A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 28

Country Road Country road near to Rushbrooke, ...

The dirt road outside of town where Wade met up with Darrell and Sara. ... (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“How you doin’, Hank?”

“Well, I won’t lie – my body’s killin’ me. But this crutch is helpin’.”

“Wanna stop?”

“Yeah. Just for a minute. I hate to slow us down too much.”

“Don’t sweat it, man. We’re gettin’ there.”

Hank lowered himself onto a flat stump – a memento of a long-ago tree harvest – and laid James’s homemade crutch on the ground. James took a seat on a fallen tree a few feet away.

“I don’t ’magine we’ll get outta here tonight, though,” said Hank.

“Maybe not.”

“That’s alright. We’re prepared.” He smiled.

“That’s right,” said James with a smile of his own. “Always prepared.”

“Remember that time Mr. Magee brought us all out here for tree identification – you were assistant Scoutmaster at the time – an’ all we wanted to do was catch frogs to take back an’ scare the girls with?”

James laughed. “Yeah. Thankfully, I didn’t try anything stupid with Karen, or else she might’ve ditched me.”

“I’m surprised she wanted you in the first place.”

“You know, so am I. There was a time– ”

“Shshshshsh.” Hank held up a hand.

“What is it?” James whispered.

Hank’s eyes darted. Everything was still. He looked to his left, then to his right. His head twitched as his eyes caught a gray blur some distance away.

“Over there, in those bushes.”

James looked, but saw nothing.

“I just saw somethin’ move through ’em,” said Hank. “It was blurry, though. I swear it was movin’ fast.”

James readied his gun. Hank reached for his.

A gray patch flashed through the corner of his eye.

“There it is again, over in that cluster of trees.”

James looked. Nothing.

“It’s gone now, but I swear it was there.”

James was prepared for it to be true, but … I wonder if he’s hallucinating. He may have hit his head when he fell, and he may be dehydrated.

He remembered the skunk.

Was that panic, based on a hallucination?

“Well, we’ll keep an eye out,” said James. “We should get movin’.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

James took a long drink of water.

“Here, have a swig.”

Hank took the bottle and began to drink.

“Take as much as you want,” said James. “We got plenty more.”

* * *

“Is that Wade?”

Darrell and Sara had been riding in silence since leaving Mr. Schaeffer’s, but her words roused Darrell from his private mull session.

“Yeah, you’re right. What the heck’s he doing walking way out here?”

Darrell pulled over and was climbing out as Wade came jogging up to his door, breathing hard.

“What’s going on, Wade? What’re you doing out here?”

“I found somethin’ at the library, an’ I didn’t feel like waitin’, since I didn’t know how long you’d be gone.”

“What is it?”

“One of the books said that practitioners of witchcraft sometimes use an object of mediation, a conduit, like a ouija board or body fluids, to communicate. And I thought of how Miss Kremshaw said she saw her uncle settin’ up a little table with stuff on it, like maybe those were conduits. There’s gotta be one for the creature; if we can figure out what it is and remove it …”

“It’s worth a shot. We found some stuff too.”

“Yeah?”

“Actually, it was given to us. I didn’t get a chance to look through them yet, but Mr. Schaeffer gave us photocopied pages of Vernon Pillsbury’s diary.”

“Really?”

“Yeah. It’s kind of a long story, but Mr. Schaeffer said it’s all the evidence we need. Now if we can just find the conduit, and hope that James and Hank can kill whatever’s out there.”

“And I’ve got to get back to my house,” said Sara. “My uncle could show up there anytime now.”

“Right. Hop in, Wade.”

Wade climbed into the truck bed, and Darrell tore off.

“You getting nervous?” said Darrell.

“Yes. Very.” She sighed. “But I’m not alone, am I?”

“No, you’re not. And you said he never stays long; hopefully you won’t have to see him again after this – ever.”

Soon they pulled up in front of Marvin’s, and Sara went in and got her stuff. A few minutes later they were on their way again; Sara’s driveway was empty when they arrived.

“I suppose it’s too much to hope that he’s already been here and gone,” she said.

“I’ll walk you to your door,” said Darrell.

“Thank you.”

The two of them got out, leaving Wade in the truck, and walked towards the back of the house. She reached into her pocket for her keys as they rounded the back corner, and she pulled up suddenly.

“What is it?” said Darrell.

“There, on the ground.”

She pointed to the spot in front of her. Darrell got down on one knee, and there, plain as day, was a six-clawed print. He looked around it; there was a second one … and there, a third. He was about to ask if these weren’t just leftovers from the night of her encounter, but that was too long ago; these were fresh – Probably from last night, maybe even today.

He took her by the arm and led her to the door. Great, now she’s gonna be a wreck when her uncle gets here.

She unlocked the door and they went into the kitchen.

“Sara, are you gonna be alright?”

She nodded.

“You can call this off if you want; play sick when he gets here, or just come to my house. You don’t have to put yourself through this.”

“I think I do. I can’t be anywhere near you guys when he’s around, and I don’t want to do anything else to make him suspicious, either. I’ll be alright, seriously. I just need a minute, that’s all. You’d better go. He could be here any minute.”

“Yeah, you’re right. Call me as soon as he leaves, though, okay?”

She nodded. “Sure.”

