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The Salamander Conspiracy

By Donald All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Scifi

Chapter 6

Driving his two-ton truck full of rental art up the twenty miles of curvy mountain road from Hibriten to Blowing Rock, Knox expected the trip to take forty or forty-five minutes. What he hadn’t expected was to get stopped about halfway up the mountain because of a recent rockslide. Only one lane was open—the one coming down the mountain. About fifty yards ahead, past where a huge frontloader was emptying dirt and rocks into a dump truck, Knox could see the flag man motioning the line of cars to proceed. The traffic was backed at least two hundred yards up the mountain, curving out of sight.

Knox rolled down his window and rested his elbow on the metal ledge. The traffic behind him stretched back toward town. He knew that the drivers in the cars immediately behind resented him and his truck. The first passing lane was about three more miles up the road. “What am I doing?” he asked himself. If he had gone straight on down the road toward Charlotte when he left that fruit stand, he could be thirty miles closer to Atlanta right now instead of sweltering in this traffic, waiting to grind his way up to Blowing Rock. So a strange Samoan or Polynesian man might have said he had business with Levinthia. He had as much right as anyone else to buy or sell antiques.

Before leaving the fruit stand, Knox had thought about trying to call Levinthia, Of course, he had just talked to her when he finished collecting the art from her Hibriten store. He’d called her business number in Blowing Rock because that was the only one she had given him. So probably for the time being, she was in her new shop, a public place. Besides, how would it look if he called her twice within an hour and a half to tell her about Polynesian people she might easily doubt existed? The woods that grew all along this part of the road reminded Knox of the Koolau Mountains on Oahu where he and Levinthia spent their honeymoon. With her thick blond hair and long legs, she had seemed so out of place on that island. More than once, he found himself thinking that maybe they should have gone to Norway or Iceland.

Then one night they had gone to an art gallery and Levinthia had gotten into a conversation with one of the women whose paintings were on display. The woman wound up inviting Levinthia and Knox to her home on the North Shore. She’d even found them a ride from and back to Honolulu with two of her surfer friends. At first, Knox had worried that the two guys might be too attracted to Levinthia. They’d barely been married a week, and he enjoyed feeling strongly enough about another person to experience jealousy. It was like getting splashed by a frigid wave.

On one level, Knox couldn’t blame any man for being attracted to Levinthia. In her island dresses and that golden tan she’d cultivated, she seemed otherworldly, and not just in a sexual way. As it turned out, the two surfers spent most of the drive out to the North Shore talking about painting surf boards, a business they had just started. They seemed as interested in Knox’s sales experience as they did in Levinthia’s art experience.

On the ride back to Honolulu after the party, the attitude among the four people in the car was that the early morning air was too soft for conversation. The surfers’ car was a very old Plymouth whose dashboard lights had long ago faded away like an afternoon rainbow. One of the surfers had rewired the dashboard to accommodate a 25-watt light bulb. While its illumination was brighter than normal dash lights, it filled the car with a gentle glow that blended with the night like cream in coffee.

Instead of following the main highway back to the city, the surfers told Knox and Levinthia that they wanted to take them on the scenic route through a Dole pineapple plantation. “Actually, it’s probably more of a fragrant route than a scenic route,” one of the surfers added. As soon as they entered the edge of the pineapple field, Knox understood what the surfer meant. The dark air undulated with sweetness stirred to a deep potency by volcanic soil and salt air. As if sharing some vagrant but kindred current split from the breeze, Levinthia pressed against Knox and rested her head on his shoulder. In the front seat, one of the surfers tuned the radio to a station that still carried the echo of vacuum tubes in a luxurious version of “Ebb Tide,” complete with ocean waves and seagull cries. For the few minutes the song drifted through the car, Knox couldn’t breathe or blink. He hadn’t succumbed so completely to music since he’d played third trumpet in “Bugler’s Holiday.” And it seemed that Levinthia had been leaning against him all the way back then even though all he knew about her that long ago was that she always trailed a faint scent of linseed oil. Somehow, that night in the pineapple field, he couldn’t separate her sweetness from his past or present.

