January 30, 2006
Enjoy and leave feedback, especially your suggestions for a title. On the first of February I'll pick some of the best and we'll have a contest to name the story.
And for those playing catch up:
Every day after school, Autumn and I would go to her house to feed the animals. The only change in that routine was on Tuesday when we werenÂ’t allowed on the property. A police truck covered with antennas was parked out front, and occasionally someone in a lab coat would appear from the front door of the house, enter the van, and eventually return to the house, often carrying some obscure piece of equipment. The patrolman out front (who we saw most every day) wouldnÂ’t say specifically what was happening, but did let out that everything was going downstairs into the cellar where Granddad had been kept.
After taking care of the animals, Autumn would visit her mother in jail. I walked her to the station, but they had both made it clear that I was in the way during the visits themselves. Usually I headed home to do chores or otherwise occupy myself until dinner. I had never had many friends, and since this had all happened even the guys in the gang avoided me. The story had gotten out around town, spread like wildfire and without guilt because it involved our two families, both outsiders within the local social structure. The fact that it was us and the CrispÂ’s only made perfect sense to the townsfolk who just knew that weÂ’d all come to no good end.
Even Autumn had withdrawn again. I could understand that, I think, because of the stress she was going through, and as bad as it was for me and my mom, it was a hundred times worse for her and Mrs. Crisp. Still, the increasing distance between us hurt, though I tried to be patient.
One Saturday, while running an errand for Mom, I rounded a corner downtown and came up behind a fair sized crowd of people. I stood at the back, trying to see what the commotion was, and then someone up front held up a ZAPT poster. I gathered that this one, and a few others, had been nailed up during the night in various places, and the townsfolk were rather unhappy about this disruption in their quiet lives. I was beginning to think that I should slip quietly away when I spied someone sneaking down the alleyway, as if making their escape from some clandestine observation of the crowd. I recognized the figure as Mr. Brown, and I froze in wonder at seeing him again after all this time. He quickly turned the corner at the back of the alley and disappeared from my line of sight.
Just then, I was spotted by someone at the front of the crowd, and because I was connected (no matter how tenuously) to the zombie situation and now the appearance of ZAPT literature, there was a general hue and cry to detain me so as to determine how much I knew of the present circumstances. Before anyone could grab a firm hold, I reversed course and escaped down the street, rapidly outdistancing the few who thought to give halfhearted chase.
I slowed down when I turned onto my street, and saw a police car pulled up in front of our house. Officer Ossie was leaning against the hood of his car, and told me that my mom had said IÂ’d be back shortly so he decided to wait. He had news about the ongoing investigation. The young punk in jail that night had been a drifter whoÂ’d been escorted to the county line the following Monday and told not to come back. Mr. Brown had apparently left town after checking out from our boarding house, at which I blurted out my news that IÂ’d just seen Mr. Brown downtown.
After asking me to repeat that, and making sure that I was sure of what I saw, Officer Ossie asked me several questions about the surrounding circumstances. At my telling of the crowd and the ZAPT flyer, the policeman reached inside his car and pulled out the twin of the one IÂ’d seen earlier. I confirmed that it was the same one, and he told me that several of these had been posted recently. The authorities were more confused than concerned about their appearance, because our town was far from fertile ground for recruiting if that was their intention.
Other than that, he couldnÂ’t tell me much. He didnÂ’t know how much longer Mrs. Crisp would be held, but it didnÂ’t seem like they were inclined to extend her detention. The last of the recently injured parties, my classmate William, was also cleared when his injuries were determined to be unrelated in any way to the vandalism at the research facility. Before driving away, Officer Ossie promised to look into the reappearance of Mr. Brown and thanked me for bringing it to his attention.
After dinner, Autumn asked me to go for a walk with her. After the events of that afternoon, I steered us away from the town center and explained to her why, warning her to be careful and aware of her surroundings. I also told her that IÂ’d seen Mr. Brown, which I thought might surprise her, but there was no reaction. Instead, she asked me what I knew about Ms. Halliday.
