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Fortunately for Hannah, they didn’t leave that night. They left the next day. Silas was good to his word and they visited her apartment to get fresh clothes. Her door had been replaced by her irate landlord. Hannah let Silas run interference as she gathered her things. This allowed her to both avoid the landlord’s questions and prevent Silas from snooping around her place.
They left the city by train. It was late afternoon; the Sun was already dipping behind gray clouds. Wind whipped through battered evergreens that swayed compliantly. The Hudson River was a snake curving up the valley. The train rushed up its banks like a silver bullet. Hannah stared out the window, watching the landscape blur by. Silas had his face in a book.
The rhythm of the train tried to lull her to sleep. She wanted to succumb to its charms, but she stayed awake. She might never sleep again. The thought that more dreams like the one she just had were waiting for her gnawed at her mind. It didn’t help that the short visit to her apartment was more painful than she had expected. What had always been a box looked like Paradise. She thought about the day she moved in. It felt like someone else’s life.
Something bumped her leg and she was brought back to the train. Silas had kicked her, being too engrossed in his book to notice. She glowered at him, but to no effect.
“What are you reading, now?” she asked.
Silas tapped the cover.
“You brought the almanac?”
“This is another almanac. The Fisherman’s Almanac of Reykjavik Iceland: 1855.“
“Don’t you read anything normal?” she asked. “Like a mystery?”
“I don’t like mysteries,” he said.
“You’re a detective.”
“Exactly. I deal with real mysteries every day. What am I gonna do with a fake one?”
“But what are you getting out of an almanac from 1855?” she asked.
“Very little.” Silas closed the book and put it back into the shapeless sack he called a briefcase, retrieving an even bigger one.
“You brought the atlas?” Hannah said
“We’re traveling, Gulliver, of course, I brought the atlas.”
“You need to get a phone,” she said.
“I have a phone.” He patted his breast pocket which held his flip phone.
“A real phone. With GPS.”
“You’re lucky I have a grossly outdated atlas,” he said, “or we would have never found Barrow Hill. It’s not on your fancy GPS.”
He pronounced GPS, gipseez. That grated Hannah’s nerves. Silas returned to the book, tracing a line with his finger from where they were on the Hudson to where Barrow Hill used to be. Secretly, he feared they’d find little more than rubble.
“I think should have let Detective Lang know what we’re up to,” Hannah said.
“Why would we do that?”
“Shouldn’t we try to get along with the cops?” she asked. “We’re on the same side.”
“You’d think that,” Silas said. “But she’s done nothing to prove it. No, I wouldn’t want her help if my hair was on fire.”
“It’d be nice to have a little backup,” she said.
“We’ll be fine without them,” Silas said. “Honestly, we’re better off.”
Daylight was waning by the time they reached their destination. The conductor announced the stop. Berton’s Run, a speed trap of a town on the way to Buffalo. They watched the train rumble to a stop as the platform appeared outside. Silas returned the atlas to his bag and stood up.
“This is the closest to Barrow Hill the train can take us.”
“What kind of name is Berton’s Run?” Hannah said.
“It gets pretty weird north of the Bronx.”
The platform was little more than a wooden slab with stairs. There was a four-car parking lot and a sign that listed the schedule. That was it. Silas and Hannah crossed the lot and waited at the curb as another traveler drove away. Shifting the bag on his shoulder, Silas surveyed the area. He pointed down the only road leaving the station.
“We go that way for a while.”
After they had walked far enough to lose sight of the tracks, but not far enough to see Berton’s Run, he left the road. A rut in the dirt led into the trees. They followed it until they lost the daylight. Occasionally, Hannah noticed Silas checking a compass.
“Are you sure this is the right way?” she asked.
Before Silas could respond, the trees thinned. They found what looked like a road almost wide enough for a car. They were shocked to see a jalopy appear. The pickup rumbled past as a pock-marked face glared at them from behind the wheel. The driver said nothing and disappeared into the trees.
“Weird,” Silas said. He pointed to the outline of a mountain that was just coming into view. “Look familiar?”
Hannah shrugged. They continued up the road as evening approached. It looked as if they would be swallowed up in total darkness when light appeared. Not far down the road was a small house, beside a streetlamp. A sign announced they had reached Barrow Hill.
“God, do people still live here?” Silas asked, eyeing the sign.
The houses were plain-faced structures with flat roofs. There were no cars, save for a few ancient specimens propped up on cinder blocks. The town was unpleasantly quiet, even for the boonies. Silas watched Hannah as they entered the town. She glanced at the houses warily, as if they could reach out and bite her.
“You okay?” he asked.
She made a noise that wasn’t quite affirmative.
The curtains ruffled at a window. Silas thought he saw an old woman move out of sight. They proceeded down Main Street to an intersection. There was a single, blinking light. It was the closest thing Barrow Hill had to a downtown. Silas balanced on the edge of the curb as he looked around. A scratching sound came from around the corner. Spinning around, they discovered an old man in a cabbie hat, sweeping dust into the road.
“Hello,” the man said. There was nothing friendly about the greeting.
“Ja,” Silas said, raising a hand in salute. “This is Barrow Hill?”
Cabbie Hat stood the broom up so that the bristles almost touched his face. He nodded slowly. “Yes.”
Silas returned the nod. “Good. We–“
“We don’t have a motel,” the man said. “The restaurant’s closed. You should move on.”
He spoke slowly, haltingly as if the words were coming to him from a long way off. Silas studied him but could see nothing that could explain his behavior. He assumed the cap hid lobotomy scars.
“We’re just looking for information,” Silas said. “What can you tell us about the town?”
“You should. Move on.”
“Do you know anyone that can actually help us?” Silas asked.
The old man paused, seeming to process the request. Slowly, he turned his head and looked down the street behind them. Silas and Hannah followed his gaze. Only one store was open. A faint light seeped through the window. Silas looked back at Cabbie Hat.
“Someone in there?” he asked.
The man stared at him but said nothing. Silas leaned over and whispered to Hannah.
“He must not understand English.”
“He was just speaking English,” Hannah said.
“Hey, at least I’m coming up with theories.” Silas waved at the man. “Okay, thanks for your help. You can go back to… whatever you were doing.”
The old man continued to stare at them. Eventually, Silas and Hannah turned away. They heard the broom resume its monotonous dance. Walking over to the store they tried to peer inside. A sign above simply read, “General Store.”
“General Store?” Hannah said. “You’ve got to be kidding.”
Silas was looking at something behind her. She turned around to see a short man standing uncomfortably close. He smiled in a senile way as he rubbed his liver-spotted hands. His eyes were big and wet. Hannah jumped back from him. He giggled and scurried away.
“What the hell was that?” she said.
Across the street, an old woman was creeping past. She watched Silas and Hannah intently, stroking rosary beads.
“I think this place is too weird, even for me,” Silas said.
“We should go,” Hannah said.
“And waste our train fare?” he said. “No, let’s at least check this place.”
Hannah nodded at the General Store. “Is it open or not?”
Silas walked over to the door and gestured to the Yes, We’re Open sign.
“These are the kinds of astute observations you need to make if you want to continue to be my assistant,” he said.
The Barrow Hill General Store left much to be desired. Dust did more than hang in the air, it added its own special ambiance. Eclectic merchandise was for sale, from canned prunes to wool sweaters. A wet dog smell permeated everything. The floors creaked, even when they stopped moving. When they reached the shelf of stuffed squirrels, Hannah was ready to leave.
Through gentle persuasion, Silas dragged Hannah by the arm to the back of the store. There was a counter with no attendant. Silas smacked the little bell beside the register. The shrill ring pinched their ears. Almost immediately, a woman appeared. She wore blue overalls and a faded lumberjack shirt. Long gray hair reached her waist. Glasses sat above her forehead. When she saw her visitors, she ran behind the counter and smiled.
“Hello,” she said. “Welcome to my General Store. Name’s Bridget. Wow, we don’t get many visitors to Barrow Hill this time of year. What are ya, sight-seers?”