The cars coming down the mountain began to creep by where Knox waited. Because a portion of the shoulder along the other lane had been cracked by some of the larger stones during the rock slide, the passing cars had to squeeze up fairly close to Knox’s truck. The drivers coming from the other direction frowned in concentration, their steering wheels visibly vibrating as they negotiated the potted and cracked asphalt, threading their way between the crumbling pavement on their right and the waiting traffic on their left.

Knox’s truck was high enough to allow him a slightly elevated view of the driver’s faces. He wondered how much these interruptions of people’s travel plans aged them. The dust that had settled on their windshields just in the brief wait caused by the construction gave most of the faces a dried, fusty look. It was the way he had felt in the last months of his marriage, knowing that divorce crumbled along one side of your attention day after day, pushing you up against that string of impatient traffic of jobs and bills and failing furniture sales. And you can’t do anything right for anybody on your sales route or at home.

Before Knox followed this line of thought to its usual conclusion of convincing himself that Levinthia betrayed him, following the drop in furniture sales to drop out of their marriage, he noticed a van with a custom paint job easing its way toward him. It was a deep burgundy with art deco lettering of gold and green on the side panel: Levinthia’s Antiques. Instinctively, Knox slouched down in his seat both to get a better view of the driver and to limit how much of his face the van driver could see. Despite the sun glasses and the scarf that Levinthia wore, Knox recognized her instantly. Although her face tilted up then toward where he sat with his brow and mouth squeezed thin and straight between the pressure of relief at seeing her safe and discomfort at being caught hauling his art collection up the narrow mountain road, Knox wasn’t sure if she actually recognized him. The sunglasses hid all clues of recognition from Knox. Still, he felt pretty certain that her attention had been arrested by something about him or his truck. She had kept her face turned toward him the entire time it took her to pass by.

Knox stuck his head out his window to see if maybe she pulled off the road, but he immediately realized she couldn’t escape the traffic flow even it the road provided a place to park. It was all cliff on the other side of the opposite lane. Nevertheless, Knox felt a twinge of disappointment when he observed that Levinthia didn’t even tap her brakes to signal she knew he was there. As far as he could tell, she didn’t seem to be distressed beyond what the traffic would cause. Didn’t seem to be anybody with her in that fancy van. That paint job had to have cost her fifteen or sixteen hundred dollars at least. A woman with that kind of money, Knox fumed, could afford to solve her own problems with Polynesians.

Checking in his side view mirror just in time to see Levinthia’s van disappearing around a curve, Knox recalled the table in the back of the truck back at the fruit stand. It was the table from his parents’ house, but that wasn’t the message he had scratched into the wood all those years ago. Just a few feet in front of his bumper, his flag man waved at the orange NCDOT truck that rattled by Knox, a sign bolted to the back urged FOLLOW ME. In the few seconds, the flag man took to move to the side of Knox’s truck and rotate his sign from STOP to SLOW, Knox thought he heard someone playing a trumpet. Several small communities of three or four houses were scattered along the curvy road, but not along this stretch. The terrain through here sloped too steeply to hang onto pavement for more than two or three years at a time. But Knox knew he heard the wavering notes of someone practicing a trumpet. Before the noise of the road as he pulled over into the debris of the other lane drowned out the sound altogether, Knox thought he recognized the melody as “The Indian Love Call.”

Knox made up his mind to turn around as soon as he could. Not only had he recognized the tune, but the style had struck him as disturbingly familiar. Through the last seven or eight notes that he’d been able to hear, he had fingered them on his steering wheel exactly as the invisible musician had played them. It was precisely the same way he had played the song when he practiced in his back yard at the edge of the woods beside Lucy’s Field.

