By: Kelbie Biron
Riding to Briarwood is breathtakingly picturesque. An array of different types of trees whiz by as the bus whirls to the destination. Maples, oaks and birches with their fiery plumage dot the sides of the road along with a multitude of pines decorate the landscape. The bus screeches to a stop in the small town square as the bus stops, Drea Bray pushes past the driver mumbling “excuse me.” The town square is quaint, the epitome of a small New England town. The grass in the middle of Briarwood is bedecked with a beautiful water fountain, which is adorned by a perfectly manicured lawn. Encompassing this fountain is a lazy main street with small locally owned shops. Hanging across the street is a banner that advertises a fall festival that is hosted by the local private college named Briarwood College with the towns declarative statement for the decade. The statement was decided upon by a former mayor to showcase the heart of the town for the upcoming decade “Our Numbers Are Small But We Are Strong.” Across the road “The Cornucopia” spills containers with assorted fruits and vegetables from within its depths. The containers sit precariously on tables reaching its very fortitudes. The store proprietor races about shouting new deals for the items for sale, akin to an auction. He bellows, “Halloween is a’ comin you all are gonna need some pumpkins! Best deal of the day, three pumpkins for five bucks, can’t get this deal anywhere else!” People mill about picking up pumpkins, apples and other locally grown produce.
Drea sits on a park bench waiting for a grandmother she never knew; to her dismay her mother never mentioned her existence. It was not until this spring that this grandmother of hers made an appearance into her life. The grandmother offered her an opportunity to go to the private college in her hometown of Briarwood. Her grandmother Ebba is supposedly an important woman in the town and works for the college, though she never did disclose what her job exactly is at Briarwood College.
Ebba arrives driving a vintage obsidian-colored Rolls Royce. The woman steps out of the car dressed in a black pencil skirt and a curve hugging starch white blouse. Her gray hair is pinned in a bun so tight it seems to pull the skin on her face taught which incapacitates her ability to smile. She beckons to Drea who unwittingly grabs the suitcase and a box of books. The books balanced on her hips and a firm grasp on her suitcase, she strides over to her resolute and without hesitation. She is about to spend a year with a woman she has never met.
Her grandmother greets her with an annoyed tone “You are two weeks late.”
Drea quickly replies “I guess that’s what happens when your loan is delayed and the college bars you from coming until you’re financially cleared.”
With a bored sigh, her grandmother quips “If for one second you think your attitude irks me you are sadly mistaken. I did raise your mother who, as far as I can tell, was superior to you in every way at your age.” Without giving her a chance to retort her Grandmother calmly lashed out “Taking two years after high school to travel with the objective to find yourself, I find a horrible misuse of time.
“You will find that at Briarwood nothing less than excellence is expected from the students and I expect far more from you. Getting the board to accept you was painstaking enough. If you embarrass me, you will surely regret it, if you impress me, I will absolve all of your student debt. Do I make myself clear?”
Drea mockingly salutes, barking “Yes, ma’am!”
Her grandmother Ebba, in a controlled steely voice retorts, “There is no need to reply so sarcastically, it is not lady-like whatsoever. Neither is your apparel, but I suppose we can work on that.” As they walk towards the Rolls Royce an uncomfortable silence overwhelms them as they both ponder the trials and tribulations yet to come.
A breeze wafts through the apple trees; the fruit ripe for the picking. Emmeth piles apples into bags to bring to the famers market for Mrs. Carver.
The apples a placid red that beckons to be eaten. Emmeth takes one, which maxes his quota for the day that was set by Mrs. Carver — she is a very thrifty woman for one living in such luxury. Her house is a relic to the town that was built in the early days of Briarwood, passed down through the generations by the Carver family. The façade of the house displays the beginning of a porch that wraps itself around the home like a snake that wraps itself around its prey. Bricks and mortar — a later amendment to the original home — comprise the outside walls giving it a formidable feeling. The home proudly stands three stories tall at the highest and dwindles in other places where one can discern the various additions as the family displayed their growing wealth throughout the years.
The squeak of the gate, as it opens automatically, when commanded to do so by a press of a button on Mrs. Carver’s cell phone resonates around the backyard. Emmeth hauls the day’s last bag of apples to the garage. Mrs. Carver steps out of the car and hurriedly waves Emmeth over. As he walks over to her, a girl steps out of the car. She is wearing ripped skinny-jeans that seem to make her seem even lankier than she already is, accentuated with a long maroon sweater that appears to be two sizes too big.
Mrs. Carver says “Emmeth this is my granddaughter Drea she will be staying here to attend Briarwood College. Drea this is Emmeth he lives in the pool house, he takes care of the grounds and other tasks while he is not in class, he too attends Briarwood. Now that pleasantries have been established, Emmeth I need you to take care of Drea’s possessions we are going to the school to finalize Drea’s class schedule.”
With no pause for either of the two acquaintances to speak, Ebba gets back into the car, ushering Drea in as well and Emmeth quickly grabs Dreas things to bring to her room. Mrs. Carver does not inform him of its location; he must choose himself and hopes he chooses wisely as to escape the wrath of Mrs. Carver. Drea pokes her head out of the car and yells “Thanks” to him. It’s nice someone in the family has manners.
The school bustles with students, and a tour is being conducted. Drea watches as Ebba flags down the tour guide and convinces her to take Drea in her group before leaving to finalize Drea’s class schedule. Great, I don’t even get to pick my own classes, this is going wonderfully. As they round the corner of another building, the gymnasium towers into sight.
