I turned on the light in the bedroom. The back of my head throbbed. My legs were a little wobbly as I leaned against the door frame. The first thing I noticed was the unkempt bed. The comforter was disheveled and pillows were spread across the floor. A lamp sat on a nightstand to the right of the bed. I turned it on from the switch on the wall. Besides the lamp, there were perfume bottles, a TV remote, and an alarm clock all competing for equal space on the black lacquered surface.
Why was someone in Becky’s house? I surveyed the room further. The intruder was gone. Becky was missing. I needed to have a look around. There had to be something that would help me understand what was going on.
I went to the closet door and opened it. Her clothes were still there. It didn’t appear that she had packed anything. Next, I went to the dresser. Now, I am not the type of person that goes through other people’s things, but this was an extreme circumstance. I searched the drawers, not sure what I was expecting to find, but as it happens, I found nothing. I remember when we were kids, we used to hide things under the bottom drawer. The space between the floor and the drawer was perfect for hiding whatever we didn’t want our parents to find.
I pulled out the bottom drawer and placed it on the floor. The area was dark. I used the flashlight on my phone and poked my nose in the opening. There was a small black spiral notebook resting in the far corner. I reached in and grabbed it. I shut off the flashlight and put my phone on the floor next to me.
The notebook was no bigger than my hands. Becky had always loved to keep journals as a kid, and I was hesitant to start pouring through my sister’s thoughts. She would forgive me. I opened the notebook. There were words scribbled across the page. Some words were legible in neat blue ink while others were unreadable. The caption at the top of the page read: Pine Brook Falls Mystery.
I turned the page as I heard a car door shut outside the window. I got up and peeked through the blinds. A police cruiser parked behind my Explorer. The officer, dressed in a dark brown police uniform, walked over to my car and looked inside the driver’s window. I turned from the window, slid the drawer back in, and grabbed my phone off the floor. I nestled the small notebook in my waistband at the small of my back and slipped my t-shirt over it.
The officer was standing on the front porch as I made my way to the open door. He wore dark wire-rimmed sunglasses. He was taller than I was, maybe 6’ and looked like he could choke out an ox with his bare hands. His hair was cut short, brown, with specks of white at the scalp. His face appeared leathery as if he had spent his entire life in the direct path of the sun.
“Hello,” I said. I know my voice sounded shaky. Although I had done nothing wrong, his presence made me extremely nervous.
“Hello. I was patrolling the area and noticed your vehicle parked over there. Haven’t seen it around here before. Then I noticed the front door open and figured I would have a look.”
His voice was deep and the way his hand rested on his holstered gun made my heart jump a bit.
“This is my sister’s house. Becky. Becky Noble. She’s not here right now.”
He seemed to study me for a few uncomfortable moments without saying a word. Not being able to see his eyes only added to my anxiety.
“You must be Charlie. I’m Sheriff Jonathan Becket.”
“I haven’t seen your sister in a few days. I figured she must have left to visit you like she sometimes does. She didn’t go out to visit you?”
At this moment, the prudent thing to do would be to tell the sheriff that my sister had disappeared and she may be in trouble. But the voice inside my head objected. So I lied.
“I wanted to surprise her. Maybe she wanted to do the same to me and we just missed each other.”
Sheriff Becket stepped inside and looked around. In one smooth motion, he took off his glasses and tucked them into his front shirt pocket. He stared at me for a moment. I could feel the sweat building on my brow from the awkward silence.
“Well, that’s a shame. I know she would have liked to have seen you. Are you going to be staying in our town for a while or are you heading back home?”
He didn’t want me to stay. His mouth twitched as he asked the question. Everything about his facial features was insinuating that I was not welcome here. Maybe it was my wild imagination again but it’s safer sometimes not to doubt your intuition.
“I was probably going to stay a few days. Maybe visit my father. Hopefully, she comes back before I leave.”
“Your father, Ernest, sorry to say, is not looking so hot these days. Maybe a visit would do him some good. Welcome back Charlie, and hope you enjoy your stay.”
He turned to walk out when I opened my big mouth. My brain and mouth are sometimes at odds with one another. My mouth usually wins out.
“Why does the town seem deserted?”
Sheriff Becket stopped with his back to me. He didn’t turn around. His entire body seemed to stiffen upon hearing my question. He exhaled and put his glasses back on. Without turning around, he answered.
