Same journal entry: Friday, October 25
The first thing we did after we got loaded up and got Mitch’s nearly dead bike out of his shed was ride about two miles further out past Briarwood to David’s little house. It was getting close to three o’clock, we judged, so we wanted to get on over to David’s quickly, look around, and get David’s bike if he wasn’t there. It was almost certain that we were going to have to stay in N’ville overnight since none of us had headlights on our bikes, and we didn’t want to try riding even the couple of miles back to Briarwood in the dark.
If the moon had been full, we’d probably have gone back to Mitch’s or Trail’s, but the moon was only a quarter moon, what we call a fingernail moon, so there wasn’t much light to navigate by. The sky, without all the interference from street lights and lights from houses, would be bright with star light, and the weather was clear; but we knew that we’d be better off staying in town for the night. We figured Mike or Clyde would let us bunk with one or the other of them overnight, or we could go by The Pines, for that matter; and truthfully, what was the rush? We were on a fact-finding mission anyway, and finding out was going to take some time. I felt sure Mrs. Watson would put us up for the night. The Pines, Mike’s house, and Clyde’s place were all within a street or two of downtown.
David’s house wasn’t in a subdivision like Briarwood where Mitch and Trail lived. His place was more rural, but he wasn’t anywhere near as far out as I am up on Yellow Top. His small, ranch-style house was set back a good hundred yards off of a road called Lickskillet Drive, a name that never fails to make me smile. The North Carolina hill country has some awesome names for towns and roads; names like Pole Cat Hollow or Possum Glen; names that hark back a hundred years or more.
When we got to David’s, his house had that same closed-off, almost withdrawn look like the majority of other houses we’d seen. David’s 2017 Jeep Cherokee was parked in the driveway, but the house was locked tight and all his blinds were closed. A bad sign. Mitch banged on the door and rang the bell a couple of times before taking the spare key David had given him, and going in.
David’s house was dark with all the curtains drawn. The sun had turned in the sky and was now on the downside of noon headed towards evening. Honestly, it was a bit spooky in there. The house was neat and orderly, not “mother neat” as Mitch would say, but not a bachelor wreck either. The kitchen was tidy, no dishes or pans in the sink. His dishwasher was full and clean. I looked. The den was clean but cluttered a bit; his jacket was draped over the back of his recliner, and his boots were kicked off on the floor beside the couch. His little living room was filled with books and outdoor magazines – some on his Kamp table, most in a couple of built-in bookcases.
David loved to read. His Bible was lying open on an old army trunk he used as a coffee table that sat in front of the couch. Beside the Bible was a pen and a couple of colored highlighter markers. I don’t know why I did it, but I reached down and picked up the Bible, pen and markers, and put them in Mama B’s ratty old bag along with all the cans already there. We’d decided to take the bags in with us, not because we thought anyone would actually steal our food, but because the whole situation was so odd that we just thought prudence might be called for. Besides, if it looked like David had vanished along with the others (and it sure as shootin’ was looking that way), then we might decide, I don’t know, to borrow something else besides his bike. I felt like a total jerk. I was feeling like I was ripping him off or something, although we’d absolutely return anything we took when (if) we found him.
As Mitch and Trail looked around the house, I went to the kitchen table and wrote David a note telling him what we’d done and where we would be so he could find us. Too bad we were taking his bike though, but David hikes all the time; so even if he had to come into town on ‘shank’s mare’ as Grandpa used to say, he could walk that distance without breaking a sweat. He might be ticked off though. I would be. I already had a plan half formed in my mind of what we should do after we talked to Mike and Clyde, but it was still vague, and I wasn’t sure how to do what I wanted to do, or even if I could.
