Authors: Patricia Fry
“Hey,” Colbi said. “I’m hungry.”
“Yeah, it is about supper time,” Savannah noted.
“I’ll start heating it up,” Iris said.
“What is it?” Margaret asked.
“Lima beans and ham.”
Colbi cocked her head. “When did you have time to make that, Iris?”
“Last week; I froze it.”
“Well, it sounds good to me,” she said.
Yeah,” Margaret agreed. “Hey, want biscuits to go with it? I saw biscuit mix in there.”
“Cool. I’ll start the coffee,” Savannah offered.
Once the beans were in the oven and the biscuits were baking, Iris suggested, “Shall we read another chapter while dinner’s cooking?” She picked up the journal and handed it to Colbi. “It’s your turn.”
Colbi opened it to the next entry, dated February 3, 1976.
We’ve been here for three days. I’m on muscle relaxants for back pain. The doctor seems to think my problem is stress-related. It didn’t help to learn of a killing across the lake. Some poor fisherman was found dead, his fishing buddies are missing. Young Skip told us about it this morning when we walked down to the boat dock to take a skiff to the other side. When he noticed Amos becoming agitated, Skip shuttered the topic, but I could tell he was awfully upset about it. I felt as though he needed to talk, so I told Frank to take Amos across the lake and I’d follow in another skiff. I was right about Skip wanting to—or maybe needing to—talk. He admitted he’s scared out of his wits to know there’s a killer running around loose.
Skip told me it happened early this morning. He said someone had taken one of the boats from this side of the lake and he and his dad found it caught up in a stand of trees near the mouth of the river with what appeared to be smears of blood on one oar and on the floor.
It’s certainly unnerving to think there’s a killer lurking around up here. Frank says it was probably another fisherman or maybe a wild animal. A sheriff came to see us later this morning to take our fingerprints. They said they found good fingerprints on boat number twelve. But I don’t know what good it’ll do them; we admitted to using boat number twelve yesterday afternoon when we motored over for lunch.
I was surprised that Frank didn’t mention Amos to the sheriff when he was here. If he’d known about Amos, I’m sure he’d want his fingerprints, too. Amos was in his room as usual and Frank saw no reason to subject him to being questioned. Things like that tend to put the boy over the edge.
Actually, Amos has been surprisingly calm this trip. Maybe I’m just getting used to him. At any rate, it has been a better stay than usual, except for the murder and the missing men.
Everyone sat silently for a moment, then Margaret said, “This is spooky as all get-out.”
Savannah nodded. “It’s like we’re reading fiction, but it’s true and it happened here.” She shivered. “Someone should bring in truckloads of sage and salt.”
“Yeah, maybe burn the forest down,” Colbi said. “That might make enough light to dispel any residual evil.”
“Cripes,” Iris said. “Don’t even joke about a forest fire, Colbi.” She reached for the book. “My turn to read.” After glancing at the next entry, she said, “Awww, they got a puppy.”
“Goodie, let’s hear about the puppy,” Colbi said. She pulled her fists up to her chest and frowned. “It’s not going to get hurt is it? Please say it’s not going to get hurt.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t read it yet.”
“Well, stop if it sounds like the puppy’s going to get hurt,” Colbi insisted. “I can’t sleep if something bad happens in a story before I go to bed.”
Suddenly Iris gasped. “Oh my gosh. This is today’s date!”
“Yes, Ellen wrote it forty years ago today.” She looked around at the others. “I’ve got goose bumps.”
“Read,” Savannah said. “I want to know what happens.”
Margaret shivered. “I think we kinda already know what happens.”
“Yeah, but this is from the horse’s mouth.”
“Colbi, are you calling my mother-in-law a horse?”
“What’s wrong with horses?” Savannah asked, indignantly.
“Okay, here goes,” Iris said. “February 22, 1976:
I’m so busy with our new puppy, I hardly notice Amos is with us. He pretty much ignores Buster. Well, he ignores Frank and me, too—stays in his room and carves wood with his knife. Frank wasn’t happy to find one of the dressers in there all carved up. I practically cheered Amos on because Frank was so focused on Amos today that he didn’t notice Buster’s mistake. He’s a puppy. He’s going to make mistakes. He’s a wonderful distraction for me. I think I’m ready to be a grandmother. Ha ha.
