A Faraway Song (Part 29)

I heard a faint sound to my left and realized that Mabel was speaking, much too lowly for me to hear.  I knelt down by the side of her chair, trying to catch what she was saying.  She had a sad but defiant look on her face and was staring not at me, but at the reverend.  I think she realized I had not heard her as she cleared her throat and resumed speaking a little more loudly, more like a loud whisper now.

“Children are precious, and important.  And in some places they are rare.  They are what brings light and joy.”
“I think we can all agree to that,” stated the reverend.

I waited for her to continue, to finish, but nothing happened.

“So, you are going to be part of this cover-up too?” I asked her.  “Why did you bother to help me then, to give me the clue about the red crow?  That’s a big part of what got me tangled up in this in the first place.  Why?”

I got no answer and tried again but she remained silent.  Finally the reverend took me gently by the arm.  I stood up slowly.

“Listen, it’s really time for you to go.  Like Mabel said earlier, we got you a few answers, not many and not all of them that you wanted I know, but a few.  That’s all you’re likely to get.  You have to leave.”

“I guess you got your answers and that’s good enough then?” I snapped back at him.

“That’s unkind,” he replied, although he looked just a little bit guilty.

I stood there, feeling unfulfilled, and staring out through the window into the church parking lot.  This little bit of information only seemed to make the remaining questions seem even more important, more urgent.  I really believed that a child was being hidden in this community but at the same time I had no definitive reason to believe that anything illegal had taken place. Who was this child, and to whom did it belong? What was the exact nature of this supposed evil presence in the area?  Was it real or the fantasy of a heartbroken old man?  Or was it something else? There did not seem to be anyone willing to help me figure these things out.  And then there were a bunch of other questions, much smaller and less important, but they still made me feel crazy to think of them going unanswered.  Maybe this place really did just have a much different way of living, of acting and of protecting its children.  Perhaps the evil did not exist at all, or was just an exaggerated myth. It could be that I had managed to stumble into the quirkiest place in the world.  It just all seemed so strange and weird.

I had to try one more time.

“Reverend, what else do you know about this place.  You claim to know nothing but then you seem to have some information.  You tell me that you just got here, even Otto called you a, I think it was a placeholder, but then you knew to come and rescue me today.  You make vague allusions to other things you might know.”  I made sure he was looking at me before I finished.  “What are you really doing here?”

He smiled at me.  “I’m an outsider here, just like Otto said.  I might know a few things, information passed down from the religious men who were here before me, but mostly I’m just observant. That and curious.”  He winked at me and gave a very small laugh.

“I am too, and I just want to figure this whole thing out.  What’s the difference?”

“I belong here, or at least I am part of the fabric and culture of this place.   They expect one temporary religious man to always be present.  You’re not part of it, and there is nothing that can change that.  I’m sure you’re not satisfied but it really is time to go.  If it makes you feel better, remember this though as you leave.  This talk today, it helped me too, gave me a little closure on my own experience at the mine.  I guess her spirit must still be there.  I think that is going to help me a lot.  So thank you for that.  Now, go and forget about this place, and please don’t talk about it.  Give this place it’s peace.  I’ll watch the kaleidoscope up here for you.”  He made the twisting motion with his hands and opened the door.   “You’ll be safe getting to your truck.  Otto might be mad at you but he’ll be watching and won’t let any harm come to you.”

“I, listen, I just,”

“Son, your little temporary adventure is over.  It’s time to go.”  His voice conveyed a feeling of finality and also of warning.  I shook my head but stepped out the door.  It  had just about closed behind me when I pushed it back with my hand.  I peered inside and spoke to Mabel.

“What was her name, that girl that went missing down in the mine.”

“Her name was Melody.”

…to be continued

A Faraway Song (Part 28)

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.”

“Crazy Hattie?”

“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.

“Yes.”