After searching through David’s bookcases, I had found a half-used yellow legal pad that I used to write the note, intending to put it up on his fridge. I found one of those refrigerator magnets in the shape of an owl. As I was tacking the note onto the fridge, grinning at that stupid owl magnet that had the message “Give a hoot, don’t pollute” on it, I noticed that, taped to the side of the fridge, was one of those manila envelopes, the gold ones that are big enough to hold documents. It was taped to the fridge with clear packing tape. Written on the front in big, bold, black permanent marker ink was this message:
MITCH – IF I SUDDENLY GO MISSING, READ THIS
(HAVE THE OTHERS READ IT Too) URGENT!
I stood there gape-mouthed. “Guys,” I yelled, “Y’all come in here. You need to see this.”
Mitch came in, followed by Trail. Mitch said the house was empty, but that David’s bed had obviously been slept in. Both of them stopped talking and stood stock still as I pointed to the big gold envelope taped to the side of David’s fridge. They both stared, as dumbstruck as I was.
“That wasn’t here before; I’d swear to that. I’m going to open it now,” said Mitch, already carefully peeling the envelope from the fridge, being careful not to rip it or damage anything that might be inside.
“No, not here,” I said, running my hand through my hair trying to think. “It’s getting late, and we need to get on over to Mike’s. Put it in your bag and we’ll take it with us. We’ll read it later tonight when we have time to really process whatever is in there. When was the last time you were here, Mitch? I mean how long might that have been stuck to his fridge?” I asked.
“I dunno,” replied Mitch.” I don’t come inside often. Mostly I just bring in his mail or any packages if he’s going to be working and staying in the ranger quarters for a few days or a week at a time. When I do that, I mostly just dump his mail on that big trunk table and leave. I rarely go into any of his rooms, so I guess that could have been there for a while. When we all get together, it’s almost always at your place, Bobby, not at any of ours unless we go to see Mama B.”
“Okay,” I said; “Let’s get a move on to Mike’s. We’ll lock up here and head into N’ville. Time’s already getting short. This gets weirder by the minute”
Mitch nodded and unzipped his bag, putting the envelope inside on top of the bread and stuff.
“Here, take this. Put this in your bag with David’s letter or whatever it is,” I said, unzipping my carpet bag and removing David’s Bible, handing it to Mitch. “I don’t know if it’s related to anything or not, but…” I trailed off.
As Mitch was adding the Bible to his bag, I looked over at Trail who was silent, but smiling and nodding his head. Suddenly, I was irrationally angry at him. Furious, really. I wanted to jump over the table and pop him one in the mouth to wipe that seemingly knowing grin off his face. I bit my tongue and tried not to let my face show how upset I was. I don’t know why I was so angry all of a sudden, but I was. This was Trail. My best friend. Yes, he had gotten this bee in his bonnet that Mama had been called to Jesus in the sky or some such thing, and here I was picking up David’s Bible like I really thought it could be of help. I didn’t think that – did I? Then again, something way out of the ordinary sure has happened; and if Trail did see what he thinks he saw, then maybe Mama’s vanishing has unhinged him a bit, and this is how he’s coping with it all.
Unless he somehow hurt Mama, or worse, and he’s really gone off his gourd, I thought.
NO! My mind screamed, and I almost shuddered at that betraying Judas thought. I felt my face blush as my hands grew clammy. I was appalled at myself for even allowing such a traitorous thought to enter my mind. This is Trail! He’d throw himself in front of a train before he’d ever hurt anyone, particularly his Mama…
My thoughts took me back again to when we were only eight years old and Trail was staying the weekend with me at Grandpa’s. We found a baby thrush in the backyard. It had fallen from its nest and was lying broken but still alive at the foot of a big cottonwood. I could tell right away that the bird’s left wing was crushed; it wasn’t going to make it. I told Trail that the bird was already dying. He nodded, holding that baby bird cupped into the palm of his big hand. As gently as possible, he sat down underneath that tree and held that bird, tenderly stroking its tiny head, feeling its rapid-fire heartbeat. All the while, Trail talked softly to that little thrush. Gradually, the bird seemed to relax. It seemed to understand that Trail was protecting it. Finally, after about fifteen minutes, the little bird shuddered once and died. Trail looked up at me with tears pouring down his face. He said,
“Bobby, imagine how scared and hurt that baby bird must have felt. It could never get back home. It must be really scary to die all alone far away from home. I couldn’t leave it there to die all by itself or get eaten by some old hawk. Its Mama’s gon’ be real sad when she comes back and finds her baby missing. Let’s bury it Bobby,” Trail said, openly weeping now. I don’t want no hawk or weasel comin’ around and eatin’ him up.”
