February 06, 2006
Thanks once again for all the feedback, every bit is appreciated.
I haven't forgotten the "name this story" contest, it'll be posted in the next few days when I get a chance.
Horrified, Mrs. Crisp had called the police, and when they arrived accompanied them to try to identify the former owner of the hand. It definitely didnÂ’t belong to Granddad, and the research center looked it over and said that it didnÂ’t belong to the second kidnapped zombie either. That meant that someone somewhere had access to another zombie and they werenÂ’t afraid to use that barely-sentient creature to make a point.
As bad as the severed hand was, the flyer was probably even more disturbing. Claiming to be from a group calling themselves the Â“Righteous Army of the LivingÃ¢Â€�, the flyer stated that hunting season on zombies and those who protect them would be open soon. Nobody local had ever heard of the group before, so theyÂ’d sent it, hand and all to the regional authorities. So far, the regional cops had drawn a blank too. Normally, something like this would be treated as a crank, but the exclamation point of the hand made it very clear that the cops had better get on the ball and take this seriously or someone not a zombie could get hurt.
Mrs. Crisp was demanding police protection for her and her daughter since it was obvious that the flyer and hand were meant to be seen from their house. I was glad to see the police take the threat seriously, even if they continued to insist that my mishap was an accident. I had never told Officer Ossie about my last encounter with Mr. Brown, and Officer Ossie had never brought up Mr. Brown again after the first time that IÂ’d mentioned seeing him sneaking down the alleyway. I tried to obliquely bring it up by saying that it sounded as if two competing groups, one pro-zombie and one anti-zombie, were squaring off in our town. Officer Ossie admitted that the authorities were concerned about just such a situation, and were quietly planning ways to counter anticipated actions by either or both groups. That was the end of our visit, and after reminding me to be careful (be really careful), he said goodbye and left.
As expected, by the following day most of the town knew about the RAL and their threat against Mrs. Crisp and anyone else who sympathized with her. A few more posters had been hung up in various locations, although no more hands (or any other body part) had been included. In addition, ZAPT had gone on a flyer binge in retaliation, posting as many overnight as had been seen over the entire previous week. Ms. Halliday had spent the morning in town and was passing along the latest gossip over a game of Chinese Checkers. Mom seemed not to care overly much, having complete faith in her Â“live and let liveÃ¢Â€� philosophy. As for my Â“accidentÃ¢Â€�, she sided with the police on the matter, and when she brought it up at all it was only to remind me to be more careful in the future.
Autumn stopped by after school, but she seemed distracted. I had noticed that sheÂ’d grown more and more distant in recent days, and was resigned to the fact that I was going to lose my first girlfriend, and probably sooner rather than later. When she sat down to talk, Ms. Halliday and Mom made their excuses and retreated to another part of the house. As soon as theyÂ’d left, Autumn leaned in and gave me a big hug and followed it up with a warm kiss that left me tingling.
IÂ’m pretty sure it was the kiss.
Somewhat reassured that our boyfriend/girlfriend status was reasonably secure, I encouraged Autumn to tell me about what had been going on. After first making me swear that what she was about to say would stay between us alone, she confided that her mom had called in some favors and that Â“old friendsÃ¢Â€�, as Mrs. Crisp called them, had come visiting, talking earnestly late into the night over cups of strong tea. Moreso, Autumn had caught glimpses of a few of these people around her neighborhood, as if they were watching over the Crisp house. She was certain that they were members of ZAPT, and was very worried that her mom seemed to be falling back into their sphere.
Autumn then asked me what I had heard from Ms. Halliday. I relayed the gossip and rumors that sheÂ’d told me, which mostly consisted of who was accusing who of various transgressions, real and imagined. It looked as if the current atmosphere in town was providing the perfect excuse for people to air grudges against their neighbors, and things were rapidly growing ugly in a few places. No, Mr. Brown had not been mentioned at all, and I couldnÂ’t think of a way to bring him up without sounding out of place and possibly arousing suspicions.
