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Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Children Lost on The Darkest Of Nights: The Legend of Peg Powler - Chapter 25


Children Lost on The Darkest Of Nights:

The Legend of Peg Powler

(A Sewing Box Mystery)

Chapter 13: Monday, October 31, 2011, 11:02 am

Chapter 16 - Monday, October 31, 2011, 11:55 am

Chapter 17 - Monday, October 31, 2011, 12:43 pm

Chapter 20 - Monday, October 31, 2011, 2:06 pm 

Chapter 22 - Monday, October 31, 2011, 3:01 pm

Chapter 23 - Monday, October 31, 2011, 3:42 pm

        Chapter 25 - Monday, October 31, 2011, 5:11 pm

 The sense of dread Missy felt at the thought of visiting The Sleep Inn continued to grow the closer they got to the place.

 Tucked in a residential neighborhood, the old Victorian stood out, with it’s twin towers making it appear as if a medieval castle had been set down in the midst of the modest houses which surrounded it. Stranger still was it’s purpose. Serving as a sort of private club, or, as Peter had once told her, a community center, the structure held some of the town’s secrets, as in the various peccadilloes and kinks of the community’s residents. The sight of Libby, with her crippled leg, dressed in lingerie, dancing around a stripper pole as Sheriff Paul, sporting a pair of fake knockers and a woman’s blouse, watched on, still gave Missy the heebie jeebies. But to each their own. At least the place had booze. And food. Missy was now much more intent on the latter than the former. Despite all the tiny cakes consumed at the Oswig Sister’s, she was hella hungry.

 As they approached the house, Missy slowed to a crawl. There were a lot of cars. Not only was she unsure of where to park, but there was a group of people gathered on the sidewalk opposite the inn. They were carrying signs and shouting.

 “Oh, lord love a duck… look!” Jeanette pointed at the people. “It’s those protesters again.”

 “What should we do?”

 “Park!” Jeanette was moving into Mama Bear mode. “And get inside as quick as possible.” Missy hesitated. “Just do it,” her aunt barked.

 Missy, seeing that the only available spot was right in front of The Sleep Inn, began to slowly ease the car in the space. Oddly, given all the cars, it was wide enough that she wouldn’t have to parallel park. But before she even got the nose of the car in, a protester sprang in front of it, blocking her way. Hitting the brakes, she looked to her right, as other protesters began swarming the car. They did so without making a sound, their former cries of “Sinners!” and “Blasphemers!” having been replaced by an eerie silence. Missy felt a panic well-up from inside. If she had left the Oswig Sister’s home with a golden glow, all she felt now was a rolling, threatening cloud of gray.

 “Missy stay calm.” Her aunt sat rigidly in her seat, her eyes darting back and forth trying to assess their situation. A hum of some kind, like that of locusts, filled the air. It was the protesters. What were they saying? Missy couldn’t make it out. Their signs now held in front of them, they simply stood there, staring.

 “I want out.” Missy’s panic was quickly reaching a peak. It was time for action.

 But as she moved to open her door, Jeanette leaped across the car, grabbing her hands to stop her. “No. Don’t. You can’t go out there.” Just as Jeanette took control of Missy’s wrists, a loud siren blast was heard.

 “Get the fuck away from that car and get your asses across the street, or I am calling Sheriff Paul!”

 As the protesters silently melted away, the passenger window was clear enough to see who had come to their rescue.

 It was Duane, the bartender who ran The Sleep Inn. He was part owner of the establishment, a burly sort, the type you wouldn’t want to mess with. Behind him, to his left stood Loretta, one of the other owners. He held aloft an aerosol horn, which he gave one more blast before making his way to the car. He then rapped a knuckle on the passenger side window to signal that they should roll it down. Jeanette complied. “Don’t park here,” he said. “Go ‘round to the back and park by the kitchen door. You can come in that way.”

