Be careful whom you
they may run faster than you
four gathered at the gazebo the next morning and shared their findings. The
only thing that Russell had to say was that he felt like an idiot going to the
pastors and asking if there were anything “unusual” hidden in their churches.
“I think that some of them thought that I was looking to rob the place.”
likewise, did not have much to contribute. He was too embarrassed to tell
anyone about falling in the guano so his story came down to he crawled around
in the attic and did not find anything.
It was Sarah’s turn and she was
almost jumping with impatience. With everyone’s wide-eyed attention she
breathlessly recounted the incident in the library.
When she finally paused at the end
Toni concluded, “So Seth and Abil rescued one of us
again. Thank God they’re here. Does anyone have any idea who they are?”
“Wait a minute,” Sarah cut in. “I’m
not quite finished.”
“There’s more?” wondered Russell.
“Just before they escorted me out
of the library and back home they gave me a book.” She zipped open the pouch
that she was carrying and pulled out a thin, worn book. “It’s a history of
Jabesh. It’s not very long and I read the whole thing last night.”
“Wow, it must be a real
pot-boiler,” proclaimed Russell.
“Actually, most of it is a pot of
cold water. But the first chapter is the most interesting of all.
“Jabesh was founded some 200 years
ago by a cultic religious group. Apparently, their leader was some nut job who
preached that he was the only one who had discovered the hidden truth about God
and the universe.”
Toni interrupted, “It seems like
there’s always some loony like that somewhere.”
Sarah continued, “He managed to
convince a few hundred people. They converted an abandoned warehouse into their
temple. Then he got in trouble with the law—I forget why… Oh, wait a minute,
now I remember; he swindled some money from the town’s hot shots. Yea, that’s right.
I remember now. Anyway, they jailed him and were talking about hanging him. But
a group of his people stormed the jail and shot some of the guards and got him
out. I guess that he had been giving them orders from jail because once they
sprang him they all gathered on the edge of town and left. Nobody went after
them because they didn’t have the firepower to confront such a large group of
armed men and, besides, they were just as happy to be rid of them.”
“Let ‘em be someone else’s
headache,” Toni mused.
“However, the leader and his people
didn’t know that nobody was after them and so they kept going like their tails
were on fire. They zigzagged across the country thinking that they weren’t
caught yet because they were being so clever in their escape. Little did they
know that no one cared. Eventually after several
months they wound up here.”
Thomas interjected, “But why settle here? There’s nothing here. It’s not even a stopping
point to somewhere else.”
Sarah answered, “That’s exactly why
they stopped here. They felt that it was safely out of the way and that no one
would bother them here. They used to practice weird rituals and apparently work
themselves up into frenzies. They would sacrifice animals and carry on deep
into the night.
“It turned out that they were a
nasty bunch of folks. Despite having lots of children—although apparently with
a lot of wife and husband swapping—their numbers never really grew because
instead of practicing forgiveness they worshipped revenge. Someone was always
trying to blindside someone else with a shovel to the back of a head or a
bullet from a dark corner. They were also a pretty boozy group and grew their
own hallucinogens. Also, they were really into Satan worship. If you could name
a sin they perfected it.”
Toni remarked, “And I bet gambling
and stealing and wife beating and child abuse were all in the mix.”
Sarah picked up the story,
“Eventually Jabesh developed quite a liking among the scoundrels in the rest of
the part of the country and attracted quite a number of them. The Leader tried
to maintain some kind of control but everyone pretty much did what they wanted
to do. There wasn’t any law; even the army steered clear. The book even
mentions that there were some giants among them.”
Sarah replied, “Not like fifty feet
tall or anything like that. More like eight feet tall. But still, you don’t
find people that tall today.”
Sarah finished the history lesson.
“This went on for well over a good hundred years until the entire country
became more civilized and lawless towns like Jabesh were eventually tamed.” At
this point Sarah took a deep breath and let everyone mull that over.
