by Grasshopper

Chapter 16

Cole felt the cold damp earth pressing against his cheek. He smelled the dirt and felt stickiness on his face and in his eyes. It was pitch black, not a glimmer of light. Was he buried? He rolled over slowly, feeling the ground under him. Reaching straight up, he felt nothing but empty air. Not buried. Where the hell was he? Trying to sit up, the dizziness shot to his head and he caved over to lay still.

An odd noise woke him; a sound rather like a sigh of the wind through the aspen trees; just a swish, a breath, a longing. "Who's there?" he asked, his terrified eyes trying to cut through the darkness.

"Don't be afraid," a soft voice whispered.

Scrambling backwards despite the sharp pain in his head, Cole hit the wall and gathered his arms around his knees. "Who are you?"

"You were sleeping too long. I had to wake you up," the voice said gently.

"Where am I? Where is this?" He felt the back of his head and his hand came away with blood from the large gash.

"You'll be all right now. Just don't go back to sleep. Wait for Wesley."

What? Wesley? How do you know Wes? Who are you?" He felt a brush of cold air tickle across his forehead.

"Give this to Wesley." The voice whispered. He felt something tiny and cold pressed into the palm of his hand and his fingers gently closed around it.

"Please tell me who you are."

Like the breeze that rustled the branches of the tall cottonwoods around their swimming pond, the voice sighed, "My name was Kat."

Cole eased himself back down to the ground and put the closed hand on his chest, covered it with his other hand and stared into the darkness. He did not go back to sleep. He waited for the sun. He waited for Wes.

"And that's exactly what happened, Sheriff," Wes finished. "I was angry, but I didn't kill him. The tractor wasn't running when I left, just the radio. I was angry about the way he treated my sister, but I just beat on him some; I sure wouldn't have done that."

"I tend to believe you, Wes. I would just have thought your brother would have known better than to have had that tractor engine running while he worked on it. According to the fingerprints on the steering wheel and the gear shift, he's the only one who touched them tonight. The only other prints we found were old Mr. Carson's and I just can't picture a ninety-three year old guy messin' with your brother. We'll get this all sorted out and call it an accident for the time being. Oh, your father seems to be runnin' on half a light bulb. He bothers you or Mercy, you come to me. You should have done that years ago."

Wes couldn't tell the sheriff why they had let the abuse keep going. Now that he was older, Wes realized they shouldn't have lived in fear like that, but at the time, it was the only thing to do. If they had reported Father, they would have been put in foster homes. At least they got to stay together and he would always be grateful to Mercy for raising him. No, the only one damaged by it all was Karl. Wes blinked back tears. As much as he had hated his older brother, he still cared. It wasn't Karl's fault after all.

"When you see Cole Hewett, tell him I want to hear his story again. We'll release the body for burial after the autopsy."


"Yeah, in the case of a mysterious death, we always check everything out."

"Okay, sure. Bye, Sheriff."

When I see Cole? Where the hell is Cole? Where are the beads? What's going on?

Sitting quietly in his car, Wes closed his eyes and tried to find Cole. He slowly opened them and gasped. Cole was looking out through a curtain of red. There was just darkness in front of him, but blood was running from somewhere on his face or his head down into his eyes. Cole was hurt and lying in the dark. Wes could feel Cole struggling to stay awake; he could feel how much his mind wanted to shut off. All that blood. "Don't go to sleep. Cole!" he whispered.

Wes decided to go to the cave and wait for the time when he could see through Cole's eyes so he could go find him. He'd just sit quietly and wait. It was all he could do for right now. Cole was somewhere cold and dark, but he was alive. If, by later today he still didn't know, he'd go to the sheriff. He didn't care if they all thought he was crazy, he would just tell them to search, to find Cole.

Cole was drifting in and out of sleep. He jerked awake as the weak early morning sun glowed across his face. Starting to sit up quickly, he remembered his head and took his time. Looking around, he saw, for the first time, that he was in some kind of big hole. Slowly, he stood up and reached his arm up toward the top. It was higher than he was tall. Much higher. Turning in a circle, he couldn't for the life of him figure out what this place was.

His right hand was so cramped, he couldn't open his fingers. Easing them slowly, he stared in amazement at the tiny silver object lying in his palm. The wire had almost punctured his skin and he had held it so tightly that it had made a deep imprint. Dropping it into his left hand, he flexed his fingers.

