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What Rough Beast ... Session One Part 2 - The Disappearance of Tommy Hill

Max_Writer

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* * *

 

 

 

When Richard and Ella-Marie approached Teddy’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.

 

“What are y’all idiots doing!†she said loudly.

 

Jebidiah fell over and Teddy almost fell out his wheelchair.

 

“You have Tommy, don’t take us!†Teddy cried out.

 

“One of our friends is missing!†Ella-Maria went on. “And you’re doing a God damned turtle race!?! What the hell is wrong with you!?! Christ!â€

 

She climbed into the window.

 

“What’s that spike-headed monster!†Jebidiah said, looking out the window.

 

“Oh, shut yer trap!†Ella-Marie said. “That’s Richard! Being stupid.â€

 

“Oh, that’s Richard,†Jebidiah said.

 

“Take that thing off!†Ella-Marie said. “What is wrong with you?â€

 

“But it protects my head,†Richard said.

 

He tapped on the side of it.

 

“Not indoors!†Ella-Marie said.

 

“But … it …†Richard said.

 

“Take it off!†she said.

 

“Well-well-well-well-well, I can - I can - I can - I can push Teddy,†Jebidiah said. “I know a little bit of the - of the lay of the land.â€

 

“Y’all hear the phone call?â€

 

“Yes. Yes, I did. I told Teddy about it, I did.â€

 

“And you decided to have a turtle race?â€

 

“What’re we gonna do?†Teddy said. “Look at us.â€

 

“His wheels get stuck in the mud sometimes,†Jebidiah said. “And I have … asthma.â€

 

“My dad’ll kill you,†Teddy said.

 

“If I wasn’t concerned about you two, I wouldn’t even be here,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“That’s …†Jebidiah said.

 

“Now Tommy’s missing … and I’m concerned about y’all,†she said. “‘Cause you’re about the same … mentally … physically … health-wise.â€

 

“I can’t argue with her,†Teddy said timidly. “She’s right.â€

 

“It sounds logical,†Jebidiah said.

 

“I’ll give you my helmet if it helps,†Richard said.

 

“I’ll-I’ll go if Throckmorton can stay the night at Teddy’s,†Jebidiah said.

 

“Yeah,†Teddy said.

 

“Okay, fine, whatever you want to do with your … turtles,†Ella-Marie said.

 

Jebidiah put his turtle, Throckmorton, in the bowl.

 

“All-all-all right,†he said nervously. “You do good now with your good friend Isaac Newton.â€

 

“We’re wasting time here!†Richard said.

 

“Okay okay,†Jebidiah said. “Teddy, do you have your raincoat on? Where is it?â€

 

“In the closet,†Teddy said.

 

Jebidiah fetched it and put it over the boy.

 

“There you go,†he said. “All right, let’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.

 

“Dang,†Michael said. “I thought he might be here, but … you see him sometimes at the railroad tracks?â€

 

“Yeah, that’s why I checked over there,†Billy squeaked.

 

“Where else could he be?â€

 

“The woods?â€

 

“The woods?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 didn’t go that way. He might have followed the Southern Railway the other direction though.

 

“You want to check down the railroad track?†Michael finally said.

 

“I figure we should wait for everyone else,†Billy said.

 

“Let’s head back towards town and meet up with them somewhere.â€

 

“Okay.â€

 

“They’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 Teddy’s wheelchair which was a problem in the mud. They had made it to the gravel covered embankment of the track.

 

“Hey Teddy, how’d you like a piggyback ride?†Michael said.

 

He moved over to the wheelchair and put his back to it, waiting for Teddy to climb on.

 

“Uh … I don’t know,†Teddy said.

 

“I think it would be a little bit easier than your wheelchair,†Michael said.

 

“We brought it all this way!†Ella-Marie said. “What are we going to do with the wheelchair?â€

 

“Just leave it here.â€

 

“That’s his wheelchair!â€

 

“We’ll bring him back!â€

 

“We could just pick up the wheelchair,†Richard said. “When he’s not sitting in it, it’s not that hard to move.â€

 

“Well, if y’all get tired, I’ll be stranded,†Teddy said.