Only then did Autumn and I talk about what happened to me. It wasnÂ’t that she didnÂ’t care, but we needed to exchange information on the sensitive things going on before we were interupted again. In fact, Autumn was telling me about how inspectors had been going over every inch of all of the industrial arts shops, looking for similar dangerous deficiencies. I didnÂ’t think theyÂ’d find any, because Mr. Franks and his colleagues were very good teachers and were always meticulous when it came to safety. Autumn didnÂ’t know what, if anything, had been found during the inspections, but she did say that Mr. Franks didnÂ’t appear to be concerned about the possibility of finding other problems. She also hadnÂ’t heard either way about the missing note I had carried in, and other than myself and Mr. Button, nobody else had read the note, although most of the students in that class remembered him handing it to me and me leaving the room.
Mom came in to ask if weÂ’d like some tea and cookies, but Autumn said that she needed to run. After the zombie hand incident, Mrs. Crisp wanted her home in time to have the animals fed and taken care of before dusk. I couldnÂ’t disagree with her reasons. Autumn hesitated before leaving, and I stared at Mom until she got the hint and left the room again. I was left tingling again (it was the kiss, I was sure of it now), and Autumn promised to stop by again the following morning.
Ms. Halliday stayed in for dinner that evening, which was unusual. She professed to being concerned about the latest happenings and talked about possibly going to visit her sister in another town until things calmed down here. I tried not to perk up too much at hearing this, because it sounded like the perfect alibi if she wanted to Â“disappearÃ¢Â€� for a period of time as she and Mr. Brown did whatever it was they were conspiring to. I made a mental note to tell Autumn about this possibility, but reminded myself that we had no real evidence that Ms. Halliday was connected in any way to ZAPT.
On Saturday morning I woke up for the first time in days without a headache nor slightly blurred vision. In fact, I felt good enough to get dressed and go for a walk, because I was sick of being cooped up in the house. Walking through the neighborhood in the still morning air, I breathed deep and just let my mind go. IÂ’d been doing nothing but brooding for long enough, and the fresh air was doing me a world of good.
When I got home, Mom was still sleeping, so I put the teakettle on and grabbed a pear. Thinking that IÂ’d heard the newspaper smack on the front porch - which would be a first, considering we have the worldÂ’s worst paperboy when it comes to accuracy Â– I opened the front door and almost had my head knocked upon.
I made a suitably startled noise to see the small crowd standing there, whereas they made four, no Â– five suitably startled noises (I didnÂ’t see Mrs. Grover in the back, and sheÂ’s rather short). The lady in front, who had had her hand raised to knock on the door, and almost my forehead with the opening of said door, was none other than Mrs. Partridge, the ParsonÂ’s wife.
Now the Reverend Partridge was a genuine blessing to our town. He always had a smile for everyone, he was known for his kind words, and you could count on him for a fair and just opinion if his wisdom was called upon. Everyone loved him, even those who didnÂ’t attend his church.
Mrs. Partridge, on the other hand, was a hateful, judgmental harpy whose sole delight was lording (pun intended) it over all that she was the beloved ReverendÂ’s wife, as if that good manÂ’s reputation somehow bestowed itself automatically upon her. She had exactly four friends in town (three and a half if you count Mrs. Grover, whoÂ’s rather short), and here they were, standing on our front porch.
Recovering from their start, Mrs. Partridge asked to see my Mom. I apologized for my Mom not being available at the moment, but IÂ’d be happy to take a message and let her know that they had visited.
Thinking to bluster her way past the boy before them, Mrs. Partridge sniffed that they would wait for my mother to become available, and she made as if to sweep past me.
We wound up nose to nose, because I didnÂ’t move a muscle. You learn not to be bullied in your own home when you run a boarding house. I grew up dealing with people like Mrs. Partridge, who believed that not only were they better than you, but assumed that you believed it too.
She waited a good ten seconds Â– count it out: one alligator, two alligatorÂ… itÂ’s quite a stretch when youÂ’re face to face with someone who expects you to back down Â– before she huffed and took a step backwards.
I almost managed to not smile as her entourage tried to back up a step as well, about a half second too late, causing them some awkward fumbling as they got themselves straightened out again in front of our door.
