A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 10

Interior of the 1938 Diner in Wellsboro, Tioga...

The Friday Nite. ... Image via Wikipedia

The Daleys made it to Sara’s in time for dinner and spent the rest of the evening keeping her company; they were glad to see she was doing much better. Darrell and Wade once again spent the night, but Hank left late in the evening and once again slept in Darrell’s spare bedroom – he had things he wanted to do the next day, and he didn’t want anyone holding him up.

The morning glowed – the day would be a warm one, but Hank was up and at ’em while it was still cool. He got ready and headed into town; when he arrived, he pulled into a parking spot on Main Street and looked at his watch.

7:50. Got ten minutes.

He cracked the window a few inches, leaned back in his seat and folded his hands on his lap. He wasn’t tired, but it felt good to just sit still. He would’ve done some people-watching, but being first thing Saturday morning in a town of 500 people … well, there wasn’t much happening.

Pretty soon a car pulled up from the opposite direction and parked a few spaces in front of him. A man got out and walked around the back of the car onto the sidewalk.

Right on time, sheriff.

Harvey Danscom, who had been sheriff since Hank was a teenager, had arrived just before the top of the hour and was now unlocking the front door of the police station at the stroke of eight, as usual. As soon as he was in the building, Hank stepped out of his truck and followed him in.

Cling-a-ling. Harvey was at the coffeemaker, and he turned around at the sound of the bell.

“Good mornin’, Hank.”

“Mornin’, sheriff.”

“Gee whiz,” said Harvey, looking at his watch. “Someone here almost as early as me? That don’t happen often.”

“Earlier than you, actually. Been here since ten minutes of eight.”

The sheriff raised his eyebrows. “What’s on your mind, Hank? Must be awful important.”

“Yeah. It is.”

“Have a seat.”

Harvey sat at his desk, Hank in front of it.

“Well, I wanted to talk to you about these attacks that have been happenin’, these animals that’ve been I’ killed.”

“Alright. What about exactly? Somethin’ you want to know? Somethin’ you can tell us?”

“Yes and yes.”

“Alright, well … ask away – or tell away.” He chuckled. Hank almost smiled.

“You said that these attacks have been the work of a bear.” Harvey nodded. “Well I talked to Clyde Pullen and Max McDougall. They both said that their animals that got killed had all kinds of cuts, like claw marks, all over their faces and backs.”

“Well, bears can really mess you up, but you don’t need me to tell you that.”

“You’re right, there. But I remember a bear that was killed back in the mid-eighties – the paper ran a story about it; you said it was the work of poachers –” Harvey nodded “– it had the same cut marks on it as these farm animals did.”

“Wait a second. Your nephew was in here not long ago askin’ me about that case. You send him in here?”

“No. He was workin’ on a school project that I knew nothin’ about at the time. I’d never send a kid in to do my work.”

“Hank, I’m not sure what you’re drivin’ a– ”

“You listen to me, Harvey,” said Hank as he leaned forward onto the edge of the desk. “All of these situations had the same M.O. – meat ripped out, cut marks all over the face and back – but one you say was a poacher and the others you say was a bear. Which one is it, Harvey?”

Harvey drew back a little. “I … I– ”

“You know full well it ain’t either of ’em, Harvey; you know full well that all of ’em were killed by the same thing, the same creature. I don’t know how you know, but I know you do.”

“Now … now hold on just a minute, Hank– ”

“No, Harvey, let me tell you somethin’: I’ve seen bear; I know bear.” He leaned closer to Harvey. “But I also know that bear ain’t the worst thing in these woods.”

Harvey went pale, his skin clammy.

“Hank, uh … there’s somethin’ you gotta understand– ”

“I understand what’s out there, Harvey!” He got up and started for the door, then turned and pointed at the sheriff. “And you’d better do somethin’ about it.”

* * *

Noontime found Hank in the Friday Nite diner on Main Street, a couple buildings up from the police station. After yelling at Harvey he went for a long drive, then came back to town and spent almost two hours in the bookstore before going to the diner. He’d been there almost an hour already.

He sat in a corner booth at the front, taking his time eating while he stewed on things, looking down at the table most of the time. Such was his position when the bell over the door clanged just after noon, but he didn’t look up – it was the mid-day rush hour, and if he looked up every time the bell clanged, he’d have a cramp in his neck. He finally took notice, however, when someone appeared next to him.

“Mind if I join you?”

“Oh, hi, Sara. Sure, have a seat. Where’s Darrell and Wade? You ditch ’em?”

“Well, sort of. Actually, I had to come to town to do some errands, so first I dropped them off at their house – at their request – then decided to stop here for a bite before heading home. They have such good food here – no scones or Earl Grey, but I never knew that American fried food was so good.”

