The Village of Enchantment
Wilson sat down and reclined on the chaise on his back porch, having raised the back just enough so that he could look over the back yard. He had just mowed it all with a non-power mower, and he felt good... a little spent but uplifted in spirit. He took a sip of his own homemade lemonade, reflected on his good fortune, and let his heart fill with gratitude.
He promised himself he would not forget feeling grateful. It had been a long, often hard, road getting here. As a writer of mediocre fiction and poetry, he'd had to do unpleasant slogging to keep himself going at times... meaningless manual work, day labor, handy work; but that was all over now. One good story had pulled him out of the poor class.
And then, he had remembered a little village, Calma, Colorado, through which he had once passed. Upon revisiting, he found a little place no more than a mile outside of town, and he was quick to snatch it up. It had a cottage, its own water well, an abundance of trees, and a backyard that faded back into a couple of wooded acres, complete with a babbling brook.
East of the place, towards town, there was a small farm that purportedly was vacant; and westward, farther up the road was a quiet dairy farm. He'd met the owners there, Sam and Lara Benchley, but they were always too busy to ever want to visit for long. Both abodes were about a half-mile from his. Wilson had found his Eden; and the royalties were still coming in.
There was a guarded history about that first little farm. The owner of the general store, Woodley, had been reluctant to divulge it, but seeing that Wilson was moving in, he figured he'd be finding out sooner or later. He wiped his hands with his apron, and the two stepped outside in the morning air.
"That family was killed, all of them. Happened one night, just a few years ago. It's just one of those things... you know... nobody wants to remember, and nobody likes to talk about it. It's kind of a blemish on our little town.
"They hadn't been there long. They were from out east, someplace. Good folks... just wanting a good place to raise their kids. That poor woman... well, she was a young pretty gal... she was, well, you know...
"Our constable's a farmer, too; he didn't know where to start with it. Brought in some city fellers... you know... investigators with some book smarts. They poked around, asked a lot of questions... took pictures and samples of this and that. And then they left.
"And good riddance. What were they gonna find? It just happened... middle of the night. More'n likely, whoever done it came from the same place they did.
"The thing is... most of our streets are dirt roads. You get a lot of them city cars driving every which way around here... it just stirs up a lot of dust. You know what I mean?"
A few days after Wilson had moved in, a man from town showed up and introduced himself as Chesterton. He was interested in doing a little maintenance work, and Wilson acknowledged that some work was needed around the place and hired him as a part-time handyman.
It was Chesterton who had found the old mower somewhere, cleaned it up and greased it, sharpened the blades really well, and sold it to Wilson. He had sanded the wooden handles and varnished them, but one could faintly make out the initials DB, crudely notched into the wood, like Old Norse runes. "I might be finding more stuff like this if you're interested... you know... useful stuff," he'd said.
Wilson smiled and nodded. The old guy was just trying to make a buck. "Well, if I can use it, we'll see."
The village was quaint enough, probably, to hold any number of antique, rustic treasures, but it was too small and out of the way to support an antique shop. And the truth was that many of those old manual implements were still in use by the locals. That was part of the charm of this place.
Wilson laid his head back and took in a long slow breath. It was so quiet out here, he thought he could hear the brook, which was well over a hundred yards away. And then, he realized he was hearing something, and he raised his head and saw two little children, a boy and a girl, emerging out of the woods. 'Well', he thought, 'isn't this a pleasant surprise.' He watched them approach and felt a touch of welcomeness in their murmurings.
Then, the little girl noticed him sitting there and she stopped. The little boy noticed him next, and he took her hand; and they both stood there and looked back at him. Then, a dog came bounding out of the woods, ran over by them, barked at him once, and sat beside them.
Wilson could tell the dog was harmless. It was wagging its tail happily and had smiles written all over its face. He sort of wished he had a camera, seeing them there, both barefoot and waif-like, with their collie-looking canine. They were about 30 yards away now.
He sat up slowly, sensing that he might scare them away if he moved too boldly. He smiled at them as friendly as he could and motioned them over. "Hello," he called out, "who are you?"
