W.I.T.C.H. Fan Fiction ❯ My Niece ❯ Day 2 ( Chapter 2 )

[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
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Day 2
The second day itself started oddly. I was still in the midst of my sleep when I heard knocking on my door. I tried to ignore it, but then I heard something from Wilma that struck me as utterly bizarre: “Eh, Arthur? Sven has his food bowl in his mouth.”
Hearing that, I willed myself out of bed and stammered towards the door. When I opened it, I saw Wilma standing with Sven by her side and in his mouth was his food bowl. I found that particularly strange, as Sven had never done that with me. Whenever he was hungry, he would simply stand in front of me or my bedroom door and whine until I complied. But I was so out of it from last night that I didn’t want to feed him, so I said, “Sven wants to be fed. Go into the kitchen and look under the sink. There’s a box that holds his food; give him one scoop of food, and be sure to tightly close it when you’re done. I’ll be out in a few minutes.”
I then walked back into my bedroom and closed the door to get my bathrobe and moccasins on, and then I opened the door and walked over to the kitchen to get some coffee. Wilma was sitting at the table, staring out into the distance. Seeing this, I said, “I’m pretty sure that you don’t want coffee, Wilma.”
She then looked at me and said, “What did you say?”
I repeated the previous phrase: “I’m pretty sure that you don’t want coffee, Wilma.”
“Oh, yeah. You’re right. I don’t want coffee.” From there, I sat down at the table and began drinking my coffee. Wanting to keep Wilma from drifting off into another aimless stupor, I said, “So, did you sleep well last night?”
“Yeah. It took me a little while to fall asleep, though.” Wilma responded.
“Well, I’m sorry that you had to sleep on a futon. Even with all of the dressing up, it’s still not as good as your standard bed. It’s certainly beats sleeping on the couch, however.”
There was a long pause after that comment, on which Wilma’s face was rather hard to read. She wasn’t staring aimlessly about, but she wasn’t really thinking all that hard about what she wanted to say or do next. Once again, I broke the silence: “Is there anything you’d like to have for breakfast?”
“Eh, if you have any eggs, I wouldn’t mind having some scrambled.” Wilma said.
“I do have some eggs; hold on.” I then went to the fridge to go get the eggs, and then I asked, “I’m also going to get out some juice. I hope you don’t mind orange juice, as it’s the only stuff I have.”
From there, I placed the orange juice onto the table, went into the cabinets to grab a cup, and I gave it to Wilma. After that, I took the eggs to the stove along with a bowl and I began heating up the skillet that was already sitting on top of the burner. “By the way,” I said as I reached over for one of the eggs, “Do you have any sort of gift with dogs?”
“Not really. Why?” Wilma replied.
“Because Sven usually doesn’t go out of his way to meet people, especially if he’s never seen them before.” I answered. “And yet with you, he acts as if he’s known you all his life.” After that, I broke the egg into the bowl and began whisking it.
“Hm. I guess I might actually have something special with dogs Arthur, though I’ve never been around one long enough to tell.”
There was another pause, and then for once, Wilma broke the silence: “So Sven is an Elkhound. He certainly doesn’t look like any hound that I’ve ever seen.”
“Well, that’s because of a bad Norwegian translation. The breed’s original name sounds eerily like Elkhound, but its name, which is Elghund, translates to Moose Dog. Despite that, this breed has been classified as a hound ever since.”
“I see. So where did you get him?”
“Well, that’s a story in itself. Oh, and before I continue, do you want one egg or two?”
“Eh, I didn’t have much to eat coming here, so I’ll say two.”
“OK.” I said as I broke another egg into the bowl and began whisking again. “Anyway, getting back to the story. It actually took place about three years ago. My mother, who lives in Fadden Hills, told me that a friend of hers had died and that among the things in her possession was what she called a wolf puppy. She was frightened and called me for assistance, because she had no idea what to do with him. Well, I thought the whole story seemed rather far-fetched, so I told her that I would go out to see her and find out what was going on. When I did get there, I saw the ‘wolf puppy’ enclosed in a box, and I took one look at it and I realized that it was an Elkhound, not a wolf. But even with a visit to a local veterinarian, my mother refused to hang on to him, so I adopted him and he’s been living with me for the last few years.”
At last, I got the eggs done, and I transferred them to a plate with a fork. I brought the eggs over to Wilma, but I was rather surprised to see Wilma looking rather depressed. I didn’t know what I did, but I was afraid to probe deeper into her psyche.
The rest of the breakfast went by very quietly, as I spent the time drinking my coffee. When she was done eating, I took the dishes off to the sink and cleaned them up, and then I dried them and put them back into the cabinet. After that, I said, “Well, since you’re the guest, I’ll let you have the shower first, but I’d appreciate it if you could make it a fast shower.”
Wilma looked up, rather puzzled. “OK, but there’s something strange about your shower, Arthur.” She said.
“What do you mean, strange?” I replied.
“Well, I saw the shower, but the showerhead seemed to be attached to a hose…”
“Oh, I know what you’re talking about. All showers here in Whitesage are equipped with special water-saving showerhead hoses. You’ve probably never used one before.”
“Actually, I’ve never SEEN one before, much less used one. And while I’m on the topic, why is the bathroom handicap-assessable? I don’t see you as crippled.”
“It’s a law in Whitesage that mandates that all dwellings be made handicap-friendly.” I told Wilma. After a short pause, I then said, “So, do you want me to show you how the showerhead hose works?”
“Well, I didn’t shower yesterday, and I really don’t want to smell, so I guess I better learn how it works.” Wilma said. From there, we got up from the table and went into the bathroom where I went and showed how the showerhead hose worked.
“It’s a pretty simple operation when you get down to it.” I explained. “You just turn on the water, and you can just take down the showerhead by pulling it out of the stand. Now, do you see this lever right here on the side?”
“That allows the water to come out of the showerhead. When it’s vertical, like it is now, water will come out, but when you switch it to be horizontal like so, the water flow stops. Be sure to know this! Whenever you don’t need the water, like when you’re applying soap or shampoo, be sure to turn off the showerhead hose. You’ll be wasting water if you don’t, and the water prices here are likely much higher than where you are from.”
“But why is that?”
“Environmental tariffs. Well, I guess that it for all I know. I’d very much appreciate it if you could make your shower a fast one. I’ll be downstairs getting stuff ready for my business meeting if you need anything.”
With that, I closed the door behind me. Sven was waiting anxiously in the middle of the main room on top of his pillow, as if he wanted to go outside. “Eh, OK Sven.” I halfway mumbled. “Let’s get you outside.” Sven immediately leapt from his pillow over to the front door, where his leash was waiting. I got it attached to his collar and went outside to a fairly decent day for that time of year. There was not much new to see out there, though I did wave hello to Orin across the street as he was raking up some of the first leaves that had fallen on the ground. Sven did his ‘business’ as expected, and I took him back inside. After that, I cleaned up what Sven had left, and I then went inside and down into the basement and into my office. Once inside the office, I called in to The Mystic’s Emporium. After the second tone, I heard Bryan’s familiar voice over the phone: “This is The Mystic’s Emporium of Whitesage; Bryan speaking.”
“Hi. This is Arthur.” I said.
“Hm. It’s awfully early, Arthur. Is there something wrong?”
“Yes. I have to go out of town for the day. Something rather serious came up and I can’t talk my way out of it.”
“In other words, you won’t be coming in to work today.”
“I’m sorry Bryan. I know that it rather sudden, but I don’t have a choice.”
“I understand, Arthur.”
“I sure hope you don’t mind the joint by yourself today…”
“Don’t worry about it, Arthur. If you have other things to attend to, do so. I can handle things on my own and with the others.”
“Alright then. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye.”
With that I hung up the phone. I then grabbed my briefcase and began loading it with anything relevant for the upcoming meeting with Officer Lair, but it was little more than just some paper and writing tools. All the while, I was thinking about Wilma and why she had come to this place. How could such a girl actually run off like this? I thought to myself. It’s one thing to run off from Codton or Gunnersville, but Heatherfield? Either she’s just out of her mind or something really traumatic happened. I can only hope that her parents, and for that matter, Officer Lair, will allow me to gather some evidence on what got everyone in this set of affairs. After that process, I began having another set of thoughts, but something completely different. Where have heard the last name ‘Vandom’ before? After a pause, I began to think back to the times I was around Wilma’s age, which was a time I wanted to forget. OK, let’s just start with the people in my class. I don’t remember anyone from our local sports teams having that last name. Nor do I remember anyone who was given significant academic… wait a second. There was one…
But before I could go any further on the thought processes, I heard Wilma from upstairs shouting, “OK Arthur! I’m done with the shower!” I immediately replied, “Thanks for letting me know! I’ll get my stuff together in a minute!” I quickly packed together anything else that would be of use for the upcoming meeting in my briefcase, snapped it shut, and with that I headed upstairs. As I passed through the main room, I saw Wilma was sitting on the couch, playing with Sven and the noose; apparently, Sven still saw the noose as a toy. I didn’t give it much of a thought as I went into my bedroom to gather up components to make a business suit. With that done I headed back downstairs; as I did, I said to Wilma, “There’s a shower in the basement, so I’ll use that one from here on out, if that’s fine with you.” I didn’t get much of a response from her; perhaps I was so busy getting ready to take this trip that I didn’t hear her.
After I got cleaned up and properly dressed, I went upstairs yet again to get my things and to talk to Wilma about what she could and couldn’t do while I was gone. I already knew that I was running a big risk by having a strange teenage girl taking refuge in my home, and I didn’t want my situation to get any worse than it already was. I found Wilma on the bed I made for her, playing with Sven. “I was wondering where you were.” I told her. “Now before I go, there are a few ground rules that I’m going to ask for you to follow.”
Wilma immediately looked up at me, rather shocked and stupefied. “Ground rules?” she exclaimed. “But why? I haven’t done anything!”
“And that’s true, outside of coming to stay here with me…” I began to say.
“But that’s your fault! You INSISTED on bringing me here!”
