THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Part Thirty
TWO HOURS AGO: FULL MOON
If anything, more people than usual were turning out for this year’s Miner Days. The crowds, already a milling, shifting mass of men, women, and children, glutted the streets, talking, laughing, sweating, shopping and looking, seeing and being seen. Acquaintances made and renewed. Music played from somewhere down near the intersection with Highway 63; some local politician worked the microphone at the far end of Main Street. A firecracker exploded. The celebration was in full swing, and it wasn’t even five o’clock yet. Most people would wait until dark before showing up, braving the heat and congestion. The real entertainment at Miner Days didn’t begin until nightfall.
Chaney Kidde walked alone amongst the crowd. She wound her way down Main Street to the railroad tracks, then crossed the road and started back up the other side. She kept to the shade of the sidewalks, beneath the awnings of the numerous businesses of Ironwood’s downtown. The hottest day since August, the weatherman out of Tuscaloosa had said. A new record. They’d given the five-day forecast and taken a commercial break before the anchorwoman had even mentioned the search for Marley Kidde. Already, people had given up on her. No one believed they’d find her alive.
Chaney couldn’t go home. She couldn’t face that empty house. She couldn’t face her parents, either. She didn’t have the strength to see them in such a state. Their grief crippled her, threatened to pull her under with them, drown her hope. Her hope was too tenuous a thing for her to risk losing it.
Chaney paid no attention to the people she passed. She took no notice of the storefront windows, decked out with Halloween decorations. One dress shop already had a Christmas tree up, a reminder to shoppers that the holiday season would be upon them before they realized. Bundles of cornstalks were tied to lampposts up and down Main Street; plump orange pumpkins balanced atop squares of hay were stacked at regular intervals along the sidewalks; streamers of red, yellow, brown, orange, green stretched along the awnings. And people. Everywhere people. Life went on in Ironwood. But not for Chaney Kidde.
She pulled a hand from her shorts’ pocket to wipe at her eyes, stinging with tears, sat down on a bench in front of an antique store. Two little boys ran past, each chasing the other, disturbing the crisp dead leaves along the edges of the sidewalk. These tumbled along in bundles, pursuing the children down the street. A group of older men walked by her heading in the opposite direction, lost in conversation. Chaney could have sworn she heard one of them mention the name Lucas Vale.
She looked up. Hank Frye stood beside the bench. She hadn’t noticed his approach.
“Hey,” she said. She met his gaze and then looked away. “They let you go?”
“I’m out on bail,” he said. “May I join you?”
“Go ahead,” Chaney said. “Just don’t expect me to be much company.”
“I’m pretty lousy company myself, today,” Frye said. He sat down. “So what brings you out among the vulgar masses this evening?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
Hank smiled. A little. “It’s Miner Days,” he said. “Where else would I be?” The smile disappeared. “Tell you the truth, I don’t know why I’m here. It’s not the smartest thing for me to be out in public. I just, I don’t know.”
“You didn’t want to be alone,” Chaney said. “I know. Me, either.”
“Yeah,” Hank said. He chuckled. “I think I’m scared to be. Alone, that is.”
She nodded, staring at a booth across the street, a chubby older man hawking painted ceramics.
“So,” Hank said, after a moment. “Um, how’s your dog?”
“Chester? He’ll live,” Chaney answered. “Broken leg, lots of stitches. My parents are keeping him.”
“How, um, how are you doing?”
She looked over. “I don’t know if Marley’s still alive. I can’t feel her so much anymore.” She tapped her chest. “In here. I can’t feel her like I did. You know?” She blinked away fresh tears.
“I’m sorry, Chaney.”
She nodded again. Hank Frye looked at his hands. His fingertips were still stained with ink from his arrest.
“I didn’t imagine it, did I?” Chaney said. “What I saw? You know what I mean.”
Frye shook his head. “No. You didn’t imagine it.”
“The police didn’t believe me.”
“I know. They didn’t believe me, either.”
“I’m not even sure if my parents believe me.” She sniffed. “What *was* he, anyway?”
Frye paused. “A good man.”
Chaney leaned towards him. “But what he changed into, what killed those people, that wasn’t a man, was it?”
Frye shook his head. “No.”
The warning bells began to ring down the street, shooing people away from the railroad tracks. The crossbars lowered into place as the train’s whistle sounded in the distance.
“I hear the Historic Society is going to take over the Perdue House,” Chaney said, watching for the train.
“That’s good,” Frye said.
“And that lady that got killed, Felicia Stroman, her husband moved back to Atlanta with their kids.”
“I think his parents live there.”
The train rumbled past, rattling the crossbeams beneath it.
“You think you’ll go to prison?” Chaney asked.
“They’re going for aiding and abetting,” Hank Frye said. “They may charge me with reckless endangerment, too. But I’m a first time offender. I don’t know.”
“I’ll testify for you,” Chaney said.
“You might end up in Bryce if you did.”
Chaney looked at him. “What do you think he did with my sister?” she asked.
Frye stared at his feet. “I don’t know.”
Chaney looked away. The train passed, its sound fading into the distance, lost to the myriad rackets of the celebration.
“I’m sorry about your friend,” she said.
Frye looked over at her.
“I’m sorry about Lucas.”
He reached out, patted her hand. “Thank you.” He squeezed. “Listen, if there’s anything I can do…”
“No. Thanks.” She pulled her hand away, clasping it with the other. “I just want to find Marley. I’ve got to know. One way or the other.”
“Yeah.” Frye stood. “Well, I guess I’d better get going before somebody recognizes me from the newspapers.”
“Don’t,” Chaney said. “I mean, can you stay for a little while? Just to talk? You’re the only other person who knows, you know?”
Hank sat back down. “I’d like that,” he replied. “I would, uh, I’d appreciate the company, to be honest.”
“Safety in numbers?” Chaney said.
“Something like that,” Hank said. “I almost called you, afterward.”
“I wish you would have.”
“Sorry.” Hank wiped his forehead, then wiped his palm on his jeans. “So, you want to see what kinds of culinary delights this thing has to offer? I’m buying. If you’re hungry.”
“Okay.” Chaney stood. She and Frye crossed the street, headed down the sidewalk in the direction of the railroad tracks and the various food vendors.
“Hank?” Chaney asked, walking beside him.
“Do you think Marley could still be alive?”
Frye smiled. Chaney wanted to believe he hadn’t forced it.
“Stranger things have happened,” he said.
* * *
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!