Chapter 13: The Interrogation
The nature trail was completely vacant. The beauty seemed to have vanished. Instead of a vibrant green, it was a distilled gray all around. It was unpleasant and Everett was constantly battling in his mind about whether he should be here or not. Sighing, closing his eyes, he knew he would continue. He stepped off of the trail and started walking into the forest.
The draw to the stone circle, with the stone that looked like a chair was just too strong to go away. He had a distinct inkling that the spirits were drawing him there, that answers would be revealed there. This was something for him and he needed it desperately.
It wouldn’t take long to get there. He knew it might be where the alligators had nested. That was a definite possibility, but even so he felt that nature was calling him back there. He needed to commune with nature again. It had been far too long. The last time he had been in the circle he had revealed his sexual orientation to Charlie. Charlie had been the first person he ever told. It was amazing how easy it became to blurt it out to the second person and so on. He didn’t even fret about it now because even if he got a bad reaction it didn’t matter because he had such great friends surrounding him and supporting him every step of the way.
He stopped against a tree to relax and catch his breath. There had to be a reason why he stopped at this particular tree. Nature wouldn’t have allowed him to stop otherwise. Then it dawned on him: this was the place where Charlie asked if they could kiss. In retrospect, he probably would’ve allowed it. Charlie hadn’t been asking because he had the hots for him, but because he wanted to know if that was what he wanted romantically. That was beautiful and he knew he had messed it up. Charlie wasn’t gay, but why had he stopped him from finding out sooner? It was something he knew he would think over for the rest of his life.
Avoiding nature this whole time had been a mistake. He ran from it because of the alligators. They had been near him the early morning before the sunrise. He had ignored it out of fear, but he knew nature had protected him. Why hadn’t nature protected Charlie in the same way, or Jermain and Zach? It was an unanswerable question and was the basis for why so many of his peers didn’t believe in a spiritual reality, a spiritual realm that was living and breathing beside them. People averted their eyes. Spirits tried to contact people all the time, but so many were turned off by it that they ran away from it altogether. It was a shame because the spirits had so many things to teach humanity. Much more so than any sacred text, the spirits knew what life was like outside of earth, after death. They should be listened to and nothing else for only they could confirm the truth and there was nothing greater that Everett wanted than the truth.
The place scared him. It was as if the spiritual realm in the forest had been cut off completely. It was something he had been concerned about ever since he determined he would go to the stone circle. He daren’t tell Uncle Reid. His uncle had grown extremely overprotective ever since his parents had cut him off. It was so wonderful to see him care so much, but it was also a major pain in the butt.
Romantic love got all of the glory, but he would never deny parental love as a viable and worthy expression of true love. The extraordinary thing was that he wasn’t his uncle’s child, but his uncle took him in without question. He had been adopted into this family the instant his actual blood parents pushed him away. Uncle Reid would never like him being together with another man, but his outpouring of love and care for him had blown him away. He wished someday that he and whoever his future husband would be could emulate Uncle Reid and be strong loving parents to multiple kids.
Forgiveness. He knew he needed to be more forgiving to his uncle. Embracing someone who was gay took Christians a long time. He had to be understanding because he knew he would never change. Sexuality couldn’t be changed, but it was possible after living with his uncle for years that his thoughts on homosexuality as a whole would change.
He thanked the spirits for opening his eyes for what he needed to do, but it was time to move on. He kept walking towards the stone circle. Revelations were happening all along the path to the stone circle and he just knew that the biggest revelation of all would be there.
He was almost there. He couldn’t remember exactly where it was for it had been so long. The sky was overcast, so he couldn’t see the rays illuminating the circle. He knew it was close. He could sense it. He looked to his left and saw it in the distance. He beamed sprinting, ready to be in the circle again.
Just before he entered the circle he kicked something, tripping his footing, crashing to the ground. He spit pine needles out of his mouth wiping the spit onto his sleeve. Someone had been here. Why would anyone have left a ball here…unless it had rolled down the decline the entire way off the path. The decline wasn’t noticeable unless you looked back to the path. It was so slight, but definitely there that it was theoretically possible that the ball had fallen this far and stopped in the sand. Searching for where the ball went he started walking around the circle.
It wasn’t there. He sat down on one of the stones to recollect his thoughts. Placing his hand down outside of the circle he felt something against the rock. He felt hair. He pulled it up and stared into the severed, screaming face of his former teacher. He screamed and threw the head out of the circle.
