On A Bad Butcher: An Axton Village Story

Dear Mr. Suddwinkle,

Yesterday, I entered your lovely grocery store — as my family has proudly done for four generations — to take advantage of your excellent promotion on ham hocks. As I have told you personally on many occasions, I am delighted with the high quality selections of meat, pork, and fish your butcher carries, and, when you offer a 10% discount to valued customers like me, that’s an offer I cannot and will not turn down.

But I digress. At any rate, I approached your meat counter with nothing but my dignity and my Bible, when I was accosted by an unspeakable, perverted display. I was ashamed to have my Bible in my hands at the very moment. The King James version no less! Had I not been so stunned to see what your new clerk Bobby had done, I would have thought to hide my Bible, lest Jesus too be offended by the sight.

As a woman of standards, morals, and seven local baking championships, I cannot bring myself to describe, in any great detail, what your clerk Bobby had done at the meat counter. I will only say that Bobby had clearly, intentionally, and wantonly arranged my precious ham hocks and other juicy cuts of meat in very suggestive sexual poses. Moreover, your store’s Super Savings flags were strategically and lewdly placed so to suggest even more brazen, unspeakable images. When my eyes locked on to the bright yellow discount tag amongst the organic salmon positioned in such a way that even a common streetwalker would blush, I clutched my Bible, invoked my Lord to cleanse my mind of such utter filth, and promptly left your store.

Now, I am not an unreasonable woman. I understand that young people like Bobby make mistakes, and employers are not to blame for the sins and wickedness of their employees. Nevertheless, in all my years of shopping at your grocery store, I have never, never been so embarrassed, shocked, and offended. In a wonderful place such as Axton Village, I know you will agree with me that there is simply no room for such behavior. As understanding as I try to be, as Jesus would want me to be, I am afraid that, for the time being, I cannot bring myself to enter your store. I’m sorry, it is simply too wicked. But I will promise you that I will pray with all my strength that the wonderful Lord casts out the vile sin that has infected your store. I will also invite my prayer circle to pray for your store. Cecilia, Maggie, and Eileen are mighty prayer warriors!

Thank you for taking the time to consider my experience.

Sincerely, Ms. Betty Lou Blankenship

PS — Please ask your clerk Bobby to deliver some ham hocks to my house Saturday evening, perhaps after he has finished his shift.

On The Talk: An Axton Village Story

“Come on in, Billy. Sit down on the couch next to him, Sally. There you go. Comfortable? Yes? Ok. Good. Well. Mom and I wanted to take some time this afternoon to have a talk with you.”

“Is this another dorky family meeting?”

“Well, yes and no, Billy, and those meetings aren’t dorky, thank you very much young man. Occasionally Team Blevins has to come together.”

Sally rolled her eyes.

“Now Sally, that’s not respectful of your mother or me.”

Sally stared ahead at her parents, smacking her gum, wishing she was back up in her room, texting her friends or maybe thinking about dreamy Michael Kowolsky from 5th period math class. She had even written Sally Kowolsky several times in her math notebook. In various wedding invitation scripts, of course.

“Now, your mother and I think that it’s time, as a family, that we have a talk about the two of you.”

“What did we do? I haven’t done anything! Sally’s the disrespectful one…”

“Now, Billy, stop right there,” Mindy Blevins interjected. “No one’s in trouble.”

Billy Blevins slid down into the couch, silently thankful that his failing science grade and recently lost bike were not yet public knowledge.

“Kids,” Mike Blevins began cautiously, “you’re both starting junior high, getting older, and, well, your mom and I know that things are changing.”

Billy and Sally exchanged puzzled glances. Mindy Blevins dug her well manicured fingernails subtly into her thigh, resisting the urge to blush.

“Ahem, well, yes,” Mike continued, “well, I’m sure you’ve both noticed these changes.”

“Are we moving? Seriously, are we moving?” Sally Blevins protested. “Not again!” She slapped her 11 year old hands down on her acid washed skinny jeans in protest. “I just made a new friend. Monica’s awesome. Why do we have to move?” Sally thought to herself, “away from Michael Kowolsky…”

“Young lady,” Mike softly barked, “that’s enough. No one is moving.”

“Moving would be cool,” chimed Billy. Billy saw an opening to escape his current report card, and he went for it.

“Billy, please,” Mindy exclaimed. “Your father and I want you both to be quiet and listen. Is that so hard? Thank you. You were saying, hon'”

Mike Blevins wiped his brow and sat up straight. “Yes, well, your mother and I know that you’re both going through some changes. Umm, some changes in your bodies.”

Billy Blevins muttered “Gross” under his breath softly.

“And maybe you’ve noticed your friends at school changing.”

Sally Blevins thought about dreamy Michael Kowolsky.

“Getting taller. Voices changing. Maybe some whiskers on chins and legs. And, ummm,” Mike Blevins hesitated, “Honey you wanted to take it from there?”

Mindy Blevins, looking a little perturbed at the fact that her husband hadn’t even got the horse out of the stall, much less the stable, picked up the mantle. “Well, kids, we just wanted you to know that this is all very normal. Nothing to be ashamed about. A lot of kids can have a tough time during this period, and we just wanted both of you to know that we are here for both of you. We can talk anytime. We want Team Blevins to have open lines of communication.”

“Okay. Can I go upstairs now?”

“No, Sally, you can’t. What your mother and I are trying to say is that we want to be here for you. This is important.”

“And your father and I want you both to know that, as these things change, you may get some unusual feelings.”

“Feelings?” Billy inquired. “Am I gonna be sad?”

“Well, no,” Mike Blevins responded, silently wanting to say that his son might actually feel great, but he restrained himself. “No, nothing like that.”

“That’s right. it’s just that, around this time, as some kids begin to mature, well, your father and I want you two to know that some kids start to experiment.”

“In science, we get to experiment on a frog.”

“Thank you, Billy. Your mother is talking about something different.”

“Yes, and this experimenting is natural too, but, in this family, in Team Blevins, we believe that that’s the sort of thing you do only once you’re married.”

“Huh?” Billy asked, obviously lost without a clue. Sally continued to stare ahead, expressionless.

“What your mother is saying is that, when a man and a woman feel special towards each other, and of course only once they’re married, that, umm, sometimes they have a special hug.”

“A hug?” Billy earnestly inquired. Sally’s look transitioned from expressionless to vacant.

“Yes, that’s it, a special hug,” Mindy Blevins added, sensing the opportunity to swaddle her embarrassment in an innocuous euphemism. “A special, magical hug.”