They sauntered over slowly, apprehensively, still holding hands. The little girl couldn't have been but 5 or 6, with blondish, wind blown hair, and she tried to hide behind the boy, who wasn't much older. It was he who did the talking.
"Hello, sir. Didn't mean to bother you." His hair was a little darker, cropped short; and he seemed to show a few freckles.
"Not at all. My name is Wilson. And you?"
"I'm Jeremy Becker. This is my sister, Jill."
"Well, I'm very pleased to meet you. And this... ?"
"Oh, this is our dog, Shepherd. We just call him Shep." Shep looked at the boy and at Wilson, as if he knew he was being talked about.
"Do you live around here, Jeremy?"
"You can call me Jerry, sir; everybody does. We live next door; we're your neighbors."
Wilson weighed that for a moment. The one farm was vacant. And the neighbors from the dairy farm, on the other side, he remembered as the Benchleys. And he thought they had a couple of older boys. But maybe he'd misunderstood something. He decided not to press it; he'd figure it out later.
"Can I offer you some lemonade?"
Jill's eyes seemed to light up a bit, but Jerry responded, "No thank you, sir. I hope you don't mind if we go over by the creek sometimes; there's lots of little animals we like to look at." Jill nodded and smiled, and her eyes were wide and friendlier now.
"Really? I hadn't noticed. What kind of animals?"
Jill spoke up, quietly and shyly, "Dragonflies."
"Yeah, she likes the dragonflies," said Jerry. "But there's a family of rabbits that comes out to drink. And a couple of chipmunks that chase each other around. They're really funny." They both giggled.
Wilson was enchanted with them. 'What have I been missing?,' he thought. "I don't mind at all. You're very welcome to play over there, and I hope you'll visit me often. In fact, I'd like to join you over there sometime, so you can show me these little animals."
"Thank you, sir. We should be going now." And with that, Jerry spun around and ran towards the creek, and Jill followed after, and then Shep. They both shouted "goodbye" without looking back, and Shep gave a couple of friendly barks.
Wilson watched them disappear into the woods, and he thought he saw them angling towards the vacant farm. He stood there puzzling, with feelings of joy and melancholy swirling inside him. The children had brought a quiet bliss into his day, and he was almost sad to see them go; but mostly, he was puzzled.
On the following day, Chesterton showed up about midmorning, took out a ladder from the tool shed, and leaned it against the house, intending to do some work on the roof. There were a few shingles to replace, and the eaves needed a little shoring up in places. When he noticed Wilson out in the yard, he took a jar-like contraption out of his truck and brought it over to show it to him.
"G'morning, sir. This here's an old-fashioned butter churn. You living next to a dairy, I figured you could be making your own fresh butter. It's real easy with this thing."
Wilson looked up from a bush he was trimming. "Hi, Mr. Chesterton." He eyed the churn. The business of writing had no schedule for him, except that he liked to do it at night; and he was finding out that the days in the country were filled with things to do. Making butter sounded worthwhile. But the mention of the dairy brought something else to mind.
"Say, you know the Benchleys, right? They have two teenage boys?"
"Yes, sir. Peter and... Jimmy... they're pretty good kids. Why do you ask?"
"Well... is that all the children they have? Are there any younger ones?"
"No. Just the two... as far as I know." He chuckled. And then, he noticed Wilson had a puzzled look on his face. "Something not right, sir?"
"Well, I met a couple of little kids yesterday. Jeremy and Jill... ... " He was trying to remember the last name.
"You funnin' me, sir? Ain't no little kids around here." Chesterton got a very strange and serious look on his face then. "Look, I better get on that roof. You interested in this butter churn or not?"
"They had a dog... looked kinda like a collie, except it was black and white."
Chesterton was looking irritated now. "That's impossible. There weren't no dog."
"What do you mean?"
"I... I mean there ain't no kids like that and there ain't no dog. That's all." And with that, Chesterton spun around, walked off abruptly, got in his truck, and drove off, leaving the work undone. And once again, Wilson was left in a quandary.