Pulling up into the church’s parking lot, Dax’s heart began pounding. Having a Christian friend was something he never expected, or even sought out for that matter. He knew it was ludicrous to push people away just because they disagreed with you. He had been a hypocrite in that sense. Pushing Christians away just because of their beliefs was as bad as Christians pushing away homosexuals just because of their sexuality. He swore he would never push anyone away and it was time to swallow his pride and step inside a church building once again. He no longer wanted to look down on Christians; he wanted to be better than them.
Turning the engine off, he stepped out of the car stretching his body slightly after having sat for the bulk of the day. Reid had surprised him. Reid had been sympathetic, honest, and was a hell of a good listener. He wished he had more friends like Reid, that he could be more like Reid, but he wasn’t that daring or that upfront with others and he didn’t think he ever could be.
Staring at the wall, trying to pass the time he just knew internally that he didn’t want to be here on the grounds. Perhaps if he stood here long enough the meeting time would pass and he wouldn’t have to go to the meeting at all. He scratched his forehead. Enough time had been wasted avoiding the inevitable. He really liked Reid anyways, so why was it so painful to take that first step inside the building? There was nothing to worry about. Reid wouldn’t look down on him. He knew that. It was time to man-up and face his fears.
The first step came quickly and the others followed suit. He quickly pulled the door open and stepped inside. None of the lights were on. Only the sunlight illuminated the interior. It had an ominous feeling about it. From his recollections of what church was like, they were typically lively, thriving places. He had never thought about what the church felt like outside of Sundays, outside of planned activities. The homely experience was devoid on the days of the week. It reminded him of the alligator farm, but even that felt more domesticated than this.
The sunlight illuminated the stained glass images of Jesus and different moments from the Bible inside the sanctuary. It was a beautiful abbreviated version of that story. He wanted to step inside the sanctuary and look in detail at each moment, each scene, but he feared that others would think he was profaning God’s house of worship by simply stepping in there. No, he would have to look from afar. The sunlight refracting through the colored shards of glass gave an ethereal, celestial feel to an otherwise sinister building.
He hadn’t found Reid’s office yet, but then again he hadn’t checked downstairs. He started to head over to the stairway when he heard Reid’s voice call out, “Hello?”
“Hey, it’s Dax,” Dax called from the top of the stairwell.
“Yeah, I know who it is.”
“Where are you?” Dax asked confounded.
“Why don’t you turn back around and walk towards the light. My office is right across from the sanctuary. I’m surprised you didn’t see it when you first entered.”
Dax looked back towards the sanctuary. The office door had been opened, the light had been on, but he hadn’t seen it. He had just thought it was the sunlight casting down into the room. When he stepped inside Reid’s office, he was taken aback by how many books he saw. He had never seen one person own so many books in his life. Never having been an avid reader, he couldn’t understand the concept of owning several books, especially works of fiction, of which there were several. He just wanted to deal with facts, but he never wanted to own a physical copy.
“You’ve got quite the book collection there,” Dax said trying to make conversation.
“That’s what everyone says when they first step in here,” Reid added chuckling.
“So nothing original then, huh?”
“No,” Reid shook his head. “Not at all. Why don’t you take a seat?”
“Do we have to talk here, inside the church?”
“Well, Dax, I’m on the clock here. You agreed to meet me here. I can’t just ditch right now, but if you want we can reschedule for a later time?”
Dax breathed deeply. He wouldn’t run away from this, not anymore. “No, that’s all right. I’ll sit down. We can have the conversation now. I want to, truly.”
“Now you’re lying through your teeth, but I’m gonna give that a pass. Don’t lie to me, man. We won’t be able to have any sense of a genuine friendship if you just tell me what I want to hear, and I think you know that. I’m proud of you though for stepping inside the church. I know that must have been hard for you.”
“It was a lot harder than I ever thought it would be, but I didn’t want to run away anymore. I wanted to maintain our friendship.”
“Oh we could have done that outside of the church. It was just that you agreed to meet me here. Plus, I think it’s made you grow, which is always challenging, but a blessing.”
Dax was taken aback. Reid could be so annoying at times, but he liked him nonetheless. He liked him a lot, so much so that he was willing to address things he had kept hidden for years just to be able to talk with him again.
“I can see you’ve fully recovered from your foot injury.”
Reid hissed and cringed. “Actually that still has to heal up a bit, but the blood bruises have diminished greatly, so there’s that,” he added sarcastically.
“Yeah, well, I guess we all must count even the small blessings.”
“You’re absolutely right. Thanks for calling me out on that.”
“Anytime, I guess…” Dax responded uncertain. He wasn’t trying to make him feel bad; it just sort of slipped out. Reid had totally misinterpreted what was said, but it wasn’t worth backtracking to explain. He took it well even though it wasn’t the correct analysis.
