Scott Jennings was a likable teenager. His outgoing manner often meant some embarrassment for Sam but Scott always said things with a smile and somehow managed to get away with things that Sam could not. As they walked down the street to the small real estate business where Scott’s mother, Louise worked, Scott smiled and greeted everyone they passed by. Scott seemed to know everyone in the town whereas Sam knew most of the faces but not the names. Sam wished that he could be an extrovert like Scott but he just did not have that level of confidence. Not that he was a quiet boy. His amiable manner and polite conversation impressed all the people he met. It was just that Sam wished he could say what he thought sometimes. As they approached Becker’s Property, Scott brought up the subject of Barbara Young again.
“They say she went to the city,” said Scott.
“Who?” asked Sam.
“Barbara Young,” said Scott. “She went to the city because there are no bears in the city.”
“Do you think she’ll ever come back?” asked Sam.
“Would you? After that? No. From what I heard, she vowed never to return,” said Scott.
“I wonder if she’s happy?” mused Sam.
“Dude, that’s a real strange thing to say,” said Scott. “Why do you think about that?”
“Something as traumatic as that. If you survive it, are you ever the same again? I know my dad isn’t. He never got over it,” said Sam.
“Your dad’s a cop. Surely they send them to a shrink for that sort of shit,” said Scott.
“Well I think some guy came down to do that. Couple of days later he was gone but the old man was still the same,” said Sam.
“Maybe he just needs a while longer. It has to shock you. Even if you’re a cop,” said Scott.
“He wants to leave Atom,” said Sam. “Ever since that night, he has wanted to leave but my mother won’t budge.”
“You can’t leave. Shit! Who would I hang around with then?” asked Scott.
“The McCabe twins?” asked Sam, laughing.
“That’s not even remotely funny,” said Scott. “Those guys both look like Marilyn Manson but listen to boy bands.”
“I know, that’s definitely weird, huh?” asked Sam.
“Plus I think their dad wants to kill me,” said Scott.
“I think he wants to kill everyone,” said Sam. “Struts around like the Terminator.”
“I swear to God, I wish it had been him and not Jeff Walker,” said Scott.
Sam looked at Scott disapprovingly. Scott knew that Sam felt you should not talk about anyone that way. Not even in fun. Not even Ron McCabe.
Ron McCabe was ex army. He had never climbed the ranks, although he had seen plenty of active service. Sam did not doubt that Ron was a good soldier, he had serious misgivings about his intellect, though. McCabe married whilst he was still in the forces and his wife gave birth to twin boys. The boys were even less intelligent than their father. They dressed in black t-shirts and wore silver crosses that hung from their necks. They both had a pasty complexion and had long, straight, greasy black hair. The McCabe twins had grunted their way through school, stalking the corridors like an accident waiting to happen. The feeling of relief when they left to work with their father was shared by teachers and pupils alike. Even now, when Scott or Sam saw them and said hello, they would just grunt back.
“Do you think they’re the missing link?” asked Sam.
“Who? What?” asked a confused Scott.
“John and Joe, the McCabe brothers,” said Sam. “Scientists go on about Neanderthal man but I bet even they did more than grunt and drink beer.”
Scott and laughed and pushed his friend to one side.
“I don’t think they have anything in common with human beings,” said Scott.
Sam smiled as they came to the glass frontage of Becker’s. Scott went to go in but turned and waited when he realised his friend was adjusting his hair, using the window as a mirror.
“Sam? Why are you doing your hair?” asked Scott.
“I’m not,” said Sam.
“Dude, you most definitely are. I thought we talked about this,” said Scott.
“Hey, for the last time. I do not fancy your mother, okay?” said Sam.
Scott frowned at Sam and opened the door.
“C’mon, and try to control yourself,” said Scott.
When they walked inside, Louise Jennings rushed over to meet them. Scott’s mother had striking auburn hair that hung across her shoulders. Her blue eyes and warm smile melted all the men’s hearts in Atom. She also had the body of a Playboy model, and yet she was still single. She had dated a few men but never found anyone she felt anything for. This was a fact not lost on Sam, who surmised that the reason was that most of the men in Atom fell to pieces when they were anywhere near Louise. Sam tried to keep control but he could feel the warm flush of his cheeks, giving away his thoughts.