Bitter memories leave a bad taste in Drea’s mouth as she remembers how her mother went to this very college and died there ten years ago when Drea was only ten years old.
Her mother was an alumni giving a speech for convocation. To this day, no one knows exactly how the fire started. Some speculate it was faulty electrical wiring; others say an arsonist started the fire. The inferno engulfed the entire gymnasium, taking the lives of three professors, thirty students and Bryony Bray. There were survivors because a few courageous students and professors who broke through the windows and helped the others escape. Bryony Bray was one of those few courageous heroes who sacrificed her own life to save the lives of others.
Edgar Bray was left with a young daughter to raise and a gaping hole left in his soul. At first, he did well, but the depression seeped into his core like a disease, leaving nothing but a shadow of the man he used to be. The drinking began soon after and he lost his job as a teacher.
The bills began to exhaust the bank account. Soon there was no money left for food but Edgar found plenty for alcohol. After two years of an uphill battle, the depression won. He took his own life leaving nothing behind but sad memories for his daughter.
That tragic day, Drea came home from school — there were police cars parked in the driveway — was a day never to be forgotten. He ate a bullet to silence the darkness in him. The neighbor heard and called the cops they found him in the back yard with crimson blood splattered against the white fence. The same white fence that her mother wanted so the dog would not get loose. Bartholomew the family’s dog the one of the few things left from that period in Drea’s life; the house was seized by the bank to pay for the unpaid mortgage and many of the family possessions were sold to pay off the debt. Drea went to live with an Aunt she barely knew but over the years she became her best friend.
As the panic attack begins to subside, Drea rushes off and slides into a building to escape the tour because she is not ready to enter the gymnasium, the last time she was there her life was almost lost to that very same fire. The building appears to be the library with multiple levels including one basement level. In the basement the books on the shelves are old and crumbly — they smell like stale dust. Hushed voices are not too far off, Drea gets closer to hear because one voice sounds very upset if need be Drea will intervene. A Professor looks sternly at a student chastising him “Did you do exactly as I asked?” “Yes, Professor Napier.” “Where is the hammer?” “Here Sir, in my backpack.” “You brought it here.” he roared “Give it to me I will dispose of it since you are an incapable nitwit.”
The boy — a short, freckled youth — pulls out a hammer coated in brown flecks.
“You could have washed it afterwards,” Professor Napier says.
Drea knocks a book off a shelf trying to get a better look. They both turn and see her immediately backed against a bookshelf. How do I get myself out of this one?
Before Professor Napier and the other student become too suspicious, Drea quips “Professor Napier, Mrs. Carver sent me to get you she needs to see you in her office immediately.” Professor Napier gives her a startled yet a look of disbelief. He says “Is that so. Who might you be?” Drea replies in a superior attitude “I happen to be Drea Bray, Ebba Carvers granddaughter. Do you think it is wise to keep Mrs. Carver waiting?” Professor Napier gives her a sideways glance and hurries out the door. That seems to have worked, now just to get rid of his freckled sidekick. The boy approaches her with an apprehensive look on his face. He looks her over like a mortician scrutinizes a corpse before a wake. Drea’s phone rings on the line is her grandmother who says “Meet me at the car we are leaving.” Drea says “Well I have to go, my ride is ready to leave.” The boy quietly watches her leave.
Drea gets into the car, her grandmother does not even wait until she has her seat belt buckled to start driving off. The eerie silence is broken seems to stretch into eternity. I wonder if Professor Napier went to her office? I wonder what he told her? I wonder what she said back to him; maybe that is why she looks irritated. The brown flecks on the hammer looked like blood maybe I should go to the police and report Professor Napier. “How was the tour?” It probably isn’t blood on the hammer maybe it’s paint or mud or maybe I am being irrational, Professor Napier could be a perfectly good person who does not have students murder people. “Drea, how was the tour?” Drea, being suddenly pulled out of her reverie replies “huh.” Ebba in a slightly exasperated tone says “I said, how was the tour?” Drea replies nervously “It was nice I got to see the campus, so I am almost certain I will not get lost on Monday, thanks for um making me go on it.” Ebba keenly glances at her and says “You seem rather nervous is everything okay?” Drea replies in her most convincing manner “Being at the gymnasium was very hard for me, it brought up some very sad memories.” Her grandmothers face seems to soften in understanding but remains slightly suspicious. Ebba says “I understand, that must have been hard for you.” The rest of the ride was in silence.
The Rolls Royce glides into the driveway and is parked into the garage. Drea steps out of the car, shuts the door, and walks to the door that leads back outside. As she walks out the door Drea bumps into Emmeth, who was carrying a tool box back to the garage. The toolbox and its contents spill onto the ground. Drea quickly says “I am so sorry.” She immediately bends down to help him pick up the tools. Emmeth says “Don’t worry about it.” He picks up the last of the tools. Then he looks at her and nonchalantly says “If you happen to see a hammer lying around the house it belongs in this toolbox and if Mrs. Carver finds out I lost it I will be in a lot of trouble. Oh and by the way, hang around for a minute because I need to show you which room I put your things in.” Drea follows him into the garage where Emmeth puts the toolbox on a shelf. Drea then asks him “Have you ever had Professor Napier as a teacher?” Emmeth ponders that for a second while washing the grime off his hands he then replies “Yeah, I took an English class, I think it was called American Literature.” Drea replies “Oh cool, how was he as a teacher?” As Emmeth is drying his hands he says “He was okay, very strict and very passionate about literature. Professor Napier is very well known on campus he can be rather harsh sometimes. Why do you have a class with him?” Drea says “No, I just happened to meet him during a tour today, he seemed like he might be a hard Professor to have.” Emmeth replies “He’s not too bad, just don’t get on his bad side and you’ll be fine.” As Emmeth and Drea walk across the driveway towards the house the sky is painted dusty rose as the sun begins to set.
