Leaving Charlotte standing at the bottom of the stairs, looking rather bemused and I would say just a little concerned, I stepped outside onto the porch, into a morning full of hope and promise and glorious sunshine, promising myself that I would be leaving the old cynical me behind.
Heading outside into the great outdoors at this ungodly hour on any other day would normally have seen me throw my arms over my head as I curled up into a ball, cringing in fear while waiting for the hit of the direct sunlight that would inevitably turn me to dust. Not today though. Today, with a head buzzing with new ideas and lists of things that I needed to do, was the start of something new and there was nothing in the whole, wide world that was going to stop me from achieving what I was about to set out to do... unless of course I managed to get hit by a bus, or a dump truck... and so far there were none of those in sight.
Jon and Charlottes house was located a few miles south of Salem. To get there you travelled along South Main Street then turned off onto Rexleigh Road and followed that until just after you crossed the Rexleigh Bridge on the Battenkill River. I knew all of these names and details not because I had already been here several times before, but because they were all right there on a map, on the tri-fold tourist brochure I had picked up the previous afternoon from the little mom and pop gas station and feed supply store at the crossroads, right alongside photo's of the bridges of Washington County and all in glorious technicolour.
The house itself sat facing east, atop a ridge that ran north south, inviting the new dawn of each day into it's many French windows, partly surrounded and protected by leafy trees adorned with shades of gold and amber, and with similar old world homes on both sides, yet still offering commanding views of all the surrounding countryside.
It was real picture postcard stuff. To the east you looked down over fertile flats nestled along the meandering banks of the Battenkill, where black Angus cows grazed or acres of corn grew tall, while off in the distance the rolling green hills of western Vermont could be seen. To the west you could make out the well manicured Flax Mill Links - little doubt one of the main reasons why Jonathon had been attracted to the place to begin with - behind which could be seen Scotch Hill and then beyond that the densely covered Redstone Ridge.
It was beautiful country, all of it, even if I was a little slow at first to actually recognise that, and it was made even more beautiful this morning by the golden shades of fall and soft shades of early morning light. But today, with a renewed spring in my step and a mind that was bubbling over with fresh ideas, there were so many things I was now seeing with a clarity that seemed, for months now, to have been missing from my thoughts.
For a moment I thought about taking the car and driving into town, but then decided against it, thinking instead that an early morning walk would do me the world of good, not to mention give me some extra time to think through some of the ideas that had recently germinated. There was also the possibility that Paul might want to go on one of his infamous shopping expeditions, and if he didn't have any wheels he would likely bitch and moan for weeks, so that was another reason for me to leave the car behind today.
Stepping down off the porch I set off down the long driveway toward the main road, thinking for a moment about sticking my earphones in and pressing 'play' on my trusty little MP3 player, but then deciding against it. Elton John and friends could all wait until a little later, for the time being I decided that I would simply enjoy the fresh air and sounds of a country morning, which were something I hadn't really experienced properly in years, probably not since I was a kid in fact.
Wow, now that I thought about it, did that bring back some memories, or what?
The morning was still and clear, though a few wisps of misty fog still hung in places along the river, and when I reached the road I turned left, heading north toward town, and started down the hill for the river and the Rexleigh Covered Bridge, one of the local tourist attractions that was highlighted on the brochure that was now nestled safely in my hip pocket.
I had driven over and through this bridge a number of times before already and for the most part hadn't given it a second thought, but today, approaching it on foot and having now read just a little about it's past, I was looking at it in an entirely different light. With its white-washed walls and clap-board sides there was a certain sense of timelessness about it that I have to admit fascinated me just a little. Maybe it had something to do with those old childhood stories and Disney movies about headless-horsemen and Sleepy Hollow, I don't know, but there was just something about the history of these bridges and these old towns that piqued a curiosity somewhere in the depths of my mind. I could also feel that at the same time, in those very same depths of my mind, the embers of what were new ideas were slowly being fanned and would very soon, I hoped, blaze to life and burn of their own accord.