 

“I mean, I’ll grab the wheelchair if I need to.â€

 

“I don’t think y’all can piggyback me that far.â€

 

“No problem,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“What do you think, Jebidiah?†Teddy asked.

 

“Well, I-I-I mean, I guess─†Jebidiah said.

 

“You’re gettin’ tired pushing me.â€

 

“I guess it’ll make us to a little bit faster, if anything.â€

 

“Well, they do say that time is very crucial when someone is─â€

 

“It is!†Richard said. “So get on his back!â€

 

Teddy looked around at everyone, unable to make out their faces in the dark.

 

“We never speak of this,†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.

 

“I wonder if this is what Isaac Newton feels like when I pick him up,†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 Tommy’s bed that very afternoon. Richard picked it up and looked it over. It was soaking wet.

 

“Well, this is a good sign!†Ella-Marie said. “We must be close.â€

 

“Yeah,†Richard and Michael both said.

 

They all heard the whistle of a train from the east.

 

“But this also means that Tommy came out here on his own,†Teddy said. “Why would a kidnapper take the bear as well?â€

 

“I mean, Tommy could have just been carrying it,†Michael said.

 

“Not necessarily,†Ella-Marie said.

 

Richard put it in the seat of the wheelchair and they continued down the track. Michael started calling for Tommy.

 

“What are we going to do about the train?†Jebidiah said.

 

“Tommy!†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.

 

“Oh my good God, it’s Tommy!†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 couldn’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.

 

“I … I think he’s … he’s dead,†Richard said. “He doesn’t have a pulse.â€

 

Ella-Marie looked at him and then at Tommy Hill.

 

“Tommy,†she said. “Tommy?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.

 

“Richard!†she said. “Richard!â€

 

“What?†Richard said. “What?â€

 

“What on God’s earth?â€

 

“I can’t see anything.â€

 

“I swear it’s … it’s two marks.â€

 

There was another flash of lightning and he saw the two nasty red marks on the boy’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.

 

“What!?!†Ella-Marie said. “Are you crazy? You don’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 couldn’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 wasn’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.

 

“There’s a light out there,†he muttered.

 

The other three boys arrived, Jebidiah out of breath.

 

“Is-is-is Tommy all right?†Jebidiah asked.

 

“He’s dead!†Richard said.

 

“Oh Jesus,†Jebidiah said.

 

“There’s blood on his neck,†Richard said.

 

“Michael, look at this!†Ella-Marie said.

 

They looked at the marks in the lightning flashes.

 

“I’ve had a couple bites in my time, but I’m not sure,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“It’s too little to be a dog bite,†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.

 

“Hey, we got a dead kid over here!†he called. “Hey!â€

 

The man seemed to vanish, almost as if he faded away.

 

“Who are you talking to?†Ella-Marie said.

 

“The man!†Billy said.

 

“Is there someone out there?†Ella-Marie said.

 

Richard picked up Tommy’s body and put it into Teddy’s wheelchair. Teddy frowned.

 

“Teddy, I know some cleaning techniques we can use to clean your wheelchair,†Jebidiah said.

 

Billy could not see the man but the light out in the woods was still there.

 

“There’s a light!†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.

 

“Hey, El, take Teddy for a second,†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.

 

“That’s not good,†Michael said.

 

“What are you talking about?†Ella-Marie said.

 

“What are you talking about?†Richard said.

 

“There’s a chance those might be human teeth marks,†Michael said.

 

“No, it can’t be,†Richard said.

 

“Wha?†Ella-Marie said. “Human? Why?â€

 

“I think those are bug bites,†Billy squeaked.

 

“I’m sorry, but …†Michael said.

 

“What are you trying to say?†Ella-Marie said.

 

“A human bite mark would not look like that,†Teddy said.

 

“The canines … but … human canines are perfectly positioned to …†Michael said.

 

“Do you know anybody who has that long and piercing of teeth around these parts?†Jebidiah said.