And so we did. I went back to the barn and asked Grandpa if I could use the garden trowel. I told him what we were going to do. Grandpa allowed as how it’s a tender heart that cares for God’s littlest creatures. That evening as we sat out on the porch, Grandpa read from the Bible where Jesus told His friends that God knows and cares even when even the tiniest sparrow falls. “Even thrushes?” asked Trail. Grandma bent over and cupped Trail’s face in her work-roughened hands and replied gently, “Even thrushes.”
Where were these memories coming from? It is like some mental dam had broken, and all this stuff I thought was buried and gone isn’t gone at all. People have vanished, but memories of my childhood are flooding in like a tsunami. I wonder if the same thing is happening to the others? I wasn’t behaving any more rationally than Trail was, apparently. Only Mitch seemed to be acting more or less like himself.
I looked over at Trail—at the honest, open, gentle face of my best friend since childhood, and was so ashamed of my disloyal thoughts I could have died. Trail seemed to know exactly what I’d been thinking. Grandma always said I was a horrible liar. I didn’t get away with much around her. “Bobby,” she’d say, “yore face is like a open book. I ken read it plain as day. Don’t even bother tryin’ to pull nothin’. Yer face is gon’ give you away ever time.”
Trail gave me his warmest smile and said, “It’s alright, Bobby. Everythin’s gon’ be alright as soon as y’all become part of the family.” I looked away from his kindness – embarrassed, ashamed, and guilty.
Mitch found David’s Growler mountain bike inside the garage. The garage was locked, but we got in through the kitchen. David’s mountain bike was a really good one, although not top of the line by any means.
“Looks like you hit the jackpot, Mitch-man,” Trail said, looking at David’s bike admiringly. “When did Dave win the lottery? Now see, my bike’s good…”
“Your bikes a mastodon,” I said, interrupting him with a grin.
“My bike is a Ben Hur chariot compared to that mongrel you ride and compared to that dead mongrel Mitch has been draggin’ around. But this here bike,” Trail said, running his big hands over the handlebars of the Growler, checking it out from stem to stern,” this is the bicycle equivalent of a Mercedes. Mitch, my man, you and me are gonna be ridin’ into town in style. Bobby, you just try to keep up.” Trail said, laughing.
“Very funny,” I said.
We locked David’s house, loaded our bags onto the handlebars of our bikes, and headed into downtown Norrisville.
The three of us pulled into the parking lot of Mike’s General Store late in the afternoon. Before we entered, I asked the guys, “Do we want to read David’s letter in front of Mike and Clyde?”
“No, I’d rather not even mention it. Let’s see what they have to say first, and then we’ll find time to read it ourselves before we say anything to anyone else,” said Mitch, and Trail nodded in agreement.
As we entered the store by the back entrance, we found Clyde and Mike sitting in cane-backed chairs pulled up to a rickety-looking table near the back door. They were playing checkers.
“Well, Bobby, I was ‘bout to give up on ya!” exclaimed Clyde. “I see you found somebody else still here. C’mon in boys. Y’all musta come in on bikes like Bobby did, I’m guessin’.”
“Yes sir,” answered Trail. “We parked them back here instead of out front. Is that okay, Big Mike?”
“A course it is,” replied Mike; “that’s fine. In fact, y’all need to bring ‘em in an’ store ‘em in the back. I’ll unlock the storage room for ya. They’ll be a lot safer there. With no cars runnin’, bikes are gon’ be in high demand, I reckon.”
