Taran arrived at his parents’ house, which wasn’t that far from Elaine Wilcox’s home, just around the corner and down the hill from the school. It had just been outside his range of interviews. It wasn’t at all like Elaine’s house though, because his parents’ house was on a corner lot that sloped so they had a walk-out basement and a drive that angled around and down to the garage.
The house, like all the houses of its era in Corbin Meadow, was red brick and long and low with their garage on the lower level at the end of the house. The front door was on the long side of the house. With it being so late, Taran parked on the street in front. Getting out of the car, he looked around at the houses that mostly looked a bit like his parents’. A few looked newer due to remodeling and changes that had been made. As you continued up the street, driving uphill, on the next block there were mostly split levels that were a good fifteen years newer than his parents’ house, a sure sign that Corbin Meadow had expanded its borders at that time. But then it was about kids needing homes away from parents, not outsiders coming in.
Apparently that made a difference.
Or maybe it didn’t. Maybe it was just Dixie Fulton Pugh being in town and protecting it. Taran couldn’t think of a stranger protector than his ex-mother-in-law.
His parents had used the barbecue out back, and the smell of charcoal and hamburger reached his nose. His daddy loved cooking meat outdoors. If it was his heart, he’d need to stop. It would be hard to convince him to go to the doctor. Hopefully he’d be able to do so and his daddy would get treatment that could save his life, at least for now. Taran wasn’t ready to lose him.
Maybe tomorrow he could go see Frank and perhaps warn him, but then again, Kay had wished for Frank to be set up. Really, Taran thought, who were they to go picking and choosing what would happen to someone they loved?
No wonder Kay’s mother was always going on about protecting one’s immortal soul. With that sort of power it would be easy to corrupt it.
Lights were on inside and he imagined his parents talking and laughing. Perhaps his daddy being a bit short of breath—he had been lately, his mother had commented on it the last time he’d visited—was a sign of what was to come. Taran sighed. He didn’t want to go in but he couldn’t just stand on the cement porch.
He used to his key to unlock the front door, glad to note that his parents had finally listened to him and started locking the thing. He walked in, prepared to talk to his father about the doctor and dreading it. Now, if only he’d listen.
His cell phone rang as he was standing on the porch, his arm inside the house, the rest of him still outside. He saw his mother gesture and frown as he listened to Blake Fellows who was on the other end of the phone.
“It’s Frank Nilssen, damn it,” Blake said. “Got a hit on a partial print. No wonder he wasn’t willing to call us in.”
Taran sighed, seeing the world spinning too fast for him to take things in. Hadn’t Kay asked for some time?
“Have you brought him in?” Taran asked.
“All circumstantial right now,” Blake said. “But now I have a focus. Consider this a courtesy call. Because he used to be your boss, you’ll probably not be in the loop as much as you have been.”
“I appreciate the warning,” Taran said quietly. If he hadn’t known, hadn’t participated in Frank’s set up, would he have reacted so calmly? Or would he be fighting things?
“I appreciate your professionalism, which I hope extends to not telling Frank he’s under investigation. I wouldn’t want him to leave town,” Blake said.
“I’ll do what I can,” Taran replied, hanging up.
He looked up at his parents, at his father sitting in his favorite chair across from the television, the old recliner with the cushions imprinted with his body even when he left, and his mother standing there, waving him in because he was letting the cool air out.
After hearing from Blake, something he couldn’t talk to his parents about, he wasn’t sure how he was going to be able to have this conversation. And how much worse would it have been had his father been the one they pinned the murders on?
Taran sighed and entered the house, preparing to argue his father into seeing a doctor.
It could have gone better, Taran thought, but it could also have gone worse. His daddy hadn’t wanted to see the doctor. His momma had immediately jumped on Taran’s concern and started in on her own. His daddy wasn’t pleased, but they had an appointment for the following day.
Taran sat in his driveway, staring off into space, eyeing his backyard. Were the creatures still there? Did they watch him now that Kay and Zoe were out of town, on their way to that university by Johnson City? Or did they follow Kay? From what he understood, he doubted they followed or left the town. This was their place. In that they were not unlike him, really. It was his town in all its Appalachian glories, the sometimes small-minded but always big-hearted people, the beauty of the mountains, the slow pace of conversation.
Taran doubted other towns in the area had monsters, not like Corbin Meadow.
He shook his head. He was cold, though it was still warm enough outside, but this chill came from inside him, a chill that came from too much change in too short of time. He’d found the answer to the murders, a way to get Sheriff Fellows off his back. He’d learned that his daddy might be about to die. Worse, his friend and mentor, Frank Nilsen, was also dying, and Taran had condemned him to lose his good name.
There should have been a better way.
The smile the creature had given them when he’d suggested Louella’s son as a suspect, the easy suggestion of his death in a car crash—that made Taran shiver. What were they dealing with?
He had so many questions and not many answers. Answers were all he wanted, really. And yet, in getting them, they’d gotten only more questions. Or maybe they all had just had time to begin to understand how much they didn’t know.
Taran slowly opened the car door and slipped out. He walked quietly to his side door, glancing around. The motion light turned on, burning with a slight hum. He used his key to enter, his hand feeling as if he carried a boulder it was so heavy. He took in a breath, having to work harder than he expected, as if he were being buried.
In a way, he was. Taran was being buried under pounds of sorrows and worry and fear. Even pounds of responsibility, because no matter that Kay had had to make that wish for Frank to be accused, he himself had not said a word. He’d listened to her making that decision, knowing it was the best one that could be made at the time, even if it meant not only Frank’s life but his reputation.
What kind of a friend did that?
It wasn’t the sort of friend Taran wanted to be. He headed inside, thankful that he had Dr. Pepper in the fridge. He wasn’t hungry but he wanted a drink. He eyed the beer, wanted the beer, but once again knew he’d not stop at one or even six. The way he felt, he wasn’t sure there was enough alcohol in all of Corbin Meadow to get him through the night. That was saying something considering the moonshine stills that remained hidden up in the hills.
He probably didn’t need the caffeine. It would keep him up all night. Not that it mattered, not really. He doubted he could sleep, wondered for a moment if he’d ever sleep again, not after what he’d done and what he knew.
Taran dropped into the square second-hand chair that seemed made for his body and set the can of Dr. Pepper on the table next to it. He sat there staring at the wall, thinking about everything that happened and the decisions he made, trying to decide if he could have done anything differently, knowing that there wasn’t anything that could be done.
Beyond all reason he’d solved these murders, had done what even Frank couldn’t have done. The problem came from the fact that the solution made no rational sense. So he’d come up with a solution to that problem. Despite the distaste he had for it, he could only live with the decision and try and ease the pain it was going to cause his friend.
Taran sipped at the Dr. Pepper, not tasting it, not even feeling the coolness running down his throat. He could live with this. But he was going to hate himself forever.
I hope you’ve enjoyed Souls Lost. Naturally, the story continues in Souls Broken, which is available at your favorite retailer.