Chapter 4 (pages 50-58)
Dr. Monastersky entered the kitchen. Mr. Franklin rose from his chair, eyes wide, “Is she … well? Or…”
“She’s gone upstairs, to bed I presume. I need more time to evaluate her condition, Mr. Franklin,” the doctor said, lowering his head. “Emma is under a lot of stress; her reaction could very well be legitimate.”
“But her story, it’s crazy.”
“I know, but she is not the only one that tells it. Other young people at the school tell the same story. I’ve talked with some of them as well. Their stories all match. Even Miss Hampton and Reverend Stone claim it’s true.”
“Are you insinuating that, that …” Mr. Franklin slapped his forehead with an open palm, “that all this is true?”
“No. Not at all. But it does require further investigation. Something happened that day, Mr. Franklin. Something terrible. I want to find out what it was.”
Mr. Franklin looked frazzled, his tidy way of thinking had been disrupted and he did not like it, not one bit. “Perhaps they’ll find Tom someday, and all this will be behind us.” Mr. Franklin suggested.
“I hope they do find him.” Dr. Monastersky said, pulling his recording machine off the cabinet. “But it’s been three months, Caleb.” The doctor frowned.
Mr. Franklin led the doctor to the door. “I’m afraid they’ll be no more visits, Abigail does not want Emma questioned.
“I understand.” Dr. Monastersky stepped out. “Good Day, Mr. Franklin.”
“Good Day, Dr. Monastersky.” Mr. Franklin closed the door behind him.
* * *
It was midafternoon. The sun beat against Dr. Monastersky’s skin with more intensity than he had ever remembered and the next thing he knew he had fallen to the ground. His skin was cold and clammy. Heat stroke, he quickly self-diagnosed and took a swallow from his flask, feeling queasy. He studied the dirt beneath him, his pudgy fingers shoveling into the dry earth. He was behind the old school-house. As long as the earth doesn’t open up again, he thought wryly and rose. The doctor swayed, struggled for balance. He grabbed the monkey bars, his hand tightening over them, then he fell with a thud.
* * *
The school bells chimed louder than they had in months, filling the summer day with the anticipation of a long-awaited vacation. Emma pushed against her desk. Summer had arrived in Philadelphia. She couldn’t stop thinking about Pompeii. About Markus. She would go to the white oak today, to look for the girls. She had to find her way back to Pompeii and get the artifact back from Mystery. She had to destroy it.
Emma shoved the crooked wooden door at the back of the one room school-house open, slamming it back against the outside wall. It was painted white but after years of such handling the wood underneath it had begun to show in more places than one. Like an army of ants emerging from an ant hill the students erupted from the school house, all of them dizzy with elation, their heads filled with plans for the summer.
Emma stayed inside the school-house watching as the last student left. Something was off. Emma couldn’t quite put her finger on it, but something had changed in her world. Her father was acting a little different. He had returned Abigail’s paintings and things to the house. Perhaps he was ready to embrace her memory now. Emma sighed. But there was something else, that morning, before she had left for school, Emma had noticed a heap of clothes stacked inside a wicker basket, next to the kitchen door. Whites and linens, and an old dress, brown with white flowers decorating the top and skirt, it had been her mother’s favorite. Why would father have brought in her clothes? Washed them and folded them?
Emma smiled at Anabelle who too remained inside the school-house. Anabelle wore a plain brown dress, she had thick brown hair pulled back and tied with a pink ribbon. She was the class genius, always eager to please, to be part of the elite group of students that became Miss Hampton’s favorites. Today she stayed to help Reverend Stone clean the chalk boards and erasers. Reverend Stone was sweet on Miss Hampton and often volunteered to help at the schoolhouse when he wasn’t preparing a sermon for Sunday. Emma was glad someone other than herself had remained. She was eager to find the artifact, the last thing she wanted was to pound erasers together.
Emma collected her bag and waved at Miss Hampton who sat at her desk in front of the room. Miss Hampton looked up from her work and nodded. Emma looked back at the three. No one said a word. No one waved back.
Something was definitely off. But Emma didn’t care to stay behind and find out what it was. The ringing meant they were free. And she wanted nothing more than to be done with school.
Emma rushed toward Tulip, she had left the mare tied to the hitching rail in front of the school-house. She mounted the old mare and turned her to face in the direction of her home. “Wait a minute.” Emma pulled back on the reigns, “Who is that?” Emma asked Tulip as if the mare were fluent in the human tongue. The horse neighed.
