By J Thomas Fussell
Chapter 27: The Neighbors
Eight days had gone by since Tom Eastman’s capture in the Brennon house. For the first time in what seemed like a lifetime but had in actuality been less than a month, Silent Glade became the quiet neighborhood for which it had been so valued. Gone were the swarms of police who had locked down the neighborhood while hunting a killer. Gone were the forensics teams and scientists who processed the murders and attacks at the Brennon house, the Stanton house, the Blanchart house, and the Eastman house, as well as the small hill in the forest where the S.W.A.T. massacre had occurred. Gone were the reporters and tabloid writers, and all other forms of media with their relentless questions. Silent Glade could breathe a sigh of relief as a whole. A veil of misery had been lifted off the neighborhood, and Tom Eastman’s reign of terror was officially over. To most of the neighbors, the fear and feelings of impending doom that everyone had felt over the last month, including the stress and sickness seen in the kids, had all but disappeared. Now that Tom had been removed, logic dictated that the fear he instilled in everyone should pass too, and so it was – or at least, so it appeared to be.
In the Lapin house at 012 Silent Glade, Gerald and seven of his eight children hid in a darkened room with the shades drawn. Party hats were strapped to the kid’s heads. Pink and purple streamers had been strung from the ceiling in great loops and waves. A cake baked with care by Debra and Donna had the words “Welcome Home Dee. We Missed You” printed in bright pink and purple icing script on the top.
Moments before, Jennifer texted and said they were turning on to Silent Glade Drive. She and Dee had been gone for over a week. Everyone had gone to see them at least once – Gerald several times – while Dee had been in the hospital recovering and getting test after test. All the tests had come back negative. For all intents and purposes, Dee was a healthy four-year-old. What caused the seizure and the weakness that followed seemed to have no cause that medicine could isolate. According to the doctors, all they could do was pray it did not happen again.
When Dee came in and saw the decorations in her honor, she squealed with delight. One by one she hugged everyone in the room, starting with her father. When she got to Little D, her baby brother, she held on just a little bit longer than all the others. Holding onto Little D for more than a few seconds was not easy – he was a wiggly kid – but he let her hold him for almost thirty seconds before he pulled back.
Dee released him and asked, “Is she gone?”
Little D smiled and nodded, babbling at her in baby talk.
“Did you miss your sister, little man?” Gerald asked. “It certainly appears so. He hasn’t babbled this much the entire time you were gone.”
“Oh, he didn’t babble, Daddy,” Dee said. “He said the bad old lady was gone out of his room. He said he hasn’t seen her for this big.” Dee held her hands apart to indicate some period of time. “I missed you the mostest, Daddy,” she hugged him again, but only briefly, then she turned back to her siblings.
Gerald shivered as his sweet baby girl turned away. Had the old lady from the woods been in his house? Surely not.
“What is it honey?” Jennifer asked, seeing the unease on her husband’s face.
“Nothing,” Gerald said. Jennifer had just gotten home. He did not want to worry her as she walked in the door. He smiled, wrapped an arm around her, and added, “I’m just glad you’re home, beautiful,” then kissed her on the cheek.
In 010, Oscar Jackson sat at his kitchen table where he read another giant tome he had purchased through the internet. The large black book with “Cursed Places” written in thick red letters leaned on a stack of other books so he would not have to hold its weight while he read. He had had just about enough reading and research for one day though and closed the book as he stood up. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. The clock on the wall read five till five.
Jesus, he thought, I’ve been reading for four hours straight, no wonder my eyes are tired.
The capture of Tom Eastman felt like some sort of purge on the neighborhood. But no, maybe purge was the wrong word. Something bad had been expelled when Tom Eastman had been taken down, there was no doubt about that, but Oscar felt sure there was more to this than one psychopath could explain. Maybe release is a better word. Tom Eastman was released. Or maybe, Tom Eastman was a release, like a valve popping off on an overheated boiler. The violence of that day had been enough to stop… to stop what? A runaway train of some sort, he felt certain. Perhaps if the valve had not been released, something worse would have happened, like a boiler explosion. But no, no, no, even that felt wrong. He felt like he was skating around the answer. He could feel it right there, just out of reach.