As he expected, Knox had to creep all the way to the first passing zone before he found a place to turn his truck around. Then on the way back down, he had to stop at the rockslide again. By the time he finally got underway, he figured Levinthia was already back in town. She might be heading to her old shop. That would make sense. Her ex-husband tells her a strange woman has broken into her store—certainly Levinthia would want to come down and check the premises herself. Even if nothing of value could be taken, someone as territorial as Levinthia would want to assure herself that her property hadn’t been violated in ways her ex-husband wouldn’t notice. If he could unknowingly cross unforgivable aesthetic and emotional lines, then surely he would be ignorant of similar trespasses committed by strangers. More than likely, Levinthia thought of him as much the same sort of vandal as the one he’d reported to her.

If she wasn’t heading for her shop, she might be going to visit her mother. No, Knox remembered that she had moved to Colorado. Her parents had gotten divorced not too long after Levinthia returned to Hibriten. Her father had taken his share of the divorce settlement and gone to Florida to work at Disney World, managing one of the theme restaurants. With three of her friends, Levinthia’s mother had moved to Boulder and opened a bookstore.

Despite how Levinthia had tried to cover it up, Knox knew that neither of her parents had liked him. Of course, he’d met Levinthia’s father only twice: once at his and Levinthia’s wedding and then a second time when he and Levinthia spent three days of a Christmas vacation in Hibriten. While he was cordial enough, Levinthia’s father always gave Knox the impression that being a traveling furniture salesman lacked respectability. A real businessman, her father implied several times, made the customers come to him. During his last supper with her father, the man had even speculated that if a truck driver would learn to take furniture orders, nobody would need a traveling furniture salesman. On the other hand, Levinthia’s mother often gave him the impression that she thought he was too involved with the furniture business, spending all of his time on the road. Knox was deeply grateful that he hadn’t seen her during the meltdown of the furniture market.

If Levinthia wasn’t at her old shop, Knox decided that he might try to calculate where she might be. What direction would he take if he didn’t catch Levinthia at her log cabin? Now that he had invested most of the afternoon in worrying about her, Knox thought he should have a word or two with her. Maybe she had found out something about the Polynesians. Even if Levinthia wasn’t at her place, he could at least give Gail all the details about the Polynesian man so she and Levinthia would know to watch out for a couple. The two islanders had to be working together. Would a couple be more or less likely to be a threat, Knox wondered. When he was talking to them, Knox hadn’t felt any sort of hostility. More than anything, both of them had acted more amused in their conversation than conniving.

Barely a hundred yards from the log cabin, Knox saw Levinthia’s customized van pulling out of her small parking lot. More in response to the acceleration in his chest than to any need to catch up with Levinthia, Knox speeded up. Staying on this stretch of highway would lead them into one of the industrial sections of town and eventually out into farmland. Unless she planned on taking the scenic route to Winston-Salem, eighty-five miles away, Levinthia had absolutely no reason to follow this direction when she pulled out of parking lot. As far as Knox could remember, all of Levinthia’s connections to Hibriten lay in the opposite direction. Then she made a right onto Mountain View Road.

Of all the streets in Hibriten, Knox knew this one the best because it was the back road to where he had grown up. It ran by his front yard, crossed the bridge over the four-lane through town, looped by his old elementary and junior high school, and finally intersected with a small cove of stores on the southern outskirts of Hibriten. None of them sold anything that Levinthia couldn’t get in Blowing Rock. Besides, the much larger shopping center right beside her old shop offered more stores and more convenience than any of the stores at the other end of Mountain View Road.

Following Levinthia along this road, more familiar to him than any other, gave Knox a surprising vibration of satisfaction. He wondered if he might be a stalker at heart. As a salesman for all these years, he had to depend upon a similar set of skills as a stalker. What kept Knox from getting too alarmed about his behavior was the fact that he was trying to stalk her while driving a two-ton truck filled with rental art. All she had to do to lose him was speed up about seven miles per hour. Most likely, she planned to pull into somebody’s driveway or turn onto one of the new side roads that led into a housing development’s cul de sac. He had to stay close enough to keep from losing her while staying far enough back to keep her from spotting him. Even if she didn’t recognize him, she might still get suspicious.