Louise hugged Scott and then Sam, who nearly fainted.
“So how are my boys today?” she asked.
“Very well, thank you, Mrs Jennings,” said Sam.
“Oh Sam, I swear you are the most polite boy I have ever known,” she said. “One minute, boys.”
“Very well, thank you, Mrs Jennings,” mimicked Scott, under his breath.
Louise turned around just as Vaughan Becker emerged from the back room with a bottle of champagne. Vaughan stopped when he saw the boys and gave them a slimy smile that only Vaughan could.
“You boys come to walk Louise home. You know there’s no need. I’ll drive her back in an hour or two,” said Vaughan.
“You sure that’s wise. If you’re gonna be drinking that stuff,” said Scott.
“Well it’s only a glass or two, Scott. Hell, we have something to celebrate, don’t we Louise?”
Scott turned to Sam and was about to say something smart, when he realised Sam was staring at his mother.
“Dude, close your mouth,” he whispered. “This is seriously fucked up. Just stop.”
Sam composed himself and smiled weakly at Scott.
“What are you celebrating?” asked Scott, turning away from his guilty friend.
“We have only gone and sold ‘the house on the hill’ for a shit load of money,” said Vaughan.
“No fucking way,” said Scott.
“Scott!” snapped Louise.
“Sorry mum,” said Scott.
“Yes, way,” said Vaughan. “Straight cash sale. Guy didn’t even negotiate. Just came in and said he wanted the house. Easiest sale ever.”
“Is he sane?” asked Scott.
“Do I care,” said Vaughan, filling his and Louise’s glasses with champagne.
“Does he know?” asked Scott.
“Yes. He said that he knew the house was cheap because of what happened but he just had to have it,” said Vaughan.
“So he’s not sane,” said Scott.
Vaughan laughed but Scott decided to shut up when he saw the look his mother was giving him.
“He’s actually rather nice, and polite, like Sam,” said Louise.
Sam’s mouth came open once more.
“He actually looks a little weird,” said Vaughan. “Guy has no sense of humour, either.”
“Vaughan, that’s so mean,” said Louise.
Vaughan apologised immediately and began to perform the grovelling act that sickened Scott when he saw it. It was no secret that Vaughan tried desperately every day to bed Louise. After all, most of the men in the town felt the same way. Vaughan would try to entice her out for a drink, even bringing alcohol into the office. He asked her out for dinner constantly and what was worse would find any excuse to touch her. Scott sometimes blamed his mother for being over friendly. Not in a seductive way but in an entirely innocent way.
Scott had never known his father. He disappeared when Louise announced she was pregnant. He was five years older than the seventeen year old Louise. He came from out-of-town to work on a construction job and even Gary Kent, the local builder who hired him, could not trace him once he left. Despite all this, Louise carried herself with a great degree of optimism and a an upbeat manner. Vaughan paid Louise far more than the going rate and Scott knew that this was to keep the woman of his dreams close to him, but he also knew that Louise was the reason for the success of the business. Vaughan was all kinds of creepy. He looked creepy, he acted creepy and he even sounded creepy. Vaughan could sell nothing but Louise could sell anything.
“Is he as creepy as you?” Scott asked Vaughan, smiling.
Vaughan did not take the bait. Instead he dismissed the comment. lightly.
“Creepier,” said Vaughan.
Scott was about to utter another insult, taken from the queue inside his head but decided not to when he saw Louise glaring at him. Scott changed the subject. Not to let Vaughan off but to prevent the lecture he would surely get from his mother, later.
“So who gets the money from the sale of the house?” asked Scott. “As far as I know, Jeff Walker had no family other than his daughters. Well, no one turned up at his funeral anyways.”
“You’re right, Scott,” said Vaughan. “He didn’t, but he did have a will. He left the house to a group who call themselves ‘The Children of Bogatyri’.”
“He left his house to a cult?” asked Scott.
Vaughan shook his head.