Somewhat taken aback by the question, I admitted that I didnÂ’t know her very well but that I did like her a lot. Autumn went on to explain that sheÂ’d become suspicious of Ms. Halliday. Coming out of the police station after a difficult exchange with her mother one afternoon, Autumn had begun to aimlessly walk while she tried to get her thoughts in order. At one point, she was surprised to see Ms. Halliday coming out of a certain business, one which Autumn would not think someone like Ms. Halliday would ever visit. When I asked which business, Autumn wouldnÂ’t tell me, because she didnÂ’t want the police to direct attention to the owners, who were friends of Mrs. Crisp. While it was true that I wouldnÂ’t think twice about passing the information on to Officer Ossie, IÂ’d be doing so in the spirit of trying to help, and all Autumn would have to do is ask me not to repeat it and the secret would be safe with me. Still, it hurt to learn that Autumn didnÂ’t trust me.
Ms. Halliday hadnÂ’t seen Autumn, and as she hurried down the street in the opposite direction, Autumn had casually followed, mildly curious about where she was going. After several blocks, Ms. Halliday had stopped for a coffee from a sidewalk pushcart. Autumn had been startled to see Ms. Halliday greet another customer as if they were old friends, and they walked down the street arm in arm, sipping coffee and talking animatedly. Her old friend was none other than Mr. Brown.
After that, Autumn had taken to watching Ms. Halliday more closely. In the mornings, she had taken note of the kinds of newspaper stories that Ms. Halliday paid the most attention to, and that they were almost always about animals in one way or another. I countered that in our area that shouldnÂ’t be surprising because of the surrounding farms, not to mention the research lab, animals were not only common, but vital to local livelihoods. It was inevitable that the newspaper would be full of animal news. I think I remembered reading once that we had more veterinarians than human doctors.
But her connection to Mr. Brown, well, that was another matter. She had made a point of showing her dislike for the man while he was staying with us, and now, to meet with and act like best buds was odd indeed.
Autumn and I decided that we should follow Mrs. Halliday. The police didnÂ’t seem to be in any rush to solve GranddadÂ’s kidnapping, and in fact went out of their way to call it a vandalism, as if stealing two zombies wasnÂ’t really a crime. We figured that it left matters up to us.
As if she knew our plans, Ms. Halliday stayed close around our house for the next few days. She claimed to not be feeling well, and took only tea and toast at mealtimes, otherwise sitting quietly in the front room and reading in front of the fire.
School was entering that odd stretch before the holidays when classes started to wind down, when teachers gave up hope of actually teaching kids whose main preoccupation was counting down the days until the Christmas break started. The days were crisp and nippy and the temperatures at night were actually cold for the first time since last winter. When we walked together to school in the mornings, our breath came out in silvery plumes, as if weÂ’d metamorphosed overnight into mythical fire-breathing creatures.
Autumn and I continued to visit her animals every day to feed and water them, after which I walked with her to the jail. I still wasnÂ’t welcome as her and her mom visited, so mostly I walked around the neighborhoods. I noticed a few more ZAPT flyers around town, as many torn down and tossed into the gutter as still remained nailed to poles. People seemed to have calmed down about them, and the most common reaction to them that I saw was an automatic ripping down and discarding. I donÂ’t recall ever seeing anyone actually reading one.
On Saturday, Autumn and I exchanged glances over lunch as Ms. Halliday swept into the dining room and announced that sheÂ’d been cooped up too long inside. We hurried through the rest of our food, made excuses and then hustled outside ahead of Ms. Halliday so that we could watch out for which direction she headed. When she emerged from the house, we casually watched her until she turned the corner at the head of our street.
We tore down the sidewalk to the corner, for Ms. Halliday was headed for downtown. It would be easy to lose her in the bustle of the day, so we stayed as close as we dared and followed her as she walked.
She stopped several times at various shops and stores, coming out twice with small packages that she carried along as she strolled. She never noticed us, but it seemed to me that she was merely out to take the fresh air after her convalesce.
We were almost caught out when from behind us a booming voice sounded, calling Ms. HallidayÂ’s name. Without hesitation, Autumn grabbed my arm and we stepped through the nearest doorway, finding ourselves in a confectionerÂ’s shop. With a smile and nod to the shopkeeper, we moved to the back of the store (pretending to look at the penny candy) and watched as Mr. Brown hurried by the front window, apparently the source of the hail and now heading toward a waiting Ms. Halliday.
A minute later Autumn and I emerged, each with a peppermint stick, and turned away from our previous direction, as Mr. Brown and Ms. Halliday were standing not a block away, in animated conversation. We tried to act casual as we strolled towards the corner, and as we turned there I could hear Ms. HallidayÂ’s laugh carry on the breeze.