With a gleam as cold and sharp as steel in her eye, Mrs. Partridge opened her mouth to say something, something that would surely put me into my place once and for all. Something devastating and scathing, something to put aright again her universe.
Mrs. Partridge stood there, ramrod straight, with her finger extended into the air to put the exclamation point on her words. Her lips formed the opening sound.
What came out was a loud, high pitched whistle.
She sounded like a teakettle.
I couldnÂ’t help it. I burst into laughter, and so did two of the ladies behind Mrs. Partridge. The timing could not have been more perfect, and at any other time I believe even someone as sour as her could have appreciated it. Instead, with a quick glance to the left and to the right, she silenced her two comrades (I wondered what sort of punishment they would be forced to do for their treasonous laughter), Mrs. Partridge silently extracted a long envelope from her bag and handed it to me. I thanked her, and after seeing them make their way off the porch and down the steps, I went back inside for a cup of hot chocolate. I giggled all over again with every delicious sip.
I found the newspaper later, in the hedge.
The envelope was sealed, and officially stamped with the church markings. I knew that Mom would ignore it, and I also knew that it wasnÂ’t an official letter from the church. Mrs. Partridge had been chastised several times before about involving the church in her personal crusades, usually for just such an act. More often than not, she would attempt to intimidate someone by implying that the power of the church was being brought to bear, when no such thing had occurred. It wasnÂ’t even an abuse of her authority, for she had none whatsoever. Still, she would try yet again, and somewhere down the line her long-suffering husband would apologize for her and try to make amends.
Mom surprised me and actually opened the envelope and read the letter inside. I expected her to just toss it into the trash. I shouldÂ’ve realized that she was more than a little worried about this whole zombie situation, especially since it was beginning to affect our little corner of the world. I watched her read the letter without any change in her expression, and then she handed me the letter without a word and left the room. I could hear Mom puttering about the kitchen, rattling the dishes in her normal fashion. She was good at hiding her emotions, but I was good at reading her moods. This time, though, I had no idea whether or not the letter had had any effect on her, nor if she might be on the verge of tears, laughter or even rage.
I read the letter through quickly once, then reread it slowly and carefully, to make sure I understood all the various pokes and jabs and assumptions and prejudices in there. What it all amounted to was that we were being notified that, because of our involvement with Mrs. Crisp and Autumn, that we would be Â“watched to make sure that we caused no more trouble in our fair townÃ¢Â€�. Of course, it was Mrs. Partridge and her gaggle that were Â“notifyingÃ¢Â€� us, and if it really bothered me I supposed I could go see the Reverend. All IÂ’d get for the effort though, would be an apology (sincere), and another arrow stuck through Reverend PartridgeÂ’s long-suffering soul.
Later that day, Autumn stopped by again. We sat on the front porch and drank big cups of steaming hot tea and talked (ok, yes, there was tingling involved, but thatÂ’s all IÂ’m going to say about that).
Autumn was still doing her best to follow Ms. Halliday whenever she left our house. Usually the trips were uneventful, but occasionally Autumn would find herself retracing her steps of the walk out of town. On these journeys, Ms. Halliday would always head for the same field, begin to cross the field, and then disappear, as if from plain sight. Not having seen it myself, I couldnÂ’t begin to guess what was happening in those situations. We agreed that as soon as I was given the ok to go back to school Â– and allowed to do other activities Â– that IÂ’d accompany Autumn as we trailed Ms. Halliday and figure out this mystery once and for all.
Autumn had seen Mr. Brown once, but Ms. Halliday and Mr. Brown passed each other on the sidewalk as if they had never met each other. Very odd.
She also told me that despite the proximity of her ZAPT friends, Mrs. Crisp was beside herself with worry for the kidnapped zombies now that the RAL had announced itÂ’s presence in the area. Considering that the RAL believed in euthanizing zombies as a matter of policy, I think IÂ’d have been climbing the walls too, wondering if those murdering fools had somehow gotten hold of Granddad. Nobody thought that Granddad and the other zombie was dead, but if RAL got their hands on Granddad, his remaining life (such as it was) would be measured in fractions of an hour rather than days.