“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

A Faraway Song (Part 27)

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

A Faraway Song (Part 26)

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

Faraway Song (Part 25)

I eyed each person as I approached them, my stomach turning in nervous anticipation of unknown possibilities, looking for any sign of immediate danger.  The first person I passed I had not seen before, a stocky, dark-haired man with a fat face and thick forearms that stuck out of the torn-off sleeves on a faded plaid shirt.  He grunted with every breath, his nostrils flaring and sweat running down his forehead.  Then came a couple I was also unfamiliar with, both of whom glowered at me from behind identical pairs of horn-rimmed glasses.  Than Mr. Overalls and a short, thin woman with a ruddy face and poorly dyed, but very bright red hair.  He stomped a foot down as I approached, causing me to jump, which seemed to amused Red Hair.  Another man, greasy and grimy from top to bottom, emerged from the auto parts garage behind them and spat in my direction.  A few more steps up the road stood what I figured to be my real threat.  Shotgun and the man standing with him.  It could not have been his father, as I had learned he was dead, but maybe an uncle or other close relative.  They looked remarkably similar, and equally threatening.

I have to admit that I almost lost my nerve at that point, almost turned and ran back toward Brown Suit, back down the gauntlet of people who seemed like friends compared to what I now expected to encounter.  A brief wave of nausea passed over me and I clenched my mouth, purposely biting my tongue to give me something else to think about.  The billowing colors up near Clyde Forks Road caught my eye again and now I could see that it was Eyebrows who was standing with the reverend.  Would she really let something happen to me?  Would these people actually do something terrible to me with those two watching them?  Were the reverend and Eyebrows even on my side, or were they simply the final part of this community action? I was not sure but thought it a bad sign that neither her nor the reverend seemed willing to walk down the road to be with me.

I resumed walking, a quiver in my knees, taking four steps before Shotgun moved the weapon from its resting place in his arms and leveled it at the ground off to my right.  It did not move from there as I approached him and the man who was with him did not move either.  Both sets of their eyes locked with mine and the message was clear.  Don’t come down this road again.  As I passed them, Shotgun starting swinging the weapon, keeping it aimed at the road just a little bit behind me.  I could feel my stomach clenching and I was soaked in sweat by the time I had moved twenty feet further.  Finally the weapon stopped tracking my progress and a  wave of relief swept over me.  I paused, bending over to rest my hands on my knees.  Before I could think about it, I promptly threw up in the road, my mind taking that moment to be worried about what kind of impression that was leaving on these people.  Wiping my mouth, I glanced back and saw the man next to Shotgun start to move the weapon off of his hip.  I took off running immediately and did not stop the rest of the way, passing about ten other people at whom I did not even look.  As I approached the sinking brick house, the last one on the road, I noticed that Window Man was there, leaning on his mail box but seemingly noncommittal about being involved in delivering the community’s message to me.  He settled for a short nod in my direction and then turned back toward his house.  Ten feet later I staggered to a stop in front of the reverend and Eyebrows and sunk to the ground, breathing heavily.

The two of them were silent as I recovered, my breathing finally settling down although a tremor remained in my body, some residual effect of the fear I had felt coming up Cemetery Road.  Finally, about three minutes after I had collapsed, Eyebrows reached down and took my arm, a gust of wind swirling her multi-colored shawl around my face.  With a little extra effort I managed to stand up and she kept hold of me, guiding me out of the intersection and east toward the church.  I could hear the reverend a few paces behind us, his shoes crunching against the road gravel.  I started to protest.

“My truck, let me get my truck.”  I pulled my arm but Eyebrows tightened her grip.

“We need to get you away from here.  I will come back and get it in a minute, once we have you inside,” the reverend replied, his voice soft but insistent.

“Just let me, well, ok, I guess.”  It did seem like a good idea to get inside somewhere safe.  “What the hell, sorry, heck, was that all about anyway?”

“I would call it a fast application of my warning to you,” the reverend answered while patting my back, “a very fast application.”

“You mean about the evil thing, the kaleidoscope?”

“Yes, that.”