As I approached the bridge, walking up the gently sloping roadway with guard rails on either side, I looked up and read the signs that were painted over the opening, giving the bridges name, it's year of construction - which was 1874 - and the names of it's builders - Reuben Comins and George Wadsworth - and that it was one hundred and seven feet long. I couldn't help but wonder what it would have been like living and working back then and actually building something like this structure by hand, especially without the aid of the tools and technology that we have today. As the old saying goes though, where there's a will there's a way.
There were also other signs at the side of the entrance, telling us that the speed limit was twelve miles per hour and the weight limit was three tons. I guess if you were heavier than that then you would have to take the long way into town.
When I stepped from the asphalt onto the wooden planks of the bridge I felt and heard them rattle slightly beneath my feet, the sound echoing within the enclosed structure and growing louder the further along I went. High along the top of both walls there were narrow gaps running the full length of the bridge, and through the gap along the eastern wall sunlight streamed, splashing against the opposite wall and lighting the entire interior.
Looking up I could see the network of intricately crafted exposed timber beams, splattered with one hundred and thirty-something years worth of bird droppings and with the occasional nest built in protected places, all of which were covered with a shingle roof. I also half expected to see some graffiti painted on the walls, but then I remembered I wasn't in downtown New York any more.
Leaving the bridge behind I started up the next hill, intent on walking into Salem and spending the day on the list of chores that was now circulating around in my mind. That old house from yesterday had inspired a number of ideas, not the least of which was a new story.
First though, there was research I needed to do, there were people I needed to find and talk to, and there were wheels that needed to be greased.
The writer within me was back. And I have to tell you... it felt great.
* * * * *
Finally, I decided, it was time for some tunes, so reaching into my pocket I pulled out my MP3 player and earphones, pressed the small cones into my ears and hit the 'start' button.
With the little gadget set to 'random' the sounds started immediately, quickly bringing a smile to my face as I recognised the introduction to 'Someone saved my life tonight'. In an instant I also remembered which album it came from and somehow it seemed appropriate, so pretty soon I found myself humming along to the tune, as I almost always seemed to do, much to Paul's disgust.
When I think of those East End lights, muggy nights ... And it's one more beer and I don't hear you anymore ... Sweet freedom whispered in my ear ... And butterflies are free to fly ... Someone saved my life tonight ... So save your strength and run the field you play alone...
Before the next song could start however my reverie was shattered, amidst a squeal of tires and swirl of dust as an ancient red Ford pick-up came to a halt beside me, its wheels ending up on the gravel shoulders and causing me to jump sideways. It wouldn't have hit me, as I was far enough off the edge of the road anyhow, but it still managed to scare the bejesus out of me all the same.
"Hi there," the driver said to me through the open passenger side window. "Hope I didn't startle you. You need a lift someplace?"
At a guess he would have been in his fifties. A solid country type of guy with a genuine and friendly kind of face. Not like the cowboys you would find in the west though. This was upstate New York after all.
"To be honest, you scared the crap out of me," I replied, as I yanked the earphones from my ears.
"Sorry 'bout that. You heading into Salem? Can I offer you a lift?"
Ordinarily my immediate reaction would be to say no, not wanting to wind up the victim of some crazed axe murderer after all, but after noticing there was no gun rack in his rear window or dead animals or blood stains in the back of the truck I figured I would be safe enough with this guy, so I relented and said, "Yeah, that would be great thanks".
He reached over and opened the door, I got in and closed it, then he let out the clutch and we went on our way.
"Nice day for it," he said as we chugged up the hill heading away from the river.
"Yeah, it's a beautiful morning," I agreed.
"You from around here? You kind of look familiar."
"No, I'm just visiting from New York," I replied, whilst stifling a grin. "I'm staying with some friends for a little while who live just back up the road."
"Well, it's a nice part of the world to visit. I'm sure you'll enjoy your stay here."
"I'm sure I will," I agreed.
