Over the River and Through the Woods
by Kenneth Burch
The call had come in late one night, from a man claiming to need help. He had called 911 screaming about his son missing, taken from his home. I was just about to finish filing my report on the traffic accident that happened earlier, and was looking forward to a home cooked meal for a change. Deana had promised me baked chicken, carrots, mashed potatoes and a little something extra that would require me to undress. I had plans alright, big plans.
I logged off the network and closed the laptop. I sat listening to the crackle of the radio when the dispatch contacted me about a missing boy. I rubbed my eyes and looked at my watch, all the while listening to the call. I knew the house, knew it well and after putting the car in drive, flashing the lights I made my way over there. Lucan is a small town in the Midwest. Most folk here stay to themselves, minding their business and leaving others alone. Normally, there is a 24 hour period before claiming a missing child. But here in Lucan, when the child in only 6, we don’t wait, we move as fast as we can.
Harry Townsen lived with his girlfriend Terry for the last 3 years. Terry was a good woman who happened along with Harry, shortly after his wife Susan died. They, like so many Lucan folks, made do with what they had. Harry had worked the mills and Terry helped out in a small store in town. The couple had adapted well to Midwest life and Terry had thought about having a child of her own with Harry. For the most part, Harry was not a Lucan, nor was Terry for that matter. To be a Lucan, you had to be born here. You had to have long standing roots that told folks around here, that this was home.
Susan had roots, long and deep ones too. I think this is the reason folks accepted her and Harry. Harry had come to Lucan about 15 years ago, here abouts. He had come waltzing through Lucan, spotted Susan and after a short courtship fell in love and married. It came as no surprise really. Why Susan would be a catch no matter where you came from. A warm smile and golden hair, a face like an angel and a voice like heaven. Hell, truth be known, I even considered asking her out a few times, and had it not been for my little Deana, I think I would.
Well, like I said, most folks kept to themselves around here, the work here is hard, but honest. There’s not much going on in the way of law breakers either. Why, I was just talking to Edward just last week about how quiet this here place is. He was still grinning at me when he replied, "Son, aren’t you ever going to learn, that’s the way we like it, all nice, all sweet and lots of meat to eat." He would crack himself up every time he said that. We all knew it was a silly saying, but Edward Pelts hadn’t done much of anything else he could call his own and I reckoned we could allow him this one.
Speaking of meat, that cattle industry that we used to be famous for had long since gone by the way side. But out here, memories die very slow, and I mean slow.
The Townsens, that would be Susan and Harry, married in the spring of ’88. I, along with Deana and most of the town’s folks, were all invited. It was a big wedding and Susan looked so fine in her gown with her hair all done up. We sat in the perfect picture day and smiled for the camera, after the vows of course. Harry looked all duded up and was just smiling and dancing with Susan like a princess in one of those fancy stories we were taught about in grade school. We all danced with the beautiful bride, and ate like pigs later. Most of the men that evening wanted to take their special lady, out to Panna’s peak. That was the place where you go to, well you know, kinda make yourself known.
That evening, the ladies of the town wanted to dance among the stars and celebrate Susan’s very special day. Everyone loved Susan. It would only take a few years before Susan would find herself in motherhood. The buzz around town was just filled with excitement. Heck, even the town’s mayor, old Anthony Grimshelf was flushed pink with excitement, once he knew. I tell you folks around here were happy. It's not hard to say why either. Susan Townsen was born Susan Tellius. She was the only daughter of Ellen and Frank Tellius. Frank had been a 6th generation Tellius and his family was well known and liked around these here parts. Ellen Tellius had married Frank shortly after her 18th birthday and the two were never apart. It's sad to think about it, because when Frank came down with cancer in the Fall of ’79 it didn’t take long for it to claim him. Poor Ellen, beside herself, followed shortly 2 years later from a stroke.
Susan had acquired the family house in the woods, along with all its duties and constant upkeep. There was a mighty fine creak that flowed in that back yard of theirs and it snaked down and into the Bastion River. There, you could catch some of the biggest and best rainbow trout. Folks round here all knew it. It was one of our best kept secrets. Well, that house would need a great deal of fixing up and that was around the time when Harry and Susan, well you know, got together. It was good for her too. Harry knew a lot about how to fix things and poor but lovely Susan had a lot of fixing needed. Before I or anyone else knew what was going on, the old house in the woods was looking better then ever. Harry had sold a few things he owned and managed to get a loan from a couple of places, and oh Lordy, was that house looking good. I tell you, it wouldn’t have surprised me if that house weren’t on the cover of one of those Woodland magazines, it really looked nice.
