Doc awoke the boys early when the Sheriff showed up at six in the morning, his brother heading to Floyd’s to do the same. Though it was early and Floyd was likely to have a bad hangover and temper to match, both brothers had agreed it best to speak to everyone concerned as early as possible before any authorities arrived. They would also have to appraise the entire town of the story so that everyone had the same story, but they decided their priority was to get Floyd and the boys on board first.
Jarrel waited nearby as the boys were awoken one by one, all of them wincing as the pain of their injuries and three-day journey through the woods finally began to sink in now that they were safe and their adrenaline had worn off. Luke, in particular, was in serious pain with his leg injury and a broken wrist, but none of the boys cried or made a sound to indicate the level of pain they were all in.
Jarrel smiled. “See safe and sound like I promised. I stayed awake all night and didn’t leave your sides for a moment except to use the bathroom over there, and I kept the door open so I could see and hear if anyone came in.”
Jarrel suddenly yawned, feeling exhausted. Doc put a hand on his shoulder. “Why don’t you go home and get some sleep now, Jarrel. Thank you for watching over the boys.” Jarrel yawned again and nodded. “I think I’ll do that. You boys take care. Doc’s going to take good care of you. All three boys gave small nods to Jarrel, but none spoke.
When Jarrel left, the Sheriff asked Doc. “Did you bring Jarrel up to date on what’s going on?” Doc frowned slightly though nodded, not liking the lie that was being told, but he had informed Jarrel regardless. It would be a pointless endeavor unless all of them agreed to the story and stuck to it, and in some part, it was true, at least as close to the truth as it was ever going to get.
The Sheriff wasn’t sure if Jarrel could be trusted to stick to the story, but as he was clinically insane it really didn’t matter as long as everyone else did, as they could chalk off any disparity to his insanity. So, he turned his attention to the boys instead. “Well Mr. Aberly and I tracked your path back to your uncle’s place, and he’s dead for sure. So, you don’t have anything to worry about concerning his coming after you. Now you need to listen carefully to what story we are telling in order to keep you here safe with family and not sent into foster care and separated from one another. Alright? It’s not too far from the truth, but we have to be careful because we never reported you boys having been gone missing five years ago when we couldn’t find you. We honestly thought you had run away and were in a better situation. If we had for a moment known that you were suffering, we would have made another choice. But the important thing is that you are here now and if you want to stay, we need to all have the same story. So here it is…”
The Sheriff decided not to tell the boys that he had burned Lloyd’s body and removed all evidence from the cabin and had then burnt the entire cabin down. The less they knew about those details, the less chance of them slipping and accidentally talking about it in front of someone they shouldn’t. “When that social service lady came five years ago, we convinced your father that the best thing was to simply give custody of you boys to his twin brother in order to keep you together and with kin and he’d still be able to see you. I know that’s not true, but it explains why we never reported you boys missing. Lloyd, however, took you away from Land’s End, to where, we didn’t know, but he and your father had a falling out. Which is also true, though that had actually occurred years before. Understand so far?”
All three boys nodded, though none were showing any emotion on their faces to indicate how they felt about the lie. Though Mike and Luke both felt rising anger toward their kin who never bothered to report their having gone missing. Wade just felt relief that their uncle was truly dead to where he hardly heard what else the Sheriff was saying. “From there you can tell the authorities whatever you want about what you experienced at your uncle’s hands, even that you killed him Mike… if you want to. Though you don’t have to, and personally I’d recommend not mentioning that. The knife has been wiped cleaned and returned to the cabin. So, there’s no evidence that you killed your uncle. You can just tell them that you escaped and that you found your way back here after wandering in the woods for three days, which is the truth. Just leave off anything that’s going to draw more questions. Keep your story simple. Don’t bother to give any details that aren’t specifically asked for. Most of your story will be true, except the part about the kidnapping. No one here is going to mention that you killed your uncle, Mike. As far as the authorities will be concerned we don’t have any details of what happened to you at your uncle’s hands other than observable abuse. I’m going to talk to the other members of town this morning and we’re all going to have the same story. Alright? Do you have the story straight in your heads?”
Mike nodded and spoke. “Yes, Sir.” The Sheriff nodded but insisted that Mike repeat back what he had been told, but in his own words, the Sheriff playing out as if he were being questioned by the authorities, coaching him where he needed to change his wording here or there in order to make it the most believable. “Good boys. Your great uncle Peter is talking to your father right now, making sure that he’s also on board too with the same story and then Doc is going to arrange for transportation for you boys to the City hospital. Luke’s leg is bad and he needs a specialist, plus Doc feels that you boys should be checked out by other professionals to ensure the best healing possible. It’s only temporary, however. You’ll be coming back here to live with us in Land’s End. We won’t let them separate you or put you into foster care, and as long as we stick to that story they’ll have no need to.”
Luke interjected. “What if they do take us away and separate us? Why can’t we just stay here with Doc? We’re okay. We’re doing better now that he cleaned us up and bandaged our wounds. I mean my leg hurts, but it’s better than it was…”
Doc interrupted. “Luke, there’s something you need to know. Your leg is bad. Really bad. It’s gone gangrene with infection, and though I cut the dead flesh out, cleaned the wound, and sutured it, it needs a specialist to evaluate it, otherwise, you’ll likely lose the leg.” Luke’s eyes widened. “No way! I was walking on it for three days! You’re just trying to scare me into going…” Doc shook his head. “No Luke. I wouldn’t do that. This is no joking matter. Your leg really is that bad. I’m sorry, but there’s only so much I can do here. I’m just a general practitioner and this is a small clinic. I don’t have all the equipment that a city hospital does. It’s important that you boys go and be evaluated and that you get the care you need. Understand?”
Mike looked over at Luke and spoke in an authoritative tone. “We’ll go. I don’t want Luke to lose his leg.” Doc interjected. “He still might, Mike. I can’t guarantee that he won’t, but he has a better chance in the City. I just want to make that clear. I can’t promise anything.” Mike nodded his understanding but didn’t speak.
It had been a long time since Luke had cried, but he suddenly felt the urge to do so as tears welled up into his eyes. He couldn’t lose his leg; not after everything they’ve been through and gotten to safety. It wasn’t fair…
Luke didn’t speak but the anger was clear on his face as he pushed his tears aside, even more so than the usual level of anger that he carried and displayed. Wade simply was silent, but he looked worried for his brother, for all of them… and scared.