Would she be going to his old house? Knox scoured his memory for something Levinthia might have said about wanting to see his childhood home. Once, he had tried to explain to her about Lucy’s Field, how it didn’t seem to fit in with the rest of the neighborhood, but he had never gotten around to taking Levinthia to that back corner of where he’d grown up. During a visit to her parents’, Levinthia had shown Knox a painting by Andrew Wyeth entitled “Christina’s World.” Although the field in the painting was much neater than Lucy’s Field, lacking briar patches and scruffy juniper and black pine trees, Knox immediately recognized the mood of the picture. Some sort of connection between Christina’s crippled body and the bleak house waiting for her at the top of the small hill sparked the same sort of discomfort he felt whenever desperate circumstances or foolishness had led him into Lucy’s Field either alone or with friends. Oddly, his anxiety about being in Lucy’s Field felt sharper when he was with other people.

Levinthia surprised Knox out of his reverie when she turned right onto the Robbins Loop. The Loop climbed a small but dramatically situated hill and was lined primarily with small homes, most of which had once belonged to families of friends with whom Knox had grown up. When he was a boy and the world felt much bigger, he had thought of Robbins Loop as part of his own backyard. Actually, the other end of the loop did run beside his parents’ house to intersect with the Mountain View Road. Doubtful that any of the old families still lived where he remembered, Knox couldn’t stop from connecting houses to names—Pipes, Triplett, Bowman, Laws, Hamby, Hollaman—and in the somewhat larger house at the top of the hill, Robbins. Then leveling off, and the lazy lane where the Winklers, Greens, Aubains, Lamberts, Storys, and Heldermans lived. Knox realized that he had been in all of these houses and had a drink of water at every kitchen sink.

During their seven years of marriage, Knox had driven Levinthia through this neighborhood twice. Today, all the houses looked more run-down than they had when he visited them on almost a daily basis. He was absolutely sure nobody living here was in the market to buy antiques. Besides, these were the kind of people who, if they did buy an antique, could supply their own truck to bring it home. They wouldn’t need Levinthia to deliver it. And if somebody from Robbins Loop happened to inherit an antique and decided to sell it, he would certainly not call up to Blowing Rock to ask an appraiser to drive down the mountain. In other words, Knox concluded, Levinthia could have no business whatsoever in this neighborhood.

The backside of the Robbins Loop hill was less thickly populated with just two houses on the right, the Epperlys and the Bakers, and one on the left—the Loomis house. Before the Loomises had moved into the huge brick house, it had belonged to some man who had owned the entire hill. As far as Knox could remember, he’d never heard the man’s name. He was some fellow who’d been close to the Vanderbilts but had a falling out with them soon after the Biltmore place was built in Asheville. So this man moved down to Hibriten when about the only identifiable landmark was Hibriten Mountain and half a dozen furniture factories.

The house was constructed out of dark brown bricks with a green slate roof. One of Knox’s high school history teachers had said that the Loomis house looked like a pagoda with all the oriental shaved off. Then in the early part of the twentieth century, a huge migration of Robbins swept across the Hibriten landscape. According to that same high school history teacher, the Robbins had more connections than Southern Bell, and before the builder of the Loomis house could even feel properly indignant, half of his hill belonged to the Robbins clan. Over the years, the Robbins sold more and more of the hill to carpenters who had dreams of being developers. Eventually, the old former friend of the Vanderbilts moved away, and Loomis was painted on the mailbox.

