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by Eric Peter Schwartz
#1 Welcome To Hitchfield
The midmorning sun finally broke over the tree line and a beam of hot yellow light fell on the sleeping eyes of Mason Lent. He squeezed his eyes tight to fight off the day, but it was no use. Sleep slipped away and Mason gave in. His hand shot up and cast a shadow over his bloodshot eyes. He squinted to see his watch. The face was cracked and stopped at 3am. He chuckled slightly and closed his eyes. As his head began to clear he became aware of a throbbing pain that seemed to heat up his jaw and spread up into his head and neck. It felt like a pulled muscle. Then his tongue explored his teeth and came to rest on a jagged spot on a back molar. Another bar fight? He rolled over onto all fours and pushed himself up into an uneasy stand. He wondered if he’d hurt anybody. Had he walked here? Did somebody dump him out of a car? He looked up and down the gravel road but there were no signs of any kind. No cars. He turned and made an arbitrary decision of which direction to go. ‘Well,’ he thought, ‘I’m on this side of the road. I should go this way.’ He picked up his canvas satchel and stumbled up out of the ditch and onto the road. Mason headed south, the sun was working its way up on his left as he walked. To his right the ambers and greens of the fields and trees popped with color as the sun hit them, but the sky behind was a retreating purple-blue, the last shreds of night slinking down into the horizon. As he walked he reached into his bag for some breakfast. He knew there would probably still be some jerky in there and a couple of new potatoes that he remembered swiping. He pulled out the jerky and one of the potatoes, both with the musty smell of canvas hanging on them and he munched away. He also pulled out a crumpled newspaper page. He opened the paper and read as he ate. It was part of a sports page – July 22, 1960 – a wrestling story: Danny Hodge defeats Angelo Savoldi for the NWA World Junior Heavyweight Title in Oklahoma City. He’d read it before. Some local little league scores. A few ads for an appliance store called “Holmes for the Home”, and of course Peanuts. He’d read them all. What finally jogged his memory was the writing at the bottom of the page. He’d scribbled a note; Tillman County, OK. Finally the drunken-woke-up-in-a-ditch fog lifted and he remembered where he was, somewhere in Tillman County Oklahoma, almost in Texas. He stopped for a moment and stretched. He had come south on a tip that work could be found here. He was just looking to be a farm hand. He took one last bite of the potato before pitching the eye, which had started to sprout, into the tall grass that lined the road. He scanned the horizon for a farm. Something fairly good sized that might be hiring some help. No time like the present to get started. He folded the paper back up and stuffed it back in his bag. He continued walking, cleaning potato and jerky off his cracked tooth with his tongue.
As the sun grew warmer bugs began to hiss and wheeze in the brush beside the road. The only sound cutting through the summer noise was Mason’s weak whistle. He wasn’t much of a whistler, but it kept him occupied. He’d traveled all the way from the onion fields of California looking for work and he’d hoped to be a better whistler by now. But he wasn’t. His whistling stopped as he came to the top of a small hill. An expanse of July green stretched out before him to the south and west. A few cows could be seen in the pastureland and at the bottom of a gentle incline from the road, a white farmhouse. He smiled to himself and headed down the small hill. As he got closer he continued to eye the property: a silo, a barn – not a huge operation, but one that might need some cheap labor. As he reached the drive noted the name on the mailbox, Marchen. Mason stuffed his hands in his pockets and made his way up the gravel drive to the house. Ward Marchen was sipping his coffee on the front porch when he spotted the stranger. He turned to make sure the front door was shut and then he stepped off the porch to greet the new comer. The two met on the grassy lawn. Ward extended a friendly hand. “Morning. Is there something I can help you with?” Mason shook the man’s hand. “I was just passing through the area, thought maybe you could point me in the right direction.” Ward chuckled. “Well, I suppose that depends what you’re looking for.” “I was wondering if there’s any place around here that might be looking to take on a pair of hands for a season.” Ward thought for a moment. “Well, Hitchfield is another couple of miles up the road. There’s some people there that might be looking for some help. What are you looking to do?” “Well, sir, just about anything. I did a lot of farm work out in California.” Ward’s eyes grew. “California? You’ve come a long way. Things not go well there?” “Just time to move on.” Ward nodded his head and squinted into the sun. “Well, I am actually short a hand at the moment. I had a fella a few months back but he left… and my wife,” Ward swallowed. “She’s not well. I can’t afford to pay you much. I can promise you three squares a day and a place to sleep and some pay at the end of the season.” Mason smiled wide. “Perfect.” He put his hand back out. “Mason Lent.”
Ward shook it. “Ward Marchen. Come on back, I’ll show you where you’ll be staying.” Ward was at least a good fifteen years older than Mason’s 37 years, his salt and pepper hair riding above his weather beaten face with no particular style. His voice was low and somewhat sullen. As Ward turned to lead Mason around to the barn, Mason looked up at the house for a moment. In an upper window, a lace curtain fell back into place as though someone had been watching and stopped suddenly. Mason turned and followed Ward who was motioning and pointing around the farm. ‘We mainly have two crops, alfalfa in the summer and winter wheat. We have a small dairy herd and we have my wife’s fruit and vegetable garden. It’s not huge but we can usually sell some watermelons and tomatoes and things in town. There are also some chickens and a few of pigs. Right now the main job is the alfalfa. At the end of the season we will start plowing under the grazing land for the winter wheat. It’s not a lot but it’s the best I can offer.” “Just glad for the work, Ward,” Mason smiled. “Will I be bunking in the house?” Ward stopped and looked at him. “Actually, the house is off limits. My wife is very sick, so you are not allowed in the house. There is a small bunk house out near the barn.” He continued walking. “ I have another fella, working for me at the moment too. He can help show you the ropes.” Ward stopped and yelled into the barn. “Ted!” A moment later a tan young man, leaned out of the barn in reply. When he saw Mason he pulled off his work gloves and made his way to them. “Ted Hearst, this is Mason Lent. Mason will be joining us for a little while.” Ted smiled and shook Mason’s hand. “Great. Nice to meet you.” Ward turned. “Well, Mason, Ted will get you settled in. I have a few things to do in the house so I will let you both get to it. Unfortunately you missed breakfast but lunch is at eleven.” “Sounds great.” “I almost forgot. There’s a big festival in Hitchfield tomorrow night - dancing, food, all kinds of things. I’ll be taking the truck into town later this afternoon to get my hair cut for it. You and Ted can ride along if you like.” Mason nodded. “Count me in.”
As Ward walked back up to the house, Mason turned to Ted, who gestured toward a small shed next to the barn. “Come on. I’ll show you where you can throw your bedroll.” The two began walking. “So where you from?” “California. At least that’s where I was working last.” “Whew! That’s a ways off. What brings you to Hitchfield?” Mason shrugged. “Just looking for work. Heard that things were going pretty good around here.” “Yeah. I came on last year at the end of the summer season. Things seem to be pretty nice.” “You grow up here?” “No. Grew up in Indiana. Just sort of wound up here.” Ted opened the shed door. It was dry and functional. A bed a small chair and a writing desk. “I’m on the other side and the outhouse is over there closer to the house.” Mason looked again at the house. “Ted, earlier, when Ward was showing me around, he said the house is off limits. He said his wife is sick. What does she have?” Ted took a small breath and glanced at the house. His voice dropped to a near whisper and leaned in close to Mason. “The Plague.” * When four o’clock rolled around Mason’s muscles were screaming. It had been months since his back and arms had been used so much. On top of that they still ached from ... whatever it was that happened the night before. Ted pumped the water as Mason splashed his face and wet his hair. When he was done he returned the favor. While Ted cleaned himself up in the cold bursts of water Mason watched the house. His mind filled with thoughts of the Plague. He watched Ward step out of the backdoor and into his beat up, maroon pick up truck. To Mason’s surprise the curtains in the upper window parted again. He couldn’t make out a form in the darkness beyond, but it sent shivers through him. A moment later Ward whistled from the driver seat of the truck. Ted and Mason climbed into the truck bed and the three were off to Hitchfield. The late afternoon sun cast a golden hue over the small town. Ward’s truck rumbled up the main street under the banner that read “Hitchfield Midsummer Festival”. Red and blue ribbons adorned every lamp-post along main street in preparation for the party the next night. Ward and Ted exchanged waves with some of the townsfolk milling
about near the main town square. Most of the town was built around the square which was a large, grassy expanse with a few trees, a cannon from WWI, a white gazebo-like bandstand and some benches. All the town’s shops faced inward, toward the square. The largest structure, Town Hall, dominated the north end of the square. From what Mason could see there was a small movie house, a pharmacy, a bar, a tobacco shop and the barber shop that Ward was parking in front of. Mason looked at Ted as they were climbing out of the truck. “How many people in town?” Ted shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe a couple hundred. Most everybody lives out on the farms.” Ward shut his door. “Hitchfield used to have a lot more people, Mason. Back in the twenties, before the dustbowl, there were probably a thousand people here. That’s why the town is so big, for so few residents. Most all of them headed out to California or back east in the thirties.” “It just seems, real quiet.” Ward smiled. “It is. Now, fellas, I’m going to get my haircut and shoot the breeze with the boys in here. I will see you later.” As Ward stepped into the barbershop, Ted and Mason made their way toward the movie house with the marquee that read Psycho. Only one showing - 8:00 pm. Ted looked at Mason. “You thinking about going to the movies? You could probably hitch a ride back to the farm with somebody, unless you wanna walk.” Mason shrugged. “I don’t know. You seen it?” Ted nodded. “Yeah. Last weekend. It’s scary. I don’t want to tell you what happens, but you think it’s this...whole thing when it’s this whole other thing. It’s scary.” Mason chuckled at the description. “Nah. I’m pretty beat, actually. I’ll just ride back with Ward and get some sleep tonight.” “Yeah. Get rested up for the festival.” Ted waved to a small group of people gathered on a bench in the shade of the movie marquee. Sitting on the bench was an older man with a cane, a man about Mason’s age and then a younger man in grey coveralls, spotted with grease, stood talking to them. The man nearest Mason’s age smiled. “Hi Ted. Marchen working ya hard?”
Ted chuckled. “You know it.” He turned to Mason. “This is Mason, the new farm hand. He just came on today.” The man stood and extended a hand. “Nice to meet you, Mason. The name’s Dan, Dan Rugspiro.” Mason shook his hand and nodded. Dan then motioned toward the older man. “This is Matson Doll and this young fellow here is Toby Olsen.” Dan slapped Toby on the back. Mason extended his hand but Toby’s eyes grew sad and he just stared at Mason. Then he turned and moved down the street. Dan watched the young man leave and then turned back to Mason and Ted. “Sorry about that. Toby’s a little shy.” For the next half an hour the four stood swapping stories and talking about the festival. The sun was beginning to disappear behind the buildings on the eastern end of the square when Mason swallowed and realized how thirsty he was. Dan was telling a story when Mason leaned in and interrupted. “I’m sorry, is there someplace I can get something to drink?” Dan nodded. “There’s a Coke machine around the corner in the alley.” “Thanks.” Mason moved around the corner and stepped into the alley while fishing a dime out of his pocket. When he finally extracted the dime from his pocket he dropped it into the machine, pulled the handle, opened the door and took out his bottle of Coke. Mason slipped the top of the bottle into the opener, pushed down and the cap bent and flipped off. He closed his eyes and took a long, cold drink. The cold suddenly hit his cracked tooth and he stopped. With a wince he lowered the bottle and swore. When he opened his eyes he saw Toby Olsen coming around the corner, wiping his oily hands on a rag. Mason nodded. “Toby, right?” Mason tipped his Coke at Toby, but the young man said nothing. He just kept edging toward Mason. Toby looked scared and his eyes darted around. Mason took a breath. “Toby?” Finally Toby was close to him. He leaned in, his eyes pleading with Mason. “What happened?” Mason cocked his head. “I’m sorry?” Toby started to breathe heavily and sweat was beginning to bead on his forehead. “I waited, like you told me to. I waited, but you never came. That was weeks ago.” Mason chuckled. “I’m sorry Toby. I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Toby’s eyes widened with horror. “No! NO!” He grabbed Mason’s arms and shook him. Mason’s bottle fell to the cement and shattered. “It wasn’t supposed to be like this!” Mason broke out of Toby’s hold. “Son, pull yourself together. What are you talking about?” Tears welled in the boy’s eyes. He turned and ran out of the shade and into the main town square. Mason ran after him, calling his name, but the boy didn’t hear. Others on the square turned and looked as Toby sprinted across the town square with Ward Marchen’s new farm hand following behind. Toby soon disappeared in between the buildings. Mason finally stopped on the sidewalk, his muscles screaming, his lungs begging for air. He was soon joined by others. The square was now buzzing with chatter. Mason looked back across the square at Ted and Ward who had watched everything. He couldn’t tell if they were mad or curious. But then he watched their eyes move upward. He turned and looked up as the air seemed to get sucked out of the town. Four stories up, at the top of the red brick building that was home to the town pharmacy, Toby Olsen stood with his hands outstretched. He looked down at Mason, who stood speechless and horrified. “You’re wrong! There is another way!” Toby’s smile was desperate. “Toby Olsen,” came a strong voice. Mason turned to see who was shouting. The local sheriff was sprinting across the square. “Toby Olsen you get down off that building right now!” Mason looked back at Toby. The smile was gone, replaced by wide-eyed panic and fear. There was moment when it looked as if he might step back away from the ledge. Then his eyes locked with Mason’s. The boy smiled. Then Toby Olsen launched himself into the early evening air as a shriek went up from the disbelieving crowd. * Mason woke with a jolt. He was wet with sweat and he could see steam rising from his body in the chill of the night. He sat on the edge of his bed for a moment listening to his heart. He couldn’t remember the dream at all, just the terror. He pulled his pants and boots on and stepped out into the night. The huge, full moon cast everything in a gray-blue light. Mason took the tin mug that hung from a nail in the side of the bunkhouse and began pumping water. As he drank the cold water his mind replayed the day’s events. The Plague. Toby’s suicide. He didn’t know what to make of it all. When he finished the water he placed the cup back on the nail and moved back toward the bunk house. As he approached his door he noticed a dim light on in the upper floor window of the main house. And again the curtains were open slightly. Someone inside was looking out.
Slowly, Mason moved toward the house. As he reached a large open area of the drive, he knew that she could see him in the moonlight. It must have been Ward’s wife. As soon as he was visible in the moonlight, the curtains fell back into place again. Mason turned to move back to the bunkhouse but as he did he spied something out in the pasture. It was a man, facing him. Mason moved closer but the figure didn’t move. Soon Mason was close enough to make out features. They were still unclear in the pale blue that the moon cast. “Can I help you,” Mason said in a loud voice. The man didn’t answer. He simply stared. “I don’t know if Mr. Marchen would want you trespassing on his land.” Mason moved a little closer. This time the man pivoted and began to move away, slowly, unafraid. “Hey!” The figure turned back and Mason got a full look at him. It was an Indian - an Indian, in full warrior dress. His eyes stared into Mason who was transfixed. He couldn’t speak or move for what seemed like ages. Somewhere behind him, in the barn, something fell. Mason’s head spun in the direction of the barn. When he turned back, the Indian was gone. Only the pale gray-blue of the moon and the night sounds of crickets surrounded Mason Lent.
#2 The Festival
By the time Ward Marchen’s rooster, the one Ted called Gideon, screamed at the rising sun, Mason Lent and Ted Hearst were already halfway through breakfast. Mason was famished. He hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before. The events on the town square the evening before had taken away his appetite. Even now he was only eating to squelch the rumbling. It was going to be a long, fast day and the last thing he wanted to do was collapse from hunger. Ted, Mason and Ward sat around a handmade picnic table under a tin canopy near the house. Biscuits, bacon, eggs and coffee steamed in the cool morning air. No one said anything about Toby Olsen. The silence said enough. They kept their eyes on their plates while they ate. It was Ward who finally broke the silence. “Leo called this morning. Apparently the festival is gonna happen all the same.” Ward sat back from his empty plate and poured himself another mug of coffee. “I guess some people are upset, but the committee met and thought it was a good idea.” Ted nodded and swallowed. “It’s probably good to have something to take our minds off it.”
Ward nodded and pulled a pack of Lucky Strikes out of his shirt pocket. “That’s what they thought.” Ted leaned forward as though there was somebody around to hear. “Do they know why he did it?” Ward shrugged. “Toby always had problems, Ted. He was kind of a sickly kid. Who knows what set him off?” He looked at Mason who was still looking quietly at his plate of food. “If it hadn’t happened like that, it would have happened some other way.” Mason looked up and met Ward’s eyes. He smiled slightly in thanks. Ward nodded stoically and lit his cigarette. Mason took a drink of his coffee. “Are there any Indians still around here?” Ward’s brow furrowed. “Indians?” Ted looked over at Mason. “You mean like wild west Indians?” “Yeah.” Mason nodded. Ward sat up a little. “Well, this all used to be Comanche land. Government moved them out ages ago, though. There’re some reservations west of here. Why?” “I think I saw one.” “An Indian?” Ted nearly spilled his coffee. “Here?” Mason motioned toward the pasture. “Last night, over there in the pasture. Head dress. War paint. Everything. Right over there, some time in the middle of the night.” Ward looked at his coffee. “Did you see what he looked like?” “Nah. It was pretty dark and I ran him off pretty quickly.” Ted looked at Ward. “Wow.” Ward pursed his lips and looked hard at Mason. “Are you sure you saw an Indian?” It was the way Ward asked that made Mason doubt for a moment. “I... think so.” “You sure you weren’t seeing things? Or still asleep?”
Mason took a thoughtful drink of coffee. “I suppose I might’ve.” Ward stood up and began clearing the plates. “Well, let’s wait and see if you see him again. Yesterday was a might trying and I wouldn’t blame you at all if your mind was playing tricks.” He looked at Ted. “Let’s try to get everything done early today so we can get cleaned up for the festival.” He nodded at Mason. Mason watched Ward move back toward the house. It could have been a clear dream, but it was so real. As Ward stepped through the kitchen door and disappeared into the house, the curtain in the upstairs window fell back into place. Mason could feel the wife’s eyes on him again. He stood and joined Ted as he headed toward the barn to start the day. * Hitchfield’s town square was much livelier than it had been to day before. Red, white and blue flags adorned every lamppost. Everyone in town, and it appeared many others from the neighboring communities were milling about, playing games, drinking, dancing. The smell of roasting meat and sweet rolls filled the air and the sound of the community band blended with the whoops and hollers of the festival crowd. The sun was just beginning to dip down behind the buildings that lined the square. Mason and Ted hopped down out of the truck bed and took in the sight. Ted smiled at Mason who grinned back, more at Ted’s excitement than his own. Ward stepped up behind them. “All right gentlemen, two things,” Mason and Ted turned toward him. Their employer held up a finger. “Number one. Tomorrow is Sunday so don’t worry about having to get up and work. Just have fun. And two...” Ward held out a five-dollar bill to each of them. “...don’t blow it too fast.” Then Ward smiled which, until now, Mason hadn’t really seen. It surprised him. The two farmhands thanked him, took the money and headed into the festival. Ted immediately stepped up to the first available food stand and bought two frankfurters and a coke. His mouth half stuffed he moved back to where Mason stood scanning the festival. He mumbled something that Mason couldn’t understand. Mason chuckled. “What?” Ted forcibly held up a finger and finished chewing. “I said, what do you want to do?” Mason shrugged. “I don’t know.” He looked around. “Where can I get a drink?” “There serving beer over by the band. I think the bar is open too.” Mason grinned. “I think a beer sounds pretty good.” He turned and with Ted following close behind, he made his way toward the beer table.
* The sun finally dipped down and the sky grew dark blue over the festival. Mason was well into his third beer. While he had worked out exactly how many nickel beers he could have with the five dollars, he decided to stay on his good behavior. His tooth still hurt from his last drunken brawl and he figured that, in light of the incident with Toby, it was in his best interest not to get too drunk. He found a spot near the bandstand and remained there nodding politely to those who past. Ted had long since gone off to enjoy some of the games or eat more. Now, as the beer clouded him slightly and the events of the past day began to recede, Mason started to relax. There was still something bugging him about the festival. He couldn’t put his finger on it. Something was just...off. Everyone seemed to be having a good time and so far everyone had been polite. He had noticed a few people pointing him out to others and then whispering. He tried to let it roll off him, but it wasn’t easy. He just nodded and raised his beer in a friendly gesture. ‘Great,’ he thought. ‘Only one day in town and already people are avoiding me.’ He took another sip of beer. “Don’t worry about them,” came a voice from behind him. Mason turned around to see the town Sheriff stepping up to him with two mugs of beer. “Not a lot happens around here, so when it does, it makes the rounds.” Mason turned to greet him and nodded. “I know. It’s just...” “Nobody blames you for it. You’re just a curiosity at the moment. Don’t take it bad.” The Sheriff held out one of the beers and winked. “Leo Pratt.” Mason finished his beer and placed it on the nearest table. “Mason Lent. Thanks.” Leo looked back out at the crowd. “I just spoke to Ward. I’m gonna take a trip out to the farm tomorrow. I just want to talk to you about what happened. What Toby said and the like. You’re not in any trouble, just want to chat.” “Sounds fine to me.” “All right then. I should be out around noon. Give you a chance to sleep tonight off.” Mason chuckled. “Sounds good.” The two stood for a moment listening to the band finish playing Sentimental Journey. They applauded with the rest of the crowd. The band was by no means a Big Band, just a six-piece combo. Mason noticed that the men he met the day before with Toby, Dan Rugspiro and Matson Doll, were part of the band. Matson was playing clarinet and Dan was on saxophone. The man playing double bass stepped off stage for a moment and spoke to two women. He nodded and stepped back up to the microphone.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we have a special treat for you tonight. One of the ladies from the town has agreed to grace us with a song. I’m sure most of you have heard her sing at mass and you know what a lovely voice she has. Now, she’s a little shy about coming up here, so please give a nice warm welcome to Sarah Bedwin.” The crowd cheered as Sarah stepped timidly on stage and looked out at them. Close behind her, an older woman stood just off stage, watching her intently. Mason stopped mid-drink and stared at Sarah. She smiled slightly at the crowd and said thank you. Then she turned and nodded to the band, who then counted off and began playing Someone to Watch Over Me. Then the woman began to sing. For a moment Mason Lent forgot where he was. All he was aware of was this beautiful woman, singing like an angel in front of him. She wasn’t much younger than Mason, but there was a youth in her face that made Mason feel old. She was dressed nicer than most at the festival. Her red hair was done up into a bun, but a few strands fell to outline her face and she wore a green church dress, similar to the one worn by the older woman just off stage. Her voice wooed the crowd. Mason, could only blink. It had been a long time since he’d seen anything beautiful, and she was beautiful. He turned to Leo, who was smiling beside him. “Who is she?” Leo raised an eyebrow and looked back. “That’s our local songbird, Sarah Bedwin.” “She’s... she has a lovely voice.” Leo chuckled. “Yes she does. She sings in church every Sunday.” He looked closer at Mason who had turned back to watch Sarah. “You seem taken with her.” Mason grinned. “I suppose I am. Is she married?” “No. But she hasn’t had an easy time of things. She moved here from back east a few years ago. She lives with her aunt who is... well, I suppose the most polite I can be is to say she’s something of a dragon. That’s her, off stage there, Brenda Lindhew. Many a man has sought the company of Miss Sarah Bedwin, Mason, only to be shot down by the dragon Lindhew.” He slapped Mason on the back. “My advice? Forget you ever saw Sarah Bedwin.” Leo chuckled and moved off into the crowd as Mason continued to watch Sarah as her voice drifted out in all directions over Hitchfield square. When the song came to an end the crowd erupted into applause and Sarah thanked them again. Then she moved off with her aunt leading the way. Mason blinked. The next thing he knew he felt a hand on his back. Dan had come down from the bandstand to take a break. Dan smiled big. “Evening Mason. Having a good time?”
“Absolutely. You guys are great.” Dan took a mug of beer off the beer table and waved off the comment. “Eh, we’re all right. It’s fun. You play an instrument? We’re always looking for new blood.” Mason thought for a moment. “I think so. I remember some piano lessons I think. That must have been a long time ago.” Dan nodded and guzzled his beer. “Any requests?” Mason chuckled. “Actually, yeah... where’s the john?” Dan chuckled. “If you hum it, I think I can play it.” Dan pointed across the square to the bar. “B.J’s is open. I’m sure you can use the john.” Mason put down his now empty mug and headed toward the bar. “Hey, thanks!” “You comin’ back for the next set?” Mason shrugged and laughed. “We’ll see. I am heading into a bar after all.” As Dan chuckled, Mason turned and walked across the square toward the bar. As Mas stepped into B.J.’s Bar, as the faded tin sign over the door read, he was greeted by a nod from the bartender and the sound of “A Long Gone Daddy” by Hank Williams blasting from a beat up jukebox in the corner. The place was nearly empty save for a few men sitting along the bar. Mason nodded back to the bartender and headed for the door marked “Gents”. The beer he’d been drinking so far was kicking him in the gut and he was happy to finally make it into the stall. He shut the door and began his business. A moment later he heard the iron hinges on the bathroom door creak open and two men entered, already talking. “Well, who’s fault is that,” one said with a slight slurring, giving away his mindset. “I guess he’s been having problems with the transmitter,” said the other. “Something’s going to have to be done.” Mason finished and flushed the toilet. The men outside the stall fell silent. He fixed up his pants and stepped out. The two men, both apparently in their mid twenties, had stopped talking and were looking at him. The second man nodded quietly. The first man, who seemed a little drunk, looked a little surprised.
Mason chuckled. “Hi guys.” And he stepped back out into the bar. The door closed and he moved to the bar. The bartender moved down to where he stood. “You got any smokes?” “I got Luckies and I got Camels.” “Gimme a pack of Camels.” The bartender pulled the pack out from under the bar and tossed it in front of Mason. The entire time the bartender watched the two young men who had been in the john move quickly across the room, glancing only once at Mason and the bartender, and out the door. When the door had shut behind them he turned back to Mason and placed a pack of matches on top of the pack. Mason fished out some money, picked up the smokes and the matches and placed the money on the bar in its place. “Thanks,” he said on his way out of the bar. Mason stopped under the dim streetlight outside the bar and lit up a cigarette. Something was still not right and he couldn’t figure it out. He’d been to town festivals before, he was sure, and there was something different about this. Something was missing. He blew out a lungful of smoke and pulled some tobacco off his tongue, dropping it to the ground. He looked at the outline of his feet and thought back to the sound of Sarah’s voice. He had to meet her. He wanted to talk to her and wondered if she was still at the festival. Mason’s eyes moved back up toward the crowd in the center of town. This time some one was looking back at him. The Indian. Mason dropped his cigarette. The Indian stared at him from the shadows on the edge of the Festival. He looked the same as the night before. Slowly he turned and moved into the crowd as Mason broke into a run. Mason pushed his way through the crowd who had gathered around the beer table. He scanned the crowd for signs of the Indian. He saw Ted, testing his strength by slamming a hammer down and trying to hit a bell. He saw Dan and Matson Doll back on stage playing their hearts out. Across the square he saw Ward talking in a huddle of men. He saw the two younger men from the bar drinking more beer. But the Indian had disappeared, just like the night before. His eyes searched the square again, but there was no sign of the Indian and no indication that anyone else had noticed him.
Then it hit Mason. He knew what had been missing, the thing that was bothering him. He looked the crowd over. He listened to the laughter. He smelled the food. He scanned everything to make sure he wasn’t wrong. He wasn’t. There were no children.
#3 Leo Pratt
Mason Lent swung open the gate and leaned on it. He watched as the small cowherd lumbered from the barn where they had just been milked, to the pasture where they will spend more time eating. All together there were only a dozen cows. Twice a day Mason and Ted went out and brought the cows in to be milked. It was the first time that Mason had ever dealt with cows. He liked the pace. It wasn’t like the onion picking he did in California with farmers weighing your baskets and paying you based on the weight. The faster you worked, the more you pulled, and the more you got paid. He liked this better, it was a slower pace. He lit a smoke and continued to watch the herd move through to the pasture. His mind drifted to the night before, to the Festival. He’d seen the Indian again. He had decided that he wouldn’t say anything about it this time. Mostly because he’d had a few beers and he still couldn’t be sure of what he saw. What he was sure of was his realization that there were no children at the Festival. Where were they? There was plenty for them to do. He flicked an ash. He was trying to smoke slowly because he knew the pack had to last a while. It could be some time before he could afford to get another. He tried to remember the last time he had a pack of smokes and he couldn’t. Until the night before, in the bar, he couldn’t even remember when he’d smoked last. ‘Must’ve been a while,’ he thought with a chuckle. When the last cow crossed into the pasture, he closed the gate. As the gate shut with a clang he heard the crunch of gravel behind him and he looked over his shoulder to see Leo Pratt pulling his police car around the house. Mason grabbed his shirt from the fence post and slipped it back on. Leo waved as he stepped out of his vehicle and the two men met near the middle of the drive. “Morning Mason.” “Leo.” Mason said, shaking Leo’s hand. “Thought we might have that chat now.” “Sure.” Mason turned and moved toward the water pump and Leo followed. “I’ll tell ya, Mason. It’s a mess. We haven’t ever had anything like this happen in Hitchfield. And I’m sorry it happened on your first day in town.”
Mason stopped and began pumping himself some water. “From what Ward said, Toby had some troubles.” Leo rested his hands on his hips. “That’s true. There was always a little something wrong with the boy. He was an orphan and never had a home life to speak of. I’m not surprised that it happened, just surprised at when. So what happened?” Mason took a drink and then dumped what was left in the cup into his hand and rubbed his hands together. “Well, Ted and I went into town with Ward. Ted introduced me to Dan and Matson and Toby was with them. He didn’t seem to want to talk then and wandered off. So I went around into the alley later to get a coke and the next thing I know... Toby shows up and starts talking to me like he knows me.” “Like he knows you?” “Yeah. He said ‘What happened? I waited’ and ‘it wasn’t supposed to be like this’.” Leo thought for a moment. He didn’t say anything, a thoughtful ‘hmmm’ was his only response. “So I tried to calm him down. I explained to him that we’d never met and he went crazy. That’s when he took off across the square.” Leo nodded. “And you chased him.” “I went after him. I was worried about the kid. He just seemed really confused and frightened.” Mason looked at the ground. “I probably shouldn’t have chased him. Probably made it worse.” Leo smiled slightly. “You did what you thought was right and you didn’t know what would happen. You were trying to help. Everybody knows that. Did he yell something at you when he was up there?” “He told me that I was wrong and there was another way.” “Do you know what that means?” Mason shook his head. “No. I have no idea.” The two went quiet for a moment. Mason looked out at the pasture and watched the cows slowly scatter and start grazing. Then he looked back at Leo. “What do you think happened, you know, in his head?” Leo took a deep breath. “Honestly Mason, I can only speculate. Like I said, he was an orphan. I know part of his life he was raised by his uncle who was about your age.
Story has it that when Toby was about nine his uncle left him at school and vanished, just left him there. Never came back. I don’t know. Maybe you reminded him of his uncle.” Mason thought. “Could be.” The two made their way toward Leo’s car. Leo waved to Ted who was across the drive pulling some vegetables from the small field. “I also wanted to talk to you about this Indian you saw.” Mason’s stomach fell. “Oh, Ward told you about that?” Leo stopped and turned. “Yep. Said you saw him the other night in the pasture.” “Right over there. But it was pretty dark and it had been a long day.” Mason thought for a moment. “I did see him again last night. In town.” Leo stopped in his tracks. “What?” Mason shook his head. “At least I thought I saw him. I’d had a few beers. He was in the crowd but he disappeared real quick... I don’t know.” Leo took a long breath. His brow furrowed “Well, I’ll ask around. See if anybody else has seen somebody dressing up like an Indian. Could be a prank. But, like you said, the only times you’ve seen him is late at night or after a few beers.” Leo smiled. “I don’t need another crazy person on my hands.” He chuckled and slapped Mason’s shoulder. Mason chuckled slightly. “Right.” “Just let me know if you see him again.” Mason nodded and Leo continued toward his car. Mason took a breath. “Leo?” Leo turned back. “Yeah.” “There was one other thing.” He stepped up next to Leo. “Where are all the kids?” Leo looked at him for a moment. His expression didn’t change. “What do you mean?” “Last night, at the festival, I didn’t see any kids. I didn’t see anybody younger than their 20s. Where were all the kids last night? It just seemed strange.” Leo sighed. He wrapped his arm around Mason’s shoulders and moved away from the car. His voice lowered. “Mason, if there’s one thing you don’t talk about in Hitchfield, it’s children.” Mason stopped. “Why?”
Leo’s face grew more concerned and he thought for a moment before he spoke. “About five years ago, in the winter of ’55, a plague swept through these parts. Killed a lot of people. We were lucky it didn’t wipe out the whole town. It... took all the children and left the women who survived barren. It was the worst thing you can imagine, Mason. The people that were left, they never speak of it. Even today. All they have now is their faith, the planting, the harvest and what memories they choose to entertain. So I’m asking you, as a friend, don’t bring it up. Hitchfield doesn’t want to be reminded.” “What about Mrs. Marchen? She still has it.” Leo glanced up at the house. “It’s worse for her.” Mason shook his head. “How could it be worse?” Leo’s eyes moved back to Mason. “She was the carrier. She brought it here.” * Mason and Ted ate lunch perched on the pasture fence, soaking in the early afternoon sun. Ward had brought back some leftover hot dogs and potato salad from the festival during his trip into town. They spent most of the mealtime in silence, watching the cows. Ted finally gulped down his last bite of hot dog. He washed it down with the tepid bottle of Coke he had. He brushed off his pants with his hands. “You and Leo talk about Toby,” Ted inquired. “Yeah. We didn’t talk real long.” “He’s a good guy.” “Seems like it.” Mason thought for a moment. He hadn’t been able to get Sarah out of his mind since the night before. “Ted, what do you know about Sarah Bedwin?” Ted smiled. “Not much. Pretty lady. Sings like an angel. Why do you ask?” Ted already knew the answer. Mason shrugged. “She’s just...you know.” “You want to meet her?” Mason just chuckled. “I suppose I do, Ted.” Ted leaned back, finally an authority. “See, that’s the trick, she’s got this aunt.” “The dragon. I heard.” Mason slipped off the fence and stood looking up at Ted.
Ted lowered his voice to indicate inside information. “The rumor around town is that she was a nun once but they kicked her out because she was too mean.” Mason laughed. “I’m serious.” Ted thought for a moment. “Of course the other rumor is that her aunt is actually her uncle. So I don’t know what to believe.” “Ted, I’m not asking for her hand in marriage. I just want to meet her. Hell, I’d just like to see her again.” “Yeah, but that woman is always with her. She never leaves the house without her.” Mason cocked his head in skepticism. “Really? She never goes shopping? Never goes for a walk?” “Mason, I’m telling you. You will not see Sarah Bedwin without her aunt. The only chance you have of even speaking to her alone is in church.” Ted’s eyes widened. He hopped back to the ground. “Hey! There’s a service tonight that she always sings at. You could see her there.” Mason thought. “I’m not much for church, Ted. But...” “Service is at 7:30.” Ted grinned big, like he was causing trouble, and then headed back to the vegetable garden. Mason watched him go. “Church, eh?” * Around five Mason found himself standing on the back porch of the house, his knuckles knocking on the door. It was the closest he’d been to the house since he’d arrived. He couldn’t stop thinking about what Leo had said. Carrier. Plague. It gave him the creeps being this close to the house. It was worth it, but he still felt uneasy. The same unease he felt when he could feel the wife’s eyes on him from the window. He bounced slightly on his feet as Ward opened the door and stepped out. He quickly closed the door behind him. “Evening Mason. All done for today?” “Yep.” “So what can I do for ya?” “Actually Ward, I was wondering if you had a shirt and tie I could borrow? I was thinking about going to church tonight and I ... well... I don’t really have anything nice to wear.”
Ward nodded. “Sure. You want some boots too? What size you wear?” Mason looked at his dusty boots. He thought for a moment. “I don’t know, actually. I’ve had these for as long as I can remember.” Ward took a quick breath and looked at Mason’s feet. “Looks to be about ten and a half. Tell you what, you go get cleaned up in the shower, I’ll get some stuff together and bring it to your bunk.” “Thanks.” Ward turned to go back into the house and then turned back. “I didn’t take you for a religious man, Mason.” Mason smiled. “I’m not really. It’s just...” Ward nodded. “Ah... Miss Bedwin. That woman should be a missionary.” He turned back to the door with a chuckle. “You want to use the truck?” Mason shook his head. He was already borrowing the man’s clothes for his ridiculous, high-schoolish evening. “Nah. I’ll walk. Thanks though.” Ward grinned. “Suit yourself.” * The sun hadn’t start to set yet but the sky to the east was beginning to turn a dark purple as Mason walked along the road to town. He had seen everything around him from the back of Ward’s truck, but now, walking the road, he could hear the late afternoon insects starting to make noise. It was much more peaceful that it was rumbling through, kicking up a cloud of dust. To his right, the rolling pastureland adjacent to the Marchen farm stretched off into the distant line of trees along the sky line. To his left, an overgrown, wooded area lined the road for the better part of a mile. A barbed wire fence ran the length of the woods, with one break. About a quarter mile up a small gravel drive led straight into the trees. A beat up tin mailbox rested precariously on a post at the edge of the road. As Mason approached he could make out the hand painted lettering on the side of the mailbox. It read simply “Hatfield”. The sun was low enough in the sky that the interior of the woods had taken on a dark blue-gray light. Night was already descending on what Mason assumed was the Hatfield farm. As he stepped past the entrance to the drive he could see that the trees and brush grew denser and denser inside. He could not see sunlight on the far end. Then there was movement. Mason stopped and moved toward the trees. He peered into the semi-darkness. He caught his breath.
Standing in the middle of the gravel drive, not 20 yards from Mason, stood the Indian. He wasn’t tired. He hadn’t been drinking. And his eyes weren’t playing tricks. The Indian was standing there staring at Mason. He was really there. As the Indian slowly turned and began to walk deeper into the interior, Mason bolted after him. “Oh no you don’t!” The Indian disappeared around a bend and Mason quickly followed. When Mason came to a straight away in the drive he could see the Indian, still far ahead of him, on the edge of a clearing. Beyond the Indian, Mason could see daylight. A small area cleared away with a beautifully tended vegetable garden. The Indian just stood looking at him. “What do you want from me?! Who are you,” Mason bellowed. The Indian did not reply. “Why are you following me?!” Again, the Indian turned and rounded a corner. With a curse springing from his lips, Mason bounded after him again. As Mason rounded the corner he lost site of the man he was pursuing. He noticed another clearing tucked back into the trees. Mason turned and ran into the clearing. Mason Lent skidded to a halt, gasping for breath. His arms raised themselves. There was a metallic “click” as the older woman, standing on a makeshift porch attached to a small trailer home, cocked the rifle leveled at Mason’s head. “Son, you best have a damn good reason to be on my land.”
#4 The Same Man
The woman with the rifle stepped closer to Mason. “D’you hear me, boy?! What are you doing on my property?” Mason stammered for a moment. “I was chasing somebody and he came in here.” The woman squinted. The sun weathered skin around her eyes creased. “There ain’t been nobody through here, except for you.” Without taking her eyes off Mason, she stepped off her porch. “Now maybe you’re new to these parts and you haven’t heard about me. The last time I caught poachers on my land Sheriff Pratt himself had to come out here and rescue them.”
“I’m not a poacher.” The woman took a moment to look him over. “You got no gun or traps, true enough. Kind of dolled up too. So, what are you doing here?” Mason took a breath. “I was walking to town. I’m working on Ward Marchen’s farm. I saw this man as I passed your drive.” The woman cocked her head. “What man?” Mason stopped himself for a moment. He didn’t want to say, but it seemed unavoidable. “An Indian.” “Indian?! A Comanche?” Mason shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe. He was in full warrior dress, straight out of a movie. I’ve seen him the last two nights, at Marchen’s farm and then in town. I saw him again standing in your drive. I just wanted to know who he is, what he wants. So I chased him.” The woman smiled. “You need to be more careful where you chase an Indian, I guess. I’m not real keen on visitors.” “You should try posting a sign.” The woman lowered her gun with a chuckle. “I suppose I should.” She moved past Mason and headed for the door. Mason lowered his arms. She took her time stepping up onto the porch. She turned around and looked back at Mason, who stood silently watching her. She squinted at him again, standing in the growing dark in his nice shirt and boots. “Well, don’t stand around outside. I got Sunday soup on. Come on in.” Mason cocked his head slightly in confusion. “Uh... actually I was heading...” “You came on my land. Either I shoot you or I feed you, your choice.” She turned and went inside. Mason, seeing he had no real options, followed her into the mobile home. The inside of the trailer was filled with the smell of stew. A pot was boiling on the stove, releasing its delicious steam into the air. Mason could tell from the inside of the trailer that this woman had been here a long time. Stacks of clothes and books and wooden bushels of vegetables and fruit sat on the seats that lined the walls. Taking up nearly the whole of the far end of the room was a kitchen table, with another stack of dog-eared books, a pair of glasses, an open book of crosswords and a stack of well worn cards piled on top of it.
The woman moved to the stove and started stirring the pot. “I hope you like rabbit. I snared one this morning.” Mason nodded. “That’s fine.” “So what’s your name, son? If I’m gonna eat with you I should have something to call you.” “Lent. Mason Lent.” The old woman wiped her hands and thrust it toward him. “Nice to meet you, Mason, I’m Ester Hatfield.” Mason shook her hand and she began rummaging through her cabinets. “So, why were you heading into town this time of day?” “I was going to church. I wanted to catch the evening service.” Mason looked around. “So you live here all by yourself?” Ester pulled out another bowl. “Yep. Mr. Hatfield died a few years ago and left me here on my own.” “You weren’t farmers?” “No. Mr. Hatfield just wanted some land of his own. After he retired we moved down here, cleared a little land and dug in.” Ester ladled some stew into the bowl. “Can’t say I like it much, to be honest.” She handed Mason the bowl. “Hitchfield’s nice enough, and the weather is like this most of the year. Just doesn’t feel like home. Have a seat,” she said, pulling a spoon from a drawer and handing it to Mason. The two moved to the table and sat down. Ester bowed her head and said a quiet prayer. Then she lifted her head and began to eat. Mason took his first bite. Chunks of carrot and turnip swirled in the gravy with the meat. He was ravenous. Somehow coming face to barrel with the shotgun had opened up the pit of his stomach and left him hungry. He took several bites of the wonderful stew before Ester spoke again. “So, tell me about this Comanche you saw?” Mason finished his mouthful. He shrugged. “I told you all I really know. I don’t even know if he’s a Comanche. He just looks like what I expect an Indian to look like.” “I got a book about the Comanche around here somewhere. I’ll dig it out after supper. So he’s following you?” “I guess. He just keeps turning up and staring at me. I caught him in Marchen’s pasture night before last. And then I saw him at the festival last night. I thought I was just tired or a little drunk. Until today. I saw him plain as day and dead sober. He’s real. I just want to know who he is.”
Ester finished chewing. “There haven’t been Comanche around here in years. I have a feeling someone’s playing a trick on you. “ “Maybe, but I only got to town a couple of days ago. I’ve barely met anybody. Why would anybody want to play a trick on me?” Ester finished her bowl and moved to the stove to get some more. “Well, there’s a lot of farm hands like yourself. Usually young guys who think it’s pretty funny to play tricks. There seems to be new ones every season. You see them a couple of times in town and never see them again.” “You get in to town much?” Mason wondered if she’d heard about Toby. “I pretty much keep to myself out here. I got my garden and my rabbits. Got a few hens out back. I go into town every once in a while if I need soap or something like that. I’m not one for socializing, so the townsfolk leave me alone.” Ester sat back down and started her second bowl. Mason was enjoying the food, even if the company was a little awkward. Just ten minutes before she’d had a gun on him. Now they were sitting and chatting. He was still thinking of Sarah. He wanted to make it to the service in time to see her, perhaps talk to her. Even though he wasn’t finished, Mason put down his spoon and wiped his mouth. “You said you have a book about Indians,” he said, moving his chair away from the table. Ester’s mouth was full so she nodded toward a large stack of books on the other end of the trailer. Mason moved to the haphazard pile. “You’re quite the reader.” “That and solitaire. Not much else out here to do.” Mason scanned the titles – The Purple Plaines by H.E. Bates, 1955 Funk & Wagnall’s Encyclopedia, Live and Let Die by Ian Fleming, The Girl From Nowhere by Rae Foley, Travels With Charley by John Steinbeck, The Measure of Man by Joseph Wood Krutch, Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, Walden Two by B.F. Skinner, Life Among The Savages by Shirley Jackson, So Little Time by J.P. Marquand. Dozens more, all well read and dog-eared. “Seems like you’ll read anything,” Mason chuckled. “Whatever I can get my hands on. All my Hammett and Spillane stuff is over here in a box. I reckon I’ve read I, The Jury about twelve times.” Mason smiled. “That could explain why you’re quick with a gun.” He heard Ester chuckle. He finally found a beaten, maroon leather volume tucked in back under a stack of pulp novels. In faded gold lettering on the top it simply read The Comanche. He pulled out the book and moved back to the table. He opened the cover.
Ester looked across the table at the book. “This Comanche thing really has you spooked, eh?” Mason began flipping pages. ‘I just want to know what’s going on. I’ve been in town three days and I’ve already watched somebody throw themselves off a building, come uncomfortably close to somebody with the Plague, been followed by an Indian and had a shotgun in my face. The Indian seems like as good a place as any to start.” “Somebody threw themselves off a building. Who?” Mason looked up over the book. “Toby Olsen.” Ester took a breath. “That poor boy.” “Hitchfield seems like a nice enough place, just lots of strange goings-on.” “It’s always been like that, for as long as I can remember. Storms kick up real sudden and never cause any damage.” She put her spoon down. Mason furrowed his brow at her. “No kidding. These storms swirl up, the sirens sound, we all scramble into shelters... when we come out, there’s no damage. Not one farm has been destroyed.” “Lucky.” Ester’s mood changed. “I don’t know if it’s that.” “What do you mean?” Ester stood up and moved their bowls to the sink. “I think it has something to do with the light.” Mason sat back. “Mrs. Hatfield, you’re not making sense.” “It’s just that, sometimes, late at night, along the northern horizon the sky will glow.” “Glow?” “Yeah. Like there’s a city, but then it’s gone an hour later. After it happens, there’s usually a storm the next day.” Mason took a breath. “A storm that doesn’t cause any damage?” Ester nodded. “That’s right. I know you probably think I’m crazy. I’m just telling you what I saw.”
Mason looked back at the book. “I’m the one chasing an Indian that shouldn’t be there. So what do you think it is? What do you reckon it is?” Ester sat down across from him again. She nodded. “Martians.” Mason blinked. “Martians?” His eyes moved slowly to the stack of books on the table, a stack of Amazing Stories magazines dating back to the mid-fifties. He looked back at Ester. She smiled. “I’m not crazy, Mason. I just can’t imagine what else it could be. I don’t believe in Martians. Hell, I don’t believe in much of anything at all except for my little patch of land here. There’s just some strange things around. Best thing is to ignore it and it won’t bother you.” “Have you ever stayed above ground during a storm, to see what happens?” “I can’t. I have a terrible fear of storms. I don’t want to be wrong. Mr. Hatfield dug us a shelter out by the chicken coop. Siren goes off, I go in until it’s safe.” Mason nodded and looked back at the book. He thumbed past the text and went straight for the pictures. Anything that would confirm that this man he kept seeing was a Comanche and not somebody dressing up in a costume. Anything that would authenticate what he was seeing. Finally, near the end of the book, Mason flipped a page and his eyes came to rest on a picture. The man in the picture stood proudly displaying his warrior dress. The amber color of the picture indicated to Mason that the photo was very old. He looked up at Ester, who glanced down at the book. He jabbed a finger hard into the page. Ester moved around the table to look over his shoulder. “You find something?” Mason nodded and again looked at the picture. “There.” Ester peered through her reading glasses. “Dressed like that, was he? That’s Comanche all right. Now the question is, is it somebody playin’ tricks or is there an honest to goodness Comanche here looking for something.” Mason had gone very quiet. Slowly his eyes met hers. “Who is this.” Ester leaned over the book. “That? That’s Quanah Parker, the last Comanche chief.” She moved back to the sink and began washing the dishes. “He was the one who helped bring peace between the Comanche and the government. Saved a lot of people. So this guy you were chasing was dressed like that?” Mason stared at the picture silently. He moved in closer and looked at the caption under the picture: Quanah Parker died February 23, 1911. He stood quickly and shut the
book. He could feel his hand shaking. He glanced at Ester who was busy washing their dinner dishes. “Yeah. He was dressed like that.” Mason Lent couldn’t bring himself to tell the stranger that he’d just had dinner with that the Indian that had been following him was the same man, the long-dead Quanah Parker.
#5 A Dream of Flowers
That night Mason Lent dreamed. The sky swirled and cast everything in a blue-gray. The wind rolled warm across the farmland that stretched in all directions around Mason. It was like twilight but there was no sunset. The clouds raced across the sky in a way Mason had never seen. He looked down. His naked feet were beginning to become covered with the blue-gray dust. He raised his eyes. The fields were barren, lifeless and the howl of the wind began to form a melody, almost like a voice. He dreamed on. Effortlessly Mason moved through the dust, his footsteps creating little, swirling eddies that danced for a moment before vanishing into the wind. Glancing over his shoulder he saw the Marchen farm standing alone in the distance, a single light on in the upstairs window. The wife’s window. The Plague window. The light grew brighter, cutting through the blue-gray twilight. Then it dimmed down to a simple orange flicker, like the low flame of an oil lamp. When Mason turned around he saw a figure on the horizon, a figure whose shape seemed to change with the wind. It was spectral white against the dull of the sky. Mason continued on. The figure never moved. It simply stood against the sky, its edges seemingly shapeless in the wind. Mason walked some more. A warm, dusty wind caught in his mouth and he stopped. As he moved closer to the figure the wind seemed to grow stronger. The dust began to bombard him the further he went. And the singing grew louder through the howl of the wind. It wasn’t a song that Mason knew. It was aimless. No real tune, no words – just beautiful singing, like the thoughtless singing that a mother might do when feeding a newborn. Mason stopped and raised his hand to peer through the dust. The figure, it was Sarah. The white gown she wore moving and whipping in the breeze. She was motioning to Mason. She was shouting something but Mason could only hear the wind and the singing. Mason took another step, still trying to see why Sarah was motioning. He kept pushing forward. Then the wind suddenly stopped and all the dust fell back to the barren field. He glanced over his shoulder and saw the house again. It hadn’t moved. No matter how far he walked the house stayed the same distance behind him, the light in the upstairs window still flickering. But now there was something else.
