€œExcuse me. Can-can-can-can-can you read that?â€
â€œYeah, but I donâ€™t know what it means,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œWhatâ€™s it say?â€ Donald said.
â€œZerrowâ€™s Tower,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œWhoâ€™s Zerrow?â€ Donald said.
He turned to Simon.
â€œDo you know who Zerrow is?â€ Donald said.
Simon shook his head.
â€œC-c-c-c-could you teach me?â€ Edward asked Gerdie.
â€œNo one taught me,â€ she said. â€œBut Iâ€™ve always been able to read it. No one taught me. I donâ€™t know how to teach people.â€
She tried to point at the lettering and read out what it meant. Edward took notes. Then she took out her coins and read out what was written on them. Edward took more notes.
â€œShe put her hand in me,â€ Simon told Donald.
â€œWait, you put your hand through him?â€ Donald asked Gerdie.
â€œYeah,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œThatâ€™s rude,â€ Alice said.
â€œThen I tried to stick my head in him,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œWhatâ€™d you see?â€ Donald asked.
â€œI was trying to look for little people, but he ran away.â€
â€œOh. Iâ€™ve never done that before. Simon, can I stick my head in you?â€
â€œNo!â€ Simon said.
â€œAw,â€ Donald said. â€œBut Iâ€™ve never done that.â€
â€œWhat is wrong with girls? Donâ€™t talk to girls!â€
â€œIâ€™m not a girl!â€
â€œShe told you to do it! Donâ€™t listen to her!â€
Edward realized he didnâ€™t really have time to listen to Gerdieâ€™s translation of all her coins.
â€œW-w-w-w-we should exchange - exchange notes later,â€ he said.
She looked at him. Then she put the coins away.
They headed up the trail through the silent and brooding woods. George kept glancing nervously at Simon as they walked.
â€œWhen did you die?â€ Alice asked the ghost.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Simon said.
â€œWhen were you born?â€ Gerdie asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Simon said. â€œI was nine.â€
â€œYour nameâ€™s Simon,â€ Alice said.
â€œMy nameâ€™s Simon,â€ Simon said. â€œI donâ€™t remember my last name.â€
â€œD-d-d-d-do you remember your birthday?â€ Edward asked.
â€œNo,â€ Simon said.
â€œThatâ€™s what I asked, dummy,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œI never got a party like all the other kids,â€ Simon said.
â€œWhat if today was your birthday?â€ Gerdie asked.
She looked at Edward.
â€œHappy Birthday!â€ they both said together.
â€œHappy Birthday!â€ Alice said.
Simon looked like he was going to cry.
â€œThank you,â€ Simon said quietly.
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you ever give him a birthday?â€ Gerdie asked Donald.
â€œYeah!â€ Alice said.
â€œI do!â€ George said. â€œBut I canâ€™t tell anybody â€¦ so we do it in my room.â€
â€œAw,â€ Alice said.
â€œThey said itâ€™s today,â€ Simon said.
â€œYeah,â€ Gerdie said.
Edward realized the young boyâ€™s clothing looked like something from the early 19th century.
â€œE-e-e-e-excuse - excuse me, yâ€™all,â€ Edward said. â€œIt looks like his-his clothes, theyâ€™re pretty - theyâ€™re pretty old, probably-probably ninety- ninety or a hundred years old.â€
He made a surprised face.
â€œSo, thatâ€™s - thatâ€™s her grandpa,â€ Edmund said. â€œThatâ€™s a grandpa right there.â€
â€œWhat?â€ Alice said.
â€œIâ€™m not a grandpa!â€ Simon said.
â€œHeâ€™s only nine!â€ Donald said.
â€œYeah!â€ Simon said. â€œHow can I be a grandpa?â€
â€œNot nine - ninety,â€ Edward said. â€œHeâ€™sâ”€â€
â€œHeâ€™s only nine!â€ Donald said.
â€œBut he died!â€ Alice said. â€œWhen he was - he was nine!â€
â€œBut it - but it - but it - but-but-but-but-but-but it-itâ”€â€ Edward said.
â€œBut nothing!â€ Alice said. â€œIt makes no sense.â€
â€œBut his-his clothes,â€ Edward said. â€œHis clothes - hundred-hundred years ago when-when-when-when he woulda wore those clothes.â€
â€œBut he died when he was nine,â€ Alice said.
â€œHow many birthdays has he had when he was dead?â€ Edward said.
â€œThat doesnâ€™t mean heâ€™s a grandfather!â€ Alice said. â€œYouâ€™re not making sense.â€
â€œHeâ€™s saying it was a hundred years ago when he died!â€ George said. â€œHe just says it poorly.â€
â€œI guess,â€ Donald said. â€œHeâ€™s still nine.â€
â€œNinety-nine,â€ George said. â€œA hundred and nine.â€
â€œNo!â€ Alice said.
â€œNo, heâ€™s only nine,â€ Donald said. â€œHeâ€™s been around for a bunch of years though.â€
â€œOh God,â€ George said. â€œGirls are so dumb!â€
Alice took out her switchblade and, with the push of a button, the knife popped out.
â€œIâ€™m not a afraid of you Alice,â€ George said with a pout.
But he did walk faster.
â€œBut heâ€™s only nine,â€ Donald said.
â€œBut if he - but if he can have a - but if he can have a birthday - if he can have a birthday when heâ€™s a ghost, then he can get older when heâ€™s a ghost,â€ Edward said.
They saw light coming from the top of the hill as they approached. It flickered like firelight.
At the top of the hill was a small clearing. A fire burned in the center, just visible through the trees. Once atop the hill, they found a ring of six poles, each nine feet tall. The poles were set upright and hung with bones, claws, feathers, and bundles of sticks tied into strange shapes. The ring of poles was about 20 feet across with the fire burning in its center, over which boiled a large, black cauldron. Strange wisps of green and white rose from the bubbling fluid inside the cauldron. They seemed to defy the wind and drifted about, slowly vanishing into the forest
â€œI think this is the witchâ€™s place,â€ Donald whispered.
Edward and Gerdie both realized some kind of terrible spell was in the process of being cast. Gerdie, Edward, Alice, and Donald all noticed glowing eyes in the wisps of vapor, making them feel a little uneasy. Gerdie, Gordon, Donald, and George all thought they heard low cries for help coming from the cauldron. They recognized them as the voice of their parents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives currently asleep at Great Grandpa Silasâ€™s farm.
â€œH-h-h-h-hey yâ€™all,â€ Edward said. â€œW-w-w-w-with my studies of - of - of witches - of witches and Wiccan culture I think that th-thereâ€™s a spell being cast and we should - we should - we- we should dump some dirt in the cauldron.â€
â€œDirt?â€ Donald said.
Alice didnâ€™t think he was correct in that regard.
â€œWhat do you mean!?!â€ Alice said.
â€œI mean - I-I-I mean - I mean - I mean - I mean - this-this-this-this is the source of the - of the spell - that-that-that was in the book,â€ Edward said. â€œThe sleep spell.â€
â€œNo itâ€™s not!â€ Alice said. â€œDonâ€™t you anything about nature!?!â€
â€œWhy would you put theâ”€?â€ Donald said.
â€œThings like this are normal!â€ Alice said.
â€œI-Iâ€™ve-Iâ€™ve-Iâ€™ve-Iâ€™ve read several books on the topic,â€ Edward said.
Alice thought on it and realized she might have been mistaken in her assessment of the situation. It certainly did look suspicious.
â€œThat sounds like my dad!â€ George said.
â€œIâ€™m gonna agree with egghead here,â€ Gordon said.
â€œDad!â€ Donald said.
At the far end of the clearing, within the ring of poles, was a large, glowing rock. It was flat and covered in strange runes that Gerdie immediately recognized as more ancient Hyperborean. Edward and Alice could make out strange noises but had not yet recognized their parents.
â€œI hear voices!â€ Donald said.
â€œWe-we-we-we need - we need to figure out how to stop the spell,â€ Edward said.
â€œDid you say put dirt in the cauldron?â€ Gordon said.
â€œWell, maybe thereâ€™s instructions on the altar,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œBust the poles?â€ George said.
â€œWhy dirt?â€ Donald said.
â€œInstructions?â€ George said. â€œLike a manual?â€
â€œYeah!â€ Gerdie said.
George rolled his eyes.
â€œWell, thereâ€™s no witchâ€™s book!â€ Gerdie said. â€œDo you see a witchâ€™s book?â€
â€œHe had a book,â€ George said, pointing at Edward.
â€œWhat if that kills them if you put dirt?â€ Donald said.
â€œWhat - who - who - whoâ”€â€ Edward said. â€œWhoâ€™s in the cauldron?â€
â€œYou didnâ€™t hear it?â€ Donald said.
â€œHear-hear what?â€ Edward said.
â€œVoices!â€ Donald said. â€œIt sounds like my mom and dad in there!â€
Edward listened more closely and then realized the noises coming from the cauldron were voices, calling for help. He recognized the sound of his parents.
â€œSee!?!â€ Donald said.
â€œSimon, do you know anything about this?â€ Alice said to the boyâ€™s ghost.
Simon just shook his head.
â€œI ainâ€™t never seen nothing like this before,â€ Simon told her.
â€œOkay!â€ Edward suddenly said. â€œOkay! Uh â€¦ we need to figure out - we need - we need - we need - we need - we need - we need - we need to figure out what to do pretty quick!â€
â€œSo, we donâ€™t put dirt in it!â€ Donald said. â€œWhat if their souls were in there? No. Well, if they were souls, theyâ€™d look like him.â€
Donald pointed at Simon.
Alice had overheard their conversation and heard her motherâ€™s voice coming from the cauldron as well.
â€œThatâ€™s my mom,â€ Alice said. â€œThatâ€™s everyone! What are â€¦ what are they doing here?â€
â€œWell, they went to sleepâ”€â€ Donald said.
â€œYouâ€™re the witch!â€ George said. â€œYou tell us!â€
â€œExcuse me?â€ Alice said.
â€œWhat?â€ Donald said.