Anyway, Frank forgave Amos and the two of them went fishing this afternoon. Amos does like to fish, only we never get to eat what he catches because he carves the fish up with that knife of his. I think he catches them purely for the pleasure of mutilating them.
I love it when Frank takes Amos out for a while. I actually enjoy the mountains and the cabin when I’m alone here.
When Frank returned, he brought a few copies of the local news for me. Yes, there’s a writer up here who delights in reporting mountain news. It’s actually more of a bulletin. It’s generally quite amusing, only this time he reported on the fisherman’s death. The investigation concludes that he was killed—murdered. Somehow even more eerie is the fact that the blood they found in the boat was not his—but that of his two buddies. Now they’re searching along the riverbank for miles and miles for their bodies. People have come up from the cities to hold a vigil in hopes that they will be found alive or maybe that their bodies will be found so their families can stop living in limbo. My heart goes out to their loved ones.
The next entry is titled, ‘Disaster.’” Iris handed the book to Savannah. “Here, you read it.”
She shuddered. “I think I know what’s next.” she looked around at the others.
Colbi nodded. “Yeah—the claw hammer comes out, right?”
“That’s what I’m afraid of,” Savannah said. She looked at the page. “Let’s see. This entry was written the next day.” She added, “Look, she did a drawing. She was a pretty good artist.” She studied the pencil drawing for a moment. “It’s Amos. She made a sketch here of Amos,” she said, passing the book around for everyone to see.
“He looks sorta like Harry Potter,” Iris said.
“Yeah,” Colbi agreed, “only older and his hair’s longer and kinda straggly. He does wear those Harry Potter glasses, though.” She handed the journal back to Savannah. “So what happened next?” she asked.
Amos is gone—missing. And everyone’s looking for him because they believe he’s a serial killer. This morning, they made a gruesome discovery. A teardrop trailer where a couple of college kids slept alongside the river upstream was ransacked and there was evidence of an attack, although no bodies were found. The boys are missing and believed dead. They’re pretty sure the murder weapon was a hammer. I’m just sick; so is Frank. He’s been helping in the search. When he returned this afternoon, he was carrying something hidden. He’d taken off his shirt and wrapped it up. He wouldn’t tell me what it was and immediately went to the basement with it.
I’m terrified that it’s a body part or maybe he bought or borrowed a gun and doesn’t want me to know. When Frank left again to help in the search, I went down in the basement to see what he was hiding from me. I never found his shirt or whatever he might have hidden inside it. I guess I’ll have to shop for more of those lightweight plaid flannel shirts he likes.
I’m not alone today. If I were, I’d probably be hiding under the bed. They’ve left guards here in case Amos comes back. They found an abandoned skiff caught up in debris at the mouth of the river. Some think Amos was in that skiff and that, when it got caught, he fell into the lake and was washed down the falls into the raging waters. That last big rain and the melting snowpack have seriously impacted the flow of the river. They have a large search party out looking for him and the two missing men.
I’m crying as I write this—it’s hard to see the page through my tears. And I have to be honest. I hope to heaven that Amos has drowned. I hate, hate, hate that my child has anything from the gene pool that created the likes of Amos Sledge.
“That poor, tortured woman,” Colbi said, after an exaggerated silence. “I’ll bet that was the last time she ever came up here.” She turned to Iris, “Do you know whatever became of Craig’s parents?”
Iris tilted her head. “It seems to me Craig said his father died of a heart attack and his mother died soon after, in a nursing home. She had a stroke.”
“Probably from the stress of what happened that night at this cabin,” Colbi offered.
“I’m surprised Ellen didn’t burn the place down,” Margaret said, shaking her head.
“Well, it appears that she did her best to protect others from the evil she sensed here.”
“Do you mean by using the sage and salt,” Savannah asked.
“I wonder if they ever found Amos or his body,” Savannah said quietly. “Didn’t sound like it from what that old guy at the café said.” She turned to Iris. “So Craig has never mentioned anything to you about Amos?”
Iris shook her head. “But you’d better be sure I’m going to ask him. Ewww, gives me the creeps.”
“It didn’t sound like Craig was ever up here when Amos was—at least when the cousins were young adults.”
“Yeah, but from what Ellen says, he had some interactions with him when he was a kid.”
“How old would Amos be now?” Colbi asked. “Let’s see…what, around seventy? He could actually be living in a homeless community. He would probably blend right in.”
