Read The Forgotten Eden Online

Authors: Aiden James

Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Genre Fiction, #Action & Adventure, #Horror, #Dark Fantasy, #Fantasy

The Forgotten Eden (4 page)

BOOK: The Forgotten Eden

I see it in your face, Jack. You’re holding out on me,” Peter chuckled. “Well, that’s fine, because I’ve got all night if need be.”

He stood up and returned to his chair. Just before sitting down he took the two large books and held them up so Jack could read the covers. Both were worn, though one was smaller and appeared much older than the other.

These two volumes are fairly old. I’d be willing to bet my life that you’d love to get your hands on either one, if you knew what they were. The one on the right is the detailed journal of a man named Dr. Nathaniel Stratton, originally from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but whose life took him throughout the world. He spent quite a bit of his time in Carlsdale, where his brother owned the farm that later belonged to the Johnson’s—the same place, as you know, where that footprint was photographed.”

Once again, Jack stiffened noticeably. Sure, he’d seen the books on the table. Both volumes looked interesting merely because they were old. Anxious for an opportunity to cut short the present interview, he hadn’t bothered to get a closer look at either faded title. A look of recognition slipped through before he could hide it.

Well I’ll be damned, Jack, we might finally be getting somewhere!” enthused Peter. “I see that you’re familiar with the name ‘Dr. Nathaniel Stratton’. There’s a lot of interesting information in this journal of his. Much of which, I might add, pertains to your grandfather. It spans more than fifty years, from 1896 until his disappearance under mysterious circumstances in 1952.”

He laid the journal down and turned his attention to the other, smaller book.

This is much older than Dr. Stratton’s journal,” he continued. “It’s basically a collection of local legends from Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. Each one in this book is at least one hundred and fifty years old. Believe it or not, there’s stuff in here about your own family’s history as well. Even some pretty interesting things about the founding of the town of Carlsdale in the late 1700’s.”

He stopped for a moment, obviously gauging Jack’s reaction, who couldn’t hide his fascination with the worn, black leather-bound book before him.

There’s even a tale in here about your grandpa’s great-great-grandfather, Sherman Edwards,” advised Peter. “It might especially appeal to you since it describes in detail the personal challenges he went through in rebuilding the farmhouse you grew up in. I’ll bet you never knew it was erected on the very same spot where a previous house built by your family stood. Did you?”

Speechless, Jack shook his head to acknowledge he didn’t.

Most folks would find stories containing dragons, witches, and the like to be pure fantasy. That’s why both of these books were locked up and nearly forgotten in our archives down in Richmond. We’ve already discussed a dragon-like creature here tonight, and there’s a piece of it on the table right in front of us. So, what most folks think doesn’t apply to us. Right?”

Yes, sir,” Jack replied, his respect for Peter steadily rising. He was hooked, scarcely believing his eyes and ears.

Your house was built upon another’s foundation. Can you venture a guess as to the only thing still standing back then from the original structure?”

Oh, my God!

Jack blurted out, feeling instantly ashamed at his inability to better control his emotions. “The
tool shed??

Yes. The tool shed.”

Would you mind if I take a quick look at that?” Jack reached for the book.

Uh-uh-uh,” Peter chided, waving his index finger. He removed both books from the table, placing them back inside the attaché case.

Why in hell did you do that??” Jack’s face flushed with fury. He stood up hastily, almost toppling his chair again. “I mean, why go and tell me about that shit if you weren’t intending for me read it myself??”

Peter motioned for him to calm down and return to his seat before he would explain his reasons. Jack did return to his chair, though sullenly.

I’d love nothing better than for you to read each volume at your leisure, Jack,” Peter told him. “But, there’s much I need to learn from you first. Not so much about Dr. Mensch as I do about what really happened back in July almost eight years ago. We’ve only scratched the surface in what we’ve discussed so far, and I’d give anything to hear the rest. If you’ll trust me with what you’ve kept hidden all these years, I’ll let you look over both books for as long as you like.”

Jack slowly sank back against his chair, eyeing Peter curiously.

What in the hell do you really want from me?

Everything on the table engendered a bevy of questions. Still, he couldn’t shake the feeling that Peter was after something specific and different from what they’d discussed so far.

After considering the proposal another moment, he shook his head. He wasn’t sharing any more information. Whatever Peter and his pals had gathered up until now would have to suffice, regardless of the book offer.

Why are you so reluctant?” Peter persisted. “What have you got to hide? What could possibly be that important to where you’ve kept it bottled up for so long??”

Jack looked away, gazing down at his distorted reflection in the table’s surface. He sighed and defiantly shook his head.

You’d never understand,” he said, sadly. “Unless you’d been there yourself, there’d be no way in hell you’d
get it!”

But the sadness underlying his heated tone revealed how terrible a burden he did carry within. Peter stood from his chair, moving over to him. He stooped to his knees, and soon peered up into the trembling young man’s face. He slowly brought his arm around perhaps to comfort Jack, but stopped short of doing so, as if afraid how this simple act of compassion would be perceived.

Jack”, he began, his own voice quivering. “I have my own reasons for wanting to know what you know…. I’m about to take a huge risk here that could cost me dearly. Beyond the complete exposure of my personal demons, it could cost me my livelihood. That’s how badly I need to know everything that happened to you. You’ll soon see that my hell and yours are
. Perhaps in ways you would never imagine.”

Jack turned enough to face him, narrowing his eyes in a determined effort to discern the true depth of sincerity in Peter’s words. Difficult to know for certain, it appeared Agent McNamee was on the verge of tears. A volatile mixture of bitter sorrow and anger seemed to bubble and boil within the agent’s eyes, turning them into dark pools of sadness.

Does the name Bobby Northrop mean anything to you?”