Finally Toni spoke. “What about
the rest of the book? Was there anything else that was significant?”
replied, “The book was written just over sixty years ago so it doesn’t contain
anything recent. The rest of the chapters were as interesting as watching hair
grow. I actually fell asleep a few times.”
directed her question at Thomas who was sitting there quietly staring off into
the distance. “Any thoughts?”
looked pensive. “No, just trying to figure out what, if anything, that adds to
was the last to go and, like Sarah, was getting fidgety. “OK, you’re turn,”
coaxed Sarah looking at Toni.
Toni first relayed the interview
with Pop. Everyone thought for a while but did not know what to make of it
other than Russell noting that he did have an encounter with Satan so they know
that he is in the area and that, therefore, Pop is
probably correct in that the Devil is orchestrating what is going on.
Toni continued, “After talking to
several other people at the nursing home, none of which had anything
interesting to say, I went to a couple of other old-timers around town.
“I learned that seven new people
suddenly appeared in town in the last few months. Each one of them came alone,
each one is rather unfriendly and detached, and each one attached himself or
herself to someone whom they eventually corrupted. But here is the interesting
part, in all seven cases the person that they attached themselves to goes to
our church. There was Floyd Fullman, Jackie (I can’t remember her last name),
Peter Eggers, Joey Riddledale, Melinda Nemes, and… and someone else whom I can’t seem to remember
Russell spoke rather hesitantly and
Thomas grinned, “Of course. No
surprise that you remembered that one.” Russell turned red.
Toni added as an upbeat, “But I
heard that Jackie came back.”
“That’s great,” remarked Thomas.
“What about the others?”
“I haven’t heard anything one way
or the other,” answered Toni.
Sarah asked, “Was that it? Were
there only seven? Is it possible that some others came into town, but we didn’t
hear about it because we don’t know them?”
“I suppose that’s it’s possible,” remarked Toni, “but unlikely because the
people that I talked to seemed to have their finger on the pulse of Jabesh. If
there was a seventh or eighth corrupter I think that they would have heard
about it. Jabesh isn’t all that big of a town so not much would slip on by.”
“Did any of them have any thoughts
as to what is going on?” questioned Thomas.
“I didn’t really ask them. I didn’t
want to tip my hand as to what my real intentions were. That might have scared
“So true,” remarked Russell. “Good
move. It seems to me that whatever is going on is being directed at our church,
after all, all seven of the creeps targeted our people. But
why us?” He glanced sideways at Thomas. “So puzzle-man, is any of this
information pieces to the puzzle? Is anything getting clearer?”
Thomas pursed his lips and stared
at the floor. With each passing second everyone’s hope diminished. Finally
Thomas looked up. “I don’t know. I don’t know what to make about any of this. I
have this deep feeling that there is some unifying theme, but I can’t, for the
life of me, figure it out. It is certainly much more complex than our usual
puzzles like ‘you remove my outer layer, eat my middle layer, and throw away my
“Corn-on-the-cob,” blurted out
Sarah looking quite pleased. “That’s an old one.”
“Thank you, answer-girl,” declared
Russell with a bit of a bite.
Sarah looked defensive, “Well, that
was the answer.”
The rest of the morning was spent
picking apart what they knew and trying to fit it back together in some way
that resembled something, but nothing ever really fit. At noon they went over
to the deli and got some food before heading over to a picnic bench. They were
all worn out from the morning’s topic and needed to talk about something light
and insignificant. The Jabesh football team was just the right subject.
After lunch Russell had to go get
Danielle, Sarah was going home to help her parents get tonight’s picnic dinner
ready, and Toni had to run some errands. “Why don’t you come along and help,
Thomas? I’ve got to pick up some things for dinner tonight.” asked Toni.
“My foot’s a little sore today. I
think it is from walking on those narrow rafters yesterday. You go on ahead and
I’ll see you at dinner.”
Yes, Thomas’ foot did ache a bit
but his real reason not to go was because he wanted some time alone to ponder
the situation. He slowly walked to the edge of the park and sat down on a
bench. He was thinking through each part of Toni and Sarah’s information seeing
if there was anything that needed to be researched further. “All of the
original crazies,” he thought, “what happened to them? Are they buried in a
cemetery? Maybe there is something in the leader’s coffin.” Then he got a
chill. Grave robbing was not on his resume. “Is there another question that needs
addressing?” Then with a realization he sat up with a start. “Yes, that could
He sprung to his feet and with
determination headed to the library.