Oscar made himself a cup of coffee. His head hurt. A headache the likes of which he had not felt since the war. Back then, when he tried to make sense of whatever had made those dead men get up and walk, he thought his head would explode. Perhaps his reason did not like the path his mind was taking him and pushed back – just like now. When things did not make sense, or seemed out of the natural order of things, a body had a way of keeping a person sane. Back then, he let it go. It had simply been too much in an already strained situation. Not this time though. This time Dee Lapin suffered when… when… god, he was almost there.
He would need to rest soon. Age crept up on him daily when he least expected. He would have moments where he lost time all together and wake up slumped over his table or sitting on the couch. On awakening from these states, Oscar would not remember what he had been researching. Sometimes hours would go by before he remembered the task before him. Every memory was just gone like it had been removed from his mind. The scary thing for him was that when he found his way again, it wasn’t because he had been looking for it like he knew he had lost something. It was always simple luck, or retracing the same thoughts over and over as if he were starting from the beginning that brought him back to task. Fortunately, he had found a way around that now. He left himself little clues in the way of notes taped to objects like the inside of his coffee cups. Clues that redirected him back to the mystery at hand. The mystery of what is really going on in Silent Glade, and why he doesn’t think it’s over with the capture of Tom Eastman?
Speaking of mysteries, Oscar wondered how that nice detective fared. She had been a rare beauty. A strong woman who could look him in the eye and would. She had been carried away on a stretcher. That was all he had seen. He may never know, but he felt like their time was not done. Not yet. He did not know why he thought that, no more than he knew why he was sure something more was going on in Silent Glade, but he did, and that was enough for now.
Kathy Blanchart sat on her porch and stared vacantly at the Hernandez house across the street. The last week had been spent visiting her husband Mike in the hospital. She sniffed at the thought. Her heart hurt. Mike would never walk again. That son of a bitch cop paralyzed her Mike and now this was her life.
Damn him and his whole family, she thought.
“Mistaken identity,” they told her. Mistaken identity! Mike no more looked like Tom Eastman than she looked like Oscar Jackson. He was wearing a bathrobe for god’s sake. What self-respecting mass-murderer wears a bathrobe?
A tear leaked from one eye. She brushed it away. Her life as she knew it was over. The rest of her days would be spent caring for a husband who could not move anything below his waist. How would they make money? Who would take care of her when she felt lonely and scared?
Although not a religious woman per se, Kathy went to church on Sunday like any good southern girl, but she did not go to worship. First Church of the Cross was just another gossip venue. It always gave her a thrill to watch someone act all pious and godly on Sunday and like a godless heathen the rest of the week. The rest of the ladies at Bible study would watch her walk into the classroom with trepidation in their hearts. None of them knew on any given Sunday who Kathy would target, if anyone. They all knew she had dirt on them, because if there was dirt to be found, Kathy Blanchart knew it. None of them wanted to be on her bad side. It was a well-known fact among the ladies of First Church that if you crossed Kathy Blanchart, your dirty laundry was likely to be aired for all to see. Whatever shit stained your briefs would be highlighted, circled, and annotated in great detail.
Kathy sighed. God was a forgiving god. The good book said it, and if that were the case, perhaps he could forgive her all the transgressions against his flock. Forgive her for the families she had broken with her “ill-timed” (maliciously planned) gossip, and then hear her and do what she asked of Him. She deserved a better life, and she saw it as God’s duty to give it to her. The wrongness of that thought did not even cross her mind.
She stood and turned her back on the neighborhood she watched with such interest, knelt in front of the chair, and began to pray, loudly. If any of her neighbors saw, well… all the better for it.
At least one of her neighbors did watch. They watched intently and smiled.
The Brennon house sat dead and empty.
When Darren and Sarah Brennon returned home from vacation, they found their home condemned. They were not even allowed to go in and retrieve their belongings. A house fire would have been no less of a loss. Nothing could be salvaged until the house was demolished, and even then, anything left was likely to be infested with the black mold. Their only option was to tear the house down to the ground and rebuild from scratch. Unfortunately, this too was not an option – at least not at the moment.
