The Tempter Comes

25) After Stories



25   After Stories


Stories are best told by those who survive



                Everyone needed some time to get their heads back on straight and think through everything that has been happening that summer. Each person saw differently how everything fit together rather like each one sitting at a different side of a jigsaw puzzle.

Three days later Thomas and Toni called the others. Sarah and her parents were going away for the day. Of course, Russell’s mother was still too anguished about the Niss and did not think that anyone should go outside unless absolutely necessary for at least a month. This thinking suited her just fine since she was always clutching at reasons to remain at home and avoid the gossiping eyes of others. So everyone agreed to get together in the gazebo on Sunday at 2:00.

                It was the usual four plus Danielle. Russell did not want her to come along since he thought that the recap might be too scary. He had not told her anything. But she argued that she already knew quite a bit already and so it would be unfair to keep her out of the wrap-up. As the two of them left their house their mother cried out through the window screen, “If you hear or see anything unusual you come running back here at once! Russell, you’re in charge of your sister so don’t let anything happen to her.” Then they heard more faintly, “Oh my, oh my,” as she turned from the window.

                At 1:45 they were all sitting in the gazebo. Toni’s mother made snacks for everyone. They were all trying to look and act normal but it was clear that everyone’s guts were being stirred. Danielle was the most anxious because she wanted to hear what happened. In her ignorance there were not any horrors, no missing people, just an untold wrap-up to an exciting story. She was particularly impatient to see if her conclusions were right.

                “First off,” Sarah began, “I’d like to know what Russell said to Danielle that convinced her not to come along.”

                Russell and Danielle looked at each other. Russell spoke, “I told her that there was one part of the puzzle that no one could figure out and we needed her to look into it. That was indeed true and she was more than up to the challenge.”

                “So what was that part?” asked Toni.

                “You know how those seven new people suddenly showed up?” Russell responded. “I thought that it might answer a lot of questions if we knew where they came from. If we knew that they all came from the same city, for example, then that might go a long ways to solving things.

                “Also, without revealing her intentions since we know how, um, riled up they got when they discovered that someone was snooping, I asked her to find out where they were living.

                “Ultimately, I was trying to find a connection between all of them.”

                Danielle chimed in, “So for the three of them that I knew where they worked I went there to find out when they started.”

                Toni asked, “And the company just told you? Isn’t there some kind of law against that?”

                “Well, I just didn’t walk up to HR and ask to see his file. I ran into a few people that I knew there and struck up a conversation. It wasn’t that hard especially in Peter’s case. He was the juiciest piece of gossip that they’ve had there in a long time. Some of those people stuck to me like bubble gum on a movie theatre seat. I found out more about him than I really cared to know.

                “But what was interesting was that the three that I checked up on all started on the same week. So I went down to the bus station and talked to Mr. Fierogy who runs the place. He was sure that nobody new came in on any of the buses around that time.

“Every time that we’ve ever seen any of them they were always walking or riding with someone so I don’t think that any of them had a car. Besides, there weren’t any cars ever parked outside of the old liquor factory where you followed one of them. And there isn’t another town around for quite a long ways so I doubt that they all walked here. So, really, instead of answering a question I wound up with a new riddle. If they didn’t take the bus, didn’t drive or walk here then how did they get here? I find it hard to believe that they all managed to hitchhike here at the same time and nobody said a word about it. It just seemed that they ‘arrived’ from out of the blue.”

                Thomas and Toni glanced at each other sideways. So far they had not told anyone about what happened in the cave.

                Sarah inquired, “Did you find out anything about where they all lived?”

                Danielle shifted in her seat. “That wasn’t as easy. Nobody at their businesses knew that or even seemed to care. I think that they found their at work antics sizzling enough. I couldn’t snoop around their desks since, quite inconveniently, they were most probably at them. I thought about going down to the post office and seeing what I could get out of Mr. Freestead, but I couldn’t think of a good reason for why I needed to know. I thought about the telling him that my brother had to bring something by that night but lost his address, but that seemed too clichéd. Besides, after hearing about Mr. Davis I wasn’t sure who I could trust anymore and I sure didn’t want to spend the night sleeping in a drainpipe.”

                “I didn’t sleep in a drainpipe,” Thomas protested. “I slept in the church.”

                “So did you do anything at all?” asked Sarah directing back the conversation.

                Toni commented, “You could always have followed them home, but considering how that turned out for us,” Thomas hung his head, “I would never recommend it.”

