A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 6

Milled-log home

Where Sara Kremshaw lives … and hides. … Image via Wikipedia

Tuesday morning at Foster’s Glen High. Most of the kids in Miss Kremshaw’s English lit class milled around, chattering and laughing, but Wade sat at his desk, anxious. The final bell rang, signifying the deadline for being on time, and Mr. Reed walked through the door.

A substitute again?! thought Wade. How am I ever gonna get any help with this report if Miss Kremshaw’s never here?

* * *

In her log cabin on the outskirts of Foster’s Glen, Sara Kremshaw sat Indian-style on her bed, staring straight ahead, unflinching, a flesh-and-blood statue. She knew that it was Tuesday morning, that she should be in her classroom; she wanted to be in her classroom, but she just couldn’t—  she just couldn’t leave, couldn’t go outside.

But it’s daylight, Sara.

She shook her head. Doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter.

The sound of crunching gravel outside. Sara jerked her head in its direction, catching her breath. A small metallic clang. More crunching gravel. She turned back towards her bedroom door, through which she could see the front door. It’s still locked. Good. Then her eyes shifted to the windows over the kitchen counter, near the front door. One of them was open.

She sprang from the bed, still clutching her flashlight, and dashed to the front. She slammed the window shut and locked it.

Outside, her mail had just arrived.

* * *

Wade got home a bit after six that night – this time he had permission to be late – and words were flowing from his mouth before he was through the door.

“Dad! You’ll never believe this– ”

“Shshshshsh!” his father said, holding up a hand. The radio was going.

“… was spotted in a field just west of Foster’s Glen, in the unorganized territory T5 R12. Witnesses say the bear was quote-unquote ‘mangy looking’ and ‘acting funny.’ It has also been reported that just two hours before this sighting, farmer Max McDougall of Foster’s Glen found four of his sheep slaughtered in the pen behind his barn. They were apparently attacked in broad daylight, while Mr. McDougall was away from the farm on errands, and Sheriff Harvey Danscom has ruled it another bear attack. Sheriff Danscom has also informed us that in light of the sighting of the suspicious-looking bear, we may have a rogue animal, possibly rabid, on our hands, and urges local folks to be cautious when venturing out.

“In other news, milk prices have taken another hit– ” Click.

“More animals killed? Dad, I just read in the Gazette about Mr. Pullen’s horse; it sounds just like that bear I was tellin’ you about, the one that got mutilated.”

“Sheriff says it was a bear attack, same with McDougall’s sheep.”

“You don’t sound convinced.”

“I’m not.”

“What do you think?”

“I think that the average person, even around here, doesn’t know much about bears. There’s a lot of myths and half-truths, and people panic easy – I think that’s what’s happening now, and I think the sheriff isn’t helping things out by rushing to judgment.”

“What do you think it is, if it’s not a bear?”

“I haven’t a clue. I mean, bears do attack people once in a great while, as we know, but this ‘rampaging bear’ stuff is nothing but Hollywood hype. The thing that really gets me is all the extra cuts you saw on the bear in the photo, and Clyde Pullen said the same thing happened to his horse.”

“So what do we do?”

“Well, I’m awful curious about Max McDougall’s sheep. I’m already thinking there might be a connection between the bear you found and the horse, but if those sheep have the same cut marks, that’ll confirm it for me.”

“But that won’t tell us what the connection is.”

“Maybe not, but one step at a time. I’m pretty sure it’s not poachers, at any rate. So how was school?”

“I need to talk to Miss Kremshaw about my report, but she’s missed both days of school this week.”

“She out sick?”

“Yeah.”

“Does she have any friends that you know of?”

“I don’t think so. She gets along well with students, but I don’t think she’s chummy with any of the other teachers, and she lives by herself out in the boonies.”

We live in the boonies.”

“She’s even more in the boonies, up on Foster’s Mountain.”

“On the old logging road?”

“Yeah, halfway up it.”

“I thought that was all still owned by the logging outfit.”

“It is. Her uncle owns the company.”

Wade’s father looked at him with befuddlement. “I didn’t know that. How do you know all this?”

Wade shrugged. “I talk to her sometimes, after class, after school. She’s nice. Awful lonely, though, I think.”

“Maybe we should go visit her, see if she needs anything. Give me a chance to finally meet her, after missing parent-teacher conferences.”

“Sure. I’ll go with you.” A sly grin twisted across his face. “Or we could send Uncle Hank; he’s sweet on her.”

“What? Hank is sweet on her? How does he know her?”

“He doesn’t, but I’ve seen him staring at her more than once down at the diner. He won’t admit it, though.”