The Indian, Quanah Parker, stood between the house and Mason. Mason turned back to look at Sarah. The wind had stopped and so had the singing. Stillness fell across the field. He could finally see Sarah clearly. She stood motionless, speaking frantically but still no words came from her. Mason took another step and stopped. Something had caught his eye. It was a flower, a single flower growing up through the barren dust of the field. It was large with five petals, white and speckled with lavender, all reaching out from the center and growing wider. The edges of the petals were soft and waved like something graceful in the water. The center of the flower grew out and drooped downward from its own weight. It was a white pod, which had opened to release another lavender blossom inside. It was radiant in the blue-gray dust. Mason dropped to one knee in front of the flower. He looked again at Sarah who was running toward him, but time had slowed. No matter how fast she ran she never got closer. Mason turned and saw Quanah Parker, still standing, staring at him. He couldn’t stop himself from touching the flower. He wanted to feel it. He looked again at Sarah. She ran in a panic toward him. She saw his hand reach out and she stopped in her tracks. Her mouth opened in a silent scream. Mason clutched the stem of the flower. A blast of wind shrieked across the field and Sarah blew away like ash. Mason couldn’t let go of the flower. He pulled with all his might and the roots began to give. He stood and began to pull the flower and its roots out of the ground. But the roots didn’t stop, they kept coming. He kept pulling as the roots began to coil at his feet. His pace was frantic. There was something down there. Something more to this. He knew it. Mason’s breathing was labored, sweat pushed its way out to the surface of his brow. He had to know. He wanted to get to the end and give this to Sarah... but she was gone, scattered to the wind. He glanced up for a moment to see Quanah now standing in front of him, on the other side of the flower. He was so close that Mason could see the lines in the Comanche’s face and the intensity of his eyes. Mason was desperate. He clawed and yanked at the roots, but they never broke free, they simply fell in clumps around him. He pulled faster and faster, wanting to reach the end. It was all he could think of. Even Sarah had left his mind. Then he stopped suddenly. He felt Quanah’s hands resting on his. He looked up at into the Indian’s eyes. The corner of the old man’s eyes had crinkled slightly and gave Mason the impression that Quanah was smiling. The Comanche shook his head.
“Slow,” he said. Mason took a breath at the sound of the Comanche’s voice. Quanah nodded. “Together.” With their hands entwined, the two pulled steadily on the roots. There was more weight. Something was coming to the surface. Mason’s eyes grew wide as he looked at Quanah. The wind howled angrily, bombarding the two with dust from all sides. Thunder rolled over head. But the two didn’t stop. Slowly they pulled, feeling the growing weight as the end reached the surface. As the sky opened up, dumping sheets of rain on them, the roots stopped. They had reached the end. Whatever they were looking for was ready to break the surface. Their hands and eyes locked together, Mason and Quanah pulled with all their might. The surrounding ground convulsed, not wanting to give up its secret. Mason let up a cry of rage as he pulled. His arms began shaking. He could feel the friction of the roots gashing into his hands. But he wouldn’t stop. He couldn’t stop. He and Quanah gave one last tug. The ground beneath their feet split and the roots broke free. Mason fell back into inky blackness. All he heard was a scream. His own scream. He was screaming “Han...” He never heard the end. * Mason’s limbs flailed in all directions as he shuddered awake. Soaked with sweat, he sat up in bed and tried to catch his breath. He lit the small oil lamp next on his bedside table and grabbed the book that rested there. It was the Comanche book from Ester Hatfield. She had let Mason take it when he left earlier that evening. He rifled through the pages until he came to the picture of Quanah Parker. He stared for a long time at the picture. What did it all mean? Why was he seeing the ghost of a long dead Comanche chief? If the dream was to be believed, Quanah was there to help him. Mason ran his fingers through his hair. He was scared. He couldn’t seem to hold on to anything in his mind. He felt like he was in a panic. Everything seemed to be coming at him very fast. He was warm, hot in fact. All he had in his mind were questions. More and more questions. Martians. Lights. Ghosts. Han. Han. Han. The dream played over and over in his mind. He stood up and tried to shake off the feeling. He was sweating harder now. Something was wrong. Panic. He felt like running and shouting for help. Water. He needed water.
He bolted from his bunk and ran to the pump. Soon the water was gushing and Mason gulped all he could. As the water began to slow and stop Mason became aware of a noise. It was faint in the night air. But it was a bell. He moved back around and noticed the sky. Light in the sky, to the south. Mason’s mind floated back to Ester earlier in the evening and her claim about Martians. Always a light in the sky late at night, the next day a storm. Mason stared. The light was coming from Hitchfield. So was the sound of the bell. A tolling in the distance. Mason’s brow furrowed. But that’s not right. Ester said it was in the north. The light always appeared in the north. Mason moved back to his bunk and pulled his clothes on. Something was wrong. As he stepped outside he saw Ward coming down off his porch. They caught sight of each other. Ward was quickly moving toward his truck. Mason ran to catch him up. “What’s going on?” Mason said, as he caught up with Ward. “Leo just called me. The church is on fire. Get in.” The two climbed into the cab of the truck, the engine rumbled to life and the two sped through the night toward Hitchfield. * When Mason and Ward reached the town, most all of the townsfolk had gathered and were helping as best they could. A few men were shooting water from a pumper truck. Other people had started a line and were handing off buckets of water which would then get dumped on the fire. Then the bucket would head back down the line to get refilled. Still others stood and simply watched the blaze claim their church. Mason and Ward stepped out of the truck and stared at the building. Mason could see Leo and Dan Rugspiro working on the water line. There was a woman standing near them. Ward moved to her. “What happened?” She shook her head, dazed. “I don’t know. I came out when I heard the bell ringing.” Mason stepped up. “Was anybody in there?” She shook her head. “No, I don’t think so. It must have been a candle. After the service tonight, a lot of people lit a candle for Toby.”
Ward looked at Mason. “Okay. Let’s take a shift on the line.” The two ran to the line and replaced Leo and Dan, who had been dumping water and were very close to the fire. The heat was incredible. No matter where Mason went, the heat was intense. Mason and Ward worked the line for nearly an hour. Finally, Leo returned and held up his hand to stop the buckets. “Folks, I’m sorry. I know you all want to help. That church is just too big and that fire is just moving too fast. We’re just going to have to let it run its course. However, you can all help make sure that the fire doesn’t spread to any of the houses around.” The crowd looked saddened. “I’m know, folks, I’m sorry.” The line broke up and people began to move further away from the fire. Eventually even the pumper truck stopped. There was no point. Mason stood watching the fire for a time. The smoke glowed orange and billowed into the night sky as it consumed the church. Mason stood quietly and soon felt someone standing next to him in the street. “It’s terrible,” came a woman’s voice. Mason turned to his left. Sarah Bedwin stood next to him, her eyes, glassy with tears, glimmered orange and yellow from the fire they watched. Mason nodded sadly. “Yes it is. I’m sorry.” She looked at her hands. “I just sang here this evening.” Mason only nodded. Then there was a snap and a creak from the church. Sarah gasped. Mason looked back in time to see the tall shape of the steeple begin to lean to one side. Across the street from the church a small group had gathered , their heads lowered in prayer. Mason broke into a run. “Get out of there. Move,” he shouted as he ran. The roar of the fire was too loud. The group continued to pray. “Leo!” Leo turned from where he stood talking to the men from the pumper truck. He saw Mason running and glanced up to see the spire begin to sway at teeter. He broke into a run and shouted to the crowd with Mason. With more timbers snapping above him as he ran, Mason shouted again. “Run!” Finally, several of those praying looked up. A woman screamed and the group tried to scatter. Mason reached them as an older woman fell to the ground. He took her by
the elbow and helped her to her feet. Above them, one side of the steeple finally collapsed and the entire structure snapped and headed for the ground. Mason pushed the old lady into the arms of Leo who hurried her away. Burning wooden shingles and debris fell on him as he attempted to run. With only a moment left Mason dove and scrambled under a car parked near him. The blazing spire and its giant metal cross tore through the limbs of a nearby tree and finally crashed down on the car. The front tires exploded from the impact and the spire crumbled into pieces all around it. Mason Lent felt the car above him shift and the front-end collapse. Then the oppressive weight of the car pushing down on him as the rear tires strained against the wreckage of the steeple. Smoke came at him from all sides and finally, Mason Lent blacked out.
There was blackness. Mason could hear himself coughing, his lungs filling up with smoke, but his own cough seemed distant, hollow. He wasn’t moving any more. He was fairly sure he was dying. The roar of the fire and the sound of a dozen voices seemed to blend into the storm of sound that seemed to be spiraling away into the blackness. He felt a shift and a wave of air hit him. He coughed again, his lungs fighting to clear out the smoke. The blackness became grayer and the sounds seemed to get nearer. He heard a man’s voice near him. “Slowly,” the man said. “Together. 1 – 2 – 3.” Mason Lent felt hands on him and felt his body rise up. Mason’s head lulled as he was lifted. His eyes fluttered open and he could see the night sky and the dancing glow of the church fire. “Hang in there, Mason.” It was Leo’s voice, close, breathless. Mason could only utter one word. “Quanah.” Then his lungs began to fight. He began coughing violently, his body desperate for cleaner air. The men lowered him to the ground. Mason could hear Leo barking orders. “Get Doctor Thatch! Mason? Mason? Are you still with us?!” Mason nodded weakly and rolled over, hacking up smoke and soot into the grass beneath him. Leo patted him on the back. “Doc’s gonna be here soon. You’ll be all right.” Mason’s eyes were filled with tears and he couldn’t catch his breath. He could hear more and more voices around him, asking if he was okay. He could hear Leo asking everyone to keep back and give him some room. Finally, Mason Lent passed out face down in the grass.
* Mason’s eyes fluttered open as he felt a hand hold his wrist. At first the room was blurred and all he could focus on was the dry sting in his throat. He was lying down. He was warm and the sun seemed to be shining through the window. As his vision improved he could see that the room was painted a gray-blue and there was a white ceramic pitcher full of flowers sitting on top of a small wooden table against the far wall. His eyes then moved to his wrist and followed the arm up to the face of the man who was looking at his watch. The man glanced over and noticed Mason stirring. “You’re awake,” the man said with just a hint of a smile. Mason tried to speak but the dryness in his mouth didn’t let words out. Only a faint, raspy whisper came out. “Water.” The man reached to the bedside table and handed a glass of waters to Mason, who drank breathlessly as the water soothed the sting in his throat. He eyed the man that was pulling up a chair next to the bed. He was a little older than Mason, his dark hair giving way to patches of gray at the temples. The stethoscope around his neck told Mason that this was the doctor. The man sat down. “How are you feeling?” Mason inched himself up in the bed. His voice came stronger this time. “Where am I?” “The hospital.” The man corrected himself. “Well, my guest room really. We haven’t been introduced. I’m Eric Thatch.” “You’re a doctor?” Thatch nodded. “The only one for miles. You’re a lucky man, Mr. Lent.” Memories of the fire rushed in and Mason sat up. “Is everyone all right?” Thatch nodded. “Actually, yes. Thanks to you. Luckily they were able to get you out from under that car. If they hadn’t you might have been a martyr rather than a hero.” Mason nodded, relieved that no one else was hurt. “How long have I been here?” “Since last night. You took in a lot of smoke but you’ll be all right.” Thatch glanced out the window. “The church is gone. The fire took it all. It’ll take a while to
rebuild. It’s too bad.” His eyes narrowed and he looked back at Mason. “So how are you feeling?” “Like I got punched in the chest.” Thatch stood up. “You’re going to feel like that for a while I’m afraid. You’re also going to get winded pretty easily. You’re also be coughing a lot as your lungs heal. I’ve already talked toWard, he’s not going to work you too hard for a little while. Normally I would send you home and tell you to take it easy but because of the special circumstances at Ward’s house, you’re going to stay here in town with me, just for a couple of days. ” Mason took another drink of water. “All right.” “You’re the guy who chased after Toby the other day, aren’t you?” “Yes I am. Did you know Toby well?” Thatch looked at his hands. “He was a patient of mine. It was unfortunate.” “From what Leo said, he’d had a rough time.” Thatch looked back at Mason. All the expression left his face. “He did. I wasn’t here when it happened. I wish I had been. You were the last person to speak to him. Is that right?” “Yes. He thought he knew me.” “And did he?” “I’d never met him before that day.” Thatch moved to the window and looked out. He looked concerned. “Something must have set him off. I just wish I could have prevented this. Maybe I could have saved the boy. And the church...” “The church?” “Last night they said a prayer for Toby and lit candles. Took the whole place, like a burnt offering.” He seemed to get lost in thought for a moment. “I suppose there’s always a price to pay in the end.” He quickly looked away from the window, dispelling whatever thoughts had been in his head. He looked back at Mason. “Well, I’m sorry, Mason, that so much has fallen on you in such a short time. Ward and Leo also told me that you’ve been seeing someone around town. An Indian. Is that right?”
The pit of Mason’s stomach sank. The last thing he wanted to do was talk about Quanah with a doctor. He shrugged. “It was probably my mind playing tricks. I haven’t seen him for a couple of days now. “Quanah Parker, wasn’t it?” Mason’s heart jumped. “What?” “The Indian you were seeing. It was Quanah Parker, right? Don’t worry. You had a long trip out from California and were probably undernourished. There’s lots of stories about Quanah Parker around here.” “How did you know?” Thatch smiled. “You were mumbling about him in your sleep. That and Martians.” “Like I said. I’m sure it was a passing thing. Nothing more.” Thatch moved toward the door. “Still, hallucinations aren’t good. Just let me know right away if you see him again.” “I will.” Mason had no intention of ever telling him. There was something Mason didn’t trust about Thatch. “Good. And don’t worry. You know what they say. Want to keep a secret, tell a small town doctor.” Then Thatch smiled. Humorless, his eyes piercing. It sent a bolt of cold through Mason. Mason nodded and forced a smile. As Thatch left the room Mason thought about what he would do. The last thing he wanted was to end up in an asylum. If he told people that he was seeing a ghost, that is exactly where they would put him. He finished the glass of water as set it on the side table. Then he turned over and thought of Quanah Parker until he fell asleep. * Mason woke several hours later, after the sun had gone down. He glanced out the window. The street lights glowed, giving an amber hue to Dr. Thatch’s street. Mason looked around but there was no clock. He slipped out of bed and stood up to stretch his legs. His stomach growled as if just waking up. He hadn’t eaten since the strange meal he took at Ester’s trailer the night before. He decided to go find the doctor and see if he could get any food. He opened the door to his room and made his way down the darkened hall to the stairs. The first floor
was nearly as dark, except for some table lights. Mason reached the bottom of the stairs. Ahead of him was the doctor’s practice. He turned and walked up the hall to the darkened kitchen. “Dr. Thatch?” There was nothing. Only the sound of the refrigerator’s compressor filled the house and the clock on the wall read 11:30. He called again for the doctor. Still nothing. Mason figured that he must be upstairs in bed. He wanted to eat but he didn’t want to take anything from Thatch’s fridge without permission. He moved to the sink and poured a glass of water. As he drank he gazed out the window into the doctor’s dark backyard. He almost dropped the glass when he saw him. Quanah Parker stood staring at him from the yard. Mason wanted to run out the back door toward him but he didn’t. Somehow he knew that the Indian, the ghost, the vision meant him no harm. ‘Slowly - together.’ Quanah’s words in his dream echoed in Mason’s mind. ‘What does he mean?’ This time he didn’t run after Quanah. This time he simply said “what”. The Indian Chief didn’t move. He stood perfectly still, raising only one hand to his lips, telling Mason to be quiet. Mason’s brow furrowed, trying to understand. Quanah vanished at the sound of metal against metal. A shaft of light spread across the darkened yard. Mason squinted to see what it was. A door had opened. In the dim light Mason could now make out the outline of a concrete door entrance. It was a bomb shelter or storm cellar door and an expensive one. He leaned closer to the window and watched as the heavy metal door slowly opened. Dr. Thatch stepped out into the column of light followed by two other men. Shadow obscured the featured of the men. Mason strained to see. The three stood talking for a moment. Then the other two made their way through the back gate to the street. Thatch closed and locked the door to the shelter. He took a moment to breathe in the night air. Then he dropped the key into his pocket and headed for the backdoor. Mason’s breath stopped. He bolted from the kitchen and back up the stairs. As he stepped through the door into his room, he heard the backdoor shut. The doctor was back in the house. Mason slipped into bed and turned on his side, away from the door. He felt like a child, pretending to be asleep. He closed his eyes. The door to his room creaked slightly as it slowly open.
He never heard footsteps but he could feel it. The cold ran through him again. Dr. Eric Thatch was in the room with him. Watching him.
#7 Fresh Air
It had been two days since Mason Lent had arrived at the home of Dr. Eric Thatch, which doubled as Hitchfield’s hospital. Two nights since the vision of Quanah Parker had shown him the concrete bomb-shelter where Thatch was meeting with two unknown men. Two nights since Mason felt that cold fear whenever Dr. Thatch was in the room. It was morning of his third day. Mason felt fine. His lungs had stopped hurting stopped hurting as much and much of the occasional coughing had stopped. He wanted to get back to the Marchen’s farm and get as far away from Dr. Thatch as he could. He sat finishing the breakfast that Dr.Thatch’s nurse, Maya Leden, had brought him. The midmorning sun shimmered in through the lace curtains of the window and Mason’s mug of steaming coffee filled the room with the smell of morning. He noticed people out and about on the sidewalk below. He sipped his coffee and continued to stare out. There was a quick knock at the door and Dr. Thatch stepped inside. Mason again felt that cold shiver. “Morning, Mason,” Thatch said, stepping into the room with a smile that Mason didn’t believe for a second. “How are you feeling today?” “I feel fine, Doc. I was wondering when I could go back to the farm?” Thatch smiled. “First thing tomorrow morning. Your lungs are healing fine. I have to go out of town today and drive to Texas. I should be back tonight. Maya will be around if you need anything.” A weight lifted from Mason’s shoulders. “All right.” Thatch stood at the end of his bed. “I want you to get out a bit today. Take a walk. See how your lungs feel. I should be home by early evening. Ward will be here tomorrow morning to take you back.” Mason nodded. “Thank you.” Thatch nodded. “See you tonight.”
Mason gave a small wave and breathed a sigh of relief. He looked back out the window and sipped his coffee. It felt like the first bit of good news he’d gotten in a very long time. * Mason showered quickly. Someone had washed his clothes and left them folded on the nightstand next to the bed. He was anxious to get outside. He hated the fact that he would have to spend one more night here. The house gave him the creeps but something made him want to stay. Mostly he still wanted to get a closer look at that bomb-shelter. He knew that there was something important in there, but he had no idea what. The vision of Quanah Parker had pointed it out and Mason was taking in on faith that there was something to it. He sat on the bed and buttoned his shirt. There were so many unanswered questions. Since arriving in Hitchfield, everything seemed tinged with menace. He couldn’t explain it. Something just didn’t seem right. Something in the air. Toby, the Plague, Quanah and Ester’s slightly crazed claims of light in the sky and storms that cause no damage. The worst for Mason was Quanah. He didn’t believe in ghosts, and yet the visions continued. And the dream. He finished buttoning his shirt and stood up with a sigh. He wanted to know that he wasn’t crazy. The Indian seemed to be leading Mason down a path and Mason was compelled to follow. He made his way out of the room and down the stairs. Maya was sitting behind the desk in the living room, which had been converted into a waiting room for Thatch’s practice. She smiled and waved as Mason moved to the front door. The late morning air was warm and breezy, the heat of the Oklahoma summer sun being held off by the trees that lined the streets. Mason moved off the porch to the front walk. As he made his way along the shady sidewalk he could he could see remnants of what this town had gone through. Houses with boarded up windows, their lawns having gone to seed, standing sheepishly next to well groomed homes. But there were no children. No bicycles. No baseball. He turned a corner and made moved further from the center of town. It was the same everywhere, block after block of the survivors living amid the wreckage left by the Plague. He saw a few people in their yards, women mostly, tending to their gardens. They smiled and waved. Mason would nod and smile. Why did they stay? He walked several blocks before circling around and coming back up to Thatch’s house again, this time approaching from the side. He made his way to the bushes that lined the doctor’s yard. Mason looked up and down the street to see if anyone was around and when he was satisfied that there was no one, he pushed his way through the bushes into the yard.
He moved along the bushes toward the house, checking to see if Maya was around but there was no sign of her. Satisfied, he turned and stared at the bomb-shelter. The breeze rustled the leaves in the high branches as Mason approached it it. A seven foot cement block with a steel door set into one side of it. On the top, a round, slotted vent spun in the breeze. Mason walked all the way around it, constantly watching the windows of the house for signs of Maya. There was only one way into the shelter, through the massive steel door. As Mason examined it closer he realized there was no handle. No lock. There was no discernable way of opening the door. He ran his hand along the airtight sides where the door met the cement. How did Thatch get in? He checked all the corners and there was no latch, no bolt, no hinge. Nothing. His head snapped toward the house when he heard water being run through a faucet. Through the window he could see Maya standing at the sink. He ducked behind the shelter. When he heard the water stop he poked his eye around long enough to see that she was gone. Without another thought, Mason barreled through the bushes back out onto the sidewalk. The shelter would have to wait for another time. * Noon passed and the sky shifted to a deeper blue. Mason had spent a few hours walking around the town. It was good to be back up and moving again after a couple days in bed. Everywhere he went he was met with the same signs of decay. Boarded up houses and untended lawns. It was like the town simply denied that any of it had happened. They closed up the houses and ignored them. He was now on the opposite side of the town from Thatch’s house, heading toward the edge where Hitchfield gave way to the rolling fields. He was still thinking about the shelter. The door baffled him. Why would anyone hold some sort of meeting in a bomb-shelter? It was ominous. He wanted to know more. Quanah was trying to tell him it was important. He rounded a corner lined with a stomach-high hedge. The house it surrounded was well-kept and shaded by two huge trees. As he passed the break in the hedge that led to the house, he was stopped by a voice. “Hello,” she said. The voice tugged at his gut. He stopped and turned. Sarah sat cross-legged in the middle of the shady yard with a large sketch pad on her lap. She smiled and waved Mason over. As he stepped into the yard she pushed herself up off the ground. “How are you?” She tucked her pad up under her arm. “Are you all right?”
Mason smiled. “Oh yeah. Doc Thatch has been taking good care of me. I’m finally going home tomorrow. How about you?” She shrugged. “It’s just too bad. It was a beautiful church. I loved singing there. The Pastor says that materials to rebuild have been ordered, so we won’t be without a church for long.” “Where will you hold services until then?” “Probably in the movie house.” She smiled. “Not exactly the way I wanted to break into pictures.” She paused for a moment. “So, where is home?” “Oh, I’m working out at the Marchen farm. It’s a nice place.” “That poor lady.” “Mrs. Marchen? Yeah, I know.” Mason could feel the chat starting to fade. He wanted to keep it going. He motioned to the sketch pad. “So, you like to draw?” Sarah hesitated for a moment. “This? Yes I do. Charcoal mostly.” Mason smiled. “Do you mind if I see it?” Sarah looked down. “I usually don’t...” She stopped for a moment. “Please?” Sarah looked back at him and smiled. “Well, I suppose I can after you were so brave the other night.” Mason chuckled. “That was more stupid than brave.” She handed him the pad. It was a picture of a huge dragon, its tail circling the sun and its mouth about to devour it. It surprised Mason. It wasn’t at all what he was expecting. It was beautiful, but surprising. He looked up at Sarah. She half-grinned. “Do you like it?” “I do. It just...” “It’s a dragon swallowing the sun. It’s a dream I keep having.” “Really?”
Sarah looked at Mason, not sure if she should say the next thing. “I’ve had it off and on ever since I...” “SARAH,” came a voice from the porch. Mason turned to see Sarah’s aunt, Brenda Lindhew, moving down the steps toward them. Sarah looked up him and took back the pad. Mason nodded to Brenda as she stepped up to them. “Ma’am.” Brenda smiled gently and cocked her head at Sarah. “Sarah, honey, your lunch is ready. Why don’t you run inside and eat?” Sarah nodded. She glanced at Mason and smiled. Then she slowly moved inside. Brenda turned toward Mason. “Mr. Lent, thank you so much for stopping by.” “How did you...” “Everyone knows who you are Mr. Lent. And I do appreciate what you did for those people the other night. However, do not think that this allows you liberties with my niece.” “Liberties?! Ma’am, with all due respect, I was taking a walk, under doctor’s orders, and your niece said hello to me. I was being polite. I’m not sure exactly what you think I was doing.” Brenda took Mason’s arm and began moving him back to the sidewalk. “That may be. But there are things that you don’t know about my niece. She is not a well young woman. Because of this, I do ask that you not visit again. It becomes very hard for her. Things have happened to her, Mr. Lent, things that I will not share with you. Now, please, don’t come around again, Mr. Lent. Sarah needs her rest.” With that Brenda left him on the sidewalk and hurried back to the house and went inside. Mason stared at the house for a moment before moving on. * Mason finally made his way to the edge of town. Another boarded up house, its backyard looking out at the vast expanse beyond with the horizon ending in the green of the distant forest. Mason took a breath and stared out at the Oklahoma farmland. Afternoon insects buzzed and wheezed in the underbrush that lined the yard. In the distance, the sound of tractors mixed with the moos and dull bell sounds of lumbering cows.
He sat on a stump staring out at the field. The air was fresh and the sun was warm. It was a quiet moment. He put his head in his hands. The calm was overwhelming. So much had happened in so little time. It was too much for Mason to take. He didn’t even know what he was looking for. A ghost was leading him. A ghost. He chuckled and it almost brought him to tears. It was so much. He tried to clear his mind and think of better times but nothing came. There was only the farm. There was only Toby and the fire. There was only Quanah Parker. It was as if everything before had ceased to be. Wiped clean. He tried to remember California. He tried to remember his mother. But there was nothing, only some distant feelings. He felt alone. Stranded. He stood and shoved his hands into his pockets and turned away. The quiet had become deafening. It was driving him mad, trying to recall things that should be there. What had happened to him? He turned back toward the boarded up house, ready to head back to Dr. Thatch’s. He only had to spend one more night there and then he could go back to the farm. A breeze whipped up off the field. There was a quiet bang that drew his attention to the house. He noticed one of the two cellar doors lift slightly in the wind and then close. The doors were not locked. Curiosity got the best of him and he moved to the doors, crouched down and lifted one. A waft of cool air eased out. Concrete steps lead down into the darkness. “Hello?” There was no reply. Mason stepped down the stairs into the darkness. Dirty brown light oozed into the cellar from the grimy windows that lined the top of the wall. As his eyes adjusted he realized that there were some boxes and crates lying unopened around the room. Another set of stairs sat in the center of the room. He felt his mind ease. Something told him that he was safe. He peered again into the semi-darkness and he jumped as Quanah stepped out of the corner shadows. The two stared at each other for a moment. Mason blinked and was surprised when Quanah suddenly sat down on a crate and looked away toward the grimy, brown windows.
There was a damp, musty smell in the air. Cobwebs clogged the corners of the room and spanned the space between some of the rafters that crisscrossed the unfinished ceiling. The ghostly vision of long dead Comanche leader Quanah Parker sat staring back at Mason Lent through the grimy, amber/gray haze. Finally he looked away. Mason stepped closer to the vision.
“Is this house important,” Mason asked. “Is it part of what you’re trying to show me?” The Comanche continued to look away. “Is there something for me to find here?” Still nothing. Mason shook his head. He peered through the dust and cobwebs to get a better look at the room. He looked back one more time at the Indian. Then he shook his head and moved away toward a large wooden shelf that lined a far wall. “Everything here is covered in dust. Nobody has been down here in years. It’s probably an old quarantine house.” He looked back at Quanah to see if there was any recognition that he was speaking. There was none. Mason found an oil lamp tucked at the back of one of the shelves. He fished some matches out of his pocket and lit the lamp. There wasn’t much oil left now, but it helped light the room. He moved softly through the shadowy room, the orange glow of the oil lamp moving with him. “There’s almost nothing here.” He knew the vision wasn’t listening. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to find.” He continued to move through the shadow. There wasn’t much to find. Finally Mason moved to the wooden stairs that went up into the darkness from the center of the room. He looked back at Quanah, but the vision had gone. The old wooden stairs creaked as Mason moved slowly up them. As he stepped he noticed that his steps left footprints in the layer of dust that had collected. At the top of the stairs he came to a door and he turned the knob but it was locked. Mason tried it again, still nothing. He stepped back and looked at the door again. The only thing he noticed was a small beam of light falling on his shirt. He crouched down and found daylight making its way through the skeleton key hole. He closed one eye and peered through. There wasn’t much to see. There was a wall, its paper yellowed with age directly opposite the door. But the wall ended and beyond he could see what appeared to be a room beyond, the sun streaming in through a pair of windows. He stood and tried the knob again. Still nothing. His search ended at the door. He stepped back down the stairs and found Quanah again sitting on the crate, looking at the wall. Mason turned down the oil on the lamp and the fire went out. He placed the lamp on the floor near the stairs and shook his head at the spectral Comanche. “I don’t understand. There’s nothing here. It just seems like no one has been here for years. An old, abandoned house on the edge of town that nobody pays any attention to.” Finally Quanah turned and looked at him. Mason’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. The Indian nodded. “That’s it. Isn’t it? This place is safe. Right? Nobody pays any attention to it. ”
As he looked at him, Quanah seemed to dissolve into the dusty air. Question answered. Mason moved back to the steps that led to the outside cellar doors. He glanced back. He had to remember this place. He wasn’t sure why, but he needed to remember. That was all Quanah wanted Mason to know. This place was safe. Mason moved to the top of the steps and slowly opened the outside doors. Once he was satisfied that no one was around, he slipped out into the sunlight and closed the doors. He hurried back to the center of town before Thatch or anyone else noticed he’d been gone so long. * Thatch returned home around sundown. He invited Mason to dine with him. Maya served dinner before heading home for the night. Mason didn’t want to eat at the table with Thatch. He would have been happy eating in his room, falling asleep and then leaving in the morning with Ward, but it would have been rude to refuse. Even though Mason distrusted the doctor, Thatch had nursed him back to health. Dinner was the least Mason could do. Dinner was a baked ham, potatoes and string beans. The room was very quiet for a while. Only the sound of metals knives and forks scraping and tapping on the porcelain plates could be heard. Finally Thatch finished a bite, took a drink of wine and looked across the table to Mason. “How was your walk,” Thatch inquired. Mason swallowed. “Very nice. Good to get out. I feel much better.” “I thought you might.” “Thanks for the suggestion.” “Did you see anybody today?” Mason nodded. “I ran into Sarah Bedwin.” “Ah, Miss Bedwin. Do you know each other?” Mason took a drink of water. “No. Not really. We met a few nights ago near the fire. She’s quite an artist.” Thatch cocked his head and grinned slightly. “Really? I know she can sing.” “She showed me a picture she was drawing. It was beautiful.”
Thatch stared at his plate for a moment. “I’m curious. What was she drawing?” Thatch took another drink of wine. Mason thought back for a moment. “A dragon. That was it. A dragon and the sun.” Thatch stared unblinkingly at him for a moment. “A dragon and the sun?” Thatch moved in his seat for a moment and then smiled. “Sounds lovely.” Then he paused for a moment. “She seems to be making real progress.” “Progress?” Thatch smiled again. “Nobody told you?” Mason shook his head. “Miss Bedwin is not well. That’s why she’s here living with her aunt. She suffered a nervous break down several years ago. No one is exactly sure why. When she came here to Hitchfield, she was severely depressed and wouldn’t talk to anyone.” “What happened to her?” “No one knows for sure.” Thatch poured another glass of wine for himself. “But, to this day, she is somewhat delusional.” “She’s crazy?” Thatch shook his head with a chuckle. “No. She suffers from delusions. She believes that she once had a child, but there is no evidence that she ever gave birth. Her aunt says she still cries about the loss of this baby.” “But she never had one, right?” “Exactly. Apparently she was involved with a man who left her. Ever since then, she has believed that she gave birth to a baby that was taken. She’s gotten better recently, with her singing at the church and now, apparently, her artwork. I should look in on her tomorrow. I’m actually surprised that no one told you.”
Mason forced a smile. “People seem to tell me things when I need to know.” He took a breath. “Not, really any of my business.” “No, but Hitchfield is a small, close knit community. Everybody knows everyone and everything.” “Everything?” Thatch just smiled wryly.
The two went back to silence for a while. Finally, Mason finished his meal and wiped his mouth. He had been building up the courage to ask all night. “I was wondering, Doc. What’s that big concrete thing in the backyard? I noticed it through the kitchen window today. “A bomb shelter,” Thatch said, without hesitation. “I also use it as cold storage for medicines and so forth, which is why you might see me go out there from time to time.” The doctor smiled in a way that ate into Mason’s stomach. Mason blinked. “I see.” Thatch’s forced smile said volumes. There was something in there, something more than medicine. Thatch’s answer had been very fast, like he’d been expecting the question. The two chatted for a little while, mostly about plans to rebuild the church. Lumber and supplies to start reconstruction had already been ordered and would be on their way soon. Some more pleasantries were exchanged and then, after a while, Mason thanked his host for a wonderful dinner and then went up to bed. Mason had trouble sleeping that night. Dr. Thatch seemed awful fast with gossip about Sarah. He wondered how safe his secret about Quanah Parker would be. When sleep finally did come, Mason Lent dreamed of dragons. * The following morning at the Marchen farm, Ted met Ward’s truck as it rumbled down the drive and came to a stop near the bunk house. Ward and Mason stepped out of the truck. Ted grabbed Mason’s hand and shook it furiously. “Good to have you back.” Mason smiled. “It’s good to be back.” Ward chuckled. “I’m sure Ted’s glad to see you. I’ve been working him like a dog.” Ted shrugged. “I wasn’t going to say that, but yeah. It’s good to have you back.” The three chatted for a few minutes, Mason retelling the tale of his heroics with Ted hanging on every word. After a while Ward excused himself and Ted said he had to get back to work. Mason took his bag and tossed it on his bunk. He was looking forward to getting back to work. It would help him clear his mind.
He noticed Ester Hatfield’s Comanche book, still on the nightstand where he left it. As he stepped out of his room into the morning sun, ready to start working, he noticed the curtain in the upstairs window of the main house. It was open. She was looking at him again. In a strange way it was comforting to Mason. It meant that his time at Dr. Thatch’s was over and he was home. The curtains fell back into place after a moment and Mason Lent went off to tend to the cows. * That evening Mason fell asleep right after dinner. He slept peacefully for many hours. No strange dreams. No fever. Most importantly no silent visits from Eric Thatch in the middle of the night. Mason Lent slept like a worry-free man. After several hours of sleep, Mason finally woke up in the middle of the night. He stepped outside for a drink. After a quick trip to the outhouse and gulping down two cups of water, Mason stood in the middle of the back drive, enjoying the night air. It was only a few short hours until daybreak and already the crescent moon was making its descent in the western sky. Mason looked up at the stars. So many that had kept him company in his travels, but it didn’t seem like as many as normal. From what he could see in the dim moonlight, the sky was cloudless. For some reason the stars seemed dimmer. Finally he turned and looked northward over the pasture lands. His breath caught in his throat. He rubbed his eyes to clear his head. The knot in his stomach that had vanished since leaving Thatch’s home reappeared. The only sound he could make was a weak, “oh no.” What Mason saw made his blood run cold. To the north, as predicted by Ester Hatfield over rabbit stew, the sky was pale and glowing with light.
#9 The Inevitable Storm
Dawn light spilled slowly across the Marchen farm. It had been a long night for Mason Lent. He never went back to sleep after seeing the sky to the north bright with light, just as Ester Hatfield had said it would get from time to time. He sat on the step just outside the door to his bunk looking out at the fields. A wispy fog floated just above the ground, pink in the morning light. Mason rubbed his face and ran his fingers through his hair. He kept thinking of Ester’s words days before. If she could be believed, there would be a storm today, a twister. A twister that would do no damage. Somewhere near the barn Gideon began to crow.
He chuckled to himself. It all seemed ridiculous. But he’d seen so much already. Why couldn’t Ester be right about the storm? Mason looked at his pack of cigarettes. There weren’t many left. He decided to return the smokes to his shirt pocket for later. He looked out at the sky. Clear. Not a cloud in the sky. Not the kind of sky that is expected to bring a storm. A moment later, Ted staggered around the bunkhouse. “Morning, Mason.” “Morning, Ted.” Ted’s eyes were barely open as he staggered toward the water pump. “It’s gonna be a pretty one.” Mason chuckled at how Ted seemed to be reading his mind. “You think so?” Ted filled his hand with water and splashed his face. “Yep.” Mason stood and leaned against one of the beams that supported the bunkhouse awning. “Well, I don’t got much reason to think it won’t be. It hasn’t rained since I got here. You guys ever get storms?” Ted smiled and shook the water clear of his hands. “Sure. We get some real doozies that whip up out of nowhere. Especially this time of year. These things blow up out of nowhere – that’s why they put in the siren.” “So the siren tells you that the storm is coming?” “Good thing too. Like I said, they whip up out of nowhere. Clear blue sky, sometimes.” Mason disregarded his earlier thought and lit another smoke anyway. “You ever see one of these storms?” Ted chuckled incredulously. “Nah. That siren goes off – I go underground. I ain’t hanging around to see what happens.” “We got a storm shelter here?” “Sure.” Ted lead Mason over to the barn. Just inside the door Ted started kicking some hay off the door. “There it is. Locks from the inside and everything.” Mason crouched down and pulled the metal door open. Concrete steps lead down into the darkness. “So, when the siren goes off, we go down there?” “I wouldn’t want to stay up here. Not after what happened.”
Mason stood up and looked quizzically at Ted. “What happened?” Ted took a step back. “Well, a while back, one of those storms spun up and took Earl Marfont’s farm. The whole thing. Blew the barn apart like it was made of toothpicks. Took Earl, his wife and the kids. Never found the bodies. Nothing.” “Where was this?” “Just north of Hitchfield. That’s why you’re never gonna catch me up here during one of those storms.” Mason stepped back out of the barn and finished his smoke. No damage? That sounded like damage. A whole family wiped completely off the map. Mason looked again at the rising sun. He crushed his cigarette butt under foot. After lunch he was going to see Ester Hatfield. * The clear blue sky still hung overhead as Mason walked the gravel road toward Ester’s property. His chest still burned from the morning’s work. He’d probably, as Ward had pointed out, over done it. Mason couldn’t help it. The work felt normal. It took his mind off everything. He’d had several days in bed with almost nothing but his thoughts. The questions just seemed to keep coming. What sort of place had he come to? What was happening to him? Most of all he thought about the oncoming storm. He told himself it was ridiculous, but he couldn’t shake the feeling that Ester was right. And that it was important. He couldn’t help but think that, somehow, finding out about the storm would answer many more questions. After setting a steady pace that didn’t bother his lungs, Mason arrived at Ester’s mailbox. He turned off the road and moved down into the overgrown woods. “Ester?” Mason stepped cautiously. He remembered, all too well, the gun he had pointed at him. “Ester, it’s Mason. You here?” He continued toward the bend in the drive that led to her trailer. “Ester!? I just want to make sure you’re not gonna shoot me.” “Stick ‘em up.” Mason jumped. He turned around to see Ester, carrying a metal pail filled with weeds and her garden-gloved hand making the shape of a gun. She started laughing. “Chasing Indians again, Mason?” He smiled. “No, actually, I came to see you.” She turned and headed off again up a well worn path into the woods. “Well then, you’re gonna see me weed. Come on. So what brings you out today?”
Mason bounded after her. “The lights, in the sky, I saw them last night.” Ester finally came to a sun drenched clearing and a fairly sizeable, fenced off garden. “I told you. We best be ready for a storm today.” Mason crouched next to her as she dropped to her knees in the dirt. “That’s just it. Look at the sky. There’s no clouds. Nothing. The temperature hasn’t even changed. There are no signs at all that there is going to be a storm.” Ester looked at him and chuckled. “This is Oklahoma. That’s all the sign you need.” She leaned back and looked at him quizzically. “By the way, I was in town the day before yesterday. Saw what’s left of the church. I heard you’re something of a hero.” Mason chuckled and shook his head. “I suppose.” “So, you’re worried about the storm?” “Yes I am.” Ester tugged on some weeds that broke free from the earth. “Well, son, you head on down the shelter when you hear that storm siren go off. You should be all right.” “What if,” Mason thought for a moment, “when that storm siren goes off, we don’t go down the shelter?” Ester cocked her head. “What do you mean?” Mason shook his head. “I mean, just – don’t go. We’ll stay and see what happens. See why there’s no damage.” Ester chuckled. “That’s what I like about you, Mason. You’re out of your mind. You chase invisible Indians. You run into fires. You want to do the opposite of what the storm warning tells you. Crazy.” She laughed again and turned back to her garden. Mason couldn’t help but chuckle. “I know how crazy this sounds. I just feel like it’s important.” Ester finally stood and started to wipe her hands on her apron. “Mason, if you don’t want to go down the shelter, that’s fine. But please understand, these storms scare the hell out of me. They ain’t got storms like this out in Californina, do they?” Mason tried to think back but drew a blank. “I don’t think so.” “If they did, you’d know. I’m telling you Mason, when that siren goes off, you don’t want to be up here. Look what happened to the Marfont’s.”
Mason’s brow furrowed. “About that... Now, you told me that these storms don’t do any damage. That’s not entirely true, is it? One of these storms wiped out that family completely. What happened?” Ester shook her head and seemed to look through Mason. “Well, a while back, one of those storms spun up and took Earl Marfont’s farm. The whole thing. Blew the barn apart like it was made of toothpicks. Took Earl, his wife and the kids. Never found the bodies. Nothing.” Mason’s breath caught in his throat. “Wait... what?” Ester finally looked back. “Son, what do you want from me?! Do you want permission to commit suicide? Fine. Permission granted. Stay up top. Stay up here with your Indian and see the storm for yourself.” “I don’t understand. Last week you were telling me that there was something suspicious about the storms. You told me about the light and that a storm would follow the next day, a storm that would do no damage. Did you tell me all that?” Ester took a breath. “Yes.” “Martians. You said you thought it was Martians that brought the storm.” “What’s your point?” “My point is, I think that this is important. I think that the Indian that led me here the other night, led me here because you knew about the lights.” “Maybe he knew I made a mean rabbit stew.” “Ester, you’re the only other person who seems to notice that there’s something strange about Hitchfield. Everyone else seems content. Happy. I need to know that I’m not crazy. I need to know that someone else finds it... strange.” Ester stood and smiled. “I understand why you want to do this. But honestly, I’m terrified of them. I just can’t do it with you.” Mason nodded. “I understand.” He smiled back at her. “I’m not too easily spooked.” Ester chuckled. “Will you... tell me if it’s Martians?” Then the siren roared to life.
Ester dropped her pail and ran back up the path toward the trailer. “It’s coming,” she cried. Mason felt the top of his stomach sink. It was really happening. It was coming. He had to find shelter. He bolted from the clearing and followed Ester closely. A moment later Ester reached a small set of doors, similar to the ones in Ward’s barn. She threw open the door and stepped halfway down the stairs. She turned and shouted. “Son! You need to get in here!!” But Mason was already sprinting back to the road. “I can’t! I can’t! I have to get back to the farm. I have to get back. I have to.” Mason was no longer shouting back to Ester, he was simply repeating it to himself. It was right behind him. He could feel the oppressive weight of the air bearing down on him. The storm was coming. It was going to take him if he didn’t get back to his shelter. It hadn’t started to rain yet and there was no wind, but Mason knew. He couldn’t bring himself to look at the wall cloud he knew was behind him. He could feel it there chasing him. With each wave of the blasting tone from the siren he became more frantic. He had to get back to the farm. He had to get to the shelter. His life depended on it. He didn’t want to die. He ran faster. Finally he reached the farm and ran to the barn where hay and equipment had been cleared to reveal the storm shelter door. Mason dropped to his knees and began pounding frantically on the door. “Ted! Ted! Let me in! It’s coming!” His breath was labored and his heart felt like it was going to rupture in his chest. He could feel the panic shaking in his stomach. He had to hide. It was coming. He pounded again. “Ted! Please! Don’t leave me out here!!” Finally the door opened, Ted’s eyes darted around and his brow was furrowed in anger, which Mason had never seen. “Get in! Quick,” Ted growled. Mason scrambled in and Ted slammed the door shut. The sirens were barely perceptible through the metal doors as Ted bolted the doors. Mason stepped down the wooden steps into the dark, concrete room. “I’m sorry, Ted.” Mason was still shaking. They both went quiet as they could hear the distant rumble. In the darkness they could only hear each other’s quivering breath, the muffled warning sirens and the growing rumble of the storms. Mason Lent had never been this frightened before. He
wanted it to be over. He wanted the terror to stop. He didn’t think about Sarah or Ted who was only feet away in the darkness. He just had to hide from the storm. It was coming. They sat listening to the rumble grow for a few minutes. Neither of the men spoke, they only listened. Then, after a few minutes, both Ted and Mason fell into a deep sleep in the darkness of the storm shelter.
Blackness. The rumbling had stopped. Mason had no idea how long he’d been out. He woke up face down on the concrete. His eyes opened, but he laid there in the pitch black for a moment and didn’t move. Somewhere in the hollow, concrete room he could hear Ted breathing. He pushed himself up off the ground and felt for the wall, took a long breath and leaned back against the wall. How long had he been out? He couldn’t hear the siren anymore. His throat was dry and scratched as he swallowed. He’d run the mile from Ester Hatfield’s house on the dusty road and hadn’t had a drink of water. He was partched. “Ted,” Mason whispered. “Ted, are you awake?” “Yeah.” “It sounds like it’s over. Should we go up and see?” Mason could hear Ted struggle to his feet. “I reckon so.” The two men made their way up the concrete steps to the bolted steel door. Ted undid the bolt and pushed the door open. Sunlight burst in on them as they stepped out into the barn. Mason held up a hand to shade his eyes as he stepped out under the clear, blue sky. Ted whistled. “That was a fast one.” Mason’s brow furrowed. “I don’t know, looks like we were in there for a couple of hours.”
Ted cocked his head. “What?” Mason turned. “Well, look at the sun. It was early afternoon when we went in there. The sun’s half way down the sky. It’s gotta be 3:30 or 4.” Ted chuckled. “Heh. You’re right. We must’ve been exhausted.” Mason just turned and looked at the open shelter doors. “Yeah,” he mumbled absent-mindedly. A moment later the backdoor to the house shut with a bang and Ward jogged off the porch toward them. “You guys okay?” Ted nodded. “Yeah. Little shaky, but we’re okay. Looks like Mason and I fell asleep in there.” Ward finally stopped near them. “The storm lasted a good long while this time. Couple of hours. If you guys slept through it, you’re the lucky ones.” “You talk to Leo? How’s everybody else,” Mason inquired. “He said it looked like we dodged another one. He doesn’t think the twister touched down at all.” Mason blinked. “Amazing.” “More importantly none of the lumber or materials for the new church were affected.” Ted’s mouth fell open. “It’s here? Already?” “Yep. They were delivered first thing this morning. Leo signed the invoice himself.” Ward grinned big. “That’s actually what I wanted to you guys about. They’re going to start work in the next few days, but they need a few hands to help clear away the foundation of the old church.” Mason nodded with a smirk. “And you volunteered us.” “Yes I did. Couple of strong fellows like you, should make easy work of it.” Ward smiled and slapped Ted on the shoulder. “Anyway, most of the town’s going to come down. The Mayor is still out of town, but they’re treating it as an informal groundbreaking. So you might catch the eye of a certain lady.” He looked at Mason and winked.
Mason looked at him and chuckled. “Blackmail.” Ward turned and headed back to the house laughing. “Yep.” Mason glanced up and noticed that the curtains in the upstairs window of the house were open again. Mason stared for a moment. Then he smiled politely and nodded toward the window. Quickly the curtain fell back into place. * That night a dragon ate the sun while Mason watched. The panic howl of the storm siren hung in the air like the keen of an opera singer. The dragon’s tail swiped with a low, rumbling WOOSH through the clouds, causing little swirling eddies that twisted faster and faster until they became swift moving tornadoes, racing across the barren wastes. But there was no dust. No destruction. The twisters simply danced away into the tree line at the horizon. Mason looked to his right. He and Quanah Parker stood shoulder to shoulder, staring out at the end of the world. In the distance Mason could see the farm house, the upper window glowing a brilliant white. Quanah smiled at him and nodded. The Indian held his hand. In his hand was a single skeleton key. Mason reached out to take it. When his fingers snatched it from Quanah – it all stopped. Everything. The dragon, the storm... everything There was only a momentary creak. Like a floorboard or a plank. Slow and listless. Then the sun returned to the sky. Mason looked again at the skeleton key, but it was gone. It its place was a small wooden box, with silver metal at the corners and a metal clasp. * Mason’s eyes fluttered open.
He stared at the ceiling for a moment. Through the wood slats of the bunkhouse he could hear Ted snoring. Mason pulled the blanket tighter around him and closed his eyes. The rest of the night he didn’t dream. * The road to Hitchfield had become familiar to Mason. The sound of the trees, the Hatfield mailbox passing and disappearing in the cloud of dust kicked up by Ward’s truck. Mason was concerned about returning to the town, especially if he would run into Dr. Thatch. That was the last thing he wanted. But he wanted to help out and get the church construction underway. The story of the Marfont farm was also weighing on his mind. He could hear Ester in his mind. "... one of those storms spun up ... blew the barn apart like it was made of toothpicks..." There was little mistaking that she and Ted had both told the same story to Mason in nearly identical ways. How? Mason chuckled. Sometimes he wished he could grab that damn Indian and tell him to speak. Quanah, or whatever he was, seemed happy giving out information slowly, methodically. Mason glanced over to Ted, who stared out at the passing fields. Words from a dream drifted back to Mason Lent. ‘Slow. Together’ As Ward parked the truck, the gathering crowd could be seen near the ruins of the old church. Mason and Ted hopped out of the truck bed and grabbed their sledgehammers. They crossed the square together in silence. As they reached the crowd they could hear Leo Pratt’s voice. “Okay, everybody, looks like we’re gonna get started. I received a phone call from the Mayor this morning...” The people of Hitchfield began to mutter to each other. Leo held up his hand. “... Okay. The Mayor said that he wished he could be here today, but the President’s Council of City Mayors should be wrapping up soon. He said that he can’t wait to get home to Hitchfield.” The crowd erupted in a cheer. “He gave his consent to start the rebuild of our church without him. So, before we begin, Pastor Aaron Earl Potts would like to say a few words.” Mason scanned the crowd for signs of Sarah. He didn’t see her. Pastor Potts stepped out from behind Leo. “Brothers and sisters, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. You didn’t need to come today, but you came all the same, and there are so many of you. It will take all of us to rebuild this house of The Lord. I thank you again. Bless all of you.” Leo stepped back up. “All right, proper construction can’t start until with demolish what’s still standing. As you can see, there’s still some wall that needs to come
down and most of the foundation. The operation will be simple. Two man teams working in different sections, one man sledgehammers the foundation bricks loose, and one man totes the stones over to those trucks waiting. Understood?” The townspeople nodded and mumbled. “I have been coordinating with some other members of the community and we’ve come up with some work details. If everybody cooperates and this goes smoothly, we should be done by supper, which will be provided by the Hitchfield Rotary Club as organized by Matson Doll.” Again, the audience applauded. Leo nodded. “Okay, let’s get to work. Step up to the table to your left to get your detail. Mason grinned and turned to Ted. “Well, you heard the man, two man teams. Looks like it’s you and me.” He slapped Ted on the shoulder. Ten smiled. Ward shook his head and smirked. “That’s gonna be trouble. * Ted and Mason took turns knocking out the stones of the foundation and carrying them away. It was slow work and Mason’s lungs still burned. Every so often he would stop and take a breath but he could still smell the smoke on the rocks and the land around where they were working. It was an unpleasant reminder that nearly made him wretch. Once he was back to smashing the limestone, he stopped noticing the smell. Refreshments, in the form of lemonade made by the Pharmacist’s wife, were brought around periodically. Ted would nearly finish off a pitcher on his own. The majority of the day slipped away like this. The sounds of voices. The metal against the rock. Mason was glad to be doing it. He found that the more he worked, the less he thought about the unpleasant things that had been troubling him. He thought of the chain of events so far; Toby, the memorial service. He stopped for a moment and leaned on the sledgehammer. “How are you feeling,” came a voice from behind Mason. The voice made the hair on the back of his neck stand up. “You seem to be working up quite a sweat, which is good. How’s your chest.” Mason turned to see Dr. Thatch standing behind him. “I’m good, thanks,” Mason said between labored breaths. “The lungs burn a little.” “That’s pretty normal.” Thatch smiled that blood chilling smile again. “Have you been sleeping all right? Any more visits from your Indian?” Ted stopped in his tracks. “The Indian?! Did he come back?”