“Wilma, the only reason I’m putting ground rules down is because even in a place like Whitesage, it is very suspicious to have a teenager lodging at someone’s house when no one knows each other. The last thing I want to have is to be indicted for some sort of misconduct crime.” With that, Wilma kind of calmed down. Perhaps she knew what I was getting at in terms of the situation between us.
“I don’t ask of you much.” I said. “All I ask is for you to stay inside the house under any and all circumstances. You’re welcome to use any of the facilities and to go into any of the rooms that allow you clearance; there are signs on certain doors on where you can’t go without my permission.”
Wilma than asked, “What about Sven? What if he needs to use the bathroom?”
I responded, “There’s a doggy door in the front door. I’ll be sure to unlock it and to close up the fence so he doesn’t escape.”
From there, Wilma asked, “OK, but what if there’s an accident, like there’s a fire or something else like that? Or what if I need to contact you?”
I paused for a second. The first part I had not thought through, as I was anxious to be a part of this meeting, while the second part was a non-issue because I didn’t have a cell phone. After thinking hard about the issues, I said, “Well, for religion’s sake, I hope nothing goes wrong here. If it does, call the appropriate authorities and make up some good cover story, like you’re my niece or something.”
“Wilma, please! This is only meant to try to keep both of us from suspicion.” I told her, trying to keep calm. “I don’t like the idea much either, but we have few alternatives. Besides, it’s just one idea; if you can come up with a better cover story, go with it. Above all else, though, I expect that nothing goes wrong while I’m away.”
“OK, Arthur.” Wilma answered, slowly calming down again. “But what if I need to contact you? I’ll need to know your cell phone number…”
“I don’t have a cell phone, Wilma.”
“I do, Wilma. But then again, quite a few people don’t own cell phones in Whitesage. And even if I did have a cell phone, it wouldn’t do us much good. Reception is terrible beyond this area.”
“It still doesn’t explain why you don’t have a cell phone, Arthur. That’s like saying it’s not necessary to have a water source for amphibians to survive.”
“Wilma, there are plenty of people in the world that do not own a cell phone, and I doubt that they would care about such an issue. Besides, we survived without cell phones for millennia, so that argument is rather moot.” I responded. I then went off to the front door and I unlocked the doggy door section, and I kicked it to show Sven that it was open. Sven immediately came out of the bedroom and towards the doggy door, but stopped by the door and began pawing it, to make sure that it was open. Content that all was well, Sven then headed back to Wilma, and I followed.
“OK, Wilma, I’m off for this meeting. It might be awhile before I come back, just to let you know.” I said.
“Well, good luck, I guess.” Wilma responded. As I left, I thought, I’ll need it. I left the house and into the garage, where my car, a modified subcompact 4-seater, rested. I tossed my briefcase onto the passenger side of the vehicle, and I then climbed in behind the driver’s wheel. I slowly began to pull out of the driveway until I was out onto the road; from there I put the vehicle in park and went back to close the gate that led to my house. After that, I was off to Heatherfield.
As I was driving along, I began to return to my thought process regarding the last name of Wilma’s, which was Vandom. The only person whose ever had that last name that I know of was that girl in high school, Susan. I thought to myself, unsure of whether that concept made any sense. Wait. That doesn’t make any sense at all. Susan had black hair; Wilma has reddish hair. As I mused the possible connection between Wilma and Susan, another thought process started up, one more disturbing. She did seem to be emotionally unstable. What could’ve… No! I already disproved that theory! Even if Tony did bonk around with every woman he came across, there’s no way that he would’ve had a child. More likely than not, he’d probably force whoever he bonked to dump the cargo and deny the whole incident ever happened. It’s just probably Wilma’s current position that causing her to be so rambunctious and secretive. After that, I concentrated all of my energies on the road ahead of me.
Heatherfield was one of the major cities within New Brunswick. Located along the southern coastline and considered the sister city to St. John, it had a population of roughly 500,000 people. To my mind (or for anyone coming from a small town), it was like any other major city, which meant it was a cesspool of criminal and civil nonsense and where a commute by motor vehicle was almost impossible.
I must have spent a good 20 minutes driving around, trying to find the Heatherfield Police Department. Thankfully, it wasn’t that hard to find police officers in Heatherfield, as there must have been one for every one hundred people I saw. I guess that was to be expected, as one would need such a large police force to keep a city of this size in check, even for a nation as civilized as ours. After finding a good parking spot, I was able to get a hold of one of the police officers and got instructions on how to get to the station. After a quick drink of coffee, I was back on the streets and to the station.
The Heathefield Police Department was a building that seemed to blend into its surroundings; in fact, without the front sign, I wouldn’t have known and/or cared what building it was. After finding another place to park, I then walked into the station’s front entrance. The lobby was just as bland as the outside, which didn’t surprise me in the least bit. There was only two other people in the lobby, that being the receptionist and a middle-aged woman with black hair that went a foot longer than her shoulders. I went over to the receptionist’s desk and cleared my throat to get her attention. She looked up from her computer and said, “Can I help you sir?”
“Yes.” I replied. “My name is Arthur Addlestadt; I’m here to see one Officer Lair regarding the missing person case of one Wilma Vandom.”
“OK then. Let me contact Officer Lair; he should be at his desk. Please be…”
But before she could finish, a rather husky and muscular police officer came into the lobby via a door on the side, right in front of the receptionist. Apparently, this man had to be been Officer Lair, because the receptionist immediately said, “Officer Lair, both people you wanted to see this afternoon is here.”
Officer Lair replied, “Thanks, Shirley.” He then turned over to me and said, “Thanks for coming all this way, Arthur. I know that’s a long drive for you.”
“That’s OK, Officer Lair. I know it’s inconvenient, but such things need to be taken care of.” I said.
“My feelings exactly. And you can call me Thomas. I’ve set aside a conference room for this meeting, so if you could come this way, Arthur, Susan.”
I sort of froze. Susan? It can’t be! If that’s her daughter, it would throw the entire universe out of the works. I thought. This woman would have to be her stepmother or something; there’s no way Wilma could be the product of Tony! My thoughts were then broken when I heard Thomas say, “Is there a problem, Arthur?”
“No sir. I’m just thinking about something in regards to Wilma.” I said. I then followed both Thomas and Susan into the police station.
After a short walk, we entered a room that was used for conferences. As expected, there was not much in the room. Thomas and Susan sat across me at one of the tables, but when I got a good look at Susan, I was struck on how similar her face was to Wilma’s. That made me more uncomfortable as I heard Thomas say, “OK Arthur. Tell me, to the best of your ability, what happened last night in regards to Wilma.”
From there, I must have spent a good ten minutes recalling almost all of what happened last night and the previous morning. I say ‘almost’ all because I did not make any mention of the noose issue not long after I got her into my home. Thomas and Susan kept silent until I was finished, though I suspect that Thomas was thinking that I was lying. I couldn’t blame him; the whole story seemed pretty hokey.
“OK, Arthur. I have a few questions to ask you about the events you mentioned.” Thomas said after I was finished. “First, you never mention why a girl in our city went to your general area. Why?”
“Well, I tried to ask her that question, but as I said before, she was despondent. She would not answer my questions regarding anything, especially where she came from.” I said.
“I see. Another thing: why did you call from someone else’s house?”
“I did so because I did not want Wilma to hear me talking to the police over the phone. I feared that she would try to run away again. The last thing I wanted was to have someone of that age run off again, and further from potential help.”
“But why did you not just send her to your local police station?”
“For the same reasons, Thomas; I didn’t want her to run away again.”
“I see. Is it possible for me or Susan to talk to her now?”
“It’s certainly possible, but as far as I’m concerned, I would not do so until I figure out why she ran away in the first place. Besides, it might be a good idea NOT to call us, just so she has a chance to fully vent.”
“And this is based off of what analysis, Arthur?”
“Well, I hate to bring up my past history, but I had my fair share of issues when I was growing up, especially during my high school days. During one of my therapy visits, my shrink said that one thing I could try to do was to find activities outside of my home and get involved in them. He also said that sometimes it was considered necessary for people of all age groups to have some time off in different surroundings…”
“And this is what your therapist told you.” Thomas said, interrupting me.
“Well, yes.” I responded.
“Arthur, I have a hard time believing this story. I think I’d like to run a quick polygraph test to make sure you’re telling the truth.” Thomas told me.
“That’s fine. If it helps clear up this issue, I’m all for it.” I said.
From there I was taken to a separate room. Another police officer hooked me up to a polygraph machine and administered the test. It must have lasted about an hour, because I didn’t know if the test would ever end. But after what seemed a long time, I was finished and I was taken back to the conference room with Susan. About ten minutes later, Thomas returned. “OK then. We just did an analysis of the test, and it appears that you’ve told the truth throughout.” He said.
“I see.” I replied. “Now, Thomas, remember about the discussion we had last night, in regards about what you know about Wilma via your own daughter?”
“Oh yes. I remember what you said. Yes, I did get to talk to my daughter about Wilma and the issue involved. She was rather shocked to hear what happened.”
“So, what did you learn from her?”
“Not much, though according to what she said, Wilma seemed to be in a bad mood for most of the day. She didn’t say what caused this state of affairs, but she suggested that it was related to a test or her swimming.”
“I see. Did she offer any specifics?”
“I’m afraid not, Arthur.”
“OK. Is there anything that you might provide that can help shed light on Wilma’s exodus, Susan?” I asked.
At first, I got no response. I figured that she was in such a state of disbelief that she had shut herself off from the rest of the world. I then said, “Susan? Can you hear me?”
She then responded, “Oh, sorry. I’m just having a hard time believing what’s happened here in the last couple of hours, and I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“I understand. Now, back to the question I asked earlier. Is there any info you can provide me that could shed some light on why your daughter ran away?”
At that, I could almost see her melt before my eyes. She said, her voice quivering, “I think I’m responsible for my daughter running away.”
“Why do you say that?” I asked.
“Well, my daughter and I have not had the best relationship in the world. We have a tendency to argue a lot, oftentimes about her school life. And well, she was in a bad mood when she came in from school yesterday. I tried to implore on her situation, but she stubbornly refused to disclose anything. Later, I caught her shouting over the phone, but to whom I had no idea. I tried to ask who she was yelling at, but she became incensed that I was intruding on her personal life. One thing led to another, and she just ran off to her bedroom, crying. Later, I went off to the grocery store to pick up some food for the upcoming week, but when I returned home, she wasn’t there.”