“Dr. Monastersky?” Emma dismounted rushed to the old man, lying under the monkey bars. “What happened?” She crouched. Others started to gather in a half circle behind her. Classmates that lingered in the playground before having to go home and do chores around their farms. The grassy fields swayed from left to right as a light breeze picked up around them.
“What’s wrong with him?” Amy was the first to speak up. She had red hair and freckles, and small wire spectacles that helped her read. Amy had helped Emma look for Tom the night after he disappeared.
“I don’t know.” Emma paled. “Go get Reverend Stone. Hurry!” She screamed.
Amy ran, dropping her school bag behind her. She burst into the school-house panting and holding her side. “He’s fainted! Outside, on the ground!” she shouted.
“Who?” The Reverend looked up from his spot. He and Annabelle were covered in white chalk. Annabelle wiped her hands on an old rag. Miss Hampton rose from behind her desk.
“Amy, what’s wrong?” Miss Hampton took a step forward. “Who fell?”
Amy’s face was blotched red. She wiped her forehead with the back of her arm. “The doctor, he, I think he might even be dead!”
Miss Hampton gasped. Reverend Stone’s face paled, he dropped the long rectangular erasers to the ground. Emma sat next to the doctor, she lifted her gaze Reverend Stone was running, following Amy out of the school-house, but before he and the girls could get to them, the ground beneath them became like water, swirling in circles around them.
Emma’s heart felt like a heavy piece of lead. “No, not again!” Emma swatted at the dirt, but the grains sifted through her fingers. She grabbed onto the doctor’s arms, trying to pull him away from the rippling earth, but he was too heavy. This was exactly what had happened to Tom.
“Emma! Get away from there!” The Reverend lurched at her, yanking her skirts and pulling her backwards, away from the good doctor.
“No, let me go!” Emma protested. Doctor Monastersky was sinking into the earth. “We have to help him! They’re taking him like they took Tom!” Emma shouted.
“Emma!” Reverend Stone held her in place with all of his strength. Emma struggled in the Reverend’s arms. “There is evil here, child. Stay away from it.”
“No!” Emma was furious. The earth beneath them rolled, mounds of dirt rose like waves. Large glass windows emerged all around them taller than the tallest trees, circling the space where the doctor’s body lay. Just like the ones she had seen inside the White Oak. The earth continued to move until it covered Dr. Monastersky’s body so that only his face was visible.
The Reverend mumbled a prayer, something about Jesus casting out demons.
“Dr. Monastersky!” Emma called out, and the good doctor opened his eyes. The Reverend tightened his hold. Emma felt a shiver crawl down her spine. She could see the doctor’s eyes, large and frightened. “Dr. Monastersky!” Emma screamed one last time, and then he was gone.
“There is nothing you can do, Emma!” Miss Hampton’s voice shook. She brushed her hair from her face. Her bun had come undone, loose brown strands of hair fell over her shoulders. She inched next to the Reverend, as close as she dared.
“I don’t believe you!” Emma shouted. “Let me go! Let me go!” The Reverend loosened his grip. Emma shook herself free.
Emma peered into one of the windows. She saw Mystery and Olive. Their lips moved, mouthing out her name. Mystery held the artifact, waving it over her head, and Olive pressed her little hands against the glass.
The windows slipped back into the earth one by one. Olive and Mystery faded. Emma scratched at earth until her fingers were raw. The earth had settled, and the opening closed. Emma crawled into Miss Hampton’s arms and wept.
* * *
The sun was still hot, even though the day was waning. Young people held each other, and little ones wept. No one wanted to leave the playground. Emma sat on a mound of dirt, face soiled, streaked with tears. Reverend Stone prayed while Miss Hampton held Emma.
“I wanted to …” Emma lifted her head, looking into Miss Hampton’s kind brown eyes. “I tried.” Emma swallowed, then buried her head into the crook of Miss Hampton’s arm.
“Emma, this is beyond your capability, beyond ours.” Miss Hampton stroked Emma’s hair. “It wasn’t your fault.”
The Reverend crouched, “Pray with me, Emma.” His voice was low, almost a whisper. Emma lifted her gaze, looking up at him. His head was a mop of disheveled red curls and his freckled face was as soiled as her own. Reverend Stone took her hand, squeezing it.
