The Haunting of Wildwood Farm
© 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.
Chapter Ten: Consequences
When bad things happen, or when we're feeling kind of low, we can usually count on someone to reassure us that the world isn't ending, and that the sun will rise again tomorrow. And despite the soul-sucking defeat at Kent Cottage, including that humiliating arrest courtesy of Mr. Heard, the sun did indeed rise the next morning. Although technically the sun neither rises nor sets. The earth rotates, and then voila! The sun appears! But for spatiality's sake, let's just say it rises.
And speaking of rising, Jeff was up with the rooster. He had been unable to sleep, fearful of the punishment he had coming his way. But delaying the inevitable only added more stress to his weary shoulders, so he dragged his butt out of bed and sought out his father, ready to accept the consequences of his actions.
A short distance away, Drew lay awake as well. But he was less concerned with punishments, and lamented his failure to secure the treasure. With his hands folded behind his head, he stared up at his bedroom ceiling, fully aware that he had blown his chance. There would be no return trips to Kent Cottage now.
As the morning wore on, Drew paced his room, occasionally glancing out the window, wondering how his friend was faring. All things considered, he wasn't too worried about Jeff. Mr. Heard may have been old-school tough, but Jeff's dad was a pretty levelheaded guy. Ron generally provided a thorough assessment of a situation, and doled out a fair punishment.
Then again, his mandate was pretty clear: stay away from Kent Cottage.
The worry factor suddenly amped up a few notches. But Drew quickly shifted back into Drew mode and went downstairs to eat breakfast.
Sometime around one o'clock, after the eight-hundred-pound gorilla dropped yesterday's lunch on Drew's afternoon plans, he dejectedly hopped on his bike and rode to Wildwood Farm. Over the river and through the woods (no singing, please), he biked at a snail's pace, debating multiple times whether he should just turn around and go home. He speculated on Jeff's fate, trying to convince himself that his punishment was not severe. But his frontal lobe was unable to keep out the negative thoughts, and Drew suffered visions of his buddy serving hard time on the chain gang.
Drew crossed the border onto Wildwood Farm and quickened his pace, taking a direct route to the main house. He dumped his bike at the bottom of the steps then hopped onto the porch and rang the doorbell. A few moments later, the door opened and Jeff appeared. He pushed open the storm door and greeted his friend, somewhat surprised to see him, and Drew motioned him onto the porch. Jeff complied with the request and closed the door behind him.
"I thought you were with your dad today?" Jeff said. "Did he bail on you again?"
"He had to go into work," Drew said. "At least he called this time. What happened with your dad? Did he bust you?
Jeff shook his head. "No. He didn't say anything. And we were alone in the kitchen for a while, so he had his chance. He may not even know."
Drew pondered that for a moment. "Strange that Heard wouldn't tell him. It's not like him to pass up an opportunity to get us in trouble."
"Unless he hasn't told him yet," Jeff said. "But Heard stayed late last night, and I saw him leave the barn this morning. You don't think he bought Greg's story about the tour, do you?"
"No I don't. But he trusts Greg, even though he's covered for us before. Maybe Heard's picking his battles. Maybe he's waiting for the big one."
"Whatever that is," Jeff said. "For now I'll just keep a low profile and stay out of his way."
"Same for all of us," Drew said. "Hey, you wanna ride bikes?
"Can't. We're working on the Halloween costumes."
"Me, Sofie, Ethan," Jeff said, hesitating slightly. "My Grandma."
"Sounds thrilling," Drew said with his trademark sarcasm.
"We're going apple picking later," Jeff informed him. "Mom's making a ton of apple pies for the Halloween Festival so we need to stock up."
"You're going to the orchard without me?" Drew smirked.
A guilty smile appeared on Jeff's face. "Well, you were going with your dad today, so I didn't say anything. Plus, I know how much you hate apple picking."
"I don't hate it. There's just other things I'd rather do."
"Sorry. You're welcome to come."
"Probably not," Drew said. "I might go to the track and ride around."
The door to the main house opened abruptly, and Jeff turned around to see Ethan standing in the doorway. He poked his head around the storm door and greeted Drew.
"Your scarecrow mask is finished," Ethan said to Jeff. "Sofie wants you to try it on."
"Gotta go," Jeff told Drew. "Catch up with you later?"
"I want to see your costume," Drew said, and then he brushed past Jeff and herded Ethan back into the house. Jeff hurried in after them, as if he feared Drew's presence. This seemed odd, considering Drew was like a member of the family, but all was explained when they arrived in the dining room.
Sofie was sitting at the large farmhouse table holding the remnants of the burlap sack that had been finely stitched into Jeff's scarecrow mask. Grandma Markham (author's note: this is Thomas's wife, not to be confused with Great Nana, who is Thomas's mother. I know, there are a lot of Markhams running all over the place. Keep 'em straight, will ya!) was huddled over the sewing machine at the foot of the table fixing a hem on Dorothy's dress. She glanced up from her work and offered a pleasant hello to Drew, but he barely noticed because his sights were locked on the person sitting next to Sofie.