“I have to say I’m surprised you didn’t call me about rounding up the rest of the gators this week. I thought we had established that we were going to do that.”
“Yeah, we were. I guess I was afraid. I’ve searched every day, but I don’t always find them. They’ve tended to move around quite a bit.”
“Will I ever be able to work again in Midvale, I mean even after all the alligators are back where they belong?”
Reid exhaled through gritted teeth. “I want to say yes, I really, really do, but you and I both know that Midvale isn’t a very forgiving town. This alligator infestation isn’t something they’re likely to forget…ever. If you did stay here you’d need new employment, but I’ve gotta be honest, I don’t know who would be willing to hire you.”
Dax hated hearing this, but he knew it was true. There was no way he would be able to continue running an alligator farm. The breakout was one thing, but the multiple deaths brought it to a whole other level. He wanted to cry, but he couldn’t tear down the giant wall that allowed him to be vulnerable, not when he was sober at least.
“I’m sorry,” Reid began. “I didn’t mean to bring you down.”
“No, I appreciate it. I just don’t know what I’m going to do.”
“One thing at a time. Let’s catch some alligators, soon!” Reid implored him.
“Actually, that was what I wanted to talk with you about.”
“Oh?” Reid said locking eyes with him. “I’m all ears.”
“I’ve had, well, concerns about the two of us working together on that.”
“Why? I thought we were friends, plain and simple.”
“Yeah, we are, but well, I don’t know how to put this lightly.”
“Then don’t. Hit me over the head with it. Just let it out. I don’t want you to hide from me.”
“Would you stop interrupting me? My god you can be so intrusive at times,” Dax said breaking. He waited anticipating Reid’s retort, but surprisingly Reid remained silent, waiting on him to continue. “Thank you. I need to know what you think about homosexuality, about me being gay. When the goings get rough, when the alligators attack, I just need to know where you stand on that. Basically, I need to know if I can trust you.”
“Why does what I think about you being gay have anything to do with you being able to trust me, with us being friends together?”
“See? Now you’re the one who’s avoiding. Would you just answer the question please?”
“Ok, that’s fine. You know that I’m your friend. You know that you can trust me, but if you want my take on homosexuality biblically, then I’ll gladly give it to you. The simple answer is yes. Yes, I think practicing homosexuality is wrong.”
“How can you say that to me when I’m sitting directly across from you?” Dax asked floored.
“Uh, because you asked me to? Would you let me explain fully before you go off the rails on me?”
Dax needed to know where he stood and why, but he really didn’t want to hear it and right now wasn’t the best time to have that conversation, but he didn’t want to just ignore it either. He had strong fears knowing that Reid didn’t support homosexuals that he might not try and save him from an alligator attack. Sure it was harsh, but was it really all that unthinkable? The intense push to discriminate against his people was so strong in the Christian community that it made him want to vomit. He was being foolish going off on him silently. He needed to listen, to hear him out. He promised he would give every man a fair chance to explain their stance even though he was vehemently opposed to anti-gay thinking.
“Are you listening?” Reid asked him, shocking him back into the conversation.
“I’m sorry, could you start over again?” he mumbled humiliated.
“I thought you weren’t. It’s quite simple. Yes, I think embracing, practicing, and partaking in homosexual acts, even a monogamous relationship is wrong, but simply having gay thoughts, being tempted by them, no I don’t think that’s wrong. See, those thoughts may never disappear during our life on earth, but that doesn’t mean that people have to jump into a relationship either.”
“You’re asking me to stay single knowing that I’ll be devastated not being in the arms of another man?”
“No, I’m not asking you to do anything. I’m simply relaying to you what I think biblically. You’re not a Christian. You’re not a believer, so I would never ask you to not be in a relationship. That’s up to you. If you were a believer, then we’d have to start talking, but I think you know that.”
“Yeah, you’re right. I’ve never understood how people can marry the two together. Embracing a homosexual lifestyle and proclaiming to be a Christian always seemed mutually exclusive to me. Once I realized who I was, I wanted to stay as far away from Christianity as I could.”
“Yep,” Reid nodded, “and I respect you so much for that. You made your choice.”
Dax had to chew on that. Had it been that simple? Embracing his true identity was the hardest thing he had ever done. It was simple for him to let go of Christianity though. Why was it so hard for his fellow gay men to do the same? His ex had been so good at keeping them separate, but he had been wrong about one thing: forgiveness was instrumental to living a healthy, happy life. Maybe it was fine to have a friend who thought differently than you. What could it hurt? It would be an eye-opening experience for both of them.
“So how ’bout it?” Reid asked disrupting his thoughts. “Do you still want to be my friend knowing where I stand?”