Mike Blevins cringed, sensing the train derailing. “And,”

“And, that special, magical hug is for mommies and daddies only,” Mindy quickly continued, her courage draining by the second. “We know you two know the difference between a good touch and a bad touch, and we want you both to remember that too.”

Mike Blevins startled, listening to his wife wrapping up the talk only minutes after it began.

“Just keep your hands to yourself. Does that make sense?” Mindy asked.

Mike Blevins stared at his wife, unsure where to go next, if anywhere at all.

“Yes. Okay,” Billy responded, still unsure of the point of the family meeting.

“Do either of you have any questions?” Mike added, unwilling to forge ahead if his wife had cold feet. “You can ask your mother or I anything. We want you to always feel free to talk to us. We’re here for you.”

“No, I’m good,” Billy said.

“Me too,” Sally added. “May we be excused?”

Mike and Mindy Blevins looked at each other, silently admitting with their eyes that all had not gone to plan, but also admitting that the will and energy to dive deeper had vanished.

“Sure, I’m glad we had this chat. Your father and I love you both very much. We want you to be safe. We want the best for you, because you deserve the best!” Mindy felt like ending on an inspirational note would smooth over the rough spots of the talk.

“Okay” was the simultaneous response of Billy and Sally as they bounded out of the living room and up the stairs to their respective rooms.

Billy ran into his room, slammed shut the door, jumped on his bed, and pulled out his tub of green army men. It was time for a great battle, and, within a few minutes, the family meeting was lost to him forever.

Sally walked into her room and closed the door quietly. She sat down on her pink bean bag and pulled out her phone. She pulled up her new BFF Monica’s information and started a text.

Sally: OMG, you will never believe what my stupid ‘rents just did!!!

Monica: Srsly?! What?

Sally: Like, we had this stupid family meeting. So stupid. Like, they were SUPER nervous.

Monica: About what?

Sally: Well, when they started, so stupid, I thought they were going to talk to me and my brother about sex, but they never did. Turns out, there’s a special hug men and women can do? Srsly! Did you know that?

Monica: OMG!OMG!OMG!

Sally: Think Michael Kowolsky knows how to do this special hug?

Monica: Bet he does.

Sally: Think he’d show me?

On the Last Booth: An Axton Village Story

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this meeting of the Axton Village City Council will come to order.”

With those words, Paxton Cobbler VI opened the city council meeting. As the scion of Axton Village’s most prominent family, many in the village felt it right and proper that he should oversee the important work of the city council. And it was a heavy burden. In addition to overseeing the town’s international frisbee competition, the council oversaw day to day operations of the village government; created, amended, and ignored annual budgets; and selected the pancake flavor of the month for all local truck stops.

“For this special session of the city council, the standard weekly agenda has been tabled.”

“Objection!” shouted Wendy Sizemore, Axton Village’s most senior council member and recent loser to Cobbler for the chair position in a run-off election held at the Axton Village roller rink, “Skate, Bait, and Tackle.” Wendy’s animosity over the loss dripped in her words. “I move to strike the unlawful opening statement and resume regular business.”

“Councilwoman Sizemore, there is nothing to object to. I am simply explaining the purpose for tonight’s meeting,” Chairman Cobbler patiently explained.

“I object to the disrespectful tone the Chair is demonstrating, and I move for a vote of no confidence,” Sizemore retorted, straightening her puppy dog broach as she smiled widely.

Exasperated, Chairman Cobbler replied, “Councilwoman Sizemore, this is the fifth meeting in a row you have called for a vote of no confidence, and this will be the fifth meeting in a row that I remind you that we have no such parliamentary procedure in our bylaws.”

“I object to the bylaws, and, on behalf of the good people of Axton Village, on behalf of the good and decent people of Axton Village, I move for a vote of no confidence.”  Pausing as she finished, the Councilwoman held her chin high for dramatic effect, which when combined with her angular cheekbones and impossibly tall hair-do, somewhat diminished her air of complete incompetence. It was a bold move, sure to make the headlines of the newspaper and capture the imagination of Axton Village’s more gullible residents, which, all would admit, was most of them.

“Thank you, Councilwoman Sizemore,” Chairman Cobbler uttered, wondering why he needed a run-off election at a roller rink to defeat her. “Your objections will be noted in the record we are not making tonight.”  Wendy Sizemore smiled smugly, scribbling a note on her monogrammed puppy dog stationary.

“Members of the Council, Village residents, and guests, we hold this special meeting of the Axton Village City Council for an important reason. As you all know, next month we will celebrate the 75th annual Tool Days, Axton Village’s yearly celebration of all that is great about our town. Started three-quarters of a century ago by my great-grandfather, Paxton Cobbler III, to celebrate all the great tools in Axton Village, the celebration has grown from guys displaying their hammers and wrenches and screwdrivers in a park downtown, to the wonderful, family-friendly celebration it is today, with live music, games, races, and booth after booth of fantastic food and products from local vendors and charities.”

“And free massages. Don’t forget the massages,” interjected Councilman Craig Kuhlmann.  After flunking out of medical, physical therapy, nursing, and chiropractic schools, Craig Kuhlmann opened his own massage parlor, “Shakies.” With three locations around town, Shakies was the most popular spot in Axton Village to unwind, relax, and, possibly, talk to someone practicing medicine without a license. To increase business, Councilman Kuhlmann began giving free massages at the 70th annual Tool Days.

“That’s right, Councilman Kuhlmann, my apologies,” replied Chairman Cobbler.

Councilwoman Regina Flatz blushed, as she thought about Shakies. At the 71st Tool Days, she had received one of Councilman Kuhlmann’s patented reflexology massages for her feet. It was an intense emotional experience. She couldn’t walk for two days, but, two months later, divorced her husband.

“Last month, the Council approved all of the booth assignments for local vendors and charities,” Chairman Cobbler continued, “or so we thought. As it turns out, we left one booth spot unassigned.”

“Incompetence,” Councilwoman Sizemore uttered underneath her breath, but loud enough for local journalist Trevor Hoffman to hear and note in his article in the Axton Village Proclaimer the following day, “The Last Booth Down to the Last Vote”

“We are holding this special meeting tonight to assign the last booth. We have two competing residents. The Council will allow each resident five minutes to address the Council, explaining why their booth most comports with the values of Axton Village Tool Days: Friendship, Fun, and Flathead Screwdrivers. After each presentation, the Council will have up to five minutes to question the resident. After each presentation and question and answer session, the Council will vote, and the resident receiving the most votes will receive the last booth. No other business will be conducted. Are there any questions?”

Councilwoman Flatz was still blushing, fanning herself, and wondering if she had renewed her annual pass to Shakies.

