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Children to the Slaughter

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Children To The Slaughter

A.I. Nasser

Copyright © 2016 by ScareStreet.com

All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

PROLOGUE

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

EPILOGUE

Bonus Scene Chapter 1

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Welcome,

A.I. Nasser

PROLOGUE

 

Jeremiah Carter’s stomach turned.

He walked alone, keeping a good few yards between him and the mob of two dozen men and women walking in front of him. Holding their torches high as they walked, they lit the night sky with a dangerous orange hue, their voices a mix of anger and vengeance. The procession followed a narrow path through the woods that once linked Melington to its neighboring towns, but had now been abandoned for more modern and accessible routes leading in and out of the southern part of town.

The winter was harsh this year. No matter how much Jeremiah tried to protect himself against the cold, the chill winds still managed to find their way into his thick coat. Footprints littered the route in front of him. Occasional longer streaks showed where the tied prisoner tried to keep up with the ropes that pulled him along.

Jeremiah kept his eyes cast low, unable to look at his fellow town members as they dragged their half-naked captive behind them, beaten to an inch of his life, every man and woman capable of hurting him taking full advantage of their chance. Jeremiah’s efforts to stop them were met with derision and scorn.

Jeremiah tried to put more distance between him and the others without appearing to empathize with the prisoner. He frowned as he noticed dark stains in the snow and quickly realized they were splatters of blood. The prisoner was bleeding, but there were none who cared.

“We’re going to rip you into pieces!”

The woman’s shrill voice brought Jeremiah’s head up. He watched in dismay as the prisoner stumbled and fell to one knee, then immediately kicked as another pulled heavily on the rope tied to his wrists. He The prisoner fell face first onto the path, and in the midst of even more kicking, he was pulled to his feet and carried along.

“Leave him on the ground!” a man shouted. Jeremiah was unable to discern who the voice belonged to, but he felt sure he recognized it. The others cheered in approval.

“Drag him along!” came another shout, and Jeremiah quickly realized that if he did nothing, the man would suffer more than was needed.

He picked up the pace and helped the helpless half naked man back up to his feet.

“This is your doing, Jeremiah,” the man whispered angrily, his words coming in one long breath that was followed by a deep moan of pain. His teeth clattered mercilessly against each other, and even through the heavy coat, Jeremiah felt the sting of the man’s cold grip.

“This was not my decision, Copper,” Jeremiah answered, his voice equally low so no one would hear him. “I was not your judge…”

Copper Tibet groaned as Jeremiah wrapped the man’s arm around his neck and proceeded to help carry him.

“Let him go, Jeremiah!” someone shouted.

“I say hang him here!” another replied.

Jeremiah ignored the townsfolk, lowered his head once more and pushed forward, distraught that he was now in the midst of the mob. He did not believe Copper Tibet was innocent, but he knew the man did not deserve this. There were rules, but everyone in Melington had decided to ignore them, including the Council.

The mob moved along, following the path until it opened into a large clearing where a market had once been held. Jeremiah remembered his childhood, when his father had brought him along to the market so they could sell their farm’s produce. It had always been a very colorful and busy place, rich with friendly faces and a New England charm.

It was a desolate field now, dotted with the skeletons of large maples, a place where the people of Melington would carry out Copper Tibet’s death sentence.

Jeremiah was led to one of the larger maples, now fully carrying Copper’s weight as the big man drifted in and out of consciousness. Jeremiah’s lips moved in silent prayer for mercy.

Hands lifted the dying man off Jeremiah and carried him swiftly to the large tree, a rope tossed over one of the thicker branches while a noose was adjusted around Copper’s neck. Jeremiah watched the man’s eyes flutter as he tried to stay awake. He wanted to shout to him to let go, and release himself from the life he was still clinging onto.

“Copper Tibet, you are hereby sentenced to death for the kidnapping and murder of two children.”

Jeremiah looked over at Chairman Cole, frowning in disgust as he listened to the man speak. This was not right. This was not justice. Jeremiah couldn’t believe how primal the townsfolk had become.

These were men and women he had grown up with, people he knew well and invited into his own home. Seeing them now, the snarls on their faces, the words they spat at Copper, made him second guess everything he believed in.

They wanted a victim. They wanted someone to blame, and the minute they had been given someone who fit the desired profile, they had taken action.

All of a sudden, Jeremiah felt a rush of guilt. Had he acted on emotions as well? Was an innocent man being hung because of him?

Jeremiah opened his mouth in protest, but was instantly distracted by Copper’s cry of pain. Three men stood to one side of the tree, heaving on the rope that tightened around the man’s neck. Copper’s big frame slowly rose off the ground, his bare feet sliding and slipping in the snow until he was lifted off the ground. His hands grasped the noose, crying out in anger as he tried to stop it from suffocating him. He thrashed about in the air, somehow finding strength to fight back, forcing two other men to join the others as they resisted the big man’s efforts to break free.

“I will see you all dead for this!” Copper screamed, his voice suddenly clear, eyes wide as he stared out in fury at the mob before him. Some of them took a few steps back, suddenly frightened by the man’s newfound strength, one or two looking at each other uneasily as Copper screamed and cursed.

The sight of the big man swinging in the air almost made Jeremiah heave. He closed his eyes and turned away, wishing he could shut Copper’s voice out completely.

“You hang an innocent man, you fools!” Copper cried out. “Your culprit walks free amongst you, and you hang me? I will see you all burn in hell!”

Jeremiah decided he had enough. He began to walk away when a hand grasped his arm and stopped him.

“Where are you going?”

Jeremiah looked into the eyes of Chairman Cole, the frown on the other man’s face as deep as his determination to see this through, was reflected on Jeremiah’s own face. Jeremiah pulled his arm back forcefully, pointing angrily at the hanging man behind him.

“This isn’t right, Cole,” Jeremiah hissed.

“You put him at the top of the list, Jeremiah,” Cole spat. “You will stand here with the rest of us and see this through.”

“This isn’t justice!” Jeremiah shot. “I never agreed to this!”

“This wasn’t your choice.”

“Neither should it have been yours,” Jeremiah countered. “He should have been delivered to Hartford!”

“And what then?” Cole asked. “This is the rightful punishment. You wanted justice for your daughter’s death, and I am delivering it.”

“Do not drag my child into this,” Jeremiah threatened.

“I will do whatever I must,” Cole spat. “This burden is for all of us to bear.”

“I will have nothing more to do with this,” Jeremiah said.

Cole grabbed him by the arm again, and Jeremiah was ready to throw a punch at the man when a loud crack pierced through the night. Both men turned to Copper, their eyes wide in horror as the branch above his head heaved against the weight of his thrashing. The man was getting weaker, but he still had an unbelievable amount of fight left in him.

He might actually break free, Jeremiah thought.

“Burn him!”

Jeremiah’s head snapped around to Cole as the words echoed through the field. The Chairman glanced briefly at him before repeating the order, and Jeremiah Carter watched in horror as several members of the small mob raced to where Copper hung and pressed their torches against his skin.

Copper’s screams pierced the night. Jeremiah fell to his knees in the thick snow, his eyes wide in disbelief as he watched Copper Tibet burn. He couldn’t decide what was worse, the screaming, or the smell of burning flesh, but he knew that this night would haunt him to the day he died.

“I curse you all!” Copper screamed. “From the pits of hell I will come for you. Your children will never be safe! Do you hear me? Your children will never be safe!”

Jeremiah felt the world around him spin and darken. He fell to the ground. The last thing he heard was Copper Tibet’s screams of vengeance.

 

Chapter 1

 

Melington had changed.

Well, as much as a small town was expected to change in the span of twenty years.

It had very little to do with its location, that was for sure. Smack center in the state of Connecticut, the most it ever had to offer was a reprise from the non-stop, stress inducing hassle of the bigger cities. The more one would think about it, the greater the confusion as to what would push any sane human being to even slightly consider moving there.

But Melington had changed.

The college had brought the first wave of new outside residents. It was followed by an amusement park and then a bunch of motels.

The college had been planned, an attempt by the local Council members to bring something more to Melington than just its ‘charm’. No one really knew whose idea the amusement park had been. If one would ask how that came to be, the usual reply was a shrug and a confused frown as the person in question tried to think of a reasonable answer, but at least they acknowledged that Melington had changed.

Two malls had quickly followed, bringing with them friendly neighborhood fast-food restaurants and a bunch of department stores. Zealous investors found opportunities to cut down forests and build housing compounds with names like ‘Green Meadow’ and ‘Sunny Creek.’

The sheriff’s department had become the Melington Police Station with a force of thirty strong, justice-seeking men and women. Melington High had added two more buildings, expanded its football field and made the town the home of the ‘Melington Braves’. What was once the town center was now known as Old Melington as newer roads were laid, three story office buildings were built and farmland quickly sold to accommodate the growing need for residential and office development.

The town grew to a population of twenty thousand, people flocking to it as if they had been told that salvation lay in Melington. What had once been the home to families that had known each other by name, was now a mess of strangers who rarely bumped into the same person twice. RVs had begun racing into the ever growing Melington Park. Gas stations had sprouted up everywhere, and when the highway made its way along the outer town limits, the Council had made sure to include a large billboard advertising Melington as ‘The Place to Be’.

Melington had changed, and no one knew that better than Alan Carter.

 

***

 

On any regular day, the shrill sound of the cell phone alarm was more than enough to wake Alan Carter up. Not that it mattered much. His biological clock was already in the habit of making sure that he was ready to snooze the alarm a second or two after it began its incessant shriek. He couldn’t remember the last time he had opened his eyes to any hour after seven AM.

His morning routine was simple, a set of rituals that already had a mental checklist and were followed instinctively like clockwork. Nothing changed, ever, and any slight deviation usually resulted in a disastrous continuation of the day, with Alan constantly feeling like something was off. It was a routine that had been drilled into him, something to keep his mind blank in the mornings when his dreams would reach out beyond the realms of sleep and inflict hours of mental suffering.

The pills helped, but it was the routine that was most effective, and he was careful to stick to it.

However, this was not one of those regular days, and when the alarm sounded, piercing through his sleep, Alan Carter woke up with a start, the room spinning uncontrollably around him. He had to squeeze his eyes shut against the vertigo, careful not to keep them closed for too long lest the nightmares he had been experiencing found their way into the waking world. He reached out for his cell phone, feeling around for its cold touch and aimlessly swiping at the scream to turn off the shrieking that was echoing in his head.

His breaths were coming in short, uncontrolled gasps, and he forced his eyes open as the first of many images from his dreams began to flash in front of his closed lids. He tried to control his breathing, forcing himself to inhale deeply, letting the air out of his lungs in slow, measured breaths. His heart pounded like a jackhammer in his chest, making him cringe, and he clenched his fists as he tried to fight through the pain.

It was not the first time he had woken up like this, and according to his doctors, he was going to experience more of the same for a very long time.

Alan reached for the small commode next to the bed, grabbing his pills and popping the cap open. With shaking hands, he spilled half the contents out, cursing under his breath. He let most of them drop into his lap, quickly pushing two aside and throwing them into his mouth without bothering to get a cup of water to wash them down with. He could feel his heartbeat slow, and he knew that in a few more minutes, the effects of the pills would quickly kick in.

Alan Carter dropped back down into bed, eyes open as he stared up at the ceiling and waited for the day to begin.

 

***

 

The smell of coffee filled the small kitchen with a gentle aroma of wistfulness. Alan breathed it in with a small smile as he cradled his mug between his hands, letting the heat warm him.

It was early summer, but that did little to warm him. He usually woke up feeling colder than he was supposed to, shivering through the early hours of the day. He had gotten that from his mother.

Alan smiled as he looked up and around the kitchen of his childhood home. It was just as he remembered it, albeit a little worn. He sat alone at the kitchen table where his family had spent every morning of his childhood. It had been a tradition his father had insisted on, even on Sundays when all Alan had ever wanted to do was sleep.

The house stood empty now, a shell of what it had once been. Gone were the gentle sounds of Frank Sinatra echoing from the stereo in the living room. Gone were the sounds of his father hammering away at one new project after the other.

Twenty years was a long time for anyone to be away from home, and Alan quickly realized that he had missed this house more than he had thought.

He had returned to Melington the day before, driving in just as the sun was setting, lost in the maze of new roads and unfamiliar buildings. He had expected the town to be different, definitely not the home he and his family had left behind two decades before, but what he had seen on his drive in had made him second guess where he was.

It had taken him almost an hour to find his way to the old house. Foster Street was still there, but only a shadow of the bustle it had once been when everything anyone could ever need could be found in the stores that lined the street on both sides.

A s he had parked in the driveway, he had taken in the two- story Colonial with a deep sense of nostalgia that had had him aching for a time when the world had made a lot more sense. He remembered afternoons spent playing on the tire swing with his sister while his father had thought up plans for a tree house that was never to be.

Alan sipped at his coffee tentatively, briefly looking at the time on his watch to make sure he wasn’t late for his interview. The next few days in Melington were going to be hard, but he didn’t mind.

He was home.

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. September 16, 1826.

 

I fear for my sanity.

It has been two weeks since Abbey has last spoken a word to me. I wake and find her side of the bed empty. She has begun to wake early.

Anything I say or do is as smoke to her. She does not see or hear me, rocking back and forth and gazing out into the fields beyond for hours on end. She only rises when it is time to sleep. I cannot blame her. It is not easy for a mother to lose a child.

Sometimes I wonder. It has been almost a month now, and the search for my daughter has ceased completely. The Council members believe she is lost. It is cold when the sun sets, and she was never one to cope with low temperatures.

My God, I speak as if she were dead. But what use is there for false hope and prayers? None. I know this, and my Abbey knows this.

Sometimes I wonder when our sons will carry our stiff bodies down to the old maple tree and bury us side by side, with a third grave for the lost body of Allison. A hole is left where our daughter and her laughter once made the brightness of the sun seem dull.

My Allison.

The Council will be meeting again tomorrow, and I anticipate hours of useless conversation and debate. I do not look forward to the members’ looks of pity and sorrow that I am sure will accompany my presence between them. I do not want comforting hands on my shoulders or motivations to persevere against the tragedy that has befallen my family.

I want my Allison. That is all I ask.

I do not believe I ask for much.

 

Chapter 2

 

“I don’t quite understand what the problem is.”

Deborah Adams sat patiently behind her mother’s desk. Her chestnut hair was tied back in a tight ponytail that was giving her a headache, and her hands were folded in front of her as she tried her best to look professional. She had spent a good hour trying to explain to the parent sitting opposite why his son was not advancing in middle school English.

She had started working at Melington Middle School straight out of college, her position almost a certainty, especially since the principal was her mother. However, she had never relied on that, working harder than most, attempting to preemptively disperse any rumors about why she deserved to be here. She had made friends quickly, had done her best to remain amiable to those who had doubted her and always made sure she was constantly on top of her game.

However, on the rare occasion she would have to call in a parent while her mother was unavailable, holding said meetings in the principal’s office didn’t help much with that.

“Is it a learning disorder?” the man in front of her asked, his face mellow and his eyes searching hers nervously.

She could see he was upset, confused and out of place. The shabby T-shirt and over-faded jeans were a clear indication that life hadn’t been treating him well. Despite Melington’s growth, it was clear that not everyone was benefiting.

“Blake doesn’t have a learning disorder, Mr. Collins,” she said, her voice level and soft, hoping not to spook the man any more than he already was. “His homework was handed in late, he doesn’t participate in class, and when he does hand in work, it’s half-baked.”

The man cast his eyes downwards and sighed heavily. “I know. It hasn’t been easy on him,” he said. “Ever since his mother’s death, we’ve been barely keeping it together.”

Deborah frowned. “I’m so sorry, I had no idea,” she said, making a mental note to ask why that piece of information hadn’t been in the child’s file. Suddenly, little Blake Collins’ dismissal was much more understandable.

“Cancer,” Collins explained, smiling weakly. “It was a long and painful journey for all of us.”

“Have you talked to him about it?” Deborah asked. “I’m sure he’s wrestling with some serious emotions. Maybe he just needs someone to listen.”

“I tried, but he rarely opens up,” came the reply. “He gets that from me, I guess. I just thought that if I gave him enough time and space, he’d come through.”

“I think you should talk to him,” Deborah said, her voice mirroring her empathy. “He’s a smart boy. He just needs to know he isn’t alone.”

Collins nodded and ran a hand through his disheveled hair, scratching the back of his head as he considered Deborah’s words. “I’ll talk to him,” he said. “I just hope it helps.”

Deborah nodded in approval. “I think it will.”

Collins stood up and folded his cap in his hands, smiling nervously as he reached a hand out to Deborah. She took it, shook it firmly and smiled at the man reassuringly. Throughout her career, she had always put her students first, and she quickly made a mental note to keep her eye on Blake and maybe even talk to him herself.

“I appreciate everything you’re doing for him, Miss Adams,” Collins said. “I really do.”

“I’ll do whatever I can to make sure he stays on track.”

Collins nodded, pulled the cap on his head and walked out of the office, softly closing the door behind him as he left.

Deborah slumped back into the chair, quickly loosening the ponytail and running her fingers through her hair, feeling an instant relief race through her. She tossed her glasses onto the desk and gently rubbed her temples, hoping to stop her headache before it turned into an immense throbbing she wouldn’t be able to handle for the rest of the day.

She looked at her watch and noted that her mother wouldn’t be back for at least another hour from the Council meeting. Sighing, she began to rummage through the remaining tasks that had been left for her to deal with.

The intercom on the desk buzzed, and Deborah winced at the static voice of her mother’s secretary. She hated the damn contraption, feeling very nineteen ninety with it sitting there, lights blinking on and off. Her mother might be known for being old school, but this was ridiculous.

“Should I send in the new teacher?” the secretary’s voice sounded annoyed. Deborah grimaced. The elderly woman was one of the few people in Melington Middle School who did not approve of her being there. The fact that Deborah was filling in for her mother was definitely adding to that distaste.

“Give me a minute,” Deborah replied, quickly searching through the files on her desk for the one with the new teacher’s CV.

The school had been short staffed for a while now, and Deborah had seen several men and women come and go as Principal Adams interviewed them, mostly unsatisfied with the applicants. At one point, Deborah had been forced to remind her mother that this wasn’t an Ivy League, and the longer it took for them to hire someone, the more restless the rest of the staff would become.

“There’s still a lot left on the agenda, and Principal Adams left strict instructions that everything was to be done before she returned.”

Deborah wanted to go out there and slap the woman.

“Fine, send him in,” she said, quickly tying her hair back to the screaming dissatisfaction of her scalp. She scanned the files again, replaced her glasses, and almost immediately found the application file in the midst of the others.

There was a light rap on the door. Deborah barely had enough time to rearrange the desk before the new applicant stepped in. She tried to catch his name, but when she looked up, she quickly realized that she didn’t need to.

The man in front of her looked like he had just stepped out of a GQ photo shoot. He was dressed smartly in a blazer and dark jeans, his white shirt buttoned to the top where a navy tie that matched his blazer hung loosely around his neck. It was apparent that he had no idea how to tie it, and it gave him a charming, boy-next-door look that would have made him stand out in any crowd. His hair was jet-black, but Deborah knew it was dyed.

It was the scar directly below his jaw that gave him away.

Deborah smiled widely, moving around the desk as her childhood friend walked up to her and hugged her. A small laugh escaped her, and she did her best to hold back her tears.

“Hi, Debbie,” the man whispered, and Deborah pressed him closer to her.

She had never thought she would see Alan Carter again.

 

***

 

Alan couldn’t stop smiling.

He had been anxious walking into the school. He had hardly recognized the place. The walls were lined with the faces of alumni and founding family members he barely recognized, an extra couple of wings had been added to the already immense maze of corridors, and classes that he had once been able to find with his eyes closed had been shifted and changed. It had been like stepping into a completely different school.

Alan had hoped to bump into the least number of people he knew as possible during the first couple of days, making sure that he took his return to Melington slow. But, the way the town had grown, he had quickly found that that wouldn’t be a problem. After having finished a few quick errands before his interview without any incidence, he had begun to long for a familiar face.

“Twenty years on the dot,” Deborah Adams smiled, the girl from his childhood hardly recognizable.

She was a strict reminder of how much the people he had once known must have changed. If he had ever come across Deborah anywhere else, he might have dismissed the woman for a stranger. Looking at her now, the blues of her eyes as piercing as he remembered, he couldn’t help but feel nostalgic.

“A long time,” Alan replied.

“That’s an understatement, Carter,” Deborah chuckled. “Where the hell have you been? No letters, no calls. It’s the twenty first century. Don’t you have Facebook?”

Alan laughed, instantly feeling at home as Deborah’s friendly reprimand a reminded him of their innocent childhood squabbles. Growing up right next door, he couldn’t remember anyone he had spent more time with. Besides his sister, of course.

But no one wanted to remember his sister.

“I’ve been a little off the grid, I admit,” Alan apologized. “I did try to reach out a couple of years back, but that lead to nothing.”

“Are you back in the old place?” Deborah asked.

Alan nodded. “So much has changed, though. I hardly recognize the neighborhood.”

“You’re living in one the more down-trodden parts of town now,” Deborah smiled. “Everyone we know has either moved away or found a house in one of those new compounds.”

“I noticed,” Alan said with a smirk. Deborah’s old house was now occupied by a burly man in the habit of throwing beer cans into his front yard and staring out at everyone, daring them to protest. Alan had avoided him like the plague ever since he had returned.

“If you ever think of selling, let me know,” Deborah offered. “I know a great real estate agent.”

Alan shook his head. “I think I’ll pass,” he smiled. “Too many memories. Don’t want to give that up just yet.”

“Are you sure?” Deborah asked, a hint of concern creeping into her voice.

Alan immediately knew what she meant. She had been the one person closest to him after what had happened twenty years ago, his only true support when his mother had been unavailable and his father had been busy raising hell. She had been by his side until the very end, during the interrogations and the searches, the media frenzy and relentless reporters. She had stood quietly by his side, holding his hand as they had watched the movers empty the house. He remembered how she had shuddered when his father had called for him, how her hand had gripped his tighter as if she could stop him from leaving.

It had been a bitter escape from Melington.

“That was twenty years ago,” Alan assured her. “I’m over that now.”

Deborah eyed him before smiling and nodding. Still, she didn’t look too convinced.

“So, you’re principal?” Alan asked, quickly changing subjects.

Deborah laughed and shook her head. “Mom still runs the place,” she said. “I’m just filling in today.”

Alan raised an eyebrow and smirked. “So, my interview is with you?” he asked.

Deborah gave him a wicked smile. “You got that right, Carter,” she said, “and I can assure you, I’m not easily impressed.”

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. September 20th, 1826.

 

The nights are becoming much colder. This winter will be harsh. I have taken it upon myself to see to the regular tasks Abbey has usually been responsible for. The boys are still young, their bodies have not yet become accustomed to the cold.

Abbey has still not said a word. She sits quietly in her chair, and I worry for her health. I met with the doctor and asked him about this, but have returned with the same level of understanding of her condition as when I had left. No one can satisfyingly explain to me what my wife is going through, other than the obvious heart break she must be enduring.

I have been spending more time by her side, coaxing the boys to play in front of the house where she can see them. I hope that she might soon realize that, despite the loss of our dear daughter, she still has two wonderful sons who need their mother. She still has a husband who needs his wife.

I find myself crying sometimes. It is hard dealing with loss in the midst of my wife’s distance. I have a new-found respect for her and the burden she has had to bear all these years without complaints.

I have tried to persuade her into retiring early just after dusk, to save her from the agony of the cold and the wind. She will not move.

I have resorted to covering her with a blanket as soon as the temperatures drop, so she is at least, warm… I fear that I have not only lost my daughter, but my wife as well.

The Council seeks to meet again within the next few days. Our last meeting was fruitless, and my fear that everyone would focus on me and my loss had come to be. I cannot go through another hour of the same.

I still look out window every night. I wish for the small figure of my dear Allison to materialize through the trees and come running home, as if she had only been lost and had finally found her way back.

I pray.

 

Chapter 3

 

Principal Rachel Adams sat quietly in the small study, a room that had been reserved for private meetings with the Chairman. She shifted in her seat, constantly looking at the time and cursing the fact that she had been waiting for almost half an hour. She was accustomed to a certain level of respect, and was always annoyed when she was treated with any less. She was not a woman who liked to be kept waiting.

The door to the study opened and Chairman Daniel Cole stepped in, flashing Rachel his best political smile. He opened his arms wide in anticipation as he confidently made his way to her. Rachel stood up quickly, scowling at the man and raising a hand to stop his advance.

“This is ridiculous, Daniel,” she spat. “I have obligations, you know. I can’t waste time playing games with you.”

Daniel’s smile didn’t falter. “Rachel, I assure you, if I could have been here sooner, I would have.”

Rachel scoffed and sat back down. “Let’s just get this over with.”

“Do you have somewhere to be?” Daniel asked, walking to a small mini-bar and setting two cups out. He grabbed a bottle of whiskey and poured a shot into each, taking one back to Rachel.

“Unless you’ve forgotten, I have a school to run,” Rachel replied, taking the drink and putting it on the small table beside her without even looking at it.

Daniel smiled, raising his glass in a mock toast before downing his own drink and replacing his cup at the bar.

“What do you have for me?” he asked, immediately taking on a more serious tone as he sat in the chair behind his desk.

Rachel opened her bag, pulling a file out and tossing it in front of the Chairman. Daniel raised his eyebrows and tapped the file with a long finger.

“Does anyone know about this yet?” he asked.

“Do I look like I’m an idiot?” Rachel asked, infuriated that he would even ask. “We all know the rules.”

“You haven’t even talked to the Sheriff?” Daniel asked. “I know the two of you are close.”

Rachel eyed Daniel Cole, imagining her hand around his tie and suffocating him in his seat. She hated the way he talked down to her, as if she were his subordinate. She wanted to remind him who had put him in his chair, but decided against it.

“It isn’t my place to tell the Sheriff,” Rachel said, reluctantly accepting the hit to her ego. “That’s your job, isn’t it?”

Daniel smiled. “I just wanted to make sure we all remembered our places in this matter.” He slid the file closer to him and opened it, looking at the sheets of paper within that Rachel had spent the last few weeks compiling.

“The boy’s name is Blake Collins,” Rachel said. “They’re new to Melington. Mother’s dead, father’s as useless as they come. I had my secretary call the garage he works at. Apparently he’s one mistake away from being fired.”

Daniel nodded. “We wouldn’t want that to happen, now would we?” his voice was low, menacing, enough to make even Rachel shudder. “We should make sure Mr. Collins hands in his resignation with dignity and finds his fortune somewhere else, don’t you think?”

“I don’t think about these things,” Rachel said. “You know my conditions. I don’t want to know anything more than what I have to.”

Daniel nodded quickly and gave her an annoyed wave. “Relatives?” he asked, sifting through the papers.

“Don’t worry,” Rachel said, standing up. “He won’t be missed.”

Daniel Cole watched her adjust the purse on her shoulder, her tall frame and curves accentuated by the two-piece suit she was wearing. Rachel could see his eyes undressing her, and immediately felt her stomach turn. She couldn’t understand how his wife tolerated him.

“If that’s all, I have more important matters to attend to,” Rachel said.

Daniel’s eyes found hers and held them. “Nothing is more important than this,” he said. “That is, as long as you hope to have grandchildren, Rachel.”

Rachel smirked. “I think you’re more worried about your own than any of our children, Daniel.” She turned and walked to the door, opening it slightly before stopping and turning to look at the man behind the desk.

“Alan Carter is back,” she said.

Daniel’s head snapped up from the file. “What?”

Rachel nodded with a smile, amused at how worried Daniel Cole suddenly looked. “He’s applied as an English teacher at the school.”

Daniel sat back and looked at the woman, frowning in confusion. “What are you going to do?” he asked.

Rachel shrugged. “That’s Deborah’s decision,” she said, knowing well what the outcome of the interview would be. It was one of the reasons she hadn’t wanted to be involved with Alan Carter’s application. She didn’t want the Council members blaming her for the man’s return to Melington.

“That was not a very wise decision.”

“I can’t imagine why?” Rachel asked, playing the fool and adding to Daniel’s discomfort. “I wonder if he’s anything like his father. What do you think Alan would do if he figured out the truth?”

“What happened was necessary,” Daniel said, his voice firm, as if trying to convince himself rather than her.

Rachel hesitated. “We’re all going to Hell for this,” she said. “You know that, right?”

“The sins of the fathers,” Daniel said. “This isn’t our doing.”

“Whatever helps you sleep at night, Daniel.”

Rachel walked out and slammed the study door behind her.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. September 23rd, 1826.