When we topped the rise at the end of Rexleigh Road and turned back onto South Main Street, in the direction of the town, I found myself looking down into an exceptionally pretty valley, with the small township cradled in its floor. There were red rooves and grey rooves and green rooves, church spires, power poles and tree tops all sticking out through a thin veil of fog that had settled in the valley, but was already starting to clear, revealing the splendid colours of fall in all their glory.
"Any place special where I can drop you?" my driver asked as we started down the hill toward town.
"No, just somewhere near the middle of town would be good, if that's alright thanks," I replied, figuring that in a small place like this it should be easy enough to find the places that I was specifically looking for, then adding, "I just want to have a bit of a look around, check out a few shops and take in a bit of the old world charm."
"Playing the tourist then, eh?"
"Yeah, something like that."
"Well, you'll find that it's a funny little place. To most people it's just a little backwater, and with times being tough all over the paint might be peeling here and there, but the place still has its charm."
"I don't doubt that," I replied.
"One thing's for sure. There's still plenty to see and do. We get lots of folks like you coming for a look around. Some of 'em even end up staying for good."
"Is that so?" I remarked, receiving a succinct nod in return.
As we approached the edge of town I was able to take a look at the many farm houses along the road, some old, some new, which I hadn't ever taken that much notice of before on the trips I had already made here. Behind all of the houses and farm buildings I could see there were acres of land with crops and livestock and I began to get more of a feel for the place as being a real rural community. For some reason, which I suspect was most likely due to the fact we were still in New York and I was still in a New York state of mind, I had always pictured Salem as being just another town, without any real perception of its size or what it had to offer, but now I was seeing it in a different light altogether and it was starting to grow on me. I guessed that my own farm experiences as a kid were also kindling this newfound attitude.
Suddenly there were new thoughts running through my mind and I found myself adding to the list of chores I had made for myself for today. I also soon found myself wondering what Paul and Jon and Charlotte might have to say when I sprang all of these new ideas on them in the next few days.
Finally we passed the sign on the outskirts of town that marked the town boundary and my driver slowed accordingly, then shortly afterwards pulled over to the curb.
"From here," he said, "it's little more than a few blocks to the centre of town, but this is where I turn off and head back out of town in another direction, so I'm afraid you'll be on your own for the last few blocks."
"That's okay," I replied, offering him my hand, which he shook. "Thanks very much. You've saved me a pretty fair hike as it was."
I opened the door and stepped out, then closed it again.
"I hope you enjoy your stay then," he said, giving me a wave as he pulled out from the curb, leaving me standing there in a street lined with amber coloured maples, while waving back. I watched him as he disappeared down a road that turned off to the right, then started looking around me at the trees and houses and what appeared to be a small car park on the opposite corner with a few shops around it.
As it was still quite early in the morning and the town was really only just starting to come to life it didn't appear as if any of these shops had opened as yet, but I figured I would be able to find a diner or some place in town where I could get some coffee and something to eat, so I set off toward where I figured the shops would be.
After going only about half a block I noticed a boy of about twelve on a bicycle come out of a driveway not far ahead me and come my way, riding along the footpath. I smiled to myself as I noticed he was wearing a New York Mets t-shirt and a cap that was sitting skewed sideways on his head, from underneath which there was dirty blonde hair sticking out every which way.
The cap and shirt offered me a gentle reminder that this was still New York. Sadly though, it also offered me a reminder that I didn't see too many kids living such a carefree life as this in my own neighbourhood any more, giving me yet another sudden twinge of nostalgia for the childhood I had long ago left behind.
As he passed me, sending up a small swirl of coloured leaves in the process, he gave me a nod and a 'Hello' before speeding away, jumping off the curb with a theatrical flourish and crossing the road at full speed. For a moment he glanced back at me, as if he was checking to see that I had been watching, then raced off down the street as fast as his legs and bike would carry him.