“Did you call any of her friends to see if she decided to go off there?”
“Yes, but none of them said that she even appeared in their neighborhoods. That’s when I called the police department to file a missing person report.”
“Alright. I think that we may have something to work with in explaining this series of events. What else can you tell me?”
“I don’t know. As you alluded to, Wilma does not talk about her problems outside of home very much, if at all. In fact, I have to sometimes call the school to find out how she’s doing academically.”
There was a bit of a pause as we tried to think of what to say next. I was the one who broke the silence: “Above all else, we need to figure out two things. First, we need to figure out some of the things that caused Wilma to go off the way she did; that means that we should go contact her teachers and the like for answers. After that, we need to figure out what we need to do with Wilma.”
“What do you mean, ‘do with Wilma’?” Susan said.
“Well, as I kind of implored earlier, I think it would be in her best interest to allow her some time to vent in Whitesage…”
“That’s ridiculous, eh, what’s your name again?”
“My name is Arthur.”
“Yes, well, the idea is out of the question. If she spends any time away from school, her grades are going to suffer, and she already has a hard time with her schoolwork as is.”
“I understand your concern, Susan. But let me put MY concern up for understanding. At this point, Wilma would probably refuse any effort to return here. And in her state, she might go so far as to kill herself and/or even you over her frustrations.” I told Susan. “And I’m pretty sure that we want to prevent this from happening.”
“Well, that’s true, but…” Susan began, but then Thomas interrupted, saying, “While I appreciate your concerns, Arthur, I really do think it would be in everyone’s best interest to get Wilma home as soon as possible. Once we can get her home, we can figure out how we can get her the help she needs.”
“Well, let’s stop on that point for a minute. The first issue we should implore is what events occurred yesterday that led her to run off. And we should begin by going off to her school and talking with some of her teachers. We should also talk to her swim coach, as you mentioned something about swimming.” I said in reply.
Thomas thought about my proposal, and then said, “You’re probably right, Arthur. We have only some vague info, and we need to make it more concrete. Very well then, let’s get going.” He then turned to Susan and said, “Susan, I hope you don’t mind if we ask of you to ferry us to Sheffield Secondary.”
“No. I’ll do whatever is needed to ensure that Wilma gets home safely.” She replied. With that, we left the conference room, out of the police station, and towards the parking lot where my vehicle was located. Once there, we climbed into a dark blue sedan (with me in the back seat), and we were off.
Sheffield Secondary (its full name was Herbert Sheffield Secondary Institute) was located some distance away from the police station, on the western parts of Heatherfield. I did not find it surprising to see that it was a large school, but I did find it surprising that the place looked so well kept. After all, I had kind of thought that much like cities themselves, schools within those cities were poorly maintained and were major security risks. When I first got a good glimpse of the place, I said, “Wow. I didn’t know that you can afford to send your daughter to a private school, and a very nice private school at that.”
Susan replied, “This isn’t a private school Arthur. If it was, I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
After finding a place to park, we went inside the school walls and then into the school itself. I quickly found out that the school’s façade was not skin-deep; it was every bit as nice inside as it was on the outside. And although it was a Saturday, the place was fairly active, as I saw at least three janitors cleaning up the halls.
“So, who are we going to see?” I asked as we began to climb the stairs.
“We’re going to see Mrs. Rickenbacker. She’s the headmaster of Sheffield Secondary, and is in charge of all permanent records.” Susan said. “As Wilma does not like talking about her academic life, I have to call her every now and again to see how she’s doing in terms of her grades.”
“Is she in her office for today? I mean, it is a Saturday, after all.”
“She almost always is.” Thomas said. “She’s a bit of a workaholic, so unless she’s sick or has something else more important at hand, she’ll be in her office, though only part-time during the weekends.”
From there, we went silent as we continued to climb the stairs until we reached the top floor. There, in the middle of the hallway, was an office labeled Henrietta Rickenbacker, Headmaster. Susan then knocked on the door, and only a few seconds later, an old lady appeared. She appeared to be around her early 60’s and had that classic no-nonsense academic vibe that was instantly recognizable. She seemed pretty happy to see us, though.
“Ah, Thomas! Susan! Good to see you two!” she exclaimed. “Please come… wait, who are you?”
I was kind of put off by the immediate change of tone, but I ignored it and said, “My name is Arthur Addlestadt. I’ve come over here to talk to you in regards of Susan’s daughter, Wilma.”
“I see. Please come in and be seated.” With that, we all stepped into her office, which had a vibe that reinforced what I already figured out about Mrs. Rickenbacker: she was a woman that was not about to be crossed in any way. After we all sat down, Mrs. Rickenbacker then said, “So, what exactly do you want to know about Wilma?”
“Well, in particular, we would like to have access to Wilma’s permanent record.” I said.
“I see. Well, I’ve been through this routine before. Hold on.” With that, she began typing furiously on her computer and within a minute, she said, “Very well. Here’s the current record of one Wilma Vandom, at least for the time she’s been here. For the entire record, I’ll have to send in a message to Fadden Hills South Secondary School to get a hold of her records there.”
I immediately froze once again. Fadden Hills!? How can that be possible? Oh… It must be just something else I heard. I mean, I’ve never heard of Fadden Hills South Secondary School before! But before I could continue with my thought processes, I heard Mrs. Rickenbacker say, “Eh, is there a problem, Mr. Addlestadt?”
“No. I was just thinking, I’ve never heard of such a place before. I mean, I’ve heard of Fadden Hills High School before, but I never knew that Fadden Hills SOUTH Secondary School exists.” I replied.
“Well, it does.” Susan said. “It was where Wilma used to go to school up until about two years ago.”
“Why did she leave that school, Susan?”
“It was because Fadden Hills had become unbearable for both of us, though for entirely different reasons. She had a hard time making friends, much less keeping them, and I had plenty of issues in regards to my ex-husband. After one particularly bad day, I decided that we would be better off elsewhere, so we moved here.”
“I see. Did academics play a role?”
“Maybe. She never has performed well as a student either in Fadden Hills or in Heatherfield, despite everyone’s efforts.”
I once again began to freeze up. OK, this is getting creepy. This can’t be true: a woman who shares the same name as Tony’s last known girlfriend has a daughter, gets divorced, and then moves to Heatherfield. I can only hope that is the end of the comparisons. I can’t take anymore of this.
Once again, I was brought out of my stupor, but this time, it came from Thomas: “Arthur, take a look at this.”
I took a look at the computer screen and saw what seemed to be like any other form shown on a computer. “What in particular do you want me to look at?” I said.
“This at the bottom.” Thomas said. “See this report? It was made yesterday.” I took a look and saw that Wilma had taken three tests that day, and had scored a C+ on biology and literature, and a C on math.
“Hmm. We might have something, people. This might be one of the primary reasons why Wilma ran off.”
Mrs. Rickenbacker, who was busy doing some paperwork, immediately looked up, concerned. “What are you talking about?”
“Oh, I’m sorry; we forgot to tell you. Wilma ran away from home last night and was found in Whitesage.” I said.
Mrs. Rickenbacker became even more concerned, saying, “Whitesage? Where’s that?”
“It’s about a two-hour drive from here, coming from the Northwest.” I said.
“Two hours!?”
“Yeah, I know; we’re all in a bit of shock about the technical points. Now, we should be getting back to the subject of Wilma’s grades. Do you have any significant knowledge regarding these test scores?”
“Not really. I just simply put the test scores and grade averages onto one’s record; I don’t get that much input from the teachers.” Mrs. Rickenbacker explained to me.
“I see.” I said. I then turned to Susan and asked, “Susan, what do you make of these grades?”
Susan took a very good look at the grades, and then looked at the grade point average. She then let out a depressed sigh and sagged back into the chair. “Well? What is it?” I asked.
“It’s pretty much what I expected from Wilma as a whole, except the biology test.” Susan replied. “That’s her best subject, and I can’t believe that she got such a low grade.”
“Hmm. Mrs. Rickenbacker, can I please see Wilma’s previous biology test grades from her tenure here?”
“I can’t show the test scores, but I can show you her overall grades from the previous semesters.” She replied.
“Very well. Can I please see though her records?”
“Of course.” Mrs. Rickenbacker said as she turned the computer screen back around so she could see it. A few seconds later, she then turned the screen back over to us, and it showed the grades that Wilma had received from the previous semester. What struck me as interesting was that she had an A for biology, but nothing but Bs of varying degrees in all remaining courses except for math, in which she had a C+.
“Although I’d hate to add any commentary to what you’re seeing,” Mrs. Rickenbacker said as I was observing the record, “But last semester was Wilma’s best semester academically since she’s been here at Sheffield Secondary.”
“I see. And the GPA last semester was a 3.09. What about the overall average, including this semester so far?” I asked.
“I could pull it up for you, but I think the average that she has attained is about a 3.06. As for the semester so far, it’s kind of hard to estimate the score as it’s incomplete, but I think it’s around a 3.03, if not slightly lower. Let me have the computer screen again for a moment.” Once again, Mrs. Rickenbacker turned the screen towards her, and a few seconds later, she turned the screen back over to me. This time it showed all of the significant info regarding Wilma, including her grades. The GPA did in fact show an overall GPA of 3.06, and that so far, the current semester was showing a GPA of 3.03. But what really shook me were the birth-date and the birth-location of Wilma: it showed that her birthday was 1/19/1988, that she was from Fadden Hills, New Brunswick, and that her parents were Tony Cannings and Susan Vandom (divorced). I had never felt so sick in my life the moment I saw that info; every part of my body felt cramped and clammy, and I must have begun to breathe very abnormally because the next thing I heard was Thomas saying, “Are you OK, Arthur?”
All I could manage to say was, “Yeah, I’m OK. I just had a bit of a bad flashback.”
“I see.” Mrs. Rickenbacker said. “Well, that’s as far as I can go I terms of info I can provide you three. I wish I could do more to help, though.”