Now here was Knox watching his ex-wife pull into the circular, gravel driveway of that same house and park her van next to the front door. As he drove past, he kept his head turned away. Not long after they were married, he had discovered that Levinthia wasn’t interested in automobiles. Keenly as her senses were attuned to the world, she paid no attention to car models and makes. In addition, he’d kept his art truck as non-descript as possible. Bank managers didn’t want the general public to know that they leased their art by wall size and carpet color. Consequently, they preferred that the truck delivering their quarterly rotation of art not call attention to itself. Better that Knox be mistaken for a Stanley Steamer technician than an art broker. As soon as he was out of Levinthia’s range of notice, Knox slowed down and studied her in his side view mirror.

Apparently, she hadn’t bothered to even glance at him. She was completely absorbed in pulling from the back of her van a rather large canvass wrapped in brown paper. It was the way she packaged her own paintings.

At the bottom of the hill, Knox guided his truck to the side of the road, stopping in the mouth of the somewhat overgrown driveway of the Bakers’ house. A couple of months ago, at a bank in Atlanta, he had run into Rachel Baker, the girl whose parents once owned this house. Knox had grown up with Rachel. They had been in the band together all through elementary and high school. She had kidded him often enough about being able to hear him practicing his trumpet beside Lucy’s Field. Now, she and her husband lived outside of Atlanta, and about a year earlier, her father had retired from the sheriff’s department and come down to Atlanta to be near his two grandchildren and to work part-time with a security firm. He’d had no luck selling his house. Even with this knowledge, Knox studied the front of the Baker place closely. In case someone did come out on the porch to ask him why he was blocking the driveway, Knox wanted to look like a delivery man who had taken a wrong turn instead of an ex-husband hound-dogging his ex-wife and not knowing why exactly.

Did he really plan to wait here by the road until Levinthia finished her business in the Loomis house and drove off? And would she go back the way she came? In which case, Knox would have to turn his truck around to follow her. He studied the front of the house again. People in Hibriten, especially people like Deputy Sheriff Baker, didn’t believe in letting the transient population of the world know their house was empty by planting a For Sale sign in their front yard. But having grown up as a neighbor to the Bakers, Knox also knew that he wouldn’t let his grass get as tall as it was, nor would he sell his house to anybody who would. So when Knox pulled out into the road and backed into the Bakers’ driveway, he decided he might as well stay parked in the driveway. Then, no matter which way Levinthia decided to take when she finished her business at the Loomis’s house, Knox would be ready to simply pull out behind her. He was pretty certain that she would go back the way she came. From where he now sat, he had a clear view of her van up the hill to his left.

After a few minutes of staring off to his left, Knox felt his neck getting stiff. He let his gaze drift toward the front of his truck, across the road, into the lower edge of Lucy’s Field. It looked exactly the way it did all through his childhood. Broomstraw, briars, juniper trees, brown grass even in the summer. And the barbed wire fence was still as droopy and rusty as it had been eighteen years ago, the last time he’d sat beside it in his lawn chair practicing his trumpet. If it had been that decrepit eighteen years ago, how was the fence still standing? It should have fallen down before now. Even when he’d been in elementary school he wouldn’t have thought about trying to climb over the barbed wire. Back when they’d first moved into the house when Knox was six, the fence posts were these same fragile locust posts all wobbly and splintery and weathered gray that he saw now.

When he’d heard the news story about some child molester who got himself castrated trying to climb over the Loomis fence, Knox had denied that the fence could have supported a grown man—or even a large child for that matter—long enough to even let him get straddled over the top strand. Directly across from where he sat, the section of fence sagged so profoundly that a moderately agile adult could almost step over the top strand without having to do any climbing at all.

Launching another comprehensive glance toward the Loomis house, Knox climbed out of his truck and strolled across the road. The weeds choking the ditch next to the fence felt familiar to Knox as he waded through them to the fence. On the other side of the barbed wire, off to his right, he could see the narrow stand of trees that marked the boundary of his parents’ old house. This time of year, the trees were too leafy to let him see his childhood home, but if he walked ten yards up the road toward the Loomis house, he’d be able to see where he’d slept and eaten with his parents for twelve years of his life.