The woman almost seemed normal. Her smile was certainly refreshing. But her eyes opened just a bit too wide. Again, Silas had the feeling she was summoning words from someplace other than her brain.
“Do you get many sight-seers?” Hannah asked.
“A few in Spring,” Bridget said. “Mostly nature photographers, off to see the barrows.”
“There really are barrows?” Silas said. “In Upstate New York?”
“Of course, silly,” she said. “That’s how we got our name. It used to be called something else, but I forget.”
“What’s a barrow?” Hannah asked.
“A burial mound,” Silas said. “I’ve only seen them in Britain.”
“Oh, you’ll love ’em,” Bridget said with a wave of her hand. Hannah was sure she wouldn’t.
“So, whatcha got in the bag?” the shopkeeper asked, her eyes going to the sack on Silas’s shoulder. He shifted the bag out of view.
“Nothing.” His tone suddenly perked up. “Actually, we are sight-seers. We had planned to go hiking and found the town completely by mistake. Can you believe that?”
“That’s hysterical,” Bridget said, slapping a leg.
“I know,” he said. “We’re curious about it. It’s so quaint and out of the way, right Hans?”
Silas looked at Hannah. He had a plastered smile on his face. Hannah’s eyes darted to Bridget, who was also watching her expectantly.
“Yeah. It’s got old-fashion charm,” she said. “What do you know about it?”
Bridget bowed her head modestly. “I grew up here, you know. My folks moved after the War. That’s W-W-II. This shop was Daddy’s until he passed away. There was a booming fur trade up until the late 1960s. Now, we’re mostly retirees.”
“Do you know anything about the town’s early history?” Silas asked. “Before the war?”
The woman jerked her head back and looked at the ceiling. Silas assumed she was thinking, but he wasn’t completely convinced.
“Now, that’s a pickle,” she said. “I seem to remember the town was built a decade or so before the war. That’s all.”
“What about the barrows?” he said. “There’s got to be a story about them.”
“Oh, I’m sure there is, but I don’t know it,” Bridget said. “Never heard anyone talk about them. Rumor is the Indians made ’em.”
Silas sighed and rapped his fingers on the counter. Bridget used the lull in conversation to offer some of her homemade venison jerky. She kept it in a glass jar beneath the counter. Silas took a sample. Breaking off a piece, he offered some to Hannah. She declined. She had no idea what venison was and did not want to find out.
“Are there any houses outside of town?” Hannah asked. “Up the mountain?”
“A few cabins,” Bridget said.
“How about a big house?” Hannah said. “Like, three stories tall?”
“Hmm, that reminds me of Crow’s Peak,” she said.
“Crow’s Peak?” Silas said. “Who’d name a house that?”
“I dunno,” Bridget said. “That’s what we used to call it. But I doubt it’s around anymore. It was rundown when I was a girl.”
“Can we still get to it?” Hannah asked.
“There’s an old road behind town hall,” the shopkeeper said, trailing a finger through the air. “Goes right up the mountain. Of course, I wouldn’t try it.”
“Why not?” Silas asked.
Bridget shrugged. “The bears, silly.”
“You get bears this close to town?” Hannah asked.
“This is Upstate, dear. We’re lucky if the bears don’t come knocking on our front door.” Bridget broke into a fit of laughter. The other two didn’t join in.
“They’re hibernating this time of year,” Silas said.
“That’s what they say,” Bridget said. “But I’ve been hearing things at night. Rustling. Growling. Could only be bears.”
“Do you know anything else unique about the town’s history?” Hannah asked.
Bridget put a finger to her lips and thought. “We had a jam festival, years ago.”
“So, you don’t know anything about the massacre?” she said.
“Good heavens, no!” the shopkeeper said. “In Barrow Hill? What on earth made you ask that?”
“You never heard of it?” Hannah said.
“I never heard cuz it never happened,” Bridget said. “This is a good and decent town. Maybe not as fancy as Poughkeepsie, but still.”
“I don’t believe you.” Hannah leaned in and glared.
“Stand down, Hans,” Silas said.
“She’s just protecting her beloved town’s reputation,” Hannah said.
“I don’t think I like you,” Bridget said. “Now, I’ll have to ask you to leave.”
