Death Lives In The Water – Snippet 27
They were gone. All of them were gone. Would they be back? He didn’t know. But they were gone, and the Provider was happier, now that he was back in his home. He could hear the Provider’s voice at night, echoing in his head.
“Food. Need food. Send food.”
He looked out again. The yellow tape was gone. The trucks were gone. Once he was afraid they were going to come back here. But they didn’t. It was getting dark out. It was safe to feed him, he thought.
The barn was dark after sunset, so he took a flashlight. The sheep bleated, as much in hunger as fear, when he opened the door to the stall. He tied a small rope around its neck and led it out and down the slope toward the pond. He would have liked to stop at the well and throw the hapless animal down there, but he knew from experience that would not suffice. The Provider didn’t like going into the deep waters unless it had to. So he took the sheep to the pond. He untied it, let it root about in the grass for a while, and then gave it a mighty shove into the pond. The ram paddled frantically toward the shore but was suddenly pulled under and did not surface again.
That should do, he thought. That should do. That sheep was huge.
Once safely inside, he picked up the shoes he had removed at the door and placed them on a plastic sheet. He sat down on a stool next to the plastic, his workbench at his side. He picked up a scraper and carefully removed all the mud. He next took a dental tool from his bench and carefully removed any remaining detritus from the soles. He lifted a brush next and brushed the work boots vigorously until they shone. But still he was not done. He opened a small drawer and removed a flat tin of black shoe polish and a rag. After removing the shoe laces, he carefully applied the polish and once again polished the boots with the brush until they shone a brilliant black.
He set the boots on his bench. He returned the polish to the drawer and threw the rag into the fire in the small fireplace. Then he lifted the plastic sheet carefully and took it, along with the scraper, the dental tool, and the brush, to a large sink in the back of his workroom. He washed everything, including the sink, after he had thoroughly soaped and rinsed the plastic sheet and his tools. He hung the sheet over the rack that stood next to the sink, over a drain. The cut on his hand stung from the strong soap. It had been a deep wound, requiring many stitches, which he had inserted himself. He would be more careful if the truck was ever returned. He went back to his workbench and carefully lined up the scraper, the pick, and the brush. Everything was as it should be.
He picked up the fox body he had found in the woods just before all the noisy ones came. He began to carefully trim the fur around its neck. He had prepared the body for his treatment, for his skill. He would do his best work on this prize. It would calm him. Everything would go back to okay.
He picked up a magnifying glass and began meticulously cleaning and polishing the black claws. His work was precise, born of long habit and patience. Good work requires good work habits. Mother always told him that.
By unspoken consent they had left the explanations to Arthur. He pulled his chair closer to the stunned and silent Martin Rutledge.
“Witch might not be quite the right terminology,” he said with a chuckle. “We follow the ancient ways, the Path set out by the old ones long ago.”
“Do you cast spells, stir cauldrons, stuff like that?” asked Martin.
“Spells, yes. But spells are nothing more than concentrating one’s connection with the earth, with the unseen powers. Think of them as a way to focus and channel the many electric currents that surround us constantly, and the sound and light waves.”
“Okay,” said Martin. “But seriously, why not just use scientific equipment? I mean, they have stuff that can focus all those things, so why spells?”
“Think of them as a kind of prayer,” replied Arthur. “You wouldn’t try to use your cell phone to talk to god. Spells are as much about focusing and centering ourselves as they are about manipulating the physical world. But we do try to do that. Mostly we use physical tools to deal with physical things: tinctures, scents, flowers, stuff like that.”
Martin sat silent for a while. Then he leaned forward, looking at all three intently.
“Why are you telling me this? Is Harve a wi . . . erm ‘practitioner’ too?”
“No,” said Charity. “But he is family, which means that to some extent he has the gift. But, no. Not because of that.”
“Because,” said Jen, “we need you to be willing to at least consider an alternative reason for these deaths. We are quite aware that an occult explanation would be laughed out of court. But, if we could establish by proof that there is a creature in that pond, or in the waters underneath it, then you could use that, yes?”
Martin sat for a moment, thinking, a deep frown on his face.
“Yes,” he finally said. “I suppose there is a way. But it would have to be physical, provable evidence. Not just some theory or myth.”
“That is why Dan is driving up this coming Sunday,” said Jen. “He’s a professor at Washington University in St. Louis. And he’s Ukrainian. He is coming to translate the diaries for us.”
“Our relatives kept diaries from the time they arrived here until they died,” answered Charity. “Most of them are in Ukrainian, a few in English. We are guessing that they wrote in detail about what they think might have been brought here and how they dealt with it. If it is what we fear it might be, then there is an explanation for the murders that will clear Harve.
Martin was intrigued. The idea that a creature had been accidentally transported here, set free, and allowed to breed with similar creatures in this new alien environment? That seemed more than likely to him. And it certainly made more sense than labeling the quiet, humble Harve Sanders as a mass murderer.
“Can I be here for the translations?” he asked.
“We were hoping you would want to be,” said Arthur. “Your input would be invaluable, and we think it would be important for you to have the information.”
“Oh you betcha. Stuff like that is gold with juries, especially if you can get an impressionable one. If it comes to trial, and I hope it doesn’t, it won’t be here, though. Couldn’t find anyone who didn’t know and love Harve, ‘cept maybe the parents of those poor boys.”
Sunday afternoon was usually quiet at the Rectory. Ben would putter out back in the vegetable garden or sit in an overstuffed chair in the library, reading a book or magazine. Arthur greatly enjoyed puffing on his Meerschaum pipe, while reading Sherlock Holmes or Miss Marple, and sometimes a new Harlan Coben.
Today was different. All the available chairs had been pulled up to the large library table. Martin Rutledge sat with a legal pad and several sharpened pencils, ready to take notes. Dan Balanchuk had arrived in time for the luncheon in the dining room and was now eagerly eyeing the pile of journals, papers, and diaries which Charity had stacked up on the table. Charity Farmington sat next to Dan, ready to hand him the volumes. Mary and Bull Harper had come, along with Jen Harper and her daughter Bridgette. Morey and Maggie Farmington rounded out the group, happy to have something interesting to do on their day off. Arthur came into the room bearing a large stack of writing tablets and several pens and pencils. Behind him came Ben, with an easel and a white board. He set up the easel and lined up erasers and dry erase markers in various colors.
“I’m going to stay,” said Ben. “I’m not sure what this is about, though I can guess a bit, but my hobby before I nearly drank myself to death was genealogy. I probably know more about drawing family trees than most of you.”
He blushed deeply, realizing how that sounded.
“Anyway, I want to help, if you’ll let me.”
They all agreed at once, and Ben snagged a stool to perch on beside the whiteboard. Before sitting, he drew out the top of the tree and some branches below, with places for names.
Charity knew from the few English diaries she had found that Yuri and Maria Harper, along with her parents, Maksym and Kateryina Molovna, were the first to arrive in the area from Ukraine. Yuri’s parents remained in St. Louis, where his father became assistant to the brewmeister of a large beer brewery. They kept begging Yuri to move down and live with them and get a job managing the horses the brewery kept for pulling the delivery wagons. But Yuri declined in favor of a more rural life.
Ben entered those names and waited for more names to emerge, either from memory or from the diaries. He sat waiting, until Charity looked up and said, “You’re going to need a second tree.”
Ben looked puzzled.
“There were four brothers and sisters, not related to Maksym and Kateryna, who lived in the cottages that Jen and I now live in. Three of them married, and they have progeny in the town too.”