A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 7

English: Chicken cacciatore, made with mushroo...

The meal that became so much more. ... Image via Wikipedia

“You almost ready, there, loverboy?”

Hank stood in front of Darrell’s bathroom mirror, getting himself as prim as he could. “Darrell, you still ain’t too big for me to put you over my knee.”

“Take it easy, bro. I wouldn’t put any real pressure on you.”

“You better not or– ”

“You’ll take me out in the woods and lose me?”

“You got it.”

“Listen, Hank, seriously, don’t sweat this, huh? This isn’t a date, you know; we’re going as a group, and there’s safety in numbers. If anything, she’ll think I’m interested in her because I’m the one who called.”

“But you’re not interested … are you?”

“No. Of course not. I’m just saying, if there’s any pressure here, it’s on me because I initiated this thing, which means you’re in the clear. All you have to do is show up and look pretty.”

“Darrell– ”

“Oh, I know, you have a mind as well as a body.”

“I just want this to go well.”

“It will. Relax. Just remember, though, you’re not the only reason we’re going. This girl needs some company, some friends, and Wade needs help on his report.”

“I know, I know. But there’s only, like, six eligible girls in the whole county– ”

“Women.”

“– and only half are attractive, and most of them are married.”

“Well I’m no math whiz, but that doesn’t leave many, does it?”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“I guess you’d better not screw this up, then.”

Darrell.”

Darrell laughed. “Just kidding, man, relax.”

A minute later Hank came into the living room – hair combed, tie knotted, pants pressed. Darrell whistled.

“Wow, Uncle Hank,” said Wade.

“Everything look alright?”

Darrell nodded.

“You got the casserole, Darrell?”

“Yes.”

“Alright. Let’s go. I got shotgun.”

As Hank went out the door, Darrell held up Wade.

“Hey, listen. You know we’re doing this to help out Miss Kremshaw.”

“Yeah.”

“But your uncle is nervous because he also sees it as a chance to make a good impression with her. You understand?”

“Yeah.”

“So don’t make any comments about girls or love or anything like that – nothing to get him stirred up.”

“I gotcha.”

“Good. Let’s go.”

The drive to Miss Kremshaw’s wasn’t many miles as the crow flies, but the way was a bit winding, and when they got to Foster’s Mountain the road turned steep; second became the gear of choice.

“This can’t be fun for her in the winter,” said Darrell.

“Having that SUV helps,” said Wade. “It’s four-wheel drive.”

“How do you know what she drives?” said Hank.

“I’ve seen her gettin’ into it after school.”

“You’d be amazed at how much he knows about her,” said Darrell.

Hank shifted in his seat and stared at Wade.

“What?” said Wade. “I talk to her sometimes. It ain’t like I’m tryin’ to marry her.”

“Wade,” said Darrell.

“Sorry.”

Hank cast a glare at Darrell.

“Um,” said Darrell. “You hear about Max McDougall’s sheep?”

“No.”

“Four of them killed, in broad daylight.”

“What?”

“I think that’s her driveway right there,” said Wade, pointing to a spot just ahead on the left.

“I think you’re right,” said Darrell.

Hank tried to pick up the thread of conversation about the sheep, but his brother and nephew had become occupied with the task at hand as they pulled into Sara Kremshaw’s driveway, a semicircular swath of dirt covered in the mottled shade of nearby birches and firs. They came to a stop in front of her house, and Hank stepped out of the truck, his mind going around and around. He followed Darrell and Wade the short distance across the yard and up the side steps onto the back porch; the door opened before Darrell had a chance to knock, and Hank wrestled himself back to the moment.

“Oh. Hi. You beat me to it,” said Darrell.

“I’m sorry,” said Miss Kremshaw in a strong British accent, laughing. “You must be Darrell?”

“Yes. And of course you know my son, Wade.”

“Hi, Miss Kremshaw.”

“Hi, Wade. How are you?”

“Fine, thanks.”

“And this is my brother Hank.”

“Hi, Hank. Nice to meet you.”

Hank smiled and gave a slight nod. “Nice to meet you too.”

“Come on in,” said Miss Kremshaw as she swung the door back for them.