“Seeing none,” Chairman Cobbler directed, “I invite the first resident to the podium, Mr. Blaine Blinzon.

Blinzon walked slowly and stiffly to the podium. A plastic surgery addict, his problem was plain for all to see. He had achieved his desired look of a living, breathing Ken doll. It was unclear, however, if the majority of Blaine’s body parts were original or “enhanced.” At any rate, he moved rigidly, but, as difficult as it was, he did not sweat. Well, could not sweat. He had his sweat glands removed years ago to allow for more taut facial skin. The result was a forehead you could carve vegetables on.

“Hewo, my nam is Blaine Blinzon. I am the presiden and CEO of Blaine’s Organic Foodz. We baleave that natural is always better than artafishal.”  Council members Cobbler, Sizemore, and Kuhlmann stared with not insignificant interest in the ability of Blaine’s facial skin to move enough to form words with a degree of accuracy. Councilwoman Flatz continued to stare at Councilman Kuhlmann. “We baleave nature does not make miststeaks. We want to spread this messidge (and our all natural jams and jellies) at Tewl Days. We have been a part of this khamunity for tin yurrs, and support many lokhal causes. We employ thurty lokhal residens, We wheel donate halve of our prophets from Tewl Days to the lokhal liberry. Thank you.”

“Thank you, Mr. Blinzon. You’re looking as relaxed as ever,” Chairman Cobbler warmly noted. We will now entertain any questions from the Council. The Chair recognizes Councilwoman Sizemore.”

“Mr. Blinzon, I just happened to notice that the Axton Village Proclaimer is here. Two years ago, an exposé in that publication accused Blaine’s Organic Foodz of funneling profits to a Japanese whaling vessel and using whale blubber to make some of your organic shampoos and makeups.” Blaine Blinzon’s impossibly tight lips got impossibly tighter. He could not sweat, luckily. “So, Mr. Blinzon,” Councilwoman Sizemore pressed on, “what I and my constituents want to know,” darting glances at journalist Hoffman, “what I and my constituents need to know is…can we get that amazing lip gloss in a watermelon flavor?”

“Yuz! Next year, we are releaseen three new flavurz: watermelon, Snickers, and Kit Kat! All natural. 100 persent from nature. Nuthin but the bezt!” Blinzon answered, relieved he did not have to reveal that some of the blubber had been used to give him the ankles of his dreams.

Councilman Kuhlmann turned on his microphone, “Thank you Mr. Blinzon. I am impressed by your company’s promise to share half of the profits with the Axton Village Library, if you are selected for the last booth. As you know, last year, I donated an entire collection of books on massage to the library, and I am proud to announce tonight that library data proves that Axton Village teenagers check out and read more books on massage than any other teenagers in the tristate area.”

“Thank you, Councilman Kuhlmann.” Chairman Cobbler, seeing no other questions or comments, thanked Mr. Blinzon for his presentation and invited the second candidate for the last remaining Tool Days booth to come forward.

Trina Van Selbing strode to the podium with an other-worldly confidence. Not only confident, her stride was powerful — propelled by thick legs and a mighty, orbicular derrière. In order to offset the impressive gravitational forces at play, her bosom was equally bountiful, accentuated by a striped dress that, when in motion, sent lines of color exploding in myriad directions. “Praise Jesus,” she began, “I want to praise Jesus and Jehovah for bringing me here tonight. I know his hand and authority are guiding me right now, anointing me with the spirit. Bless all of you!” The Council was spellbound by her invocations, and, as for Councilman Kuhlmann, he was spellbound by Trina Van Selbing’s dress.

“That’s very kind,” Chairman Cobbler remarked, “tell us about your booth.”

“I come this evening as the appointed and anointed emissary from the Second Word of God Church. Praise be. After months of singing spiritual songs, talking in tongues, and making a joyful noise, hallelujah!!, I am here, here with Jesus, here and now, hear me be here, praise!, to tell this mighty Council, this triumphant group, this almighty assemblage, this keeper of the Peace, that the disciples of the Second Word of God Church are prepared to maintain a prayer booth at next month’s Axton Village Tool Days. Mmmmm, God is good! God is good! Whew! Jesus! Jesus Lord! Jesus down in my soul! Yes, sweet Jesus!”

Councilwoman Sizemore sat dumbfounded at Ms. Van Selbing’s obvious, clear, deep connection with the Almighty. Chairman Cobbler did not know what to say. Councilman Kuhlmann had heard some of his massage clients make similar noises, but the circumstances seemed very different. Councilwoman Flatz, feeling somewhat guilty at her earlier focus on her annual pass at Shakies, gathered herself long enough to ask, “So, how would this prayer booth work?”

“Thank you Jesus for this opportunity to witness. Praise be!” Trina Van Selbing began. “At the Second Word of God Church, we know the people of Axton Village are hurting. Not physically. Not mentally. But spiritually. There is an aching need in this town.” Councilwoman Flatz began to blush again. “There is a need for Jesus. Thank you Jesus! Blessed be all who follow you! The disciples of our church with the closest connection, the strongest connection, the most anointed connection to the Almighty will be on hand at Tool Days to help the needy, the poor, the sick, the wretched, the lonely, all of Axton Village. God is good! Good is God! Praise be! Anyone at Tool Days can come to our booth to pray with us, to sing with us, to be anointed by us.”

“So,” Chairman Cobbler began slowly, “at Tool Days, our values are Friendship, Fun, and Flathead Screwdrivers. Can you explain to the Council how your booth would best represent those values?”

“Praise be! A booth for the Second Word of God church would be all those things, Jesus is good! Mmmm, thank you Jesus! We are all those things because they are good, and all good things come from Jesus. Hallelujah! Praise be!”

“Okay. Well, I know I can speak for the Council when I say that your presentation was very energetic,” Chairman Cobbler said diplomatically. Does anyone on the Council have any other questions for Ms. Van Selbing?”

“Ms. Van Selbing,” Councilwoman Sizemore began, “there have been rumors for some years now that your church engages in the ritualistic handling of snakes. Is that true, and, if so, would you be handling snakes at your prayer booth at Tool Days?”

A hush fell over the room. The Council exchanged glances; the local residents gathered in the gallery were simultaneously shocked at Councilwoman Sizemore’s revelation and eager for the reply, and journalist Trevor Hoffman readied his pen and tape recorder, sensing the blockbuster news story of the year. For her part, Ms. Trina Van Selbing was taken aback and took a moment to compose herself, praying to Jesus softly underneath her breath.

