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Chapter 8: Stolen

 

The brown Pinto station wagon slipped down Route 3 south past Plymouth, following the caravan of cars – red tail lights flaming – zooming home from Christmas travels.  A woman wearing a worn black robe sat in the passenger seat.  She spoke in a soft voice to the driver of the car, a man bundled in an old brown corduroy coat, a red and black flannel shirt and corduroy pants, with a tweed hat pulled just above his eyes.  A thick, tangled squirrel’s nest beard hid the rest of his face.  He looked like he might have crawled out from a cardboard box under a bridge.

“Do you think Abraham will be pleased?” the woman asked.

The man looked in the rear-view mirror.  He had looked in the mirror every few minutes since they began driving an hour ago.  Below the flashing white lights reflecting off the back window, cowering in the shadows in the back seat, a small boy whimpered.  Every so often a car passed and the beam of its headlights flashed and a harsh light moved across the boy’s face and revealed that it was wet with tears.

“Yes, he’ll be pleased,” the man said after a few minutes’ silence.  The boy gazed out the window at the dull, dark sky.  Lights flashing and then dark again.  Shadows creeping across his face and then yellow light and the whoosh of cars passing.  He listened to the man and woman in the front seat talking about him.

They crossed a huge bridge.  The boy could see the water far below.  They had driven nearly the entire way without the man or woman addressing or acknowledging the boy directly.  Finally, the woman turned around in her seat and spoke.  “You’re going to live with us from now on.”  The boy looked at her.  He could only see a dim outline of her face, which was hidden in the night’s shadow.

“We’re your family now,” she continued.  We’re going to your new home.”

The boy looked away from her and faced the window.  He began to cry.

“You mustn’t cry Augustine,” she said.  “Crying is weak and those who cry will suffer eternal damnation in the fires of hell.  You don’t understand this, but we are saving you from being damned to hell and cast aside by God.  We are rescuing you from great suffering.”  She paused and considered him.  She reached out to place her hand on his knee.  The boy recoiled and moved out of her reach, closer to the door.

“My name is Jack!” he cried.  “I want my daddy!”  His body convulsed in sobs.  The woman glanced at the man.  He nodded his head to encourage her to continue.

“Jack is your old name, your damned name,” she said.  “Augustine is your new name, your redeemed name, and you will accept it as your name from now on.”  She looked at the man, started to speak again, and then stopped and stared out the front window.  Jack noticed they had pulled off the highway.  

The lights from passing cars became less frequent as they drove down a quiet, dark road lined by bare elms and maples and scrub pine.  When cars passed, their flashing lights reminded Jack of that afternoon: Lilly crawling through the blanket tunnels shining a flashlight trying to find him hiding in a secret chamber of the fort his dad had made.  

“You must forget your father,” the woman, turning again to face Jack, continued in her soft voice.  “Your father is an evil person and he is going to hell.  We took you from him so you won’t go to hell too.  We’re taking you to a place where you will be saved…where you will find salvation and learn true happiness.  It’s for the best.”

Jack wanted to tell her that he didn’t want to go…that his daddy was not evil and not going to hell.  But he was scared.  He stared blankly out the car window, tears rolling down his face, and hoped his dad would find him and take him back home.

Jack strained to see where he was as the car twisted around the narrow curves, but all he could see were the vague outlines of the murky pine trees on both sides of the road.  The woman turned to him.  “You are going to meet Abraham.  He is the prophet and the one who is going to save you and show you the truth and the light.  He saved all of us.”  The woman also told Jack he would meet his new brothers and sisters.  He would forget his old family and his old life, his dark life. 

“We know all about you, Augustine,” she said.  “Your mother told us everything.”  The car stopped in front of a gate between two pillars.  The man got out, turned a latch and swung the gate open.  He drove through and then got out again and closed the gate behind him.  The car lurched down the narrow, bumpy, winding driveway.  

Black trees – thick woods – bordered each side of the car; pine branches hung close enough that they whacked against the roof.  Jack searched the woman’s shadowy face for some answer to how his mother was involved, what she had told them, why this had happened.  

Jack played the scene over in his mind, trying to remember, trying to find the reason why these people had taken him, searching for a connection and some hope that he would eventually be returned home.  

He remembered the man and woman pulled up next to him in the old car and told him they were friends with his mom – his mom was Victoria Delaney, right? – and that she had asked them to get Jack, that it was urgent.  Jack stopped his bike right away when the woman with the kind voice called his name.  She beckoned him over to the car window.  She had an important message from his mother.

“We need to take you to her right now,” the woman said.  “She’s at the Holiday Inn up the street.”  Jack hesitated.  He knew his mother was at the Holiday Inn.  He remembered turning to see if his daddy was outside, but instead he saw the waist of the large man with the scraggly beard; he had snuck up behind him.  

In a flash the man put his gloved hand over Jack’s mouth and ripped him off the bike.  Jack remembered that the glove smelled like sweat.  Then the man threw him into the back seat of the car.  The woman told him that if he made a noise or yelled or tried to get away, the man would kill his mother and father and his sister Lilly.  Then Jack watched the man throw his bike down the embankment that led to the swamp, into a cluster of bushes.