Iris was quiet for a moment, then said to Savannah and Margaret, “Maybe that’s who opened the door to your room last night and let the cats in.”
Colbi began laughing rather hysterically. “Or he was the one running across your beds.”
“Geez, Louise…” Margaret said. “Don’t do that, you guys.”
“Scare me like that.”
Just then, the cats roared into the room from the guest bedroom. Rags jumped up onto the black vinyl chair and poked his head between the drape panels. He then dove off the chair, ran to the kitchen, jumped onto the counter, and peered out that window. In the meantime, Dolly sat and watched the larger cat, her ears twitching from side to side as if she were listening intently to something.
“Wind,” Colbi said. “I think I hear the wind blowing through the trees.” She jumped up and quickly turned off the lamp, then peeked out through the heavy drapes.
“What do you see?” Margaret asked. “Is it windy?”
“No,” she said rather quietly, “but it is raining.”
Suddenly, Rags jumped down off the counter and ran to the front door, reaching up and pawing on it.
“Oh, he probably sees a chipmunk or a raccoon out there,” Savannah said. “Pay him no mind. What do you say we eat? Are your biscuits done, Auntie?”
Margaret left her place on the sofa and headed for the kitchen. “Should be. Get out your jam, Vannie,”
“Shall we sit around the table like civilized folks tonight?” Iris asked.
Making eye contact with everyone else in the room, Margaret said, “Naw, let’s be naughty and rowdy and take our plates in next to the fire like hobos.”
“Rowdy like hobos?” Colbi repeated. “Oh, Maggie, you’re too much.” She wrapped her arms around her. “I’m so glad you came along. You’re a kick.”
“A kick am I?” she said, chuckling. “Well, thanks, I think.”
After the women had finished their meal and washed the dishes, Iris said, “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m tired.”
“The mountain air will do that to you, but will we be able to sleep?” Colbi asked, hesitantly.
“Yeah, that sure wasn’t much of a bedtime story, was it?” Savannah said. “I doubt I’ll sleep a wink.”
“I’ll see if I can find you a hammer to keep you company,” Iris said, laughing loudly.
“I want to move,” Margaret said, unsmiling.
“Out of that room. Can I sleep on this sofa? Now that I know what I know, I don’t think I can go to sleep in there.”
Savannah looked at her aunt. “Me, too. Iris, is it okay if we bring the blankets off the beds in here?”
She shrugged. “Be my guest.”
As Margaret and Savannah entered the guest room to get their things, the cats both rushed in behind them and jumped up onto Margaret’s bed. “I won’t fight you for it tonight, guys,” Margaret said. “It’s all yours.”
“Oh, Auntie, don’t you know they’ll be in bed with us in the living room tonight? It isn’t the bed they want; it’s the bed with a warm body in it.”
Margaret covered her eyes and squealed, “Don’t talk about bodies. Creeps me out!”
“Sorry,” Savannah said, laughing a little. After carrying her blankets into the living room, she went back for her suitcase. “Oh, I almost forgot to give you your present, Iris,” Savannah said, returning with her bag and a small box wrapped in red paper with cats on it. “Shall we have a little birthday party before night-night time?”
“Night-night,” Margaret mimicked. “You sound like Lily.”
Savannah chuckled. “Yeah, my vocabulary has reverted back some since I became a mommy.”
“Don’t worry,” Iris said, “She’ll be teaching you some new words once she gets in school.”
Savannah rolled her eyes. “Yes, I suppose she will.” She scooted her suitcase out of the way with one foot, placed her gift on the coffee table, and headed for the kitchen. “Wait,” she called, “I brought a cake.”
“You did?” Iris asked, wide-eyed.
As Savannah pulled a small bakery box out of the refrigerator, she said, “Dang, I forgot candles.”
“Here’s one,” Colbi said, picking up a large decorative candle in a jar. She lit it, then held it toward Iris. “Make a wish.”
“Wait, we have to sing the birthday song,” Margaret reminded them.
After enduring a loud round of “Happy Birthday,” mostly off key, Iris blew out the candle. Then Savannah cut the cake and served it.
“Open your presents,” Margaret said, placing a small gift bag on the table in front of her.
“Mine first,” Colbi said, handing Iris a blue box with a large white bow.