A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 19

English: Looking back down the mountain road

The mountain road leading up to Sara Kremshaw's house. ... Image via Wikipedia

Hank opened his eyes, and the first thing he saw was the sun. He squinted against the bright light, his brain as contorted as his face.

What? Where am I?

He sat up on one elbow, shielding his face with his other hand, and surveyed his surroundings.

Oh yeah. … Oh no!

He jumped to his feet and scanned around. Then, glancing down, he saw his shotgun lying on the mossy ground; he picked it up with nervous hands and held it at his hip, ready to blast the first thing that moved.

Whoa … wait a second. He looked at his watch. Two-thirty. Okay. … Two-thirty! I slept for almost two hours. You fool! You’re lucky you woke up at all. He looked all around him, inspecting the ground. No tracks, and no other sign of the creature. Alright, it’s okay. Using his shirt, he wiped sweat from his forehead. Hank, that was foolish. Don’t ever do that again.

He adjusted his backpack and got his bearings before moving on, deeper into the woods. Only a minute went by, however, before his groggy mind returned to the nap; through the fog – and so well-hidden that it slipped into Hank’s mind undetected – came this thought: You got away with that one, didn’t you?

Hank replied without realizing it.


* * *

Darrell and company pulled into Sara’s driveway. Darrell slid out of his truck, shut the door and leaned back against it.

“Man, what a nice day,” he said.

“Yeah. I bet it would’ve been great at the Silver Bells,” said Wade.

“What are the Silver Bells?” said Sara.

“Nice set of waterfalls over on the backside of the mountain,” said James.

“You remember them,” said Darrell.

“Oh yeah. Can’t forget that place. Karen an’ I used to go over there once in a while – nice quiet spot for a picnic.”

“It is a nice spot,” said Darrell, “and not many people go there,” he said to Sara.

“How come?” she said.

“Well, it’s not a secret place – pretty much everyone around here knows about it  – but it’s hard to get to; you can only drive to within about three-quarters of a mile of it, then you gotta hoof it the rest of the way.”

“Hoof it?”

“Yeah; walk.”

“Oh. Sorry. Still learning the American lingo.”

“An’ it’s not the easiest walk, either,” said James. “Pretty rocky; narrow trail that runs partly along a steep dropoff. But the falls are the big payoff – great swimming, relaxin’ to listen to.”

“Sounds nice.”

“Hank and Wade like to go there,” said Darrell, then, noticing Wade’s sober expression, added, “I’m sure they’ll get there again soon. Maybe they’ll take you sometime.”

“That would be nice. In the meantime, how about a little R and R? Some iced tea, maybe even a soft spot on the couch?”

“Sounds good to me,” said Darrell.

They went around to the back of the house, and Sara unlocked the door.

“Have a seat on the porch if you like,” she said.

They remained outside while Sara walked into the kitchen, set her purse on the table and poured iced tea for everyone.

“I’ll be jiggered,” she said. “I’ve got a message on my answering machine.”

“Is that odd?” asked Darrell from outside the door.

“For me, extremely.”

She pushed play.

“Hi, Sara. This is your Uncle Vernon calling. It’s Saturday, about noon. I’ll be flying out to Maine tomorrow for business; don’t know how long I’ll be staying – a few days probably – but I’d like to see you if you have time. But I’ll stop in sometime after I get there, and we can talk more then. Have a good day. Bye.” Beep.

“If I have time,” said Sara with a smirk. “He obviously doesn’t know me very well, does he?”

Do you know him very well?” said Darrell.

“Not real well. When I was living in England I would see him and my aunt once, maybe twice, a year – on holidays – since they had to travel all the way from America, and we never came over here. But he and my aunt have always been very kind to us, very generous with their wealth. Even still, I was quite surprised when he offered me this house and this land – that’s a big gift to give someone you don’t know very well, even if they are family.”

Darrell looked away, his eyes seeming to be inspecting his thoughts, as James stepped inside the door.

“What is it?” said James.

Darrell looked at Sara. “Maybe that’s it.”

What’s it?” she said.

“Land. … Foster’s Glen isn’t rich in many things, but one thing it’s got a lot of is land. This whole area is nothing but vast tracts of forest, except for a few farms. Man, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before.”