As I turned my attention back toward my walk into town it was only then that I realised just how lucky any children that Jonathon and Charlotte may have would be by being able to grow up in a town such as this, living a relatively normal life without the worries and troubles that would be associated with growing up in the Big Apple. I wondered if maybe that was one of the things that had attracted them to the place to begin with, so I made a mental note to ask them later.
Continuing on my merry way I passed more houses and businesses, a mechanic who was just opening up his workshop and a veterinarian, before then rounding a bend in the road, crossing a bridge over a small creek and seeing what was the centre of town, not more than a block away in front of me.
By now I could see the town starting to come alive, with a few cars starting to pass me on the street, and a few more driving through the middle of town up ahead of me, crossing through intersections or pulling into the kerb. Even from this distance I could also see people starting to open their businesses, putting their signs out on the sidewalk, or hanging signs from the front of their shops, and I soon found myself trying to imagine what exactly the town would be like, what kind of 'feel' it would have? Would it be like a small village, or perhaps an old world kind of place that was still stuck somewhere in the nineteen-fifties? It was going to be interesting to find all of that out, I thought.
Passing a large park, which was on the opposite side of the road, I noticed some activity in the early morning sunlight with a small group of what looked to be mainly elderly people going through the motions of pilates, while on the far side of the park two guys were jogging steadily around the perimeter. The further I walked it seemed, the more alive the town was becoming.
A short time later I reached the main intersection in the centre of town where I stopped and took a long look up and down Main Street, as well as along East and West Broadway, otherwise known as Route 153 and Route 30. On one corner there was a signpost, heavily laden with pointy fingers giving the names and direction of all the places around the town that any prospective tourist, such as myself, would want to know the location of.
From here I would first of all be able to easily find the shopping centre, the schools, the churches, the courthouse, the Evergreen Cemetery and the Salem Hospital, which I figured were amongst the more vital services that most people would need to know the location of. Then of course there were the signs pointing toward those places that we tourists who have been attracted to the area would want to visit, like the museums, the covered bridges (one of which actually was a museum), the theatres and the various historic sites linking the town back to the Civil War.
The was no doubting that there were a lot of things for me to do and places to visit around here, but there was also no doubt that it would take me more than just today to get around them all. Research took time, and while it was true that I was keen to start to do some digging into this towns past, most of that would have to wait for another day. Right now I needed coffee, for starters, then there were a few specific places I needed to find and specific things I needed to do.
Crossing the street I headed toward the shops which I could see stretched out along the block ahead of me, and soon found a small diner that was open, with the smell of frying bacon hanging in the air and a sign out front saying that they served an all day breakfast.
"Bingo," I said to myself as I pulled the door open and the little bell attached to it merrily announced my arrival with a jingle.
As I walked into the diner all heads turned my way, all four of them, before soon turning away again. Apparently I didn't look interesting enough for them, which suited me just fine.
Just then a waitress emerged from the kitchen, complete with her checkered apron and a pencil stuck behind one ear asking, "Hi honey, what can I get you?"
The whole scene was about as clichéd as you could get, yet somehow I couldn't have imagined it any different. I know that I certainly wouldn't have been able to write it any differently if I had been incorporating this scene into a story.
After glancing briefly at the blackboard on the wall behind her I said, "Just an all-day breakfast special thanks," which she scribbled onto her notepad before tearing the sheet of paper off and passing it through the window to the kitchen and tapping the bell that was sitting there on the window counter.
I settled in to one of the booths to await my breakfast and started to pass the time by looking out onto the street, where there still wasn't a lot happening, but at least it gave me the opportunity to take note of what businesses there were in the area. There were a few places that I specifically needed to find while I was in town this morning and from where I sat I soon spotted at least some of them, namely a newsstand, a bank, and a realtor.
Another place of interest that I also spotted was a traditional, old-fashioned men's barber, complete with one of those red and white striped poles out the front, and enough tourist shops to put 5th Avenue to shame, selling everything from locally produced Maple Syrup - which was apparently one of the main things the area was known for - to hand crafted odds and ends and all kinds of artworks. I figured that the barber would be a great place to start if I was looking for all the gossip from around the town and made a note to pay him a visit sometime between now and the wedding, which, let's face it, was the real reason I was here in the first place.