Emmeth, being a gentleman, approached the door before Drea could; he clasped the shiny round copper handle to open it for her. The door, which was rather solid and appeared to have stood there awhile, had intricate wood carvings inlaid on the façade and a round stained glass window on the top. The carvings on the door were of vines, flowers and etched inside the flowers Drea saw what she thought might be a mandala. The door opened with ease, omitting any sound that could be imagined. Drea says “I half expected that door to creak, it looks like it has been here awhile.” Emmeth answers “This is the original door when the house was first built, Mrs. Carver instructs me to keep the door in pristine condition which is why it does not even whisper when it is opened.”
The door opened up to an ornate foyer that was expansive and well decorated. Drea almost felt wrong to step on the immaculate pure Carrera floor. The ceilings were coffered and painted a sterile white that perfectly mirrored the gleaming floors. Across the cerulean walls hung a menagerie of paintings. Many of these paintings were of portraits of ancestors of the Carver family. The grand staircase cascaded down the side of the back wall in between two colossal windows. A gorgeous marble balustrade surrounds stairs decked in matching Carrera marble. Every third baluster there was intricately carved slim miniature hourglass statues of women wearing Romanesque attire. The other balusters cast a minimalist essence on the design, they consisted of sharp square edges. Less austere designs were depicted through the handrail, it was rounder and the marble was a warm color. On each newel, cherubs with angelic feathery wings frolicked in youthful immortality. On either side of the grand staircase stand immense windows partially covered in wheaten dyed drapes.
Drea, standing in the middle of the foyer, admires its magnificence. Emmeth interrupts her reverie and asks “Are you ready to see your room?” Drea quickly replies “Yes.” Emmeth leads her up the grand staircase up to the next floor where he takes her down a long hallway. The hallway is lined with small-latticed linear windows that are rounded on the top inlaid into the far wall. A small rotunda with a spiral staircase on the back wall led to a room in one of the house’s towers. The door at the top of the stairs was wooden with the same elaborate carvings that are on the front door except the mandala was not inlaid inside flowers but instead large primordial trees. Emmeth before opening the door swishing from side to side says nervously “I was not sure which room to put your things, but I thought that putting them in your mother’s room might be okay. If not, I totally understand, I will grab your things and let you pick whichever room you want.” Drea surprised and mesmerized by the proposition of staying in her mother’s old bedroom replies “No it’s fine.” Wow, I wonder what her room looks like, is it as she left it after leaving or has been changed? Maybe, now I will get a chance to have a clearer understanding of her and what she was like. Emmeth looked as if a great weight lifted from his shoulder. Emmeth says “Okay, um cool, I wasn’t sure if you would want to be in her room or not but I thought you might, the room is exactly the same as she left it, well not exactly it is regularly cleaned but other than that Mrs. Carver wanted it to be kept in its original state.” He says this nervously almost afraid to offend Drea.
Upon opening the door, Drea finds herself in a large room with two doors side by side on the wall to the left hand side. Directly in front of her lies large windows that cover the entire back wall floor to ceiling framing French doors that lead to a balcony. Her mother’s old room is painted an olive green accentuated by golden drapes, a bedspread and other decorations. The pillows on the bed match the color on the wall. Interesting enough the bed sits on a foot high stage in the middle of the floor and is round instead of the traditional rectangular shaped beds. Just as the rest of the house, there is a decadent marble flooring in this room as well. Emmeth chimes in “The two doors on the left, one leads to a bathroom and the other a walk-in closet. Do you need anything else ?” Drea replies “No, but thanks for asking.” Emmeth gives her a gentle reminder that dinner will be in an hour and he leaves her to unpack her things. Drea intrigued by the round bed decides to lay upon it. When looking up towards the ceiling from the bed she notices the magnificent art. Right above the bed is a large tree specifically what appears to be the tree of life. The trunk is painted in gold and the leaves painted in a vibrant green that complements the olive green on the walls. I wonder if my mother painted that tree or if someone else did. Begrudgingly, Drea gets up and begins to unpack her possessions.
Drea walked towards the dining room of the home; the décor is as immaculate as the rest of the home. The long wooden table is sitting in the center of the room, and above the table hangs an equally monstrous chandelier with droplets of crystals that reflect the light as they cast rainbows about the room.
The table was being set by a woman wearing an off white dress and a very colorful, floral apron. She seemed to be in her late forties with slightly greying brown hair that’s short cropped to her jaw line. Drea kindly introduced herself and asked who she was, the woman replied, “I am Madge, I work here, I do the cooking and cleaning. So, if there is anything you need just ask me.”
“Thanks, I actually do have a question, Where is Ebba, my grandmother?” said Drea.
