* * *
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.
* * *