Chaos suddenly changed the view from the woman and daughter turning into anthropomorphic creatures to something that appeared very ordinary in comparison.
Zen looked at her twin. “Why’d you change views? You actually had me kind of interested in what was going to happen next with Mabel and Mildred. And it looks like you went back in time a year.”
Chaos grinned and said, “Wait for it…”
Zen sighed, as she could never understand how her chaotic brother’s mind worked.
Abigail gasped as three extremely dirty, unkempt children cautiously entered the town of Land’s End, having come out of the wooded area southwest of town. Her nephew Buford, the town deputy, in hearing the gasp looked over in the direction his aunt was looking and furrowed his brow. “What the…?”
It had been five years since Floyd’s boys had disappeared, with Wade having only been three years old at the time and Luke only five, but Mike had been older, about eight and so that was who Buford recognized, as his face hadn’t changed much. As a matter of fact, Mike didn’t appear any bigger or older than when he had disappeared, nor the other two by much. All three boys were extremely emaciated and tiny for their age, obviously due to malnourishment as opposed to actual youth, because as young as the boys appeared to be, their eyes looked like they had lived a lifetime, and Mike had a knife gripped tightly in one hand with a protective arm around the youngest, who had to be Wade. Luke was clinging to his brother’s other arm, the arm which was wielding the knife, holding on with a death grip. The youngest two looked extremely skittish and about ready to jack rabbit back into the woods at the least provocation. Though Mike looked like he might be willing and able to kill someone if they came too close or posed a danger to him or his brothers. Wherever they had been, they had been through an ordeal. That much was evident.
“Dad… I think you need to come out here.” Buford called to his father on his walky-talky.
Lance Mathers, the town sheriff, frowned at the message, as he had paperwork to file. Not that there was a lot of paperwork in the tiny town of Land’s End on a daily basis, but there were work logs and weekly reports which had to be done and turned into the County at the end of each week in order for him and his son to be paid. Still, he put the work aside and stepped outside to see what was going on.
Buford pointed to the three boys who were still moving slowly into the town when his father came up alongside him and Abigail. “Ain’t those Floyd’s kids? Mike, Luke, and Wade?”
Lance’s eyes went wide as saucers in surprise. “Sure ‘enough looks like it.” Buford glanced over at his father. “Where the hell you think they’ve been all this time?” Lance shrugged. “From the looks of them and the direction they come into town, out in the woods. I reckon they must have run away like Floyd claimed when that lady who came through town was threatening to report Floyd to social services in the City and have them taken away because of his drinking. I thought at the time he was just hiding them, but when nothing came of the threat and the kids didn’t return, I didn’t know what to think other than maybe they had run off like he said. Apparently, they didn’t go too far, but Lord knows we searched them woods good for those boys. Used dogs too.”
Buford nodded in agreement as he remembered. Everyone figured at that point the kids had taken to the highway and hitched a ride out of the State or something.
Abigail whispered. “Maybe someone ought to go tell Floyd.” Lance frowned. “No. Not yet. It’s apparent those boys have been through something. I think maybe they’re going to need a shrink, and at the very least medical attention… The last thing they need right off is Floyd knocking them around for having run off.” As the boys moved closer, Lance noticed Mike’s severe limp along with a plethora of bruises and scars on all three boys nearly naked bodies. All three of them were just wearing a pair of shorts, nothing else, and the weather was starting to get cool moving on into October. So, it was unusual, to say the least.
“Go get Doc. He and I will try to approach the boys together. Buford, you circle round in a casual sort of way in case they get scared and try to make a run for it. Everyone else, go on back inside for now, until we get the boys into custody.” Lance started to give directions as other people came out to see what was going on. “I don’t see Old Man Aberly around and his shop’s not open, which means he’s probably out hunting. Too bad. He has a way with calming people down, despite his large size.”
Lance gestured to the group who were still standing around. “Go on! You’re going to scare them even more than they already appear to be.” Abigail had already quickly moved off to get the doctor so wasn’t there when Lance told the others to go inside, which they finally did grudgingly and with grumbles, but Lance wasn’t one to mess with when he started giving orders. He was a lot like his brother, the judge. Both had commanding personalities.
Abigail scowled when she returned with the doctor and Lance told her to go back into the Town Hall as he had sent the others back inside, but even she who considered herself the Matriarch of Land’s End balked when Lance gave her a stern glance in response to her scowl.
Doc ignored the silent exchange between the sheriff and his sister-in-law, but instead focused on the three boys, moving slowly closer to them. He stopped a distance away and crouched down to make himself less intimidating, as it was apparent the boys were terrified. Doc spoke in a soft tone. “Hi, Mike. Do you remember me?” The doctor figured it best to address the oldest boy, as he’d be the one most likely to remember the town folk. “It’s me, Doc Olsen. You remember I fixed your broken arm when you fell out of that tree?” The doctor had handled quite a few other injuries inflicted by the boys’ drunken father, but he decided to avoid mentioning those incidents.