â€œGirls are witches!â€ George said, looking around, obviously terrified.
â€œMaybe the witch wants to use their souls to make her live forever,â€ Gerdie said.
Donald slapped George.
â€œOw!â€ George said. â€œGod dammit, Donald!â€
He slapped the other boy back and a slap-fight ensued.
â€œAll right! All right!â€ Alice said. â€œStop this! You boys are all the same.â€
George picked up his baseball bat. Heâ€™d dropped it when the little fight had commenced.
â€œWell, heâ€™s being dumb!â€ Donald said. â€œI wasâ”€â€
â€œI would - I would - I would - I would make a counter - counter argument that - that if - that if Grandpa - if Grandpaâ€™s story w-was true, maybe the witch is c-coming - coming back for revenge f-from when they stopped - from when they stopped her ritual before,â€ Edward said.
â€œWell, put her back in a hole,â€ Donald said.
â€œYeah!â€ George said. â€œPut her in a hole!â€
â€œMaybe sheâ€™s finding a baby then,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œBut â€¦ what?â€ Donald said.
â€œWhat?â€ Alice said.
â€œGrandpa was a baby when she stole him,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYeah, but â€¦â€ Donald said.
â€œAre-are-are we babies?â€ Edward said.
â€œI donâ€™t - I wouldnâ€™t think so,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œOh no!â€ Donald said.
â€œYou are!â€ George said to Edward.
â€œIâ€™m 13!â€ Alice said.
Gerdie took Edward over to the altar, going around the circle of poles. Gordon followed her. George held back, staying near the trail that led to the hilltop, looking around nervously. Alice and Donald went to the cauldron. As soon as they stepped foot in the ring around the altar, Cousin Maureen walked out of the dark woods nearby and stood near the altar. Gordon, Alice, and Donald, just for a moment, saw her as a moldering corpse and could smell the stench of death about the woman. Donald gasped.
â€œWhy are you so gross, Cousin Maureen?â€ Gordon said.
â€œH-hi, Cousin Maureen,â€ Edward said.
â€œYouâ€™re not a cousin,â€ Donald said.
â€œWhy, you children shouldnâ€™t be out on a night like this,â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œDark things be loose on nights like this.â€
â€œWell, why are you here?â€ Donald said.
â€œYouâ€™re so brave for cominâ€™ up here,â€ Cousin Maureen said.
â€œUh-huh,â€ Donald said.
â€œOh thank you!â€ Edward said, smiling at her.
â€œCâ€™mon on, now,â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œAhâ€™ll take yâ€™all back ta the house where etâ€™s safe.â€
â€œNo!â€ Donald said.
Gerdie ignored the woman and tried to read what was written on the altar. They symbols were Hyperborean but the letters didnâ€™t spell out words. They seemed to be more runes that letters to write something. Maybe it was some kind of enchantment on the rock. That was her best guess at least.
â€œListen,â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œI donâ€™t wanna kill you, but I will if I must. Youâ€™re not powerful enough to stop me.â€
â€œC-c-c-cousin Maureen, I-I-Iâ”€â€ Edward said.
â€œSo, you shouldnâ€™t even try,â€ Cousin Maureen went on.
â€œI-I-I-I didnâ€™t - I didnâ€™t even think that-that-that-that murder was on the table,â€ Edward said.
â€œThis boyâ€™s being rude,â€ Cousin Maureen said of Donald.
â€œNo, itâ€™s on the altar,â€ Gerdie corrected Edward.
George rolled his eyes. Girls were so dumb.
â€œListen, youâ€™re all family,â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œYouâ€™re all descendents from me. Iâ€™m your great-great-grandmother. And as family, I love all of yâ€™all.â€
â€œThen why you trying to kill our parents!?!â€ Donald said.
â€œI-I thought you were our cousin,â€ Edward said.
â€œYeah!â€ Donald said.
â€œNo, that was a fib,â€ Cousin Maureen said.
â€œIâ€™m your great-great-grandmother.â€
â€œA thousand years old or something!â€
â€œOnly a hundred and twenty six.â€
She smiled condescendingly at him.
â€œWell, thatâ€™s a long time!â€ Donald said.
â€œI was betrayed by my husband,â€ she went on. â€œAnd murdered by him and his brothers. Because they found out about my beliefs.â€
â€œThey why you trying to kill our parents? They donâ€™t know!â€
â€œBecause, once the ritualâ€™s finished, Iâ€™ll be alive again. And once Iâ€™m alive, I can raise you and provide you with a loving home.â€
â€œIâ€™ll teach you magic. Iâ€™ll school you in the nature of my faith. Iâ€™ll help you attain powers you canâ€™t possibly imagine.â€
â€œBut I like my mom and dad!â€
â€œTheyâ€™re holding you back, boy.â€
â€œNo, theyâ€™re not!â€
â€œI draw well. They teach.â€
â€œAll you have to do is wait â€˜til morning. Letâ€™s go back to the house.â€
Cousin Maureen turned to Alice.
â€œWhat about you?â€ she asked.
The little girl looked at her for a moment, frowned, and then turned so her hair fell between her eyes and Cousin Maureenâ€™s, cutting her off from her. Alice was torn though, because she wanted to know but she also wanted her mother and other relatives back.
â€œEdward?â€ Cousin Maureen said.
â€œWhy you gotten kill â€˜em?â€ Donald said very quietly.
â€œI-I-I-I-I think an alternative solution should be sought out,â€ he said. â€œâ€˜Cause I donâ€™t - I-I-I-I-I donâ€™t think I quiet agree with the moral - the moral implications of it.â€
â€œWell, we can sit here and talk about it as long as you want,â€ Cousin Maureen said.
â€œHuh-uh!â€ Donald said. â€œWe donâ€™t got long.â€
â€œYou got plenty oâ€™ time,â€ Cousin Maureen said.
â€œNo, we donâ€™t!â€ Donald said. â€œTheyâ€™re gonna die in the morning because youâ€™re mean!â€
â€œYou got plenty of time,â€ Cousin Maureen said again.
â€œI-I-I-I think I will a-a-a-a-agree to talk once you - once you turn the spell off,â€ Edward said.
â€œWell, how â€˜bout you?â€ Cousin Maureen said, turning to Gerdie. â€œLittle Gerdie. My great-great-grandchild?â€
Gerdie just fiddled with her little handkerchief filled with Hyperborean coins.
â€œWhat about you, little boy, youâ€™re from around here?â€ Cousin Maureen said to Gordon. â€œYou have great potential.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know you, witch!â€ Gordon growled.
â€œThatâ€™s so rude,â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œThatâ€™s so rude. You rude boy! What about you in the shadows over there?â€
She looked past them all where George stood away from the group. He looked a little confused.
â€œGeorge, you dummy!â€ Gordon said.
â€œYou shut up, Gordie!â€ George called back.
â€œWell â€¦â€ Donald said.
Edward stopped and picked up a handful of dirt off the ground.
â€œAll right,â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œAll right. There. Itâ€™s stopped. Itâ€™s stopped now.â€
â€œNo, itâ€™s not!â€ Donald said.
â€œWe can talk as long as you want,â€ Cousin Maureen said.
â€œYouâ€™re a liar!â€ Donald said.
Edward looked at the cauldron but nothing seemed to have changed.
â€œYouâ€™re a rude little boy,â€ Cousin Maureen said to Donald.
â€œWell, youâ€™re a liar!â€ Donald said. â€œYouâ€™re mean to us too! You tried to kill our parents!â€
â€œShush,â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œTheyâ€™re not important.â€
â€œY-y-y-y-youâ”€â€ Edward said.
â€œYes they are!â€ Donald said.
â€œâ”€you - you told a fib!â€ Edward said.
â€œWhat have you done with them!?!â€ Alice said.
â€œTheyâ€™re safe,â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œTheyâ€™re sleeping.â€
â€œNo, theyâ€™re not!â€ Alice said.
â€œNo, theyâ€™re not sleeping!â€ Donald said.
â€œWe read your diary,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œYou put them to sleep and theyâ€™re going to be asleep forever!â€ Alice said.
â€œThatâ€™s so rude, to read another personâ€™s diary,â€ Cousin Maureen said.
â€œWe didnâ€™t know it was yours,â€ Donald said.
â€œItâ€™s still rude,â€ Cousin Maureen said.
â€œIt just looked like an old book,â€ Gerdie said.
â€œWe didnâ€™t know,â€ Donald said.
â€œYouâ€™re bad children,â€ Cousin Maureen said.
â€œWe thought it was Grandpaâ€™s,â€ Donald said. â€œIt was old!â€
â€œYou are rude, rude children!â€ Cousin Maureen said. â€œBut I can teach you some amazing things.â€
â€œParents,â€ Donald said. â€œNo. Leave them alone.â€
Edward walked over to the cauldron and Cousin Maureen suddenly screeched loudly, changing into a strange, stinking semi-corporeal floating corpse. Gordon, Alice, and George were all shocked by the terrible transformation and the horrific thing that stood before them. Alice dropped her jack-o-lantern and it didnâ€™t break when it hit the ground but rolled over. The candle within went out.
Donald was right next to Alice and grabbed up the pumpkin, snatching the candle out and lighting it on the fire, scorching his hand a little, and shoving the candle back into the jack-o-lantern. Gerdie, next to the horrible ghost witch, shined the light from her pumpkin on the apparition. The light apparently burned the ghost and she shrieked in pain.
â€œYou bad little girl!â€ the witch said.
She floated to Gerdie and swatted at her with one hand. Gerdie ducked and as the ghostâ€™s hand passed by her face, she could feel a terrible cold coming of it. It was like the coldest, most bitter winter wind ever. Edward dumped dirt into the cauldron. Nothing apparently happened, which confused him as he thought his trying to put dirt into it in the first place was what caused her change in the first place.
Donald stepped forward and shined the jack-o-lantern on the witch, burning her.
â€œYou can do this, Donald!â€ Simon called, following him.
The other children wondered, for the briefest of moments, if he followed Donald around all the time and encouraged him.
