He remained silent, staring at the reverend who stared right back at him, one eyebrow raised. Otto breathed heavily, grunted and then spoke.
“Yes. But that’s got nothing to do with any of the matter you are so worked up about. She was just a missing girl and I saw her in a car.”
“Are you sure it was her? The report I read,”
Mabel cut me off. “Listen, it’s not relevant as Otto already said. We’ll get you a few answers, but it will likely be a very few and you shouldn’t waste them on that Wilson girl. Otto here is a good man but protective of this place.” She had a kind look on her face but the tone in her voice was less friendly, much more matter-of-fact. I took her suggestion to heart and spent a minute trying to compose my thoughts.
“So, are you part of this whole thing also?” I asked her.
“I live here, so yes, I am part of this community. Still, I’m trying to help you out a little, ok?”
“Are you really going to help me, really answer my questions?” I directed that inquiry at Otto.
He looked over at the reverend, then at me and then at the floor before answering. “I’ll answer, maybe. You need to leave here, that’s what I think, just leave now and don’t bother us again. These two seem to think otherwise, like we owe you something. If it’ll get rid of you, I’ll answer…maybe. Why do you think we should help him anyway, reverend?”
The reverend leaned forward. “Because I’m sure we don’t want to have anything unfortunate happen here and I think if you give him a few simple answers, well that will be enough to satisfy his curiosity. Then he can go in peace and we all go back to our regular lives.”
“And he won’t go telling others and bringing more trouble up here?”
“I’m sure that if we answer his questions honestly that he won’t feel the need to tell anyone about anything because there won’t be anything to tell.”
I was not too sure of the truth of that statement but did my best to look like I might be able to be convinced. The reverend urged Otto to cooperate again.
He seemed unconvinced, his face closed and hard. He grunted and glared at me. “Well, boy?”
“Who lives with Brown Suit?” All I received was a blank look. I was about to get angry when I realized that my nicknames for these people were known only to me. “Ok, listen, nobody around here will tell me their name, or at least most people won’t. I don’t know why, but it seems to be a thing. I just figured her name out when the reverend said it.” Mabel looked back at me but did not offer to add anything. “So, I have nicknames for people. That guy at the end of the road, the house with the big tree down in the yard?”
Otto nodded in reply, so I figured that meant he understood who I was talking about. He, of course, did not offer me a name to use, so I went back to nicknames. “I call him Brown Suit. So, who lives with him?”
Otto did not answer nor did anyone else in the room. I threw up my hands.
“This is not going to work. I’m going back to my truck.” I stood up but the reverend waved me back down. “Take it easy. Remember that this information you want, well it really isn’t any of your business although you seem to have made it that way. I’m trying to get you a few answers but you need to be patient. Maybe start with something else?”
I really felt like it still was not going to be very useful but I began again.
“Do people really disappear from around here?”
“What do you mean?” replied Otto.
“I mean, Brown Suit told me that a bunch of people have disappeared from this area. He believes that the mine is haunted by some evil thing, a presence that, well, I guess he believes it lives in this area. He thinks it travels around and he follows it, trying to feed this thing his rabbits.” I was met with silence which I thought meant they did not understand what I was saying so I added, “you know, so that the evil thing eats the rabbits instead of people. He thinks it feeds on life energy or something like that and that he can substitute rabbits for people because all life has this energy.” More silence followed that, which is when I realized that it was because I was not telling them anything they did not already know. It was just the silence of people listening to a well-known story.
“So, then, people do go missing from here?”
Otto looked over at me, waited a few moments and then spoke. “A few people went missing, sure they did. People go missing from all over. That’s not what’s making him believe in evil things. He believes in that because of who goes missing.”
I shook my head in confusion. “What? You said it wasn’t the people then you said it was?”
“I said who it was.”
Before I could ask again, the reverend interjected. “I think it would be more clear to say that he believes in this evil because of exactly which people it is that go missing.”
That helped. “Oh, so which exact people are going missing?”
“His relatives,” Otto answered and then added, “a few of them anyway.”
…to be continued