Mike got up and headed to the storage room to unlock the door so we could pull the bikes inside and have them hidden away completely out of sight.
“Come on in boys and pull up a piece o’ the floor,” said Clyde as we came back in from Big Mike’s store room. “Since Mike n’ me are old codgers an’ you boys’r all spry young men, we git the chairs and y’all git the floor,” Clyde said, amiably.
“No problem,” I said as we all three plopped down, placing our bags of food on the floor.
“Great Scot in a kilt, Bobby!” cried Clyde, bending over to look at Mama’s bag “What is that monstrosity? That’s the ugliest thang I ever seen!” he cried, rearing back from the stench as I unzipped the bag. “An’ what in tarnation crawled in thar an’ died? That thang stinks to high heaven! Whatchu got in that thang? Meybe the better question might be why would you dare come amongst livin’ human beings carryin’ aroun’ such a gawdy, stinkin’ horror as that?”
“According to Trail,” I said, resigned, “this here is Mama B’s ‘overnightin’ bag’, and that stench that you smell is some old perfume that got spilled in it sometime back. I unzipped the bag and set it on the floor in front of me.
“Is that so, Terrell?” Clyde looked over at Trail, his eyes dancing as he tried to keep a grin off his face.
“That’s so. Me and Mitch got these,” Trail said, hefting his gym bag and pointing Mitch’s bag. “Bobby drew the short straw and had to carry that,” Trail said with a laugh.
“We never drew straws, Trail. Don’t lie to a cop,” I said, mildly. “You pushed this carpet bag smelling of eau de pole cat on me, remember?”
“My soul, Bobby, unload that thang quick! That thar’s assault an’ battery of the nostrils. I could run you in fer that,” Clyde said, grinning. “Set it out back an’ let me shoot it, or bury it or sumpin. We’ll all die of asphyxiation iff’n you leave it in here.” Now both he and Mike were laughing. “And warsh them cans off too. I know Ms. Bertha never wore nothin’ that smelt like a week-old corpse at high noon in July.”
“Everybody’s a comedian,” I sighed, emptying out the bag and setting it outside the back door. I also knew that there was absolutely zero chance that anyone in his right mind (or out of it for that matter) would steal that hateful thing, much as I hoped somebody might.
When I went back in, Mike was lining up everything we’d brought with us onto the counter. When he got to the green beans and those giant cans of peaches, Mike turned and looked back at us, nonplussed.
“Y’all bring all this to share with us?” asked Mike. I could see Clyde in the corner just about giving himself a hernia laughing.
“Yes sir,” replied Trail, gravely. “Mama told me you never go visitin’ anywhere empty-handed.”
“Well,” said Mike, who wasn’t catching onto the joke yet; “I’m much obliged to you, son.” That slayed us all. We were all laughing and hooting like monkeys as we fixed peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. We opened a couple of cans of baked beans to go with them, and sliced up the remains of Mama B’s pound cake, topping them with the peaches. Nobody wanted the green beans.
As we ate, we told the men what we’d found. First me, then Mitch, then Trail. Clyde was dumbfounded by Trail’s story, but Mike didn’t seem shocked at all. In fact, Mike nodded every now and again as Trail talked, almost like he was checking things off a list. It spooked me a little.
We finished cleaning up and settled around the table in the back – the men in the chairs and the three of us on the floor. Mike lit a huge oil lamp, setting it in the center of the table at the back of the store; and as the shadows in the room waxed and waned with the flame of the lamp, Clyde began to tell us what he knew about all that had transpired in town since early Thursday morning.
Clyde’s story – which is, in part, the story of the town – began much like mine did.