Gerdie continued shining the jack-o-lantern at the witch, burning her even more. Then George charged across the clearing with a scream, baseball bat held high in his hands. He brought his baseball bat down on the witch woman while shrieking â€œLeave my mom alone!â€ The bat passed harmlessly through the witchâ€™s ghost and crashed against the altar. He cried out in pain from the sudden impact he didnâ€™t expect.
â€œYou gotta use a jack-o-lantern, dummy!â€ Gerdie said. â€œYou canâ€™t hit ghosts!â€
The witchâ€™s ghost flitted around the altar and to the cauldron.
Uh-oh! Edward thought.
She reached into the boiling cauldron, scooping up a handful of the misty green wisps within.
â€œYouâ€™re a bad boy,â€ she said in a deep, rough voice, pointing at him her other hand.
She flung it at Edward who let out a shriek of terror. The strange wisp missed him, flying by his face. He thought he heard a maniacal, inhuman laughter from within as he passed.
Giggling goo? Edward thought.
Gordon ran over to the cauldron, pulling out the jar of applejack theyâ€™d prepared and opening it.
â€œHey, Maureen!â€ he called to the ghost. â€œWhat would happen if I poured this in the cauldron?â€
Alice drew out and opened her switchblade knife but wasnâ€™t sure what to do. She had seen Georgeâ€™s ineffective attack and watched Gordon with his bottle of poison.
â€œUh â€¦â€ she said. â€œUh â€¦â€
She moved towards Gordon.
Donald moved to the ghost and shined his jack-o-lantern at it. It burned her. Gerdie moved towards the witch, shoving the other children out of the way and shining her jack-o-lantern light on the ghost, burning her.
â€œYou are terrible children!â€ the witch cried out in a horrific voice.
George looked around unsure what to do since his baseball bat didnâ€™t seem to hurt the ghost.
â€œYou old â€¦ you old bag!â€ he cried out.
He smashed one of the poles over and over and over again with his baseball bat.
â€œGimme. My. Mom. Back!â€ he shouted each time he strike the pole.
The pole shattered under the youthâ€™s attack.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you do it and find out!â€ the witchâ€™s ghost said sweetly to Gordon.
She reached into the cauldron again, pulling out more of the nasty-looking wisps and flinging it at Donald. When the wisp hit him, he felt it clawing and biting at him as if it was alive as it dispersed into thin air. It burned and was horrific.
Gordon dumped the moonshine in the fire, hoping to douse it. Unfortunately, the alcohol in the poisoned applejack fed the fire and it roared and burned blue for a few moments. The stench of rotten flesh filled the air. Gordon got a big face filled with stinking smoke and turned green, putting his finger to his mouth. He stumbled forward and puked into the cauldron.
â€œGordie!â€ Edward cried. â€œGordie, I appreciate the effort but alcohol is flammable! Thank you!â€
â€œI even knew that!â€ Donald said.
Alice, standing next to Edward, picked up the jack-o-lantern heâ€™d placed on the ground when he got the dirt. She shined the light on the witchâ€™s ghost and burned it. She shrieked once again.
Edward looked around, realizing the dagger theyâ€™d found hidden in Great-Grandpa Silasâ€™s room might be magical and, if so, might be able to harm a ghost even if other material substances couldnâ€™t. He also realized the other thing that might be able to harm a ghost â€¦ was another ghost. He thought Gerdie had the knife but didnâ€™t see it on her.
â€œBlack knife!â€ He yelled. â€œOn the witch! Simon!â€
He pointed at the other ghost.
â€œGet punching!â€ he cried out.
Simon looked confused.
Edward put his foot on the cauldron and tried to push it over. He could feel the heat under his shoe and the cauldron didnâ€™t move at all. He was not a strong boy, however.
Donald ignored the goo still upon him and shined his jack-o-lantern on the witchâ€™s ghost, burning her more. Gerdie took the knife out of her pocket and held it out to Alice. Alice grabbed it while George beat on another pole.
â€œThatâ€™s mine!â€ the witch ghost said to Alice.
She flew around George and tried to slap Alice but the freezing hand missed her.
Gordon ran over by Edward and tried to shove the cauldron over with his foot as well.
â€œOh!â€ Edward said. â€œTh-th-thank you - thank you for the assistance!â€
The two boys working together, shoving the cauldron with their feet. It tipped but then tipped back.
â€œGeorge, get over here and help tip this thing!â€ Gordon called.
â€œWhat!?!â€ George said.
Alice slashed the witchâ€™s ghost with the dagger. She was surprised to feel resistance against the dagger when she struck the incorporeal corpse. The witch screamed. Clear ectoplasm spewed from the wound and then dripped off the ghost.
â€œSimon!â€ Donald said. â€œGo hit her!â€
â€œI â€¦ I â€¦ I â€¦ Iâ€™m scared!â€ Simon said.
â€œDonâ€™t be!â€ Donald said. â€œJust get over there! Just do it! Just do it!â€
Simon nervously jumped from foot to food and shook his fists in front of him, anxious.
Gerdie shined her jack-o-lantern on the witchâ€™s ghost and the horror shrieked again as the light struck her. With a scream of anguish and rage, she faded away into nothingness. The altar stone stopped glowing and Simon faded away at the same time, though Donald could still see him. It became much darker on top of the hill, even the flames dimming almost immediately. The strange mist in the cauldron flew out and vanished in the woods. It appeared to be filled with just gunk.
â€œYou could write out the symbols,â€ Gerdie said to Edward.
â€œOh!â€ he said. â€œLet me get out my note - my notebook.â€
He dutifully copied the symbols into his notebook. Gordon told George to help him tip over the cauldron.
â€œDammit Simon!â€ Donald said.
â€œI was scared,â€ Simon said.
â€œSimon, you didnâ€™t help,â€ Donald said.
â€œI was scared,â€ Simon said.
Alice got out her switchblade and the magic knife and compared them. The blades were about the same size.
â€œWell, Cherise, I guess you got a friend,â€ she said to her switchblade.
She tucked them both away.
Gordon and George pushed over the cauldron and all the nasty liquid within poured out and down the hill.
â€œWhy?â€ Alice said. â€œWhat are you doing?â€
â€œBecause!â€ Gordon said.
â€œWhat is that?â€ Donald said.
â€œEw ew ew,â€ Alice said. â€œWhat are you doing?â€
â€œBoy-boy-boy, I-I really thought we wouldâ€™ve - I really - I really thought we would have done that a little bit sooner,â€ Edward said. â€œItâ€™s embarrassing.â€
â€œWhat are you talking about?â€ George asked. â€œWhat do we do?â€
â€œI think itâ€™s okay now,â€ Donald said.
â€œOur parents!â€ Alice said. â€œWe gotta check on them! We gotta make sure that theyâ€™re alive! That theyâ€™re okay!â€
George pointed at her and nodded.
They walked back down the hill, Edward staying to copy the symbols and Gerdie and Gordon staying with him. Donald, George, and Alice went down the hill towards Great-Grandpa Silasâ€™s house. The three who stayed caught up to the other three in the cornfield. Gerdie got her jack-o-lantern from where George had put it by the tree.
At the house, they found everyone still sleeping. Gerdie shook Great Grandpa Silas.
â€œWhu?â€ he said.
Then he grasped his head.
â€œAw â€¦â€ he muttered. â€œThat applejack had a lot more in it than I thought it would.â€
His eyes were red and bloodshot.
â€œYou were right Grandpa, it was the witch!â€ Gerdie said loudly. â€œThe witch cursed your applejack.â€
Great Grandpa Silas shushed her.
â€œJust â€¦ Iâ€™m going to bed,â€ he muttered. â€œI â€¦â€
â€œHereâ€™s your keys back,â€ Gerdie said.,
â€œOh,â€ he said. â€œOh, thank you. Tell me in the morning. Youâ€™re a good girl. Tell me in the morning.â€
He wandered up the steps, holding his head with his hand, obviously suffering a terrible hangover.
Gerdie went to her parents and woke them up.
â€œGerdie, go to bed,â€ her father said.
â€œGreat Grandpaâ€™s right!â€ she said.
â€œYouâ€™re not in bed. You need to go to bed.â€
She got them up and to one of the makeshift beds prepared for them in the house.
The other children woke their parents, all of whom suffered from what seemed like terrible hangovers: splitting headaches, sour stomachs, and feeling generally awful.
â€œNo wonder thereâ€™s a prohibitin,â€ Gerdie said.
Edward looked over his notes of the symbols and found his jack-o-lantern was still in fine shape. He set Lâ€™il Ed out on the front porch safe and then got Gerdie to show him what the symbols heâ€™d copied meant. Gerdie did her best, but she was very tired.
Donald had gone to the kitchen and got the apple jack jug that was left. He took it out into the back yard and poured it out, then flung the jugs away. The place on the grass where he poured the applejack turned black, much like the trail theyâ€™d found in the woods. He returned to wake his parents.
â€œDon, what?â€ his father said.
â€œYouâ€™ve been sleeping,â€ Donald said. â€œYou â€¦ just slept here. You need to go to bed.â€
â€œOkay,â€ his father said.
His mother and father headed for their room.
â€œYou drank too much,â€ Donald said.
â€œI know,â€ his father moaned. â€œI know.â€
â€œIâ€™m more used to wine anyway,â€ his mother said.
â€œThat sounds like a good idea,â€ Donald said.
Alice let her mother sleep and curled up by the fire herself.
* * *
The next morning came far too early for any of them. Thursday, November 1, 1928, was a cool but very sunny and pretty day. All of their parents still had terrible hangovers and more than one of them swore off applejack for life.
They had a big breakfast together but only the children were willing to eat the fried eggs, sausages, bacon, and hash browns. The adults mostly stuck to coffee and toast. Alice had eight pieces of toast with strawberry jam.
â€œDo you still see him?â€ Alice asked Donald. â€œYou know: Simon? Anymore?â€
â€œHeâ€™s right here,â€ Donald said, pointing to empty air.
â€œUgh,â€ Alice said.