“I understand, Mrs. Rickenbacker. But I would like to talk to Ms. Pronson, provided that she is in her office.” Susan said.
“Who’s Ms. Pronson?” I asked, still feeling and sounding as if I had just swallowed a block of lead.
“Ms. Pronson is the girls swim coach.” Thomas replied. “Remember, one issue that may have led to this situation was her athletics.”
“That’s a good point. Is her office located up here?”
“No. It’s in the athletics wing of the school, on the main floor.” Mrs. Rickenbacker said. “I’m sure that both Susan and Thomas can lead you to her office. And by the way, are you SURE that you’re OK, Arthur? You’ve been looking really ill for the last few minutes.”
“Yes, I’m alright; thanks for the concern though. Now then, shall we go to see Ms. Pronson?”
“Yeah, we should.” Susan said, “We’ll be back in a few minutes.”
We then got up and left Mrs. Rickenbacker’s office. Once the door was closed, I then said, “Where is the closest bathroom?”
“It’s across the hall, Arthur.” Thomas said.
After hearing that, I walked into the bathroom. When I got a good look in the mirror, I understood why Mrs. Rickenbacker and the others were concerned about me appearance: I was sweating a lot and my face had begun to droop, as if it was made of wax and it was starting to melt. Noticing this, I began splashing some cold water onto to my face in an attempt to keep it together. I must have been in there for a long time, for what seemed to be just a few seconds later I heard the door open and then heard Thomas say, “Arthur, is something wrong? You’ve been in the bathroom for about five minutes!”
I stopped and said, “Eh, well… Is Susan anywhere near here?”
Thomas face got all scrunched up, as if he was having a hard time believing what I was saying. He then said, “Arthur, we’re in the men’s bathroom. What do you think?”
“Right. I just don’t want Susan to know about who I really am, at least not right now.”
“Know what?”
“Thomas, I think that I’m technically Wilma’s uncle.”
“But there’s no connection between you and either of Wilma’s parents.”
“Yes there is. Her father, Tony, is my step-brother.”
There was a short silence between us, and then I said, “I know what you’re thinking, Thomas, but let me tell her, and not now. I need to gather my thoughts.”
“Well, OK.” Thomas said. “Arthur, Susan and I are going to see Ms. Pronson now. I was wondering if you wanted to come along.”
“Of course. It is as much my problem now as it is Susan’s, and I want to know everything I can to make things right in the end.”
“Are you going to be alright, Arthur? You don’t look all that great.”
“No. I’ll be fine. If necessary, I’ll go find the medical ward and lie down for a bit.” With that, I followed Thomas out of the bathroom and into the hallway, where Susan was waiting. She too was a bit shocked to see me in my current state. “Are you OK Arthur?” she asked.
“Yes, I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.” I said as we went down the stairs.
The three of us continued down the staircases until we reached the bottom floor and what was being called the athletics wing of the school, which was in the back. Once there, we walked towards the office section. Like before, there was a hallway where all of the athletic offices were located on either side, but there were no bathrooms in this hallway and it was shorter. We went all the way down the hall until we came across the office labeled Stephanie Pronson, Girls’ Swimming and Diving. As before, we knocked on the door, hoping that we would be able to get a response. Once again, we were pleasantly surprised to get a response, this time from an athletic-looking woman roughly the age of Susan, but with short blond hair. “Is there something I can do for you all?” she asked when she saw all of us.
“Yes.” Thomas said. “If you could let us into your office for a moment, we can explain.”
Without saying a word, she motioned us into her office and opened the door further. We all went into the office, which was sparsely decorated outside of some pictures and awards she had won during her days as a swimmer. “Well, I already know who you are.” Ms. Pronson said, eyeing Susan. “But who are you two?”
“I’m Officer Thomas Lair of the Heatherfield Police Department, and this to my right is Arthur Addlestadt of Whitesage.” Thomas said. “We’re here because Susan’s daughter Wilma ran away from home yesterday and was found by Arthur later that evening. We met with the headmaster, Mrs. Rickenbacker, to try and find out if there was something that occurred that day which could explain why she went off the deep end the way she did. One thing she suggested was to meet with you.”
As with Mrs. Rickenbacker, Ms. Pronson became very concerned once she heard that Wilma had run off. However, her concern quickly dissipated when we stopped talking; she was likely one of those overly professional types that were not easily swayed by events outside of their own lives. After a short silence, Ms. Pronson said, “Well, if you’ve already visited Mrs. Rickenbacker, you’ll probably have one good reason why Wilma might have run off.”
“You mean her grades.” I said.
“Yes. As you know, or should know, our school system requires that all student athletes have at least a 3.0 GPA in order to participate in athletic endeavors. And while Wilma has kept that GPA above 3.0 since she has been here, I have constantly reminded her and her mother that she needs to do better academically if she wants to stay on the swim team’s active roster.” She responded. “In particular, Wilma’s grades for this semester have been lower than usual, and so I have been recently been pushing Wilma to get academic help; where it can come from is beyond me, and it’s not a critical issue.”
“Is there anything else that could explain why Wilma ran off that you know of?” Susan asked.
“Not that I… Wait. You said that Wilma ran off yesterday, right?”
“That’s correct, Ms. Pronson.” Thomas said.
“Hm. Well, I guess that it might have to do with the reshuffling of the swim team’s lineup.” Ms. Pronson responded, sounding a little guilty and looking away from us as she was speaking.
“Yes. You see, while Wilma is a dedicated swimmer, she has not performed as well as I have hoped. In all of her events in the past year, she has yet to win any of them, and it has kept us from being truly competitive in our swim meets.” She said. “Therefore, while it pained me to do so, I decided to move Wilma into the backup section of all freestyle events. I was hoping that with fewer events on her schedule that Wilma would perform better in the relay competitions and also give her a chance to improve her grades.”
“But why didn’t you call me to tell me this?” Susan asked.
“I did, but either you never got my message or it got erased. I do remember calling you around 5:00 PM last evening.” Ms. Pronson said in response.
“Hm. Maybe Wilma ended up getting the message while I was away and she didn’t want me to hear it. Did you talk to Wilma about this?”
“Yes I did. She seemed to take it pretty well, but I guess she was putting up a façade to mask her disappointment and frustration. I would probably do the same thing if I were her.”
“I think we’d all feel that way, Ms. Pronson.” Thomas said. “I guess then that there’s no other insight that you can provide for us on Wilma.”
“That would be true, Officer. If there’s anything else you need from me, just let me know. My number is part of the school directory.” Ms. Pronson said.
“Understood. Have a nice day.” With that, the three of us left. I felt a little better know, but I still felt a bit ill.
We walked back up the staircases and back into Mrs. Rickenbacker’s office; she was not surprised at all to see us again. “Well, did you get any new info about Wilma from Ms. Pronson?” she said as we walked back into her office.
“Yes we did.” Thomas said. “Besides the academic point, we found that she had been moved to reserve status in all events except for the relay events.”
“I see. Well, that might explain some things, but it probably is a small piece of the overall puzzle.”
“That is true, Mrs. Rickenbacker. But I think we need to find out what we do from here in regards to Wilma.”
“Right. Now as far as I’m concerned, it would probably be best to get Wilma back in school as soon as possible. It would be considered foolish to let her stay out of school for any length, especially for someone whose grades are faltering.”
Once again, I became dubious about what was being planned; after all, this was a teenage girl who had run away from home for a variety of reasons, and I for one didn’t want her to go off half-cocked again. “Eh, excuse me, Mrs. Rickenbacker.” I said almost immediately after she finished. “Although I respect your authority and decisions on what to do with your students, I disagree with your plan.”
Mrs. Rickenbacker looked at me, thinking that I had a few screws loose. “Why?” she asked.
“Well, think about it for a minute. We just had a girl run away from home and into a town some two hours away. We do not have enough info from the girl, or her contacts, on what caused her to run off like that, much less how she got that far. And above anything else, she might not want to come back home. Don’t you think we should try to have her settle down a bit and then we can pump her for information?”
“Arthur, that idea is utterly ridiculous. To be fair, I understand your concerns for her, but I for one would loathe thinking about what might happen if her grades slip any lower.”
“Yes. But I loathe to think what would happen if we send Wilma back here to Heatherfield, only to have her run away again, or worse.”
“That is a concern, Arthur, but I think her grades are the more critical issue.”
“Well, about this as an idea, Mrs. Rickenbacker.” I explained. “How about you contact Wilma’s teachers and they can send her the homework required for her courses, but with the alteration that they are not from here. That way, she won’t see me as a front for this school, and that maybe she’ll do a better job with her school work.”
“Well, that’s not the worst idea in the world.” Susan said. “But I really don’t think that I’d put the trust of my daughter’s welfare in a total stranger.”
“Nor do I like it all that much myself.” Thomas added. “Legally speaking, I do not think that something of this nature has ever happened, nor would it ever happen. I’d hate to think about all of the legal red tape we’d all have to go through in order to pull this off.”
“And lest we forget, there is no real substitute for being in a classroom, talking to a teacher if something comes up.” Mrs. Rickenbacker stated. “Beyond that, I don’t see how we could implement such a plan without something going awry.”
“Well, at least let me give my perspective on my idea.” I said.
“Very well then.” Mrs. Rickenbacker said. “State your case.”
“Thank you.” After clearing my throat, I then said, “As far as I’m aware, we live in a very competitive and stressful world. We are always in a rat race for something, and we at times go all out to try and capture it, even when we know it’s unhealthy. I should know, because I, along with everyone else in this room, have experienced this. In my case, the world that I was living in would become so much at times that I would stop functioning. On more than one occasion, based on both personal and academic issues, I would need a break from the outside world in an attempt to assess my priorities and start anew. In this way, I learned a very valuable lesson: while being in the rat race for our ultimate goals sounds worthwhile, it is an illusion of the worst kind that ruins our state of being in every way imaginable.
