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Chapter Four

Current Day, Mount Silver, Virginia.

Kaitlyn volunteered to stay in the car with Mr. Buttons, the Death Monger. “Sorry puppy ‘bout your name. I’ll see if I can get everyone to start callin’ you Mr. Buttons only,” she said with a smile, observing the calico-coated creature yapping at passersby. The girl scratched behind the animal’s ear. The furry flap of skin falling back as the dog leaned into her fingers enjoying the action. She noted a small patch of blood on its interior. “You really have been through it, huh, Mr. Buttons?...Mr. Buttons, so simple,” she shook her head at the utterance of the word. “People just have to make things so difficult.” It was so typical for the hard-headed Hunter and Raven to avoid finding common ground, neither wishing to budge on their choice of names. This détente proliferating until their mom ended all of the bickering, ultimately deciding to call the ugly thing both names.

Irrespective of the events surrounding their new four-legged friend, Kaitlyn was happy. She got to see her dad up close today and hug him, almost like it was three years ago, before everything bad happened. Since he had returned from prison, he had avoided everyone, her and her siblings included. Until today, the only way she could see him was to sometimes accidentally miss the bus at school and venture across town to the garage where he was working. Kaitlyn would keep her distance, but she could see him through the large open doors as he worked on the cars coming in and out. She noted he always looked sad and very lonely. The girl wanted desperately to go up to the garage and ask him to come home, but was afraid it might make him mad, then it would be her fault and he would never come back.

Her mom was no real help in the answer department for that matter, because, either she knew more than she was letting on or she was as clueless as her children. Kaitlyn had mostly leaned toward the latter of the explanations especially after she saw her mom one day in town doing the same thing she was, spying on her dad at work. She never mentioned this observation to her mother as it would not have changed the fact that they both missed the man. Nevertheless, it did crack open the window into the soul of her stalwart mother, a realization that this woman, who had always been there for her babies, was hurting just as much as her children, if not more so.

Kaitlyn’s thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the 1977 Ford station wagon’s driver’s side rear door opening forcefully. A massive, sweaty man with a scar across his face rocked the large vehicle as he entered, sending Buttons into a barking fit.

“Shut that damn thing up!” the man said in a low growl, slamming the door. He bounced the wagon around some more as he slid roughly across the bench, then lifted a pistol over the back of the front seat, pointing the barrel at the canine’s head.

“No! Wait!” Kaitlyn shouted, shielding the angry dog. She leaned her face to the animal and whispered, “It’s okay, Buttons. C’mon, be quiet. Hush, now,” she said and glanced fearfully at the intruder.

The dog whined as it calmed under Kaitlyn’s touch.

“Now, where’s your momma?” Phil asked.

“In the IGA,” the girl replied and pointed out the windshield at the painted green building.

“Your brother and sister?”

“In there, too. What do you want, mister?”

“For you to keep your trap shut and don’t say nothing to your mom when she gets out here or I swear I’ll kill all of you!”

Kaitlyn thought for a moment. “Wouldn’t I just be delayin’ things? ’cause as soon as we’re all in the car you’re gonna have us drive off somewhere and do who-knows-what to us. I might as well just scream right now and save all them!”

“Too late, girl!” the man said and ducked. “Say something and a bullet goes in everyone’s head,” he whispered.

“Hey, we got your food, Death Mong...” Hunter opened the station wagon’s back door to find he was staring down the barrel of a 9mm pistol.

“Get in!” the man said and grabbed the boy, yanking him forcefully into the vehicle. He pointed the gun to Hunter’s small head. “Ya’ll just get on in here and sit down all quiet like!” he commanded.

Frannie stifled a scream and nervously sat behind the steering wheel. She looked over at the man reclining in the back seat, holding her son around his neck. The woman watched Hunter grimace as the pistol dug into his temple. “Wh-what do you want?” she asked.

“I’ll tell you when we get ta’ where you are gonna drive me!”

“Okay, please...just don’t hurt my boy!” Frannie said, desperation thickly coating the plea.

“Don’t want to, just do what I say and nothing happens,” he replied. “Oh, and don’t try to call any attention to us. Don’t want no police pullin’ us over.”

“Okay.” Frannie fired up the old station wagon with a roar and slid the column shift into reverse. She calmly backed from the parking space, then throwing it into drive, slowly pulled out onto the road.