Mike stopped short on the sidewalk keeping some distance between him and the doctor, his eyes flashing toward the sheriff and then the deputy who was trying to discretely circle around and behind the boys. The doctor seeing Mike’s eyes following Buford put a hand up to stop the deputy, as it was apparent it was making Mike nervous. Buford glanced over at his father who nodded for him to do as the doctor said. So, he stopped and held his ground and waited to see if the doctor would be successful in winning over the boys. Mike pulled Wade closer now that he had stopped walking and Luke was still clinging tightly to his older brother, none of them apparently eager or willing to be separated from one another.
“No one is going to hurt you boys here. We’re just concerned. It’s been a long time since we saw you. We didn’t know what happened to you, but I’m glad to see that you’re alive and back. I’d like to take you to my office and examine you, make sure that you’re okay. If you’d let me. You look like you all have some injuries that need to be cleaned and cared for, and I bet you’re probably hungry. Are you boys hungry?”
Mike nodded, but he didn’t speak. “Are you scared?” Mike nodded again. “Do you remember me and trust me?” Mike hesitated, but finally gave a small nod. Mostly he was nodding because he did remember the doctor, but he wasn’t so sure that he trusted anyone at this point. He was thirteen years old and all sense of trust had long since been taken from him. His eyes went to the sheriff and deputy again, and the doctor was quick to respond. “You’re not in any trouble. We’re all just surprised to see you appear out of the blue, and we’re all concerned for the condition you’re in. It’s apparent that you’ve suffered some injuries and from the looks of it haven’t been eating too well either… for quite some time. We just want to be sure that you’re properly cared for. We won’t separate you. I promise. You can all stay together as I take a look at each of you. Okay? No one’s going to grab you or force you anywhere. You can follow me to my office on your own. Do you remember where my home is?”
Mike glanced over at the small in-home doctor’s office where Doc saw his patients, having set aside a portion of his own home for office visits. The doctor nodded as he followed Mike’s glance. “That’s right. Will you follow me?” Doc stood up and started walking toward his home, glancing back at Mike and the other two boys. Wade looked up at Mike without speaking and Mike gave a small nod in response to his unspoken question, and then led his brothers toward the doctor’s home, still keeping the two of them close. He also hadn’t let go of the knife he was holding, which the doctor was very aware of, as was the sheriff and deputy, but the doctor felt it best to get them indoors first before attempting to disarm the boy.
The sheriff and deputy waited until the boys got all the way inside the Doc’s home before they approached themselves, Mike having glanced back at the pair before entering. Once inside the doctor led the boys into the ‘clinic’ area of his home which was separated from the rest of the home and which would contain the boys should they need to be contained.
Of course, Mike was very aware of that, but he had weighed the risks and the needs of his little brothers against their being separated. It had taken them three days walking to get back to Land’s End and they were hungry, on top of their normal hungry. Mike’s knife had been more in the line of protection against wild animals as opposed to a hunting implement. So, Mike’s priority had been to get his brothers to a place of safety and Land’s End was the only place he could think of. Luke and Wade had been too little to have remembered much of Land’s End, let alone how to get back there, but Mike had been eight years old when they had been kidnapped, and he had remembered the route they had been taken through the woods.
Mike had tried to run away in the past with his brothers, but his Uncle Lloyd had whipped him badly for the attempt, and when he tried a second time a couple years later, Lloyd had “hobbled” him, completely shattering his ankles to where now he had a permanent limp. He had also whipped his back so severely that he now had permanent pain there as well, but it was when his uncle had threatened to kill Luke and Wade if he attempted it again that Mike had stopped trying. But their situation had become dire and Lloyd had forced Mike’s hand when it had come down to a choice of saving Luke versus killing his uncle.
Luke had a temper and he had tried to kill his uncle in his sleep one night, but unsuccessfully. In reprisal, Lloyd had strapped Luke down to a table with the intent of torturing and ultimately killing him. Mike like his brothers had been terrified of their psychotic uncle, but when he saw that Luke’s life was truly in danger he knew he had to take the risk himself. Sooner or later his uncle would end up killing them all… if not intentionally, then just from the ongoing beatings or starvation which had left all three of them stunted in growth. Though five years had passed, all of them appeared the same size they had been when they had been taken… at least in height. In weight, they actually all weighed less than they had. Their father Floyd had always been a heavy-handed drunk, even to the point of abusive with them, but at least he had fed them, short of the occasional missed meal as punishment. Floyd’s twin brother Lloyd had just been plain psychotic–a sociopath–who had been living off the land he had fed the boys with the barest of whatever scraps he had left over from his own meals when he did feed them, but often he didn’t bother giving them anything at all.
Of course, Mike was worried about him and his brothers being separated, especially if he went to jail for having killed his uncle, but right now it was important that his brothers eat something and have the doctor check them out. If they were dead, then being together wasn’t going to mean much as Mike wasn’t sure he believed in the whole afterlife and heaven thing, though he remembered his Uncle Samuel preaching about such things when he was little. It just didn’t make much sense to Mike that there would be a heaven and hell in the afterlife when the life he and his brothers were living was a hell all unto itself. Mike knew they’d likely be returned to their father and still get knocked around, and though Floyd wasn’t nearly as bad as their uncle had been even at his worse it wasn’t exactly an ideal life either. But what choice did they have? They likely would have died of starvation out in the woods all alone as their uncle hadn’t had any guns or rifles, only knives and he had used traps to catch wild animals, which is one reason food was so scarce. Though Mike doubted their uncle would have fed them much anyways.