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"How're y'all doin in here?" Joe Bob asked as he walked into the kitchen.
"Just about finished." I said as I slowly released Jim Bob from the hug.
Joe Bob pretended not to notice his brother's emotional state and slowly said, "Me an Beau was just tryin to figure out what we was wantin to do today. You got any ideas?"
I smiled at Joe Bob. Handsome. Gentle. Thoughtful. It's amazing how much I could come to like someone who I only just met.
"I wanna go outside and do somethin' before it gets too hot." Beau said from the doorway.
That sounded like the perfect opening for what Enoch and I were wanting to do, and Jim Bob would probably appreciate a diversion.
"Last night Allie mentioned something about a family graveyard. Is there any way we could look at that?" I asked with a glance at Enoch.
"I never thought of that! Can we?" Beau asked his brother with excitement.
Joe Bob considered for a moment, then looked at me and slowly said, "You'll probably be wantin' to put on some long pants. There's cactus and grass burrs and the like out back."
"Will jeans be okay?" I asked, then glanced at Jim Bob to see how he was doing.
I couldn't tell for sure since I hadn't known him that long, but I somehow got the sense that what he was feeling right now was relief. Maybe he was realizing that no big horrible thing happened because he revealed his deep dark secret. Like I said, I can't be sure, but I think I was catching a glimpse of what Jim Bob looked like when he wasn't buried under tons of anxiety.
"Yeah. And boots if you got 'em." Joe Bob said seriously.
I guess it was his drawl that made me automatically think of cowboy boots, which I didn't have. But before I could say as much, I remembered my hiking boots from back home. They were kind of old and worn, but probably good enough.
"Just give me a minute to change and I'll be ready to go." I said, then glanced to see if Enoch was ready to go with me.
"Can I see your room?" Beau asked hopefully.
It would have been nice to steal a moment alone with Enoch, but there was no way I could deny Beau's request. I'm a sucker for puppy eyes.
"Sure, come on." I said as I started walking toward the kitchen door.
* * * * *
I deliberately walked a little slower than usual so that Enoch could keep up with me.
I can only imagine what it must be like to walk in complete darkness and have to place your trust in someone else to guide you.
Beau didn't seem to be a big fan of walking slowly. He would run ahead of us, wait for us to catch up to him, then run a little further ahead.
As we were about halfway up the stairs, I glanced at Enoch to see how he was doing.
I was worried that he might be frustrated or feeling lost. The expression on his face immediately put me at ease.
Enoch was watching Beau with amusement. Even though I could tell that he was having some difficulty with the stairs, I could see that watching Beau's antics was keeping his mind diverted from the frustrating task.
"Which one is yours?" Beau asked impatiently from the top of the stairs.
"Just wait a minute and I'll show you." I said gently.
I don't know if it was his innocence or his uninhibited nature. But something about Beau called out to me and made me absolutely love him. Then the thought occurred to me, I wonder if Jim Bob was ever this happy and carefree?
By the time we reached the top of the stairs, Beau had already run up and down the hall two times. I suppose he was trying to find some kind of a clue that would tell him which room was mine.
"It's right here." I said as I walked to the door.
"Nuh uh!" Beau said as he froze in place.
"Yuh huh." I said with a grin as I opened the door.
"Daddy always said we ain't never s'posed to go in'ta that room. He said it was haunted. Grandpa said it too!" Beau said firmly.
I glanced at Enoch with a smile, then turned to Beau and said, "Well, you can stay out here and wait? for me to change, if you want."
Beau seemed to be conflicted for a moment, then he quickly said, "I wanna see!"
I couldn't restrain my chuckle, and said, "Then come on in."
* * * * *
"I like him." Enoch said in a whisper of a voice as we entered the room.
I didn't want to take the chance of answering aloud while Beau was so close, so I nodded to him that I agreed.
"Wow! Everything in here is really old!" Beau said in wonder.
"Not everything. I brought some of my own stuff with me." I said as I walked to the cabinet where my hanging clothes were kept.
"You got toys!" Beau said with delight as he spotted the toy soldiers.
"Hold on." I said quickly.
Beau stopped and looked at me with question.
"Those are very old and very delicate. You can look at them if you want, but I'd really appreciate it if you wouldn't touch them." I said carefully.