“Well, I believe Mrs. Carver is still in a meeting with Mr. Napier.” The puzzled look on Drea’s face lead Madge to explain further, “Mr. Napier a professor at Briarwood college, he came over about a half hour ago, in an absolute tizzy about something or other. Mrs. Carver took him straight to her office they have been in there ever since. Excuse me I have to go get the rest of the silverware, I’ll be right back.” Madge walked out a door opposite to the one Drea was still standing in front of. Not sure where to sit, Drea remained where she stood. Madge quickly reentered the room with more silverware and finishes placing it upon the table.
“Um Madge, Do you know when my grandmother will be coming to dinner?” Madge while perfecting the appearance of the table setting replied “Sorry, no I don’t, but you can sit down at any place setting that is not at the head of the table because that is where Mrs. Carver sits.” Drea sits down at a place setting on the left hand side of the head of the table.
The time began to pass, Drea realized she had been there waiting for an hour. Drea sighs and slumps in her chair exasperated by boredom and hunger. Emmeth then walked in saying, “I just got a text from Mrs. Carver. She told me to join you for dinner and that she will not be able to make it to dinner because of a last minute meeting she had to attend.”
Drea rolled her eyes and straightened out in her chair. “This would have been nice to know about an hour ago when she had already been in a so called meeting with Professor Napier for a half hour.” she said hotly.
Emmeth replied in a shy tone, “Sorry, she just told me and I tried to get here as fast as I could but had to clean up some.” Drea had to admit, he truly looked apologetic. Upon noticing that Emmeth took the comment so personally decided to make him feel less guilty.
“Sorry, I am not blaming you. I’m just stressed out today with everything that has happened between the tour and the hammer incident.”
“Oh, I am sorry about all of that. Um, so did you end up finding that hammer?” he said.
“Oh, no not that hammer.” An uncomfortable silence overwhelmed both of them, resulting from the confusing conversation. That was until Drea could no longer handle it, she broke down and told him the entire story — leaving out the part about the panic attack of course. Emmeth, at first didn’t not know what to think, he sat there uncomfortably not sure what to say.
Then he said in a very hushed tone leaning closer towards Drea, “Suppose Professor Napier did have that other student kill someone with a hammer, if there was a murder we would hear about it very soon, news travels very fast in this town. The Moonbean Cafe, the local coffeehouse is the center for the latest news if anything is up we’ll hear about it there. Going to the cops and finding out no one was murdered and falsely accusing Professor Napier could create a lot of problems.”
“So, you are going to help me figure this out? and by the way I was not going to go to the cops yet until I verify my suspicions.” She replies in an equally hushed tone, inching closer to Emmeth.
“Yeah, you shouldn’t do this on your own and the whole situation seems very skeptical. Tomorrow we will go to The Moonbean Cafe and see if any suspicious gossip is floating around the town.”
Drea’s class schedule is composed of classes that fulfill her GEU requirements. This does not surprise her, seeing as she did not get to choose her own classes and has not yet declared her major. It is sensible that Ebba chose Drea’s classes that cover a broad range of what is required of most degrees. Her classes consist of Algebra I, The English Novel, American History I, Introduction to Biology, Art History, and Issues in Classical Music. Drea, actually being excited for her classes, wakes up quite early that morning to prepare for her eight am class, which is The English Novel.
The class is two hours long, and the time seems to pass by very quickly. The class was dismissed; Drea then walks to the library to start the homework. While Drea is sitting on a lounging chair reading the novel assigned in her English class, Emmeth as quiet as a mouse sits in the chair next to her. Emmeth clears his throat loud enough for just Drea to hear. Drea startled peers up to see who made the noise and finds Emmeth looking at her. He says, “Hi, how are your classes going so far?” Drea replies, “So far so good, I have only had just the one class.” Emmeth nods his head in interest then asks, “Do you have any more classes for today?” Drea nods her head and answers, “Yes, I have two more classes they are back to back starting at 11:00 am and I will get done at 3:15.” Emmeth says, “Oh, will you have time for lunch in the dining hall?” Drea says “No, but Madge packed a lunch for me, I told her about my schedule for today and she prepared food for me that I could eat in class.” Emmeth meekly replies, “Okay, well then would you like to go to The Moonbean café after class and see what we can find out about well you know what you told me about that happened yesterday?” Drea excitedly replies “Yeah that sounds good. I really want to figure out what is going on.” Emmeth says “Good, why don’t we meet up in the lower parking lot, that is where I parked my car. I’ll drive us to the municipal parking lot in town and we’ll walk from there.” Drea nods and says “Yeah that sounds good. I guess I will see you later then.” Emmeth nods and says bye then leaves for his next class.