“Councilwoman Sizemore, we are empowered, embraced, and emboldened with the love of Jesus. Jesus knows no limits, knows no fears, knows no boundaries. And his strength fills our entire bodies,” she responded, rubbing her hands gently over her generous striped dress in a subtle gesture of the Almighty’s power to fill even that body. “But to answer your question, the snakes are fake.”

An audible gasp went up from the crowd. Trevor Hoffman wrote furiously.

Sensing that the meeting was about to take a turn, if it had not already, Chairman Cobbler spoke up. “Thank you, mam. I see that our time for questions and answers has elapsed. You can take your seat.”

“Praise be.”

“This Council has heard two interesting, challenging, and, if I may say so, uniquely amazing presentations tonight. It is clear that either choice would make for an excellent final addition to Tool Days. As Chairman, I will begin the voting by announcing that I believe the final booth should be given to the Second Word of God Church.”


“Mam, please. As I was saying, while both booths would be wonderful, the Second Word of God Church would bring something different and never before seen at Tool Days. That’s why I think the booth should go to them. Councilwoman Sizemore?”

“My vote,” she broadcast triumphantly, pausing for dramatic effect, “goes to Blaine’s Organic Foodz. I believe in nature, in honesty, in wholeness. Our town needs more of that.” Councilwoman Sizemore cast her eyes in the direction of Chairman Cobbler. “Blaine’s Organic Foodz would be the best addition to Tool Days.” She could almost taste the watermelon lip gloss.

Chairman Cobbler looked to the next Council member, Craig Kuhlmann, “Councilman Kuhlmann, your vote?”

“Well, as you note Chair, we have two excellent options, but, at the end of the day, I agree with you that the Second Word of God provides some diversity to Tool Days. My vote is with them.” Councilman Kuhlmann turned off his microphone, leaned back, and began counting all the new memberships he’d enjoy at Shakies by virtue of his vote. Praise be.

“Chairwoman Flatz?”

“I vote for Blaine’s Organic Foodz,” she announced. She, too, had heard the loud, praiseful voices at Shakies. She new the real from the fake, and, thus, she voted for Blaine’s.

Trevor Hoffman looked up from his notepad, sensing more history was about to be made as Chairman Cobbler began.

“Ladies and gentleman, thus far, we have a 2-2 tie. Accordingly, the deciding vote will be cast by our fifth Council member.”

Everyone in the room turned in unison to the end of the Council table. There, smiling sweetly and swinging her legs in big loops inside her sun dress was Little Susie Prikster. As the Axton Village Youth Council Member, Susie had only taken over the post two meetings before when, for mysterious and unknown reasons, 16 year old Bennie McCusker had fallen off his bike, breaking both arms and a hip. The lone witness had been the ray of sunshine herself, Little Susie Prikster. Bennie was still in a coma. Selflessly, wonderfully, Little Susie volunteered to take his spot on the Council on a temporary basis. Seeing no harm in it, Chairman Cobbler had agreed, sensing a sweet photo-op.

“Susie, have you listened to the presentations? Do you understand why we have to pick someone to take the last booth spot for Tool Days?” Chairman Cobbler spoke slowly and softly, thinking how sorry he felt for this poor sweet girl. What a terrible pressure for such a young, innocent thing.

“Yes, Chairman Cobbler, I did listen. I listened really well. Super well,” Susie replied, still swinging her legs.

“That’s good, Susie. Now, who would you choose to be at Tool Days, Blaine’s Organic Foodz or the prayer booth from the church?”

“Well, my mommy is always talking about how good we are supposed to be, and I listen Chairman Cobbler. I listen really well. I pray every night, and I try to be a good little girl. But some people are mean, and, so, I think a prayer booth would be a good thing at Tool Days.”

Blaine Blinzon wanted to cry, but, of course, with his tear ducts removed to add volume to his cheek bones, he could not.

“Thank you Susie. I think you made a fair choice. Ladies and gentlemen, the vote is 3-2, and the last booth at Tool Days will be awarded to the Second Word of God Church. Thank you all for your time and attention. This meeting is now adjourned.”

And, with that, Chairman Cobbler and the other adult Council members rose to thank and congratulate Little Susie Prikster on her wonderful job and brave vote. Blaine Blinzon hobbled out of the room, and Trina Van Selbing sat in her chair, swayed slightly, palms turned up to heaven, praying a prayer of thanks. Trevor Hoffman wrote furiously, sensing multiple awards for writing about the Axton Village City Council meeting where the tie-breaking vote was cast by a little angel.

Little Susie Prikster sat, smiling, batting her big eyes as everyone told her what a smart, pretty, helpful, kind, and fair little girl she had been. The nine year old, with her hands buried deep in her sundress, clutched two plastic snakes.

On Recovery: An Axton Village Story

Officer Thad Wallace pulled his 1993 Toyota Tercel around the rear of the Axton Village Playhouse and Campground, put it in park, and slumped down in his seat. Weary from his new job on the police force, Wallace wasn’t excited to be here, but, since moving to Axton Village two years ago, he had fulfilled his promise to his mother to run a self-help group for recovering addicts. His mother, Bertha, had been addicted to QVC shopping and suffocated when she became trapped under her hoard of microfiber pillows. At least she went comfortably, he told himself.

He might have been a little more enthusiastic about the evening’s gathering had it been anywhere but the Axton Village Playhouse, or the AVP to locals. In Axton Village, the Playhouse was the height of culture and sophistication, and that was the problem. The Playhouse’s director, Elmore Schmidt, insisted that all productions be altered to be “relatable” to the people of Axton Village. Last season’s “42nd Street” was changed to “3rd Avenue.” The production of “Ten Little Indians” wasn’t bad, but it definitely lost something when re-titled and re-cast as “Six Insurance Salesmen and a Yogurt Shop Owner.” Two years ago, the production of “South Pacific” was simply cancelled when Mr. Schmidt couldn’t think of a suitable local body of water to serve as inspiration.

Officer Wallace got out of his car and trudged across the vast asphalt plane of the AVP parking lot towards the meeting hall. To the west, the campground extended for several miles. Axton Village’s most intrepid residents spent weekends hiking the trails, camping in the woods, and fishing in Hammer Lake. He was pretty certain the activities were all just excuses to drink Axton Ale, Axton’s finest beer, brewed locally and enjoyed by all residents 11 and up.

He jostled open the door to the meeting house and passed the wall of flyers advertising the upcoming season of plays and musicals. He noted with some interest that a season pass now allowed patrons access to the Axton Village Stockyards, where nature’s dramatics played out everyday. Whatever gets ’em in the door, he thought.

