A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 27

Morgan SX-704 grapple skidder – a modern skidd...

Jonas Johnson’s skidder sits idle after his lunchtime got ugly. … (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cruddy job. Seven days a week’s for the birds.

Jonas Johnson set himself down on a thick log at the edge of the clearing he’d been working in since dawn. His hot chainsaw rested a few feet away, his dented metal lunch pail lay open next to him. For a lumberjack at midmorning, breakfast seems like a long time ago, and Jonas made it a priority to keep his energy up – often. He reached into his lunch pail and pulled out two packages of Little Debbie snack cakes. They didn’t stand a chance.

Jus’ ’cause I’m single, they think I got nothin’ better to do than work every day. Least they could do is send someone out here with me to talk to. He shook his head in silence as Little Debbie died a quick death. At least I got a nice place to work in – beautiful. He gazed at the tall trees. Bein’ stuck in an office would be the last nail in my coffin.

Skush-kish. A sound from behind.


He turned around. A gray squirrel popped up just yards away.

“Today’s your lucky day, squirrelly. Left my gun over in the skidder.”

He smiled, then finished off Little Debbie as he turned back.

But he never finished chewing.



“Grrow! Greall! Rrrrow-row!”

* * *


Darrell and Sara had dropped off Wade at the library, and stood on the front step of Mr. John Schaeffer’s home. The wooden door of the old farmhouse creaked as it opened.

“Hello,” said the old man, Irish brogue rolling off his tongue. “Can I help you?”

“Hi. Mr. Schaeffer, I’m Darrell Daley, and this is my friend Sara Kremshaw. We both live here in Foster’s Glen, and we wanted to talk to you about some land.”

“Aye? Alright, well, I never do business on Sundays, an’ never out of my home, but if you come to my office in town tomorrow, I’ll be glad to talk with you.”

“Well, we can’t wait until tomorrow, Mr. Schaeffer; it’s an emergency.”

Mr. Schaeffer hesitated, eyeballing them, then laughed – scoffed, sort of, like a man who had now seen everything.

“Emergency? In real estate? Not unless your home’s being carried away in a flood.” He started to back through his door. “Come to my office tomorrow if you have serious business. Otherwise, don’t waste my time.”

He went to close the door, but Darrell jammed his foot in the way and put out a hand.

“Mr. Schaeffer. We know about Vernon Pillsbury, and we know about things that happened nineteen years ago, and about what’s happened recently. Now we want to know what you know about it.”

* * *

Wade filed through the card catalog at the library.

Witchcraft, witchcraft … here we go.

He wrote down a couple call numbers and then found the right shelf, picked up the books and went to a quiet corner. With his knowledge of the occult being virtually nil, he figured that it was best to start at the beginning, with the basics.

The first book he browsed through seemed a bit too academic, and too advanced; he set it aside and picked up the last one – yes, the Foster’s Glen library, venerable as it was, possessed a grand total of two books pertaining to the occult.

He went straight to the table of contents and was pleased to find that the first chapter was called “Witchcraft: An Introduction.” He began reading it, and found many curious things – but nothing that seemed helpful to their particular situation.

He read on. Blah, blah, yada, yada. Disappointment soon began to set in, and he began skimming out of boredom. He flipped back to the table of contents, skipped ahead to sections he thought more promising, peeked over the top of his book as someone walked past. Looking back at the page, his eyes locked on the first line they saw. He reread it.

He tossed the book down and ran out of the library, came to a halt on the top step, looking around.

Oh, man. They might not be here for a while.

He looked around again.

Better head for Mr. Schaeffer’s.

* * *

“I … I don’t know where to begin,” said Mr. Schaeffer.

Darrell, sitting next to Sara on the edge of Mr. Schaeffer’s Victorian couch, said, “Why don’t you tell us about what happened nineteen years ago, and what you know about Vernon Pillsbury.”

Mr. Schaeffer scoffed. “Again, where do I begin? … Well, my wife an’ I had only moved here a few months before – she’s dead now, God rest her – when Mr. Pillsbury approached me about some land that was for sale – a big piece, just outside o’ town. Everythin’ was fine at first – normal back-an’-forth biddin’ between him and a couple o’ others – but then he fell behind an’ couldn’t match his competitors. I informed him o’ this, an’ had every expectation that he would continue to do what was normal for that situation – either remove himself from the biddin’, or make a last-ditch effort at scroungin’ up the necessary funds somehow.”

A sudden change came over Mr. Schaeffer, and it was as if he spoke from another place.

“He made a last-ditch effort, alright; tried to get me to lie to his competitors an’ tell ’em he had the highest bid, which would’ve given him the land. I was uncomfortable with that from the first moment, but Gretchen an’ I were new in town, just startin’ out … an’ we had a young mouth to feed.”