Peter remained in his awkward stance, peering anxiously up into Jack’s face. For the moment, Jack gave no indication he had any idea what the agent just asked him.

I’m going to take a chance and assume that you have heard this name. Even if for some reason you haven’t, I hope you’ll bear with me as I tell his story. Can you do that for me?”

Jack nodded he would.

All right.” Peter paused, seeming to gather his thoughts until ready to begin. “About three months after the destruction of your home in Carlsdale, in October, Bobby Northrop celebrated his ninth birthday. Up until that day, he was a beautiful and happy child. His parents had recently purchased a magnificent home in Shipley Farms, located near the edge of Bienville National Forest. That’s just to the east of Jackson, Mississippi. Ever been there, Jack?”

No. I can’t say that I have,” said Jack, quietly wondering where this detour would lead.

Yeah, I guess it’s most likely you haven’t.” Peter sighed, gazing briefly toward the wall to his right. “I suppose you haven’t been out of the state of Alabama much. Except for baseball and your recent journey here.”

He forced a weak chuckle.

Well, that day promised to be special,” he continued. “And, it did turn out to be an extraordinary day, though not for the reasons anyone hoped for or even dreamed of. Bobby’s parents, Robert Northrop Sr. and his wife, Eileen, had prepared quite an event for Bobby. Maybe because their little boy’s birthday was the first ever to be celebrated in their fabulous new home.

Kids everywhere, the main level of the house was completely decorated with expensive garlands and balloons. You may have seen a video of the event later on CNN and the major networks, as Robert recorded it with his digital camcorder. Bobby looked up and smiled at his daddy, right after blowing out the last candle on his birthday cake. His eyes sparkled with excitement. Such a simple pleasure only the innocence a kid his age can know….”

Peter’s voice trailed off and he looked down. He shifted his weight to relieve the pressure on his knees, and then looked back up into Jack’s face again. Tears welled in his eyes.

As soon as the cake was cut and everybody had their fill, Bobby’s parents took him outside to open his birthday gifts, stacked high on the back deck. Are you familiar with Raven Wolff?”

Yeah,” Jack replied, thinking of the cartoon superhero of his youth. His tongue thick and slow, he cleared his throat. “That was all the rage back then, I remember.”

Yes it was,” Peter responded thoughtfully. “It’s pretty much all little Bobby talked about. For his birthday present, his mom and dad really splurged and bought him a Tower Den Clubhouse. Are you familiar with that, also?”

Complete with the double slides on either end?
Tower Den??”

Jack remembered how much he wanted one.

Yes, that Tower Den. Bobby’s dad and uncle, Lawrence Northrop, spent the better part of two days setting it up. How they kept Bobby from finding out about it before his birthday celebration is a story in itself...perhaps for some other time. It truly was a magnificent piece of equipment.”

I would’ve died for one of those things when I was a kid,” Jack admitted. “But, no way in hell would Grandpa ever shell out two grand for something like that.”

It may have been pricey,” said Peter, “but the thing was definitely worth it, you’d have to admit. It had the spiral slides you mentioned and all kinds of other fun stuff between them, and could keep up to twenty kids occupied for hours. I thought the coolest thing about it was the clubhouse on top, fifteen feet above the ground and large enough to hold five or six kids at once. You could only reach that part of the Tower Den by way of a rope ladder or a striped fire pole. Hell, if it wasn’t for all of the outdated Raven Wolff insignias plastered across the damned thing, I’m sure most any kid would still dig it now.”

Peter paused again, a dreamy look on his face.

As soon as Bobby discovered this ‘surprise’ birthday gift waiting for him in the backyard, he immediately went nuts, thrusting his fists in the air as he ran screaming and dancing over to the Tower Den,” he resumed, a wan smile on his lips. “All the other kids converged with him and remained there until each one’s parents arrived later that afternoon to pick them up from the party.

Around four o’clock the temperature started to drop. Once Bobby’s aunts, uncles, and cousins had also left, he and his older sister, Jenny Northrop, went back into the house. Jenny decided to remain inside and visit with her grandparents for a while, who were in from New Orleans. Before long, she went upstairs to play Bobby’s Playstation with her eighteen-year old uncle, who came up from New Orleans with her grandpa and grandma. Meanwhile, Bobby grabbed a jacket and ran back outside. Along the way out, he picked up the Raven Wolff mask, cape, and glove-claws that his sister gave him for his birthday to go along with the Tower Den….”

Unable to finish, Agent McNamee lowered his head and began to weep.

Jack didn’t know how to properly respond. Why was he
upset? Fighting his own weariness and a growing sense of dread, he wondered how this incident connected to him. He started to say something, but Peter abruptly looked up, causing him to recoil. Peter’s face was red with fury, and his eyes were now blurred by grief. Jack prepared to hear something horrible.

That was the last time anyone ever saw him!” he nearly shouted. “At least on record the last time. But, you know what? Bobby’s uncle saw something!

Damned right he did!!

Peter now openly sobbed. Deeply alarmed, Jack looked toward the door, expecting the agent’s colleagues to bust into the room at any moment. Yet, the door remained shut.

Hey, dudes, in case you haven’t noticed, your partner here has blown a gasket upstairs! ‘Time to get me the fuck out of here!!

Undeterred, Peter continued to sob. “And, you know what else?? Some kid in Carlsdale, Alabama saw the
same type of thing just two months earlier!”

Jack felt the words hit him physically, since obviously the kid he referred to was him.

, Jack! I
talking about
!!” he declared. “Bobby’s uncle just happened to look outside into the backyard from an upstairs window the same instant the little boy jumped down off the deck. Dressed in his Raven Wolff outfit with arms stretched out in front of him, as soon as he landed on the grass he stopped in his tracks. Do you have any idea why?”

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