Episode 2 – Disappearance
The next morning, Justin wasn’t himself. The Crane encounter had freaked him out totally. He was jumpy and paranoid, as though the Cranes were lurking around every corner…and seeing things…figures off to the side that disappeared when he turned to look.
The news that Will was working at the Crane place made things worse….as though his best friend was stumbling into a trap. Though there was no proof the Crane’s had committed crimes, after seeing Julian and Beatrix, and listening to the rumors, Justin was ready to believe anything. It was like a dark veil had fallen over the countryside. His father talked about stuff like that…how the country had once been pure and unspoiled….full of honest, hard-working people, but times had changed. The woods were crawling with diseased ticks, farms were abandoned wrecks, and the new generation survived on drugs and alcohol. “Television and cars started it all,” his father claimed. “Without them, enterprising people would have stayed, and found ways to make the farms productive. Television made them dreamers, and cars gave them the idea they could chase all over hell looking for gold at the end of the rainbow.”
Lori interrupted his thoughts. “Have you seen Jack today?”
“No, but I hardly ever see him, except during wrestling season, and even then he’s with other seniors…not young guys like me. We’ve sparred a couple of times, but he’s so much bigger it’s a joke. I don’t like it, because he’s really critical. I don’t know what he expects. He wipes up the floor with everybody.”
Then Lori dropped a bombshell. “Jack’s missing. His friend Ralph called. He went to Crane’s last night on some prank, and nobody’s heard from him since.” I’m worried.
“I thought you were pissed because he never shows up.”
“Usually I am, but Ralph says he’s not answering his cell, and never made it home last night. I dunno…for some reason, I have really bad vibes this time.”
“Will’s at Crane’s. I’ll call and see if he knows anything. Anyone who goes there is asking for trouble. That humongous Crane sister wanted to take a bite out of me, seriously. Has anyone called the police?”
Lori laughed. “Justin, come on. She was going to bite you? You think they’re vampires?”
“No. I never said that, but she’s got some sort of bizarre hang-up. I’m not bullshitting.”
“The police haven’t been called. Nobody even knows if Jack got to Crane’s.”
“I bet he did and I’ll find out,” Justin said, punching in Will’s number.
Will answered immediately. “Hey, dude, what’s up?”
“Yeah…still got my nuts.”
“Good deal…anything going on there?”
“Not really. I’m clearing weeds and briers. This place is a fucking disaster.”
“Did you meet Julian?”
“No, only the grumpy old guy I spoke to on the phone, Thorson….gotta be a hundred years old. Who’s Julian?”
“His brother, I guess. Have you seen Jack or his car?”
“No. My truck’s the only thing in the driveway. Why?”
“Lori heard Jack was out there last night causing trouble. Nobody’s seen him since.”
“He’s probably sleeping it off somewhere…fucking guy drinks like a fish. It’s quiet here.”
“Will, be careful. The Cranes are incredibly strange.”
“Justin, chill. I can take care of myself.”
Will slipped on his headphones and cranked up his weed whacker. Nothing he liked better than being outside…sunshine, wind in your hair…bringing order to nature. He couldn’t wait to see the Crane’s reaction to his quality work. They’d never do business with anyone else, and man, did they need help! The big, old house had been neglected so long, it looked like a strong wind would blow it over…shutters hanging, chimneys teetering, and outside gardens long since gobbled up by Mother Nature. There were signs it’d once been elegant. Two cement urns protruded from the tangle, and as Will worked, he found old brick walks, and the edges of reflecting pools, long since dry and hardly recognizable.
After working in the sun for two hours, Will took a lunch break…sat against the house, stretched out his legs, and opened his lunch box. Suddenly, he heard a faint wailing. He looked around, trying to locate the source…noticed a basement window not far away. As he approached, the cry became more distinct. “Help! Somebody help!” Will lay down on his stomach and tried to peer in, but the glass was covered with dirt and slime. The cries continued and Will was totally at a loss…should he break in, run for help…or what?
The voice was quickly joined by an older voice. “Shut up. You’re driving everyone crazy!”
“Let me go!” The first voice screamed. “You’ve no right to hold me here!”
“It’s the final straw. You’re going to pay for your nasty tricks.”
“Hush. You deserve ten times worse!”
Suddenly, there was rustling in the grass and Will looked up to see Thorson heading toward him.
“What are you up to?” The old man asked. “Snooping?”
Will jumped up. “No. I heard somebody calling for help.”
Thorson grinned. “It’s only the TV. We sit in the cellar because it’s cooler.”
“Oh,” Will said, relieved. “I thought somebody was in serious trouble.”
“Not in the slightest. We’re addicted to soap operas.” The old man turned and looked around the yard. “You’ve cleared out quite a bit.”