From the kitchen I could hear the sound of food sizzling on the grill, which was also accompanied by the distinctive clink of plates and cutlery being moved or used. Presently my waitress emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray and my breakfast, which she sat on the table in front of me with a pleasant, "There you go hun."
"Thank you," I replied.
As she headed back into the kitchen I glanced that way and saw the head of a young guy with a pimply face and short brown hair and wearing a white t-shirt, who I guessed would have only been in his late teens, staring back at me from the window between the counter and the kitchen. The expression on his face was one that I had seen a million times before over the past few years. It was the old, "I bet that's that writer guy who wrote THAT book, I'm sure of it" look.
I gave him a wink, to which he hurriedly turned away, then turned my attention back to my breakfast, first downing the orange juice then tucking into the bacon and eggs and fried tomatoes, before finally washing it all down with strong black coffee.
When I was finished I stood up and pulled some cash from my wallet, then placed it on the table. Then, feeling a little mischievous and thinking that I would leave them a little more than just a tip, I selected a clean napkin from the stand, pulled a pen from my pocket and signed my name on it. It was a habit I had gotten into quite a while ago, though only when I knew that I had been recognised, and it always gave me a bit of a buzz to see their reaction when I did that and see a waitress or waiter pick it up and recognise my scrawl. Of course, sometimes the napkin would just get picked up and bundled up with the dirty dishes without them even taking a look at it and seeing that there was something on it, but for the most part it became a pleasant surprise for them, and occasionally someone would even get quite excited over their find.
On my way out I passed the waitress, who at the time was busy behind the counter wrapping up cutlery in napkins, and said thank you to her.
"You're welcome," she replied, while placing the last of her wrapped cutlery in a small wicker basket. As I headed out the door I glanced back and saw her starting over toward my table to clear the dishes, then as I walked by the window I noticed her stop and stare at the napkin, before then picking it up.
She looked up at me as I passed by the window and as I gave her a little wave I quite literally saw her jaw drop.
"Hey, Tommy, you were right!" I heard her excitedly say, holding up the napkin and showing it to the young cook, who I noticed then came out of the kitchen and joined her, almost snatching the napkin from her hand.
"See, now what'd I tell ya?" I heard him say.
Leaving them squabbling over the napkin I headed straight across the road in the direction of the newsstand which I had spotted earlier, with the intention of buying a notebook that would slip neatly into my hip pocket so I wouldn't have to be carrying it around all day, along with a couple of spare pens.
After browsing through the store and finding what it was I was after, which turned out to be a small spiral bound thing with a sturdy bright purple plastic cover, I headed for the counter where I found myself confronted with a stand of newly released paperback books with an all too familiar cover. Idly I picked one up and turned it over to discover my own smiling face looking back at me, and thinking that it was quite amazing what they could do with photo's these days. I don't know why but no matter how many times I saw this book in a store and picked it up, it always gave me a bit of a thrill to see my name in print and to feel the weight of the book in my hand. To think that this was something that I had created, that I had laboured over until the early hours of many mornings, and that it achieved the success that it has for me, was something that constantly amazed me.
I had often heard that when some well known authors find their books in a store they would sometimes pull out a pen and sign the front pages, then put the book back on the shelf leaving a pleasant surprise for the lucky soul who happened to purchase that copy. I know that Stephen King was a terror for it. In fact I had read that when visiting Australia once, and not all that long ago, he had almost been arrested for criminal damage for defacing a number of his own books in a store, before finally managing to convince the staff of his true identity. I was half tempted to leave my mark on a copy but eventually decided against it and placed the book back on its stand, all without being recognised this time. I paid for my couple of purchases and headed back out onto the street.
My next stop was the realtor that I had spotted just along the road a bit, who I found busying herself putting up new photographs of property's in her front window.