“I come in to Nan’s,” Clyde said. He paused to ramp down the tobacco in his pipe and light it, waiting a minute for it to catch. As I watched him perform this familiar ritual, in my mind I was immediately transported to my childhood. I seemed to be back in time, sitting in the living room with Grandpa and Grandma; the sweet smell of pipe tobacco and the flicker of firelight in a darkened room took me back. The memory was so visceral that my heart squeezed, and I felt a lump rise in my throat.
What is wrong with you, Bobby, I thought. You gotta snap out of this – whatever is happening. Trail’s not the one who’s nuts; it’s me. I’m the one whose acorns are falling out of the tree.
I almost physically wrenched myself back to the present and saw that both Clyde’s and Mike’s eyes were on me. For the second time that day, I felt guilty and embarrassed.
“Anyway,” Clyde resumed, “like I said, after I realized my car wouldn’t start, an’ all the lights was out ever where along my street, I decided to head over to Nan’s like I always do. I’m guessin’ that woulda been aroun’ 5:30 or so by my reckonin’. I wake up ‘bout that time ever day, an’ my internal clock is usually right. I wanted to see iff’n the power was out thar too or just around my place. On my way out the door, I grabbed my big, high-powered flashlight I keep on my kitchen counter, and proceeded to walk the downtown just like I used to do years ago when I was a beat cop still green around the gills.
“I knowed immediately that it wadn’t just my house that was dark, and it wadn’t just my car that wadn’t runnin’ neither. Warn’t no street lights or house lights, or nothin’ – no signs of stirrin’ nowhere as far as I could see. Even that big up-lighted hotel sign Floree Watson got held up for by that Asheville sign company, the one she had put up to advertise the Pines, like nobody didn’t know that the Pines has been here since God made dirt,” Clyde said, shaking his head in mock disgust. “The lights fer that sign was out too, and thar warn’t no lights on in the hotel neither.
“When I got to Nan’s Kitchen, Eva had already opened up the diner, jus’ like I knowed she would’ve; but since twern’t no power, I told her to go on back home an’ come back later. She wadn’t gon’ be cookin’ nothin’ till the power came back on anyways. I offered to walk her back home. She don’t live but a street over on First Street, but I didn’t like her walkin’ in the dark. I told her as much, but you know Eva. She just waved me off and told me to hush up. Said she’d rather sit in th’ dark at the th’ diner doin’ nuthin’ where somebody might come by than ta be sittin’ at home by herself doin’ nuthin’ where nobody would be comin’ by. I figured she had a point.
“Anyways, as the sun come up, that’s when I started ta really git a feel fer how things was. I still figured that the power’d come back on afore the day was out, but the fact that there warn’t NO traffic on none o’ the roads and there warn’t no cars, no trucks – nuthin’ movin’ an’ all these houses lookin’ closed in an’ shut tight – well, that put the hairs on the back o’ my neck up. It was too dark; too quiet. That set off my hinky meter,” said Clyde, smiling a bit.
“What’s ‘hinky’ mean,” asked Mitch.
“Hinky,” Clyde explained, “is when th’ hairs on ya neck stand up because ya senses are tellin’ ya sumpin ain’t right. A smart cop attends to his surroundins’ with the whiskers in his mind an’ not jus’ by what his ears hear an’ his eyes see. A cop that pays attention to his hinky meter stays alive. A cop who don’t won’t. Anyways, after the sun was up that Thursdey mornin’, I went back home, made me a ham sammich, an’ then decided to walk to the station to see what Chief Porter thought.
“What did he say?” I asked him.
Puffing out smoke, Clyde replied laconically, “He didn’t say nuthin’. He wadn’t there, an’ never came in; not Thursdey, not Fridey, and not yesterdey neither. Wadn’t nobody home at his place neither. Squad car was in the driveway, but his house was locked and curtains pulled closed; no sign o’ him or Adele. I went back to the station an’ found Dewey Upshaw, th’ assistant chief. An’ after a bit, Rod Weaver come in, but Bucky Thompson never showed up neither; an’ that right there was half the police force missin’. In a back hills little berg like Norrisville that ain’t got but four men in the whole department, two missin’ officers with no idea o’ their whereabouts, an’ one of ‘em being the chief o’ police… well, that’s when you know you in a world of hurt fer sure. We didn’t know what else to do but wait’n see what happened.
