17. Finding Family

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

They walked on for about ten minutes, the trail all but invisible under their feet. The men walked in silence, except for the one with the shovel, who was engaged in a heated conversation with the man closest to him. They kept their voices low, and when Fisher tried to close the gap between them, the man directly in front of him seemed to block his way, without it appearing too obvious. Finally he dropped back and whispered to Sandy, “I’m still not sure what they’re up to. Stay alert.”

After a few more minutes, the trees opened up to reveal an area of land which had been cultivated. Corn and potatoes were growing in haphazard rows, interspersed with an occasional tomato plant. At the far end of the field was a rough looking house, made of timber and roofed with grass. A stone chimney perched at one end, from which a wisp of smoke was rising, remnants of what Fisher and Sandy had seen earlier that morning. Two small windows faced the clearing, but rather than glass, were simply covered with cloth. Looking closely, Sandy could see that one side of the cloth had been pulled back slightly, and a pair of eyes was watching them intently. As they grew closer, the cloth fell back down, and from inside the house came the sound of shuffling feet.

The men continued on in silence, into the woods, pushing their way through more thickets. Eventually they came to another clearing, marked by more signs of cultivation, and at the far end, yet another crude cabin. It was to this one that the men turned, leading Fisher and Sandy to the front door, where they stopped. Without a word, shovel man went inside, leaving them to stand with the other men. They heard a woman’s voice, crying, they thought, then more harsh words, this time from the man. Finally, the door opened, and he beckoned the couple inside.

Stepping through the doorway, Fisher paused to allow his eyes a chance to adjust to the darkness. There was a strong scent of wood smoke, masking other, unidentifiable odors. To his left, as far back as she could move, stood a woman, clutching her hands and looking from Fisher to Sandy in rapid glances back and forth. The man spoke first. “This is Dorothy. My name is Ken.”

“Uncle Dorothy and Aunt Ken!” Sandy exclaimed. “Lisa told us about you! I’m so sorry about her parents, but I know she will be glad to see you again.”

“Brian was my brother,” said Ken. “He never had much sense.”

“Excuse me,” said Fisher. “Do you mind if we take our backpacks off? They’re pretty heavy.”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, as if neither Ken nor Dorothy knew what to say, then finally she spoke up. “Of course. You can put them over there by the wall. I’m sorry we don’t have any place to sit.”

It was true, Fisher noticed, looking around the cabin for the first time. Besides the fireplace and a few assorted cooking utensils, there was nothing else to speak of in the one room house. Some bedding was piled up in one corner, where they apparently slept, and gardening tools were stacked near the door. “Maybe we could sit outside and talk?” he suggested. Ken nodded and they all moved out the door.

Fisher found a spot of grass and he and Sandy sat facing the house. The other men had disappeared. Ken and Dorothy moved out and sat side by side on the front step, facing them. They didn’t seemed inclined to speak, so finally Fisher cleared his throat and began.

“Do … did Brian and Charlotte live nearby?” he asked.

Ken indicated with his chin in the direction beyond them and said, “Back that way. He and our dad cleared off a plot of land and worked it together. They didn’t come by here much.”

“Grandma and Grandpa,” said Sandy. “Lisa talked about them too. And about Mr. Snuffles.” Ken and Dorothy didn’t respond, so she explained, “Her cat.”

“Didn’t know she had a cat,” said Ken.

Fisher said, “Ken, do you think it would be a good idea to go and see them? We’d like to let them know that Lisa’s okay.”

“They’ve been told by now,” said Ken. “Will probably be over soon.”

Fisher was becoming frustrated with the conversation and finally said, “Ken, I’m surprised you haven’t asked us how your brother and his wife died. Don’t you want to know?”

In reply, Ken looked over at Dorothy, who buried her face in both hands. “We know.”

Dorothy lifted her face and through fresh tears said, “They just wouldn’t listen to us. We tried to make them understand, but they wouldn’t hear of it!”

“Hear of what?” asked Fisher. “What were they supposed to have misunderstood, and how do you know for sure what happened to them?”

Neither of them answered. Ken sat looking at the ground in front of his feet while Dorothy lowered her face again and sobbed. Unable to take it any longer, Sandy stood and walked over to her. Kneeling, she put a hand on Dorothy’s shoulder, making her jump in shock. She looked up and stared into Sandy’s face, then leaned forward to embrace her. The two knelt together for a long time. Finally Dorothy spoke.

“We loved Lisa, too. All of us did. It’s just that, well, there’re some things that can’t be changed. Brian and Charlotte, they wouldn’t accept it. Kept saying that when it came time, they would …”

Ken interrupted her. “Some things are better left unsaid.” He looked up and his eyes darted back and forth between Fisher and Sandy. There was an unmistakable anger there, and when he spoke, it was almost a threat. “Look, both of you: I appreciate you coming here and telling us what you did. But the way we do things around here is our business. Tonight you’ll be staying at my folks’ place, then tomorrow me and a few of the fellows will go with you back to where you came from. We’ll bring the girl back, and that’ll be the end of it.”

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