A large wrought iron crescent moon hangs on the façade of the brick building with a wooden sign right below it that reads The Moonbean Café. There are two large windows on either side of the front door, which allowed ample light into the rustic interior. Upon entering Drea notices the exposed wood beams on the ceiling and the wooden planks that are used liberally like wallpaper. The café is mixed with an assortment of different chairs and tables. Lounging chairs and coffee tables are arranged in a loose circle. Sprinkled throughout the room are tables and sturdy wooden chairs. Then towards the back of the room there is a bar where the drinks are made with a long counter, which has stools positioned along the length of it for more seating choices. Behind that counter is a woman with bleach blonde hair in tight curls that cascades down her shoulders. She is wearing a flowy white blouse with an apron over it. The makeup she wears is partially distracting do to the superfluous extent in which she wears those beauty products. Every part of her seems to be adorned with some gaudy piece of jewelry, around her neck she wears a large chunky necklace with equally astounding matching earrings. On both hands she wears multiple flashy rings that are of different stones and metals. Emmeth says “Drea why don’t we go sit at the counter. I’ll introduce you to Arabella Jackson she owns the café and is currently working at the counter right now. She also happens to know all the town gossip, it is her favorite pastime. If something is going awry in town she’ll know about it.” Drea replies “Good, question if she owns the café why is she working at the counter instead of in an office handling the business?” Emmeth answers, “Well she wouldn’t find out much gossip if she stayed in her office now would she.” Emmeth and Drea walk towards the counter and find a spot to sit. It takes no time at all for Arabella to notice them and enthusiastically greet them, she says “Hey Emmeth. How is life treating you? Oh, who is your pretty friend? Are you two on a date?” Emmeth, before Arabella can ask any more questions he finds a pause in her speech and answers her “I am doing fine, this is Drea, Mrs. Carvers granddaughter and no we are not on a date. I am just showing her around and I thought she might like to come to the café.” Arabella satisfied with that answer takes their orders and gives them to another individual who works at the cafe. Arabella then starts to wipe down the counter very meticulously while Drea and Emmeth engage in idle chitchat. She occasionally glances at them, lingering as if to catch some piece of juicy gossip. Finally, after a few moments Emmeth says “Arabella, I was just curious, anything new or interesting floating around town?” Arabella immediately replies “Well there is some juicy bits of gossip going around, Mr. Thompson is having another affair supposedly with his brothers wife and Eric the High School quarterback broke his leg, some say sneaking out of the window of his girlfriend’s room on the second floor by attempting to climb down a tree. Oh also the Moore’s and the Taylor’s are bickering again over property lines. I found out something else too that is really juicy but I shouldn’t tell you, I overheard Officer Lewis and Officer Breckford talking about something that just happened. I really shouldn’t tell you but you two look trustworthy. Can you keep a secret?” Emmeth and Drea glance at each other and Emmeth says “We can keep a secret.” Arabella leans in closer to confide the news just for them to hear. Emmeth and Drea sit on the edge of their seats anticipating the secret interesting gossip they will soon find out.
Arabella meets Drea and Emmeth’s anxious stares with her own mischievous glance.
She then begins her story, “Officer Lewis and Officer Breckford seemed to be a little uneasy, so of course I went over there right away to see if there was anything they needed. All they wanted was more coffee so I poured them some. As I was wiping down the counter, I heard Officer Lewis debrief Officer Breckford about what happened just the other night.”
As she wipes down the counter, a couple sit at the opposite side of the counter. Arabella pauses to see who the new customers are, then immediately begins to tell her story again.
“Apparently, Ethan McGuffey went missing. His wife Fiona reported him missing saying he had gotten a call about a deer that had been hit on Hillock road and he needed to go check it out. That is one of his responsibilities as the Conservation Officer for this area. He left at 10 o’clock at night and by one in the morning he still had not come back, Fiona was pretty worried so she called Officer Lewis to see what had happened, he hadn’t heard of anything. Ethan still has not been seen and it has been a few days so then they decided to start searching for him. Fiona is strong but very worried, I saw her the other day she told me she has been up in the woods looking for him, helping with the search and all.”
The customers, beginning to get impatient with the lack in service interrupt the story, Arabella politely tells them “Just one moment.” After reassuring the customers that she will be with them in a minute Arabella launches into the rest of her story.
“The strange part about it all is they found his truck way up on Hillock Road at the dead end, which they assume must have been near where the deer had been hit. Curious though is the fact that when they found it there was a rock that had been thrown through the window and blood on the broken parts as if someone had tried to break into it. On the side of the truck in the dirt, Officer Lewis noticed there were two sets of footprints and there appeared to have been a scuffle. There was a little more blood found on the ground too.”
Emmeth asks Arabella “Why hasn’t this been covered in the newspaper so that people can help look for him or keep an eye out for anything suspicious and whose blood is it on the window and the ground does it come from the same person, did the Officer say?”
Arabella glances around as if others are listening to their conversation then in a hushed tone replies, “Well the mayor doesn’t want anyone to know right now, he has been paying off the newspaper not to cover it so as not to attract too much attention to Briarwood. They have no clue whose blood it is on the window, they are certain though that it is not Ethans. The blood on the ground though is a whole other story, that little bit of blood does belong to Ethan. They did one of those DNA tests to find out. One of the sets of footprints in the dirt also happens to be Ethans.”
Arabella excuses herself from them for a moment, she walks over to the impatient customers to fulfill their order.
“This is really weird, I think we need to find out more information.” as Drea looks at Emmeth.
“We could go talk to Fiona, she will know more.” Emmeth says while nodding his head in agreement. Drea replies “Yeah, that sounds like a good idea, but let’s not go there to just pester her with questions, why don’t we also ask if we can help out with the search.” Emmeth says “Good idea.” Drea and Emmeth after finishing their drinks left a good tip for Arabella and drove back to Drea’s grandmother’s home.