Mason looked back at Ted and shook his head. “No. I haven’t seen the Indian again.” He forced a smile and turned back to Dr. Thatch. “Dr. Thatch is just poking a little fun.” Thatch smiled. “Of course I am.” He put his hand on Mason’s shoulder. “Let me know if you need any thing.” Mason nodded politely. “You know I will.” He smiled again. Thatch turned and moved away, into the crowd. Mason took another deep breath. “Hey, you think you could take this over for a while?” Ted nodded. “Sure.” The two switched spots. Ted picked up the sledgehammer and looked at Mason. “Everything okay between you and the Doc?” Mason chuckled. “Yeah. Fine. Didn’t it seem fine?” Ted shrugged. “It just seemed, you know, a little awkward.” “Well, I’m not one for doctor’s much. Let’s just leave it at that.” The afternoon passed into early evening. The smell of the supper being prepared for the volunteers filled the air. The work was nearly done. A few people, Ted and Mason among them, were finishing up the last remaining bits of the foundation removal. Ted stood and stretched. “I am beat.” Mason chuckled. “I hear ya. We have got to finish up here. That food smells delicious.” Ted nodded to the last bit of limestone that needed to be busted up. “That should be it right there.” “That hammer is going to sound like a dinner bell.” The two chuckled. Ted took a massive swing and the limestone broke free and tumbled to the ground. Mason, crouched down and began to toss chunks into the wheelbarrow. “Ted chuckled. “I bet, when you decided to leave California, you never expected to be doing this.”
Mason smiled. “There’s a lot of things that have happened here that I never expected.” “I suppose.” “You got another one in you? Looks like that’s all you’re going to need.” Ted looked down at the last bit of wall; a corner of the foundation, a little tougher than the rest. “Piece of cake,” he said. Ted threw everything into one last swing. The hammer’s metal slammed into the rock with a deafening CLANG. More rock fell loose. The foundation wall was finally gone. Mason and Ted crouched down to load the last of the debris. After a moment Ted stopped and his brow furrowed. “Hey, Mason, what do you make of this?” He handed a small chunk of limestone to Mason. It took a moment, it looked like writing... scribbles... Hebrew? No, wait... Mason swallowed hard. It couldn’t be. Not here. Ted glanced down again at the strange piece of debris. “Do you know what that is?” Mason looked up at him, shaking his head in confusion. He looked back at the writing on the stone:
Mason blinked and looked back at Ted. “It’s Russian.”
Ted stood up. “What?!” Mason looked again. He turned the stone over in his hand to see if there was more. He looked up at Ted. “Why...” Mason couldn’t even finish the thought. Ted shook his head. “We have to tell somebody. We have to tell Leo.”
Mason waved a hand to quiet him. “Shhhhhh. We don’t know for sure that it’s Russian.” He knew in his gut that it was Russian, but he wanted to keep Ted calm. “You start shouting about Russkies now, you’re going to start a panic.” “What do we do?” Mason shook his head. He examined the stone again. Russian had been written on the stones of the church foundation. But when? Why? There were too many questions. Too many people. Too many ways things could go wrong. He stood and slipped the stone into his pocket. He moved closer to Ted. “I don’t know, Ted. Give me some time to figure out what to do with this. We can’t say anything now, okay. This needs to be our secret for the moment.” Ted shook his head confused. “But...” “Seriously, Ted, look around. Let’s wait until the crowd thins out at least before we go telling Leo. Okay?” Ted nodded. Mason patted him on the back and together the two moved toward the dinner line. He put on a brave face for Ted, but Mason was worried. The town’s spirits were high during the dinner. As the sun dipped down toward the horizon, people laughed and ate. Rebuilding the church seemed to move the folks of Hitchfield out from under a cloud. They were doing something and it felt good. People stood and balanced paper plates full of food and talked and joked. Mason and Ted barely touched their food. Apart from the shock of finding Russian here in Hitchfield, something else was bothering Mason. He placed his plate of food on the ground near his feet. How would it look to the town if he suddenly found Russian written on a piece of rock? Him. The man who chased Toby across the square. The man who had to be rescued from under a burning car. How much worse could it get for him? It would be just another thing that would make him an oddity in the town, just another thing to make people stare at him. The stone began to weigh heavy in his pocket. He knew that he had to turn it over to Leo, but Mason wondered if there was a way to do it and not be associated with the find. He needed time to think. Ted was anxious to get rid of the stone and turn it over. So was Mason, but he wanted a little more time. After a while Mason noticed Ted looking around and eyeing the crowd. “A bunch of people have left. We should take it to him now,” Ted whispered.
Mason sighed, he wasn’t ready yet. “Not yet, Ted.” He glanced around. Leo was nowhere to be seen. “Leo’s not even here right now.” Ted groaned. “He’ll be back soon. Mason, he’s got to know.” “I know. I know.” Mason stood up. “Look, why don’t we sleep on it? It’s been a really long day, with the storm and everything. Why don’t we take it in to Leo tomorrow?” Ted looked up at Mason, confused. “Why can we take it to him now?!” he snapped. It was a good question. “I don’t know. I just... think...” He crouched back down and looked Ted in the eye. “This is – so big, Ted. I just don’t want to rush into anything yet. If the wrong thing gets said, we could have people in a panic and they’re just starting to calm down. ” “Tomorrow, then.” Ted nodded. Mason breathed a sigh. “Tomorrow.” Mason stretched and buried his hands in his pockets. “I think I’m going to take a quick walk.” Ted didn’t respond. Mason shrugged and headed off into the crowd. His mind racing, he moved away from the ruins of the church. He needed to get away from the noise. He needed to be alone for a while. It was all starting to be too much. He soon found himself leaning against the lumber that had arrived to start the rebuilding of the church. He lit a smoke. “Maybe smoking near the new church is not the best idea,” the woman said with a giggle. Mason stepped away from the wood and turned to see Sarah standing on the sidewalk. He nodded his head and gave a quiet, polite ‘ma’am.’. Sarah chuckled again. “That’s awfully formal, Mr. Lent. You can just call me Sarah.” “All right, Sarah. And please, call me Mason.” Mason scanned the area for signs of her aunt. “Looks like you’ll have a new church to sing in before too long.” “I know. I’m very excited about it.” Sarah cocked her head at him. “Are you a church-goin’ man, Mason?”
Mason thought for a moment. He knew that somewhere along the line he’d worshipped, but he couldn’t remember when. Fearing that his lack of church experience might taint him in her eyes, he said the only thing that would defuse the moment. “I was on my way there the night it burned.” “I’m sorry you didn’t make it.” Mason smiled. “Me too,” he smirked. “You know, when I saw you the other day, your aunt made it perfectly clear that I shouldn’t be talking to you.” Sarah chuckled and shook her head. “Oh, don’t mind her. She’s a dragon.” “So I’ve heard.” There was a silent, awkward moment between them. Sarah broke the moment. “So you came in to help bust down the old foundation?” “Yeah. What with this and the fire and being laid up at Dr. Thatch’s, I’m starting to wonder if I’m ever going to do any work on Ward’s farm again.” Sarah smiled and the outside of her eyes wrinkled slightly. “You’re just a man of many talents and you are in demand.” “I should say so.” Sarah pulled a watch out of her purse. “I’m sorry, Mason. I should be running along. My aunt will come looking for me soon and I don’t want anything to happen to you.” She smiled again. “Have a wonderful night, Mr. Lent.” Mason nodded and watched Sarah Bedwin move up the street and out of sight. “You too,” he mumbled. He finished his smoke and moved back to the church site. Not long after that he, Ted and Ward piled back into the truck and headed back to the farm. Ted never said a word, just sat staring out at the dusk. * Thud. The movement in the dark startled Mason. He bolted up and grabbed the arm of the person standing next to the bed. Ted’s frightened voice jumped out of the darkness. “Mason! It’s me.”
Mason stood up. “Ted?! What the hell are you doing?” He lit the lantern next to his bed. Ted said nothing. “Well?” “The rock. The Russian... I was going to take it to Ward.” Mason folded his arms. “I thought we agreed that we would wait until tomorrow. And then we’d take it...” Ted cut him off. “I don’t know you, Mason.” Mason cocked his head. “What?” “I mean, I don’t know you at all, Mason. You come into town... only been here a little while and then people die...you start talking about some Indian. I don’t know who you are. Why am I supposed to trust you? Huh? All you seem to do is ask questions and take off. I hear you up and about late at night. How do I know that you’re not some Russkie?” “Ted, I’m no Russkie.” “And would you tell me if you were? This whole thing has me, I don’t know, spooked I guess. If you’re not a spy, then give me the stone. I will take it to Ward. He’ll know what to do.” “Ted...” “No! You keep asking me to trust you. If you want me to, do the right thing and take it to Ward.” Mason couldn’t argue with Ted’s logic. “Ted, you have no reason to trust me. You’re right. And that’s part of the reason I didn’t tell anyone right away. How much more suspicious as a newcomer could I be, right? ” “I don’t think you’re... I mean, you don’t act like a spy.” Mason chuckled. “That’s good to know.” He grabbed the stone and handed it to Ted. “Let’s take it up to the house now. Like you said, Ward will know what to do. ” Together the two moved up the driveway toward the house. They walked slowly, like two kids about to confess to their father. Mason noticed that the curtains in the upstairs window were still down. Mrs. Marchen wasn’t watching. When they reached the door, Ted knocked. It was a minute or so before lights started coming on in the house. Ward opened the door as he finished tying his robe on.
“What’s up fellas?” Ward stepped out onto the back porch and shut the door quickly behind him. Mason took a long breath. “This afternoon, when we were helping with the church foundation, we ... found something.” He nodded to Ted, who handed Ward the stone. Ward examined the stone and the writing for a long while. Then he looked up at the two. “It took you a little while to bring this to me. Why didn’t you bring this up in town?” Mason looked at Ted. Ted nodded. “We weren’t sure how to handle it.” “I trust you haven’t told anybody else.” Mason shook his head. “No, we didn’t want to cause a panic.” Ward nodded and then looked at the stone again for a minute. “Okay, you guys go back out to the bunkhouse. I’m going to call Leo. I’ll be out in a few minutes.” He stepped back into the house and shut the door. Mason and Ted looked at each other. * The trucks headlights cut through the darkness. Mason peered out of the truck bed into the darkness to try to spot familiar landmarks. The screech of midnight bugs could still be heard over the lonely night-time rumble of the truck tires on gravel. Another trip into Hitchfield for Mason. Ward spent nearly a quarter of an hour on the phone with Leo Pratt explaining the situation. Afterward, the three hopped into Ward’s truck and made their way toward Hitchfield in the dead of night. Ward slowed down as they rolled along the town square, dead in the small hours. A single light was illuminated in the city building. Quietly and quickly Ward pulled the truck into a parking spot and the three climbed out. Leo met them at the door. He shook Mason’s hand. “Mason, thanks so much. Come on in.” He ushered the small group into his office and moved to his desk. “Mason? Can I see the stone?” Mason extracted the stone from his pocket and handed it to Leo, who stared at it for a moment. He put it down on his desk. “After I got off the phone with Ward, I made a few phone calls. I made one to a friend of mine that works for the county over in Frederick, the other to a friend who works for the Government. I’m waiting to
hear back.” Leo sat down, his brow furrowed with concern. “I’m hoping that we find out that when the church was built, whenever that was, the stones for the foundation were simply from a Russian owned quarry somewhere. That would tie this all up nice and tidy. Then we could all go back to bed.” He paused. Ward smiled. “But you don’t think that’s going to be the case.” Leo shook his head. “No I don’t.” Ted looked at everyone. “Does anybody in town read Russian? Maybe, if we knew what it said it would help.” Leo shook his head again. “I don’t think so. I’ll ask around tomorrow.” Mason put his hands in his pockets. “Could someone be playing a trick? I know there are lots of temporary farm hands around this time of year.” Leo stood back up. “That’s part of the problem. If there is...” The phone rang cutting Leo off. All eyes fell on the phone as it rang a second time. Leo reached out and hesitantly picked up the receiver. Air seemed to leave the room. “Hello,” Leo said into the phone. “Yeah, hi. Okay.... mmmmhhm...” He glanced up at Ward for a moment and then looked back at his desk. “Are you sure? Okay. I understand. I will. Thanks Rob.” He hung up the phone and stared at his desk for a moment and took a breath. Ward folded his arms and moved toward the desk. “Leo?” Leo started to speak without looking up. “What I am about to say cannot leave this room yet. Is that understood?” The others muttered their agreement. Leo looked up and nodded. “Five days ago a Russian spy plane was shot down over north Texas. The pilot jettisoned before the plane hit the ground. So far the military has managed to keep the whole affair quiet and they have recovered all the wreckage, including the ejector seat the pilot used. But...” He took another breath and looked up at them. “...but the pilot is still missing.” Mason finished the thought. Leo looked back at his desk. “The trail apparently went cold just inside the Oklahoma border.” There was a moment when all the air was sucked out of the room. Leo stood up straight, put his hands on his hips and took another breath. “I’m going to put some coffee on. It’s going to be a long night.”
The others stood in silence as the night closed in around them.
#12 The Hand
Mason watched the morning arrive from the steps of the city building. It was a fairly modest brick building where Leo and the Mayor had their offices. There were also a couple of jail cells as well. Mason had a chance to explore the building during the night while Leo was on the phone to people in Washington and elsewhere. Ted was curled up asleep on a couch in the Mayor’s waiting room. Ward had spent much of the night conferring with Leo in his office. It was obvious to Mason that Leo and Ward had known each other for a very long time and respected each other’s opinion. It also seemed that, right now, Leo could use a police force. At the moment he was trying to work with three untrained, unofficial deputies from the Marchen farm. Mason took a drag off his smoke and looked out at the stillness of the town. The dark sky was just beginning to lighten and cast the buildings along the square in a soft gray blue. Even at its best Hitchfield wasn’t a bustling metropolis, but there in the predawn light, it felt to Mason like a painting. The pink streaks of light began to move across the sky like slow, lazy lightning. He finished his cigarette and stared at the sky. It was going to be another disarmingly sunny day in Hitchfield. Every day seemed to bring something new and the day was beginning completely unaware that a downed Soviet pilot was on the loose, possibly still in Hitchfield. It was information that Mason, Leo, Ted and Ward had discovered late that night, while the other residents of Hitchfield slept. The first rumblings of the day echoed across the town square as the local Milk truck drove its daily rounds. Mason watched it roll along the fire side of the square to the houses beyond. The squeal of the brakes could be heard through the quiet of the morning as it made its first stop. “Well, good morning Mason.” Mason turned at the sound of the voice to find Dr. Thatch standing on the sidewalk. “Ah! Good morning Dr. Thatch.” “Please, call me Eric. I was out taking my daily dawn walk when I saw you sitting here.” He glanced toward the street where Ward’s truck was parked. “And Ward’s truck, of course. I hope everything is all right.” Mason didn’t hesitate. “Fine. Absolutely. Leo needed our help with a couple of things.” Thatch took a breath and looked out at the town square. “It’s so peaceful at this time of morning.”
Mason nodded. “Yes it is. It reminds me ...” Mason’s voice trailed off. Thatch turned, his eyebrow raised. “Yes?” Mason shook his head. “It reminds me of my childhood, I guess. Like something you see a thousand times and then don’t see for years.” Thatch leaned against the concrete railing. “It’s familiar?” Mason seemed to lose himself. “Not the place, just that feeling, that early morning feeling. Surreal.” Thatch smiled and lost himself in the thought. “Like you’ve never seen the world like this before.” Mason nodded. A moment later he remembered who he was talking to. “Well, don’t let me keep you from your walk.” Thatch’s eyes burned into Mason, even though he was smiling. “All right. You take care of those lungs.” He thought for a moment. “Got to keep yourself in good shape. You never know when we may need you.” He forced another smile. Then with a nod the doctor moved off into the Hitchfield dawn. * Eventually Mason dozed off in a chair inside the police station. He wasn’t sure how long he was out, but when Ward shook him awake later the sun was blasting through the windows. “Mason. Wake up,” Ward said, shaking Mason’s shoulder. Mason opened his eyes full and his head sprang forward. “Yeah, what is it? What’s wrong.” “Leo just got word. The news is breaking all over.” Mason pushed himself out of the chair into a standing position. “The pilot thing?” Leo stepped out of his office into the waiting area, slamming his cowboy hat onto his head. “A radio. I need a radio.” Ted, looking half asleep, stumbled into the room. “B.J. has one at the bar.” Ward checked his watch. “They should be open.” Leo bounded from the office. “Come on.”
It looked to Mason like it was after 10 in the morning. People were already out and about along the streets of downtown. Heads turned and watched as Leo and Ward sprinted across the square toward B.J.’s Bar with Ted and Mason close behind. A few people, curious about the commotion, made their way toward the bar as well. Leo threw the door of the bar open. Matson Doll and Dan Rugspiro, both sitting at the bar drinking mugs of coffee, nearly dumped it on themselves. B.J., who was leaning on the bar chatting with Matson and Dan, stood up. “Jesus, Leo!” Leo waved the comment away. “Turn on your radio!” B. J. shrugged and clicked on the radio behind the bar. Behind Mason people stepped into the bar to see what was going on. As the radio warmed up the sounds of Faded Love by Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys drifted from the speakers. After a moment the song stopped and an announcer came on. “We interrupt this program for a KTAT special bulletin. This is Steven Rosycrow. The United States Army has just released information that several nights ago a spy plane from the Soviet Union was shot down forty miles north of Dallas. While the airplane has been recovered, the pilot is still at large. It appears that the pilot has crossed from Texas over into Oklahoma. Citizens are advised to keep their doors and windows locked and asked to report anything suspicious immediately. Please stay tuned to KTAT for more breaking news as it happens.” Leo nodded to B.J. to turn off the radio. Everyone looked at each other in silence for a moment. Behind Mason a group of about twenty people had gathered. The ones who had heard the report were whispering the information to those who had just arrived. Leo took a deep breath and turned to the crowd. “Before you all go running off starting a panic - let everyone know... there will be a town meeting tonight, at the movie house. 6pm. We will discuss this tonight.” He looked at Mason and took another long breath. * Later that afternoon Ward gave Mason the truck and sent him back to the farm to do a few things that needed doing. He pulled around the house and parked the truck near the table where they ate. He hopped out and made his way to the barn. It was strange being at the farm alone. Then he stopped and remembered that he wasn’t alone. Mason turned and looked up at the window. The wife was watching him again. The curtain was open. He took a step toward the house, but this time the curtain stayed open.
They stayed like that for a few minutes, with Mason peering into the darkness to see a face. There was nothing, but the curtain remained open. Mason decided that it had gone on long enough. He raised his hand, finally acknowledging that he knew she was watching him. For a moment there was nothing. Mason lowered his hand and nodded with a weak smile. He had hoped that contact had somehow been made. He waved again as he prepared to turn and head back to his chores. Then a hand appeared out of the darkness behind the curtain and touched the glass. Mason gasped. The hand was so small in the window, but it looked fairly young, pale... and something was attached to the end of the middle finger, to the tip, possibly a bandage. But Mrs. Marchen didn’t move her hand. They stood there, a hand in the air and a hand on the glass, for ages. Finally, Mason smiled and lowered his hand and Mrs. Marchen’s hand vanished back behind the curtain. A moment later the curtain fell back into place. Mason turned and headed toward the barn. He wasn’t sure what had just happened, but he felt comforted for some reason. He felt at peace for a moment. Contact had been made. * That night the movie house was packed. Nearly everyone in town showed up. Word had spread like wildfire about the Russian pilot. The story had already started to change by the time Mason arrived at the meeting. Rumors and conjecture flew around the room. Russians had burned down the church. That was one of the rumors Mason heard as he moved toward the stage. He chuckled slightly. When it looked like everyone was there Leo stepped to the podium. The crowd quieted down. “Okay. By now you have all heard that a Russian plane was shot down in Texas recently.” The crowd agreed. “As of this evening the pilot is still at large, probably in Oklahoma. Some evidence has come to our attention that indicates... that the pilot probably came through Hitchfield.” The people of the town erupted into gasps and chatter. “People! Please! Some writing was found on one of the church foundation stones yesterday while they were being busted down. The writing was Russian. We have no idea what it says or means. It’s possible that it was only a marker for him to know where he had been.” A man stood up at the back of the crowd. “Who found the stone?”
Leo turned to Mason. He sighed. “Mason Lent.” The crowd again began muttering. “Mason and Ted Hearst, both of whom donated their time yesterday, found the rock and brought it to me last night. I then contacted...” The crowd continued to chatter louder. “Look!” The crowd quieted. “I know that most of you have not had a chance to meet Mr. Lent or get to know him. And I know that recent events have thrust him into the limelight here for better or worse. But I can assure you, I have gotten to know Mason and he is an upstanding citizen, a hard worker and a good man. I know that Ward Marchen and Dr. Thatch agree with me on this and will vouch for him. He was simply unfortunate enough to be the one to find the stone. And that is the final word on this.” The crowd quieted. “Thank you... now...” A man’s voice shouted from the crowd. “What are we going to do about the pilot?” Leo nodded. “That’s a great question and it’s why we’re here tonight. I have spoken to Mayor Dadecroft on the phone and he agrees with me. We cannot assume that this pilot simply passed through Hitchfield. We need to prepare for the very real possibility that he is still hiding in the area. He will be frightened, probably will speak very little English ... and will be armed and dangerous. So, we need every resident in the area to be vigilant and we are going to organize several citizen patrols and watches.” A woman stood up in the crowd. “Isn’t the military going to come?” Leo nodded. “Yes. Eventually. But let’s not forget they have thousands of square miles to search in Texas and Oklahoma. For the next few days, we’re going to be on our own. Now, I am taking the names of volunteers and what you are willing to do. I have appointed four watch captains and we will divide the town and outlying areas into four sections. The Watch Captains are Dan Rugspiro, myself, Ward Marchen and Mason Lent.” Leo glanced at Mason, who was stunned by the announcement. When he saw Mason’s expression he stepped away from the podium. “Is that all right, Mason?” Mason shrugged, still stunned at the development. “Yeah ... sure.” Leo turned back to the audience. “The four Captains will work together and plan a 24 hour rotating patrol duty with the volunteers.” A woman stood up in the crowd. “Leo?” “Yes?” “Some of us are wondering when the Mayor will return.” Leo grinned. “I spoke to the Mayor last night and again this morning. He is wrapping things up at the conference and will be flying home soon. But I assure you, I have gone over the plan with him and it has his blessing.
“It certainly does,” boomed a voice from the back of the theater. Mason peered through the crowd to see where the voice had come from. The crowd turned as Joseph Dadecroft lumbered through the door. The residents of Hitchfield erupted into applause. Dadecroft smiled self consciously and raised a hand. He made his way up the aisle to toward Mason and the others. The Mayor was heavy set and wore a shirt and suspenders. On top of his short cropped white hair rode a white fedora with a red band. He was exactly what Mason expected the Mayor of Hitchfield to look like. Leo stepped back from the microphone and exchanged looks with Ward and Thatch. Then he smiled as Dadecroft shook his hand. “Mr. Mayor, it’s so good to have you back. I’m sorry it’s under these circumstances.” Leo shook the Mayor’s hand vigorously. Dadecroft waved the comment away. “Nonsense. Two weeks in the company of nothing but politicians made me incredibly homesick. This Russkie pilot couldn’t have arrived at a better time.” Leo led Dadecroft over to the group. The Mayor shook hands with Ward and Dr. Thatch. “Mr. Mayor, this is Mason Lent. He works on Ward’s farm now. It was Mason and Ted Hearst that found the pilot’s markings on the church foundation.” Dadecroft grabbed Mason’s hand and shook it. “Mr. Lent, Hitchfield is fortunate that you came here. Sheriff Pratt has told me all about your heroics at the church as well.” “Actually finding the writing seems to have caused more problems...” Dadecroft cut him off. “The danger you know is better than the danger you don’t” Mason noticed that the handshake continued and the Mayor’s gaze seemed unbreakable. “True.” “So, we are grateful that you have discovered that this fugitive pilot has visited our little town.” “Well,” Mason chuckled. “It’s causing a lot of excitement.” Dadecroft’s eyes seemed to burn for a moment and the corner of his mouth lifted in subtle smirk that confused Mason. “It’s amazing how much trouble one man can cause.” The handshake had stopped but their hands remained locked together. “I hope, Mr. Mason, we will become great friends.”
Mason felt like he’d just been challenged. Finally Dadecroft turned and moved to the microphone. The applause erupted again as the Mayor raised his hands to quiet the townsfolk. “Folks, it’s great to be back home in Hitchfield. Better still is being welcomed with such loving applause and friendship. We are a family here in Hitchfield. We need to be a family. We have been beset by tragedy – from the dustbowl years to the Plague – we have overcome adversity and hardship and loss. So when I get a call from Sheriff Pratt telling me that we may have a Russian spy in our midst, my first thought was not ‘oh my, whatever shall we do?’.” My first thought was ‘God help that poor spy...’” Mason glanced over at Ward and Leo, who listened intently. Then he felt Thatch’s hand on his shoulder and his voice close to his ear. “Don’t worry, Mason, everything will be back to normal soon.” “Whatever that may be.” Thatch chuckled in that hollow way that twisted Mason’s stomach. “Indeed, Mason. Indeed.” Mason looked back out at the crowd and his breath caught in his throat for a moment. There, standing at the back of the movie house, his eyes locked with Mason’s, was the vision of Quanah Parker. He wondered when he would turn up. It felt like ages since Mason had seen him. He wanted to run to the image and beg him to speak. To tell Mason what to do next, where to go, why it was all happening As Mason Lent looked on the Indian covered his eyes, then his ears and finally his mouth.
#13 Red Menace
“Absolutely not!” Mayor Joseph Dadecroft’s voice thundered around the room and down the hall. “If we arm the citizens, the citizens will kill the citizens.” Seth Gentroof nodded. “Mr. Mayor, I understand, but people out there are scared. They have volunteered to patrol and help keep each other safe... and we’re asking them to go out there unarmed.” Mason examined his hands and tried not to watch. He glanced up for a moment at Leo who simply shook his head. “Seth,” Dadecroft put up his hand to quiet Seth. “I understand completely where you are coming from. I am just not prepared to start handing out guns and creating a militia. You are absolutely right. People are scared. More than that, they are in a panic. In the two days that I have been back, Leo has taken a dozen or more calls from people
turning in their neighbors... their spouses... Now, you want to go and throw guns into that? I promise you, you toss guns into that stew pot, you’ll think you’re making stew but you’re only making a mess.” Mason finally cleared his throat. “I think the important question right now is; when are the Army going to get here. It’s been 3 days since we found the stone and reported it. We’re out here on our own.” Dadecroft nodded and sat down. “I’ve heard that they should make it this way in the next day or two.” Seth threw his hands up. “A day or TWO?!” Leo finally jumped in. “Seth, look, they are stretched pretty thin. They have Texas and Oklahoma to search. And since the news broke the other day they’ve had sightings and leads to follow up everywhere. Imagine a hundred Hitchfields all with people seeing Russian spies everywhere.” Dadecroft raised his hands and then lowered them to the desk almost like he was about to start playing piano. His voice lowered to the tone of an understanding father. “We all have good arguments here, but we have to deal with this the best way that we can. Seth, while I understand the request – I am not going to be issuing guns. And I have already spent hours on the phone with Washington trying to get the Army to speed it up. So, let’s get back out there and keep our town safe until the Army comes.” Seth just shrugged, defeated. “Okay.” Leo put his hand on his back. “It’ll be fine, Seth. You are doing a great service to the town and to your country.” Seth nodded. “I know.” He turned and left the Mayor’s office. It had been several days since the news report of the Russian spy plane being shot down over northern Texas, and the Pilot being at large had broken. Seth, like Mason, had been put in charge of a small group of volunteers to patrol the neighborhoods and area surrounding Hitchfield. Mason was sure that Seth had gotten the same request Mason had – a gun. This was an around the clock patrol and some of the townspeople were nervous about hitting the streets at night without a gun. So far things had gone off without incident – but also without a gun. Mason couldn’t really argue with Leo or the Mayor either. Tension in the town was intense. No one was leaving their homes unless they had to, which was meant checking on everybody occasionally. Also, with all of the plague houses in the area, there were a thousand places to hide. Mason had even returned in secret to the house on the edge of town that Quanah had shown him. The Pilot wasn’t in the basement and the door up to the rest of the house was still locked and intact.
Being there reminded him of the dream he’d had shortly after. The dream of Quanah Parker and the key. Dadecroft took a bite of the sandwich he was eating. “Mason, how are things going in your area?” Mason folded his arms. “Good. No Russian spy yet, but everybody is pitching in and checking on each other.” “Good.” “I have to admit, Mr. Mayor, Seth is not completely wrong. I mean, I understand the concern, but I don’t know that it would be a bad idea to have a few people, who know what they’re doing, prepared.” The Mayor nodded, clearly annoyed. “Mason, I will take that under advisement. Perhaps we will recruit some volunteer deputies into the police force and give them proper training for the next time there is a Russian plane shot down and a pilot on the loose. But for now, please trust my judgment.” The Mayor glanced at Leo. “When did everybody get gun crazy?” “When a Russian fell out of the sky.” Mason shook his head. “I’m not trying to argue with you Mr. Mayor. I was simply stating my opinion.” Dadecroft seemed to calm. He smiled. “It’s been noted. Unfortunately, I do have some calls to make, so if you will both excuse me.” Leo and Mason said thank you and left. As they stepped out onto the street Leo turned to Mason. “Sorry about that, Mason. The Mayor’s a little gun shy. I’m not in disagreement with you, but he’s my boss.” “Gun shy? Why?” “Well, there was a problem a while back. Not many people know about it except me and the Mayor. We caught somebody stealing guns from the police station. We still haven’t found everything that was taken.” Mason’s brow furrowed. “Stealing guns? Who...” “Toby Olsen.”
Mason stepped back. “Toby? Was stealing guns?” Leo nodded. “Toby stole a lot of things. He stole things from the hardware store, the pharmacy and he stole guns from the station. We knew he had problems, so we kept it quiet and he didn’t get in any trouble. But we still don’t know where he stashed most of it. So, the Mayor is still a little worried about arming the townsfolk.” Mason nodded and lit a cigarette. “I can’t argue with that.” Leo chuckled. “I’m sure that Pilot is miles from here. Even if he did pass through, that’s all it was. We just need to keep the patrols going until the Army turns him up, which I’m sure they will.” “That’s hard to believe about Toby.” Leo looked for a long time at Mason. “Well, who knows what was going on in his mind.” They both turned as Ward pulled up to the curb and parked. Mason waved. “Are you ever going to do any work for me?” Ward chuckled as he climbed out of the truck. Mason stepped forward and shook his hand. “Eventually, I hope.” They both chuckled. “Well I’ve driven almost to Frederick and stopped at a lot of the farms along the way and everything is on the up and up.” Leo nodded. “Good. I think we’ve covered all the outlying farms in the area.” Mason took a drag off his smoke and looked at Ward. “How’s Ester doing? I know she’s out there all by herself.” Ward looked confuse and glanced at Leo. “I didn’t check in on Ester. I thought you were going to do that, Mason.” Mason’s stomach sank. “I...” Leo looked at them. “It’s been almost three days and no one has checked in on her?” * The entire drive to Ester Hatfield’s place, Mason was kicking himself. Two days he’d been working with Leo on the patrols and he’d completely forgotten to check in
with her. Even if it was just to tell her what was going on and to be careful. He slammed his hand down on the steering wheel and swore. He felt like an idiot. He dreaded having to tell her that he’d forgotten about her. “You know, it’s her own fault,” Mason mumbled to himself. “She lives out there like a hermit.” For a moment he glanced out the passenger side window. Quanah Parker sat in his way in the passenger seat. Mason shouted, jumped and nearly swerved off the road. “Dammit!” Mason yelled at the dead Indian. “You’ve got to stop doing that!!” Quanah continued to stare out the window. Mason shook his head. “Sometimes you pick the worst times to...” Mason stopped talking when Quanah Parker turned his head and stared hard into him. Mason swallowed. The look was unmistakable. Something bad was about to happen. “Oh no. There’s something wrong at Ester’s, isn’t there.” The Indian took his hand and covered his own face. Mason shook his head. “What?! I don’t understand. He’s hidden. He’s wearing a disguise?! What?!” Quanah finally looked back at the road. Mason boggled. “What do I do?” Quanah simply stared out the window. Mason stepped on the gas and looked back over at Quanah... but he was gone. Mason slammed his hand down on the steering wheel again. When he pulled the truck down Ester’s wooded drive to the turn he had once chased Quanah around the bend. He stopped the truck, turned it off, but left the keys in the ignition. He stepped carefully to the ground. Normally this would be enough for her to appear and pull a gun on him. “Ester?!” There was no answer. He moved toward the clearing where she kept her vegetable garden. The garden was un disturbed, but she wasn’t there. He sighed and turned back to move up the path toward the truck when something caught his eye. He slowly crouched down to get a closer look. It was a rabbit, dead in a snare. Bugs and maggots had already started to work on the eyes and the blood around the open mouth of the dead animal. It had been here a while, a couple of days at least. It was cold and completely stiff. Mason stood and thought for a moment. Quanah was right. Something was wrong. The Pilot was there or at least had been. Mason looked around for a weapon. ‘A gun would be good,’ he thought. Instead he grabbed one of the fencing posts from the garden and yanked it from the ground. Then he turned and headed back up the path to the trailer. He moved slowly, deliberately through the trees and past Ward’s truck. If the Pilot was here, it was a good bet that he knew Mason was there. “Ester, can you hear me?” Again there was no answer and he continued toward the trailer. Mason could feel the muscles in his hand tightening around the post. He made
his way slowly toward the trailer and up the steps. “Ester? Are you in there? Are you alone?” There was only the sound of the wind in the trees. He stopped at the door. He took a breath. Mason wrapped both hands around the post like a batter and moved into the trailer. Ester was sitting in her seat at the table, her mouth gagged, her hands bound. Mason nearly dropped the post when he saw her. She looked pale, like she hadn’t eaten in days and her wrists were bloody from struggling against the ropes. The hair on the side of her head was matted with blood several days old. When she looked at him her body swayed with relief. She began to struggle against the ropes. “Ester! Jesus! Are you alright?! Is he still here?!” Mason turned around as he moved into the room, scanning the kitchen area for signs of the pilot. When he was satisfied that he wouldn’t get jumped, he dropped the post and rushed to Ester. “The storm cellar! I think he’s in the storm cellar,” Ester gasped as Mason pried the gag from her mouth. “He’s been here for two days... I think. ” Then she looked angrily at him. “And where the hell have you been?!” Mason put up a hand to quiet her and glanced out the still open door. He leaned in close and whispered to her as he worked to free her hands. “Sorry I’m late. Look, Ester, Ward’s truck is outside. The keys are inside. I want you to take it and drive as fast as you can into town and tell Leo what happened.” Ester pulled her first hand free. “You’re not coming?” Mason smiled. “No. I need to try to lock him down there or catch him somehow. Now...” Ester didn’t let him finish. “Mason, no, he’s got my shotgun.” Mason swallowed and nodded. “Well,” he smiled, “I’ve been on the business end of that gun before and I can do it again in a pinch.” He helped Ester to her feet and moved to the kitchen and started pulling drawers open. “What are you looking for?!” “The knives you have for gutting and skinning rabbits.” “Middle drawers.”
Mason slid the drawer open and his eyes widened at the sight of the huge hunting knife. “I’m so glad you’re on our side, Ester. Now, let’s go. You need to get help.” Ester nodded and the two moved toward the door. Mason peered into the semi darkness of the woods. There was no sign of the pilot. Silently Ester motioned to the storm shelter and Mason nodded. They moved quietly down the wooden steps from the door and began to pick up speed as they neared the truck. Mason put a hand on Ester’s back and hurried her to the truck. Mason stepped back as she quickly got into the cab and a moment later the old truck shuddered to life. Mason motioned with his head for her to leave, but he watched as her gaze left him and moved to something else. Panic seemed to grip her. Mason turned to see the man he assumed was the Russian Pilot step out from behind the trailer. “I need that truck!” The man’s heavy accent was unmistakable, but the English was good. “Go!” Mason screamed at Ester. Then he turned back to the approaching Russian. “That’s not going to happen.” As Ester threw the truck into reverse and began to get away, the Russian raised the shotgun to shoot at her. Mason gripped the knife tightly in his hand and barreled into the pilot. The two fell back into the dust as the shot gun and the knife scuttled away in the dirt. Mason grabbed frantically to retrieve the knife but couldn’t find it. Ester and the truck rumbled backward quickly through the tree covered drive to the main road. Mason glanced for only a moment to see that she was safe when the Pilot’s hands clenched his neck. He found he was being rolled onto his back by the Pilot and he squirmed to get away. It was no use. The Russian rolled Mason over, grabbed the shotgun and pinned Mason by sitting on him. Mason tried to take a breath but couldn’t and the shotgun was now hovering just above his eyes. The pilot shook his head and said something that sounded like “Gloop nast.” Mason struggled but couldn’t get free. Then the Pilot wheeled the gun around and Mason felt the crack of the shotgun’s stock against his head. There was a pain that rocketed through him, a gush of blood in his hair and then Mason Lent slipped into darkness.
Something wasn’t right.
It was a hallway, grey and featureless, stretching off in both directions and vanishing into blackness. The only light was cast by a single hanging lamp. His hands were bound behind him and his wrists stung where the ropes dug into them. His head throbbed in pain. His throat screamed for water. Mason Lent was lying on the floor. He rolled himself the wall and sat up. He pushed back against his arms and then slowly worked his way up the wall until he was standing. He was gulping air by the time he was standing. He opened his mouth to scream ‘help’, but no sound came. He peered into the darkness to his left. Nothing. The yellow light from the lamp reached a few yards up the hall and then nothing. He turned to look the other way. Quanah Parker stood just beyond the light. Mason could barely see him at first. The Comanche stood motionless, staring through Mason. Then, in the blink of an eye his hand was covering his own face again. Mason blinked and backed up. This wasn’t right. “Wake up.” The voice was deep and thick, like a toy winding down. “Wake up.” The voice came again from behind him. Mason turned. Sarah stood behind him. She was again dressed in a shimmering white nightgown but this time her head had matted hair and caked blood like Ester. “Wake up,” she said again in a voice that wasn’t hers. Mason turned and looked at Quanah. As he watched the Indian’s head erupted into flame and glowed bright like the sun and a dragon appeared out of the darkness and swallowed it. Mason turned back to Sarah. “Wake up.” Her head seemed to go out of focus for a moment. Then the blood was gone. “Did you come here to kill me?” Mason stepped back. “What?” Suddenly Mason Lent was drowning. * Mason coughed and spluttered, gasping from the shock. He opened his eyes. The hallway was gone and this room was dimly lit by some candles on the floor. The walls were bare, as were the planks of the hardwood floor. Curtains were drawn across the only window in the room. Mason found he was tied to a chair in the middle of the room. He struggled for a moment against the ropes, like the dream they were too tight and were digging into his wrists. The water that had splashed him was running into his eyes. HE tried to shake his head to clear it away. When he looked up again The Russian Pilot was
staring down at him. Mason shook his head clear from the dream of Sarah and Quanah. He looked up at the Pilot. “Is this part of the dream?” The Russian’s accent was thick. “No. You are not sleeping.” He moved to the wall across from Mason and slid down it into a sitting position. He looked tired and unshaven. He stared for a moment at Mason. “Did you come to kill me?” “No.” Mason’s couldn’t take a full breath. His arms were tied so tightly behind him that they were pulling on his chest. “Can you, loosen these ropes?” “No.” “I can’t catch my breath.” “I’m sorry but I cannot. I know what you will do.” Mason chuckled. “I just told you that I didn’t come here to kill you.” He looked around for a moment. “Where are we.” The Pilot looked around and then unscrewed the cap from a canteen and took a drink. “Empty house, near town.” He stood up and crossed the room. He held out his canteen to Mason who nodded in acceptance. The Pilot tipped it and poured water into Mason’s mouth. “Why so many empty houses?” Mason swallowed the water. “The Plague.” The Pilot’s brow furrowed. “Plague?!” Mason grinned. “That rattled ya. Yeah. You’re hiding out in a plague town. Good choice.” The Pilot took a step back. “There are people sick here?” Mason dropped his head and let out an ironic chuckle. “No. Not anymore. This is a house of the dead.” The Russian nodded and moved back across the room. “What is your name?” “Lent. Mason Lent.” “Were you sent to kill me, Mason Lent?” Mason let out a defeated laugh. “No! Again no! I was sent to watch out for you and report if I found you. I was hoping you were miles away. I couldn’t kill anybody.”
“I see.” The Pilot took a glimpse out of the curtain. “I’m glad to hear.” “We found what you wrote on the church stone. The military knows you are here.” “I understand. It’s good actually.” Mason cocked his head. “The writing on the stone, what is it?” The Russian chuckled as he peered out. “It is not important. It was something I needed to remember so I wrote it while I hid and memorized it.” “But what is it?” “Too many questions, Mason Lent.” Mason chuckled. “You’re telling me.” He tugged again on the ropes. “Look, if we are going to be here a while can I at least know your name?” The Pilot let the curtain fall back into place. He nodded. “Ferapont. I am Podpolkovnik ... um ...” Ferapont searched for the word. “Um – Lieu---tenant?” Mason nodded. “Lieutenant Colonel Ferapont Shimukhla.” Mason nodded. “Thank you.” He looked around at the house again. “How did we get here? Ester took the truck.” “Wheelbarrow.” Mason boggled. “A wheel... you carted me here in a wheelbarrow?!” Ferapont nodded. “What is it you say? Needs must...” “...when the Devil drives,” Mason finished. “So, do you apply the same logic to beating Ester Hatfield bloody and leaving her tied up with no food?! I may not be a killer but for that...” “I had to do that!” “Had to?!” “Yes, had to!” Ferapont began pacing. “I tried to explain to her. I tried telling her but she wouldn’t listen. She tried to shoot me.” Mason grinned. “I know how that is.”
“She was crazed. I had to tie her up and try to think.” Mason shook his head. “What were you trying to explain?” Ferapont took a breath. “I want to defect.” There was a long silence before Mason spoke. “What?” “I want to defect... to America. I want to defect, here, forever.” He moved in front of Mason and crouched down. “That’s why I was over Texas. I deliberately flew off my course. I was going to find an airfield and surrender my plane to US Army... and then defect.” Mason began to understand. “But they shot you down before you could.” Ferapont nodded and stood back up. “No one is going to believe me now. They are going to hunt me down, like you did, and then kill me.” Mason finally lifted his head. “And that’s why you need me, a trade. My safety, for yours.” “I’m sorry I have you tied up. But I don’t know who is going to kill me.” Ferapont’s face fell into that of a desperate man at the end of his rope. “I didn’t mean to hurt anyone. I just wanted to come to America.” “It doesn’t really matter what you meant to do. I’ve got a bloody head and I’m tied to a chair.” “I need someone to listen to me!” Then Ferapont swore in Russian. A quiet fell over the room. Mason thought for a moment and then looked the Russian in the eye. “Untie me.” Ferapont stood up. “What?” “Look, if you want me to believe you and help you, you need to show me that I can trust you.” “But...” “Ferapont, why would you lie? You dragged me here in a wheelbarrow. You have a shotgun... my believing your story doesn’t change the fact that you have the upper hand. So you need to trust me.” The Russian paced for a minute thinking. Finally he crouched down and pulled a knife out of his pocket. “Please don’t forget, Mr. Lent, I have a shotgun.”
“Believe me, I’m not forgetting.” Ferapont cut the ropes and Mason pulled his hands free. He leaned over and took a huge, full breath. “Thank you, Ferapont.” He stood up and cracked his back. Ferapont stepped back cautiously. “How can you help me?” “I’m friends with the local sheriff. He has contacts in the military. Maybe we can work out a swap. The first thing we need to do is contact Leo somehow.” Ferapont moved to a small pile of stuff in the corner. “I have a radio.” From a canvas satchel he pulled out an old silver box with a phone receiver attached to it. Mason grinned. “That should work. We need to find the local police channel.” Ferapont handed Mason the receiver. “I am looking.” He began running through the bands. “You start talking.” “Hello, hello... this is Mason Lent. Leo Pratt, can you hear me.” Nothing came back, he turned and shook his head at Ferapont, who moved to another band. For the next half hour Mason and Ferapont tried different frequencies to no avail. “This is Mason Lent. Is anybody there?” Static. Mason was about to have Ferapont move to the next frequency when he heard a click. His hand jetted up to stop the Russian. “This is Mason Lent, is anyone receiving this?” “Mason?!” Leo’s voice came through loud and clear. “Ester told us what happened. Are you all right?” “I’m fine...” “What about the pilot?” “Well, he’s here. With me.” “You captured him?” Mason glanced over at Ferapont. “Not exactly. But here’s the thing Leo. The Pilot wants to defect.” There was a moment of static. “What?” “He says that the whole reason he was here was that he was going to defect and become an American – until they shot him down.”
“Be that as it may, Mason, he’s got to answer to someone for what he did to Ester and you.” “And he will. Right now we need to guarantee his safety and make a trade.” “It’s going to take some time, Mason.” “I know. But I don’t think he’s a bad man. I think he’s stuck in a situation. We can end that now, with everybody alive. Not to mention the military information he can provide to the Army.” Again there was static over the radio line. Finally Leo came back. “All right. Let’s find a way to get him in and over to the Army. Where are you?” Ferapont shook his head ‘no’. “He doesn’t want anybody coming here. Let’s set a meeting place and time.” “Name it.” “Contact me first thing in the morning, once I’ve talked to my friends at the Pentagon. Sit tight. We’ll have you back on the farm in no time.” Mason sighed and nodded to Ferapont. “Good to hear. Talk to you tomorrow.” Ferapont shut down the radio. Mason sat back down in the chair. “So, we’re together for a night. Tomorrow you start becoming an American.” Ferapont stood. “So it seems.” Mason thought for a moment. “You got a deck of cards?”
#15 The American Way
3 AM. It had been a few hours since the last contact. Finally the radio crackled to life. “Morning, Mason.” Mason Lent chuckled to himself. “Not quite, Leo.” “How are you holding up?”
Mason glanced up at his captor, who had been pacing much of the night. “All things considered, I’m okay. Any word from the Army?” “I should know something soon. Just sit tight.” Leo paused for a moment. “This pilot, you think he’s on the up and up?” Mason had to think for a moment. He really didn’t know what to think. This Russian tied up Ester Hatfield and then took his hostage, and Mason had the blood crusted welt on his head to prove it. When Ferapont explained that it was all done to stay alive until he could defect, something made Mason believe him. Throughout the entire night Mason was free to leave, and didn’t. It was a show of trust on both their parts. “Yeah,” Mason said finally. “I think he’s telling the truth.” “You just hang in there. I’ll let you know something soon.” The radio went dead. Mason huddled back against the wall and shut his eyes. Most of the night had been wordless. Ferapont paced quite a bit and mumbled to himself. It was obvious that the pilot was nervous. Every once in a while he would ask Mason if he needed a drink of water or if he had a cigarette. Other than that, his captor, Ferapont Shimukhla wasn’t very talkative. Mason pulled out his pack of cigarettes and lit one of the last two. He caught Ferapont’s eye and offered the Russian the last one. “Last one.” Mason gave a tired grin. Ferapont nodded and slid to the floor next to Mason. He took the cigarette. “I didn’t smoke before the Army.” Mason lit his cigarette. “How long have you been in?” He handed his matches to Ferapont. “Twelve years.” He lit his smoke. “I was seventeen when I join.” The two smoked quietly for a few minutes. The night was beginning to wear on them. Feramont flicked an ash. “I just couldn’t take anymore.” Mason cocked his head. “What do you mean?” “In Russia things are not good. There is no life.” “What do you mean no life?”
“Here you can be... anything. You can buy anything. In Soviet Union you know... where you’ll be in ten years or twenty years. You wake up in morning an know that... everyday.” Mason blew a lungful of smoke. “That must be awful.” Ferapont nodded absently. He looked up. “So, what is it like here?” Mason chuckled. “Hitchfield? It’s... strange.” “Strange? Why strange?” “I... It’s hard to explain. Hell, it’s hard to think about. There’s something about this place. There was this boy... this young man, Toby Olsen. My first day in town, he saw me and killed himself. Some people think I reminded him of his uncle... I don’t know. It’s just gotten stranger from there. I just wanted a job, you know. I just wanted to put my head down and work. You’d reckon that’s not much to ask. But this town. ” Ferapont nodded. “You were not born here?” Mason stubbed out his smoke. “No, I was...” He thought for a moment. “I was...” He shook his head. “This is stupid. I mean, I know where I was born. I don’t think it was California. It was...” Mason stared at the floor trying to picture his childhood. The same thing kept coming Ferapont quickly waved his hand. “Nevermind. It is not important. Just making talk. Sorry to upset you.” Mason stood up. “No. It is important.” He began pacing. Ferapont jumped to his feet. “It is late. Perhaps it is the pressure of everything. You should not worry much about it.” “This isn’t the first time this has happened to me, though. I mean, I haven’t really thought about anything in a ...” Mason turned to look at Ferapont but his eye caught sight of Quanah Parker standing in the corner of the room. He stepped toward him. “You know, don’t you?” Ferapont looked to the empty corner of the room. “Mason?” Mason ignored the pilot. “You know why I have these holes in my memory? What’s happened to me?” The Indian simply looked down at the floor. Mason looked down to the spot Quanah looked at.