Maybe after he finished following Levinthia later this evening, he’d drive by his old house. But right now, he just wanted to see if his memory of the fence was accurate. He grasped the top strand of the fence, feeling the powdery slackness of the loosely braided wire. The slight weight of his hand jiggled both of the slanted fence posts on either side of Knox. More than ever, Knox believed that a grown man dropping down on the top strand would break through all three strands and not even get his pants ripped. Hadn’t the police come out and checked the fence? He let go of the strand and inspected his hand. The rust had left a brown line across his palm. As he brushed the residue from his palm, Knox looked back toward the Loomis house, then further past it toward the neighborhood of Robbins Hill. Certainly all of the kids he had grown up with stayed away from Lucy’s Field. But why hadn’t the wilder kids who had to live in the neighborhood now or five years ago or ten years ago torn down the fence?

Now that he thought about it, Knox wondered if the Loomis family still held the same kind of spell over the neighborhood kids as it did when he lived here. The kids he had run into, especially in the Atlanta malls didn’t seem to be the type of people who would respect somebody’s property just because an invalid lived there. But maybe city kids were different from small-town kids.

On the other hand, the longer Knox stood next to Lucy’s Field, the more vividly he remembered the few times he had actually crossed the barbed wire and tried to cross the hundred or so yards from the back of his yard to this road. Once he had tried crossing it by himself. First of all, underneath the tall weeds and briars, the ground seemed to have once been plowed very deeply and never gotten settled back into a level surface---even though nobody he ever met could remember when the land had actually been cultivated. Consequently, in addition to stumbling over clumps of broomstraw and thistles while detouring around gangs of juniper trees and scrub pines, walking a straight line through the field was impossible.

Through some abnormality in the contour of the field, everyone who tried to cross the field also experienced a visual disorientation that soon led to dizziness. For reasons Knox never understood, as soon as he crossed the fence that bordered his back yard, he was unable to see the opposite side of the field. He couldn’t see the Baker’s house or anybody else’s house for that matter. But as soon as he crossed back to his side of the fence, he could see every house on the backside of Robbins Hill. When he was in the sixth grade, he’d read a book about haunted places in North Carolina, and he had concluded that Lucy’s Field should have been listed as one of those haunted places.

Then in the eighth grade, he’d read about the Bermuda Triangle. As far as he knew, no one had actually disappeared while trying to cross Lucy’s Field, but the four or five times he had tried to take a short cut through the field, he had found himself wandering around two or three times longer than it would have taken him to follow the road over to his friends’ houses. Several of the older boys who lived on Robbins Hill confirmed Knox’s suspicions about the treacherous contours of Lucy’s Field. The story told by the older boys that most impressed Knox took place on Christmas Day when he was maybe in the fifth grade. All of the older boys got gas powered pellet guns for Christmas. Certain that their weapons could bring down rabbits, they went to Lucy’s Field to see if they could flush a few long-eared targets. Every boy who lived on Robbins Hill held the conviction that Lucy’s Field teemed with ground-dwelling wildlife. And Knox had to admit that often when he practiced his trumpet beside the field, he caught glimpses of movement in the weeds and briar patches. According to the older boys’ story, however, as they stumbled over the lumpy ground, they didn’t see a single sign of rabbits. After nearly three hours of circling aimlessly, they decided to use an old stump for target practice. When they tried to fire their pellet rifles, though, they discovered that every CO2 cartridge they brought with them had had gone flat.