And with that, he walked out the door without saying another word. I stood in the doorway for a moment and watched as he walked away. He got into his cruiser. A few minutes passed and I could feel his eyes gazing back at me. Then the engine started up and offered me a friendly wave of his hand as he drove away from view.
It’s Thursday. What the hell did that mean? Becky was right. Something was not right about this town. I closed the door and engaged the lock. I sought the comfort of the couch. Comfort, I soon realized, was not part of its endearing qualities. Sitting on a bag of rocks would have been more comfortable and less lumpy. The leather exterior was just a ploy to get you to commit to sitting on it. Once your butt met leather, you realize that it was all a ruse. The hard contour made you regret every moment you continued to sit upon it.
Shifting to a somewhat tolerable position, I pulled out my sister’s notebook again and opened it. The first few pages didn’t make much sense. Dogs were barking at night with no cause. Townspeople said their beloved pets, both dogs and cats, were disappearing. One man, Mr. Tompkins, from Tompkins Hardware store, she wrote, said his dog started going crazy one night, barking and pawing at the door. When Mr. Tompkins took him out, thinking he needed to pee, the dog ran off. He never came back.
Missing pets? Perhaps ravenous aliens with an appetite for small animals invaded the town. My mind moves where it wants even at the most inappropriate times. Despite thoughts of hungry aliens with strange cravings, Becky was apparently talking to people about these events. Or, people were talking to her about them.
I had my first lead. Mr. Tompkins. I glimpsed at a few more pages which spoke of more animal disappearances. Dogs and cats seemed to be disappearing on a regular basis around here. One of the last few entries in the book described strange noises coming from the woods surrounding the town. And then the final entry spoke of a woman named Mrs. Murray, the town’s librarian, who closed up shop one day, never to be heard from again. Becky seemed to think her abrupt departure was significant, but I didn’t understand why.
I thumbed through the rest of the pages but they were blank. I should talk to Mr. Tompkins and maybe ask around about Mrs. Murray. But it’s Thursday, I reminded myself. I still didn’t know what that meant but to hell with Thursday. My sister was in trouble, and I couldn’t sit around doing nothing.
I decided to walk. The main strip of businesses was only a few blocks away. The town was small, and you could get anywhere on foot in a matter of minutes. Besides, I wanted to see just why the place was so deserted.
The intruder was still on my mind. What was he doing in my sister’s house? Who was he? Did he have anything to do with what happened to Becky? Too many questions to sort through. One thing was for certain; this town was definitely on my top ten list of strangest places.
I remember seeing the hardware store when I drove through town. With all the stores closed, I wasn’t sure what I was expecting to accomplish, but I couldn’t just sit on my hands.
I made it to the main street in less than 10 minutes. It was as deserted as when I first passed through. All along the strip, each store front window was dark. A ‘Closed’ sign hung from the inner glass of each business as further notification that you were not shopping today. A few cars were parked along the street. I saw a couple of squirrels scurrying up the trees. At least, I wasn’t entirely alone.
I looked into each window front as I walked past them. No one moved inside. I guess closed really meant closed. Then I came across one business that was open. When the world seems to turn in on itself, there is always time for a drink.
I walked into Stub’s Pub. I had to let my eyes adjust to the darkness for a few moments. The pub was small. A long bar occupied the right side of the room with about twelve bar stools evenly spaced along its length. The left side of the room had a few scattered tables and a small stage. Two people, other than myself, were in the bar. The bartender, probably Mr. Stubs himself, and a slender, older man with scraggly white hair with a matching mustache and beard.
I walked up to the bar. Both men stared at me as if I had appeared out of thin air. I said hello in my best, I am not here to cause any trouble voice, but they continued to gawk quietly.
“I didn’t think any businesses was open today, I mean, being Thursday and all.”
The bartender walked over and it became apparent why it was called Stub’s bar. He walked with a limp. One of his legs was missing from the knee down. He fashioned a prosthetic, which was visible from the khaki shorts he was wearing.
“Are you here to tell us to close shop? You might as well go back the way you came ’cause I ain’t closing anything. Thursday or any other day for that matter. Never have. Never will.”
I had apparently touched a nerve and tried to quickly redeem myself.
“No. No. I am not here to tell you to close. I am happy you’re open. I hadn’t seen a sign of life and was beginning to think all of humanity had vanished.”