 

Another child has gone missing.

I cannot express how much this disturbs me. My heart goes out to the child’s family, for only I and my own can truly understand how they must feel right now. It is a terrible tragedy. One that is inexcusable.

I am angered beyond all explanation. My hands shake as I write, my words illegible even to my eyes. It is now that I truly believe my Allison was taken forcefully, against her will. I imagine her screaming and kicking against her captor, and my hands ache to reach out and fight for her.

The Council gathered today to discuss search efforts, again resorting to petty strategies of little consequence. I feel that these meetings are only held to count heads and make sure everyone still recognizes the authority of everyone else. I have seen the look on the faces of many, though, and it is not the placid looks of men and women who will let this atrocity go unpunished. There are already rumors of who is responsible, names resounding between circles of hushed conversation as town members speculate the perpetrator’s identity.

Two missing children in one season, and on the same day of the month. I must admit there is much doubt that this is a coincidence.

I have warned the boys to stay near the house, forbidding them from venturing far without me. They have not taken it well, their favorite spot being the lake two miles west of our lands. But a man must do what he feels necessary to protect his family. Their cries of protest fall on deaf ears, and I have threatened them with the belt if they disobey.

My Abbey cried today. I believe it is a sign that she is recovering from her ailment, albeit slowly. I have vowed to stand by her side on her journey to recovery, and I will keep my vows. She is greatly missed. I will do all I can to assure her of my presence and love.

I pray these days end well.

Chapter 4

 

Night came quickly in Melington during September, and the careless could easily find themselves caught in the cold bursts of wind that usually accompanied the darkness. People would escape indoors where the warmth provided shelter from the fingers of cold that always found a way through whatever they were wearing.

Alan feared the dark, enough to force him to turn on every light in the house, his discomfort quickly giving way to the coziness he felt in the warm glow. He made his way into the kitchen, instinctively turning on the kettle as he continued into the garage.

The movers had come earlier than he had expected, his roommate back in Maine having been tasked with making sure that the rest of his things were sent after he had arrived at Melington.

Alan stood pensively in the small garage, satisfied that everything had been sent safely, unsure as to how he would go about turning the garage into his workstation. His father’s old work table was still pushed to one side, random tools he had deemed unworthy left lying on top and collecting dust.

It was late, and he toyed with the idea of postponing the work for another day, but he knew he would sleep terribly knowing that the boxes were in the garage, untouched. He rolled up his sleeves, took in a deep breath and went to work.

Alan moved his father’s work table to the center of the garage, using it as his point of operations as he lifted one box after the other and looked inside. The most important ones he piled to one side, while those he believed he could tackle later were pushed to the very back. He went to work removing the shelves off one of the walls, clearing it of nails and pegs, readying it for what he had to do next.

When he was satisfied, he returned to the kitchen, poured himself a cup of coffee and ventured back. He stared at the empty wall as he drank, his eyes imagining the final look of it, drawing imaginary lines across where he would be spending the next few hours working.

He grabbed the first of the many boxes, lifting it onto the table and quickly emptying its contents. Volumes of files found their place to one side, and were quickly accompanied by more as Alan worked through one box after the other. When there was no longer any space left on the table, Alan sat on the floor and surrounded himself with more stacks and piles of files.

After almost an hour, he had emptied all twenty boxes he had labeled ‘research,’ the files surrounding him looking like a temp’s worst nightmare. The sheer volume of them was enough to make anyone anxious, but Alan knew them inside out. He had stared at every sheet of paper inside those files for hours on end, trying to make sense of their contents, find a clue he had missed or connect one to the other.

Going through them now would be child’s play.

He grabbed the first batch, each one with a white tag stuck to a corner over which a name had been written. He took the first, opening and emptying its contents in the little space he had left empty on the table for solely that purpose. A picture of a smiling blonde girl not much older than eight, stared back at him. He instinctively found himself smiling back, whispering the girl’s name from memory as he tears filled his eyes.

Alan looked over at the wall and mentally framed a spot in the top left corner. He grabbed the step ladder and set it up, carrying with him the staple gun and file contents from the table. He placed the girl’s picture right in the center of its designated spot and stapled it in place. He looked at the picture, lost for a few seconds in her innocence and the brightness in her eyes that came with a child’s idea that the world was perfect and safe.

A tear fell from his eye, and he quickly brushed it away. Within seconds he had stapled the rest of the contents around the girl’s picture, and was down the ladder and at his workstation emptying out the next of many files.

He repeated what he had done with the little girl, this time a ten-year-old boy with brown locks and braces, smiling at the camera eagerly. He whispered the boy’s name, his eyes closed, as if in greeting, and added him to the wall.

By the tenth file, Alan was working on auto-pilot, having had found a comfortable momentum that left little room for thoughts about the many children whose pictures he was hanging up.

After nearly two hours, sweaty and tired, hands grim with dirt and hair unkempt, Alan stepped back and gazed upon his handiwork. He took in the tapestry of colorful pictures, graying paper and yellow clippings. He stared up at the faces of over seventy children, and they stared back at him, their smiles disarming and their eyes glowing.

Alan felt his entire body begin to shake. He fell to his knees, hugging himself as the emotions he had kept bottled up since his return rushed through.

***

 

Deborah Adams felt an ache in her chest.

It came suddenly, as if she had unknowingly been stabbed, but from within. She could almost feel the pain reaching out from inside her, threatening to break free, tearing through her chest and escaping into the world to find another victim.

She dropped the plate she had been cleaning into the sink, her soapy hand reaching up to where she felt the unfamiliar stabbing. She pressed the palm of her hand hard against it and rubbed. She winced as the stabbing turned into throbbing, as if the pain’s potency were linked to her heartbeat, more and more vigorous with every passing second.

Then, just as quickly as it had started, the pain subsided.

Deborah took in a deep breath, exhaling slowly as she fought through the sudden dizziness in her head. Her mind raced for a plausible explanation for what had just happened, a feeling she had never experienced before, and its strangeness, puzzling.

She pondered whether or not to continue with the dishes, then decided that she had better sit down. She walked out of the kitchen, trudging down the small hall into her living room where the sound of the television was beckoning.

Michael Cole sat on the couch, head laid back and eyes closed as he snored. Deborah reached down, turned off the television and tossed the remote into the man’s lap, scaring him awake.

“I was watching that,” he said, an automatic comment that sounded ridiculous coupled with his blinking eyes and yawn.

“You were watching Glee?” Deborah asked, sitting down slowly in the La-Z-Boy by the coffee table.

“Was that what was on?”

Deborah nodded and winced when a small sharp pain stabbed out and instantly disappeared, reminding her that it was still lurking around.

“Are you okay?” Michael asked.

“I don’t know,” Deborah replied. “I think so.”

Michael nodded, grabbed the remote and turned the television back on.

That’s it? Deborah thought. That’s all I get?

She had started dating Michael Cole two years back, much to the dismay of her mother, who had no love for the Chairman, let alone his son. He had been charming and exciting, a real mystery who had instantly grabbed her attention, and she had fallen for him quickly.

During their first six months together, he had held up the charade well enough, making sure she had seen nothing of the other side of him. Her mother had warned her about the Coles, telling her that she couldn’t trust any of them, let alone sleep with them. It was like playing with fire, her mother had said.

Over time, Michael’s visage slowly dropped and Deborah began to notice how similar he was to his father. She had sworn to end it months ago, but she had never fully been able to bring herself to do it. Somehow she had grown comfortable having someone in her life that cared about her, other than her mother. She’d forgotten what it felt like to really be close to someone since, well, Alan Carter.

Her mind instantly went to Alan and his interview. She couldn’t remember what they had talked about, only the complete ease and comfort she had felt being around him again. It was as if she had been missing a part of her for so long and had finally found it.

She looked forward to seeing him every day, talking to him, catching up on twenty years of stories and experiences.

Deborah suddenly felt a rush of adrenaline, instantly excited at the prospect of Alan in her life again.

It was going to be a wonderful year.

 

***

 

Blake Collins hated the dark.

He had never been bothered by it before, but ever since his mother’s death, it had become a suffocating nothingness that he couldn’t bear. He pictured his mother, dead, eyes closed forever in an eternal darkness, never able to wake up. It scared him, terrified him, and he didn’t even want to imagine what that must be like.

That was why, when the small night light beside the door flickered and went off, he was instantly sitting up in bed. The wind outside had picked up, and through the window he could see the dark figures of autumn leaves dancing, their beautiful morning colors replaced by a dark gray that appeared and disappeared as they raced below the streetlights.

The light that came in through the window threw shadows across the walls, grotesque shapes he had learned long ago were harmless, although he had never been convinced of that. The rest of the room seemed like a dark void, black and forlorn, and as he waited for his eyes to adjust, he heard a tapping coming from the shadows.

“Dad!” he called out, unwilling to get out of bed. The bedroom door was across the room, in the darkness, and he wouldn’t be caught dead walking into that.

“Dad!” he called out again, concentrating to hear for any sign of his father’s approach.

The tapping came again, and Blake’s head quickly snapped to the window, hoping it was a branch against the glass. There was nothing there, though, and when the tapping continued, he immediately knew its source.

Blake’s eyes fell on the closet door. He could feel his skin crawl, and his breathing quickened. The tapping was coming from behind the closet door, and he quickly tried to convince himself that it was nothing more than his imagination playing tricks on him.

The tapping didn’t stop, coming harder, more confident, as if whoever was behind the closet door was actually asking for permission to come in. Blake looked over at the bedroom door, the uninviting darkness, and then back at the closet. He was frozen in place, unable to think clearly, completely forgetting about his father and whether or not he was coming to save him.

Blake’s eyes widened as he watched the closet door creak open, slowly, and a hand reach out from inside and grasp the edge as it pushed it all the way. His heart instantly jumped into his throat and his body began to shake, the tremors racing through him like wildfire. He felt something warm spread out from where he sat, and a part of his mind, the part that had decided that what was happening right now was just a dream, wondered what his father would say about his wetting the bed.

The closet door swung open completely, creaking outwards, and from the darkness within came a soft chuckle. The voice that followed was harsh and raspy, reminding Blake of the sound teeth grinding against each other made.

“We are going to have so much fun.”

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. September 28th, 1826.

 

The boy has not been found.

The search continues, of course, but I already know he will not be found. We have searched the entire woods surrounding the town, and have even called upon the help of neighboring towns, all of whom were more than willing to assist in our efforts. I have met many strangers who have shown valor in their perseverance, fighting through the harsh cold nights alongside the rest of us, some even willing to continue until dawn.

It is clear what needs to be done, and the Council has voted to carry out a thorough investigation of the matter. A rider was sent to bring word to the proper officials in Hartford, but we will not wait for word upon his return.

Chairman Cole has already begun the proper process, and has singled out the men and women we were certain could not have committed such an atrocity. Both children belonged to founding families, and it is quite obvious that no member in said families would commit such a crime.

There are a few men and women that are new to Melington, some only months in our midst, their past still unknown. I have been tasked to speak with a few, and I have vowed to take this responsibility very seriously. If there is, in any way, an opportunity to retrieve any information vital in our efforts, I will find it and use it to the best of my abilities.

Four names have been assigned to me, and as I read through them, I realize that I know very little about them. It is strange how Melington has suddenly become home to strangers. If my mother were still alive, she would have chastised me for my unholy behavior. She had been the one in our family prone to gathering families together and forming a community out of Melington beyond the chairs of the Council.

Abbey was much like her, and I am certain that if she were of full health, she would have taken to this task with more vigor than I could ever muster.

I spent the afternoon training the boys on some of the more important tasks on the farm that have usually been my responsibility. With Abbey lost to us, the added burdens that I have to bear have taken their toll on me, and I need as much assistance as I can muster. I have been advised to hire a helping hand, but I do not have the finances for such a solution.

Tomorrow I will begin my inquiries, and I pray they are fruitful.

 

Chapter 5

 

The first thing Deborah noticed when she walked into her science class was the empty desk near the back usually occupied by a half-interested Blake Collins. She felt a slight tug in her chest, a feeling that bordered on uneasiness, and she quickly pushed it aside as she began her lesson.

She had hoped for a little one on one with the boy today, but apparently that would have to wait. She worried about what his current absence might mean. She hoped his father had talked to him, had maybe even given him a chance to take a day off and wrestle with a few emotions, but deep down she had a feeling that there was more to it than that.

She wrapped up her class quickly, her eyes constantly looking over at the empty desk, and had even ventured asking a few of his classmates about him. No one had known anything, and what had been worse was that no one seemed to really care. Deborah beat herself up for not noticing it sooner. The boy had obviously been having trouble among his peers as well.

When the bell rang, Deborah sat at her desk quietly, lost in thought, as her students filed out one by one, leaving their homework sheets in the tray marked ‘inbox’. She smiled at a few of the more lively ones, the ones who were usually quick to raise their hand and answer her questions, but she couldn’t stop staring at Blake’s seat.

When the last student had exited, she collected her things, threw the homework sheets in between the pages of her textbook and made her way out. She had a couple of hours in between classes, and her mother would be expecting a proper update on yesterday’s happenings.

Rachel Adams had come back from the Council meeting looking more distraught than usual, and for the first time in years, Deborah had actually seen the exhaustion clearly on her mother’s face. She usually looked like she was carrying a heavy burden, but Deborah had always assumed that the worry came with the job. After yesterday, she couldn’t be too sure. She was thinking of convincing her mother to step down from the Council and concentrate on the school.

But, knowing Rachel Adams, Deborah was certain what the response would be.

She made her way down the school halls, smiling politely at fellow teachers as they passed by her, coaxing students to their classes, and gently pushing her way into the principal’s office. The secretary gave her only a quick look before going back to the computer and typing away like her life depended on it. Deborah could feel the displeasure from across the room.

“Is she in?” Deborah asked.

“She’s always in,” the secretary replied curtly, waving for her to enter with one hand while the other continued the incessant tapping.

Deborah knocked twice on Rachel Adams’ door before letting herself in to the usual image of her mother sitting behind her large desk with her phone to her ear while going through papers. Rachel looked up at Deborah and waved her to the chair in front of the desk as she ended her call.

“I can’t get a break,” the older woman said, taking off her glasses and massaging her temples softly, a habit Deborah had inherited.

“Council again?”

Rachel clicked her tongue and replaced her glasses, looking over the papers in her hands quickly before piling them up to one side for later review. She looked at Deborah earnestly, a small smile appearing on her face that wasn’t fooling anyone as she crossed her fingers together and leaned forward.

“I see Alan Carter’s first day is today,” the older woman said, a hint of amusement in her voice.

Deborah smiled sheepishly. “He’s got the proper credentials, and the experience,” she said in defense.

“And of course it didn’t hurt that his oldest friend was interviewing him for the job,” Rachel added, tapping a finger lightly on Alan’s file. “Maybe I should have him in here for a second interview, just to make sure?”

“Really?” Deborah mused, raising an eyebrow at her mother and smirking. “You’d undermine a decision made by someone you personally chose to be in charge while you were away. How would that look?”

“For me or you?”

“Both,” Deborah played along, knowing well that her mother was only teasing her. She knew that Rachel had always had a soft spot for Alan Carter, even if she was reluctant to show it. “It was a sound decision.”

Rachel sat back and crossed her hands over her stomach, observing her daughter carefully. “So, how is Alan?”

“Different,” Deborah said. “Obviously.”

“The boy I knew had a way about him that attracted everyone. Including you.”

“He hasn’t lost that,” Deborah said with a smile. “That I can assure you.”

“So I can expect a lot of class visits?”

“It’s part of my job,” Deborah said.

“No, it isn’t,” Rachel smiled back, “but I can make it part of your job, if you’d like.”

Deborah braced herself against what was coming. For the past two years, her mother had been desperately trying to groom her to take over. She had given her countless odd jobs that would have normally been only the principal’s duties, and she had reluctantly agreed to them because the older woman seemed like she had really needed the help. Deborah could see that the years were taking their toll on her mother, but it still felt off.

“I’m fine where I am,” Deborah said, knowing that that was the last thing her mother would want to hear.

Rachel Adams sighed and leaned forward again, opening Alan’s folder and scanning the CV on the top of the rest of his paperwork.

“We’ve declined better teachers, Debbie,” Rachel said. “We both know that. This is an exception I was willing to make just for you. I want you to reconsider what I’m offering here.”

“It’s not right,” Deborah argued for the hundredth time. “No one would respect me the way they do you, and even less so when they get the feeling that I got the job because my mother sits on the Council.”

“They thought the same thing when I hired you,” Rachel returned with frustration, “and you have proven beyond a doubt that you can hold your own. Respect will come.”

“Being a teacher is different than being a principal,” Deborah said. “Mom, there are better people qualified to do the job. Consider their feelings.”

“I don’t give a rat’s ass about their feelings,” Rachel yelled, slamming her hand against her desk. Her face had suddenly furrowed into a deep scowl that looked nothing like her mother, and Deborah winced as the older woman stared at her. For a split second, she couldn’t recognize the woman behind the desk.

Rachel shook her head quickly, waving her hands in the air as if dispelling the burst of anger that filled the space around her. She closed her eyes, took in a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

“This is becoming a little too much for you,” Deborah said, still in shock from her mother’s outburst. “You need rest.”

“I’ll get that when I retire,” Rachel said.

“Then why don’t you?” Deborah asked, leaning forward, feeling like she had finally been offered the opportunity to speak some sense into her mother. “You don’t have to put up with the stress of it all. I mean, sitting at home and relaxing, or dealing with Council and school issues day in and day out? It’s not a very hard decision.”

“It would be an easier decision to take if I were sure I was leaving someone capable behind to take my place,” Rachel said.

Deborah sat back, suddenly angry that her mother had found another way to turn the tables on her. “You can’t blame me for this,” she said, the tone of her voice leveled as she tried to control her temper.

Rachel looked at her and sighed as she realized that any more discussions on the matter would lead to nothing. “I don’t blame you,” she assured her daughter. “You’ll be carrying this burden soon enough. You might have a choice when it comes to running the school, but not your seat in the Council. You’ll wish you had taken this job.”

“I don’t want the Council seat, either,” Rachel said.

“There has been an Adams in that Council since Melington came into existence. We’re a founding family, Deborah, and that is something you cannot run away from. It comes with responsibilities you will bear whether you choose to or not.”

Deborah hated discussing the future with her mother, the town and its Council were always top priorities when it came to what was expected of her. Deborah sometimes felt that the only reason her mother had brought her back to Melington was to make sure she continued the family legacy. It annoyed her that Rachel couldn’t see her for who she was, without the last name that hung over her like a bleak shroud.

“Let’s leave the monarchy to the Coles,” Deborah finally said, knowing that there was no love between her mother and the Council Chairman.

Rachel scoffed. “The day the Coles are left to do as they please is the day this town will burn to the ground,” the older woman mused, her voice trailing as if she were talking to herself. “They’ve done enough damage.”

“You seem to be the only one who feels that way,” Deborah countered.

Rachel Adams looked at her daughter, a soft and sorrowful look, almost as if she pitied her. “The sins of the fathers,” she whispered. “Deborah, you might not believe in all this, or in the importance of what the Council stands for, even more than just some legislative body. There’s a lot about Melington you still need to discover for yourself. When that day comes, when you finally see this town for what it really is, I assure you, your world will change forever.”

Deborah leaned forward. “Then why do that to me?” she asked. “If it’s that daunting, that terrible, why do you want me to be a part of it, mother?”

“We don’t choose our places in life, Deborah,” Rachel said. “Free will is a myth.”

Deborah eyed her mother earnestly, unable to believe what she was hearing. This was the first time she had ever seen Rachel this solemn, this negative, as if she had given up on the world and had decided to roll over and die.

“Blake Collins wasn’t in today,” Deborah said, changing subjects. “His father was here yesterday discussing his progress, and he had promised to talk to his son. I’d like to call him at home and make sure everything’s okay.”

“Collins withdrew his son’s file this morning,” Rachel said.

“What?” Deborah was utterly surprised. She had not expected that from Blake’s father after their last meeting. “Why?”

“I was going to ask you,” Rachel said. “You were the one who had talked to him last.”

“That makes no sense,” Deborah said, shaking her head slowly.

“The man seemed rather distraught, said the family wasn’t doing very well in Melington and was going to try his luck elsewhere.” Rachel frowned at Deborah, worried at how much the news disturbed her. “Families come and go, Debbie. It’s part of the job.”

“I know,” Deborah said, her frown deepening as she looked down at her feet. “It’s just, I didn’t expect it.”

Deborah suddenly understood why she had felt that small sense of anxiety when she had seen Blake’s empty desk. She had feared the worst, and although she now knew that nothing serious had happened to the boy, she still felt like she had somehow let him down. If only she had paid better attention, noticed the signs earlier, maybe she could have stopped this.

“You worry too much, sweetheart,” Rachel said, as if reading Deborah’s mind. “Besides, after looking at his file, I assume you’re better off. He seems to have been causing more trouble than was necessary.”

“His mother’s dead,” Deborah whispered, almost in a daze.

“Every child has a story,” Rachel replied, nonchalantly, her blasé tone of voice forcing Deborah to look up in utter confusion. Her mother’s lack of empathy always seemed to surprise her. It was scary how suddenly Rachel Adams could switch between a tired old woman who worried about the future of Melington, to the cold-hearted principal who ran the school with an iron fist. If that’s what it took to be the woman she was, then Deborah didn’t want anything to do with it.

“We’ll talk more about it later,” Rachel said, reaching for the stack of papers she had pushed aside earlier. “Get back to class and think about my offer, seriously this time. I want a definite answer tonight.”

Deborah got up, adjusting her purse on her shoulder and giving her mother one last look of disbelief before she turned and left.

 

***

 

Alan Carter sat alone.

He occupied the top bench of a set of bleachers that lined the Melington Middle School’s baseball field, silently eating his sandwich as he watched the school’s baseball team running drills. It was calming, and he found himself instantly drawn back to images of the pictures on his wall. The faces of the missing children mixed with those of the ones now alive and well, laughing as they tossed their baseballs back and forth, and Alan immediately felt his fists clench in anger.

He had come back to Melington for one purpose only, a goal that had kept him driven for the past years when everyone believed he was crazy and had tossed him back and forth as they picked his mind, trying to figure out what was wrong with him. In the end, he had gotten what he wanted; freedom from the endless questions, the disapproving looks of doctors who sat behind large desks and gazed upon him as if he were a specimen in a lab.

In the end, he had found his way back to where it had all started.

Alan crumpled up the small plastic bag he had kept his lunch in and pocketed it, standing up and stretching before looking at his watch. He needed to get back to class. He didn’t want people talking about him on his first day, fully intent on keeping as low a profile as possible until he could figure out what had really happened twenty years ago.

Maybe if he did, the dreams would stop.

Alan made his way down the benches, his eyes downcast as he made sure he didn’t slip into the spaces between the bleachers. He couldn’t understand why these hadn’t been changed for something safer, but decided that it wasn’t the time or place to start a fuss.

Low profile. He would do well to remember that.

“I thought you might be here.”

Alan looked up as Deborah Adams made her way towards him, hands behind her back, returning his smile with one of her own. She looked stunning when she wasn’t sitting behind a massive desk pretending to play boss. She tilted her head a bit to the side, looking past him at the baseball field.

“Still dreaming of a home run, Alan Carter?”

Alan chuckled, remembering the many times he had tried to convince everyone that he would be the next Babe Ruth. He shook his head and looked back over his shoulder.

“Just trying to figure out who would take my dreams and run with them,” he said.

“It’s never too late to try,” Deborah teased, clasping her hands together and swinging them as if she were holding a bat. “And the crowd goes wild!”

“You’re still goofy, you know that?” Alan laughed.

“The only one who ever believed that Babe Ruth nonsense,” she said, laughing along with him. “I can’t believe how gullible I was back then.”

“Well, I can assure, it’s all realism from here on out,” Alan said.

Deborah squinted at him and clicked her tongue. “I don’t believe it,” she said. “Alan Carter is never dull.”

“Just a boring thirty two year-old trying to teach middle school English,” Alan assured her, hoping his smile was genuine enough.

Deborah shrugged, obviously not buying it, and looked back at the school building. “So, how was your first day?” she asked. “Any problems?”

“Who’s asking, you or Principal Adams?” Alan smirked.

“Both,” Deborah said, turning back to him. “Need to make sure I made the right choice.”

Alan laughed at that. “Don’t worry, you’re fine. It went pretty well, actually.”

“That’s good to know.”

“You?”

“Lost a student, actually,” Deborah said, hoping he couldn’t see past her smile at how uncomfortable the notion made her. “Dropped out this morning.”

Alan’s body tensed, but he tried to keep his cool. “Really? What happened?”

“His father pulled his papers,” Deborah said. “Apparently, Melington isn’t cut out for the family.”

“They left?”

Deborah shrugged. “I guess so,” she said. “I didn’t bother to check and see.”

“Why not?”

Deborah thought about the question and realized that she couldn’t come up with a proper answer. Alan could sense her uneasiness, and immediately knew that he had to change the subject. He couldn’t, though. This was important.

“What’s his name?” he asked.

“Blake,” Deborah answered, letting the name roll off her tongue as if the boy had died instead of just moved on. “Blake Collins.”

“Well, then here’s to Blake Collins,” Alan said, raising a hand in the air as if he were holding a glass in his hand. “May the Gods smile down on him wherever he may go.”

Deborah chuckled and playfully punched Alan in the shoulder. “Now who’s goofy?”

Alan laughed along with her, but in the back of his mind, he was already working out what he had to do next.

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. September 29th, 1826.

 

It has been a long day, and I regrettably sit at my desk tonight with a sad and heavy heart. I am full of a deep feeling of frustration, one that sickens me and weighs heavy on my soul. I feel incompetent, unable to properly fulfill my task as investigator, my first meeting a complete failure.

The boys have been able to keep up with the work on the farm as best they could in my absence, although it would have been preferable had Abbey been more lucid. I have returned to find most of the work complete, but can foresee trouble ahead if this continues. There is still much to do, and I believe tomorrow I will have to concentrate on my duties at home to make up for today.

I spent a few hours with the first name on my list, a young couple that had only recently moved to Melington. The husband was familiar to me, a face I have often seen around the fields of other farmers. A hand, he claims to be, and from what I could discern, he was a proud man who believed in hard work. It was hard to even consider him one capable of kidnapping and killing two children.

His wife is equally pleasant, and I must say a fine cook. They invited me to dinner, and I write this only here, where I know Abbey will never see it, but I have never tasted food that delicious in my life.

They shared much of their past with me, how the small home they now inhabit had belonged to an older relative that had recently passed away. I instantly recognized the name, but it took me a few minutes to fully comprehend how the couple was related to him. I would have to bring that up with the Council, especially since it was apparent someone was not doing their job properly. The meeting could have easily been avoided had I been given the proper information.

Needless to say, apart from a lovely dinner, the day had been a waste of time. I still have two more names on my list that I fully intend to visit over the next few days. I do not wish to prolong this investigation more than necessary, especially since my absence from the farm will probably lead to more unfinished chores.

I cannot blame the boys, though. They are doing the best they can.

I have spent very little time with Abbey today, which is quite unlike me, and I pray she does not hold it against me. I have told her all that I had done, omitting only the dinner. I smile thinking that if she had been herself, she would have easily seen through that omission. She has always been able to read right through me, my Abbey.

Although she sits near me and sleeps by my side, I miss her dearly.

 

Chapter 6

 

The night came quickly, dark and forlorn, and as Daniel Cole cruised his BMW into his driveway, he could feel the chill that came with the darkness even through the closed windows of his car.

It had been a long day, one meeting after the other, but his mind had been mostly preoccupied by other things. The sheriff had given him a complete report of the Collins situation, ensuring that everything had been taken care of as planned. It had been the best news of the day, one that Daniel had been waiting anxiously to receive.

He looked into the rearview mirror at the tired eyes that stared back at him, and he felt his muscles slightly relax. The tension was overbearing, and he knew that it was only a matter of time before he would have to make plans for his replacement. His mind wandered to his son, the youngest of his three children, and he instantly felt himself cringe at the thought of that good-for-nothing taking over.

Daniel knew had no choice, though.

He thought about how much it would break his daughters’ hearts if they knew what was required of Melington’s Chairman. It was a secret he had sworn to keep until the day came when he would have to hand the mantle over to his replacement. Daniel felt the burden more and more every day, and despite the Council’s belief, it was not a burden he bore lightly.