It was a tiny silver star; a lady's pierced earring. The wire was bent and the star caked with bits of mud. Where had he gotten it and why was he holding on to it so tightly? He remembered a dream he'd had last night. A lady, softspoken and gentle, whispering to him and telling him not to sleep. She had given him this earring. What had she told him to do with it? His head ached so badly. He tried to remember. Something about Wes. Maybe he'd remember when his head didn't hurt so much. Cole opened one of the zip pockets on his parka and dropped the tiny star in. There was something else she had said, something weird about cats, but it was gone.

Looking around more carefully now, he saw an old rusted lawnmower, a snake skeleton arranged on its safety cover. There was an old rotted tarp, some rotted bags of fertilizer and the paper off a Snickers bar.

Over on the dirt wall across from the lawnmower he saw some faded papers. There had been drawings on the backs of the papers, faded almost away, but the fronts of the papers were old school worksheets. He ripped one off the wall where it had been stuck with sharp pieces of sticks and turned it over. On the line that said "Name ___________" Cole frowned as he read, printed in big block letters:

Wesley Straihan

Why would any of Wesley's old school papers be down in this place? In this pit? Suddenly, a day flooded back into his memory. Mrs. Kane, their old history teacher in seventh grade showing them slides of her trip to somewhere in Europe. That castle, that pit where they threw prisoners. Cole remembered how odd Wes had acted after class. How he had freaked when she was talking about that obli-something. He tipped the paper until the sunlight showed him what had been drawn on the back of the paper. His own face looked back at him! This was Wesley's paper. Wesley had drawn his face on the back. Wesley had hung this paper up on the wall. Wesley had been in this pit!!! Oh dear God!!

Wes had fallen asleep for a few minutes sitting in the cave. Cursing, he unfocused his eyes and whispered, "Cole, where are you?" His eyes faded to silver and the pupils shrunk to pinpoints. He was seeing faded sunlight and dirt. He could see a piece of paper and then the same paper but with an almost invisible drawing of someone. Squinting his eyes, Wes recognized the curls, Cole's curls. Cole was looking at a picture Wes had drawn. Where would it be dark and dirty and there would be pictur ................................Wes jumped to his feet. Cole was in the pit! Not waiting to ask how or why, he ran. Only three people knew about that pit, Father, Karl and Wes himself. Karl was dead. That left Father. Damn his eyes!

As Wes shoved the car into 4th, he saw a flashing light pulling up behind him. Not waiting, he pushed his foot down hard and the camaro hit 60 .. 70 .. 80. He could hear the siren behind him and wanted the sheriff to follow. It was time to finish this.

Pulling into the Church of Redemptive Suffering lot, he passed it by and squealed to a stop at the stand of trees at the rear.

"Cole's parents called. They can't find Cole."

"I just figured out where he is," Wes answered. "Come with me."

"What's back here?" Sheriff Nolan asked as they pushed their way through the thick underbrush.

"Hell," Wes answered simply.

The padlock on the door to the little building was locked. "Wait," Wes said, and took off for his car and a crowbar. Back quickly, he smashed the old rusted lock and pulled the door open wide. "Cole!" he shouted.

"Wes?" Cole stood staring up into the gloom.

"Yeah, the sheriff and I are right here. We'll get you out. Hold on a few more minutes." Wes reached for the thick rope he had always had to climb up and lowered it down to Cole. "Just loop it and hold on. We'll pull you up." They tugged and raised Cole up out of the pit.

Falling into Wes's arms, Cole rested his head on Wes's shoulder. Wes began feeling Cole for breaks or cuts. "You're okay now. I've got you. There's a nasty cut on the back of your head and a knot the size of a tennis ball."

Sheriff Nolan watched as Wes held tightly to Cole. The looks on their faces told him all he needed to know. "How'd you get down in there, Cole?" he asked, peering over the edge.

"You're gonna hate this, Wes, but your father pushed me down in there. I was following him after what he said about Karl Jr. and he must have known I was cause when he got here, he tricked me and pushed me in. My guess is he got me good with a shovel or something."

"What did he say about Karl?" Sheriff Nolan asked sharply.

"Stuff about how he had to be punished for what he did. How all the children had to be punished. It was like he hated all of you. He was talking crazy." Cole leaned into Wes as he told his story. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be. He's always punished us and always hated us. It's over now."

"Wes? Did he ever put you down in there?" Cole asked, pointing into the pit.

"Yeah, when I was bad." Wes turned his face away in shame.

"When in hell were you ever bad? You never told me. I would have helped you. Why didn't you tell me? I knew there was something bad wrong, but not like this. Never like this."

Wes started to lean to Cole to kiss him; then remembered the sheriff. Blushing, he stepped back. "Sorry."