In Drea’s room her and Emmeth wrote down all the information they knew. Drea finishing writing the last piece of information down in a notebook as Madge knocked on the door. Drea says, “Come in.” Madge walks through the door and asks, “Do you have any requests for supper tonight?” Drea replies, “I am not sure if I will even be here for dinner, Emmeth and I are going to visit Fiona and offer our help with the search.” Madge looking confused asks Drea to tell her what the search was about. Drea succinctly as possible tells Madge what happened with Ethan McGuffey and how Fiona is handling the situation. Madge then says “I will make you guys some bagged suppers and I have a frozen casserole that you can bring to Fiona, I’ll write down the baking instructions down for her too. Even if they do not need your help with the search you can still bring the casserole to her, it’ll be a nice gesture.” Emmeth emerges from the hallway and says “Well, I just got off the phone with Fiona she says we can help with the search. We have to go in a few hours, I guess the paper is tired of waiting to run the story about Ethan, they are going to her house soon to interview her, she said to meet her at her house, she’ll drive us up to the area that is being searched.”
Drea and Emmeth get ready for the search and they eat a quick dinner that Madge prepared for them. As the sun begins to dip into the mountains they get into Emmeth’s car and leave for the McGuffey house filled with an uncertainty of what the nights search for Ethan McGuffey will bring.
The forest emerged over the hill, foreboding in its dark enduring existence. Fiona drove to the end of Hillock Road to park her car, with Drea and Emmeth along with her. The sky was already darkening; it covered the forest like a black shroud.
Other automobiles such as police cars and search and rescue vehicles exhaust the small space at the dead end road. On the outskirts of these vehicles are dogs to aid in the search. They howl in anticipation for the night’s work exuberant in their behavior. The howls ricochet off the surrounding mountains creating ephemeral echoes.
Drea quickly begins to make her rounds to glean any information she can. They all say the same thing without Evan McGuffey many pieces to the story are missing. The evidence they have now is very vague and inconclusive. While Drea talks to the police, Emmeth talks to Fiona. He tries to comfort her. Fiona says “I know you are being strong Emmeth but I can see the worry and fear on your face. It’s okay to be worried and afraid, you and Ethan were very close.”
With a break in his voice, Emmeth replies “He saved my life when I was twelve, I owe him so much.”
Fiona replies in a soothing but a determined tone “You do not owe him anything, he was proud to save your life and he would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Fiona wraps Emmeth in a tight hug and holds him for a minute while he composes himself. Struck with determination Emmeth joins Drea and informs her they will be searching with Officer Lewis and Ethan’s German Shepherd named Alpha. Fiona goes with a larger group that has search dogs; they search an area they believe Ethan may have gone to if he needed to survive in the woods. Drea, Emmeth, Officer Lewis, and Alpha search in the opposite direction. They will search the part of the forest that has Hillock steam coursing through it and is abundantly filled with pine, spruce, and fir trees.
They walk through the forest. At first, the terrain is fairly flat but soon becomes uneven with intermittent inclines and declines riddling the landscape. Soon, Officer Lewis a rather corpulent man begins to run out of breath.
He says as straying a little behind “Kids hold up. I am not as young as I used to be.” Between heaving breaths he suggests, “Why don’t we take a quick break.”
Drea and Emmeth agree to this, the poor officer seems rather out of sorts and exhausted. Officer Lewis plops down onto the ground leaning against a tree. He pulls out a Snickers bar and exhumes the entire thing in a few bites then continues the ritual with two more Snickers bars. Then he drowns the sweets with a can of Coke. After ten minutes, Drea and Emmeth anxiously get up from sitting upon the ground hoping that Officer Lewis is ready to begin the search again. Even Alpha paces back and forth ready to start searching again. To their dismay, Officer Lewis is not ready to begin the search again but recommends they take Alpha and begin the search with the promise he will catch up. Drea, Emmeth with Alpha leave Officer Lewis to rest while they scour the forest for signs of Evan McGuffey.
After Drea felt that they were out of earshot of Officer Lewis she says, still in a hushed and exasperated tone, “I bet that is the last we will see of Officer Lewis, I am sure he ends up going back to his police car.”
Emmeth, determined, focuses on what he finds on the ground distractedly says “Yeah.”
Emmeth bends down to inspect closer what appears to be a wallet. Emmeth tells Drea to come look at it. Drea begins to pick it up.
Emmeth quickly says “Wait don’t pick it up you do not want to contaminate the evidence just in case it does belong to Ethan. We should just leave it where it is.”
Drea replies, “Well how are we supposed to know if it is Ethan’s unless we pick it up to see if there is any means of identification in it?”
“How about we flip it open gently with a stick and see if there is a driver’s license visible.” Emmeth says.
Drea expediently finds a stick and gingerly flips open the top of the black wallet. With the flashlight nervously pointing at the wallet, as clear as day, both Emmeth and Drea see the driver’s license snugly fit into the clear plastic part that is in so many wallets. The driver’s license blatantly has Ethan McGuffey’s name scrolled across the front along with his picture. Emmeth grabs the walkie-talkie they were handed upon the start of the search and radio the rest of the search party to inform them about the discovery of Ethan McGuffey’s wallet. They swiftly reply that they are on their way and will be there shortly.
Without waiting Drea begins to sweep the area and yelling out “Ethan McGuffey” optimistically hoping that Ethan may hear and answer back. Emmeth implores that they stay near the wallet and wait for the professionals to continue the search. Drea does not listen; Emmeth quickly grabs a few sticks and drives them into the ground near the wallet to make it noticeable. Alpha now begins to bark and struggle against the leash. After a few strong tugs she yanks her leash out of Drea’s hands and begins to run. Alpha hurriedly overtakes the hill while Drea and Emmeth struggle to keep up climbing the steep incline. On the crest of the hill they pause to see where Alpha has gone for she fell silent rather abruptly. At the edge of the stream barely visible Alpha whimpers and nudges a black form. Drea goes to investigate Emmeth follows behind her shaking a little, the light emanating from the flashlight flickers against the trees.