“Over the next three days, me an’ Dewey an’ Rod sorta divided up the downtown area fer about a two-mile radius an’ scouted it out. After a bit, we could pretty much tell the places where there warn’t nobody home; like what you found around Calvary Church area, Bobby, an’ like y’all found at Davy Johnson’s place. I’ll bet y’all’s hinky meters was goin’ off too; am I right?
We all nodded. I sure knew alright. That’s exactly how I felt going around Center Street and the Church, and at David’s.
“The best we ken reckon,” said Clyde, “is that in that two-mile radius o’ downtown, almost 60% of the houses is empty. Don’t know about those farther out, but from what you boys said, it looks like a goodly number o’ them out that way might be gone too. Oh, not everbody’s gone, fer sure, ‘specially in the newer subdivision from what y’all say, but thar’s a mighty big number o’ folks that seems to’ve just vanished into thin air in the middle of the night…” Clyde paused and said to Trail… “jus’ like you say Ms. Bertha did.”
I sat there slack-jawed, and Mitch whistled.
“Oh yeah, one other thang; an’ this is th’ one that’s hauntin’ me most,” Clyde said, softly. “We cain’t seem to find no children around. At least no young uns under about 12 or 13, near as we can figure.”
“That can’t be right!” I said, a lot louder than I meant to.
“Clyde, how can you be sure about kids being among the missing?” asked Mitch, more reasonably than me. “It seems to me that you really can’t say that all of the kids are gone.”
“No, I ain’t sayin’ that its definite. We did see three older teenage boys outside shootin’ hoops in the driveway o’ one o’ them houses out on East 1st Avenue, but I’d bet my pension that we ain’t gon’ find no young uns under 12 or so. See, that’s one o’ the things we gotta find out fer sure, an’ that’s where you boys come in,” said Clyde.
“You boys ain’t gon’ be goin’ back home in the dark; an’, Bobby, you sure ain’t gon’ be headin’ up the mountain tonight. So we been talkin’, an here’s what we’d like to ask y’all to do. We need a sorta census to see how many people are still here an’ how many are gone, an’ who they might be. What we’d like ta do tomorrow is to divide up the whole of Norrisville amongst th’ three o’ y’all, an’ me, Mike, Dewey Upshaw, an’ Rod Weaver. Eva might be willin’ to call on a few houses too. Everybody knows her, an’ she may be willin’ to go back around the couple streets around downtown that we already checked just to make sure. That’s seven o’ us – eight iff’n Eva’s willin’ to help, so it shouldn’t be too hard to cover the whole town, out to Briarwood and even to the couple o’ houses that are out twords Lickskillet Road iff’n y’all ain’t already checked them out. Us old guys an t’other two officers, we’ll take downtown and the streets aroun’ the town from the town line up to, say, Center Street and Dogwood Lane, out about as far as Calvary Baptist. You three boys go check out t’other two churches, Briarwood, an’ go back out Lickskillet way.” said Clyde, all business now.
Suddenly, I caught a glimpse of the sharp cop he used to be, breaking through the lethargy of retirement like a beetle shedding its old carapace. Clyde was in charge, at least for now. And I was sure the canvassing was Clyde’s idea. Dewey Upshaw is a good man and good officer, but he’s no leader; and although I know Rod Weaver on sight, I don’t know him the way I do…did…Chief Porter, or Clyde and Dewey.
“Sounds good to me,” said Mitch. “What about the elementary school though? Who’s going to check that out? And what about Mrs. Dublin?”
“We already checked out the school,” said Clyde. “Loretta Dublin, the principal, and at least two outta the other seven teachers appear ta be among the’ missin’. T’others we ain’t sure about yet.”