“Yeah, I really do. How could I not be? We get along really well. Sure we disagree and I’ll probably try and change your mind about it as you’re certain to try and change mine, but that shouldn’t be a parameter that blocks off communication. That’s simply idiotic and stupid. I want to be your friend, if you’ll let me.”
“Stop selling yourself short. Of course we’re friends. I want to be your friend too. You help me to see things differently. Thank you for that. Your perspective is valuable and appreciated.”
“Why are you talking so eloquently? It’s just a banter between friends, right?”
“Well, I’m not plastered, for one thing. I guess I can put on a different hat when I’m clocking hours being a pastor.”
Dax didn’t know how to respond to that. It made sense, but Reid was all about being honest and truthful all the time. The fact that Reid hid behind some fancy words when he was on the clock seemed like a contradiction and he felt uncomfortable knowing that’s how he viewed this conversation. It was possible that they would never have the same bond like they did at the bar ever again, but he wanted to try. With every fiber of his being he wanted to recapture that amazing honesty and vulnerability that forced him to respond. He couldn’t remember the last time he had felt so alive. This conversation was no substitute for recapturing the moment, but it was a step in the right direction. More than likely Reid would never allow himself to be inebriated again.
A goodbye was on the tip-of-his-tongue when he saw the red-and-blue lights pass on the side street. Dax was glued to his seat internally begging whatever higher power may or may not exist that it wasn’t an indicator of another alligator attack.
“What do you think that could be?” Reid asked.
“I don’t think I want to know.”
“I’m sorry,” Reid laughed. “I was thinking out loud. That was a rhetorical question.”
Just then the phone rang startling Dax, causing him to jump. Reid sniggered as he picked up the phone.
“Hello, this is Reid speaking.”
Dax tried his hardest to let his curiosity go, but he was deathly curious. He zoned in on the receiver and heard eight words that confirmed his fears: “You’d better begin prep for the next funeral.”
The interrogation room inside the police headquarters was appropriately dark and intimidating. Everett wasn’t sure why he was there. All he had done was discover the head of a former teacher. It wasn’t like he had killed her or anything. He tried his best to stay calm but internally he was freaking out. He never wanted to be inside of a police station for any reason and yet here he was. There was no escape. He was just going to have to suck it up.
An officer walked in offering him his hand, which he reluctantly took.
“Am I under arrest or something?” Everett asked outright.
“Who, you? Oh no. Don’t fret about that. We just wanted to record your statement, that’s all.”
“All right, sure.”
“Why don’t you start by explaining why you were walking in the woods today?”
“Am I not allowed to?”
“Well, technically you were, but it seems foolish now because of the alligators running loose.”
Everett didn’t like the insinuation, but he didn’t want to disrespect the badge. Telling the truth was the only option, although it was tough to explain. Sighing he said, “I was seeking answers and being in nature apart from society helps me to focus. It was just to help me think.”
“Oh, I see. That makes sense. How did you find the head of the deceased?”
He froze. He desperately didn’t want to share that he had accidentally kicked it. It creeped him out for one thing and he was embarrassed by it. He didn’t want to think about it. “I was sitting on a rock and I felt it behind me. When I discovered what it was I screamed like a little pansy and threw it away from me.”
“You don’t have to tear yourself down. I’m sure everyone else would have had a similar reaction. Why do you think the head was the only thing left of the body? The past three victims were headless. The alligator left very little remains. If the alligator did eat the deceased, why would he leave the head behind?”
“I have no clue. Your guess is as good as mine.”
“Were you ever, how can I delicately phrase this…did you have tension with Ms. Witcher when you were in her class?”
“No. I only knew her for one week! I had completely forgotten her name was Ms. Witcher until you let it slip out.”
The officer’s eyes widened in astonishment when he realized he had revealed the name.
“I didn’t kill Ms. Witcher,” Everett defended himself. “Did you ever consider this could’ve been a different alligator that didn’t like eating heads?”
“No,” the officer appeared ashamed to admit. “We had just assumed that one had taken a particular liking to human flesh.”
“Different humans have different food allergies and tastes. Why couldn’t alligators react to their food the same way? It’s a completely logical analysis, sir.”
“Yes. I guess it is, but it’s incredibly unlikely that there would be two that have added humans to their menu.”
Everett knew that was probably the case, but it bothered him that it was so quickly ruled out as a possibility. How could they have possibly blamed him for Ms. Witcher’s demise? Even if he had killed her, why would he report finding the head? It all seemed like a stretch from a department that was overworked all because of the alligators escape. It always came back to the reality that the alligators were the cause of all the pain Midvale was suffering this summer.