Simon waved at the girl who waved back at where she thought the ghost might be.
â€œShe can see you still!â€ Donald said to Simon.
â€œNo,â€ Alice said. â€œNo, I canâ€™t see him.â€
â€œOh,â€ Donald said. â€œYou waved at him. Donâ€™t lie.â€
Gerdie told Great Grandpa Silas about their adventure and he listened but obviously didnâ€™t believe the girl. Despite the other children backing up her amazing story, he merely smiled at her.
â€œThatâ€™s a great story,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s a good Halloween trick.â€
Part IV Intimate Encounters
Some weeks after the four experienced the strange dream Rafe Weston, FBI agent undercover as Private Security Christopher Rameriz received an email from his contact:
Field Agent Weston Congratulations, youâ€™ve been reactivated.
Donâ€™t get too excited, I expect that fact we needed someone to do some detective work up there is the reason you got expedited. Thereâ€™s a killer on the loose. This alone wouldnâ€™t be especially new but this guy seems to have some serious hacking skills on top of his bizarre methods. We need you to check it out before we get seriously involved. Your liaison will be a Detective Neumeir. I think youâ€™ve met. He will be in contact shortly.
It seemed Neumeir had changed his tune since his run in with the investigators during the Church of Sunyata case. At 10 that night Rafe received the call heâ€™d been waiting for. Neaumeir reported that the latest body in a string of murders had been found at â€˜The Honey Spotâ€™ Motel in Compton and requested that Rameriz organize his group to meet there. The four arrived at around 10.30 to find the crime scene bustling. A cordon of police tape had been run around the motel and confused and angry looking guests were in the parking lot being interviewed. A trio of news vans had already arrived, including some sort of ghost hunting show.
Rameriz, Williams, Field and Smith approached the cop guarding the perimeter. â€˜Move alongâ€™ he said tiredly. The quartet introduced themselves and he radioed in. A barely audible response of â€˜send them upâ€™ buzzed back. â€˜Stairs are on the rightâ€™ he says, raising the tape.
The police shifted around the crime scene taking photoâ€™s and dusting surfaces. It occurred to Rameriz that the equipment the police were using seemed rather dated. On the floor in the centre of the room lied the body of a woman. Small holes dotted the room. Neumeir crouched by her.
The body was unusual. The woman appeared thin but her skin was loose and baggy as if she had lost a lot of weight quickly. She looked approximately 50 and was dressed rather provocatively. A blond wig was dropped nearby.
â€˜Thanks for coming. Iâ€™ll tell you straight up Iâ€™m not thrilled to have to call you in but this **** is insane and I need someone who has worked with insanity. This caseâ€¦.. it feels similar to that church craziness you lot were involved in.
The victimâ€™s Name is Miranda Tinoco, missing since the 25th of September, when she went on a date with one Robert Hoff. Hoff was found in a similar state to Ms Tinoco here. He too had been missing since a date with a lady named Charlene Mendle, deceased also of course. A week prior to that she met with a David Eugenson and he, so far, is our patient zero. Weâ€™ve found that all the victims met on a casual rendezvous site called â€˜Intimate Encountersâ€™
â€˜The Medical Examiner will be here shortly but I can tell you what heâ€™ll find. All our victims have experienced massive, sudden weight loss. Theyâ€™re call our guy the Lip Killer. Though Iâ€™m not certain there even is a killer and some weird virus. Hell I donâ€™t know, all I can think of when I see these folks are those bags of skin left around after that Sunyata ****. You think this is connected?â€™
George responded that they couldnâ€™t know but they would look into it. â€˜Oh and one other thingâ€™ Neumeir pointed out. â€˜Our equipment has been affected by some sort of virus. Researching this craziness online has a habit of killing your electronics. You might have noticed weâ€™re down to last generations kit.â€™ he said, gesturing to the police investigators.
The group left the scene to discuss in the SUV. A quick search of the victims profiles on Intimate Encounters showed a couple of things in common. For one, all the victims were overweight. Secondly, all the deceased seemed to have been alcoholics, or at least drinkers.
The Investigators came up with a plan to catfish the killer. Each of them set up a fake profile, making sure to suggest they were on the bigger size and werenâ€™t adverse to having a few drinks.
But the rate the murders happened suggested that there wouldnâ€™t be a bite for about a week. They decided to be more proactive. The offices of Intimate Encounters might provide some information into the mystery. Fortunately, Tannequaâ€™s cleaning company held to contract for the offices and they were due to send someone around in a couple of day. A few favours called in and Tannequa arranged to be sent out there on the next rostered day.
But there was one final lead they had and they could look into it now. The first murder, David Eugenson. With a bit of digging the group was able to find Eugenson worked for National Communication Services. A few phone calls later and they found he had last been seen when he went on a job at Sommerset Industrial Park. The failed park had been abandoned since the mid eighties but NCS held the contract to maintain an antenna located on the site. The Group decided to get some sleep and set out in the morning.
The following day the group set out. The park had little in the way of security aside from a barb wire-topped fence, which the team managed to scale with a few scrapes and cuts.
A stark industrial wasteland stretched before them. Papers blew past in the L.A. breeze. A pair of mangy strays rutted among some trash. Most of the area looked like it had been abandoned for the last thirty years but for a pair of tyre tracks in the dust looked fresh. The investigators followed the tracks to one of the buildings and a closed roller door. Quietly inching open the inset pedestrian door they located the source of the tracks. A van bearing the logo for National Communication Services was parked in the warehouse. The group approached it.
Inside the unlocked vanâ€™s glove compartment the group discovered a log book with Eugenson listed as the last driver, obviously they were on the right track. Beyond some heavy doors a rumbling was emanating. With the doors opened the sound was much louder and the group soon traced it to a room with a large hole in it.
The stink of excrement seeped up from the darkness but the group pressed on and clambered, as quietly as possible, down the rubble into the hole. They found themselves what appeared to be an old septic tank. Fortunately time had evaporated much of itâ€™s contents but the smell of **** still hung in the air and the ground still had a slippery coating of slime.
Further in the depths of the chamber the investigators could see a figure working on a huge contraption. The machine didnâ€™t look like anything any of them had ever seen before. It was a bizzare mish-mash of electronics and itâ€™s purpose wasnâ€™t apparent. The figure was a man, his back to the group, but as they approached he straightened. Without turning, in a rather bored tone he announced â€˜Hello.â€™
â€˜I guess youâ€™ve found me.â€™ He continued. â€˜Im afraid youâ€™re going to have to let me finish my work however.â€™ The group pressed him for information, demanding to know what was going on and the figure had no qualms about telling them. â€˜You might recognise this body as one Scott Parkerâ€™ he explained, his voice conversational. â€˜Iâ€™m afraid ive had to borrow it, along with the others. You see this place Iâ€™ve been dragged to isnâ€™t compatible with my kind.â€™ When quizzed about this he continued;
â€˜I believe it was just an accident that brought me here. The one called Eugenson was repairing one of the antenna in this park. Funny how just the right combination of electrical interference, combined with some chemicals left over from the previous tenants, was enough to tear a door in reality. I was dragged from my home and stranded here. Just bad luck I guess.â€™ He shrugged. â€˜Well now if youâ€™ll let me be Iâ€™ve just got to finish up here and Iâ€™ll be on my way back home.â€™
â€˜So what exactly will happen when you start up the machineâ€™ enquired Williams.
â€˜Well Itâ€™ll open up a portal to my home.â€™ Said the being. â€˜I mean it will cause a small explosion on closing, but that canâ€™t be helped.â€™
â€˜Small explosion?â€™ echoed the investigators.
â€˜Yes, about ten to fifteen megatons I expect. Canâ€™t be helped.â€™
â€˜Iâ€™m afraid we cant allow you to do that.â€™ Began Smith as Rameriz drew his gun. â€˜Oh I donâ€™t think you can stop meâ€™ â€“ said the Eugenson thing, ignoring the request and continuing to work on its machine. â€˜Ok, step away from the machine!â€™ yelled Rameriz, taking aim with him Magnum.
Eugenson stopped and turned, an annoyed look crossing his features.
â€˜Well, sorry it had to come to this.â€™
His skin erupted and as a living void smashed through his chest. The empty skin of Eugenson collapsed on the ground in a pile leaving a black ball of negative energy in its place.
The Entity moved on the team and Rameriz fired but his bullets did nothing as they were absorbed by the creature. They fled.
The Entity closed in on them as they scrambled up and out of the hole and fled the building. Lighting crackled from creature burning small wounds in the team. The van stood ahead and they piled in. Field threw it into reverse and slammed the accelerator. Then they realized the warehouse doors were shut.
With a smash the back of the van crumpled in as it collided with the heavy doors. The Entity closed in, moving in front of the van. Thinking quickly Field threw the car in drive and plowed into the void-like creature. The speeding van collected the Entity and all five hurtled into the far wall. With a tearing sound the Entity came apart, absorbing the front of the van into itself and collapsing. As sense returned to the situation the creature, and a large semi-circular part of the front of the van, was gone. The investigators piled out of the wreckage and raced to the machine which was looking exceedingly unstable.
Esther Smith approached it while the others considered what to do and a few seconds later the machine was deactivated, leaving everyone wondering how a hairdresser had any knowledge on Interdimensional Engineering.
Epilogue. Agent Rafe Weston soon arranged for the FBI to come and seize control of the strange machine and the incident was covered up quickly and cleanly.
Saturday, October 28, 2017
(After playing the original Call of Cthulhu scenario â€œFear Jet 1972â€ today at the App State Gaming Club Gamefest from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. with Ryan Jones, Kyle Lewis, Abbie Waite, Xavier De Leon, Jonathon Griffin, and Kurt Klesser.)
On Tuesday, March 7, 1972, Tenebris Studio, a small Los Angeles film production company, sent the four leads, the director, and the producer of its newest film â€œMr. Black,â€ a blaxploitation rip off of the popular James Bond movies, to Houston Texas for some location shooting for the movie. Tenebris Studios had leapt into the genre the year before with a somewhat successful movie called â€œBlack Mommaâ€ and hoped to capitalize on that success with its new film.