“I’m looking for Mr. Davis,” he
asked the person at the library desk.
“He is in his office right now. I
can see his silhouette in the window. Just go knock on his door.”
“Thank you.” Thomas lightly rapped
on Mr. Davis’ door. He could see a hunched figure through the etched glass lift
in and be quick about it.”
meekly opened the door and carefully jutted his head in as though he expected a
baseball to be flung at it.
in and sit down. What can I do for you?”
promptly took a seat and folded his hands in his lap. His eyes glanced around
haven’t got all day; what do you want?” Mr. Davis was not so much rude as
efficient. He clearly did not fancy small talk and hesitancy drove him nearly
to explode. Thomas figured he better cut to the quick before he got thrown out.
Mr. Davis peered at Thomas in a still semi-hunched position.
sort-of the town historian, Mr. Davis, and I have an important question for
you. I hope that you can answer it. I understand that this town was started by
a bunch of crazies…”
had better be careful how you label people.” Mr. Davis narrowed his eyes. This
rattled Thomas and he stammered.
sorry. I didn’t mean to…”
religious group, they had a temple. Do you know what happened to it?”
Davis sat up as though on a spring. He stared at Thomas as he tried to
determine the implication of the question. The answer was not as important as
was why Thomas even knew to ask it.
leaned forward and rested his chin on his hand as his fingers curled around his
mouth. Thomas squirmed and looked around the room. After a long ten seconds he
moved his hand away from his face. “Why do you ask this question?” His hand
returned to his chin.
had been rehearsing this answer on the way over. He knew that it was an odd
question and did not want Mr. Davis to get suspicious. So with a suspicious
perkiness he said, “I’ve been studying the early years of Jabesh for a class
project and am trying to get as much information as possible.” He then forced a
Davis’ eyes became like slits. “You’re not even from here. Why wouldn’t you
study your own town?”
did not expect anyone to challenge his answer; it had seemed reasonable enough.
“Well, uh.” Thomas’ fingers rolled around each other. “Well,
I, um.” His lips went dry. “I, I like Jabesh.” He could feel his every
Davis leaned back in his chair. He brought both hands up to his face like he
was praying, but he was doing anything but that. Finally his hands fell into
his lap. Thomas half expected him to raise up a gun and shoot him pointblank in
the chest screaming, “Take that you meddling little twit.” Instead he said very
quietly, “The temple became what is now the abandoned liquor factory.”
hair on the back of his neck stood up. He started to sweat and wanted only to
bolt from the office. “Uh, thank you, that’s all, um,
that I wanted to know.” He got up out of the chair. He started to reach over to
shake Mr. Davis’ hand but then stopped and turned.
it? That’s all that you wanted to ask.” Mr. Davis stood up. He was much taller
than Thomas expected.
looked back and while hurrying out Thomas replied, “Yes, yes, that’s all that I
need to know. Thank you.” And with that he left the office.
rushed across the library and burst out the door. He felt as though he had just
run ten miles. He saw a bench underneath a tree about 100 feet away and headed
towards it. To Thomas it seemed like a hike across the country. He plopped down
in it and just wanted to cry although he did not know why. He was catching his
breath when he saw Mr. Davis exit the library with a scowl on his face. He was
very seriously talking to someone on his cell phone. He did not see Thomas
sitting under the tree. Thomas watched him disappear around the corner of the
library. Then he got up and followed him. However, Thomas stopped at that
corner and slowly peered around it. He was not in the mood for any surprises.
Mr. Davis, though, was on a mission and was already striding rapidly across the
street. Thomas, ignoring his sore foot, shifted into a higher gear and followed
him. He had to do all that he could to keep up the pace. This went on for
several blocks and then Thomas lost him when he turned a corner. Thomas had
turned the same corner but when he looked up the sidewalk Mr. Davis was nowhere
to be seen. Then he looked sideways and stopped dead in his tracks. Directly
across the street in front of the insurance building Mr. Davis was talking with
much agitation to two very grim men. Thomas recognized one as the fellow who
was with Terese that day at the back of the Laundromat and the other as the
fellow who he followed with Toni to the old liquor warehouse.