                Danielle hesitated, “Well, that’s sort-of what I would up doing,” Thomas jerked up his head ready to scold but Danielle quickly added, “but not very far. Peter was the first to quit work so I followed him first.”

                “You followed him!” Thomas nearly yelled.

                “But only for a few blocks. Once he got beyond the populated parts of town I turned around. I may be young but I’m no fool.” Toni had to do everything that she could to keep from glancing at Thomas. “My main goal was just to get a general idea.”

                “And?” asked Thomas.

                “Well, to no one’s surprise I’m sure, he headed southwest.” Danielle replied.

                “Then I came back and waited for Alexander. But while I was hanging around I saw that tall guy that, um, Sarah ran into at the library.”

                “How did you know it was him?” Sarah asked.

                “We don’t have too many people in town who are around six foot seven inches and those that are close to that I know. So I knew that it had to be him. Besides, he had a creepy look about him. So I followed him and stopped at the same place.”

                “So he went southwest also,” Toni commented.

                “Exactly. While I was coming back I nearly ran into Alexander. I wasn’t paying attention and he got off of work earlier than I expected. I nearly walked right into him. I jumped and just about screamed.”

                “That certainly wouldn’t have drawn any attention,” remarked Russell.

                “I heard from his coworkers that once Floyd stopped putting in the extra hours then so did Alexander. I guess that once he completed his task he didn’t need to play the part anymore. But anyway, I let Alexander go past me and once my pounding heart stopped playing the drums and he got sufficiently distant I followed him. Well, I’m sure that everyone can guess where he went.”

                “Southwest,” came four responses.

                “Exactly. So they all were heading to the same area. And if I went a few more blocks in that direction—which of course I had no intention of doing—do you know what I’d run into?”

                There was a moments hesitation and then Toni said, “The old liquor factory?”

                “You pegged that one. Of course I didn’t follow them that far so I don’t know for a fact that that’s where they all went…”

                “But I’d be willing to bet my mother’s left arm that that was exactly where they all wound up,” concluded Russell.

                “Hey, you leave my mother’s arm out of this,” retorted Danielle with a smirk.

                “Sorry,” Russell said weakly with exaggerated chagrin. “Besides, how would she wring her hands with only one arm?”

                Danielle clamped her teeth tightly together until her lips compressed as she stared at Russell. Russell grimaced. But both were far from serious.

                Thomas jumped in, “So I think that we can easily conclude that they are—or were—all together.” He looked over at Toni. He knew that he and Toni were holding back and that it was now time. “And actually I know that they were all together because we saw them all together in the cave.”

                The other three leaned forward. Sarah cocked her head and narrowed her eyes. Danielle muttered, “Cave?”

So for the next couple of hours Toni and Thomas traded telling the story with more details than seemed there actually was in the reality of it. When they got to the part of coming out then all four had to jostle with each other to tell the rest of the story. At the conclusion of each vignette opinions and analysis were presented by all. Every participant, every event, every tangent was scrutinized and probed until everyone was either satisfied with the conclusion or it just seemed hopelessly murky.

                When all was told each one felt as if he or she had run a marathon. After a while Danielle finally said, “So they never really came to town; they just appeared here. That explains it.”

                After another stretch of silence Toni said, “I think that we have here a lot to digest. It’s after five. We should go home and let it churn for at least a few days.”

                “I agree,” added Thomas. “I’m exhausted.”

                “But at least one thing we can probably be sure of,” added Sarah, “they’re probably all gone and everything will return to normal.”

                Without looking up Thomas said, “For the time being.”

                After agreeing to get together the next day and do something normal and fun and not bring up any of this they split off.

                As Thomas and Toni approached her house they saw a small bag on the front porch next to the door. They stopped at the bottom of the steps and studied every aspect of it. When it did not leap at them or emit any horrible odor Toni cautiously climbed the steps and with a big stretch gingerly picked it up. She held it away from her body for a few seconds. It was light so that seemed to reassure her. Neither said a word the entire time as though sound might trigger something.

                Finally, with great slowness, Toni opened the bag. Holding it at arm’s length and with her head as back as far as it would go she looked in. Actually she stared into the bag for a good long time. Thomas was now getting anxious. “What do you see?” She reached into the bag. Thomas wanted to grab her arm to stop her but he was too slow. She pulled out a golden brown wafer and held it up.

                Thomas brightened, “It’s a honey wafer.”

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: