by Paul W. Marino
I bought the property sight unseen. All I really knew about it was that it was some forty acres of wooded land on a mountaintop in Western Massachusetts, in some obscure little town called Savoy, and that ownership of it had been in question for some fifty years. A number of heirs were fighting over who owned it and who was responsible for paying (or firing) a caretaker that lived on or near the property. I’d heard about it from a friend who had family there, and I thought it sounded like a terrific place to build a weekend/summer/retirement home. A secluded spot in a quiet little town in the middle of nowhere; who could ask for more?
So I found a real estate agent out there, had him look it up and open negotiations. It went on for quite a while. Most of the heirs wanted to sell and get rid of it, but there were a few holdouts that wanted to own it. Finally, after a few months of wrangling, I made an offer that seemed to please everyone, and the deal was closed. I sent a check and the real estate agent sent me the deed and directions to the property.
“Watch out when you get there,” he told me, over the phone. “It’s a nice looking piece of land, but the caretaker is some kind of a nut. Doesn’t like anybody going in there.”
“Not even the owner?” I asked.
“All the Wesley’s I spoke to told me that he chases everybody out of there. Even them.”
“Who knows! He doesn’t tolerate trespassers and he doesn’t answer questions.”
“He sounds like a piece of work!”
“I’d say so! I’m told he’s been looking after the property for nigh on eighty years, and figures it’s his.” I whistled.
“Eighty years! Hasn’t he ever heard of retirement?”
“What can I tell you? He’s a crotchety old coot who’s set in his ways. Just be careful. You don’t want him walking all over you, but you don’t want to drive him to a coronary arrest either.”
So I was careful. I waited until I had a free weekend, put a six pack in an ice chest, and drove out there. Three hours to Savoy, and twenty minutes more going over roads that went from paved to dirt to vague ruts. That was what my private road was like; you only knew it was a road because it was a long, narrow space between the trees and it had ruts. Even at two miles an hour, it was like the suspension system was completely shot. It didn’t really bother me. I figured a few truckloads of gravel would smooth it out. I just hadn’t bargained for how remote it actually was. But there was no denying it was beautiful country. Maybe it wouldn’t do as a retirement home, but it would still be great as a place to get away to on weekends and vacations.
My excuse for a road ended in an open glade deep in the woods. Once I shut the engine off, the silence came crashing in on me. I couldn’t hear anything but birds, wind in the trees and the creaking of branches. After a minute, I started hearing insects. Yeah, this was fabulous! I stood by the Jeep and started imagining what kind of house I might build. A log cabin was one possibility; it would sure fit into the location. Or maybe I’d go with something more modern: All concrete and glass and skylights, wide decks made with wood cut from my own trees. That was as far as my plans got. Something big crashed through the brush and a voice bellowed,
“You! Git outa’ here! This is private property!” I turned around and was looking at the oldest old fart I’d ever seen. He had white hair flowing from his scalp and had a beard to match, rumpled brown clothes and a pock-marked old hat. He looked to be a hundred or more, with creases on his face like a topographical map. And he was holding a shotgun in one hand. I took a deep breath and smiled.
“I know it’s private property. I’m the new owner.” I held out my hand for him to shake and was starting to say my name when he spoke again.
“You ain’t the owner! The owner of this land is named Jeremy Wesley, and you ain’t him!”
“I assure you I am the owner. I bought this land from Mr. Wesley’s estate two months ago. I can show you the deed, if you’d like.”
“The only thing I want to see is you leavin’! Now you git in that fancy car of yours and scram!” I sighed patiently.
“Look, there’s obviously a misunderstanding here. Why don’t we sit down and have a beer and—........” The gun went off like a cannon, fired into the air. I yelled in terror and froze where I stood. For the first time, I noticed how wild his eyes looked. This was a man with a one track mind, and I was in the middle of it.
“Okay!” I said, holding up both hands, palms out. “I’m going, okay? Just put the gun away.” He didn’t put the gun away, just watched as I sidled to the Jeep and climbed in, looking like he’d prefer to blow me away. I considered backing down the road, just to get away faster, but I knew I’d never manage it. I turned around as fast as I could manage and drove off, not sure if he was going to take out my rear windshield for good measure or not. He didn’t. Instead, he watched me with the most venomous eyes I’d ever seen. Me, I drove as fast as I dared until he was out of sight.