 “But what about…”

 Before Jeanette could even complete her question, Duane explained. “Don’t worry. We have a restraining order. They can’t set foot on our property.” With that, he stood tall and glared at the protesters, who had now resumed their place on the sidewalk across the street. Their signs, which exclaimed things like ‘Read Your Bible!’ and ‘Sinners Go To Hell!’, once again held aloft.

 Missy didn’t wait for Duane to say more. As Jeanette rolled up the window, Missy backed the car up just enough to continue down the block, with plans to make a right at the end of it. She didn’t mean to, but she took a stealthy peek at the protesters as she drove by and… she could have sworn she saw a couple of familiar faces among them;  for sure, Hedda, the cashier at Sam’s gas station, and next to her? It looked like it was Donna, whom they had just met at Pearl’s. But how could that be? Unless she teleported herself, there’s no way she could have beat them to the inn. Missy stole second look, and noticed that, while the hair was different, there was no mistaking those over-made-up eyes. It was like Tammy Faye Baker giving her the evil eye.

 “Missy!” snarled Jeanette. “Keep your eyes on the road.”

 Missy snapped to as instructed. “Did you… did you see that?”

 Jeanette looked at her niece as if she were crazy. “What? Of course I saw it. I was there.”

 “No.” Missy turned and began looking for the alley entrance. “In the crowd. Of protesters. Did you see who was standing there.”

 “Sorry. I was…” Jeanette looked at her hands. “I was too freaked out by ‘the people of the corn’ swarming our car to notice faces.”

 “Hedda was there. And… and so was Donna, the lady we just met at Pearl’s. The with the jet black hair and spider lashes.”

 Jeanette wrinkled her nose. “Are you sure? She was still at the shop when we left.”

 “Well, the hair was different, sort of a dark mousy brown. But I swear, it was the same face, same make up.”

 As they made their way down the alley, Jeanette thought for a moment. “It might have been her sister. Didn’t she say she had a sister in a cult?”

 Pulling onto the gravel drive behind The Sleep Inn, Missy cautioned, “Oh, don’t use that word, Jeanette. These are Jesus people.”

 “Jesus has nothing to do with whatever crazy is going on there, my dear.” Missy had wedged the car between a big black truck and an old Honda Civic with a ton of rust. “Careful,” cautioned her aunt. “Make sure you leave enough room for us to open the doors.”

 It proved a tight squeeze, for they could only open the doors a crack, but the two women still managed to wedge their bodies out of the car. Missy felt ridiculous. And if anyone was watching, they’d be laughing and she would’ve been mortified. She hated any reminder of her body size. Once free of the car, they moved toward the wooden steps which led to a well-lit screen door. The steps were a reminder of just how old the house was and a metaphor for the house itself; they were tilting a bit to the left and their paint was peeling, but they looked solid enough.

 The rusted spring on the screen door screeched as they opened it. Inside, the kitchen sizzled with burgers, eggs and grilled cheese, all being made on small countertop grills which sat in a line along a counter on the right side of the room. A man with a head of thick black hair, wearing a chef’s apron stood cooking, his back to the door. Missy tried to remember his name, but it wouldn’t come to her, so she simply blurted out, “Hi!”

 When the man turned around, Missy immediately sensed that there was something different about him. His eyes, which stared at them dully, were spaced a little too far apart, and his mouth gaped open, his bottom lip protruding. He said nothing, so Missy rushed to explain, “It’s alright. Umm, Duane? Duane told us to come in the back way. The protesters out front were... well, they were too scary.”

 Several beats passed without any response, as the man continued to look at them with no sign of

comprehension. He then raised his chin, smiled, and said plainly enough, as if putting the subject to rest, “You want hamburger. Cheese?” He then turned around and began to plate up some of the food cooking on the line of grills.

 Missy decided nothing more need be said. “Yes. Two, please.”

 At that moment, in walked a woman, obviously in search of an order. “Martin. I gotta have a grilled cheese for Mavie and a burger, no cheese, but with lettuce and tomato for Buster. You got it ready?”