We were almost out of the intersection of the two roads, and I turned my head quickly to look at my tormentors one more time.  The shawl was still swirling in the breeze and I had to reach up with my left hand and push it away.  I felt better, just a little bit defiant, making up for my fear I suppose, and I thought about flipping the bird to the people who had made me feel that way.  As I pulled the shawl down, ready to face them, I was surprised to see that Cemetery Road was empty.

 

…to be continued

A Faraway Song (Part 24)

I stayed there for a few minutes, feeling confused but safe in the embrace of the building.  No wonder people seek out churches for refuge or sanctuary, as they do seem to have a sense of security embedded within their walls. I was tempted to stay, to maybe curl up in a pew and take a nap, but my curiosity got me moving.  When I finally stood up to leave I had no better idea of what I was planning to do next than I had when I first sat down, but I was determined to keep trying to solve this mystery.

By the time I had walked back to my truck it was too late to get anything else done that day.  The afternoon had slipped into early evening and the buzz of insects, finally able to emerge from their daytime hiding places, filled the air.  I set up my sleeping bag in the bed of my truck and then sat on the tailgate, rubbing myself up with insect repellent.  I had just kicked off one boot when I heard it.  A shout, youthful and excited, the kind of yelp small children give when opening a present or being given a puppy.  It rang out as clear as a church bell on a still afternoon, and seemed to echo a little in the surrounding trees.  Then there was a loud, thick bang, like a heavy piece of lumber falling onto cement, and then silence.  By that time I was running down the road, one boot sloppily tied up and hindering my speed.  I had no doubt about the direction that shout had come from, right down Cemetery Road, right from the house at the end.

By the time I reached the edge of Brown Suit’s driveway, all was quiet and still.  I could not even hear the insects anymore, but that was likely due to my pounding heart, which had the sound of blood booming in my ears.   After a few deep breaths I marched up to the door and started banging on it, yelling for someone to open it up.  When that got no response I walked around toward the rabbit enclosure and ran right into Brown Suit who seemed to be waiting for me.  He stood there, taking up more space than it seemed possible, blue eyes flashing with anger but also tinged with apprehension.  He put out one arm toward me.

“Get off my property, boy!”

“I heard it, you know I did, I, you.”  I stopped and took a few deep breaths, trying to compose myself and recover the ability to speak complete sentences.  Brown Suit’s arm remained outstretched.  “I heard that child again, it came from here, I know it did.  You know it did.”

“Leave.”

“What about all of those toys back there,” I shouted, pointing toward the area behind the Red Crow barn, “and the bike, what about that?”  I started to move, to try to go around him but something about his posture told me that he was not going to let me pass, no matter what sacrifice it cost him.  He was old and I should not have had a problem just pushing my way past, but in that moment it just did not seem possible.  By then I had also managed to realize that I was definitely acting foolishly, trespassing on private property, yelling accusations at an old man, and even thinking about forcing my way further onto his property.  I settled for a final threat.

“I know you have a child here, and I’ve been to Calabogie.”  I was not sure as I spoke what I exactly meant by the last part of my threat.  I did not have any definitive information tying that missing boy to this mystery, but then I did not have anything excluding him either.  I guess I was trying to get some kind of reaction out of the old man but he remained silent, his facial expression unchanged.

I turned to go, to walk away from the confrontation and leave Brown Suit to contemplate the implications of my words, and was brought to an immediate halt.  As I looked back up Cemetery Road I saw that it was lined with people.

They all stood there, right at the end of their respective driveways, silently looking at me.  Most of their arms were crossed and none of them looked friendly.  Shotgun had his favorite weapon cradled in the crook of his arm, and next to him stood an older man who had a similar weapon propped into the air against his right hip.  I looked behind me and Brown Suit had not moved, although his arm was down and his eyes now seemed amused.  His lips did not move but I heard him.

“Time to go.”

I moved slowly down his driveway and then stopped at the end of it, eyeing the assembled residents of Cemetery Road warily.  I felt like my next step, off of Brown Suit’s property, represented some kind of boundary that I was not sure I wanted to cross.  It was strange to think of his property as somewhere safe, or at least safer than what I might encounter once I stepped off of it.  The sounds of the insects were back even though my heart was now pounding just as hard as it had been before.  The buzzing seemed louder than it should have been, insistent and ominous,  and was effecting my ability to think straight.  Shadows were creeping into the road, the tips of garages and trees making shapes against the gravel.  I was frozen in place and the journey back to my truck seemed like a very long one.