This has not changed much in today’s world, though with the quickening advances in technology, the pace of the race has gotten faster, and the competition and related stresses more severe. More so than ever, our offspring are running themselves ragged to accomplish things we could never have dreamed possible, but at a greater risk of unspeakable tragedy. I fear that Wilma is one of those people who, for several reasons, suffered a monumental emotional meltdown. Had it not been for me, we might be dealing with funeral arrangements instead of a missing person, and I’m afraid that if we put her back on the track, she might run off it again, and who knows what might happen the second time around. And if she decides not to run away but does something else, I do not wish to imagine the consequences. I therefore propose that she takes a break in Whitesage for her to get her affairs in order and to start anew. I promise you that, given time and understanding from our community, we will make Wilma into a better person, both in her eyes and everyone who knows her here in Heatherfield. That is all I ask for, and I hope that it comes to pass.” I then sat down and waited for a response.
Mrs. Rickenbacker was the first to speak: “I understand stand your points of concern, Arthur. And to be honest, I think your idea is fairly sound, but there are a few problems that will prevent the plan from going forward.”
“You mean my idea for you send assignments to her?”
“Well that is a concern, but another concern is how to set up the program you’ve proposed. I can’t allow any one of my students to do any study outside of the school without prior approval from me, the parents/guardians of the said student, and the town of study itself.”
“I see.” I said. I then turned towards Susan and asked, “Susan, is it OK if we set up this program for your daughter?”
She kind of looked at the floor, then at Mrs. Rickenbacker, Thomas, and finally towards me. “Well, I guess if it’s alright with Mrs. Rickenbacker and Thomas, then it’s alright with me.” I immediately turned towards Thomas, to whom he said, “To be honest, I’m not totally comfortable with the plan. However, you made a valid point regarding Wilma general condition and the consequences therein of returning her back home too quickly; we shouldn’t take such a risk. Therefore, I’ll allow it.” I finally turned towards Mrs. Rickenbacker, who said, “Eh, though I usually like playing the devil’s advocate in most situations, when the welfare of a student is at stake, doing so would be incredibly irresponsible. I’ll sponsor the program in as long as Whitesage is willing to sponsor it.”
“Great!” I exclaimed. “I bet you’d like to talk to their minister of education about this, Mrs. Rickenbacker.”
“Provided that the minister is in their office, Arthur; it is a Saturday after all.” She replied.
“Well, you’re here in your office, Mrs. Rickenbacker. I think that someone in a more important position would be in their office as well. Here, I’ll write down the numbers for both the minister of education’s office and home.”
With that, I wrote down the phone numbers for Mrs. Rickenbacker to call. She took a good look at them and said, “OK then. I’ll try to see what I can arrange.” She then picked up the phone and from what I heard called the office of minister of education. However, she must have not been in the office at the time, because she hung up after a while and said, “Well, the minister is obviously not in his or her office. I’ll try the home phone number.” She had more success with the home phone number: Mrs. Rickenbacker was able to get a hold of the minister of education, and through a lot of discussion over the phone that included me and Susan on occasion, the plan that I had proposed was approved for one week.
“Well, I guess that takes care of it, at least for now.” Mrs. Rickenbacker said. “I will admit that it will be rather tricky to get the assignments to her, though.”
“In as long as the teachers have E-Mail addresses, I can be able to receive the assignments from them.” I said. “If I could once again, I’d like to write down my E-Mail address for you to distribute to the teachers in question. It would also be advantageous if I do the same for Thomas and Susan.”
“Yes, I agree. Here’s the paper and pencil.”
With that, I wrote down my E-Mail address three separate times. When I was done, I ripped the piece of paper in two separate areas so that everyone in the room had an E-Mail address copy. “There. I’m pretty sure that should take care of that.” I said. “Is there anything else that we need to cover before we go?”
“Not that I know of, Arthur.” Mrs. Rickenbacker replied. “Unless Thomas and Susan have any other questions and/or concerns they would like to address.” With that, I looked back towards Susan and Thomas to get their reactions.
“I don’t have any more issues, and you know what number to contact if something comes up.” Thomas said.
“I can’t think of anything either.” Susan stated.
“OK then. Thank you very much for bringing this situation to my attention.” Mrs. Rickenbacker said. The three of us then got up, said our goodbyes to Mrs. Rickenbacker, and then we left the office and the school-grounds a few minutes later.
From there, we returned to the police station, as Susan and I needed to get our motor vehicles back from the nearby parking lot. After finding another conference room to occupy, Thomas then asked, “I guess I should ask the same thing as Arthur did. Is there anything else that we need to cover before we end this meeting?”
“Well, I can’t think of anything significant.” Susan said. “What about you, Arthur?”
“There is one point that I’d like to cover before we call this meeting closed, and that would be Wilma’s friends, provided that she has any.” I said. “Now Thomas, I hear that your daughter is a friend of Wilma’s; is she the only one?”
“No.” Thomas replied. “Besides Irma, my daughter, Wilma is friends with three other girls by the names of Taranee, Cornelia, and Hay Lin. They are also friends with Irma.”
“OK then. Would it be possible for me to get their E-Mail addresses and/or phone numbers?”
“Of course. I should warn you however that Irma can go on for hours on the phone.”
“I see. Is there anyone else that I should seriously think about contacting?”
“I can’t think of anyone else to contact.” Thomas said. “What about you, Susan?”
“I can’t… wait! Matt Olson! Maybe he knows something about the situation.” Susan exclaimed.
“Susan, who is that?” I asked.
“That’s Wilma’s boyfriend. Maybe he would know something about the situation. Would it be possible to E-Mail his contact info to you?”
“Yes, any additional info would be helpful to me. Anything else?”
After a long silence, Thomas said, “Well, I guess that about takes care of stuff for right now. As I now have your contact info, I expect that you will be in constant contact with me and/or Susan to see how Wilma is doing.”
“I understand, Thomas.” I replied.
“OK then. You two have a good day.” With that, Susan and I got up from the table, and we each shook Thomas’s hand. From there, we walked out of the police station. But as I went to my motor vehicle, Susan said, “Eh, thanks for finding and dealing with Wilma, Arthur.”
“No problem, Susan.” I replied.
“I didn’t think about this much during our meetings at the school, but you kind of remind me of someone I knew back when I was in high school.”
I began to feel sick again. “What do you mean?” I said as I was trying hard not to look ill.
“Well, almost two decades ago, I remember a guy who was related somehow to my ex-husband. He seemed so flaky and contradictory back then. Now, looking back at him and what he told me about Tony, I should have heeded the warning.” She paused for a minute, and then said, “In fact, that guy had the same first name that you have!”
“A bit of a coincidence, I presume.” I replied, feeling more uncomfortable for every second that she was looking at me. “Do you ever see Tony anymore?”
“I haven’t seen Tony, much less spoke to him, in years. He left Fadden Hills not long after we divorced, and I haven’t heard from him since.”
“Do you get any child support money from him?”
“Yes. At times it doesn’t seem nearly enough, though.”
“I see.” I paused for a bit to think about what move I needed to make next, and I thought that it would be in my best interest to get moving; it was a two-hour drive after all. From that I said, “Listen, Susan. I’ve got to get ready to go. It’ll take about two hours to get back to Whitesage, and I really don’t want to go drive in the dark.”
“I understand. Well, try to stay in contact with me, OK?”
“I will. I’ll be sure to send a message to you as soon as I get back.”
“OK then. I’ll be waiting for it. Bye.” With that, Susan left for her car, whereas I entered my own and drove out of the parking lot.
On the way back, I constantly felt ill. How could this happen? I asked myself. How could a philanderer like Tony actually reproduce? It just doesn’t make any sense. I kept having this thought numerous times as I traveled back, as well as thoughts about how I would keep Wilma from going stir-crazy while she was kept there for a week. Of course, I was also wondering about the how and why Wilma got to Whitesage in the first place. All of this kept me feeling bad, not only for myself but for everyone that was involved in this mess. I knew that the necessities for this day couldn’t be helped, but I still felt rather guilty about explaining myself to the police and her mother.
It was around 4:30 PM when I finally arrived home. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the gate had not been unlocked since I had left, so to my mind Wilma had not run away again. After unlocking the gate, I drove the car into the garage and then closed the garage door. From there, I entered the house via the garage door.
As expected, Sven was extremely happy to see me. Resting in the middle of the room, he sprung up the moment he heard the door close behind me. “Hi Sven!” I said as he bounded over to me. “Did you miss me?” After petting him for a little bit and putting my stuff onto the kitchen table, I then shouted, “Wilma! I’m back!” But when I didn’t get a response, I began to panic. “Wilma? Where are you? I’m back!” I shouted again. This time I sort of got a response in the form of a low groan coming from the guest room. I went in there to check it out, and that’s where I saw Wilma, sitting half-asleep on top of the futon I set up for her.
“I’m sorry, Wilma. I didn’t know you were taking a nap.” I said. She kind of mumbled something, but I couldn’t make out the words. I then said, “Well, I’m back. Did you have any problems while I was gone?” In response, she shook her head no. “That’s good to hear. I’ll let you go back to sleep, and when you feel hungry, just let me know and I’ll get some food for you. I’ll be in the main room if you need me.” I replied. I then made my way to the door and walked into the main room, where I was just about to reach for the book ‘Moby Dick’ when I heard a door open. I looked back and I saw Wilma, still looking rather tired and also somewhat irritated.
“Is there something you need, Wilma?” I asked.
“Why is your house so… boring?” Wilma replied.
“What do you mean ‘boring’?”
“Well, not long after you left, I began walking about the house to see what there was, and there’s nothing here! All you’ve got is a TV in the basement, and it wasn’t even plugged in! And when I turned it on, it doesn’t get basic cable!”
“Yeah, so? I don’t need it, much less want it. Besides, it would eat up my money.”
“But you don’t have anything essential!”
“I have the essentials, Wilma. I’ve got clothing on my back, access to food and water, and a roof over my head. All said I’m in good shape.”
Wilma just stared at me, wondering if I had lost it. She then said, “Arthur, that’s not what I meant. I meant the stuff that ‘normal’ people would consider essential. And it’s not just the cable or dish TV, you don’t have a computer, you don’t even have a cell phone! How can you possibly live?”
