That shocked me but also seemed to release all the tension from my body and a wave of extreme weariness came over me. I stopped walking and swayed a little bit, at which point the reverend grabbed my other arm and propelled me forward.
“Let’s just keep moving for now, come on.”
Several minutes later I was sitting in the church office once again, this time with Eyebrows in a chair across from me, fanning herself with a copy of a religious magazine. I felt very tired and was fighting to keep my attention on the moment as a long nap sounded like a much better option. The reverend stayed near the door, staring out the window for five minutes before joining us. He sat down heavily in his chair and rubbed his hand across his forehead. Eyebrows got up immediately, casting a hard look his way and muttering, “we all need something to drink, don’t you think?” under her breath. She returned with a tray full of glasses and a pitcher of ice water, pouring one for each of us. I had just started to drink when a sharp knock sounded from the door, startling me enough to make me choke. Eyebrows looked at the reverend who had stood up so he could see out the small window.
“It’s Otto. I wondered if he might show up. It’ll be okay.” He gave us both a small, reassuring smile and then let the man in. I turned to look and my weariness left me. It was Window Man.
Up close he still looked pale but not grey, which had been my initial impression of him. His skin was actually almost translucent and waxy in appearance. When I had run past him earlier I had caught a closer glimpse of his eyes which seemed to be shiny and less green than I had first thought them to be. Now I saw that they were actually green with gold flecks that made them glow even in the subdued light of the church office. He was not wearing his hat but had on a grey vest with a red feather partially sticking out of the watch pocket. He spoke through thin, dark lips.
“I’m here to give you a simple message young man, not from those people down the road as I figure you got their message loud and clear. This one is just from me. You need to leave before you do some real harm to this community, or something happens to you. Do you understand me?” His voice was high-pitched and raspy.
I had recovered most of my wits and all of my stubbornness as he spoke, my resolution bolstered by a desire to make up for the fear I had shown earlier.
“I’m not here to harm anyone. I just came here to check out a stupid old abandoned mine and got tangled up in all of this weirdness you have around here. I’m just trying to figure out what’s going on.”
“This place may seem strange to you, but it’s just outside of your life experience. Things here are just as normal for us as they have always been.” As he finished he looked over at the reverend, then waved at Eyebrows. “It figures you two would be the ones to come save this fella. You two outsiders…” His voice trailed off, but then it came back, in the middle of a sentence which had obviously started in his head. “…understand a damn thing about this place.”
Eyebrows snorted before replying. “Don’t you be telling me who’s an outsider, Otto Clements. I’ve been here plenty long enough to see very clearly what this place is, its beauty and its flaws. Plenty of both, don’t ya think?”
“You’re still an outsider. Marrying Tony never changed that.”
“Please, this isn’t getting us anywhere,” the reverend interjected. Otto turned on him in response.
“You got nothing to say about who should or shouldn’t know things about this place. You’re just another damn religious place-holder doing your turn in the woods. Stay out of what you don’t understand.”
“I’m really trying to help you Otto, help you save your community as I think you just put it. I know that you are the only one I have ever seen around here, other than Mabel,” and here he gestured toward Eyebrows, “that has shown any kindness to strangers that have passed through Clyde Forks. That’s why I thought you might show up after what just happened out there. And I also know that you aren’t a violent man and don’t want to see any kind of mob action take place here in this community that you care about so much. So, let me help you get this young man on his way.”
Otto scowled back, then replied. “You sure that you can convince this boy to leave here before something happens that can’t be undone?”
I spoke up before the reverend could reply. “You think all these missing people are just normal? You think that hiding children is some kind of innocent weirdness that I don’t understand? I’m going to get some answers or.” I stopped before finishing, as “die trying” seemed like a very bad choice of words given the earlier events. “Well, I’m going to figure it out.” I finished with that instead.
The reverend stood up and motioned to Eyebrows. “Mabel, can you get a chair from the foyer please?”
She nodded and left the room as the reverend turned to Window Man. “Otto, I know you mean well and that’s why I thought you might follow us here. You know as well as I, honestly much better than I, that there are things about this place which would probably strike any rational person as strange. At least, anyone who did not come from here. A lot of those things have simple explanations that are much more innocent than they might appear. I think we can clear up this matter a little bit for this young man and then get him safely on his way. Can you help me with that?”
As Otto silently considered that, my brain was trying to figure out why his name sounded familiar. Eyebrows, or Mabel as I now knew her to be, returned and set a chair directly behind him. He was sitting down when it came to me.
“Otto Clements? Is that you? Are you the guy who reported the two-tone Dodge to the police when they were looking for Jenny Wilson?”
…to be continued