And that person was Ben.
Drew's jaw clenched and his throat tightened, which were both good things because deep down in his soul he wanted to shout: What's he doing here??? But he refrained, and not because he worried about hurting Ben's feelings or angering Sofie, or even embarrassing Jeff, for that matter. He did it out of respect for Grandma Markham, because his words would've been highly potent, as if they had been marinating in hate for the last forty-eight hours, and he simply didn't want to cause a scene in front of the woman who was third in line to the throne.
"Aren't you supposed to be with your dad?" Sofie asked.
"He canceled," Drew said curtly.
"Oh," she said. "Sorry."
"Whatever," Drew said, assuring her it was no big deal, even though deep down it probably was.
"So what do you think of the costumes?" Grandma Markham asked Drew. It was an honest question, but a good segue nonetheless.
Drew shrugged. "They're good." It was the best he could muster, considering his focus was on Ben, and how this mysterious outsider was infringing on his territory.
"How's your Tin Man costume coming along?" Sofie asked.
"Fine," was the response from the master of one-word answers.
"Are you almost done?" she inquired further.
"Oh, that's good," she said. "How much do you have left?"
"Pretty much all of it."
Sofie's jaw dropped and the following words tumbled out of it: "Drew! Halloween will be here before you know it. You can't put this off to the last minute!"
"I work better under pressure," he said with an air of I-really-don't-care-what-you-think.
"I don't know why I even bother," she mumbled under her breath, then she handed Jeff his scarecrow mask. "Try this on and let's see how it looks."
Jeff took the burlap mask and slid it over his head. He adjusted it with both hands until the cutouts for his eyes, nose, and mouth lined up appropriately, then he stood quietly and awaited feedback from the others.
"No offense dude, but that's kind of freaky," Ethan said.
"No kidding," Drew snickered. "You're gonna scare off the kids at the festival. More candy for us!"
Sofie sported a look of uncertainty, and she turned to Ben for his thoughts.
"I mean, it's definitely authentic," Ben said. "But I agree, it's a little spooky."
Jeff pulled the mask off revealing a dejected expression. "Now what am I gonna do?"
"Don't be upset, dear," Grandma told him. "It's a really good mask. You just need to… cheer it up a bit."
"Yeah," Sofie agreed. "We can totally fix it. I think if we took a Sharpie and drew a smiley face on the mouth, and maybe some eyebrows, but not angry eyebrows. Like half circles or something, that would lighten it up."
"Maybe cut the eye holes a little bigger," Drew suggested. "You look like you're about to rob Malone's Garden Center."
Sofie gave Drew the evil eye and collected the mask from Jeff. "I'll make some modifications," she said. "It won't take long."
"Thanks, Sofie," Jeff said. From the corner of his eye he caught a glimpse of his mother entering the dining room. She was carrying a pair of Andrew Jackson's in her fist and was about to deliver them to Jeff when she noticed Drew standing before her.
"Hi Drew," Sasha said. "Isn't this dad weekend?"
"No," Drew replied. "He went hiking in the mountains and hasn't been seen in weeks."
Sasha laughed at his deadpan humor. "Oh, Drew. Sometimes it's hard to tell when you're joking." She walked over to her son and handed him the cash. "This is for the apples. It should get you two medium bags."
"Or we could stop at the candy counter," Drew smirked.
Sasha turned to Drew with a raised eyebrow. "Are you going with them, Drew? I thought you said apple picking was lame."
"He says everything is lame," Sofie added. "That's okay, though. Ben is a great tree climber. He can get all the way to the top and pick the best apples. Isn't that right, Ben?"
Ben blushed and looked down at the table. "Well, the best apples are at the top, and somebody has to get them. It took a lot of practice. But I'm sure I'm not as good as Drew."
"It's not a competition," Sofie said.
"Actually," Drew interjected, "I am in a climbing mood. I think I will come."
That comment initiated one of the most uncomfortable silences in the history of uncomfortable silences, because everyone in that room, with the exception of Grandma and Sasha, knew that putting Drew and Ben together could be explosive. Ben had been invited because Drew had plans, but now that Drew was back in the fold, Jeff, Sofie, and Ethan knew they'd be walking on eggshells as they embarked on this powder keg of an excursion.
"Oh, good," Sasha said with a grin as she took a few steps toward the kitchen. "You'll have a good time." She glanced back at Jeff when she reached the threshold. "No candy, understood?"
"Don't worry, Mrs. M," Drew said. "You can trust us."
Sasha left the room without a response, and Drew turned back to his friends.
"Ready when you are."
© Copyright 2021 Mark D. Gallant. All rights reserved.