"Whatever jerks your chain," the sheriff said with a small smile on his face.

"We're gonna get you checked out at the ER, Cole, then I think we better go pay a visit on The Good Reverend Straihan."

All three sheriff's cars pulled up in the front yard of the Straihan place. Cole and Wes had been instructed to drive straight to the Hewett's and stay there. So, of course, they didn't. Pulling off the highway, Wes cut the motor and they walked silently up the road to watch from the barn.

Standing at intervals in the front yard, one deputy moved quietly to watch the kitchen door. "Reverend Straihan, come outside!" Sheriff Nolan called loudly with his speaker.

"Reverend Karl Straihan, this is the sheriff speaking. I need to see you. Please come out!"

They heard the sound of breaking wood and then Father was at the front door, pushing Mercy out in front of him. "This is who you want. She is a sinner. I am the Reverend Karl Staihan of the Church of Redemptive Suffering. I hold god's favor. I have no dealings with the authorities."

"Reverend Straihan, we are here to talk to you about Cole Hewett. He claims you pushed him into that pit and locked the door."

"Father!" Mercy cried. "How could you?"

"He followed me. I had to be rid of him. I had a duty to perform. I have to punish sinners; make them see the evil that resides in their hearts."

"Did you have to punish Karl Jr?" the sheriff asked calmly.

"He was rotten with sin. He slept with a harlot. He needed to bleed."

"Did you go to see him at Collom's Garage last night?"

"Yes, he would not listen. I made him listen. He had to bleed."

"Let go of your daughter, Reverend. Come along quietly."


"To my office. I think we need to talk about all this punishing."

"I have a sermon to preach this morning. I cannot go with you."

"I'm afraid you're gonna have to. Jackie, cuff him and read him his rights."

Too fast, Father pulled Mercy's crippled arm behind her back and pushed it up. Mercy cried out in pain. "Wes, get him off me!" she called.

It all happened at once. Wes broke cover and ran toward Father and Mercy.

Mercy jerked at Father's arm as Father pulled a Buck knife from the inside pocket of his rusty old black coat. He raised the knife to Mercy's throat and Sheriff Nolan shot him square in the chest.

Father fell to the ground, babbling incoherently. "god punish kat had to make clean god help pride makes weak." Just as his last breath was about to leave his body, he opened his eyes and, in a raspy voice commanded, "Obey Me!"

The Reverend Karl Straihan of the Church of the Redemptive Suffering was dead. He would answer to God now ...... Wes's God.

Wes knelt beside Father's body, Mercy standing beside him. "I have no tears for Father either, Wesley," she said quietly.

"Neither have I." They just stared at the man who had terrorized their childhood, lying there all crumpled and old. One day soon, they would realize that they were finally free, but not yet. It was too engrained in them. It had been too long.

"I'd say the case is closed," Sheriff Nolan said as Jackie called for the ambulance. "Your father admitted to killing your brother. I don't want you two staying here tonight. Cole, can you put your friends up at your house?"

"Yes, sir, sure thing. We've got plenty of room."

"We'll be fine, Sheriff," Wes said. "It's over. We've been afraid all our lives, and now, when I see him like that, I question how he could have been so cruel. I guess we'll never know."

"Call if you need me," the sheriff said, nodding to them. "Come in tomorrow and we'll sort this all out. Cole, you take Wes and Mercy and get on home now. I called your parents and they know you're safe, but I know your mama wants to see for herself."

"Yes, sir. Wes, can we swing by and get my truck?"

Arriving at the Hewett's, Wes and Mercy both felt embarrassed about everything that had gone on. They didn't want to tell the story. They didn't want the Hewetts staring at them like they were freaks. "Cole, I don't think either Mercy or I can do this right now. Maybe we'd better just go back to the house."

"You wait right here. I'll fix everything." Wes watched Cole stride quickly to the house and disappear in the kitchen door.

"What a pretty house," Mercy said wistfully.

"We'll have a nice house. We will, Mercy."

"I know, Wes. I believe you. I feel so empty. I thought I was gonna feel all happy, but it's like something's very wrong."

"I know exactly what you mean. Maybe it's cause it all happened so fast. I don't think we've had time to take it in yet. I kinda feel numb or something."

Wes pulled Mercy into his arms and held her.

Cole came back out to the car about fifteen minutes later. "Sorry it took so long. I had to fill them in. Come on in. No one's gonna ask you anything. I promise." He took Wes's hand and held it firmly.

