Authors: John Grover
Simon shut down the truck and popped the key into his pocket. “Okay, everybody out.”
They all hopped out into the street and noticed the group of kids staring at them, their glares harsh and ugly. It took Merydith aback.
“What do we have to get in the food mart, Grandpa?” Merydith asked, doing her best to ignore the crowd of kids.
“Oh, Grandma wants some groceries, detergents and cleaning products, and I could use some more tools for the workshop.”
They stood there for a moment, nervous about the glaring kids with their cold gazes, reeking of judgment and self-righteousness. Simon hadn’t really even noticed and ushered his grandchildren along, practically having to drag them up the store steps.
He held the door open for the four of them, then turned his gaze quickly to the crowd of kids outside and gave them a good frightening stare.
They nearly scattered but stood their ground, popsicles dripping on fat fingers, mouths gaping with missing teeth.
As they entered the store, a stout woman quickly made her way by them, her arms filled with heavy bags.
“Howdy, Mrs. Crenmill, nice day, isn’t it? Simon said with a cheerful smile.
She just smiled politely and did her best to leave the store in a hurry. Merydith watched with disbelief as the woman vanished from the store. Why did this happen every time they visited town? People here behaved so oddly.
Simon took a small cart from against the wall and the four of them started down the aisles. “First, children, we’ll start with the fruits and vegetables. You can pick out whatever you want.”
“Oh boy!” Aaron cried as he rushed over to a red mountain of grapes.
“Take it easy now, Aaron, we each get to pick out some fruit,” Merydith said, having her heart set on some oranges. Tobey himself picked up a few bright red apples.
They moved onto the vegetables. “A few ears of corn should suit me. I love corn,” Merydith said, dropping six into the cart
“Look at the pea pods, aren’t they funny looking?” Aaron laughed as he took a handful and dropped them carefully into the cart. Tobey took one bunch of carrots, tied together with a string.
“You’ll have fine eyesight, my boy,” Simon said with a wink
Simon then put in the vegetables that the kids didn’t like or just weren’t interested in but were imperative to Gladys and her meals. Some potatoes, beets, large onions, and broccoli, not exactly a kid’s favorite. They continued to move on through the aisles until they arrived at a small meat cooler. Simon picked out some chicken, steak, and roast beef a bit on the cheap, but he did the best he could to leave out the gristle and fat
“What’s next, Grandpa?” asked Aaron, his voice squeaking like a mouse.
“It’s off to find Grandma’s soaps.”
They found the soaps directly across from the frozen foods. That section included ice cream. The kids’ attention was immediately caught. Simon grabbed some bleach, detergent, dishwashing liquid, furniture polish, and three bars of soap. As he turned to talk to his grandchildren, he found them mesmerized by the popsicles sitting in the cooler. “Grandpa, can we please have some popsicles, please?”
How could he resist Aaron’s sweet begging or his baby-like voice and puppy-like eyes? Aaron knew how to get to the adults. His eyes alone would carry him through life with ease. “All right, all right. Please, no more begging. You may each have a popsicle.”
Each one picked their favorite color with glee.
They finally brought the cart up to old Garreth, who had been watching them from the time they walked in. “How are you doing, Garreth?” Simon asked.
“Oh, I ain’t got no complaints, Simon. How are you and the family?”
“Fine, just fine, thank you. Oh, dag nabit! I forgot the tools I wanted.”
“We’ll get them for you, Grandpa. Aaron and I will go,” Tobey perked up, volunteering his brother and himself.
“Well, okay, go over to the little hardware section up back and grab me a measuring tape, a wrench, a hammer, and a bunch of nails.”
The two ran with all their speed to the back of the store.
Merydith placed the groceries on the counter as Garreth began checking each price and adding it into his old-fashioned register. He had been using it all his life and when the new ones finally came out, he didn’t bother to switch. He was happy with his old-fashioned one. It had never let him down and worked just fine.
“You know those murders are still happening,” Garreth stated rather matter-of-factly.
Merydith’s ears immediately perked up.
Simon and Garreth promptly lowered their voices, but Merydith’s hearing was great, and though she pretended to mind her business and put up the groceries, she listened with sharp ears.