“We brought this for you, Miss Kremshaw,” said Darrell as he stepped in.

“What’s this?”

“Chicken cacciatore.”

“Oh, my gosh. That’s so nice of you, thank you. And it’s still warm. Thank you very much.”

“You’re very welcome.”

“And please, call me Sara.”

“Alright … Sara. But not you, Wade.”

They all chuckled.

“Well come on in and have a seat in the living room,” she said as she led them in that direction. “Or better yet, why don’t you join me in the kitchen for some chicken cacciatore?”

“Oh, no, we couldn’t. We made that for you,” said Darrell.

“I know, but I seldom get to eat with others, and I’m sure that such a treat is better shared than in solitude.”

“Well. If you insist. You don’t have to ask us too many times when it comes to food.”

She seated them around her kitchen table – a small ’60s-style piece with a mustard-yellow design and chrome trim – and set out plates, cups and silverware.

“Sorry. I don’t have any glasses,” she said.

“That’s alright,” said Darrell. “We don’t even use silverware half the time.”

She looked at him; he was grinning.

“Please forgive my dad, Miss Kremshaw. And don’t worry – I don’t really take after him.”

Miss Kremshaw relaxed into a smile and giggled. “Oh, I think you’d be doing alright if you took after him, Wade.” She went to the refrigerator. “Is milk okay with everyone?”

“Oh, sure,” they said.

She filled all their cups and then sat down beside Hank. “So did you make this, Darrell?”

“Yes, I did, but I had a little help.”

“Oh?” she said, looking at the others.

“I turned on the oven and greased the dish,” said Wade.

Miss Kremshaw smiled. “Very good.”

“And I killed the chickens,” said Hank.

Miss Kremshaw burst out laughing … then noticed the confused looks on their faces.

“You’re not … serious, are you?”

The three Daleys eyeballed each other and then nodded to her.

“Yeah,” said Hank.

“Oh. Well … good job with that.” She giggled. “I’m sorry.” Another giggle. “I’ve just …” and another “… never had someone say that to me before.”

“It’s okay,” said Hank. His face was turning red.

“No, I mean … I know there are people who kill chickens – obviously, or else we wouldn’t be able to go to the store and pick some up out of the meat freezer. I’ve just never had anyone kill chickens specifically for me. … Thank you. … hahahahaha.”

The others started laughing; even Hank couldn’t hold back, which was just as well – holding it in was turning his face redder by the second.

“Ohh, my,” said Miss Kremshaw. “Thank you all so much, for all this. I haven’t laughed like that in ages. Darrell: Since you prepared this – mostly – would you do the honors of serving?”

“Certainly.” He scooped out a generous portion to everyone.

“Mmm. Chicken cacciatore is my favorite, and I haven’t had it in a long time. You guys guessed well.”

“Um, it wasn’t exactly a guess,” said Wade. “One time another teacher brought me into the teacher’s lounge to help her move somethin’, and I saw you eating it, although I admit I didn’t know it was your favorite.”

“You’re quite the detective, aren’t you?” said Miss Kremshaw.

“You have no idea,” said Hank.

“So tell me: Do you three always travel like this, as a trio, coming to the rescue of young damsels in distress?”

“Only if they’re British,” said Darrell.

And so they carried on until the meal was done – chicken, milk, and apple pie that Sara made. After dinner they moved into the living room. The Daleys shared the couch, and Sara sat in her easy chair.

“So you’ll be back tomorrow, Miss Kremshaw?”

“Yes, I will, Wade. I would’ve been back today except my absence caused so much work to accumulate that I had to get caught up. But I’m dying to hear what you’ve chosen to do your report on.”

“Your uncle still hasn’t heard your idea, either,” said Darrell. “Go ahead and tell them.”

“Well, I was pretty stumped at first, because a lot of the obvious topics got snatched up right away, plus I wanted to do somethin’ a little different. So I was scannin’ through some old newspapers on microfilm down at the library – that was Mr. Wayne’s idea –”

“Oh, what a good idea,” said Miss Kremshaw. “I love that man; he’s so nice. Oh, but sorry, Wade. Go ahead.”