He huffed and tipped his head sideways. His left eye squinted in my direction. Perhaps, he thought I was putting him on. Then his left eye opened again, head straightened, and smiled.
“Humanity, ha, might as well have. What’re you having?”
I ordered a Sam Adams and sat three bar stools down from the older man with the white hair who continued to stare at me. His silence was a little unnerving. I smiled at him and thanked the bartender when he placed the beer in front of me.
“Haven’t seen you here before? What brings you all the way up here? Lost or something?”
Similar to the feeling I had with the sheriff, I was reluctant to share my entire story. On the other hand, though, Mr. Stubs seems like he was not on par with whatever Thursday’s meant for this town, so I shared a little.
“I grew up here and was just coming back for a visit.”
The older man slapped the top of the bar with his right hand and let out a blustering laugh that almost tipped him off of his bar stool. If I were a stand-up comedian, I would have requested this man to sit in the front row of every one of my shows.
The man’s laughter concluded with a snort and the bartender hollered at him to settle down. Then he leaned over the bar and quieted his voice.
“What’s your name? I have lived in this place my whole life, and I don’t recall you.”
If I lie, he would know. If I told him the truth, then I may have to offer him more than I was prepared to. I decided I wasn’t going to get anywhere by lying to him, so I told him my name.
The look of recognition flashed across his face and he patted my hand with his own.
“Ernest and Madeline’s son. Yes. Yes. I remember. My name is Bernie Kemp, but most people just call be Stubs. Your mom took you out of here when they split up. She was good to do so. You should leave. Don’t look back. Just get out. This place is not what it used to be.”
Now we were getting somewhere. So it wasn’t just my sister who thought this place was bat crap crazy. I eyed the older man, who raised his glass to me. I did the same.
“What is so wrong about this place? I wanted to visit my father and my sister.”
Stubs stood straight up and began wiping the counter with a rag he pulled out of his front apron pocket.
“Ernie, I’m afraid, is crazy as a loon. He doesn’t get out much anymore. He used to come in here all the time until one time I caught him in the back room, drinking up my stock. Kicked him out and haven’t seen him since. This place just sucks the life out of you. You’re young. You need to be out, living life in a big city or something. Or you might end up like me.”
Stubs proceeded to wipe the counter and slid his rag down the far end of the bar near the older man. He kept his head down as he wiped. I noticed that the older man was no longer looking in my direction, but rather stared at his nearly empty glass.
“Bernie. Stubs. What about my sister? Becky? Have you seen her?”
Stub’s hand stopped wiping. He gave a quick glance to the older man. It almost seemed like the older man nodded his head before Stubs put down the rag and turned around.
I waited a moment as Stubs made his way back down the bar. I drained the last of my beer and rested the glass on the counter. Stubs picked up my glass and put it below the counter without asking if I wanted another. The contours of his face had changed. His mouth was tightly shut. His eyes evaded direct contact with mine. His left hand shook, which I hadn’t noticed before. When he spoke, his voice sounded subdued, sad.
“I know your sister. Becky. A beautiful young lady. Very intuitive and charming. But I haven’t seen her. I can’t even tell you where she is. One thing I can say, and you listen, Charlie, don’t go around asking questions. People in these parts, some of them at least, don’t like people asking questions.”
A lump caught in my throat. Was he speaking about my sister? He raised his head and for the first time, I saw something I had never observed in another person’s eyes before. Fear.
“What happened to my sister? If you know something, please tell me.”
“She was digging in areas she shouldn’t have been digging in. I’m not sure if she got spooked and ran out of town or...” his voice trailed off.
I could hear my voice rising. My heart was beating faster and the palms of my hands were sweaty.
“Or she got her questions answered. This place isn’t safe. Your sister knew that. You can’t trust anyone. Get out while you can.”
“I’m not leaving without Becky. Can you tell me anything? I need to find her.”
Stubs sighed. He shook his head and rubbed his chin. He leaned over the bar. He spoke in a hushed tone.
“This town has eyes and ears. The ones that seem less interested in you are the ones you should speak to. The ones who offer you their help, are the ones you should steer clear from.”
“Why is Thursday so special? What are the people in this town doing on Thursday?”
He took a breath. I could smell the pungent aroma of alcohol as he exhaled.
“Hiding,” he spoke, “they’re all hiding.”