“Apparently not. These guys think of themselves as an old religious order,” said Vaughan.
Scott was intrigued by the sale of the house but was even more intrigued by the buyer of the property.
“What’s the guy called?” asked Scott.
“Felstar,” said Vaughan.
“That his first name or last name?” asked Scott.
“That’s it. Just Felstar,” said Vaughan.
Suddenly, Sam came out of his Louise induced trance and joined in the conversation.
“He can’t have just one name,” said Sam. “That’s a pseudonym.”
“Well it all checks out. Legal and above-board,” said Vaughan. “He may well have changed his name in the past but to be honest, I don’t care.”
Scott turned to Sam and glared at him.
“Welcome back to Earth, Sam,” he said.
Sam gave him a disdainful smile.
Louise grabbed her coat from the hook and gestured to the two boys.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass on that drink, Vaughan,” said Louise. “Gotta get Scott home and make sure he does his homework.”
Vaughan smiled and held up his glass of champagne to her.
“Another time,” he said.
As they walked home, Scott grilled his mother.
“Why do you work for that creep?” he asked.
“Because the pay’s good and he also bought me a car,” replied Louise.
“Yeah, but mum. He only wants…”
“One thing. Don’t even go there, Scott. I can handle, Vaughan,” said Louise.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” said Scott.
Louise gave him a playful slap across the back of the head, whilst Sam turned a bright red.
“That mouth of yours will get you into big trouble one of these days,” said Louise.
Scott smiled but did not stop questioning his mother.
“Why are we walking? Why didn’t you bring the car?” asked Scott.
“It’s a lovely summer’s day. You should enjoy days like this,” said Louise. “Who wants to sit in a stuffy car?”
“Me,” said Scott.
“Mrs Jennings?” asked Sam.
Scott looked at Sam and screwed his face up at him.
“Jesus Christ, there is life after death,” said Scott.
“Pay him no heed, Sam,” said Louise. “What is it?”
“This Felstar. What does he look like?” asked Sam.
“Well he has gorgeous, long blond hair that reaches to his waist. Dreamy blue eyes. He is so handsome and…”
“Yeah mum, we get the picture,” interrupted Scott.
“He has this sexy, European accent,” she continued. “He’s not English but…”
“Enough, already,” said Scott. “Let’s just go home and I promise not to ask any more questions. So does Sam.”
“I do?” asked Sam.
“You do,” said Scott.
As they neared Sam’s house, Scott told his mother to carry on as he veered off to see Sam home. Sam looked strangely at his friend, wondering why he felt it necessary to escort him.
“We should visit this Felstar. Check him out for ourselves,” said Scott.
“When?” asked Sam.
“I’ll find out when he’s moving in and we’ll go up there on the day,” said Scott.
“Won’t that look a little strange?” asked Sam.
“Nah. New neighbours and all that,” said Scott.
“And I thought you just wanted to see me home safely,” said Sam.
Scott smacked his friend across the back and ran off.
“Watch out for the mad bears,” he shouted.
“Very funny,” muttered Sam.
Sam opened the door to his house and entered the hallway. The familiar sounds of argument greeted his ears. Kate Newell was arguing with Brad about moving. Sam wondered how many times his father would pursue this argument before it finally sunk in that Kate was going nowhere. The two of them were so loud that they had not heard their son enter the house. Sam leant his ear to the living room door.
“Why can’t you just drop it?” stormed Kate.
“Do you see them looking at me when I walk down the street?” asked Brad. “They sneer and make jokes behind my back.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Kate. “It’s all in your mind. Everyone around here respects you.”
“Well that’s wrong for a start,” said Brad. “What about Ron McCabe?”
“Oh, like Ron McCabe counts,” said Kate.
“Well he’s a citizen of Atom,” said Brad. “He might be loud and ignorant but he’s not the only one.”
“Come on, Brad. It’s a public office. You are always going to be criticised. It won’t be any different, anywhere else.”
“You think? They gonna call me Officer Dibble everywhere else then?” asked Brad. “Jesus, even Ted has been dubbed Deputy Dawg.”
“It was one year ago,” said Kate.