Their house had been roped off both physically with tape and legally with a state mandate. Apparently, the mold found in at least two homes in the neighborhood could not be classified and appeared to be hazardous to both life and property. Until the lab boys and scientists finished their assessment, the house would have to remain.
Darren immediately contacted his lawyer, but the process would take time. Heartbroken but not beaten, they vowed to rebuild, said their goodbyes, and moved into a rental property in East Nashville, leaving their old life behind to be consumed.
In 004, Ethel Thompson wept bitter tears. Barry Thompson, her husband of 41 years, had finally succumbed to his condition. A massive stroke had taken him from her two days after Tom Eastman’s arrest.
She, of all the neighbors on Silent Glade drive, was the only person to not feel the change that Tom Eastman’s capture brought. She had barely been aware of the situation after her husband had grown so ill. And now that Barry had made his final bow, Ethel was not sure how she would go on. Who would listen to her when she babbled about her hobbies and clubs? Who wanted to hear some old woman talk about her knitting? Who would be the priest to her priestess? Who would love her now?
She had never felt so alone.
Ginger Lynn Debrow stood in front of her mirror and stared at her reflection. It had only been a few weeks since her doctor confirmed her condition. She was pregnant. That girlish figure she saw in the reflection, a figure that had helped her worm her way into relationships her personality alone would not have given her, remained lithe and lovely, but that would not last. Her beautiful breasts, not too big and not too small, would swell and sag, her hips would widen, her waist would balloon out and be covered in stretch marks. But… would it really matter?
Chase Debrow was not some shallow Hal. So why did it worry her so? In 8 months – give or take – she would deliver his child – their child – and her ruined figure for his inspection. Would he still love her after? Her own mother had never regained her youthful figure after having her. Instead she had grown as big as a whale, unable to stop eating long after she no longer needed the extra calories. Her mother weighed over 300 pounds to this day. She looked at her flat belly with the fondness of a painter who must sell a masterpiece. She had worked very hard and spent countless hours keeping herself fit, not to mention how often she deprived herself of some tasty treat, but there was nothing to be done about it. Pregnancy had claimed her.
Sighing, she smiled at her reflection and shrugged. Foolishness and vanity had always been her nemesis. At least that is what her mother had always told her. Chase loved her. And although he praised her beauty daily, she did not think it defined their relationship. That’s why she married him. Besides, this pregnancy would likely be their only chance at children. After his hernia surgery, the surgeon that operated on him warned that his sperm count would be much lower. The veins that had fallen into his scrotal sack from the rupture in his lower abdomen had strangled his testicles. He had not lost them, but the doctor said his sperm count would never recover. So, if they were going to be parents, this was the time.
She turned and looked down at her pert bottom. God, she would have to buy all new clothes; nothing was going to fit when this was all over. She moved her eyes back up to her face and stepped closer to the mirror. She put her hands on her hips, tilted her left hip coquettishly to one side and smiled.
“The beauty of youth is ever fleeting,” she said aloud, quoting her father.
Then her reflection winked at her. She gasped, but strangled the scream. One hand flew to her mouth, and the other fell to cover her sex as if she had been caught naked by a stranger. And for the briefest of moments, Ginger-Lynn did not recognize the woman who stared back at her from the mirror. She closed her eyes and shook her head.
“I did not just see that.” She stated flatly, then reopened her eyes.
Her reflection appeared normal. She made faces at herself to try and catch the stranger behind the glass again. After a few minutes, she giggled at herself.
Thank god Tom Eastman had been caught. What a hair-raising experience that was. To think, a serial killer in her own neighborhood. Creepy! With all that stress added to the stress of Chase’s injury, it was no wonder she was easily spooked. Her uneasy feelings did not last though. How could they? She was pregnant, and life was beautiful.
Across the street, hidden behind the trees and halfway up the hill, Bobo the Cocker Spaniel pawed at the spike that held his chain in the front yard of the Patterson residence. He had been digging for some time. In the four long years of his life, he had never once thought to dig up the spike that held his chain in place. Lately though, he had learned a lot. For instance, in the past when Jenifer put him in a room and closed the door, he would have been stuck, but now he could open certain doors in the house – although the knobs left a terrible taste on his tongue. And although he had always been able to understand part of what his people told him or said around him, he had never been able to understand this much.