"Are they worth a lot of money?" Beau asked as he slowly walked toward the small formation of soldiers.
"I don't know, but it doesn't matter because I'd never sell them." I said as I took the jeans that I wanted off the hanger.
"Why not?" Beau asked as he turned to look at me curiously.
I thought about the question as I sat on the edge of my bed and took off my trainers.
"Okay. Let me ask you to imagine something." I said in prelude.
Beau seemed to be intrigued.
"Imagine that Joe Bob wanted to make you a present." I said carefully.
"What kind of present?" Beau asked, delighted by the idea.
"Some toy soldiers." I said simply as I stood and pulled down my short pants.
Beau glanced at my underwear for an instant, then looked at me curiously.
"Okay. Now imagine that Joe Bob worked for weeks and weeks to make those soldiers for you, carving them and painting them, all just for you." I said as I stepped into my jeans.
"Okay." Beau said slowly as he was trying to imagine the scene.
"Once you had those soldiers that your brother made for you, just because he loved you, how do you think you would treat them?" I asked while fastening my pants.
After a moment to consider, Beau said, "I guess I'd take real good care of them so they wouldn't get banged up and stuff. That way I could have them for a long time."
I smiled at the answer, then said, "That's why not."
Beau gave me such a confused look that I couldn't help but laugh.
As I started to pull on my hiking boots, I said, "Those toy soldiers were a gift, made with love. They're special and should be protected and preserved."
"Did your dad make them for you?" Beau asked as he turned to look at the soldiers again.
"No. They weren't made for me. But that doesn't matter. I know they were a gift that was made with love, so I protect them." I said as I started lacing my boots.
"Who do they belong to?" Beau asked curiously.
I glanced at Enoch, not knowing how I should answer the question.
The indecisive look that he gave me in return was absolutely no help.
Finally I stood and walked to stand beside Beau.
"If I tell you, will you not tell anyone else?" I asked quietly.
Beau looked up at me and nodded quickly.
"These belong to the ghost." I said seriously.
Beau looked at me incredulously. I couldn't tell if he wanted to believe, or wanted not to.
"It's okay if you don't believe it. But please just understand that I believe it. These belong to the ghost, they were made for him by someone who loved him very much." I said, trying to be as honest as I possibly could.
"You know someone who loved a ghost?" Beau asked incredulously.
I smiled at the question and quietly said, "He wasn't a ghost then. He was a boy about my age and this was his room."
Beau looked around the room quickly, then asked, "Is he a bad ghost? Why did he hurt Grandma?"
"Oh, you heard about that..." I muttered absently, then noticed that Enoch looked disturbed by the question.
"He isn't bad. Grandma was trying to clean out this room, like she did all the others. She was going to take his things and pack them away, including the soldiers." I said, hoping that Beau could understand.
Beau was quiet for a moment, then he looked around the room and quietly asked, "Is he here?"
I nodded, unsure of what Beau's reaction was going to be.
Beau looked upward, then said, "I understand now. I won't touch your soldiers."
I glanced at Enoch to see if he wanted me to relay a message for him.
After a moment of indecision, Enoch walked to the table where the soldiers were displayed, then started turning them, to face Beau.
"HOLY SHIT!" Beau exclaimed as every bit of color seemed to drain out of his face.
"It's okay, Beau. I think that's just his way of thanking you for being considerate." I said as I moved behind him and pulled him into a gentle hug to assure him.
I could feel that Beau was trembling and looked at Enoch with concern.
"What's his name?" Beau finally asked in a whisper.
"Enoch." I said, hoping that I wasn't making a terrible mistake by revealing so much.
"Would it be okay if I brought you some of my soldiers so we could play with them, Enoch? Mine are little and green and made out of plastic so you can play with them all you want and it won't hurt them." Beau asked as he looked around the room.
I looked at Enoch with question, not knowing how to answer.
"Tell him that I would love to play whenever he visits." Enoch said with a tender smile.
"Enoch would like that. He told me to tell you that he would love to play whenever you visit." I said, a little choked up at the loving look on Enoch's face.
"That's great! I'll 'member to bring them next time!" Beau said happily.
"We'd better get going. Your brothers are waiting on us." I said seriously.
"Oh yeah. We'd better go!" Beau said and seemed to be immediately restored to his state of boundless energy.
"Just remember not to go too fast while we're on the stairs. Enoch can't see them." I said slowly, waiting for Beau's reaction.
"Enoch's coming with us?" Beau asked with delight.
"Yes. That's why I wanted to go to the graveyard. It's been a hundred years since he's been able to visit his mom's grave." I said frankly, then glanced at Enoch, hoping my words hadn't hurt him.
Enoch didn't exactly look happy, but I could tell that he understood that I needed to explain.
"Isn't his mom a ghost too?" Beau asked in a small voice.
"No. At least, not here. When she died, I'm sure her spirit went to heaven." I said gently, not at all comfortable with this turn in the conversation.
"But why didn't Enoch go to heaven? Was he bad?" Beau asked curiously.
"No. But that's a long story that we don't have time for now and your brothers are waiting on us. Now that you know about Enoch, I was hoping that you could help me guide him to the family graveyard and back to the house safely." I said seriously.
Beau thought about it, then said, "Yeah. I'll help Enoch to go see his mama."
"And we can't tell anyone else about Enoch." I said as I looked him in the eyes.
"You never told no one else?" Beau asked in wonder.
"Nope. And I don't plan on telling anyone else either." I said honestly.
Beau thought for a moment, then in a serious voice that was strangely like his father's he said, "We'd better get goin'."
"Yeah." I said, then glanced at Enoch to see if he was ready to go.
* * * * *
"We was about ready to come up and look fer y'all." Joe Bob said as we reached the bottom of the stairs.
I hadn't considered how we would explain our extended absence, but before I could even try to come up with anything, Beau said, "Mark has all kinds of really old, really cool stuff in his room."
Joe Bob smiled at his younger brother and I could tell that no further explanation was needed.
"We ready to go?" Joe Bob asked as he looked to each of us.
I glanced at Enoch and could see some apprehension in his eyes.
"Good. Let's go out the back way. It's quicker." Joe Bob said, then began to lead the way.
* * * * *
I stepped outside and was surprised by the warmth. I guess I'm just used to it being cool outside in the morning.
"We can cut past the tool shed over there and it's straight on back." Joe Bob said as he automatically took the lead.
"Do we need to go slow?" Beau asked me quietly as he looked behind me.
I glanced at Enoch who was nearly at my side, then said, "No. I think we'll be fine as long as it's flat."
Beau smiled at the answer, then I noticed that Jim Bob seemed to be lost in thought.
"Is everything alright, Jim Bob?" I asked casually.
He turned to look at me with question, then seemed to realize what I had asked.
"Yeah. I was just... thinking about stuff." Jim Bob said timidly.
"He does that a lot." Beau said frankly.
"Don't worry about it, Beau." I said with a smile to the younger boy. "When you get a little older, there will be quite a few things that you'll feel like you need to figure out."
"Like what?" Beau asked curiously.
I smiled as I thought about the question, then slowly said, "You grow up seeing the world through a child's eyes. Then one day you wake up and realize that everything is different. It just takes some time to decide how you feel about everything."
Beau looked at me incredulously and I couldn't help but chuckle.
"Don't worry about it. It's just part of growing up." I said as I moved over to give Beau a casual hug.
* * * * *
"The family graveyard is right over there." Joe Bob said from ahead of us.
I looked where he was pointing and saw an eerie and depressing sight.
There was a large fenced in area with a single scraggly tree at the edge of it.
I suppose that when you're dead, it doesn't really matter where your remains are put, but this graveyard seemed to be such a desolate place that no one, living or dead should be left there.
"Stop!" Joe Bob barked as he froze in his tracks.
I immediately did as I was told and looked at Joe Bob with question.
"Mark, don't move. There's a rattlesnake right next to your leg." Joe Bob said in an anxious voice.
I looked down and there it was, not even six inches away from my leg and looking right at me.
"Did you bring your gun?" Beau asked from my other side as Jim Bob guided him to back away from me.
"I left it in the car. I didn't think about needin' it." Joe Bob said in an absent tone.
"What’s wrong?" Enoch asked in puzzlement.
I had to think about how to answer Enoch without being obvious about it.
"What do you usually do to make a rattlesnake lose interest in you?" I asked in a trembling voice, really hoping he had an answer.