She spat the words out one by one, her patience snapping because of the constant thorn in the side of their marriage.
“One major crime. That’s all, and I couldn’t solve it. Three people murdered in their own home in a small town and I found nothing. Hell, I still have nothing,” said Brad.
“This is insane. It was a bear. What are you supposed to do about it?” asked Kate. “Fit an innocent bear up? Jesus, Brad.”
“It wasn’t a fucking bear,” stormed Brad. “You didn’t see it, Kate. I’m telling you that whatever it was, it wasn’t a bear.”
“So it was a human? A human being smashed a hole in their chests with his bare hands and tried to eat them?” asked Kate, incredulously.
“I don’t know. I seriously don’t know,” said Brad, his voice lower and more thoughtful now. “I just know it wasn’t a bear.”
Kate moved towards Brad and stroked his hair.
“How are you ever going to solve this case, if you’re not here?” she asked.
“I’m never going to solve it, whether I’m here or not. I’m just gonna stay the subject of ridicule if I stay here,” said Brad. “Please, Kate. Let’s just go. I can get another job in a town miles away from here.”
“Not without my father,” said Kate. “I can’t leave him alone here.”
“George. Christ, he’ll never leave here,” said Brad. “You know what he said when I asked him to leave with us? ‘My time is not done here, Brad’. What the fuck does that mean?”
“He lives and breathes this town. You can’t expect him to leave here,” said Kate.
Brad banged the wall with his fist and screamed at Kate.
“I don’t. I expect you to though,” he said.
Brad turned away and made his way to the door.
“Where are you going?” asked Kate.
“To get steaming drunk,” stormed Brad.
“That’s right, run away, Brad. Run away from your misplaced guilt and this town. Run away from me,” cried Kate.
Brad opened the door and saw Sam standing there. Sam said nothing but the tears streaming down his cheeks told Brad that he had heard it all. He reached out and placed a hand on Sam’s head.
“I’m sorry son,” he said, and left the house.
Sam walked into the living room. Kate sat on the sofa. Her hands covered her eyes as she sobbed. Sam sat down beside his mother and hugged her.
“It’s okay, mum,” said Sam. “Don’t cry.”
Kate raised her eyes to look at Sam and kissed him gently on the forehead.
“That’s the trouble, Sam. It’s not okay,” she said.
The rest of the night passed peacefully. Kate made Sam something to eat. They sat together and watched television for a while before Sam decided to go to bed. He heard his father come back to the house in the early hours of the morning but thankfully there was no repeat of the argument. Sam guessed that they had worn each other out and that both of them were too exhausted to continue the quarrel. Brad never discussed the death of the Walkers with him and, until tonight, Sam thought that Brad believed bears were responsible. Now he knew that his father thought it was something else that attacked and killed the Walkers, but what? He peered from behind his curtains at the moon, shining brightly in the night sky.
‘Did you see it?’, he asked the moon, silently. ‘Did you see the killer?’.
He left the window and climbed back into his bed. He understood how his mother felt. He did not want to leave his grandfather behind, either. He loved George. George was a Blackfoot Indian who told him tales of mythical creatures and wonderful lands. He also would recount the history and the fate of the Indian nation in North America. His home was full of books on history and mythology.
Very often, Sam would grab one of those books and sit on the porch with his grandfather as they watched the day pass by. It was peaceful and tranquil, not at all like Sam’s home. George was a quiet, calm man but Sam could see the steel in George’s soul behind his soft, brown eyes. The only fault that Sam could find with his grandfather was his refusal to discuss the Walkers with him. Sam knew that Brad had told George not to talk about it but George laughed when Sam challenged him about this. He said that Brad did not tell him what to do and that he did not talk about it because young hearts do not need knowledge of evil. Sam laughed at the drama of his grandfather’s words and pulled the bed covers’ tight over him. He drifted towards sleep and hoped that tomorrow would be better for his family. He had left the curtains a little apart and a thin strip of light lit his bedroom wall. He considered getting out of bed to close them properly but was too tired to bother. If he had got up to close the curtains, he would have seen the man with the waist-length, blond hair, standing outside, looking up at his bedroom window.