“I live!” I stated, feeling rather annoyed to have to explain my lifestyle to my niece. “I mean, it may seem kind of primitive compared to the outside world, but I live. And I’m not the only one. There are tons of people in Whitesage that live without what you’d call ‘essential’ materials.”
“But how then do you keep yourself from going insane?”
“Well, I have a small library, and you’d be more than welcome…”
“Eww. I’m trying to keep myself from becoming less bored Arthur, not more bored. Besides, reading gives me brain cramps.”
“Wilma, how can you say this sort of thing?” I exclaimed. “While I admit that there are plenty of books that leave much to be desired, I collect only the best books around. I’ve got a good number of the classics, like Moby Dick, David Copperfield…”
“Those are all books that were written ages ago, Arthur! And they’re all stupid!”
“They are NOT stupid, Wilma! They are timeless works of literary genius! You don’t find books like this being written anymore!”
At that, Wilma just kind of shrank and then slumped onto the couch. “What is this place?” She said while looking at the floor. “No cable or dish TV, no computers, and no cell phones. Has everyone here gone nuts?”
“No.” I responded. “This is just the way we people in Whitesage see and do things. And it’s almost always been that way.”
“But why, Arthur? Why is everything so… eh…”
“Technologically deficient?” I suggested.
“I was thinking more of technologically non-existent, Arthur.” She replied. “Why is, eh, Whitesage is the name of this town, right?”
“That’s correct.”
“OK. Why is Whitesage like this?”
“It’s because we’ve always seen it this way. People in Whitesage don’t put as much faith into technology the same way that other people do. We tend to put more of our time and energy into things that transcend technology, like our relations with each other and our relations with the divine power or powers, as the case may be. We don’t see that much of a need for technological advancement because the town at large feels that it degrades those relationships, as well as our sense of what it means to be a creature on this planet, or any other planet for that matter.”
“But who thought of this? And why do so many people believe in it?”
“It’s because this place used to be a hippie commune, Wilma.”
“It was?”
“Yes. Of course, it’s a fairly shallow description. I could tell you all I know about how Whitesage began, but it’ll take a while to explain it all.”
Wilma looked at the clock, which stated 4:35 PM, and then looked back at me. She then said, “I guess it would be better than just sitting around and being bored.”
“I’d expected you to say that. OK, here it goes.” I said. I then cleared my throat, and I began telling the story.
“In order to understand Whitesage as a whole, one first must understand its creators.” I told Wilma. “One of these creators was the former Stupidian Kyle White.”
“Stupidian?” Wilma asked, not surprisingly.
“Yes. I know it sounds rather harsh, but that’s what we people call people in the nation south of us.”
“But why not call it by its normal name?”
“We have our reasons, many of which will be revealed during this talk. In any case, try not to say the official name in Whitesage. People here are very touchy about it.”
“I understand.”
“Good. To begin, Kyle White was part of the Baby Boomer generation; in particular, he was born in early September of 1950 around the Buffalo region. With the exceptions of the Korean Conflict and the Cold War that was in its early phases, times were good. There was plenty to go around in Stupidia as well as here in every way imaginable, and people made the most of it. It was, above all else, a time where the sky was the limit on what we could achieve. But it was also a time of cultural conformity, and it indirectly sowed the seeds of its destruction.
Not much of Kyle’s childhood was known, but it’s believed that it was typical of the livelihoods found in the region and of the middle class. However, like so many of his generation, things began to change, and in ways that they could not imagine or accept.”
“Like what?”
“Cultural matters. Although most of it was kept under the radar, over time the Baby Boomers began to see the culture of Stupidia to be, well, rather stupid. They were dismayed about the lack of progress in terms of minorities’ rights, particularly for those of the black lineages. They were disgusted about gender inequality, both privately and professionally. They were sickened by environmental degradation brought about by rampant development and consumerism. They were opposed their government’s actions in other parts of the world, namely Vietnam, especially since they were the ones who were paying the ultimate price for their folly. And they were fed up with the traditional constructs of freedom and liberty, which they felt were shallow in their meaning.
It was during the second half of the 1960s that all of these energies, along with the people who held them in their hearts, began to bleed out into the Stupidian society. Known as the counterculture by their parents, they set out to change society to their whims, but their efforts were largely in vain: few people outside of their generation took them seriously. Though most never gave up the fight to change Stupidia to the ways they saw fit, quite a few of them left for Canada, for various reasons. Most were trying to avoid the military draft set up by the Stupidian government for their fight in Vietnam, but there were plenty of those who saw Stupidia as a lost cause, and felt that they would be better accepted up here. Kyle White was one of those who fit in the latter group: he left Stupidia not because of Vietnam, like so many men of his generation claimed, but because of his views, especially his religious views.”
“Religious views?”
“Yes Wilma. Only a few years before, Kyle White became infatuated with paganism.”
“Paganism? What’s that?”
“Eh, it’s kind of a long topic to discuss in itself. It would be best for me to focus on this topic first.”
“I see. You have to promise me to tell me what paganism is later, though.”
“I promise. Now, back to the story.
Like his childhood, no one really knows how he discovered paganism or why he was drawn to it. But in the overall sense it shouldn’t have come as a surprise. As the counterculture began to develop, most things that were connected to their parents were discarded, religious beliefs included. It was perhaps understandable because back then, Stupidians were either Christian or Jewish, and there wasn’t much talk about spiritual matters that were not considered part of the accepted cultural agenda. As a result, the counterculture looked to other faiths to set up an agenda that more coincided with their views. Most of the choices made were seen as unnerving but harmless in the eyes of their elders, but there were a few that they saw as blasphemous, and paganism was one of them.
Kyle never told his parents or anyone else about his religious views, because of the fear of what kind of reaction he would get from them. But he grew increasingly uncomfortable with living in a community that was dominated by the accepted religious establishment, and he also feared about what would happen if he was drafted into military service and the complications that would follow with it. So, in early 1968, Kyle White left Stupidia for Canada.”
“So, what happened then?”
“Not long after he came into Canada, he got to work with a newspaper company in Hamilton. It should have been a good, solid life for Kyle, but it wasn’t. Back then, the Canadian social order was nearly as conformity-minded as the Stupidians were. To be fair, paganism was not a type of faith that one would normally come across, but the fact that he found so few people that were even somewhat accepting of paganism was a crushing blow to his spirits and his beliefs. But it was during that initial despair that an event occurred that would change everything for him.”
“And that was?”
“A dream. While he slept one night after a particularly hard day at work, he had a dream. The details remain fairly sketchy, but in the dream a voice in the back of his head told him to look for a red sage, and that together they would create a society unlike anything seen in North America.”
“So Kyle had a dream that, once he found a ‘red sage’, they would create a society based upon this thing called paganism?”
“Well, at the time he was unsure what he had experienced, and he didn’t think too much of it at the time. But roughly a month after this dream occurred, Kyle was sent to Alberta to cover the Calgary Stampede, that province’s yearly western carnival. It was there that he saw the other significant individual to Whitesage’s creation: a Sarcee tribesman by the name of Robert Red Sage.”
“That must be the part of the dream that Kyle had.”
“At least that’s what was assumed when he first met Robert. You have to remember that dreams, like any other form of divine display, are vague by design. But Kyle was adamant that this was what his dream meant by ‘red sage’, and he made his point to Robert.”
“Hold on a second. I know that Robert was a Sarcee, but was there anything else that could, you know, give me a clearer picture of him?”
“You mean his back story?”
“Well, even less is known about him in comparison to Kyle White. Besides his tribal connections, he was in his early 60s.”
“OK, that’s a little better. I mean, that’s not what I wanted in full, but I guess that’s better than nothing.”
“I understand. Well, after coming across Robert Red Sage, he decided that, before he could talk to him about his dream, he decided to do a story about the tribe for the newspaper. He asked for permission to do the story and it was granted. And to his good fortune, Robert took a liking towards him. It certainly made Kyle more comfortable when he told him about his dream and what it meant.”
“So what did Robert think of the dream?”
“The answer was very surprising. About the same time that Kyle had his dream, Robert had a similar dream: according to what was said, Robert dreamt of a small community different from that of anything he had ever seen in real life. The two discussed their dreams and from that, they decided to act on those dreams. They decided right then and there that they were going to create their community.”
“I see. But if Kyle had a hard time finding anyone who was accepting of his views on this ‘paganism’, whatever that means, then how did the two get Whitesage set up? And what’s the deal with the name Whitesage, anyway?”
“Those are very good questions, Wilma. First, Kyle never really tried hard to find people that shared his views as he was afraid of raising the ire of the Canadian social fabric. Robert, on the other hand, was far more assertive on getting stuff done, and therefore began to search and advertise the ideas he and Kyle had set up. He in particular looked to the Stupidian expats, as they tended to be those whose worldviews coincided more with Kyle’s. After just ten weeks of searching and advertising, they had gathered over 300 signatures of individuals who wanted to get involved in this great journey. Second, the name of the town Whitesage came from a suggestion from one of the first citizens of the place.”
“Alright. So a former ‘Stupidian’ and a Sarcee got together to create a town, and they got about 300 signatures from individuals who may have also been ‘pagans’, and the town was eventually named Whitesage. But why did they choose this place to build the town?”
“The reason for this location was that in mid 1968, word was coming out that the ravine and the adjacent area was going to be used as a landfill, or something along those lines. Being avid environmentalists, there was a huge push by the counterculture to prevent the development from happening. It wasn’t until October of that year that the Canadian government ruled in favor of them. But just to be sure, a large donation pool was set up for a stewardship project in that area, and enough money was donated to create Whitesage. On February 2nd of 1969, which also happened to be Robert Red Sage’s birthday, 280 people founded the colony of Whitesage. The pagan community that Kyle had dreamt of had finally come to fruition. However, as far as he and Robert were concerned, things would not go nearly as planned.”
“How so?”