He put the ladder away, and he decided to walk over to the dairy. He knew they would be busy, but maybe one of them could talk to him while they worked.
Upon approaching the yard, he saw Sam coming out of the house and heading over to the barn. Sam noticed him and stopped and waited.
"Good day, sir. It's Mr. Wilson, ain't it?" Sam had a weathered but friendly face.
"Hi, Mr. Benchley. Just Wilson is fine. I know you're a busy man, but I have some questions I'd really like to ask. Can you talk a moment, or can we talk while you work?"
Benchley chuckled. "Well, Sam will do for me. And busy is right. Seems like shoveling manure is ninety percent of the work on a place like this. And I crank up the music in there; it helps me work without, well you know, thinking about it.
"Tell you what, though. I just had brunch, and Lara's cleaning up in the kitchen. She loves to gab while she works. You go on in... she'll probably feed yuh, too. Will that work for yuh?"
Lara was standing on the porch, with a dishtowel in her hands, watching the two of them. She flashed a sunny smile and waved Wilson over, "Hi there. You come on in and let that old workhorse go." Wilson and Sam nodded to each other, and they went their separate ways.
Lara was everything of a warm hostess. She had him sit at the kitchen table, poured him a cup of coffee, and put a plate of potatoes and scrambled eggs in front of him. "What's on your mind, Mr. Wilson?"
Wilson realized he was going to have trouble talking; he was suddenly very hungry. "Uh, just Wilson's fine... or Jay." He chewed and swallowed.
"I wonder... do you know of a couple of little kids... Jeremy and Jill... ?"
She turned suddenly from the sink and almost dropped a plate; she looked a little ashen. "Oh, dear! Do you mean the Becker children?" Wilson was chewing; he nodded.
"Oh, dear. Well, they were the children from the family next door to you... on the other side. You heard about that, didn't you? Oh, that was such a horrible tragedy. Why on earth are you asking about them?"
Wilson had stopped chewing. He was staring at the steam rising from the coffee in front of him. "They... came... to visit me... yesterday."
The farmer/constable was an aged man named Tate Bryan. Wilson had decided to go see him right after his conversation with Lara. Bryan was fortunate enough to have a couple of sons who took care of the farming for him, while he spent the better part of his days helping people settle their domestic disputes, dragging in troublesome drunks, and looking for strays of every kind. He was glad to have a casual, friendly chat with someone for a change.
"Wilson, is it? I been meaning to come see yuh... just to meet'cha, you know. So, how yuh liking Calma, our quiet little oasis?"
"I like it a lot. I heard about the Becker tragedy, and I thought maybe you could fill in some details."
Bryan tilted his head so he could look at Wilson over his glasses. "Now, why would you be wanting to know anything about that? Oh, yeah... you're a writer, aren't you? I gotta tell you, mister, folks around here wouldn't like somebody putting that out there for the whole world to know."
"No, no. I don't do that kind of writing. It's just that, well, I had some visitors, and it's raised some questions. As I understand it, the case was never solved."
Bryan nodded sadly. "Yeah, had some boys out here from Boulder... professional inspectors, you know. But there just wasn't anything to follow. Best we could tell, everybody was shot at close range... with a shotgun. Poor Sandra was spared just so the monster could rape her; then he shot her too and cleaned her up... so there wasn't any of that DNA stuff.
"The place was ransacked, but they couldn't have had much of anything. Dan was a hard worker, but, you know, they hadn't been there all that long... it takes a while to get a farm going. Whatever money they might have had would've been in the bank.
"Now, it's all tangled up... you know, the bank, the insurance company, lawyers... trying to figure out who gets what... still trying to find any kin... heck, they were from out in Virginia someplace.
"And there's been some break-ins over there, looters going in there and taking stuff." Bryan seemed to drift off in thought, and then, he looked at Wilson with a serious frown. "Wait a minute, wait a minute... what do you mean you've had some visitors? Who come to visit you?"