Then Darrell left, and Sara made a party platter.

* * *

“That took you long enough,” said Wade as Darrell got back in the truck.

“We found tracks near her back steps – creature tracks.”

“Fresh ones, you mean?”

“Yeah. From last night, maybe even today.”

Today? An’ we’re leavin’ her here all alone?”

“Not much choice. We can’t let her uncle see her with us, and she doesn’t wanna back out of their meeting, because she’s afraid it’ll look suspicious; I hate to leave her there by herself, but I think she’s right.”

“So what are we gonna do?”

“Go home and look at these papers from Mr. Schaeffer. And pray that Sara makes it through the next hour.”

* * *

Sara finished fixing the refreshments and was just completing a quick straightening-up of the livingroom when she heard a vehicle pull in.

Lord, keep my steady.

She stood in the livingroom, waiting. Footsteps on the porch.

Knock-knock-knock-knock.

Something started to flash through her mind and then stopped. She braced herself with a prayer and went to the door.

“Uncle Vernon, welcome back.”

“Sara, my dear, how are you?” he said in his best fake British accent.

“I think you’re getting better at that.”

“And I see the Maine accent still hasn’t rubbed off on you – that’s good.”

“Do come in.”

“My, look at all of this; is this all for me?”

“Yes, it is. Well, and a bit for me, too.”

Vernon chuckled. “You should’ve invited friends, with that many refreshments.”

“Well, I didn’t want you to go back to your business on an empty stomach – you need your energy.”

“Yes, I do.” He chuckled again.

“Well, grab a plate and dig in. Want something to drink?”

“Tea, if you have some. Your Aunt Hilda got me hooked on the Earl Grey a long time ago.”

They ate and drank and chatted away in the livingroom, and the time passed as quickly as Sara had hoped it would. When he’d been there 35 minutes, his plate now empty, and suddenly said, “Well,” she was sure he was about to leave.

“Well, I’m afraid I have some bad news to pass along.”

Her heart twisted. “Oh?”

“As you might’ve guessed, news of the recent animal attacks, and of that young girl’s death, made it out to me in Montana – I keep in regular contact with my foreman out here.”

And the sheriff, Sara thought.

He heaved a heavy sigh. “Well, I just found out today, as soon as I saw my foreman at one of the job sites … that one of my own men was killed, attacked.”

Sara’s eyes grew large. “When?”

“Just this morning, early. He– there was nothing left of him.”

Her heart pounded, acid rose in her throat, and her mouth started going all cottony. Lord, please, Lord …

“I’m sorry – I shouldn’t be giving you the horrible details. But I bring this up because I’m concerned about you. I spoke with the sheriff this morning –” Her heart jumped. “– and he says that it won’t be long before he gets the bear that’s responsible, but in the meantime –” Bear; yeah, right. “– I was wondering if there was someplace else you could go, someone you could stay with.”

She looked at him.

“Oh. Just temporary, I mean, until this bear is killed. I just don’t like the idea of you being up here in the woods all by yourself with that thing running around.”

“Well, I appreciate your concern, but I’m alright. I haven’t been going out at night– ”

“That’s good.”

“– and I lock all my doors and windows. And I have a rifle, too, remember? That my Uncle Steve gave me? And he taught me how to fire it.”

“Okay. You sound pretty well protected, but– ”

“I don’t have any friends I could go to, anyway, even if I wanted to.”

“No? A pretty girl like you with no friends?”

She smiled. “I know; sad but true.”

“You’re not friends with any of the other teachers at school?”

She shook her head.

“None of the people in town?”

“No, I … pretty much keep to myself. Stranger in a strange land, you know?”

“I thought … . When I was talking with the sheriff earlier, I thought he mentioned that he’d seen you with a couple guys from here in town – the Daleys?”

She was struck … but she didn’t show it. She didn’t know what to do … so she did what came naturally.

“No. No, I’m afraid he’s mistaken. I don’t know any Daleys; the only men I know are my fellow teachers.”

“I guess he saw wrong. I’ll have to tell him to get his eyes checked.” He chuckled. “Or his memory – maybe he forgot which pretty girl is my niece. That’s good, though – that you don’t know the Daleys.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Sheriff says they’re a bunch of troublemakers, especially the younger one – Hank. But the other one has a son – you must have him in school.”

“Oh.” She tried to look forgetful. “Oh, yes – Wade is his name. I’m sorry – when you mentioned the Daleys, I was only thinking of men, grownups. I’ve never met his father, though – never comes to the parent-teacher conferences.”

“I guess you’re not missing much, from what I hear.” He looked at his watch. “Well, I’d better be going; business calls.”

They stood and walked to the door.

“I’d really like it if you could stay with someone else until this bear is taken care of, but if not … well, just keep doing what you’ve been doing; I’m sure you’ll be alright.” He stepped onto the porch. “And stay away from those Daleys,” he added with a wink and a smile.

“I’ll keep a watch out. When will you be heading back to Montana?”

“Not sure. Probably in a day or two. Or three. We’ll see.”

“Thanks for dropping by.”

“Thank you, my dear,” he said in his British tongue.

“Can I expect to see you again this trip?”

“I don’t know. But keep those refreshments handy just in case. Cheerio!”

He left. But that wasn’t the answer she wanted to hear.

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