"Hi there," she said to me as I entered the office, her smile as bright as the day outside and framed by a head of permed blonde hair. "Can I help you at all?"
"As a matter of fact, I think you can," I replied. "I spotted an old place yesterday that I rather liked the look of."
She introduced herself as Sally Anne and quickly she ushered me to her office just off to the side, a small, though tastefully decorated area with a somewhat oversized potted tree in one corner (which I suspected was actually artificial anyhow) and an enlarged photo of one of the local covered bridges on one wall. I introduced myself and explained what it was that I was interested in and what I had hoped she might be able to do for me.
When I left there about twenty minutes later she said, "Just leave it to me and I'll see what I can find out for you. Do you want to call back in an hour or so?"
"That'll be great," I replied and headed back out onto the street, leaving both the realtor and her secretary staring after me, with mouths agape.
According to my trusty little tourist map the town library was only a few blocks away so I decided to head there for a few hours to do some research, plugging my earphones back in and hitting 'play' on my MP3 player as I headed off in that direction, to the sounds of Elton John again, this time singing 'Empty Garden'. It was his John Lennon tribute song and I recall the first time I heard it was when he performed on an episode of the television show Solid Gold, so many years ago now, and one of the very few times it had even been performed.
Out on the street I headed in the general direction of the library, walking the few blocks in quite pleasant sunshine, passing a number of small shops on the way that I thought I might take a closer look at on another day, including some craft shops and one selling all kind of antiques and old furniture. When I reached the library I found it to be a very old, very large, red brick building with painted white trim, and set well back off the street, behind two imposing old oak trees. I walked up the path between the trees and found at the front of the building a grandiose set of stone stairs, which looked like they belonged to the set of Gone With The Wind, and led up to the equally grand entrance doors.
I wasn't sure what exactly to expect when I pulled open one of the doors and entered the library, thinking that the usual scene that you would encounter in such a place is most often a musty, smelly dark interior with a little old grey-haired, bespectacled lady shuffling books behind the counter. What I found in the Salem Memorial Library however was a cavernous, colourful, light and airy place, with rows and rows of bookshelves standing out from the walls at right angles and a large open space in the middle segregated into various areas by the strategic placement of some large comfy seats, some sturdy modern desks, or some other rather low standing book cases.
And instead of the bespectacled middle aged female librarian I might have expected to find, there was a neatly dressed young man sitting behind the main counter entering information into a computer. There wasn't a pair of glasses or a grey hair anywhere in sight - unless of course you counted mine.
He looked up at me as I entered the library and the door closed behind me, saying a brief hello, before then returning his attention to the work at hand.
I walked over to where he was sitting and stood in front of him at the counter while he finished typing something, then he looked up at me again.
"How can I help you?" he asked.
"Could you point me toward anything you have on local history?" I replied.
"Certainly. We have an entire section dedicated to it," he answered. "It's down along that wall," he said, pointing toward the left hand side of the room, "just opposite those desks."
"Thank you very much," I replied and headed off in that direction, grateful that so far there was no sign of his having recognised me, yet at the same time a little amused by it. After all, wouldn't it be reasonable to assume that a librarian, any librarian, would be at least a little familiar with popular modern day authors? Or was that just my ego running away on me yet again?
Thanks to a well placed sign I found the local history section easily enough and randomly picked out a few books, doing exactly what the old saying tells us not to do, and picking them by their covers anyhow. Carrying them over to one of the desks I sat down and started to browse through them and it wasn't too long before I pulled the note pad from my pocket and started taking some notes about the history of Salem and the surrounding districts, as well as writing down a long list of books and other reference materials that I had found from the bibliographies of the various books I had selected.
Glancing up every now and then at the guy behind the counter I often found him looking my way, only to quickly turn his head away whenever he noticed me. I figured that he was going through the "could it be him?" argument in his own head and decided that I wasn't going to help him out just yet.