“Doin’ great, there Frannie. Now, up here, get up on Daniel Boone Trail going out toward the high school.”

“Okay,” the woman replied. She clutched Raven’s hand and smiled a worried smile at Kaitlyn. “It’s gonna be okay,” she said with an affirming nod.

Raven returned the expression, Kaitlyn did not. She, instead, turned her attention to the dog. She took the paper grocery store bag and extracted the dog food from its interior. She tore open the top of the sack and poured some morsels into the empty paper bag, then rolled up the dog food’s container, and set it on the floor. Then, she tore the top half of the IGA brown bag and rolled it down until it was barely above the pile of morsels at the bottom. Kaitlyn set the makeshift bowl down and Buttons followed without provocation. She lifted her feet from the floorboard to give the hungry animal some space to eat. It didn’t take long and the round eyes were staring back up at her and Raven looking for more.

“That’s one ugly ass dog,” the man said.

Raven sat up on her knees and before anyone could stop her, asked, “Have you looked in the mirror?”

Frannie grabbed her daughter and yanked the young girl back down onto the seat. “Raven!”

“Sorry,” she replied, her head hung down.

“Turn right up here at the blue mailbox,” Phil commanded, waving the pistol in that direction.

The woman did as told and turned onto a narrow gravel road.

“It’s about five minutes up ahead,” the man said and let Hunter go from his one-armed chokehold. The boy quickly dove into the third row seat behind the man to get as much clearance as he could from the gun and its owner.

Frannie sighed with relief, then wrinkled her nose at a pungent smell. The man was now leaning with his arms spread across the back of the bench seat. They were bent at the elbows and his hands pointing back toward his center, one still holding a weapon. He had evidently forgotten, or more likely never used any form of deodorant. “Raven turn the air up, honey,” she said, suddenly feeling a large wave of sympathy for Hunter.

“Yes, ma’am,” the small girl said and leaned forward to slide the lever up on the a/c control.

The action helped, but only momentarily.

“Alright, up here, take a left,” he said.

Frannie nearly gagged. It was as if the man had eaten raw sewage, as well. At this rate, she would be begging him to shoot her before he tried anything with her.

“There’s where we’re going!” he said, lifting his arm to point a finger out of the windshield.

Her eyes watered and a wave of nausea hit Frannie as she let up off the accelerator. She could now see a large two-story farmhouse rising from behind a hill. It was white, and as they approached,she noted the weathered paint cracking and peeling from its sad exterior. She imagined with a little bit of TLC it might be pretty once more.

“We’re here!” the man with bad hygiene said. “Everyone out!”

There was another vehicle sitting outside the home. Frannie recognized the dirty, white Cherokee as the one from her house. This looked like Kevin’s people, again. “Shit.”


“Welcome, Mrs. Hitchens!” said the thug she recognized as Ben sitting back in a dusty recliner. He lit a cigarette, took a long drag, and then blew the smoke carelessly into the room.

Frannie waived her hand in front of her face. “That is really a nasty habit.”

“Don’t give a shit what you think, lady or I’d be married again,” he said drawing in another lung full. He exhaled with a smirk. “You might as well go on upstairs with that nasty lookin’ critter. You’re gonna be here for a minute or two.”

“Could you at least tell me why we’re here?”

“Money, sister. Nothin’ but the cash.”

“How much, I might could...”

“Naw, honey, nothing you got...and I know you got something real good under them jeans an’ all, but I can get all that from any woman, plus, more with what me and ol’ Phil here’s going after, ain’t that right, Phil?”

The large man nodded in agreement.

“Still, we won’t be able to pull this off if anything bad comes of you and your heathens, so you just need to head right on upstairs, pretty please,” he said waiving his hand toward the stairs.

Frannie felt Phil’s pistol poke in her back. “Everyone upstairs, now!”

“Yes, ma’am.”

Ben sat up when Phil returned from upstairs. “That pistol wasn’t loaded, right? I told you not to have it loaded when you picked ’em up.”

Phil grinned. “Nah, it wasn’t loaded too much.”

“Phil, you hurt them kids up there and I’ll kill ya’ myself, you hear me?”

The large man waved off Ben’s threat. “Don’t know why you worried about Cole’s family and all. Ain’t gonna matter when this is all over.”

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