Wallace turned the corner and encountered two of the participants in his regular recovery group meetings: the Sasser sisters, Lucille and Francille. Identical twins, the Sasser sisters were stunningly beautiful, regal almost, but to the great disappointment of many men in Axton Village (and not just a few of the women at the stockyards), the Sasser sisters had eyes for only themselves. Yes, the Sasser sisters were entirely devoted to each other, not in an incestuous way, but in an odd, unhealthy, only twins would understand way. In their late 60s, the Sasser sisters had never married and had never lived apart. It was true that no one in Axton Village had ever seen the ladies apart from each other.

The Sasser sisters’ codependency was debilitating, and Wallace had come upon a prime example in the hallway. Lucille and Francille stood in front of the door to the meeting room, both looking at the door and then the other.

“After you, Lucille,” Francille invited.

“I wouldn’t dare, Francille,” Lucille responded. “You first.”

“O’ come now sister. The fairest first,” Francille countered.

“I wouldn’t dream,” was Lucille’s retort.

“Ladies,” Wallace interrupted, “how many times have we talked through this scenario?”

Officer Wallace was met with the stare of a hive mind.

“Ladies, I appreciate the fact that you want to put your sister first, but one of you must walk through the door first. It’s not a slight toward the other. It’s called ‘going into a room.'”

Lucille and Francille looked at the officer and each other and still couldn’t decide what to do.

“Well, Officer Wallace, I just can’t bare the thought of making my sister upset,” Lucille explained.

“I feel the exact same way,” Francille added, with a laugh, enjoying for the millionth time a subtle allusion to their twin-ness. The ladies joined hands and cooed at each other.

“Here, allow me,” Officer Wallace offered, as he pushed past the twins lost in their own world, open the door to the meeting room, and said, “Go in at the same time so we can get started.”

“How nice!” was the response, in unison, as Lucille and Francille grabbed their matching bags, embroidered with pictures of the other sister, and strolled into the room under the gaze of the other waiting participants.

Officer Wallace walked in and noted a pretty full house. There was Bobby Jo McCusker, recovering from an addiction to huffing Elmer’s Glue at local craft stores. A once up-and-coming feather artist, Bobby Jo’s career had gone down in flames once her fingers had become permanently fused together due to her glue-sniffing habit. Now, all Bobby Jo could do for her art was scoop feathers into nests with her fused hands. Luckily, wealthy New Yorkers still ate it up as avant-garde modern art, allowing Bobby Jo a nice, relaxed lifestyle on her chicken farm outside of town.

Seated next to her, was Blaine Blinzon, a suntanned 40-something addicted to plastic surgery. You name it, Blaine had it snipped, tucked, buffed, smoothed, plumped, raised, lowered, lengthened, shortened, sculpted, sanded, stretched, bleached, colored, replaced, and refined. Sadly, not only did Blaine now resemble a Ken doll, he moved with the dexterity of a Ken doll.

“Good evening, everyone. I’m Officer Thad Wallace. Welcome to our weekly recovery support group meeting. Tonight, I’d like to talk about…” Officer Wallace paused, as he looked at Martha de Van de waving her hand wildly. He tried to continue, “I’d like to talk about acknowledging pain and its part in….” Now, he could not continue. Martha de Van de was waving both hands wildly and kicking her feet up alternately. “Yes, Martha?”

“Officer Wallace, I want….” Martha began.

“Martha, how do we start talking in recovery meetings?” Officer Wallace cautioned.

“I’m sorry,” Martha self-corrected. She stood and said, “Hello, my name is Martha. I am recovering from an addiction to collecting Beanie Babies.”

“Hi Martha!” the group intoned.

Martha began, “Officer Wallace, before the meeting tonight, several of us were talking, and we are tired of being treated like second-class addicts.”

“Excuse me?” Office Wallace questioned.

Martha continued, “We want to know why our addictions aren’t respected. We know they aren’t sexy like crystal meth or cocaine, but I lost everything — my husband, my home, my children, my retirement — because of my addiction to collecting Beanie Babies stuffed animals. So, why do we have to meet here at the Playhouse, when all the other addicts get to meet at the church downtown?”

Blaine Blinzon slowly and stiffly raised his hand.

“Yes, Blaine, please, go ahead,” Officer Wallace instructed.

Blaine stood gingerly. “Hewo. My nam is Blaine, and I am recoverin from an diction to pwastic surgury.”

It never ceased to amaze Officer Wallace. Blaine’s mouth barely moved, barely could move. The man was frozen in his body.

“Hi Blaine!”

“I gree with Martha.”

And, then, like always, Blaine ran out of strength to talk. It was just too much effort. Was Blaine Botoxing his tongue again? Blaine sat down. Officer Wallace wondered if his inability to talk bothered Blaine, but, of course, one could not tell by the expression on his face.

Officer Wallace looked around to lots of shaking heads, not counting Blaine’s. It seemed everyone felt aggrieved, although young Tommy Zurskle had been silent since he walked in the room and was now looking at the floor.

“Tommy, would you like to share how meeting in the playhouse and not the church makes you feel?” Officer Wallace questioned.

“I just don’t understand,” Tommy began.

“Ahh, Tommy, remember what I said to Martha.” Officer Wallace interrupted.

“Sorry. My name is Tommy, and I’m addicted to sex.”

“Hi Tommy!”

“I just don’t understand why I have to come to these meetings,” Tommy complained.

“Tommy, we’ve been over this before,” Officer Wallace started to explain.

Tommy fired back, “I’m 23, and I like sex. What is wrong with that? I just don’t understand.”

Officer Wallace paused, knowing Tommy wasn’t being fully honest with the group. Tommy Zurskle did like sex, but what he wasn’t saying was that he had been arrested numerous times hanging out at the stockyards, attempting to film animals having sex for his hornyheffers.com website.

Officer Wallace calmly responded, “Tommy, what happens in these meetings is confidential, and that confidentiality is meant to foster openness and honesty. Complete honesty. That’s how we reach and maintain recovery. Until you are ready to accept those terms, you won’t be able to move forward.”

“You mean like them?” Tommy asked, motioning to Lucille and Francille, holding hands and staring into each other’s eyes.

“Lucille! Francille! Listen, there are no minor league recovery groups, okay. It’s not about where you meet. That has nothing to do with it. It’s not about the place, it’s about the meeting itself. The sharing. The learning. The communication. You’re all focusing on the wrong things.”

“I think it’s a cover up,” Martha de Van de retorted.

“Yeah!” Blaine achingly yawned.

“God, this is so stupid,” Tommy muttered.

“Okay, everybody be quiet!” cried Collin Collins, Axton Village’s district attorney, resident ballroom dance instructor, and weekend nudist. Word on the street was to avoid his Saturday classes, Officer Wallace thought. “Can we get to talking about our pain?” Collin asked.