Three years after hearing that story and having cultivated a sense of adventure, Knox and three of his buddies who lived on Robbins Hill had joined the Boy Scouts and decided to meet one of their camping requirements by spending the night in Lucy’s Field. They had borrowed two Army-issue pup tents from their scout troop and planned on setting up their camp about twenty feet inside the fence that bordered Knox’s back yard. They had debated about asking Mr. Loomis if they could camp in Lucy’s Field, but they’d officially informed their scout master that they’d be camping in the woods behind Knox’s house. Then Knox had made the mistake of telling his buddies about how he suspected Lucy’s Field might be part of the Bermuda Triangle. They insisted on bringing their scout knives, hatchets, and compasses. Two of his friends brought their BB rifles, assuming their pump weapons wouldn’t suffer the same defects as the gas pellet rifles carried by the older boys.

After loading their backpacks with all the supplies they needed to get them through the night, Knox and his buddies made a big show of getting to the edge of the woods early enough to set up their tents. Instead, they cooked their camping meal according to the Boy Scout Handbook then waited until it got dark enough to slip through the barbed wire and set up their tents unobserved by any member of the Loomis family who might look out a back window. Knox hadn’t seen any sign of a Loomis since that night of the caroling when he’d spoken to Lucy sealed up in her iron lung. Nor had he seen a face at any window in all the evenings he’d practiced his trumpet next to the fence.

Making sure his back kept between the Loomis house and his light, one of Knox’s buddies held a flashlight while the other three spread the canvass tent on the ground and attached the lines to the eight tent pegs. Knox and one of his friends pulled the front and back tent poles upright, holding them in position until the third friend could drive in the six tent pegs, three on each side. The first stroke the boy gave to the first tent peg drove it full length into the ground. The other two went in just as easily. When the peg driver circled to the other side of the tent and pulled the first tent peg tight, the one on the opposite side of the tent simply slid out of the ground.

The boy with the flashlight walked over to the uprooted peg and, keeping his light pointed away from the Loomis house, pushed the stake back into the ground with his foot. He directed the other boy to pull the opposite peg tight and drive it in. As soon as the boys moved to the next pegs, the two they had just planted slid out of the ground. Frustrated, the boy with the flashlight checked his watch. After a second, he announced that his watch no longer worked. Knox pulled his compass out of his pocket and observed the needle moving clockwise at about the same speed as a clock’s second hand. The boy who had been driving the tent pegs snatched up his BB rifle and tried to pump it up, but the lever wouldn’t move.

The beam from the flashlight flickered off but in a second it came back on, except the light was now a curdled green making every object it settled over appear to be covered with algae. Knox and his three friends wiped frantically at their faces and arms as they stumbled toward what they hoped was Knox’s back yard. As soon as they crossed the fence, the flashlight returned to normal, as did their watches and compasses. Certain they couldn’t explain what happened to them in Lucy’s Field, they spent the night barricaded in Knox’s tree house. When they returned to the edge of the field the next morning, they found all their camping supplies stacked beside a pine tree on Knox’s side of the fence.

Knox smiled at the memory. Miserable as he has been all through that night he and his buddies huddled in the tree house, he knew now that the adventure had enriched his adolescence. Having an encounter with a supernatural force provided a highlighted background for all his other growing up experiences. Lucy’s Field took on a significance of Hollywood proportions. The night after he’d tried to camp in Lucy’s Field, Knox realized he was in the same position as the boy in Invaders From Mars. He knew he couldn’t tell any adults about what had happened to him and his friends. Even if trespassing wasn’t an issue, no adult would take him seriously. For a couple of months after his camping experiment, Knox watched his parents and Cheryl closely to make sure they weren’t showing signs of alien possession.

Caught up as he was in his meditation on Lucy’s Field, he didn’t notice the van coming down the road until it stopped behind him and a familiar voice called to him, “Did you have something you needed to tell me?”

Although Knox could tell that Levinthia was working hard to keep her face neutral, her voice betrayed her. She was interested in, perhaps amused by, his daydreaming in the weeds on the same piece of property she was visiting. “I think we both need to do some telling.”

“Well, let’s find a place where we can park both our trucks.” Levinthia tapped her upper lip with an index finger whose middle knuckle was stained burnt umber.

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