When I reached the end of the road, I stopped, got out, and threw up. When that was done, I took a leak, amazed that I hadn’t wet myself when the gun went off. I was shaking all over and felt like crying, but once I started taking stock of myself and realized I wasn’t really hurt, just scared, I started getting royally angry. It was my damn property and this old fool had driven me off of it like I was a naughty schoolboy. I got back in the Jeep and headed out in search of the nearest Police station.
There are no Police in Savoy. It’s so small, they can’t afford any. I learned this when I got back onto the main road and pulled into the parking lot of the town’s only store. It was a homey little place, stocked with an assortment of groceries, newspapers, junk food, soda and beer. The woman behind the counter smiled when I walked in, then looked concerned.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost!” She said.
“Where do I find the Police?” She frowned at that.
“Were you robbed?” I shook my head, a little too quickly.
“No, I’m..........I’m Bob Miller. I just bought the old Wesley property and was up taking a look at it.” Her mouth dropped open in shock. “This old.......coot scared the........” I realized I was breathing heavily, almost hyperventilating. I forced myself to calm down. “He drove me off with a shotgun.”
That set her in motion. She reached over the counter, took me by the arm and led me to her cubby hole size office and made me sit down, then grabbed a Coke from the fridge and told me to drink it, slowly. That done, she grabbed the phone and made a few quick calls.
“We don’t have any local Police,” she said. “We can’t afford it, not with our budget, but I’ve called the State Police for you, they’ll have someone here in twenty minutes or so. I called Zeke Wesley, too; he’ll have some idea how to deal with this.”
“Thank you,” I said. It didn’t seem anywhere near enough, but I couldn’t think of anything else to say. She smiled at me.
“Think nothing of it. You just sit and get yourself together again. What did you say your name was, again?”
“Bob. Bob Miller.” She held out her hand and said,
“I’m Miriam Jones.” Her grip was warm and strong. I noticed now that she was on the high side of middle age. Her face was lined, though her eyes were bright and lively. Whatever her age, she didn’t dye her hair; it was graying to white and cascaded over her shoulders.
“I’m pleased to meet you, Ms. Jones.”
“Oh, call me Miriam, please!”
“Miriam,” I repeated, and smiled. I couldn’t help it. She smiled too, and it lit up her whole face.
“Where are you from, Bob?”
“Boston. Cambridge, really. I work in the Thames Agency.”
“Real estate? Insurance?”
“Sounds interesting. I’m sorry you didn’t have a nicer introduction to Savoy.”
“Who is that guy?” She sighed sharply.
“His name is Ronald Proctor, and he’s been chasing people off that land for as long as anyone can remember.”
“I was told it’s been eighty years.” She nodded.
“Could be. I’m a third generation resident, and I can remember my grandfather talking about him!”
“What’s on that property, anyway? A still? A buried treasure? A body?” She shook her head.
“No one knows. It could be anything, but all anyone alive has ever seen are trees.”
In about fifteen minutes we were joined by an old geezer that Miriam introduced as Zeke Wesley, but he didn’t know anymore than she did, just that the property had been in the family since the 1700's.
“I take it the Wesleys have been here a long time, then?” I said. He nodded vigorously.
“We’re the oldest family in town. There’s five or six branches of us all told. Jeremy Wesley, that owned that lot you bought, was my great-great uncle. I never knew him myself, he disappeared before I was born.”
“What happened to him?”
“Nobody knows. Maybe he died, maybe he wandered off, who knows? But when he’d been gone thirty years, folk figured he was dead. He’d been pretty old when he was around—some seventy years old, my Dad said—so folk guessed he must of been dead by then. But Ron Proctor always said he wasn’t.”
“And never let anyone in to look?” I asked. Zeke shook his head.
“What did Jeremy do?”
“For a living? My Dad used to wonder about that too. He never did anything with the land that anyone knows of; just worked day and night to keep people out of it.” I shook my head with disbelief.
“This has got to be the weirdest thing I’ve ever heard of! A man with no visible means of support spends his life keeping people off his property.......so how did Proctor come into this?”
“I’m not really sure, to tell you the truth. He just sort of took over watching the property one day. Though he did used to have a piece of paper saying he was acting on Uncle Jeremy’s orders. I never saw it myself, but my Dad and my older brother Tom did. They both said it was all legal and would hold up in court.”