Still wanting to keep up our surveillance, Autumn and I hurried to the next block and turned up it, paralleling our former route. At the next corner, we carefully peered around an edge of the building and saw that our two subjects had moved on.
We found them continuing on the way that Ms. Halliday had been originally following. They walked for several blocks together, and then with a tip of his hat, Mr. Brown split off and headed down a side street. According to our plan, Autumn would stay with Ms. Halliday while I followed Mr. Brown, so we agreed to exchange information after dinner and Â– with a sweet kiss for luck, parted ways.
It was an interesting trip. Mr. Brown never stayed for long in any one place. He would meet up with someone on a street corner, talk for a few minutes, and then be on his way. Occasionally he would disappear into a small shop or business, and once he came back out with a parcel in his arms. At his next stop, he opened the parcel and handed a stack of papers to the woman he was meeting with. She accepted the papers, and then immediately moved off down an alley. Repeating this act several more times, Mr. Brown quickly depleted his supply of papers, and he finally crumpled up the parcel packaging and tossed it into a dumpster as he walked by.
Thinking that it could be a clue worth retrieving, I waited impatiently until he turned a corner, and then climbed into the trash bin. Grabbing the packaging, I quickly scrambled back out, and after flattening it enough to read the label, folded it up and stashed it under the back of my jacket.
I rushed to the corner to resume tailing Mr. Brown, but when I got there he was already gone. IÂ’d lost him.
After dinner that evening, Autumn and I compared notes. She hadnÂ’t had any better luck than I, managing to follow Ms. Halliday on a long walk into the countryside outside of town where she lost sight of her as she crossed a field. Autumn said it was very peculiar how she disappeared, and her only explanation was that Ms. Halliday had hiked into a copse of trees. Ms. Halliday had returned to the house in time for dinner, which caused us to have to wait to speak together until we were both near to bursting with curiosity about what news the other had.
When I showed Autumn the parcel paper IÂ’d salvaged from the dumpster, she studied it carefully and pronounced herself impressed with my sleuthing skills. Although I had no proof, I believed that the parcel had contained more ZAPT fliers to be distributed around town. Believing that, I thought we should tell all of this to Officer Ossie in the morning, but Autumn rightly pointed out that as of this moment, our evidence consisted of a torn parcel package and witnessing that Mr. Brown and Ms. Halliday each took a walk about the town and talked to some people. I had to agree with her assessment.
Autumn left early on Sunday morning to visit with Mrs. Crisp in jail. She came back with lifted spirits, because Mrs. Crisp had reliable word that she would be released sometime during the upcoming week.
That afternoon, when Ms. Halliday left the house we were waiting once more, and began to tail her. This time, there was no wandering stroll, she walked as if she had a destination in mind and made her way directly towards it. Autumn and I werenÂ’t surprised when Mr. Brown made an appearance, and this time he and Ms. Halliday strode arm-in-arm towards the park. They walked along the path by the lake, deep in conversation, and after a half hour or so they once again split up. Autumn gave me a quick kiss and headed after Ms. Halliday.
Mr. BrownÂ’s destination turned out to be a long low warehouse in one of the old industrial blocks. As he entered, I heard a snatch of music, and after a short while I took a chance and walked past the door. A small sign over the green-painted door identified the place as the Â“Happy Frog Social ClubÃ¢Â€� while another, smaller sign near the doorknob only said Â“ribbitÃ¢Â€�.
Finding an alleyway across the street with a reasonably good view of the door, I settled in to wait for Mr. Brown. I figured I could give him an hour, maybe an hour and a half, before IÂ’d have to head for home myself.
Boredom was beginning to set in when the door at the Happy Frog opened up and three people emerged. There were two men and a woman, all in various stages of intoxication. One of the men was talking loudly with anger in his voice, while the other man tried to calm him down. The woman leaned against the wall and listened to the other two for a few moments before finally standing straight (with some difficulty), grabbing the angry man by the collar, and kissing him. This amused the other man to no end, and I could hear his hearty laughter clearly from my vantage point.
I could hear, that is, until my heart almost stopped in my chest when a heavy hand clamped onto my shoulder from behind.