Twice over a period of a couple of hours I got up from my table and replaced my pile of books, with the amount of both useful and useless information that was filling both my head and notebook now starting to build up. Eventually however I decided that enough was enough and that I finally had sufficient information to get a start on the ideas that were still swirling around inside my head and now gathering speed.
After placing the books back on the shelves I gathered up my few belongings and headed for the door, saying, "Thank you. See you next time," to the young librarian as I passed his position then headed out into the early afternoon sunshine, leaving him with a rather bewildered look on his face.
The stroll back to the middle of town was a pleasant one, broken only by a brief stop to buy something to eat at a pretty little sidewalk cafe decorated with lots of pale green and yellow and selling home-style fare, before continuing on to Sally Anne's realtor office to check on her progress with my earlier requests.
When I made it back to Sally Anne's office there was no sign of her secretary anywhere so I walked to the door of the office I had been shown into earlier, where I found her on the phone in what appeared to be a rather excited conversation with someone. When she noticed me standing there she said to whoever it was that she was talking to, "I have to go. I'll call you back later," and hung up.
"Mr. Baxter," she cooed as she met me at her office door. "I think I have good news for you."
"Terrific," I replied. "But please, call me Dave."
* * * * *
It was quite some time later when I left the Sally Anne's office to start my long walk back to Jonathon and Charlotte's home, going over and over the details of my afternoon in my mind.
While there I had made a call to New York to the business adviser who looked after all my interests, for a healthy fee, of course. His name was Chad Reid and he had an office that overlooked Central Park. I remember thinking when I first met him that with an office a view like that he had to be good, and that was primarily how he got my business in the first place. I spoke to him and briefly outlined what I wanted to do, receiving his usual, overly-cautious "what's it going to cost and how much are you going to make?" spiel in return.
"Chad, you're missing the point," I tried explaining to him. "This isn't about making money. This is about something altogether different."
He tried the old "it's always about the money" line on me, but I just laughed him off. After another ten minutes of banter I think I eventually had him sorted out and on the same page as me, and was then able to turn the phone over to Sally Anne for them to work out all the finer details between them.
"I'll be in touch," I said to her and left her to Chad while making my way outside and heading in the direction that would take me out of town.
It was after dusk when I finally arrived back at the house, after having been picked up on the road by another good samaritan on the edge of town and given a lift back as far the Rexleigh Road intersection.
After waving off my friendly driver I started down the hill toward the covered bridge, where I felt a cold shiver travel down my spine as I crossed it, being encased in almost total darkness and hearing what were the rather eerie sounds of birds nestling in the rafters in the darkness above me. If I'd have heard a single ghostly laugh while I was in there I'm sure that I would have dropped everything and ran those last few hundred yards along the road and up the driveway to Jonathon and Charlotte's place, but thankfully that didn't happen and I was able to enjoy the rest of my walk in what was a cool fall evening, soon finding their driveway.
Looking up toward the house I could see people standing on the front porch, their outlines silhouetted against the French windows behind them, out of which spilled light from inside. Just then I saw someone point and they all turned in my direction, then one of them detached themselves from the group and jumped down off the front porch and started hurrying toward me. It was Paul, looking more flustered than I think I have ever seen him.
"Where the hell have you been?" he scolded, while giving me a kiss and wrapping me in a hug. "We didn't know what might have happened to you. We were just about to send out another search party. We've already been into town once this afternoon looking for you."
"I did tell Charlotte this morning not to expect me 'til around dinner," I replied. "I had stuff to do."
"Like what?" he demanded. "I've been worried sick, all bloody day. You didn't even take your damned cell phone with you."
I could only grin at him.
"I'm serious Dave. And wipe that bloody smirk off your face. What have you been up to? I can tell it's no good."
"You'll just have to wait and see," I answered, while looping one arm through his and guiding him back toward the porch, where Jonathon and Charlotte and Joel and Sasha all stood, waiting for us. "Now, what have you and Charlotte cooked up for dinner? I'm absolutely starving."