Sometimes he felt that he was the only one who understood the importance of what it was he had to do. He replayed his conversation with Rachel Adams, and found himself frustrated at having to deal with her constant badgering and condescending attitude, as if she were doing him a favor rather than saving this town from the evil their forefathers had brought upon it. And now his son was in bed with her daughter, and the mere thought of that made him angrier than anything else he could possibly think of.

Still, the founding families were allies, had been since the start, and it was vital that they all worked together. None of this would be possible without each and every Council member’s role, and despite their feelings towards the matter, they carried out their tasks to the dot.

Daniel switched off the car engine and braced himself against the cold winds that welcomed him as he stepped out of his car. He pulled the collar of his coat up and swiftly crossed to the front door of his house. Fumbling with the keys, he let himself in and quickly announced his arrival.

He knew his wife would be asleep, turning in early as she usually did to avoid having to talk to him. Their relationship had grown strained over the years, especially as they got older and the Council’s demands had increased. It was a growing town, after all, and so much was expected of him as Chairman. If his own family couldn’t understand that, then that was a problem they would have to deal with on their own. He didn’t need to explain himself any more than he needed their approval.

Daniel slipped out of his jacket and hung it neatly in the small coat closet next to the front door. This was a meticulous family, a family who cared about details, and he wouldn’t be caught dead breaking his own rules. Walking noisily into the living room, not caring whether he woke his wife or not, he reached for the bottle of scotch on the small dresser and poured himself a glass.

He had been drinking profusely these days, careful of course to maintain sobriety, albeit more than he was accustomed to. It was one of the many signs of the stress he was under, and he knew that he would have to find a way to control it before turning into the alcoholic his father had become in his later years.

Later. Right now the alcohol was the only thing keeping him sane.

Daniel made his way to the couch, contemplating whether or not to turn the television on. He decided against it, sat down heavily and closed his eyes as he took a sip from his drink. His head was throbbing, and he knew that he would have to take a pill or two to help him sleep later.

The lights of the living room flickered, and Daniel quickly opened his eyes as he felt the air in the room get colder. He felt a sudden flutter in his chest as his heartbeat quickened, his mind registering what was happening a bit too late.

Before Daniel could get up, a hand shot out from under the couch and grabbed his ankle. He dropped the glass in his hand and watched his drink spill all over the couch and carpet underneath, and all he could think about was the nasty argument he would have with his wife in the morning when she saw the stain.

The hand gripped him tighter, squeezing his ankle hard and sending bolts of pain up and down his leg. Daniel sat completely still, knowing that no matter what he did, he would not be able to break free of the grasp, and he clutched onto the armrest until his fingers turned white.

“Carter,” came a raspy voice from underneath the couch.

Daniel could feel the pounding in his chest intensify, as if his heart were trying to break free and race away. He opened his mouth to reply, but nothing came out, only a slight whimper as the hand tightened its hold even more, nails digging into his flesh.

“Carter,” the voice repeated, firmer, urging for a response.

“I know,” Daniel stuttered. “We’re working on it.”

“Work faster.”

Daniel shuddered, the voice sounding like sandpaper rubbing against each other. “It’s not that simple,” he said, his voice low. “It’s more complicated this time.”

“I can’t take him,” the reply came from below. “He would have enjoyed coming with me. His sister enjoyed coming with me. We had so much fun.”

Daniel could sense the chill race down his spine at the mention of the little Carter girl. He wasn’t stupid. He knew what was really being said. He thought about his daughter’s twins, the only two people in the world he truly loved, and his body began to shake uncontrollably.

“Blake Collins had so much fun, too,” the voice cut through his thoughts. “Imagine the fun all the children in Melington could have.”

“Please,” Daniel begged. “Please, I’m going to take care of it.”

“Carter must go.”

Daniel nodded quickly. “I know,” his voice came out in a slight whimper. “I know.”

Suddenly, the hand gripping him let go, and Daniel Cole quickly pulled his feet up from the floor and onto the couch. He tried to control his shaking, his heart drumming against his chest in a torrent of beats that threatened to kill him, his hands cold and white with fear.

Daniel Cole fell asleep on the couch that night, his legs curled up and his feet off the ground where he was sure no hand could reach them.

 

***

 

Alan Carter had learned a lot of useful skills over the years. Most of them had to do with maintaining secrecy, a need he had quickly realized he needed when it had been apparent that being honest and open would get him absolutely nowhere. It had usually taken him a while to get used to most of the skills he would need for what he wanted to accomplish, but in the end, he knew that they would come in handy.

Surprisingly enough, picking a lock had been something he had almost picked up overnight. It had quickly become an important skill he had relied on heavily over the years, and tonight was no exception.

Alan quickly pushed the door to the Collins’ apartment open and stepped into the darkness, locking it behind him. He waited a few seconds, making sure no one had heard him break in, and only turned on the lights when he was satisfied he was in the clear.

The apartment was completely empty.

Alan moved deeper into the apartment, taking off his gloves and pushing them into his back pocket. His eyes gazed upon the emptiness, already sensing that something was very wrong with this picture. He knew that movers worked fast, and it had been more than twenty four hours since anyone had last seen Blake or his father, but Alan couldn’t quite brush off the feeling that there was more to this than met the eye.

For starters, it looked like whoever had helped the Collins move had been incredibly sloppy, as if in a hurry to get everything out. Alan could see several scratch marks in different colors where furniture had obviously scraped the walls. In a few corners the paint had been completely chipped off, and threads from what must have been a carpet clung to breaks between the hardwood floors.

The Collins had definitely been in a hurry, but Alan had no idea why.

He made his way into the kitchen where he immediately saw a broken electric cord still stuck in its socket. Whatever it had been attached to had obviously been forcefully pulled out. Shattered plates littered the floor, and in a corner, soil from an indoor plant had been spilled and kicked about. If Alan hadn’t known better, it looked more like the Collins had been robbed than anything else.

Alan made his way back, following a small hall where nails that had once supported picture frames littered the red-colored wall. Two bedrooms opened into the hall, and beyond that, a bathroom with its door open.

Alan opened the first room, a large space that he assumed had belonged to the father, the shape of a large king-sized bed apparent by the soft dust on the floor. Alan looked about the room from the threshold of the door, knowing that this was not what he had come for.

He immediately turned to the second room, already knowing that it had belonged to Blake before even opening the door. He stepped inside, and instantly felt a heavy weight on his chest, as if an invisible hand were forcefully pushing him out. Alan winced as he staggered inside, pulling out the small camera he had brought with him.

His eyes fell on the open door of a walk-in closet, the space beyond small and uninviting, reminding Alan of a similar closet he had when he was younger. He moved towards it, and almost as if there was another presence in the room, the closet door swung closed with a crash.

Alan stopped in his tracks, his arms breaking out in goose bumps as he stared at the closed door, waiting for something else to happen. When he realized how ridiculous he was being, he marched straight towards it, grabbed the knob and swung it open.

The empty closet greeted him with nothing more than the emptiness inside, and Alan exhaled in relief, only then realizing that he had been holding his breath in. His eyes scanned the small space, searching every corner for anything out of the ordinary, and when it was clear there was nothing to be found, he turned back and closed the closet door behind him.

The house had been cleaned out thoroughly, but Alan could feel that something had lingered. It was in the bedroom air, something slightly out of reach, as if on a different dimensional plane he was unable to perceive. It felt eerie, and he wondered if Blake Collins had felt the same way when he had occupied the room.

Alan quickly brushed off the feeling and began taking pictures, making sure he got everything. He started in the kitchen, photographing the broken cord and dishes, then moved to the living room and hall. His fingers snapped away quickly, taking shots of various angles, making sure he missed nothing. By the time he had returned to Blake’s bedroom, an hour had passed and he could feel the fatigue setting in.

Just this room, he thought. Just this room, and then I’m out of here.

He was just about to reach for the closet door when he heard a cough behind him. Alan turned around quickly and came face to face with a tall blonde in her mid-fifties, the star on her chest glinting in the dim light from the room as she stared at him earnestly. She had her gun aimed at him, and her head tilted to a side as Alan slowly raised his hands in the air.

“You better have a darn good explanation for your being here, Alan Carter,” the Sheriff said.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. September 30th, 1826.

 

This is a most wonderful day indeed.

Abbey has finally broken out of her shell and has spoken.

I admit, I had so gotten used to her silence that at first I mistook her whispers for the blowing of the winds. It has been so long since I’ve heard her soft voice speak to me, and I could not believe it until I was on my knees in front of her, begging her to speak again. The memory of that first moment will forever remain in my mind, her beautiful green eyes staring out into the fields, her soft lips barely apart as her voice came in a whisper through them.

She called for Allison. It was brief at first, my daughter’s name dripping like sweet nectar from her tongue. I cried profusely while I held my Abbey’s cold hands in mine, squeezing them, urging her to speak more. She had fallen silent for only a few minutes, but those minutes seemed like hours to a man who had been given a glimmer of hope just moments before.

When she spoke again, she asked for water, and I remember how desperate I must have sounded calling out for the boys, unable to leave my Abbey’s side, in fear that if I had, she would return to her former state and I would lose her forever.

She cried, for hours on end, her tears torrents on her face. I could not do more to comfort her than be by her side and hold her in my arms as she wept. She called out for Allison again and again, a non-stop chant that broke my heart. Oh, how I wished to see our daughter materialize before us, if just for a moment, to soothe my wife’s aches. I could not have missed my little girl more.

I dug a grave for my Allison today, a small grave by her favorite tree behind the house. I have no body whereby to fill it, yet I feel it was the right thing to do. My Abbey joined me, as did the boys, as I said a silent prayer for my lost child. We bid Allison farewell, once and for all, and that finality has hit me harder than any realization I have ever come across in all my years.

Abbey still cries. I sit here at my desk, as I have for several nights now, and can hear her in the bed behind me, weeping softly. It is a heart wrenching sound that she emits, yet I will not stop her. She mourns our child, and she deserves the comfort that will soon follow. I dare not soothe my wife, for fear that she may relapse into her former state. I will let her cry, as I have, and I will be by her side.

My Abbey has returned to me. That is all that matters.

Chapter 7

 

“It’s the scar that gave you away.”

Sheriff Fiona Bright sat coolly behind her desk, arms folded, and a half-smile on her face. Alan sat quietly in his chair opposite from her, less amused and feeling a slight relief that the precinct had been almost empty when he had been brought in.

Fiona pulled out a pack of cigarettes and offered him one, Alan shaking his head before watching her shrug and light one for herself. Fiona blew smoke out in rings as she sat back and eyed Alan carefully, sizing him up as he put on his best poker face.

“I should book you for the night,” Fiona said, pointing at Alan with her cigarette, “but I won’t. You want to know why?”

Alan shrugged.

“Because I have a feeling you’re going to be honest with me and tell me what you were really doing in that apartment.”

Alan sighed and scratched the back of his head. He had explained on the way here how he had heard about Blake Collins dropping out of school, and had wanted to check up on him to make sure he was alright. He had lied of course, explaining that when he had arrived, the door to the apartment had been unlocked, and he had gone in to investigate.

“Do you know how much of your story makes absolutely no sense?” Fiona asked, her cigarette hanging from the side of her mouth as she fiddled with the statement he had given her.

“I really don’t know what else to tell you, Sheriff,” Alan said. “You can call Deborah Adams and confirm that I had promised her I’d pass by the Collins apartment and check up on the boy.”

Fiona smiled and gave Alan a wink. “Oh, I’m sure she’ll confirm the so-called reason why you were there,” she said. “What I don’t understand is why she wasn’t there with you. I would assume since she’s worried about the boy, she would have at least accompanied you on your hero’s journey.”

“I guess she was busy,” Alan offered.

Fiona nodded, mumbling his reply under her breath in disbelief. “That still doesn’t explain the camera.”

Alan sighed. “I told you, Sheriff, it’s just research for a book I’m working on,” he said. “I’m a sucker for forensics, and when I saw the marks on the walls and the broken dishes in the kitchen, I played with the idea of using the setting for one of my detective stories.”

“You write a lot of those detective stories?” Fiona asked. “I only ask because I’m fond of a little James Patterson and Jo Nesbo every now and then. Maybe I’ve read something you’ve written.”

“You probably have, but you won’t find my name on it.”

“Oh?” Fiona smiled, raising her eyebrows in a way that made her look quite comical. “Why is that?”

“I’m a ghostwriter,” Alan said. “It’s something I do on the side to earn a little extra money. It keeps my wheels turning and the imagination going, which I need when teaching middle school English.”

Fiona took a long drag from her cigarette and smacked her lips. “That’s a shame. It would have been nice to read something written by a local.”

Alan shrugged. “Can’t do, sorry. Contracts and all that.”

Alan watched the Sheriff smile and gaze up at the ceiling. He could see that she wasn’t convinced by his story, but he knew that all he needed was to sound believable enough.

He remembered Fiona Bright well, back when he was younger and she was still a deputy. She had often passed by his parents’ house, and he remembered how enthralled he had been by her. She had obviously done well for herself, following in her father’s footsteps and carrying the mantle of Sheriff. Alan began to wonder if every job in Melington that belonged to a founder family member was passed on to one of their children. So far, it seemed pretty much the rule around here.

Alan assumed that he was lucky that she had been the one to catch him. However, he was a little wary as to why she had been at the Collins’ apartment herself. Had someone actually heard him breaking in and had called the police? Alan doubted it. He knew the extent of his lock picking skills, and it definitely did not involve making a lot of noise.

“Alan Carter,” Fiona said to herself, eyeing him closely from behind a curtain of smoke. “Little Alan Carter. Where have you been all these years?”

“Here and there,” Alan replied, forcing a smile he hoped looked genuine. “Mostly there.”

“How are your parents?”

Alan hesitated before answering. His parents. He had expected people to ask about them, and although he had been able to dance around the topic with Deborah, never really giving a straight answer, he didn’t think that would work with Fiona.

“My mother died a few years after we moved away,” Alan said, clearly hearing the tone of his voice change from calm to anger. Fiona seemed to notice, too, and Alan did his best to control himself. “My father a few years back. Heart attack.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Fiona said, sounding genuine enough. “They were great people.”

“Thank you.”

An awkward silence fell upon them as they sat there, each waiting for the other to say something. Alan knew that Fiona was probably going to fish for more information about his past, maybe try to make him comfortable enough to change his story, but Alan could see right through it. He had been around enough doctors to tell when someone was trying to play him, and he was more than happy to play along. It was a game he had gotten pretty good at before he decided he had enough.

“And you’re a teacher?” Fiona asked.

Alan nodded. “English literature,” he said. “Been doing it for three years now.”

Fiona gave him another one of her comical, raised-eyebrows expression. “Three years,” she repeated. “That’s really something. I’m a little surprised, though.”

“Why is that?”

“Well, I know Rachel Adams pretty well, and I can tell you for a fact that three years mean nothing to her when it comes to experience. So, I’m a little surprised she hired you.”

“She wasn’t the one who hired me.”

“No?”

“Nope,” Alan said, shaking his head. “Deborah did. She’s the one who interviewed me.”

Fiona chuckled. “Is that a fact?” Alan noted the amusement in her voice. “The two of you were like two peas in a pot when you were younger. Do you remember when you two called the police because you thought someone had kidnapped your father because he was late from work?”

“I remember.”

“How old were you then?” Fiona asked. “Seven? Eight?”

“Ten,” Alan corrected. “A year before my sister disappeared.”

Fiona’s smile suddenly disappeared as the room seemed to grow remarkably smaller. Alan knew what the woman was getting at, reminding him of how much of his childhood mischief she had put up with. She was fishing, and he was getting sick of it.

The mention of his sister’s disappearance had put a quick end to the games. Fiona was suddenly uncomfortable, shifting in her seat as she put out her cigarette and immediately lit another one. Alan almost smiled at her uneasiness.

Fiona Bright had been the first at the scene when his parents had called in the disappearance. Alan remembered it clearly, how he had run home screaming, terrified, his mind racing as it tried to make sense of what he had seen. He was inconsolable, his words nonsensical to everyone except him, and even Fiona had been skeptical.

For an eleven-year-old who had looked up to Fiona Bright for years, her reaction had been a cruel slap to the face he had never forgotten.

“Why did you come back to Melington, Alan?”

Alan smiled, happy that the woman had finally gotten to the point and the games had stopped.

“I came home, Sheriff,” Alan said. “This is my home, after all.”

“You’ve been gone for what? Twenty years?” Fiona pressed. “Why now?”

“Oh, I’ve always wanted to come back,” Alan said. “My father was the one who had wanted nothing to do with Melington. Not when everyone here let him down. He was a member of the Council, a descendent of one of the founding families, and you all turned your back on him when he needed you the most. To him, he couldn’t care any less about this town.”

“And you do?” Fiona asked, the eyes looking out at him cold.

“I have fond memories of Melington,” Alan said, “at least for the most part. I’m over what happened. I just want to live out the rest of my life in the place where I grew up, teaching a subject I love.”

“And that’s why you were breaking and entering?”

“I explained that, Sheriff,” Alan said. “It’s an innocent misunderstanding, and you know me well enough to know I’m not a criminal.”

“I know an eleven-year-old boy who has grown up too far away from here for me to make any judgments.”

Alan sighed. “I assure you, Sheriff, I’m still that same boy, only a lot older.” He leaned in and looked Fiona straight in the eye. “You have absolutely nothing to worry about.”

 

***

 

Deborah Adams stared at her cell phone from her curled up position on the living room couch. A part of her was waiting for it to ring, the dreadful Caller ID displaying her mother’s name as the phone vibrated with promise of disaster.

Deborah still hadn’t made up her mind.

That wasn’t true. She had actually made up her mind years before, and her decision was still the same. However, it was the opposite of what her mother was expecting. Only this time, there was an ultimatum, and Deborah began to worry what turning down her mother’s offer might mean.

Who cares what it meant? Deborah frowned as she added gasoline to the already burning flames inside her. Who cares what her mother wanted? Deborah only needed to worry about Team Debbie. The rest was simply white noise.

Still, she hesitated to pick up the phone herself and call her mother. After all these years, and despite the lengths Deborah had gone to be her own person, Rachel Adams was still a daunting person to deal with, even over the phone. Deborah felt torn, desperate to talk to anyone who could possibly make the decision for her and spare her the agony she was going through.

Keys fumbled in the lock, and Deborah watched the front door open as Michael Cole let himself in, carrying his gym bag over his shoulder and talking on his phone. He dropped the bag by the door and almost walked past her without so much as a hello before he noticed the look on her face.

“Are you okay?” he asked, burying the phone’s mouthpiece in his shoulder.

Deborah nodded. “I’m fine,” she said.

“Cool.”

She watched him walk into the kitchen, picking up where he had left off, and gritted her teeth as she heard him open the refrigerator and rummage through it.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 1st, 1826.

 

I believe I have finally found our man.

I cannot write from the excitement, although I strongly believe that is not quite the correct word to use in such context. My God, I have found our man!

I have been fighting the urge to race over to Chairman Cole’s house and share the news with him, opting to wait for tomorrow when I would have the entire Council’s attention. I truly believe we can stop any further search.

Copper Tibet. What a peculiar name.

I had never seen the man before, and even while riding up to the small cottage he inhabits seemed like quite a trek. He lives close to the town borders, almost outside Melington, yet not quite. From afar, his residence already spoke of grave secrets and hidden dangers. It is a dark place where he lives, and even when inside, I could feel the heaviness of evil in the air.

The man himself is quite a sight, large and bulky, a frame that can cast a shadow over any regular man would he stand beside him. I remember a hesitation when first seeing him, a need to turn my horse around and retreat. So strong was this man’s daunting presence. It took every thread of willpower within me to carry out my duties.

He was amiable enough and even offered me tea, which I was forced to decline. There was no trust for this man, and I did my best to avoid unnecessary amenities. I thought it best to get my interrogation over and done with.

He was reluctant to answer many of my questions, uneasy despite his bulking presence. I immediately knew he had something to hide, and it is this feeling beyond doubt that makes me certain he is behind the current kidnappings. I tried to remain calm, even when I pictured his large hands on my Allison. I hate to think of what a man like that could do to such a frail child.

His story does not match with my knowledge of town history, or with any events I can remember. He claims to be the third generation of Tibet’s to have lived in Melington, his grandfather having had moved their family here during the Revolution. I cannot remember any such name, and his explanation that their land had not always been a part of Melington until only recently seems quite impossible.

I will look it up with Council Member Bright tomorrow. He keeps meticulous records of all happenings in Melington, a duty he has inherited from his father and in my opinion is continuing quite well.

I have a third name on my list, a young woman who had arrived in Melington six months ago. Abbey knows her well, and even surprised me with a small smile as she recounted her meeting with the woman in the market a few weeks before. Abbey has nothing but wonderful things to say about the woman, and it only confirms my suspicions about Copper Tibet more.

I must contain myself. I will share my information with the Council tomorrow and complete my tasks as promised. We will follow procedures and compare our notes, but I am of the opinion that, in the end, all will just be a waste of time.

I have found our culprit, and his name is Copper Tibet.

 

Chapter 8

 

Daniel Cole hid in his office.

Of course, the reason he had given his secretary was that he was overwhelmed with work and did not want to be disturbed until further notice. However, he could fool everyone around, but not himself.

He had been shaken by last night’s visit, his ankle still throbbing where the uninvited guest’s hand had gripped him. He had checked it in the morning, hoping that there would be nothing to remind him of what had happened other than the echoing of that raspy voice in his ears, but he had been disappointed.

The flesh had turned blue where fingers had pressed down into his skin, the bruises perfectly aligned. He could feel the pulsing of his veins through the skin, each beat a throbbing reminder that he had not been alone in that living room no matter how much he tried to convince himself that the encounter had all been in his head.

Daniel Cole shuddered. He hated being the middle man, the voice of the darkness that relayed what needed to be done to the rest of the Council members. He recounted the number of times he had secretly prayed for that burden to be alleviated and passed to someone else, someone who did not appreciate what he was going through for this town and the well-being of its founding families.

The well-being of his family.

His mind wandered to his son, and Daniel Cole found himself dreading the day when Michael would be the one taking part in these encounters. Daniel remembered the first time his father had passed the burden onto him, the ritual they had gone through near the old maple tree out at the edge of their lands. The memories left a bitter taste in his mouth, and he could never forget the first time that hand had grabbed him by the leg and had spoken to him through the darkness, the raspy voice like nails across a blackboard promising that the two of them were in for ‘a lot of fun’.

It was a haunting memory that still gave him nightmares, despite the number of times he had come in contact with last night’s ‘guest’. His father had assured him that it would become easier, but that had been a terrible lie. It hit him hard each time, and lingered like a bad dream.

The ringing of his cell phone brought Daniel quickly back from his thoughts, and he quickly answered once he saw Fiona Bright’s name on the caller ID.

“Alan Carter was at the Collins apartment.” Fiona hadn’t waited for an answer, immediately bombarding Daniel with the bad news. He hated that about her.

“What has been done about it?” he asked, the irritation in his voice apparent.

“I kept him here for the night,” Fiona said, “but let him go a few hours ago. He’s probably at school right now.”

“Why the hell did you do that?” Daniel hissed. “That’s breaking and entering. We could have been rid of him forever.”

“I know,” Fiona said, “but it’s only a misdemeanor, and he had good reason. We need a better plan.”

“And I assume you have one?”

Silence followed, assuring Daniel that Fiona had, in fact, not thought about what to do next. As always, these decisions were being thrown into his lap. He sighed heavily and rubbed his brow, easing the pain that had suddenly appeared there.

“This is not good,” he muttered.

“Another thing,” Fiona said, and Daniel braced himself for more bad news. “I had my doubts as to why Rachel would hire him in the school, but it turns out Deborah is responsible for that. Those two were close twenty years back, and I assume they’ll rehash the past.”

Daniel waited for Fiona to get to the point.

“Your son’s still seeing the Adams girl, right?”

“Against my better judgment,” Daniel confirmed. He had never failed to voice his disapproval of the relationship to Michael, but the boy was as stubborn as his mother. A character trait that was bound to be his undoing.

“Well, you better keep an eye on that,” Fiona said. “I know how Rachel feels about what we’re doing, and you can bet Deborah won’t ever be on board with any of this. Having her and Alan together could spell disaster for all of us.”

“Rachel can handle her daughter,” Daniel said.

“The way you can handle Michael?”

Daniel balled his fist in anger, biting back his tongue. The Sheriff was one of the few people in town he could truly rely on, and her role in everything was more important than anyone else’s. She had been able to handle the Collins case, and every case before that, quite efficiently, and she knew how much he relied on her. It was one of the reasons she was so bold.

“Listen, Daniel,” Fiona said, exhaling loudly, Daniel imagining her sitting at her desk and chain smoking her Lucky Strikes. “Nip this one in the bud, okay. This can easily get out of control.”

“Don’t forget who you’re talking to, Sheriff,” Daniel said, his tone firm as he quickly reasserted his position. “You are in no position to tell me what to do. I know what’s required of me, as you know what’s required of you. I doubt we need to constantly remind each of that.”

There was silence on the other line and Daniel could tell that Fiona was carefully calculating her next words. “Fine,” she finally said. “Fair enough. I’ll keep an eye on Alan for now.”

“And I will talk to Michael,” Daniel replied, giving the Sheriff a small win to keep her placated. “Have a nice day, Sheriff.”

Daniel Cole hung up without waiting for a reply.

 

***

 

Alan was surprised when he heard knocking on his front door and opened to find Deborah standing outside, a wide smile on her face a two grocery bags hanging by her side.

He had tried his best to avoid the woman as much as possible throughout the day, steering clear of the hallways nearest to her office like a student who had something to hide. He hadn’t been in any mood to socialize, working as best as he could to try and maintain an amiable spirit during his classes. The students and staff were still not accustomed to him, so it was easy to slip under the radar until the final bell rang and he escaped as quickly as he could.

His encounter with the Sheriff the night before had left a lingering feeling of discomfort in him, Fiona having had kept him with her as long as she possibly could before finally giving up on getting any valuable information out of him. Recounting his past and filling her in on mundane facts that would keep her satisfied for the moment had been hard enough, not to mention his efforts to remain calm and composed through it all.

It was the fact that he had been caught that bothered him the most. He had watched the apartment building from afar for almost an hour before finally making his move, and there had been no signs that anyone had had any interest in the Collins apartment before he had broken in.

Fiona’s sudden appearance bothered him, and he wondered what could possibly have brought the Sheriff to the Collins’ place that late at night. Fiona was hiding something, he was sure, but he couldn’t put his finger on it.

“Can I come in?” Deborah asked, raising the bags in her hands higher so he could see she brought gifts.

Alan stepped aside and let her through, chuckling as she shouldered him in the chest playfully before making her way to the kitchen. He closed the door and followed, impressed that the woman still remembered the house after all these years, immediately making herself at home as she set the bags on the kitchen counter, took off her jacket and hung it in the small coat closet by the kitchen’s back door.

“So, where were you all day?” she asked, flashing Alan her award winning smile as she opened cupboards and closed them.

“Classes,” Alan replied curtly, frowning as he tried to figure out what she was doing.

Deborah finally pulled out a pot and pan from the cupboard next to the sink and set them squarely on the stove, gesturing to the bags she had brought and looking at Alan expectantly. Alan moved to the groceries and started pulling one item out after the other, taking note of the things she had bought, smiling at the familiarity of their childhood dinner preferences. He wanted to tell her that he had lost his appetite for chicken a long time ago, but decided against it. She was, after all, cooking dinner, and who was he to complain?

“Between classes, I meant,” Deborah was saying. “I looked for you everywhere.”

“Didn’t know I was that popular,” Alan smirked.

Deborah shot him an irritated look that bordered on humorous, quickly setting up her workstation as she handed him a knife. “Smart, Carter,” she scoffed. “I see you haven’t lost your humor.”

Alan reached for the bag of vegetables and began working, avoiding Deborah’s gaze as he smiled to himself. He had to admit, he missed her a lot, and having her here now in his kitchen, cooking dinner and bickering the way they had when they were younger made him instantly feel at ease. His eyes briefly looked up at the door to the garage that he had left slightly ajar, and made a mental note to close it as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

“Mother’s been asking about you, too,” Deborah said. “So, your fan base is obviously growing. She needs to see you first thing in the morning before your classes.”

“Does she come in that early?”

“My mother unlocks the front doors,” Deborah smirked as she rinsed out the chicken breasts in the sink.

Alan hadn’t met Rachel Adams since he had been hired, and after last night’s run-in with Fiona, he wasn’t too hot on tomorrow’s meeting. He knew that it wouldn’t be a problem; he had trained himself well for situations like these, already knowing exactly what to say and what not to. It was the unwanted attention that bothered him. He had meant to keep a low profile, and that wasn’t off to a good start.