Yes sir, Susan and Harry were the pride of this small but lovely town, and we thought the world of them too. Life has a way of closing its doors before you're ready, and this is true even here in Lucan. All seemed to be going well for Susan and Harry. Susan had just given birth to a wonderful little boy named Anthony, named after Susan’s father’s middle name. And she was talking about giving Anthony a sister real soon. She didn’t want to wait too long, she loved family so much. She was excited about Anthony’s first few words and how much he looked liked Harry. She’d even told Emma Peek in town that she’d swear Anthony had been here before. It was an old saying that simply meant, the little boy was wise beyond his years. We all would have though so too, I mean the Tellius were good folks, kind too. God touches folk like that, he really does.
As time would show, life really does close its doors before you're ready. On May 16th, during a hot spell, the brakes on Susan’s pick-up truck gave way. The train tracks were but a few yards away. By the time Susan’s truck had stopped, it was too late. I can only tell you that our sweet and beloved Susan, didn’t suffer at all, and I’m grateful for that. Poor Harry took it harder then anyone, I’m here to tell you. He was kicking himself hard for being too busy to fix the brakes on that old truck. He’d blamed himself something awful and just cried himself silly for months. We all could feel his pain and I know it sounds a bit strange, but we all welcomed Terry into his life. Terry Glems was a quiet woman who hardly ever dated. She’d spent most of her spare time tending her grandmother Gladys who was kissing 95 years of age, when her heart decided to stop, life closing its door.
Terry would later prove to be just what Harry needed. She came into his life when he really needed someone. I know some folks talked about it a little, you know, the timing and all, but for the most part, she was good for him and he seemed to come back to life after he and Terry met. Anthony seemed to take to her a little as well. She tended to his and Harry’s needs quite well. I remember one early morning, about a year ago. I was sitting on highway 438 that runs West into Hampton when I heard the call. Little Anthony was having trouble breathing and it had thrown Terry into a panic. She had called Harry who dropped everything and raced home. Doctor William had taken a look at him, and couldn’t find a thing wrong. Terry was pacing the floor and hitting herself in the face. She was troubling all who had watched her. I looked at Harry who had arrived moments later. He wasn’t sure what to do with himself, so much of Anthony’s situation was weighing him down, I supposed. After that scare, things seem to quiet down and settle back into that which is Lucan.
As I approached the dirt road leading to Harry’s home, a deer had made its way to the car. I flashed my high beams and it turned to me semi-frozen and took off running into the woods. I pulled up into Harry’s driveway and saw he and Terry standing there. She was visibly shaken and Harry had that look of his face that seemed right off to worry me. I stepped out of the car and looked up to see them both staring at me, the red flashing of my police vehicle’s lights on their faces. Terry was first to come rushing up saying that she thought Anthony might have awakened during the night and wandered off. She seemed to be glancing around as if looking for him without moving. I couldn’t help noticing Harry, who had that beside himself look on his face, folks here call that the “Wonder” and most know, it tends to come to us later in our lives.
“Where you fixing to start looking?” Harry asked. He was a stout man, always had been, but tonight, he looked heavier, like he had packed on some extra pounds in his grief or worrying. “Not sure Harry,” I replied. “Why don’t you all, tell me what happened. I got bits of it over the radio, best to hear it from you.” Terry was wiping a tear that had slipped past her unknowingly and was still trying to catch her breath. “Well, like I said. I got up and was getting myself a drink of water. I walked past to check on Anthony and noticed he was gone. I looked everywhere in the house and after waking Harry, we headed outside here and around, looking and yelling his named, we called for him, we both did.”
Now, I want you all to understand that I am a police officer, I am a man of the law. And while this is Lucan, a rather small hick of a Midwestern town, that doesn’t stop me from being the kind of trained person who looks for things that are wrong. The same holds true for anywhere, even here in Lucan. But I tell you, I didn’t much like seeing what my trained eyes done showed me, nope, didn’t like it much at all. I just didn’t feel right about Terry or even Harry, something here was stinking, and it wasn’t deer shit on this hot summer’s night.
I listened once more to Terry’s explanation and while looking at her and Harry, I had made my decision. “I want you two to go back inside, wait there for the rest coming. I suggest that you Harry and even you Terry remain quiet. Seeing that your not under arrest and all, maybe its best that you don’t make things any harder on yourselves. I contacted dispatch and told them send out Ray, Cliff, and that new boy from back East, the young colored boy with the big teeth, Trey is his name.