“Assuming Jeremy was still alive?”
“In a legal sense, yes. But we could never prove that one way or another.” I wasn’t feeling angry or frightened any more. I was feeling confused. What in hell had I gotten myself into?
“So Proctor’s been fighting you in court all these years? Where does he get his money?” Zeke shrugged.
“Just like Jeremy,” I sighed. “No visible means of support.”
A while later, a State Trooper pulled up. We shook hands all around and I told him about how this old man had chased me off my property with a shotgun. He questioned me pretty closely about that—if I’d done or said anything threatening, how lucid Proctor had seemed and so on. After ten minutes of talking he said he’d call Proctor on the phone and see if he could talk some sense into him.
“No point in that,” Zeke said. “He don’t have a phone. And even if he did, you couldn’t get sense into him with a hammer!” The Trooper nodded and answered,
“In that case, I’d say we need to call in a STOP team.”
“Stop team?” I asked.
“Special Tactical Operations. The equivalent of a SWAT team.”
“Shit! Are things that bad?”
“Based on your description, yes, because I’m not going in there alone.” He walked back to his car, got in and began talking on the radio. In a couple minutes he came back and said a STOP team was en route from Northampton and they’d be on site within an hour.
They made it in less than an hour, and made me nervous. Where the Trooper we’d first spoken to was no-nonsense, these two were positively grim. They came in a black Jeep Cherokee, were both wearing camouflage suits with Kevlar vests and military style helmets, and were named Tyler and Wainwright. I told them the whole story over again, and they said not to worry. They’d get Proctor out of there; alive and uninjured if at all possible. Then we got in our cars—me in mine, Zeke Wesley in his, and them in theirs—and drove in to where my private road started. They told us to stay put until they called all clear, and drove on up the road.
I felt like throwing up again. As bad as Proctor had scared me, I didn’t want him to get shot. Truth be told, I was beginning to feel sorry for him. He was an old man who’d dedicated his life a long time ago to protecting those woods. And whether he was sane or senile or whatever, he didn’t deserve to take a bullet for it. Maybe we could work something out. I could build my house and let him protect that, too, if he wanted to. There was room enough for both of us. I heard a dim shout.
“Mr. Proctor!” We heard the loudspeaker as clear as a bell. “Put the gun down and put your hands on top of your head.” Something, almost silent with distance. Then, “A complaint has been filed against you. Do you understand?” Silence. “Mr. Proctor, I need you to put the gun down, now. We will talk this out later, but I need you to put the gun down.” More silence. “That may be, but you need to put the gun down first.” Silence again. “Mr. Proctor, this is your last warning. Put the gun—....” A boom, loud in the stillness. I jumped. Then a soft pop, rather like a sneeze, and then silence again. I was gripping the steering wheel so hard my knuckles were going white. Two minutes passed, feeling more like two hours, and then the loudspeaker echoed through the trees. “All clear.”
I put the Jeep in gear and roared up the road, faster than I should have. Zeke followed in his pickup. When I pulled into the clearing, Wainwright was putting an assault rifle in the back of the Cherokee; Tyler was standing over Proctor, who was lying on the ground, face down. My first thought was that he was dead, but then I saw his head moving. His hands were cuffed behind his back and one was bleeding. As soon as he saw me he started yelling.
“YOU! You did this! Get off this land!” Tyler heaved a sigh. Overcome with relief, I answered apologetically.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Proctor. You didn’t leave me any other options.” I wasn’t sure if that was true or not, but Proctor didn’t care.
“It’s not your land! I don’t care what fool paper you’ve got! It’s Jeremy Wesley’s land!”
“Jeremy Wesley is dead,” Zeke said.
“Show me the body!” Proctor roared. “You show me he’s dead and I’ll believe it!” The two Troopers were together by now. They reached down, each taking an arm, and lifted him to his feet.
“Right this way, Mr. Proctor,” Tyler said. Proctor ignored him, except to walk where they were leading him.
“You can’t tell me he’s dead without proving it and you can’t prove nothing! You got no business on this land! You need to get outa’ here! It’s Jeremy’s land!”
The Troopers maneuvered him into the back seat and closed the door. He kept right on shouting.
“What in hell happened?” I asked. Tyler said,
“Halfway up the road, Officer Wainwright got out and moved up on foot. He took up position a hundred feet away. I negotiated with Mr. Proctor until he fired a shot into the air. At that point, Officer Wainwright fired, and shot the gun out of his hand.” I sighed, feeling myself tremble from head to foot.
“What will happen to him?” Proctor was still bellowing away, butting his shoulder against the door.
“We’ll take him to the hospital in Pittsfield, where they’ll treat his injuries and evaluate his mental status. He’ll see a judge on Monday. If he’s lucky, the judge will send him to the State Hospital in Worcester.” I looked at Proctor, still yelling invectives, still struggling.
“And if he’s not lucky?”
“Bridgewater State Hospital, for the Criminally Insane.” Something cold washed through my stomach. I shook hands with both Troopers and thanked them, then watched them drive off.
Zeke Wesley winked at me.
“Pretty exciting, huh?”
“That’s one way of putting it,” I replied. I was feeling calmer, now I knew that Proctor was all right, but there were still some butterflies left over. Zeke smiled.
“What do you say we take a look-see and find out what old Ron’s been hiding, shall we?”
“Sounds good to me!” We started walking into the trees. For several minutes we saw nothing but more trees and scattered tangles of brush, but after a while something big and dark began coalescing up ahead.
“What is that?” I asked. Zeke grunted.
“Looks like a building.” We made straight for it and presently came upon a wall. Wall doesn’t really describe it; it was built of field stones, at least ten feet tall, and stretched as far as we could see in either direction.
“A barn?” I said. Zeke shook his head.
“I dunno. Pretty long for a barn.”
We began strolling along it, seeing where it brought us. The wall was solidly built and well maintained; not a stone appeared to be out of place. They were of various sizes, shapes and colors, many of them coated in moss or lichen. Grass grew near it in sunny patches; where the ground was shaded it was either bare earth or buried under a carpet of dead leaves or brown pine needles. Here and there, slender tree stumps stuck up out of the earth, each neatly sawn off close to the ground. Bushes were cut back as if to provide a walkway. Eventually, it brought us in a circle. A rectangle, really, but a large rectangle. By the time we’d made a complete circuit, Zeke guessed it enclosed about an acre. But there were no gaps in it, no openings of any kind; no holes, no gates, no doors. No low places either. No way in.
“What do you think?” I asked. Zeke shook his head.
“I think we need a ladder.”
It was late afternoon by now, almost evening, but it was June so there was still plenty of daylight. Zeke made a quick trip home to get a ladder. I stayed on the property and did some looking around. I found Proctor’s house, a little two room shack about fifty feet from the road, completely hidden by trees and brush. I was expecting to find a shambles inside, but it was remarkably neat and orderly. Everything seemed to have a place and was in it. The dishes were washed and stacked in an old rubber-coated rack, towels and dishcloth were hung on racks, clothes were in the closet and dresser, the bed was made. Floors were swept, shelves dusted, a few old magazines were stacked on a table next to a worn Bible. Another old book—the only other one that was in sight—was on the night stand, page marked with a folded strip of paper. Nothing like what you’d expect from a rabid old man.
Then I was drawn back to the wall. What was in there that no one had seen for eighty-plus years? What was worth being arrested for to keep anyone from seeing it? Why enclose an entire acre of land, with no way to get to it? Or out of it, I realized. Maybe the wall had been built to keep something in. But what? I backed up as far as I could and still be able to see the wall, and noticed that there were no trees within it that I could see. This was all second growth forest, and there still should have been some trees visible over the top of the wall, but there was nothing. What in hell was in there?
After about forty minutes, Zeke was back with an aluminum extension ladder. I helped him carry it into the woods and set it up. Then I stood aside and let him have the first look. After all, he’d been waiting longer than I had. He went up with an alacrity that belied his seventy-something years, then stopped dead at the top and stood staring.
“God Almighty!” He said.
“What is it?” He didn’t reply, just stood staring. “Zeke! What is it!?”
“Aw, hell! You’d never believe me. I’m not sure I believe it myself. Come on up.” He swung off the ladder and sat on the edge of the wall. I climbed up and stopped just as he had, stared, dumbfounded, just as he had. There was nothing there.
When I say nothing, I mean it literally: No trees, no brush, no grass, no earth. From the inside edge of the wall the earth fell away into blackness as far as the eye could see. The wall was about four feet thick and where it reached the ground, it became a natural wall of dirt and rock extending down out of sight. It enclosed an acre of empty space, for as far down as anyone would care to guess.
“My god!” I whispered.
“Told you you wouldn’t believe me.”
“How deep do you figure this is?”
“Damned if I know. I’ve never heard of anything like this!” I hefted a rock from the top of the wall and tossed it into the void. It dropped out of sight. We waited in silence for five minutes and never heard it hit bottom, never heard it rattle against the sides. It may as well have ceased to exist. Gulping, I hoisted myself off the ladder and onto the wall.
“Well this is one hell of a family secret!” I said.
“You won’t get no argument from me.” Zeke stared down into the hole for a minute, then looked up at the sky. “Be gettin’ dark in a while. Would you care to join us for supper?” I couldn’t drag my eyes away from the shaft.
“Sure. Thank you.”
“I think we’d best go now. My wife will be wonderin’ where I am.”
“Yes.....sure.” I let him climb down first, staring into that darkness all the while. Once he was down, I swung myself onto the ladder and went down after him. He pulled a kerchief out of his pocket and mopped his brow.
“I think we’d better take this ladder down,” he said.
“Yes,” I agreed. “And take it away with us.”
The Wesley’s—at least the ones I met—were a warm, cheerful and outgoing lot. Conversation over supper centered mostly on me. My career, my history, how I’d heard about the land and come to buy it. They liked the idea of a house being built there, and collectively worried over what the significance of the sequestered hole might be. One thing I didn’t hear was any kind of an explanation of how it got there. Other members of the family were consulted by phone, but no information was forthcoming. Jeremy Wesley, it appeared, had come from one of the remoter branches of the family, one that had kept to itself for several generations. Jeremy himself had been the last of that line. When he died, or disappeared anyway, the family had spent decades dividing up his meager assets. They had handled it like a trust at first, different people looking after specific items in case he ever came back. But as the decades wore on and he still failed to turn up, they assumed he was dead and began pursuing legal channels; the caretakers became heirs.
Only the forty acre tract of forest—and Ronald Proctor—resisted their efforts. For many years they left him alone. The land was worthless as far as anyone knew, and not worth quibbling over. Sooner or later, Proctor would get old and move into a nursing home or a cemetery and then they’d make a decision. But Proctor didn’t cooperate. He grew older all right, but instead of getting weaker he got ornerier. Younger generations of the Wesley’s began to see the value of the lumber and turned once more to legal channels, which of course slowed things down enormously. Debates raged at a lingering pace for years and they finally decided to settle things by selling it. Let someone else deal with Proctor. And they all agreed that I’d done exactly that.
After supper I was offered a bed for the night, but I refused it. I’d already made other plans, I told them, though in fact I hadn’t. I just wanted to be alone with my thoughts for a while; I had a lot to digest. I drove back to my land and spent the night in Proctor’s shack. In the morning, I started a search of the entire property. By late afternoon I’d walked the entire forty acres and found nothing but forest. There were a few boulders here and there, a small stream, a glade full of wild blueberries, but nothing else. No holes, no caves, no mysteries. I was the proud possessor of thirty nine acres of secluded forest and one more of empty space. I drove back to Boston and made arrangements to be off on Monday.
The hearing was quick and concise. I made a statement about how Proctor had greeted me, and presented my copy of the deed. Trooper Tyler told his story. Then the Court-appointed psychiatrist made his statement. He said that Proctor was old, crusty, cranky, and delusional, but not necessarily dangerous. He advised sending Proctor to the State Hospital in Worcester for further evaluation. The only person who didn’t speak was Proctor himself. He appeared indifferent, sitting next to his attorney. The Court agreed with the psychiatrist and committed Proctor to the State Hospital; a trial for the criminal charges would depend upon the opinion of Proctor’s therapist there. Then he asked Proctor if he understood what he’d just said. Proctor just shrugged and his attorney said that was fine, they would abide by the State’s decision. Then the Bailiff took Proctor by the arm and led him out. I drove back to Boston with a strange tingle in my stomach and a strong feeling of pity for Proctor.
The next few days were bad ones for me. I kept feeling like what I was doing was pointless, useless, a waste of time. I couldn’t understand it at all; I love my job, and have always found the work to be worthwhile, even beyond the money that I earn doing it. By Wednesday night, I figured it was because I was so curious about that wall that I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. Ever since I’d seen the thing, it had been foremost in my mind, almost to the exclusion of all else. So I decided there was only one thing for it: I had to talk to Proctor and get some answers.