Thomas was afraid that any movement
would catch their eye, like a frog and a trio of snakes, so he just stood there
staring at them. The more Mr. Davis talked the grimmer these two men got. Then
Mr. Davis looked up and saw Thomas. He immediately stopped talking. The other
two men looked over at Thomas also. Mr. Davis pointed right at Thomas and said
something. Then all three turned and came right at him.
No point acting like a frozen frog
now; all three snakes were coming to devour. Thomas turned on his heals and
scooted around the corner. The three men broke into a gallop. For some reason
at this time Thomas’ foot decided to hurt. He ran past an alleyway with a fire
escape but knew that there was no way that he would be able to climb a ladder
with his foot being what it was.
“Hey, you, kid, stop!” The gruff
voice was closer than Thomas expected. For some reason he did not think that
grown men would actually run. He was quite wrong. Thomas broke into a
full-throttle dash. Up ahead there was an old wooden fence between two
buildings. There was a hole in it right at Thomas’ size. He fell to his knees
and crawled through. He slowed down his running and nearly stopped as he turned
and looked at the hole. Now maybe he could catch some breath.
Just then boards flew everywhere as
several legs kicked out the section of the fence where the hole was. Thomas
knew now for certain that they did not want him just to ask a few simple
questions. This was much more serious. Two of the men poked their heads through
the hole and when they saw Thomas they angrily ripped out some hanging boards.
Thomas ran across the lot and up the ten-foot hill at the back. At the top was
a chain-link fence too tall for him to climb before they would reach him. He
looked both ways. As far as he could tell the fence ran all along the top of
the hill in a straight line for several hundred feet. There was no time to
fully evaluate the situation. He sprinted to the right just as the men reached
the bottom of the hill; Terese’s “friend” climbed the hill while the other
two chased Thomas along the bottom of the hill. Thomas was not in shape for
this; already he was sucking air hard. He ran along the narrow ledge between
the fence and the slant of the hill. Mr. Davis, who was already falling behind,
had to stop.
Far up ahead Thomas could see a
large tree had pushed the fence to the edge of the slant. If he tried to go
around it he would surely slip on the grass on the slope and slide down the
hill into the insurance man’s hands. He could not go back. It looked like
checkmate. He kept running. Giving up was not an option. These gentlemen did
not seem like the type quick to give mercy.
As he approached the tree he could
see a low branch about chest high. He thought that he might be able to duck
under it and keep at a decent run whereas the man would almost have to stop and
crawl under. That would buy him more time. Just as he was within a few feet of
the branch Thomas panicked and his mind went blind. He crotched low to the
ground but instead of ducking under the branch he leaped on it. He frantically
grasped for any small branches growing out of this larger branch and scurried
up with whichever ones he managed to grab. His feet pushed furiously. His hands
and face were multiplying with scratches and cuts, but he continued making his
way up the branch like a rabid squirrel.
Terese’s man grabbed the branch
and pulled it low, but this took two hands and so he had to wait for the other
man to scramble up the hill. By the time he got there Thomas was out of reach.
The man let the branch snap up, which nearly toppled Thomas. But he was now on
the other side of the fence so he dropped to the ground. He was facing the
fence. All three stared at each other. They were only two feet apart. Thomas
could almost feel the fury in their eyes.
Floyd’s co-worker thrust his arm
through the fence and grabbed Thomas’ sleeve with a vise grip. In that instant
the man’s arm turned smooth and pure white with things beneath the skin pushing
out in various places before collapsing back in. This palpitating happened so
frequently that it appeared as though his flesh was boiling. Thomas’ eyes
bulged with terror. He struggled twisting his arm back and forth but could not
break his grip. The other man pushed his arm through the fence also trying to
snatch at Thomas with his fingertips just catching Thomas’ sleeve. Finally the
shirtsleeve ripped and Thomas fell to the ground.
The two men grabbed the fence and
shook it savagely. Thomas backed away and then got up and ran. He could hear
loud hissing behind him growing more distant.
He headed for the grocery store
hoping that Toni might still be there. He rapidly canvassed the aisles several
times, but could not find her. One of the employees seeing him so wide-eyed and
frantic asked him if he needed help. Thomas looked at him like he was about to
get mugged, quickly replied “no thanks” and took off again. He dashed out of
He simply could not run anymore. He
had to slow down to a quick pace. A few times he had to stop and bend over
holding onto his pants to keep from toppling over. But he knew that he had to
catch Toni before she got home since he could not say anything in front of her
He reached the edge of Jabesh’s central park. He squinted hard and thought that he
could see someone on the other side with a bag of groceries. He never realized
just how big the park really was. Fortunately she was taking her time. The best
that he could manage was several seconds of what might be called running
alternately with a rapid walk. After several cycles of this he got within
“Toni! Toni!” The exertion almost
knocked him to the ground. However she did stop and look around. She even
looked at a chipmunk as though it might have been calling out to her. Thomas
yelled again. This time she turned around and saw him. He squatted on the
ground unable to go any further. She hurried over.
on?! Did something happen? And why is your sleeve torn off?”
Thomas held up his hand while he
caught his breath. When he seemed able, she helped him over to a bench. Between
breaths Thomas gasped, “The two men… who got to Floyd and Terese… were after
me. I barely… got away.” He stopped and gulped more air. He kept looking all
“Why were they after you? What did
you do? You didn’t go back to the warehouse, did you?”
He shook his head “no,” took some
deep breaths and then let out a long exhale. “I found out something that might
be key.” He stopped dead. On the far side, the two men
were rapidly checking out each building along the park. It appeared that there
were several others with them. It would not be too long before they reached
“Over there,” he pointed while
hunkering down, “those are the men who are after me. I’ve got to go. I can’t
let them know that you’re in on this, too.” He got up but stayed hunched over.
“Wait, you just can’t go like
“I can’t stay here any longer. Then
they’ll get the both of us.”
One of the men stopped and stared
intently at where Toni and Thomas were. Thomas quickly ducked behind the bench
which, if you are trying not to look suspicious, is probably not the way to
act. The man took a few steps towards the bench to further evaluate the
situation. Though the man was really quite a ways from their position, Thomas
still felt the need to whisper while he was nearly lying prone. “What is he
doing now?” But then hastily added, “But don’t be too obvious that you’re
looking at him.”
Toni looked sideways. “He’s still
staring over here. Wait. It looks like he’s shouting something to his other
buddies. Now they’re all looking this way.”
Thomas felt as though all of his
blood drained out of his body and through the slots in the bench. He could not
stay there and yet, if he bolted, he could probably get away but that would
expose Toni and they would swarm all over her. He could tell her to sprint, but
was afraid to put her into the hunt also and besides, for all of her qualities,
speed was not one of them.
“It looks like they’re coming this
way,” Toni fretted.
Then Thomas noticed Toni’s
neighbor, Mr. Keskes, walking his two Great Danes.
“Toni, I’ve got an idea. Get Mr. Keskes over
She looked puzzled but waved her
arm and shouted, “Mr. Keskes, so good to see you.”
He smiled and pulled his dogs
around. They tugged at the leashes when they saw Toni. The two dogs pretty much
yanked Mr. Keskes over to the bench. Mr. Keskes looked down at Thomas who was still sprawled across
the bench as though he were looking at someone dressed up as a lizard.
Thomas stammered, “Uh, hi, Mr. Keskes.” One of the dogs had its front paws on Toni’s lap
while trying to lick her rapidly moving face. The other dog pressed its face
into Thomas’. “I’m, um, playing a game of hide-and-seek and need your help.
The, um, seekers are just on the other side of the park and they’re coming this
way. Can you, um, do me a favor and, um, walk your
dogs over to that row of rhododendrons over there and, um, I’ll follow you?”
was quite amused by this and laughed heartily, “Why certainly, Thomas. I love a
his head back towards Toni and said, “If I not home for dinner, which I doubt,
just tell your mother that I got a last minute invitation at, um, somewhere
else. And give her my apologies.”
Toni looked anxious, “Where are you
going? When will you be home?”
“I don’t know. If I’m not home,
I’ll, um, leave you note where to meet me.”
pulled Moses down from Toni’s lap much to her appreciation. “Come on, boys.