 Missy immediately recognized the woman as Boyd’s mom. The only other time she’d seen her was in this very establishment on the night her son died. She looked better now - more rested, less haggard. “Hi. Go grab a table, I’ll be right with ya,” she said, placing bags on chips on a row of paper plates waiting on the center aisle of the kitchen.

 “Lucille,” said Martin. “I have no tomato.”

 “Yes, you do. It’s in the bottom drawer in the fridge. You just have to cut it up. Do want me to do it?”

 Martin grew rigid. “No!” he spat. “I am the chef and the chef cuts the tomato.”

 Lucille smiled. “I’ll grab one for you. You do the cutting, Chef.” She winked at Missy and Jeanette and made her way across the room.

 Missy and Jeanette moved through the door into the room with the small stage and stripper pole. It looked exactly as it had the last time they’d seen it, save for the absence of the performers and an audience. The chairs facing the stage remained the same mismatched assortment as before. At the back of the room, which was only illuminated by Christmas lights lining the ceiling and the edge of the stage, Missy  could just make out the barrel of a heavy, old-fashioned spotlight on a wheeled stand. But her assessment of the room was interrupted by a friendly nudge from Jeanette, who swiftly moved past her niece and through the dining area beyond it before taking an immediate right. If Missy recalled correctly, that meant her aunt was headed directly to the bar, which, given their hectic day, didn’t seem like a bad idea at all.

 Standing in the archway which led to the dining area, Missy scoped out the room, hoping to see a familiar face. Seeing none, she made her way to the only available table, a rickety-looking card table covered by an orange plastic sheet surrounded by four folding chairs, each from a different era.  At the center of the table sat a glowing plastic jack-o-lantern with lively eyes and a merry scowl. This was complimented by twirled orange and black crepe paper streamers  which stretched above, from one end of the room to the other. Well, thought Missy, at least someone in this town is celebrating the holiday in style. She seated herself in the chair which faced the center of the room, giving her the best vantage point. From here, she could see everyone in the dining area, most of the theatre seats, a bit of the stage, and she had a direct sight-line into the bar area across the hall.

 She had no more than placed her bag on the floor beside her chair,  when a frosty martini glass appeared in front of her.

 “Compliments of the house.” It was Duane. “And your aunt. She thought you might need this.”

 Missy smiled. “Thank you, kind, Sir.”

 Duane sat down in the chair opposite her. “Sorry about those protesters. Every year they get a little bit more riled up.”

 Missy took a sip of the drink. Hopefully it would have a chilling effect on her nerves. “Yeah, we ran into them earlier at the library. They seem to have a thing about surrounding cars and people.”

 Duane smiled. “They see you as an outsider. Which… you are, so?” Missy gave him a perplexed look, causing him to backtrack a bit, “I mean, you’re ‘other’. But then so is everybody in this joint, so don’t get a swelled head or nothing.” His attempt at humor made Missy relax just enough to take another delicious sip and smile. “Hey, it’s not like you’re getting special treatment or anything. They treat everybody that way.”

 Sensing an opportunity to cull a bit of information, Missy dared ask, “Who are they?”

 “A pain in the ass, if you ask me,” came a voice behind Duane. It was Lucille, Boyd’s mom, now ready to take a food order. “Those folks creep me out. Only thing worse is when you run into them in real life and have to deal with them one on one. Not a happy bunch of coconuts.” She shifted on her hips to get a side view of Duane’s face. “Hey, Duane? Isn’t there are bar somewhere you should be tending.”

 Duane sighed, raising his bulk out of the chair. He turned and faced Lucille. “Why you always busting my chops?”

 “’Cause they need bustin’,” came the salty reply. “Now get back to work.”

 Duane, laughing, grabbed Lucille with his meaty arms and pulled her in for a hug. “Happy Halloween, Lucille.” He then held her at arms length and added,”Guess you decided to come as a witch this year, huh?” before making his way across the hall.