Thursday morning I called in sick and drove to Worcester. At the State Hospital I asked if Proctor could receive visitors yet, and they said Oh, yes! State law entitled him to them. They did want to know who I was and what I wanted with him, so I told his psychiatrist who I was, how I’d bought the land in Savoy and had some questions about it I hoped Proctor could answer. The doctor said that Proctor was a good patient, but warned me that he was still delusional— possibly senile—so anything he told me was likely to be suspect. I said I was willing to risk it, so the doctor said fine, but there’d have to be an orderly in the room with us, in case the old man got out of hand. I said that was fine with me, so he picked up the phone and gave the order for Mr. Proctor to be moved to Parlor 5 and the orderly should stay with him. Then he directed another orderly to escort me there.
If I hadn’t known it was Proctor sitting in the chair, I wouldn’t have recognized him. His beard had been shaved off, his hair cut short and his eyes were calm. He sat quietly in hospital issue pajamas and robe and watched me stare at him. After a minute he asked,
“Didja’ want somethin? Or didja’ just come to look?” His tone was mild, reasonable.
“I’m sorry,” I said, sitting. “It’s just that you look so different!” He looked himself over lazily.
“Yeah.......I reckon I do. What can I do for you?” He turned his eyes back to me. His expression was mild, softly curious, but riveting.
“First of all, I want to apologize. I’m very sorry it came to this.”
“Don’t worry about it. I didn’t leave you much choice, and you did what you felt you had to. The Police did what they felt they had to.”
“So you’re not angry anymore?”
“No, not anymore. I still don’t like the way the Wesley’s sold the property, but if you gave them the money and they gave you a deed, then it’s your land now. You have to deal with it and I don’t.”
“It’s interesting you should say that. I have some questions about it.” He chuckled.
“I figgered you did. Whaddo you want to know?”
“That wall. Who built it? And why?”
“I don’t know, exactly. Jeremy told me his grandfather built it back in 1745.”
“It’s in pretty good shape for something that was built 260 years ago.”
“Ain’t it, though?” He laughed softly. “Now as for why it was built, that’s something Jeremy never explained to me.”
“Did you ever look inside it?”
“Yes. Once. Once was enough.”
“What’s down there?”
“From what I could see, a whole lotta dark.” He laughed again, pleased at his joke. I gave an impatient grunt.
“Mr. Proctor, why would someone build a wall like that around a hole like that?” He stared at me, as if nonplused.
“Why, to keep anyone from fallin’ in, I s’pose.” I shifted impatiently. He was stalling. I could smell it.
“A three foot wall would do that. But this one isn’t three feet tall; it’s between ten and twelve feet tall. That wall was built to hide something. Or to keep something in. What is down in that hole?”
“Like I just told you, son, I don’t know what’s down there. All I know is that when Jeremy went away, he showed me around and told me to keep people away until he got back. I wouldn’t trust just anyone with this, he told me. A trust like this takes blood, and blood is what you are to me.”
“Blood?! What did he mean by blood?” Proctor shrugged.
“Kin? You were related to him?”
“Still am, as far as I know. He’s my cousin.”
“So you’re a Wesley, too?”
“Yeah. One of my great grandmothers married into the Wesleys a long time ago. They’re related to so many people on that mountain, even they don’t know who everyone is!”
“So Jeremy never told you anything about the wall?”
“Nope. I’m sorry I can’t help ye, I know you must be burnin’ up inside.”
I was getting angry. I knew he knew something, I could taste it on the back of my tongue like I’d swallowed something bitter. But I was just as certain that if I tried to threaten him he’d clam up even tighter. Right now, he was enjoying his position, knowing something I needed to know and confident that I couldn’t get him to talk. So I tried a different tack.
“Mr. Proctor, how would you like to get out of here?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean you’re facing some pretty serious charges: Assault with a deadly weapon, resisting arrest......and right now you’re being evaluated to see if you’re competent to stand trial. If they decide you’re sane, you’re going to prison; if not, you’ll be staying here. In either case, you’re being put away; most likely, for the rest of your life.” He shrugged.
“I’ve been in worse places.”