“Yes, Collin. That’s a great idea. In the future, we can discuss meeting at a different location if it’s more convenient for folks in the group, but we aren’t changing the location out of some misplaced attempt to earn respect from the ‘cool addicts.’ Is that clear?” Officer Wallace was showing his mettle, taking charge.

Martha and Blaine sulked. Lucille and Francille weren’t paying attention, and Tommy was dreaming of goats. Bobby Jo was thinking of her chickens, looking at her fused hands, and wondering what might have been.

Officer Wallace continued, “Victoria, would you like to start? Last meeting, you were talking about your addiction to recovery support groups.”

Victoria Belcher responded, “Oh, I finished that story in another support group. I could talk about my addiction to stealing frisbees from the general store, if that would help.”

“Perfect.” Officer Wallace sat down and gave up.

On Little Susie Prikster

Little Susie Prikster skipped down the sidewalk, dress billowing, curls bobbing, and smile beaming.

“Kitty cats and pretty hats, up in a tree, baby dolls and bouncy balls, all there for me, ” she sang. A nine year old full of energy, Susie twirled as her curls unfurled, the sun shining just for her. “Hi Ms. Langham! It’s a beautiful day. My mommy says hello!” She just kept on skipping and hopping and jumping. “Hello Mr. Schmidt. Your garden is so pretty.” Little Susie Prikster beamed happiness everywhere she went. “Kitty cats and pretty hats, up in a tree, baby dolls and bouncy balls, all there for me.”

After much skipping and jumping and bouncing and, of course, singing, Little Susie Prikster arrived at the object of her sun-beamed journey: the Axton Village General Store. She knew she was in the right place because there was the giant one-ton axe in front. No one in Axton Village could miss it; it was the symbol of their community. It was on the flag, the village stationary, and all the road signs. When people thought about heavy, useless tools, they thought Axton Village!

Susie paused in front of the giant axe for just a moment, swaying back and forth as she clutched the two dollars her mother had given her for a candy bar on account of her being such a good, wonderful, special little girl. She kept on humming, “Kitty cats and pretty hats…” She knew in her heart that this would be the best candy bar ever!

Little Susie Prikster danced into the store, and she was greeted by Saul Gregory, store proprietor and local frisbee champion. Townsfolk thought it was years of practice that allowed Saul to throw a frisbee farther than anyone in the tristate area, but most people neglected his ample waist size and resulting low center of gravity as key assets in his talents. When he wasn’t throwing a frisbee, Saul collected buttons from vintage clothing, but this was a minor hobby not relevant to our story.

‘Well, if it isn’t Little Susie Prikster! I must be living right to have this little beam of sunshine bounce into my store.”

“Hi Mr. Gregory,” Susie sang. “The axe out front looks better than it has in a long time. Have you been polishing it?”

“Well, Susie, how kind of you to notice. How can I help you on this fine day?”

“My mommy gave me two dollars because I’ve been so good. She said I can buy a candy bar for myself. And, Mr. Gregory, I have been good. Honest. I helped my grandma clean her house, I helped the teachers at school get the chalk out of the erasers, and I always feed Goliath, our toy poodle.”

“Well, Susie, it does sound like you have been very good. You mommy must be really proud. Our candy bars are over there on Aisle…,” Mr. Gregory began to explain, but he stopped mid-sentence when he heard the front door of the store swing open violently. As the door bounced off the wall behind it with a thud, the air in the store sucked out and in came town drunk Billy Jack McCusker. Six feet tall and 150 pounds soaking wet, Billy Jack had shoulder-length hair, patches of hair around his face that some people referred to as a beard, an earring with a long feather on it, and ratty clothing that had not known soap in many a fortnight.

“Billy Jack! What are you doing being so rough with my front door!” Mr. Gregory exclaimed. Billy Jack loped through the aisles up to the counter where Mr. Gregory and Susie stood. He wrinkled his skinny nose and rolled his tongue around his mouth as if he couldn’t get a foul taste out. Shoulders hunched forward, hands jammed in his dirty pockets, Billy Jack McCusker was a sight to behold. Little Susie Prikster recognized Billy Jack from her skipping and hopping forays around town, but such a smelly, dirty presence did not invade Little Susie Prikster’s world of sunshine, goodness, kitty cats, and pretty hats.

Billy Jack stopped ten feet from Mr. Gregory and Susie. He didn’t say a word but just stared at them, snarling.

“Billy Jack, now what is wrong? How come you are coming into my store with this foul air about you. Did you see Little Susie here?”

“Shut up, old man,” Billy Jack ordered as he, with surprising speed, drew a gun from his pocket and pointed it right at Mr. Gregory.

“What?” Mr. Gregory explained as his mind took in the unexplainable scene. “Billy Jack, what are you doing? Why? Put that gun away.” Mr. Gregory took a step toward Susie, intending to put himself between the gun and Susie.

“Stop. Stop right there. Do. Not. Move. You are going to go over to that cash register, and you are going to empty it. I want everything you have, old man. I want it wrapped up in a paper bag. Throw in a donut while you’re at it. I’m leaving this town, and you’re gonna help. Hear me? No funny stuff. Now move!”

“Okay, Billy Jack, okay. No need to shout. How about you put that gun down? I’ll be happy to help you,” Mr. Gregory croaked out, as he looked down the barrel of Billy Jack’s gun. As frightened as he was, he did take a little pride that his homemade donuts had made an impression on even Billy Jack.

“This gun is gonna stay right on you the whole time, old man. Now move!”

“Okay, okay. I hear you. First, though, can we let Little Susie go. This is between you and me. She’s a little girl Billy Jack. Please? You don’t want to hurt her.”

“I’m not going to hurt a little girl. Now stop stalling and fill up a bag with your cash, and now I want two donuts,” Billy Jack countered. His eyes were spacey and he breathed heavily, but his arm and the gun never wavered. It wasn’t clear if the drool in the corner of his mouth reflected his perpetual drunkenness or the imminent arrival of some of Axton’s finest donuts. One could not begrudge Billy Jack the latter, for they, like Mr. Gregory’s frisbee abilities, were unparalleled in the tri-state area.

Relieved that Billy Jack had no intention of hurting Susie, Mr. Gregory stepped away from her and moved toward the register. “It’s okay, Susie. I’m right here. I want you to look at me, okay Susie? Just keep looking at me. It’s going to be okay,” Mr. Gregory promised.

“No, it’s not going to be okay, Mr. Gregory,” Susie protested. “Billy Jack McCusker,” Susie’s curls whipping around a half second after her head, “My mommy says you are mean and she is right! You are not nice! I don’t like meanies.”