Now, he desperately wanted to explore. Something in the forest called to him with a song so sweet he could barely contain his excitement. Unfortunately, this was why he was outside. When excited, his exuberance was not the only thing he had trouble containing. No matter, he would be free soon. He could feel the spike beginning to give.
The Stanton house sat dark and lonely against the hill behind it. The black mold seen in the Eastman and Brennon houses had begun to grow in the basement and along some of the baseboards on the bottom floor. The belongings of the two men who had called this place home for the last twenty years collected dust in the shadows. The Stanton’s had no kin except for Fred’s sister Maggie who lived in West Texas. She had not even come to the funeral and had no interest or need in her brother’s things.
The uncleaned blood stains on the carpet and walls in the bonus room had dried to dark brown streaks and splatters. The grass, uncut for several weeks before the Stanton’s were killed, now stood knee high. Honeysuckle and bramble grew up from the gardens around the house. If someone had been paying attention, the startling speed of the vine’s growth might have given cause for wonder – if not concern. Mice, cockroaches, spiders, and even a raccoon had found their way into the house. And through it all, Mary Sue fed on the lives that were.
Cindi Lin looked over at her wife and smiled. For the first time in her life, she felt maternal. She marveled at the sensation, having never expected to feel this, not in any real way. Children were not part of her plan, and as a lesbian, the chances of accidental pregnancy were nil. That being said, the two little fur balls twisting around each other in the fiercest of eight-week-old kitten combat created an emotional connection she had not realized she was missing – not to mention the beauty in the look of adoration on Tara’s face. Maybe they should consider children. Not right away, but who knows, maybe someday.
“How about Feisty and Fiona?” Tara asked.
“Feisty and Fiona,” Cindi repeated. Her smile grew larger. “I like it. Worlds better than Gertrude and Bernard.” Her nose wrinkled in distaste.
“Yep. Although Gertrude and Bernard make them sound bigger.”
“Blech,” Cindi said as she reached down and tickled the orange male kitten’s belly. He immediately latched on with his teeth and claws, attacking with all his little kitten might. Cindi just kept on tickling ignoring the little guy’s fierce protest. “You are a feisty one. Yes, you are. Yes, you are,” she said in the cute voice people save for babies and small animals.
The silver and white female, now named Fiona, wondered over and bumped Tara’s leg with its tiny head. Tara scratched her behind the ears then scooped her up, curling her onto her back and drawing her close. Fiona’s paws swiped at her dangling hair.
“Do you think these two will keep the other critters out?” Tara asked. “They seem awfully small.”
“Oh, don’t you worry. These two will grow in leaps and bounds. By fall, they will be fantastic little killers,” Cindi promised.
Tara worried nonetheless. There were things in the woods that they had not seen yet. Things that could apparently take out an entire S.W.A.T. team. She overheard one of the cops talking about the scene before they left. She did not believe for a second that Tom Eastman could have done what she heard. If there was a bear or mountain lion in these woods, her little Feisty and Fiona would be nothing but a quick snack.
Cindi leaned in and snuck a kiss. “Don’t look so worried. They won’t wander far, and we won’t let them out until they are much, much bigger without parental supervision.”
“Parental, huh,” Tara asked, her face softening.
“Yeah,” Cindi said, kissing her wife again, “that’s what I said, parental.”
The two kittens tumbled across the floor.
On the front steps of the Hernandez house at 007, Javier Hernandez wondered when he would see his son again after today. The moving van outside spoke to that. If Alejandro did come home, it would only be for visits. Javier did not think he would be back though. Not as long as Beverly stayed in the house. The poor kid had become a shell of his former self. He would not even eat except in his room. Nightmares tormented him all night long – dream terrors he would never speak of. In short, his health, at least his mental health, was failing. He had never seen this in a teen without some sort of related trauma. And of course, with Beverly in the house refusing to wear her glasses or eye coverings and wandering around half-dressed at all hours of the day and night, there was no doubt as to the source of his trauma. He had hoped his son would adjust, but whether Alejandro’s mind had regressed over the last few weeks or not was no longer in question. The boy had even taken to sleeping with an old teddy bear he found in his closet.
