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.
* * *