Granddad hung there like a physical presence for the rest of the day. When the afternoon shadows started to get long Autumn said she needed to get going. I ran inside and managed to convince Mom that I was well enough to go for another walk. So, arm in arm, I walked Autumn home for the first time in almost a week. Just being together in this familiar way seemed to lift both our spirits, and we enjoyed ourselves right up until the moment we turned onto her street. There, leaning against a picket fence, a man I didnÂ’t recognize stared holes through me as we walked by. Autumn softly sighed, and I caught a barely perceptible nod of greeting from the man out of the corner of my eye. He was, IÂ’d already guessed, one of the ZAPT people that Mrs. Crisp had called in to keep an eye on her house and street.
For the first time ever, I felt less than welcomed in the Crisp household. The lady sitting in the front room never stopped staring at me, even as Mrs. Crisp smiled warmly and thanked me for walking Autumn home. I should say that her mouth smiled warmly, because the smile never reached her eyes. Her grey eyes stayed cold, and I was surprised to see the change that recent events had brought on in her. She seemed tense and perpetually ready to uncoil, as if a spring had been too long compressed and strained to release. Even her face had noticeably aged, her mouth drawn tight and her skin taking on a papery look. There was no offer of tea or root beer, and when her eyes darted to the window and then the clock for the third time as we chatted, I told Autumn that I would see her in the morning at school and left, headed for home. Somehow, a goodbye kiss just didnÂ’t seem like a good idea. Dang.
The guy at the corner annoyed me just by being there, so I made sure to smile and wave as I passed. He scowled at me, which meant that I annoyed him, so we were even as far as I was concerned. All I really cared about was that he did his job well enough to keep Autumn (and Mrs. Crisp too I suppose) safe from harm.
I walked through the deepening gloom of the evening, passing houses where porch lights cast welcoming pools of light in front of their doorways. It was dinner time, and through windows I could see families gathering together around tables. Outside, it was as if I were all alone in the world. My feet knew the way home, and my mind wandered as I idly watched the dragon plumes playfully dance away from my face as I exhaled into the cold night.
Becoming more aware of my surroundings, I noticed two figures on the sidewalk up ahead. I couldnÂ’t make out who they were, mainly because they were standing in the darkest stretch in between two street lights. They were talking, one rather loudly and sounding at least a little drunk. I briefly considered crossing the street, but rejected that notion since I was within a few minutes of my house, and while drunk and disorderly wasnÂ’t unknown in our town, it wasnÂ’t common either. I felt safe enough to walk on by without a word passing between us.
That is, right until I saw that one of the two was the Â“drunkÃ¢Â€� guy that Mr. Brown used to distract me that day in the alley. I started a little bit when I recognized him, but tried to cover as best I could and kept right on walking. Sensing their movement to follow, I sped up my steps and was about to break into a full on sprint for home when another shadowy, yet familiar shape stepped out from behind a dark tree ahead. Mr. Brown had made an appearance, and things were not looking good for the home team.
Just then, the cavalry arrived in the form of a patrol car pulling up to the curb adjacent to me. Looking through the side window, I saw Officer Ossie and breathed a huge sigh of relief. He saw the alarm on my face and immediately climbed out of the car. I figured at this that my three assailants would have already retreated, so I was very surprised to feel strong hands grab me around both arms. As I twisted in their grasp, I shook loose just enough from one to take a wild swing at the other who still held me. He dodged my punch and held on tight, and before I could recock my arm for another go the other fellow jumped on my back, driving me to my knees.
Looking up as I struggled, I was stunned to see Mr. Brown stride up to my policeman friend and with one mighty swing, knock him flat backwards and out of the fight. I still twisted and squirmed against my attackers, who nonetheless managed to reattach themselves to my arms and drag me to my feet. Standing there, the last thing I remember seeing was Mr. BrownÂ’s face, wearing a curious look as if measuring me, followed by a sudden explosion of pain from my jaw and then darkness.
As I opened my eyes, the first thought I had was that this was turning out to be a truly rotten November. My eyes came into focus, and I found myself laying on the sofa in our front parlor. I had no idea about how IÂ’d gotten there, and as I lay there wondering Mom walked in with a cold, wet cloth which she pressed (ow!!! lightly!!!) against my jaw. She looked down at me with concern in her eyes, and over her shoulder I could see Ms. Halliday as well.