“These murders and disappearances are the work of something foul,” Garreth continued, an implied caution in his voice. “It’s been going on a long time, and no one seems to know how to solve the case. You know people talk, Simon.”
Simon’s eyes widened. “What does that have to do with me?” he asked.
“Well, all of the foul play takes place in the woods near your place. Everyone knows that. People do talk.”
“So they do, but them woods have always been dangerous. People in this town know better than to mess around in them.”
“Yes, but the people missing and the remains of the bodies that they found are not people from this town. You do also have that big garden. Everyone knows that.”
“Owning a big garden isn’t illegal. What does a garden have to do with the foul things going on?”
“Well, everyone knows that garden is no ordinary garden.” Garreth’s voice lowered to a whisper. “And you know, Simon, people do talk.”
“Oh, people are always going to talk!” Simon hollered. He no longer lowered his voice. “Talking doesn’t solve anything, that’s plain as day! Oh…er…how much do I owe you?”
Garreth was stunned; he had never heard Simon get angry before. He winced as he answered. “Forty-two dollars without the tools.”
“Well, here come the boys now.” Simon grew calmer. “Okay,” he said to them. “Just throw the tools right up there. Now how much, Garreth?”
Simon threw the money on the counter and told Garreth to keep the change. Then, with a smile, he bid farewell until the next shopping day.
The kids licked their popsicles as they started out of the store. Simon pushed ahead of them, wheeling the cart of bundles out to the pickup.
Merydith was shocked by what she had learned. She felt ignorant of everything that was going on in the world.
How come we never heard about these murders and disappearances? We never get a newspaper and the adults never watch TV, why?
I must be a total fool to not know what was happening right out there in those woods. How long has it been going on, and why is it happening? How much does my family really know? There is so much happening that I’m unaware of. I have to know what’s going on.
They began piling into the pickup when the group of kids sitting on the store porch joined together in a spiteful chorus. “The Santaneens are freaks! The Santaneens are freaks! They belong in a carnival!”
People in the streets began to gawk and stare. Aaron started to cry. Simon ignored it. Perhaps by now he was used to being called a freak? Tobey’s mouth hung agape; he was simply speechless.
Merydith seethed with anger.
We are not freaks. I am not a freak.
Her body flushed as everything inside her boiled. She turned from the truck and marched back over to the porch. The kids suddenly went silent.
“You shut your filthy mouths right now or so help me I’ll put my fist down your throats and pull your lungs out!”
With that, the children scattered in fear, disappearing completely from sight. The people in the streets gasped and moved on, avoiding eye contact with Merydith. After she had calmed down, she entered the pickup. Not a word was said the rest of the trip home. This trip to town was one she would never forget.
6. School Season Beckons
Weeks passed and summer neared its end as the days of August passed like a dream. School was once again drawing close. Merydith and Tobey waited for the school season with some anticipation. They would finally be reunited with their friends who they’d been unable to see all summer. With the way the town viewed them, it was amazing they had any.
Another morning dawned, the sun pouring through the house with radiant strength. Merydith woke to the songs of the birds. A loud yawn escaped her as she went to her mirror to collect herself. “Ick, why do I always look so bad in the morning?” She rubbed her face with her hands and then went to the window.
Simon could be heard in the yard. She glanced out the window to see the garden door wide open and the hose from the cellar workshop snaking into it.
It was time the garden had a drink. He was getting an early start this morning. Merydith watched the watering commence and hoped maybe someday she would be in charge of the garden. What a responsibility that would be!
Turning from the window, she went to her closet. She stood for a moment, using her fingers to flip through the clothes like the pages of a book. Without much hesitation, she pulled out a pair of pink shorts and a white shirt with a picture of a unicorn on it. She laid the outfit on her bed and then went over to her puzzle and snapped four pieces into place. The corner of a tent began to form—at least, that’s what she thought it was. Satisfied with her placement, she exited the room for her morning shower.
Simon continued to pull the heavy, thick hose. It slithered through the grass, mashing the blades down with its weight. Finally, he reached the irrigation pump and connected up the hose, then sat back and watched as the garden drank, its thirst seemingly never quenched.