It was the flower. The flower from Mason’s dream so long ago that Mason and Quanah tried to pull from the soil. Mason looked back up at Quanah. His eyes grew wide. “Is that it? Slowly? Together? Is that what we’re doing?” Ferapont grabbed Ester’s rifle and backed up. “Mason?” Mason laughed. He gave a pained laugh and he could feel water in his eyes. “Is that it?!” Quanah gave a hint of a smile that almost made Mason shout. Then he looked at Ferapont and back to Mason. He covered his face again with his hand. Mason looked at Ferapont. The Russian pilot looked terrified at what Mason seemed to be going through. The rifle was at his side, but at the ready. Mason looked back at the Indian. “I don’t understand.” Mason and Ferapont jumped when the radio crackled to life. “Mason, come in?!” Leo’s voice shattered the tension of the room. Quanah vanished as Mason crouched down to the radio. “I’m here. Go ahead, Leo.” He glanced up at the pilot. Ferapont shook his head. “What was that?” Mason shrugged. “Hitchfield.” He turned back to the radio and waited for Leo’s instructions. * Leo’s instructions were very clear. The Army wanted to do this away from Hitchfield, some where in the outlying farmland. It was 4:30 when Ferapont and Mason crept out of the plague house and made their way out of town. The plan was to meet an Army truck in the pastureland just south of town at 5 A.M. The two slowed their pace as the houses fell away and they began to walk through the dark, grassy hills. A chilly pre-dawn breeze shocked them both as they walked. “What happened back there? Who were you talking to?” Mason smirked. “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.” Ferapont stopped. “Try me.” Mason shrugged. “I think it might be a ghost. I’ve been seeing him since my first night in Hitchfield.”
“Who?” “An Indian. A famous Comanche chief, Quanah Parker. He seems to be guiding me. And I think he’s guiding me to find out what happened to me before I came to Hitchfield.” It was Ferapont’s turn to chuckle. “That is hard to believe.” Mason nodded. “I know.” He slapped the Russian’s shoulders. “Come on, he said it would be over the third hill.” The two made their way into the low land over the third hill and waited. The field was very quiet. Ferapont checked his watch and then looked around. “I think they should be here soon.” Mason nodded. “I’m sure.” “Thank you again, my friend, for you help.” Ferapont gave a weak smile. “You’re welcome, Ferapont. Understand that if I ever see you again, I’m gonna get even with you for this welt on the side of my head.” “Fair enough. You know, needs must...” The Russian stuck out his hand. Mason grasped it and smiled. “...when the Devil drives.” As they stood there shaking each other’s hands, there was a series of loud noises and they found themselves bombarded on all sides by bright headlights. The vehicles were about fifty yards off in every direction. Ferapont looked around confused and nervous. “They’re here.” Mason smiled. Ferapont nodded, but continued to look around cautiously. “So will they send someone over to us to make the trade and take you to... wherever they are going to take you?” “I don’t know, Mason.” After almost a minute nothing was happening. The two looked at the vehicles. Ferapont began yelling at the vehicles. “He is free now! I defect!” There was silence from behind the lights. Ferapont seemed surprised. “Hello? As you requested, Mr. Lent is now free.”
Mason held his breath and looked at the Russian. When Ferapont looked back at him, he looked exceptionally worried. Several metal clicks echoed through the night. Ferapont became frantic. He suddenly screamed at the vehicles in a voice free of any Russian accent, “No! You sons of bitches!!!” Mason’s head snapped in the direction of Ferapont. “What the hell?!” “You lied to me!!” Ferapont turned and looked at Mason in a panic. “Mason... I’m not Russian!” A single shot rang out as the world sank in around Mason. Then there was silence as blood began to pour from the hole in Ferapont’s forehead. His eyes rolled back and his body seemed to crumble. Stunned, Mason caught him under the arms and did his best to keep Ferapont’s lifeless body upright. He stood there, awash in the headlights of the Army vehicles, holding the lifeless body of his kidnapper as soldiers rushed forward to rescue a very dazed, very confused Mason Lent.
#16 To Be Certain
Mason Lent felt nothing. He had the vaguest notion that he was cold. He took long blinks, each one taking him dangerously close to either sleep or passing out. He wasn’t sure anymore how long he’d been here. There were no clocks in the room. His clothes were gone, taken by the guards. He sat in a grey concrete room, wearing itchy grey clothes and staring into space. Even though they’d taken his clothes he could still feel the sticky cold on his skin where Ferapont Shimukhla’s blood had soaked through. He was sure that he still had his own blood dried on the side of his head where he’d taken the stock of a rifle to the temple. His body jerked again. Every time his eyes would close involuntarily he would see Ferapont’s face as the bullet exploded from his forehead. Every time it made his body shudder and he felt like the wind was knocked out of him. Every time he wanted to throw up. Mason’s head was foggy with thoughts that seemed to explode and collide with one another. I’m not Russian. You know why I have these holes in my memory? Slowly. Together. He wasn’t sure how many times those thoughts ran through, but finally he couldn’t take anymore. He slammed his open hand down on the table. “Why,” he yelled at the empty room. “Why slowly?! Why can’t you say something?” There was only the sound of his voice straining in the concrete room. As
angry as he was he wanted nothing better than to have Quanah appear in the room with him. At least then he wouldn’t feel like he’d been abandoned in Hell. He heard keys in the door and he steadied himself. A moment later a man stepped through the door, red hair, pale skin and a black suit and tie with a gleaming white shirt beneath. He stared at a brown file folder that was open in his hand as he stepped through. Taking no immediate notice of Mason he shut the door and moved to the vacant chair at the table. He sat there for several moment reading with Mason wondering if he’d simply wandered into the wrong room. Finally the read headed man made a curious “hmmm” sound, closed the file and looked across the table at Mason. “You are Mr. Lent?” Mason nodded. The red headed man leaned back in his chair. “I am agent Galen Pancum with the FBI. How are you feeling?” Mason let out a chuckle. “How much time do you have?” Galen smiled weakly. “Indulge me. How are you feeling?” Mason swallowed and it scratched in his throat. “I’m thirsty.” “Is that all?” “Isn’t that enough?” Galen looked closer into Mason’s eyes. “I can get you some water.” “Thanks.” The two fell silent for a moment. Then Galen got up, walked out of the room for a moment and then returned with a tall glass of water. He placed it on the table in front of Mason who grabbed it and guzzled it quickly. Galen nodded. “How are you feeling?” Mason took a breath after the water. He blinked at the Fed. “I’m tired.” “I can’t help you with that. I’m sorry.”
Mason grinned, so tired that he felt a little drunk. “Why am I here?” He slammed his hand on the table, his demeanor changing completely. “I mean, you shot the guy you were after, right? Can I go back to the farm now? Can I go back to my life?” “Of course you can, Mr. Lent. Soon. Right now, you are here because we need to be certain.” “Certain of what?” “Certain that you haven’t been conditioned by the Soviets.” Mason shook his head. “What?” Galen opened the file again. “You have some lost time, don’t you? Right after you rescued Mrs. Hatfield. From talking to Sheriff Pratt, it seems you were unconscious for a while.” “I guess so, yes.” “How long?” Mason shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe a couple of hours.” “It was long enough for him to put you into a wheelbarrow and move you to a house in town, isn’t that right?” “At least that long, yes.” Mason looked sadly at his hands. “You... you think I’m a spy?” Galen closed the file and smiled kindly. “Mr. Lent, we don’t think you’re a spy. We just need to be certain. We know that Russians use drugs and different brainwashing techniques to condition prisoners and even their own people.” “But he said that he wanted to defect. He said that he was going to tell you everything he knows. That’s all he wanted.” “That’s why he kidnapped you, as a bargaining chip?” “Yes. He told me that he deliberately went off course so that he could defect and then he was shot down. He was worried that no one would believe him. All he wanted was a better life.” Galen chuckled. “Then he shouldn’t have crashed his Soviet spy plane in Texas. He should have tried to defect to Nebraska or Ohio.” Mason gave an annoyed chuckle. “Look, am I under arrest or can I go?”
Galen stared at him for a long time. “I can’t let you go. Not yet.” “Because you’re not certain.” Galen stood up. “It just seems ...convenient. New man in town, a little crazy ... immediately somebody dies... he saves some people from a suspicious church fire... then finds Russian written on the ruins of the church and then... guess what?! HE gets kidnapped by the Russian pilot. Now, put yourself in my shoes, Mason. Look at this from my side of the table. Would YOU let you go?” “I am not crazy,” Mason spat through gritted teeth. “No, of course you’re not. Everybody has an imaginary Indian friend.” Mason’s eyes grew wide. “How did you...” “We spoke to Dr. Thatch. He told us about your post-fire ramblings. Quanah Parker, isn’t it? Famous Comanche chief.” Mason sat quietly seething. “I want a lawyer.” “Are you seeing him right now, Mason? Quanah Parker. Are you seeing him in this room.” “No.” “When do you see him? At night? What does he say to you? Hmmm? What does the Indian say to you? How long have you been seeing him?” Mason slammed his hand down on the table to stop the questioning. “NOTHING! He says nothing. I never know when he’s going to appear. I saw him the first night I came to town. I’ve seen him a dozen times since then.” He looked at Galen. “I am crazy.” Galen’s demeanor changed and he sat down. “I don’t think you’re crazy, Mason. And I don’t think you are a spy. I think something has happened to you. I think that you may have been targeted because the Soviets captured you, conditioned you and sent you to Hitchfield.” “How?” “Tell me the first really vivid thing you remember in great detail.” Mason thought. He tried to think about his childhood – there was nothing. He tried to think of his parents – nothing, just feelings. School. Falling in love. There were
some vague images and sensations that bobbed to the surface but there was nothing. Nothing tangible until... “Waking up beside the road.” Tears welled in Mason’s eyes. “Waking up beside the road the day I came to Hitchfield. It’s the first real, solid memory that I have.” Galen leaned back in his chair and gave Mason and understanding smile. “Mason, I think the Russians did something to you. You were supposed to find the Russian. You were supposed to make contact with the Pilot. It was all planned, you just didn’t know.” “But why? How could I have helped them?” Galen shrugged. “I don’t know. It’s possible that they gave you information that you didn’t know you had and retrieved it during that lost time.” Mason boggled at the thought for a moment. Then he became confused. “But... at the end... right before you shot him Ferapont said that he wasn’t Russian. It was like he knew he was about to die.” Galen straightened up in his chair. “He what?” Mason stood and began pacing. “He dropped his accent and told me that he wasn’t Russian just seconds before you people killed him. He was terrified and angry.” Galen stood up as well. “What, exactly, did he say?” “We got hit with the lights, we heard the guns. He swore and yelled ‘you lied to me’ and then he turned... and told me that he wasn’t a Russian. Why would he do that, Agent Pancum?” Galen searched. “I don’t know. More lies?” Mason felt the pit of his stomach drop. “Why would he lie knowing he was going to die? Hmmm? If he could lose the accent, why was he worried that he wouldn’t blend in?” He started to round the table toward Galen. “Who lied to him?” The Fed put his hand on his weapon. “Mr. Lent, I think we’re done for right now. I think you’re very tired and you’re not thinking straight. The Pilot was lying to you from the beginning.” “SOMEBODY has been lying to me from the beginning. If it wasn’t the Soviets, then why do I have holes in my mind? Can you shed any light on that, Agent Pancum?” He stepped closer to the agent. Galen pulled his gun. “Mr. Lent, please sit down.”
“NO! I want to know what’s going on. Who am I?!! Someone is lying to me. Someone did this to me.” “Mason, it’s the Soviet conditioning, it’s making you think this way. It’s making you believe things that never happened.” “No more lies!” “All right.” Galen fired the gun. Mason felt a pain in his chest and he looked down to see a small dart sticking out. The room began to spin. He yanked the dart out and collapsed to the floor. Mason laid there for a moment, the lights dimming, his eyes losing focus. Then he heard the door open, it echoed in his head like it was far away, getting further away. A second man entered the room. “He’s got a lot of questions,” Galen said. Mason didn’t recognize the other voice. “Of course he does. But we have to sustain the stasis.” That was the last thing Mason Lent heard before he slipped into blackness.
#17 Blank Patches
It was calming. Soothing. Never displeased. Never hurried. Are you awake? “Yes.” Good. We’d like you to tell us your story. “Who are you? I don’t know your voice.” We are here to make sure you are safe. “I feel strange.” We gave you something to relax you. To help you think and trust us. Are you angry with us for doing that? “No.”
Is it unpleasant? “No.” Good. Now, we’d like you to tell us what you remember. “About what?” About anything. What’s the first thing you remember? “I woke up beside the road.” Good. Go on. “I woke up beside the road with a cracked tooth. It was probably another drunken fight. I think I did that a lot. I found a job with a farmer, Ward Marchen. His wife was a plague carrier. Sometimes I see her looking out the window... at me, I think.” You have seen his wife? “No, just her hand in the window... and the curtains.” Tell us about Toby Olsen. “Toby? He... killed himself.” Do you know why? “No. He thought he knew me. He said that it wasn’t supposed to be like this.” How did you feel about that? “Sad, that he killed himself.” Did you feel responsible? “A little. Then I found out that he was a very sick boy,” When did you first see The Indian? “That night. My first night in Hitchfield. The night Toby killed himself.” How many times have you seen him? “Maybe, a dozen.”
Is he a ghost? “He must be, right? What else could he be?” Why do you think he’s talking to you? “Oh, he doesn’t talk. He just makes motions with his hands or looks at me. The only time he’s ever spoken is when he appears in my dreams.” In your dreams? “Yeah. He showed me a flower and said ‘slowly... together’ then we started to uproot the flower but it kept coming out of the ground, like a magician. Like all the handkerchiefs tied together. In another dream he showed me a key in a box.” Do you know what any of it means? “No. But I think he’s trying to tell me something.” Tell you what? “Who I am.” You don’t know who you are? “I don’t know. I don’t remember anything about myself. I worked in California as a picker and farm hand. But... I don’t remember anything real.” Explain what you mean, please. “I can remember meals that Ward has cooked for me and Ted. I can remember laughing around the table swapping stories. I can remember the smell of the cows as I let them out into the pasture. All I remember about California is... pictures. The fields. People working with me.” How did you come to be in Oklahoma? “I don’t know. There was a newspaper clipping in my bag telling me to go to Tillman County. But that was from Oklahoma City. I don’t know how I got there.” How did you get to the road side? “I don’t know.” How did you crack your tooth?
“I don’t know.” Where did you grow up? “I don’t know.” Who were your childhood friends? “I... don’t know.” Do you remember anything about your Mother or Father? “Please... stop... I don’t remember them. How could I forget my parents?” Does it feel like you’ve forgotten a lot? “Almost everything. How could that happen?” Do you think that Ferapont Shimukhla might have done something to you that took away your memories? “No. Things were missing before he took me.” Was Ferapont Shimukhla Russian? “I don’t know. I can only tell you what he said to me. He told me he wasn’t... and then he was killed.” The voice went quiet for a moment. Mason wasn’t sure how long. It might have been an hour. It might have been a life time. Nothing seemed to matter. He couldn’t open his eyes but the lights danced behind his eyelids. It felt good to be talking. Someone would listen to him. Somebody cared for him. It was warm like home. Like sinking back into an embrace. He hoped the voice would come again. It relaxed him. The voice was gentle and soft but deep. It had a deep resonance that vibrated in Mason’s chest and lulled him nearly to sleep. He floated on the voice. He moved back and forth, riding the gentle ripples of the voice. “Are you there?” Several more moments went by. “Are you still there?”
Tell us about Sarah Bedwin. “Sarah. She sings beautifully. Dragon swallowing the sun.” Are you drawn to her? “Yes. She’s beautiful.” Do you like Hitchfield, Mason? “Most of the people are nice.” You have made friends already? “Yes. Leo and Ward and Ted. Ester. Sarah. There are lots of nice people in Hitchfield.” Is there anyone you don’t like? Don’t trust? “Thatch.” Dr. Thatch? Why is that? “He came into my room when he thought I was sleeping. He has the bombshelter with no doorknob. Sarah’s aunt, Brenda Lindhew, she doesn’t like me. And Agent Pancum. I don’t trust him. He shot me.” Do you want to go home, Mason? “I do.” Where is home? “The farm.” Why? “It’s the only home I can remember.” How are you feeling? “Warm.” Are you tired of the questions?
“Yes. I just wanted to work. I just wanted to do what I could and earn meals and a bed. It’s all gotten out of hand. I just want it to stop now. I just want it all to stop. Can you help me?” There was no response. The Voice was silent. “Hello? Are you still there?” What if there are no answers to your questions? “What?” Mason, what if every question you’ve asked doesn’t have an answer. What if your past is lost forever and you never know why? “There has to be a reason, right? Something must have happened to me.” Yes. But what if no one knows what happened? What if it was a random act of violence that did it and those that did it are long gone? Could you go on not knowing? “I don’t know.” Maybe Quanah Parker is some remnant of your past, stuck in your mind. Maybe it’s the part of you that’s asking questions that will never have answers. “I...”
It’s enough to drive you crazy, isn’t it? This Comanche keeps coming to you and making you question everything you see. Everything you can feel and touch and taste. He makes you fight to find memories that, tragically, are gone. Do you want that to be your life? Do you want that to be your day, everyday? “No.” Do you want to spend every day wondering about the events that brought you here, when you are here, now? “No.” Are you a spy for the Soviets? “No.” Did you make Toby Olsen kill himself?
“No.” Did you burn the church? Paint Russian on the church foundation? Kill Ferapont Shimukhla? “No! No! No!” What is your name?! “Mason Lent!” And where is your home? “The farm.” There was a short pause. Then the music started. Goodbye, Mason. “Wait! What is that music? Hello?!” Gentle piano drifted into the colors. Mason was floating away into the blackness... * Mason bolted up with a gasp. He sat up and tried to catch his breath. His heart pounded at his breastbone like it wanted to get out. His hands were shaking. As his breath started to slow he looked around and was able to build a picture of where he was. He was in a small jail cell, sitting on the edge of a cot. There was a tiny, barred window and sunlight beyond. There was a chair and a sink with a mirror. It was only slightly larger than his bunk room at the farm. He swallowed hard. His tongue felt huge inside his mouth. He needed something to drink. He stood and stumbled to the sink. He turned on the faucet, filled his cupped hand and drank as much as he could. “How you feeling,” came the voice. Mason spun around to see the smiling face of Leo Pratt. The Sheriff leaned against the cell bars. “Leo!” Pratt eyed the cell. “So, what are you in for?”
Mason searched for an answer. “I... I...” Leo chuckled and shook his head. “I’m just kidding you.” He slid the cell door open. “The Feds dropped you off here. I just wanted to let you sleep. C’mon out.” Mason was dazed and his legs were still shaky. “The Feds.” Leo nodded and sighed. “Yeah. They had you for a few days. I heard from my contact in the Army, the Soviets are screaming to holy hell about that pilot getting killed.” He put his hand on Mason’s back and led him through the station. “It’s gonna be a mess for some politician somewhere.” Mason stopped and looked at Leo. “They killed him Leo. They shot that poor man for no reason.” Leo’s face changed. He nodded. “I know. They had their reasons, Mason.” He stood there for a moment. “Listen, I got something I want to show you that I think will cheer you up. In fact... I’m sure it will.” Leo moved Mason to the doors of the station. “Welcome back, Mason.” Leo Pratt opened the doors and stepped with Mason into the sunlight. The crowd that had gathered outside the City Building erupted into cheers and applause as Mason tried to shield his eyes from the sun. They were all there Ward, Ted, Dan, Sarah. Everyone cheered. He soon became aware that Mayor Dadecroft was standing to his left. Dadecroft and Leo grabbed an arm each and hoisted Mason’s hands into the air. Hitchfield roared louder. Confused, Mason looked from Leo to Dadecroft and then at the smiling face of Sarah Bedwin who cheerfully applauded in the crowd.
All the air felt like it left Mason Lent. He didn’t know what to make of any of this. He looked at Leo who held one hand aloft. Mason’s other arm was being hoisted by Mayor Joseph Dadecroft. The crowd that had gathered grew louder. Leo and the Mayor lowered Mason’s hands and Dadecroft stepped forward and quieted the crowd. “Folks, if I could for a moment.” The crowd quieted down. “As you can see um... some one has been returned to us...” Dadecroft chuckled and the crowd again erupted into cheers and applause. Again the Mayor put up his hand and the crowd quieted down. “I am personally honored to have this man be one of our own. Not only did he save poor Ester Hatfield from the Soviet pilot, he then gained the pilot’s trust and led him to the place where the Army dealt with him.”
Mason looked at Leo. “What?” Leo gave Mason a knowing glance. He nodded then motioned toward the Mayor. Dadecroft continued. “Look, I don’t know what the definition of a hero is in Washington D.C. or New York City. Maybe I’m just and Oklahoma farm boy, but in my book, what Mason Lent has done for our town makes him a hero and I am proud to call him a friend.” The crowd again erupted into applause. Mason swallowed hard. This wasn’t right. He was no hero. His mind flashed again to Ferapont at the moment the bullet hit him. ‘I’m not Russian’. He looked at the floor. Why were Leo and Dadecroft doing things? He wanted it to stop. “Speech,” cried a voice. Mason looked up. It was Sarah, laughing and demanding that he speak. Others in the crowd soon joined in. He could see Ted, beaming from ear to ear. He could see Matson Doll and Dan Rugspiro. He caught sight of Maya, Dr. Thatch’s nurse. They’d all come to see him. SPEECH, they all shouted. Mason stared at the smiling crowd and away, at the back of it all was Ester Hatfield, smiling at him. He felt a surge of pride move through him at the sight of her. Leo put his hand on Mason’s back and Mason felt himself move forward. Reluctantly he stepped in front of the crowd. He cleared his throat and waited until the shouting died down. “Thanks, all of you for coming out. I’m really happy to be back.” He thought for a moment and then realized that he didn’t want to say anymore. He was feeling nauseous. He just nodded and waved another thank you. When the crowd cheered again he turned quickly to Leo. “I need to go inside.” Leo smiled. “Okay, buddy. That was great.” He put his arm around Mason and they moved inside. * Mason sat quietly for a long time without saying anything. He just stared into space. He felt shell shocked. It was just too much. He sat on a couch in the Mayor’s office while others looked in to see how he was. He felt like a body at a visitation, unable to interact. Eventually Ward came in and put some food down on the table in front him. “You must be hungry.” The smell of fried chicken finally seemed to break through the haze and Mason smiled. “Famished.” Ward nodded to Dadecroft and Leo. “So, you want to talk about what happened?”
“I don’t really know what happened.” Dadecroft lumbered over and looked in the basket of food that Ward had brought. “The Fed that dropped you off, young guy...” Mason rolled his eyes. “Pancum.” “Right. He said that they had to give you a truth serum. You know, just to make sure the pilot hadn’t done anything to you.” Mason waited from Dadecroft to pull out a drumstick and start chomping on it before he put his hand into the basket. “The pilot didn’t do anything to me.” Leo sat down next to Ward. “Actually, Mason, we know. Agent Pancum gave us some files. He thought you would trust the information if it came from us.” “Sounds like you were a stitch in their side, Lent,” the Mayor chuckled between bites. “Good for you.” Mason took a bite of chicken. “What information?” “He told us about your memory loss. And you’re right. It doesn’t look like the pilot did anything to you. Here,” Leo pulled some X-rays out of a file he was carrying with him. “These are some x-rays that they took while you were under. I don’t understand these much but Doc Thatch said that it looks like something happened to you long before you came to Hitchfield.” “What kind of something?” Mason held the x-ray up to the light. “I have no idea what any of this means.” Leo shrugged. “I don’t know either. Doc pointed out some areas where it looks like you were hit in the head, probably several times.” He pointed to some areas where it looked like cracks had healed. “But what happened?” Ward shook his head and smiled. “No idea, Mason, could have been anything.” Leo nodded. “But, it does explain the gaps in your memory.” “And the Indian,” Dadecroft interjected. Mason chuckled ironically. “So, I’m not crazy, just... broken.” The others didn’t say anything. After a bit Mason looked up again. “It wasn’t like that, you know, with the Pilot. It wasn’t like that at all.”
Again Leo nodded. “I know. The Army couldn’t let on to you at all. It had to be a surprise.” “He was trying to defect. He trusted me. Dadecoft dropped his chicken bone back into the basket. “He had a bomb.” “What?” “On the plane they shot down in Texas. There was an A-bomb on board.” Mason put his face in his hands. “But...” Leo stood up. “They don’t know if he was going to use it, Mason. But they couldn’t take the chance.” “But I didn’t do it. I didn’t lead him there. Not the way you said. ” Dadecroft wandered over to his desk. “Did you go out to Ester Hatfield’s land and save her?” Mason nodded his response. “Did you attack the Russian while she escaped?” “Yes.” “Lent, the Army had their reasons for killing that pilot and nothing you could have done and nothing he might have said would have changed that outcome. From where I sit, you are hero. You’re a hero to Ester Hatfield and you’re a hero to everyone in this town. Maybe it didn’t happen the way we said it did. Hell, give it ten years and you’ll hear about Mason Lent who brought down a Russkie plane all by himself.” Dadecroft reached into a drawer and pulled out a bottle of whiskey and a glass and began to pour a drink. “But there is truth there. You did go toe to toe with a Soviet and you did speak to him. Now, that’s brave. Maybe we embellished a little but it shouldn’t undermine the things you did do. I know you’re a man of principles, and I admire that. But I need you to see this from my perspective for a moment.” He held out the glass to Mason, who took it but didn’t drink. “What perspective is that?” “Did you see those faces out there, Lent? Did you see the way they beamed? Those people out there haven’t had anything to smile about for a long time. Their children and loved ones died. Poor Toby Olsen killed himself. Their church burned. Those people need something or somebody to bring some pride into their hearts. And I say it should be you. You may not feel like a hero but look what you did the night of the fire. Look what you did for Ester...”
Leo stopped the Mayor. “Mason, we don’t want to pressure you. We know you’ve lost a lot and we hope that you know that we’re your friends.” Mason thought for a moment he smiled at Ward. “I still have a job, don’t I?” Ward chuckled. “For as long as you want one.” He finally drank the whiskey that Dadecroft had handed to him. He put the glass down on the desk and looked at the Mayor. Then he looked at Ward. “I want to go home.” * That evening Ward built a fire in the middle of the large gravel drive between the barn and the house. He and Mason and Ted sat around talking and throwing back some beers. Mason felt at home and fairly peaceful. He finally realized that it had been three days since Ferapont took him hostage. Three days missing in the hands of the Feds. Finally he was going to sleep in his own bunk and do a days work. No more church foundations. No more patrols. He just wanted to forget any of it ever happened. When he told a pie-eyed Ted all about saving Ester and being kidnapped, Mason changed the story. Not much, just slightly. It avoided any questions. It avoided the really hard questions. Eventually the evening began to taper off. Ward said his good nights and walked to the house and disappeared inside. “You must have been terrified,” Ted said, taking a last swig of beer. “I’ll be honest, Ted. I was scared. Really scared.” Ted stood up. “Well, you’re home now.” “Yes I am.” Ted stumbled toward his bunk. “G’night Mason.” Mason lit a cigarette and laughed. “Good night, Ted.” He stared for a long while at the glowing embers of the dying fire. Finally Mason stood up and flick the butt of his smoke into the embers. He stretched, ready for some real sleep. Then Quanah Parker appeared in the fire pit. Again the Comanche’s movements alluded to ‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. After a moment Mason shook his head and looked at the vision. “I can’t do this anymore. I think I know what you are, and I can’t do this. It’s driving me crazy. I’ve lost
all memory of my childhood... maybe I wrote a report on you in school. Or maybe I read a book about you. The point is, my mind is in pieces and I can only remember a little over a month of my life. And in that month I have watched two young men die. I need to make more memories. I need more nights like this, all right? So, please, don’t come here any more. I just want to work, go about my business, enjoy the company I keep and hopefully, one day, I can forget that I ever forgot anything.” Then Mason dumped the last of his beer on the fire. The wood crackled and hissed. He looked Quanah Parker square in the eyes. “Please,” he said. “Don’t come back. I need to move on in my own way.” Quanah looked sadly at the ground, then again at Mason. Then he slowly vanished into the ether. Mason Lent walked down the gentle incline into his bunk. Then he turned one last time to make sure that the vision was gone. Then he shut the door to his bunk.
#19 SEE NO EVIL
Gideon crowed at the first streaks of morning that reached across the sky. Mason Lent turned over and pulled the covers tighter around him. For a while he drifted in and out of sleep, gauging the time by how bright his room became. The sunlight eventually fell on the end of his bed and began to warm his feet. That was usually when it was time to get moving. Mason rolled onto his back and stretched. He put his hands behind his head for a moment and stared at the ceiling, letting the sun warm the quilt that Ester Hatfield made him for Christmas and his legs beneath. As warm as the sun was, he could feel the early spring morning chill creeping in from under the door. He sat up at the edge of the bed and started getting dressed. Mason thought of everything he had to do. After all, it was the big day. It had taken the better part of nine months and lots of volunteers, but the new church was holding its first service that night and Mason Lent was going to be there, front and center to hear Miss Sarah Bedwin sing. He stepped out into the morning air and stretched. He could hear Ted pumping water around the corner and the smell of coffee drifted from the house. He glanced at the upstairs window for a moment, but the curtain was still in place. She only looked out occasionally anymore. Mason figured that her condition had worsened. He missed her nearly constant gaze. There was a time when it comforted him, not long after the fire and not long before he was kidnapped by Shimukhla. So many things had changed since then. Mason finally felt like he had a home now. More importantly he was making memories and filling the maddening gaps in his mind.
The screen door from the kitchen shut with a bang and Ward made his way down to the picnic table with a tray full of food. Ted, of course, was the first one there. “Morning, guys,” Ward chuckled as each grabbed a piece of toast. He set the tray down on the table. “We’ve got a quick day today. I want to make sure we have time to get cleaned up for the service tonight. Mason, you coming?” Mason poured himself a coffee. “Wouldn’t miss it.” Ward smirked. “I didn’t think you would.” Mason offered him the coffee pot and he poured a cup for himself. “It looks like they finished just in time. The last coat of paint went on around dinner time last night.” “Skin of their teeth,” Ted chuckled. Mason cut into his pancakes. “Good. Finally things can really get back to normal.” Ward looked at Mason over the top of his coffee for a moment. “Amen,” According to everyone in Hitchfield, the winter had been unseasonably warm. As a result the Marchen farm had a bumper crop of winter wheat, which meant there was more money to go around. Ward had generously given both Mason and Ted a nice bonus just before the start of planting season. Mason went into town and bought some new clothes, a few odds and ends for his bunk and the rest he used to open a bank account. ‘Roots,’ he’d thought to himself with a chuckle. Hitchfield had opened itself to Mason and he had finally grown fond of the town and its people. He liked the pace and that everyone knew him and everyone said hello to him on the street. He could sit outside the barber shop or at the drug store soda counter and shoot the breeze with his friends. It felt good to Mason to have friends. It still bothered him from time to time. He still had no idea what had happened to him before that morning he woke up beside the road. But as the months went by he cared less and less. As time went on he hardly cared at all. Hitchfield and the Farm were Mason’s home now. Anything before that didn’t matter at all. Leo was right, when he first came to town, so many things happened so fast, his mind couldn’t adjust. After Mason had finished his chores for the day he took a shower in the ice cold water out behind the bunkhouse. He toweled off and slipped into some of his new clothes, ready for the ride into town. He was looking forward to the mass. It had been weeks since he’d seen Sarah. They’d spoken a few times at length, always under the watchful eye of her aunt, but those times were always too short for him.
He combed his hair in the shaving mirror that he’d bought for himself and then stepped out into the afternoon sunshine. He was surprised to see Leo’s squad car parked on the drive and Leo and Ward chatting intensely. Mason pushed his little black comb into his back pocket and walked up to them. “Afternoon, Leo.” Leo nodded. Something was wrong. “Mason.” “Everything all right?” Ward and Leo exchanged glances. “You know Sally Haines?” Mason thought for a moment. “Yeah. I’ve met her once or twice, I think. Her husband has a farm the far side of town.” “That’s right,” Ward nodded. “Is she all right?” “We don’t know. Her husband hasn’t seen here in three days.” Mason lit a cigarette. “Any idea where she might have gone? Staying with friends in another town, maybe?” Ward and Leo glanced again. Leo shook his head. “We don’t know. I just came out to let Ward know to keep an eye out. You too, Mason.” Mason nodded. “Will do.” Leo opened his car door. “Y’all are coming in for the service, right?” Ward nodded. “We’ll be there.” Leo slid into the car. “See you there. Oh, and Mason, I plan on winning all my money back on Tuesday night.” Mason laughed. “You say that every week.” The sheriff chuckled, closed the car door and pulled away as Mason and Ward stepped back. * The church was packed that night. Everyone was dressed their best and were greeted by Reverend Isaiah Perlecarr as they came in.
“Good evening, Mason,” the Reverend said with a smile, shaking Mason’s hand furiously. “I’m glad you’re here.” “Wouldn’t have missed it for anything, Reverend.” “It should be a lovely service.” Mason sat near the front and nodded to Dan Rugspiro, who sat at the piano. Several rows to his left he saw Sarah sitting with her aunt Brenda. He straightened his tie and smiled at Brenda when he caught her eye. He grinned to himself when he wondered when the devil started going to church. For a little while he thumbed through the hymnal and shifted several times in his seat. Then he adjusted his tie. Mason had no idea if he was ever a religious man. He felt like something of a fraud sitting there and wondered if he looked as out of place as he felt. It was worth it to see Sarah. But Mason also felt like he owed it to Hitchfield. He had grown so close to so many people, that it seemed wrong not to come. The service began and Mason followed along as best he could.
Perlecarr stepped to the pulpit. “A reading from the Gospel according to Matthew,” he announced. “Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts and walking away, his disciples came to show him the temple buildings. And he said to them, “Do you see all these things? I tell you the truth, not one stone will be left on another. All will be torn down!” As he was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?” Jesus answered them, “Watch out that no one misleads you. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will mislead many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars. Make sure that you are not alarmed, for this must happen, but the end is still to come. For nation will rise up in arms against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these things are the beginning of birth pains.” Perlecarr closed the book and thought for a moment. “That seems like a dark passage to read on a joyous day like today. Perhaps it is. But think for a moment about what Jesus says in the reading. He foretells of the destruction of the temple, the center of ... everything in the Jewish world. And yet he tells us to ‘not be alarmed’. It is necessary. It is the beginning of birthing pains. I believe this reading has more to do with this evening than you might think. It took the destruction of our church, our temple, to show us all what was important. To breathe new life into this dying town. And we were dying. We have had so little to be thankful for these past years. But somehow, in rebuilding this place... this house of God... we found ourselves again. Only by crawling through the darkness together can we find the light. That fire was the beginning of our birthing pains.
Now, here we are, having rebuilt our temple, stone by stone, we have come out cleaner and stronger on the other side. Reborn. For that, I want to thank you all.” Perlecarr nodded for a moment. Then he smiled. “I know you are all expecting a long sermon today...” The congregation chuckled. “However, I have decided instead to bring up Sarah Bedwin and ask her to christen this new building, this new temple with her voice. Sarah?” Sarah nodded to Reverend Perlecarr as she stepped to the pulpit. Dan played a chord on the piano and Sarah began to sing. “What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul! What wondrous love is this That caused the Lord of bliss To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul, To bear the dreadful curse for my soul!” Mason took a breath. It had been ages since he’d heard her sing that first night at the festival. She sounded like an angel. “When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down, When I was sinking down, sinking down, When I was sinking down Beneath God’s righteous frown...” Sarah stopped abruptly and there was a collective gasp as the lights in the church dimmed for a moment. Everyone looked around. Then the lights grew brighter and brighter. Several of the bulbs exploded and several people stood up and made their way to the door quickly. Mason stood up and looked at Leo, who was as confused as he was. Then he looked to the pulpit where Sarah was standing. She looked toward Reverend Perlecarr, who was as befuddled as she was as the congregation became gripped with panic. Sarah stepped back as her aunt rushed to her side. Leo rushed to the altar as the lights flickered again. “Everyone! Please! Would you all kindly make your way to the front doors and out to the church yard?” The congregation clamored to get out of the pews. Mason watched as Sarah’s aunt began to take her down from the pulpit. Everyone froze as the lights again jumped and blasted the crowd with bright light. Then the noise came. It was a piercing high pitched sound that stabbed through Mason Lent’s head. His eyes instantly filled with water as he grabbed his ears in agony. The noise was relentless. He started to get dizzy and tried to get a coherent picture of what was happening. His stomach sank and he wanted to throw up. He looked around the church. He wasn’t the
only one who was experiencing it. More than half the congregation, including Sarah, clawed at their ears trying to make it stop. Mason looked at Leo who stood at the altar shocked, staring back at him. A warm, salty taste slipped into Mason’s mouth. He freed his hand from his ears and touched his face. His nose was bleeding. He looked up again in a panic as Leo stepped forward. Then Mason felt the darkness seep in. The shrieking stopped and Mason slipped to the floor unconscious.
Mason felt himself being lifted. There was noise all around; groaning, talking, crying. His head throbbed with pain. "Mason?" The voice was very close. Mason's eyes fluttered open and Leo's face came into focus. It was dark and candle light flickered behind him. "Can you stand?" "I think so." Leo grabbed Mason's arm and helped him to his feet. Mason swayed for a moment, the room spinning. Then he steadied himself and wrapped his arm around Leo's shoulder. Slowly the two made their way through the congregation. "What happened?" Leo shook his head. "I don't know. The lights got all funny and then really bright. Then people started dropping." "Did you hear the noise?" Leo didn't reply. Finally they reached the door and stepped out into cooling night air. All around other members of the church we sitting and catching their breath. Mason peered out from where he was, but he couldn't see very far. It seemed that the entire town had gone dark. He looked at Leo. "There's a blackout?" "After a few of the lights exploded everything went dark." Leo took Mason's arm and helped him ease himself down to sit on the church steps. Slowly the congregation began to move out of the church onto the lawn. Many sat down in the grass, trying to shake off what had just happened. Mason tried to clear the fog from his head, but everything seemed like noise. He felt tired and beat up. "How long was I out?" Leo shrugged. "Fifteen minutes or so."
"Where's Ward?" "Him and Dan have gone to check on the power lines and to see how wide spread the problem is." Mason's eyes tried to adjust to the dim light of a few candles and the crescent moon. He searched the crowd for signs of Sarah. When he couldn't see her he finally took a deep breath and stood up. There were so many people around him who were dazed like him, others were moving around, helping people to their feet. "So it wasn't everybody?" Leo continued to look out. "No." After the last of the congregation left the church, Mayor Dadecroft and Rev. Perlecarr stepped through the doors and surveyed the scene. "Ladies and gentlemen." Dadecroft's powerful voice rose above the confusion. "Thank you for not panicking. We are currently trying to figure out what's going on and what happened to our power. We ask that, for the time being, everyone stays here, together. We'll be safe here until we have news." He turned quickly to Leo and lowered his voice. "Anything from Ward and Dan?" Leo shook his head. "No, Mr. Mayor." Seth Gentroof, the owner of the five and dime stepped up. "Excuse me, Mr. Mayor. I have a lot of candles in my basement store room. If I could get some help carrying them back, I'd be glad to donate them." Mason stepped forward and nodded. "I'll give him a hand." "Thank you, Seth. Mason." Dadecroft looked out at the crowd. "Does anyone have a flashlight?" * Seth fumbled with the keys in the dark. "Mason, could you shine that light over here a little more?" Mason moved the light. The older man chuckled. "I have a hard enough time seeing where there are lights." Finally the latch clicked and the two moved into the quiet, dark store. In the darkness the jars of penny candy, the soda fountain - everything took on a more ominous feel. The two made their way through the aisles toward the back of the store. Seth stopped for a moment and pulled a small box of white candles off the shelf. He counted them.
"There's only about fifteen here. If this blackout lasts a few days we'll need a lot more. Let's go downstairs." They reached the door marked "employees only" and made their way down the steps into the dark basement. From the single beam from the flashlight Mason could see that the store room was jammed full of stuff. "You got a lot of stuff down here." Seth chuckled. "I know. I can't sell it fast enough." "Where do you get everything?" "A place in Oklahoma City. But I never see them." Mason stopped and looked at Seth. "What do you mean you never see them?" "It's like I said. I have a catalogue that I look at, I mail them an order. About a week later there's a delivery out back waiting when I get up. I don't have to sign anything. They just leave an invoice tucked into the boxes." Mason chuckled. "That's strange." "Tell me about it. Every once in a while they leave me things I didn't even order." Seth stopped and took a breath. "Okay." He lit one of his candles. "Now, you check over there and I will check over here." Mason nodded. "Got it." He turned and moved through the shelves, boxes and crates that littered the storage room. He stopped for a moment and slipped off his suit coat. As cool as the night air was, the basement was warm and cramped. He didn't even know what he was looking for. A box? A crate? He ran his beam of light along the shelves. He moved in closer to get a better look at the labels. Mason brushed the dust off some boxes and tried to read the labels. When he couldn't he shone the light along the side and attempted to read the side of the box. Nothing. But as he tilted his head into the gap between boxes, the light flashed across something that caught is eye. It was pushed to the back of the shelf, behind the boxes that Mason was trying to get to. He hit it with the light again. There was a shimmer of silver. Curious, Mason stretched his arm to the back of the shelf and worked to dislodge whatever it was. It was stuffed in there tightly and he had to fight to wiggle it free. Mason shifted the box pressed against it and he was finally able to pull it free.
He balanced the flashlight on the edge of the shelf and brought the thing into the light. It was a box, a wooden box with silver metal on all corners and a metal clasp. It wasn't much bigger than a dime paperback. But Mason remembered it. But from where? He thought for a moment. Then the memory stabbed him and his knees nearly buckled. It was from a dream. A dream of Quanah Parker. In the dream Quanah had shown him a skeleton key. Then a dragon swallowed the sun and the key vanished and Quanah held this box. Mason stared for a moment. His thumb inched toward the clasp. Was it there? "Got em," came Seth's voice from the other side of the basement. Mason jumped slightly and slipped the small box into the waist of his pants and then put his suit coat back on. Then he went and found Seth. The key would have to wait. * Not long after Seth and Mason returned with the candles, Ward and Dan pulled up in Ward's truck, throwing much needed light on the crowd. Leo, Mason and Seth were handing out candles and the people of Hitchfield began lighting them. Every moment a new little light appeared. Ward and Dan swiftly moved through the crowd to Leo. "It's all over the... area," Dan huffed. "All the farms. All the houses. Everywhere." Ward shook his head. Leo stopped handing out candles. "Any idea what caused it?" Ward and Dan exchanged glances. "What?" "The transformer, a half mile west of town... it looks like ... somebody did something." Leo grabbed both of them and moved them away from the crowd. Mason leaned over to see if he could hear. The men's voices lowered. "Can it be fixed," The Sheriff whispered through gritted teeth. Ward nodded. "Yeah. It might take a day or two."
"Was there anybody that we know wasn't at the Church service?" Ward and Dan shook their heads. Leo leaned in even closer and lowered his voice even more. Mason could barely make out what he was saying but he thought he heard. "Did you check on the transmitter?" Ward nodded. "We're good." Mason continued to hand out candles and some of the matches that Seth had brought. Leo moved to Dadecroft and whispered in his ear. Dadecroft nodded and moved up a few steps toward the church. Then he turned around. "Can I have your attention please? It seems that one of the power stations outside of town has malfunctioned. It will take a day or two to repair. I suggest that we take this opportunity to have a small festival honoring the new church. We will continue with our service tonight. It will just be a candlelight vigil. Then go home, and tomorrow morning take any food that you have to remove from your fridge for fear of spoiling and bring it here. We will have an impromptu pot luck." Dadecroft smiled broadly. The crowd nodded and chuckled. "This church stands for a new beginning and frankly, and pardon me Reverend, but I'll be damned if a little blackout is going to ruin it for me." The crowd started to applaud. "Miss Bedwin, are you still here?" Sarah, candle in hand, stepped out of the crowd and began to sing Amazing Grace. Soon all the candlelit faces began to sing with her. As the voices of Hitchfield drifted up into the night sky Mason could feel the box beneath his suit coat, pinned between his belt and the small of his back.
#21 All The Old Familiar Places
The light of the oil lamp made Mason’s bunk room dance. Underneath the bedside table was a stack of books that Mason had read over the last few months in that light. Most of them were dime novels that he’d either bought second hand in town or borrowed from Esther Hatfield. At the bottom of the stack, undisturbed for the better part of a year was the Comanche text. It was larger than the books that rested on top of it, so the exposed parts had gathered dust. But Mason Lent wasn’t reading that night. He had slept a little, maybe an hour. The events at the church had worn him out. Eventually he’d come home with Toby and Ward through the pitch black of Hitchfield and collapsed from exhaustion. That didn’t last long. Now, he sat on the edge of his bed staring at the small wooden and silver box he found hidden in the basement of the five and dime. He still hadn’t opened it. In his dream, months and months before, his vision of
Quanah Parker had indicated that there was a skeleton key housed inside this very box. Mason was afraid to open it. It had been months since he’d given much thought to Quanah and the events in Hitchfield when he first arrived. So much of it had been an illusion, his mind trying to fill the gaps in his memory, gaps that he couldn’t explain. If there was a key inside, Mason realized, Quanah and his visits weren’t a delusion. There was something to them. Mason, after all this time, preferred the idea of a little crazy to the idea of a ghost. He put the box down on the bedside table, shook his head and lit a cigarette. He shook his head at his own stupidity. He glanced at the box. Things had been going so well. He had friends now, a life. He flicked an ash into the ashtray he’d lifted from B.J.’s Bar. He’d learned to enjoy the quiet and the feeling of roots being planted. He glanced at the box again. But then again... He balanced his cigarette on the edge of the ashtray and picked up the box. He held his breath and unhooked the silver latch. The hinges squeaked a little when the box opened. The inside of the box was lined with purple felt. A small metal plate read had a small silver plaque that had “MmS” etched into it in fancy lettering. But there was no key. The box was empty. Mason let out a little laugh. He dropped the box on the bed next to him and laughed again. He retrieved his cigarette and took another drag. He shook his head again, this time in relief. It was all just a strange coincidence. He finished his cigarette and stubbed it out. He stretched back out on the bed and brushed the box off onto the floor. He’d take care of it in the morning after a good night sleep, he thought as he closed his eyes. The box hit the wood floor hard. There was a little crack and then something tumbled on the floor, something metal. Mason’s eyes opened. One of the metal corners must have broken off. He leaned over and peered over onto the floor. The box sat on its edge on the floor, a false bottom had fallen open. On the floor next to it was a small metal skeleton key. Mason’s eyes grew wide and the room seemed to spin around him. He jolted off the bed and quickly put the key back into the secret compartment. He slipped the false bottom back into place. He realized he was muttering ‘no no no’ over and over again. He didn’t want it to be true. He sat down on the bed and looked at the box. There was only one thing to do. He stuffed the box under his pillow. Then he quickly got dressed, pulled his boots on and stepped out into the darkness.
It was not a full moon and it provided very little light. Mason looked around for a moment. There was some oil lamp light coming from the kitchen in the house. Ward must have still been up, he figured. He needed to be quiet. Mason stepped to the ground and quietly made his way to the fence surrounding the pastureland. The place he first saw his vision of Quanah Parker. He glanced back at the house. Nothing moved. He took a deep breath and looked out at the pasture. “Hello,” he whispered. “Parker? Are you there?” Nothing. Mason took a breath. “I was wrong. I don’t know what to believe anymore. What does the key mean? What does it open?” There was only the dim silence of the pasture. He shook his head. “I need you. I need to know what to do now.” But there was nothing. Mason shivered in the night air. He felt foolish for trying to call a ghost. He felt foolish for ever sending the ghost away. If he couldn’t bring back Quanah, he’d have no idea how to move forward. Mason jumped as the screen backdoor of the house banged shut. He quickly ducked behind a tree and looked toward the house. He peered through the darkness. One shape was undeniably Ward, the other, Mason wasn’t sure. He crept forward a bit to get a better look. He stepped gently and tried to be as quiet as possible. Crouching down behind a bush, he looked again. In the dim crescent moonlight Mason could finally see that the other man was Dr. Eric Thatch. Mason’s gut tensed. Even after all this time he hated Thatch. He watched as the two men talked. But they weren’t talking, they were arguing. Thatch and Ward were arguing in angry, animated whispers and Mason couldn’t hear what they were saying. Mason crept forward a bit more in an attempt to hear what was being said. He froze in place at the sound of the heavy crunch of tires on gravel. A black car pulled around the house. Mason moved quickly and quietly away from the beams of light. The car pulled up next to the porch where the two men were arguing. He could no longer see Thatch or Ward. The light thrown by the car seemed to suck in any light and make the black blacker. Mason eased through the shadows, trying to get to a point where the headlights weren’t throwing any light his way. Eventually he crouched behind the picnic table and could see the car with Thatch and Ward beyond. Even though his eyes were slowly readjusting to the night, he still couldn’t see who was driving the car. The arguing between Thatch and Ward became more heated. Mason could finally start making out words. “I never thought it was necessary,” it sounded like Thatch said. “You’ve made that more than clear over the years,” Ward shot back.
“My way is just as effective all by itself.” “Well, it’s a good thing that someone else is in charge.” Thatch turned to the car. “We need to come up with some other options to keep what happened tonight from happening again.” Thatch opened the car door and the dome light went on. Mason’s breath seemed to seize up. The profile was dim but he would never forget that face as long as he lived. The man driving the car that Dr. Thatch was climbing into was Galen Pancum, the fed who had kept Mason captive all those months before. Ward said something angry that Mason was too dazed to understand. Then he turned, stomped up the back stairs to the house and slammed the door shut behind him. Thatch shut the car door and darkness again fell on the car. Pancum backed up and then pulled out of the driveway. Mason stood up, clenched his fists and moved to run after the car – blind with anger. His body shifted to run. Then he felt a hand on his arm, stopping him. In shock he turned and soon found a hand covering his mouth. He followed the arm up to a woman’s face, vaguely familiar from the town. She took her hand off his mouth and put her finger to her lips. She slowly shook her head, warning him. “Don’t,” she whispered. Mason wanted to yell but stopped. “Who the hell are you?” “My name is Sally Haines.” Her eyes darted away for a moment as though she was looking at something. Then she nodded. “We can’t talk here.” Mason was still stunned. “The barn.” He glanced over his shoulder to see what she was looking at. There was nothing there. “Okay, let’s go.” They moved swiftly to the barn. Mason glanced over his shoulder again. This time he could just make out the open curtain in the upper window of the house. She had seen them. Mason turned and followed the woman into the barn.