I saw some movement up toward Clyde Forks Road and after a few moments realized it was Reverend Currie and someone else whom I could not make out.  He stood directly in the middle of the road, hands clasped behind his back, looking right at me.  The person next to him seemed to change shape, some billowing of various colors caught up in a breeze I could not feel where I stood.  I was not sure what his presence meant for me, but it did help to get me moving.  I took a minute to re-tie my boot and then stepped off, my right foot seeming to be in slow motion, and moved off of Brown Suit’s property.

 

…to be continued

A Faraway Song (Part 23)

“I, I, well…,” my voice trailed off as I fought for an answer.  I felt a little overwhelmed in that moment, and also not completely sure how much of my suspicions to share with this man.  I had spilled my story to my co-worker at the loading dock in Almonte, but that did not seem the same as this current situation.  Here I had a community of people who had indeed lost a small child and seemed to be pretty well spooked by it.  Some version less than the truth seemed to be appropriate.

“It’s that Jenny Wilson girl, have you heard about her?”  Carl shook his head in response and I told him the story, along with the fact that she may have been seen in a car around Clyde Forks after she was reported missing.  My explanation seemed to satisfy Carl, who was telling me he was sorry he could not be of more help to me, when Martha opened the office door and peeked out.

“Don’t let him lie to you Carl.  He asked me about a missing boy, not no missing girl.  He’s up to something, something no good I’ll wager.” She banged the door shut and Carl, forehead wrinkled in thought, turned to me.  Caught in my own rushed lie, I shrugged and quickly walked out of the store.  By the time I was back in my truck and driving down the street back the way I had come in, there were three rather unfriendly looking men standing with Carl outside of the bait shop.  Feeling more afraid than I wanted to admit, I sped off and drove straight back to my spot at the intersection of Clyde Forks and Cemetery Road.

It was mid-afternoon by then and much warmer than it had been in Calabogie.  The woods seemed to keep the heat trapped near the road and there was no breeze present to stir it up or move it along.  It was much too hot to sit around in my truck so I wandered aimlessly down Clyde Forks Road, my mind churning through ideas but not paying much attention to where I was going.  When I finally realized where I was, Reverend Currie was staring back at me from the front steps of the church.  His arms were folded across his chest but he smiled when I looked over at him and then waved a hand, beckoning me forward.  I guess our previous interaction over the bottle of whiskey had not dampened his general hospitality.  I followed him into the church and sat down in a pew, the reverend one row in front of me and turned halfway, his left arm hanging over the back.  I had been in the foyer before and the office, but never all the way into the small main congregation area.  It was brighter than I had expected, an airy feeling accompanied by a quiet, peaceful vibe.  There were not any stained glass windows but there were still some fanciful displays of reflected sunlight on the walls from the skylight over the altar.

“Good to see you again,” he began, “and my apologies for the other day.  Not my best moment.  It’s a bit of a dark side that I have, a personal demon.”

I nodded my forgiveness, although I was not sure if he meant the drinking or the memory of the voice in the mine.  Or maybe it was both.  “I get it and I’ll leave it alone.  Maybe I pushed too hard.  I seem to be getting a little bit obsessed with this whole thing.  I could tell whatever it was that happened in that mine, well, it spooked you pretty good.”

He nodded back slowly, rubbing some light stubble on his face.  “Yeah, it did.”  There was a short pause, his eyes reflective and faraway, but then he was back in the moment.  “So, what have you been doing since then?  I haven’t seen you around in a while and I figured we had all scared you off.”  He gave a rueful smile as he finished.

I hesitated a second but then told him about all of it; the newspaper search and a brief overview of Jenny Wilson, my confrontation with Brown Suit and his belief in the evil presence, the rabbits and their supposed purpose, the child’s toys I had found, working in Almonte and the trip to Calbogie.  I also told him I thought he knew more than he was telling me.