The woman had jumped into the back seat with him.  She had held her hand over his mouth.  It also smelled like sweat.  “Don’t move,” she had said.

“Yes, we spoke to your mother,” the woman continued now.  Jack saw the silhouette of a huge house looming in a clearing, a hulking shadow under the moonlight.   The car came to a stop in front of it.  

The house had a steeply pitched roof with a towering gable in the center.  Monstrous icicles dangled from the trim and a weak, flickering light shone from the window high up on the gable; the lone light in the lone window that Jack could see.  Thick bushes hid the lower windows and creaky wooden stairs led to a porch that stretched the length of the house. 

“She told us enough to know that this is the best thing for you,” the woman said as she opened the car door.  “You are impure, sinful.  You need to learn the path to enlightenment.”

What did his mom tell them? Jack wondered.   

“Don’t be afraid,” the woman said.  “You will learn to like it here.”  Jack shivered in the biting wind as the woman led him up the walkway to the heavy wooden front door.  She gripped his hand hard.  The man had disappeared.

Inside, the house smelled like dry wood. There were no Christmas decorations.  The flame of a candle flickered when they closed the door and caused their shadows to bob, as if on waves, along the wall.  The house was cold and Jack thought about how warm and nice his father’s house was with the fire roaring in the living room.  

The woman stood in the foyer with her hand on Jack’s shoulder.  To the right, Jack could see a large room, wood-paneled and somber.  A red-hued Oriental rug lay sprawled across the wood floor and bookshelves bulging with leather-bound books lined the far wall.  A fireplace was also at the far end of the room. No fire burned.  

Some paintings – portraits in oil of people dressed in frills and lace – and a tapestry showing two muscular arms with the fingers pointing at each other adorned the other walls.  A few more candles flickered on a round table in front of a big, brown leather couch.  

The man appeared and signaled to the woman.  She grabbed Jack’s hand.  “Come with me,” she said.  She brought him into a large kitchen and opened a door that Jack hoped would be a pantry filled with snacks.  But when she pulled a dangling string a dim light bulb glowed and revealed a steep stairway descending into a basement.

They creaked down the stairs.  At the last stair, they came to a cement floor, and then they crept along a passageway.  Shelving on both sides held boxes and tools and stacks of yellowed newspapers and bags of fertilizer, lawn seed, buckets, and rolled up rugs.  They came to a door.

The woman opened it and they entered someone’s living quarters.  They passed a bathroom with a bar of soap and tube of toothpaste on the sink.  There was a small kitchen with a linoleum-tiled floor and an old Frigidaire ice box.  A small table with three chairs was pushed up against the wall.  On it rested a stick of butter and a plate with a loaf of baked bread.  

The woman walked to a door with a window and Jack could see it led outside.  She checked the lock.  Then she opened a second door.  A bedroom.  “You wait here,” she said, pointing to the room.  Jack walked in and she closed the door behind him.  He heard the click of the lock.

There were two beds, both made, the white blankets pulled tightly over the pillows, not a wrinkle anywhere.  There was a window through which Jack could see the blue-gray outlines of tree branches whipping in the wind at the edge of a forest.  On a night-stand between the beds was an oil lamp, and a clock ticked quickly – tick, tick, tick – like a bomb, and it mingled with the wailing wind outside.  The walls were bare.   

Jack shivered in the frigid, mildewy, musty room.  He pulled down the blanket on one of the beds and burrowed underneath it.  Where was he?  Who were these people and would he see his mother and father and Lilly again?  He dreamed about his bright house and his bedroom and his warm, soft bed and his blanket and the crackling fire and the Christmas tree and Elios Pizza and his Star Wars toys and his bike.  

He wondered if his father was looking for him and what Lilly was doing.  He wondered where his mother was and if she would come here to get him later tonight.  He hoped she would.  He thought of Bobby and wondered if he were here would he be brave and make wisecracks and not let these people scare him, just like with the older boys at Whale Rock?  

He knew Bobby would be brave and he cried because he could not be brave like Bobby because he was scared.  His teeth clattered.  He wished Bobby were with him.   

After awhile he heard a noise outside.  He got up and pressed his face against the window pane to see what he could see.  Suddenly the bedroom door opened.  It was the woman.  “There is nothing to see out there.  Just woods and the bay,” she said.  “Come with me.”

She led him back up the stairs, through the kitchen, past the front entrance, through the room he had seen when he first arrived, down a long corridor, up a staircase, then up another staircase hidden behind a door, this one steeper and winding in a circle.  It led to a bedroom.  There were many candles lit and the room smelled of spice.  There was a large, pointed window on the front wall.  This must have been the window near the top of the house that Jack had seen.

The room was different than the other rooms.  A king-sized bed, richly covered in a maroon silk bedspread, dominated.  Jack stood on thick, golden shag wall-to-wall carpet.  A portrait of a man, halo gleaming around his head, hung on the wall over the bed.  It looked like Jesus, but it was not Jesus.  Jack blinked at himself in the large mirror on the wall.  A door next to it opened and a man appeared wearing a white robe.  It was the man in the portrait.