Chapter 2: Apparition Visitation
Jack continued the walk home. There were only two more blocks to go; he’d already covered the previous six blocks from the office.
His mind mulled over the day, remembering how Mr. Rhoades had badgered him three different times, goading him by saying hurtful things like he wanted him to lash out or talk back, but Jack had kept his cool while the man had complained over some little bit of nothing, blowing it up like it was the world's worst mistake.
Jack had bit his tongue several times to keep from making things worse at work, until that showdown in his office. He hadn’t planned to kick the jowly-faced fucker, but he didn’t regret it neither.
He might end up choking that cuss-bucket piece of shit the rest of the way, if he went back on Monday. His life would be shot to hell. It was best to cut his losses and get the fuck out, before he wound up in jail. The guy didn't like him, didn't like his performance; so piss on him; he was permanently gone.
Jack passed by the four-foot-tall Jade plant outside the Chinese couple’s apartment; the Li San’s also had three Aloe Vera plants on a window-sill, and a Yucca plant near their door. They lived on the opposite side of the sidewalk, in this triple duplex. One other neighbor, an elderly lady lived between his apartment and theirs.
He continued around to the rear entrance and unlocked the door. As soon as he stepped inside, he bee-lined it straight to the fridge, grabbing one of three bottles of icy cold Michelob left on the shelf. He was thirsty after his walk home in a less than happy mood.
He squinted slightly as he twisted off the cap, and tossed it in the trashcan on the way to the living room. He kicked off his shoes, and grabbed the remote, turning on the TV.
He flung his body in his recliner, throwing a leg over the left arm cushion. He settled in for a relaxing few minutes...he wanted to catch the news.
Setting it for the local news channel, he swigged his beer and watched the pretty female news anchor, Amie Dobbs. She was reporting on the disturbing story of the triplet sisters who had been missing for the past two weeks.
"Terry, Tisha and Trina Vine are the ten-year-old Straight A, fourth grade students who were last seen on their way to school from their home just two blocks from Ben Franklin Elementary. Since their disappearance, they’ve been greatly missed by their class mates."
The cameraman focused away from Amie Dobbs as clips were shown of the girls’ classroom friends gathered in a group, holding artwork they’d made to express their sorrow. It was a big sign covered with flowers, trees, and birds, a big yellow sun, and a crayon version of the school, accompanied by a crowd waving their arms over their heads and pointing up at the sky message in a rainbow of letters: Come Back to Us: Terry, Tisha & Trina; We Love U and We Miss U.
The camera cut to Amie. “We now take you to an interview with Ms Virginia Staten, the girls' teacher.”
“It's been very quiet. We've all been praying for their safe return. The kids talk about the girls’ return. I've found flowers lying on their desks, but they won't say which of them put them there. I don't have the heart to remove them, but at the end of the day, the flowers are gone. We miss the girls and pray they’re OK; it’s not the same class without their participation."
The camera then turned to the principal, Mr. Barton. “Yes, we made it a policy; no children shall walk un-chaperoned to or from school, not even if they live right across the street. We care about the safety of our kids. This won't happen again."
The camera next featured an interview with Mr. and Mrs. Pat Vine.
Mr. Vine held his wife's hand, who kept her eyes lowered in a dejected way. He said, "It happened on Thursday, September Tenth. I usually drive them to school, but I wasn’t home. I left the day before on a business trip. Bess doesn't drive, but she walked with them to the first corner, and you can see the school from there. Honey, isn't that how it happened?"
Bess nodded, still not raising her eyes. Jack saw her lip tremble, and her hands shook as her husband patted them, consolingly. "You’ve got to pardon Bess; this has just broken us, but it's hardest on my wife. She adored our girls. They were our happiness."
Bess wailed, “Please, whoever you are, bring our girls back to us. They’re good girls and never in their lives hurt a soul. Why hurt them?” Her eyes wildly stared at the camera before her courage fled; she wilted, hiding her face against her husband's chest.
He held her in his arms, and patted her hair, while shaking his head in dismay. "All I got to say is this: find our daughters, and whoever took them, kill the mother...." The camera clipped his words short, but Jack knew what the rest of the word was meant to be.
“Yeah, really, Dad, I know what you mean. Any creep that steals three young girls and tears up a loving family, there needs to be no mercy given to such a monster." He swilled down the rest of his beer.
“It’s time to rinse off the grime of the day, and wash away the stink of Mr. Rhoades." Jack declared to the four walls.
He undressed as he headed for the bathroom. He decided on a soak in the tub, instead of a shower. He needed to relax, to mellow out, and ease the tenseness from his joints. He might only be twenty-five, but he felt sluggish and grimy as an old man.
He filled the tub about half deep with medium warm water, a little more on the hot than cold side, and as the water ran, he selected his towels and wash cloths, body wash and shampoo, and put everything on a nearby chair.
He peeled off his underwear, and stepped into the water, easing his aching body down slowly, as the water rose to accommodate his weight shift. He was glad that it stopped two inches from the rim. He’d gauged it perfectly.
He sat back, wiggled his toes, grabbed a wash cloth, and lathered it with soap, and then began washing his body parts.
After a few minutes of doing this, he rested. Next, he slid under the water, holding his breath, but came back up, gasping. His hair dripped in wet tendrils. He shampooed, went under a few more times and called it a done deal.