“That may be. But how would you like to get out? To be free again? You cooperate with me, and I’ll drop the charges. That way, there’ll be no assault, no resisting arrest, nothing. You’ll be free. You can go home, to your own house. Hell! I’ll even pay you to look after the property when I’m not there!” He laughed at that.
“Why would I want to move back there? Look at me! I’m an old man! The winters are damn hard up on that mountain. And right now, I’m someplace warm; that’ll be warm all winter. Why should I want to leave? Besides, your offer of dropping the charges is only good if they find me sane. What if they don’t?”
I was silent for a few seconds. His logic caught me off guard. I hadn’t counted on him being this lucid, and having been independent as long as he had, I thought he’d jump at the chance to be so again.
“In that case,” I answered slowly. “In that case.....I’ll hire a lawyer and try to get you remanded to my custody.” He nodded.
“It is. You help me, and I’ll help you.” He was silent for a minute, staring at his feet. Then he raised his gaze to mine.
“Thank you son, but I can’t help you. It’s not that I’m not interested, it’s just that I don’t know nuthin’ to tell you. All I do know is, it’s your land now, and your responsibility. For good or bad, I’m shut of it. The only thing I ask is that when Jeremy shows up again, you tell him that I did the best I could by him. It was the other side of the family that betrayed his trust, not me. If you can do that for me, I’d be much obliged.” I sat and stared at him, completely nonplused.
“Jeremy! What makes you think that Jeremy is coming back? Jeremy Wesley is dead!” His eyebrows rose.
“Is he? How do you know?”
“How do I know?! He’s been gone eighty years!”
“Eighty three years. How old was he when he left?”
“Seventy two. That would make him a hundred and fifty five today. He must be dead!”
“Because nobody lives that long!”
“I see you’ve never read your Bible, son. In the old days, people used to live for hundreds of years.”
“Even if that’s true, these are not Biblical times.” He shrugged.
“Maybe not, but our side of the family has always been pretty long lived.” A thought popped into my head.
“How old are you?” He didn’t even bat an eye.
“A hunnerd and ten.”
“So you were about thirty when Jeremy left.”
“Twenty seven. I can’t explain it, it’s just so. Though Jeremy told me once he guessed it had somethin’ to do with the land.”
“The land? The land that the wall is on?” He nodded.
“Yes, that land.”
“So what is it?”
“Look, I don’t know. I just know what Jeremy said he thought.”
“So what did he think?”
“He never really explained it to me. I just remember him saying he had a feeling; that living on that land—and looking after it—made you live longer than most other folk.”
“So it’s a fountain of youth?” He laughed out loud, slapping his knee.
“Fountain of youth?! Take a look at me, boy! Do I look young to you? I may be older than sin, but if I’m not feeble it’s because I’ve lived and worked outdoors for most of my life. I’ve had something to occupy my time and my brain, and had work for my hands. That’s the only fountain of youth out there. But it’s not a fountain of youth; if it’s anything, it’s a fountain of health. I’ve never been sick a day in my life, not since I became an adult.” He sat back in his chair, shaking his head.
“Look son, I told you, I don’t have the answers you’re looking for. I’m sorry, but that’s just the way it is. Stop wasting your time with me. I’m just an old man, startin’ a new way of life, and it’s takin’ all of my time. It’s just that new to me. Now you! You’ve got a piece of land to look after. Why don’t you go back and do it? Just keep your eyes peeled for Jeremy, and remember to tell him what I told you.” He started to stand and sank back with a sigh. “Damn medication!” He muttered, gesturing to the orderly, who stepped forward and helped him to his feet. I sat and watched them walk away. Proctor stopped in the doorway without looking back and said, “Enjoy your new home, son.”
When I left the hospital my belly was on fire with anger. I got in my car and took off for home seething. I knew damn well that Proctor knew more than he was telling; there was just nothing I could do to drag it out of him. He couldn’t be persuaded, couldn’t be bought, couldn’t be threatened. He was just a mean old son of a bitch determined to take his secrets to the grave. Well, I thought, the hell with him. He could rot in that hospital for all I cared. I’d get my own damn answers. But when I’d been driving for a while, the anger slacked off. After all, it was just possible that Proctor didn’t know anything. He’d been protecting the property for someone other than himself. Maybe it was that other someone—now surely dead—who knew the secrets. And Proctor? He was an old man who’d been living a hard life for almost as long as he could remember, and now he had things easier. It was unreasonable to expect him to want to move back into a shanty in the woods with no heating or indoor plumbing. Let him enjoy his few remaining years in comfort.