The six were to take a 9 p.m. flight out of Los Angeles International Airport.
Gas prices were still around 45 cents a gallon and the voting age had been lowered to 18 just the year before. Richard Nixon was the President of the United States. Heâ€™d just returned from an unprecedented six-day visit to
* * *
The three actors finished their short scene and there was a roar of applause. They felt like people were standing up and clapping and they each bowed and then held hands and all bowed together. There was a flash of light and as they stood up and looked out into the suddenly lit house, they saw Wrinkle and Miss Denning standing at the door to the theater. It was deadly silent and the house was completely empty.
Drama queens, Wrinkle thought.
â€œWhat the heck just happened?â€ he said.
â€œI â€¦ donâ€™t know,â€ Johnson said.
â€œWeâ€™re rehearsing for the movie,â€ Miss Trix said.
â€œIâ€™d love to direct it,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œJames Black?â€ Miss Trix said. â€œMr. Black.â€
â€œIs it that book I gave you?â€ Wrinkle said. â€œI remember it was a play. Did you do that play?â€
â€œNo, because these guys donâ€™t know it,â€ Johnson said.
â€œWhat play?â€ Miss Trix said.
Johnson took out The King in Yellow.
â€œThis play,â€ he said.
Miss Trix took the book from him and looked at the poisonous and horrible symbol on the cover that seemed to reach for her with terrible, clawing and pawing tendrils. The effect only lasted a moment, however, and she blamed the alcohol and the strange situation for what she thought she saw. She started skimming through the three-act play.
Miss Wyse was certain the clapping had been some kind of recording. Nothing else could explain it as she looked around the room. She thought Wrinkle looked very nervous and she began to suspect him once again.
â€œIâ€™m pretty sure youâ€™re the one causing all this,â€ she said to him.
* * *
Smalley found what he assumed was the cargo door on the bottom of the aircraft near the back. He couldnâ€™t get it open. It seemed to need some kind of key or special lever to unlock and he had nothing he could use as a substitute. He looked up and down the street. There were what appeared to be houses and shops on the sides and he headed down, looking for a hardware store. He found a sweet shop, a drink shop of some kind with strange bottles in the window, but nothing with tools. He went back to a bookshop.
The small bookstore had a pleasant window filled with books. The front door was closed but he found it was not locked and the room within smelled pleasantly of old paper and ink. No one was at the small counter but above it was a sign that read: â€œAct Against Your Own Nature.â€ It might have been the name of the quaint little shop filled with leather-bound books of all kinds, many with titles familiar to him. It seemed relaxing after all heâ€™d been through.
You know what? he thought. These words, so far, are the only things that havenâ€™t seemed crazy. Even those mannequins seemed quite crazy. Iâ€™m going to act against my own nature. Iâ€™m going to pull a Fahrenheit 451.
He took out his box of matches and knocked over a shelf of books. Then he lit the books on fire, the paper catching very quickly. He sat down to enjoy the blaze but realized it was not safe to stay in the shop. He got up to leave and knocked over a pile of books on the floor next to him. When he headed for the door, he noticed books were falling off one of the other shelves. He looked back at the fire and saw it was much bigger than he expected. It was spreading very quickly.
He turned back towards the door and saw a pile of books blocking it that had not been there a few moments before. He pushed it out of the way before stumbling out of the bookstore and back onto the street.
But it wasnâ€™t the street he had been on before. The buildings were all different and the Learjet was gone.
He looked behind him to see the building was on fire, smoke started to pour out of it. He crossed the street towards one of the residences.
* * *
Johnson went to the prop table and saw the props there seemed to be for The King in Yellow. A scepter was there as well as trays of fake food and an entire table was covered with masks. Wrinkle came backstage too.
â€œAre the props from that play?â€ he asked Johnson.
â€œI think this is that play,â€ Johnson said.
â€œYou know, this is crazy but â€¦ do you think that fake audience that was definitely never here wants you to perform that play?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know.â€
â€œIâ€™d be more than willing to direct it for nobody. Itâ€™s not like weâ€™re doing anything better. Itâ€™s not like weâ€™re going to live through this.â€
Miss Wyse, listening to them, was not pleased with that.
Youâ€™re trying to murder us, she thought.
She walked over to Johnson.
â€œDonâ€™t trust him,â€ she whispered to the man.
He was busy looking at the masks and found the pale mask with the yellow sign upon it. The sign seemed to reach for him, grasping at him.
â€œCan I see the book, please?â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œUh â€¦ in a minute,â€ Miss Trix said.
Miss Wyse went over to her.
â€œDonâ€™t give the book to him,â€ she whispered to the other woman. â€œHeâ€™s trying to kill us.â€
Miss Trix looked at Wrinkle and then looked back at the book.
â€œIâ€™m not trying to kill you!â€ Wrinkle said. â€œHave some â€¦ have some more alcohol.â€
He held out his flask.
â€œNo!â€ she said. â€œI donâ€™t trust you at this point. Itâ€™s poison. Youâ€™re the one thatâ€™s doing this. Iâ€™m not taking anything.â€
Johnson put on the pallid mask. It seemed to fit him fine and it felt cold and clammy. Miss Denning came up onto the stage and asked about the book. Johnson took the mask off.
* * *
Smalley went to the residence. When he tried to turn the handle of the front door, it didnâ€™t move at all, as if it wasnâ€™t really a doorknob but just a part of the architecture. When he examined the window, he found it wasnâ€™t real either, but just the front of the building painted to look like a window. When he moved down to the next residence, he heard the sound of someone tapping on glass. He turned to see a face in the window he had just tried to look into. Then it was gone. When he went back to the window, it was just painted onto the building, not glass, not real. It was impossible he had seen a face there.
He stared at the false window a moment and then headed down the street.
Sounds of strange, discordant music came from a large building that appeared to be some kind of dance hall. Within, he could see lights glittering and playing over a hardwood, polished floor. A lone woman danced to the music in beautiful form. However, strings were connected to her hands and feet as if she were merely a marionette. They disappeared into the darkness above. She appeared to be a normal person though a blank, white mask with only eye holes covered her face.
Smalley ignored the strings, completely in denial. He figured it was just a lady wearing a mask. As he approached, she stopped dancing and just stood there, looking at him.
â€œHey â€¦ whatâ€™s going on over here?â€ Smalley said.
She gestured towards the door frantically and then motioned to the strings on her arms and legs, pulling on them ineffectually. Then she gestured towards the entrance once again. He reached forward and pulled on her strings but they were tightly to her hands.
After a momentâ€™s thought, he took one of the seltzer bottles out of his pocket and smashed it on the floor. It shattered into a million pieces, cutting his hand rather badly. He was able to find a decent-sized piece that was sharp and cut the strings on her arms. She gestured to the strings on her legs and he cut them as well.
As soon as he cut the last string, she collapsed to the ground. As she seemed to breathe her last, she clawed at the mask on her face. He grabbed it and helped rip it away. As it came off with a terrible tearing sound, blood poured out from under it and revealed muscle and skull. The mask had been part of her face and physically attached to her body.
He recoiled in terror as she breathed her last.
He fled from the dance floor. As he ran down the street, he heard the music starting again behind him.
He didnâ€™t look back.
* * *
While Wrinkle tried to convince his actors to do the play, Miss Wyse pointed out he was trying to murder them. He denied it and the two argued. He tried to give her a makeshift Molotov cocktail but she noted she had nothing to light it with so his gesture was useless and he knew it. Miss Denning told her he wasnâ€™t trying to kill them and Wrinkle offered her the broken bottle if she wanted. She took it, a little appeased though still somewhat distrustful.
Johnson had shoved the mask into one of his suit pockets and entered the stage again.
â€œThis is all a terrible situation, but weâ€™ve all seen worse than this, donâ€™t you think?â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œNo, we havenâ€™t!â€ Johnson said.
â€œIâ€™ve seen worse than this,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œHeâ€™s seen worse than this,â€ Miss Trix said.
â€œI mean, if you donâ€™t want to do this, thatâ€™s fine,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œBut I think itâ€™s for the best.â€
He looked them over.
â€œItâ€™s like â€¦ supernatural rules â€¦ you know?â€ Wrinkle said.
The lights suddenly went down in the theater they all felt like they were being watched. Wrinkle left the stage to polite clapping from the audience. Miss Trix clapped as well. Then it was silent and there was a feeling of anticipation in the theater.
â€œWhat do you want?â€ Miss Wyse said.
There was no answer aside from the feeling there was a full audience in the house. Miss Trix looked up and saw the lighting above the stage came from fresnels that flickered as if they had flames within them. Johnson went offstage and closed the curtains. A murmuring came from the house and the lights came up. It sounded like people were leaving the theater, perhaps for intermission.
Wrinkle looked out into the house and found it lit and empty, just like before.
â€œI think we might want to leave this theater,â€ Johnson said.
â€œI still think we should try the play,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œHave you actually read this play!?!â€
â€œNo, I have not.â€
Miss Trix threw the book at Wrinkle. He caught it and started skimming the play.
While he did so, Miss Trix went out into the foyer. She went out to the street and couldnâ€™t help but notice the posters that Miss Wyse had ripped down before seemed to be back in place. Or were they were new posters.
* * *
Smalley ran down the street and saw what looked like a small graveyard tucked between the buildings. A low, iron fence enclosed the sparsely grassed area. There were six headstones and a woman in black with a black hat and a black veil covering her face knelt at one of the graves, her shoulders shaking as if she was crying.
As far as Smalley knew, the veil was part of her body and he didnâ€™t want to see that again. He ignored her and continued moving quickly through the streets.
Then he saw Miss Denning in front of what looked like a theater, ripping a poster off the wall. Thinking she was obviously crazy but that something was going on in the theater, he ducked off to the right down an alley he thought might take him to the back of the theater.
* * *
Miss Denning saw Smalley running towards her but then the man ducked off down an alley. She followed him as quietly as she could. As soon as she saw him, he ran.