It only took a few minutes before I could hear them coming. Ray was a hotshot to begin with, watching too many fancy Hollywood movies, I supposed. He loved to be in on any action happening, even if it were for a lost boy. I took out my flashlight and started looking around the back of the house, I could hear a few owls calling their mates, and the clump sounds of dear. I called out for Anthony, not sure why. Maybe in my heart, it was the right thing to do. Back about 25 yards, I could see the old tractor once owned by Frank Telluis. Man, that thing had to be about 50 years old now, I could still see Frank sitting on top of that thing, smiling away as he wiped his sweat. Plowed up a storm he did. I needed to put some space between myself and them needed to play a hunch.
There were vines now, all wrapped around it and clutching at it. Nature had claimed it now, and was having its way with it. I flashed my light towards a storage shed, not far from the tractor. I could see that one of the windows had been knocked out, and there was glass everywhere. I made my way deeper into the woods behind the house, I knew once the cavalry got here, the boys would handle up front. As for me, well like I said, I was playing my hunch. Old branches and small tree limbs broke beneath my feet. I had managed to make my way to the creek and was now following it along side the embankment and in the distance could hear my boys shouting Anthony’s name. I wondered for a moment, what Harry and Terry were thinking, I hadn’t heard either one of their voices and that too troubled me.
I could see the river up ahead and it was just making out its low thundering sound. I knew there would be a sign somewhere, had to be. I could hear him now, sure as my daddy would say, I could hear him. There are people in this world who find things that other can’t. Doesn’t mean they don’t look, just means they can’t see is all. I’m not talking about seeing in the dark, but through the heart. It’s sort of like a sense of some kind. Like when you place something in the oven, and go next door to a friend, you just know when its time to leave, you just know. Women have this sort of sense, I think too. I reckon mothers mostly, they can hear their children from far away, or they have a feeling when something is wrong with their children. I was wondering if Susan, high above in her final resting place, was feeling it too. I bet she was, bet everything I own. The river seemed to calm down now, as if it were allowing me to listen. I stopped walking and began panning my dear flashlight all around. Crazy things, shapes and all take place at night. Something moved below me and I quickly looked down, to see it was a turtle.
I could feel him now, feel him close. I shone my light across that river again, and that’s when I saw it. A figure of sorts, much like a little boy, and it quickly moved into the woods, from the river’s bank. I started to yell out, calling him by name, but something told me not to. So I quickly ran in his direction. Tree branches struck me on the face, as I tried to follow the form of a little boy. The moon light, and flashlight was all I had, that and a strange feeling deep in my soul. I had crossed over the creek and was looking at the river, strangely, it had come to a calm now, again it was if the river had almost stopped. I could just make out an image of the boy, and again, it seemed to look at me and run deeper into the woods. I glanced back over my shoulder and quickly tried to listen for the others, nothing, I heard nothing. There was silence from all over it seemed.
Walking towards the river, I felt a layer of calm come over me. I placed my foot into the river and damn if it didn’t go in. I was shocked and damn nearly dropped my flashlight. I looked down to see that the river had no only stopped, but that darn thing had turned solid, like ice. The river that had flowed for so many years had just stopped. Frozen like a sheet of ice, right smack in the middle of the summer. I placed my other foot on the now frozen river and sure as my grand daddy’s name was Jake, walked right over the river, like I was walking on glass. I tell you, it felt strange. I gave up trying to figure it out, Anthony was fixed on my mind. I listened for him again and again. There was silence, and then, a voice.
“Come,” was the word I heard, almost certain of it. I tell you I felt something run up my back spine and down the other side and I was about to piss in my pants. Being a lawman and cop, and seeing bad things sometimes still couldn’t compare to this. I mean I froze, right there in my state issued boots. The sound seemed to come from not any one place, but from all places at once. It was like in my head or something. I wanted to think about Anthony, and was half hoping it was him. I couldn’t be sure now. There was a rustling in the trees and I turned in time to see it. A form made of white gas, like steam and it looked like a little boy, like Anthony.
Back at the house, police officers searched both inside and outside the home of Harry Townsen. Ray Klemsins had already called for the dogs and things were only beginning to heat up. Terry had been given something to help her sleep, and Harry was on pins and needles, wondering just might have happened, to his only son. One simple thought, kept returning to his mind, and despite all the attention currently around him, he forced himself to push the almost certain idea, away. He loved Terry, she had been good to him in his days after Susan’s untimely death. He had dreamed of even marrying her after a few years, but what was going on here? Why was he feeling this way? Terry loved Anthony, she treated him as her own, he always believed that. But there it was again, those thoughts, those awful thoughts again.