The shopkeeper put away her jar of jerky and folded her arms.
“All right. Thanks for your time.” Silas made for the exit. He had to come back for Hannah.
Outside, the moon was trying to break through the clouds but was failing. Silas searched his bag as he moved in the vague direction Bridget had sent them.
“You wanna give me some props for what I did back there?” Hannah asked.
“For what, pissing off an old lady?”
“Did you see the way she was floundering?” she said. “She knows about the massacre. A few more minutes and she would have cracked.”
“A few more minutes and she would have put a shotgun to your face,” he said.
“Don’t exaggerate,” Hannah said.
“Hasn’t it occurred to you that if everyone died in the massacre, then nobody’s around to remember it?”
Hannah had no rebuttal for that. “Still, I got her to tell us about the house.”
“Way to go, Nancy Drew.” He tossed her a flashlight.
“Are you sure about those directions?” Hannah asked. “I don’t wanna get lost on a mountain.”
“I’m not asking anyone else,” he said. He looked past Hannah and froze.
Hannah stepped over to him and turned around. The street was filled with the elderly citizens of Barrow Hill. Somehow, they had crept up on them without a sound. Steadily they approached Silas and Hannah, intent on surrounding them. They looked back at the General Store. Bridget’s light had gone out and the open sign was gone.
“What’s going on?” Hannah asked Silas.
“Whatever the opposite of Children of the Corn is,” he said.
Cataract eyes glared out at them from gray, fleshy faces. They were impossibly quiet as if their feet glided over the pavement. Some of them were carrying baseball bats, others actual pitchforks. Silas half-expected torches. A murmur rose from the crowd, a low, irritable noise. He backed away.
“If I had to put a finger on it,” Silas said, “this is all your fault.”
“It’s just a bunch of senior citizens,” Hannah said.
“Two dozen of them, two of us,” Silas said. “I don’t like our chances.”
“They not gonna do anything. Are they?”
“Something is controlling them,” Silas said. “Something that’s not happy we’re here.”
Hannah looked over at him. “You mean…”
“Of course, I mean,” he said. “Him.”
“What the hell are we supposed to do?” Hannah asked.
“Leverage our physical advantage,” Silas said. “Run.”
They turned and ran, slipping through the closing gap in the crowd. Shrieks rose from the townspeople as they chased after them. They were faster than Silas expected. Their limbs pumped with wild energy. Some dropped to all fours and charged like dogs. Silas looked back only once. Fire splashed across the pavement inches away. There were torches, after all.
At the end of the road was the town hall. Hannah’s eyes instinctively went to the empty clock tower. Silas followed a path around the building, reaching a chain-link fence at the back. On the other side, the land rose to meet the mountain. The detective threw his sack over the fence, before hurling himself after it. He landed in a sea of brambles. Scrambling, he turned around to help Hannah.
She bounded over the fence by herself, landing on her feet.
“Now what?” she asked.
Silas looked back to see the townspeople lingering a bowshot away from town hall.
“They’ve stopped,” he said. “This is the way up the mountain. Are they afraid to go near it?”
“I don’t want to think about what makes those things afraid,” Hannah said.
“We’re gonna find out, anyway.” He turned to her and extended a hand. “It’s a little rough going from here.”
Hannah stuck her light in his face. “Are you smiling?”
“You enjoy this, don’t you?” she asked.
“What are you talking about?”
“Jumping over fences, getting chased by lunatics,” she said. “You like it.”
“You’re talking crazy.” He reached out his hand again. “So, are we going?”
She nodded up the path. “After you.”
Years of overgrowth had effectively hidden the path. Silas did his best to crunch over the brambles with his boots. Hannah was close behind, sweeping her light from side to side. Soon, the town hall was lost behind them, the murmuring of the old people drowned out by the wind.
“Let’s be honest,” Hannah said, “there aren’t any bears out. Right?”
“Of course not,” Silas said.
“Because I don’t want to have escaped a pack of, whatever those were, just to be eaten.”
“I’m not wrong about their hibernation cycles.”
“Then what was Bridget hearing at night?”
