The Tempter Comes

19) Sleuthing



19   Sleuthing


Knowledge does not walk in the door and sits down opposite you.

It must be chased down the block, around corners, over fences, and tackled, pinned down, and interrogated,

and even then you must ask the right questions.



Sarah’s assignment was to go to the library to see if there were any books on the history of Jabesh specifically if ever some ancient wayfarer passed through the town during a tumultuous time. Perhaps he left something that was now drawing everyone’s—or more properly, everything’s—attention.

“If we have anything at all on Jabesh it would be in the original section of the library.” The librarian pointed past Sarah to a singular door on the opposite end.

Whereas the new part of the library was glass and metal the original section was bricks and stones. It was not lit very well and had the mustiness of her great-grandparents’ house. There were only around ten aisles of books but they were each very long and every one was quite packed with books. No one ever came into this part.

She wandered up and down the first two rows and scanned the general topics of each section. There was nothing of interest, mostly a lot of old tomes that nobody even touched for the last fifty years. She stared at a few of them and wondered that if she tried to remove them if they would simply crumble into dust.

Going down the third aisle the title on one of the spines caught her attention. “Monstrosities and Horrors. What a cheery title. Maybe they’ll be something in here about what we’ve been running into.”

She pulled out the book. As she did, she noticed that the space where the book had been extended clear through to the other side. For some reason she felt compelled to casually peer into the space. Her eyes grew wide and she recoiled in panic. Leering at her from the opposite end was a malevolent face, its eyes tight with rage. She dropped the book and its corner landed right on top of her foot. She hopped up and down and grabbed her aching foot. She looked up again and the face was gone. Realizing that she was on the verge of hyperventilating she put her hand on her chest and took deep breaths. After a few seconds she bent down and picked up the book.

“I better get out of here,” she thought. She turned to her right to exit the aisle. Only a few feet away from her was a very tall, willowy man standing at the end of the aisle and blocking her way. It was the same one who was just glaring at her. His arms were longer and thinner than normal. He was staring her down with that same look of fury.

She once again dropped the book and hastily backpedaled. Her throat was paralyzed. The willowy man very deliberately raised his arms and put his hands on each end of the shelves; his head jutted forward.

When Sarah was three-quarters of the way down the aisle she heard a loud bang behind her. She let out a little scream and nearly jumped as high as the top shelf. She quickly turned around and saw that the two ends of the shelves had come together thereby blocking her way. She was trapped. She spun around and looked down the aisle towards the man. He was leaning forward with his hands still on the shelves. His eyes flared with anger.

She knew that if he charged her there was nothing she could do. She tried to scream but her breath got caught in her throat. She heard another bang behind her. She snapped her head around. The shelves were coming together like a zipper that is closing. What was the better fate—being crushed or running into…?

She hastened away from the collapsing shelves. As she got closer to the man she could see a sinister grin forming. He licked his lips. The banging of the shelves was coming closer. When she got to within ten feet of the man she threw herself on the floor and frantically kicked several feet of books through the shelves and onto the floor on the other side. The converging shelves were now just feet away and coming fast.

With an adrenaline rush that would have made an Olympic sprinter proud, she pushed herself through the opening. Actually the last half was easier because that was when that shelf violently slid towards the middle of the aisle and slammed into the shelf opposite it. The result was that she slid right through and into the next aisle. She sprang to her feet. If she ran to her right she had to go all the way down to the far end. But if she ran to her left she would have to pass right near where the willow man was and one of those long arms could easily grab her. She ran to the right with all that she had. As she was running she could hear the shelves opening up again and pounding steps keeping pace with her on her right on the other side of the shelves.

There was only one door out of this section and he was closer to it than she was. She had no idea what she was going to do other than to run. She reached the end of the aisle and without even looking ran to her left using the end of the shelving to swing as quick a turn as possible. She had her head down and was not even aware that she was heading towards the final aisle and the corner of the room where it was the darkest. Behind her she heard a hissing.

Then she hit something that knocked her backward onto the ground. She cringed waiting for the willow man to smother her. Instead, all that she heard was that same hissing sound like steam escaping through teeth. She looked up and saw towering over her a large man. Twisting her head around she could see the willowy man advancing with determination though he had stopped running. His eyes were locked onto her. She got up and ran behind the large man and put her arms around his waist and peered out from behind his left arm. The willow man kept coming. His rage was unabated. Sarah’s fingers dug into the large man’s arm. She felt a lump coming up her throat.

And then the willow man suddenly stopped. He narrowed his eyes as he glared to the large man’s right. Sarah looked up at the large man who was looking with surprise at the man next to him. It was another very large man. His fists were clenched and the muscles in his arms were tight. He was staring down the willow man.