“There ain’t been a single child or a single parent that’s come to the school since Thursday,” said Mike, putting in his two cents worth for the first time.
“A goodly number of parents missin’ their kids did come in to the PD Thursday an’ Fridley – most of ‘em nearly hysterical about their young uns,” replied Clyde, “but even they could see that with no cars runnin’, the power off everwhere an’ no way fer anyone to conduct a search… well, most of ‘em after a while realized that this ain’t no normal situation by a long shot. With multiple kids and babies missin’ all over town, they mostly left after a while. They was all mostly in shock anyway. I didn’t deal with ‘em but Dewey an’ Rod did their best.
“Okay,” said Clyde, brusquely; “here’s tha’ plan: Mike’s got a whole bin full o’ red an’ orange duct tape. He’s got a ton of the stuff ‘cause the dang fools he orders from sent him a couple o’ cases of the wrong ones. They was s’posed to be sendin’ the regular silver color, but turned out ta be all this neon stuff instead. Don’t nobody want their busted pipes wrapped in bright red tape or their rake or hoe handles shinin’ with flamin’ orange tape,” said Clyde, grinning.
“What we’re gon’ do is this,” he said, “on the houses where nobody’s home or don’t answer the door – only the houses that look like what we already found, we’re gon’ put a big red X on the front door usin’ the duct tape. Looks like this dayglo stuff might come in handy after all. Anyways, that way we kin git a rough count o’ what houses is empty and which ones ain’t. In the places whar there is someone home, hand ‘em one of these fliers iff’n they’ll take one. But be real careful, boys. Afore you approach any door, you boys yell and say y’all are helpin’ the town take a census. Don’t approach no door iff’n you get that hinky feelin’ I was telling y’all about earlier. Pay attention to that feelin’ iff’n you git it. People are sacred an’ jumpy, — ‘specially those who cain’t find their young uns. Scared people ain’t rational, and they lible to lash out first an’ be sorry later; so beware and be aware.” Clyde said, sternly. “Y’all git what I’m sayin’?”
“Yes sir,” we answered in unison.
“Clyde, these fliers are mimeographed!” I said, in amazement.” Where on earth did you find a mimeograph machine and the ink to use in it? Nobody has used this stuff since the 1960’s.” I was flabbergasted.
“Well, me and Mike, with Dewey’s blessin’, a course, broke in that ol’ storage buildin’ in back o’ the school. They musta been 50 years’ worth a stuff stored in that buildin’: old school desks, busted chairs, boxes an’ boxes o’ old paper records an’ such. ‘Parrently, they don’t throw nuthin’ out. They just shove it all in that huge storage room. Anyway, way back in the back corner, sittin’ on a old wooden teacher’s desk that looked to be about a hunert years old – way back in the back where we had to climb over ten tons o’ stuff to git to it – lo’ an’ behold, we found this old machine with three bottles o’ that purple ink. Two o’ them bottles was dry as the Sahara, but the third was still more’n half full. It had been stored way in the back outta the sun, so I guess it didn’t all evaporate. We brought that old machine back here in my ole wheelbarra, an me an’ Mike cleaned it up, put the ink in ‘er, and she worked just fine. We printed up as many o’ them notices as we could till the ink run out. We got 136 o’ them notices. Iff’n that ain’t enough, we’ll send some black permanent markers an typin’ paper so’s y’all kin make more if needed. Mostly, just post ‘em on street light poles or in conspicuous places. Mikel’s give y’all a industrial stapler an’ some o’ them big staples,” explained Clyde.
“That sounds great, but there’s just one problem,” I said, and Clyde clocked an eyebrow. “How are we supposed to ride and carry all this stuff? I guess they could use the gym bags,” I said, pointing to Mitch and Trail.” But, I said, emphatically, “I am NOT riding through town with that orange carpet bag hanging off my handlebars.”