"I shoot it." Joe Bob said frankly.
Enoch followed my terrified gaze down to the ground and started feeling around, apparently using his own illumination to see the snake.
It seems that I wasn't the only one who could sense Enoch, because the snake suddenly turned it's head and started rattling its tail.
I know you see that stuff in the movies all the time and it never really seems that scary. Guess what. That rattling sound is one of the most horrible things I've ever heard in my life.
When it seemed that the snake was about to strike at him, Enoch reached out his transparent hand and grabbed the snake firmly by the neck.
All I could do was stand and stare as the snake writhed and struck at the insubstantial hand that was holding it.
I know it takes a lot of concentration for Enoch to affect something in the real world. The look of determination in his eyes told me that he was putting every bit of his energy into lifting the snake and throwing it into some tufts of sun baked grass about six feet away.
I took in a deep breath of relief as I looked at Enoch with appreciation.
"What just happened?" Jim Bob asked quietly as he held Beau close to his chest.
My mind raced as I tried to think of a good way to explain what they had just witnessed.
"I guess it got scared and ran away." I said weakly, not being able to think of a more reasonable answer.
"Um, yeah. Rattlesnakes always fly away when they get spooked like that." Joe Bob said dryly, then looked at me to convey that he wasn't buying my explanation for an instant.
"You would know better than I would." I said with a nervous chuckle, which only sounded about half as hysterical as I felt.
"We should go to the graveyard now. It's right there." Beau said as he worked his way out of Jim Bob's grasp.
"Y'all watch your step." Joe Bob said seriously, then turned to me and said, "You might want to keep an eye on the sky too. Just in case."
I couldn't contain my smile at his statement, then looked at Enoch to see how he was doing.
"The serpent didn't get you, did he?" Enoch asked with concern.
"I'm fine." I whispered as we started walking again. "Thanks."
* * * * *
"Here it is. Y'all remember to be respectful." Joe Bob said as he stepped through the open gate which looked as though it hadn't been closed in decades.
I glanced at Enoch at my side, then steeled myself for the task of looking for Enoch's mother's grave.
"Who are we looking for?" Beau asked as he walked close to my side.
"I don't know her first name, but her last name would be Miller." I said, then looked at Enoch with question.
"Elsbeth Miller." Enoch said quietly.
"Elsbeth." I said to Beau, then looked at Enoch with sympathy.
"Don't worry Enoch, we'll find your mama." Beau said quietly, then hurried away to start looking at grave stones.
I waited for Enoch to look at me again before quirking my head to indicate for him to follow.
Enoch gave me a weak smile, then moved to my side so we could start looking at gravestones.
* * * * *
"Um, Mark?" Beau called out from about three rows of graves ahead of me.
"Did you find it?" I asked suddenly.
"No.... not exactly." Beau said with an apprehensive look.
"What's up?" I asked as I abandoned my own search to find out what Beau had discovered.
"You should just..." Beau trailed off as he looked at the grave, then looked at me desperately.
When I finally made it to his side, I immediately understood his concern.
The marker was old and weather worn, but still able to be read.
'HERE lies the Body
of Enoch Miller who
departed this Life'
"I didn't even think that we might find Enoch's..." Beau trailed off uncomfortably.
As I was about to answer, I saw Enoch walking to the grave stone to look at it with his own illumination.
I held my breath as I waited for his reaction.
Enoch turned suddenly to look at me with fear in his eyes.
"Come here, E." I said gently as I opened my arms to him.
Beau was looking around to see where his brothers were and if they were watching us.
"I don't care if they see. This is more important." I said as much to Beau as to Enoch as I accepted him into my arms.
"I'm not dead. I swear it." Enoch whispered into my ear.
"Shhh. I believe you." I whispered, then noticed Beau watching me with concern.
In a voice loud enough for Beau to also hear, I said, "Allie mentioned last night that her father had a grave stone put in the family graveyard for Enoch even though they never found his body."
"Why would he do that?" Beau asked curiously.
"Probably to keep people from asking about what happened to Enoch. I know he had an older brother. It's possible that he might have come asking questions." I said as I held Enoch firmly.
"Jim Bob's heading this way." Beau said suddenly.
"I love you, E." I said, then gave him a quick kiss before letting him go.
"You LOVE Enoch?" Beau asked with a wide eyed expression.