They walked into the brightly lit kitchen and stood quietly. Sarah Hewett said gently, "Are you two hungry?" Both Mercy and Wes shook their heads.

"No, thank you, Mrs. Hewett."

"I know you must be exhausted. Let's just get you settled and, after some good sleep, you'll feel hungry in the morning." Sarah put her arm around Mercy's shoulders and led her off down the hall to one of the guest rooms.

"Come on to my room. Let's get you cleaned up," Cole said.

"You too," Wes whispered.

Cole looked down at the dirt smears on his clothes. "Yeah, you're right."

He led Wes down the hall and into his spacious bedroom. "You go first. There are plenty of towels and shampoo and stuff in the bathroom."

Wes stepped into the big bathroom. It was a big as his bedroom. Everything was blue, the color of Cole's eyes. Looking around slowly, Wes felt the huge difference between them again. Cole was used to all this and Wes had never experienced it. His mother's young face from the wrinkled photo popped into his mind and he felt the pain of all the loss. Quickly, he opened the glass shower door, figured out the faucets and turned on the water. Dropping his dirty clothes, he kicked them aside and stepped into the steaming water.

As the water flowed across his face, hot tears began to course down his face; not so much for the loss of his brother or Father, but more because he was exhausted and his life sucked. Everything fell on him like a load of bricks and his tears turned into sobs.

As his shoulders shook, he felt Cole's heat press up against him. "Shhh, don't cry. I'm here." Wes spun around and threw his arms around Cole's neck. "Let me get you clean."

"Your head ... you shouldn't be getting it wet."

"Shhh, nothing can hurt my hard head." Cole lathered his hands with the sweet smelling soap and washed Wes, gentle and slow, the hot water relaxing them both. His hands ran across Wes's back and massaged the knots away. His arms, his chest and then he sank to his knees and worked his way up Wes's muscled legs. As the soap ran off under the torrent of water, Cole kissed here, stroked there, pressed his face against Wes's flat belly. Finally, he washed Wes's long hair, massaging his scalp and kissing his face.

He began to wash himself and when Wes protested, he sighed, "This is about you, Wesley. Let me just take care of you and love you."

He toweled Wes off and handed him his toothbrush. "I must love you cause I'm letting you use my toothbrush."

They walked back into the bedroom hand in hand. "Let me tuck you in and I'll go get us something to eat."

"You don't have to bother."

"Oh yeah, like you're a bother."

Cole pulled on sweats and walked to the kitchen. Sarah was wiping the cabinet tops. "How is he?"

"He's strong. It's thrown him for a loop, but he'll be okay."

"How are you?" she asked, pressing her hand on his forehead, checking the gash on his head.

"I'm fine, Mom. I just need some aspirin. It's Wes and Mercy I'm worried about. How is Mercy?"

"She's overwhelmed. I don't think she's ever been in a pretty bathroom before. She was touching everything. I left her to clean up and then I'll go sit with her til she falls asleep."

"Thanks, Mom, I know this was sudden, but Wes and Mercy are so important to me."

"I know that, Cole. They're welcome to stay here as long as they need to. I can't even imagine how they must be feeling, losing both their brother and their father all in one weekend."

"I'm just gonna grab some food and get some sleep. You have any of that fried chicken left?"

He balanced a small tray loaded with fried chicken, chocolate chip cookies and milk. "Night, Mom. Love you."

"Cole, one thing you need to think about...."


"You need to talk to your father about your feelings for Wesley.......

before he sees it for himself. Good night, my sweet son." She kissed him and turned off the bright light, leaving just the tiny night light glowing. She left Cole standing with a stunned look on his face.

He carried the food back to the bedroom and he and Wes sat cross legged in the middle of the king-sized bed. Cole found that he was starving and began to gobble down large bites of chicken. Wes nibbled at a cookie and drank some milk. "You gotta eat more than that," Cole protested. "You've gotta keep your strength up for the next few days."

"I'm fine," Wes replied. "I'm just not very hungry right now."

Cole set the tray on the floor and crawled under the covers. "Come here, you," he whispered, and Wes went into Cole's outstretched arms.

"It's not grief I'm feeling," Wes mumbled, "It's some kind of weird loss, like as if there was this loud buzzing noise inside your head for all your life and suddenly, it's gone. The silence is overwhelming. The white noise that was Father, was Karl, simply turned off and the sudden nothing in me is frightening. Does that make any sense?"