"The children. Jeremy and Jill."
Bryan sat back with a scowl on his face. "What kind of sick joke... Mister, I don't take kindly to this sort of... "
"They had a dog... Shepherd... Shep."
"A dog?" Bryan stood up stiffly and walked over to a window; he gazed outside for a long, thoughtful moment. Then, he looked back at Wilson. "They had a puppy. They'd just gotten that pup, a Border collie mix. I remember the litter that puppy came from. We never knew what happened to it. When we didn't find it in the house or on the property, well, I always feared the worst for it.
"But those children, sir, those children were slaughtered... their faces were shot right off."
Wilson lowered his head. He couldn't remember ever feeling so sad. They both sat in silence for a long moment.
Finally, Bryan managed to speak. "You're not joking, are yuh? You really saw them?"
And Wilson described every detail about them he could remember. The old man kept nodding. "They were very polite," Wilson finished. "They must have been the best of children."
Bryan was all teared up. "Yes, sir. They were just babies... used to see'em in town all the time. In all my years, I'll never understand what kind of monster could have... "
"Would you come with me over to my place, constable? I'd like to show you something."
It was late afternoon with plenty of daylight left, when they arrived at Wilson's place. Wilson showed Constable Bryan the lawn mower and pointed out the initials on the handle that Chesterton had tried to sand out. They looked over the aluminum ladder, which Wilson had also gotten from Chesterton, and sure enough, they found the same initials scratched into one of the legs.
Before darkness had fully settled in, Constable Bryan found Chesterton at his house in town and made the arrest that was to highlight his career. Bryan had to exercise the utmost discipline to keep from shooting the other on the spot.
"How long have I known you?" Bryan said. "You've lived here for decades, and nobody knows you. There's just no comprehension for any of this, no understanding of you, no words for what I'm feeling right now."
The following morning, Wilson was up early. After he'd had some coffee, he stepped outside and walked towards the woods... and made his way to the brook. He heard the cheerful babble as he got closer. And, as he stepped unto the bank, he looked east; and there was Shepherd, sitting and watching, as if he'd been waiting for Wilson to arrive.
They approached each other... Shep whined a little greeting and held out his paw, and Wilson took it with both of his hands; but then, he gave Shep a couple of good slaps on his rib cage.
They sat on the bank and listened to the brook and soaked in the sunshine. Eventually, Shep lied down. And then, his ears perked up. Straight across the brook, not more than ten feet away, a cottontail appeared, and then, her litter started showing up, one by one; there were eight altogether. The kits were old enough to nibble on the dewy grass that was growing there.
There was an oak tree about 6 or 7 feet to the right of this, with gnarly roots that rose above the ground. And there, Wilson spotted the two chipmunks, peeking at him from behind one of the roots. Suddenly, they dipped down, and then the chase was on. As melancholy as Wilson was feeling, he soon broke out in laughter, and Shep barked at them a couple of times, almost if to cheer them on.
Time stood still; the morning was gone before Wilson realized how long he'd been out here. As he looked up at the noon sun, he felt a gust of wind come up that seemed to swirl around them, and it swept through the branches of the trees, moving them quite forcefully but in a quiet, gentle way. The little animals all stood still, and Shep looked up and whined.
"Yeah, Shep," he whispered, "that's not an ordinary breeze." He kept watching the branches; the movement had started in a contained circle, and it was spreading wider and wider, and then, he sensed it rising and dissipating.
"Goodbye, children. You two rest in peace now. And thank you for all you've given me." As he rose to leave, he noticed a reed sticking up out of the water just a few feet away from where he'd been sitting. And, before he looked away, a red dragonfly lighted on it and made a sort of clownish gesture. Wilson smiled and nodded at it.
"Well, Shep, old man, it's you and me now. And there is one mystery that I guess will never be solved. How did you survive? It's been over four years now. What kept you alive?"
He looked down at Shep, and Shep looked up at him and barked. And Wilson remembered... to never forget feeling grateful.
r. nuñez, 7/2014