* * *
Smalley had seen Miss Denning coming after him. She wasnâ€™t running but had been going from shadow to shadow. He immediately fled, hoping to find a backstage door to the theater so he could get away from the insane woman.
â€œWait for me!â€ she shouted at him.
He didnâ€™t. However, he quickly ran out of breath and she caught up with him. She ran up behind him and put a hand on his shoulder.
â€œWait!â€ she said.
Smalley spun around, pulling a seltzer bottle from his jacket. He swung it wildly at the woman, narrowly missing her head.
â€œCalm down, man!â€ Miss Trix said. â€œLetâ€™s just go meet up with everybody else. Okay? Where are you trying to get to?â€
Smalley cautiously backed away.
â€œWhereâ€™s everyone else?â€ he said.
â€œTheyâ€™re in the theater,â€ Miss Trix said. â€œRight here.â€
She knocked on the side of the building.
â€œAll right,â€ Smalley said cautiously.
â€œLetâ€™s go,â€ she said.
He continued to carefully back away, looking for the stage door. He also kept his eye on Miss Trix.
â€œAre you okay, man?â€ she said.
â€œIâ€™m â€¦ going to go inside this theater,â€ he replied.
â€œLetâ€™s go inside together.â€
â€œIâ€™m going. Iâ€™m going.â€
He crept away as she watched. When he went around a corner, she followed, keeping her distance. He found a stage door eventually and opened it, slipping inside. She followed.
The door opened onto a stairwell that led down and he crept down the stairs startled when the door opened and Miss Trix let herself into the dimly-lit stairway. The steps seemed to go down and down and down, finally ending in a small room with a single door. Smalley opened the door and went through.
The door opened onto a catwalk and he found himself high above the stage floor of the theater. He saw Wrinkle, Miss Wyse, and Johnson standing on the stage. The catwalk ran from the back to the front of the stage and there was a ladder nearby. He could see the weights and the battens, connected with ropes. The flickering lights of the fresnels lit the stage while leaving the catwalk in shadows.
He climbed down the ladder and the door opened as Miss Trix entered. It was very strange to find herself on the catwalk above the stage when sheâ€™d gone down so many steps to reach â€¦ the top? She blinked and put it out of her mind.
Below, Wrinkle handed Miss Denning the play. Then he saw Smalley climbing down the ladder backstage.
Above, Miss Trix moved along the catwalk towards the front of the stage and reached for one of the lighting fresnels. She found it very hot when she leaned forward to remove the colored gel in the front of the fixture. She headed back down to the stage floor.
Smalley picked up the gaudy golden-colored scepter and eyed the rest of them suspiciously. He glared at Miss Trix and she climbed down the ladder. He wiped the sweat from his brow.
Wrinkle said the nonexistent audience would probably return shortly.
â€œI almost feel like we should head back for the jet,â€ Johnson said.
â€œI have no idea where it is,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œLook, hereâ€™s the thing,â€ Smalley said. â€œI went into a store. I came out of the store. The jet wasnâ€™t there. I donâ€™t know where the jetâ€™s at.â€
Wrinkle wanted to put the play on the next time they heard the audience. With only four actors, it would be difficult.
â€œI think we should go to the lake,â€ Miss Trix said.
She had read the play and remembered the lakeâ€™s mention in then strange text.
â€œI donâ€™t think we should do that play,â€ Johnson said.
â€œI mean â€¦ we donâ€™t have enough people anyway, so â€¦â€ Wrinkle said.
They waited for Miss Denning to skim the play. As with the others, it was very disturbing to her and she related to one of the characters in the play. She didnâ€™t like it at all.
Smalley was against going to the lake, especially at night.
â€œMaybe itâ€™s day,â€ Miss Denning said.
â€œMaybe it isnâ€™t,â€ Smalley said.
â€œShall we look?â€ she said.
Wrinkle tore out more of the lining of his coat and handed the strip of fabric to Smalley.
â€œIf you need it,â€ he said.
He pointed to the manâ€™s eyes, gesturing for him to use it like a blindfold.
â€œWhat are you going to do to me if I put that on?â€ Smalley said.
â€œLook, you canâ€™t freak out if you canâ€™t see,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œWhat are you going to do when I put that on!?!â€
â€œNothing! Absolutely nothing!â€
â€œThen why should I put it on?â€
â€œBecause you might freak out otherwise.â€
â€œIf you had a horse, you could put a bag over his head and then you can lead him everywhere,â€ Miss Denning said. â€œHe just wants to lead you and you wonâ€™t be scared.â€
â€œExactly,â€ Wrinkle said.
Smalley looked at both of them.
â€œNo!â€ he said.
â€œIf you donâ€™t comeâ”€â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œWe canâ€™t leave you here alone!â€ Miss Denning said. â€œLast time we left you alone you lost the jet!â€
â€œThe last time he tried to lead me somewhere, it was with a broken bottle!â€ Smalley said.
â€œWhat?â€ Miss Denning said.
â€œI asked you,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œI asked him. He thought it was â€¦ he thought it was â€¦ see? She has my broken bottle now. And he thought it was a threat.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know what else you have!â€ Smalley said.
â€œI have four Molotov cocktailsâ”€â€
â€œWhat!?! You have four Molotov cocktails!?!â€
â€œI have fourâ”€â€
â€œWhat are you doing!?! No!â€
â€œI have four fire bombs and a book.â€
â€œNo, youâ€™re not coming anywhere near me.â€
Smalley lifted up the scepter, brandishing it in Wrinkleâ€™s general direction.
â€œOkay, stay here,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œWe canâ€™t leave you here,â€ Miss Denning said again. â€œThis place is crazy.â€
â€œRight here seems better than anywhere else,â€ Smalley said.
â€œFor now,â€ she said.
Wrinkle went to the curtain and opened it. The house was filled with faceless, life-sized marionettes or mannequins made of wood, much like the ones from the jet. Smalley was happy to see they didnâ€™t wear masks.
â€œThese are better then!â€ he said. â€œThey donâ€™t have faces to rip off!â€
Miss Trix said she wanted to go to the lake. She led the other two actresses and Johnson towards the front doors.
â€œSo, Smalls,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œIâ€™m going to leave this Molotov and this match here for you, okay? Donâ€™t die.â€
He put both of them down on the stage and then hurried to catch up to the others. Smalley watched them go, happy to see the back of them.
* * *
As they walked in the direction of the lake, the five found themselves in a wide square with a black-domed temple. Impossibly tall and thin towers jutted from the roof around the dome, each filled with dark windows and covered in strangely shaped and evil-looking gargoyles. Light glinted from the stained glass windows of the temple, which had strange scenes of people in masks floating gaily across a yellow background. Great golden doors stood in the front of the building.
There didnâ€™t seem to be any other exits from the plaza. Miss Trix was a little confused as she had been heading the direction of the lake. Perhaps there was another way through the other side of the temple.
â€œMust be on the other side of this castle then,â€ she said. â€œLetâ€™s go through this castle.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know about that,â€ Wrinkle said nervously. â€œThatâ€™s a lot of windows. Maybe we should go back to the windowless theater. What do you think?â€
Johnson crept across the wide plaza and looked through one of the windows. The stained glass made it hard to see though he could see a shape inside. It might have been a person. The room within appeared to be very wide and tall, possibly a temple or worship area of some kind. He moved to the door and pushed it open, walking in.
The rest of them carefully followed behind, Wrinkle very nervous about the windows.
The building was one large room, deep and wide, nearly square, and set with several pillars that hold up the domed ceiling above. Lights or stars glittered from the blackness above though it was impossible to tell which.
At the far end of the room stood a man in yellow robes with a knife in his hand. He was rather small, older, and wore wire-rimmed glasses. He was balding and had a genial face. He smiled when he saw them and beckoned them forward.
â€œThere you are!â€ he said with a grin. â€œCâ€™mon. Câ€™mon. We havenâ€™t got all day.â€
He motioned for them to approach.
â€œAll right,â€ he said with a friendly grin. â€œWhoâ€™s first?â€
â€œFor what?â€ Johnson said.
â€œFor the table!â€ the old man said.
He gestured with the black-bladed knife. Behind him was a golden altar with runnels around the edges that led to a great, yellow gemstone set in the floor at its head and foot.
â€œThis is your destiny,â€ the little man said. â€œNo need to quarrel, now. Whoâ€™s first?â€
Johnson took out the mask he had in his pocket.
â€œWhatâ€™s this symbol?â€ he said, gesturing towards it.
â€œThatâ€™s the Yellow Sign, of course,â€ the old man said. â€œThatâ€™s why youâ€™re here. You want to go first?â€
He again gestured with the knife as if it was a pointer. Wrinkle lit one of his Molotov cocktails.
â€œSo, who wants to go first?â€ the old man said again. â€œCâ€™mon. Câ€™mon. Câ€™mon. I havenâ€™t got all day. Well, I do. Iâ€™ve got a long time.â€
â€œAre you trying to sacrifice us?â€ Miss Wyse said.
â€œYes!â€ the man said. â€œIf you get on the â€¦ thing â€¦ then Iâ€™m going to stab you.â€
â€œBecause itâ€™s your destiny.â€
â€œWhy is it my destiny?â€
Wrinkle flung the flaming bottle of liquor at the old man. The bottle hit him, bounced off, and struck the ground with a clunk where it burned merrily without breaking. The old man looked at it.
â€œWhat the hell is that!?!â€ he said.
â€œNothing,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œThatâ€™s a waste of alcohol, young man,â€ the old man said. â€œSmells so good. What did you ask me, young lady?â€
â€œIâ€™m still trying to figure out why this is my destiny,â€ Miss Wyse said.