 “Ha!” exclaimed Lucille. “Better than the sack of shit you always come as.” Her comment was made in good cheer, a little bit of a ribbing for a co-worker. Still smiling, she turned her attention to Missy. “How you doing, toots? You ready to order?”

 Missy held her breath. Either the woman failed to recognize her or she was choosing not to acknowledge her involvement in the her son’s death. Sensing Missy’s hesitation, Lucille plopped down in the chair vacated by Duane. “Look,” she said plainly, “You and me? We have a bit of history. But it’s blood under the bridge. I miss my Boyd like crazy, but…” and her eyes drifted to the right, not wanting to look Missy in the eye as she continued, “I wasn’t exactly mother of the year.” She then looked Missy directly and confided, “I used to drink a lot. That’s behind me. This community,” she indicated the people in the room, “They saved me. Propped me up. Gave me a purpose.”

 “I’m really sorry for your loss,” said Missy.

 Lucille shrugged. “Eh. In every life a little rain must fall. Sometimes? It’s a tsunami and just wipes the whole thing clean.” With that, she stood, pencil and pad in hand. “Now, what can I get you.”

 “We told Martin we wanted a couple of burgers when we came in.”

 “Yeah, well, if it’s not on a piece of paper, it ain’t getting made,” she smiled. “Martin is a sweet boy, but remembering things is not in his toolkit. I’ll get your order in. You want cheese?”

 “Lettuce and tomato if we could.”

 “Speak for yourself. I want cheese.” It was Jeanette, returning from the bar, a bottle of beer in her hand. She looked at Lucille. “How you doing?”

 “Peachy. I got a room full of hungry people, a bartender more interested in socializing than serving beer, a cook who can’t get a plate of food in the window to save his life but won’t accept any help, an an angry mob of Jesus freaks wanting to torch this place, and I couldn’t be happier.” Lucille, who was quite a bit shorter than Jeanette, cocked her chin and asked, “And how you doing?”

 Jeanette ignored the woman’s question, responding with one of her own. “What’s the deal with people outside with the signs?”

 Lucille quickly assessed the room, before answering, “Look, I’d be happy to fill you in. But let me get some plates on these tables first.” She looked Jeanette up and down. “I’ll be right back.”

 Jeanette parked herself in a chair next to Missy, so that she, too, had a great view of the place. “Guess this happens every year. Those protesters. That’s why Halloween isn’t celebrated outside of these four walls. They cause too much trouble.” Jeanette, casing the room, took a sip of beer. She had her guard up, still in Mama Bear mode. “At least that’s what Duane told me. He seems like a stand-up kind of guy. Trustworthy.” Taking another sip, she added, “He sure saved our asses.”

 “That was weird.” That was all Missy could come up with. She looked at her hands, sitting on the glossy orange of the plastic table cloth, and admitted, “I’m tired.”

 “Then it’s time to go home.” Jeanette, sensing an opening, got back up on her soapbox, “We should be in the car headed back, now. Let’s just find your mother and get out of here.” Here eyes followed Lucille around the room, as the plucky woman dropped food off at table after table. She greeted everybody by name. Clearly, Lucille was very much at home here.

 Missy attempted to placate her aunt, “Looks like they’re having a Halloween party here, tonight Isn’t that good enough?”

 Jeanette looked crossly at her niece, “You know that Halloween party is important to me. And I’m going.” She then resumed scanning the room, but with a different purpose in mind, “You see a phone anywhere? I need to call and let Vanessa know I’m going to be late.”

 Missy smiled a knowing smile. “So, your dog sitter’s name is Vanessa,” she teased. “What are you going as?”

 Looking warily at her niece, as if daring her to make fun of her, Jeanette tightly stated, “Mario Bros.”

 Much to Jeanette’s discomfort, Missy burst out laughing. “Oh! Oh, that is too… Which… which one are you?”

 Folding into herself, obviously regretting having said anything, Jeanette, in a tiny voice, disclosed, “Luigi.”