The black form takes shape as Emmeth and Drea get closer. Barely a few feet away they stand in utter fear and shock as they behold the body of Ethan McGuffey. From the bloat and stiff appearance of his body he had probably been there a few days. Alpha whimpers and curls against his body and lays her head gently upon his still chest. One side of his head is smashed in and caked in crusted blood. Emmeth slowly draws the walkie-talkie to his mouth and presses the button to communicate with the rest of the search party. In a shaky voice he says “Drea and I have found Ethan.”
Emmeth releases the button and waits for a response. Through the crackle of the walkie-talkie another officer replies “Is he injured do we need an ambulance?”
Emmeth takes a deep breath and mumbles with a catch in his throat “They’re going to make me say it aren’t they?”
Drea tenderly grabs the walkie-talkie from Emmeth’s clenched fists; he struggles to keep the tears from falling from his eyes.
“An ambulance is not needed,” Drea says in a detached voice, “my sincere apologies, but Ethan McGuffey is dead.”
McGuffey’s casket remained shut upon Fiona’s request. His casket was a beautiful mahogany polished to shine to such an extent Drea could see her own reflection. Her grandmother stood next to her; they arrived early. Emmeth insisted on being there to offer comfort to Fiona.
People began to shuffle in and soon the parlor was filled. A group waiting to pay their respects coalesced outside. Drea stands next to Emmeth, she notices how he is standing stoically with his hands clasped in front of him watching the proceedings of the wake. Drea reaches to her side, grasps Emmeth’s hand, and interlaces her fingers betwixt his. He glances slightly at her hand and relaxes a little but quickly turns his attention back to Fiona who is talking about happy memories of the time she had with Ethan.
After a few family members of Ethan spoke, Emmeth unlaces his hand from Dreas, and walks toward the podium. Since it is difficult for him to speak about Ethan he stands there ramrod straight and begins to speak in a quivering voice. Emmeth recounts the story of how Ethan saved his life and how they had become very close afterwards. Emmeth equated Ethan to the father he never had. As Emmeth begins to leave the podium he turns back around and says “Ethan wasn’t just like a father to me he was my biological father.” Gasps echo across the room.
“His utter disregard to keep secrets will sink me.” Ebba says with a voice that drips poison.
“You knew who his father was?” Drea says as she whips her head around.
“Of course I knew,” Ebba says. “I knew his mother Taffeta very well. While she worked for me she became pregnant with Emmeth. She did not like to talk about who her son’s father was. I have known Emmeth his entire life.” Ebba says.
A loud outcry from Fiona wracked the room as she furiously accused Emmeth of lying and trying to besmirch the name of Ethan McGuffey. If Ethan were truly Emmeth’s father that means Ethan would have cheated on Fiona in the first year of their marriage.
Drea looks back at Ebba who sits in her chair ever so calm and collected. “Emmeth does not talk about his mother very much. What happened to her? Why do people seem to dislike her and why does she not work for you anymore?” Drea says.
“That is an ambitious list of questions.” Ebba says reproachfully with a steely gaze.
Drea looks at her imploringly. “I will tell you but not in this room come to a back room with me.” Ebba says.
One of the rooms located on the other side of the funeral home was quiet and away from the chaos that ensued in the parlor. Ebba in a hushed tone begins her story “Taffeta unfortunately has always been an outsider she moved here many years back pregnant with her daughter. Of course the father was not in the picture which sparked many rumors. I decided to hire her, she seemed to be in need of a job.”
Ebba paused and peeked out the door to see if anyone would notice they were in the room. As she closes the door Drea notices how similar they are to the doors at Ebba’s manor, they have the same intricate carvings.
“What do the intricate markings on the doors mean?” Drea says randomly.
Ebba sighs and says “You have many questions today. The intricate designs are wiccan they are meant to keep evil spirits at bay. I am sure you have noticed that this door is similar to ones at the manor. They were designed by the same person.”
Upon noticing the confusion on Drea’s face, Ebba with complete conviction says “Oh dear child, you know so little of the universe, there are things in this world and the next that simply cannot be explained.”
After a moment of silence Ebba picks up where she left off with her story “After a few years Taffeta became pregnant with Emmeth, just as before the father was not in the picture, this sparked new rumors in the town of course. Taffeta handled this at first with grace, but after her daughter died when Emmeth was five she hit the bottle hard and then began other drugs as well. It was hard on Emmeth, it is the reason why he is so set to please everyone, he feels he has to make up for all the bad choices his mother made and continues to make. After Emmeth almost died in the drowning accident he was hospitalized for a few days, Taffeta came to me asking for a loan to pay the hospital bills. I gave her the money but instead of demanding she pay me back later I simply wanted to know who Emmeths father was. She hesitantly told me it was Ethan McGuffey, of course I was skeptical so in secret with a strand of hair from each I had genetic testing done.”
Drea all the more curious asks “Well is it true? Is his father Ethan McGuffey?”
Ebba says “Of course he is, the test came back as a positive match. I told Emmeth when he turned eighteen, I knew that Taffeta or Ethan would never tell him.”