#22 A Mutual Friend
“I haven’t slept in three days,” she said as they made their way through the darkness into the barn. Mason glanced back over his shoulder. The oil lantern light was now gone from the kitchen window. Ward had gone to bed. The woman ahead of him moved quietly into the barn. Mason glanced around one more time and then shut the side door. The woman lit a small butane lighter, casting dim orange light on her face. She looked at Mason, who motioned toward the steps up to the loft. In the quiet dancing orange the two climbed up the wooden steps. The winter had emptied much of the loft of the hay, but there was still a place to sit. “Close your lighter. There’s too much dust in the air.” Mason could smell the hay dust. He felt his way to the loft door and cracked it enough to let some of the dim crescent moonlight through as the woman closed her lighter. Sally Haines took a deep breath and crashed down on a bale of hay. “I haven’t slept in three days,” she said again. Mason nodded. “So you said. I’ve seen you in town, haven’t I?” “Yes,” she nodded. “We met at the movies last Christmas.” “That’s right. What are you doing out here?” Sally let her head lull back against the haystack. “I followed Dr. Thatch here.” Mason sat down. “Why would you do that?” “He’s up to no good. I don’t know what it is, but it’s not good.” Mason chuckled. It wasn’t hard to believe. He’d felt for a long time that Thatch was not the man he pretended to be. “What makes you say that?” She hesitated for a moment. She glanced off toward the stream of moonlight. “Just a feeling. I’ve seen him and the man driving his car tonight coming out of that bomb shelter many times.” Mason leaned forward. It had been months since he’d thought about Thatch’s bomb-shelter, the one with no door handle. “Do you know what’s in there?” “No. But I’ve seen him having leaving the shelter with different people. Usually the man in the car.” “His name is Pancum. He’s a fed. He interrogated me after the Russian thing last year.”
Sally nodded. “You know who he is. That explains why... nevermind.” She glanced again into the light. Mason looked over his shoulder at what she was looking at. Then he looked back. “How long have you been following them?” “A couple of weeks. I’ve been suspecting things even longer.” “Why? How did you... know? I mean, I’ve had my questions about Thatch, but...” Haines smiled. “It was... it just happened.” She smiled to herself again. Mason chuckled and shook his head. This woman wasn’t letting anything out. “So have you found out anything?” “Not much. But I did something tonight that I think may give me some answers.” “What’s that?” “I sabotaged the power station outside of town.” Mason stood up. “That was you?” “Yes.” “Why?” Sally stood up and started pacing. “Because of the ants.” Mason blinked. “Ants? What the hell are you talking about?” The woman wrapped her arms around herself. “When you destroy an anthill – something they’ve built, they rebuild it. You can watch them drop everything and begin to rebuild. I wanted to see who they were. I wanted to see them scamper and begin to fix what was broken. I just didn’t expect... the noise.” “We all heard it. What was it?” “I have no idea. It happened a few minutes after I smashed up some of the station. Everybody heard it?” Mason thought for a moment. “No. Not everyone.” Sally shook her head. “I don’t understand. What did that prove?” She glanced back at the moonlight.
Mason looked again at the moonlight, then back at Sally. He watched her for a moment. She was really looking at something. What? Mason looked again. Then a shiver ran up his back. His mouth went dry. “You see him, don’t you?” Sally’s attention snapped back to Mason. “What?” “Do you see him? He’s here and he’s trying to tell you something? Is that what you keep looking at?” “Who?” “The Indian.” Sally stood for a moment. She shuddered. “I have to go.” With that Sally Haines hurried to the steps. Mason reached out and grabbed her arm. “Do you see him?!” “Yes! Yes! I’ve seen him for months. First I’d see him standing far away, like... on the other side of the street. Then he started appearing outside my window. Then he showed up in my dreams. He never talks but it seemed like he was telling me something. He’s the one that led me to the bomb shelter.” Sally shook her head and laughed weakly. “I know, I’m crazy.” “You’re not crazy, Sally.” Mason chuckled. “His name is Quanah Parker.” “What?” Mason chuckled. “His name used to be Quanah Parker. He was the last Comanche chief.” “Used to be?” “He died, Sally, fifty years ago. I have a book in my bunk.” “You’ve seen him too?” Mason walked to the crack in the loft door and gazed out. “Not anymore. I thought I was crazy and sent him away. It was what I thought I should do. But, after tonight...” Sally stepped closer to him. “Did he ever speak to you?”
“Only in my dreams.” “I’m not crazy?” Mason turned back to her and smiled. “Maybe we both are.” Sally excitedly grabbed Mason’s face and kissed him. Mason stepped back. Tears welled in the woman’s eyes as she smiled. “Thank you. I can’t tell you how lonely I’ve been... thinking I was going out of my mind.” “You don’t need to tell me.” Mason turned and peered out into the night. “They’re going to be looking for you. When I was at the church, Leo and some of the others knew that someone had wrecked the power station. You need to find a place to hide.” “I can’t, not tonight.” Mason nodded his head. “I know. You can stay here tonight. Tomorrow, we need to find you someplace to go.” “Where? I don’t know who to trust.” Mason thought for a moment. “Ester. I’ll take you to Ester. I’m sure we can trust her. You just can’t tell her what’s going on. Not right away.” “All right. What about the Sheriff?” “Leo?” Mason took a deep breath. “He’s my friend, but... In the end he would understand what we’re doing, but not now. We need to keep you hidden until we can find proof that Thatch is up to no good.” Sally smiled. “We?” “Sally, it’s been months since I’ve questioned anything here. Tonight, Quanah Parker led you to shut down the power in this town, which directly led to me finding something that brought all those questions back to my mind.” “What did you find?” “A key that Parker showed me in a dream last year. I don’t know what it’s for. None of this is by chance. We are supposed to be together, he wants it that way.” “But why? What’s going on? What are we supposed to do?” Mason shook his head. “I don’t know.” He lost himself in thought for a moment. “For now, get some sleep. No one will be up here tomorrow before me and I’m pretty
sure I can keep Ted out of here until I have a chance to get you to Ester’s property. You’ll be safer there.” Sally sat back down and started to cry. “Thank you.” Sally Haines was asleep before Mason reached the dirt floor of the barn. He walked out into the night and lit a cigarette. He looked around. It suddenly felt like a new world to him, a more dangerous world. But for better or worse, he wasn’t alone.
Gideon the rooster started a new day by yelling at the sun. It took Mason Lent a few minutes to clear his head and remember what had transpired the night before. When he did, he shot out of bed and pulled his clothes on. He stepped out the door of his bunk. The sun was just starting to ease up over the top of the vegetable garden and the field beyond. Mason looked around. The smell of breakfast was beginning to drift toward him from the kitchen window. He looked at barn. Everything was as he left it. The wooden door to the loft was even cracked open slightly. He sighed and lit a cigarette. “Morning, Mason.” Ward’s voice close behind him made Mason’s stomach sink. He turned around with a start. “Woah! Sorry. Didn’t mean to scare you,” Ward smiled. Mason smiled back. “Good morning.” “Sorry. I had to get some eggs.” Ward held up his egg filled hands. “Breakfast should be ready soon.” As if on cue the door to the other bunk slammed shut and Ted came around the building yawning. “Did I hear somebody say breakfast,” Ted attempted to articulate amid his yawn. Mason and Ward both chuckled and nodded. “Great, I’m starved.” Ward turned and headed back toward the house. “Is the power back on yet,” Mason yelled after him. Ward stopped and looked back. “Not yet. It might be later today or tomorrow morning. It looks like somebody did it. Can you believe that somebody from Hitchfield would actually go and try to bust up our power.” Mason just shook his head. “Unbelievable.”
* Sally Haines was exactly where Mason had left her the night before. She was curled up, half covered with hay to keep out the chill. He took the handkerchief full of food and placed it near her. “Sally,” Mason said gently. Sally twitched and then sat up quickly. She began to scramble backward to get away. Mason put his hands up. “Sally. It’s okay. You’re safe. I brought you some food.” He held up the small, makeshift package. Sally cleared her head. “Thank you.” She opened the handkerchief and started eating. “It’s not much but it was all I could sneak away from breakfast.” “Is the power back on,” she said amid bites. “Not yet. I don’t think it’ll be long before they figure out who it was.” “How long before you can get me to this other place?” “I don’t know. It all depends on whether or not Ward goes into town today. If he doesn’t, we will probably have to wait until night fall.” Sally looked at him. “That’s a hell of a long time.” “I know. But it’s the best I can do.” Mason moved to the loft doors and looked out through the crack. The sun was now fully visible and some of the buildings of Hitchfield were visible in the distance, poking out of some trees. “Can you run?” Sally finished her bacon. “Yes. Why?” “It’s about half to three quarters of a mile up the road to Ester’s. Until we get to the edge of her property we will be out in the open. Anyone driving will see us. I guess a better question would be, how long can you run?” “I don’t know. What if your friend doesn’t want to help us?” Mason sighed. “I think she’ll help us. She is one of my closest friends. Plus she doesn’t really trust most people anyway, so she has no love for Leo. She seems to think that all the weird goings on are Martians.” Sally blinked. “Do you know that it’s not?”
Mason smiled and gazed out at the morning. “I don’t suppose I do.” He looked back at Sally. “So, for right now, stay up here. I will keep everyone out of here until tonight.” “Thank you,” she said standing up. “I know what you are risking.” Mason nodded and looked back out through the gap in the doors. A dust cloud was moving along the road. A moment later a familiar flash of green emerged. Mason swallowed hard. “We’ve got company.” Sally moved to him. “What?” “It’s Leo.” * “Her name is Sally Haines,” Leo said handing the picture to Ward. “I’m pretty sure she’s the one that sabotaged the power station. Ward looked at it and then looked up at Leo. “I know Sally. She’s on the Festival planning committee.” He handed the picture to Ted. Ted shook his head. “Why would she do it?” “Honestly, I don’t know. She lost her husband in the Plague. Since then she’s been alone, never remarried.” Mason took the picture from Ted. “You think she just went crazy?” Leo slid his thumbs behind his belt. “She must have. I talked to Doc Thatch this morning. He thinks that she might wind up killing herself like Toby did.” Ted’s eyes went wide. “Really? Are you gonna arrest her?” Leo shrugged. “Doc knows some people in Fredrick who can help her. I want to bring her in so that Thatch can take her there and get her some help.” As they stood in a small circle under the sun, Mason’s blood chilled at the sound of Thatch’s name. His mind drifted back to the night before. He could see Thatch again clearly in his mind, climbing into a car driven by Pancum. Why was a Fed driving a town doctor around? He looked at Ward, searching for any sign, any tell, at the mention of Thatch’s name. Nothing. It was like Ward had forgotten that the doctor had been there. “Anyway, neighbors saw her leave a couple of nights ago, and she hasn’t come back. At this point she could be anywhere,” Leo continued.
“Think she might’ve just left for Fredrick or up to Oklahoma City,” Ted inquired. Leo glanced at Ward for a moment. “I don’t think she’s made it too far. After all, she just sabotaged the power station last night. I figure she’s in the area still. She’s gonna need a place to sleep and food. You guys let me know if anything goes missing. You know, eggs or anything. You also might want to check your barn.” Mason shook his head. “I was just in there this morning. It’s all clear.” Leo nodded. “Okay. Just let me know right away if anything suspicious turns up.” The three agreed and Leo was off back to Hitchfield. Mason watched him head off up the road. Thatch wanted Sally. Mason knew in his gut that there were no doctors in Fredrick. Thatch and Pancum wanted Sally to interrogate her. Mason reached into his pocket and took out his pack of smokes. If they got their hands on Sally and she said anything about Quanah Parker, they would put two and two together and come for Mason next. As Ward moved back toward the house and Ted headed back to the vegetable patch, Mason tried to think of ways to get Sally out and away from the farm. * That afternoon, as the sun started to pick up speed toward the western horizon, Mason stepped onto the backporch of the house and knocked on the door. Under his arm was a small stack of books. A moment later Ward appeared and opened the door. “Hey Mason, what can I do for you?” “Actually, I was wondering if I could borrow the truck for a little while. I need to return these books back to Ester and I wanted to check in on her, what with the power out and everything.” Ward looked at the stack of books and chuckled. “Our Mrs. Library. Of course.” “Is there anything you want me to pick up from her? Any books or a rabbit or anything? ” Ward thought for a moment. “Actually, yeah. Hold on a moment.” He turned back into the kitchen and shut the door. Mason turned to toward the water pump where Ted was getting a cool drink. “Ted!!” Ted looked up. “Come up here a second.” Ted headed toward the porch. A moment later, Ward opened the door with a basket. “Give these to Ester. It’s some eggs and biscuits. See if we can trade them for a rabbit.” Mason took the basket and nodded.
Ted bounded up the steps onto the porch. “What’s going on?” “You want any books from Ester? I’m heading over there.” Ted though for a second. “Oh, heck, anything. I like those science fiction books.” “Okay...” Mason was cut off by coughing. He started coughing. He tried to catch his breath and couldn’t. He coughed and hacked some more. He staggered back. “Mason, you okay?” Ward grabbed the books before Mason dropped them. Mason put up his hand for a second, letting them know that he was all right. Finally, he stood up. “I’m okay. I think some dust went in there. Sorry.” “You need water or anything,” Ward inquired. Mason cleared his throat and shook his head. “No, I should be okay.” He took the books back from Ward with a chuckle and moved down to the truck. “I’ll be back before long.” Ward and Ted raised a hand in goodbye as Mason opened the truck door and slid onto the seat. He took the key from above the visor and slipped it into the ignition. “One. Two. Three,” he whispered. He shut the truck door and the passenger door clicked shut at the same time. He glanced to the floor of the truck where Sally was huddled, terrified. Mason turned the key and the engine rumbled to life. They quickly made their way up the drive to the road and headed toward Ester’s. “Did they suspect,” Sally asked. “Nope.” Mason glanced down at her. “Listen, I thought of something this morning. Thatch and Pancum know about the Indian.” “What?” “After the church fire last year I was out of my head babbling. I was talking to Parker. Thatch told Pancum. Leo and the Mayor know too. So we need to have an understanding. If either of us are taken or interrogated, we can’t talk about Parker. He’s the only link between us at the moment and I know it won’t take them long to put two and two together.” Sally chuckled. “But WHY is he a link? What does it mean?” “I wish I knew, Sally.”
It didn’t take long to get to Ester’s forest covered trailer. With a shotgun under her arm, she came out of the trailer and waved to Mason as he parked. Mason turned off the truck and stepped out. “Hello there, young man,” Ester smiled. “Ester.” “What can I do for you this evening?” Mason smiled weakly. “Well I came to exchange some books. Ward sent some food in trade for a rabbit. And something else...” Ester looked oddly at Mason as he made his way to the passenger side door. “What?” Mason opened the passenger side door and Ester stepped around and looked in. Sally looked back and smiled weakly. Mason reached in and helped Sally out. “Ester, this is Sally Haines. She’s in a bit of trouble and needs someplace to hide.” “What kind of trouble?” Mason shut the truck door and ushered both of them into the trailer. “Sally damaged the power station on the outside of town and now Leo and the Feds are after her.” “What would she go do a fool thing like that for?” Sally shook her head. “I was trying to disrupt everything so I could find out who I can trust.” Mason looked at Ester. “They can’t find her, Ester. At least not until we know what’s going on.” Ester shook her head. “I don’t know, Mason.” “Look. Do you trust me?” “I need you to trust me. Will you trust me on this?” Ester looked over his shoulder toward the door. “I don’t need to.” Mason and Sally looked at each other and then at the door. The air left the room.
Quanah Parker stood in the doorway looking back at them. Mason looked over at his friend. “Ester? Do you see him?” Stunned beyond the ability to form words, Ester Hatfield simply nodded. A weak ‘Oh my God’ was all she could say.
#24 Slowly Together
The three sat quietly around Ester’s table for a long time. The kerosene lantern glowed gently. The door was still open and occasionally the spring breeze would hiss through the trees and the flame of the lantern would flicker. The flame was really the only thing to look at. If they made eye contact with each other none of them knew what to say. They had all seen him and as quickly as he’d appeared, Quanah Parker vanished before their eyes. Mason didn’t know how long it had been, but it felt like hours. He lost himself if the lantern light. Almost a year ago he thought he was going crazy. Now, he knew he wasn’t alone. Quanah Parker was real, as real as a ghost could be. He took a deep breath. Seeing Parker again had taken Mason by surprise. Even though he knew that Sally Haines could see him and was following him, seeing the vision again knocked the wind out of him. Especially with Sally and Ester there seeing the same thing. When it happened, he could only stare. Now he wanted to drop to his knees and thank the Comanche Chief. He wasn’t crazy, he had proof. Once Quanah had vanished, no one spoke. It was sinking in. What did it mean? Why them? What’s next. Mason could only imagine that both Ester and Sally here having the same feelings. Ester finally broke the silence. “So, Ward wants a rabbit?” Ester’s tone was almost sullen. Mason nodded without looking up. “Yeah. There’s a basket of biscuits and eggs in the van. He wanted to know if you wanted to trade.” “Sure. I love his biscuits.” Sally looked at Ester. “Do you have anything to drink around here?” Ester thought for a moment and then moved to the cabinet under the sink. “I haven’t touched this stuff since Mr. Hatfield passed.” She extracted an old bottle of bourbon and grabbed three coffee mugs from the drainer. “I think it’s time to touch it.”
Sally opened the bottle and poured three drinks into the mismatched mugs. Wordlessly the three took their cups and drank. Then they sat for another moment. “Was that really him,” Ester finally asked. “Quanah Parker. Was that him?” “Yep.” Mason took his last swallow. “Is he the one you saw last year?” “Yep.” Sally poured herself another drink. “He’s bringing us together.” Ester took the bottle and poured another. “Why?” Sally shrugged. “I don’t know. Until last night I thought I was going crazy. Maybe we’re supposed find out the truth. Figure out what’s going on in Hitchfield. Maybe that’s why he brought us together.” Ester downed her bourbon. “Well he’s taking his sweet time about it.” She pointed to Mason. “This poor boy was seeing him last year.” Sally and Mason looked at their cups and muttered “Slowly. Together.” They stopped and looked at each other. Ester looked from one shocked face to another. “What the hell is that?” “Something Parker said in a dream,” Mason boggled. His eyes never left Sally. “It’s the only place he can talk,” Sally added. Ester shook her head. “But what does it mean? Tell me about this dream.” Mason stood and ran his fingers through his hair. “In my dream we were trying to pull a flower from the ground. It took both of us to shift it but the roots were incredibly long. As we pulled, the root just kept piling up on the ground around us like rope. In the dream I knew that there we were pulling something ...massive to the surface.” Ester absent-mindedly poured another drink. “What was it? “No idea. I woke up before... I think it was a word... Han-something. I only heard the start of it.” “Hands,” Sally blurted. Mason shook his head. “Hankie,” Ester added.
Mason smiled. “No. I doubt Quanah Parker’s message from beyond the grave is ‘hankie’.” Ester burst out laughing and Sally quickly joined. Ester shook her head. “Look at us. The three detectives. You’d think that the ghost of an Indian would choose a little better.” Mason chuckled. “Why now? A year ago I was the only person who saw him. Now there’s three of us.” Sally shrugged. “A change of plan, maybe. He was trying to tell you something then, but you needed help. You were all alone.” Mason lit a cigarette. “And I told him to go away.” “He did. And he found me.” Mason smiled. It was a great comfort to him to have them both there. Ester poured one last drink. “Do you think there are more?” Sally looked at Ester’s face. “Like us, you mean? Who can see him?” The three fell silent. The thought hadn’t occurred to Mason. He turned and leaned against the doorjamb and stared out into the dark. He took a long drag on his cigarette. “Maybe. There might be others out there thinking that they’re crazy. ” He chuckled. “Parker’s army.” Ester stood and put the bourbon away and the coffee mugs into the sink. “You think that’s what this is, Mason? You think we’re supposed to go to war? The three of us? I’m too old to be fighting. That Russkie took it out of me.” Mason flicked an ash and the orange glow flutter away and disappeared into the dark. “I don’t know. All I know is, there’s a lot of questions that need answering.” Sally looked into his face. “And now we have a place to start.” Ester cocked her head. “We do?” “Thatch and that Fed, Pancum. Whatever is going on, they’re involved.” Ester nodded. “I don’t know this Pancum, but Doc Thatch has always given me the jeebies. Would Sheriff Pratt be able to help?”
Mason flipped his cigarette out the door just as a bright light through the trees hit him in the face. The sound of gravel crunching under tires soon followed. Somebody was coming. “Speak of the devil.” He turned to Ester and Sally. “Hide her quick.” Ester moved to the bench seat along the wall. It was covered with books and blankets. Ester grabbed the seat and hoisted it. The seat lifted to reveal a storage space with some clothes and blankets. Ester nodded to Sally, who looked in, skeptical. All the same she turned her body sideways and laid down inside the seat. Ester closed the lid and attempted to straighten the piles that had started to fall over. Mason gave a wave to Leo as the police car pulled up next to Ward’s truck. Leo stepped out. “Well hello, Mason. Didn’t expect to see you here.” Mason chuckled. I am swapping some books and Ward is hoping for one of these jack rabbits.” Mason moved back into the trailer and let Leo through. Ester forced a smile. “Evening, Sheriff.” “Evening, Ester. I just wanted to head on out here to check on you. Looks like Mason had the same thought. Everything okay?” “Just fine.” Leo patted Mason on the back. “Mason here fill you in on what’s been going on.” Mason shrugged. “As much as I could tell her.” Leo brought out Sally’s picture. “This is Sally Haines. I’m sure you’ve seen her in town.” Ester looked at the picture and nodded. “Well, as I’m sure Mason has told you, she sabotaged the power station last night and we’re looking for her.” Ester clicked her tongue. “She’s probably in a fair amount of trouble.” Leo tucked the picture back in his pocket. “Well we want to get to her before she hurts herself and somebody else. Doc Thatch tells us that he’s been treating the poor girl for exhaustion. We just want to get her help.” Ester nodded. “I’ll keep an eye out for her.” “Any more word on when the power will be back on,” Mason interjected. “Should be tomorrow morning. We got a crew coming down from Tulsa.”
“Great.” Mason nodded and folded his arms. Leo tucked his thumbs into his belt. “Well I won’t keep you both. Have a good night and, Ester, lock your door, okay? We don’t want anything to happen to you again.” Leo tipped his hat and headed back out to his car. Once the sound of the car had vanished Mason and Ester helped Sally out of the compartment. “I don’t want to do that again.” Sally took a deep breath. Then she looked at her companions. “I have never gone to Thatch for exhaustion. He’s making it up so that Leo gives me over to him.” Ester looked at Mason. “What now?” Mason looked out the door into the darkness. “I don’t know what kind of man I was before I came to Hitchfield. I have no idea if I was bold or if I was a coward. I can’t remember anything about myself. All I know for certain is that my life is not in my hands. Whether it’s Quanah Parker or ... something else, my life is not my own. It’s time we started to get some answers around here. You two stay here until I get back. Please make sure that we can find a hiding spot for Sally that is comfortable.” Mason stepped through the door into the night. “Where are you going,” Ester asked. He turned back and looked at Sally and Ester in the golden glow of the lantern. “Into town to Thatch’s house. All the answers that we are looking for start with that bombshelter.” Then Mason shut the door to the trailer and moved off into the night.
#25 Someone To Watch Over Me
Mason Lent shifted his weight and rubbed his hands together. The heat of the day had long since burned off and it was cold. On top of that, his feet hurt. His boots were not the best for running, but he’d done it all the same. It had been a strange night to say the least. He’d managed to get the fugitive Sally Haines out of the Marchen barn and to Ester Hatfield’s secluded home. There the three had all witnessed a visitation by long-dead Comanche Chief, Quanah Parker. Mason knew that the only answers would need to come from Federal Agent Pancum and Doctor Thatch. So Mason had taken Ward’s truck back to the farm, given Ward his rabbit and Ted his books. He chatted for a while with the two. While he’d been at Ester’s, the power had come back on. After a little while and a few beers, Mason retired to his bunk like always.
When the lights were finally off in the farm house and he could hear Ted snoring through the wall, Mason slipped out and ran back to town. To avoid being seen by someone, he made his way through fields. His feet were screaming but he couldn’t sit down. He stood at the corner of Dr. Thatch’s backyard, wedged between the house and the line of huge bushes. His eyes were locked on the bomb-shelter. It had been ages since he’d had seen it. It still felt like something out of a bad dream. There was no handle or latch on the metal door, no way that Mason could see to get in. He rubbed his hands together again. ‘When that door opens,’ he told himself, ‘I am going to get some answers.’ In the semi-shade, he couldn’t make out the exact time. It seemed to be about one-thirty. Late. If that hatch door never opened, he would have to get back to the farm before daylight and try again the next day. It was going to be bad enough trying to work the following day, let alone come back out that night. Mason shook his head and felt like an idiot. That’s when he heard a metal clang and a hiss. The door to the bomb-shelter was opening. He watched as the heavy metal door crept open to reveal what looked like steps going down and light coming from below. And someone was moving up the steps. Mason crouched down and moved slowly forward. It was only one man and as the figure stepped from the doorway, Mason realized it wasn’t Pancum or Thatch. It was a young man in his twenties in jeans and a t-shirt, his hair cut short into a flat-top and he was carrying an armload of newspapers. Mason watched as the young man exited the yard near the garage. There was another metallic knock and the door to the bomb-shelter began to close. Mason rushed from his hiding place into the yard, trying to duck inside before it shut completely. But he was too late and the door was too fast. The door shut and Mason could hear the heavy latch set into place. “Damn,” he mumbled. Near to his ear there was an unmistakable “click”. Instinctively, Mason’s hands went up. “I knew it was too good to be true,” came the voice. “Turn around.” Mason slowly turned around to face Galen Pancum. The Fed had his gun close to Mason’s head. He smiled. “Okay. Let’s go.” He motioned for Mason to move toward the garage and the gate. Mason complied. “What was too good to be true,” Mason asked. Pancum chuckled. “Your conformity. It seemed like you’d stopped poking your nose into things.”
“Sorry to disappoint.” “That’s okay. We just have to figure out what to do with you.” The agent motioned toward the car parked along the street about a block away. “There.” The two slowly made their way to the car. “You don’t seem too surprised to see me here.” “I saw you in the car last night with Thatch.” “Ah. So that’s what put you back on the trail. It was a risky trip out there. I’d advised against it. Not that anyone ever listens to me.” “I’m heartbroken. You sound unhappy,” Mason smirked. “Not at all. I just think there’s better things I could do with my time than clean up other people’s messes. Speaking of which, bump into Sally Haines anywhere?” Mason shook his head. “No.” The two reached the car. “That’s too bad,” Pancum said. “I could have killed two birds with one stone. In a manner of speaking. Open the door.” Mason opened the car door. His eyes met Pancum’s across the roof of the car as the agent moved around to the driver side. He motioned for Mason to get into the car and the two slipped into the car at the same time. Pancum started the car and pulled away from the curb. The gun was leveled at Mason the entire time. Neither said anything for a while. Mason watched as Pancum left the town and headed into the countryside. The headlights “Where are we going,” Mason asked. “You’ll find out soon enough.” Mason’s stomach sank. “There never was a Soviet pilot, was there? You lied to all of us. It was all a put-on the whole time. Ferapont, or whatever his name was, you double-crossed him, didn’t you? He played the part for you and you people killed him in cold blood. The whole thing was faked. There was no plane in Texas. No bomb.” Mason’s fists clenched. “Why would you do that to everyone?!” Pancum chuckled. “Boy, they were right about you.” “Who?! Who were right about me?!” Mason looked down at the gun. The Fed just smiled and glanced at the road ahead. “Ah! The sixty-four thousand dollar question. Well, don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough.” He chuckled. “Then
I’m sure you will quietly disappear from Hitchfield.” He looked back at Mason and grinned. “You’re going to kill me like you killed Ferapont.” “Actually, I don’t know what they’re going to do with you. You’re too dangerous and unstable to keep in play. Honestly, Mr. Lent, I don’t know. If anybody ever listened to me, I would say that eliminating you is the best bet. But I’m sure they have other plans.” As Pancum glanced back at the road again Mason lunged forward and grabbed the gun, driving the agent’s hand up into the roof of the car. The car swerved, throwing Mason back against the door. Pancum tried to free his hand but his other hand tried to steady the vehicle on the road. Mason launched himself again and drove his fist into the fed’s jaw. Once. Twice. Both jumped as the gun went off. For a moment they both sat there looking at each other. Waiting for the blood or waiting for the pain. They glanced up to see a scorched whole in the roof of the car smoldering. Their eyes met again in a nervous chuckle. But Mason rallied first and punched Pancum again. The car jerked violently again, but this time it was Mason who came up with the gun. He leveled it at Pancum, who gripped the wheel tightly and glared at the road. “Now! Start from the beginning. Who are you people?” The agent said nothing. “I’m not kidding, Pancum! What are you people doing in Hitchfield?!” Pancum said nothing. He just stared intensely at the road and slammed his foot on the gas. The car leapt forward, jolting Mason in his seat. “What are you doing? Slow down!” “Not a good plan, aiming a gun at the driver of a car.” “I’ll take my chances.” “You are out of your mind and you don’t even know it. This is so much bigger than you can ever fathom. If I tell you ANYTHING, my life is over.” “What do you think is going to happen if you DON’T tell me?” “If I answer the questions you keep asking... you’ll shoot me dead on the spot.” The car shuddered and the engine screamed as Pancum pushed it faster through the dark farm roads. “It seems that you have put me in a difficult situation, Mr. Lent. I can’t afford to tell you and I can’t afford not to.”
“Just tell me and this will all be over,” Mason shouted over the roar of the engine. “So it seems. You’re only leaving me one option.” “What option is that?” Pancum looked at Mason and gave a hollow smile. “Sustain the stasis.” Mason’s eyes grew wide as he glanced out the window in time to see the tree as it came rocketing out of the darkness. * When he opened his eyes again, Mason had no idea how long he had been out. It might have only been minutes. He tried to clear his head so that he could get a better picture of things. He could see the tree through the spider-webbed glass. The bark only seemed to be a few feet away. The tree was now lodged in the engine on the driver’s half of the hood. The steering wheel and dash had bent in. His eyes followed the wreckage up into the lifeless gaze of Agent Pancum. The steering wheel column had impaled him. Mason yelped and wrestled with the car door to get out. Someone would come soon. He needed to get away but the door wouldn’t budge. Mason pushed again, still nothing. He could smell the smoke now and see the fire beneath the hood of the car, lapping up through the cracks and tears in the metal. But there was something new creeping in. Gasoline. He could smell gasoline. His heart raced faster pounded in his ears. In a panic Mason drove his elbow through the passenger side window. He moved back and forth in the seat to dislodge his body out from under the damaged dashboard. As the evening air spilled into the car, took a deep breath. He was glad to be alive but he wasn’t out of danger yet. He carefully grabbed the edges of the window and began to pull himself out. His legs were just free of the dashboard when he heard it. Music. It was muffled and dim behind the growing crackle of the fire. He listened for a moment. It almost sounded like a child’s music box, but different. It was simple notes without much flourish. There were no words but Mason knew the song. There’s a saying old, says that love is blind Still we’re often told, "seek and ye shall find" So I’m going to seek a certain lad I’ve had in mind It was “Someone To Watch Over Me”. Mason shook his head. He must be hallucinating. But he wasn’t. It was so real and it seemed to be coming from Pancum. The car groaned as the metal of the hood buckled from the heat. Mason leaned closer to the Fed’s dead body. The song was coming from
his chest. Mason looked out at the fire, lapping out of the engine now and scorching the tree. He had to leave. But the music... He reached into Pancum’s coat and could feel something in the inside pocket. It was small but it seemed to be making the music. Mason reached in and snatched it. Then he crawled out of the car and scrambled away into the night. The music had stopped now. When he was a safe distance away Mason turned around and watched the gasoline ignite and engulf the car. He sat in the field for a moment, gulping air. Mason looked down at the object in his hand. It was small and black. The object was thin and almost looked like a cigarette case but smaller. And it was light. He turned it over in his hand and was surprised to see a small square of light on the top. It was like a small television screen but only words appeared. He looked closer. “1 missed call,” it read. Mason couldn’t believe what he was holding. He felt around the edge and found a split. He pushed into the split with his finger and the thing opened up and light burst forth. A larger television screen lay inside. A picture of Pancum and a woman filled the screen. Mason’s hand began to shake as he read the words written over the picture. “1:46am - April 29, 2007.”
#26 Free Fall
There was a loud crack and Mason felt the breath leave him. The white hot pain rocketed through his body. He gasped for breath even though it hurt like hell every time he breathed. Suddenly Leo and Ward’s faces looked down on him. “Mason! Are you all right,” Ward asked breathlessly, pulling hay off Mason. “Ted!” Mason couldn’t talk. He looked at Ward, his eyes pleading. Then finally he was able to let out a scream. Leo looked up over his shoulder at the barn. “That’s got to be a good sixteen feet.” He looked at Ward. “Get your truck. We’ve got to get him to Doc Thatch.” Mason’s eyes grew wide and he grabbed Leo’s collar. “N..no! I’m...” Mason couldn’t finish what he was saying. His grip on Leo fell away. Ted ran up from his bunk. “What happened?” Leo nodded toward the barn. “The doors weren’t secure.” “He fell out of the loft?!”
A moment later the truck rumbled to life and backed up to where they were. As Ted, Leo and Ward lifted Mason from the ground, Mason stared at the morning sky.... * 1:47AM – April 29, 2007. The body of Special Agent Galen Pancum disappeared into the fire that had swallowed the car. The thing in Mason’s hand shuddered as Mason trembled. It wasn’t possible. It’s 1961. They’d celebrated New Year’s at B.J.’s Bar on the main square. He and Leo had too much to drink that night and almost broke the jukebox. It was 1961! Mason knew that. Everybody knew that, but this little thing with the picture of Pancum was saying different. One of the tires on Pancum’s car exploded from the heat, startling Mason. He scrambled further away. When he looked back at the car Quanah Parker was standing in between him and the blaze. Mason struggled to his feet. As he did, a stabbing pain ripped through his side. He also noticed that blood was running into his eye. He closed the thing he’d stolen from Pancum’s body and looked at the Indian. “Is this true,” he bellowed over the roar of the fire. “How can this be true?!” Quanah put his finger to his lips. “I won’t be quiet! I want some answers.” Quanah pointed toward Hitchfield and then put his finger to his lips again. Softly over the top of the fire Mason could hear the volunteer bell sounding. They were coming. * Ted and Leo eased Mason down onto the truck bed. Ward ran out of the house and tossed Ted a blanket. “Get that blanket around him before he goes into shock,” Ward told Ted as he climbed into the truck. Leo put his hand on Mason’s shoulder. “You still with us, Mason?” Mason nodded. The pain rolled through him again as Ward stepped on the gas and the truck lurched forward. Ted wrapped the blanket tightly around Mason. “What happened?”
Mason forced a whisper. “I just... lost my footing. The doors weren’t secure.” Ted looked sadly at his hands. “It’s my fault.” He looked up at Leo. “It’s my fault, Sheriff. I thought I locked them last night.” Leo put his hands on Ted’s shoulder. “It’s all right, Ted. It was an accident.” The sheriff looked down at Mason. “Just an accident.” * Every breath Mason took as he moved across the dark fields seemed to burn. Probably a cracked rib, he figured. He could feel Pancum’s gadget in his pocket. Every once in a while he would realize that Quanah Parker was moving effortlessly along side him. Mason stopped and looked back. The wreck was out of sight over a rise now, but the fire still glowed orange off the plume of smoke that rose into the night sky. He looked over at Parker. “So what do I do now? Hmmm?” The Comanche said nothing as the two turned and continued on through the fields back to the Marchen farm. “How is any of this possible? How can it be two-thousand and seven? Aren’t we supposed to live on the moon now? This has to be some kind of put on.” Mason stopped again and caught a pained breath. “Everything is a lie. Is that what you’ve been telling me?” In standard fashion, Parker said nothing. Mason just nodded and rubbed his side. It was at least another mile back to the farm. He wanted to rest. He had to process what he’d found with a good night sleep, but a thought still dogged him. He kept replaying what Pancum had said in his mind; ‘...This is so much bigger than you can ever fathom. If I tell you ANYTHING, my life is over...’ Pancum was afraid of something... or someone. So afraid that he chose to risk death than betray what he knew. Mason looked over at Parker. “I should be more afraid than I am. Shouldn’t I?” Quanah paused for a moment and then nodded. That’s when it happened again. ‘Someone To Watch Over Me’ began playing again. Mason pulled the thing out of his pocket and stared at it. His eyes grew wide. ‘Private,’ it read. ‘Secure line.’ “Parker, I couldn’t possibly be more scared than I am right now.” * Mason was slipping in and out of consciousness as Ward’s truck sped toward Hitchfield. Leo looked closely at his eyes.
“He’s probably got a concussion. This gash in his head is pretty deep.” He smiled at Ted. “Thatch will fix him up right away.” “Ester,” Mason mumbled. Ted nodded. “Yeah, Mason, we just passed her drive. I’ll go over there later and let her know what happened.” It wasn’t long before they pulled up outside Thatch’s house. Maya Leden came out the front door and moved quickly to the truck. She gasped. “What happened?” With great care Ted, Leo and Ward moved Mason out of the truck. Ward turned to Maya. “He fell out of our hayloft. Get Doc Thatch here.” Maya shook her head and motioned toward the door. “Dr. Thatch is out right now. He should be home soon. Let’s get him into a room.” Mason slipped into darkness as they carried him through the door into the house. The last thing he heard was Ted mumble, “He’s lucky he didn’t kill himself.” * Because of his injuries, it took Mason the better part of two hours to finally stumble up to his bunk door. Quietly he opened the door and collapsed on the bed. He didn’t expect the shock of hitting the bed to hurt so much and he almost screamed. He laid there for a minute, breathing. ‘They’ll be coming soon,’ he thought. ‘They’ll know I was there. They’ll kill me.’ He had to do something with the gadget. He looked around his room for a place to stash it, but he couldn’t find one. Finally he struggled to sit up on the bed and he pulled his pocket knife out. He grabbed the Comanche book that Ester had given him ages ago and began cutting out a hiding place in the middle pages. When he was done he put the gadget and the key box he found in the Five and Dime basement into it. Then he closed the book and replaced it under a stack of borrowed novels. He wasn’t sure if he slept at all. He was stiff and sore and his ribs jabbed him every time he breathed. He could only think that his injuries would give him away to anyone looking for him. There had to be some way for him to make Ward and others believe that he’d gotten the injuries another way. He had to fake an accident. As Gideon crowed outside at the first rays of morning, Mason formulated a plan.
* Mason woke as Maya Leden examined his arm. “His left arm looks broken,” she said. “We’ll have to set that. He’s got some scrapes and bruises. Looks like he might have cracked a rib too.” She jotted a few notes. “I would say he got off easy.” “Where’s Thatch.” Maya shot him a glance. “There was an accident last night and the doctor has been away all morning.” Leo nodded. “I saw it this morning. Terrible.” Ted. “Who was it?” “A friend of Thatch’s. He was going a little too fast and he ran the thing into a tree.” Leo sat in the chair next to the bed. “It’s not starting out to be a good day.” Ted looked at Mason. “He’ll be okay. You’ll see.” Mason smiled reassuringly at Ted for a moment. But that moment passed quickly as a very somber Eric Thatch came through the door. “Good morning.” The pain was bad enough, but Mason’s stomach sank. He was back. For a moment he wished that the fall had killed him. * Mason could smell breakfast drifting across the back yard of the Marchen farm. He didn’t have much time to do what he hoped he could successfully do. He needed to get up to the loft, swing the doors open and then go back downstairs and pretend that he’s fallen from the window. It would cast away any suspicion that his injuries might cause. But he had to hurry and be up and back in a few moments. It would be fine on normal day. But the pain in his ribs made him move slowly. He eased his way out of the bunk and into the barn. He climbed the steps to the hayloft gingerly, each step making him scream down inside. Finally he reached the top and moved to the upstairs doors. As he unlatched them he looked out toward the house. His heart skipped a beat. While he was climbing the steps, Leo had arrived and was now talking to Ward.
Mason thought for a moment but there was no way around it. To make sure that there was no suspicion on Mason, he had to go through with it. His stomach tightened. He thought again of Galen’s words. The people that Galen was afraid of were going to come after him and Sally and Ester. He had to cover up his injuries from the car wreck. There was only one way to do it. Mason grabbed an armload of straw and moved to the windows. He took a deep breath. “Faith,” he muttered. He took another breath and held it. Then Mason Lent stumbled backward out the unsecured loft windows and tumbled to the ground below.
#27 Bone Setting
Pain shot through Mason Lent again. He was lying in the same bed he’d been in the year before, recovering from the church fire. Standing around him were his friends Leo, Ted and Ward, nurse Maya Leden was cleaning the wound to his head. Regardless of the pain, Mason’s skin crawled at the sight of Dr. Eric Thatch entering the room. It had only been a few hours since Mason had stood outside of this very house, trying to catch a glimpse of Thatch coming in or going out of the mysterious bombshelter in the back yard. Only a few hours since the car accident. Only a few hours since he’d found the damn thing. Now, all he could feel was pain. The pain in his side and his arm were blinding, but they all seem to have bought it. Thatch stepped forward. “What happened?” Leo shrugged. “He lost his balance and tumbled out of the loft barn. Thatch moved to Mason and crouched down. “You need to be more careful, Mr. Lent.” Mason noticed that Thatch’s demeanor was sullen. He’d been up for hours too. No doubt looking into the death of his co-conspirator, Galen Pancum. Thatch took a closer look at Mason’s head injury. “Well, this has already started to heal...” Thatch became distracted by something on Mason’s head. He pulled a pair of tweezers from his breast pocket and leaned even closer.
He pulled back a shard of glass and looked at it quizzically. Mason swallowed hard. Thatch looked from the shard to Mason. The he took a short breath. “This explains all the bleeding from your scalp.” He held it up to Ward and Leo. “Ward, you might want to check out your back drive. You’re liable to pop a tire.” He looked back at Mason. “Can you tell me where it hurts?” Mason took a deep breath. “Ribs. Arm.” Thatch examined Mason’s ribs, which brought him to tears. “Feels like you’ve cracked a couple of ribs. Until I can get my hands on a quality X-Ray machine, I’m afraid you’re going to have to accept my best guess.” He moved to Mason’s arm. “That, I can tell you, is dislocated. Have you ever had your shoulder dislocated before?” Mason shook his head no. “Okay then.” Thatch looked up at Maya. “Would you get me the leather strap from my office?” Ted finally stepped from the corner of the room. “Is he going to be all right, Doc?” Thatch gave a quick, hollow grin. “He’ll live.” A moment later Maya returned with the leather strap and handed it to Dr. Thatch. Thatch put the leather strap in Mason’s mouth. “Mason, bite down. This is going to be a little strong.” Then Dr. Thatch grabbed Mason’s arm and twisted. The pain ripped into Mason and through teeth buried in leather he let out a blood curdling scream. Then he passed out. * There was no sound except for the music... Someone to Watch Over Me... Mason was alone in the town square. The ground was littered with party hats, confetti and noise makers. He realized there was a champagne bottle in his hand. The quiet of the square was shattered by fireworks. Mason turned and saw, in huge, lit-up letters and framed by whistling sparklers, the words “Welcome to 2007” He turned again at the sound of carnival music. He turned to see Ester, Sally, Ward and Leo riding around and around on a merry-go-round. Eric Thatch operated the ride. Mason blinked and found himself looking down on the square from the top of one of the buildings. He became aware that someone was at his side. He turned to see Toby Olsen standing on the ledge, preparing to jump. He was dressed in a tuxedo.
Toby looked at Mason. “You’re wrong.” The young man looked back out at the square. “There is another way off the ride.” Mason was grabbed and spun hard. He came face to face with Galen Pancum. “You killed me,” Pancum said and pushed Mason off the building. Mason tried to scream, but his voice had gone. The falling never ended. He never hit the ground. * He wasn’t sure what woke him, but Mason’s eyes opened with a start and he gasped. His arm was now immobilized in a sling and his ribs had been taped up. He tried to catch his breath but he felt winded, just woken from a nightmare by a sound he wasn’t sure he heard. Moonlight poured in from outside. He looked around the room trying to find the source of the noise that woke him. Then it came again; TINK. TINK. He maneuvered himself out of the bed and made his way to the window. TINK. Mason peered down from the window. Below Sally Haines stood looking over her shoulder. She looked back up at the window and prepared to lob another pebble when she saw Mason. She gave a small wave. Mason nodded and put up a finger, letting her know that he’d be down in a minute. She nodded and stepped back into the shadows. Mason moved to his door and listened for a moment. There was nothing. He stepped out into the hall and waited for a moment. He moved to Thatch’s bedroom door. He listened again. No signs of life. Thatch was not there. He made his way down the stairs. He found Sally in the bushes near the side of the house, where Mason had been discovered by Pancum the night before. “What are you doing here,” Mason whispered. Sally looked around again. “Ted came and told Ester what happened. We got worried. We knew you went off to get some answers. What happened?” Mason took a breath. “Pancum’s dead.”
“What?” “He caught me sneaking around here last night. He held a gun on me and took me in his car.” “Where did he take you?” “He was taking me to... whoever he works for. We never made it. We fought I wound up with the gun and he...” Mason stopped and shook his head. Sally put her hand on his arm. “Mason, what happened?” “He killed himself, Sally. He killed himself rather than answer any of my questions.” “Oh my God.” “He drove the car into a tree. I had to throw myself out of the loft to keep anyone from suspecting that I was injured in the accident.” Sally stood for a moment, trying to process it all. “Are you all right?” Mason nodded. “I’ll be fine.” He thought for a moment. “Sally, there’s more. I found something.” “What is it?” Mason shook his head. “Look, I need you to have an open mind about this, because I’m having trouble believing it myself. Somebody is lying to us. To the whole town. It’s not 1961, Sally.” Sally took a step back. Her face fell. “What? What do you mean?” “I mean that this year, the one we’re in right now isn’t 1961.” “This is crazy. What year is it?” Mason took a deep breath. “2007.” It was the first time Mason had said it out loud. It still stunned him. “I have proof. Pancum had this... thing on him. Someone is making everyone in this town think it’s 1961.” Sally stumbled back out of the bushes. When Mason put out a hand to steady her, she slapped it away. She shook her head and her voice caught in her throat as she started to cry. “It’s not possible, Mason. It can’t be.”
“Sally, I’m telling you the truth. I can show you, tomorrow night.” Sally started moving up the street. “No. I don’t want to see it. I... can’t.” “Sally?” “It’s too much, okay? It’s too much. This is crazy. Please, Mason, don’t follow me.” Then Sally Haines turned and ran into the night. Mason wanted to shout after her but couldn’t. He just watched her disappear into Hitchfield’s shadows. After a moment he made his way back to the door and back to his room in the Thatch house.
#28 Anno Domini
The road back to the Marchen farm was terrible for Mason Lent. Every bump made him wince with pain. His side ached terribly and his shoulder, immobilized as much as possible, was still at the mercy of the gravel road. As Mason looked out at the fields resting under the deep blue late morning sky, the pain went deeper. His physical pain was bad, but his mind was worse. He’d discovered a terrifying secret and had now lost an ally. Sally Haines was gone, scared away by the magnitude of it all. Mason took a breath as Ward’s truck rounded the corner and headed down the drive to the farm. As they came to a stop Ted was sitting at the picnic table with Ester Hatfield. Mason let out a soft, ironic chuckle. Mason opened the door of the truck and gingerly stepped to the ground. Ester smiled. “I thought I’d stop by and see my accident prone friend, and bring him a basket of goodies.” She held up a picnic basket. Mason chuckled. “Thank you, Red Riding Hood.” He moved to the picnic table and sat down. As Ted moved to help Ward get some supplies from the truck, Mason looked up at Ester. “Sally’s gone.” “I haven’t seen her since last night. Did they get her?” Mason shook his head. “I don’t know, she ran away.” “Why?” “Because of something I found.” *
That night was still and quiet, but Mason couldn’t sleep. His head was screaming. What was the next move? What was he supposed to do? He stared at the ceiling of his bunk, the events of the last week playing over and over in his mind. Part of him was jealous that Sally ran away. She was out of it. She didn’t have to worry about it now. He didn’t blame her. He’d run away too if he could. ‘In fact,’ he thought. ‘I did.’ He’d spent the better part of a year ignoring the things he’d seen. He glanced toward his door and saw Quanah Parker standing there, looking at him. Ester had arrived. Mason pulled on his boots and made his way quietly across the back drive to the vegetable garden where he found Ester waiting for him. “That’s a hell of a walk in the dark for a woman my age.” Mason chuckled. “I doubt you’d let that bother you too much.” Ester smiled slightly. “So, what did you find?” Mason took a long breath and relayed the story to Ester. When he was done she could only stare at him. “Are you going to leave too?” Ester shook her head. “No... but I’d like to. Do you still have it?” Mason pulled the Comanche book out from under his arm and opened it to the hiding spot he had carved out. Ester leaned forward and picked it up. “It’s so light.” Mason nodded. “Open it.” Ester looked at him quizzically. Mason motioned. “Right there, along the side. It’ll open.” Ester pushed her finger in and the thing opened. Mason watched her eyes grow huge as her face was illuminated by its light. Tears welled in her eyes. “Mason, this is amazing.” “I know.” “How could we...” Her eyes left the light. “How could we not know?” “Ester, I’ve been asking myself that over and over.” Ester looked closer at it. “It looks like a phone. Ear thingy here. Mouth thingy here. The numbers.”
Mason nodded. “Someone’s been calling too. It doesn’t ring. It plays Someone To Watch Over Me.” Ester forced herself to close it. “Bury it.” She held the phone back out to Mason. He cocked his head. She just blinked. “Pick a spot. Make a map. Dig a hole,” she said matter-of-factly. “But it’s proof.” “Proof for who? Who can we tell? We know, but that’s useless unless we find out who we can trust.” Ester glanced toward the house. “We don’t know anything. Who’s doing this? All we have is this thing and some dead Indian who pops in and out like the dang-blamed Cheshire Cat.” Mason put the phone back into the book. “Look, proof is pointless unless we have some place to take it. We need to find out who our friends are.” Mason stared at the book. His stomach sank and shook his head. “This is so much bigger than me. Do you think Toby knew about this? Do you think that poor boy killed himself because he knew about this?” Ester shrugged. “Who knows, Mason.” She looked up at that moon, moving slowly higher above them. “It may be why. It made Sally run.” Mason smiled sadly. “We can’t run, can we?” Ester chuckled and put her hand on his shoulder. They stood there for a long while, their breath misting softly in the spring night air. Then something caught both their eyes. To the north, the sky was pale with light. They looked back at each other. “Bury it,” Ester said. * As dawn broke to the east, Mason was out of breath, his ribs and shoulder aching. He was running full speed to the far edge of the pasture. When he finally reached the fence lining the Marchen property, he took the small spade he was carrying and quickly dug a hole at the base of a fence post. When the hole was deep enough, he pulled Pancum’s phone from his pocket. He wrapped it in a sock and dropped it in. With the steaks of pink and orange growing brighter, he covered the hole. When the hole was refilled, Mason swung the spade and knocked a wedge out of the fence post, marking it.
Mason leaned on the fence post to catch his breath. “What are you doing,” came the voice behind him. Mason spun to face the voice. Ted was standing behind him. “Seriously, Mason, what the hell are you doing?” Mason stepped back. “Ted! Hey. I was just...” “I heard you leave. What is that you’re burying?” Mason shook his head. “Ted, you wouldn’t understand.” “Oh really?! Try me. I hear you go out in the middle of the night. You don’t come back for ages. Always sneaking around. I don’t know what your game is, but I’m not playing. It’s time Ward and Leo knew all about you.” Ted pointed at the freshly covered hole. “Whatever it is, dig it up.” Mason shook his head. “Ted, I don’t think that’s a good idea.” Ted chuckled. “I don’t really care. This town thinks you’re a hero, but I think there’s something not right about you.” “Honestly, Ted, this isn’t anything they need to know about.” “Oh yeah? Prove it. Dig it up.” Mason straightened up. “No.” The two men stared at each other for moment. Then Ted made a grab for the spade. Mason stepped back. “Ted, don’t! Please.” Ted wasn’t listening. He swung at Mason, who couldn’t block because of the sling his arm was in. The punch connected and Mason staggered back. Ted moved forward. Mason begged Ted again to stop but the young farmhand lunged again. Mason ducked and hit Ted. They grappled with each other and tumbled to the ground. The spade rolled away into the dirt. “Ted! You don’t know what you’re doing.” Mason’s fist connected again.
Ted hit Mason twice in his cracked ribs and the pain sent Mason reeling. Ted got up and stood over the writhing Mason. “Now! Whatever that was, dig it up!!” Ted was out of breath from the fight. Mason just glared at him. Ted’s eyes grew sad and he shook his head. “Please, Mason.” Mason watched as Ted’s expression changed and moved upward. Mason followed his eye line. Ted stepped away frightened and Mason crawled to his feet. Quanah Parker stood staring at them. Mason turned to Ted. “Do you see him?” Ted simply nodded his head. Mason picked up the spade. “Then I have something to show you.”
#29 The Things We Keep
“It’s not the things we bury that define us. It’s the things we keep,” Mason mumbled to himself as he threw the last bit of dirt on the tiny hole. Ted stood not far away, stunned by what Mason had just showed him. He looked at Mason. “What?” Mason stood up and cocked his head. “What?” “What you just said. What was it?” Mason shrugged. “I don’t know. Just something I heard.” He nodded toward Ted’s hands. “How are they?” Ted chuckled. “Fine. How’re your ribs?” Mason just smiled. He looked out at the sun, now hanging low over the pasture. “We should head back. Ward will be getting breakfast.” “Should we tell him? Ward? Should we tell him what you found? Maybe he’ll be able to help us.” Mason shook his head. “We don’t know that we can trust him. At least not yet.” “You don’t think…”
“Ted, I don’t know. The last place I saw this things owner was sitting in a car outside of Ward’s kitchen door. So, for now, I’m only trusting people who see the Indian.” Ted nodded as he and Mason began to move back toward the farm. “Okay. So, what’s next?” Mason stopped. “I don’t know. There’s gonna be a storm today.” “What?” Ted looked at the sky. “How do you know.” Mason chuckled and started walking again. “Don’t worry about that now. But trust me, there’s going to be a storm. “ “Twisters scare the hell out of me.” “Me too,” Mason agreed. “Apparently.” Ted shook his head. “You know, a while back, one of those storms spun up and took Earl Marfont’s farm. The whole thing. Blew the barn apart like it was made of toothpicks. Took Earl, his wife and the kids. Never found the bodies. Nothing.” Mason looked over at Ted. His brow furrowed. “I know. You’ve told me that before. You and others.” “It was terrible.” “Did you know the Marfonts? Nice people.” Ted went quiet for a moment. “Um, I didn’t know them myself. I think I met them at the festival. Tragedy.” Mason stopped. “Wait a second. Wife and kids? When was this?” Ted shook his head. “What?” “The Marfonts. When did the storm kill them?” “I don’t know… a while back.” “When? Before the plague? You said wife and kids.” Ted shook his head. “What are you getting at, Mason?” “I don’t know, Ted. I don’t know what I’m getting at.” He thought for a moment. “What happened to the Marfonts again?”
“A storm took ‘em. One of those storms spun up and took Earl Marfont’s farm. The whole thing…” Ted stopped, his eyes grew wide. He couldn’t seem to stop the story from coming. “Blew the barn apart like it was made of toothpicks. Took Earl, his wife and the kids. Never found the bodies. Nothing…” His eyes grew sad and he looked at the ground. “I don’t understand.” Mason put his hand on Ted’s shoulder. “Come on, let’s get back.” The two continued across the pasture. “It’s not the things we bury that define us. It’s the things we keep,” he muttered to himself. * The crisp, morning mist had long since burned off as Mason closed the gate after the last of the cattle ambled out into the pasture. All day he had watched for Ted. He still worried that the boy would give them up to Ward. But he never did. Ted never even approached the house. Mason lit a cigarette and climbed out of the pen. He turned as the screen door on the house closed. Ward stepped off the porch and loaded a box into the back of the truck. He waved to Mason. “Mason! I’ve got to run a few things into town. I might stop by the bar and say hi to some folks. Won’t be more than a couple of hours,” Ward shouted. Mason simply raised a hand. Then Ward climbed into the truck and drove away. Out the corner of his eye, Mason caught sight of Ted coming around the bar. “Are we ready?” Ted pulled off his gloves. “Are you sure you want to do this?” The two headed for the bunkhouse. Mason nodded. “There’s only one way to find out what happens.” “What if there’s no storm alarm? What do I tell Ward when he gets back?” “Tell him I puked and I’m laid out in bed. You’d only be lying a little.” When they reached the bunkhouse Mason handed Ted a length of rope and his belt. “Now strap me down good and tight.” Mason laid down and Ted tied him to the bed. “And I don’t let you out until the alarm is over?” Mason nodded. “Until then, go back to work. When that storm warning goes off, you go down the shelter.”
“What if it really is a storm and you’re up here?” Mason just shook his head and didn’t answer. Ted nodded and went back to work. Mason couldn’t tell how long he was there. Fifteen minutes. An hour. The sun pounded in through the window and made the room hotter. After a time he could only laugh. ‘Ridiculous,’ he thought. The sun was still streaming in when the siren went off. Panic gripped Mason. He screamed. The storm was coming. He had to run. Run. Run. The Marfronts! It was right outside... there in the sunshine. The storm was coming. The siren wailed louder. Mason struggled against the ropes. He screamed. He had to get to the shelter. He had to. “It’s not what we bury. It’s not what we bury. It’s not what we bury.” He screamed again. “Help! It’s coming! The storm is coming!” There was a distant rumbling. But it didn’t sound like a storm. It sounded like... It was right outside. Mason knew it. It was coming. It was bearing down on him. He pulled again to free his hands, the skin of his wrists straining against the leather of the belt. He jerked his body and grunted like a caged animal. Run. Run. Run. Have to hide, the storm is coming. Finally he jerked one last time and the belt snapped. He freed his feet and ran in absolute terror from the bunk. He made it three steps toward the barn and safety when the tone of the alarm changed. It jumped to a higher tone. Mason’s eyes rolled up into his head and he collapsed unconscious to the ground. * The blaring storm alarm carried over into the dream. Mason was still screaming. The sun had gone and only a light in the upper window of the Marchen house could be seen through the swirling, windy gray around him. He was screaming at the darkness. He couldn’t turn around but he could feel Galen Pancum close behind him, breathing in his ear. “You killed me.”
Mason couldn’t move. He couldn’t remember how. The wind was too strong. Then he felt someone else close behind him. “It’s not the things we bury that define us,” Sally Haines’ voice said. “It’s the things we keep.” Mason stopped screaming. When he stopped, the wind stopped and everything vanished. There was only black. A single beam of light fell from somewhere far above. He could hear his breath echo around him, like in a cave. Quanah Parker stepped into the beam of light. His normally sullen face was different somehow. The Indian was frightened. “Parker...” Quanah made the sign of ‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’. Then he looked deep into Mason. “There’s not much time, Mason,” the Indian said. “Get the picture.” Mason could only stare. “What picture?” “Get the picture.” Mason shook his head. “What picture?! I don’t understand.” Before his eyes Quanah Parker became the image of a dragon eating the sun. Then blackness. * Mason woke up face-down in the dirt. Quanah Parker’s words were still fresh on his mind. ‘Get the picture.’ The sky was still blue and cloudless. He stood. One word was on his lips. “Sarah.”
It seemed like it had been ages since Mason had seen Sarah Bedwin. The last time wasn’t that long ago, it was the night Sally Haines had taken out the lights at the church.
But whenever it had been, it was never long enough. He could hear her singing to herself as it drifted across the yard and through the trees. Mason stood across the lane from her on the over-grown porch of a plague house, waiting for his move. ‘Get the picture,’ Parker had said in his dream. Then the Indian vision showed him the sun being swallowed by a dragon – the same picture that Sarah had been drawing in her sketch pad last year. He wasn’t sure why, but Mason knew he had to get that picture. The question that he and Ester and Ted had pondered was how? Brenda Lindhew rarely let Sarah out of her sight. Even if they did manage to get her away for a few minutes, Mason was sure that Sarah wouldn’t give up her sketch pad, or the drawing, that easily. So, for now, he waited and watched Sarah sketching in her favorite shady spot under the tree. He checked his watch and lit a cigarette. He finally had to forcibly look away. He felt wrong staring at her, but he knew that if he didn’t stop himself, he’d stare all day. He checked his watch again. I wouldn’t be long now. As if on cue he heard the voice. “Good afternoon, Sarah.” Ester Hatfield said, standing at the front gate. Sarah looked up. “Oh, hello.” Ester smiled. “Ester. We’ve met a few times, mostly at the festival. I’m afraid I’m not much for church.” “Of course. How can I help you today,” Sarah asked, standing up and brushing the grass off her dress. “Actually, I was wondering if your aunt is about.” Mason flicked an ash and chuckled. He remembered his conversation with Ester the night before. Ester’s trailer smelled of potato and chicken stew. Ted and Mason had decided that the best story to tell Ward was that they were going to Ester’s to play cards – her being an older lady who needed company. The thought made them both chuckle on the way to her trailer. When they told her, she didn’t think it was so funny. After some stew Mason and Ted relayed the experiences of the last day – how they had tried to beat the storm and Mason’s dream.
Ester shook her head. “It’s always something with you, Mason. I declare. So how do we pry this drawing away from Ms. Bedwin? You’re a charming guy, Mason, but I don’t know.” Ted finished a huge bite of stew. “Maybe you could offer to buy it.” Mason nodded. “That’s not a bad idea actually. I reckon I can get her to show me the pad. From there I’ll have to wing it. The bigger question is; how do we get rid of Brenda for a while.” Ted shrugged. “Get her drunk?” Mason and Ester looked at him and then back at each other as though he hadn’t spoken. Ester chuckled. “How long do you think you would need?” Mason shook his head. “I don’t know. Ten minutes, maybe fifteen.” “I think I can do it.” “Do what?” “I think I can occupy her for a little while.” Mason waited a moment for her to elaborate, but she didn’t. “How?” “I don’t know this woman at all. I’ve only seen her a few times. But each time, it’s pretty obvious that she doesn’t approve of me. So maybe I could… ask her advice.” Ted’s brow furrowed. “Advice on what?” “Clothes,” she responded quietly. Ted and Mason started laughing. “Look, I didn’t say I’d like it. I’ll ask her if she has, maybe, a Sears and Roebuck and then ask her advice. I’ll play on her vanity. Stop laughing.” Mason held up a hand in surrender. “It’s a good plan. Let’s just hope she has a catalog.” Mason finished his cigarette and watched as Brenda Lindhew stepped suspiciously down from the door and moved along the walk to the gate. The Dragon didn’t look like she was in much of a mood to have visitors. He couldn’t hear what they were talking about, but Brenda’s face never changed. Mason started to think of how hopeless this plan was.
But then something happened. Ester held out her hands at her side. Brenda leaned back and looked at Ester’s clothes. A moment later Brenda nodded and escorted Ester up to the house. Mason couldn’t believe his eyes, it worked. He watched the windows but there was no sign of the two. He stepped off the porch and made his way toward the hedges that lined the yard. Sarah had settled back into her spot and was again drawing. He watched as she put down her charcoal and smudged a line with her thumb. She didn’t see him standing at the gate. “Hello again,” Mason said, poking his head over the gate. Sarah looked up and smiled. “Mr. Lent! Hi.” “Please, Mason is fine. I think we’ve been here before, if I’m not mistaken.” Mason smiled as Sarah crossed to the gate. “Indeed we have.” “I see you are still drawing.” “Always, drawing or singing.” “Well, you do both well.” Mason almost rolled his eyes at how ridiculous he sounded. “Actually, Sarah, I’ve been thinking about that drawing you showed me last summer. The one where the dragon is swallowing the sun.” “Oh yes?” “I really liked it. And I was wondering if... perhaps I could buy it from you.” Sarah smiled in surprise. “Buy it?” “Yeah. Thought I could put it in a frame and hang it in my bunk out at the farm. I don’t have anything on the walls out there. If I’m going to be in for the long haul here in Hitchfield, and it does seem like I am...” Sarah chuckled nervously. “I don’t know, Mason. I usually don’t show my pictures to people and I’ve never ... sold one for display.” Mason smiled. “Honestly, it would mean the world to me. I don’t know any other artists. I would probably be stuck putting up pin ups of teen idols I get out of magazines at the Five and Dime.”
Sarah nodded. “All right, but you needn’t pay me. Consider it my gift. One friend to another.” Mason caught his breath for a moment. “Don’t let your aunt hear you say that.” Sarah just chuckled. She handed the pad to him. “You’re going to have to pick the one you want.” Mason’s brow furrowed as he took the pad. “What do you mean?” “I’ve drawn it many times. It’s a dream I have over and over.” Mason opened the pad and began moving through the pages. There were indeed many variations on the same picture, scattered amongst drawings of flowers and buildings of Hitchfield. How was he going to get all the pictures? Which one was he supposed to take, the first one? Mason shook his head slightly. “There are so many.” “I know. You can take which ever one you like.” Sarah looked on and he moved through her drawings. “These are lovely,” he smiled. “Thank you.” Finally one of the last pages fell open an Mason’s heart skipped a beat and he shuddered. “This one’s different. I didn’t know you did portraits.” Sarah laughed. “I don’t normally.” “It’s ... amazing.” And it was. It was an incredible portrait of Quanah Parker. “Who is it?” “It’s a man I see every once in a while, standing just beyond the hedge.” Mason forced a smile. “Show me.” Sarah cocked her head with mild curiosity. “All right.” She lead him to the other side of the yard. She pointed up at the house. That’s my room. Sometimes, if I’ll see him, right under the street lamp. He never does anything. He just stands there for a moment and then leaves.” “Sarah? Can I have this picture instead of one of the dragon pictures?”
Sarah shrugged. “I don’t see why not.” Mason tore the picture out of the book, folded the picture and put it in his back pocket. Then he thought for a moment. “Sarah, have you told anyone about this man?” Sarah shook her head. “No. I don’t even know if he ...” She stopped herself and forced a smile. “My aunt already thinks I’m crazy.” Mason put his hand on her arm. “I know you’re not crazy.” They held their gaze for a moment. Until the front door slammed and Brenda Lindhew stepped out onto the porch with a small revolver raised. Ester stood next to her helplessly. “Mr. Lent, I have warned you. Now, kindly take your hands off my niece and stand quite still until the Sheriff arrives.” Mason tore himself away from Sarah’s eyes and raised his hands.
#31 The Dragon
The early afternoon Oklahoma sun shone down on the scene. The well dressed woman of late middle age stood on the porch leveling a shot gun at a couple across the yard. The couple across the yard were standing closer together than they ever had before. Another woman of late middle age, not so neatly dressed, also stood on the porch helplessly watching the scene. The woman with the gun was called “The Dragon” behind her back. The man across the yard had a portrait of a ghost in his back pocket. The woman next to him had been dreaming for a long time about a dragon swallowing the sun. The other woman on the porch was there under false pretenses. Mason raised his hands and smiled slightly at Sarah. She smiled and shook her head. “I’m sorry, Mason.” “Do you think she’s going to kill me,” he chuckled. Sarah grinned. “Is it Thursday?” The two started to laugh quietly as Brenda began to descend the stairs. “I’m glad you both find this so funny,” Brenda shouted.
“Aunt Brenda, Mason didn’t mean any harm. We were just talking about my drawings,” Sarah pleaded. “It doesn’t matter, Sarah. I told Mr. Lent to stay away from here. He doesn’t seem to think I’m serious.” Ester followed close behind as Brenda crossed the yard. “Brenda, please, put down the gun.” Brenda stopped and looked at her. “And you... I can only imagine that the one time you have ever spoken a civilized word to me and Mr. Lent deciding that he doesn’t have to heed my words are connected.” Mason shook his head. “Mrs. Lindhew... I’m sorry. I had been thinking about a picture...” “Shut up. Mr. Lent, I know you’ve done some wonderful things for this town. And I know that you have made friends with some of the finest members of our town. But I see the way you watch Sarah.” Sarah blushed. “Aunt Brenda...” “Hush. Now I have called the Sheriff and I’m going to demand that he arrest you. Maybe then you will see that I am serious when I tell you to stay away from my niece. Do you think you are the only farm hand to ever stroll through town and have designs on her.” Brenda turned to Sarah. “Go in the house.” Sarah’s brows furrowed. “But...” “No! Go in the house and take your pictures with you.” Sarah shook her head and walked inside. The three watched her leave. Mason just shook his head with frustration. Ester chuckled. “Excuse me, she’s a grown woman. How can you push her around like that?” Brenda flashed a wicked look. “You do NOT question my rules when you are trespassing on my land.” She turned back to Mason. “My niece is not well, Mr. Lent. Her mind and her heart are weak.” Mason gritted his teeth and forced a smile. “Mrs. Lindhew, I have never had anything but the purest of intentions with Sarah.” He noticed Ester glance at him, but he ignored it. “You know nothing of what kind of man I am.”
“It doesn’t matter. If you’d watched her cry and stare into space for months on end, babbling on about a child she never had... all because a man broke her heart – you’d be aiming shotguns at people too. You may be a very kind, virtuous man, Mr. Lent. Sarah has a very big heart, would quickly fall in love and then would shatter again. She has only recently started sleeping through the night, thanks to Dr. Thatch.” “How can you think that keeping her here, like a child is helping her?” Brenda cocked the shotgun. “You are on thin ice, Mr. Lent.” “Mrs. Lindhew, this is not the first time I’ve had a gun aimed at me. If fact that woman behind you had one pointed at my belly the night we met. So I am not afraid. I have stayed away from this house, resigning myself only to seeing Sarah sing at church. I have kept my distance. So, how dare you point a gun at me?! Maybe your niece isn’t the one that’s crazy!” The yard went quiet. Brenda Lindhew and Mason Lent stared into each other. The gun didn’t move, and neither did Mason. “What’s going on here,” came the voice. The three turned to see Leo Pratt moving toward them from the front gate. He nodded to Ester. “Sheriff, I demand you arrest Mr. Lent,” Brenda yelled, her eyes never leaving Mason. Leo chuckled. “You seem to be doing a fine job of that yourself, Brenda. Why don’t you put the gun down so we can all talk.” Brenda looked at him and lowered the shotgun. “Fine.” Leo took a deep breath. “Mason, what are you doing buddy?” “Honestly Leo, I was simply asking Miss Bedwin if I could have one of her pictures for her bunk. That’s when this woman pointed a gun at me...” Leo nodded and put up a hand to stop Mason. He turned to Brenda. “Brenda?” “Mr. Lent has been warned. He is not to come around here, town hero or not.” Leo nodded. He thought for a moment. “Mason, what picture?” “It’s a picture that I saw her drawing here last summer.” “What of?”
“A dragon swallowing the sun.” Leo raised his head and glanced at Brenda. They were quiet for a moment. “Where is Sarah now, Brenda?” “In the house.” Leo shook his head. “Folks, what we have here is a problem. Mason, I’m going to have to arrest you for the moment.” “Leo!” “Brenda’s right. You’ve been warned and you disobeyed what Brenda said.” Brenda nodded. “Thank you, Sheriff.” Leo put his hands on his hips. “Don’t thank me yet, Brenda. I’m arresting you too.” “For what?” “Well, you were brandishing that firearm in a way that could have killed Mason. So, Brenda, if you could kindly call Sarah out, we’re all going to take a little trip to the City building.” Leo reached over and took the shot gun from Brenda, whose eyes were burning holes in him. Sarah was already out the door and crossing the yard. Mason wanted to laugh, but his ribs still hurt from the fall. So the early afternoon Oklahoma sun shown down on a new scene: a small town sheriff leading two women of late-middle age and a somewhat younger couple on a walk to jail. Several neighbors watched the parade as it moved along the sidewalk toward the town square. * This was the second time that Mason had found himself in the jail cell. This was where he’d woken up after his time in the custody of Galen Pancum. Now he was trying to occupy the space with a woman he found infuriating. Brenda sat sulking on the cot while Mason paced. They’d been there for what felt like hours, never speaking. They didn’t even look at each other. Finally Brenda shifted in her seat. “Why now,” she said.
Mason stopped and looked at her. “I beg your pardon?” “Why now? What made you want to come and ask her for the picture now. You haven’t seen it in almost a year.” Mason shrugged. “It’s like I told Sarah. I always liked it, I just felt like sprucing up my bunk a little.” “That hardly seems likely.” “Well...” Mason couldn’t think of anything else to say. “You do have feelings for my niece. I have seen the way you watch her.” Mason leaned against the wall and looked out the window. “She’s a beautiful woman who sings like an angel. What’s not to like?” He turned back. “But I have no... intentions... I wouldn’t hurt her.” Brenda nodded grudgingly and stared at the wall. The silence continued for a while until Leo and Sarah appeared at the door. “So, how’s everyone doing in here,” Leo grinned. Mason and Brenda looked at each other. “I’m glad no one is dead.” Sarah chuckled at that. “So, I have come to let you both out. On one condition, I have been asked to ask a question from Miss Bedwin.” Brenda looked at Mason again. Mason shrugged. “Okay.” “Mason, Miss Bedwin was wondering if you would accompany her to the movies this Saturday night.” Brenda flew into a rage. “What?! It’s out of the question.” Leo’s eyes moved to Brenda. “Provided that her Aunt Brenda is allowed to chaperone.” Mason laughed. “You have GOT to be kidding...” Leo chuckled and shook his head. “No. That’s the deal.” Brenda stepped to the bars. “Leo! You know... I have a job... I want to consult the Mayor on this.” Leo’s face became very stern. “I have consulted the Mayor and he didn’t see a problem with this,” he said forcefully.
Brenda began to say something but stopped. She looked at Sarah. “Sarah...” “Aunt Brenda. I know you’re only angry because you’re worried. I understand that. But Mr. Lent seems like a nice man and I enjoy talking to him. What’s the harm? And you’ll be there.” “At a reasonable distance,” Leo interjected with a smirk. Brenda shook her head and looked back at Mason. “Sarah, you don’t have to do this,” Mason said. “I know.” “So, Mason,” Leo said finally. “Are you game.” Mason nodded and smiled. “Great!” Leo stuck the key in the door. “Then it’s a date.” As Brenda and Mason stepped out of the cell, she looked at Leo. “I hope you know what you’re doing.” Leo took her arm and stopped her. His tone dropped for a moment. “The Mayor would like a quick word with you.” Brenda looked at Sarah for a moment and then nodded as she made her way to the door. Mason and Sarah watched her go. Then they looked at each other. As Leo led them out and returned to his office, the two stepped out into the sun. “Do you still have the picture,” Sarah inquired. “I do.” “Good. Can you destroy it?” Mason cocked his head. “Yes. Why?” Sarah squinted into the sun. “Because... you do see him, don’t you?” She motioned toward the park in the center of the square. Standing in the middle of the park, looking at them was Quanah Parker. Mason smiled. “Yes, Sarah, I see him.”
#32 Call Them In From the Fields
Mason Lent spontaneously laughed at points during the day, thinking about it. It was ridiculous and strange. ‘But then again,’ Mason thought, ‘what isn’t?’ He lived in a town that believed it was 1961, when in fact it was 2007. He and only a handful of others were regularly visited by what appeared to be a ghost. Storms that caused no damage scared the hell out of everyone would arrive after lights in the sky the night before... and now, he was going to be spending the evening with a woman he was crazy about on orders from the Sheriff. Mason sat on the edge of his bunk. He dipped his razor into the foamy bowl of water and then took another swipe at the stubble moving down his neck. It had been almost a week since his time in Leo’s jail cell with Brenda Lindhew. Almost a week since he’d seen Sarah. He thought again about the absurdity of it all. Regardless of everything else that happened and the date he was preparing to go on, he’d done what he’d set out to do. He retrieved a drawing of Quanah Parker from Sarah Bedwin and had destroyed it. After the events of that day, when he met with Ted and Ester, they realized the full scope of what the vision had told him to do. Had Brenda or someone else stumbled on the drawing, they might have started to put two and two together. Eric Thatch knew that Mason had seen the vision because of Mason’s unconscious babbling after the church fire. Galen Pancum knew about it, and it was a fairly safe bet that those running Hitchfield knew. Sarah’s drawing would have been proof that the ghost really existed and wasn’t all a figment of Mason’s mind. Everything and everyone who’d seen him would be in danger, they’d all felt sure. Mason thought back to a conversation he’d had a few nights before over a game of Scrabble. Ester had laughed. “It’s like Parker is building an army.” “Slowly. Together,” Mason nodded. “Parker’s army,” Ted chuckled. “But what are we supposed to do? Who are we fighting?” Mason took a drag off his cigarette. “If I had to , I’d say right now, he’s bringing people together. They are being hand picked. Me, Sally, Ester, you Ted and Sarah...” “Should we tell her,” Ted asked. Ester shook her head. “No. Not yet. She’s not ready. Until we can get her away from that crazy aunt of hers, it’ll only make trouble for her.”
“The only advantage any of us have,” Mason said, “is that, whoever they are, they don’t know that anyone other than me is seeing him. That’s why we had to get the picture.” Ted nodded. “I understand that. But eventually she’s going to have to be told.” Mason wiped his face with his towel and looked again at his face in the shaving mirror. He took the bowl of water, stepped out the front door of his bunk and dumped the contents on the dirt. “Big night,” Ward said, approaching the bunk house. Mason smiled. “Seems that way. I’m not even sure what’s playing at the movie house tonight.” “Actually, I was just talking to Dan about that,” Ward chuckled. “They were hoping to get One Eyed Jacks with Marlon Brando this week, but it got another week hold over in Fredrick.” “So what’s showing?” “Through a Glass Darkly. It’s some Swedish movie. It was all the movie people could spare this week.” Mason nodded with a smirk. ‘Must be hard to find movies from 1961,’ he thought. “Doesn’t really matter, I guess.” “I suppose not,” Ward winked, “when the company is good.” He held out two ties at arms length. “So, which one? The dark one or the light one?” “Oh, Ward, I have a tie.” “I know you do, but only one. It’s the same one she sees you wearing in church. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about women, they notice what you wear. So, consider this a token of good luck.” Mason chuckled and selected the dark tie. “Thanks. You didn’t have to.” Ward waved away the comment. “I hear that the Dragon is going along.” “Well, she’ll be there too, watching us like a hawk I’m sure.” “Don’t worry about her. I’ll be there too. I can run interference.” Mason stopped tucking in his shirt. “What?!”
Ward laughed as he headed back to the house. “Wouldn’t miss it!” Mason chuckled and finished tucking in his shirt. Then he flipped up his collar and looked at the house. As Ward shut the back door, the curtains of the upstairs window parted to reveal the darkness beyond. It felt like ages since he’d felt her watching him. Mason nodded to the window, a little hello. A moment later Mrs. Marchen’s hand appeared on the glass. That evening, Mason took it as a sign of good luck. * Saturday night was always movie night in Hitchfield. Mason had never seen the movie house not packed to the rafters on a Saturday. Nearly everyone in town would get dressed for a night at the pictures. It hardly mattered what was showing, it was about being there. Usually, after the movie the men would go down to B.J.’s for a beer and Seth Gentroof and his wife would open the Five and Dime lunch counter for the ladies to get ice cream. There was always a comforting feeling to it for Mason. This time, he was anything but comfortable. He stood near the door, tickets in his hand. News had apparently spread throughout the town that Brenda Lindhew was going to let her niece Sarah go on a date. Mason had already received so many slaps on the back that he figured they had probably left a mark. Ted and Ward stepped up to him as he watched the square for signs of Sarah. Ted was already complaining about the movie. “Can you believe that this movie is from Sweden?” Mason glanced at him. “What?” “I didn’t even know that they made movies in Sweden.” Ward smiled and put his arm around Ted. “That’s probably because they don’t make a lot of westerns or war pictures there.” Mason was already back to watching the passing faces. Most of them were smiling back knowingly. Ted held out the bag of candy he was munching from. “Don’t worry. She’ll be here.” “I know... it’s just...” Mason’s thoughts trailed off. Ward ushered Ted toward the door. “Come on. He’s no good to us now.” Mason looked at his watch. When he looked up Sarah and Brenda were crossing the square. He caught his breath. She looked lovely. As much as he thought he’d prepared
himself, he hadn’t. He felt twenty years younger. The butterflies of a much younger man played havoc with his stomach. She was crossing the square for him. Soon they were standing right in front of him. Brenda rolled her eyes. “Mr. Lent, kindly close your mouth.” Sarah beamed at him. “Good evening, Mason.” Mason could only muster up a weak “hi.” Brenda took her arm out of Sarah’s. “Mr. Lent, I want to make it clear that I don’t approve of this. However, my niece is very fond of you. Just know that I will be watching you.” Leo suddenly appeared out of nowhere and put his arm around Brenda. “Oh. I’m sure that this movie can’t be that bad, even if it is from Sweden. There will be plenty of stuff on the screen to watch.” He nodded to Mason and Sarah. “Mason. Ma’am. Now, Miss Lindhew, would you care to accompany me to the pictures?” “Do I have a choice?” “Not unless you want to be arrested for ... something.” Leo winked at Mason and led Brenda away. “You look very handsome,” Sarah said, bouncing a little on the balls of her feet. “I haven’t seen you wear that tie before.” Mason chuckled. “Thank you. You look wonderful.” His hand popped up, as if on its own. “I have the tickets.” Sarah wrapped her arm around his and began moving toward the door. “Then what are we waiting for. * “Is it true,” Sarah whispered midway through the movie. Mason looked over at her. Her face was close to his. “Is what true?” “What my aunt said last week. About the way you look at me.” Mason smiled an embarrassed smile. “I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t.” She just smiled and nodded. They looked back at the movie and after a while, Mason felt Sarah’s hand on top of his as it laid on the armrest. He looked at her as the
lights of the movie danced on her face. He noticed the corners of her eyes wrinkle in a subtle smile. She knew he was watching her. Mason could almost feel Brenda’s eyes burning into the back of his head. “You’re staring, Mr. Lent,” she said with a smile, turning to meet his eyes again. “I’m sorry.” Her eyes seemed to move around his face quizzically. “Why do I feel like I’ve known you for ages? When I see you, I feel like I’ve seen you a thousand times.” Mason chuckled. “I couldn’t say. But I’ve felt it too.” “And what about the Indian? Why are we both seeing him,” she finally asked. Mason’s brow furrowed. “Sarah, I don’t know. I’ve been seeing him for a long time. There’s some... things about Hitchfield that we don’t understand. Not yet.” Sarah nodded and looked back at the screen. “Well then, it’ll have to be our little secret.” Her hand tightened around his. “I’m glad to hear you say that.” There they sat for the rest of the movie, not quite holding hands, but poised to at any moment. When it was over and the lights rose in the theater, they sat there a little longer. Sarah finally smiled at him. “So, what now?” Mason shrugged as they stood up. “I don’t know. You demanded the date. You decide.” “Should we take a walk? Maybe some ice cream.” Mason nodded and looked toward the back of the theater where Brenda was still seated watching them. “You sure that she would like that?” Sarah shook her head. “Tonight is mine. She can make the rules tomorrow.” The two stepped out into the aisle and headed for the door. “Come on.” The two stepped out into the evening air and Mason stopped her. They were face to face now. Close enough to kiss. “Sarah.” Mason searched for the right words. Finally he chuckled. “Thank you. I’m having the best evening I’ve had in a long, long time.” She simply smiled. Their gaze was broken when across the square the Town Hall bell began to ring. Mason and Sarah looked at each other in confusion.
“Someone’s calling a town meeting,” Sarah asked. Brenda stepped up next to Sarah. A moment later Ward and Ted joined them on the sidewalk. Mason looked at Ward. “That’s odd,” Ward finally said for all of them. Everyone on the square began to walk across the grass toward the meeting hall. Soon curious folks from the surrounding neighborhoods joined the crowd. The doors to the meeting hall were still closed, but the bell continued to ring, calling to the citizens of Hitchfield. “What’s going on,” Ted asked. Ward could only shrug. He glanced at Brenda, who was just as baffled. As they reached the steps Mason, Sarah and Ted were stopped in their tracks as Quanah Parker appeared before them out of thin air, his eyes pleading with them. Sarah gasped, which caused Brenda to look at her. “Sarah?” Sarah glanced at Mason, then back at Brenda. “It’s nothing.” Ted leaned in. “Mason, I’ve got a bad feeling.” Mason and Ward pushed their way forward. The bell continued ringing. They looked at each other and pulled open the doors to the hall. As they stepped through the foyer into the main room they stopped. The sight made them catch their breath. The crowd filed in behind them. Gasps and quiet shrieks of surprise filled the room. Sarah stepped up next to Mason, terrified. He felt her hand slip into his. Soon nearly the entire town beheld the sight. At the front of the room, on the small wooden stage, Mayor Dadecroft sat in a chair. To his left, Sally Haines stood leveling a gun at his head. “Call them in from the fields,” Sally laughed, yelling at the crowd. “Oh no,” was all the horrified Mason Lent could say.
#33 I Have Looked From the Edge
The crowd that had gathered at Town Hall because of bell’s ringing, spilled out onto the street. They could move any further because the first people into the hall were
frozen in fear. Sally Haines, stood before them on the hall’s stage, aiming a gun at the head of Mayor Joseph Dadecroft. Mason felt Sarah tremble beside him. She squeezed his hand. He looked to his right, toward Leo. Sweat started to bead on the sheriff’s brow. From where he stood, Sally looked tired, dirty. It had been weeks since he’d seen her outside of Eric Thatch’s house. He told her about the phone. He told her that it was 2007 and not 1961. She ran away that night. “Would everyone please take a seat,” Sally bellowed. “I’d like to call this Town Hall meeting to order.” Leo stepped forward. “Sally Haines, may I ask what you think you are doing?” Mason could tell he was forcing his friendly sheriff routine. “Sheriff Pratt. Would you kindly remove your gun and hold it over your head by the barrel?” Leo chuckled and followed her instructions. “All right, Sally.” “Pratt! Do something,” Dadecroft barked. Leo held the gun above his head. “I’m doing it, Mr. Mayor.” “Now throw it, over there.” Leo complied and threw his gun into a far corner. “Is that,” Ted whispered, stepping up to Mason. “It’s Sally,” Mason said quietly. He glanced over at Sarah, wondering if she had heard. She was looking back quizzically at him. Their attention returned to the front of the room. “Sally,” Leo continued as he moved forward, weaponless. “You haven’t answered my question. Why are you doing this? Why are you doing any of this?” Sally just grinned. “Do you know who James Wheldon Johnson was?” Leo shook his head. “He was a negro poet around the turn of the century. He wrote a beautiful poem called “The Creation”. I have it in a book. I don’t remember all of it. But I remember part of it. My favorite part.” Dadecroft shook his head. “What is this?” “Then God himself stepped down,” Sally recited And the sun was on His right hand,
And the moon was on His left; The stars were clustered about His head, And the earth was under His feet. And God walked, and where He trod His footsteps hollowed the valleys out And bulged the mountains up. Then He stopped and looked and saw That the earth was hot and barren. So God stepped over to the edge of the world And He spat out the seven seas; He batted His eyes, and the lightnings flashed; He clapped His hands, and the thunders rolled; And the waters above the earth came down”
More and more of the townspeople began to move silently into the room. Quiet and horrified. Ted and Mason looked at each other. ‘She’s gone crazy,’ they heard whispered. ‘Is she the one that turned off the power?’ ‘She lost her husband to the plague, didn’t she?’ Leo finally stopped. “Sally, I don’t understand.” Sally chuckled. “Sheriff, I have looked from the edge. I don’t live in God’s world anymore. God doesn’t clap his hands and bring the thunder.” She pushed the gun into Dadecroft’s temple. “He does!” Mason let go of Sally’s hand and moved forward. He looked at her as she pulled it back. “Don’t,” she pleaded quietly. “Someone’s going to get hurt.” “Does it have to be you?” Mason thought. This was his fault. He drove her away. She couldn’t handle the truth about what year it was. He had to stop this before everything came out. This wasn’t what Parker wanted. Slowly together. Mason shook his head and slowly took his hand away. “I’m sorry. I have to do something.” “Sally! That’s crazy. That’s the Mayor. Not God,” Leo tried to reason. Sally spun hard and aimed the gun at Leo. “I am NOT crazy!”
“Woah! Sally. Look at what you’re doing. Look at all these people.” Leo motioned toward the people of Hitchfield who had crammed themselves into the building to see what was happening. “They’re terrified Sally. We’re all scared.” “I’m not going to hurt them. They are here to bear witness.” She looked out at the crowd. “But where is the last piece of my puzzle? Where is Dr. Thatch?” Dadecroft swallowed. “He’s out of town. He’s gone to Amarillo.” Sally laughed hard. “Of course he has!! Amarillo. He always misses the action!” “Miss Haines!” Mason stepped forward from the crowd. Leo looked back. “Mason!” Sally’s face grew sad. “Mr. Lent. Our local hero.” “Miss Haines, please listen to me. Whatever you are trying to do, I reckon this isn’t the way. These people here haven’t done anything. Let them go.” Sally went quiet. “Too many good people in this town have died already.” She chuckled. “Good people.” “Yes, Sally, GOOD people. There are a lot of good people who could get hurt here. And I know you don’t want that.” “I’m not crazy.” “Then let these people go.” Sally thought for a moment. “Fine. But not Dadecroft and not Pratt.” Mason let his breath go. “Good, Sally. That’s good.” Then Sally smiled. “And not you.” Mason blinked. “Fine.” He turned to the crowd. “Everybody, out!!” The people of Hitchfield quickly turned and made their way back out onto the square. Mason moved up the aisle toward them. Sally moved toward him with Ted and Brenda close behind. “No. Mason, she’s crazy. She could kill you.” Sally fought her way clear of the crowd.
Mason took her arm and held it out to Brenda. “Take care of her. I’ll be fine, Sarah.” He looked at Ted. “Don’t worry.” Brenda took Sarah by the arm and led her back into the crowd as it moved out. “Lock the door behind them,” Sally shouted over the crowd. Soon the crowd spilled out onto the street outside and Mason shut the huge wooden doors and locked them. “Thank you, Sarah,” Leo said. “Why don’t you and the Sheriff join us up here?” Mason and Leo moved toward her slowly. “Sarah, why don’t you let Leo go? He’s a good man. He’s my friend. Then you and I can talk to the Mayor. ” “No. I’m through letting people go. See Mason, the ants scatter to rebuild their home.” Dadecroft shook his head. “You’re out of your mind.” “Am I? When I sabotaged the power station, you were lost. Thatch was lost. You all scampered in a panic to protect what you built. It’s like we’re toys to you. You throw a switch and we all lay down! Why?! I don’t want you in my mind!!” Dadecroft laughs. “You have no idea what you’re talking about. A scared little girl hiding behind a gun.” Sally’s eyes welled with tears. “Do you think I’m stupid? I know it’s not 1961.” “Sally,” Mason yelled. “Don’t!” Leo shook his head. “What are you talking about? Of course it’s 1961.” “No it’s not! It’s 2007. And I’m not the only one who knows” Dadecroft’s eyes narrowed. He looked at Mason and then back at Sally. “Missy, you don’t have any idea what you’ve just said. What you’ve done.” “I know what I’ve done. And I know what I’m doing.” She pulled the hammer back on the gun. “Rebuild this.”
The bullet erupted from the barrel of the gun and tore through Dadecroft’s head. He fell backward, dead in the chair. Leo moved forward but Sally quickly turned the gun on him. Mason grabbed him. “Leo, don’t.” Tears streaked the woman’s face and her hand shook. “Let him go, Mason. He’s one of them.” Mason looked at Leo and then at her. “No. He’s not. Look at him, he’s frightened. He’s ... my friend.” Leo looked down at the Mayor’s body. “What have you done?! Sally, what have you done?” Mason stepped in front of him. “I won’t let you. He can help us.” “There is no ‘us’! We’re alone, Mason. What do you think we can do? A handful of us, taking our orders from a mute Indian? There’s no escape, Mason! This is so much bigger than you think. They’ve made us believe it’s 1961.” “It IS 1961,” Leo stammered. “You see. He’s one of us. I can feel it. I’ll show him Pancum’s phone. Please, Sally, too many people have died already.” Sally looked over Mason’s shoulder. “There’s one way to find out.” Mason looked. Quanah Parker stood in the middle of the aisle, motionless. He looked at Leo. “Do you see him? Leo, do you see him?!” Leo looked at the aisle. “I do. I see him. The... Indian. I see him.” Mason looked at Sally. “It’s over, Sally. Please.” Sally began to sob and she lowered the gun. Leo moved forward and took it. He put his arm around her. The he moved to Mason. “Thank you, Mason,” Leo said breathlessly, Mason just nodded. “This could have gotten so much more complicated.” The Sheriff turned and shot Sally in the stomach. She flew back. “NO!” Mason looked at Leo. “Mason, I don’t see any Indian. But both of you did, and that poses a big problem for us. I know why you’re seeing him.” He chuckled. “Dadecroft’s biggest mistake.” He
kept the gun on Mason as he moved to the Mayor’s body. “We’ll soon get that sorted out. What a mess. If you’re the one who found Pancum’s phone, that means, unfortunately, it’s time for you to go. We can’t have people knowing what we’re doing here.” Mason shuddered. “What are you doing here.” Leo pulled the hammer back. “I like to think that, when we die, all our questions are answered. I’m just sustaining the stasis.” Mason prepared himself for the bullet. He closed his eyes. He wasn’t sure what happened. The gun went off, but there were two screams. One was Leo, the other, Sally Haines. When he opened his eyes, Sally was latched desperately onto Leo’s back, driving a knife into it. Leo was struggling against her and blood began bubbling from his mouth. The gun was waving frantically, Mason leapt to the side as the two struggled. Then there was pounding at the door. They were trying to break the door down. Finally, Leo threw Sally off of him and shot her again. Then, he dropped to his knees and collapsed face down into the blood that was spreading across the stage. Mason rushed to Sally. She was coughing up blood and was starting to turn pale. “Sally. You’re going to be all right.” He looked at the blood covering her and he knew he was lying. “Just be still. You’ll be okay.” Sally struggled to speak. “Mason. I saw... I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” “Ssshh. Just...” “Onus... Go north. To the priory...” Mason held her as her body convulsed. Then her eyes rolled back and Sally Haines died. A moment later the door burst open. Mason looked out and met Ted’ gaze. A moment later Sarah ran in. She stopped and covered her mouth in a silent scream. Mason just knelt there in the blood of Leo Pratt, Joseph Dadecroft and Sally Haines that had started to pool together.
#34 Green Pastures
A late spring breeze blew across the grass and through the trees, giving those with their eyes close the illusion of being at the seaside. It had been four days since everything exploded. Mason’s ears still rang a little from the gun shots. He could still smell the gunpowder, he could still feel the blood on him. Standing in the cemetery with so many others, he felt like everyone was watching him. He was the only one to walk out of City Hall. Mayor Dadecroft, Sally Haines and the man Mason thought was his friend, Sheriff Leo Pratt, were all dead. Mason was the only one to survive the incident. He wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for Sally Haines. The three coffins stood in a row under the late morning sun. People from the town were still walking up the hill as Ester stepped up to Mason. He was standing at a distance, smoking a cigarette under a tree. “How are you,” she asked gently. “I’m still here.” Mason looked at her. “I tried to stop it. It all happened so fast.” “Mason, it wasn’t your fault.” Mason peered around to see if anyone else was close enough to hear. “Wasn’t it? I told her about the phone. I told her it wasn’t 1961. If I hadn’t done that...” “If it was anybody’s fault, it was Parker’s. She was unhinged, Mason. You said yourself that it was something she saw that sent her over the edge. It wasn’t just the phone. Parker should have chosen better.” Mason didn’t respond, he just dropped his cigarette and crushed it under foot. “You can’t blame yourself.” “But it’s all around me. Toby, Pancum... all of them. They all have died because of me. How can you say it’s not me?” “You are a good man, Mason Lent. It’s THEM, whoever they are. People are dying because of what they’ve done here. It’s war, Mason.” Ester looked out at the somber faces beginning to congregate near the caskets. “A slow brewing war.” Ester and Mason moved to join the crowd. Reverend Perlecarr had his arm around Sally Haines’ husband. With everything that had happened in the last few weeks, Mason had completely forgotten that she was married. The poor man was distraught, sobbing uncontrollably as he stared at Sally’s casket. Mason wanted to approach him, but didn’t. Ester took him by the hand and led him back to the chairs. Everyone was in black. The flags outside the boarded up City Hall building flew at half-mast. All of Hitchfield was in mourning. Not only had they lost their mayor and sheriff, they had lost them to one of their own, someone that they knew. Mason moved to the back of the crowd and watched as the service got underway.
Perlcarr helped Mr. Haines to his seat. Then he took his place in front of the coffins. He open his book and began to read. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under the sun. A time to be born and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal ... a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance ... a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to lose and a time to seek; a time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silent and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.” Mason watched as Perlcarr’s voice seemed to mix with the breeze in the trees. Ester stood next to him, the only one who wasn’t wearing black. He doubted she even owned any black. The he felt some one to his left. He looked over. It was Sarah. He hadn’t seen her since that night. She looked up at him with tears in her eyes. She leaned in close to him. “I’m so glad you’re all right,” she whispered. She touched him on the shoulder. “Friends,” Perlcarr continued. “None of us can really know what went wrong with Sally Haines. But her husband can take comfort in knowing that, whatever peace eluded her in life, she has found it now. For our friends Leo Pratt and our honorable Mayor Joseph Dadecroft, it seems that they taken too soon. But their place in God’s plan is still a mystery to us. None of us really know the mind of God, the mind that lays our futures before us. We must learn to trust in Him. We must have faith that the Lord has a plan for us all and shepherds us through this life, only to welcome us into eternal love when we meet him face to face.” Perlcarr smiled sadly. “As hard as the road is right now, it will lead us to brighter places. There will be laughter again. There will be love again. And there will be life. I pray that the Lord speeds the victims of this tragedy on their way. That he welcomes them, embraces them. And, yes, forgives them.” Perlcarr opened his book again and took a breath. A gust of wind blew across the faces there. Looked across the faces. Ward. Ted. Thatch. Maya Leden. Dan Rugspiro. Thatch was there as well. For just a moment they were all connected, there under the Oklahoma sky. He looked again at Sarah as a tear slipped down her cheek.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of Death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.” * The women of the town had set up long tables of food in the town square after the funeral. Everyone came and ate, though there was still much silence. Mason had no appetite, sitting on a bench, staring at the day. “Mr. Lent?” Mason looked up into the face of Brenda Lindhew. He chuckled. “Brenda, if you are here to warn me away...” “No, Mr. Lent, I just wanted to say...” Brenda cleared her throat “I just wanted to say that what you did was very brave. And forcing Sarah out... well, thank you.” Mason couldn’t say anything. He just watched Brenda’s discomfort as the made her way back to those who were eating and talking quietly. “It seems you may be winning her over,” came the voice behind him. Mason turned to face Dr. Thatch. “I don’t know about that.” “Mason Lent, the man who tames dragons.” Mason stood. “Is there something I can do for you, Dr. Thatch?” “Actually, yes. Would you come see me at my home tonight? I have a little proposition for you.” Mason cocked his head. “What kind of proposition?” Thatch smiled. “If you come tonight, let’s say 8, then you’ll find out.” Then he turned and started to walk across the square away from the crowd. “And if I don’t show?”
Thatch turned around and continued backward for a moment. “You’ll be there.” He chuckled as he turned back around and continued on. Mason watched him as he crossed the street and disappeared into Hitchfield. Ester and Ted stepped up to him. “What was that about,” Ester asked. Mason shook his head. “He wants me to come see him tonight.” Ted finished a bite of what he was eating. “Why?” “I have no idea, Ted.” * Mason stood on the darkened porch and watched as the lights through the window went on. This was the last place on Earth he wanted to be. An audience with the devil. A moment later Thatch opened the door. “Hello, Mason. Come it,” Thatch said, opening the door. “So, what can I do for you, Dr. Thatch?” Thatch shut the door. “Something unusual, actually. “Go on.” “As you may have noticed, Mason, we have a little problem.” Mason chuckled and moved into the waiting area where Maya usually worked. The lights from the hallway threw random blotches of light around the room, half obscuring Thatch’s features in shadow. The doctor took a seat on the couch. Mason folded his arms and remained standing. “The deaths of Joseph and Leo have presented the town of Hitchfield with an interesting problem. We have no Mayor and no sheriff.” Mason nodded. “So I’ve noticed. What does this have to do with me? Do you want me to run?” Thatch smiled. “No. I’m running for Mayor.” Mason just looked at him. “I want you to publicly support me.”
Mason’s eyes widened. “What?”
#35 The Devil You Know
“Sorry,” Mason said. “Say that again?” Dr. Eric Thatch moved to the living room and switched on a lamp. As Mason stepped in, Thatch moved to a small bar and began pouring two drinks. “I want you to let everybody in Hitchfield know that you are one-hundred percent behind me becoming mayor. Whiskey?” Mason nodded. “Please. Why would I do that?” “Because you are, or rather you will be. Mason, I know that you and I don’t... see eye to eye on things, but I think we will see eye to eye on this.” He finished pouring the drink and handed it to Mason. “I don’t understand. You’ve got plenty of friends in town, why would you need my help?” Mason took the drink as Thatch moved to the couch and sat down. “Mason, you’ve got the hearts and minds of this town. People love you. I know all their names, I know all their stories, but I don’t know that they like me. Leo had a way with people. He put them at ease and made them feel safe. Dadecroft, he was like everybody’s uncle. Me? I don’t have that way with people. I’m probably too clinical. But you – Mason, you’re a town treasure.” Mason moved to a chair and took a seat. He cradled the whiskey in his hand but didn’t drink. He hated being here. He could still feel the cold chill in his spine when Thatch would come into his room while Mason pretended to be asleep. But he was curious. He looked into his drink. “I’m not sure they like me so much after the other day at City Hall.” “Nonsense. The only thing I’ve heard is how you tried to save them all. How you were so lucky that she didn’t kill you too. This town loves you, Mason. They listen to you.” “I still don’t see why you need me. Who else is going to run?” “Someone is coming, Mason, from Oklahoma City. When he gets here, there will be an emergency election to see who is going to take Dadecroft’s place.” “Who’s coming?” Thatch stared out the window at the darkness. “His name is Ethan Whetlest.” He looked as if he was going to say something else, but he didn’t.
“But who is he? What does he have to do with Hitchfield?” Thatch chuckled. “He’s a local boy, Dadecroft’s old deputy mayor. He resigned years ago and has been working for the state. He sent word that he was coming back when he heard about Dadecroft.” “So he said he’s coming back to go for the job?” Thatch took a drink and grinned ironically. “Not in so many words. He believes that he is just going to walk right in unchallenged. I don’t want that.” Mason’s stomach sank. Another one. He remembered Sally’s words the night he met her. Ants scurrying to rebuild the ant hill. But what was Thatch’s game? “So why do you want to be mayor? It seems like he’s qualified.” Thatch let out a laugh. “Oh, he’s qualified. Charming.” He stared into his glass. “Younger? Better,” Mason smirked, twisting the knife. “The devil doesn’t tell you he’s the devil, Mason. He tells you he’s a friend.” Thatch’s words made Mason think of Leo and his smirk faded. “He’s helping hand to comfort those in times of trouble. Whetlest is only interested in power.” “Seems like Hitchfield is a long way from any power. He should head to Washington.” Thatch just blinked and looked through Mason. “How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.” Thatch blinked again, slowly. His eyes drooped slightly. Mason realized that this wasn’t Thatch’s first drink of the night. “So, you believe that you should be Mayor.” “I believe that Ethan Whetlest should not be.” “But you seem to come and go, Doc. You seem to disappear all the time. You’re always off to Amarillo or Tulsa or Oklahoma City. You don’t seem to care much about the town.” “Regardless of what you may think of me, I do care about this town. I want to see the people in it treated fairly,” Thatch said. Mason wanted to laugh. “More than that. Joseph Dadecroft and Leo Pratt were my friends. I feel that I owe it to them to carry on.” Mason looked at his drink and shook his head. “They just died.” “What?”
“We just buried them today. Don’t you think it’s a little fast for anyone to be stepping up to take control? The ground hasn’t even settled on their graves?!” “Mason, I would love to take my time, but it’s not a luxury we have. Whetlest will be here tomorrow. By this time next week we will have a new mayor who will appoint a new sheriff and new administration. It will be a whole new Hitchfield. Do you want that?” Mason couldn’t answer. He didn’t relish the thought of either of them. “So, the two of you square off, I throw my weight behind you and you take the election. Then this Ethan turns tail and heads off to Oklahoma City.” Thatch nodded as he finished his glass. “That’s the idea.” Mason went quiet. “Mason, I know I’m not your favorite person. What it boils down to is this, trust the devil you know.” Mason thought hard. If he was ever going to be able to figure out what was going on in Hitchfield, he needed to watch Thatch. They all knew that. But the possibility of someone new coming in to take over the town, everything that Sally died for would be lost. The ants would finish rebuilding the ant hill. He couldn’t let that happen. He drank the entire glass of whiskey in one gulp and looked at Thatch. Mason forced a weak “okay.” Thatch nodded and raised his glass. Mason stood up, put his glass down on the table and moved toward the door. Thatch followed suit. “Mason, thank you. I’ll ask Ward to bring you into town tomorrow to meet Whetlest.” Mason nodded. He felt sick to his stomach. “Sure.” Thatch moved past him and opened the door. Then he turned. “Actually, there was one thing I was curious about.” “What’s that?” “That day, in the town hall, everyone says that Sally Haines wanted three people. Joseph, Leo ...” Thatch cocked his eyebrow. “...and you.” A tingle started in Mason’s spine. It was the same tingle he had the night Galen Pancum caught him outside Thatch’s house. He simply blinked at Thatch. “Why you? You told Leo that you’d never met Sally Haines.”
“Honestly, Doc,” Mason said, shaking his head, “I’ve been asking myself that same question for days.” The two looked at each other for a long time. Finally Eric Thatch smiled. “Have a good night, Mason. I will see you tomorrow.” Mason stepped out into the night air and moved down the steps toward Ward’s truck. He climbed in, turned over the engine and looked back at the door in time to see it close. That’s when he finally let his breath go. As he turned on the headlights he caught sight of Quanah Parker standing in the road staring at him. He made no gestures, just looked into Mason. Mason looked back at the Indian. “I know. I’m not real happy about it either.” Mason put the truck into drive. “But, like he said, trust the devil you know.” He stepped on the gas pedal and Ward Marchen’s truck rumbled through the still streets of Hitchfield, carrying Mason Lent back home to the farm.
#36 Ethan Whetlest
Everyone on the town square as the black car turned off the main road into town onto the square. It was strikingly black against the buildings of the town, like something foreign. It rolled slowly along the park. Ted and Mason stepped away from the Five and Dime lunch counter and moved to the doorway and watched it roll by. Ted still clutched his malted in his hand. He let the straw fall from his mouth and looked at Mason. “Who’s that?” Mason watched the car closely. “Trouble.” “Another one,” Ted gulped. “Yeah,” Mason muttered. “Another one.” It had been two days since Mason had drunk Thatch’s whiskey. The next day Ester and Ted had asked him what Thatch wanted. He didn’t tell them the full truth. He told them that Dr. Thatch wanted to know what happened at the Town Hall. He couldn’t tell them. Even as it was all unfolding in front of him, he still couldn’t. ‘They’ll find out soon enough,’ he thought. The car pulled up in front of the City Hall building, which had been empty for days. Finally, the engines stopped and the driver stepped out. He removed his dark
glasses and smiled as he looked at the confused faces lining the streets. His sandy hair was neatly cut and combed and was given an even greater sense of elegance by the gray at his temples. He leaned back into the car and pulled out his gray suit coat, which he put on. He stood there for a moment taking in the scene. His eyes fell on Mason and Ted in the door way. The man nodded politely and then began eyeing the square again. Ted looked at Mason, confused. “Is he a G-man?” Mason glanced back at him. “No. Thatch warned me about this guy the other night.” “He did?” “Yep.” Mason stepped out onto the sidewalk and lit a cigarette. “He’s worse than a G-man. He’s a politician.” The politician closed his car door and moved across the street toward the park at the center of the main square. He stepped casually onto the grass and walked toward the central gazebo. “What the hell is he doing, Mason?” Mason didn’t respond. He just watched the man. The man in the suit stepped on to the gazebo stage. He took a deep breath and then bellowed. “Ladies and gentlemen of Hitchfield! My name is Ethan Whetlest. I’ve come here from Oklahoma City. As a representative of the state governing body, I am here to announce that in three day’s time there will be an emergency mayoral election. Please let your friends and neighbors know. Tonight at the movie house we will hold an open forum for everyone in town and all those wishing to become candidates for mayor can announce themselves. Again, please let your friends and neighbors know. Tonight, at the movie house, 7 p.m. sharp. Thank you.” The people on the square were now standing on the sidewalk, as if waiting for a parade. Everyone turned to each other and began to chatter. Ethan Whetlest stepped away from the gazebo and made his way across the grass to the street. He opened his car door and a moment later the car rumbled to life and made its way to the cross street and turned, disappearing from site. Ted and Mason looked at each other and broke into a run after the car. They too turned the corner but the car was long gone. Ted shook his head.
“What was that all about? We’re going to have a new mayor?” Mason took a few steps and peered up the street. “So it would seem.” “Who do you think it’s going to be?” “Well, Ted, since Dadecroft was one of them, I can only assume his replacement will be.” “They’re going to fix the election.” Mason nodded. “I’m sure they’ll find a way.” As Mason moved to follow the car, Ted grabbed his shoulder. “Mason, I’m scared. What are we going to do? Isn’t this going to make what we are trying to do harder?” “What are we trying to do?” “Find out the truth.” Mason didn’t answer. He simply nodded. Then the two made their way back to the Five and Dime to finish their lunch. * The movie house was packed like it was Saturday night again. Everyone talked and wondered about the new stranger who was sitting quietly on the stage, nearly motionless, smiling as people came in and found a seat. Mason found himself near the front of the theater. Ted had gone to get Ester with Ward’s truck. He was deep in thought. It would have to be tonight. He would need to throw his weight behind Thatch tonight. The pit of his stomach dropped. He shook his head. He should have told Ester and Ted. Mason felt someone sit down in the seat next to him. He glanced over to see Sarah’s sad eyes and smiling face. He smiled back. “How are you,” she asked. “I haven’t seen you.” Mason nodded. “I know. I’m sorry. It’s been a hard few days.” She rested her hand on his. “It’s going to be all right.” Mason just smiled. “We’ll see.”
After a while Ethan stood and stepped to the center of the stage and raised his hands. “Thank you for coming everyone,” he began. “First I would like to give you all my deepest sympathy. I was Hitchfield born and raised and I was mortified when I heard about the events last week. The unfortunate part of all this is that life moves on and you are a town without a mayor or sheriff. So the Governor has stepped in and called for an emergency election.” Sarah looked at Mason. “Can he do that?” Mason chuckled to himself. “Apparently.” “That being said,” Whetlest continued, “I have resigned my position in Oklahoma City. The tragedy last week made me realize that it’s time to come home. So this is my announcement to you all that I am now officially running for the office of mayor.” The crowd began to chatter amongst themselves. He raised his voice above the sound. “I understand that this probably comes as a shock to many of you. But I assure you, I love this town and want what’s best for all of you. So, in all fairness, I must now yield the floor anyone who would run against me.” Mason looked over his shoulder and scanned the crowd. He found Thatch standing in the back near the doors. He didn’t move. Slowly his eyes moved to Mason. The crowd continued to talk, all of them looking around for someone who might stand up. Whetlest looked over the crowd. “Anyone? Would anyone care to nominate someone? You know each other better than I do.” Still no one stood and Thatch didn’t move. Mason caught his breath. It was time. He looked at Sarah, then back at the stage. “I would like to nominate someone,” he said rising to his feet. A hush fell over the crowd. Mason turned toward the door toward Thatch. As he did, Ted and Ester opened the door and stepped into the theater. He hesitated a moment. Then he swallowed the wave of nausea that he felt. “I would like to nominate Dr. Eric Thatch as a candidate for mayor.” Ester’s mouth dropped open and Thatch, standing near her, grinned. Mason turned back to Whetlest. Ethan looked out toward the door. “Eric. Good to see you.” “You know,” Mason said, “I haven’t been in this town nearly as long as most of you. Truth be told, I don’t really know Dr. Thatch at all. But I do know that he works very hard for the people of this town. More than that, he was a friend to Mayor Dadecroft and Leo and seems like the most likely person to carry on their legacy.” The crowd nodded to each other, agreeing with Mason. “So he is the one I nominate. No offense Mr.
Whetlest, but we don’t know you from Adam and I think this town should have the right to choose one of its own if it wants.” The sound from the crowd made Mason realize that he’d said the right thing. Whetlest nodded, but his eyes said something different. “Very well said, sir. I take no offense.” He looked back at Thatch. “Eric? Would you care to join me up here? Ladies and gentlemen, Dr. Eric Thatch.” As Thatch descended the aisle toward the stage, the crowd applauded. He nodded and waved and as he passed Mason he shook his hand. Mason just wanted to slip away quietly. He looked back up toward the door into the disbelieving gazes of Ted and Ester. He simply turned around and sat back next to Sarah. Thatch smiled as he took his place next to Ethan. “Thank you, Mason, for those words. It’s an honor to be this town’s doctor. And it’s an honor that you all would consider me for this position. Leo and Joseph were my dear, dear friends and I miss them terribly. They loved this town and its people as I do. It’s amazing to watch what all of you are capable of surviving. The plague. The Russian pilot last year. The church fire. And now this. I am proud to be part of this town. Proud to live and serve in Hitchfield. And I would be proud be your mayor, if you’ll have me.” The two candidates shook hands firmly. The crowd applauded again. Whetlest laughed. “Well, I guess that race for the Mayor’s Office has officially started.” Mason looked back over his shoulder but Ted and Ester were gone. As the two opponents and the crowd began to leave the theater, excited about what had just happened, Mason slumped in his chair. Sarah stayed with him. The two were quiet for a time. “People really listen to you,” Sarah said finally. Mason chuckled ironically. “I guess they do.” “That was a good thing you did there. I’m impressed.” Thatch smiled sadly and turned to her. “I don’t know that it was the right thing to do.” Sarah looked in his eyes for a moment. Then she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “We’ll see,” she said. “We’ll see.” After the crowd was gone Sarah and Mason met Brenda out on the street. Brenda only nodded to Mason. Then she and Sarah began the walk home. Sarah turned and
waved goodbye and Mason only raised his hand. When they had disappeared across the square, Mason looked for the truck but it was gone. It was going to be a long walk home to the farm.
#37 The Judas Goat
There was a WHUMP and a rush in the dark as Mason felt himself dragged from his bed. The jolt woke him from a restless sleep. A moment later he found himself thrown against the wall of the bunk and he could just make out Ted’s face in the darkness. “What the hell was that tonight,” Ted growled in an angry whisper. “Ted...” “After everything that’s happened?! How could you stand up there and support that man.” Ted didn’t give Mason a chance to reply. “I knew something happened that night at his house. You’ve been jumpy ever since. I should beat you where you stand.” “I didn’t have much of a choice.” “What’d he do? Threaten to kill you? Threaten to kill Sarah?” Mason sighed. “No. He asked for my help.” Ted could only blink. “And you obliged?” Mason finally wiggled free of Ted’s hold. “No! Listen. Thatch said that this new guy, this Whetlest, is trouble.” “What kind of trouble?” “I don’t know. Sounds like he’s one of them. Someone else who wants to come in and take control.” “But why Thatch? We already know that he’s dangerous.” “Exactly. If somebody else came in and took over we’d be back to square one. At least with Thatch we know where we stand. We know who he is. Like the man said, trust the devil you know. Plus, if Thatch thinks he can work with me, we might be able to find out what’s in that bomb-shelter.” Ted sat down on the bed for a moment. “Why didn’t you tell us, Mason?” Mason took a breath and shook his head. “I don’t know. I was afraid you wouldn’t understand.”
“I don’t.” Ted looked up and met Mason’s eyes. “But I trust you.” Mason looked out the window. “I’m sorry.” Ted nodded. “Do you think you are doing the right thing?” “I don’t know anymore. Everything since Sally and Leo it’s all muddy now. I know I can’t trust Thatch. That’s partly why I did it. To stay close to the enemy - and if we can keep another one of them out of the town in the bargain, even better. Thatch seemed desperate to keep this guy away. I just know that we have a better chance of finding out who they are and what they are doing with Thatch in control.” “I hope you’re right, Mason,” Ted said, standing up. “You’re going to have to square things with Ester.” “Oh, God. She must be furious.” “She called you a Judas goat.” Mason glanced at him. “That doesn’t sound very nice.” “A Judas is a goat trained to live with the sheep and when the time is right, lead them to slaughter, while its life is saved.” Mason couldn’t speak, he just stared into the darkness outside. * It was a beautiful afternoon when Dr. Eric Thatch appeared at the center of the town square, shirt sleeves rolled up, to applause from the crowd. Whetlest showed up soon after and the two began their debate. It was their third one of the week and Mason couldn’t watch again. The election was tomorrow and Mason was still coming to terms with his part in all of it. Ester and Ted had read him the riot act, with good reason. But in the days that followed, they had all watched the campaigns, hoping that Mason had made the right decision. Whetlest’s big promise was to make Hitchfield safe again by bringing more police in. The events of the past year, he claimed, had caused many in the town to feel that Hitchfield was not a nice place. His plan was to replace Leo with half a dozen former state troopers. That didn’t sit well with any of them and Ester and Ted began to agree that Thatch was the lesser of two evils. Thatch promised only to help the good people of
Hitchfield cope with recent tragedies and move on. He attacked Whetlest for claiming that all Hitchfield needed was more police. Mason slipped off across the street into the bar. He found Ward leaning against the bar, nursing a beer. “They’re at it again,” Mason said, stepping up next to Ward. He nodded to B.J. for a beer. “Yep.” Ward took another drink. He looked over at Mason quizzically. “You seem awful keen to have Thatch get elected. Didn’t think you cared for him much.” Mason shrugged. “I just don’t want some city guy coming in here and thinking he can take over.” Ward smiled. “Ah, yes, Ethan always brings out the best in people.” “You know him?” “Indeed I do.” Ward finished his beer. “He was never happy with the way Joseph ran things around here. Never liked Leo.” He chuckled. “Sally Haines did him a big favor.” The comment hung there between them for a moment. Mason felt the pit of his stomach turn as B.J. handed him his beer and started pulling another one for Ward. He glanced back out the window at the two candidates addressing the crowd. “Who do you think is going to win,” he asked Ward. “Eric does seem to have the advantage.” “That’s a good thing. Right? That’ll send Whetlest packing.” Ward took another drink. “I hope so.” Mason nodded. He hoped so too. * That night Mason woke to a gentle knock on the door of his bunk. Cautiously he moved to the door and opened it. A frantic Ester Hatfield pushed her way inside and looked out the window to see if anyone was watching. “Ester?! What time is it? What are you doing here?” When she was satisfied that the bunk wasn’t being watched, Ester turned to Mason. “I’m sorry, Mason. I got here as fast as I could.”
“Where were you?” “I followed the Indian into town.” “Quanah, why?” Ester shrugged angrily. “I don’t know. I never know. But I followed him to Thatch’s house.” “Why? What happened.” “I hid in the bushes near the corner of the house and I saw that bomb-shelter that you’re always going on about.” Mason moved her to the bed and sat her down. He knocked on the wall between his bunk and Ted’s. He heard Ted grumble and get out of bed. Ted came through the door as Mason put his arm around her. “What did you see, Ester?” Ester caught her breath. “I didn’t have to wait long. Maybe fifteen minutes. Eventually somebody came out.” “Who came out?” “Thatch and Whetlest.” Ted’s mouth dropped open. “What?” “They were arguing something fierce.” Mason’s brow furrowed. “What did they say?” “I didn’t here much. But I heard Whetlest’s parting shot. He said to Thatch, ‘this is the last time’. He said something about having problems with the operation. Then, just before he left he said ‘we’ll see how tomorrow goes – but you have your orders’. Then he got in his car and left. Whatever it was all about, Thatch was mad. He gave that metal door a good punch after Whetlest was gone.” Mason stared at the wood of his bunk wall. He glanced up at Ted. The young farmhand ran his fingers through his hair. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Ted muttered. Ester looked into Mason’s eyes. “I think Whetlest is going to win.”
Mason was miles away, staring into the grain of the wood, losing himself in the lines. ‘Lambs to the slaughter,’ he thought.
#38 Keys To The Kingdom
The sunrise was hollow for Mason Lent. Gideon the rooster screamed at the sun. Election Day. Ted and Mason exchanged glances over breakfast, but nothing more. Even the work of the farm seemed automatic and pointless. Mason couldn’t stop thinking about the day to come. Tonight they would find out if his faith that he was doing the right thing was misplaced. Ethan Whetlest was a threat, Mason had no doubt – but was the entire election a scam? It was looking more and more like Thatch was the pawn and Whetlest was going to steal the election. But that night at Thatch’s house kept playing over and over in his mind. Why would the doctor try so hard to recruit Mason if it was a done deal? Mason closed the gate behind the cows and lit a cigarette. He thought again of everything that had happened since that night at Town Hall. A night that had started as his happiest since coming to Hitchfield. He thought of Sarah, the only sparkling point in the gloom. As he made his way to the water pump, he glanced at the house. The curtain in the upper window was closed. It seemed like ages since he’d felt Mrs. Marchen’s eyes on him, watching him from the darkness inside. He felt he had made all the wrong decisions since finding Pancum’s phone and he didn’t know how to fix it. Ted and Ester no longer trusted him fully. He’d place his faith in Leo, who had betrayed him. He’s the one who told Sally about the year and drove her away... to whatever she found . He pitched the butt of his cigarette into the gravel and splashed his face with water. It was nearly noon and the sun was beating down. Mason sat himself down in the shade of a tree for a few minutes, his mind swirling... looking for guidance. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep. * The dream was short. Mason didn’t even know he was asleep. It was the heat of the day when he opened his eyes. He looked around, his legs were covered in blood... he gasped but couldn’t move. When he looked up he saw the thousand yard stare of Sally Haines looking back at him. She was pointing north. Suddenly Quanah Parker stood over him.
“Listen to Sally,” he said. “Go to the Priory. North. To where the farms end.” Then Ethan Whetlest appeared and shot Sally in the head. Then he turned and blasted a hole in Quanah Parker. The Indian fell to the ground, his dead stare burning a hole into the paralyzed Mason Lent. Whetlest took long strides toward Mason, his gun raised the entire time. Mason struggled but couldn’t move. Whetlest crouched down and stuck the hot gun metal into Mason’s mouth. “The time has come, Lent. Everything you hold dear is going to burn,” Whetlest grinned. Mason could taste the smoke that drifted from the gun barrel and the heat scorched his mouth. “Go north, Lent. Run. Run for your life because time is running out.” Mason could only gurgle as Ethan pulled back the hammer on his gun and squeezed the trigger.” * Mason shook himself awake and fell over on the ground. He never heard the gun blast. When the screen door on the back of the house slammed shut, Mason jumped. He saw Ward stepping down, fixing his cap to his head. “Come on, boys! Time to vote,” Ward shouted as he stepped toward the truck. Mason scrambled to his feet and moved toward the truck. Ted reached it the same time he did. The two looked at each other and climbed in the truck bed. * When all the voting ended, the townsfolk of Hitchfield made their way to the movie house, where food was being served and the results would be read. Mason couldn’t eat, and neither could Ted. It was, in fact, the first time Mason had ever seen Ted turn down free food. He chuckled at the thought that, if someone was watching them, Ted would give them away. They stood out on the street with many of the other people from the town. Ward had slipped into the bar for a cold beer. Ester soon joined them as they waited. “Any word yet,” Ester inquired. Mason shook his head. “Nothing yet. Whetlest is in there but Thatch hasn’t shown up yet.” “Big night,” Ester sighed.
The three stood in silence for a moment before the moment was shattered by a voice. “There’s the three musketeers.” They turned to see Thatch stepping up to them. Ester nodded politely. “Evening, Dr. Thatch.” Thatch nodded back and extended a hand to Mason. “And here’s my biggest supporter. I can’t thank you enough, Mason. I am grateful. If I win here tonight, it’s because of you and the faith these people have in you.” Mason nodded. “I hope you win, Doc.” Thatch patted Mason on the shoulder. “So do I. For all our sakes,” he whispered as he passed Mason and stepped into the movie house. When the doctor was gone, the three exchanged glances. They noticed that the crowd outside had turned and were watching Dan Rugspiro, the election judge, hurry across the town square with an envelope in his hand. Dan excused himself as the crowd stepped back and let him through. They all followed suit, sweeping Ester, Mason and Ted with them. Inside the building the people of the town applauded Dan as he ran down the aisle toward the stage where Thatch and Whetlest were waiting. Mason and the others settled in at the back of the theater. Mason closed his eyes and waited. Dan stepped to the podium and cleared his throat. “Ladies and Gentlemen, as your election judge, I would like to announce that we have a new mayor!” The crowd erupted again and Dan waited for the noise to die down. “After counting and yes, recounting, we have a decision.” “Open it,” shouted someone from the crowd, which brought the town to laughter. Thatch looked nervous, Mason thought. Whetlest, on the other hand was calm through it all. As Dan opened the envelope and unfolded the contents, Mason could feel Ted and Ester tense next to him. ‘Here it comes,’ he thought. Dan cleared his throat again. “People of Hitchfield, may I proudly present our new Mayor, Dr. Eric Thatch!!”
Ester gasped, Ted relaxed and fell back against the wall and Mason let go of the breath he’d been holding all day. They looked at each other and Ester grinned, relieved.
Thatch smiled broadly and shook Whetlest’s hand. Then he raised his hands to the appreciative crowd. “Thank you everyone. I am very proud man tonight. I am proud that you all have faith in me and have elected me to be your new mayor. For that, I have to personally thank Mason Lent, for pushing me out there in the first place.” Mason felt himself blush and the crowd turned and applauded him. “But to be honest, I am prouder of the fact that I now have the opportunity to carry on the wonderful work that my friends Joseph and Leo started. But during this campaign, some of the things my opponent said made sense to me. He spoke about security and all the things that have happened in the last year. Because of this I would like to ask my opponent Ethan Whetlest to become Hitchfield’s new assistant mayor and sheriff.” The bottom of Mason’s stomach dropped as the crowd applauded again. Ester, Ted and Mason stood stunned as Ethan Whetlest feigned sheepishness and shook Eric Thatch’s hand. Thatch raised their hands in victory. “Damn it,” Mason muttered.
#39 All We Hold Dear
The din was maddening. All Mason Lent wanted to do was get out of the movie house. The speeches we over and Thatch and Whetlest were now mingling in the crowd, shaking hands and receiving congratulations. As people moved toward the front of the theater, he and the others made their way through the lobby and back out onto the street. Mason finally let go of the breath he’d been holding in. He looked at Ted and Ester. “I am so sorry,” he breathed, shaking his head. “Mason, do you really think it would have ended any different?” Ester glanced around to see if anyone could hear them. “But why me? If they were going to do this anyway, why did he say that he needed me?” “Listen up, boy. Thatch knows that it’s easier to corral willing sheep. If Whetlest had showed up with his police force and stared barking orders, everybody in town would have resisted. By getting you, you oiled the wheels. Hitchfield trusts you, Mason. They
trust your judgment. Because of that, they now trust Thatch’s and his decision about Whetlest. Now it’s they’re idea. They voted for Thatch, so they helped make this decision.” Mason chuckled. “The Judas Goat.” Ester nodded. “Yes.” Mason shook his head and looked at the ground. “Son, I know that you did this with the best intentions. Thatch knows you don’t like him and he knows you’re not easy to control. He played on that.” “And now he’s got the upper hand and the whole town behind him. Everything’s ruined.” For a moment, Ester and Ted said nothing as the crowd started to make their way out onto the street. Finally Ted shoved his hands his pockets. “Well, we have to do something,” he said and headed toward B.J.’s. Ester and Mason moved across to the park as the party began to fill the sidewalks. Ester took Mason’s arm. “Ted’s right. We have to do something.” Mason looked at her. “What can we do?” Ester thought for a moment. “I don’t know, Mason. But we only have a short time until these streets are going to be patrolled by more of them.” She patted his shoulder. “I’m heading back to my camper. You get some sleep tonight, son.” “Do you want a ride,” Mason called after her. “No thanks, I’ll walk.” Ester headed off into the evening. Mason stood there as voice started to fill the night. After a moment he felt someone at his elbow. “Poor Mr. Lent, looking like he doesn’t have a friend in the world,” Sarah chuckled. Mason turned and was greeted by her smile. “I’ll be your friend tonight, if you don’t mind.” Mason felt himself smile. “No. I wouldn’t mind at all.” She took his hand and they walked toward the band stand at the center of the park. “I haven’t seen much of you lately,” Sarah said, squeezing his hand tighter. “I’m sorry. This election had me in a state.”
“I know. The last few weeks have been terrible for you.” She stopped him. “With everything that happened... I never got a chance to tell you what a wonderful time I had that night.” Mason took a breath and felt flush. “I did too.” “I’m hoping we can do it again. At least the nice parts.” “What is your aunt going to say? We won’t have Leo here to keep her occupied this time.” “Mayor Joseph gave her an earful that day at City Hall. She’s only brought up her disapproval a few times.” Mason shook his head. “What did he say to her?” “I have no idea. She won’t tell me but it must’ve been pretty bad. She didn’t talk the rest of that night.” “I had no idea that Joseph was so interested in our relationship.” Sarah took a breath and smiled. She didn’t say anything for a moment. Her eyes simply wrinkled at the edges and moved around Mason’s face like she was reading him. Finally she spoke. “Are we in a relationship, Mr. Lent?” She laughed at how uncomfortable Mason became. “I just meant...” Mason’s words were cut off by a kiss. It wasn’t long, but it was enough. Mason melted. The back muscles that seemed to have been pulled so tight, relaxed. Then it was over. Sarah pulled back and grinned. A few people on the grass near them smiled and nodded. Mason sheepishly nodded and smiled. Not far beyond them, Mason caught sight of Sarah’s aunt Brenda, watching everything from the edge of the street. She didn’t move but her gave seemed to blow a hole in Mason. “There they are,” came a voice near them. Mason turned to see Thatch and small group of people crossing the grass. “The man I owe this all too.” Sarah stepped up and shook the doctor’s hand. “Congratulations, Dr. Thatch. Or should I call you Mr. Mayor?” They all laughed. “Thank you, Miss Bedwin.” Thatch looked at Mason. “And thank you, Mason.” He wanted to punch Thatch in the face but Mason thought better of it. He extended his hand. “Anytime.”
“Now, don’t let me stop you two.” Thatch smiled his hollow, forced smiled. “It seems you both have something else to celebrate.” The small crowd chuckled. Over the new mayor’s shoulder, Mason watched Brenda shake her head and move off into the crowd. “And why not,” Thatch continued. “Tonight is a night for all of us to celebrate our friends that are no longer with us and hold tight to all we hold dear.” The phrase snapped Mason back to attention. The words of his dream drifted back. “I couldn’t agree more, Mr. Mayor.” As Thatch and the group with him continued on their way toward City Hall, Mason looked at Sarah. “I have to go. I’m sorry. I just remembered something.” Sarah nodded. “I’m sorry if I shouldn’t have done that.” “NO! No. It was fine... wonderful. I...” When he couldn’t think of the next thing to say, Mason leaned forward and kissed her again. When their lips parted Mason continued. “I will call on you tomorrow evening. Is that all right?” Sarah just grinned and nodded. Mason kissed her again before pulling himself away and running toward the bar. * B.J.’s was full of revelers as Mason came through the door. He found Ted throwing back a boilermaker with Ward. Mason stepped in between them. “Hey, Ward. Do you think Ted and I can borrow your truck for a little while?” Ward’s eyes were heavy with drink. “I suppose,” he said, holding out the keys. “What’s going on?” Ted’s brow furrowed. “Yeah, Mason, what’s going on?” “Oh, it’s nothing. Ester decided to walk back to her camper, I just wanted to make sure she gets there all right.” Ward cocked his head. “And we had a little wager on tonight’s election. Wanted to make sure she paid up,” Mason finished. “Ah!” Without another word, he dropped the keys in Mason’s hand and took another drink. Mason grabbed Ted by the arm and dragged him from the bar, promising to be back soon to pick Ward up. Ward just lifted a tipsy hand in thanks. * Midway up the road to Ester’s place, they caught her in the headlights and pulled over. Ted and Mason hopped out of the truck and met her.
“Mason, what’s wrong,” she asked over the rumble of the truck. Ted shrugged. “Ward was buying the drinks, I hope this is good.” “I know what we have to do. It was something that Thatch said after you left. I need to do what Sally told me to do before she died. I have to go north to the Onus Priory. There is something there that Parker wants me to find. ” “In a few days there will be new cops in town. How are you going to get away,” Ted asked. Mason thought for a moment. Then he shrugged. “I have to disappear for a few days.”
#40 Three Days in the Ether
The ground had settled and weeds had grown to cover the spot. Mason Lent crouched down and ran his fingers through the grass. Not far off Ward Marchen’s herd eyed Mason with curiosity as he stared at a seemingly innocuous patch of earth. It seemed like ages since he’d been here fighting with Ted. Ages since the night that changed everything. He pulled out his pocket knife and jabbed it into the roots below the surface. He could feel the roots snapping through the handle as he sawed out a circle of turf. He tangled his fingers in the weeds and gently pulled up, cutting the remaining roots. ‘It should stay buried,’ he thought, but he continued to remove the weeds. ‘It’s not the things we bury that define us,’ he thought again, ‘It’s the things we keep.’ And he had kept it when his gut told him to destroy it. Finally the fist full of weeds and earth rose in his hand. Mason put it to the side and began to dig through the loose soil beneath. * The light above Ester’s table seemed dim against the encroaching night outside. Mason stubbed out his cigarette and looked at Ted and Ester. “I can’t be long. Ward will wonder where I am soon.” Ted chuckled. “How do you expect to be able to slip away for a few days? If Ward is one of them, he’s gonna know the minute he can’t find you. All of Hitchfield...” “And Whetlest’s new cops,” Ester interjected.
Ted nodded. “Right. They’re all going to be looking for you.” Mason stared into the ashtray. “I know. We need a convincing way for me to be away for two or three days.” Ted just shook his head. “How do you even know where to go? What if it takes longer? Look, Mason, if something happens and you don’t turn up after three days, it’s not going to take long before they put two and two together and come looking for me and Ester.” “The boy’s right, Mason,” Ester said sipping her coffee. “We’ve been as thick as thieves these last few weeks. If somebody comes looking for you, they’re bound to come knocking here.” Mason could only nod. “I can’t just vanish. That would raise too many eyebrows. We need to do something where everyone knows that I’m going away.” Ted shrugged. “It’s just...” “Look, Ted, we need to do something. Everything is falling apart. Sally found something out there, something important. I have to go. I owe it to her. Don’t you want to know what’s going on? Why Thatch and the others are doing... whatever it is they’re doing to us? I have these holes in my memory. I have no idea who I was before I came here. I have no idea what life is like in 2007.” Mason slammed his hands down on the table and rocketed up from his seat. “I’m tired of waiting. I’m tired of sneaking around and hiding. Parker showed us these things for a reason and I can’t... I WON’T believe that we can’t do something. I’m not going to sit here and let Thatch or Parker or anyone else use me anymore. I’m going, whether you’re with me or not. I need to see what’s out there.” “I’m with you,” Ted nodded. “I’m just scared.” Mason sat back down. “I know. So am I. But they don’t know that we’re scared. They don’t know that we have a reason to be.” Ester finished her coffee. “True. What we know gives us an advantage.” She took a breath and looked at Ted and then back at Mason. “Look, Mason, we’ll help you figure it out. what happens if you get there? Whatever Sally found made her lose her mind. How do we know that you’re not going to come back... crazy?” He didn’t know how to answer. *
The shirt that Mason had wrapped Pancum’s phone in, poked through as he cleared away the dirt. He reached down and pulled the shirt out, shaking off the dirt. He unwrapped it and held it in his hands. Mason opened the phone, but the screen stayed blank. He tried to find a way to turn it on, but he found nothing. He sighed and hoped that it wasn’t all pointless. He slipped it into his pocket , folded up the shirt and dropped it back into the hole. Then he kicked the dirt back into place and put the weeds back to cover the hole. Then Mason Lent made his way back across the pasture toward the farm, the phone weighing heavy in his pocket. The only proof he had that he wasn’t crazy and it didn’t work anymore. “I hope it’s enough,” he mumbled, lighting a smoke. * Mason knocked on the door. The sky was a beautiful, afternoon blue. He jangled the pennies in his pocket for a moment before the door opened. Eric Thatch blinked in surprise as he opened the door. “Mason, my political savior. What can I do for you?” “Actually Doc, I’m here for your medical opinion.” “Please, come in.” The doctor ushered Mason through the living room to his office. “I didn’t see you at the swearing in the other day.” “I know. Sorry about that. I had a lot to do out at the farm.” “Not a problem. I understand.” Thatch eased himself down into the chair behind the desk. He motioned toward one of the leather-bound chairs opposite him. “Please, have a seat. What’s troubling you, Mason?” “I don’t know, Doc. I’ve just been so run down lately. Really tired.” “Have you been sleeping?” “Not much since... City Hall.” Thatch nodded. “Have you been running a fever at all? Trouble eating?” “I haven’t been eating much but I don’t think I’ve been running a fever,” Mason shrugged.
They chatted for a little while longer and finally Thatch stood up. “Well, Mason, I don’t think you’re sick. I think you’re fatigued. With everything that has happened in the last few weeks and your job... I’d recommend a few days of rest.” “Really? You think that’s all I need?” “Absolutely. Tell you what, I can have Maya get a room ready for you. You’re welcome to stay here.” “Honestly, Doc, if I stayed here, I’d feel like there was really something wrong. Is there some place else I could go. Some place quiet?” Thatch thought for a moment. “Well, Willa Seenashy runs the boarding house on the other side of town. I could check to see if maybe she could put you up next weekend.” “That sounds great,” Mason said, rising from the chair. Thatch put a hand on Mason’s shoulder as they made their way to the door. “I will call Ward after I’ve talked to Willa.” “Thanks, Doc.” As Mason stepped back out into the Hitchfield afternoon, Thatch shook his hand and smiled slightly. “You’re welcome. Thanks for coming to see me. Maybe we’re finally starting to round the corner of our friendship.” Mason smiled and nodded. Thatch closed the door and Mason turned and made his way down the step. He smirked to himself as he moved on into the day. * He hated having the phone in his pocket as he made his way into town. The walk didn’t really bother him anymore. It was just having the damn thing in his pocket. It felt like it was weighing him down. Mason knew how dangerous it was taking it into Hitchfield. But he had to. There was no other way. *
It had been over a week since the three had met in Ester’s trailer. Over a week since the plan had been formed. Mason was leaving in two days to search for the Onus Priory. He sat awake in his bunk, waiting for the lights to go off in the Marchen house. Shortly after eleven the lights went out. He waited a few minutes before tapping on the wall. A moment later Ted opened the door and stepped in. “So are you ready?” Mason chuckled. “As ready as I’ll ever be. Thatch arranged everything with Willa Seenashy. I’ve made sure to be seen at the Five and Dime buying some books. Ward is even lending me a record player and some records.” “Records?” “Yeah. Beethoven... classical stuff. He said it would help me relax.” “How is the food situation?” “I’ve managed to store enough for the trip. I can fit it into my duffle bag with my clothes. I made it all the way from California on beef jerky and potatoes I stole from a field...” Mason paused. “At least, that’s what I think I did. I have no idea if that trip ever happened or not.” He fell silent. “What do you think you’re gonna find out there?” Mason shook his head. “I don’t know, Ted. I hope I find something. Something that will tell us what the next step is.” Ted sat quiet for a moment. Then he took a deep breath. “Just, don’t come back crazy, okay?” “I won’t. It’s up to you two to make sure that there’s a town to come back to.” Ted finally stood up. “I’m going to get some shut eye. Let me know if there’s anything I can do tomorrow to help. Anything you might need.” Mason thought for a long time. Then he sighed. “There’s only one thing I need to do and it may help us all. * Mason stood on the grass. He didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to ruin it. ‘Faith,’ he thought over and over. He put his hand into his pocket and felt the phone. The proof.
Finally he took a deep breath, reached down and picked up a small pebble. He said the word ‘faith’ again as he threw the pebble at Sarah Bedwin’s window.
#41 The Tale of Mason Lent
“Go on,” she said, putting her hand on his. He took a breath. “I believe my name is Mason Lent. I don’t remember if I have a last name. I believe I came here from California where I was a farm worker in the San Joaquin Valley. My mind tells me that in words but I have no real memories of California. I don’t remember knowing anyone, but I see images, like a photo album of California. The first real memory I have is of waking up beside the road a few miles outside of town. I was tired and sore. I had a cracked tooth that lead me to believe that I had been in a bar fight.” “A bar fight? You don’t seem like the type,” Sarah interrupted. “I know,” Mason nodded. “Anyway, in my pocket I found a piece of a newspaper indicating that I should come to Tillman County to find work. So I walked on. A few miles down the road I came to the Marchen farm. Ward was quick to take me in. I met Ted and I noticed that Mrs. Marchen was watching me from the window. That was when I first heard about the Plague.” “Mason, I don’t understand why you are telling me all this.” “Because you need to know, Sarah. For you to understand, you need to hear this from the beginning.” Sarah nodded. “I’m sorry. Go on. Please.” “That first afternoon I met Toby. I had never seen him before, but he went crazy when he saw me. He spoke to me like he knew me. Then he threw himself off of that building. Later on Leo...” Mason stopped for a moment. “The Sheriff told me that Toby had been a sick young man. Of course, who knows if what he says is true anymore.” “What do you mean?” “I’ll get to that. That night, after Toby killed himself, I saw the Indian for the first time. I saw him again the next night in town during the festival and again after that when I chased him onto Ester’s property. When I met Ester she had a book about the Comanche Indians. The Indian that I saw... that you’ve seen was in the book. His name is Quanah Parker... and he died in 1911.” “What?”
“The man we’ve seen is... a ghost. A vision of a man who’s been dead for a very long time. She also told me that every time we have one of our killer storms – light appears in the sky the night before. Pale light to the north. And it’s true. I’ve seen it.” Sarah leaned forward. “What is it?” “I don’t know. I saw it in the sky several days after the church fire. Sure enough, the next day the storm warning sounded. Ester said she thought it was Martians. Truth be told, I don’t know what it is.” Mason thought for a moment. “And there’s something funny about those storms. They whip up out of nowhere and scare the hell out of everybody... even me. And sitting here now, Sarah, I’m not afraid of storms. But when that warning goes off, I’m terrified.” “They’re dangerous.” Mason smiled ironically. “Tell me about what happened to the Marfonts.” Sarah thought for a moment, then she began. Mason leaned forward and said each word with her. “Well, a while back, one of those storms spun up and took Earl Marfont’s farm. The whole thing. Blew the barn apart like it was made of toothpicks. Took Earl, his wife and the kids. Never found the bodies. Nothing.” Mason leaned back as Sarah boggled. “How...” “It’s always the same. All over town. When you ask people about the storm that took the Marfonts, everyone says the words exactly the same.” “I don’t understand, Mason. How can that be?” Mason gripped her hand tighter. “Because somebody has done something to us, all of us. Somebody has been lying to us all along.” “Who?” “I think it’s Dr. Thatch.” Sarah shook her head. “Why on earth would you think it’s Dr. Thatch?” “He has this... thing, this bombshelter, in the yard behind his house. No handle on the door. No way that I can see to get in. I saw him and another man come out of it one night after the church fire. Thatch didn’t know I’d seen it. When I asked him, he told me it was storage. But I don’t believe him. Parker wanted me to see it. He showed it to me on purpose. There’s something down in that bombshelter.” “I’m getting very confused. That still doesn’t mean that Thatch has brainwashed everybody.”
“There’s more. But Sarah, if you want me to stop, I will.” Sarah looked in his eyes. “No. Go on.” “You remember the Russian pilot?” “How could I forget?” “He wasn’t Russian. He told me just before the Army killed him. I don’t know who he was. But he wasn’t Russian. I believe that. After they killed him the FBI took me in for questioning by an agent named Pancum. They drugged me. They asked me what I remembered. When they let me go, Leo and the Mayor told me that Thatch and the FBI had given them a report saying that I had been hurt. Attacked somehow and that’s why I lost my memories. I believed them and for eight months I didn’t see Parker. I thought it was all gone until the night Sally Haines blew the power. That night at the church, when we all got knocked out by the screaming in our ears. Sally came to me. She could see Parker too.” “Sally... before she ran away?” “Yes. Ester and I hid her when we all realized we could see Parker. It was like an invisible... badge. He showed us who we could trust. While the town looked for Sally, Thatch and Pancum came to the farm and talked to Ward. I went back to town and spied on Thatch’s bombshelter. Pancum caught me and was going to kill me.” “My God, Mason.” “We were in his car. We fought and I got the gun away from him. But rather than answer any questions, he ran his car into a tree and killed himself.” Sally looked at the ground. “That’s terrible.” Mason reached into his pocket. “That’s when I found this.” He pulled out Pancum’s phone and placed it in Sarah’s hand. Her brow furrowed as she looked at it. “What is it?” Mason took a deep breath. “I need you to believe me, Sarah. I need you to believe that every word I say to you is true.” Sarah opened the phone and ran her fingers over the buttons. She took a deep breath and looked back at Mason. “I do.” “It’s a phone. A telephone.” “What?”
“When I found it, it lit up. See the little window? There was a picture on there. And it said... It said that it’s not 1961, Sarah. It’s 2007.” “What? That’s impossible. We all know it’s 1961.” Mason shook his head sadly. “No. It’s 2007. Somebody is making us all think it’s 1961.” “Why?” “I don’t know. When I showed this phone to Sally, she ran away. It was too much for her. That’s why she left. It was my fault. Whatever she saw out there, it drove her crazy. She blamed Mayor Dadecroft, Leo and Thatch for it all. She said they were the ones lying to us, the ones who brainwashed us.” “Is that why she killed them?” “I tried to stop her. I believed Leo was on our side. But he knew it was 2007. Both him and Dadecroft did. They knew that Pancum’s phone was missing.” Mason closed his eyes. “He was going to kill me, Sarah. Leo had a gun on me and was going to kill me to... sustain the stasis... to keep me quiet. If Sally hadn’t stabbed him, I’d be dead right now.” Sarah looked into him for a long time. Her eyes darted around his face. She put her hand on his cheek. “You’ve been carrying this all around in your head, Mason? Alone?” Mason shook his head. “No, Ester and Ted know. But that’s all. I... just need you to believe me. Sarah, through all of this, one thing has stayed the same. You. You’re the only thing I knew was real. Knowing that you could see Parker... that changed everything for me. It gave me hope. Please tell me you believe me.” Sarah leaned forward and kissed him. Her lips lingered on his for a moment. Then she pulled away and smiled. “I do.” It felt like a fist inside Mason unclenched. He let his breath go and it sounded like a muffled cry. “Thank you.” “I don’t remember much if anything before I came to live with my aunt. She and Dr. Thatch are always talking about how well I’m doing. Constantly reminding me that I had a nervous breakdown...but I’ve never felt crazy. I’ve never felt like I was improving. I just felt sheltered. But there is one thing I know for certain. I had a child once. I had a baby. It’s not my mind. I feel it in my body. I feel hollow and incomplete. They tell me that I’ve made my baby up in my mind, that there never was one. But I know it. If they’ve... changed my memories... made me believe that I am someone I’m not, I need to know the truth. I want to know what happened to my baby.”
“We can find out together.” They kissed again. Sarah entwined their fingers. “So what do we do?” “I have to leave town for a few days. Sally told me to find the Onus Priory. She found something there. I... we have a plan, Ester, Ted and me. I think we’ve figured out a way for me to disappear for a few days.I need to go before Whetlest’s police force arrives.” Sarah nodded. “What do you need me to do?” Mason grinned. “How are you at making soup?”
#42 Room and Board
Ward Marchen stopped the truck’s engine outside of Willa Sheenashy’s home. Willa was a widow in her late fifties, her husband lost to the plague. Her house sat on the eastern side of town, the back of the house looking across the top neighborhood to the fields beyond. As Mason looked at the house, he wished for a moment that he wasn’t going to be escaping from it. He wanted to stay, to actually relax for a few days. But it was impossible. When the sun went down that night, he would have to find a way out of the house and head north across the land. He needed to make his way, as Sally Haines said in her dying words, to where the farms end. To the Onus Priory. Mason dropped his cigarette out the window. “Thanks, Ward.” “Never a problem, Mason. I just hope you can get some rest.” Mason smiled. “Me too. I think I’m just going to tuck in and sleep. Maybe read a little. Ester loaned me a couple of books.’ “That woman should start a lending library,” Ward chuckled. “And don’t worry about a thing. Ted and I will keep an eye on things while you’re gone. You just get some rest. Willa’s good people. She’ll take real good care of you.” As Mason reached for the door handle, a car moved past them on the street. They both stopped and looked at it. The single red light on top made the pit of Mason’s stomach drop. “Is that...”
Ward nodded. “Some of the new police force arrived yesterday. Brand new cars, too. Look at the shine.” And shine it did. The black and white glimmered and caught the reflection of the sun trickling through the trees that grew over the road. Mason’s brow furrowed. “How many?” Ward watched as the squad car moved up the street and turned the corner. “Four. I hear there will be seven before the week is out.” “They’re a little early, aren’t they?” Ward stared into space. “Well, when Thatch gets something in his mind, there’s little that slows him down.” He blinked and looked over at Mason. “Any way, the streets should be safe now, so you just kick back for a few days.” Mason nodded and opened the truck door. “Thanks again. I should be back in a couple of days.” He reached into the truck-bed and grabbed his canvas bag. “Have Willa phone me if you want me to pick you up.” Mason closed the door and waved. With a nod, Ward pulled away from the curb. A moment later he disappeared around the corner and Mason looked up at the house. Whetlest’s men were already patrolling the streets. That was going to complicate things. But there was no turning back. He made his way up the brickwork walkway and knocked door. Willa smiled wide as she opened the door. “Hello, Mr. Lent. Come in,” she said in a gentle southern accent. Mason stepped across the threshold with a smile. “Please, call me Mason.” “Absolutely, Mason,” she said, shutting the door behind him. “I’m afraid the house is more of a mess than I would like. The boarders don’t really start coming in usually until closer to harvest time.” Mason put his bag on the floor at his feet. “I was wondering who your boarders would be. I can’t imagine that Hitchfield is much of a honeymoon spot.” Willa laughed. “No. Mostly it’s farm help in for the season. I did have Mr. Whetlest for a few nights when he came to town. I hear he bought one of the... well, I don’t mean to be indelicate, but one of the plague houses on the other side of town.” Mason smiled. “Well, I guess he is here to stay now, isn’t he.”
“It seems that way. Well, leave your bag there for the moment. I’m making some tea.” “Oh, that’s really not necessary. I was...” “Nonsense. You should start your little rest off right, with a nice cup of tea.” Mason smiled, defeated. “Thank you.” Mason soon found himself in an overstuffed lavender chair, looking out the window at the afternoon. Willa poured his tea. “I hope you don’t mind. I’m from Savannah originally and I do like my tea sweet.” “Not a problem. Georgia? How did you wind up in Hitchfield?” “Mr. Sheenashy, God rest his soul, brought us here when we were very young. That was many, many years ago.” She seemed to get lost in her thoughts. “We weren’t much more than kids, really. He wanted to learn how to farm and the poor man could grow a wart. But that was a long time ago. How about you? It’s not often I have a genuine hero under my roof.” “I’m not much of a hero, Willa. I’ve just been lucky.” “Oh pish posh. I saw you run to save those folks in the fire. And the way you handled that Russian. Mr. Mason, you’re a regular Superman. It’s no wonder you’re exhausted.” Mason took a sip of his tea. “Speaking of which, I don’t mean to be rude...” “Oh, of course. Why don’t we get you settled in?” They both stood and Willa went and got his bag from the hall. “Now, Dr. Thatch said that you shouldn’t be disturbed. So I will leave it up to you if you want any meals, I’m more than happy to whip something up for you.” “That’s very kind, but I’m planning to sleep an awful lot.” “And you go right ahead. I’m as quiet as a mouse in slippers.” “I might have visitors tomorrow, Ester Hatfield and Sarah Bedwin. They told me they were going to make soup for me and pay me a visit. That’s fine.” “Of course.” Willa grinned at him. “I’ve heard some rumors around the town...” Mason smiled and put up his hand. “I’m sure you have.”
“All right. Now, you have your choice of rooms. There’s three of them and they are all vacant at the moment.” Mason looked at the floor for a moment. “You don’t have anything on this floor, do you? I took a spill out of the barn a while back and I’m afraid I have a touch of vertigo.” Ester nodded. “Absolutely I do. It used to be Mr. Sheenashy’s den. Since his passing I’ve turned it into another bedroom. You are welcome to it.” As Willa led him up the hall, Mason breathed slightly easier. * Night fell on Hitchfield. The remainder of the day Mason had slept, knowing that he would be traveling through the night. Willa had brought him some sandwiches and a pitcher of water at his request. Other than that, she had left him alone. There were two windows leading to the back yard. One had long since been painted shut, but the other could be opened. Mason spent about an hour that afternoon practicing opening it quietly. The rest of the afternoon he thought about what lay ahead. When night fell, he listened for Willa to make her way to bed. At half past eight, he finally heard the door to her room shut. He waited another half an hour. He positioned some of the books and clothes he’d brought with him under the blankets on the bed, to give the impression that he was sleeping. Then he locked the door and dropped the key Willa had given him into his pocket. Then he dimmed the lights, pulled down the shades and opened the window. The air outside was still as Mason looked around to see if anyone would be able to see him. When he was sure he was alone, he eased his way out the window and sat on the sill as he closed the window behind him. He wedged a section of a book under the window, just enough to get his fingers underneath in two days when he would have to return to the room. Then he dropped quietly to the ground. No one was around. The upstairs lights of the house were out, Willa was asleep. He put his bag over his shoulder and crept along the hedges toward the street. As he approached, car lights rounded the corner and he ducked below the bushes and froze in place. Through the branches he could see the squad car under the street lamp. After the car disappeared, he poked his head around.
It wasn’t going to be easy. He had to head four or five blocks further east before getting to the fields. Then he could turn and head north, past the back of Ester Hatfield’s land, where she would be waiting. Mason slowly made his way along the neighbor’s bushes toward the street. He looked again for a car. This time, however, Quanah Parker stood in the middle of the intersection. It was safe to cross. Mason darted across the street into the darkness beyond. Parker guided Mason’s way to the fields. When he was far enough away from the houses, he turned and headed north. Some of the houses to his left had lights on, but he was far enough away that no one would see him. The late spring growth in the fields also provided cover. He moved swiftly, with the half-moon and the ghost of a long dead Indian guiding his way. He did notice a house along the way, a dark house, barely perceptible in the moonlight. It was the derelict house that Parker had led him to a long time ago. The safe house. It felt like a lifetime ago to Mason. He hadn’t been back since that day, but the house, from what he could see, hadn’t changed. That house might come in very handy soon, he thought. Night traveling through the fields was slow going. He crossed several small gravel roads along the way. Before he crossed one, a squad car had driven past. That was the only other movement he saw during his escape. Finally, in the distance, he saw the sign he was waiting for. A small fire surrounded on all sides by dark, unkempt forest land. Ester. “You’re late,” she said, quickly taking his bag off his shoulder. “I’m sorry if I worried you,” Mason smirked. “I wasn’t worried. Parker was here to let me know you were all right.” Mason took her hand. “Parker? He was with me.” Ester raised her eyebrows. “He was here the entire time, standing right over there in the field. He raised his hand when you were coming.” She hurriedly started to transfer supplies to Mason’s bag. “Ester. Don’t you think that’s odd? He was in two places at once.”
Ester brushed off the comment. “Maybe he has a twin brother that’s a ghost too. I don’t know. I’ve never met a ghost before, so I have no idea what they can do, son. You’ve got a long way to go before morning.” “Sorry.” Mason fished his room key out of his pocket and handed it to her. “Here’s the key to my room. Sarah will meet you at Willa’s place around four.” “Good. I put some food and a couple jars of water in there. There’s also a lantern and some matches. It’s not much, but it should do. On your way back, if you come back, dump whatever’s left in the bushes here.” Mason took her hand. “Whetlest’s police are here. They’re patrolling pretty far out of town.” Ester nodded somberly. “I know. I already had a visit from one. Just stopping by to introduce himself.” “It’s getting dangerous.” “You just get home in one piece.” Mason hugged her. “How am I going to know if you all are all right?” “Don’t worry about us. We’ll be fine. You just worry about getting to that Priory and finding whatever Sally wanted you to see. Now, it’s already after ten. you git!” “Thank you, Ester.” “Git!” With that, Ester covered her small fire with dirt and disappeared into the dark trees that surrounded her trailer. Mason hoisted his canvas bag over his shoulder, the same one he carried when he arrived in Hitchfield, and headed off into the night to find where the farms end.
#43 Where the Farms End
The little bit of light that Hitchfield threw into the night sky had disappeared behind Mason hours before. This night fell pitch black around him, the half-moon cast only light that Mason could make out only dark, shapeless hulks ahead of him. Somehow, though, he could see Parker, even in the dim light the vision was strong and defined. They had been walking for hours. It was far, far past midnight now, but Mason wasn’t sure exactly what time it was or how much further there was to go. Sally never told him how far it was. Parker, as expected, kept a steady pace. Those first hours after
stopping at Ester’s had been fairly swift. The land was flat and had late spring growth well underway. After a time, the land changed. It stopped being so well kept and eventually Mason could feel grass brushing along his knees. They seemed to be in a wild, grassy plain, from what little Mason could make out. Traveling got more difficult and Mason was made to slow down. Not long after that, the land became hillier. Mile after mile the small inclines seemed to grow until Mason and Parker were making their way over rolling hills. He couldn’t see it, but it seemed like a much wilder land than the land around Hitchfield. At the top of yet another hill, Mason finally stopped. “Parker?” At the sound of Mason’s voice, the Indian turned around. “I’ve got to rest. Maybe you’ve been dead too long to remember what tired is. God knows you seem to stay awake all night, throwing parties in my head.” The Indian nodded. Mason cleared out a small patch in the grass and sat down. he moved some more brush away with his hand and light the lantern that Ester had given him. He finally looked at his watch, it was a quarter after four. “The sun’ll be up in a few hours. Are we at least getting close?” He pulled some food and a jar of water from his bag as Parker sat next to him. The Indian nodded again. “How far you think we’ve come? Ten miles? Twelve maybe. However far we’ve come, I haven’t seen a house in hours. I know we’re running parallel to that road that runs straight into Hitchfield, and I haven’t seen a light in any direction for ages.” Mason chuckled to himself. “Smack dab in the middle of nowhere, talking to a ghost.” He sat in silence for a while, staring into the flame inside the lantern and listening to the wind in the grass and the late night bugs. He knew that staring at the light would make the dark around him darker for a time, but he didn’t care. It was comforting. Mason took a deep breath and thought of Sarah. He thought of her kiss a few nights before. He hadn’t seen her since and the only place he really wanted to be was with her now. He glanced over at Quanah Parker. “Why me?” The Indian glanced back up at him. “Why did you pick me first? Last year I was the only person you showed yourself to. You know, now... you seem to be fine jumping up and down in front of anybody. Why me first? Why not Sarah? Why not Ester?” The Indian only smiled slightly. Mason chuckled and shook his head. “And don’t be thinking that I’m not grateful. You showed me that so much of what we’re seeing is a lie – and that’s better than living a lie any day. And you’ve let me know who I can trust. For that, I’m grateful. But why did you come to me that first night? There were so many people already in this town, ready to believe?” Mason rolled his head back and looked at the sky. “Why am I asking you this? You never seem to answer anything... or talk at all. Except when I’m sleeping. You’re like a cat in heat.” He chuckled. Parker cocked his head and looked at Mason. Mason’s eyes moved back to meet the visions. “Look, if I go to sleep, can I talk to you?”
The Indian looked back at the fire a moment and then his face grew grim. Then he looked back at Mason and nodded. Mason’s eyes grew wide. He laid back in the grass and closed his eyes. It wasn’t long until his body relaxed and his mind drifted. * It was different this time. Mason was still lying in the grass. He stood up to find that only the patch of grass lit by the lantern existed. Around the little patch of earth, a starfield stretched in all directions. “I don’t have long,” the voice said. Mason turned to see Quanah Parker facing him. “You will understand one day, but it’s simply easier to talk to you here. You’re not beholden to what’s around you. I don’t have to fight against what you are seeing and hearing. Here your mind is open and I can speak to you, even if only briefly.” The Indian put his hand on Mason’s shoulder. “I know you have a lot of questions. I pray they are all answered one day. But when you ask ‘why did you come to me first’ – because the messages I bring were sent to YOU. This has all been planned, Mason...” Quanah flickered for a moment, he bent over in pain. Mason caught him by the arms. “Parker!” The Indian regained composure. “I need to rest. This is taking so much... Keep heading north. It’s not far now. I will try to rejoin you soon and guide you to the priory.” “Rejoin?” The Indian looked up, urgency in his eyes. “Mason, this is a long road. We have to take it slowly, together. What you are fighting is so big... if I gave it to you all at once, you would lose your mind like Sally and poor Toby. Have faith. Slowly. Together.” “But who is sending me these messages? Who planned this?” It was too late, Quanah Parker faded from view, leaving Mason Lent alone, floating on a sea of stars. * Mason opened his eyes. The sky above him was a streak of pink, heralding that the sun was soon going to rise. He stood up. He slept too long. The flame in the lantern had gone out. He looked around him.
A mist hung low to the ground as Mason scanned the horizon. Rolling hills covered in wild grass stretched off in all directions. There was nothing else in sight. He took a breath. The dream of Parker had rattled him. But he knew he had to keep going until the Indian could join him again. Mason gathered up his canvas bag, turned and continued north alone. The sun had only been up for about forty minutes when Mason came to the top of yet another hill. He stood and caught his breath as he looked out at the sight before him. Not far away, maybe another mile and a half, a dense line of trees stretched over the horizon to the east and to the west. Beyond, trees for as far as Mason could see. Only the open sky lay beyond. The Priory was in there, inside that forest somewhere. He started down the hill. There was no question which way to go now. * Mason stopped not far inside the forest and sat under a towering tree to eat. Mostly he wanted to give Quanah time to return. He waited an hour. Then he took out his pocket knife and put a mark on the tree he’d been sitting under. If Quanah was gone for good, he still needed to find his way back. North he thought. He could still see the sky, but once midday hit, he could easily get lost. So he kept walking. There was no path leading through the woods. Nothing indicating that anyone was here. As he ventured deeper and deeper, and the grasslands fell further and further behind him, Mason’s became more and more worried. If he never came back, Ester and Sarah would be discovered by Thatch and Whetlest – and who knows what they would do. Maybe they’ve already been found out. Maybe, when he got back to Hitchfield, the police would be waiting for him. He tried to force himself to stop thinking about it. Whatever he found ahead had to be worth it. It had to be worth the risk. It had to be. He checked his watch, he’d been picking his way through the forest for half an hour now and still no sign of Parker. He stopped to take a breath when something ahead caught his eye. A flash of metal. He crouched down and stayed still. But the metal never moved. He waited a few more minutes, then he crept forward, moving quickly from tree to tree. He moved about twenty yards before he could see the metal better. It was some sort of girder.
He moved closer, looking around for signs of movement, but there were none. Finally he stepped out of the trees onto a small dirt path. Before him... the Priory. It was an old stone building, two stories tall. It was more like a small mansion than a house, but simple. Next to the Priory was a small chapel, the roof of which had collapsed in on. While the forest had started to grow over the old Priory building, work had been done on it. The girder that Mason had seen earlier, ran up one side of the building, reaching up through the trees. It too was old, but much younger than the building itself. From what he could tell, it looked like an antennae. Mason peered along the path. When he turned to his right to look down the path, Quanah Parker was standing next to him. Mason stifled a small yelp. “Dammit I hate that.” The two looked at the old building for a moment. “So, while you were gone, I found it.” Parker nodded in response. “So, I suppose,” Mason continued, “this is where we go in.” Mason took a deep breath. Then he and the ghost of Quanah Parker crossed the small grass covered clearing and made their way to the door of the Priory.
#44 Grave Marker
The hinges on the old wooden door groaned as Mason pushed his way into the building. The once-green paint on the doors had long since been worn away by weather and some flaked off on his hands. Inside, the sunlight filtered into the large main hall through grimy windows. Dust, chips of paint and cobwebs were everywhere. The main all stretched on ahead and a smaller room, lined with wooded kneelers went off to his right. No one had been here in ages. As Mason moved into the hall, his feet kicked up small eddies of dust that danced for a moment in the shafts of light forcing themselves into the gloom. The hall was lined with ornately carved woodwork. Someone cared about this place once. Mason looked over his shoulder to see if Parker was still there. He was, stepping through the dust and disturbing nothing. They passed a stair case that spiraled upstairs and finally came to the end of the great hall, where the hall stretched on to their left and right. Mason smirked at the Indian. “So, if I was something that drove Sally Haines crazy... where would I be?” Parker pointed at the floor. Mason nodded. “Yeah, that’s what I was thinking.” So Mason began trying every door on the hallway looking for stairs to the basement. All he found were closets and cabinets. There was nothing. Feel followed the
hall until it emptied into a large dining room with large leaded windows that threw rainbows into the dust. The man and the ghost moved through the dining hall into a large kitchen, long since empty, which seemed to be the end of the line. Mason leaned against the counter. It was disheartening. There had to be something here that drove Sally crazy. Nobody had been in this building for years. There was no sign that she’d ever been here. Mason took a breath and coughed from the dust. The coughing continued. He moved to the back door and opened it to let in some fresh air. When his lungs cleared he took a deep breath and looked out at the grounds behind the Priory. He stood there looking out. There was another, wider path that lead off into the woods, but he couldn’t see where the path started. There seemed to be a hill in the middle of the grounds, which seemed to swallow the path. Mason cocked his head and moved out of the building toward this odd, over grown hill. He walked up the hill toward its top but something was strange. Something in his stepped. He looked over his shoulder at Parker and then dropped to his knees and began to tug at the overgrowth. He frantically pushed and pulled branches and vines and weeds out of the way. Years of forest covering a wound. Finally he his hand touched the cold, unmistakable thing underneath. Concrete. Mason’s eyes grew wide and he ran to the top of the hill, where it dropped off suddenly. He looked down to see the wide dirt path disappear into the hill. He climbed down and grabbed the side of the hill. As he thought – camouflage netting. He grabbed the netting with both hands and pulled. The opening to the tunnel that lead down was massive. Easily twenty to twentyfive feet tall, maybe more. The dirt path lead down into the darkness. Mason reached into his bag and pulled out the lantern and lit it. He looked at Parker, standing at the top of the entrance, looking down at him. He took a breath and headed into the darkness. The cavern continued to go deeper and widen all around Mason as he moved forward. A walked a hundred yards at least. He was well under the Priory now, deep in the earth. The smell was damp and musty and the air was cold. He moved to the left hand wall and followed it. Eventually he came to a silver junction box on the wall with a large black handle in the off position. He laughed out loud and his laughter echoed in the huge chamber. He took a breath and pushed the lever up.
All around him, metal lights forty feet in the air came on. Mason came to find that he was in a huge, dirt floor warehouse filled with half filled wooden crates, mechanical parts and huge, rusted earthmoving vehicles. The one nearest to him, an old crane, simply had “K-161” printed on the side. But it was old and rust had taken hold. As he began to move through the warehouse he realized that there were all kinds of old building materials on palettes, bulldozers, steamrollers – all seemingly left here to simply rust away into nothing. He moved deeper into the cavern toward some tall chain-link fence. The fence seemed to surround a work area of sorts. There were some old tools and rolled up papers on the table. There was also a wood toolshed. He examined it all carefully. What had happened? Where was everybody? He absent-mindedly opened the tool shed and looked inside. There, tacked on the inside of the door, he found a map. His hands shook as he pulled it down. The map was labeled simply “STASIS”. It was a map of Hitchfield and all the surrounding areas. All the roads of the town marked. All of the houses; Thatch, Marchen, Pratt... all of them listed. Town Hall, the movie house. The only thing on the map that Mason didn’t understand was the crisscrossing gray lines that covered the entire map. Like roads he couldn’t see. Even more disturbing was what surrounded Hitchfield and everything on the map. There was nothing. The woods and Priory were marked, but there was nothing else. There was nothing for miles in any direction. His eyes followed the edge of the map - surrounding the entire area in all directions was a line marked “perimeter fence”. This fence was only broken by an unmarked black square even further north – miles beyond the Priory. Tears welled in Mason’s eyes. It was true... Hitchfield was completely isolated. They were completely and utterly under the control of...whoever was running the town. Hopelessness over took him and he collapsed to the floor and sobbed. After a moment he looked up at his companion ghost. “Is this it? Is this what I came all the way out here to find? There’s no hope? Thank you so much!” Mason took a breath and pulled himself up by the fence. He looked again at the unmarked place to the north. He pointed at it. “Is this where the lights come from?” Parker nodded his response. Mason looked again at the map. “But what’s outside this fence? The map ends. What is that place?” He looked at his watch. “I won’t have time to get there and still get back to Hitchfield by tomorrow. Did Sally go here,” he asked, pointing to the unmarked northern spot. Again Parker nodded. Mason thought for a moment. It would have to wait. He couldn’t risk going further north. He had to get back to Willa’s tomorrow. He looked at his watch again.
“So all of this, everything in this room, was used to build Hitchfield? They used this to build the roads and everything?” He didn’t bother to look to see if Parker was nodding. It didn’t matter, he knew. He kicked the door of the tool shed. “Why are they doing this?! What do they want?! Where are we?” He folded up the map and shoved it in his bag and stepped out of the work area. He stood and caught his breath. He had to get out. There was no guarantee that no one still came here. He headed back toward the power switch when Parker stopped him and pointed toward the far end of the warehouse. Mason shook his head. He’d had enough for one day. But Parker didn’t move. Finally Mason shrugged and headed in the direction Parker was pointing. “There’s more?” As Mason came around a derelict dump truck he saw a familiar site. He stopped in his tracks. It was the exact same kind of bomb-shelter door that Thatch had in his backyard. It was dirtier, less used – but it was exactly the same. Mason pulled out the map and looked up at Parker. “Tunnels! That’s what these grey lines are. They’re tunnels. They’re running everything from underground. That’s not a bomb-shelter in his backyard, it’s a door to the tunnels.” Parker nodded his usual nod. Mason smiled. “Okay. That’s a little better.” Mason headed back across the cavern and shut down the lights. He and Parker walked back out into the daylight. It was well past lunch now. Mason reattached the camouflage netting over the entrance and sat down in the grass to eat. He looked up at Parker as he ate. “You led Sally here, didn’t you? There’s no way she would have found all of this on her own. You really are guiding us in all of this. “ Parker said nothing. “Who sent you, Parker? Who is helping us find our way?” Parker looked at Mason for a moment. Then he turned and began to walk away. Mason jumped to his feet. “Hey! Parker! Wait! I need you to lead me back home.” The Indian disappeared around the corner of the small stone chapel they had seen when they first found the Priory. Mason chased after him. When he came around the corner, Parker stood still in front of him. Mason shook his head. “What’s going on?”
Slowly Parker looked down at the ground and Mason followed suit. On the ground between them stood a simple piece of wood driven into the ground like a grave marker. Mason dropped to his knees for the second time that day, there in the shadow of the chapel. Painted on this marker was the flower that Mason had dreamed of almost a year ago, the flower that he and Parker tried to pull from the ground. The flower that would bring the truth to the surface. He shuddered as he looked up at the Indian. Then he dug into the ground beneath the marker without a thought. He clawed at the tiny mound of earth, throwing dirt in all directions, Finally his hands his something metal. He felt around for the edges and pried the thing free. It was a metal box, an old military ammunition box. He flipped the latch and the top opened. He reached his hand in and pulled out a single reel to reel tape. Attached to the side was a small piece of paper that simply read; “For Mason”.
#45 Light of Day
As the sun broke the horizon to the east of Hitchfield, Mason Lent clasped his hands behind his head and stepped away from the building. “Now, turn toward me,” the cop said, edging closer. Mason took a breath and turned. The cop was young man, one of Whetlest’s new ones. His gun was aimed right at Mason’s middle. The cop moved closer. “What are you doin’ climbing in that nice lady’s window?” Mason smirked, doing his best to make the cop believe that this was all a mistake and he had nothing to worry about. Inside he wanted to throw up. Had it all been for nothing? * Mason laid down on one of the weather-beaten pews in the little chapel and stared up at the hole in the roof. The forest canopy was filtering the afternoon sky. He wasn’t sure how long he looked at the leaves through the hole in the rafters. Finally he closed his eyes and prayed for sleep. He had another night’s journey ahead of him. His mind wouldn’t drift far before it would return to the contents of his bag. First there was the map of Hitchfield, showing both a network of underground tunnels and the clearly marked perimeter fence that isolated Hitchfield and miles of surrounding land from the rest of the world. And then there was the tape – buried in the ground with his name attached to it. What it contained, he could only speculate.
He stared out at the sky again. “I can see why Sally went crazy,” he said, unsure if the ghost he was addressing was anywhere near him. “It’s so much to take.” He took a deep breath and felt the water in his eyes. “Slowly, together,” he said. Mason drifted off to sleep. * “Officer, I know how this looks...” “I’m sure you do.” Mason chuckled. “But there is a perfectly good explanation for this.”
The young officer nodded. “Go on.” “I’m staying here... in this boarding house. In this room. I wanted to go for a walk, but Willa is a terribly light sleeper. If I went out the front door, she’d wake up. She knows all about it. Even appreciates it.” He wanted to bite his tongue for the last bit. He’d never be able to back that up. The cop lowered his gun a bit. “You’re Mason Lent?” Mason blinked. He knew it shouldn’t surprise him, but it still did. “Yeah.” “Mayor Thatch said you were staying over here for a few days.” Mason forced a smile. “It’s nice to know that my whereabouts are police gossip.” “Well, I tell you what, Mr. Lent... let’s verify your story with Mrs. Sheenashy and then I’ll be out of your hair.” The pit of Mason’s stomach dropped. He smiled again and nodded. “Absolutely.” The young officer led Mason toward the front of the house. * The dream that Mason had while he slept in the chapel was vivid. He was alone in the center of the town square, atop the bandstand. To his left Toby Olsen stood on top of a building and Sally stood covered in blood in front of City Hall. Pancum sat burning in his car on the street directly across from him. Sally stood
on the grass near, as did Ester and Ted. Ward stood off to his right in front of B.J.’s. Thatch and Whetlest stood in front of the movie house with the bloody corpses of Leo and Dadecroft. As he looked, the people of Hitchfield began to stand in a line, surrounding the park. Mason felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see Parker standing on the roof of the bandstand with him. The Indian looked at him. “Soon. The time is coming to start dividing them up.” “What do you mean?” “It’s almost time to tell our friends from our enemies.” * The young officer knocked on Willa’s door. Mason grinned. “I really am sorry about this. Just wanted to take my morning constitutional.” “Why didn’t I see you, Mr. Lent? I’ve been patrolling this side of town most of the morning.” Mason shrugged. “I couldn’t begin to tell you, Officer...” “Sidrepoli. Cole Sidrepoli.” “It’s nice to meet you, Officer Sidrepoli. Welcome to Hitchfield.” Mason shuddered slightly as he heard the door being unlocked and then the hinges began to creak. * Just after sundown Mason and Parker started for home. They traveled through the night, as before. As the first faint inklings of dawn began to appear, Mason arrived at Ester’s. As instructed he tossed his bag over the fence into the bushes and continued on. It was lighter traveling without it and he would have to hurry. The light of day was coming faster than he expected. Dawn hadn’t completely broken, but the black of night was beginning to become a purple grey. So he began sprinting, hunched over, ready to sprawl into the crops at the sight of a cop. Luckily he saw nothing. When he finally reached the edge of town, he put his hands in his pockets and began to stroll. If a cop spotted him, a casual wave hello should keep them away. If they ask, he thought, it’s my morning walk.
He never did see any of Whetlest’s police... that is until he started to climb back in the window of his room... * “Hello Mrs. Sheenashy, I am so sorry to bother you. I’m Officer Sidrepoli. I caught Mr. Lent here, attempting to sneak in through the window of your house. Do you know anything about this?” Mason looked at Willa as she eyed him. Then she looked at the officer. “He’s been going out through the window because he thinks it will wake me up if he uses the front door. He didn’t tell you this?” Her eyes seemed to bore into Sidrepoli. Mason could only blink. The young policeman stammered for a moment. “Actually, ma’am, he did. I just wanted to verify...” Willa put up her hand. “Officer Sidrepoli, I understand you are new to our little town and this is simply a mistake. Do you have any idea what Mr. Lent here has done for us? He saved several people from a burning church steeple, single handedly defeated a Russian spy and tried to save our former sheriff and mayor. He is a treasure to this town. He can crawl in and out of any window in town as far as I’m concerned.” “I’m just doing my job, ma’am.” “I understand and I assume that Mr. Lent understands.” Sidrepoli finally put away his gun. “Well, I’m sorry to bother you both. Have a good morning.” As the young officer made his way back to his car, Willa put her arm around the speechless Mason Lent and ushered him inside. Finally he looked at her. “How did you...” “I heard you through the window. I was expecting you.” “Expecting me? How? I don’t understand...” Willa walked him back to his room and opened the door. Mason stepped in. Sitting in the room was Ester and Matson Doll, sipping coffee. Standing in the corner of the room was Quanah Parker. Mason’s words caught in his throat.
Ester smiled at him. “Welcome home. Our little ghost has been busy.” Willa looked deep into Mason’s eyes. “Matson and I have been seeing Parker off and on now for weeks. Now we understand why.” “Are there more,” Mason asked. Ester shook her head. “Not yet.” Doll stood up and shook Mason’s hand. “What did you find out there?” Mason smiled sadly. “Direction.”
#46 Lines and Squares
I felt like it had been weeks since Mason had done a day’s work on Ward’s farm. It felt good. Regardless of all the things that had revealed themselves to Mason, working up a sweat on the farm felt good. The work seemed to clear his mind and let him think straight. For a while he was able to feel human, not like an animal in a cage, which he knew he was. The sweat seemed to push everything out. The dusty heat of the hay loft brought the moisture quickly to surface of Mason’s skin. Mason pushed open the loft door and looked down at Ward standing in the bed of his truck. Ward smiled. “You be careful up there,” Ward chuckled. Mason smiled. It seemed like a lifetime ago that he had thrown himself out of this very same window to avoid questions about his injuries. Injuries he’d gotten in a car crash with Agent Pancum. He grabbed one of the last bales of winter wheat and tossed it down to Ward below. Ward positioned the wheat in the truck bed and hopped out. Mason made his way down the stairs and stepped up to the truck as Ward started the engine. Ward adjusted his baseball cap. “I shouldn’t be long.” “Ted and I will hold down the fort while you’re gone,” Mason grinned. “How are you feeling?” Mason shrugged. “Fine. That rest in town did me wonders.”
“Good. See ya later.” Ward put the truck in drive and headed around the house to the main road. A road that Mason knew went to Hitchfield and nowhere else. It had been over a week since Mason had returned from the Priory. More than a week since he’d discovered Matson Doll and Willa in his room with Ester and Parker. The weight of that trip still hung on him. The first day back had been exhausting. With almost no sleep the entire weekend, he had to act refreshed and force himself through an entire day. They had all agreed to keep their distance from each other for a while. As the resistance, as Mason now thought of them, grew it would become harder and harder to get together. As Mason watched the Marchen truck disappear into a cloud of gravel and dust, he checked his watch. This was the night when they would all meet again. He checked his watch. A little after one. Word should come soon. “Mason,” came Ted’s voice from around the corner at the water pump. Mason followed the voice and found Ted facing Parker. “Afternoon, Parker,” Mason said, approaching. The Indian nodded his response. “What time tonight?” Parker held up eight fingers. Mason nodded in understanding. “Good thing she didn’t say eight-thirty. He’d have no way to do that with his fingers,” Ted said out of the corner of his mouth. Mason chuckled and looked back at Parker. “Ester’s place?” Parker nodded and slowly faded from view. Ted watched the Indian fade from view. “I don’t know that I will ever get used to that.” Mason’s eye caught a cloud of dust moving down the road toward the house. “Well, he’s better than a telephone.” He moved back around the front of the barn as a car turned into the drive and pulled around the house. Mason and Ted watched as the car came to a stop and Ethan Whetlest stepped out. “Morning, Mason” the new sheriff said, shutting the car door. “How are things going in City Hall? Is Mayor Thatch getting settled in nicely?” Whetlest nodded. “Yes, actually he is. Things are going well. I know you’ve met some of our new police officers.” Mason forced a smile. “Officer Sidrepoli. Yes, we met.”
Whetlest grasped Mason’s hand and shook it vigorously. “That was all a big misunderstanding. He’s a little eager.” Mason shook back hard. “Of course. Not a problem. It was all cleared up right away.” “I don’t know about you, Mason, but I sleep better at night knowing that I have have a dozen just like him keeping everybody safe. Right?” “Absolutely.” The two sized up each other for a moment, their hands locked. Finally Ted’s hand shot out. “Ted Hearst. We haven’t actually met, yet.” Whetlest and Mason let their hands move apart as Ethan looked at Ted and shook his hand. “Nice to meet you, Ted.” After a moment Whetlest looked around. “So, is Ward anywhere to be found?” Mason shrugged. “No. You just missed him. He’s off selling a bale of wheat.” Ethan wasn’t listening anymore. He was staring at the house. Specifically he was staring at Mrs. Marchen’s window. “Is that her window,” he asked, pointing. “Is that the wife’s window?” Mason looked at the window and then back at Ethan. He shrugged. “I suppose. I’m not sure. I’ve never been in the house.” “You ever see her?” “No,” Mason lied. “I’ve never seen her.” Whetlest took a deep breath and continued to stare for a moment. “Well,” he said after a long silence. “Tell Ward I stopped by to say hello. I’m sure I will see you both around town.” Mason forced another smile. “I hope so.” As Whetlest drove away, Mason and Ted looked at each other. ~
The map was spread out over Ester’s table. Matson, Willa, Ted and Ester could just stare at it. Mason let them take it in. He stood watching them as Parker appeared in the door. “Any sign of Sarah,” Mason asked. Parker shook his head. Mason just nodded and thanked him with a wave. For the second time that day, Quanah Parker dissolved into the ether. Ted looked up from his map. “What does it mean?” Ester shook her head. “It means we’re all prisoners.” Willa looked intensely at the map and then up at Mason. “Where did you find this?” “It was hanging on a tool shed in an underground storage facility. There were all kinds of earthmovers and machinery. It looked like a giant garage.” “And you think all these grey lines means that there’s underground tunnels.” Mason nodded. “Yeah,. I think that Thatch’s “bomb shelter” is just one of many entrances to the tunnels. There was a door just like his in the underground garage.” “I reckon that there’s ten or so miles of nothing in every direction until we get to this fence or wall.” Ester sat down. Mason took a breath. “Is everybody okay? I mean, this is what drove Sally crazy.” He leaned over and pointed at the unnamed square to the north. “Except, she went further than the Priory. She made it to here.” Ester looked up. “What is it?” Mason shrugged. Matson Doll shook his head and moved from the table to the coffee brewing on the stove. He poured himself a cup. He stared into the cup. “It seems to me that we need to find out what that big square is. Somebody needs to make another trip at some point.” The all agreed quietly. “Mason, I know you haven’t had a chance to look at this map in depth,” Ester began. “But have you noticed this?” She pointed. Mason leaned in. She continued. “Right here, smack dab in the middle of everything...” Mason looked closer. She was right and he hadn’t noticed.
It was the Marchen farm, dead center on the map.
Every time Mason Lent closed his eyes he saw the map in his head; the miles and miles of nothing in every direction, the unidentified object to the north and the grey line indicating a network of interconnected tunnels. Worst of all his home, the Marchen farm, was the center of everything. No underground tunnels served it. It was isolated from everything else. Even more ominous was the handwritten “T” written over the building like some sort of marker. That night at Ester’s, no one could figure out what the “T” meant. Doll had noticed it while they were examining it. There also seemed to be some lightly drawn concentric circles, leading out from the center like ripples on the water, getting further and further apart as they reached the edge of the map. “I’ve seen these kinds of markings on maps before,” Matson Doll had said. “When they show blast radius.” “Like Hiroshima,” Ester mumbled. Doll nodded. “But if there was an A-Bomb – everything around us would be in the center circle, burned to a crisp. Mason shook his head. “But what does the ‘T’ stand for?” They all threw out ideas but nothing made sense. Eventually the evening grew late. Mason folded up the map and they all headed home with nothing solved. The questions kept Mason up most of the night. He couldn’t drift off for long before images of the map and the Priory shook him awake. He also wondered what had happened to Sarah. Why hadn’t she shown up? Parker had delivered the message, he was sure. It simply was not Mason’s night to sleep. He flipped his pillow over again, punched it as hard as he would have liked to punch Eric Thatch and turned over on his side. He closed his eyes tight and sighed. “Please,” he begged the dark. “I need to get some sleep.” BOOM!
The glass rattled in his window. Mason jumped from his bunk and ran out into the pre-dawn morning. He stood stunned in the middle of the back drive. A moment later Ted came running around from his side of the bunk house and Ward ran out onto the back porch. They looked at each other in groggy confusion. Finally Ted looked to the south, toward Hitchfield. “Look!” Mason and Ward turned to where Ted was now pointing. The sky over Hitchfield glowed orange and a huge black cloud was drifting into the sky. Mason looked at Ward. “Not again,” Ward muttered. A few moments later they had all pulled their clothes on and they were speeding down the gravel road toward town. They stopped only to pick up Ester Hatfield, who they found standing dazed beside the road. The red lights of the squad cars barely cut through the smoke hung low to the ground on the south end of town. Everyone in Hitchfield was standing on the surrounding blocks as Ward stopped the car. Everyone asked everyone else what happened. Mason and Ted made their way toward the police cars and the fire that was creating all the smoke. “Hey! You two! Where are you going,” the voice blasted out of the smoke. Mason turned to face Officer Sidrepoli. “Sidrepoli! What happened.” “That house exploded, Mason. We’re not sure why. Now would you both please move back to a safe distance?” “It just exploded?” “Yeah.” “Is there anything we can do,” Mason asked as Ward stepped up. “Thank you but no. We got it handled.” Ward’s brow furrowed and he cocked his head at Sidrepoli. “Handled?! You’re letting it burn to the ground.” “Mr. Marchen, if you have a problem with the way we’re handling this, please take it up with Sheriff Whetlest.” Mason shook his head. “Unbelievable.”
Sidrepoli stepped closer to Mason. “Do you have a problem Mr. Lent?” Mason bit his lip. “Yeah. I got a problem.” Ward put his hand on Mason’s arm. “Don’t.” The officer nodded. “You’d be wise to listen to your boss, Mr. Lent. Why don’t you step back and let us do our job.” Ted put his arm around Mason’s shoulders and started to move him away. “Come on Mason.” Mason looked back over his shoulder. “Do you even know if there was anyone IN the house?” Sidrepoli nodded. “Yes we do.” Then the cop smirked and headed back toward the house that was now burning out of control. ~ As dawn came and went and the sun worked its way up the sky, the citizens of Hitchfield began to congregate at the church. They huddled together and prayed. Word had finally come that the home belonged to Horace and Elizabeth McGuffin and they had been killed in the blast. Mason, Ted and Ester sat at the back of the church, watching everyone pray. After a long silence, Ted looked at Mason. “What’s going on?” Mason shook his head. “I don’t know. Have either of you seen Parker?” “No,” Ester answered. “Not since last night.” Mason scanned the crowd for Sarah, but there was no sign of her or her aunt. A little knot in Mason’s stomach twisted. Something was wrong but he didn’t know what. He excused himself and stepped out into the morning and lit up a cigarette. Some of the women of the town were setting up some tables on the grass and starting to put out food. As he looked on, he noticed Sarah and Brenda crossing the square toward him. He smiled and dropped his smoke, crushing it underfoot. He moved down the steps toward them. He waved and was surprised when Sarah looked at him sadly and didn’t respond. “Sarah?”
Her eyes grew sadder as she passed him, heading up the steps to the church. She looked at the ground. Mason turned to face The Dragon, who had stopped and was staring at him. “What’s going on,” Mason asked. “Mr. Lent, I have indulged this little crush for quite a while now. Mostly I did so at the request of our late Sheriff and Mayor. But it appears to me that my niece is becoming far too attached to you and I believe it is now time to put an end to this relationship.” Mason’s heart caught in his throat. “What?!” Brenda pushed past him. “If you have a problem with this,” she said, “you can take it up with Sheriff Whetlest. He’s aware of my feelings.” Mason stared holes in the woman’s back as she disappeared into the church. He lit another cigarette. “People better stop saying that to me,” he spit through gritted teeth. ~ The smell of smoke hung over everything as the morning wore on. The people of Hitchfield gathered and ate and prayed and swapped stories about the McGuffins on the church lawn. Mason could only think of Sarah who was being kept as far away from him as possible by her aunt. A little after noon Thatch and Whetlest appeared on the steps of the church. Thatch raised his hands. “Everyone! If I could have your attention for a few moments. I know it’s been a hell of a morning but we do have some information we want to share with you. First, I regret to inform you that we have found Horace and Elizabeth.” Thatch stopped for a moment and let the audience take in the news. “Our new Sheriff and his officers have also determined why this tragedy occurred. It was a bomb.” The crowd erupted. Mason looked at his friends in disbelief. He looked out across the crowd and his eyes met Sarah’s. She was also confused. Thatch put up his hands again. “It seems that we have another saboteur in our midst. Luckily, we have our new police force led by my friend Sheriff Whetlest.” Whetlest stepped forward and smiled. “I want to assure you all that my officers and I are going to do everything in our power to find out who is responsible and bring them to justice. That being said, starting immediately, we will be doing searches of homes and property, looking for those responsible. We have reason to believe it is someone here today. For those of you innocent of this crime, I apologize, and I do ask for
your cooperation in allowing my officers to search your homes unimpeded. We should have our searches completed by tomorrow evening.” Mason’s mind raced. The map, Sarah’s picture of Parker, the key... Pancum’s phone. They’d find it. They’d find it all. Sweat began to bead on his brow. He looked over at Ted and Ester. “Until the searches are complete, we ask that you stay in your homes. We are enacting a curfew. Anyone caught out on the streets in the next 36 hours will be arrested. We understand how unfair this is to those of you who have done nothing wrong but we have promised to protect the people of Hitchfield and that is what we are doing... by any means necessary.”
The headlights blasted through the thin linen curtains that covered the windows of Mason Lent’s bunk. Mason leapt from the bed and pulled on his pants. He slipped on his boots just as there was a pounding at the door. Mason buttoned the bottom button on his shirt, did his best to hide the bandages on his fingers and opened the door with a growl. “What?!” Officer Sidrepoli stood just outside the door with another officer. “Mr. Lent, we are here to search your bunk and the grounds, please step outside.” Ted came around the corner, escorted by two other officers. The officers moved Mason and Ted to the center of the drive and placed them on their knees. The headlights of the police vehicles flooded everything with light and they watched as three of the officers tossed Mason’s bunk. The fourth stood near them with one hand on his gun. Mason looked at Ted. The search seemed to be taking a while. The pit of Mason’s stomach tightened. “It should be over soon,” came the voice from behind them. Mason looked over his shoulder to see Ward silhouetted in the light. He shook his head. “This is ridiculous. You two never blew anything up.” Mason looked at Ted again and then back at the bunk. A moment later Sidrepoli and the officers came out of Mason’s door and rounded the corner to search Ted’s.
Mason could hear Ted give a relieved sigh next to him. He hoped that Ward hadn’t heard it. After a couple more minutes the officers came out of the bunks and headed for their cars. Sidrepoli glared at Mason as he passed. “You are free to return to your bunk.” Mason held the cop’s gaze as they passed. Sidrepoli smirked. “Have a good night.” Ward turned and headed back to the house as the officers climbed into their cars. Ted looked confused at Mason and then shouted at Sidrepoli. “Hey! Aren’t you going to check the house?” Sidrepoli looked up at the house and chuckled. “I don’t want to expose my men.” He laughed again. “Sleep tight, gentlemen.” Mason and Ted stood in the middle of the drive watched as the police cars rumbled back to the road and disappeared into tail lamp-lit clouds of dark dust. The screen door of the farmhouse slammed shut as Ward disappeared inside. “We should get it out of there,” Ted said with a sense of relieved panic. Mason’s eyes stayed on the vanishing lights of the police cars. “No,” he said quietly. “I have a feeling that we’re still being watched from a distance.” “Why?” “To see if we go running to a hiding spot.” Ted shivered. “Really? So, what do we do?” Mason turned back toward the bunk. “Go back to sleep.” The two made their way back to their contraband free bunks. * Mason gingerly grasped the barbed wire and slowly pulled up, doing his best to avoid the barbs. He remembered all too well catching his hands on them the night before. It was well past breakfast now and Ward had gone into town for supplies. He and Ted had made a search of the farm to make sure no one was still watching them. When they were satisfied that they were alone, it was time to remove the stuff from its hiding spot. After Whetlest and Thatch announced the searches, Mason and Ted scrambled to clear all the evidence from Mason’s bunk. They wrapped everything – Pancum’s phone, Sarah’s drawing, the Indian book, the key, the tape, the map – everything, in two shirts.
They then took some of the spare barbed wire from the barn, wrapped it around the parcel and then took a length and dangled the parcel into the outhouse toilet. There it hung, suspended above the filth, while the police tossed their rooms. Mason pulled the parcel free from the toilet and headed for the bunks. “So what now,” Ted asked, closing Mason’s bunk door behind him. Mason winced at the smell that hung on the shirts as he carefully unwrapped the barbed wire. “I’m taking this someplace else.” “Where?” “Someplace safe. Someplace they won’t look.” “Why can’t we just keep it here?” Mason pulled the wire free. “Ted, think about it. If something happened and I got caught, they would confiscate everything and the rest of you wouldn’t have anything. You and Ester and Matson and…” The name caught in his throat for a moment. “Sarah.” “Yeah. What about Sarah? What are we going to do about that?” The shirts fell open and their contents spilled out on Mason’s bed. He stared at all of it for a long time. Then he looked sadly at Ted. “One thing at a time.” “Where are you taking it?” “A house. A place that Parker showed me a long time ago.” * It was like picking your way across a minefield. Ted and Mason told Ward that they were going to play cards with Ester. Once there, the three left through the back of her property, heading toward town. Just as he had done with Mason on the way to the Priory, Parker scouted ahead. When he signaled that the coast was clear, the small group would move a short way. Mason could only imagine that the image of Parker was doing the same thing for Willa and Matson… and hopefully Sarah. It was after dusk when the house came into view. When Parker said the coast was clear, Mason led them to the cellar doors and down into the musty darkness. He lit a lantern that he was carrying. Ted looked around. “What is this place?”
“Just a house from what I can tell. Parker showed it to me last year and said that it was safe. I’m not sure why this house is any safer.” Ester peered into the shadows. “It’s a plague house.” They all went quiet and extinguished the lantern when they heard the hinges on the cellar door creak. They held their breath for a moment until they heard Willa. “Hello,” she said. Mason relit the lantern as Willa and Matson Doll descended the stairs. Still no Sarah. Willa lit another lantern and they started to look around. “Parker showed me this place,” Mason began. “Not long after I first saw him. With Whetlest on the rampage, looking for whoever blew up the McGuffin’s house…” “If that actually happened at all,” Doll said. “Personally, I think they’re looking for an excuse to search people’s houses. You know, find people who know too much.” Willa shook her head. “It blew up, we all saw it.” “Oh,” Doll chuckled. “It blew up. But who made it blow up?” Mason nodded. “I think we should make this our meeting spot. Our homes have become unsafe. I will leave all the… well, artifacts, I guess, here. This way if something happens and one of us gets caught, those left behind can still carry on.” Ester looked at Mason from the bottom of the stairs. “Can we see the rest of the house?” Mason shook his head. “No that door’s locked. It was locked when I was…” He stopped and turned. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the key he’d found hidden in the Five and Dime basement. The key Parker had led him to. Without a word he bounded up the stairs, past Ester. He stood for a moment, looking at the keyhole. He took a breath and inserted the key. The key slipped in unimpeded. Mason turned the key. There was a “click” and Mason Lent opened the door.
#49 Layers of Dust
The door creaked open and Mason stared, almost disbelieving, into the space beyond. He felt a hand on his arm and turned to see Ester standing cautiously next to him.
“Are you sure we should,” she asked. “It’s a plague house.” Mason looked at her for a moment without saying anything. Behind her, at the bottom of the stairs, the others gathered and looked up. Finally Mason nodded. “I’m going to have a look around. Anyone who doesn’t want to, is free to stay down there.” With that he stepped through the door. The dim light filtering through the window revealed that Mason was standing in the kitchen. He lifted his lantern to cast more light. It was dusty and looked abandoned. There was a large round table with mismatching chairs around it. There was a stove and a fridge and lots of cabinets. Mason jumped as one of the cabinets opened. He turned to see Willa eyeing the contents of a cabinet. “There’s plates. Lots of them, in fact.” Mason moved to some of the other cabinets and opened them. Rows and rows of canned food were inside. Peas, corn, greenbeans… He opened the next cabinet, more of the same - canned meat, soup, vegetables. Hundreds of them. Ted stepped up next to him. “Somebody was thinking,” he said. “How old are these?” Mason shrugged. “I can’t tell. They’re dusty but… Maybe a year or more. They should be good. These things keep for ever. Mason looked over at Willa and Doll. “When was the plague?” Doll nodded. “Winter of ’55.” Ted’s eyes grew wide. “If it’s 2007… then the plague was… over fifty years ago.” Mason smiled. “No, Ted. If it was six years ago, that would put it at 2001.” He stopped and thought for a moment. “If there was a plague.” Willa furrowed her brow. “What do you mean ‘if there was ‘?” Mason shrugged again. “How the hell can we be sure that anything they’ve told us is the truth. There was no downed Soviet pilot. It’s not 1961. I’m not even sure we’re in Oklahoma. I can tell you that these cans don’t look like they’ve been here for five years. And, there’s dust – but not that much.”
Ester nodded. “Yeah. It’s like an unused vacation house, not like it’s abandoned.” “And so many cans,” added Ted. Matson Doll lifted the lid on a cardboard box near the back door. “There’s more over here.” Mason shook his head. “It’s like they were preparing for something.” Ted look at the others. “Like a bomb shelter.” A quiet came over the group. Mason hoisted his lantern again and moved to the door that lead to the rest of the house. The hinges whined as they moved into a larger room that was once a dining room. Where a fairly large dining table may have once stood there were now two rows of military cots, completely made up. Mason swallowed hard. “I’ve got a bad feeling about this.” “What the hell is going on here,” Ester mumbled. No one answered. They followed the dining room around to the left as it opened up to a larger living room. Across from the front door a set of stairs lead up to the second floor. There was a couch and again several mismatched chairs. There were a couple of floor lamps also. Huge picture windows lined the walls. Only a few of them boarded up. Doll tried one of the lamps and it surprised everyone when it sprang to life and filled the room with light. “The electricity still works.” “Mason, it’s like someone was turning this into a base of some sort,” Willa interjected. “Is this where the Russian kept you,” Ester asked. Mason shook his head. “No. That place was almost completely bare.” He moved toward a bookshelf next to the stairs. It was loaded with books. “This place has been set up for people to be here for a while. Like you said, Ted, it’s like a bomb shelter.” “Put the lights out,” Ted said in a loud, emphatic whisper. He was standing near one of the picture windows, peeking out. “It’s one of the cops.” The others dowsed all the lights. “Damn. I think he saw it.” Mason crouched over and moved to look. Outside on the street in front of the house a police car was crawling by, the officer inside scanning everything. He turned on a flashlight and waved it across the front of the
house. In the light Mason and Ted could see Quanah Parker standing on the porch facing the police car. Ted and Mason looked at each other. The officer waved the light again. Then he turned and did the same thing at the empty lot on the other side of the street. Then he turned a corner and continued on. Mason turned back to the others. “He didn’t see.” Ted stepped away from the window confused. “It was like he looked right through us.” Again the group fell quiet. Ester finally broke the silence. “I’ll be honest with you, folks. I’m starting to get a serious case of the willies.” “Unfortunately,” Mason said, “I think it’s going to get stranger before we’re done.” With that he headed for the stairs. He relit his lantern, looked over his shoulder at the others and started to climb. At the top of the stairs the group found themselves in a hallway. There was a doorway ahead of them, another on their left and two more on their right. There were several more cardboard boxes filled with cans of food and one filled with light bulbs and fuses. As the others moved towards other doors and began exploring, Mason latched onto the doorknob of the door directly in front of him. He turned and made his way into the room. It was some kind of study. There was bookshelf against the wall to his right and a roll-top desk across from the door. There was another military cot in here as well. Mason tried the desk but the roll-top was locked. He tried again. “There’s a whole ‘nother room of cots!” Mason jumped at Ted’s voice. “It’s like they were getting ready for a small army.” Mason wiggled the desk top, pulling up with all his strength. Finally the metal latch snapped and the top slid up and back. He lifted his lantern to get a better look and he gasped. The only thing sitting on the desk was a reel to reel tape recorder. “TED!” Mason grabbed the tape recorder’s plug and began searching the room for an outlet. He yelled again. “Ted!” Ted leapt into the room. “What?”
“Get down to the basement and get the tape.” Ted’s eyes fell on the recorder. He caught his breath, turned and raced down the stairs. A moment later the others came into the room. Mason shoved the cot out into the middle of the room to reveal a power outlet. He plugged in the tape recorder. A little orange light on top came alive. He laid the recorder down on the cot and stepped back. Ester moved to stand next to him. “Oh my God.” “I know,” Mason said breathlessly. Ester looked at him. “Boy, listen to me. Whatever comes out of that machine… it’s going to change everything. I can feel it. Finding this place, finding the tape and the key and the map… someone’s leading us down this path. None of this has been an accident. Do you understand, son? Once you play that tape, there’s no turning back. There’s no going back and ignoring that any of this happened. Are you ready to accept that?” Mason looked into his friend’s eyes. “Are you?” The sound of Ted thundering up the stairs filled the room. He held out the tape reel to Mason. “Here.” Mason and Ester continued to look at each other. Finally, Mason’s took the reel and crouched down next to the recorder. Mason threaded the tape through to the empty reel, turned the reel until the tape was taut. Then he stood up. “Like Ester said, once I do this there’s no going back. If any of you want to leave, I won’t blame you.” He looked across their faces. Parker’s army. Two old women, an old man, a ghost and two farm hands. Their faces didn’t change. “Do it, Mason,” Ted said. Mason nodded, took a breath, held it and turned the knob to “play”. They all stood silently as the speaker started to hiss. There was a brief scuffle, like the microphone was dropped. Then came the sound of someone clearing their throat. They were preparing to speak. They all held their breath. “Um… hello,” came a familiar voice. “This is Mason Lent.”
To Be Continued
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