Javier could not let it go on. With a heavy heart he called his ex-wife, Barbara, and explained the situation. A good woman and an even better mother, if a little heavy handed at times when Ally was just a little guy, Barbara had taken her boy in without reservation. And now, he was packed and they were ready to go.
Barbara stepped out of the house and lit a cigarette. It was a terrible habit; one that would likely be the death of her, but she was resigned to it. Her smoking was the reason Javier had originally chosen to live with his dad. She looked over at her ex-husband and said, “Why haven’t you had that poor woman institutionalized? She’s tormenting our son.”
“I don’t think it’s your place, Barbara, to tell-” Javier began.
Barbara held up a hand to cut him off and gave him a weary smile. “You’re right. You’re right. None of my business.”
She took a long drag and let it out slow. “Listen Jay, I know you know this. And yes, it is none of my business, but I don’t know if you’re giving her the care she needs. You’ve got a big heart, and you may not be thinking rationally. Whatever happened to her is terrible, but I’m afraid it’s broken her. She’s not well. I think-”
“Barbara, stop. That’s enough. You don’t know-”
Alejandro stepped outside and grabbed his mother’s arm. He would not look at his father and kept his eyes focused on the ground near his feet. “I’m ready, Mom,” he said in a quiet voice. “Can we just go?”
Barbara nodded and kissed her son on top of his head. She said, “Say goodbye to your father, then go wait in the truck.”
“Bye, Dad,” Alejandro said, not looking up.
“I love you, son,” Javier said and reached out to hug his boy.
Alejandro winced and stepped away as if his father would strike him, then hurried to the truck and got in the cab, facing away.
Javier felt stunned and hurt, but did not press the issue or call out as Alejandro walked away.
Barbara stubbed her cigarette out on the porch railing and flicked the butt into the bushes next to the house. She reached out and touched Javier’s arm again. “Look at her when you go back in, Jay. I mean, really look.” She gave him a brief, perfunctory, hug and followed her son to the truck.
Javier stood on the porch for a long time after the truck had driven out of sight. Alejandro would not be too far. Barbara lived less than an hour away, so he would be able to see him whenever he wanted. He sighed and stepped back inside.
Beverly stood at the top of the stairs, watching him with her empty eye sockets. How did she know where the top of the staircase began? Why didn’t she flip head-over-heels down these stairs and break her neck? It would save them all a lot of grief. She had never had any training on how to move around now that she was blind. Nor could he believe anyone could learn such as that on their own in so short a time on their own, but Beverly never messed up. She always knew when to turn or stop. He had even found her downstairs after leaving her upstairs. She navigated the stairs. How had she done that? No wonder Alejandro wanted to get out of here.
“Can I get you something, Beverly?” Javier asked without looking at her.
Her head cocked at the sound and a sneer lifted one side of her mouth. “We’re alone now, dear. You can do to me what you will. Do you wish to ravage me? Take me like you used to? Or will you push me down the stairs? No. Maybe you will simply starve me out. You could easily poison me with an overdose. Would you do that to your sweet wife, dearest Javier?”
He looked up at her shocked. Had she picked up on his thoughts? Of course not, that was crazy. He said, “No, dear god, of course I wouldn’t poison you… or… or any of those things. I love you, Beverly.”
“I know you do, dearest Javier. That’s why I’ve kept you around.” She turned from him and started walking back down the hall. She flicked her hand over her shoulder dismissing him and said, “Find me something to eat. I have things to think about and don’t want to do it on an empty stomach.”
Javier nodded and hurried away with a smile on his face. His dark thoughts from a moment before were not even a memory. It was as if she had brushed them away with that flick of her hand. Beverly needed him, and he would do anything for her.
In the Wellington home at 009 Silent Glade, everyone was well for the first time in many weeks. Susan never had to deal with the stomach illness that had affected both her boys, especially her older son Mark. For a while there, it was touch and go with Mark. The doctors could not isolate an illness and thought it might be a rare prion disease of some sort. Apparently, prions were hard to find. When the doctors told her she could only hope and pray, her heart sank.