“Now, Susie, sweetie, just keep looking at me, okay. No need to talk to Mr. McCusker.” Mr. Gregory pressed the button to open the cash register, and it sprang open with high pitched ding. As he reached down to grab a paper bag for the cash, he pushed the silent alarm. With any luck, Officers Smith and Wallace would arrive in a few minutes.

“Put it all in, old man. I want every…Ouch!!” Billy Jack cried, as he began hopping on one leg. Mr. Gregory looked up to see Little Susie Prikster standing just two feet away. Her shiny black patent leather shoe had landed a kick square into Billy Jack’s shin.

“You should be ashamed,” Susie yelled with all the rage and power a nine year old girl in a sun dress and pig tails can muster.

“Owwwww!! Why did you do that,” Billy Jack cried as he continued to hop and dance.

“We are nice and kind and honest here in Axton Village. This is not good behavior!” Little Susie Prikster instructed, her arms akimbo, her gaze boring an intense beam of judgment right through Billy Jack. A nine year old pillar of morality.

Saul Gregory watched the surreal scene, his hand frozen at the bottom of the paper bag. The donuts were in, but he hadn’t emptied anything from the register. Luckily, Susie’s kick to the shin had distracted Billy Jack, and, now, Saul heard the police sirens.

Billy Jack finally stood up straight, his feather earring still swinging in and out of his stringy long hair. He looked at Susie, then at Mr. Gregory, then at the paper bag, and, then, at the ceiling, as he finally clued in to the sounds of the police sirens closing in. Billy Jack pocketed the gun, ran to the counter as best he could with one throbbing leg, grabbed the bag, and ran out of the store, carefully avoiding Little Susie Prikster’s surprisingly sharp patent leather shoes.

And, like that, he was gone. It was over. Mr. Gregory stood, with the register still full and open, and just stared at Susie. Susie smiled and proclaimed, “What a meanie!”

“Are you okay, Susie?” Mr. Gregory asked.

Officer Smith burst into the store. “Saul, you okay? Wallace is chasing Billy Jack. We saw him running down the block. We got backup coming.”

“Right behind you, Bob,” Mr. Gregory yelled, as he ran to the front. “That drunk’s got two donuts that belong to me and I want ’em back!” He grabbed a frisbee as he ran out the door, knowing he could down a man at 20 yards with a flick of his powerful wrist.

Officer Smith and Mr. Gregory ran down the block, leaving Little Susie Prikster in the store all by herself. She looked around and started to twirl. Her dress rising and falling to her beat. She skipped down the first aisle, skated down the next, and hopped like a bunny rabbit down the aisle after that. Then, she stopped and smiled. And then she smiled even more. She went to the candy aisle and slipped two candy bars into her dress pocket. Then, she danced up to the register, climbed up on Mr. Gregory’s stool, took one hundred dollars and put it with the two dollars already in her pocket, and jumped down. Another hop, a twirl, a skip, and then a bow.

She laughed and sang and twirled and skipped all the way home. Her blond curls waving in the wind. “Kitty cats and pretty hats, up in a tree, baby dolls and bouncy balls, all there for me.”

On A Lost Son

Officers Smith and Wallace walked up to the small white cottage on Morning Lane. The house was in a beautiful disrepair. The porch chairs were chipping paint, and the flower bed that wrapped around the front and side of the house was overgrown, but in a romantic form of neglect. The mailbox bore a brass #73 and showed wear from daily openings and closings over the decades.

Officer Smith knocked on the door and peered into the large square window in front of him. Blocked by drapes, the sunlight rendered the curtains almost transparent. He peered in as far as possible, but no forms moved. Officer Wallace stood behind him, glancing around the porch. Old flower pots, coiled hose, several newspapers. Office Wallace had started on the force just two months ago, and did not want to miss any detail that could be a clue in the case, even if he wasn’t entirely sure what the case was. He had been assigned to work with Officer Smith just this week, and Smith had not shared anything about this visit with Ms. Langham other than the fact that her son was missing.

Officer Smith knocked again, waiting patiently, and, after a few moments, even Officer Wallace could see forms undulate in the light behind the curtain. Ms. Langham slowly opened the door and peered out. Upon recognizing Officer Smith, she smiled slightly, exhaled, and opened the door.

“Officer Smith, thank you so much for coming. Oh my goodness, I have been worried sick. Please, please, come in.” She stepped back and swung the door open widely. Officer Wallace saw a pleasant but sad woman. Weary, middle age. Graying hair, but still stylishly kept. She wore black slacks and a basic white blouse. She wore no jewelry or adornment, save for a silver locket around her neck. She was thin and almost as transparent as the curtain hanging on her door.

“Hello, Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith said, “I am very sorry we have to see each other under these circumstances.” Ms. Langham listened carefully and nodded, carefully marking the officer’s words. “This is my new partner Officer Wallace. He joined the force recently, and I know he will be of great help with this case,” Officer Smith promised. Officer Wallace appreciated the vote of confidence, but still felt left out of what exactly was going on.

“Officers, please sit down.” Ms. Langham led the policemen through the small entryway and into the living room of the cottage. Officer Wallace noted the museum-like feel of the home. Perfectly in place, but perfectly inert. The room was simple: a couch, two chairs, and a coffee table. The coffee table was barren except for a Sports Illustrated magazine that was painfully out of place. Officer Wallace noted the issue was at least ten years old, if not older. Ms. Langham sat down in a well-worn chair and pulled a shaw over her lap.

On the large wall behind the couch, a collage of photos of a young man. Dozens of photos, large and small, showing the boy as an infant, a toddler, a child, and then a teenager. Birthday parties, baptisms, vacations, the pictures told a life story. Underneath this story, the officers sat.

Officer Smith began, “Now, Ms. Langham, we received your call at the station. I understand your son is missing. What’s your son’s name?”

“William,” she said quietly but with a practiced cadence. “William Henry Langham. My Henry. Oh please, Officer Smith, you have to help me. I am absolutely beside myself. What can I do? How can we get him home?”

“I understand Ms. Langham. We are here to help.”

“Oh good. I just don’t know what to do. That’s why I called.”

“Now, Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith began again, “does Henry go to the local high school?”

“Yes. He’s a junior. On the football team. He plays defense. I can never remember the position names. I just love watching him play. I never miss a game.” Officer Wallace noticed she began to cry but seemed unaware of the tear running down her wrinkled cheek. “There’s a picture of him above you on that wall. There, to the left. Yes, there it is. Do you see it? There he is. He is so proud of that jersey. Will that help you find him? Oh my god, I can’t believe he is missing.”