 “Of course.” Missy, sensing she was overstepping a boundary, reigned it in. “Well…” she added, “Be sure to take pictures. I would love to see what you came up with.” Jeanette sat with pursed lips. Feeling the need to move beyond the awkwardness, Missy offered up, “It’s okay. I love you.” Smiling she added, “I think it’s cute.”

 Her aunt gave her a quizzical look, “What are you talking about?”

 At that moment, Lucille grabbed the chair next to Jeanette and squared off, looking like she was ready to spill the beans. “Okay,” she said, “I got about five minutes before your order is ready.” She looked at Jeanette, “You want to know about Pastor John and his disciples out there? Well, I got the goods. Generation after generation of crazy. The men in that family? They collect all the lost sheep in this town, mostly women, and run around town like a little hate cult.”

 Missy looked to Jeanette before saying anything. “Wow. You? You really have strong feelings about these people.”

 “Well, they’re crazy,” she said, plainly, “Batshit crazy.” She went on, “They almost got ahold of my boy, Boyd, during one of his sober phases.” She grimaced. “Didn’t last long, but I knew right then they were nothing to mess with.”

 “What’s their deal?” asked Jeanette.


 “Yeah. What’s their thing?”

 “Oh,” Lucille sat back, warming to the topic, “It goes way back, to the founding of this town. Shortly after the place was founded, John’s,” her eyes roamed up to the ceiling, “great, great, great… great? Grandfather. He went off to Spain or something and met up with this rebel priest. Came back and declared that the Catholic church had lost its way, talking like…” She squinted her eyes, as if struggling to come up with a words, “Like that period where they tortured sinners in basements and stuff?”

 Missy and Jeanette looked at one another, before saying at the same time, “The Inquisition.”

 Lucille snapped her fingers. “Yep. That’s it. The Inquisition. It got crazy after that and never stopped. Every first son was named John and they were raised to take over the cult. The group meets weekly, at the community center over by the Sheriff’s department and springs up here and there to cause trouble. Halloween is always one of their favorites. They stake out various places in town. God help you if you land in their cross hairs. Anyway, this year? They seem extra riled up. Extra mean. I wish the sheriff would do something about ‘em, but he says his hands are tied.”

 “Lazy’s more like it,” groused Jeanette.

 That made Lucille light up like a light bulb. “Yeah. True, true. He does have a tendency to do the bare minimum.” She then sighed. “I just feel sorry for those women.”

 “We… I… noticed Hedda was among them.” Missy ventured.

 “Aww,” Lucille shook her head. “That’s a sad case.” She peered over her shoulders, checking out the room before continuing. “A woman loses a child. It can be life-altering.”

 Figuring they were women about the same age, Missy asked, “Do you know her?”

 “Did.” said Lucille, flatly. “We grew up together. She was a lovely girl. Pretty. All the boys wanted to know Hedda.” She smiled, “After graduation, she became a caretaker for Sam’s wife - Sam? Who owns the gas station, here, in town. Next thing ya know, she’s pregnant. No idea who the father was. Her parent’s disowned her, so Sam took her under his wing.” An knowing smile crept over Lucille’s face, “That set people’s tongues a waggling.” And then, soberly, “But there wasn’t nothing to it. Sam just really appreciated how much care she took with his wife. He told anybody that would listen that she was a good girl and didn’t deserve to be treated like… trash.” This last word was spoken with great derision and a sense of personal knowledge.

 Again, Missy ventured, “So… the baby wasn’t Sam’s.”

 Lucille shook her head. “No.” She then looked Missy in the eye with a bit of defiance, before continuing, “But try and tell that to some of the high-‘n-mighties in this town, you were just wasting your breath. And Hedda was a good Mom. That boy? He had a good life. Right up until the day he disappeared.” Shaking her head, as if to rid herself of the gravity of the moment, Lucille shot up and said, “Hey, your burgers should be ready by now. Let me go grab ‘em while they’re still warm.” She swiftly moved toward the kitchen and disappeared.