"I thought you knew that." I said as Enoch moved to my side and held me gently.
"No. I mean, I knew that you talked to Enoch and stuff, but I didn't know that you were in love with a ghost." Beau said frankly.
"Hi Jim Bob." I said as I watched him approaching.
"Joe Bob wants to know if y'all are about done here." Jim Bob asked cautiously.
"Well, I didn't find the one that I was looking for, but I guess that since I'm living here, I can come back and look whenever I want." I said honestly.
"If you don't find it here, you can try the graveyard over at grandpa's house. It's not very big and it's mostly really old graves." Jim Bob said frankly.
I looked at Enoch with question and saw realization dawning in his eyes.
"My mother was buried on my father's land. That must be the graveyard that he's talking about." Enoch said with excitement.
"We're going over there for dinner tonight, so we could look then." I said for Enoch's benefit as I looked at Jim Bob.
"We should get grandpa to go with us. He knows all the history. Going with him makes it like walking through a museum." Jim Bob said thoughtfully.
Considering Jim Bob's personality, it wouldn't surprise me to find out that he frequently visited museums.
"Are you ready to go?" Beau asked curiously.
"Yeah. But what's the hurry? I thought we didn't have anything else planned until dinner at Grandpa's." I asked as I walked with Jim Bob and Beau down the rows of graves with Enoch following just a step behind me.
"Joe Bob needs to stop in at his work to do something. He says that it'll just take a few minutes, but he needs to do it this morning." Jim Bob said casually.
"Do you think that we can stop at the library while we're in town?" Beau asked hopefully.
"Yeah. As far as I know." Jim Bob said consideringly, then gestured toward the open gate where Joe Bob was waiting for us. "Did you have anything you wanted to do in town?"
I was about to say 'no, of course not', when something occurred to me.
"Yeah. There's someone in town that I'd like to see." I said as I tried to sound completely casual about it.
"I thought you just moved here." Beau said as he looked at me curiously.
I smiled at Joe Bob as we joined him by the gate and we all started walking as a group back toward the house.
"I did just move here." I said with a smile at the younger boy, then looked at Jim Bob and said, "But Jim Bob was telling me about a friend of his and I think I'd like to meet him... I mean, if there's any way we could do that."
Jim Bob looked at me with wide, terrified eyes and it was obvious that he was thinking that I was one step away from telling his brothers everything he had told me.
"Are you talking about Lonny?" Beau asked me curiously.
I smiled at Beau and said, "I think that was his name."
"Isn't Lonny's house just a few blocks from the library?" Beau asked Jim Bob curiously.
"Yeah." Jim Bob muttered absently.
"I could drop you two off at Lonny's house, then go do my stuff and take Beau to the library." Joe Bob said thoughtfully.
"Would you mind?" I asked Jim Bob quietly.
From his expression, I could tell that he wasn't thrilled with the arrangement, but finally he gave me a non-committal shrug.
As we came to the expanse of flat rocks where we had encountered the snake earlier, Joe Bob casually said, "Best watch out for low flying snakes through here."
I couldn't help but smile at Enoch.
When he saw that he had my attention, he quietly asked, "Do you think that I'll be able to go with you?"
I smiled as I nodded.
Even though I hadn't actually planned what I was going to do before I asked to visit Lonny, I had automatically assumed that Enoch would be going with me.
The silence that settled over us was uncomfortable, so I decided to try and make some sort of conversation.
"So Beau, you want to go to the library. Does that mean that you read a lot?" I asked, trying to sound casual.
"Yeah. Our Ma don't let us watch TV. She says that TV makes your brain little and your ass big, and she ain't havin no little brained, big assed kids in her house." Beau said bluntly.
"I think your Ma sounds like a very wise person." I said to Beau with a smile, then asked, "What do you like to read?"
"I just finished the first Tarzan book. But there's about a thousand more of them." Beau said frankly.
"Closer to thirty." Joe Bob said fondly to his younger brother as we approached the back of the house.
Beau looked at Joe Bob as if to say 'same thing'.
* * * * *
"Do y'all need to get anything before we go into town?" Joe Bob asked, directing his question mostly toward me.
"I think I'm good to go." I said as I glanced at Enoch curiously.