“Well, Terry and Mitch can use their gym bags; but, Bobby, I just happen to have one of these here sturdy, hikin’ backpacks. In fact, it’s the same kind I sold to yer pal Davy Johnson ‘bout 6 months back. You take it and keep it, ‘cause I ain’t so sure things is ever going to go back to the way they was before, even if the power does come back on,” Mike said, cryptically.
“Are you sure, Mike?” I asked, really touched. “One of these goes for a good 60 bucks.”
“Well this one goes for 75,” said Mike, smiling. “But I’m sure. I’ll tell you what I think after tomorrow. Let’s get them notices out first, and then we’ll talk some more. I know you boys want to git home, and you want to git back up the mountain, I reckon. I got an idear about that too, but we’ll talk about that after tomorrow.”
The mimeographed message on the fliers read:
TOWN MEETING IN NORRISVILLE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL AUDITORIUM WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 9 AT 10:00 AM.
“How’re we getting into the school?” asked Trail with a grin, anticipating what was coming.
“Why, boys, me and the officers are gon’ break in through one o’ the ground floor winders, a course” Clyde said, grinning.
“Alright, that’s all fer t’night. Let’s git you boys set up fer the night. Y’all walk over to the Pines. Vinnie Sawyer’s got some rooms all ready. I told him earlier today that Bobby’d likely be here tonight need’n a place ta stay. I also told him that he might have a couple o’ his buddies with him, so he’s got two rooms set aside. One single room with two double beds an’ one room with two singles. Y’all kin work that out amongst yerselves,” said Clyde.
“Mike,” Trail said, “you’ve been mostly quiet tonight. You okay? Have you heard from Jack?”
“Oh, Clyde needed to talk tonight. I’ll tell y’all what I think tomorrow or Tuesday. I got a lot to say too, but we need to do this first,” said Mike. “Just leave yer wheels here for tonight and walk on over to The Pines. They’ll be safe here, and it’s just a couple of streets over anyway. Y’all come back here after ya get done. Y’all can probly stay at the Pines again tonight, or y’all can bunk down with me. I only got the one bedroom, but the livin’ room’s big enough fer y’all to bunk down in if need be,” said Mike, kindly. Mike’s place was a small one-bedroom apartment above the store.
Here, let me git you boys a flashlight each. Keep ‘em with you, “Mike said, as he headed off to get the flashlights. “I’m gon’ put back some extra batteries fer y’all too,” he said. He didn’t answer Trail’s question about Harp.
“Why is Vinnie Sawyer arranging rooms for us at the Pines,” Mitch asked? “Why isn’t Mrs. Watson doing that?”
“Cause,” said Clyde, gravely, not smiling now, “Floree Watson ain’t been seen since Wendsdey night. Come by here early tomorrow, boys, an’ Mike’ll put somethin’ together for breakfast and lunch. He’ll load up yer bags, and we’ll ride by the PD an’ grab a map or two. We’ll mark out who goes where afore we all head out. Don’t worry ‘bout anything we give you, we ain’t exactly worried ‘bout inventory at the moment,” said Clyde.
“So, what’s Mike gon’ fix us for breakfast?” asked Trail, trying to lighten the mood.
“Well, there’s plenty o’ fruit that needs to be et afore it goes bad,” said Clyde. “But’ iff’n that ain’t enough to fill ya up, big feller, they’s a whole heap o’ French cut green beans left,” said Clyde with a grin as he slipped on his jacket.
So there we were, the three of us walking through a deserted, utterly dark and abandoned downtown Main Street. The flashlights in our hands cast weird, undulating shadows around us as we walked two streets over to the Whispering Pines Hotel where we had rooms for the night, but where Mrs. Watson, that sweet old lady whose dresser I had been refinishing, was gone. Mrs. Watson, like so many others (how many?) was apparently among the missing – another person just gone – vanished without a trace.
(to be continued)