Sunday October 10th
“Your grounded!” shouted Officer Moore as he barged into Berta’s bedroom, cranky and tired. He hadn’t had a wink of sleep in almost two days, and was now in charge of the search crews looking for Butch Johnson, as well as investigating the deadly animal atrack on a fellow police officer.
But now he had to deal with Berta, his only child, whom he heard snuck out the night before to go to a football party. To say he was upset would be an understatement!
Startled by her father’s abrupt entrance, Berta sprang up from her bed, sneezing and coughing up a storm, a box of tissues at her side. It was just past noon, and she’d been sleeping on and off all morning, fighting a terrible cold she'd caught from the night before.
“Daddy, I’m not feeling well!” She pulled out a tissue and blew her nose so loud it sounded like a trumpet. “I’m trying to sleep if you don’t mind. Can’t you see I’m sick?” She shook her head, then laid back down.
Officer Moore glared at her. “Serves you right! How dare you sneak out and go to a football party. You’re only twelve years old, not twenty. What were you thinking?”
The first thing Berta thought about was Andrew and Steven. They were the only ones who knew she was going to the party. I’ll kill them if they squealed on me! she thought to herself, before having another sneezing fit.
“I'm sorry, daddy. I just wanted to be part of the team spirit.”
“Well you can forget about the team spirit for now,” continued Officer Moore, “and you can forget about your cheerleading squad as well. You’re done!”
“Enough!” Hi nostrils flared. “You’re grounded till I say otherwise.”
“This is so unfair!” Berta crossed her arms and frowned. “I never get to do anything. It was just a stupid football party.”
“Watch your tone young lady.” Officer Moore glared at her again. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you kids around here lately, but no daughter of mine is going to be wandering around town at all hours of the night."
“I wasn’t wandering around!” snapped Berta. “I was up at the hayfields and—”
“I know where you were.” He narrowed his eyes. “You seem to forget I’m a police officer in this town.” He gave her a cocky grin. “Nothing around here gets past me young lady.”
“Who told you about the party anyway?” she asked, before sneezing again.
“Doesn't matter who told me!” his face turned as red as her stuffed up nose. “You’re grounded and that’s all there is to it.”
It didn’t take long for news about Butch Johnson’s disapearance to spread throughout town, as well as all the other strange events that happened the night before in Woody Hills Park. Many of the locals were questioning the police about bizarre sightings and noises they saw and heard the night before; bright lights hovering above the forest, shrill howls echoing through the town and so on. But the park had become off limits to the public until further notice, and the police refrained from answering too many questions. By late Sunday afternoon, it had become the talk of the town...
“Foolish boys,” said Ronald Kecnkie. He sat down for a late lunch at the Four Corner Diner with his buddy, Marty Evans. “Heard there were four of them young rascals running around last night in that God forsaken park.”
“They should cut that damn park down once and for all!” said Marty. “Nothing but horror stories when it comes to that place.” He shook his head. “I heard one of them boys is Alex Harper’s kid. That true, Ron?”
“I dunno. It’s possible I guess. Kinda odd though when you think about it, being that Alex is a corrections officer. I doubt his boy would be running around town with a bunch of hooligans late at night.”
“What difference does it make who it was?” chimed in Rosie Lane, the diner’s longest employed waitress. She pulled out a small pad from her apron pocket, and a pencil from behind her ear, ready to take their orders. “I just hope they find the missing boy soon—whoever he is. Sometimes when people go in that forest, they don’t come back. I’m sure you fellows remember what happened to Tara Gordonson.” She sighed. “Three years missing and still no sign of her.”
“Well,” said Ronald, “with all due respect, Tara Gordonson was a fool too, going in there all by herself late at night.” He shook his head. “What was she thinking?”
“What makes you think she went there by herself?” said Marty. “That whole story’s a little too fishy for my taste. You ain't gonna convince me that a young widow like Tara Gordonson took late night walks in the forest all by herself. It’s a bunch of rubbish I say. Someone dragged that poor lady into those woods. I’ve no doubt about it.”
“Maybe so,” said Ronald, “but I don't think anyone dragged those boys in there last night. They were up to some kind of mischief most likely. You know how kids are. But what troubles me the most is that old kook everyone’s been talking about lately. They say he lives in them woods...and prowls around town sometimes at night.”
“Old kook?” Marty narrowed his eyes. “What are you talking about, Ron?”
“You been living under a rock?” sneered Ronald. “The old guy with the hat and cane. Looks like a magician or something. Hank told me he saw him near his hardware store one night a few weeks ago. Said he was snooping around outside of Bonsworth Market for some reason.”
“Figures,” said Rosie. “That whole family’s always been weird—the Bonsworth's that is. I wouldn't be surprised if the old kook’s a friend of Natalie’s. I've always sensed something strange about the old lady whenever I went to her store."
“You saying that old Nat’s a kook too?” Ronald gave her a cold stare. “I happen to be very fond of old Nat, she’s got the best stories in town, and she’s one of the sweetest ladies I’ve ever known. I just hope that creepy old man aint out to harm her...or anyone else for that matter.” A serious look came over his face. “In fact, he’s the one the police should be questioning about the missing boy.”
“Howdy folks,” chimed in Paul Connors, who’d been eavesdropping on their conversation. “Found out it was definitely four boys that went up in them woods last night. Two of them pal around with my son in the Youth Troops.”
“Hey there, Paul," said Marty. “One of them was Alex Harpers boy, right?”