“So I was lookin’ through those and didn’t see much, until I came to a small article from the mid-eighties on a bear that was found mutilated not far from here.”

Sara blinked.

Hank’s throat tightened.

“The story says that the sheriff believed it was a case of poachin’, so I went to talk with him, thinkin’ maybe it was part of some big poachin’ ring that got busted – I thought that would’ve made a good report – but the sheriff said it was an isolated incident, so that kinda blew a hole in that idea.”

Wade expected a prompt response, but Miss Kremshaw was gazing at the floor by her feet. She perked up at the absence of Wade’s voice.

“Oh. Well, Wade, that … was a good idea. Too bad … but what are you going to do now?”

“Well some things have happened lately that– ”

“What Wade’s looking at is a new direction,” said Darrell. “A bear, possibly rabid, was sighted a couple days ago, and a few animals have been killed recently, which the sheriff says is the work of a bear. Wade still has some things to check out, but maybe a report on bear attacks against farm animals.”

Acid rose in Hank’s throat. “Could I have some water?” he said to Sara.

“Oh, sure. Allow me,” she said, starting to rise from her chair.

“No, no,” said Hank, jumping up from the couch. “I can get it, but thank you.”

“There’s ice in the freezer … if you want some.”

He went to the sink and turned the faucet on, standing like a fencepost and staring out the window as the water ran. His breathing had quickened, and images, grim pictures, paraded through his mind. He fought to steady himself while he had the chance, and he guzzled the cold water in hopes that it would wash the acid from his mouth and throat. Though the water was already cold enough, he went to the freezer for ice.

Sara sat forward on the edge of her chair, beginning to wring her hands and trying not to glaze over. Darrell, too, was on the edge of his seat, berating himself; he’d thought that any talk of bears outside the context of Hank’s attack would be alright with Hank — they’d talked about what happened at Clyde’s, after all, without incident — but he could see he’d badly misjudged. He wished he and his brother were alone so he could apologize to him. Wade’s posture suggested he was relaxed, but his bulging eyes said otherwise.

Hank returned to his seat at last, but avoided eye contact with everyone.

“Is it cold enough for you?” said Miss Kremshaw.

“Hm? Oh, yeah, it’s good.”

After a moment of silence, Darrell said, “Well, time’s starting to get on. I suppose we should be going now, but thank you for a lovely evening, Sara.”

“Well, thank you for coming … and for the food.”

“Thank you for sharing it with us.”

“Yes, well … ” She glanced at the darkening windows. “… are you sure you have to be going now? I mean, I’ve had so much fun tonight, and it would be nice to have company a while longer.”

“That’s very kind of you, Sara, but we don’t want to overstay our welcome, and Wade probably has some homework to do.” He looked at Wade, but Wade gave no sign one way or the other.

“Okay, well …  do you want your dish back now? I can scoop the leftovers into one of my own; it’ll take only half a moment.”

“Oh, that’s okay, no need to– ”

“No, no, I don’t mind. Just hold on, I’ll … I’ll be done in a jiff.”

They waited for her by the door while she brought the leftover chicken to the kitchen counter. She got a container from the cupboard and a large spoon from a drawer, even though there was already a spoon in the chicken dish. Her hands quivered and she fumbled through the silverware, and fumbled still as she tried to pull the cover off her glass dish. It slipped out of her hands and off the counter, landing with a crash on the floor. She jumped back as chunks of glass went in every direction, then she began to cry and sank to her knees.

“Sara?” said Darrell. He’d moved towards her as soon as the cover fell, and now he was kneeling at her side while the others lingered behind. “Sara, it’s okay. It was just an accident. We’ll clean it up.” He looked at the others, and they moved to start picking up the pieces. “See, it’s alright. No big deal.”

She only cried harder, though.

Darrell had one arm around her; not knowing her well, he didn’t dare to do more, so he was surprised when she grabbed his hands and buried herself against him. It was then that her attempts to get them to stay leapt back into his mind; she hadn’t only been lonely, he realized, but terrified: Something more than broken glass is going on.

He looked at his brother and son; when they saw his face, they knew they were in for a much different evening than what they’d figured on.

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