“Lord …” His blue eyes closed shut. “Deliver us from this evil, guide and protect your daughter Emma. Wash her in your grace.” He paused as if at a loss for words, still shaking from what he had just seen, then he began again. “Lord we pray for Dr. Monastersky’s soul and we ask that you give his family courage through these trying times. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.” He squeezed Emma’s hand, bowing his head. He looked up at the other students and asked the two oldest boys, Patrick and Sam, to fetch the Marshall at the city police station. “Bring him here, tell him what happened. I will join you later and so will Miss Hampton.” He looked at the young teacher, Miss Hampton nodded.
“Of course,” she said, standing.
“Come, your parents must be worried,” Reverend said, rising and pulling Emma to her feet. Emma stood up, her legs felt wobbly, the bottom of her feet tingled, both of them heavy. She didn’t know how long she’d been sitting.
“We’ll take you home.” Miss Hampton offered. Emma nodded. Her head throbbed, she couldn’t think, couldn’t disagree. She watched as her classmates began to drift away one by one, disappearing into the old dirt road as they each headed for their own homes. Emma walked silently next to Miss Hampton, to Reverend Stone’s horse drawn wagon, and climbed into the back of the wagon. They rode for a half hour before arriving at the small brick house where the Franklin’s were already waiting outside.
A large fiery blood orange sun hung over the house, diving into the horizon with a splash of red and yellow splattering the sky. Sunset would arrive late in the middle of June, Emma knew, as she pushed herself up and jumped off the wagon.
Emma’s heart stopped. She knew that voice.
“Mother?” Emma lifted her gaze. She wondered if she might still be in shock, because there was her mother, standing in the open doorway. How could it be? Emma stared, dazed as Abigail ran to the wagon.
“We just heard. Amy and Annabelle dropped by,” Abigail said, rushing to her daughter’s side. Emma’s mouth dropped.
“Mother, you’re here!” Emma threw her arms around Abigail’s neck. Her hair was soft just as she remembered, and she smelt of roses, she always smelt of roses.
“Of course, where else would I be?” Abigail gave her daughter a worried look, pulling away from her embrace and looking her over.
“Nowhere, I mean, I’m glad you’re home.” Emma smiled, wiping her tears, nearly forgetting what had just happened at the schoolhouse. She sniffed the air, inhaling Abigail’s perfume.
“Emma, are you alright?” Abigail probed. “Did you hit your head?”
“I’m okay.” Emma wanted to tell Abigail everything, but it would only make things worse, how she had died and how Emma had missed her, about the girls, and Pompeii, but she couldn’t.
“Let’s get you home and get you cleaned up.” Abigail insisted. “A nice warm bath will do you good. I’ll boil some water.” Abigail wrapped her arm around Emma’s waist and steered her into the house.
“I’ve missed you so much … I mean,” Emma’s voice shook, “I …” She couldn’t stop the tears from falling.
“Are you all right, child?” Miss Hampton rushed to Emma’s side. Emma nodded. “What we saw,” the young teacher looked up at Abigail, “was like nothing we’ve ever seen before, it was horrible. Emma, she tried to save the doctor, but there was no way. We …” Miss Hampton dropped her head.
“I’m alright now,” Emma said, hardly able to believe what was happening.
Abigail looked up at her husband, her face blanched. She stroked Emma’s long dark hair her eyes shifting to the Reverend.
“It’s all true,” he said, taking a deep breath, “God save us all.”
Mr. Franklin looked up at Reverend, he could not help but grimace. “You don’t say, and I suppose …” He paused for dramatic effect. “St Nicholas dropped out of sky and saved the three you. Look, Reverend Stone, Miss Hampton, I know you both had a relationship with Tom and with the Doctor, I believe something happened, yes, but not the way you describe it. Good Day.”
Abigail frowned. “I’m sorry, Mr. Franklin is upset,” she turned to the Reverend. “The good doctor was a close friend. Thank you both for bringing Emma home.” Abigail said, excusing herself.
“It’s just like they said, Mother.” Emma contended, “we all saw it.”
Abigail did not contradict her daughter nor the others, she simply said good-bye and motioned Emma toward the house. Emma didn’t care what her parents believed, she knew what she saw, all that concerned her at that moment was her mother. She was happy, despite what had happened.
Emma turned back as Abigail opened the door, she felt guilty for not feeling worse. Before she knew that Abigail was alive, she was set on helping Tom and Dr. Monastersky. She was willing to risk everything to get them back, but now all she wanted to do was spend all of her time with Abigail. Her attention turned to the dirt road as Miss Hampton and Reverend Stone rode away. She was scared for them, and for her classmates. She stared until they were no more than a speck of dust pressed against the horizon.