 

There was a flash of lightning.

 

“They’d be pretty slender,†Billy said.

 

“Don’t squeeze me with your knees!†Ella-Marie said to Teddy.

 

Teddy was confused as he couldn’t even move his legs.

 

“I wanna go see what that light is!†Billy said.

 

“Look, we found him, we have to get him back to town,†Richard said.

 

“Yeah,†Michael said.

 

Billy ignored them and walked towards the woods where he could make out the flicker of the faraway light.

 

“We gotta let our parents know,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“Hey!†Richard called to Billy. “Stop!â€

 

“We gotta let somebody know,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“Billy!†Richard called.

 

“That could be a person who could go help us!†Billy called back.

 

“Billy, you can’t get lost in the woods,†Jebidiah called.

 

“Yeah, I know I can’t,†Billy called.

 

“That could also be the person that took Tommy!†Michael called.

 

“It’s-it’s the abandoned plantation, Billy!†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.

 

“Yeah, so … why?†Billy said, finally stopping. “I’m going to go check out that light.â€

 

“There’s no one over there,†Teddy said.

 

“You reckon he was … already dead before he was on the track?†Ella-Marie said.

 

She thought on that.

 

“He was already dead by the time he was on the tracks,†she said. “Someone was trying to cover this up.â€

 

“Yeah,†Michael said.

 

“Don’t worry,†Billy called. “I’ll sneak on over there.â€

 

Jebidiah realized the light was most likely coming from the old plantation house.

 

“Billy!†he called. “That’s where the plantation is! Tetanus! And diseases!â€

 

“Yeah, but there’s not supposed to be anyone over there!†Billy called back.

 

“That’s what makes the light scary!†Jebidiah called.

 

“Why isn’t Billy scared like us?†Teddy said. “Is he dumb?â€

 

“Must be,†Richard said.

 

Billy walked back to them.

 

“Fine!†he squeaked. “I guess we can go back with everybody else.â€

 

“We gotta call off the search party,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“Yeah, we need to inform the town,†Michael said.

 

“God, we just saw him yesterday,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“We could go back to the plantation in the morning,†Jebidiah said. “When it’s not raining.â€

 

He sneezed.

 

“Bless you,†Michael said.

 

They headed back down the tracks. Jebidiah pushed the wheelchair with Tommy’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 Hill’s house.

 

“We need a trained, medical professional to pronounce him dead,†Teddy said.

 

“We’re not gonna walk up to Doc’s house!†Richard said.

 

“Did you see him?†Ella-Marie said.

 

“We need to at least call Doc,†Teddy said.

 

“We can call Doc from her house!†Michael said.

 

“Let’s go to her house,†Teddy said.

 

“That’s what we were talking about!†Ella-Marie said. “Doofus!â€

 

“Hey!†Teddy said. “I did your homework.â€

 

“No, you did not,†Jebidiah said.

 

They went to Hill’s house and knocked on the door. Mrs. Hill answered. She’d obviously been crying and her face was flushed.

 

“Tommy!†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 “No! No!†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. Tommy’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.

 

“Yeah, we found Tommy,†he said once people had picked up. “We’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 boy’s neck, were very disturbed to notice they appeared to be gone.

 

“Doc! Doc! Doc!†Richard said.

 

“Uh …†Michael said.

 

“Doc!†Richard said. “Doc!â€

 

“What?†Doc Underwood said, buttoning up the dead boy’s pajama shirt.

 

“There was a bite mark on his neck,†Richard said.

 

“They looked like bug bites,†Michael said. “But …â€

 

“I tasted … they were … he was bleeding from it!†Richard said.

 

Doc Underwood unbuttoned Tommy’s pajamas again and examined the boy’s neck. There were no blemishes or markings on it.

 

“What’s the cause of death then?†Teddy asked.

 

“I … dunno,†Doc Underwood said. “He must’ve died from whatever disease he had or whatever was wrong with him. Maybe it was a congenital thing. I’m not … I’m not sure. We’ll have to ask … go fetch me Mrs. Hill.â€

 

He pointed at Michael.