â€œOh yes, thatâ€™s right,â€ the old man said. â€œYou see, itâ€™s fairly simple. Thereâ€™s a group of rich worshippers of Hastur. Youâ€™ve heard of Hastur? You read the â€¦ you donâ€™t know Hastur? Anyway, they got this plot. Why take sacrifices off the street when you can just trick â€˜em into getting on a plane that theyâ€™ve enchanted, and taking them right off to Carcosa. This is Carcosa, by the way. Youâ€™ve heard of Carcosa?â€
â€œIt sounds needlessly complicated,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œSo, then the sacrifice â€¦ they donâ€™t have to get their hands dirty, but they still get to make the sacrifice,â€ the old man went on, ignoring him. â€œAnd I â€¦ I have to be here â€¦ and Iâ€™ve got to do all the hard work, of course. Boring! Youâ€™re the first group to make it! How many times have they tried? Do you know?â€
â€œTried what?â€ Miss Wyse said.
â€œSending people on the jet,â€ the old man said. â€œWhat year is it?â€
â€œ1972,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œAlready?â€ the old man said. â€œWhen in 1972? Early 1972?â€
â€œItâ€™s March,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œSix months,â€ the old man said. â€œIâ€™ve been here six months. This is so boring here. So, câ€™mon, letâ€™s do this. Whoâ€™s first?â€
Wrinkle lit another of his makeshift Molotov cocktails.
â€œNo!â€ the old man said. â€œDonâ€™t burn that! Give me it!â€
â€œWell, if youâ€™re so bored, why donâ€™t we try to leave together?â€ Miss Wyse said.
â€œNo no,â€ the old man said. â€œI know my duty. They â€¦ they sent me here and Iâ€™ve got to stay.â€
â€œWho is they?â€
â€œThe businessmen. They were my associates. We drew lots. I lost. So I came here to do the dirty work.â€
â€œIs Hastur the â€˜King whom emperors have served?â€™â€ Johnson asked.
â€œOh! Heâ€™s related to the King in Yellow, yeah yeah yeah,â€ the old man said. â€œCarcosa is The King in Yellowâ€™s place and Hasturâ€™s a god of entropy. Itâ€™s great. And now they get power once we do all these killings, so I need you to lay on the altar and Iâ€™m going to stab you. Itâ€™ll be real quick.â€
â€œIs anybody here really good at throwing things?â€ Wrinkle asked.
â€œWhat are you talking about, boy?â€ the old man said.
â€œI want to kill you with this fire!â€ Wrinkle said. â€œOkay?â€
â€œYou canâ€™t kill me,â€ the old man said. â€œIâ€™ll just come back. You canâ€™t die here in Carcosa. Well, I canâ€™t. You can. And you can and you can and you can and she can.â€
â€œHave you tried killing yourself before?â€ Miss Trix asked.
â€œWhat?â€ the old man said. â€œIâ€™m not going to kill myself. It hurts.â€
â€œHave you tried?â€
â€œThen how would you know?â€
â€œFor curiosityâ€™s sake,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œOh please,â€ the old man said. â€œIâ€™m not killing myself. Look, youâ€™re here. Thereâ€™s no going home. You might as well just let me kill you. Otherwise youâ€™re going to go crazy and be in Carcosa and thatâ€™s going to suck. Itâ€™s going to be terrible.â€
Johnson stuck his hand into his jacket pocket and pretended to have a pistol.
â€œDo you really think itâ€™s wise to try to sacrifice us?â€ he said.
â€œI think Iâ€™d be doing you a favor if I sacrifice you,â€ the old man said.
â€œYou seem like a really lonely kind of guy,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œWhy donâ€™t you just let us be so this place is a little less lonely?â€
â€œIf you wanna go, you can go,â€ the old man said. â€œYou can walk right out those doors. But youâ€™re not going to find your way back. Carcosa changes. Carcosa shifts. When youâ€™re not looking, it becomes other things.â€
â€œIf youâ€™re looking at it, it kind of stays the same. Youâ€™re never going to find your way back to the jet by the time it leaves anyway.â€
â€œThe jet leaves!?!â€
â€œYeah. It only stays here for a short while and then it returns to Earth. Weâ€™re around Aldebaran. You ever heard of that? Itâ€™s a star system. I think itâ€™s 70 light years away from Earth.â€
â€œSmalls had the right idea. We shouldâ€™ve stayed.â€
â€œNo, you wouldnâ€™t want to stay in there. Because it stays until you leave. Even if itâ€™s months. Time works differently. Have you noticed the moons havenâ€™t moved in the sky? Time doesnâ€™t move. Itâ€™s-itâ€™s-itâ€™s unsettling.â€
â€œSo, what are the mannequins?â€ Miss Trix asked.
â€œI donâ€™t know!â€ the old man said. â€œCarcosaâ€™s just crazy. Itâ€™s full of entropy, full of change. Nothing is as it should be, when it should be. Thereâ€™s a man walking around, dancing in the streets smiling at you. Heâ€™s weird. I donâ€™t like him at all. But, you know â€¦ I donâ€™t go out there. I just wait here for the sacrifices to arrive. Now whoâ€™s first? Câ€™mon.â€
They looked at him, unbelieving.
â€œI tell you, you donâ€™t want to go back out there,â€ the old man went on. â€œItâ€™s bad. Itâ€™s very bad. You got Lake Hali: no telling whatâ€™s under that. Thereâ€™s some guy went down under the water, showed back up on the shore â€¦ he was not happy. Thereâ€™s some artist â€¦ donâ€™t let him paint you.â€
â€œWhat do you say we just go hunt some mannequins for food?â€ Wrinkle said. â€œOkay, this is kind of an awkward distance. Letâ€™s talk closer.
â€œYou want to go first?â€ the old man said. â€œCâ€™mon, get up on the altar. Iâ€™ll do it real fast. It wonâ€™t hurt much. Itâ€™ll be quick. If you go out there, the byakhee might get you.â€
Wrinkle lit another pseudo Molotov cocktail.
â€œDonâ€™t waste that!â€ the old man said. â€œThe byakhee might get you. You might â€¦ youâ€™ll probably go crazy. And then, theyâ€™ll come and get you. I think theyâ€™re scary as hell. So, whoâ€™s first. You first?â€
He had gestured to Miss Wyse.
â€œNo!â€ she said.
â€œCâ€™mon!â€ the old man said. â€œHow about you, honey?â€
Miss Denning shook her head.
â€œItâ€™s easier if you just let me kill you,â€ the old man said.
â€œI donâ€™t think anybodyâ€™s in a hurry to die,â€ Johnson said.
Miss Trix turned and walked out of the place. The old man called after her but she was gone.
â€œThis seems like a very poor plan on the part of your masters,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œLook, even if she walks around the city until she goes nuts, itâ€™s still a sacrifice,â€ the old man said. â€œBut that could take weeks. Or she could starve to death out there or the byakhee could murder her. Itâ€™s going to be painful. This is one cut and youâ€™re done. Iâ€™m telling you, this is the route to go. Iâ€™m just giving you the choice of easy or hard. I donâ€™t care.â€
* * *
Miss Trix had slipped against the wall outside the doors to the temple. She noticed the square was different now, as was the temple itself. It was unnerving but she decided to wait for the screaming she figured sheâ€™d inevitably hear. Then she heard footsteps approaching. She backed away from the door and was a little surprised when Vic Johnson came out.
* * *
â€œYou want to go first?â€ the old man asked Wrinkle.
â€œUh â€¦â€ Wrinkle said.
He took the cloth out of one of the bottles, sat it on the floor and walked out of the temple. Miss Wyse and Miss Denning followed him quickly. They found the other two outside.
â€œAll right,â€ the old man called. â€œOkay. Well, if you come back, Iâ€™ll be here. Good luck.â€
They all realized the man had been telling them the truth. Everything out of their vision had changed: everything. It was terribly unnerving but each of them thought they were starting to get an idea of the strange and twisted way the place worked. If everything changed whenever they werenâ€™t looking at it, perhaps there was some insane way of making things change into the places they needed them to be. How to do it was the hard part.
â€œWe should just go into a building and open and close the door until we find the jet,â€ Miss Trix said.
â€œThat â€¦ actually sounds intelligent,â€ Wrinkle said.
â€œIâ€™m down for that,â€ Miss Wyse said.
They entered a building and closed the door, waiting a few minutes and then opening it in hopes of finding the Learjet. They didnâ€™t. Everything was completely different however, impossibly. It was a terrible feeling, knowing madness was the only way to make the horrible place work the way they wanted.
They resolved to try again.
â€œBut what about Carl?â€ Miss Denning said.
* * *
Carl Smalley was backstage at the theater. He continued to look through the props in his own paranoia, hoping to find some kind of weapon to defend himself. He moved into the audience and saw the mannequins there were the same design as the ones that had been in the cockpit of the Learjet. He turned from them, partially covering his eyes in fear of the strings on the mannequins and the openness of the dark theater, and made his way to the foyer.
He left the theater and was unhappy to see the street had completely changed from when he got there, just as it had changed after he had left the bookstore. The strangeness of Carcosa started to make some kind of insane sense to him, however.
He picked a direction and headed that way, hoping against all hope he might find his way back.
* * *
The others, starting to grasp how Carcosa worked, began to experiment with opening and closing the door to the decrepit house they were in, hoping to figure out more about the strangeness of the terrible place. But in some mad way, it all made sense. It didnâ€™t feel good or right or even healthy to think the way they were thinking, but it was making some kind of insane sense in some kind of terribly impossible way.
They conferred with each other, speaking of the strange way in which Carcosa worked and trying to determine how, as a group, they might escape. It seemed mad, even perverse, and made them feel less than human. But they persevered.
They left the decrepit house and headed down the street. They didnâ€™t find the Learjet for some time. Fearing the worse, they tried to manipulate the city again. That gave them a little more understanding of the terrible place.
* * *
Carl Smalley was lost. He thought about the terrible city. He thought about the way it seemed to change whenever he walked around on the streets. He tried not to think about the things flying in the sky above him that seemed closer than they had been some time before. He suddenly understood everything. Everything.
People came out of the surrounding buildings. He couldnâ€™t clearly see their faces but he was convinced they were smiling at him for understanding, finally understanding everything about the city and about the world around him. They seemed to pat him on the back and congratulate him for his sudden clear vision of everything.