“Yup. I’ve got a new heavy-duty weed whacker that’s amazing.” Will lifted it to eye level.
“Nothing better than a sharp scythe in my book,” Thorson retorted.
“Yup. Scythes are good, but not for thicker stuff.”
Thorson turned toward the house. “Get back at it, son. I’d like to see the whole area roughed out by tonight.”
“No problem.” Will looked up to see the drapes moving in a nearby window. “Your whole family live here?” He asked.
“Pretty much. Why you asking?”
“No reason…just never been here before.”
“Stick to your work and mind your business. I’ll be out to check again in a couple of hours.”
Will blushed. “Okay, great…I didn’t mean to pry,” but Thorson was already headed inside.
Justin was right, Will thought. These people are strange, but as long as they pay me, I don’t give two shits. Then the wailing started again. It didn’t sound like normal TV…maybe some weird cable program. “How can they stand listening to that crap?” Will wondered as he fired up his weed whacker…scanned the decrepit surroundings. Why the fuck do they want me here anyway? It’s not like they’re going to manicure the lawn while the house falls apart. “Don’t think. Just work,” he said wading into the brush.
Thorson shuffled back to Beatrix’s room where she and Julian were waiting. “Well, what do you think?” He asked.
“Fine looking specimen,” Beatrix replied, “but with the fat boy in the cellar, we don’t need him.”
“If we had a storage freezer, we could keep both,” Julian suggested. “An opportunity like this doesn’t happen every day.”
“Freezers are expensive,” Thorson said. “Better to pickle them like we always do.”
“Freezers aren’t expensive any more,” Julian said. “I checked the Home Depot website.”
“You and that god damned computer,” Thorson said. “Just scraps of information quoted ad nauseum.”
“I wouldn’t mind keeping the yard boy to look at,” Beatrix interjected. “He’s the type I always wanted to date, tall and dreamy.”
“You mean keep him ALIVE?” Thorson asked incredulously. “That’s risky. If he got away, there’d be hell to pay.”
“I suppose you’re right,” Beatrix said, “and he’d just diminish our food supply, but it would be interesting to observe his habits. At the very least, we could keep his head and other reminders.”
“Whatever you want, sister,” Thorson said. “If your heart’s set on the yard boy, Julian and I can capture him easily. A gun barrel is very convincing.”
When Beatrix was finally alone, she sat dreamily stroking Max. The lawn boy brought back memories, reminded her of Carleton James, the love of her life. They’d met freshman year at high school. She, the daughter of eccentric outcasts, he, the new boy from the Midwest. He was lonely, and she’d never had a boyfriend, so things got hot and heavy fast. They went on a picnic up Locust Mountain…lay on a blanket at the summit and couldn’t stop kissing, then Carleton unzipped and linked them for eternity. She remembered staring into his face, silhouetted against the endless blue sky, and falling deeply in love for the first and only time in her life.
Shortly after, Beatrix became pregnant, and her father Hans confined her to her room. Not a soul was allowed to visit. When the school inquired as to her whereabouts, they were told she’d been shipped back to Norway to stay with relatives. Nine months later, she gave birth to beautiful, healthy twins, Max and Freida…begged her father to keep them, but he drowned them in a pickle barrel and made her eat them piece by piece. Eventually, she grew accustomed to the taste, and imagined her two beauties were growing in her belly…eagerly awaited their rebirth.
Victor sat in his wheelchair looking down on the lawn boy’s sweaty curls and bronze shoulders….was reminded of the boys Thorson and Julian brought home years ago when the entire hilltop was lawn…he kept mental snapshots of tan, supple bodies playing in the sunshine…remembered struggling to mimic them…racing, ball playing, kite flying.
The lawn boy’s machine whirred as he cut away field grass, wild rose and blackberry. Muscles rippled along his back like electric currents…all that covered him were cut-offs and work boots….Victor recalled secret sessions in the barn when boys gathered to show off…tan, youthful hands eagerly pulling down zippers and revealing their intimate secrets…all different shapes and sizes, some astonishingly long and thick, others undeveloped and child-like. “Like mine, unfortunately,” Victor whispered.
He watched the lawn boy swing his machine from side to side…mirrored by movement in his cut-offs. “Thank goodness he’s not cursed too, ” Victor whispered, “not ashamed of being a boy.”
Youthful joys ended in 1945 when the family was rocked by crisis…Beatrix’s indiscretion…and the sudden loss of their mother to pneumonia. For years, she had been the fulcrum that kept their autocratic father in check, but without her, he closed the farm to the outside world. “Maybe the world is coming back to pay us a visit,” Victor whispered dreamily. He thought of calling to the lawn boy, finding out his name….his likes and dislikes…savoring his youth like some magic potion. Prayed he’d be around a while. Read episode 3 – “Jawan’s Plan and A Crane Family Dinner”