Authors: David Greske
If it weren't for the children, I'd of left long ago. But they need a stable adult in their lives.
When Travis had called his sister a witchy-bitchy, he had the words right, but he was talking about the wrong person. It was Diane who had turned into the bitch witch over the years.
"So, what's your poison?"
"Huh?” Jim said, breaking away from his thoughts.
"Whatdaya want to drink?” the man with the long, gray hair and ruddy face asked again. A silver cross on a leather thong hung from his sinewy neck.
"Then whiskey it'll be.” The bartender reached under the bar. He brought up a glass and a bottle of Jack Daniel's. “You look like you've got women problems."
"Wife problems.” Jim took a long swallow of the liquor.
"Ouch, they're the worst kind. Names’ Jarvis Clarke, owner of this fine establishment."
"Jim Anderson.” He tipped his glass in acknowledgment. “Please to make your acquaintance."
"Jim Anderson, the writer?” Jarvis asked.
"Yup, the one and only."
"I thought you looked familiar when you walked in. I've read your stuff. Liked it, too."
Jarvis rested his elbows on the bar. “What's it like? Being a writer?"
"Oh, it pays the bills. Barely."
Raucous laughter rose from the trio at the table as they finished their beers. In the dim tavern, the men looked featureless. But in reality, their faces were creased with wrinkles so deep they looked painful. The lackluster of their eyes and the curl of their lips hid individual truths. These were men with secrets.
Jake Malone, the school janitor, had a taste for boys. Young boys. Very young boys. If the local cops raided his single room apartment above the hardware store, they'd find boxes and boxes of magazines filled with naked, succulent boys. Take a peek at his computer hard drive and they'd find animations of the same. But how could this be? Jake Malone is a fine citizen of Prairie Rest. Any parent could entrust the safety of their children to him. And many do. Jake Malone is the Scout Master for the town's cub scout troop.
Carleton Green is not really the father of his newborn daughter. Bill Daily is. His wife, Alice, had an affair with the town bad boy, and well, accidents sometimes happen. Alice continues to see Daily twice a week. Apparently, Carleton has a little problem in the bedroom department and a woman has her needs, after all.
But the joke's really on Alice, as Carleton has known about her indiscretion for years. He has silently vowed that for the next thirty years, he will make her life a living hell.
Pete Underdahl, owner of the five and dime store, enjoys dressing up in his dead wife's clothing. Then he parades around the house until he gets so hot and worked up that he has no other choice than to drop onto the bed and masturbate into a paper cup he keeps by his bedside.
The door swung open and sunlight spilled into the room. A twenty-ish-year-old man walked into the bar. He wore a black leather jacket and thought of himself as the new James Dean. He looked more like Fonzie.
"Hey, Daily, you're late,” one of the boys in the back yelled.
"Yeah, Bill, you're late,” Carleton Green said. “What happened? You get so busy waxing the dolphin you forgot about the time?"
Daily looked Green square in the eyes. “Why do it myself when I have an old lady that'll do it for me."
Carleton Green only smiled.
"Now, I don't want any trouble from you today, Bill,” Jarvis shouted across the room. Bill raised his arm and shooed him away like a troublesome fly. He headed back to the pool table.
"That's Bill Daily,” Jarvis said. “He comes in here three, four times a week, gets a load on, and tries to pick fights with the other customers."
"That guy?” Jim remarked, glancing over his shoulder. He found it hard to believe that anyone who looked like a walking toothpick would be much of a threat to anyone. “He looks pretty harmless."
"He is. Most people just laugh him off."
The door opened again and a man dressed in a white jumpsuit entered. He walked directly over to Jim.
"I know who you are,” the man with the wild eyes and pasty skin said, “and I know why you're here. The children told me."
"You know you're not supposed to be in here,” Jarvis said. “Now scram."
"But I have to tell him about the children. He has to know."
Sheriff Ebert came into the bar. Ebert was a big man, not fat, but muscular. A shock of dusty brown hair poked from beneath his cap. He immediately grabbed the vagrant's arm.
"Come on, you know you're not supposed to leave the hospital.” Ebert lowered his voice to a whisper and dropped his gaze to the floor.