He did not reply for a few moments, staring back intently but silently at me.  He whispered, “I tell you what I can, but you need to be careful,” before falling silent again.  It was not a very satisfying statement but he did not seem inclined to elaborate.  Finally he slapped his hand lightly on the back of the pew and asked me for a few more details on Jenny Wilson.  I told him everything I had been able to find out and when I was done he shook his head.  I waited.

“It wasn’t her.”

“Jenny?  What do you mean?” I asked.

“It wasn’t her I heard in the mine.”

“Why do you think that?”

“You said she was twelve.  That voice I heard, it was much younger, a small child, maybe six or seven years old.”

“Are you sure?”  I could hear the disappointment in my own voice.  I had begun to think of my research into her story as a real piece of detective work, one that would help clear up at least some part of the mystery.

The reverend was sure.  “No way that voice belonged to anyone older than seven years old.”  He sighed and continued.  “It would have been nice though, if it had been, I would have known some more of the story anyway.  And you found a missing girl that, well, it could have been her for sure, except for the age.  Flower Station Road isn’t too far from here…,” his voice trailed off.

“Well, ok then, so I’m back to square one I guess.  What do you think about that evil presence thing?”

kaleidoscope

kaleidoscope

“Evil exists, everywhere.”  The reverend’s eyes were very intense as he spoke, his voice climbing a little in volume.  “It takes different forms, acts in different ways, reveals itself at odd times and through strange vehicles. And people perceive all of those manifestations differently, through their own kaleidoscope is how I always put it.  So, I’m sure something evil exists around here.  What do you see?”

His question took me aback for a few seconds as I had not expected to be asked to evaluate the idea of evil myself, or how it might apply to Clyde Forks.  I thought he would be the expert in that area.  I stayed silent and he repeated his question, this time holding his hands in front of his face, twisting an invisible kaleidoscope.  Then he leaned over, squeezed my shoulder and spoke.

“Beware of that image of evil, it shifts and changes, broken apart into small little glimmers of mismatched information.  You need to see what it is before the picture comes into focus.”  With that, he walked out the back door.

…to be continued

A Faraway Song (Part 22)

At the end of that day, I slept one last time at the motel in Almonte and woke the next morning determined to chase down this new lead.  I was not certain that I believed my tall co-worker’s assertion that people in the immediate area would not know about something that happened a mere thirty miles away.  Perhaps I was just getting conspiracy-minded as I tried to solve this mystery about Clyde Forks.  In any event I made the library my first stop, pulling into the small parking lot about ten minutes before it opened.  When it did, the same thin, pale librarian with the green eyes who I had dealt with last time unlocked the doors.  I asked him a few questions and soon realized that it was true after all; people in this region of Canada basically kept to themselves and let the rest of the world worry about itself.  His most poignant comment was, “If you want to find out something from Calabogie, well then, you better get on up there and figure it out.”  When I commented back that he had been so helpful before, he merely replied that this had been because the info he gave me was about Clyde Forks.  That was in Lanark County, and Calabogie most certainly was not.  At least that gave me a better idea of what “local” meant to people in this area.

He did give me directions and I spent a little over an hour on a scenic drive in a generally northern direction, stopping when I passed White Lake to admire the beauty of the area.  Arriving around noon in Calabogie, I was impressed by even more beautiful scenery.  The road I drove in on paralleled the Madawaska River which then spills into Calabogie Lake.  The area, despite some surrounding shops and houses, seemed untouched by most of the other usual intrusions of larger city life.  It was quiet and peaceful, filled with trees and summer flowers, slightly warm but with a erratic breeze blowing around the edges of the lake.  I took a few minutes to admire it all as I thought about how to proceed.

off the shore of Calabogie Lake

off the shore of Calabogie Lake

Finally deciding to just walk around and ask some questions, I started down Mill Street and popped into the first business I came to, which was a bait and tackle shop.  The clerk, after dishing out some nightcrawlers to a group of boys clutching fishing poles, asked me what I needed.