For several seconds there was a standoff. Sarah was too afraid to even faint. None of the four moved. They each glared at each other as if in a dual. Then the willow man spit a black lump at the feet of the second large man and turned and left. Sarah let her breath go and then slumped to the floor with a thump and cried. Her research at the library was finished; she was going to return her library card.

After letting her expel her nerves with a good cry, the second man helped her to her feet. “My name is Abil and this,” he pointed to the man that Sarah was standing next to, “is Seth.” While she clung to him, Abil guided her out of the library and to her house with Seth leading the way keeping an eye out for any trouble. When they got to her door Abil handed her a book. “Maybe this is what you were looking for.”

She took the book and blankly stared at it. Everything was still blurry. It was not until later that night when she was more settled that she actually looked at the book and was able to read the title—“The history of Jabesh.”


Thomas was sitting in Pastor Goldsmith’s office. After the usual formalities and general questions Thomas cut to the chase. “So, pastor, are there any, um, hidden objects or rooms in this church.”

The pastor leaned back in his chair and gently chuckled. “Are you on some kind of treasure hunt, Thomas?”

“Um, no, not really. I’ve just heard that, um, there is a lot of history associated with Jabesh and I thought that, um, while I’m here this summer that I might check some of it out.”

“And one aspect of this history that you’ve heard about is that there is some secret hidden in this church?” The pastor was playing along.

“Well, no, not really. But I thought that it might be as interesting a place to start as any. This is the oldest church in town and, I mean, don’t lots of churches have things hidden in them? I mean, like relics, or ancient books, or…”

“The bones of martyrs?” The pastor chuckled.

Thomas looked down. He knew that he looked silly.

The pastor, seeing that Thomas was feeling humiliated, seized the situation. “Well, I’ve only been here for five years and the church is over 50 years old so I don’t know everything about it.” Thomas looked up. The pastor continued. “But, as you know, running the entire length of the sanctuary is the basement and it is all classrooms. The floors down there are solid concrete. I don’t think that there is anything buried under there. The walls are also pretty solid. But you are welcome to go down and investigate yourself.

“The rest of the church is pretty simple. There isn’t any room for false walls.”

Thomas looked pensive. “What about the attic?”

“There really isn’t much of an attic. I’ve only seen it once and it is quite claustrophobic and certainly quite empty.”

“And the steeple?” Thomas wondered. “Have you ever seen inside of it?”

“Inside the steeple? No, but I can’t imagine anyone storing something in there.”

“Why not?”

“Because the only way into the attic is through the closet in the secretary’s office and the steeple is on the other side of the church. You’d have to practically crawl all of the way across the attic. It wouldn’t be fun.” The pastor could see Thomas mulling this over. “But you are welcome to check it out. You’re smaller than me so it might not be quite so bad for you.”

Thomas perked up. This was the only possibility left. If anything at all were hidden in this church it would have to be in the steeple. “Do you think that there is anything there?”

The pastor leaned forward and said with a good-natured sinister sneer, “Only bats, most likely. And we don’t want you disturbing them. They’re the good guys. Without them we’d be slapping mosquitoes ten times as much.”

Thomas knew that bats are harmless but, still, he did not want a face full of them. He hesitated. Then he looked up and said, “Do you have a flashlight?”

Upstairs, the pastor opened the closet door. Thomas turned on the flashlight and stepped in. There was no wall on one side, only a few crude steps that lead up to the attic. And, yes, the pastor was right; it was a very tight attic. The roof slanted at a steep angle on either side and only the middle was maneuverable and was only three-foot high at that. Thomas took a deep breath and shone the light down the center to the opposite end where the steeple was. It looked like the longest 100 feet that he had ever seen. There was no floor, only joists at sixteen inches apart.

Thomas looked back at the pastor who just shrugged. Thomas turned towards the steeple and started his way down. The air was motionless and so thick that it felt as though it was half air and half particles from old insulation. Taking precise sixteen-inch steps on the edge of boards while in a tight crouch in heat over 100 degrees is not the formula for a joyful time. But with great deliberation, Thomas crept his way across the attic. By the time he was only halfway there the sweat was already dripping off of his chin onto the joists. He could hear behind him, “Thomas, how are you doing?” He replied that all was OK.

“For all of this trouble,” he thought, “I better find something good.”

Eventually he made it to the edge of the steeple just as he thought his legs were going to permanently cramp. He gingerly sat on a joist and stretched out each leg. There was a large opening that went high up into the darkness. The floor under the opening was covered with a kind of gunk. He really did not want to step in it so he contorted his body so that he could keep his feet outside the gunk but still see all of the way up. He slowly aimed his flashlight up the steeple.