She had never been a religious woman, although she grew up going to church. The idea that magic existed if you just hoped and prayed hard enough seemed ridiculous. The belief that an overall force of good battled eternally with an overall force of bad seemed ludicrous. Why would some big sky daddy give a shit about her twelve-year-old when people suffered all over the world every day? But what did she have to lose? Her son was dying, so for the first time since she had been a teen, she closed her eyes and prayed silently as her mother had taught her.
Low and behold, the very next day Mark’s stomach illness cleared up as mysteriously as it had arrived. When Susan walked into his hospital room and saw her boy scarfing down his breakfast, she had broken out in tears and smothered her son with hugs and kisses. After the doctors told her she could take him home in the morning if his fever and vomiting did not return, she excused herself to the bathroom and prayed again. This time she thanked God for his mercy and swore she and the boys would go back to church starting the following weekend, but which church and did it matter?
Maybe, now that Mark had come home, and the nightmare of Tom Eastman had been dealt with, life could get back to some semblance of normal. Susan’s heart warmed as she took the calendar from the fridge and began the arduous task of resetting their schedules. This had never been easy for her, nor did a schedule seem to keep her on time, but the process felt good and normal. She penciled in church on Sunday. She could hear her boys playing on the Xbox in the living room. Ah yes, everything was going to be okay.
Like the Stanton and Brennon houses, the Eastman house decayed at an accelerated rate. It was nowhere near as far along as the Brennon house, but had sat empty for a few weeks longer than the Stanton house – not to mention it had been nearest to Mary Sue when she had been at her peak of feeding, and so in its state of decay stood somewhere between the others.
A few folks from various media sources entered to look around after finding out this was where the “Silent Glade Slasher” had called home. They marveled at the discipline room and stared in morbid fascination at the key hooks in the drawn map of the neighborhood on the closet wall. Each time, the team involved tried to set up for long recordings, but none were able to tolerate the smell or the persistent itch in their throat that made them cough uncontrollably after a short time. One by one, the productions failed to take off and none of the footage shot inside the Eastman house ever made it out for public consumption.
Creatures of all sorts were drawn to the power of creation and even though Mary Sue was less than a sliver of that force, a mere eddy in its wake, nature still heeded the strum and song of the powerful force that flowed through her. Her home was inviolate though, and no creature could pass her door without her express permission. The Eastman house, like the others, became a haven for the creatures. There the force of Mary Sue’s power could be felt directly as she fed. Bugs and rodents moved into the Eastman basement to feed along with her, to aid in the process of decay. These creatures drew others that prey on them for such is the circle of life. Dozens of snakes now hunted and nested in the walls of the Eastman house. They were drawn to the food, and drawn to Mary Sue, and like the unnaturally fast growth in the plants that now surrounded the house, the snakes began to breed.
Over the last week, Mary Sue’s house had faded into the forest as the trees and underbrush filled in around it. People had a way of forgetting things when it wasn’t staring them in the face. As the Eastman fiasco came to a close, no one considered Mary Sue’s house strange or out of place anymore. Her plan had worked. To those who lived on Silent Glade, the distraction of Tom Eastman had made her appearance seem less strange. After a few weeks more, she would step out to the occasional party or show up at a random neighborhood meeting. No one would worry about the eccentric old lady that lived in the woods at the top of the hill. They would say, “Oh yes, she has lived there since the beginning.” Some might even embellish with, “I think the Canton’s themselves had to make a deal with her to build Silent Glade.” Mary Sue would not dissuade them of these things, nor would she say anything to confirm the tale if not required. Lies had to be maintained after all.
Yes, these next few months would be the quiet time. A time of reflection and decision making where she and her sisters would determine the long-term fate of Silent Glade. For the Elder, it would be a time of rest and preparation. She would worm her way into the hearts of her neighbors and help ease any doubts as to her belonging. For the Fury, it would be a time of insufferable patience as she waited for the time her specific traits would be needed again. Her only outlet to the world outside of her house would be Beverly’s eyes, although she thought she could get into mischief with those eyes if she got too bored. And for the Seductress, she had a far more active role to play. If she failed, Mary Sue’s time in Silent Glade would be short indeed.
The End of Book 1.