Still, he pondered the issue and thought of the opportunity it might present. He had been in the office only once, and the interview with Deborah had taken all his attention. He had barely had a chance to look around Rachel Adams’ office properly, and the meeting tomorrow could prove a lot more beneficial than it sounded. Having taken note of the scant number of filing cabinets outside the principal’s office in the direct reach of her secretary, he could only assume there were more elsewhere, and he needed to get his hands on some of those.

More breaking and entering, Alan? Fiona would love that.

“You seem lost,” Deborah cut through his thoughts and brought him back to the task at hand as he picked up his cutting speed.

“In my own little world,” Alan replied. “Being here has that effect on me. Memories and all that.”

He looked at Deborah as she smiled sadly at him, the one person in Melington who knew how to read between the lines of what he had said. Alan realized then how much he had truly missed her.

He could have used a friend like her in the past twenty years when everyone seemed to have been conspiring against him. He had desperately needed someone to talk to, and after his mother’s death, his father had been completely unavailable. Over time, Alan had learned how to bottle his emotions in and deal with them on his own, soon finding it almost impossible to share anything with anyone. He had been a loner through most of his college years, a few failed relationships here and there that had forced him deeper into his shell as he slowly realized that no one could truly comprehend what was going on in his mind.

His wall decorating project had started during his final year, when he had come to the conclusion that, as much as he had lied to everyone around him, he had also been lying to himself. He hadn’t gotten closure after his sister’s disappearance, and he wouldn’t get it miles away from Melington.

“Have you gone to see her?” Deborah asked.

Alan shook his head. “I haven’t even been able to go into her room,” he said. “Besides, that grave is empty. What use would come from it?”

“You never know,” Deborah ventured. “It might do you some good.”

“No,” Alan said, his hands shaking slightly at where the conversation had turned to. “I’d rather remember her in my own way.”

Deborah noticed his hands and moved closer to him, placing her own over his to stop the gentle tremors. Alan looked up at her, their eyes locking as he stared into the blues that gazed back at him. He had always loved how her eyes had contrasted with the brown waves that framed her face, and right now he felt that he could easily lose himself in them forever.

“I can go with you if it’ll help,” Deborah suggested.

Alan took a step back, detaching his hands from hers and burying them into his pockets. He could feel his heart beat quicken, and instantly tried to push the emotions welling up aside. He had to be more realistic about what he was suddenly feeling, quickly reminding himself that, at least for now, he had to keep people at an arm’s length.

Deborah caught onto the awkwardness and looked down, quickly frowning as she rummaged her hair and tried to compose herself. When she looked back up, she was all uneasy smiles and sunshine.

“You know what?” she chirped. “Let’s have dinner and watch a movie. I brought a few DVDs with me that I am sure will keep us entertained.”

Alan smiled at how easily she had changed subjects and nodded. “Thanks, Debbie.”

Deborah waved him off and went back to the stove, but he could clearly see the tension that had suddenly befallen her. He didn’t like doing this to her, but the reality was that he had not seen his childhood friend in twenty years. There was no telling how careful he needed to be around her, despite every inch of his being assuring him that he could easily confide in her and let her in.

However, Alan had learned the hard way that confiding was not always the best option.

 

***

 

Daniel Cole watched his son shuffle into his office, already annoyed at what Michael was wearing. The navy blazer over jeans look that he was accustomed to sporting was just one of the many things Daniel disapproved of. He pushed the irritation aside, though, knowing that more important matters were to be discussed other than his son’s attire.

Daniel gestured to seat in front of him and Michael quickly slumped down, unbuttoning his blazer and angering Daniel even more with the AC/DC T-shirt underneath. Daniel Cole sighed as he readjusted himself.

“You needed to see me?” Michael asked.

Daniel nodded and folded his hands in front of him. “How’s the company?”

Michael smiled widely, instantly pleased with the ability to share his newest achievements with his father. He began recounting a new app that his start-up was working on, something to do with the recent burst in social networking that was the craze of the decade.

Daniel never really could understand the need for it all. All these websites and apps did was make it harder for the Council to cover up their actions. They had recently needed to hire a tech genius to hack into accounts and change information according to the Council’s needs, and try as he could, Daniel couldn’t stand the brat responsible for this. He had gladly passed on the supervision of this particular aspect to another Council member who had a better handle on the technicalities of it all.

One less task Daniel had to worry about.

“You sound like you’re keeping yourself busy,” Daniel interrupted his son as he began going into details of what his app could do. It was all gibberish to Daniel anyway, and he found it hard to even slightly care about Michael’s changing obsessions.

“I try,” Michael said, falling back into a more defensive stance, knowing that his father’s irritation would slowly lead into more serious discussions about things he would not like.

“I brought you here to discuss your current love interest,” Daniel started.

“Her name’s Deborah,” Michael interrupted, much to his father’s frustration.

“I know her name,” Daniel said as calmly as he could muster. “That’s beyond the point.”

“Well, if we’re going to discuss Deborah,” Michael replied, “then we might as well use her name.”

Daniel could feel the heat rise to his cheeks as he fought hard not to reach over his desk and slap his son across the face. “We have a few concerns about your relationship with Deborah,” Daniel said, hoping his tone was more level than his feelings.

“We?”

“Your mother and I.”

Michael scoffed. “When was the last time you and mother actually talked?”

“Shut up and listen to me,” Daniel spat, unable to hold back his anger any longer. Michael had always had a way of getting under his skin, and the angrier Daniel got, the more it satisfied the boy’s sick need to antagonize his father even more. Over the years, Daniel had learned to control his temper, but there were the occasional outbursts.

“Fine,” Michael said, a hint of a smile on his face. “I’m listening.”

“You remember Alan Carter?”

Michael nodded. They had never been close before Alan had moved away, but Michael knew how important he had been for Deborah.

“Well, as you probably know, he’s back,” Daniel continued.

Michael frowned, and Daniel found his utter confusion amusing. His girlfriend had apparently failed to mention the news to Michael.

“You didn’t know?” Daniel asked, adding salt to the wound. “I’m surprised since he’s now employed in the same school your girlfriend works.”

“I’ve been busy lately,” Michael explained. “She might have said something and I missed it.”

Daniel doubted that, the look on his son’s face one of someone trying to convince themselves of their argument rather than anyone else.

“Well, Alan has just been through a bit of a rough situation with the law,” Daniel said. “Nothing serious, but enough to put him on the Sheriff’s radar. I know that he is close to Deborah, and there is no telling what might happen in the future. I suggest you distance yourself from all this.”

Michael frowned, his own cheeks turning a bright red. “Are you asking me to break up with her?” he asked. “Are you actually messing with my private life?”

Daniel shook his head quickly, feigning concern. “I just don’t want you involved in any way, directly or indirectly, with Alan Carter.”

“I’m not seven, dad,” Michael shot.

“I sometimes fail to see that.”

“Then that’s your problem.” Michael stood up, shaking with fury as he stared at his father behind the desk. “Thank you for your so-called concern, but what I do with my life is up to me. You have no say in any of it anymore.”

Daniel gave his son a reassuring smile, but his eyes gave away the anger he was trying to quell. “Of course,” he said, his voice strained. “I never presumed to make decisions for you. I am only warning you.”

Michael buttoned his blazer and gave his father one last look before storming out of the office. Daniel watched his son leave and felt a sudden sense of relief. He knew what would happen next. Michael had always been easy to manipulate, and if the boy needed to learn the realities of life the hard way, then so be it. It was depressing enough watching a thirty year-old still act like a teenager.

Daniel needed his son to be ready for what was coming, and that meant breaking all ties with Deborah Adams.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 2nd, 1826.

 

Damn the Council members! Damn them to hell!

Such ignorance! Such overwhelmingly infuriating blindness!

I have given them the facts, supplied them with ample reason, and they still turn away from what is right there before their eyes! It is as if they do not want to bring my daughter’s murderer to justice!

Chairman Cole is the worst of the lot. His condescending nature makes it impossible for anyone to reason or argue in favor of what he does not believe. I will make it my personal goal to see him removed as Chairman and replaced by a more capable mind.

After I see Copper Tibet brought to justice!

I have toyed with the notion of rising past and above the Council, of which I regret to even acknowledge I am a part of. The proper authorities could make better use of my findings, definitely more than this lot of fools! The Council wants to keep this a private matter, and I believe it is only to hide their ineptitude. It is as if they do not care anymore!

I have reviewed the other interviews, and I have given them a fair judgment. No one has come close to a better case than mine. Copper Tibet’s guilt screams at them from the pits of hell, and they ignore it. Not enough to make a decision! The fools!

I will see that man hung for his crimes. I will bring my daughter’s murderer to justice, even if it means working without the help of the Council!

 

Chapter 9

 

Alan dreamed.

It was the usual dream, a vivid dream, one that had haunted him for years and still found a way to linger in his subconscious.

He was eleven years old, scrawny with his blonde hair falling down across his eyes in a boyish cut that reflected his newfound admiration for grunge, much to his parents dismay. He was outside, running down the narrow path through the woods behind his house, chasing his younger sister but keeping a well enough distance behind her to keep her motivated.

This was always the worst part of the dream, seeing his sister alive and well, giggling as he chased her, her blonde hair tied back in a ponytail and her clothes closely matching his own, a tomboy at heart. She was three years his junior, and he had taken it upon himself a long time before to protect her no matter what.

The entire town had always commented on how inseparable the two of them were, the only other person allowed to share space in their little world being Deborah Adams. On that day, though, Deborah had been sick, and the three musketeers were down to two.

Alan usually thought back to how different things would have been, had Deborah been around to witness what he had. Even then, she had believed him without a second guess, but that didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. They were two minors with notoriously wild imaginations.

The path widened as he watched his sister break out of the tree line and race towards their house, their home a small structure in the distance as they ran across the fields. A few yards in, though, she turned, and made way for the small playground that the houses on the street shared. It was nearly dusk, and Alan called after her, reminding her that they needed to get home and couldn’t be caught messing around after dark.

His sister didn’t listen, though. She never did, and only laughed harder before jumping and rolling into the large sandbox. Alan could almost hear his mother’s cry of displeasure once she found the trail of sand his sister would be dragging in behind her later.

“I win, you lose,” his sister cried out happily, obviously winded but far too happy to care. She did her little victory dance, something she had seen in one of her Calvin and Hobbes comics, and Alan couldn’t help but laugh.

He watched his sister prance around the sandbox, kicking sand into the air as she danced, her arms flailing about as she sang a ludicrous tune about how awesome she was and how much Alan sucked.

Alan couldn’t help but smile, faking an angry scowl as he raced towards the sandbox, shouting threats of how he would ‘pulverize her’. His sister only laughed and turned to run away, when she suddenly tripped and fell face first into the sand.

Alan’s smile quickly disappeared, replaced by a look of concern as he picked up speed and raced to her to make sure she hadn’t hurt herself. He was barely six feet away when she began to scream.

To this day, Alan could hear those screams. Those terrifying screams.

He froze, his eyes wide as he watched his sister suddenly get pulled to one side of the sandbox, someone or something dragging her by the foot.

“Alan, help!” she screamed, reaching out to him with one hand as she frantically clawed at the sand to slow down her retreat. “Please help me!”

Alan’s shock broke, and he sprinted towards his sister, flying fast into the sandbox and grabbing her hand. He turned himself about, trying to pull her towards him as he set his foot in the sand, his fingers turning white as he held onto her for dear life. His sister screamed, her face stricken with tears as she tried to kick at whatever was holding her.

Alan looked past her and almost let go when he saw the hand.

It was a grotesque thing, fingers like claws burying into his sister’s leg as it tightened its hold on her. The skin was burnt almost completely off, loose flaps hanging around pinkish flesh that oozed with blisters. His sister kicked at it frantically, but there was no use. Whatever that hand belonged to, it was determined to take her with it, and it would not let go that easily.

Alan screamed for help, yelling for his parents or anyone close enough to hear him and help. The sun had already begun to set, though, and he knew no one would be around. They were on their own, and Alan knew he was losing the tug-of-war battle he was fighting. He held on tighter, feeling the sweat build in his palms and his grasp slipping. He adjusted his hold, losing a few inches of distance as the hand pulling his sister took advantage of his discomfort. His sister screamed again.

Suddenly, Alan found himself flying back as the pull on his sister slackened completely, and he rolled in the sandbox and onto his knees, looking to where the hand had been a moment ago. His sister scampered away, pushing against the sand until she was by her brother’s side, both children breathing heavily as they tried to make sense of what they had just seen.

“Are you okay?” Alan asked, looking at his sister.

She nodded quickly. “My leg,” she whimpered, and Alan could see the large stain of blood where the hand had been holding her.

“It’s okay,” Alan whispered, more to himself than to her. “It’s gone.”

Then, as suddenly as it had disappeared, the hand struck out from the sand, this time to his left, now attached to an arm that reached out and struck at Alan’s face. Alan could feel the scratch of nails directly below his jaw, blood spurting out as skin broke. Alan fell to a side, hands automatically reaching for his wound as his sister’s scream pierced the darkening night. The hand and arm disappeared, and in a matter of seconds reappeared near his sister, grabbing her once more and forcefully pulling her out of Alan’s reach.

Alan flew to her, but he was too late, his wound distracting him as he watched his sister slide away, hands stretched towards him, mouth open in a silent scream. He tried to get up again, but it was too late. He watched his sister disappear before his eyes, her legs first, then the rest of her as she was pulled down into the sand and away forever.

 

***

 

Alan woke up with a start, heart pounding, gasping, and reaching for the pills by his bed almost as if by instinct. He clawed at his medications as he tried to fight back the recurring images of his sister screaming for help as he helplessly watched her disappear. He quickly uncapped one of the bottles and poured the pills into his hand, desperately trying to count them as they shook with the tremors that rocked his entire body.

It was useless, though, and soon enough he dropped them all onto the bedroom floor, fell out of bed behind them and screamed at the top of his lungs at the empty room around him.

He didn’t hear the closet door close with a soft click to a husky chuckle from within.

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 4th, 1826.

 

It is just as I had expected.

I spent the day visiting the third name on my list, and as Abbey had assured me, the woman was lovely. She was warm, charming, a truly delightful person unlike anyone I have ever met before. It confuses me that I have not seen her more often in Melington, whether at church or elsewhere.

It is not very surprising, though. She has a unique way of blending in with her surroundings, easily unnoticeable if one did not know she was there.

She lives alone, of that I am certain, although she seems like a woman who has seen her fair share of years. It was fortunate that my duties allowed me to ask questions I would have otherwise not dared to ask.

She has been married before, and had mothered three children that had died at such young ages. It is beyond me to even understand how one so wonderful could face such dire misfortune. When she mentioned her husband’s unfaithfulness, especially after the death of their children, I felt my stomach turn. I could not imagine how anyone could ever be anything other than supportive towards one so gentle and loving.

She has furthered my assurance that Copper Tibet is the man we seek. I will not even consider any more arguments from the Council. Tomorrow is our agreed-upon deadline, and I will make sure everyone understands that if we do not deal with the matter at hand, I will find a way to deal with it myself.

The winds are getting colder now, a bitter reminder that winter is at our doors. Abbey agrees that it will be a harsh one, this year. I only pray this matter is dealt with before the first snow falls.

Chapter 10

 

“You understand why this is a concern for us, right?”

Alan sat completely still in front of Principal Adams, the older woman as intimidating as she had been when he was a child, although much smaller than he remembered. Then again, everything had seemed larger when he was eleven.

She eyed him from over the rim of her glasses, obviously waiting for him to respond, and he shifted uncomfortably in his seat. Sheriff Fiona had reached out to the school and had warned Rachel Adams about his late-night activities. He had expected as much, and was now trying to figure out whether or not he was going to be fired.

He had planned his return to Melington carefully, almost religiously, working out every angle as best as he could, given of course that he had been hundreds of miles away at the time. He had expected an incident on the twenty sixth, and he had been lucky that Deborah had given him the information he needed without much effort. Of course, the Sheriff’s sudden appearance had not been factored in, and he beat himself up silently for not considering that to be a possible scenario.

Still, he thought he had handled that quite well, until now. His slip-up had put his job at Melington Middle School in jeopardy, and he still needed more time to get acquainted with the building before carrying out the next step in his plan.

He would have to work faster than he had expected, and as he sat in front of Rachel Adams, fidgeting under her gaze in a way that he hoped would make him seem more uneasy than he really was, he scanned the office quickly, making note of every nook and piece of furniture around.

Rachel Adams snapped her fingers at him and brought his attention back to her.

“You seem nervous, Alan,” the woman smiled. “Don’t be. I’ve known you for far too long, and there’s too much history between our families for me to not factor that into my decision.”

“You’re not firing me,” Alan said, his words more a statement than a question.

Rachel shook her head slowly, her eyes set squarely on him, the same look on her face that Sheriff Fiona had when she had been trying to make sense of the man in front of her.

“I am going to warn you that the Sheriff is keeping a close eye on you,” Rachel Adams said. “So, if I were you, I’d keep my head down and stay out of any more trouble for the time being. Do we have an understanding?”

Alan nodded, risking small smile as he played the grateful employee. The truth was, he had already decided on what he was going to do, and whether he was fired or not didn’t matter anymore.

He thanked the woman, shook her hand when it was offered, and returned to class.

 

***

 

Fiona Bright was startled awake when the shrill sound of the phone on her desk broke the silence of the empty precinct.

She had spent the last few hours going over case files, reviewing the day’s work well after everyone had left. She enjoyed the time she spent alone in her office long after everyone else had cleared out, reluctant to go home to her empty house and feeling much more at home behind her desk.

Fiona stretched and yawned, reaching for her cigarettes and lighting one before answering the phone. She closed her eyes against the warm feeling of the smoke filling her lungs, knowing that she was killing herself slowly with every breath but hardly caring.

“We have a problem,” came her deputy’s voice from across the line. “Doctor Fanning’s disappeared.”

“What?” Fiona asked, sitting straight up as she cradled the receiver between her shoulder and ear, opening her drawer and taking out her gun and holster from within.

“Just up and vanished,” the deputy was saying. ‘Left everything behind as if in a hurry, too.”

This was really bad news.

“I thought I told you to keep an eye on him,” Fiona spat, her anger echoing across the empty floor.

“Hey, this isn’t my fault,” came the defensive reply. “I did my job fine. He just never came home.”

Fiona balled her fists in anger. “And what were you doing at his house instead of at the hospital?”

“Come on, boss, he’s had the same routine for years now. I just thought I’d get a head start.”

Fiona slammed the receiver down, grabbed her coat and raced out.

 

***

 

Alan was alone in Melington Middle School.

This time, though, he had chosen to be a lot more careful. He knew that the Sheriff had someone following him, not that it was much of a secret with the police cruiser sitting squarely by the school baseball field. Alan mused at how lucky the deputy sitting inside was to be working in Melington where his incompetence wouldn’t matter.

He had paid one of the seniors to drive his car home and house sit until his return, giving the boy his jacket and telling him to wear it against the cold. He had no doubt that the deputy would follow the car blindly, with little attention to who was actually driving.

Alan hid out in the gymnasium a half-hour before the end of the day bell rang, having already found an open, two tier locker in the far end of the locker room where he could curl up in the hanging space, undetected. He knew that the school janitor made his rounds during the first hour after everyone had cleared out, and the security guard followed suit.

It never failed to amaze Alan how much information one could get out of people once the charm was turned on.

Alan waited for a good hour after he heard the security guard’s footsteps outside the locker room, the door only swinging open wide enough for a quick peek before the man moved on his way, whistling a Queen tune that echoed eerily across the halls.

When he was sure no one would come along, Alan pushed out of the locker and stretched, fighting the cramps in his thighs and lower back. He hoped he wouldn’t have to do that again anytime soon.

Alan made his way back into the main halls of the school building, working his way by help of the emergency lights, grateful he wouldn’t have to use his flashlight where there was little option for him to hide if anyone were to see its beam. He walked down the halls quickly, making as little sound as possible and sticking to the walls as he carefully maneuvered his way toward the Principal Adams office.

Alan was also grateful for the fact that Rachel Adams had turned down all requests to set up security cameras in the school, something that made his current task that much easier. He had worried about that coming in, and they were the first thing he had looked for on the day of his interview. His meeting the other day with Principal Adams also confirmed that she didn’t have any in her office, although he couldn’t vouch for hidden ones. He had taken precautions anyway. The woman was far from being a fool.

When he finally reached the principal’s office, he took out his tools, and in seconds had opened the first door. Before stepping in, he pulled his mask over his face and counted to ten as he made sure no one was still making rounds through the halls. He pulled out his pocket light and closed the door behind him, hurriedly making his way to the filing cabinets behind the secretary’s desk.

He pulled out one after the other, quickly scanning the names as his fingers expertly made their way across the files. He recognized many of the kids in his class, their files stacked neatly according to grade and in alphabetical order, and it was immediately clear that he would find nothing of value here.

Alan knew that anything he might be looking for would definitely be found in Rachel’s office, but he had to be thorough, not hesitating to unlock the secretary’s drawers and search through the papers within.

When he was satisfied, Alan moved to the principal’s door. He imagined what Deborah would say to him now as he bent down on one knee and worked the locks to her mother’s office, the satisfying click of the door unlocking the only sound besides his breathing. He wondered if Debbie would be amused.

Alan was careful stepping into Rachel Adams office, already aware that the windows were linked to a security system, hopeful that nothing else in the room was as well. He couldn’t imagine the older woman being the paranoid type, but then again, if his hunch was right, then she had enough reason to be.

He scanned the room quickly, his eyes looking for anything that seemed out of place. There was only one filing cabinet behind her desk, and he doubted he would find anything in there. Rachel wouldn’t leave anything important out in the open like that, nor would she risk hiding them away in her desk. There had to be somewhere else. He hadn’t noticed a shredder anywhere, and he was doubtful she would simply throw things away for curious eyes to pick up.

Her house, genius, a voice in the back of his head shot at him. Did you even consider that?

He had, and Alan knew that if he didn’t find anything here, the Adams house would be his next stop. Not tonight, though. Tonight, Melington Middle School was all his.

Looking at his watch, Alan quickly moved to the filing cabinet behind the principal’s desk and unlocked it, skimming through the files and folders stacked within the four large drawers. As he had suspected, they were useless, and after a half-hour of going through them as well as the contents of Rachel’s desk, he stood frustrated in the middle of the office with little to show for his efforts.

There had to be something.

He moved to the bookshelf, testing its weight, wondering if maybe the principal had hidden something behind it, but the massive oak shelves were heavy. There was no way the older woman could move it without help. He slumped down heavily on a small couch in the corner of the office and looked around, exhaling deeply as he pondered returning to the gym, unsatisfied. His eyes fell across numerous small paintings hung in patterns on the opposite wall, and for a second, he played with the thought of a hidden safe.

No, he thought to himself as he slowly stood up and tilted his head, his eyes shifting from one painting to the next. It couldn’t be that clichéd.

He worked quickly, lifting one painting after the other until he finally found it. A safe in the wall, hidden by a black and white portrait of the founding families. Alan smiled to himself, tapping the small safe playfully. It was a combination safe, a flimsy old thing he knew had probably been installed decades ago and had not been updated. Apparently, Rachel Adams had never seen a reason to.

Alan smiled as he turned the small black dial, right, left and then right again. He was working on a hunch, and when he was rewarded with a soft click, his suspicions of Rachel Adams suddenly became very real.

It was the date of Copper Tibet’s hanging.

Alan suddenly felt the air in the small office get much colder, and he wondered if it was simply the chill in his body at the realization that Rachel Adams had more to do with what was going on in Melington than he had wanted to believe. He felt a shudder race through him as he racked his brain with questions he knew he didn’t want the answers to. He wondered if Deborah was in on it as well, and the mere thought of it sent shudders up and down his spine.

Alan reached into the safe, pulling out a stack of files from within and displaying them on the principal’s desk. He flipped through them, his fears being more confirmed with each and every one he opened. He stared at familiar faces, faces that now hung on the wall of his garage, and he tried his best to control the shaking that had started in his hands and was threatening to spread throughout his entire body.

When he opened Blake Collins’ file, he stepped back from the desk, the blood drained from his face as the world around him began to slowly spin. He sat back down, throwing caution to the wind as he pulled off his mask and buried his face in his hands, squinting against the headache and the spinning, trying his best not to lose control. He had his doubts, but having those doubts confirmed was hitting him harder than he had expected.

When he finally felt able to function properly again, he grabbed the files off the desk and made straight for the copying machine beside the secretary’s desk.

In less than an hour, Alan had returned all the files to the safe, reset the painting, scanned the room to make sure nothing was out of place, and refilled the copier with the right amount of sheets, making sure to reset the machine to its factory setting and delete all traces of having ever been used. He scanned Rachel Adams’s office one last time before stepping out into the hallways and heading back to the gymnasium.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 5th, 1826.

 

I am tired.

I have given up on the Council completely. They will not help me.

I have told Abbey everything, and despite my worries, she has responded quite amiably to all I had to say. I salute her bravery, the intent by which she sat quietly and listened to my every word, asking questions only when I was clearly vague and she required more details. It was refreshing, and I feel much lighter than since this ordeal had begun.

My Abbey is wise, a woman with the mind of a scholar. She has advised me to stay low and keep quiet while the Council went about its bureaucratic redundancy. It was a difficult decision to arrest someone without any proof, and it was clear I had none. I will sleep terribly tonight, but I will sleep with the knowledge that I have done all that is in my power to do.

The boys have gotten used to the labors of the farm, and are working quite well with the limited resources available. I believe that in a year or two, I will not need to worry about hiring a hand to help with the chores.

Oh, what am I doing? How can I ignore this? How can I sit back and go about my duties with the knowledge that my daughter’s killer is still out there, walking free in broad daylight without a worry in the world. I wonder how he sleeps, that man. I pray that the face of my Allison haunts him until his dying day.

Chapter 11

 

“I can’t believe we’re actually arguing over this!”

Deborah stood firmly in the center of her living room, arms crossed over her chest, her eyes blazing with fury as she looked at Michael.

She had been preparing lesson plans when Michael had walked in, slamming the door behind him and storming into the small workspace she had set up in the small room next to hers that had been good for nothing else over the years. He was furious, shouting, waving his arms around as he confronted her about Alan Carter.

Deborah had been surprised by his outburst, rarely seeing Michael like this, especially when it came to her. He had always been quite docile, bordering on indifferent, and to see him worked up about, in his words, her lack of sharing, made her quickly realize that their relationship was going through its final showdown.

“I wouldn’t be fighting over this if you had told me from the start!” Michael spat, his voice raised way above what Deborah considered even remotely acceptable.

“I’m sorry, Mr. High and Mighty, but when have you ever taken the time to even listen to me?” Deborah returned fire. “It wouldn’t have mattered if I had told you earlier or not. You’re always half gone when I talk to you!”

“Hey!” Michael yelled, pointing a finger at her angrily. “Don’t turn this around. This isn’t about me!”

“That’s right, it’s about us!”

Michael slammed his fist against the wall. “Dammit, Debbie, stop acting like a woman and actually stick to what matters!”

“Acting like a woman?” Deborah yelled. “Did you seriously just say that?”

“I am not going to be pushed and pulled around the core issue here,” Michael shot. “The real problem is that you lied to me. You never told me Alan Carter was back!”

“I’m not obliged to report each and every thing that happens to me on a daily basis, Michael!”

“No, you’re not, but this is different!” Michael’s nostrils flared. “This is Alan Carter we’re talking about! Your childhood sweetheart.”

Deborah froze for an instant, enough for the words to really sink in as she realized just what this was all about.

“Are you jealous?” Deborah asked, the disbelief clear in her voice.

“Of him?” Michael scoffed. “I don’t even know the guy. The last time anyone’s seen him was back in middle school. Why the hell would I be jealous?”

“Then what’s this about?” Deborah demanded. “If you’re not jealous, then why are you so worked up about all this?”

“My father says the guy’s bad news, Debbie.”

“Right,” Deborah smiled sarcastically. “And you usually listen to your father, is that it?”

“No, I don’t, but we don’t know this guy, and now he’s back in our lives, walking around the school you work at. Don’t try to tell me you feel nothing about all this.”

Deborah threw her hands in the air in dismay. “He’s my oldest friend, and I haven’t seen him for twenty years. Of course I feel something about it. I feel excited, and happy, and relieved to see he’s okay, and a whole bunch of other things friends usually feel when they meet after a long time!”

“So you’re telling me this is all innocent, that there’s nothing else going on?”