He strained to figure out what he was looking at. Instead of smooth walls or at least familiar studs everything was jagged and irregular. The smell was horrid. Then it dawned on him that there were hundreds of shapes. He looked more intently. It was not just shapes but hundreds, if not, thousands of eyes staring down at him. He thought of the Niss and in his panic he lost his balance and fell with a yelp into the gunk.

The shapes were startled and with high-pitched sounds swirled wildly within the steeple.

Thomas was stiff with fear but managed to cover his face with his arms. In that place he could not run nor could he fight. This was the end, he thought, he would be torn to pieces. He tensed and waited. He could feel things brushing quickly against his face and hands again and again. The sound was terrifying.

But then the screeching gradually ceased and the shapes settled down. Thomas took one quick glance around the steeple with his light and then with twice the speed made his way back to the closet.

“Whew,” said the pastor pinching his nose. “Looks like you were rolling around in some guano. I thought that only dogs liked to roll around in stuff like that.”

“Guano?” Thomas’s clothes and hair was covered in the stuff.

“Bat poop. From all of the noise that I heard I guess that you did manage to disturb them. But hopefully no harm was done. Follow me.” He went to lead Thomas by the arm but quickly withdraw once he remembered what Thomas was plastered with.

“I keep an extra set of clothes in my office. You, um, might seriously want to consider changing your clothes. And it might not be a bad idea to rinse your hair in the sink in the bathroom. I can give you a towel.”


Toni’s task was to visit all of the town’s old-timers and anyone else who kept an eye on things to see if she could discover anything bizarre or significant.

She thought that the first place to go that morning would be the nursing home. There had to be some people there who remember stories regarding when the town was first built. She asked at the desk who was the oldest person there who was still lucid. They brought her up to the third floor. When they entered the room there was small raison-like man sitting in a chair by the window. He did not move even when they came right up next to him.

The nurse spoke loudly. “Pop, this is Toni. She’d like to ask you a few questions about the town.” The nurse turned to Toni, “Everyone calls him Pop. He turned 98 a couple of weeks ago.” She motioned over towards the wall. “Go bring that chair over here.”

Toni retrieved the chair and faced it towards the man. The nurse signaled for her to sit down. When Toni did she had a better look at Pop. His eyes were closed. She looked up at the nurse. “He’s asleep. What should I do? Maybe I should come back later.” The nurse just shook her head and gently put her hand on his shoulder. His eyes slowly opened and with eyes like blueberries looked right at Toni. Then he got a big smile.

“So, I have a visitor. Are you coming to take me to the dance? I can still cut a rug with the best of them,” he chuckled.

The nurse left and the two struck up a lively conversation. Pop was more lucid than many of her classmates. Eventually Toni got around to Jabesh.

“Yes, our little town seems to be quite the lightning rod for strange happenings. Twice since I’ve been alive the Niss plundered our town. The first time was the worse. I was only around ten. After they left a lot of people just seemed to go crazy. There was a lot of crime and several murders. The jail filled up and some of the worse ones were sent to the state penitentiary.

“The second time was maybe forty years later. From what I know it was unusual for them to come that closely together. But by then things were getting better in town and they didn’t wreck as much havoc. We still had a number of people affected but nothing like the first time.”

“How did they compare to this last time?” Toni asked.

Pop looked puzzled. “This last time?”

“Oh, never mind about that.” Toni figured that they must have moved everyone into a large inner room and no one was the wiser. “So what do you think brings them here?”

He knit his eyebrows. “Brings them here?”

“You know, is it a great persistent wind? Is it a dry spell? What rouses them and brings them to Jabesh every so often?”

Pop folded his hands in his lap and tilted his head ever so slightly, “I don’t know, my dear, I’m not a theologian.”

“A theologian? What does theology have to do with it?”

“The Niss aren’t cicada. They don’t crawl out of the ground every 17 years and descend on some town. They just don’t just happen.’ They are directed.”

“Directed? By who?”

“There is only person who can direct such an evil horde,” replied Pop.


Pop twisted the corner of his mouth, “OK, two persons, but God is not the one who directs such horror.”

“Then it must be Satan. Are you saying that the Devil determines when the Niss should gather and where they should go?”


“But why Jabesh and why now?”

Pop reached forward and put the tip of his index finger on Toni’s knee. “That is for you to figure out.”


Russell had what appeared to be the easiest task of all. He had to go to the other six churches in town and see if they had anything hidden. Two of the pastors viewed him as having a serious case of lunacy whereas the other four merely humored him. There was no crawling through any attics for him, but there were no answers either.

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: