Saturday, June 27, 2009

Chapter 12: Fourth Night, Part 1

Ethan Roodschild frowned at his coffee mug. He slouched back on the blue hide-a-bed, his gaze locked on the empty cup, motionless and silent except for periodic murmuring too quiet for Vernon to make out. He’s been doing that for better than half an hour. Why doesn’t he say something? Vernon fidgeted in his recliner, unable to take his eyes from his friend. If he can still be called that.

He had tried to hold back, but Ethan’s arrival had unleashed a torrent of words and bitterness that shocked even Vernon. After Ware’s visit, Vernon passed the remainder of his afternoon pacing through the house. He could feel the fog that had clouded his brain most of the day just waiting for a chance to come back. He found himself standing in the middle of the room staring at walls and windows several times. The only real solution seemed to lay in action. The fog refused to dissipate entirely, but as long as he was doing something, he could hold it at bay. So Vernon got moving. He checked every light and replaced the burnt-out bulbs in the back room. They lit when he flipped the switch. He breathed a sigh of relief and walked to the kitchen, leaving the light on behind him. In the hour and a half before Ethan knocked at the door, Vernon made at least a half-dozen circuits of the house, double- and re-checking bulbs and replacing three others that looked about to go out. He was pondering a fourth when a knock at the door interrupted him. Neither said a word as Vernon opened the door. Ethan stepped inside with a scowl for the damaged wall. His frown deepened as the door wedged shut with a wooden grinding noise. Instead of tearing into his wayward tenant, however, he simply sat on the love seat and watched as Vernon slipped into the kitchen to whip up a cup of instant coffee. He accepted the mug with a nod. Vernon sank into his chair and stared at his hands. What do I say? Where do I even begin? Then Ethan took the decision away with two simple words: “What’s up?”

A deep breath, and Vernon opened his mouth. He wasn’t sure what he intended to say. Perhaps an apology for the door or missing work. Maybe a comment about how his life was falling apart without his wife and daughter – carefully worded, of course. Or he could have just said that he didn’t know what to say. All perfectly good, safe ways to begin what would be a weird tale regardless of how he spun it. But what came out of his mouth was: “You killed my family.” Ethan’s eyebrows shot up at that, but he stayed silent while Vernon jabbed a finger his way and continued. “You knew this was a weird town. Why didn’t you say something? Even if we didn’t have any choice but to come here, some sort of heads up would have been nice. Cheryl and Alexis would still be here, and I wouldn’t be facing this nightmare alone. But no, you had to keep your mouth shut, and we paid the price.” Tears choked his voice. “Especially Cheryl and our little girl.”

“What happened to them?”

Vernon tried to ignore the question, tried to listen to the little voice whispering in his head that answering it would not end well. But his fear and frustration had found an outlet; he had the bit in his teeth and couldn’t stop now. He jumped from his chair and paced in front of Ethan’s seat. The words poured out in a torrent that offered every detail of the past few nights. Vernon told about their weird reception from Jennings Grove’s residents, the horror of losing Alexis and then his wife. He spoke of Cheryl’s final effort to save Ray and the subsequent nights of battles and narrow escapes. He showed every bruise and scrape he had gained in his struggles with the darkness. Finally, as he got to the morning’s fits and dropping Ray off with Kateri, the flood slowed and he forced himself to a stuttering halt. He dropped into his recliner, which answered with an internal sproing and a crack. Vernon ignored it, leaned back and stared at Ethan, waiting for the angry response. Instead, he got ignored. Say something, anything. Vernon glanced out the window. Night had fallen. He wondered what he would tell Ethan when it was time to go. It might solve a lot of problems if you just let him leave. Vernon shook his head. That wasn’t an answer.

“You know, this is a lot to take in,” Ethan said slowly. Vernon turned his gaze back on his boss and leaned forward in his chair. “You spin quite a tale, and you sure seem to believe it. But I got to tell you, I’m just not sure how to take all this.”

His eyes widened, and his jaw dropped. Vernon fell back, which set his seat to rocking. Ethan looked up at the squeaking springs with a small smile, but said nothing. Vernon closed his mouth and pushed on the floor with his feet. His gaze turned to the ceiling, he tried to let the swaying chair relax his nerves even as his mind raced ahead. Ethan almost sounded as though he believed the story, but that seemed rather unlikely. It’s not like this is the most believable story. I wouldn’t believe it if someone told me something like this. Is he playing with me? Or maybe just messing with my head? He chewed his lip. That’s not his style. He’s always been straight with me. Even if he thought I was completely deranged, he wouldn’t do that to me. So what is it? Vernon closed his eyes, tapping his thumbs together. No matter how hard he thought, he couldn’t find an answer that fit. He cracked an eyelid and snuck a glance at Ethan. He peered back with an expression that spoke of nothing but patience and hopeful expectation. He’d seen the same look on his friend’s face hundreds of times before while he waited for something to make sense. Is that it? Vernon sat up slowly. Metal inside the recliner squealed as he rose. Could it be that he wants to believe me, no matter how crazy it sounds? I just need to offer him some kind of… “Proof,” he said aloud. “You need some kind of proof.”

“It would be nice,” Ethan replied dryly.


Part 2 coming soon!

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