I felt myself being spun around, shaken roughly, and then pushed into the wall across the alleyway. I twisted in my captorÂ’s grip, and came face to face with Mr. Brown himself. He looked me up and down with a sneer on his face and asked me why I had been following him. I wasnÂ’t prepared with a convincing alibi, so I made up something incoherent about finding some belongings of his at the boarding house after he left and wanting to get in touch with him to return his property.
Mr. Brown shook me again, his grip on my shoulder like a vice, and told me that I was a pitiful liar, which spoke good of my character, but didnÂ’t help much in the situation that I found myself in. He whistled loudly, once, and the three people from across the street appeared almost instantly at the mouth of the alley. Mr. Brown thrust me forward so as to give them a good look at me (and me them!) and told them that if they were to ever see me again in this neighborhood, that they were to hold me until Mr. Brown could be summoned. Looking straight into my eyes, his breath hot on my face, Mr. Brown let me know that if I were caught sneaking about again, that I would find myself the recipient of a long, slow, thorough and thoroughly painful beating.
With those words, he threw me down to the ground, and without a backward glance headed back across the street with his companions. Their laughter mocked me, and I couldnÂ’t think of anything else to do but pick myself up, brush the worst of the dirt from my clothes, and head for home.
Autumn was waiting for me when I got home, and she was pretty shaken up when I told her what had happened during my encounter with Mr. Brown. After making sure I was all right, she asked what I thought we should do about him, but I really didnÂ’t have an answer. Her day following Ms. Halliday ended like the previous one, where Ms. Halliday seemingly disappeared in the middle of a clear field. Autumn had thought about going closer to investigate, but decided that we two should go together instead, just in case there was a problem.
Our visit to the disappearing field (as I thought of it) was put off indefinitely because on Monday morning Mrs. Crisp was released from jail. The police were forced to admit that they didnÂ’t have any supporting evidence for the original charges, nor were the investigations turning up any promising leads. As happy as Autumn was at this turn of events, it still wasnÂ’t all peaches and cream, because Granddad was still missing. Well, that and the fact that somebody tried to kill me.
As usual, our police department decided that the attempted murder looked like an accident, although from my point of view it was pretty obviously not. I was quickly losing faith in their ability to accomplish anything at all besides keeping the peace by denying that anything ever happened.
We had been sitting in class, listening to the teacher, Mr. Button explain an upcoming assignment when someone slipped a note under the classroom door. Frowning at this interruption of his routine, Mr. Button picked up the note and went back to talking. Waving his hands in front of him to make a point as he spoke, he seemed startled to find himself holding the page, as if heÂ’d forgotten that heÂ’d picked it up. Knowing Mr. Button, thatÂ’s probably exactly what happened.
With a brief Â“excuse meÃ¢Â€�, he scanned the paper and, looking up, called on me to come up. Handing the note over without explanation, Mr. Button went back to his lecture. Looking it over, I saw that I was to immediately report to woodshop, presumably to meet with the shop teacher, Mr. Franks. Since it was nearing the end of the period, I grabbed my books and, assuring Mr. Button that I was clear on the assignment, headed for the shop building.
When I got there, there was nobody in the classroom part of the shop because there was no shop class that period. I called out for Mr. Franks, but didnÂ’t get an answering reply. Thinking he might be in the back, I went through the shop full of tools, and then past the shelves where the projects in progress were kept. Still not seeing the teacher, I went into the room where the lumber was stored.
As soon as I entered, a two-by-four came tilting towards me out of the gloom and cracked me right smack in the middle of the forehead. I tumbled backwards out of the doorway, landing on my back as the entire shelf of heavy lumber crashed down right where IÂ’d been standing just a second before.
I lay there, seeing stars and feeling very disoriented, trying to figure out what had just happened. I heard the door open and a few minutes later Mr. Franks found us laying there, and by us I mean me and the large ugly bump growing on my noggin.
Before long I was surrounded by people. The school nurse was looking me over and recommending that a doctor be called. The Principal was in conversation with Mr. Franks, in turn demanding to know what I had been doing there and how in the world all of that wood had come crashing down. Listening to them, I began to realize that IÂ’d had a very close call. When the Principal asked me directly about why I was wandering about the shop classroom, I explained that IÂ’d been given permission by Mr. Button because of the note that had been delivered to his classroom. The principal asked to see the note, and I couldnÂ’t find it. It had been in my hand, and I must have dropped it when I fell. Mr. Franks and the principal looked all over for the missing note, but there was no trace of it. The only reason that they believed me at all was because Mr. Button corroborated my story, namely, that a note requesting my presence in the shop classroom had been delivered and so he had sent me.