Harry sat out front on the porch and tried to clear his head. All he could do is see Anthony in his mind. Those fat cheeks and stocky legs, just as he had been as a child. Straight beams of bright lights, criss crossed in the night woods behind him. He had been told to remain at the house. He didn’t like the feeling he got from the officers. He knew them all, he even went to school with Clifford, but that seemed too long ago now. They were men now, given the responsibility to work and produce. Tonight however was different, they were looking for his son, and they were also looking at him.
Just up ahead of me, I could make out, a clumps of trees that appeared to have fallen over. As I approached them, I saw a black hole of sorts, kinda thrown there, in the middle. There were pine cones surrounding that hole and it looked like a trail of blood. To both the left and right of that hole, sat two small crosses. They were made out of wood, and someone had tied them together with some kind of electrical wire. I stepped towards the one on the right and low and behold, there was sound again. I quickly turned around in time to hear and see the river flowing. There it was again, just flowing and sounding as strong as nature intended it to. I looked back at the hole and the crosses, and could barely make out light, there was light coming from down in the hole. I leaned over to make out where it was coming from, and felt two small hands, push me into the hole. I tried to grab onto something, but it all happened so fast. My chest hit the bottom and the air inside my lungs escaped me.
In the pitch of black, I am found. I reached up taking the small hand that reached for me. It’s cold, very cold here and my vision is blurred. I sit up and take in my surroundings, trying to figure out my location. He is here, now standing in front of me. He smiles and giggles, even touching my nose. I try to smile back, but my body aches all over. I try to speak, but find my mouth, is very dry. There is ice everywhere here, as if I have found myself in some kind of ice cave. Anthony is smiling again, but there is something wrong, he seems worried. I try to move once more and he settles his hand on me, trying his best to calm and comfort me. He such a good boy, a kind boy. I see his smile weaken now. He’s trying to talk to me. I can barely move now, everything hurts. My god, I’m freezing. I try to stand and take him. I want to get out of here and return him home. I don’t like it here, it worries and frightens me.
“Anthony, come, take my hand Anthony, I want to help you,” I say. My voice is scratchy and sore, I looked around and the freezing air is locking my eyes closed. Steam escapes my mouth, and more pain comes. I can feel my muscles being gripped by the cold, damn it, I’m freezing! The boy, oh God, Anthony, come to me, please come to me. I can help you, please come to me. Anthony, please!
He tries, he really does. I see him take a step towards me and stop. He’s starting to cry now, his face is turning red, his skin on his body is blue and he is frightened beyond his dreams. He’s done the best he could, getting me here, and I have sadly let him down. I tried little Anthony, I’m so sorry, but I swear to you, I have tried. I’m weak now, unable to do anything, except sit here, awaiting the obvious. I have no idea how I got here, or where we are, but I have found him, for what it's worth, I have found Anthony.
In my final minutes of life, I am to freeze to death, before a little boy lost. He sits next to me, rubbing my face with his fingers, his frozen hands, trying to shield me from the horrors awaiting me soon. Little Anthony, I really am sorry, please forgive me, please ask God to forgive me. I have let you down. I force the remaining part of my eyes close. I can feel death coming. Life sometimes closes its doors before your ready that much is so true. I pushed out my last breath, and can feel it freezing before me, the last sound I hear, is that of little Anthony Townsen, and he is crying.
Ray Klemsins, walks down the stairs to the Townsen’s family basement. He’s looking for some extra rope that Harry said he had. Ray figured, they might need it trying to cross that river. He could see light, sun light as a new day was approaching. Outside, he could hear the hound dogs barking and panting. He quickly looked around and even yelled out to Harry. “Harry, I don’t see no rope down here!” He looked over and hanging just to the right side of the small basement window, he spotted it. He reached over and snatched it off the wall. He turned and started to make his way, back up the steps when he saw it. He paused for a moment, and walked towards it. His heart was beating wildly now, wasn’t sure why. For some odd reason, someone or something was guiding him now. A strange force of nature had taken hold of him, pushing him in this direction. He let go of the rope he had found, and in a trance walked towards the large white freezer. He swiped along the top of it, knocking the items off and onto the concrete floor, with both hands, he lifted the handle and opened the freezer. Inside amongst the frozen meats, was the carefully wrapped body of Anthony Townsen.
Life sometimes closes its doors, before we are ready………