“Just information for now.  A question, really. Do you know about a boy that went missing around here last year?”

The clerk gave me a rather piercing look as she replied.  “What do you want to know about that for, eh?”  She shook her light brown, curly hair, raised her drawn-in eyebrows and placed a hand on her right hip.  It was not a friendly pose.

I raised my hands up slightly, trying to lighten the tension.  “Sorry, I surrender.  I’m not trying to stir anything up.  I just was wondering what happened, that’s all.”

“Why would you be wondering about it, then?  I figure the ones that should be wondering are the parents and police.  Not strangers.”  Her look this time was tinted with suspicion.  “Unless you got something to gain by it, or know something about it yourself?”

“No, no, not that.  Seriously, I’m just trying to, well, I’m trying to figure out something strange, a mystery I guess, over in Clyde Forks.”

The fact that I knew another town in the area seemed to lessen her hostility a little, although she did keep stepping backward, keeping the distance between us at about thirty feet even as I approached the counter.  Eventually she was backed up against the wall, right next to a battered wooden door that seemed to open into an office.  She called to someone through that door.

“Carl, come out here and talk to this fella.”

There were a few sounds, some shuffling, a chair scraping against the floor, and then a short man dressed in a faded flannel shirt and grey pants opened the door.  The woman stepped aside slightly and the man had to squeeze past her.

“What’s up with you Martha?  Can’t you give me some space?”

She did not move and continued to eye me warily until the man was standing between us.  He brushed his hand through short salt-and-pepper hair.

“What can I help you with?,” he inquired while glancing back over his shoulder at Martha.

“He’s asking about that McNeville boy that went missing last year.  And he’s up to some kind of detective work over in Clyde Forks.”  Having made that announcement she stepped quickly into the office and slammed the door shut.

Carl grimaced and shrugged.  “Don’t be too put off my Martha.  She sees quite a bit of danger around here these days, since that boy went missing,I suppose.  It took us all a little of guard, ya know what I mean, eh?”

I nodded a little, not quite sure how to take what had happened so far.  I was not feeling too optimistic given how things had started but decided to try again.

“So, there was a missing boy then?”

Carl proceeded to tell me about a blonde, five year old boy who had disappeared while fishing with his family at a small lake just a little west of Calabogie.  From what he told me it seemed as though the boy had disappeared into thin air, there one minute and gone just a few minutes later when his father went to look for him.  Not a trace had been left anywhere in the area, including at the spot he was seen to be standing right before he disappeared.  A massive police search had been undertaken but nothing had ever come of it.  According to Carl, people in the area were of two distinct and separate mindsets.

“Drown or kidnapped.  That’s what it has to be.”

“Is that really the only two possibilities?”

“Only two that make sense if you ask me, or anyone in these parts.  It’s one of them two things for sure.”

“Ok, so don’t people that drown usually wash up?  It was in a small lake right?”

“Yep, it was, and they sure do,” Carl replied while rearranging some keychains in a small display by the cash register, “but some folks figure he’s just caught in some debris at the bottom.  It’s not an easy lake to search.”

Carl’s tone was a bit dismissive as he spoke.  I figured he had a different opinion.

“So, you figure he was taken then?  By who?  Someone traveling through the area?”
Carl shook his head.  “I’m no detective, and surely no one ever asked me my opinion.  At least, no police or anyone like that.  But I’ve told plenty of folks what I think.  If someone took him, it was someone from around here.”  He sighed when he finished and ran his hand through his hair again.  Then he looked at me.

“Now, what is this thing Martha said you were looking into over in  Clyde Forks?”

…to be continued

A Faraway Song (Part 21)

It was still early in the day but I decided to retreat to the motel for the remainder of it, both to ponder all of the mystery I seemed to be caught up in and also to figure out what I was going to do next.  My financial situation was still precarious and would be getting critical fairly soon.  After checking in, once again to what was becoming my usual room, I placed the small metal car on top of the banged up dresser and sat down to think.