“Well, at the same time, there were quite a few other attempts to create communes separate from the rest of society in Stupidia and to a lesser extent up here as well. And like Whitesage, they were mostly bereft of technology. People back then didn’t realize how hard life is without much of the technology they took for granted, and that produced a lot of hardship within the colonies. But even more so, they underestimated our inherent human nature. Despite what was commonly believed, that being the social mores of the time were responsible for the insolence going on, human nature doesn’t change that much beyond the mores. Over time, the counterculture began to unravel as they began to revert to the same basic behaviors as their parents had. It was then no surprise that many of these colonies failed not long after their founding. But the Whitesage colony was different. It didn’t fail due to people not taking responsibility for what was happening in their communities; instead, it ‘failed’ because it was too popular.”
“How is that possible?”
“It was due to the publicity. Though Kyle and Robert’s efforts officially ended when the colony was founded, news about this new colony, based upon ideals and faiths that resonated with so many young people, was so overwhelming that people throughout Canada simply just grabbed their belongings and left for the colony. In fact, the population of Whitesage roughly doubled within the first ten weeks. To Kyle and Robert, it was clear that a simple colony structure would not work, not with all of the people coming in. So, it was with considerable disdain from everyone in the colony that both Kyle and Robert decided to turn Whitesage into an actual town, complete with the amenities that their parents enjoyed. Over the next several months, Kyle, Robert, and many of the higher ups in both the community and the Canadian government began to set up plans to make Whitesage not just a town, but a semi-separate country.”
“You mean like Hong Kong and Macao are to China.”
“Exactly, though the line between the two were significantly more ambiguous. There were many things that were part of the agenda, ranging from government structures to economic models. It was a long, frustrating process on what was to be done with the Whitesage area, but afterwards everyone involved said that they were very satisfied with the results. On the first anniversary of Whitesage’s founding, the new mini-republic of Whitesage was granted by her majesty the Queen of the British Commonwealth. When that day occurred, there were roughly 1,300 individuals living there, nearly five times the number of people that lived there when the colony was first founded. Today, about 35 years later, there are about 17,700 people living here.”
“That’s very interesting. But it still doesn’t answer my primary question: why does Whitesage forego so much in the way of technology?”
“That invisible policy is linked to the whole environmental issue. Because so much of our modern stuff uses energy in order to function, and because so much of that energy comes from refined fossils and nuclear materials, it tends to make the world environment worse off. As a result, technological tools that you are used to in your daily life and even many tools that normal people of your parents’ age for that matter are not as prevalent here, though the younger generations are more technologically accepting than the old-timers ever will be.”
“OK. At least now I know why it seems so boring out here. I still don’t like it though.”
Without saying anything, I got up and walked over to Sven’s food bowl. Almost immediately, Sven got up from his bed and bounded over to me as if he had been half-starved. After getting Sven settled away, I turned back to Wilma and said, “I think it might be a while for me to get something cooking. How about we order a pizza?”
“OK. I could go for a pizza about right now.” Wilma said.
“I thought you’d be receptive about the idea, Wilma.” I replied. “Just let me take out Sven so he can do his business, and then we can get going.”
“Alright, Arthur.” With that, I hooked up Sven to his leash and we went outside so that he could do his business. After about ten minutes, Sven had done his stuff and I had cleaned up what I could. We then walked back into the house, with Wilma still sitting on the couch.
“OK then, Wilma. Get your jacket on; we’re going to Ralph’s.” I said.
“Is that a local pizzeria?”
“Yes. It’s the only pizzeria that you can find here in Whitesage, unless you have something against independent pizzeria pizzas.”
“No. I just never heard of the place. And I thought we would be getting carry-out.”
“Sorry, but it’s too much work to drive to and from Ralph’s to bring home a pizza, and I’m sick and tired of driving.” I explained. “Besides, it’s close enough to walk over there and the pizza tastes better fresh from the oven.”
“Well, then. I’ll get my jacket on, and then we can get going.” Wilma replied as she walked back to the guest room. A few seconds later, she reappeared in the same jacket as the night before. We then left the house, with me locking it up of course, and then we were on our way.
As we walked down the streets to Ralph’s, Wilma said, “Wow. This neighborhood looks nice, though I’d admit that it seems a bit repetitive.”
“Yeah. It’s kind of like that.  I know it’s ironic, but everything here is fairly standardized in Whitesage, including the dwellings.” I replied. “Of course, like everything else here, there’s a good reason for it.”
“It is related to environmentalism?”
“In a way, yes. But in another way, it was to deal with space concerns, cramming in as many people as possible into what has become a very small place. When the Whitesage government first heard about New Urbanism, many of its policies became part of our development policy until New Pedestrianism came around.”
“What are those?”
“Both of them are population center development schemes designed to mitigate development sprawl. The first of these, New Urbanism, was first used in Stupidia in the 1980s, and has since become adopted in part by many places in both Stupidia and Canada. New Pedestrianism is a more recent and somewhat more radical version of New Urbanism that replaced it not long after the concepts were launched.”
“I see. What’s your take on them?”
“They work out well, though I will admit that the dwellings here, whether an apartment or a house is pretty small: they won’t build any houses that have a floor area greater than 450 square meters.”
“Wow. That’s awfully small.” Wilma said. After a short break, Wilma then said, “So, how big is your place?”
“You know, I don’t really remember. But it was certainly bigger than the apartment I lived in before then.” After a short break, Wilma said, “I’m noticing something, Arthur.”
I turned to her and said, “Yes?”
“Well, every house is pointing the same way, and also there’s something rather weird sitting on top of each house. It’s looks like some goofy spire…”
“Oh, that’s another thing about Whitesage housing units. They are built according to Vedic codes in addition to environmental codes.” I stated.
“What are Vedic codes?” Wilma asked.
“In terms of buildings, they are oriented so the entrances are facing east and the ornaments are meant to generate harmony inside the dwelling. Housing units get both of these treatments, but all buildings get the special ornamentation.
“I see.” Wilma said. “I was curious about seeing the houses all the same, or almost all the same.”
A few minutes later, we arrived at Ralph’s, which was not surprisingly busy knowing it was a Saturday night. Throughout Ralph’s, I could see all sorts of people munching away at a variety of pizzas and talking about what they had done so far this weekend and what else they wanted to get done, as well as the Samhain discussions that were typical for this time of year. Ignoring them, I walked over to the short line that was ahead of me.
I must have only waited about a good 1-2 minutes before I got to fill my order. A young Caucasian man, somewhere in the 2nd half of his 20s, took my order. Acting on instinct, I ordered a large vegetarian combo; I figured that there would be leftovers that Wilma could munch on later. After the order was confirmed, I was given a number (27) and both Wilma and myself took an open table in the left side of the eating area. After sitting down, Wilma asked, “So Arthur, what do you do for a living?”
“You mean like how I get money to feed myself and the like?”
“Yeah, that sort of thing.”
“To the best of my knowledge, I’m a merchant.” I told Wilma. “I sell various goods to the public, ranging from religious supplies for both major and minor occasions to jewelry and various fabrics for making clothes. But I also do a lot of accounting stuff as well, as I have an associate’s degree in that field.” I then paused and said, “What occupation do you want to get involved in?”
“Eh… geez, can’t you ask another question? I don’t know what I can be at this point.”
I immediately realized that my question had rubbed her the wrong way, and knowing what she had gone through, I quickly said, “OK, maybe that was a bit out of bounds. A better question would be: would you like to see me work at my place tomorrow? It won’t bore you as much, that’s for certain.”
Wilma looked at me, puzzled at first at my suggestion. But then she understood what I was trying to get at, and she said, “Sure, if that’s OK with your boss, if that boss is not you, I mean.”
“You can just say yes, Wilma.” I replied. “I should be able to work something out for you. I must mind you though, that it may be for only a few hours, as I will be attending religious services tomorrow, and I therefore work only half a day.”
“That’s fine, Arthur. I don’t mind at all.”
From there, I heard a call coming from the counter, saying, “Number 27! Your pizza is ready!” Excusing myself from the table, I went over to pick up the pizza from the counter and brought it back. After setting the pizza down, I said, “It would be best to let the pizza sit out for a good ten minutes to cool down. We should get some drinks in the meantime.”
With that Wilma got up from the table and we both walked over to the soda-pop fountain. After getting our drinks (we both got lemonade), we made our way back to the table. Once situated, I said, “I hope you like the vegetarian combo pizza; that’s my favorite type.”
“It’ll work.” Wilma said. Then, after a few seconds, she said, “Let me guess. Most people in Whitesage are vegetarians.”
“You’re right, Wilma. About half of the Whitesage population can be accurately called vegetarians.”
“Are you one of them?”
“No. But those who do decide to eat ‘flesh foods’ as they are commonly called here is done infrequently, me included. Some of it is based on just the cultural aspects of this place, but there’s also a ‘flesh food’ tax that makes them significantly more expensive than what you’re probably used to.” After another short break, I then said, “How did you know that?”
“I didn’t KNOW, Arthur, it was just a guess. And thinking about it, it shouldn’t have come as such a surprise to me.” Wilma answered.
We then both eyed the pizza, wondering if it had cooled enough for both of us to eat it. “You know, Arthur, it would be really helpful if they would put the pizzas in a freezer for 1-2 minutes after they were cooked.” Wilma remarked. “It doesn’t make any sense for anyone to burn the insides of their mouth from eating overly hot pizza or otherwise halfway starving in order to cool down the way it is now.”
“So you’re really hungry.” I said
“More so that I’ve been since I started staring at this pizza for… how long has it been?”
After checking the clock on the wall, I said, “About five minutes. If you want to take a slice now, you can go ahead. I only wait about ten minutes because of what you said about hot pizza.”
“You mean burning the insides of your mouth?”
“I would prefer to use the term ‘one’s mouth’, but yes, both in the sense that it has happened before and that it has happened to me.”
Wilma halfway cracked a smile, the first time she had done so in this odd ‘visit’; I suspect that she thought that my plight was rather funny. She then reached out and got herself a slice of pizza from the plate and took a small bite. She mumbled a few low but satisfying ‘Mmm’ sounds as she ate that first bite. From there, she reached for her cup of lemonade and took a significant gulp from the cup. After wiping her lips and chin with a napkin, she then said, “This is really good! Much better than what I usually get.”
“And that would be…”
“Eh… you know, the usual stuff.”
