A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 18

English: Llandegla Forest Llandegla Forest is ...

Where Hank found a nice patch of mossy ground to rest on—foolishly, perhaps. ... Image via Wikipedia

“I’m back, Wade. Find anything?”

“Oh. Hey, Mr. Morgan. Nah. I’ve skimmed through hundreds of newspaper stories – one of ’em could’ve been what I was lookin’ for, but how would I know it?”

“Yeah, I hear ya. Whaddaya say we go find your dad and grab some lunch? It’s about that time.”

“Yeah, sure.”

Wade shut down the machine and put the microfilm back, then he and James headed over to the town office.

“Lunch?” said Darrell. “Sounds like a plan to me. We haven’t gotten very far, and I could use a jumpstart.”

“The Friday Nite still open?” said James.

“Sure is, and that’s just what I was thinking.”

They walked up the street to the diner and took a seat in a booth at the back.

“Well … where do we go from here?” said Sara.

Darrell raised his eyebrows. “Good question. I don’t know. … You guys didn’t have any leads?”

James shook his head.

“I didn’t even know what I was lookin’ for,” said Wade. “Still don’t.”

“That’s the problem,” said Darrell. “We know there’s a needle in this haystack, but we don’t know what it looks like.”

“Are we still going on the theory that they’re trying to scare someone off?” said Sara.

Darrell nodded.

“Well, again, I’m mystified by the timing of it all; you said it was a six- to eight-month period, James, the first time it happened?” James nodded. “And as far as we know, nothing happened for the next nineteen years, until what happened just recently?” They nodded. She repositioned herself to face them all better. “Why in the world would you want to scare someone for just that one period of time – six or eight months – and then never do anything like that again for nineteen years?”

Their faces were as blank as their minds.

“Yeah, that’s … not exactly a regular interval, is it – nineteen years?” said James.

“No; that’s about as irregular as it gets,” said Darrell.

“So what we’re talking about, then, is a one-time deal that’s now happened twice,” said Sara.

“You mean, they’re not related, the two occurrences?”

“Possibly, like maybe they only intended to do it once, but for some reason they’ve had to do it again.”

* * *

“I see,” said the baritone on the other end of the line. “Well, let me suggest to you that you keep your cool, keep up a good front with the investigation, and I’ll take care of the rest.”

“But– ”

“You just sit back and relax, sheriff, and let me handle it.”

“O-Okay.”

“Goodbye.”

“Bye.”

* * *

“I guess we’ll go do some more looking,” said Darrell, tossing his napkin onto his plate. “You guys up for it?”

They were.

“Whaddaya say we switch it up? Me and Sara go to the library this time, and you two go to the town office?”

“Alright,” said Sara.

“Sure, why not?” said James.

“Alright, it’s uhh …” Darrell looked at his watch. “12:30 now. How about we meet at the vehicles at two o’clock?”

They agreed.

“Hey, Sara, I was just wonderin’,” said James, “is this the first time you’ve been here to this diner?”

“No, I’ve been here a few times. In fact, I ran into Hank here just last week.” She hung her head. “I wonder how he’s doing.”

* * *

Hank had been traipsing deeper into the woods all day but hadn’t gotten far, considering. His guard had gone up even more since seeing those tracks at the campsite, so he was taking his time, and going out of his way to take the quietest route possible while keeping a wary eye on everything around him. It wasn’t easy; despite his state of heightened alert, the forest was intoxicating to him, always a threat to lure him into complacency. It was the outdoorsman’s curse.

That’s why he went into the woods so often, camping and hiking; that’s why he never bothered to leave Foster’s Glen: the sheer beauty of the thing. And as he soft-stepped his way along now – the hills and ridges rising and falling around him, pine trees shooting up like canyon walls on every side, the sun beaming down to warm his face, and the songbirds singing their sweet melodies – he so much wanted to stop and soak it all in, to lie down right there on the forest floor and close his eyes, but the danger of now doing so tempered his naturelust.

It would feel so good, though.

Yeah, it would. … But no, can’t do it with that thing wandering the woods.

But it could be miles from here.

It could be miles from here, though.

You might be heading away from it.

Heck, I might be headin’ away from it, for all I know.

Just five minutes.

Just five minutes – that’s all I need. Five minutes on the ground with my eyes closed …

And it’ll never know the better.

… an’ it’ll never know the better.

Hank stopped, looked down. At his feet was a large patch of moss, soft on the eyes, soft to the touch.

No. I can’t–

Feel how droopy your eyelids are.

Oh, my eyes are so tired.

Better sit down before you go asleep standing and fall over.

Better sit down before I fall over. … Wait. Not safe. … The sun; look at it an’ it’ll wake you up.

He looked up. A cloud was just passing over, blocking the sun. He looked down, grimacing.

I don’t want to.

But it will feel so good.

But it’ll feel so good.

He staggered downward, first to his knees, then to his backside, propping himself up with one arm. He tried to lift his head but couldn’t.

I have to get up.

No, you don’t.

I don’t?

You don’t.

Then he lied down and fell asleep.

* * *

When two o’clock rolled around, James and Wade were back at the car, leaning on it, saying nothing. Darrell and Sara came strolling along about two minutes later, bleary-eyed.

“I’ve never scrolled through so much microfilm as in the last hour,” said Sara. “Not even in college.”

“So how’d it go?” said James.

“Batting zero once again,” said Darrell.

“So what do we do now?” said Wade.

“Why don’t we go up to my place for a little afternoon siesta?” said Sara. “Give our minds – and our eyes – a break. We’ll do something fun, or relaxing, then maybe something will come to us when our minds are clear and we least expect it.”

“Like a thief in the night,” said Darrell.

“What do you mean?”

“I’ll explain it on the way. Let’s go.”

“Can I go with you, Mr. Morgan?” said Wade.

“Sure.”

So they hopped in their vehicles and headed up the mountain.

* * *

“So. A thief in the night. Is that another sports term?” said Sara.

“It’s from the Bible – talking about how Christ will return when we least expect it, like a thief in the night. If you knew a thief was coming, you’d be ready to stop him, right?”

“Right.”

“Well the Bible says we need to be ready in a similar way for Christ’s return, so that whenever He comes, we’re ready for it. Or as the Boy Scouts would say, ‘Be Prepared.’ ”

She laughed. “I’m afraid I’m not very familiar with the Boy Scouts or the Bible.”

“No?”

“No.”

“Well, if you want, you can come to church with me and Wade anytime you feel like it – we go to the Baptist church right here in town. Or if you want to talk about anything, that’s fine too. Heck, I can even teach you how to tie different knots, but that wouldn’t be as useful to you.”

She chuckled, looking down at her hands in her lap.

“That’s very kind of you. Perhaps I’ll ask you some questions sometime.”

“Anytime you want.”

She turned towards the window, her pale-blue eyes suddenly cowering. She noticed it in her reflection, and it only saddened her more.

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