In the previous episode, Mark was making his way out of the woods when he fell near the Indian Cave. He heard someone inside rummaging through his and Tim’s things. He caught a shadowed glimpse of a man leaving the cave and intended to tell the sheriff immediately but was distracted by something. Readers voted that an elderly neighbor calls him over as he emerges from the woods. She tells him what she saw go in.
I veered toward the sheriff’s from the woods-path, but to my left was ninety-year-old Mrs. Conlon standing alone among her wildflowers, at the edge of her yard, facing the woods.
She wasn’t weeding or planting, though. She stood too still.
“Mrs. Conlon?” I walked up behind her, gently, trying not to startle her. I called her name again as I took her arm. She was shaking.
“I had your father in my English class. Good boy, he was.” She patted my arm.
She didn’t look at me, but beyond into the woods. “I saw you come out of there. You saw it, too, didn’t you?”
A knot twisted my gut.
“You mean that guy in there, ma’am?” I thought it best not to mention Tim.
“Oh, no, dear. Oh, no.”
She turned her head slowly toward me, her pale eyes wet and clouded with age.
“That was no man…”
I got to the sheriff’s house well after sunset. Called him to the porch to tell him about Tim so I wouldn’t upset Aunt Clara. I told him about Tim, the flies, and thinking it might be a bear.
“I’m gonna make some calls now, Dep. Couple of us’ll head out there tonight, get some more folks looking around in the morning.”
“Sheriff?” I didn’t want to sound crazy, so I didn’t mention Mrs. Conlon’s Stick-Man ramblings. “Might not be a bear.”
I told him what happened at the Indian Cave.
“You mean that old Indian Cave out past all those big boulders?”
“You know it?”
“Huh. Your dad and I used to play out there, what– maybe thirty years ago? Ayuh, I know where it is. I’ll take a look around out there.” He scratched his face through much beard.
“Nothing to worry about, though. Someone passing through, I’ll bet. That’s it. Train-rider. Hobo.” He looked down at the ground as he said this, then kicked a stone off the porch and looked up at me. “Oughta be gettin’ you home. You’ve done enough for a night. And I’ve got calls to make.”
I spoke what I’d held back. “I want to go out there with you. To get Tim.”
He nodded slightly, “Yeah, I figured you would. I figured that. But, Dep, you need to know: That isn’t Tim out there.” He shifted as he stood. “What I mean is, even if that’s Tim, it isn’t Tim. You know what I mean?”
“I guess so.”
“You trust me, Dep?”
I knew what was coming. The question wasn’t really fair. But I answered.
“Yeah, Sheriff. I trust you.”
He was quiet a moment, then, “You let me do what I need to do, here. I promise Tim will be treated with the greatest respect.”
I held strong up until then. But that line made it too real. I broke.
He held me while I sobbed.
Four days later, every Rivertown resident was at the funeral. Well, everybody except– Vote below on what will happen next or if reading in email click Take our Poll.