Deborah felt his words cut right through her, suddenly incredibly angry at his insinuation that she would somehow be unfaithful. She wasn’t lying to herself. Michael was less than perfect, and she couldn’t deny her need to break up what was obviously a very unhealthy relationship. But, she would never cheat. The fact that he even thought she might made it that much worse.

“I don’t believe you,” she said, her voice suddenly low, a clear indicator that she had already made up her mind about what needed to be done. She had had enough of this.

“See it from where I’m standing, Debbie,” Michael said. “I know how close the two of you were back then. How do you expect me to feel when I find out he’s been back for days, works at your school, and you said nothing about it to me?”

“Have I ever given you a reason to doubt me?” Deborah muttered.

“That’s not the –”

“Have I?” Deborah’s shouted, her voice ringing across the apartment walls, her anger cutting like a knife through the heavy tension between them.

Michael looked at her long and hard, his scowl a reflection of how he felt about being yelled at. “I’m not going to wait for it,” he said.

“Get out,” Deborah said, her voice firm as she stared at the man she had once thought she could spend the rest of her life with. “This is over. I want you out.”

Michael stopped mid-stride and gazed at her. His cheeks quickly flushed and his eyes shot daggers at her from across the room. She could see that he had so much more to say, but she had no intention of giving him the chance.

“I’ll be back for my things in the morning,” Michael finally said, and without so much as a second glance, brushed past her and stormed out of the apartment, slamming the door behind him.

Deborah waited until she was satisfied he wouldn’t return before falling to her knees in tears.

 

***

 

Alan had been hard at work in the garage, sifting through the copies he had made the other day, when the doorbell rang.

It was nearly seven in the evening, and the day had gone by quite uneventfully. He had been worried someone might have noticed something amiss, that maybe he had forgotten a small detail that might give away the fact that there had been a break in the night before.

The worry hung over him all through the day, and although he had done his best to appear normal, even spending some time with Deborah during recess reminiscing about the old days, it was only when the final bell rang that relief finally washed over him.

He had come straight home, exhausted after having had spent the entire night hidden in the locker and a complete morning of run-on classes. A quick shower and two cups of instant coffee had helped, but he could still feel his muscles ache and his joints protest from the strain. Nevertheless, he had forced himself to continue working, and had been halfway through the final file when the doorbell interrupted him.

Alan’s initial smile at seeing Deborah quickly vanished when he noticed her blood shot eyes and the lack of regular light make-up. She was dressed in a simple shirt and jeans, an oversized coat wrapping her lean body, and her hair was tied back in a quick ponytail through which strands had escaped and now hung wildly about her face. She looked at him solemnly, and he could tell that this wasn’t a casual, friendly visit.

“What’s wrong?” Alan asked, instantly alert.

Deborah sniffed and looked up, quickly brushing away a tear. “You know what, Alan?” she said softly. “Sometimes it’s just good manners to let your visitors in before starting a conversation.”

Alan quickly stepped aside, apologizing as he grabbed her by the shoulder and led her into the house. Closing the door behind them, he led her straight to the kitchen and sat her down at the small table, quickly moving to the kettle and switching it on before rummaging through the cabinets for mugs.

“I might just need something stronger than that,” Deborah said from behind him.

“I’d love to deliver, but I haven’t really been doing much shopping.”

“I’m not going to bring you groceries every day, Carter,” Deborah smiled. “Besides, alcohol should have been the first thing on your list.”

“Never was much of a drinker,” Alan shrugged, eager to stop beating around the bushes and find out why she was here, looking like she had been told the worst news. Still, he knew Deborah usually needed space before opening up, and from the looks of it, that hadn’t changed over the years. She was still in the habit of covering up her sorrow with wit.

Alan filled their mugs with coffee and escorted Deborah into the living room, offering her a seat on the couch as he settled comfortably in the old rocking chair his father had loved to sit in when he read. They sat quietly for a few minutes before Deborah finally broke the silence.

“I broke up with my boyfriend.”

“Didn’t know you had one,” Alan replied, wincing after he said it. It was probably not the reply she was going for, but when he looked at her, her eyes downcast and her concentration solely on the mug in her hands, he realized that she might not have even noticed.

“Michael Cole,” she said after a few more seconds of silence, letting the name roll off her tongue.

“Chairman Cole’s son?” Alan asked, a slight smile of disbelief creeping onto his face. “Really? Isn’t he way out of your league?”

Deborah smiled at him, and Alan felt relieved that he could still make her laugh even now. She had never mentioned Michael Cole to him, and he believed it had a lot to do with what had eventually happened to their relationship. If it had been sunny in paradise, Alan was sure he would have known.

“Was it serious?” Alan asked, taking a sip from his coffee.

“Define serious.”

“Wedding bells and baby names.”

“Then no, it wasn’t serious,” Deborah said. “It wasn’t going to last much longer anyway. I had been working my way to breaking it off, I just couldn’t find the right opportunity.”

“What changed?”

Deborah looked up at him, hesitating for a few seconds before finally saying, “You.”

Alan frowned. “Me?”

“Believe it or not, you actually helped me indirectly,” Deborah nodded. “I guess I have to thank you for that. I just don’t understand why it feels so goddamn shitty.”

“All break-ups do, no matter how bad things had become,” Alan said.

“Speaking from experience?”

“I never had a serious relationship,” Alan shrugged. “I could say I did if it would make you feel better.”

Deborah laughed. “You’re really something, Carter, you know that?”

“Enough to break up relationships, apparently.”

Deborah chuckled as she drank from her coffee, drawing her legs up and curling them under her as she shifted into a more comfortable position. Her eyes scanned the living room, and she smiled when she saw the picture frames on the old fireplace.

“Was that from Little League?” she asked, gesturing with her chin at the mantel piece.

Alan searched for the picture she meant and found the one with both of them together, arms over each other’s shoulders, smiling at the camera with their Little League baseball caps askew. He smiled at the memory.

“Yeah,” he said, remembering that his sister had been the one to take that particular picture. “Happier times.”

“What ever happened to the kids in that photo?”

“What the hell is wrong with us now?”

Deborah raised an eyebrow at him and he laughed in response. “It’s been a rocky road, I guess.”

“You know what really ended things with Michael?” Deborah asked. “He thought there was something going on between us.”

“What would make him think that?”

Deborah shrugged. ‘I hadn’t told him you were back,” she said. “I guess that made him skeptical.”

“Yup, that would do it,” Alan chuckled.

He gazed at her as she continued her inspection of his home, his eyes drawn to her and the calm she brought with her presence. The large house was daunting sometimes, and it was refreshing having someone over, especially Deborah. Maybe if things weren’t so complicated, he might have toyed with the possibility of the two of them being together. But he couldn’t see anything good coming out of it now, with what he had to do.

He thought back to last night and the information he had gotten out of her mother’s safe. It was hard to believe that the woman sitting across from him could have anything to do with the evil this town had given into. She looked so innocent, fragile even, and he couldn’t believe she would be capable of anything he was secretly accusing her mother of.

Deborah caught him staring and smiled at him. “Watch it,” she said. “I’m vulnerable.”

Alan almost dropped the mug in his hands as he broke into a fit of laughter, instantly joined by Deborah.

“Fine, then I’ll keep my distance,” Alan said through tears. “Just don’t blame me for trying.”

They spent the rest of the night talking, and soon enough, Alan had forgotten all about the work he had planned to do, lost in the sheer joy of having Deborah around. They recounted childhood adventures, filled each other in on various aspects of their lives over the past twenty years and joked about fellow colleagues. It was only when the old grandfather clock down the hall began to chime did they both realize that it had gotten late.

Deborah quickly sat up and placed her cup on the coffee table, pulling her coat closed around her. “I have to get back,” she said. “Sorry I kept you up so long.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Alan said quickly. “Spend the night, and I’ll drive you home in the morning for anything you need before work.”

“I can’t, Alan, really,” Deborah protested weakly, and Alan could sense the last thing the woman wanted was to spend the night alone. She was too proud to admit it.

“I insist, Debbie,” Alan said. “You can sleep in my old room.”

“I’m not sure.”

“Of course not,” Alan smiled. “That’s why I’m making the decision for you.”

 

***

 

Alan Carter fought the need to sleep.

For starters, he didn’t want to revisit his nightmares, the memory of his last run-in with the past a sharp reminder of why he had always preferred living alone. Thankfully his night in the locker room had been uncomfortable enough to constantly wake him up, but he couldn’t be sure that tonight would be the same. With Deborah sleeping in the next room, he was reluctant to wake up in a screaming fit that would scare her half to death.

It was hard to stay awake, though, and his lids felt like lead slabs over his eyes. As the minutes ticked by, it became harder and harder to stay awake. Soon enough, he gave in, slowly drifting away, unable to fight it anymore.

The sound of his bedroom door opening brought him back out of his slow descent into slumber, and in the dark he could see Deborah’s figure softly cross to his bed and slide under the covers beside him. She moved in close, resting her head against his chest as he adjusted his arms around her.

Her breathing was soft, and he could barely feel her heartbeat against his body.

“Can’t sleep, either, huh?” he whispered.

Deborah clicked her tongue and pressed up closer to him. “I guess I just got used to someone sleeping next to me.”

“Are you comparing me to Michael?” Alan asked, looking down at her as she smiled and tapped her fingers against his chest.

Deborah moved her head slightly so that her eyes met his, and before he knew what was happening, she was kissing him, softly, a light brush against his lips.

He pulled back. “What are you doing?” he asked, his voice hoarse.

“Shut up, Alan,” Deborah smiled and kissed him again.

This time, he kissed back.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 9th, 1826.

 

Abbey has been acting strangely these past few days.

I first noticed it when she had suddenly taken it upon herself to clean out Allison’s room. It was an odd endeavor, one I had not believed she could muster the courage to do. Yet, she did, and I found the ordeal both strange and brave. I myself have found it quite difficult to venture into my daughter’s room, the memories of her playing on her bed, silently lost in her own imagination, too much for me to bear.

However, Abbey has proven to be much stronger than me.

My wife has fallen silent again, but not as before. It is a different kind of silence, one of a person deep in thought. I have never seen her this way, her brow furrowed in concentration as if she were solving complicated worldly problems while working in the kitchen or hanging out the sheets.

I have thought of asking her about it, curious as to what was going through her head, but I believe it will amount to nothing. I know my Abbey well. When she decides it is time to share her thoughts with me, she will seek me out. It is just a matter of time.

Chairman Cole passed by the house today, and unlike my wife, Abbey had not offered that he stay for dinner. Quite surprisingly, she avoided the man completely, and I wonder if it may be because of his lack of taking any serious action towards my suspicions. I found it quite amusing, seeing the discomfort on Cole’s face as he talked to me about the next Council meeting’s agenda, watching Abbey from the corner of his eye and confused about her coldness towards him.

I have never loved my wife more.

I do not believe I will be attending the next Council meeting. It is absurd to waste any more of my time discussing useless matters, when all any of us is truly thinking about is justice. I believe I will only make the trek to the Council when it is time to truly decide on the fate of Copper Tibet, and not before that. I have wasted enough time amongst men who do nothing but talk, and do not back their words with action.

I believe I will do the same as my wife. I will wait until my daughter’s death is avenged before I act more amiably towards this town and its members.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12

 

Rachel Adams rarely had a good night’s sleep.

Often enough, her dreams would take her to the most obscure places of her mind, where the secrets she kept hidden ultimately popped out of their hiding places and danced about cheerfully. It was a constant reminder of all the wrongs she had done, and it was a miracle when she got more than three hours of sleep altogether.

Tonight, though, it was her cell phone that woke her up from one of her rare, deep slumbers, and she immediately reached out for it with half a mind to berate whoever was calling. Daniel Cole’s number on her ID made her sit up quickly, and a part of her suddenly went cold.

“What’s wrong?” Rachel asked immediately after swiping the answer key. Daniel never called this late unless something was seriously amiss.

“Doctor Fanning is gone,” Daniel’s tired voice echoed eerily. He sounded like he had been to hell and back.

Rachel didn’t know how to reply, shivering as if a cold finger were running down her spine. Without Fanning, so much would change, and not for the better.

Especially not for her.

“No,” Rachel said immediately, knowing what was coming next.

“This isn’t a choice,” Daniel’s voice sounded frustrated. “I don’t like it any more than you do.”

“We can’t do this,” she said. “Not again. Not so soon.”

She could hear Daniel take in a deep breath, trying to control his temper against her objections. “Do you prefer the alternative?” he hissed.

“We’re not working in the dark anymore, Daniel,” Rachel said. “Alan Carter’s in town. They’ll notice.”

“Then you better make sure you handle it well,” Daniel said. “Go through the files, pick one, and let me know. We’ll see what we can work out.”

Rachel tried to think of an alternative to what the Chairman was asking, but her mind was blank. It was supposed to Fanning’s turn, and that rat bastard had skipped town.

“Is there anyone else at the hospital?” Rachel asked, reaching.

“Stop it!” Daniel hissed. “This is the only way. Do you think I’d be making this call if it weren’t?”

Of course you would, Rachel thought, but kept her musings to herself.

“Find one, Rachel,” Daniel said, “and hurry up about it. We only have two weeks to plan this right.”

 

***

 

Deborah opened her eyes to sunlight pouring in through the small crack between the drapes. She took in a deep breath, yawned, and turned around under the sheets, looking at Alan as he slept beside her. She smiled to herself, watching him for a moment before rolling out of bed and reaching for her panties.

She tried to be as quiet as possible, opting to use the hall bathroom instead of the one in the room so she wouldn’t wake Alan up. She washed her face, letting the cold water fully wake her, and stared at her reflection in the mirror. A smile quickly made its way to her face, and she ruffled her hair as she made her way downstairs.

Deborah felt incredible.

She replayed last night in her head, Alan’s touch, the way he looked at her, how she felt as they lay next to each other when all was done. She had fallen asleep quickly, comfortably, never having felt this good before. Alan’s gentle heartbeats and measured breathing was all it took to soothe her and make her completely forget about her fight with Michael.

And it felt right.

They had always been close, she and Alan, friends for life as they had been prone to saying. When he had first come in for his interview, she had immediately felt that pang of attraction, that little flutter in her chest, and had quickly pushed it aside. She had always regarded him as a friend. A close friend, but just a friend. She never imagined it would come to what it had last night, but being with Alan felt right.

Deborah hummed to herself as she made her way into the kitchen, her bare feet cold against the floor, but her spirits warming her up. She had no idea where last night would take them, or exactly how Alan would react to it all when he woke up. She hoped he felt the same way she did, otherwise their friendship would turn into something extremely awkward and uncomfortable.

Her mother was going to love this. She could already see the I-told-you-so look on the older woman’s face once she found out about the two of them, and wondered if her mother was going to give Alan a one-on-one talk about workplace relationships. That would definitely be interesting.

Deborah smiled to herself as she rummaged through the refrigerator, her humming slowly turning into a soft singing as she danced to the music in her head. She reached for the eggs and bread, and pondered how hungry Alan would be after last night. She quickly moved to the cupboards, grabbed a pan and set it on the stove, and began looking for a bowl to beat the eggs in.

She found one on one of the top shelves beside the refrigerator, and pushing herself onto her toes, reached for it clumsily. Her fingers scraped at it, and just as she thought she had gotten a good grip, the bowl slipped through her fingers and fell to the floor with a crash. Deborah gave a yelp as she jumped back from the broken shards, immediately covering her mouth and wincing. She waited, listening for any sign that the noise had woken Alan. Thankfully, she heard nothing, and with a frustrated sigh, quickly started looking around the kitchen for a broom.

Great work, Debs, she thought to herself. Just what she needed to ruin the moment.

She tiptoed around the shards, careful not to cut herself, and sighed in frustration when she couldn’t find what she needed. She wondered if Alan even had a broom, thinking of where else he might keep one if not in the kitchen.

Her eyes fell on the garage door and she smiled to herself.

Of course it was in the garage.

Deborah kept her eyes down, watching where she went in case a lonely shard had managed to escape the carnage and punish her clumsiness. She reached for the garage door, opened it, and only looked up once she had crossed the threshold.

 

***

 

Rachel Adams walked into Melington Middle School a good hour before everyone else had arrived. The security guard had been surprised to see her and had even offered to walk her in, but she had assured him she was okay. Excuses of paperwork and mid-year exam preparations quickly convinced the man that nothing was out of the ordinary. She didn’t need anyone musing over her broken routine.

She quickly marched down the hallways to her office and unlocked the doors, throwing her coat and purse onto her secretary’s desk as she fumbled for the filing cabinet keys. Her hands were shaking, and she quickly clasped them together, closing her eyes and breathing in deep as she tried to calm herself down.

This was a bad idea. She knew it with every inch of her soul. The last time she had been asked to do this, the result was catastrophic, and it took three weeks to clean up the mess. Still, Daniel was right. It couldn’t be helped.

Rachel silently prayed that Fanning would die a slow and painful death wherever he was.

Feeling slightly better, she unlocked the cabinets and began sifting through the files, careful to avoid the classes that Deborah or Alan taught. Blake Collins had been a bad call on her part, but it had passed innocently enough. She had never expected that she would be pulling out another name from her roster so soon.

Her fingers found their way through the files, and she quickly pulled out a few that she remembered might be promising. She opened them quickly, briefly glancing at her watch to make sure that she was still safe before her secretary came in. Rachel knew she didn’t have to explain herself to anyone, but the less she acted out of the ordinary, the safer it was for everyone.

Names and faces popped out at her from every file she opened, and she could already feel her heartbeat quicken. Her body shivered as she fought back the guilt that threatened to overcome her as she decided the fate of one very unfortunate child. She tried to shrug it off, to be strong as she worked, but there was no denying how she felt about all this. Had she really become this cold?

Rachel was about the put the files away when something in the last one caught her eye. She scrutinized the contents of the file, noticing the profession of the child’s father as her fingers tapped the company’s name thoughtfully. She winced when she saw that it was one of her daughter’s students, yet again, but it couldn’t be helped. There was no better choice.

Rachel Adams had found their next victim.

***

 

Deborah couldn’t believe what she was seeing. She stood frozen inside the garage, staring dumbfounded at the wall in front of her. The faces of dozens of children stared back at her, and a shudder raced through her as she contemplated the creepiness of it all. Multiple threads were strung between various pictures, each surrounded by newspaper clippings, sticky notes and pinned up sheets of paper.

She felt her feet move on their own, her eyes fixated on the mural of photographs in front of her and she moved closer and closer to the smiling faces. She noticed how their eyes seemed to be following her, and the sheer number of them frightened her deeply. She recognized a few students whose families had either left Melington over the years, or had been victims of tragic accidents that had taken their lives too soon.

Deborah noticed the boxes that littered the garage space, some neatly packed over each other, others tossed aside carelessly, as if having had been unpacked in a hurry. Dead center of it all stood a large working table, numerous files and stacks of papers organized in batches on top of it.

Deborah looked back at the wall. Her mind raced with probable explanations as to what it was she was seeing. There had to be a logical reason for it all, something that could explain all this without pointing to a conclusion she couldn’t bear to consider; that maybe Alan wasn’t all he claimed to be, all she thought he was.

He’s sick, a thought suddenly jumped into her head.

She remembered the weeks after his sister had disappeared, how he had screamed on and on about a hand that reached out from the sandbox and took his sister away. She had been naïve enough, and young enough, to believe him, but as the years progressed, she had shrugged it all off as a reaction to the trauma.

She remembered doctors visiting the Carter’s house, how everyone was saying that the loss of his sister had somehow broken his mind. It was one of the main reasons they had moved. She had cried in her mother’s arms after saying goodbye to her best friend, accepting the explanation that Alan had left because he needed help that he couldn’t get in Melington.

Was that where he had been all this time? Was that why he had never written or called? Had he been locked away somewhere as doctors tried to treat whatever it was that was bothering him?

Deborah hugged herself as her eyes began to water. She tried to wrap her head around the thoughts that currently plagued her mind. She read scribbled notes in Alan’s handwriting with questions like ‘where are they now?’ and ‘hasn’t registered at any other school in Connecticut.’ Was he still convinced with what he had seen? And if so, how did they let him out?

Deborah moved towards the table, her hands running over the cold wood as she fingered through some of the files. Her hands suddenly stopped when she noticed the school logo on some of the photocopied sheets, and when she took a closer look, realized what they were. Alan had photocopied files from the school, information that he was not authorized to even have.

She noticed Blake Collins’ file open to one side, a bunch of telephone numbers jotted down on a sticky-note taped to the boy’s picture. On one side were a bunch of names crossed out randomly, and below them Alan had written, ‘no family member has heard from them yet’.

“How did you get these?” Deborah whispered to herself, her eyes wide as she looked at the files displayed in front of her.

“I stole them.”

Deborah’s head snapped up and she felt her heart skip a beat as she gazed at Alan Carter leaning against the door frame.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 12th, 1826.

 

It is quite unusual how my Abbey seems to be in relatively high spirits.

Of course, I do not dare complain. After what she has been through, what we have both been through, it is quite refreshing to see the change in her demeanor. I would not trade her cheerful singing and dashing smile for all the riches of the world, yet it does seem out of place, all things considered.

I find myself still bothered by the Council’s inaction. I know I had promised to remain neutral to all activities from here on out, my presence in the meetings merely a formality associated with my name. However, I catch my hands shaking with frustration as we discuss one useless matter after another, things of no consequence that bear no significance to what truly matters.

There is no word of what is to be done about my daughter’s killer. Chairman Cole discusses proof and lack of evidence, something I find quite entertaining as he leads us further away from justice. I have voiced my opinion on the matter, opting for higher authorities to take matters into their own hands, but it seems my words fall on deaf ears.

Evidence! How can we hope to find evidence when we do not search for it?

Cole has assured me that he has men watching Copper Tibet day and night, waiting for a sign of anything suspicious that might lead to his timely demise. I know they will find nothing. After our interrogations, I doubt anyone will be stepping out of line in the near future. I know that Copper is guilty, I can feel it in my bones, and it angers me that all we can do is watch.

The fact that we still try to keep this matter within Melington is frustrating and absurd. I have voiced this to my wife, and she has advised me to ride to Hartford and talk to the proper authorities. However, I feel that the Council knows of this plan, as I have often found wandering eyes fixated on me in the marketplace, or when I am drinking at the pub.

I believe the Council is not only watching Copper, but has its eyes on me as well.

I have spent countless hours discussing my options with Abbey, and I cannot understand how I have never done this before. She is a wise woman, my Abbey, full of insight and patience. Her words comfort me as she lifts my spirits. The conversations help, letting me know that I am not alone in my dilemmas.

My Abbey. What would I ever do without her?

 

Chapter 13

 

“What do you mean, you stole it?”

Alan sighed, a sad look on his face as he took a step towards Deborah.

“Don’t!” Deborah’s voice echoed through the garage, stopping his approach. “Don’t come near me!”

Alan stood completely still, arms crossing his chest as he eyed her carefully. She was obviously furious, but what hurt him was the fear in her eyes. He could only imagine what stumbling across all this would do to someone, and he hated the fact that she had probably jumped to the wrong conclusions. He wanted to comfort her, explain everything, but he could see that she had already assumed the worst.

“What the hell is this, Alan?” Deborah asked, her voice shaking. “Why do you have pictures of children on your wall?”

Alan ventured a step forward and instantly stopped when Deborah pointed at him angrily, her face scorning him from across the garage. He sighed heavily and shook his head in dismay.

“It’s not what you think, okay?” he said.

“Oh, you have no idea what I think, Alan Carter,” Deborah hissed, and he could see her hands visibly shake as she held up Blake’s photograph. “What is this?”

“That’s Blake Collins,” Alan replied.

“I know who it is, dammit!”

Alan winced as her voice boomed in the closed space. She was visibly crying now, and he fought the urge to rush to her, take her in his arms and comfort her. She was already scared of him. He didn’t need to make it any worse.

“Why is his file here?” Deborah asked frantically.

“It’s all research,” Alan said, gesturing with a hand to the wall. “He’s one of the many children that have gone missing in Melington over the years.”

“Missing?” Deborah asked incredulously, her frown deep as she stared at him in disbelief. “Blake moved away with his father, Alan. I told you that.”

Alan nodded slowly, knowing that explaining things to her like this would go nowhere. “Deborah, this isn’t the right setting for a proper explanation. Why don’t you just leave the photograph and come back to the living room.”

Deborah slammed the photo down on the table. “I’m not going anywhere with you until you explain what the hell is going on here!”

“The Collins didn’t leave, Debbie!” Alan shouted, causing her to flinch. “Blake was taken, okay?”

“Do you even hear yourself?” Deborah asked. “Do you have any idea how crazy you sound right now?”

Alan scoffed. “Trust me, they’ve been telling me that for twenty years.”

Deborah felt a stab in her gut as she quickly realized that her initial assumptions about Alan’s disappearance had been correct. “You still believe your story, don’t you?”

“Story?”

“About your sister,” Deborah’s voice was barely a whisper. “You still believe a hand came out and pulled her into the sand.”

Alan didn’t reply.

Ever since he had left Melington, his parents had taken him from one doctor to the next, trying to desperately make sense of what had happened to him. Not only did they have to deal with the loss of their daughter, but their only remaining child was convinced of a bodiless hand taking his sister away. He had tried for years to convince everyone that he was telling the truth, and when he couldn’t, he would threaten to run away and look for his sister himself.

It had only made things worse. Doctors diagnosed him with schizophrenia, and eventually his parents had him locked away in a mental institution, worried that he might try to hurt himself. It had taken him ten years to finally realize that nobody would ever believe him, and that he would have to get to the truth of the matter himself.

However, he hadn’t expected last night. He hadn’t expected his feelings for Deborah Adams, and he definitely hadn’t expected to be standing here now, trying to explain himself. It was making it so much harder to gather his thoughts into anything remotely coherent.

“Dammit, Alan, that was twenty years ago!” Deborah almost screamed.

“I know what I saw, Debbie,” Alan said.

“You were a kid,” Deborah retorted. “I was a kid. I believed you then, but you can’t honestly think I’d believe you now. Your sister’s dead, Alan, and you’re still chasing ghosts!”

“I tried!” Alan yelled. “I tried to convince myself otherwise. Everyone tried, Deborah, but I couldn’t. The hand was real!” He pulled at the collar of his shirt. “This scar is real! How I got it is real!”

“Stop it!” Deborah cried out, covering her face with her hands. “Please, Alan, just stop it.”

Alan was about to reply when he decided it best to do as she wanted. Deborah raised her head up, her eyes red as she stared at him sadly and shook her head in disbelief. He could see that he wasn’t going to be able to get to her, that anything else he said would fall on deaf ears. She looked from him to the pictures on the wall to the files on the workstation.

“Does anyone else know about these?” she asked, pointing at the photocopies of the school files.

Alan shook his head.

Deborah gazed at him for what seemed like forever before nodding. “You need help, Alan,” she said, her tone measured as she got a hold of herself. “I know you don’t want to hear it, but you do.”

Alan shook his head in frustration, angry that she wasn’t even trying to consider the truth behind his words. If only she knew everything. If only she would give him a chance to explain.

“I won’t say anything about this,” she said, “but I don’t want to have anything to with it.” She looked at him solemnly, her eyes tearing up again. “I don’t want to have anything to do with you.”

Alan felt like the world had suddenly decided to take a break and lean over on his shoulders. He felt heavy, and try as he could, he couldn’t bring himself to reply to that. Deborah just stared at him, and when it was apparent that she would get nothing in the way of a reaction she wanted, she marched forward and past him.

Alan grabbed her by the arm, and immediately felt a pain in his chest when she tensed at his touch.

“Deborah,” he whispered.

“Let me go, Alan,” she said calmly, firm in her determination to leave. “Don’t do this.”

Alan held on for a few more seconds before reluctantly loosening his grip as her arm slipped away. He heard her feet padding across the floor and up the stairs, and every inch of him wanted to run after her and stop her before she walked out of his life completely.

But, he didn’t.

Alan stood still in his place, angry and frustrated, and did nothing even after he listened to her walk out the front door and slam it shut.

***

 

Sheriff Fiona Bright walked through the Melington Hospital’s sliding doors and made her way to the front desk. She was in a hurry, and it was annoying just how much pressure the Chairman was putting on her. Fanning’s disappearance was on her, and Daniel Cole had taken it upon himself to make sure she remembered that with every phone call.

The doctor had voiced concerns over his role in what the Council was doing, and over the past year had grown restless and guilt-ridden. It had been Fiona’s task to keep an eye on him and make sure he continued his work like a good little soldier, but Fanning had been able to slip away. She was determined not to make any more mistakes.