Prairie Rest had its secrets: Jake Malone, Carleton Green, Pete Underdahl, but Honeybrook Asylum was the town's dirtiest because it can't be hidden. It's right there for the entire world to see. Like a blackhead on the porcelain face of a teenage girl.
The asylum was a group of five, red granite buildings that sat on thirty acres of land about a mile and a half west of town. One of the four smaller buildings was the staff's residence; the other three were divided into apartments where the elderly who were forgotten or abandoned by their families could live out the rest of their days in relative comfort. The main building housed patients who needed more supervision than those in the apartments.
A ten-foot cement wall surrounded the acreage of Honeybrook, but every once in a while, a patient managed to scale the wall and wander into town.
"But he needs to know about the children,” the vagrant whispered back to the sheriff. “Someone has to tell him."
"I'm sure he'll be just fine,” the sheriff remarked, gently leading the patient out of the bar and into the squad car.
"Poor guy.” Jim finished the rest of his whiskey. “Who is he?"
"Dunno,” Jarvis lied. “He wandered into town one day crazier than a lesbian in a room full of cracks.” The bartender refilled Jim's glass. “So, what brings you to Prairie Rest? Research for your next book?"
"Actually, I live here now. I bought the old Miller place."
The bartender's jaw creaked open like a rusty hinge, and the color drained from his already pale face. His hand shook so violently, he spilled booze all over the bar. Unconsciously, he touched the cross that hung from his neck.
"The old Miller place, huh?” He tried to keep his voice as calm as possible as he sopped up the mess with a towel he'd taken from the waist of his pants. “Pretty run-down, ain't it?"
"Yeah, that it is,” Jim admitted. “Thought I might fix ‘er up. I'm in between books right now and thought it might be fun to do something else for a while."
Jarvis was about to fill the glass again, but Jim stopped him.
"I think I've had enough for now. I kinda wanna check out the rest of the town. See what it has to offer.” Jim reached for his wallet. “How much for the drinks?"
"Forget about it,” Jarvis said. “They're on the house. First visit and all that."
"Well, thanks.” Jim slid off the barstool. “That's real kind of you. I'm sure I'll see you again."
"Yes, I'm sure you will."
Once Jim left, Jarvis collapsed into the chair next to the beer cooler. His heart thumped in his chest. His legs felt like overcooked spaghetti. Beads of cold sweat erupted on his forehead and tumbled down his temples.
The Miller place. Good Lord in Heaven, he'd bought the Miller place.
"Jake. Jake Monroe,” Jarvis said once he'd composed himself. He poured a pitcher of beer from the tap and set it on the bar. “Why don't you and your friends belly up to the bar here and keep an eye on things for a while. I need to go see Larry Taft."
That said, Jarvis disappeared out the back door.
Lawrence Taft Reality was three doors down from the Stumble Inn. It was a small building sandwiched between the five and dime store and Lily and Lila's Sew What! There were a pair of potted mums on the stoop and the happy yellow flowers looked like splotches of sunshine against the red brick. In an effort to keep out the morning heat, the blinds were drawn across the window that faced the street. A black and orange sign proclaimed:
Come on in! You're always welcome!
Jarvis opened the door, and the small bell that hung above it jingled to announce his arrival.
As always, the office was filled with the nutty aroma of fresh brewed coffee and the cinnamon goodness of just-baked sweet rolls. Both were complimentary to visitors.
Dorothy looked up from her romance novel. “Hey, Jarvis.” A smile beamed across the receptionist's face. “How are you?” Then the smile faded. “Are you okay, kid, you look as white as yesterday's mashed potatoes."
"I'm fine, Dorothy. Is Larry in?"
"He's in back,” Dorothy said. “And help yourself to a sticky bun on the way in."
"Thanks,” Jarvis said as he passed the receptionist, “but not today."
"Okay honey. Maybe next time.” Dorothy went back to her reading, but couldn't concentrate on the words. Her thoughts were still with Jarvis. For as long as she could remember, she'd never known him to pass up a sweet roll. He did look a little pale. Maybe he was coming down with something.
Jarvis wondered if she suspected his urgency. That was the first time he ever turned down a sweet roll. Hopefully she thought he was coming down with something.