“Why are you accusing me of something I didn’t do, sir?” Everett asked, desperate to get out of the interrogation room.
“We’re just trying to look at every avenue, son,” the officer gingerly replied. “The particular circumstances were a little bit different. For one thing we don’t even know where she was attacked or even if she was attacked. I want to bark up every tree. I’m sorry, you’re a little young for my intimidation, but this is a serious matter. The deceased was well-loved by most of the community,” he paused, “but there were a select few that were very angry with her teaching methods.”
“I only knew her one week! How many times do I have to emphasize that I knew nothing about her. She was just a teacher. It was my uncle’s bizarre attempt at helping me get friends.”
“Wait a second…are you Pastor Reid’s nephew?”
“Yeah. What’s it to you?”
“He’s a good man. You can learn a lot from him.”
“Yeah, he is a good man, but that’s irrelevant in this case.”
“Yeah, I was just trying to make you more comfortable. Calm you down enough to tell the truth. It takes a while for people to be Zen enough to give a truthful statement, especially in this particular predicament.”
“May I ask a question, sir?” Everett asked aware of what the officer slyly admitted to him.
“Are you a Buddhist?”
“Why yes I am, but that too is inconsequential to this discussion.”
“How can you say my uncle’s a good man when your religions contradict?”
“I don’t view them as a contradiction at all. It’s more of an augmentation of a similar theme. Sure, there’s different outlooks and the practice may itself be different, but the end goal is the same.”
“I just don’t agree. I don’t see how that could be possible.”
“We’re getting off-track here. Now explain this to me. What exactly happened when you discovered the head of the deceased? Give me a beat-by-beat blow down.”
Everett didn’t want to have this discussion anymore. The concept of Buddhism being an extension of Christianity and that they complimented each other was a much more intriguing discussion even though he didn’t agree with it. They had already had this discussion, but now he was stuck in the corner. He would have to share about the kick. Internally groaning, deeply ashamed, he proceeded with caution afraid that any slip might book him.
“I was walking towards the stone circle. I had discovered it by accident earlier this summer by walking off of the path.”
“You know that stepping off the path is against the rules?” the officer genuinely asked. It was nice of him to assume that he didn’t know because he was new to the area, but it didn’t help him.
“Yeah, I knew. Kids my age do it all the time. They claimed nobody would get caught because people tended to stray away from the trail. My uncle even shared that it’s like this rite of passage to hike to the glades before you graduate here, which is a bizarre rite of passage, but it’s whatever floats your boat, I guess.”
“Just checking. Please continue.”
“I was walking off the beaten path heading to the stone circle because it had been the place that I revealed who I was to Charlie.”
“Define that for me.”
“I told Charlie that I was gay. He had been the first person I had ever told.”
“Oh, I see,” the officer added.
Everett paused waiting for some condescending remark, but it was all in vain. This was a Buddhist he was talking with, not a Christian. They were much more accepting and loving.
“Anyways,” Everett continued, “I wanted to go back there to wrestle with why all this tragedy has happened to us.”
“Why not talk with your uncle about it?”
“I will, but he’s just been really busy. When I got to the circle I had accidentally kicked a circular object that I assumed had been a ball. I just assumed the ball had fallen down the decline and stopped against the sand or the rock. When I sat down I didn’t have any revelation though. I only discovered someone’s decaying face.”
“Ok. Well, I don’t know what to tell you other than it’s in your best interest to stay in Midvale in case we have further questions and don’t go off the beaten path again.”
“I can’t believe I had to pick you up at the police station!” Reid shouted slamming the car door behind him.
Everett felt awful, but it wasn’t his fault. There was no reason for his uncle to be so angry with him. It was all a misunderstanding. The interrogation didn’t fully make sense and that bothered him. He felt he had been asked to give testimony to what happened and had been irrationally accused at the same time. It was completely illogical, but Uncle Reid wouldn’t have any of it now.
“I can only say I’m sorry. You don’t understand.”
“Oh, but I do, Everett because I pulled the same stupid shit that you did today. I, I just can’t do this right now,” Reid said.
His uncle was really livid with him. It was scary seeing him yell and curse like that. He never wanted to make him mad again, but he feared his uncle wouldn’t be able to hear the truth now even if he stated it, but he wanted to try. He desperately needed to chat about Fern and process with his uncle, but now might not be the proper time.
“Can we just chat, talk it out, process a few things?” Everett begged, ashamed of himself for groveling.
“No, we’re not going to talk right now. You’re going to think over what you did. I just, just leave me alone,” his uncle muttered. Then he proceeded to slam the bedroom door in his face.