The Sheriff idled to the front desk and rapped her fingers gently to get the nurse’s attention. The burly woman looked up from her clipboard and immediately flashed Fiona a wide smile.

“Sheriff, what a surprise!” the nurse greeted.

“How are you Gene?” Fiona smiled back.

“Good, good,” Gene replied, dropping her clipboard on her desk and trudging to Fiona. “Slow days are good days. What can I do for you?”

“I’m here to follow up on Doctor Fanning’s disappearance,” Fiona said.

“Did you find him yet?”

Fiona shook her head. “It would be helpful if anyone actually knew where he was going. He didn’t talk to anyone?”

Gene shook her head pensively. “We knew he was having trouble the past few weeks, but no one expected him to up and leave like that. Even left his lab fully functioning, as if he was only going out for a smoke.”

Fiona smiled at the nurse and leaned in. “I’m going to need to take a look at his lab.”

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 15th, 1826.

 

I ride out to Hartford tomorrow.

I know this trip will be hard, and leaving the boys and Abbey behind to handle the farm in my absence seems selfish. However, they have assured me that they will be alright, and when I look in my wife’s eyes, I can see that she believes it. There is not a doubt in my bones that she will tend to matters well in my absence.

However, there is a slight worry within me I cannot shake. It is in the way Abbey speaks to me in the final hours before I leave. I laugh at the thought of it, but I could almost swear it is as if she wants me gone. She has already packed my things for me, hurriedly, tending only to my needs the entire day as if nothing were more important than this trip.

I believe she is excited, hopeful that my efforts in Hartford will prove fruitful. I must admit that I do have my doubts. I know what the city folk are like, and I fear they might just wave off my concerns and accusations for more tending matters close to home.

That will not stop me, though. I am resolute in my quest for justice, and I will not rest until I see Copper Tibet in the custody of the proper authorities. It may take days, but I will push through. I cannot let my initial fear of rejection stray me from my determination.

I allowed my Abbey to accompany me in the pens today, and showed her how to slaughter one of the pigs if ever the need arose and I had not yet returned. She is a quick learner and a fine student, asking many questions and listening intently as I explained the procedure. I doubt that she will ever need to carry out this task alone, but I must be sure that my family needs nothing more than what the farm offers until my return.

I visited Chairman Cole today and told him of my intentions. I also explained that I knew about the men watching me, and it gave me great pleasure to see him shift nervously in his seat. He apologized profusely, though, which was even more amusing, and tried very much to change my mind. He is still adamant that it is a private matter, a local obligation that must be handled by the townspeople of Melington.

I laughed at that heartily, and continued to laugh even as I left his home. For the first time, I truly see how naïve our Chairman is, and how blind. He is a coward, afraid to take a crucial decision lest it tarnish his image. I have always felt great contempt for the man, but not until this day have I ever felt that he needed to be replaced. I have always considered him the right kind of snake for the title he held, but now his venom threatens to destroy our town.

Maybe I will run for Chairman during the next election. It might be the right time for one of firmer resolution to lead this town.

 

 

 

Chapter 14

 

Alan woke up to the sound of his alarm, his hand immediately reaching for his phone and dismissing the shrill sound before it got any louder. He sat up slowly, grateful for a night without dreams, and with one eye open took a look at the time.

He was late.

Alan was up and ready within minutes. He didn’t bother with his morning ritual and was surprisingly comfortable as he grabbed the keys off the kitchen table and made his way out. He briefly glanced at the garage door, his activities within kept at a ridiculous minimum since his last encounter with Deborah two weeks ago.

He had tried talking to her at school, bumping into her every now and then hoping to get a few minutes with her alone. She was good at brushing him off, though, and before he could ever say a word, she was already rushing past him towards whatever class she claimed she had.

Alan hated the cold shoulder, and despite wanting to desperately do more about it, he had more important issues occupying his mind. He had come to Melington for a reason, and he was going to see it through, no matter what the consequence.

It was proving rather hard, however, with the extra attention the Sheriff was giving him. He would constantly catch glimpses of police cruisers idling by the school or his home, and he knew that Fiona Bright had upped her game. There were moments when he had thought that maybe Deborah had in fact told her mother about the files in his garage, but he had quickly dismissed the accusation.

She wouldn’t do that. He needed to believe that she wouldn’t.

The extra attention was a bit alarming, though, and Alan couldn’t help but wonder if it had something to do with the fact that the twenty sixth was approaching in a few days. He knew the Sheriff was involved somehow, but he was far from being able to prove it, especially with his every move being watched.

He had studied the files carefully, and he still couldn’t see a pattern to the disappearances. The victims had nothing in common other than the fact that they were all below the age of thirteen. According to the town records, that left quite a lot of children to choose from. There had to be a way that Copper was choosing his victims, and Alan was having a very hard time figuring it out.

Rachel Adams knew something. She had to.

 

***

 

“Again?”

Deborah sat in front of her mother and stared at her in exasperation. She looked down at the file in her hand, a lump jumping to her throat as she stared at the smiling face of Jamie Drew, one of her brightest.

“This is Blake Collins all over again,” she said, passing the file back to Rachel.

“It’s not your fault, sweetheart,” Rachel said, her voice measured and calm. “You don’t control the fate of every single person in this town.”

Deborah wanted to retort, but she knew her mother was right. She couldn’t be greedy about this. She could only imagine the devastation the family must be going through.

“Why was he fired?” Deborah asked.

“That’s really none of my business,” Rachel replied, “and neither is it yours. I know this must be hard for you. Jamie’s a bright girl.”

“One of the best,” Deborah nodded in agreement, unable to wrap her head around the fact that she was losing two students in one semester. “Did the father say where they were going?”

Rachel frowned. “Why is that important?”

Deborah shrugged and shook her head. “It isn’t,” she said. “I just wish I could keep in touch with these kids, you know? I have no idea how Blake is doing, and we don’t have any means of contacting him.”

Rachel sat back in her seat and eyed Deborah from over the rim of her glasses. “Let me share with you a little bit of experience,” she said after a brief silence. “Relationships with your students should go only as far as what is beneficial for them within these walls. Once they’re outside, there’s very little we as educators can do.”

Deborah couldn’t agree less, but let her mother continue.

“Blake Collins was a wonderful boy, and Jamie Drew is a joy to be around. But, once they’re gone, then they’re gone. You have a whole classroom full of students who need your attention. We can’t fret about the ones that aren’t ours.”

“The way this semester’s going, I might not have many students left to worry about.”

Rachel smiled and stood, waving at her daughter. “Don’t be ridiculous. It’s happened to us all. It’s Melington. We have a high turnover when it comes to families.”

Deborah suddenly remembered the wall in Alan’s garage and shivered at her mother’s words. She watched Rachel close Jamie’s file and shove it into her purse, pulling on her coat as she readied herself to leave. Deborah frowned, wondering why her mother would take the file with her to a Council meeting, a sick feeling building in the pit of her stomach.

“Anyway, I believe you’ll be able to hold the fort while I’m gone?” Rachel asked.

Deborah smiled weakly and nodded.

“Good,” Rachel said, looking at her daughter carefully. “Don’t take this personally, sweetheart. You can’t save all the children.”

Deborah watched her mother leave, the feeling in her gut spreading quickly to the rest of her as her mother’s words echoed in her head.

***

 

Deborah spent the rest of the day working through her mother’s calendar of meetings. By the time she was done with the most important tasks, it was one o’clock and Rachel still hadn’t returned.

Deborah couldn’t stop thinking about Jamie Drew and how she was losing yet another student due to family misfortunes. She had met Jamie’s father on several occasions, and he had never struck her as a man who didn’t take his job seriously, yet alone would be careless enough to get fired. It made no sense.

Watch it, you’re starting to sound like Alan, she thought to herself. She was trying to find conspiracies where none existed, and she quickly reached for the files on her mother’s desk, hoping to occupy the rest of her time doing anything more productive than worrying about her students.

Deborah flipped through the paperwork, noting various interviews set for next year’s new teachers, as well as admissions from Melington Elementary. She was about to take a look at the newcomers when her eye caught a file underneath the stacks, sticking out awkwardly as if someone had pushed it in quickly.

Deborah frowned, pulling it out and opening it, her confusion deepening when she realized she was holding Jamie Drew’s file. She shook her head in bewilderment, sure she had seen her mother take it with her. What was it doing here?

Deborah opened the file, smiling as she looked at Jamie’s photo, the little blonde girl grinning shyly as she tried to hide her braces from finding their way into the frame. She remembered the first day Jamie had come to school with them, how everyone had teased her until she hardly opened her mouth at all. It had taken Deborah almost a week to convince her that she looked beautiful, no matter what.

It was a shame.

Deborah flipped through the pages, going over the girl’s academic history. Behind a copy of her most recent report card, she found her admission sheet. Deborah scanned it, curious as to what kind of establishment would want to fire a man as dignified as Jamie’s father. She found the man’s professional information on the back of the admission sheet, and her heart almost stopped when she read the company’s name.

Jamie’s father had worked for Michael Cole.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 20th, 1826.

 

I have failed.

Frustration is hardly the right word for how I feel. My trip to Hartford has been useless, and I have come back with my pride in shambles. I could not bear to look at my wife and children as they greeted me with open arms, waiting patiently as I rode up to the house for news of my adventures.

I had very little in way of good news, and I could see how it broke their hearts.

Abbey has grown silent again, going about her duties without her sing-song spirits and her glowing smile. Her mood has darkened, as has the mood of the entire home. It is as if Abbey had pulled a blanket over our eyes and blotted out the sun.

I do not blame her. I cannot blame her. It had been my duty to return with hope and promise, with retribution and justice. I have returned with none of that, only a feeling of failure and guilt, worried that I might not have done enough despite my best efforts.

Hartford! What a dreadful place! There is little in ways of comfort there, and I cannot understand how any man or woman could live there. It is a cold city, a dead city, and one can see it in the eyes of its inhabitants that there is only pain and suffering in its streets. So much unhappiness! So much negativity!

My requests were laughed at, my concerns scorned, and my pride broken. I have never felt this much anger towards anyone before, yet alone an entire population. It angers me to see the disconnection in their eyes, as if my accusations were absurd and out of place. There were times I asked myself whether or not it was all a conspiracy, that somehow Chairman Cole had found a way to reach Hartford before me and warn the authorities of the crazed lunatic that was on his way to seek their justice.

There is nothing left for me to do, and I fear I have fallen into deep despair. Copper Tibet will walk free forever, and there is nothing I can do about it. I curse this wretched town and its people. I curse the Council and its indecisiveness. I curse the Gods for taking away my chance at retribution. I deserved my justice! My daughter deserves justice! How can they be so blind?

I spent most of the day on the porch, rocking in the chair Abbey had once occupied when she had lost herself. I fear that I am close to that state, the comfort of sitting motionless while staring out into the woods an appealing thought.

My Abbey, bless her soul, has been busy, though. She slaughtered one of the pigs with the help of our older boy, and even rode into town for supplies. Upon her return, she coaxed me inside for dinner, forcing me away from the chair she knew so well.

It was a fine meal, and it reminded me of days when all our problems seemed far away.

Oh, how I do wish those days would return.

Chapter 15

 

Daniel Cole pulled the collar of his coat higher and pushed through the wind.

The night cold was getting rougher, and soon it would reach a point where his bones couldn’t handle being outside this late anymore. Already he could feel his tendons scream and his joints protest, a reminder that he was not getting any younger and would soon need to find a replacement.

Luckily, his destination was not far.

Daniel trudged through the wide expanse of the woods behind his house until he reached a narrow path barely visible in the darkness. The beam from his flashlight danced across the path as he tried to steady his shaking hands. If it weren’t for the fact that he had taken this path once every month, he would never have found it.

He remembered the first time his father had shown it to him all those years ago. He had been in his mid-twenties, recently having had returned to Melington and already being groomed to take his father’s place as Chairman. Daniel had been eager for the opportunity to prove himself, and his father had willingly given him the opportunity he needed to succeed.

Oh, how far the apple had fallen from the tree as far as Michael was concerned.

Daniel had taken over his family’s duties a decade before his father’s retirement, and he now wished he had done the same with his own son. Daniel doubted that he would be able to do this much longer, especially with the cold, and he thought hard about bringing Michael along the next time. It was about time the man-boy stepped up.

The winds picked up, and Daniel silently wished he had worn another layer of clothes beneath the coat. It had always been a strange aspect of this trek, how the weather always seemed much colder up here, as if somehow the seasons never changed on this side of Melington. He remembered his father telling him that the field had once been a marketplace, a friendly and homey meeting of merchants who chatted and laughed as they sold their produce.

The founding families had ruined that, of course. There was nothing warm and friendly about that field any longer.

The path widened near the edge of the woods where it opened into the vast field beyond. The leaves had begun to lose their branches a month before, but there was one maple that never bloomed. Its bark was burnt, and its branches tilted at grotesque angles. Daniel had often wondered why it hadn’t died ages ago, impressed at its fortitude, a solid reminder that not all that is evil is overcome.

The winds blew harder here, the vastness allowing for its speed, and Daniel could feel it reaching inside the collar of his coat, like the long fingers of Death undressing him. He flinched at the lone sound of an owl in the distance and pressed forward, making his way to the tree until he stood a few feet away. He buried his hands deep into his pockets, touching the vial that contained Jamie Drew’s blood and pulled it out.

It was time.

Daniel Cole closed his eyes and began to whisper, an old chant that had been passed down from one generation of Coles to the next. He didn’t understand, and never cared to ask what it meant. All he needed to do was know what it did, and that was frightening enough.

As soon as he thought it, a hand broke free from the earth at his feet and clasped down on his ankle hard. Nails cut into his boots and tore at his skin. He might as well have been wearing paper towels around his feet.

Daniel winced at the pain, careful not to make any sound other than what he was whispering into the night, aware that the hand was teasing him, hurting him, trying to break the chant. He could feel the earth about him moving, the hand around his ankle letting go as the wind seemed to pick up speed and slam against him.

Daniel continued through it all, and when he was finally done, he opened his eyes and stared into the hollow eyes of Copper Tibet.

“Cole,” the raspy voice breathed out, the aroma coming from Copper’s mouth thick with rot. A smile appeared where a smile should not have been. “Have you come to play?”

 

***

 

When Michael Cole saw Deborah standing in the hallway, he was inclined to closing the door in her face and ignoring any further knocking. He looked at her angrily, unsure as to how to react as they stood gazing at each other.

“Can I come in?” Deborah asked.

“No,” Michael replied, standing more firmly in his doorway and crossing his arms over his chest. “What do you want?”

Deborah nodded. “I deserve that.”

“Damn right you do.”

Deborah squinted at the man she had wasted years of her life on, wondering how she had ever put up with his insolence. The obnoxious look on his face made her want to punch him, but she fought the urge to do that. She was here because she needed information, and she knew Michael would be difficult about giving it anyway. She didn’t need to provoke him.

“You still haven’t answered me,” Michael said.

“I came to ask you about one of your employees,” Deborah said.

Michael frowned at her in confusion. “Since when do you care about my employees?”

“Generally, I don’t,” Deborah said, “but this one’s important. His daughter, Jamie Drew, is a student of mine.”

Michael’s left eye twitched, a quick motion that would have gone unnoticed if she hadn’t been staring directly at him.

“I don’t know who you’re talking about,” Michael lied.

The discomfort Deborah had felt this morning suddenly grew tenfold. “He has your company listed as his place of employment.”

Michael shifted uneasily. “Do you expect me to know every employee who works for me?”

“You have a dozen people working for you, Michael, so yes, I do.”

Michael hesitated, enough for Deborah to know that something was very much off. He looked up and down the hall, then stood to one side and gestured her in. A red flag jumped up in Deborah’s mind, but she went inside anyway, determined to find out what was going on.

“Did my father send you?” Michael asked, closing the door behind him. “Is it because I’ve been ignoring his calls?”

Deborah took a quick look around the small studio and the mess that usually followed Michael Cole wherever he went. It had taken her months to get him to pick his clothes up off the couch and floors back when they had been living together.

“Nobody sent me,” Deborah finally said after assuring herself that she had done the right thing in regards to her relationship with the man. “I’m just curious. I met Mr. Drew, one of the most stand-up men I’ve known. His daughter’s one of my best students, and now she’s moving away because you fired her father.”

Michael smirked. “You have a very strange relationship with your students. What do you care what happens to her father. If the man were so great, he wouldn’t have been fired.”

“So you do know him,” Deborah said firmly.

Michael threw his hands up in exasperation. “Yes, okay, I know him. What’s the big deal?”

“The big deal is that you just lied to me,” Deborah said.

“We’re not dating anymore, Debs,” Michael’s voice went up in volume. “I don’t owe you anything. I can lie to whomever I please. And I don’t have to tell you anything about my company or my employees.”

“Then why did you invite me in?”

“What is this, CSI?”

Deborah tried to keep her anger in check as she asked, “Why did you fire him?”

“Because he sucked at his job, Debs,” Michael articulated. “He was a terrible accountant. Satisfied?”

Deborah wasn’t, but she could already tell that she was getting to Michael. The twitch in his left eyes was getting worse, and he was doing that strange thing with his nostrils that he did whenever he wasn’t telling the whole truth.

“He wasn’t an accountant,” Deborah said, clearly remembering the title ‘software engineer’ in the admission sheet.

Michael opened his mouth to reply, then closed it again. Deborah could see him trying to weigh his options, maybe find a way to get out of the hole he had dug for himself, but it was obvious he was stuck.

“You really didn’t know him, did you?” Deborah asked, a satisfied smile on her face. “You know his name because you fired him, but other than that, you have no idea who he is.”

Michael shrugged and crossed his arms again, taking a defensive stand. “So what?”

“Why did you fire someone you knew nothing about?” Deborah asked. “Did someone tell you to fire him?”

“It’s my company,” Michael said, suddenly angry. “No one tells me what to do or not to do in my company.”

Deborah felt static throughout her body as a sudden burst of adrenaline rushed through her veins. Her eyes grew wide as she had what she could only assume was an epiphany. Michael might not allow anyone to tell him what to do, but there was one man in Melington that could. Michael always did what he was told when it came to that one person, even if he didn’t like it, and Deborah suddenly felt a chill race down her spine with the realization of what that entailed.

Alan was right.

He had been right all along, she thought.

How had she not seen it? The Council meetings, the file her mother had taken with her.

Oh God, her mother.

Deborah suddenly felt the air around her grow very heavy, and she quickly raced past Michael and out of his apartment.

 

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 22nd, 1826.

 

Rejoice, for justice is at hand!

I can barely write a word as my hand shakes with excitement. It is a fine day indeed! I wish to dance about the room and light a dozen candles of joy!

The Council has come through! They searched Copper Tibet’s home today, and they have found the proof they need. I cried profusely at the mention of it, comforting my equally emotional wife as Chairman Cole shared the news.

We will go to the Council tomorrow to identify what they have found, but the look in Cole’s eyes was one of strong determination like I have never seen before. There was the man I trusted with his position, his true strength finally showing!

My wife cannot stop crying, tears of joy no doubt, and I find myself unable to sleep. I cannot wait for dawn, for our ride into town so we can finally see this through to its end.

Copper Tibet will finally get what he deserves!

 

Chapter 16

 

Alan woke up to frantic knocking on his door.

He had fallen asleep on the living room couch, files littered around him after having had spent hours trying to find a connection between the most recent Melington disappearances. He had spent the entire evening on the phone trying to reach any relatives that could give him something, and he had gotten absolutely nowhere.

The knocking grew more urgent, and Alan jumped to his feet, quickly gathering the paper around him into a small pile that he hid under his teacher’s textbooks. Scanning the living room quickly, making sure he had not left anything out in the open, he hurried to answer the door.

“Alright, alright!” he yelled, yanking it open.

Deborah raced past him, pushing him aside with urgency as she quickly closed the door behind her and locked it.

“Debbie?”

Deborah said nothing, grabbing Alan by the arm as she hurriedly led him down the hall, into the kitchen, then further into the garage. She closed that door too, resting her hands against it as if waiting for someone to follow them. Alan watched her breathing heavily as she rested her head against the garage door and gasped for breaths.

“Debbie, is everything okay?”

Deborah shook her head. “You were right,” she whispered, her voice barely audible.

“What?”

“You were right, Alan,” she said, louder this time as she turned and looked at him. Her hands gestured around the garage. “About all this. About your sister. You were right.”

Alan could feel his hands shake with excitement. “What happened?” he asked, forcing himself not to smile.

“It doesn’t matter,” she said. “What matters is that we stop it before it happens again. I don’t know what is going on exactly, but I know that I believe you now.” Her voice shook uncontrollably and Alan rushed to her, taking her into his arms as she burst into tears.

“They’re taking the kids, Alan,” she sobbed, her entire body shivering like a leaf. “They’re taking the kids!”

“Shh,” Alan soothed. “It’s okay. Tell me what happened.”

Deborah stepped back and took in deep breaths as she tried to get a hold of herself. Alan waited patiently, eager to find out what she knew while at the same time cautious not to push. He could only imagine what this was doing to her.

“I think I know who’s next,” Deborah said, her voice cracking. “I know who they’re going after next.”

“Who’s ‘they’?”

“Daniel Cole,” Deborah said. “And I think my mother’s involved. Oh my God, Alan, my mother’s a part of this!”

Alan grabbed her by the shoulders, trying to stop her from breaking down again until she told him everything.

“Who’s next?” Alan asked, the urgency in his voice resonating through the garage. “Deborah, stay with me now. Who’s next?”

“Jamie Drew,” Deborah was finally able to say, her face twisting as tears threatened to break free again and she tried to control them. “Michael fired her father and they’re supposed to be leaving Melington.”

She cried freely now, unable to hold back her emotions, and Alan quickly hugged her again. “You were right,” she whispered. “It’s just like Blake. Oh, Alan, I am so sorry.”

Alan pressed her closer to him and kissed her head, trying his best to calm her down.

“We need to stop this,” he whispered. “We need to get to Daniel Cole and stop this.”

Deborah nodded as Alan quickly tried to come up with a plan. He looked at the calendar on the garage wall where the day’s date was circled.

It was the twenty-sixth.

***

 

Jamie sat up in bed, startled.

She had been dreaming a beautiful dream where she was riding one of her My Little Ponies as she laughed and pranced through a purple colored field. It was one of those dreams she loved, and one she vigorously kept to herself in fear of ridicule. Sometimes her classmates could be cruel.

The dream ended abruptly though, a loud knock startling her in her slumber and forcing her awake. She looked about the darkness of her room, unable to comprehend where the sound had come from, squinting to make out anything in the shadows that littered the walls.

She didn’t dare call out for her mother, knowing well the reaction she would get, especially today. The news of her father’s firing had hit them pretty hard, and although Jamie couldn’t comprehend the full effects of it, she knew that it meant leaving Melington and her friends behind. It was a tough decision for all of them, especially since they had recently bought the house and her mother had already had her garden planned out.

The knock came again, a bit louder this time, and Jamie’s head snapped to the left where her window shivered in its frame. She could see the large maple outside her house dance in the harsh weather, the branches flailing as if waving to her to join them outside. When she heard the knock for the third time, she immediately saw the window latch rise dangerously out of its place and fall back down with a metallic cling. The window pane knocked again.

Jamie sighed in relief. She lay back down and pulled the covers to her chin, her eyes still open as she tried to shake off the initial feeling of dread that had woke her up. She began counting the knocks as they came, every few seconds, finally smiling as she felt the sleep returning.

She was immediately brought back when a soft rattling broke through the monotonous knocking of her window. Jamie opened one eye and stared at the window latch, convinced that it was also the cause of the new sounds. However, the rattling was coming from a different area in the room, and when Jamie turned her head in its direction, she stared dumbfounded at the knob of her closet door.

It was turning, slowly, back and forth, as if someone were letting her know that they were coming. Jamie felt her heartbeat quicken, and she held her breath as the turning stopped, then continued in one single direction tentatively.

The closet door clicked open, slightly ajar, and through the gap, a hand materialized slowly from within. Long, slender fingers curled and grasped onto the wooden door, pushing it open inch by inch as the room suddenly filled with the gagging smell of rot.

Jamie wanted to scream, but her breath had caught like a lump in her throat. All she could do was stare in horror at the opening door, waiting for what was attached to the grotesque hand to come out from the darkness beyond.

Then it stopped.

Jamie felt a shiver race down her spine, a sudden cold that cut straight to her bones. She didn’t dare hope that this was all there was to it, fearful that even thinking it might result in a continuation of the horror. Yet, the door did not move, the hand gripping it completely still as someone, or something, breathed heavily inside.

“Carter,” a voice whispered from the darkness, like nails across a blackboard.

A soft chuckle followed, and the hand slowly disappeared, the closet door closing behind it.

 

***

 

Daniel Cole was surprised when he opened his front door and gazed upon his guests, the trained smile on his face quickly disappearing when he realized the implications of both of them visiting him together.

“We need to talk,” Deborah Adams said, not waiting for Daniel to respond as she brushed past him and led Alan Carter inside.

“It is rather late, Deborah,” Daniel said, closing the door behind him and briefly glancing upstairs to make sure his wife hadn’t woken up to the knocking. “This could probably wait until tomorrow. You can always call my secretary.”

Daniel watched in frustration as his guests ignored him and made their way into the living room. He followed them, running possible scenarios through his head. In his heart, he knew this was more than a friendly visit.

“Believe me, this is something you don’t want us talking about in your office,” Alan said, looking Daniel firmly in the eyes.

Daniel forced a weak smile as he look from one face to the other. “What is this about?”

“Jamie Drew,” Deborah said, and Daniel could almost feel his skin crawl at the mention of the name.

They knew.

“Never heard the name before,” Daniel said, shaking his head in mock confusion.

“Stop playing dumb with us,” Deborah spat. “We know you had Michael fire her father, and we know that you planned a nice little going away party for the whole family.”

“I really do –” Daniel started.

“Copper Tibet,” Alan said, cutting him off, the name suddenly hanging in the air like a bad omen.

Daniel felt his heart jump up into his throat as he stared at Alan, noticing the determination in the man’s eyes. Daniel hesitated, unsure as to how to respond to this, and that was all Alan Carter needed as confirmation.

“Where’s Copper Tibet?” Alan asked, his voice taking on a much more aggressive tone.

“Your father told you, didn’t he?” Daniel mused. “That old fool faltered.”

Deborah frowned in confusion as she watched both men stare each other down. “Alan, what’s he talking about?”

Daniel turned to her and smiled. “I’m surprised Rachel hasn’t shared the truth with you, dear, although I cannot say I am very surprised.”

“Shared what?” Deborah asked, shaking in anger at the mention of her mother’s name. Until now she had hoped her mother had not been involved in the disappearances, but it was apparent she didn’t know her mother as well as she had thought she had.

Daniel chuckled and turned his attention back to Alan, ignoring Deborah’s question completely. “You’re a fool if you think this can be stopped, Carter,” Daniel said. “Your father made that mistake, and look what happened to him. To your family. To Kathri –”

Alan rushed forward, grabbing Daniel firmly by the collar, their faces inches from each other. “Don’t you dare speak her name,” Alan hissed. “My sister’s dead because of you, and I’m going to see you burn for this.”

“The way your ancestors made sure Copper burned for his crimes?” Daniel asked, inexplicably calm despite the situation.

Alan tightened his hold. “Where is Copper Tibet?”

Daniel chuckled softly and closed his eyes. “It’s done, Alan,” he whispered. “It’s already begun. You’re too late.”

Alan’s eyes widened as he realized what that meant. He let go of Daniel, firmly shoving the older man away and turned to Deborah. “Do you know where Jamie lives?”

Deborah nodded, still frowning as she wrestled to understand what had been going on.

“We need to go,” Alan reached for her hand.

“What about Cole?” Deborah asked, unmoving.

“Now, Debbie!” Alan yelled. “We don’t have a lot of time!”

Deborah nodded, and as Alan turned to leave, a hand shot out from under the couch beside him. Deborah screamed from behind him as the firm grasp around his ankle dug in deep and pulled, sending Alan straight to the ground. He felt his head slam against the hardwood floor and the world spin out of control.

“Carter,” a voice hissed from behind him, raspy and cold.

Alan’s mind suddenly shot back to the day he had watched his sister get taken away, how he had tried to pull her back, how she had screamed for help that had never come. He looked back at the hand latched onto his ankle, the same hand that had grabbed her and had scarred him. He pulled his leg, but the grip was firm, and the harder he tried, the deeper the nails sunk into his skin.

Deborah jumped forward, but was pushed quickly aside as Daniel Cole slammed into her. “Stay back!” he snapped.