“It will Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith promised. “Now, can you tell me who the last person to see Henry was?”

“Oh, yes,” she said with authority. “Me. I made him breakfast. His favorite: eggs and bacon. I gave him a big hug and off to school he went. I yelled out to him ‘I love you’ as he went out the front door. I always did that. Every day. ‘I love you!” Every day. I never missed a day. Never missed a day for my Henry.” Officer Wallace watched Officer Smith take careful notes, and he noticed Ms. Langham had tears running down both cheeks now.

“I know this must be very hard for you, Ms. Langham,” Officer Wallace said, trying to provide comfort. It would be his first missing persons case, and he needed to get as much information from her as possible. He knew a calm witness was a good witness.

“Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith said, cutting Officer Wallace off before he could continue, “Do you know of any reason why Henry would go away? Has he ever runaway before?”

“Henry? My Henry? Why, no. Oh no, he wouldn’t do that. Oh no. He knew he was loved. Oh, officer, I can promise you that. Every day, like I said. Every day. My Henry knew he was loved. He knew he was loved. So loved.” Officer Wallace watched Ms. Langham adjust the shaw on her lap. “Henry has never done anything like that. He loved me too. It’s just us, but it’s enough. Oh no, he would not run away.”

Officer Wallace noted the cracks in the paint on the ceiling. He sat up straight and cleared his throat.

“Now, Ms. Langham,” Officer Smith inserted, “that’s all very clear. Thank you, that is very helpful. You know, we see a fair amount of these missing persons cases, and we always have to rule out the runaway angle. And, a lot of time, that’s what we are dealing with. Problems at home, problems at school, and, poof, Johnny’s out the door! Please don’t take any offense.”

“That’s alright, officer. I know you are just doing your job,” Ms. Langham said meekly, her voice growing a little weaker.

“Now, Henry didn’t have any trouble with anyone, did he?” Officer Smith continued.

“No, no, none at all,” Ms. Langham said, stronger. “Henry gets along famously with everyone. Oh, everyone loves Henry. Everyone. I mean, I don’t know that Henry likes his football coach, Coach Tompkins, too much, but I think that’s just because he’s mean to the boys. All the boys. Just plain mean. Making them work so hard. I mean, I’m sorry. Umm. No, I don’t know anyone that Henry has any problems with.”

“Okay, I’ve got that down,” Officer Smith said, as he began to cough, placing his thick hand to his ruddy face.

“Oh, I am so sorry, how rude of me,” Ms. Langham pleaded, “Let me get you gentlemen something to drink.” Ms. Langham placed the shaw over the chair, rose, and slowly walked into the kitchen.

Officer Wallace watch her the entire way and listened carefully, waiting for just the right moment. “Bob,” Wallace whispered, “about the coach…” Officer Smith started coughing again, holding up his hand. Wallace stopped, perplexed. He heard Ms. Langham pouring the drinks. The light cut into the room at severe angles, and, as Ms. Langham emerged from the kitchen with the drinks on a tray, she cut across the light, breaking the line of light from the outside to the interior wall. The light refracted in the glasses, almost blinding Officer Wallace as he sat on the couch, under the pictures, in front of the Sports Illustrated magazine.

“Thank you very much, mam,” Officer Smith said as he sat the glass back down on the tray on the coffee table, “I certainly needed that.” Officer Wallace smiled but did not take his drink.

“Officer Smith, I am so worried about my Henry. I am sick. Please help me. Please help me find him,” Ms. Langham pleaded. She had started to cry again. The room was still, as if her tears sucked all of the little oxygen out of it. No one moved for several hours, or so it seemed.

“Ms. Langham, Officer Wallace and I know how terribly painful and sad this is. What you’ve been able to give us thus far will be of a tremendous help.”

“And,” Officer Wallace began.

“And,” Officer Smith interrupted, “my partner here will be a wonderful asset. We are going to take this information back to the station, review it, and start our search.”

Officer Wallace looked at Officer Smith, wondering where all the rest was.

“I cannot tell you how relieved and happy I am that you two can help me. Oh, I am so worried,” Ms. Langham said, as her face froze, then wrinkled into an ugly contortion. The tears did not escape unnoticed now. They ran from her, streaking down her face, her shoulders convulsing up and down as she sobbed. “Please, please, please,” she pleaded.

Officer Smith rose from the couch and walked the few feet to Ms. Langham. He moved the shaw ever so slightly up her legs. “Now, Ms. Langham, you have given us such wonderful information. We are here. We know how agonizing this is, but you don’t have to go through this alone. We will be searching for Henry. I will not rest. You have my word.”

Ms. Langham sat up, exhaled, and caught her breath. Officer Wallace searched her face. Moments earlier, it was if the dam had breached, the pain uncorked. Now, Ms. Langham halted the flood. She wiped her face with the back of her hands. “Thank you.”

“I will be in touch with you very soon. You have my number, I know. Officer Wallace and I will be looking for Henry.”

Officer Smith stood up from crouching next to her chair, looked at Officer Wallace, and walked toward the front door. Officer Wallace, spinning and off balance in his head, stood up slowly, saying, “Thank you, Ms. Langham. We’ll be in touch soon.”

Ms. Langham looked at Officer Wallace and then turned her face staring out the side window.

Officer Smith walked to the door, opened it, and motioned with his thick hand for Wallace to exit first. Officer Wallace took a last few steps in the house, noting the high school jacket hanging on the hook by the door, the two umbrellas leaning in the corner. He stepped onto the porch and waited for Officer Smith to follow. Officer Smith carefully and slowly closed the front door. Without looking at Wallace, he turned and walked down the front path.

“Bob,” Officer Wallace said in a muted voice as he caught back up to his mentor, “one thing.”

“In the car,” Smith replied.

The officers arrived at the car, and, as he got in, Officer Wallace looked back at the cottage. The light was now overhead, crashing down on the roof with a visible force, breaking evenly over the small home and scattering around the yard. No light reached the porch, though. Sealed off. He wondered if, somehow, Ms. Langham had the power to cut off that light too.

“Bob,” Officer Wallace began again as he fastened his seatbelt, “Coach Tompkins has not coached at the high school in almost twenty years.”

“I know,” Officer Smith said, as he started the car.

“And you didn’t ask her how long her son has been missing,” Officer Wallace added.

“He’s not missing,” Officer Smith responded, putting the car in drive and pressing the accelerator.


Ms. Langham sat in her chair and watched the light dance around the outside of the cottage. She dried her tears, tucked her feet under her legs, and held onto the locket on her chest.