Jarvis knocked on the door marked private and waited for a response.
"Yeah, come on in,” Larry's baritone voice said from the other side.
Jarvis tripped the latch and stepped inside.
The realtor's office was small, but immaculate. A walnut bookcase dominated one wall, while a couple of Norman Rockwell prints hung from the other.
Oh, Norman. If only life was as simple as you made it to be.
Under the framed Rockwells was a row of brown filing cabinets, each labeled with Larry's precise block lettering. The window behind the desk offered an unobstructed view of Town Square Park, Prairie Rest's newest development.
"Jarvis, have a seat.” Larry offered one of the two chairs in front of the desk. A wide smile displayed his perfect teeth. He seemed happy to see Jarvis, but Larry always seemed happy to see anyone.
Jarvis sat down. “You sold the Miller place, didn't you?"
Larry's warm facade melted. “Yes, I did. What of it? I'd been a fool if I hadn't. Some stranger blows into town, asks about it, and is ready to settle the deal right then and there. I thought it was a terrific opportunity to unload it."
"But it wasn't supposed to be sold. Ever. That was the deal."
"That deal, Jarvis,” Larry said, scooting his chair closer to his desk and leaning into Jarvis's face, “was between you and my grandfather. When Otto died, he left the business to me. The whole business and that includes the right to buy and sell whatever I damn-well please."
"Are you forgetting
your grandfather died?” Jarvis spat.
Larry pushed himself away from the desk and walked to the filing cabinet. There he poured himself a cup of coffee. He did not offer any to Jarvis.
"Oh, please, Jarvis, don't start on that hocus pocus crap.” Larry spooned some sugar into his cup and returned to his desk. “Otto died when a tree fell on him."
"Christ, Larry, I was there, remember? It wasn't like that. There's a lot more to it."
"Oh, I admit, it was pretty freaky. But those are the kinds of things that happen when you run around in the woods during a storm. You were all a bunch of damned fools."
"But what if all that bad stuff starts happening again? What then?"
Larry rolled his eyes. “I said no hocus pocus shit. Honestly, Jarvis, you sound as if the devil lives right here in Prairie Rest."
There was a silence that was so thick and ripe between them they could almost feel it pressing down on them. Jarvis's eyes locked on Larry's.
"What if he does?” Jarvis rasped. “What if he does?"
Jim strolled down Main Street enjoying the solitude a small town had to offer. He felt good. Part of this feeling he attributed to the drinks he had at the Stumble Inn. The other part—the most important part—was he finally felt at peace with himself. Despite what Diane thought, the move to this middle-of-nowhere burg was just what he needed. New surroundings provided new inspirations; new inspirations could provide a new book. And a new novel would put him back on track.
Main Street could easily be walked end to end in just under an hour. It was lined with buildings whose storefronts seemed frozen in time. There was no glaring neon, no flashing lights, just neatly lettered signs displayed from fancy wrought iron hangers outside each establishment. At night, these signs were illuminated by spotlights mounted on the sides of the buildings. In accordance with the Prairie Rest town ordinance, all the structures were either brick, or white stucco.
Every thirty feet or so, lampposts, like trees, sprung from the center of the street. Each reached fifty feet into the sky, then the top split into two arm-like structures. On the end of each arm was a mercury arc lamp encased in an iron lantern. When the lights were turned on, Main Street took on the look of a sepia-toned, antique photograph.
Jim stopped in front of the Hamburger Hut and wiped the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand. He looked down the street and saw heat shimmers rising from the pavement. It was going to be a hot day; there was no question about that. Through the shimmers, he saw a spider-like shadow crawl across the south tip of town.
The shadow was caused by the three turrets on the Miller/Anderson house. As the day wore on, the shadow grew longer and fingered across Main Street until everything was caught in its grasp.
Jim eyeballed the shadow to its source. For the first time, he noticed that his place sat on a small knoll and the house appeared to look down on the rest of the town. It was even more eerie because the placement of the windows looked like eyes. The turrets were horns. The porch was a mouth, and the driveway resembled a tongue.
A shiver crawled up his spine. Silhouetted against the clear blue sky, the house looked like the head of a demon. The way the light winked off the windows made it seem alive.