"Sure it does. You've lived with this since you were born. I can't even begin to imagine what it was like. I wish you had ..... oh, well, it's over ..... You have to rebuild your life now. I'm here. I'll always be here. You and me and Mercy; we'll make a good life for ourselves." Cole kissed Wes's forehead and looked into his spooky silver eyes, the eyes that found him when he was lost; that saved him from being hurt. "I love you."

Wes crawled even closer. "I love you too. I was so scared when I couldn't find you, when all I could see was darkness and blood. I don't know what I'd do without you."

"You don't have to worry about that. I'll always be right here by your side."

There was a soft tapping on the door that made Wes and Cole spring apart to opposite sides of the bed. "May I come in?" Mercy's voice whispered.

Cole hopped up to open the door and Wes moved quickly to the big armchair by the window. Letting her in, Cole replied, "Sure, how are you doin'?"

"I couldn't sleep. I wanted to check on you two and make sure you're okay."

"Well, I have a headache and your brother won't eat, but that's about all."

"I'm not very hungry either," she admitted, "Your mom is so sweet, but I just feel so strange."

"Me too, Mercy, just kinda lost."

"You're both exhausted and you gotta admit, it's all been way overload. You'll feel better tomorrow ... or today."

"Wes said that you had some odd stuff happen while you were down in that pit," Mercy said, frowning. "Like what?"

Cole patted the bed and Mercy sat down shyly beside him. "It's all kinda hazy because my head was hurting like hell, but, now don't go thinking I've totally lost my mind, okay?, but I swear someone whispered to me to stay awake. Probably just the pain working overtime."

"What did the voice say? What did it sound like? A man, a woman, a child?"

Mercy pressed him.

Wesley moved over to the bed to sit on the other side of Cole. "Can you remember anything more?"

Cole thought hard. What had the voice said? "It was a woman's voice, very soft, very caring. She kept telling me to stay awake. Oh! She told me to wait for you. She said, 'Wait for Wesley."

"Those words?"

"Yes, she told me to wait for you and something else ......." He closed his eyes and tried to think back. "She told me not be afraid and to wait for you and ......."

"Yes, and what?" Wes and Mercy were both wide-awake now and listening carefully.

"Damn, how could I forget that!" Cole jumped up and ran out of the room, coming back with his dirty parka. Jumping on the bed, they others wheeled around to watch him. On his knees, he opened one zip pocket and then another. "It's got to be here somewhere. I remember putting it in one of these ........ Here it is!" He scrabbled down into the little pocket with his fingers and came up with a tiny object.

As if she already knew what she'd see, Mercy held out her hand, palm up. Cole dropped the dirty, bent little earring into her hand. "It's the other earring," she sighed, closing her hand and pressing it to her chest. "It's Mother's earring, Wesley."

'What are you saying?" Cole gasped. "Are you saying that I talked to your mother? But, there's no way."

"There's no way my eyes can see through yours, but they do," Wes answered him.

"We need the other earring," Mercy cried, "And that picture of Mother wearing them."

"In the morning, we'll ..............," Cole started.

"Now! I need to see them now," Mercy objected. "Somehow, Mother spoke to Cole. I'll go to the house and get the earring. Where's that photo, Wes? You had it last."

"It's in the treasure box at the cave. I'll go get it. Cole, will you go with Mercy? I don't want her out alone."

"Sure, but .............................," Cole saw it was useless, Mercy had already gone to put her clothes back on and Wes was reaching for his dirty jeans.

"Here, wear some of my sweats and my spare jacket. I'll go get your boots."

They crept out the kitchen door and headed for the barn. Whistler and Firefly saddled, Cole pulled Mercy up in front of him and Wes climbed up on Firefly. "Be careful," Cole whispered as Wes led the horse out of the barn and down the trail toward the bluffs.

The horses' hooves pounded out a steady rhythm that sounded to both Mercy and Wes like Mo-ther! Mo-ther!. Not thinking too deeply about what this meant yet; just knowing that a mystery was opening for them, the long overdue answers to the mystery of their beautiful mother's disappearance.

Callie had been in her room ever since Cole brought Wes and Mercy home. Her mom had asked her to make herself scarce and Callie had been more than happy to oblige. This whole thing was spinning out of control. She wished she could just forget having ever found out about Wes and her brother. She wished that she'd never asked Lily to help her and, most of all, she wished that she'd never laid eyes on Karl Straihan. All she wanted to do was back up about a month when the biggest deal in her life was buying clothes for college. Things just weren't perfect anymore.

She knew she had some time before she either got rid of the baby or had to tell her parents. She needed to get Wesley alone and find out what he was thinking. Wes was the key to this whole problem. This was all his fault.

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