It turned out that my little misadventure had happened less than an hour before. Ms. Halliday came home from one of her evening outtings and found me lying in a heap on the front porch. Stuffed into the front of my coat was a single sheet of paper with the words Â“no moreÃ¢Â€� scribbled across it.
My jaw wasnÂ’t broken, I could tell that much after wriggling my face around a little bit. I would definitely feel that punch for a few days though, and I was already sure that the bruise would be a lovely match for the one still fading on my forehead.
Mom held up the paper that IÂ’d been wearing, and said that sheÂ’d called the police since this was obviously a threat. As soon as she said that, I jumped up and dashed outside. Ms. Halliday and Mom followed me, calling wildly, but I paid no attention to them as I sped back up the street to where the assault had taken place. The last IÂ’d seen, Officer Ossie had been knocked out cold next to his cruiser, the recipient of a punch from the same fist that had sent me into la-la land.
Approaching the place, I could see that the Officer Ossie was gone, as was the patrol car. Apparently heÂ’d recovered enough to drive away, hopefully back to the station to raise the alarm. As I stood there, Mom and Ms. Halliday caught up to me and, breathless, asked me just what in the world IÂ’d been thinking. I explained that this is where IÂ’d been attacked, and that a policeman had pulled up and then heÂ’d been brutally subdued as well. Now I wanted to hurry back to the house because I could positively identify the men who not only assaulted me, but also an on duty policeman.
Mom looked shocked, and then held up her hand which still grasped the paper with Â“no moreÃ¢Â€� written on it. She asked me if I was crazy or just stupid, and hadnÂ’t I already had enough of this? Whoever did this was obviously violent and had no compunction about using force to make their point. As far as Mom was concerned, as of now this had never happened and there was nothing more to be said. The matter was closed and we werenÂ’t involved any longer.
I wanted to argue, but Mom seldom put her foot down like this. I might be able to convince her to change her mind, but not by challenging her while standing in the street. My best bet was to wait until everyone had calmed down, and then try to quietly reason with her.
Now that Mom was sure that I was physically all right, when we got back to the house she sat me down to a reheated dinner and, when the cops finally showed up, answered the door herself and apologized for the uneccessary response. I could hear her talking to them for a few minutes, apparently the police already knew that something had happened and were trying to persuade Mom to cooperate. She was having none of it though. Finally, she said goodnight to the police and closed the door, coming back into the kitchen and starting to make tea.
I always enjoyed watching Mom make tea. There was something comforting about the process, almost ceremonial in the steps that she always did in her own particular order. I knew that Mom used the comfortable routine of making tea as a way to collect her thoughts and to calm down. I could see that she was going over something in her mind, so I sat quietly and waited.
When the tea was ready, Mom brought two cups to the table. Handing one to me, she sat down and asked me which group was responsible for tonight. I was surprised that she even knew that there was more than one faction, and realized that IÂ’d underestimated my Mom. She never talked about local gossip, but because of her many lovers, she was certain to hear plenty. Prominent men probably told her important and private information, at least in part to try to impress her with their importance and probably also to boost their own egos. The fact that Mom never, ever repeated the pillow talk would make these men even more comfortable about sharing secrets, knowing that Mom held her confidences closely. Thinking about it, Mom undoubtedly knew more about the inner workings of our town than most.
I told Mom that tonightÂ’s beating was courtesy of ZAPT. She nodded, took a contemplative sip from her cup, and asked if Autumn was involved with the group. I told her honestly that I didnÂ’t think so, but that there were several members of that group staying as guests at the Crisp household. Mom nodded again, and then told me that I was no longer allowed to visit Autumn at her house. For the present, it was ok if she wanted to visit here, but under no circumstances was I to go near her street. I couldnÂ’t think of a single point to argue.
Posted by: Denita TwoDragons at February 06, 2006 03:38 PM (tSd38)
Posted by: BLUE at February 07, 2006 02:34 PM (4Xncc)
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