 

“Yes sir,†Michael said, leaving the room.

 

“He wouldn’t’ve left the house,†Teddy said.

 

Richard blankly stared at the dead boy’s neck.

 

“He might have been delirious and just wandered out into the rain,†Doc Underwood said. “I don’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 “Why?†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.

 

“They’re all I got, dad,†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 Tommy’s body and then actually finding it. They told the two to be careful because they didn’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.

 

“No they weren’t,†she said, not believing him.

 

“Yes, they were,†he said. “Doc didn’t … both me and Richard saw there were no bite marks when he was examining the body.â€

 

She looked at him a moment.

 

“They were there!†she said. “How─?â€

 

“I know they were,†he said. “They weren’t there when we got back to the house.â€

 

“That’s impossible!â€

 

“I know. It’s just … I don’t know how to explain it. They weren’t there.â€

 

“Well … what else about him?â€

 

“Nothing else was changed. He was the same as normal: dead.â€

 

“I know we didn’t just imagine it. Even Richard! He saw it was bloody. He tasted it, for Christ’s sake!â€

 

“He also saw that they were gone when Doc was examining the body! What could have that kind of effect on a kid?â€

 

“They couldn’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.

 

 

* * *

 

 

 

Jebidiah’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 Hill’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 Jebidiah’s house after breakfast.

 

“Let’s get everybody to the tree house,†he told the other boy. “Let’s me and you take charge for once.â€

 

“Just once,†Jebidiah said.

 

“Can you help me clean my wheelchair?â€

 

“Oh 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.

 

“Were we going to go … look at the plantation now that it’s daytime?†Teddy said.

 

“I mean, if you’re all scared …†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.

 

“What happened … it’s just strange,†Ella-Marie said. “And impossible!â€

 

“Impossible?†Jebidiah said. “What, pray tell, do you mean?â€

 

“The bite marks disappeared,†Michael said.

 

“Oh, the bug bites?†Billy said.

 

“The bite marks!?!†Jebidiah said.

 

“What?†Teddy said.

 

“The bug bites,†Michael corrected himself.

 

“The bite marks?†Ella-Marie said.

 

“The bug bites,†Michael said again.

 

“What?†Teddy said.

 

“I can attest to this,†Richard said nervously. “I saw it myself. There was no bite marks and Doc didn’t know what killed him. Doc … thinks whatever he was sick with killed him.â€

 

“I hate to─†Teddy said.

 

“But the bite marks … he was bleeding,†Richard said.

 

“I hate to be that person, but─†Teddy said.

 

“You saw it!†Ella-Marie said to Richard. “You touched it.â€

 

“─I didn’t see any bite marks,†Teddy finished.

 

“It was real!†Ella-Marie said.

 

“I saw a man last night,†Billy said. “Nobody else saw that.â€

 

“I also trust the diagnosis of a medical professional─†Teddy said.

 

“That was over by the plantation, right?†Ella-Marie said.

 

“─over some kids,†Teddy said.

 

“No, it was over in the woods,†Billy said. “Kind of.â€

 

“When we found the body,†Michael said.

 

“Yeah,†Billy said.

 

“But didn’t-didn’t Tommy seem like he was … he was in such a bad state when we saw him that he would just go wandering around and …†Jebidiah said.

 

“No,†Michael said.

 

“Unless─†Richard said.

 

“It seemed like he wanted to stay in bed,†Michael said.

 

“I doubt he could even get out of bed,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“That’s true,†Richard said.

 

“I 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,†Jebidiah said. “Not able to move myself out─â€

 

“Stop with your poetry already!†Ella-Marie said. “We know you’re sick as a dog.â€

 

“Actually, I think most dogs are more healthy than I am.â€

 

“Fine!â€

 

“I say we go check out this plantation real quick,†Michael said. “Get back in time for the funeral.â€

 

“But … should we prepare at all … he saw a man,†Richard said.

 

“I’m prepared!†Ella-Marie said.