“What a beauty. You’ll never let me down, will you, baby?” Pride enhanced his face and a smile curled his lips. He even considered that this was the ultimate creation. More perfect than the creation of mankind. Simon began to think he was as powerful as God.
“Running low on formula,” he reminded himself. “Time to make some more. We must never run out.”
Gladys and Marion worked in their own little garden. Nothing magnificent, but at least they could pick the flowers in their garden. Marion casually sprayed water about the small flowerbeds that stretched across the yard.
Gladys got down on her hands and knees, and with a fork she weeded her small garden. After brushing out the dead plants and tearing out the weeds, she used her shears to cut a colorful bouquet for the house. She stood up and brushed the dirt from her bulky dress.
“Here, Gladys, you can carry the flowers in this basket.”
She took the basket from Marion’s hand and placed a handful of cut flowers in it. “Thank you, dear. Won’t this look pretty in a vase upon the kitchen table? They’ll go well with the collection of bells in there.”
Marion sprayed water a few more times before bending to smell the freshly cut flowers gathered in the basket. “They look and smell wonderful.”
A bee flew out of a purple flower in the basket and landed right on Marion’s shoulder. She took one look at it and just ignored it. She was not frightened, nor did she swat it away. Both she and Gladys paid it no mind and continued on with their work. Eventually the bee crawled over her shoulder, down her back, and just flew away. It obviously had no intention of bothering Marion.
Tobey and Aaron again amused themselves in the yard. Tobey had set up a target on the white picket fence that surrounded their yard so he could practice with his old bow and arrow set. Grandpa had given him that one last Christmas.
Aaron sat down in the grass, captivated by Tobey’s skill and accuracy at achieving bull’s eye after bull’s eye with each arrow.
Tobey aimed again, stretched the string wide, and released. The arrow sailed with ease and with a dull thud sank deep into the center once more.
“Wow,” Aaron exclaimed. “Can I try, can I try?”
Tobey pulled the arrow out firmly and shot his brother an annoyed look. “Are you out of your mind, Aaron? You would probably shoot yourself or me, for crying out loud.”
Aaron frowned and jumped to his feet in defiance. “Please, Tobey, I want to! Please, Tobey?”
“No, I said, and that’s final!”
Simon glanced at the boys who were still in the middle of their argument and then stopped in front of Gladys and Marion, lugging the hose behind him.
“All done watering, Simon?” asked Marion.
“For today I am. Say, Mother, when is breakfast going to be ready?”
“I’ll start right on it as soon as I bring in the flowers.”
He just smiled and then dragged the hose all the way back to the cellar doors.
The door to the house flew open and out stepped Merydith. Her sandals clunked on the front porch as she made her way to the front of the yard. “What pretty flowers,” she remarked as Gladys and Marion came up the steps beside her. She bent and took a strong whiff of them. “They smell lovely. Did you get them from Grandpa’s garden?”
Both Gladys and Marion stared at her, confused.
“Why, Merydith, what a silly question,” Gladys said. “You know quite well that nothing can be picked from that garden. These are from my garden, sweetie. They’ll look very pretty in the kitchen.”
Merydith smiled knowingly. Of course she was up to something. This was only the beginning of her questions. “You’re right, Grandma, that was silly of me. I should have known they weren’t from Grandpa’s garden. They’re not nearly big enough.”
Gladys and Marion said nothing. They just moved aside for Merydith and went in.
She stepped into the yard, just catching Tobey firing another arrow into the target. Brushing off both her brothers, she walked along the edge of hose as it slid around the corner of the house. She spotted, as she turned the corner, the open doors to Simon’s workshop.
What an opportunity to catch a glimpse of the famous workshop where the garden first began, where the seeds of beauty first sprouted and took root. A chance to see the secret formula and whatever else was being created down there.
Merydith eased her way to the doors. The hose disappeared down into the darkness. She was as quiet as could be, her heart beginning to race, a feeling of excitement sweeping her body. As she stepped to the doors, Simon emerged suddenly, making her jump. He promptly slammed the doors shut and locked them. “Merydith,” he said with a stern look.