Alan waited for the pull. He waited for the hand the dig deeper into him and drag him away, the way it had his sister, and he fought vigorously to break its hold. It was useless, though, and as he looked back, he realized that he couldn’t see past the bottom of the couch. It was as if somehow the darkness beneath it had materialized out of thin air and was blocking out the light.

“Carter,” the raspy voice came again, and Alan felt his entire body freeze as red eyes stared out at him from the nothingness. It was Copper, his face hidden in the darkness, but for his eyes. Oh God, those eyes!

Alan could almost feel the reds burning into his, the colors flickering as if tiny flames threatening to engulf his very soul. He quickly lost the will to fight, and as he stared at Copper Tibet’s eyes, as he felt the darkness reach out for him, his body seemed to go completely numb.

“Do you deny me?” Copper’s voice hissed. “Do you deny me what is mine?”

Daniel Cole pushed himself to his feet, his shoulder aching from his collision with Deborah, his bones unaccustomed to the strain. He could barely hear the monster’s voice, but he immediately knew what was happening. A rush of urgency hit him as he stumbled forward.

“Don’t do it, Carter!” Daniel yelled.

Copper Tibet’s hand tightened on Alan’s ankle and forced him to scream in agony. Blood was rushing out from his pants leg as nails cut deeper into the flesh.

“Do you deny me?” Copper’s voice seemed to scratch the inside of Alan’s head.

“No!” Daniel Cole yelled, grabbing the edge of the couch and lifting.

Alan watched the Chairman lift the couch up from one end, and with a grunt, hurl it over.

Copper Tibet was gone.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 23rd, 1826.

 

I have made a terrible mistake.

My mind is rattled, and I cannot make sense of the feelings coursing through me. It is as if a heavy weight rests on my chest, suffocating me. I cannot shake this feeling away, this dread, this secret that I carry with me.

We rode into town today, my Abbey and I, and were welcomed heartily by the Council members. They ushered us into the small room where they had stored the found evidence, and I almost fell to my knees when I saw it.

Allison’s dress. Her favorite dress, drenched in blood, muddy and torn. Abbey immediately cried out in anguish, grasping the dress and holding it to her bosom as she screamed in fury.

It was all the Council needed to reach an immediate verdict. We sat in silence, Abbey and I, as the Sheriff was dispatched to arrest Copper Tibet. My wife was rocking back and forth, the dress clenched tightly in her hands as she wept, and it was then that I realized it.

The dress. My God, the dress!

Memories rushed through my head, and until this very moment, I am at odds with what I feel to be true. I have brushed it off as the tricks of an aging mind, but I believe I am just blind to the realities. I want to believe that I am wrong, but it is difficult to do so.

I remembered Abbey’s singing, a tune she had often sung to our Allison at bedtime. I remembered Abbey’s eagerness to learn how to slaughter, and her immediate undertaking of the task even when I had been around to do it myself. I remembered her trip into town and her return with nothing more than a few trinkets that were of no urgency. I remembered Abbey cleaning out our daughter’s room, slowly and methodically, organizing everything into neat piles as she carried them away.

I remembered the dress.

Our daughter had not been wearing that dress when she had disappeared!

Have I allowed an innocent man to be condemned?

 

 

Chapter 17

 

Sheriff Fiona Bright parked her cruiser and turned off the ignition.

She looked out at the small two story house, taking in a deep breath as she steadied her nerves for what she had to do. It was times like these she wished she could have been as clueless as the rest of Melington’s population, unaware of what was happening around her. Still, she knew it couldn’t be any other way, and she reminded herself that if it weren’t for her part in it all, things could have been much worse.

She braced herself, stepping out of her car and slowly closing the door behind her, her eyes scanning the second floor windows for Jamie Drew’s room. Fiona knew what was happening up there, and it scared the living hell out of her. Her father had not been gentle when he had broken the news to her, explaining her duties and what was required of her. As Sheriff, she was one of the most important players in this whole ordeal, and it was vital that she handle each task carefully and vigorously.

There could be no mistakes.

Fiona walked up the driveway, frowning as she tried to calm her nerves. Losing Doctor Fanning, as well as Alan Carter’s unexpected presence at the Collins’ apartment, had put her in a very delicate position. She knew Daniel Cole well, and the man was very good at keeping score. He wasn’t going to let her get away with another slip-up.

She noticed the lights on in the living room with the soft sound of the television playing in the background. Fiona felt a slight relief, knowing that as long as Jamie’s parents were downstairs, what was happening upstairs would continue undisturbed. Not that it mattered to Fiona. She was tasked with handling the back stories, and as she made sure to release the safety on her gun, she gently rapped on the front door.

Footsteps approached, and Fiona smiled at the tall blonde that greeted her.

“Sheriff?” Mr. Drew smiled awkwardly. “This is unexpected. Is something wrong?”

“Nothing serious,” Fiona said. “Can we speak inside?”

The man nodded eagerly and stood to one side, letting Fiona in.

 

***

 

“What the hell was that?”

Alan tried his best to keep his mind focused, ignoring Deborah’s frantic questions and need for instant explanations. It was unfair, but right now, all that mattered was Jamie Drew, and he couldn’t lose sight of that.

His ankle burned from where Copper Tibet had grabbed him, but Alan fought through the pain. He still couldn’t shake off the feeling he had when he looked into the monster’s eyes. The sudden terror that had overtaken him in the few seconds before Daniel Cole had jumped to the rescue.

Alan still couldn’t understand what it all meant, Copper’s questions lingering in the back of his head, taunting him. He had wanted to press Daniel Cole for answers, but he knew that the man would be uncooperative, despite having saved him from the monster’s hold. Besides, all that mattered now was Jamie Drew.

“The hand,” Deborah shook her hand in disbelief. “There really was a hand.”

“What?”

“I believed you about the children disappearing, but I assumed it was Daniel Cole being a sick psychopath. I didn’t think there was an actual hand!” Deborah stared at Alan in shock. “What was that?”

Alan hesitated.

“Alan, answer me!”

“Not now!” he shot back, pressing down harder on the gas pedal, wincing as his ankle throbbed. “Jamie first, explanations later.”

Alan could sense her frustration, but she would just have to deal with that on her own.

They had to reach Jamie in time.

 

***

 

Fiona closed her eyes.

There were no sounds coming from upstairs. Actually, aside from the gagged sobs of protest coming from Jamie’s mother, the entire house was eerily quiet. Fiona looked at the crying woman tied to her chair, her mouth covered with duct tape as she pleaded to Fiona with her eyes. Mr. Drew lay completely still at his wife’s feet, bleeding from the back of his head where Fiona had slammed the butt of her gun into.

The Sheriff glanced at her watch, then at her cell phone, her patience slowly waning. She had expected a call from Daniel a half-hour ago. She looked at the staircase, pondering whether or not she should risk a look upstairs. There were more gagged protests from the woman in front of her, and Fiona quickly slapped her across the face.

“Shut up,” Fiona hissed.

Beams of light shot through the living room drapes, and Fiona frowned as she made her way to the large windows. Her hand automatically reached for her gun as she cursed under her breath.

“Are you expecting anyone?” she pointed her gun at the woman.

The woman quickly shook her head, and before Fiona could push further, her cell phone rang. She quickly pulled it out as she heard car doors slam shut outside.

“Stop them!” Daniel Cole screamed into her ear.

“What the hell is going on, Cole?” Fiona asked as she pulled the drapes slightly open and saw Alan Carter racing towards the front door with Deborah behind him.

“I just broke free!” Daniel shouted. “Stop them!”

Fiona hung up quickly, her mind racked with questions that would just have to wait for later. She quickly raised her gun and rushed towards the front door to intercept her unwanted guests.

 

***

 

Alan didn’t bother knocking.

Picking up speed, he raced up the Drew’s front steps and slammed his weight against the door. It flew open against the assault and crashed against the wall, Alan staggering as he tried to keep his balance while rushing forward.

“Hold it, Carter!”

Alan looked up at Sheriff Fiona Bright with her gun aimed directly at him. Her eyes said it all.

She would not hesitate to shoot him.

 

***

 

Jamie Drew sat up straight, her back pressed tight against the headboard of her bed as she stared in horror at her closet door.

The sounds had returned moments before, and this time she knew that whatever was behind that door, it had come back for good. She had been frozen in fear since she had last seen the hand reach out from the darkness of her closet, unable to move, fighting to wake up from the nightmare she was experiencing.

It had to be a nightmare. There was no other explanation. She had tried calling out to her parents, but they hadn’t heard her, and there was no way she was getting out of her bed.

She was safe here. Under her covers and away from the opening closet door, she had to believe that she was safe.

Jamie watched in horror as the closet door swung all the way open, and in the darkness, eyes stared out her. She felt a chill run through her entire body, her eyes filling with tears that flowed freely down her cheeks. A soft chuckle emanated from within, and slowly, covered in shadows, a large silhouette trudged out.

Jamie felt her heart stop as she gazed upon the grotesque figure in front of her, skin hanging loosely from its body as its chest wheezed with its every breath. It seemed to blend in with the shadows around it, and if not for its eyes, its red burning eyes, Jamie would not have been able to tell it apart from the rest of the darkness. The room suddenly felt very heavy, as if everything had been enveloped in a bubble of vacuum.

“Jamie.” The thing’s voice cut through the air like a knife. “We’re going to have so much fun.”

Copper Tibet’s mouth curled into a smile, and in the darkness, Jamie screamed.

***

 

Fiona’s head snapped around at the sound of the little girl screaming upstairs, her guard dropping as her skin crawled at the sound.

Alan Carter didn’t hesitate.

Throwing caution to the wind, unwilling to let the opportunity slip past him, he charged the Sheriff and threw his body against her. She dropped her gun just as she slammed against the wall, Alan’s attack knocking the wind out of her. She fell to her knees, grabbing out blindly as she desperately tried to get a hold of her attacker. Alan pulled back and quickly slammed a fist into the Sheriff’s face, sending her crumbling to the floor.

“Upstairs!” Deborah yelled at him as they rushed into the living room.

Alan hesitated, the sight of Jamie’s parents shocking his advance for only seconds before Deborah pushed at him.

“I’ve got this!” she yelled. “Go!”

Alan rushed toward the stairs, taking them by twos as Jamie’s screams filled the house. The adrenaline pushed him forward, past the memories of his sister’s identical screams so many years ago. He fought through the pain in his ankle and quickly made his way to the only closed door on the second floor landing.

Alan Carter burst into Jamie’s room, and in the light that followed him through, he stared directly into the dead eyes of Copper Tibet.

“Carter.” Alan froze in his place, the monster’s smile sending cold shivers through his body. “Are you here to play?”

Alan charged in.

 

***

 

“Jamie!”

Deborah grabbed Jamie’s mother by the shoulders and shook her furiously. It had taken seconds to get the woman out of her binds, but trying to keep her away from whatever was happening upstairs was a completely different hassle.

“You can’t help her,” Deborah yelled.

“That’s my daughter!”

“And Alan’s doing everything he can to save her,” Deborah shook the woman again. “You’ll only be getting in his way. I need you stay here with your husband until I come back.”

The woman looked at her with fury, but quickly calmed down when she saw the determination in Deborah’s eyes.

“Stay here,” Deborah repeated, and waited until the woman nodded before letting her go and racing after Alan.

 

***

 

Alan was dying.

Copper Tibet’s hand was wrapped around his neck, suspending him in the air as Alan’s feet kicked to break free. The vice-like grip was suffocating him, and all Alan could consciously register were the burning red eyes that bore into his.

“Carter,” Copper Tibet breathed, Alan forced to gag on the rot that escaped the monster’s mouth. “Alan Carter. Why are you here?”

Copper’s voice felt like knives in Alan’s head, cutting away at him, ripping apart his sanity. Alan slammed his fists against the beast, but it was useless, like hitting a wall. Copper chuckled at the effort, tightening his grip around Alan’s neck.

“Do you deny me?” Copper hissed, the raspy echo of his voice too close to Alan’s ear for comfort.

Alan gasped for air, his hands clasping onto Copper’s grip as he helplessly tried to loosen it. He was losing air fast, already feeling lightheaded and faint. He could barely keep his eyes open.

“Do you deny me, Carter?”

“Alan!”

Alan felt an alarming rush of fear at the sound of Deborah’s voice behind him. She stood in complete shock as she gazed at the scene before her. She felt her knees buckle, and she quickly grasped the bedroom door’s frame as she steadied herself.

Copper Tibet tilted his head to a side as he stared at her and smiled.

“Jamie!” Alan gasped, his voice hardly a whisper. “Get Jamie!”

Deborah couldn’t move her legs, locked onto the eyes of Copper as she felt him beckon her to him. She felt stuck in a trance, unable to break free from his stare. Goose bumps broke out all over her skin and she felt a sudden cold race through her.

“Jamie!” Alan called out, louder this time and breaking through Deborah’s daze.

Deborah shook her head and quickly raced to the bed where the little girl had covered herself completely with her blanket and was shivering in between screams. Deborah tried to grab her, but Jamie kicked at her frantically.

“Jamie, stop, it’s me,” Deborah yelled over the incessant screaming. “It’s Miss Adams.”

Jamie continued to kick, and only when Deborah roughly pulled the covers away and brought the girl to her, did she finally allow herself to be led away. Deborah covered the girl’s eyes and quickly pulled her out of the room, glancing at Alan and making sure that Copper was not coming after them.

Alan saw them escape from the corner of his eye, momentary relief washing over him as he wrestled with the hand around his neck. Jamie was safe, and that was all that mattered. Whatever Copper Tibet decided to do with him now, it wasn’t as important as making sure the girl was safe.

“She’s gone, Copper,” Alan gasped, giving the monster a smile of his own.

Copper’s eyes bore into Alan. “Are you denying me what’s mine, Carter?”

Alan tried to look away, but Copper held him fast. “Look at me!” the beast hissed. “Are you denying me?”

Alan scowled at the beast in front of him. “You’re damn right I am!”

Copper Tibet chuckled merrily, his mouth opening and closing in a grotesque wave of scars and flesh. “Excellent!”

Copper Tibet’s eyes changed, and Alan felt the world around him shatter into a million pieces.

 

From the Journal of Jeremiah Carter.

Melington. October 25th, 1826.

 

This will be my last journal entry.

I cannot write anymore, knowing what I know. I feel compelled to say something, anything, but I fear the repercussions. The Council will see Abbey punished for this, and I can only imagine the look of silent contempt on the faces of every townsperson from now until the day I die. My family will be scorned forever.

They will hang Copper Tibet tomorrow, and I cannot stop them.

Oh, Abbey, what have you done?

Chapter 18

 

Fiona Bright sat quietly in the chair opposite Daniel Cole, her hands wrapped together in her lap as she avoided the man’s cold stare.

“I don’t think I need to tell you how much of a mess this all is,” Daniel said, the contempt in his voice cutting into Fiona. “I expected more from you, Sheriff. We all did.”

Fiona shifted in her seat and shot Daniel a look of pure contempt. “This wasn’t my fault. Alan Carter got in the middle of it all.”

Daniel slammed his hand down hard, forcing Fiona to flinch. “Do you have any idea what we’re going to be dealing with now? Do you realize what your incompetence has led to?”

Fiona looked at the Chairman silently.

“Where is Carter now?” Daniel asked.

“He’s at Melington Hospital,” Fiona replied. “He won’t be a problem anymore. The real issue is with the Adams girl.”

Daniel scoffed. “The real issue is far greater than you can ever fathom. Copper Tibet was denied. Do you know what that means for all of us?”

Fiona did, and the thought of it sent shivers up and down her spine. Still, she needed to maintain her calm in front of Daniel Cole.

“I have someone following the Drews,” Fiona said. “We can bring the girl back and wrap this all up.”

Daniel laughed incredulously and shook his head. “You really don’t understand, do you?” he said, looking out the large window behind him. “It’s too late.”

 

***

 

Deborah woke up to a gentle shaking, her eyes fluttering open as her eyes focused on the figure of Rachel Adams standing beside her.

“Mother,” she greeted coldly.

Sunlight poured into the hospital room through the windows, warm rays caressing Deborah’s cheeks as she pushed herself up. She had no idea when she had fallen asleep, the back of her neck strained from the angle her head had been resting in, but she felt like she could use some more rest.

“How is he?” Rachel asked, genuine concern in her voice.

Deborah looked down at Alan Carter as he lay motionless in the hospital bed, his eyes wide yet unresponsive. She felt a sharp pain in her chest at the sight of him, and gave her mother an accusing look.

“This is your fault,” Deborah hissed. “Take a good look at him, mother. This is your fault.”

Rachel recoiled from her daughter’s words and gazed at Alan. “This wasn’t supposed to happen,” she muttered.

“Really?’ Deborah snapped. “It wasn’t? Why don’t you tell me exactly what was supposed to happen? Because honestly, I can’t make heads or tails of any of it.”

Rachel looked at her daughter solemnly, sighing as she contemplated what to say. She had hoped for a better time to tell her daughter the truth, always having had used the excuse that Deborah was simply not ready yet. Looking at Alan Carter now, seeing the way Deborah had spent the last few days by his side, Rachel quickly realized that she had been wrong.

“I’m so sorry,” Rachel said to Alan before looking at her daughter with tear-strung eyes. “I never meant for this to happen.”

Deborah fought to restrain herself from comforting her mother, angry at the woman’s involvement and deceit.

“I don’t expect you to forgive me, Deborah,” Rachel said, her voice cracking.

“Good,” Deborah replied. “Because it isn’t that simple.”

Rachel nodded. “No, it isn’t.” She sat down heavily on a chair beside Alan’s bed and sighed heavily. “It’s much too complicated.”

Rachel gestured to the chair by her side and waited as Deborah reluctantly sat down. She took her daughter’s hands in her own and looked into her eyes.

“This is going to take a while.”

Deborah listened intently, and as the sun set outside and the room was cast in shadows, she looked over at Alan Carter and burst into tears.

 

 

EPILOGUE

 

Daniel Cole sat alone.

The house was empty. His wife had left him, packing her stuff the day after he had told her everything. She had quickly passed by his daughters on her way, sharing the story he had told her and making sure they followed suit. Daniel didn’t mind. He wanted his grandchildren as far away from Melington as possible.

Now there was only him. And Michael, of course, but that meant very little now. After what had happened, he doubted there would be any way to clean up the mess and fall back into the old routine. It was over. Everything was over. Melington was over.

He closed his eyes and sighed, shaking his head in dismay, wondering how he had been naïve enough to let Alan Carter ruin everything. Daniel wasn’t a young man anymore, and he thought back to twenty years before when he had been ruthless with his decisions. When Alan’s father had threatened to break the truth to the world, Daniel had not hesitated to give the girl’s name to Copper.

It had been cold, but effective.

He should have let Fiona kill the Carter boy the minute he had learned about his arrival in Melington.

Daniel scoffed. Not that it mattered anymore. Let them deal with the beast as it tore the town apart. His duties were over, the task that had been assigned to him now useless and unneeded. He was dispensable, and for the first time since taking on his father’s mantel, Daniel Cole felt a deep sense of relief.

The lights of the house flickered, then went completely out. Daniel smiled to himself, knowing what was coming. He had expected as much. It was the only reason why he had made sure he was alone when it happened.

“Cole,” the raspy voice came from the darkness surrounding him.

He could smell Copper Tibet well before the beast spoke his name. Daniel braced himself for what was coming. He tried to stay strong as red eyes lit up in front of him, the beast’s silhouette barely visible in the scant light coming through the living room windows.

“I am free, Cole,” the raspy voice chuckled as a hand reached out and wrapped around Daniel’s neck, squeezing.

Cole opened his mouth to speak, but the grip was too tight, blocking his vocal chords and cutting the supply of air to his lungs.

“I have been denied what is mine,” Copper Tibet smiled in the darkness, forcing a shiver down Daniel’s spine. “Our deal is broken.”

Daniel gasped for air, but it was of no use. He shook in fear as the eyes came closer and Copper’s rotting breath filled his nostrils. Daniel Cole was almost glad he couldn’t breathe it in.

Daniel looked into the blazing reds of Copper Tibet’s eyes as the hand gripping his neck tightened, nails piercing flesh and drawing blood in torrents. He could feel the life escape him, and the last thing he heard as his eyes closed was the soft chuckling of Copper Tibet.

“Your children will never be safe!”

  • * *

 

Bonus Scene Chapter 1

“Alan!”

Alan Carter woke up to the screaming.

It took him a few seconds for his eyes to focus, still engulfed in darkness, his mind trying to make sense of his surroundings. He waited, but nothing changed.

He tried to move, but his body wouldn’t respond, as if he were held down by some unbearable weight. He wiggled his fingers, slowly, the effort excruciating, and when he finally got a hang of it, tried to lift his arms. They felt like lead weights. Alan couldn’t discern whether it was a lack in strength or the sheer heaviness of the nothingness around him.

“Alan!”

The scream cut through the darkness like a knife, and in the back of his mind, the voice sounded vaguely familiar. He had heard it before. That very same scream, calling to him for help, to save her. He frowned, his head suddenly throbbing as he searched his mind for the memory that seemed just out of reach.

Alan tried to move again. It was like everything around was moving at a much slower pace and only his mind working at full capacity to take it all in.

He sat up, pushing against the cold floor with hands that tingled. He tried to listen for the screaming again, but it did not come. He was alone in the darkness, lost with the voices inside his head.

Move. You need to move.

Alan pushed himself to his knees, suddenly he felt faint. He balanced himself with one hand while the other massaged the back of his head, trying to shake the nausea away. He tried to stand up, his legs wobbly as if he were a newborn colt learning to walk.

He swayed in the darkness, head spinning as his feet tried to find a stable pose to prevent him from falling back down.

Move, Alan. Move now.

Alan took a step forward, placing his foot squarely in front of him and waiting to see how the rest of his body would react. He felt like he was walking a tightrope, arms stretched out as he tried to maintain his balance, his eyes blinking rapidly in hopes that he could see more than just black. A few seconds later, he risked taking another step, and was relieved when he didn’t collapse.

He remembered when he was nine and his parents had taken him and sister out to the ice skating rink. He had felt the same way, skates on his feet as he took tentative steps forward, still oblivious to the fact that he was supposed to glide, not walk. His sister had laughed at him. He remembered the envy he felt towards her.

His sister.

“Alan!”

He recognized the voice now. He remembered the last time he had heard it calling out to him that way. He had been in a sandbox, feet planted in front of him as he had pulled at his sister’s hand. She had screamed out in fear the night the hand had taken her away, and the sound of her voice calling to him had haunted him since.

“Kathrine,” he whispered into the darkness.

There was a gentle rumbling beneath his feet, a vibration crawled up his legs and sent shudders throughout his whole body. The vibration intensified, and soon the rumbling became a raging roar as the world around him shook uncontrollably. Alan staggered, fighting to keep his balance against the shaking. His body slammed against a wall, and he braced himself on the cold stone.

He was going to go mad.

Then, just as suddenly as it had started, it stopped. Alan felt dust fall onto his head, and he instinctively looked up. The darkness was absolute and he saw nothing of the ceiling above. He brushed the sand from his hair, feeling its moistness on his fingers, and pushed away from the safety of the wall. If dust had fallen from above, what was to say that the floor had not fallen below?

“Alan!”

Her voice was clearer now. Kathrine. Who else could it be? He was sure of it, as much as he was sure this was all a dream, and he would wake up as always, screaming and thrashing about.

Alan felt himself move further from the wall, now only the tips of his fingers feeling its chill, his feet moving on their own as if knowing where to step. The sound of a loud click pierced through the silence, a shattering sound came from his right, and Alan’s head snapped towards it.

Thin beams of red light poured through a crack in the wall, and as the light grew brighter, he could see it came from beyond a door swinging open slowly, as if on its own. The light broke through the darkness and threw shadows onto the walls, and Alan finally began to make out where he was.

It was a small room, the size of a dungeon cell. He noticed how the walls rose into the darkness above as if continuing for eternity, the stones shining red with the protruding light. Except for a small cot to one side, the room was empty, and Alan began to wonder if he really had been imprisoned here, and if so, for how long?

“Alan!”

The scream was louder now that the door had opened, and Alan began to move towards the light, slowly, head cocked to a side as he tried to see through the opening and into the hallway beyond. The light was pulsating, vibrating the way the room had vibrated before, and Alan immediately felt nauseated. He closed his eyes, standing completely still as he fought back the vertigo, waiting for the feeling to pass.

When he felt that he had gotten a hold of himself, he opened his eyes and continued forward. Alan reached out and grabbed the door, slowly pushing it further as he stepped into the red light.

 

***

 

The hall stretched on forever.

Alan Carter stood outside the door, looking right and left in bewilderment. Never in his life had he come across anything like this. On either side of him, the hall seemed unending, continuing on until the furthest his eye could see before disappearing. It reminded him of the ocean, how the horizon formed a line where sky and water kissed.

The red light pulsed, and Alan couldn’t tell whether he had escaped one prison or stepped into another.

The hallway was lined with doors similar to his, hundreds of them stood side by side like wooden soldiers waiting to be addressed. They were all closed; only his, stood open, and he felt an eerie sense of satisfaction at this. He considered the possibility that there were more like him, lost in complete darkness, unaware of how close they were to relief.

Was this relief?

Alan couldn’t tell, but he knew he would rather be standing in this hallway than shuddering within the cold nothingness he had just been in. He turned to his right and took a few steps forward, running his hand against the cold wall as he walked. There was not much to see here, but it felt good to be able to look out through his eyes and make out shapes and colors around him.

Alan Carter hated the dark.

“Alan!”

He froze in his place, feet planted where he stepped as the shuddering sound of Kathrine’s voice echoed across the walls from behind him. Alan turned, and what he saw almost made his heart stop.

She had not aged.

Kathrine stood in front of him with the same look of dread he had last seen her in, her hands outstretched, reaching for him, her eyes begging him to save her. She was only a few yards away, and Alan immediately raced to her.

He was too late. Just as he was about to grip her hands, she was snatched back, quickly, suddenly, without warning. Alan fell hard to the ground, still reaching for his sister as he watched her being pulled away from him by an invisible hand until she disappeared into the distance.

Alan screamed for her, his calls echoing off the cold walls and continuing forever.

He scrambled to his feet, kicking up dust as he pushed forward and raced after her. The adrenaline coursed through him like wildfire, burning in his veins as he sped down the hallway after his sister. His fists were clenched tight as his muscles flexed with the pumping of his legs, picking up speed as the doors beside him seemed to blur out of focus.

Alan had no idea how long he had been running when he finally stopped, out of breath with a pulsating pain in his side. He dropped to his knees, tears stinging his eyes and rolling down his cheeks as he mercilessly punched at the floor with his fists and drew blood. He only stopped when the pain finally kicked in, the adrenaline washing away and opening the gates to Hell. Pain wracked his body, and he fell to the cold floor screaming in frustration.

 

***

 

“Wake up.”

Alan’s eyes flew open at the sound of the strange voice above him, and he scrambled from where he lay before turning around and gazing at the woman standing before him.

Her black hair was tied back in a long braid, and she stared at him with eyes so blue it was like staring into a cloudless sky. Her dress was pure red, pulsating with the red light around her as if she herself were the source of it all.

“Get up,” she said, calmly yet firmly, her tone demanding respect. “She wishes to see you.”

Alan didn’t move, his eyes fixated on the woman as he flexed his muscles in anticipation. He wondered how fast he could get to his feet and run.

“It is not safe for you out here,” the woman seemed to read his mind. “You are safe with her.”

“Who are you talking about?” Alan asked, his voice hoarse. He coughed to clear his throat. “Who is she?”

The woman only stared at him, waiting for him to do as he was told. Alan weighed his options. She didn’t seem to be much of a threat, and from the looks of it, she obviously knew a lot more about this place than he did. Besides, he was beginning to feel a little curious about her, whoever she was.

“We do not have any more time to waste, Alan Carter,” the woman in red said.

“How do you know my name?”

“I know the name of all the children here.”

Alan frowned. “Children?”

The woman nodded slowly and turned, slowly moving away from him. She seemed to be gliding down the hall, her dress hiding her feet as she gracefully moved.

“He returns soon,” the woman called back to him. “He will not be happy if he finds you outside.”

Alan pushed himself to his feet. “What the hell are you talking about?” he called after her. “Who won’t be happy?”

The woman turned to look at him, and her face seemed to shift and change, her features altering before settling back into place. Alan felt a chill run down his spine as he watched her, and decided the best option was to walk in the opposite direction, away from her.

“You do not want him to be unhappy with you, Alan Carter,” the woman said. “he is rarely forgiving to those he is unhappy with.”