Silas paused. He seemed to be listening. Eventually shook his head. “Best not worry about it.”
The ground rose sharper. It became harder to climb, but the foliage was getting thinner. Freezing air rolled down from the mountain. Hannah was reminded, not for the last time, of her dream. This could be the very spot she saw the woman die. Overhead, the clouds thickened and the moon was lost. Silas stopped and cast his light around.
“Why’d ya stop?” Hannah asked.
Coming up beside Silas, she discovered the gorge blocking their path.
“That’s got to be at least a twenty-foot drop,” Silas said. He was never good at estimating. It was more like forty.
“Did we lose the path?” she asked.
“Don’t think so, but it is the middle of the night and we’re climbing a mountain with flashlights. I’m surprised we’re still alive.”
“How do we cross it?”
Silas moved to the right, casting his light down a slope. “Ground looks a little better this way. Maybe we can find a way around it.”
The ground dropped steadily as they searched for a way around the gorge. Silas feared they were moving away from their destination. This was confirmed when they reached a break in the trees and stumbled into a valley. The moon emerged for a moment, bathing the land in a silver glow. Rising from the center of the valley was a grade dotted with mounds. Mist clung to them like islands in a frothy sea.
“We may have gone the wrong way,” Silas said.
“Yep, the barrows,” he said. “Bridget was right about one thing: there are a lot of them.”
“Silas,” Hannah said.
“Did Indians use barrows?”
“Not like those.”
“Then what are these doing here?” she asked.
“I think I we know where the National Guard buried the townsfolk,” he said.
“We should go back the way we came.” Hannah was already edging back towards the trees.
“We went the only way we could,” Silas said. “We’ve got no choice but to cut through the barrows.”
“But the house is up the mountain,” she said. “This leads away from it.”
Silas ran a hand over the landscape. “We can skirt the barrows until we find a path back up the mountain.”
She didn’t like this plan at all, but couldn’t think of an alternative. The mist rose like a tide to greet them. Silas grunted as his flashlight bounced off the fog. He turned it off. Hannah reluctantly did the same. The first of the burial mounds lined the valley floor. Silas tried to avoid getting lost among them.
Hannah kept an eye on the trees that hugged the mountain slopes, while still following Silas. Her foot caught on something and she stumbled. She shouted for Silas to stop as she recovered. He didn’t reply. Hannah looked up to see only fog. She shouted his name again. No answer.
Fighting the urge to run, Hannah started walking. She strained her eyes to see through the fog. There was no hint of the detective. As she searched for Silas, she stopped paying attention to the ground beneath her. She took a step and discovered it wasn’t there. Hannah dropped forward, sliding down a gravelly incline. Painfully, she came to a stop at the bottom of a hole, slamming against a stone wall.
Her head was spinning as she stood up. Somewhere above her, a shadow appeared. Hannah opened her mouth to speak, hoping it was Silas, but a stab of pain took her voice. The shadow moved away. She cursed to herself.
Blood oozed from her hands and face. Leaning against the stone, she searched her pockets for a tissue. From the corner of her eye, she saw a face. Hannah jumped back breathlessly, to discover it was carved into the stone. She looked at the vivid image of a skull, surrounded by flames. Below it were names and a date, 1935. It was the door to a barrow. She pressed a hand against the rock. It was vibrating. Putting her ear close, she heard something scrabbling on the other side.
Gravel scattered in every direction as she ran back up the incline. Dirt clung to her hands and knees. She was panting for air. The mist swirled around her as she reached the top. Hannah turned to face the sound of someone running toward her.
“Thank God. Silas, where have you been?”
It wasn’t Silas. A shadow twice her height loomed over her. Yellow eyes gleamed in the dark as hot breath struck her face. She screamed. Someone grabbed her by the armpit and pulled her away. A burning piece of branch arched over them. It hit the thing with a dull crack. The ground shook as it moaned in irritation and lumbered away. Hannah stood to her feet to see Silas behind her, Zippo in hand.
“What the hell was that?” she asked.
His eyes were wide as he snapped the lighter shut. “Let’s just say a bear.”