Where was I at?  I knew I had plenty of speculation running through my mind, but what real facts were there at this point?   I wrote this in my journal that day:

Facts I know:

Clyde Forks

– Has a collection of odd but so far relatively harmless residents (Shotgun excepted) who live in nondescript houses of varying degrees of upkeep

– No observed names on mailboxes

– Few children live or have lived in area (confirmed by mention in newspaper article)

– For an unknown reason no one has moved to Clyde Forks in the past few decades (is this really a fact? …maybe I need more info on if this is true)

– Religious leaders don’t stay long

Brown Suit

– Older man but age hard to determine – his stories seem to indicate he is elderly 

– Is definitely hiding something

– Troubled by past, incl missing persons in area 

– Truly believes mine is dangerous / possibly “evil” and links it to missing persons

– Believes in an evil presence that he keeps at bay by releasing rabbits, supposedly to feed this entity 

– Has new toys and swing set on his property 

Reverend Curry

– Is definitely shook up by whatever happened when he was in mine (real or imagined)

– Probably knows more than he is saying – not exactly a fact but I feel it is true

Other

– I definitely heard a child in the immediate vicinity of Cemetery Rd

– A girl did go missing  (Jenny) and is not one of the missing persons detailed by Brown Suit (and note to me – there was one person he refused to talk about…this one?)

Looking at that list I felt one thing very strongly – you do not know much, do you?  Basically, I seemed to have uncovered that Clyde Forks was a strange place, one that few people wanted to move to and where few children were born.  It was populated by people who fit my idea of odd, but who may very well have been perfectly normal.  Some of those people held strange ideas, all unsupported by actual corroborating evidence, and they did not seem very receptive to outsiders.  That was hardly a basis for all of my fascination with this place.  But then, I had definitely heard that child, a youngster that no one seemed to want to talk about, and who remained hidden from me.  It was all a tantalizingly elusive mystery, one I decided I could not resist.  With that decision though, came the need to make some more money, so I slept in the remainder of that day and night, and headed out to Almonte in the morning.

It was not a large place but it was definitely a more centralized town, one where a person could expect to find some work.  The location was picturesque as it sat right on the Mississippi River (not the same as the one that cuts through the United States) and the winding bends of the river gave the area a lazy and comfortable feeling.  I went around to the various small stores and other businesses and soon had picked up a job helping to unload shipping containers.

I spent a week that way, working fourteen hour days and collapsing into a bed at a shabby motel outside of the town at night.  Almost everyone that I worked with had some version of my “on the road, in need of money” story and they all seemed to be from places far away from Almonte.  It was on my last day of work, a cool Tuesday filled with drizzle and an occasional strong wind, that I finally ended up working with someone who had grown up in the area.  It had really not been my intention to get into the whole reason I was working, or what I was doing in Clyde Forks, but the man I was teamed up with was a real talker and drew it out of me.  He was tall, maybe six foot seven, and had the look of someone who did a lot of hard labor.  He had a face etched by wind and sun, big forearms covered in tattoos of various women’s names and a casual but determined manner, like unloading the Titanic by himself would not be a big deal but he was going to take his time doing it.   I resisted his repeated inquires into my situation for a few hours but then told him the whole story, partly because I wanted to but also so he would stop talking about his various, and colorful, past experiences.  They were fascinating but inevitably vulgar and over-dramatized.

When I was done, he blew some snot out of his nose, set down a long, black box he had been carrying and spoke for the first time in fifteen minutes.

“You oughta check out that towheaded boy that disappeared last July at that lake a little ways north of here.  People been wondering if he didn’t just get snatched up and taken away instead of drowning.”

I was so shocked by his statement that I tripped over a box and fell, twisting my wrist when it slammed awkwardly into the wet ground.   Getting up rather clumsily, I replied.

“Just last year a boy disappeared around here?  Are you sure?”

He nodded slightly.  “Not exactly here, but up north, maybe thirty miles from here I think.”