“You mean– ”

“The sheriff, and his boss. It’s all about land.”

“You mean they’re tryin’ to get land?” said James.

“Maybe. Or maybe trying to keep what they’ve already got, I don’t know. … But I’m sure it’s about land. … Come on; we’ve gotta get back to town.”

He charged out the door, startling Wade, who was lying on Sara’s porch swing.

“Wade, let’s go.”

“What? Where are we goin’?”

“Back to town.”

“Siesta’s over, Wade,” said James. “Your father’s had a brainstorm.”

Rrrr. Fine time for that; I was just gettin’ comfortable.”

They hurried to catch up with Darrell, who was moving with a snap in his step.

“Darrell, you want to tell us a little more?” said James.

“When we get to town. Meet me at the town office.”

Darrell hopped in and started his truck, and Sara just made it in before he stomped on the gas, spinning up dirt.

“Sorry about your driveway,” he said.

“It’s alright,” she said, looking more concerned about the prospect of flying down the mountain road.

James and Wade followed in James’s car, and Wade couldn’t believe that they made it to town faster than his Uncle Hank ever had. They found open spaces in front of the town office, and Wade, Sara and even James looked flabbergasted as they struggled to keep up with Darrell, who was out of the truck and up the huge granite steps in no time. Before they reached the top of the stairs, though, Darrell was already on his way back down, frustration on his face.

“I forgot they close early on Saturdays,” he said as he steamed on by. They rushed back down after him. “And they’re not open on Sundays either.”

Darrell reached the sidewalk and stopped, as if he just realized he could go no farther because he didn’t know where to go.

“What’s going on?” said James.

“Like I said … it’s all about land. … Keepin’ it, gettin’ it; either way, it doesn’t really matter. The point is, there’s some land they’re trying to protect, or get; land that somebody else must want, or have; so I was gonna look through all the property maps in the town office, see who owns what exactly … and maybe find out if anyone’s been inquirin’ about buying big chunks of land around here – because it’s gotta be something big, whatever it is.”

“So what do we do now?” said Sara.

“We can’t wait until Monday,” said Wade. “Not with Uncle Hank out there.”

“No, we can’t,” said Darrell. He looked up at the town office building; James watched his eyes.

“I have an idea,” said James, and he walked to the back of his car and popped the trunk. He leaned in and fished around for a minute, then pulled out a wallet-size leather pouch.

“What’s that?” said Wade.

“This … is a set of lockpicks,” said James.

Sara looked at Darrell.

“That’s what you were thinkin’, wasn’t it, Darrell?” said James.

Darrell’s face said a quiet “How did you know?”

James shrugged. “Fifteen years in law enforcement; I learned how to read people.”

“Where’d you get those?” said Darrell.

“These belong to the Foster’s Glen Police Department. Forgot to turn ’em in when I left.”


James shrugged. “Ah … well, you know … I always meant to mail ’em back. Just never got around to it.” He smiled. “So. You up for it?”

Darrell paused, then remembered Hank and Molly. He looked at James.


* * *

Three o’clock, the sun still burning high in the sky, and Hank’s mind was now clear, focused once again on the hunt. He entered a grove of dark pines, relieved to get out of the sun for a while, and also glad that he’d now have an easier time staying quiet thanks to the soft bed of pine needles under his feet. As soon as he entered the grove, a hush filled his ears; nothing stirred save the slow growth of life itself, and all the forest sounds outside were dimmed by the cushion of branches stretching overhead. He stopped and listened. Peace enveloped him.

* * *

Behind Hank, atop a low rise over which the grove ran, two eyes peered around a tree at him. They were low, close to the ground, their accompanying body hidden behind a thick pine trunk. The creature sniffed the air, searching for the strange scents that went with the strange visitor and finding them. It lowered its body to the ground, tucked into a pouncing position, and waited, never taking its eyes off the intruder.

* * *

Hank had been in this grove twice before, but it had been a while. He took his time studying the sights in all directions. He noticed the rise. It seemed as good a direction as any, and it was one of the few nearby spots he’d never ventured into. So off he went, straight towards the spy.


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