“Huh. How ’bout that.”

“I thought you knew everything that went on in town.”

Darrell sighed playfully. “I guess not.”

* * *

No one could ever know, Hank decided back then. That promise was easy to keep all those years because nothing ever challenged it, but on this day, the thought of six claw marks instead of four was a constant plague.

Nineteen years. Where was it all that time? And why has it come back now?

Those orange eyes. He knew it the moment he saw those. That is, deep in his heart he knew it then, but wouldn’t admit it to himself. Now that he’d seen six claw marks instead of four, though, denial just didn’t work.

But it’s only a couple animals. No need to tell anybody.

Yeah. Unfortunate, but nothing real serious.

He leaned back in the easy chair in his living room, hands folded on top of his head. Wait a minute, Hank. It is serious. It ripped a bear apart. Now it’s ripped a horse apart.

But it went away before. Maybe it’ll go away again.

But maybe it’ll go away again. He sat up in his chair, starting to feel better.

Besides, it helped you out, remember?

Besides, it helped me out, and it really hasn’t done much harm.

Hank picked up the remote off the stand and turned the TV on.

You can buy Clyde a new horse.

Heck, I can buy Clyde a new horse. Problem solved.

* * *

A bit later that evening, Hank called his boss and asked if he could use some of his vacation time the next day. His boss said sure. Hank was relieved; he felt like he needed a day to just hang out, let his mind rest. And that’s exactly what he did. Watched a few movies, drank a couple beers, lifted weights in his basement, paid a few bills, did a lot of sitting and not much thinking. Darrell called him just before suppertime to invite him over to eat, so Hank finally showered, then drove to his brother’s. When he walked in, Darrell already had shepherd’s pie and yeast rolls on the table, still steaming and ready to eat. Darrell said grace, and the three of them dove in. They didn’t say much until they were almost finished.

“How was work today, Hank?” said Darrell.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t there.”

“You took the day off?”

“Yeah. Just needed a day to do nothin’, you know? So that’s what I did – nothin’. Had fun doin’ it, too. By the way, Junior, how’s that report comin’?”

“Oh yeah. I guess I didn’t tell you yet: I found a topic, but Miss Kremshaw’s been out sick all week, so I haven’t been able to get her input yet.”

“Sick, huh?”

“Yeah,” said Darrell. “You probably wanna rush right up there and see her, don’t you?” Wade laughed into his plate.

“Alright, what’s goin’ on?” said Hank. “You been blabbin’ your rumors, haven’t you, Junior? Ha, ha. Really funny. Don’t listen to him, Darrell. He’s just a kid. What does he know about love?”

“Ohh, so it’s love now, Uncle Hank; I thought it was only a crush.”

“Listen, boy,” said Hank, pointing his finger at Wade but trying hard to hide a smile. “You better be careful what you say. One of these days I might take you into the woods and lose you.”

“Or,” said Darrell, “you could take him to Miss Kremshaw’s house.”

“What?”

“Yeah. Miss Kremshaw’s been sick, and Wade and I have been discussing how she lives by herself, doesn’t have any friends; must get awful lonely for her sometimes.”

Hank smirked and began to shake his head. “Aw, no. No, no. I’m not fallin’ into that trap. Listen, brother, you’ve never been a good matchmaker– ”

“I’m not making any match; you’ve already made it.”

Hank sat silent. Wade couldn’t tell if he was fuming inside or just speechless.

“Go on,” said Darrell. “You can admit it.”

Hank was still silent, sloshing his tongue around inside his mouth. Soon he could hold back no longer; his pursed lips broke into a smile, and then he laughed as he chucked his balled-up napkin at Darrell. “You guys. I’m gonna kill you.”

“Looks like we have a winner!” said Darrell, raising his hands in triumph and laughing. Wade joined in, and Hank bowed his head to try to hide his smiling red face.

* * *

“Oh, I’m feeling much better now, thank you. I plan to return on Friday. … Umm, sure. … Six o’clock tomorrow? Yes, that’ll be fine. … Alright. Thank you. … Bye.”

Sara Kremshaw hung up the phone, having just received one of the most-unexpected calls of her life.

That’s the first time I’ve ever spoken with Wade’s father.

She didn’t feel presentable in her current state of mind, and being visited by three men with no women present made her a bit uneasy, but the idea of having people around her – of people coming just to see her – was enchanting, even more so now than it would’ve been a week ago. She had no desire to resist such a gesture.

Should I tell them anything?

She decided that she had a day to decide, and that she’d better do all she could to get her act together by then.

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