"I gotta pee." Beau said as he raced to the bathroom just off the kitchen.
"Are we expecting any dust storms or anything like that today?" I asked Joe Bob curiously.
Joe Bob walked across the entry hall and looked out the front door for a moment, then walked back inside and said, "I don't think we're going to get any weather today, but if a dust storm does come up, it won't be until later."
"I'm ready!" Beau announced as he rushed into the entry hall with us.
"Go on and get in the car. Me and Mark will be right there." Joe Bob said as he looked me in the eyes.
Uh oh. I should have thought of this.
Joe Bob has been patient all morning, but it looks like he's about to ask for some answers.
Jim Bob looked at me with concern for a moment before following Beau out the door.
Joe Bob looked over at the door to make sure it was closed, then cast an expectant look at me.
What should I try to explain away first? The flying rattlesnake or my sudden need to visit Lonny?
"Me and Pa talked last night and he said that the best way I could help Jim Bob was to let you handle it." Joe Bob said frankly.
I felt a little bit relieved by the words but noticed that Enoch was watching me with concern.
"Does Lonny have something to do with it?" Joe Bob asked as he looked me in the eyes.
I considered how I should answer that, then noticed that Enoch was walking toward Joe Bob.
"Yeah." I said reluctantly, then added, "I just haven't figured out if he's the problem or the answer. That's why I need to talk to him."
Enoch had walked past Joe Bob and had his hand on the door knob.
I tried not to stare at Enoch, but was curious to know what he was doing.
"Find a way to let me know if you need for me to distract him." Enoch said with accomplishment at being able to find the door by himself.
"Is there anything I can do to help?" Joe Bob asked quietly.
"You're already doing it." I said with a smile. "You're driving us into town and taking Beau to the library. That should give me time to get things sorted out. By the time you come back for us I hope I'll have a clue about how to help Jim Bob."
"That thing with the rattlesnake..." Joe Bob began to say.
I gave a subtle nod to Enoch and he slowly opened the door.
Joe Bob spun on his heel and looked at the door with wide eyes as the old door creaked open.
"Try thinking about it this way, if Lonny turns out to be a snake, you already know that I can handle it." I said as I started walking toward the door.
Joe Bob seemed to be considering the words as I stopped in the doorway to wait for his reaction.
"You're trying to help Jim Bob. That's all I need to know." Joe Bob finally said, then walked past me, out the door.
"Thanks E." I said as I looked into his beautiful, jade green eyes.
"I want to hold you." Enoch said desperately.
"That's good, because I'm planning on you riding all the way into town on my lap." I said with a grin.
Enoch blinked with surprise, then broke into a glorious smile.
* * * * *
I didn't really pay too much attention to anything on the trip into town except the beautiful, insubstantial boy riding on my lap and holding on to me more tenderly than I can ever remember anyone holding me in my life.
I did notice a few knowing glances from Beau, but he didn't ask any questions.
I'm not sure if he knew exactly what Enoch was doing, but he knew that something was going on.
"Y'all can expect me to be back by to pick you up in about half an hour." Joe Bob said as he pulled up to a neat little house at the corner of two one-way streets.
Jim Bob nodded to his brother, then got out of the car.
It took me a little bit longer to guide Enoch off my lap and out of the car, but I finally made it out.
"I don't think Lonny is going to be very happy that I told you." Jim Bob said nervously.
"I made you a promise and I intend to keep it." I said seriously.
"So you didn't tell Joe Bob?" Jim Bob asked nervously.
"No. But if he hasn't figured it out yet, he probably will soon." I said frankly.
At Jim Bob's terrified look, I hurried to explain, "The fact that your dad asked me to talk to you means that he's almost figured it out."
"I don't know what to do." Jim Bob said as tears filled his eyes.
"I know. That's why I'm here with you right now." I said, trying to sound like I knew what I was doing. "Introduce me to Lonny and we'll see what we can figure out."
At Jim Bob's uncertain stare, I quietly added, "We'll fix this."
To Be Continued...
Editor's Notes: What a wonderful present from MM. Thank you so very much. This was a wonderful chapter. I have to say that this is my favourite non CSU story that MM has written so far. I fell in love with it in the first chapter, and it has continued to get better and better with each new episode. I can hardly wait for the next chapter.
Darryl AKA The Radio Rancher