Mr. Schaeffer shifted to yet another place, this one even farther away.

“So I went along with him, but only for a while. Then it got to be too much; my conscience couldn’t take it anymore. I told him, but he pressed me; I told him again an’ he pressed more. One day I yelled at him, in my office, refused to go any further for him. An’ that’s when he threatened me … threatened my family. ‘Got a son, don’tcha, John? Pretty wife? You wanna keep ’em, you do as I say.’ He never said how he would hurt ’em, but I believed he would, an’ I didn’t want that … but I didn’t wanna help him anymore, either. So Gretchen an’ I made plans to move, an’ kept it mum – we were just gonna up an’ leave one night, without tellin’ anybody. … But somehow he found out – hanged if I know how, but he did, an’ then– ” His lips began to quiver and his face scrunched up, reddened. “An’ then I found out how he meant to hurt ’em. Me an’ Gretch woke up one night – screams, bloody screams was all we could hear … an’ growlin’ an’ tearin’ … comin’ from Johnny’s room. We ran in– ” Mr. Schaeffer started to shake, his shoulders shuddering. “An’ he was … everywhere … torn up.”

Mr. Schaeffer lost all control, and Sara ran outside and lost her breakfast. Darrell put his hand on Mr. Schaeffer’s shoulder and waited in silence, feeling terrible for putting the man through such grief of remembrance; his regret, though, was tempered by the thought of preserving his own family’s well-being. He let Mr. Schaeffer run his course before speaking again.

“Mr. Schaeffer, I’m sorry to have to ask you more questions, and to bring this up in the first place, but like I said before, my family’s in danger, along with everyone else in town, so I feel that I need to do this.”

Mr. Schaeffer nodded through his tears. “Yes, you do.”

“Did the same thing happen to your wife?”

“No. … She died, not long after, from grief. It’s a wonder I haven’t, too. Makes me think I didn’t love ’em enough.” He cried some more.

“Mr. Schaeffer, how come you stayed here all these years? Why didn’t you ever move away?”

“Mr. Pillsbury threatened me with the same fate as my son. … Not that I had anythin’ to lose; my son was gone, an’ my wife – I was only half a man; what did it matter if I died? But somethin’ in me wouldn’t let me do it, wouldn’t let me let go. Cowardice, I guess.”

“We already knew that Vernon Pillsbury is responsible – for what happened nineteen years ago and for what’s been happening lately – and we’ve learned about some other things too, like his involvement with witchcraft.” Mr. Schaeffer’s eyes flicked. “What you’ve said helps us out too, gives us another witness– ”

“I’m not gonna– ”

“Now wait, Mr. Schaeffer. We’re not asking you to go public with this, or go toe to toe with Mr. Pillsbury; what we need is material evidence, some kind of physical proof that links Pillsbury to these killings. … Can you tell us anything that might help us with that?”

Mr. Schaeffer sat unmoving, leaning back in his chair. Tears still flowed down his ruddy cheeks, and he sniffed every few seconds. He stared across the room, then took one quick glance at Darrell; Darrell’s pleading eyes were fixed on him.

Mr. Schaeffer stood up without a word and walked out of his livingroom. Then the front door opened and Sara entered, shame-faced and silent. Darrell looked at her a moment, then looked at the doorway through which Mr. Schaeffer had gone. Two whole minutes went by; Darrell and Sara never moved, and Mr. Schaeffer never returned.

At last Darrell stood, ready to leave in defeat. He stepped around the coffee table – and Mr. Schaeffer reappeared, clutching some papers. He walked over to Darrell and handed them to him.

“If I die, I die.”

“What are these?”

“Bein’ involved with Mr. Pillsbury as I have been, I’ve had the opportunity to access certain documents of his, without his knowledge – including his diary. I’d thought of using these someday, bringin’ them to the attention of law enforcement, perhaps, should I ever try to escape – not our own sheriff, o’ course; he’s as guilty as Pillsbury.”

“Yeah. We know.” Darrell’s mouth spoke, but his mind was fixed, unbelieving, on the papers – the goldmine – in his hands.

“Mr. Schaeffer, I– ”

“You’ll find everythin’ you need in there.” Mr. Schaeffer sighed. “I only hope he doesn’t find you out like he did me.”

Mr. Schaeffer guided them to the door and out. Darrell turned around on the top step and managed to say “Thank you, Mr. Schaeffer” as the man was closing the door. A split second later, however, it opened again, and Mr. Schaeffer stuck his head out.

“Mr. Daley.”

Darrell turned around.

“Stop him.”

Darrell blinked.

“So other people’s dreams will not be haunted … as mine have been.”


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