Chapter 5 (Pages 60-65)
The Marshal paced the schoolyard. “You say the doctor disappeared?” He stared at the two young men who had dragged him to the site.
“Yes sir! Sam and I, we-we saw it,” Patrick stammered. He was toe-headed, tall and lanky with gray eyes.
“That so, young man?” The Marshal shifted his gaze to Sam. He was an inch shorter than Patrick with reddish-brown hair and stubble poking out of his chin.
“You the shopkeeper’s son?”
“You okay boy?”
Sam nodded turning to the sound of wagon wheels approaching. He and Patrick blanched. Both of them backed away from the marshal, shaking. “Nothing to worry about, boys,” the Marshal said, waving a hand.
“Reverend Stone! Miss Hampton!” The Marshal approached the wagon. “What happened here?”
“The Devil took him. Yanked him right down to the center of the Earth.” The Reverend’s face was soiled with dirt, his brown slacks ripped and his white shirt a dingy tan.
“Took the Doctor?” The Marshal rolled his eyes. He had hoped for a more sensible account. He let out a long anxious breath.
“He disappeared.” Miss Hampton spat out, she was breathless, the whites of her eyes were streaked red.
The day had started calm enough, even though today had been the anniversary of Tom’s disappearance, he had never imagined it would end like this. He had expected some sort of rallying, folks gathering at Tom’s grave, but nothing like this.
“I don’t doubt something happened here, ma’am, but …” The Marshal pulled out a notebook and started writing. “I need an accurate description of the event.” He turned to the Reverend. “Reverend, can you share what you witnessed?” The Marshal knew Tom was Miss Hampton’s cousin, and she would certainly have had a stronger reaction than her peers, her being a woman and all.
The Reverend pointed at the ground and he steered away from the actual site. “The earth beneath our feet, it rose in waves, undulating, then covered the good doctor’s body and, and it swallowed him whole.”
“Then windows came out of the earth,” Sam added. He spread his fingers and lifted his hands into the air. He looked back at the playground and his eyes widened.
“Yes. There were lots of them,” Patrick said, his voice shaking. “Lots of tall glass windows.” Patrick turned away, he couldn’t look at the playground. “It was crazy, like some story you read in those leather-bound books Miss Hampton brings to school. Crazy.” He moved farther from the site, trembling.
“Look, this story … it just …” The Marshal tucked his notebook into his front pocket. “I don’t know how the boys at the station will react, you understand?” The last thing he wanted was the boys making fun of him, disrespecting him. “I’m going to say the good doctor is missing, that his neighbors and concerned citizens reported the incident.” He looked at his gold pocket watch, turning it over in his hand, “at eighteen hundred hours.”
“But that’s not what happened.” Miss Hampton was adamant. “He’s under there! The Devil did take him.” She pointed at the ground. “And there were people behind the windows. They looked familiar.” Miss Hampton swallowed.
“I’ve heard enough.” The Marshal raised one hand in the air. “Looks to me like you need an exorcist, not the authorities.” He stared at the Reverend. He was beginning to think he and his men could not solve the crime, not that their story was true, but just a difficult one to crack, he reasoned.
“Sometimes, ma’am,” the Marshal tipped his hat, “when someone witnesses a horrible event, the mind plays tricks.”
“But we all saw it,” Miss Hampton cried. “The entire student body.”
“Miss Hampton is telling the truth,” the boys added.
“Alright, I’m making a report. I’ll have my men investigate the incident, but I cannot add your crazy statements.” The Marshal looked up at the Reverend.
“This is a normal reaction, like I said, in times of great distress, the mind plays tricks. And this is what I believe happened here. Someone you knew and cared about was taken or perhaps even ran away.” The Marshal’s face grew serious. “We’ll get the boys out here to dig up the place.” He paused. “There could have been a patch of quicksand. A terrible glare from the sun could have caused images to distort. Miss Hampton, we’ll find out.”
Miss Hampton nodded, dabbing her nose with a handkerchief. “Tom disappeared a year ago,” Miss Hampton addressed the Marshal, “in this very place.” She scooted farther from the site, as if something or someone would come out of it and grab her. “Don’t you think that’s strange?”
“Yes, ma’am, I do. I will send my men out tonight.”
“Tom was just a boy.” The Reverend hung his head.
“He was our friend,” Sam said. “And so was the doctor.”
“Yes boys, I know, and I promise you we are working to find them. I will handle this. Now you all go home and get a good night’s sleep.”
The Marshal turned and mounted his horse. “Good evening, Miss Hampton, Reverend.” It was indeed a shame about the boy, the Marshal thought, but he and his men had not closed the case. Not completely. This incident would no doubt reignite the fire, there would be search parties before the night was out.He tipped his hat a second time and rode away.
* * *
“He doesn’t believe us.” Miss Hampton looked at Reverend Stone.
“Who would?” Reverend Stone said. “At least he’s taking the initiative to look into the incident, file a report.”
“That’s not right!” Sam interjected. “The earth swallowed him. You saw it, I saw it, we all did.”
“It’s true,” Patrick said. “It was something else that took him, not someone.”
“Yes, I know, son.” The Reverend patted the boy’s back, “but those who weren’t there will never believe us.” Reverend Stone frowned. He took a deep breath and sighed. “There might be something we can do,” He added. “We’ll talk tomorrow, good night, boys.”
“Good night.” The boys dispersed and made their way to their own farms. The Reverend and Miss Hampton started toward the wagon, he would take her home to her small cabin by old Cobbs creek and then ride up to the old church.
“You’ll be alright?” Reverend Stone helped Miss Hampton off the wagon.
“Of course,” Miss Hampton said, stepping down.
“Good night then,” the Reverend said, his voice cracking. “Sleep well.”
“Thank you, Reverend Stone.” She smiled. “I’ll see you Sunday,” she said, wondering what his message would be after what they had just witnessed.
“Sarah?” Miss Hampton’s father came to the front door. He walked with a cane. He looked at her and then the Reverend. “What happened?”
“Another incident at the schoolhouse, sir,” the Reverend volunteered.
“Yes.” Miss Hampton nodded, “like what happened with Tom. The Marshal came out, he made a report.”
“How’s my girl?” The old man asked, his large hand cupped her face.
“I’m good.” Miss Hampton avoided his eyes.
Mr. Hampton nodded but said nothing.
“She’s shaken,” the Reverend offered. “A bit confused, in shock, I presume.”
“I suppose she would be,” Mr. Hampton added. His voice trailed.
Miss Hampton scowled. They were taking about her as if she wasn’t even there.
“We’ll get them back,” Reverend Stone said, turning to leave. “I … I need to start thinking about Sunday, go over my sermon.” He scratched his disheveled curls. “I think a vigil Sunday night might be fitting, for both Tom and Dr. Monastersky.”
Miss Hampton smiled. “I like that, it will give the children an opportunity to process their feelings and express their grief.” She pressed her lips together, she worried about Emma.
Emma had changed, become quieter, more reserved, almost secretive. Miss Hampton sighed.