Downstairs, he can hear his mother talking with Cordelia, worrying over what’s happening outside with their father and his brothers. Why they went out there into that storm is beyond him, but the odds are that Jeb got to them and killed them. Digging under his bed and dragging out his BB gun, Keith glances at the window, swallowing hard. When he thought tonight was going to be a bad night, he’d never anticipated a murderous neighbor to play into the mix.
How wrong had he been.
Loading the BB gun, he shoots a glance out the door and stares across the hallway at Avery’s room. It’s been a while since he vanished into the night to check on the neighbors. George and Martha were a bunch of old bags of bones and there wasn’t much there that could save them from Jeb if he went chasing after Avery. Heck, Avery wasn’t much of a fighter. Ever since he went off to college, Avery got soft. How many times did he go to the gym even? How’s he supposed to help protect their home?
What was Dad always calling him? A liberal. Sheesh, Keith knew that he was alone until he Dad got back. Taking a deep breath, he turns off the lights and slowly watches as the porch light in the back catches the snow, casting a pale white light across the thousands of annoying flecks, blinding him to what’s lurking beyond the window. Jeb could be out there with a hunting rifle, pointing it straight at the window, waiting for Keith to step into sight and present a pretty little target.
Looking over at the computer, he knows that getting on it and getting caught by his Mom would mean an immediate death sentence. But desperate times call for desperate measures. He takes a deep breath, crawling across the floor to the computer, making sure that he avoids the window at all cost. If he gets killed, then there will be no one to warn the others. Everyone has to be told what Jeb really is, what he was doing out there in his back yard. But, easier said than done.
How is he supposed to tell his parents that their neighbor is actually a psychopath who kills people and hangs them from the trees in his back yards? Well, no, he couldn’t possibly kill them. That man had been alive, whoever it was. It had been clinging to life there at the end when he hit the person with the hook, with the large chunk of metal. They weren’t going to believe him no matter what he said to them. After all, why would they?
Jeb had been their neighbor for so long. He’d been a constant fixture surrounding their house for his entire life. Sure, Jeb was the most lonely and creepy person in all of Ashford Bend. There’s nothing about him that is friendly, that is welcomed, or is even natural. All he does is hunt animals and skin them in his back yard for years now. Keith, crawling across the floor thinks about all the animal skulls that hang on his neighbor’s fence posts like macabre totems to some pagan deity. Taking a deep breath, he pushes the chair out of the way and climbing up into the seat.
The pale screen fills the world of his room in a ghostly light that casts long shadows off of the books and the toys lined on his shelves that he hadn’t touched in years. The room is transformed into this ethereal world in the light of the cyber realm. Typing away at the computer, Keith pulls up the internet. There has to be something out there that could explain Jeb or the Ashford Press might have something on Jeb or something from his past. Keith clicks on the icon for the internet and immediately, he pulls it up for an instant message screen pops up. The box scares him before he can even find something worth being scared about
“Dude, are you grounded?” Robby asks from across the town.
Keith takes a moment, looking over his shoulder to make sure that his mother is not standing in the doorway. He swears that his mother has magical powers sometimes. He turns back to the computer and tells his friend that he has and that he probably won’t be seeing the light of day the entire Christmas break. Pulling up another screen, he begins to type in Jeb’s name when he notices the news on his home screen.
“Masses reported missing in Missoula,” the screen reads. Leaning forward, he stares at the screen, feeling the chill run through his spine. “Tonight, police are scrambling to located over a hundred missing residents of outer Missoula. This spring of disappearances are said to have caused great alarm to those in the neighboring homes. Many are considered elderly, disabled, or sick. Search parties have started conducting massive searches in the area, but approaching storm front is drawing criticism for the action from the local government. City officials are requesting that all search parties return to their homes and wait for the storm to pass.”
“Dude, did you hear that Tim’s grandparents are missing? Why aren’t you answering your phone?” Robby’s instant message pops up on the screen. Keith looks back at the news story and forgets for a moment how he’s supposed to breathe.
“Where does Tim’s grandparents live?” Keith types back, looking at the BB gun by the desk. There’s something ominous about all of this and something isn’t right. Avery went over to check on George and Martha and they’re like, what? A billion years old? He’s not back yet and it’s been forever. So what the hell is happening around here? Why are old people disappearing?
Go to Mom, the voice inside his head whispers. It’s the smart part of his head, the one that doesn’t let him punch people like Carter in the nose. He should go to Mom and he should tell them all that they need to get the hell out of here. They need to call the cops or something. Shit, Dad is the cops. How are they going to figure this out? He should call Dad. That’s the first step, not Mom. Dad is the answer right now. But Mom took your phone.
“I don’t know,” Tim responds. “Why?”
Keith types back. “No reason.”
“My Dad is pissed,” Tim types back.
“Someone keeps knocking at the door and ditching.”
Keith reads the message and furrows his brow. What is someone doing out there in the storm doorbell ditching? In this weather of all weather, people shouldn’t be hanging around out in the middle of the snow. Keith, the boy who knows all the trade secrets of causing trouble, thinks that’s a bad idea. He shakes his head. There’s something really stupid about messing with people in the middle of a blizzard. People get angry. People get pissed.
“They still doing it?” Keith types.
“Yeah,” Tim types back. “They’re tapping on my window.” He types again after a moment.
“You should get out of there.”
“I’ve got a bad feeling about it.”
“Someone just broke in. Tell your da”
Keith stares at the screen.