 

“But …†Richard said. “I’m not that strong …â€

 

“I think there’s enough of us,†Teddy said. “I don’t want to bring … weaponry … into the equation.â€

 

“I think we can handle whatever’s there,†Michael said. “Even if it’s homeless men.â€

 

“He could have a gun,†Richard said.

 

“And?†Michael said.

 

“I’d knock it right out of his hand!†Billy said.

 

“If he has a gun, we’ll just run away,†Michael said.

 

“That’s a great strategy,†Richard said sarcastically. “Get shot in the back!â€

 

“I’m not even very good at that part,†Jebidiah said.

 

“You end up like him!†Richard said, gesturing at Teddy.

 

“You end up like who?†Michael said.

 

“Like poor Teddy over there if you get shot in the spine,†Richard said. “Or you bleed out!â€

 

“I’ll be fine!†Michael said.

 

“I’m gonna need someone to carry me again,†Teddy said quietly. “I know it’s faster this way.â€

 

“Don’t worry, Teddy,†Michael said. “I got you.â€

 

“I know,†Teddy said sadly.

 

“Wait, if you are encumbered, could I try taking you, Teddy?†Jebidiah said.

 

“Do you think you could?†Teddy said.

 

“I … wouldn’t recommend that, son,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“I … I may not be the most dexterous of all, but I have my strengths,†Jebidiah said.

 

“Just-just-just … no,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“Okay,†Jebidiah said.

 

“Maybe for a little bit,†Teddy said.,

 

“For your own good, no,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“Maybe for a little bit,†Teddy said.

 

“Could we give it a try right now?†Jebidiah said.

 

“Sure,†Teddy said.

 

“He wants to try, let’s let him,†Michael said.

 

Jebidiah picked up Teddy, piggy-back, and seemed to be able to hold him sturdily.

 

“I’ll be dogged,†Richard said.

 

“Together, we form one functional human being!†Jebidiah said triumphantly.

 

Ella-Marie rolled her eyes.

 

“Why does this seem easier for you than pushing my wheelchair?†Teddy said.

 

“I’ll be damned, son,†Ella-Marie said.

 

“It’s the cardio aspect,†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.

 

“I will also make it of note … I have learned to crawl pretty fast,†Teddy said.

 

He looked over all of them.

 

“Some say I teach Isaac Newton … but he has also taught me very much,†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.

 

“Where’d you see the light?†Teddy asked Billy.

 

“It was too far away,†Billy squeaked with a shrug. “It was in this direction though.â€

 

“Do you think it was coming from the building? If you had to guess.â€

 

“It was pretty far away. It was storming.â€

 

“Why, I know it was storming. I was there.â€

 

“That’s why I wanted to go last night.â€

 

“That was dangerous. Let’s just go in.â€

 

“I think we should make a thorough─†Jebidiah said.

 

Michael had walked onto the portico and knocked. The front door creaked opened.

 

“Well, okay then,†Jebidiah said.

 

Billy walked away from the group, heading towards the south side of the house and looking for a cellar entrance.

 

“Does he ever not wander off on his own?†Richard asked.

 

“We should follow him,†Teddy said.

 

“Someone should follow him at least,†Richard said.

 

“I just wanted to see if there was a cellar,†Billy squeaked.

 

“I think we should all stay together,†Teddy said.

 

“I think we should all look around the whole area before we go into places,†Jebidiah said.

 

“I just want to see what the inside looked like a little bit,†Michael said.

 

“What does it look like?†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.

 

“Let’s go see what the others want to do,†Michael said.

 

“Sure,†Richard said.

 

As they turned to leave, Michael thought he heard a voice mumbling from somewhere inside.

 

“I heard something,†he said. “You want to go check it out?â€

 

“What was it?†Richard asked.

 

“I’m not sure. Maybe a voice? They might be talking out back and there’s a back door right over there.â€

 

“Sure, let’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.

 

“This isn’t structurally sound,†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 didn’t look like the house had a cellar.

 

They soon found themselves in front of the house again.

 

 

* * *

 

 


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