We’ve got a game to play.” He then started to veer away from the bench. Thomas
rolled off of the bench and, squatting very low so that his head was below the
top of the dogs, walked between them. Mr. Keskes’
eyes twinkled splendidly and even the dogs seemed quite amused. All four of them headed down the sidewalk towards the bushes while
Thomas labored in that same squat position to keep up. Fortunately the
rhododendrons were only 100 feet away.
“It’s good he doesn’t have poodles,”
Once they reached the edge of the
bushes, which were a good mature height of six foot, Thomas stood up, hurriedly
thanked Mr. Keskes for his contribution to the game,
and headed down to the end of the row where he was able to slink behind a
maintenance building and peer around the corner.
As Toni watched Thomas and the dogs
depart she could see the group of men hastening across the park towards her.
She did not know what her reception would be: would they drag her off
somewhere, pummel her right there, or rush past her straight to the
rhododendrons? Whatever was going to happen it would not be sweet. She stared
blankly at the ground for a few seconds and then picked up the bag of groceries
and headed down the sidewalk in the opposite direction of the rhododendrons. It
did not take long before they caught up to her.
“You there, stop!” she heard
gruffly behind her.
She turned as calmly as if it were
her mother adding one more item to a shopping list. Facing her were three men
and two women. None of them appeared to be happy. Toni tried to affect a smile.
One of the men spoke with forceful intimidation, “That boy that was on the
bench with you, where did he go?” If Toni was not so focused on putting on a
phony front she would have fainted.
“Boy,” she replied. “What boy?
There was no boy with me.” Her vocal chords were as tight as a piano string.
She had to make a deliberate effort not to look past them to where Thomas was
Another one of the men sneered and
appeared as though he was making every effort to keep from grabbing her and
punching her to a pulp. “That boy! We saw a boy with
you on the bench! He ducked down. We saw him!”
Toni was glad for holding the bag
of groceries since the paper was soaking up the sweat from her hands. She gave
a small laugh that came out more fake then she would have hoped. “That was no
boy that you saw. That was my knee. I was sitting across the bench with my feet
on the bench and my knees up. When I turned and put my feet back on the ground
it probably looked as though someone was ducking down.” Her throat was
tightening up so much that she was surprised that she spoke so much and was
able to finish the sentence. She hoped that they would just turn away so that
she could breathe again. But it was clear that they were not convinced. She
knew that there was a boy there, they knew that there
was a boy there, but he was not there now, and none of them saw him leave.
One of the women turned and
examined Mr. Keskes as he strode happily down the
sidewalk but it was clear that there was no one with him except for the dogs.
She turned back and glared at Toni.
One planned advantage to Toni
walking in the direction that she did was that the group facing her all had
their backs to the rhododendrons. Thomas could see this and hurried across the
street being careful to keep the shed between him and the group. He dashed to
the other side where he was able to get to the backside of the row of shops.
Seeing that they were not going to
get any information from Toni who just stood there smiling like a dunce,
everyone in the group turned every which way to see if they could catch a
glance of the disappearing boy. They quickly split up with one scouring the
bushes and another yanking on the locked shed’s door.
Toni stood on the spot like a wax
figure holding a bag of groceries. She did not know that Thomas made it across
the street already and was sure that one of them was going to drag him out by
his shirt. When they left the rhododendrons empty handed she was satisfied that
he had gotten away. She took a deep breath and went home the long way. She was
positive that the bag had more of her sweat then she did.
Meanwhile, Thomas watched the group
from behind the buildings. They had spread out to continue searching all over
town. Since they had already been in his area none of them came his way. When
they had all disappeared down various streets he sat down in the dirt and
rested his head against a garbage can. He was too exhausted to even cry.
He could hear the town clock chime.
It was four o’clock. He then realized that he had not eaten since breakfast.
Trudging wearily behind the stores he went halfway around the circle when he
came to the back of the chocolate shop. He knew that they had a small table in
the rear that hardly anyone used. It was not near any windows and sometimes
even had boxes stacked on it. You could not even see this table unless you were
right in front of it since a wall and some plants blocked it. It would be a
perfect place for Thomas to rest and get something to eat. What he would do
after that was only a guess.