But he wasn't ready to get out yet. He wanted to enjoy this. It was the first thing he’d done all day that made him feel stress-free. He wasn't ready to step out there on that rug, towel dry and get back into the saddle of life.
He shut his eyes, turning his head so the water would flow from his ear canal. They were roaring, especially the left one; he hadn't gotten all the water out. He opened his mouth, worked his jaw so it would loosen the liquid, and felt the trickle run along the side of his neck.
His hearing returned, but it was accompanied by a sharp pain. He shut his eyes and waited for the pain to go away, taking deep breaths.
Letting go, relaxing all of his cares away, he almost went to sleep. He woke up, because his mouth hung open as he snored, and it filled with sudsy, tepid water. The taste of soap on his tongue jerked him from his slumber.
He spat out the soapy water. “Ugh, I’d better get out, before I drown myself."
Since he meant to go to bed soon, he only covered up in a bathrobe, but tied the belt securely around the waist. He threw the wet towels in the hamper, along with his day's clothes, and then he opened the door.
He wanted to fix something in the microwave for supper, and then he’d watch TV for a while, and go to bed about eleven.
He stepped into the hall, and shut the door. He walked toward the living room on the way to the kitchen, but he only took a few steps when he froze in his tracks.
Why was it freezing in here? His flesh tingled and Goosebumps dotted his chilled flesh. Man, had the air conditioner kicked on?
He looked at the DVD player on the entertainment center and the clock read 06:58:09 PM. Then he saw something that made him come to a dead stop.
Standing in front of the living room window were three girls, clustered together. How on earth did they get in here? The doors were locked.
His hand automatically reached for his belt to make sure that his robe was tied; he didn’t want to embarrass anyone, including himself. It was fine, thank God. Still, he felt uncomfortable, near-naked, dripping wet in front of these young girls, whose direct gaze seemed to drill him to the bone.
"Who are you? What are you doing in my house? You shouldn't come in a man's home without knocking, and being told you can enter. I don't mean to be harsh, girls, but you should go home. Are you lost?”
But as he spoke, he knew he wasted his breath. These young girls were maybe four feet tall; he gauged this by the way their heads were level with the window’s top-latch. But the strange thing was that opaque look to them and just like the window glass behind them, he could see through them.
At first glance, they’d appeared solid, but now they started to fade; what were these girls: insubstantial apparitions?
Why had they come here? Recognition kicked him in the stomach. The Vine girls were standing in his living room. Did this visitation mean they were dead?
The girl in the middle looked right at him. She took two steps forward and pointed to the floor. The girl on the left did exactly the same, except she pointed up. Next, the girl on the right stepped forward; she crossed her arms, and then she turned three times around in a circle, always facing to the left.
“What are you trying to tell me?" He said, and frowned.
The girls repeated their actions; this time, Jack watched how the first girl didn't just point down but made a spiraling motion as her hand lowered: something was spinning as it fell?
He felt an impression coming into his mind. He knew the place.
"Are you up on Vein Mountain? That's to the left of here, and the road up there you have to go around, climbing up to that old fire tower. But what does the downward spin mean?”
The girls huddled close, holding each other; and then in a flash of light, they were gone.
"Damn," Jack mumbled, “Am I going crazy or what?” He scratched his jaw, thoughtfully. He collapsed in his chair.
“Well, I can't let this go; they came to me for a reason. I can’t ignore it. They must trust that somehow I can help them. And they gave me clues to find them; this needs to be acted on fast. What can I do though? How can I help put their little souls to rest? Their family loved them so much; and all the kids at their school miss them. This can’t be a beer hallucination; I only drank one...I'd have to drink a case to get that drunk."
He laughed to ease the tension in the air. He was still digesting what he’d experienced; it was a bit too much to swallow.
An idea dawned on him. “Girls, I do know one person I can call and nobody else can help like he can. So just hang in there a little while longer.”
He grabbed the phone and dialed the Gilkey Sheriff's Department, not 911.
The desk sergeant said, "You’ve reached the Gilkey Sheriff's Office. How can I assist you?"
"I need to speak with Sheriff Robert Crain, please? I’m his nephew, Jack Bane. It’s a very important matter."
"One moment, please, while I transfer your call." Jack waited, hearing the ringing, and then a connection at his uncle's desk, followed by more ringing.
Jack thought, He must not be there. I might as well try his cell phone.
He started to hang up, just as a voice said, "Hey, Jack, what’s up?"
Jack rushed the phone back to his ear. "Uncle Robert, I need to talk to you about something. Would you please come over here? All I can say is that it’s about those missing girls, the Vine triplets. It's weird; and you may think I’m crazy. I don't want to say more over the phone. It’s hard to explain and needs to be done face to face. If I'm right, though, they won’t be missing much longer. And then you can get busy catching whoever did this terrible thing."
“Okay, Jack; just calm down. I’m not sure what you’re carrying on about, but I’ll be there as soon as I can. Have you had supper yet? I’ll order pizza and have it delivered to your place; it should get there about the same time I do."
"That's great. No, I've not eaten, and I'm starved. Order some A & W Root beer, too.”
"It's a done deal. I’ll be there in thirty minutes. Just chill, Jack; everything will be fine."