“American fried food?”

“Yes. That’s what I call this stuff – hamburgers, french fries, onion rings.”

“And the heart-attack special at breakfast.”

She laughed. “Yes, the heart-attack special. Can’t forget that. … So, I didn’t fancy meeting you here.”

“Did you figure I’d be sleepin’ the day away?”

“Well, it wouldn’t surprise me if you had – or your brother or nephew – after how much you all have tended out to me this week. I couldn’t believe how early they were up this morning.”

“They don’t let any grass grow under their feet if they can help it.”

“Well I’m very thankful for what you three have done for me this week. I’m feeling much better now; it– ” She looked down. “It’s quite embarrassing to be petrified into seclusion; shameful, really.”

“Hey, there’s nothin’ wrong with bein’ afraid, ’specially with that thing you saw.”

“So you– ”

Hank looked at her.

I’m sorry, Hank. I – I started to ask you something I shouldn’t have.”

“No, it’s okay. Go ahead.”

“Um, alright, well … I wanted to talk to you about … Darrell was telling me about your … experience with the bear, and– ”

“It’s okay. It’s true that I don’t talk about it much, and I don’t really like talkin’ about it, but since you’ve been through a similar experience, I’m willin’ to help.”

“Alright. Thanks, Hank. … I just wanted to know one thing: How long was it before you felt safe again?”

He looked down at his plate and played with a french fry. Safe? Not until that thing is dead.

“A coupla months.”

“That’s it? That’s all?”

“Yeah. You know, I mean … you start doin’ stuff again, and pretty soon you’re not thinkin’ of it most of the time. As long as no one brings it up, it hardly enters your conscious thought after a while.”

“Wow. That’s amazing.”

“Well with you, I’d say get right back to school on Monday, spend some time with us– ” He froze, looked up, and she was looking at him. “– or whoever – ” She smiled. “–so you’re not alone all the time, and you’ll be surprised how fast you get over it. Not that you won’t have your weak moments, ’cause you will, but they get less and less all the time. … Hey, are you gonna eat anything? I’m sorry; I’m just sittin’ her eatin’ in front of you– ”

“No, that’s alright. I’ve talked at least as much as you have. But yes, I am fading away and need something.”

She looked at the menu and then ordered. Her food came out a few minutes later.

“So, I hope you don’t mind me askin’, Sara, but I was wonderin’ how you got set up over here. Wade’s told us a few things from his conversations with you … .”

“Yes, Wade is the only one at school, I think, who cares that I exist – except the principal, who cares not so much about me but about the fact that I’m a body filling a teaching position.”

“Yeah, northern Maine isn’t exactly a big attraction for most people – as you can tell by our booming population – especially for teachers.”

“Well, my uncle owns the logging company as well as the whole of Foster’s Mountain; he’s American, as I’m sure you know – from Montana; only gets out this way once in a while, but he married into my family – my Aunt Hilda – and for some reason they are absolutely fond of me.” She chuckled. “So when I graduated from the teaching college in London, they offered me a generous bit of land here, and the house – which my  uncle built himself – not only to give me a good start out of college, but also because they knew I love the country – I lived my whole life, until college, in a rural part of England, and the city was absolutely dreadful. It was easy to get a teaching position here because, like you said, there are so few people willing to come way up here, and that was the final piece of the puzzle for me: house, land, job, all mine; couldn’t beat that with a stick.”

“But no family, and no friends.”

“Yes, well … thankfully, that’s now been remedied.”

* * *

Hank enjoyed lunch with Sara, but he still couldn’t get his mind off the larger issue at hand: orange eyes; back after 19 years; why? Hank spent most of the weekend with Darrell and Wade at their house, but as far as they were concerned, he may as well not have.

“What’s wrong with Uncle Hank?” said Wade on Sunday afternoon while Hank was napping in the spare bedroom. “He’s hardly said a word all weekend.”

“Probably something to do with this bear thing,” said Darrell as he washed dishes.

Wade paused a few moments before replying. “It’s been two decades – you know, since his run-in with the bear. I’d think he’d be over it by now.”

Darrell stopped wiping off the plate in his hand.

“You ought to know better than that, Wade. We’ve talked about this; your uncle went through a horrible thing.”

“I know … but he’s letting it dictate the rest of his life.”

“I don’t want to hear another word from you about this.”

“But–”

“No buts. You got it?”

“Yeah,” said Wade, getting up from the couch. “I got it. You wanna be Uncle Hank’s babysitter the rest of his life? Fine. But count me out.”

“Wade!”

But Darrell’s son was already out the front door.

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