“I spent a lot of time at the library and didn’t see it mentioned anywhere there?”
This time he shrugged.  “Thirty miles is a long way in these parts.  It wouldn’t have made the news over here.  Maybe check up in Calabogie.”  With that he moved on, starting up another story, this time about “that god-damned gypsy traitor Fallon.”

 

…to be continued

A Faraway Song (Part 20)

I processed that for a few more seconds and then ducked back around the corner of the building.  I tried to remember exactly when Eyebrows had spoken the words to me, what the context was at the time.  I was fairly sure it had been the last thing she had said to me, right after I asked her if taking kids pictures was taboo because it might steal their souls.  She had fallen asleep after that, peacefully if I remembered right, maybe the sleep of someone who had relieved a burden from themselves.  In that light, this particular clue seemed incredibly important and I decided to investigate further.  Walking slowly back to the eastern wall of the building I scouted the area with my eyes.

There seemed to be quite a collection of things, big and small, that cluttered up much of the land back here in the unkept part of Brown Suit’s property.  Farm equipment displaying varying degrees of rust, old cars, water & oil tanks, barrels, pieces of sheet metal, one odd looking tower with a hose hanging from the top of it, flapping in the breeze.  There were a couple other building also and I knew that somewhere back here was where he parked his car.  There were also several paths cut through the brush and tall grass, ones which were well beaten down and clearly still in regular use.  I checked the sight lines back to Brown Suit’s house and saw that I would be fairly safe back here, at least from any observation from the house.  If he chose to walk out my way though, well I might end up playing a rather tense game of hide-and-seek.  It seemed a good risk to take so I stepped off down the closest path.

It tracked fairly straight for about one hundred feet and then curved off to the south, ending is a small clearing with pieces of garbage strewn about and a rusty barrel that looked like was used to burn trash.  That was a dead-end so I went back and started again at the Red Crow building, talking another path that went in a northeastern direction, cutting under a very tall White Pine and then around a copse of cedar trees.  I could see scattered light and vague shapes of metal poles through the trees as I walked along but was shocked when I finally was able to get a clear view of the mowed-down clearing beyond.  The poles were the tall parts of a swing set, blue and green in color and showing no rust.  There also was an old tractor tire, lying on its side and filled with sand.  I walked over and picked up two of the small trucks that lay on the side of the makeshift sandbox.  They also showed no rust and their paint was bright red.  I knelt down, surveying the area more closely.

The grass here was well-maintained, cut down to about one half inch high and mowed in what looked like a fairy regular circle about forty feet in diameter.  A couple of other toys were scattered around; a blue bouncing ball, a small metal car and a white ladder that looked like it had broken off a toy fire truck.  There also was a dirty sock, small enough for a young child, wadded up under the slide part of the swing set.  A few footprints were visible in the sand within the tire and the area looked like it was used recently.  The path resumed on the north side of the clearing, so I picked up the small car as proof of what I had observed, and continued walking.  Three minutes later I was outside another old building, this one in much better repair than the one with the Red Crow sign.  It had two windows, and looking though one I saw the Colony Park Wagon.  And a small blue bike.

old blue bike

old blue bike

I stood there, peering through the glass but not seeing much else as my mind was scrambling through the clues I had found.  Certainly this was confirmation of what I had suspected, proof that there really was a child being hidden somewhere around Clyde Forks, quite possibly right on this property.  Suddenly I heard some noises, ones that were getting closer, and realized someone was coming back toward the garage.  I crept off into the woods, into the darkness of the trees, and several minutes later Brown Suit drove the car out as I watched, leaving the door open.  Once he was gone I took a look inside.  The bike looked old but taken care of, and certainly had been used recently as the chain was in good shape and the tires were full.  There was nothing else of interest though, just oil cans, a lawn mower and tools, so I resisted the impulse to look around more and walked back through the woods to my truck.

Tired when I finally made it back, I leaned up against the back bumper and took the toy car out of my pocket.  Who played with this?  Where were they being kept?  And again, why? What did these new clues mean about what was really going on with Brown Suit?

…to be continued