“Ethan knew Emmeth was his son.” Says Drea in utter shock.
“Yes he knew, Emmeth resembles him a lot and he had confronted Taffeta about the situation when Emmeth was two. Until Emmeth had almost lost his life, Ethan had distanced himself, which was Taffeta’s wish. Afterwards he tried to spend as much time as he could with him, he knew Emmeth would be the only child he would ever have, Fiona cannot have children they did not find that out until after a few years of desperately trying. Taffeta now lives in a trailer park in the next town. Emmeth barely speaks to her, she still is up to her bad habits,” Ebba says.
Screaming erupts from the parlor causing Ebba and Drea to dash out of the back room. They burst into the chaos to discover Ethan McGuffey’s casket had toppled over. Professor Napier and Emmeth were in a tangled heap violently wrestling next to Ethan. His body spilled out of the coffin showing to all the atrocity of how the poor man died. The undertaker clearly had known that it would be a closed casket, therefore did not do much to cover the wounds Ethan McGuffey had suffered. Now everyone can see the hole in the side of his skull. Fiona fainted and collapsed to the floor. The undertaker began to fix the toppled coffin and place Ethan back within its confines. Professor Napier and Emmeth were demanded by the undertaker to finish their disagreement outside. People began to leave beckoned by their weak stomachs to hurry along while the undertaker began to mop brain matter from off the floor.
Drea walks pass the undertaker while he cleans the area. Outside, a group gathers watching Professor Napier and Emmeth fight in the parking lot. Drea, as quick as her long legs would allow her, ran towards them. She grabbed Emmeth from Professor Napier and separated them from each other. Just as Drea did this, a police cruiser drove into the parking lot. Two police officers came out and began to talk to Emmeth and Professor Napier.
“Emmeth attacked first. He has the audacity to blame Ethan’s murder on me.” Professor Napier says quickly and accusatory.
“Napier did it, I overheard Arabella talking to the officer. The officer said that Ethan must have been killed with a hammer.” Emmeth says.
“So, I don’t see the connection.” Says an officer.
“I know for a fact Professor Napier and a student had a bloodied hammer in their possession.” Emmeth says.
“How do you know this?” the officer says.
Emmeth looks at Drea with desperation. “I told him what I saw one day in the basement of the library, until now we did not entirely know what the information meant.” Drea says.
The officers ask Drea to answer a few questions. She relays to them everything she saw and heard of the conversation between Professor Napier and the student that helped him commit the crime. The officers after questioning Drea begin to question Professor Napier. They seem to have difficulty figuring out a reason for why Professor Napier would kill Ethan.
Ebba waits in the parlor like a spider preparing for an insect to haphazardly fly into its web. Not failing to disappoint, Fiona scampers into the room eyes locked on the back door, not noticing Ebba in the corner.
“Where are you going in such a rush?” Ebba says acidly.
“I thought it might be best to leave through the back with the fight in the parking lot going on. Fiona says nervously my house is not very far and I can walk to it from here.”
“The fight is over.” Ebba says. “The police have broken it up. Is it fear of getting caught that compels you to rush out the back door?”
“Getting caught for what? I haven’t done anything wrong.” Fiona says defensively.” I am the victim here.”
“No one believes for a second that you are a victim.” Ebba says bitterly. “No Ethan is the true victim. It is unfortunate he married such an evil succubus as yourself.”
“What are you talking about?” Fiona says.
“I’ll tell you what I am talking about.” Ebba says. “You have had an affair with Professor Napier for sometime now. You wouldn’t divorce Ethan though would you? He is worth much more to you dead than alive isn’t he. You just inherited the life insurance money and his pension upon his death correct? Don’t answer that, I already know the answer. It makes sense now that if you truly wanted to be with Napier, Ethan needed to be out of the picture. Divorcing him though would not be an option because you would get far less money, him dying would take care of the problem and you would make out well.” In the next breath she says “The police will find out, I will tell them everything.”
“Please do not tell them. I will do anything.” Fiona says desperately. “I know your silence can be bought.”
“Fine admit it, admit the heinous deed you did.” Ebba declares. “Tell me the whole story.”
“Everything you said is already true.” Fiona says. “I asked Napier to kill Ethan so that we could be together, but the wimp couldn’t do it himself. Instead he asked some desperate student looking for a full scholarship to do it for him. The hammer I felt was rather brutal, but other than that it was eloquently executed no fingerprints or DNA was left behind on the crime scene. That’s all.”
“We will talk the cost of this later but for now I need to clean up the mess you made. Leave now before I change my mind.” Ebba says. Fiona quickly ducks out the back door.
“Arabella did you hear all of that?” Ebba says.
“Every word.” Arabella says as she emerges from behind the door that leads into the hallway.
“Good, I need you to work your magic and start a rumor, one that offers a plausible explanation as to why Napier would want to murder Ethan. Make it believable.” Ebba says with a sneer discoloring her face.
As the days went by, the chaos calmed down. Professor Napier and his accomplice were arrested on the grounds of murdering Ethan McGuffey. The officers later discovered that Napier and Ethan were feuding for some time about a disagreement concerning property lines. Napier’s cousin’s land adjoined McGuffey’s and it had sparked a battle between the two men. When justice was served for the people of Briarwood normalcy returned. However, Ebba continues to weave her complex web of lies.