The further I got from Worcester, the more reasonable I felt, but the feeling in my gut didn’t go away. Instead, it burned as fiercely as ever. I’d assumed it was anger, but it wasn’t. Neither was it indigestion, heartburn or hunger. As I explored it, I eventually realized it less a feeling and more a sense of..........of knowledge. That something was wrong. No......that there was something I needed to do........yes! That was it: There was something I had to do, and had to do in a hurry. And as I realized that, I also realized I’d made a wrong turn. I’d intended to go back to Boston, and instead I’d been traveling for an hour in the wrong direction. I was headed for Savoy. I guessed that when I was mad at Proctor I’d been so preoccupied that I took the wrong exit. But I didn’t turn back. Somehow, it felt right to continue on to Savoy. Whatever I had to do in Boston could wait. I had to get to my land.
I reached Savoy in the mid-afternoon, the feeling more urgent than ever. When I rattled up my private road, I saw Zeke Wesley’s truck parked there, as well as two others. Anger woke hot and burning in my gut. I hadn’t given anyone permission to come up here! I slammed on the brakes and skidded to a stop next to Zeke’s truck. I got out and quick marched toward the wall, hearing voices up ahead. The anger was spreading through my whole body, so I could feel it tingling in my fingers and toes. And even as I noticed that, I wondered where the anger was coming from. I’m not a territorial kind of guy; my friends know me as warm and outgoing, generous when I can afford to be......and Zeke was a friend now. I guessed that I was just strung out about the damned wall and the unanswered questions, exacerbated by the long drive.
Zeke smiled and waved when he saw me. He and his friends were carrying a ladder.
“Hi, Bob! We didn’t expect to see you so soon!”
“I went to Worcester,” I answered as evenly as I could. The rage was still boiling furiously. “To talk to Proctor.”
“No kidding? He tell you anything?” I shook my head, harder than I should have. I felt like punching his face in.
“No. Just that he thinks Jeremy is still alive.” Zeke shook his head.
“Poor old coot. He must be completely senile, huh?” I almost said he hadn’t struck me that way, but I couldn’t hold myself any longer; I felt like I was about to explode.
“What are you doing here, Zeke?” He smiled and gestured to the others in his group.
“Well, now that old Ron isn’t here anymore, I’ve got kinfolk that are just champing at the bit to see the big secret!” He laughed, and I started seeing double. “This is my cousin Fred Barnes and his son Tom, and this is my brother-in-law Alfred Jones and my nephew Ralph.” They each nodded and smiled as they were introduced. I didn’t smile back. It was taking everything I had to keep my face and tone neutral.
“Zeke,” I said, the pent up emotion burning through now. “I’d rather you didn’t bring people here without asking.” Their smiles vanished.
“Well, I.......I didn’t think you’d mind!”
“I bought the property so I could have some privacy. It’s not too private if people come traipsing through whenever they feel like it, is it?” Frowns were starting to appear.
“Bob, are you feeling all right?”
“No. I feel like I’m being invaded here!” Zeke opened his mouth to speak, then closed it again, looking like he’d swallowed something sour and bitter. A few days ago, he’d welcomed me into his home, and now, I’d just told him he wasn’t welcome on my land. I’d crossed a line and drawn a new one, and he didn’t like it one little bit. Truth be told, neither did I.
“Well, I’m sorry. We’ll be gone in just a minute. C’mon boys.”
I stood and watched them go, listened to them talking in low voices, then to the cranking of their engines and the crunch of their tires as they drove away. As the sounds of their vehicles faded to silence, my stomach seemed to settle, though my head was still spinning. I now felt more at ease than I’d had since leaving Worcester, but I was burning with questions. Where had that anger come from? Had I known somehow that intruders were on the property and needed to be chased off? Not that Zeke Wesley was actually an intruder, but that was the only answer that made sense to me. Now that the property was mine, I had to protect it, keep intruders out, no matter who they were. And that meant there was no going back to Boston anytime soon. This was not over, not by a long shot. Now that Proctor was locked away and Zeke had seen the wall and what it concealed, everyone in town knew the property was unprotected and would no doubt feel free to come calling and explore it for themselves. If I was going to keep them out, I’d have to stay here and watch the place 24/7. I’d better buy a gun.