The hopelessly insane Carl Smalley happily walked away with the faceless things in yellow robes. They took him to the dark places.
* * *
Unable to find the Learjet and fearing they had less and less time, the others tried to manipulate and understand Carcosa once again. It was not good for their psyches or they souls but they thought it the only way to possibly get home once more. It was strange and unnerving, impossible and terrible. At one point they thought they saw the aircraft down another street. At another point, they saw Carl Smalley being escorted away by faceless men in robes. He looked very happy. Then he was gone.
They conferred and headed down another street and the Learjet was there. Then they noticed the shapes flying in the skies above were getting closer and closer to them. Wrinkle recognized them as the things he had seen out the windows of the jet earlier, the terrible hideous things.
â€œGive me the knife!â€ Wrinkle yelled. â€œGive me the knife!â€
He wanted to kill the things more than anything in the world.
Sandra Denning suddenly didnâ€™t know where she was or how she had gotten there. She didnâ€™t remember anything after boarding the Learjet and the aircraft taking off.
â€œGive me the bottle!â€ Wrinkle yelled.
Miss Wyse handed over the broken bottle but Wrinkle suddenly realized he wanted to live more than he wanted to kill the things.
They ran for the Learjet as fast as they could. Miss Denning looked around and recognized the Learjet and her companions. Ignoring her confusion and focusing on her fear, she followed at a dead run. The things swooped down behind them, pouring out of the sky.
They all ran into the Learjet, desperately pulling the hatch closed behind them and securing it as best they could. They heard the horrible things slamming into the side of the aircraft and suddenly the roar of the jet engines filled the cabin again. They looked around, blinking. Miss Denning looked around in confusion. She still didnâ€™t remember anything of what had happened to her since takeoff. The cabin smelled of marijuana and liquor and desperation. She wondered how drunk sheâ€™d gotten. She didnâ€™t remember anything. She took her seat, blinking and looking around.
Miss Wyse took several sleeping pills out of her purse, along with a tiny â€œemergency flaskâ€ of whiskey. She downed the alcohol and popped the pills. Johnson looked into the cockpit and found it still completely empty.
A rending noise came from outside of the aircraft. It sounded like ripping metals.
This is fine, Wrinkle desperately thought. Everythingâ€™s fine.
â€œThe windows are poison!â€ he said.
Miss Denning was starting to remember.
Miss Wyse and Miss Trix looked out the windows and saw the terrible flying things that had been chasing them were tearing at the wings and engines. Miss Trix exploded into a spree of uncontrolled violence and destruction. She started beating on the window by her seat, beating on Miss Denning, and swinging madly all about her, screaming. One of her fists struck the other woman in the face.
Wrinkle grabbed Miss Trix from behind. Miss Wyse grabbed a handful of pills from her purse and jumped onto the two, trying to shove pills into the other womanâ€™s mouth. Miss Trix broke free of Wrinkle but Miss Wyse had managed to shove a pill into the her mouth. She grabbed at the womanâ€™s throat, intent on grabbing her face and massaging her throat to get the pills down. Miss Trix spit the pill out as she tried to punch the woman. Wrinkle punched at Miss Trix.
â€œVic!â€ he yelled. â€œVic! Come and help us here! Sheâ€™s gone crazy!â€
â€œWhat is going on back here?â€ Johnson yelled.
Miss Wyse flung pills at Miss Trixâ€™s face as Miss Trix tried to punch her. Wrinkle tried to punch Miss Trix and stumbled to the floor. Miss Wyse gave up on the pills and tried to grapple with Miss Trix but Miss Trix turned from the woman and leapt onto Wrinkle, punching the man in the face. Wrinkle turned over and stabbed at the woman with the broken bottle. The cuts he gave her were merely superficial. Both of them were bleeding but Wrinkle was obviously hurt worse.
Miss Denning quickly slipped by the fighting and went to the fridge. She found some rum there and grabbed one of the little bottles, popping it open. She dropped to her knees and scrabbled at the pills on the floor.
Johnson tried to pull Miss Trix off Wrinkle, struggling with the woman. Miss Wyse tried to help the man but Miss Trix struggled violently against them. Wrinkle tried to cut Miss Trix again and the woman grabbed at his hand holding the bottle. Johnson continued to tried to pull the woman off Wrinkle.
Miss Denning finally got some of the pills and broke them open, putting them into the bottle of rum.
Miss Trix suddenly didnâ€™t know why she was attacking Wrinkle. Miss Wyse looked around for something to use to hit her, picking up the bucket filled with animal crackers, trash, and glass. She tried to grab Miss Trixâ€™s hand to shove in there but Miss Trix stood up and stumbled way from them all, landing back in her seat and cowering from all of them, crying desperately. Wrinkle climbed to his feet, carefully watching her. He remembered how freaked out he had been earlier.
The noises from outside had stopped and Johnson looked out the window. The things were gone.
â€œAnyone want a drink?â€ Miss Denning asked, holding out the drugged bottle of rum.
Miss Wyse raised her hand and then grabbed the bottle, drinking it down. She sat down in her seat and finished the whole thing. She felt the room moving around her, driven by the rum and the sleeping pills Miss Denning had put into the bottle as well as the ones sheâ€™d taken herself.
Miss Denning picked up several more pills from the floor and surreptitiously slipped them into another bottle of rum. Miss Trix took out a joint and asked for a match from Wrinkle, who helped Miss Wyse into the back seat, laying down, and put her on her side.
â€œThank you so much,â€ Miss Wyse said. â€œYouâ€™re the most beautiful person Iâ€™ve ever met.â€
She passed out.
â€œSo, you want a match for your reefer?â€ Wrinkle said to Miss Trix.
â€œYeah,â€ she replied.
â€œNo, theyâ€™re my matches now,â€ Wrinkle said. â€œSorry.â€
Miss Trix kept crying until Miss Denning held out her lighter. She took it and lit the joint.
â€œIt already smells like pot in here!â€ Wrinkle said. â€œCâ€™mon!â€
They noticed the strange upholstery in the jet. They hadnâ€™t before. It was aggressively unpleasant. The pattern was emergently complex and every time they looked at it, it looked like faces, hands, things in Carcosa. Was it like that before? It looked like people even.
The cockpit door suddenly slammed shut.
â€œThis is your pilot speaking,â€ came over the intercom. â€œPlease fasten your seat belts and put away all drinks and snacks. Weâ€™ll be landing in Houston in just a few minutes.â€
Johnson ran to the cockpit and opened the door. The pilot and copilot were there. They looked around, startled.
â€œSir, I just asked you to please fasten your seat belts,â€ Captain Watson told him. â€œYou guys have been great this whole trip.â€
Wrinkle took the Molotov cocktails apart as Miss Wyse struggled with her seatbelt but managed to somehow fasten it. Wrinkle realized the caps of the bottles he still had were in the bucket with the garbage and the glass. He shrugged and drank down the contents of the bottles.
Miss Denning walked to Johnson.
â€œItâ€™s fine,â€ she said to him. â€œJust have a drink and sit down.â€
She handed him the drugged rum.
â€œFinish â€˜em up and sit down,â€ Captain Watson said. â€œI donâ€™t want any glass around when we land.â€
â€œHere, drink this up,â€ she said. â€œTake a seat.â€
Johnson ignored her as the co-pilot closed the cockpit door again. Soon they saw the lights of Houston below them and it was only a short while before they landed. Miss Trix quickly finished up her joint as the aircraft taxied to the terminal.
Bender, the co-pilot came out of the cockpit and thanked them for flying with them as he opened up the outer door. He told them theyâ€™d have their luggage shortly and asked Miss Trix to put out the joint. She quickly did so.
â€œIâ€™m going to have to air this thing out now,â€ he said.
Wrinkle checked his pocket and found he still had the leather-bound King in Yellow there.
Miss Wyse had to be carried off the aircraft as she was unconscious. They got their luggage and everything seemed so terribly normal, as if nothing strange had ever even occurred. Though it had felt like theyâ€™d been in the Learjet and Carcosa for five or six hours, it was only a couple hours later, according to their watches.
They passed their pilot and co-pilot in the terminal and Watson reminded them to turn their watches to Central Time from Pacific Time.
â€œThey were so quiet the entire trip,â€ they over heard Bender say to the man. â€œAll five of them.â€
There had been six of them.
* * *
They eventually learned that no one knew of anyone named Carl Smalley. Nobody had ever heard of him. Nobody referenced him. Nobody named Carl Smalley worked for the studio, he was not in the Los Angeles telephone book. It was like he had never existed, like he had been erased from history. They learned the producer of the movie, a woman, had simply not come with them for the location shots. She had never planned to come, actually. They all recognized her but didnâ€™t really remember her.
* * *
After â€œMr. Blackâ€ was finished, Wrinkle pitched The King in Yellow to the studio. They tried to make a movie out of the disturbing play but all of the actors mysteriously disappeared on a flight to a location shot. Wrinkle, terrified, went on a bender and ended up living on the street, still trying to get someone to produce the horrific play he always kept near him.
* * *
Janice Wyse had terrible nightmares for several nights about the Yellow Sign, the King in Yellow, and Hastur but eventually stopped dreaming about Carcosa. She continued drinking in an attempt to forget the horrors of the flight and the terrible city. She gained weight and stopped acting, retiring to her mansion where she become somewhat of a recluse.
* * *
Emma Cracker ended up being Sandy Trixâ€™s breakthrough roll. She went to be a major film star, relying on the strength she found in that terrible plane flight and the city under twin moons. She became a big time actor, adopting a child from Africa at some point.
* * *
Vic Johnson continued his own acting career, eventually convincing his mother to move to L.A. from Compton.
* * *
Sandra Denning, after realizing the possible effects of pills, left the acting game and went into pharmacy instead. She got a degree in pharmacy from the University of Southern California and worked in the profession for years. She enjoyed the work and was good at it. She was still at work at a pharmacy in 2017 at the age of 70 when the store where she worked began to be frequented by a large, sweaty man who was losing his hair. He had a penchant for peanuts.