“Yup. Little Andrew Harper, and his buddy Steven Jacobs. They’re both good boys, like my son, all dedicated troopers. Don’t know much about the other two boys though, but from what I hear, they’re a couple of hoodlums. In either case, I hope they find the missing boy, hoodlum or not.”
“Me too,” chimed in Ronald.
“And let’s not forget about the police officer that got attacked,” continued Paul. “Police ain't saying much about it yet, but from what I hear, the poor fellow’s in bad shape. All they said was he got mauled by an unidentified animal. Now what in the heck is that supposed to mean? Unidentified animal?
“Means they know something they don’t want to tell us,” said Rosie. “And maybe the less we know the better. This stuff gives me the creeps. Anyway, I have other tables to tend to. Are you fellows ready to order?”
And so it was throughout the entire town, in almost every place that was open for business, from The Four Corner Diner, to the local supermarket and gas stations, almost everyone was talking about the strange events at Woody Hills Park.
Later on that day, as dinner time approached, Andrew was lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling, wondering how soon his father would return to reprimand him some more. It had been like that all day; constant scolding and reprimanding for his late night adventures with hoodlums in Woody Hills Park. And his mother did the same. He almost wished Monday wasn’t a holiday, so he could go back to school and escape his parents!
“Alright, you, dinner is almost ready,” his father said loudly as he barged into Andrew’s bedroom again. “Why are you lying down? Why aren’t you studying?”
Andrew sat up quickly, and grabbed the history book sitting on the edge of his bed. “Just taking a little break, dad. I’ve been studying all day.” Or at least TRYING to study without you and mom pestering me all day, he thought, but realized it wouldn’t be a wise thing to say!
“I just got off the phone with Officer Moore,” his father continued, “and guess what he told me?”
Andrew shrugged nervously. “I don’t know.”
“He told me they found that Shane Reilly kid, the one you said wasn’t with you last night.” He gave Andrew a cold, threatening glare. “The one you tried to protect by lying to Officer Moore.”
“Oh…really?” said Andrew, trying to play dumb, knowing it wouldn’t work.
“Yeah, really. Turns out your new hoodlum friend, who happens to be on probation, got caught sneaking home from Woody Hills Park. They took him down to the station right before Officer Moore picked you and Steven up, but Officer Moore wasn’t aware of it at the time.”
Andrew didn’t say a word; he knew he was in deeper trouble now for lying.
“Not only did you lie to Officer Moore,” Mr. Harper went on, “but you lied to me and to your mother. And for what? To protect some juvenile delinquent?” Mr.Harper shook his head. “I don’t know what’s gotten into you, Andrew, but if you ever lie to me again, or lie to your—”
“I don’t think Shane’s a bad kid,” Andrew interrupted, then realized it probably wasn’t a good idea from the look in his father’s eyes.
“I don’t think he’s as bad as everyone claims.”
“Andrew,” Mr. Harper narrowed his eyes, “that kid’s been in and out of trouble his whole life, and he’s probably going to end up in jail someday. Trust me son, I work at a jail, I’ve seen the pattern way too many times.”
“But dad, he's—”
“I’m not finished.” Mr. Harper scowled at him. “He’s already been in reform school a few times, and he's most likely going back there very soon. Plus he bullied you, and your friends, and God knows how many other kids at your school.” He shook his head, disgusted. “Why would you lie to protect someone like that? Someone who treated you poorly?”
Andrew sighed. “Because I didn’t want him to go back to reform school. I’m sorry for lying to you and mom, and Officer Moore, okay? But I think Shane has potential.”
“Yes. I think deep down he just wants to be a normal kid. He seemed more relaxed around Steven and I than he did with Butch. So, given the right circumstances, he has a lot of potential.”
“What are you a psychologist all the sudden?” Mr. Harper rolled his eyes. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore. Stay away from that kid if you know what’s good for you. Now go wash up for supper...and after we eat, your mother and I will discuss your punishment with you. Dinner will be ready in five minutes.”
Oh great, Andrew thought. The inevitable punishment! He knew it was coming, of course, but he still dreaded the idea of it, and certainly wasn’t looking forward to hearing all the details. Abruptly, he changed the subject.
“Do you believe my story now? After everything Officer Moore said about the police officer being attacked?”
“How do you know what Officer Moore said to me?”
“Mom told me. She said Officer Moore mentioned the monster attack on one of his fellow police officers.”
Mr. Harper rolled his eyes again. “Andrew, Officer Moore was very upset, and under a lot of stress last night, and so was the officer who contacted him on the radio. Unfortunately, the officer was attacked by a large animal, most likely a bear, and that's all we know about it right now. But there are no monsters in there, Andrew. It's all just stories.”
“But dad, I SAW them! I ran from them, and The Guardians came, and rescued us, and—”
“I don't want to talk about this nonsense anymore! I’ll see you in the kitchen." Mr. Harper slammed the door behind him when he left the bedroom.
Before Andrew left his room, he reached under his bed and pulled out the box of daggers he had hidden. An eerie feeling came over him as he observed the strange runes engraved on the outside of it. What could those odd symbols mean? he wondered. Something alien for sure. He opened it up to take another peek inside. Eight daggers, adorned with jewels. It made no sense to him, but he knew that an angry warlock wanted them back for some reason, and this frightened him more than anything else. He closed the box and slid it back under his bed, then washed up for supper.