That brought me to a stop for several seconds but then I recovered. “You mean, like, more than one?”
“Yes,” Otto replied.
“So, when I was talking to him he said that six people had gone missing, or maybe it was seven.” I stopped and tried going back in my memory, sticking up my fingers as I recounted the individuals in my head. Then I continued. “Ok, well, I think he said six, but then it was seven, and well, either way, there was always one that he didn’t want to talk about.”
A look passed between Mabel and Otto, one which both the reverend and I caught. Neither of them spoke so I went on.
“So, are those the people that were his relatives? All of them?”
Otto seemed to be considering whether he would answer and Mabel whispered, “Go ahead” to him, which got her a glare in reply. He did speak though.
“Well, I don’t know exactly what he told you about but it was probably mostly about them people he was related to. Some miner was the first, his brother, just vanished one day right as they were closing up the camp around the mine. Then another couple of miners, or laborers maybe, one of them was his uncle. And crazy Hattie of course, that was his sister.”
“Bat-shit crazy woman who used to wander around this area, muttering to herself, stripping off clothes and setting them on fire, walking around naked after that. Your friend from the house was forever bringing her clothes but she’d just end up burning them again a few days later or tearing them to shreds. I never did figure out how she ever survived a winter, but she did, quite a few actually. But then one day he found her campsite abandoned, no trace of her around, then or ever.”
“Maybe she lived in his house in the winter?” Mabel asked but Otto did not reply.
“So those three?” I asked.
“What about the rest of the people he talked about? I think it was a boy and a old woman?”
“I answered your question, isn’t that enough?” Otto snarled back, a little bit of spittle jumping out of his mouth.
“I’m just wondering about the others. Did those other people really go missing?”
Mabel reached over and touched my arm, giving Otto a cautionary look as she did so. “More people than that have turned up missing, and I’m sure they included those other ones you mentioned. I think Otto was just telling you that there were three relatives that disappeared and that is what started the whole evil presence thing.”
“What about the one that he refused to talk about? I tried a couple of times but he never told me. Do you know about that person?”
Otto stood up quickly. “Enough of this! I answered his question reverend, now keep your promise and make him go away!”
“I’m not leaving until I get more answers!” I shouted back.
Otto turned, about to storm off I suppose, but the reverend spoke up.
“Please, let’s just get this done with, okay? I don’t think that a little more information here is going to hurt. Please.”
Silence followed and then Otto returned to his seat. He wiped the side of his mouth with one pale finger and then spoke.
“It was a girl, one that was living with him. A relative had dropped the child off one day and then never came back. She was…’” he went silent without finishing, a faraway look in his eyes.
I wanted to press him but something about that look kept me silent. He resumed speaking.
“She was ours, all of ours. He couldn’t take care of her right, well not right exactly, just completely, like she should have been taken care of. He was too old. So we all helped look after her. She was ours, a child for this place. Ours.”
I did not think he was finished, and he did continue several moments later. “Then, one day, she was gone. Not a sign of her anywhere except this doll she played with, a golden-haired doll with a pink dress.” Otto clenched his eyes closed, tightly, and shook his head. I glanced over at Mabel, who was not hiding her tears. The reverend was wide-eyed and staring intently at Otto and I.
“That doll, they found it on the path to the mine. And that’s all I know and all you need to know. Now leave!” Which is what Otto did, slamming the office door behind him.
The reverend leaned back and let out a very large sigh. “Well, I can’t say I expected any of that. What a story. Is it true?” He asked this while looking at Mabel, who had still not bothered to clean up her face.
“Yes, it is,” she whispered back.
We all sat there in silence for almost five minutes, then I spoke up.
“You know, I still don’t know about the real mystery around here.”
“You got some answers, isn’t that enough?” the reverend replied.
“Not really. I’m sorry, but it isn’t. The thing I really want to know is who lives in that house with, well, the guy I call Brown Suit?”
“I’m not sure anyone does son. Maybe it’s just your imagination, maybe you are a little too wrapped up in this whole thing that you see as such a mystery. Don’t you think that you might just be making that part up?”
“No, I don’t. I felt like someone else was there when I was in the house, and I heard it later with my own ears. I heard a child, right here, right on that street back there,” I replied while pointing back in the direction of Cemetery Road. “What is the big secret here?”
…to be continued