The missing note could have been lying under the stacks of lumber, but it wasnÂ’t. I asked Mr. Franks about it after theyÂ’d gotten everything cleaned up and put away. The police ignored the missing note and also ignored the fact that IÂ’d been purposely sent to the shop class for no discernable reason. Their conclusion was that I had been very lucky that I hadnÂ’t been crushed when the rack of lumber accidentally collapsed just as I was walking under it. How coincidental of me.
I was given the rest of the week off, mostly because IÂ’d frighten people with the monstrous bruise on my forehead. I was still getting the occasional dizzy spells, but the doctor said that that was normal and that I shouldnÂ’t worry about them. They should go away on their own in a week or so. I couldnÂ’t read much because of the splitting headache that was my constant companion, but I could think.
I really had no idea who would have wanted to kill me except for Mr. Brown and ZAPT. That didnÂ’t entirely make sense though, because Mr. Brown had me at his mercy in a completely unobserved place, and nobody knew my whereabouts at the time. If heÂ’d have wanted to kill me, he certainly had had his chance. Then again, maybe he didnÂ’t want to be too closely connected to my death, and instead ordered someone else to take care of it without telling him. That might provide him an alibi with the police.
One thing the attempt did was make me more aware of my surroundings. I was determined not to be caught unawares again. The first time that happened, IÂ’d been baldly threatened, and the second time IÂ’d only escaped through dumb luck. I was mad now, and promised myself that somehow and someday IÂ’d get even.
But that had all happened on Wednesday, and on the Monday before Mrs. Crisp had been released. Autumn had packed her things that afternoon after school and I helped take her bags back to her house. It was almost odd seeing their house without the uniformed officer on the sidewalk out front and without all of the flagging tape draped around everything. Mrs. Crisp greeted me nicely and thanked me for taking care of Autumn and made sure that IÂ’d tell my Mom thank you as well. Mrs. Crisp didnÂ’t invite me in, so I left, figuring that she and Autumn had a lot of together time to catch up on.
On Tuesday at school Autumn told me that her and her mom were headed out to the research facility to talk to the doctors about Granddad and the kidnapping investigation. Once again, I wasnÂ’t invited and Autumn said sheÂ’d see me Wednesday morning at school.
Early Wednesday Â– forevermore known as Â“the day the tree fell on meÃ¢Â€� Â– Autumn told me that the doctors couldnÂ’t provide any new information about the kidnapping, not even of the vandalism of the research center. They were as frustrated with the police as we were, because not only wasnÂ’t there any progress to report, but there seemed to be little actual effort being made.
I was surprised and more than a little hurt when Autumn didnÂ’t stop by to see me on Thursday, but I did get a surprise visit from Officer Ossie. To say I was less than enthusiastic about his visit would be an understatement. He seemed to understand my low opinion of our law enforcement, and filled me in on the ongoing investigations. There wasnÂ’t much to tell, and after giving me the standard Â“nothing really to reportÃ¢Â€�, he hesitated, and then seeming to make up his mind, started again.
First, Officer Ossie asked me to please keep the rest of the information confidential. He was going to tell me something only because the department believed that the information would become public knowledge very shortly, so having a slight jump on Joe Citizen wouldnÂ’t hurt matters. Apparently, unpleasant things were about to hit the fan.
Yesterday afternoon, while all of my personal excitement was going on, Mrs. Crisp had noticed a new flyer posted on a utility pole on her street. Being curious, she took a closer look and discovered that the flyer had been hung up with a large spike, and the spike held not only the flyer, but was driven through the palm of a dismembered hand. It was, presumably, the hand of a zombie.
Posted by: Cindy at January 30, 2006 05:23 PM (5zJZs)
Aw man, you mean I have to WAIT?!
Well, not for too long, I hope! :-)
Posted by: Denita TwoDragons at January 30, 2006 07:28 PM (VfIFe)
Come on, man, keep 'em comin!!!!!
Posted by: BLUE at January 31, 2006 02:52 PM (4Xncc)
Say, if youâ€™re an unpatriotic, godless/satanless comedy enthusiastic
give moi a visit.
Stay on Groovinâ€™ Safari,
Posted by: TOR Hershman at February 02, 2006 06:33 AM (FuifG)
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