“Who are you talking about?”

The woman stared at him for a brief moment before finally saying, “Copper Tibet.”

 

***

 

Alan followed the woman quietly, the mention of Copper Tibet’s name enough to convince him that his chances were probably better with her.

He vaguely remembered his last encounter with the man, or at least what remained of him. The rot in his breath, the claws that tore at his skin, the grotesque disfigurement. It all came rushing back, but nothing as strong as the feeling of helplessness when he looked in Copper’s eyes. It was as if staring into the pits of Hell, as if Death were behind those eyes.

Alan had felt those eyes bore into his soul, through the backdoors of his mind where they grasped onto the threads of sanity there and tore away at them. He had almost felt his mind shatter like glass before the darkness took over. There had been nothing until he had woken up in his cell, to the same cold nothingness he had felt when he had last seen Copper Tibet.

The woman led him down the corridor, barely a whisper as she moved. Alan began to feel anxious, and just before he could ask her how long it would be before they would reach their destination, the woman stopped. She turned, almost mechanically, to the door to her left and reached out a thin hand to knock twice.

The door clicked open, and Alan watched as the woman opened it wide and stared at him, waiting.

Alan hesitated. “Where does it lead to?”

“It leads to her,” the woman replied.

“Will I be able to come back?”

The woman stared at him silently for a few seconds. “Where you are going, I believe you will not want to come back.”

Alan stepped up to the open door and looked inside.

The room was much larger than his, almost as big as a gymnasium, the floor invisible underneath mounds of earth and grass, trees popping out in random places. The ceiling was lost behind what looked like a clear blue sky, and he could almost swear he saw birds flying across it.

He saw her in the distance, a small blonde girl swinging joyfully on a tire swing tied to one of the trees. She was wearing a red dress similar to that of the woman beside him, and her bare feet rose and fell as she rocked up and down in her swing.

“Who is she?” Alan asked, walking into the room.

“That is for her to tell, and for you to find out.”

Alan turned to the woman, but she had disappeared, the door where she had stood, closed and replaced by nothing but air. Alan frowned in confusion, unable to comprehend what was happening, doubting his sanity more than ever.

He turned around and jumped with a shout when he saw the little girl standing only a few feet away from him, smiling.

“You came,” she said, her voice soft and happy, almost angelic if not for the way she had miraculously appeared in front of him. Alan felt his heart pounding against his chest, and he took deep breaths as he tried to calm himself down.

“I’m very happy you came,” the girl smiled. “When Mother said you were not in your room; I was very worried.” She bent forward as if about to share a deep secret. “He’s not very nice when we don’t stay in our rooms.”

Alan shook his head in confusion as he stared dumbfounded at the little girl. “Who are you?”

The girl smiled even wider and curtseyed. “I am the First,” she said, her voice coming in a sing-song tone that fit perfectly with the scenery around them.

“The what?”

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she giggled, covering her mouth with her hand. “I forgot you were new.”

Alan raised his eyebrows questioningly.

“My name is Allison Carter,” the little girl introduced herself. “It’s nice to meet you, Alan.”

 

***

 

Alan sat quietly on the grass, running his hands over the blades as he shook his head in bewilderment. It felt so real, although he couldn’t make any sense of it.

Allison swung on the tire beside him, up and down, watching him stare at the field around him in awe.

“It’s very pretty, isn’t it?” she asked.

“It’s very strange,” Alan replied.

“Strange is pretty.”

Alan looked up at the little girl and smiled, dusting his hands off against his jeans as he stood up. He still couldn’t make heads or tails out of what was happening.

“What is this place?” he asked.

“It’s where he takes us,” Allison replied, lowering her feet to the ground as she stopped the swing, slowly. Alan waited for her to come to a complete halt before helping her out of the tire and setting her down.

“Thank you.”

She took his hand and led him forward, half walking and half skipping as they moved.

“Are you talking about Copper Tibet?” Alan finally asked.

The girl nodded without breaking her stride. “He brings all the children here.”

“Where is here?” Alan asked, his eyes scanning the field around him. It seemed to span out forever, and he wondered just how much of it was real.

“Here,” Allison replied, shrugging as if that should be enough of an answer.

Alan stopped, and Allison let go of his hand. She looked at him expectantly, as if waiting for him to suggest a different game to play.

“How long have you been here?” Alan asked.

Allison shrugged again. “Ever since he took me away from Mother and brought me here.”

“Mother?” Alan asked, bending down to one knee so he was level with her. “You mean he took you from home?”

Allison shook her head and smiled. “No, silly, Mother took me from home. She locked me up and did terrible things. She made me cry a lot. He took her away first, and then he took me. Now Mother takes care of us all and watches the hallway to make sure we stay in our rooms.”

Alan thought back to the black haired woman in red and immediately knew who the little girl was talking about. He felt his body shudder at the realization of what Allison was saying, and his eyes grew wide in horror as he pieced everything together.

“You’re Jeremiah’s daughter,” he whispered. “You’re the one who started this all.”

Allison frowned at Alan and cocked her head to a side. “You know my father?”

Alan shook his head, forcing himself to smile despite the sinking feeling inside him. “I never met him, but we’re related.”

Allison giggled. “Just because we have the same name doesn’t mean we’re related, silly. There are a lot of children here called Carter.”

Alan had a pretty good idea why. “Have you met any of the others, Allison?” he asked.

Allison shook her head. “We’re not supposed to leave our rooms. Sometimes, Mother delivers letters between us, but none of us have ever been to each other’s rooms.” She smiled at him widely. “You’re the first one to see my room!”

Alan smiled back, but he was unable to share in the excitement. There was something off about all this, something was incredibly uncomfortable. None of it made sense, that much was obvious, and through the entire ordeal, he was feeling more and more like he was dreaming. It was apparent his subconscious was playing tricks on his mind.

Yet, even in this confusion, in the chaos of everything that didn’t make sense, something was off.

“You want to see the lake?” Allison suddenly asked, and before Alan could answer her, she grabbed his hand and pulled him along.

 

***

 

Alan was having a hard time believing what he was looking at.

There really was a lake, and it made it even harder for Alan to conceive just how big this ‘room’ was. He thought back to his own room, the small dark cell that he had occupied only minutes before, and how the sheer claustrophobia of it made him feel like the hallway outside was a blessed retrieve.

This was different, though, and Alan wondered when he would finally wake up so all of this could start making sense.

There really were birds in the skies, and as he looked out upon the glittering surface of the lake, he watched them dive into the waters and resurface with their prey in their beaks. The trees which had once been scarce were now a dense woodland, and the soil was much moister here, his bare feet soaked in water as he stepped towards the mass of water in front of him.

“What is this place?” he asked as he slowly let go of Allison’s hand.

“My brothers used to bring me here all the time, before I was taken,” Allison replied, her smile less cheerful. Alan noticed how her eyes had begun to water. “We had a lot of fun here.”

Alan slowly began to understand what was happening, how the room was a direct reflection of its occupant’s subconscious memories becoming reality in the blink of an eye. It was only a theory, but it was better than the alternative.

However, if that were true, what did that say about his room?

“It’s beautiful,” Alan remarked and smiled at the little girl as she nodded in approval. She was openly crying now, and her hands swiftly wiped away the tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I don’t like coming here a lot,” Allison said. “It makes me want to go home.”

Alan bit his tongue, unable to bring himself to tell her that what had once been her home was now a completely different place she wouldn’t be able to recognize. Gone were the fields of green, in their place, malls, amusement parks and office buildings. He couldn’t even remember the last time he had been to the lake, knowing only that it had become a crowded array of towels and topless sunbathers. Definitely a stark difference from the tranquility that currently lay before him.

His eye caught sight of something in the distance, and he squinted against the sunlight, shielding his eyes as he tried to make out what it was.

Allison caught what he was doing and quickly started tugging at his sleeve. “We have to go back,” she said urgently. “Mother won’t be happy about us being this close to the end.”

“The end of what?” Alan asked, only half listening to the little girl as he scrutinized the tree lines.

“The end of my room,” Allison said. “We shouldn’t even be here. He got very angry the last time.”

Alan ignored her, his legs carrying him forward as recognition seeped in.

It was a door.

Allison pulled on his sleeve, trying to stop his advance, and he lightly pulled his arm away.

“You can’t,” she was saying, her tone begging as she grasped onto him again.

“Allison, not now.”

“Stop, Alan Carter,” Allison pleaded. “Stop now.”

Alan could almost feel the door pulling him, invisible hands reaching out and grabbing him, drawing him as if his life depended on it.

Suddenly the skies darkened, and the rumbling he had felt earlier in his room started again. Alan looked back at the little girl, her head turning left and right as she seemed to be looking for something, her small frame visibly shaking.

The trees were the first to change, the branches morphing into long arms that reached out threateningly. From the ground, wooden masts popped out, breaking through the earth and reaching up to the skies. Alan watched in horror as the lake’s color slowly changed from a beautiful blue to a deep maroon, and the earth shook with such force it threw him off his feet.

“Run!” he heard Allison scream.

Alan looked up at the little girl as she stared in horror at the tree line beyond, the shrubs shaking with the approach of something huge, something dangerous.

Alan looked back at the door, jumping up to his feet as he stared at his target. He looked back at Allison.

“He found you, Alan Carter!” Allison screamed. “Go now!”

“Come with me!” Alan called to her, but she wasn’t listening. He watched as Allison raced forward towards the trees, ready to intercept whatever was coming for them.

Alan hesitated. He couldn’t leave her here. He couldn’t leave any of them here. Whatever Copper Tibet was doing, keeping them locked away in this place, Alan felt this was the only chance to get them all out.

Allison turned around and looked at him, and just before he could call out to her, she was pulled off her feet and into the trees.

Alan turned and ran. His legs felt like lead, his breath burning in his lungs as he pushed forward. The door was only a few yards away when he heard something roar in fury behind him, the cracking sound of breaking branches sending shivers through his body.

Alan dared not look back, his feet kicking up wet soil as blades of grass cut his skin, drawing blood. His heart was pounding in his chest, but he did not stop.

The door was there.

Just a few yards more.

A hand grabbed him by the collar of his shirt, and Alan roared in anger as he pulled loose, feeling the fabric rip off him. Nails ripped at the skin of his nape, and still he pushed forward. He could smell the rot, the heat of heavy breathing on his naked back, and he knew that if he didn’t make it through that door, he would never find another way out.

The door was only a few feet away, and just as nails scratched at him again, Alan jumped forward and threw his body against the wooden frame.

Alan Carter fell into the darkness beyond.

 

***

 

“Alan?”

Alan’s lids fluttered open, and as he waited for his eyes to focus, he breathed in a deep breath of relief as Deborah Adams’ hand found his on the hospital bed.

 

  • * *

Alan’s adventures continue in Shadow’s Embrace. Enjoy your sneak peek:

Preview of Shadow’s Embrace Prologue

 

I know you.

Sure I do. I’ve seen you on TV before. I’d recognize that face anywhere! I saw you walk in here and knew who you were even before you ordered your drink. Here, this one’s on me. No, no, I insist! You’re in my town, buddy, and there’s no way I’m going to let you pay for your own drink. Not me, no way!

So what brings you to Melington? Sure, it’s supposed to be tourist season and all, but let’s be honest; ain’t nothing much to see around here, am I right? You’d know that, wouldn’t you, with your job and all. I’m not sure how much you know about this little town, but since you’re here, then I guess it’s gotta be more than most.

What’s that? Oh no, it’s nothing like that. We ain’t been a small town since God knows when. All these new establishments and buildings and all, it’s a real game changer for us townies. We see people come and go all the time, which hasn’t always been the case, mind you.

Wanna hear something funny? I kinda thought we’d have the news stations driving through here pretty soon. Things have been awfully strange these days. Us townies keep telling folks Melington’s changed, but it ain’t nothing compared to the last few months. But, you’d know that, wouldn’t you? Ain’t it why you’re here?

There’s something different in the air, if you ask me. You could almost feel it like a cold hand against your skin. People are a lot more scared these days. I guess it’s because of what’s been going on.

A story, eh? That really sounds like something. Tell you what? Since we’re chatting and all, maybe I could help you fill in the blanks, just so you don’t waste too much time running around in circles. I keep my ear pretty close to the ground, and if there’s one thing you can count on, it’s the power of gossip.

Ah, so you’ve heard. Yeah, we’ve got a new Chairman. Or should I say Chairwoman? Does the term even exist? Doesn’t matter. Rachel Adams heads the Council now; used to be the principal of Melington Elementary. She’s a tough old bird, but she scares me a lot less than the old Chairman.

I don’t know, to be quite honest. He’s in the psych ward, up in Melington Hospital. People say he’s still as a stone, eyes open but nothing really ticking up in that head of his. Seems like he got what he deserved, really. You can never really trust a Cole; it’s a common saying in Melington. Everyone knows it, or at least us townies do.

I’d take Rachel Adams over Daniel Cole any day, if you ask me. The woman’s got a proper head between those shoulders. Besides, Cole’s been grooming his son to take over for quite a while now, and no one wanted to see that idiot run the Council. They say he owns some computer company downtown, but I doubt it’s anything, really. The boy’s always been in his father’s shadow, and now that Cole’s a vegetable, the kid’s a walking mess.

He used to date Rachel Adams’ daughter. Deborah’s her name, I think. Can’t really remember. With all the new folks here, it’s hard to keep track of names anymore. Not like the old days. Before, you couldn’t walk a few yards without bumping into someone you knew. That’s all gone now. A town full of strangers, Melington is. It’s a shame really.

Who? Oh, you mean Fiona Bright? If you’re looking for her, best be checking the station. She never leaves there anymore; they say she’s been spooked into hiding, spends her nights sleeping in her office and all. She’s got her deputies doing the job, though, keeping the peace. This place has always been a safe town.

Why are you smiling like that? You know something I don’t?

Oh, so that’s the story? I’ll tell you something, I don’t believe it one bit. Melington’ always been a family friendly town; hasn’t been a violent incident for generations. All that talk about missing children, I think it’s just rumors to tarnish our good town’s name. People come and go, and I assure you, it’s probably nothing but campfire stories to scare the kiddies.

Of course it hasn’t made the news. If it isn’t true, why would it make the news? Tell you something else, buddy, there isn’t a single police report about a missing child; I can bet my chips on that. When you go see Fiona, you can ask her yourself. Then you’ll be back here buying me a drink, yes, sir. Folks here would be making a hell of a racket if four children had really gone missing. You’d think there was some common sense in folks before they believed those rumors.

Tell you what, buddy. I’ll drive you down there myself. You just finish that drink and stick with me. I assure you, there’s nothing to worry about here in Melington.

Nothing at all.

 

Preview of Shadow’s Embrace Chapter 1

 

“There hasn’t been any change.”

Michael Cole found it difficult to step into the Melington Hospital psych ward. Ever since walking in, he had been hit by a nauseated feeling, something he attributed to what his sister had often called ‘hospital smell’. There was a mixture of anesthetics and detergent in the air that always seemed to linger in hospital hallways; it never failed to make him sick.

Even on the seventh floor, away from most of the recovering patients, at the far end of the hospital wing where the ward had been nestled, the stench of sterility still filled his nostrils. It forced him to sneeze every few minutes. Michael felt he’d suffocate if he didn’t get out of here soon.

“We’ve been keeping him as comfortable as possible,” the perky nurse leading him chirped, turning every now and then to smile at him over her shoulder. “It’s a real shame seeing him like this. I’ve always remembered him as a very strong man.”

“He still is,” Michael said firmly, a little agitated at how the nurse was talking about his father, yet simultaneously forced to agree with her.

Ever since he had brought his father in six months ago, he had been plagued with pitiful apologies and sorrowful inquiries about Daniel Cole. Michael had tried his best to remain calm in the face of the questions and kind words, always hearing a subliminal tone of satisfaction in everyone’s voices as they hugged him, patted his back and urged him to remain strong. Deep down, he knew the town was grateful Daniel Cole was no longer chairman, but they were still too frightened to voice their true feelings on the matter. Michael knew they were probably worried that when his father returned, he would exert the fury everyone knew he was prone to, and no one was willing to take that abuse.

At least, not yet.

Melington had truly changed in the past months, and Michael was starting to feel the repercussions of his father’s actions. It was enough to make his mother refuse to come and see the man, or his sisters to return his calls. Michael hated how alone he felt right now and wondered how his entire world had suddenly been turned upside down.

“Of course,” the nurse said, trying to hide her embarrassment. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to –”

“That’s fine,” Michael interrupted her, unwilling to go through another stutter of apologies which had long lost their charm. “I’m just here to see how he’s doing. You were saying there haven’t been any changes?”

The nurse shook her head as she led him down a narrow hallway of closed doors. Michael thought of how claustrophobic this whole place felt. He was willing to bet that if anything could bring his father back to his senses, it would definitely be this ward.

“There were slight movements in the eyes, a quick flicker, but the doctors think it’s just nerves,” the nurse said. “Other than that, he’s been pretty much the same since you brought him in.”

The nurse stopped at his father’s room and rapped her knuckles softly on the door. Michael wanted to laugh, stopping himself from asking her who the hell she thought would answer. He waited for her to open the door, and slowly followed her into the small, confined space that had been his father’s home for the past few months.

Daniel Cole sat at his usual place, his back to the door, staring through the window at the lush greenery outside. He was dressed in his favorite robe, his feet bare against the cold floor as his hands clutched the side of his chair.

“Thank you,” Michael muttered as he stepped past the nurse and waited for her to leave. She nodded at him with a smile and ducked out the door, leaving him alone with Daniel.

Michael pulled a chair from against the wall and sat down with a sigh. He gazed at the old man, the wrinkles on Daniel Cole’s face now deeper, his hair white and thin as bald spots began to appear in various areas, his skin dry and cracked. Michael could feel his heart drop at the sight of his father.

“Hi, dad.”

Michael waited for a reply he knew would not come, and turned his head away when he felt the sting of tears in his eyes. Six months and there was still no sign of Daniel Cole being anywhere inside the shell of a body that now sat alone in the hospital room, staring out into nothingness. Not a single reaction since Michael had found him sitting much the same way on his living room couch.

“Dad, it’s me.”

Michael didn’t even look at his father when he said it, knowing well that there would be no response. He had tried everything, yet as the days went by, his efforts were less and less vigorous. In the beginning, he had screamed and shouted, shaken his father until he could hear the man’s teeth rattle and the doctors had to pull him away. He had tried showing his father home videos, scrapbooks, even read one of his favorite novels out loud, and there had still been no response.

Now Michael only sat, as quiet as the man beside him, and would merely say a word or two during his entire visit just to set his mind at ease. In a way, he had become as numb as his father, and it was affecting everything in his life.

Michael ruffled his hair and sighed heavily, closing his eyes as he listened to the soft ticking of the clock on the wall behind him.

 

***

 

Deborah Adams woke up to the sounds of music playing from downstairs.

Her eyes were heavy, exhausted after a week of duties that often had her bringing work home. She had been looking forward to a slow weekend, hoping for a lazy Sunday entailing nothing more than waking up late and dozing off in bed until late in the afternoon.

She frowned, trying to make out what was playing on the radio downstairs, and quickly realized she wouldn’t be able to go back to sleep. She smiled weakly, already knowing exactly how much hell she was going to give Alan for this, and slowly rolled out of bed.

Deborah turned on the bathroom lights and looked at herself in the mirror, taking in the disheveled look of her hair and the bedroom eyes gazing back at her. The last few months had been good to her and Alan, and although she still had much on her mind, she had never felt this relaxed in her life.

It had been touch and go in the beginning. Coaxing Alan back to his usual self had taken time and effort. Even after he had completely come to and had been declared fit enough to go home, the doctors could never have prepared them for the emotional strain his experience would put him through. For weeks, she had been awaken by sudden screaming and thrashing, the first of which had frozen her blood cold.

She had often asked him about them, but Alan always had the ability to be as vague as possible when he wanted to avoid talking about something. Whatever he was going through behind his closed eyes, they were his battles and his alone; there was nothing she could do to convince him to share. Thankfully, though, the nightmares were less regular now, and Alan had quickly jumped back into his daily routines.

Deborah brushed her hair and washed her face, her nose slightly scrunching at the faint smell of burnt breakfast. She could hear Alan downstairs singing along to what she now recognized was The Who, and smiled to herself. His strength impressed her, and she marveled at how well he had handled everything since their run-in with Copper Tibet.

That night still haunted her, though, and just thinking about it usually sent shivers down her spine. Try as she could, she couldn’t get the image of Copper out of her mind. The monster’s grotesque features were engraved in her memory forever. She wished she could let it go as easily as Alan had, or at least push it so far into the back of her mind where it could never bother her again.

It was easier said than done, and Deborah had quickly made peace with the fact that this was not one of those things she could simply forget. She had wanted to talk to Alan about it on several occasions, but seeing him at peace with the world around him had always stopped her from doing that. Besides, what mattered now was their life together, and she wouldn’t let the memories of Copper Tibet ruin that for them.

Deborah made her way downstairs, allowing the cold hardwood floor to dispel her morning grogginess. The smell of burnt eggs was stronger, and as she walked into the kitchen, she almost broke out laughing at the sight of Alan dancing as he tried to clean up the mess. Two plates sat idly on the kitchen table, their contents unwelcoming, but her stomach groaned with the prospect of food.

“I don’t know what’s worse,” Deborah said. “The fact that I actually want to eat whatever it is you put on my plate, or the dancing.”

Alan turned and shot her a smile. “I tried to make something special, but it kind of got out of hand,” he said.

“What was wrong with just plain scrambled eggs?” Deborah asked.

“Too boring,” Alan replied.

“But edible.”

Alan threw his hand towel at her. “Just shut up and eat,” he laughed.

Deborah took a seat at the table, waiting for him to finish cleaning up before he joined her. She watched him attack his food, and she smiled at how he was trying to hide his grimace with every bite. He was eating in a hurry, as if trying to get the ordeal over with before his taste buds forced him to gag.

“Your mother called,” Alan said, downing a large cup of orange juice to mask the taste of the eggs.

Deborah frowned, her appetite suddenly lost.

“You do know that you’re going to have to talk to her sooner or later, right?” Alan asked, looking at her seriously.

Deborah shook her head in frustration. Despite every attempt to shut her mother out of her life, Rachel Adams still found a way to ruin a perfectly good morning.

“She’s a stubborn woman,” Alan said. “She’s going to keep at it until you talk to her.”

“Could we change subjects, please?” Deborah asked, playing with her food as her eyes stared pleadingly at Alan. He shrugged and shifted his attention back to his plate, his morning joyfulness gone.

Deborah sighed. She had avoided her mother like the plague ever since their talk at the hospital. Deborah was incapable of even talking to the woman after everything she had told her. The stories of the founding families and Copper Tibet, the history of the missing children and the involvement of the Council. It had all disgusted her more than anything she could imagine, and there was very little love left in Deborah’s heart for her mother.

She had accepted the position of principal only to get Rachel out of the school, hoping that somehow it would protect the children of Melington from the Council. She had lost her trust in its members completely, and it had taken all her power not to blow the whistle and share the truth with the world.

Besides, a story about a monster that kidnapped children in the dead of the night would have been completely insane.

When Alan’s nightmares had calmed down, when she felt that sharing her mother’s story with him would not hurt him in some inexplicable way, she had told him everything. Alan had listened to her for an hour without any reaction, and when she had finished, he simply hugged her and told her that everything would be okay, as if she were the one in need of comfort.

She loved him for that.

Alan looked up at Deborah and set his fork down, folding his arms on the table and looking her straight in the eye. “It’s over, Debbie,” he said. “No one’s been taken in months, and for all we know, Copper Tibet is gone.”

Deborah nodded. “It doesn’t mean she deserves forgiveness.”

“I’m not asking you to do that,” Alan said. “I’m asking you to talk to her. Get some closure, and then think about forgiveness. Right now, though, it’s just pure anger that’s driving your decisions, which is never a good thing.”

Deborah frowned. “Do you blame me?” she asked. “She knew everything. They all did. They could have done something about it, but they didn’t.” Deborah felt her body shudder. “They were feeding the thing, Alan. They were giving the monster what it wanted.”

“I’m not saying what they did was right, Debbie,” Alan said.

“Good, because it sure as hell sounds like it.”

Alan sighed. “No one hates them for what they did more than I do,” he said. “My own parents were involved in all this before Kathrine was taken. But for now, we’ve won. Let’s try to move forward, okay?”

Deborah held his gaze for a few seconds, then shook her head slowly and stood up. She took both plates, bent down and kissed his forehead, and made her way to the sink.

“You’re a strange man, Alan Carter,” she said as she turned on the water and began to rinse the plates.

“It’s part of my charm,” Alan replied.

 

***

 

Alan Carter waited until Deborah had left for her morning run before turning on his computer. Waiting for the machine to start up, he ran a hand through his hair and rubbed his temples.

He hadn’t slept for days.

The nightmares were getting more vivid, and although he had been able to keep his emotions under wrap, hiding it all from Deborah was starting to take a toll on him. He had practically fallen asleep during breakfast preparations, and if it hadn’t been for the music on the radio, he would have burned down the kitchen.

The light blue background flashed at him and a window popped up, requesting his password. Typing in his sister’s nickname, he let himself into his desktop and quickly clicked on the first of many folders lined up neatly on the screen.

Research was slow now that Deborah was living with him. The pace frustrated him, but he had to admit having her in his life easily made up for that. Still, he was beginning to fear he was running out of time.

Copper Tibet had vanished completely since Alan had denied him his last victim, but after what Deborah had told him, that wasn’t necessarily a good thing. He remembered what Rachel told her about the sacrifices the founding families had made; their deal with the devil, so to speak, and that made things infinitely more troublesome.

Copper Tibet wasn’t bound by blood anymore. He was free to roam around Melington and snatch up whoever he desired, which made finding him difficult. Without the blood binding, there was no telling who his next victim could be, and it bothered Alan how Copper hadn’t taken anyone yet.

What was the monster waiting for?

Alan opened the first of many files he had gathered on the history of Melington, all the way back to when Copper had been burned alive. There was ridiculously little information out there, and Alan could only assume it was because the Council had tried to hide its past as much as possible. He knew he would eventually have to talk to Rachel Adams and fill in the missing pieces, but he was pushing that encounter as much as possible. He wanted Deborah with him when it happened, and as long as she wasn’t talking to her mother, he didn’t see a meeting happening any time soon.

Alan rubbed his eyes and looked at his watch before starting on the new batch of research he had downloaded. He had a good half hour before Deborah returned, and he needed to make the best of that time.

 

 

Six Months Ago

 

This isn’t easy for me.

The truth is, I’ve been meaning to tell you all about this a long time ago, but the timing was never right. In retrospect, I doubt there ever was a proper time. Maybe, I was just trying to avoid this as much as possible. Maybe, I didn’t want you involved in any way. I really can’t tell you for sure what my reasons were, but what I can tell you is that I love you, and I would do anything to protect you.

It may not seem like it after you hear what I have to say, but I need you to believe me. It’s the truth, even if it’s hard to fathom right now.

You have to understand, this was not something any of us chose. This was a burden we had to bear for decades. A deal which had been struck before my time or my father’s time. For generations, our family has been forced to uphold an agreement that had been struck to protect our own.

That thing you saw, the monster that did this to Alan, it’s real. I can’t begin to understand what you are going through, because I have never seen it before, nor would I want to. I had always hoped it would never come to this. I prayed your only involvement with that thing would be as far as my involvement has been until now. But, it cannot be helped anymore.

It has a name, though, a name we only whisper amongst each other; one we avoid whenever possible. It’s as if speaking the name would give it power, and it already has too much of that to begin with. We’ve deleted the name from our records, wiped out the monster’s very existence, hoping one day we could find a way to rid this world of it and pretend it had never existed to start with.

Its name is Copper Tibet.”

  • * *

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Children to the Slaughter

Melington has changed. There is an evil lurking in the darkness, under the beds and behind closet doors. It seeks vengeance and retribution and will not be denied. No one knows this more than Alan Carter. Returning to his hometown after a twenty year absence, he is resolute in uncovering the truth behind his sister’s abduction and the strange disappearance of children. Joined by his childhood friend, Alan finds himself thrown into the middle of a conspiracy led by the town Council as it desperately tries to hide its secrets from the world. No child is safe in Melington, and Alan Carter needs to stop the curse that has haunted his hometown for generations. But as Alan’s brushes with death become more frequent, he finds himself running out of luck.

  • Author: Scare Street
  • Published: 2017-08-13 20:35:35
  • Words: 51529
Children to the Slaughter Children to the Slaughter