 Jeanette looked to Missy, bottle of beer poised for a sip, “That’s… some heavy stuff.”

 “Explains a lot.” Missy still couldn’t quite connect how Hedda would then become part of the very same group of people who’d condemned her earlier, but then, she supposed people who go through traumatic events tend to become someone else, for better or worse. Maybe it was one of those ‘come to Jesus’ moments she’d heard so much about. No doubt, there was more to the story, but it was one whose time would have to wait.

 The burgers arrived. They were good, larger than expected, thick and juicy. The iceberg lettuce and tomato made for the perfect compliment. Not that Missy had time to savor hers. They were eaten quickly, at Jeanette’s prodding, for she was still bound and determined to get back to the cities. Her aunt had asked Duane about Dorie as soon as they arrived, before she’d had a sip of her first beer He confirmed that she and Ray had arrived over an hour ago. They’d played a bit of pool, ate some food and then slipped upstairs, which is where Missy and Jeanette headed after settling up their tab.

 Hand on the banister, Missy recalled how eerie it had felt the first time she’d walked down the hallway of doors on the second floor. The things she’d heard, the energy… it had chilled her. But today, she thought of it as the upstairs of a saloon in the wild west. Of course, people needed a place to do things adults want to do with one another. In that frame of reference, this place made sense.

 Upon reaching the top landing, Missy and Jeanette’s heads shot to the right, attracted by the sound of male laughter. Moving down the hall, they determined the sound had come from the third door down. Missy raised her clenched hand to give the door a slight tap, when it unexpectedly swung open and she found herself face to face with… Adam the Admin.

 Surprised, they both screamed. And then, upon recognizing each other, they screamed a second scream, one of delight.

 “Oh, my god!” said Adam, holding Missy at arms length so he could get a look at her. “It’s so good to see you. I have been thinking about you.”

 “Good thoughts?”

 “Of course, of course. You look great”

 “And you look…” Missy was at a loss for words. It took her a moment to realize that he was in the midst of putting together his Halloween costume. The little he had on did not leave much to the imagination. He was obviously going as a mummy - a sexy mummy, for there was as much gym-toned, zero-body-fat, flesh as there was toilet paper. It was also clear that the only thing Adam was wearing, besides his white ballet shoes, was a flesh-colored thong! “You look practically naked. Oh, my.. I…” First she covered her mouth, then she covered her eyes. “Adam! Where in the world are you going dressed like that?”

 Adam laughed, and his laughter was joined by that of another man. Missy peered over Adam’s left shoulder and caught sight of his boyfriend, Deputy Patrick, who was also barely dressed. Apparently, this was the desired state, for he was obviously going as a sexy vampire.

 “Actually,” Adam said, “I was just on my way to get more toilet paper. We ran out and Patrick is insisting I need a little more.”

 “At least around your head.” Patrick stepped forward. “We’re entering the costume contest. I’m a vampire.”

 Missy’s eyes and grin grew large. “Yep. I could tell that.” If Adam was toned, then Patrick was absolutely ripped. Dumbfounded, Missy just stood there looking at his chest. She wondered if this is how men felt upon seeing a beautiful woman with large breasts. Her eyes not leaving Patrick’s chest, she finally managed, “It’s good to see both of you.”

 Patrick, appearing over Adam’s left shoulder, continued, “We’re going as the classic monsters: The Mummy, Dracula and Frankenstein.”

 “Really? Wow. How fun. You look… great. Who’s playing Frankenstein?”

“Me,” came a voice, as a man with dark hair and green make-up streaking his face appeared over Adam’s right shoulder.

 Missy froze.

 It was Peter.

--- ---

Monster Mash - Bobby Pickett

1 comment:

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Wait what?? Peter??
And that cult sounds creepy as fuck. As all cults do.
And Halloween is gonna be entertaining...