“I see. Is the pizza still overly hot?”
“It’s not that bad, but as a starting point, I would do what I just did.”
“You mean take a small bite out of the pizza to see how hot it is.” After seeing her nod her head yes, I took a slice and I took a small bite out of it. To my relief, it wasn’t as hot as I thought it was, though it was a bit hotter than what I liked. “You’re right, Wilma. It isn’t that bad.” I said. “However, I prefer my pizza to be slightly cooler than this. You can dig in if you like to; just be sure to leave one slice left for me.”
With that, Wilma really began to chow down. About 2-3 minutes after she got going with the pizza, I went to work on it as well. We didn’t speak much while we ate, except for after Wilma finished her first slice. Once again cracking a half-smile, she said, “Mmm. This has to be the best pizza I ever had.”
“Well, I’m glad to hear that from you.” I replied. “Of course, I guess that’s what is to be expected when someone has organic pizza for the first time.”
“Really? This is organic?”
“Yes. In fact, much of the food eaten here is organic.”
“But isn’t organic food rather pricey?”
“Yes. However, the people here are more dedicated to eating organic food than other people are. And, just to be honest, there are a lot of people here in Whitesage that goes out to Codton and Gunnersville to get certain food items, despite the effort of the Whitesage government to curb such activity.”
“Do you go out of town to get your food?”
“Not often. I try to get as much food from the Co-op as I can.”
“I see.”
With that, we went back to eating our pizza.
After about another seven minutes or so, we both decided that we had eaten enough. I had eaten three slices, as did Wilma, which kind of surprised me. We asked to have the final two slices bagged up so that Wilma could have something for lunch tomorrow. After that, I paid the money for our meal and we left. The walk home wasn’t that much different than it was going to Ralph’s, though we didn’t talk much, if at all. I think we were both concentrating on keeping our feet moving so we could possibly use the bathroom when we got back to my place.
As I kind of expected, Sven was very happy to see the both of us return, but he seemed more interested in Wilma returning than with me, even though I was the one carrying the leftover pizza. As I went to the fridge to put the pizza away, Wilma said, “I’m going to use the bathroom for a minute, so if you’re looking for me, that’s where I’ll be.”
“I understand.” I replied. After I put away the pizza and closed the door, I made my way downstairs and from there, to my office. OK, Wilma. Now that I know who you are and what might have set you off from your mother, now it’s time for you to tell your part of the story. I thought as I began to collect paper and pencils. I can’t help you unless you can tell me what you’re problems are, and the sooner I know about what made you blow a fuse, the better off everyone is going to be. After gathering up the writing materials, I tore off two pieces of paper from the notepad and I wrote on the top of them a question: on one of them was the question ‘How did you get here?’; on the other was the question ‘What is the reason for you running off’. As I was doing so, another thought came to my mind: Maybe I overreacted back in Heatherfield. Maybe it was just my imagination. I mean, there shouldn’t be any real connection between Susan that I saw this afternoon and the same woman who idiotically decided to marry Tony. Just to be sure, I began to look around for the marriage photo that my mother had provided me. As one might expect, it took me some time for me to find the object because I did not want to be reminded of the event. But I was able to find it, and to my disappointment, the woman on the front looked almost identical to Susan (the differences were age-related). Any doubts on who was in the photo were erased when it said on the back of the photo Tony Cannings and Susan Vandom – 8/8/1986. I knew now for certain that the Susan I saw earlier in the day was the same that married my half-brother.
After putting the photo away, I grabbed the paper and pencils lying on my desk, and with them in hand, I walked back upstairs. Wilma was sitting on the couch, scratching Sven behind the ears. “OK Wilma.” I said to her. “I know that you’re not going to like this, but I want you to answer some questions for me.”
“What kind of questions?” she asked, looking rather puzzled.
“Questions about how and why you got here.” I replied. As I said this, I noticed Wilma seem to melt before me, as if all of the joy had been slowly sucked out of her body. The expression on her face was also noticeable: where it was fairly neutral before I answered her question, it quickly looked as if she was seriously distressed and gloomy. Knowing the info I had received from her mother, her headmaster, her swim coach, and Officer Lair, I wasn’t shocked to see her like this. After a bit, I then said, “I would like you to write down the answers to the questions provided at the top of each paper. There are spare pieces of paper available if you need more space to write the answers. When you’re done, let me know. I’ll be in the basement if you’re looking for me.”
With that done, I headed back down into the basement where I began to lift weights and stuff. In a way, it felt therapeutic to go through moving big piles of metal, which was strange because it always felt more empowering than therapeutic. Perhaps it was because of all of the stress I had to endure from the day, and I needed to get that stress out of my system. But in any case I was happy to get it done.
It was maybe 8:15 PM when I was finally done, and I was about to go upstairs when I ran into Wilma, who was standing in the doorway. She looked very much the same way as she did the night before, which meant she had been emotionally distraught during this entire process, and she had probably started crying again. In her left hand was a wad of papers. As I saw the papers, I said, “Are you done answering my questions?” All she did was nod her head yes. I then said, “Is it OK if I could see those papers in your hand?” Without saying anything, Wilma extended her arm with the papers in tow, as if she wanted me to take them. After I took them, I finally said, “You can go upstairs now. I won’t ask of you to explain your answers, at least not tonight.” With that, she turned around and began to walk up the ramp.
From there, I walked into my office and began to examine the papers. For the first question, she had apparently began so miserable from what had happened yesterday that she decided that she wanted to get as far away from home as possible. So she went to the provincial bus station and got herself a ticket to Fredericton; she thought that was far enough away that she would be free from the constraints of her old life. However, when she got to the Gunnersville bus depot (which was on route to Fredericton), she said that she ‘most likely’ got onto the wrong bus and ended up here instead. Not knowing what to do, she decided to take a walk in the nearby ravine so that she could determine her next move. But as she went walking in the ravine, she apparently slipped on some loose dirt and got caught under some rocks. She had then spent what she thought was the next hour trying to extract herself from the rocks until Sven found her.
As for my second question, the reasons that she left were numerous, though I knew of most of them: first, she had learned that she had done poorly on a biology test, which she said was her best subject; she knew that she was not a great academic, and she feared that because of this recent setback, she could lose her spot on the swim team. Second, she had learned that she had been demoted on the depth charts for all of the freestyle swim races she normally started except for the relay races, which she saw as a humiliation. Third, she had recently gotten into an argument with her boyfriend, one Matt Olson, and that she suspected that some of her friends were trying to market themselves to him. Fourth, she had been accused by another friend about ruining a sweater that she had borrowed, saying that she had come across a stain on the inside of the garment, and that it was something that needed to be dry-cleaned. Finally, she said that she had gotten into an argument with her mother about something she couldn’t remember, and that convinced her that she was all alone in the world and thus gave her the reason to run away and start from scratch. At last, I knew what had happened the day before.
I put the papers away in my office and I walked back upstairs to see Wilma sitting on the couch again, with Sven sprawled out on her lap. She looked every bit as despondent as she did at the bottom of the ramp. I then sat down next to her and said, “Well, if there’s anything else I can do for you, please let me know.”
Wilma didn’t respond. After a short time, I then said, “Eh, Wilma, I remembered that I have a business call to make. I hate to be a jerk, but would it be OK if you could go back to where you slept last night? At least for a few minutes.”
Without saying anything, she began to stand up, and with that, Sven jumped down from her lap. She then slinked into the guest room with Sven following her. Once the both of them were inside, Wilma closed the door. The moment the door closed shut, I immediately but quietly went downstairs and back to my office, where my secondary phone was located. I quickly rummaged through the papers in my briefcase until I found the phone number to Susan’s place, and I then dialed it up. After what seemed to be a long time, I finally heard Susan’s voice say, “Hello?”
“Hi, this is Arthur from earlier today.”
“Oh hi Arthur. Did you make it back to Whitesage OK?”
“Yes I did.”
“How’s Wilma?”
“Eh, she doing reasonably well, though she seems to be rather bored and still somewhat upset from what happened yesterday.”
“I guess I should’ve expected that. Did you find out how she got out there, and why she did it?”
“Yeah. I asked her those questions not long ago, and she got here via the provincial bus line; she was apparently trying to get to Fredericton.”
“Yeah, I was that surprised myself.”
“But why would she go there?!”
“I don’t know. I didn’t get any info on that sub-topic, though she must have misread the bus numbers because she got onto the bus route that leads out to the West, not the North. Not knowing what to do, she decided to wander away from the depot. Why she would still baffles me, since I don’t think she has enough money to lodge here.”
“What about the why?”
“Well, she gave a few reasons on why she ran off. Some of them we talked about earlier, but she also said that she had gotten into an argument with Matt Olson… eh… tell me, have you met him before?”
“A few times. He’s pretty nice, although he looks a bit ratty. Wilma seems to talk about him a lot, though she doesn’t like talking about him in front of me.”
“Interesting. But getting back to what I was saying before, she had recently gotten into an argument with him, though she didn’t say about what. She then said that recently some of her friends were spending an unusual amount of time with him, and she thought that maybe Matt was getting ready to dump her in favor of one of them.”
After saying that, I kind of heard Susan groan and then murmur something along the lines of ‘Why don’t you tell me anything of this sort, Wilma?’. After a bit of silence, I said, “Are you still there?”
“Yes. I’m just bewildered on why she doesn’t talk about stuff like this more often. I mean, I am here to actually TALK about these problems, instead of stewing over them.”
“I understand. Another thing I came learned was that she had gotten into a spat with another friend over some clothing she had borrowed. Apparently there was a stain on the garment in question, and her friend blamed her for it.”
“Hmm. That’s odd; whenever she does borrow clothes, she always returns it in good shape.”
“I see. Eh, who do you think might have owned the clothes?”
“That’s hard for me to know. I would normally say Hay Lin, who wants to get into the fashion business, but she’s never borrowed any clothes form her. So I really don’t know.”
“I understand what you’re talking about.”
“Well, is there anything else that you wish to tell me?”
That’s when my heart sort of sank. I realized that this was the best chance for me to tell her the awful truth about who I was, though I knew that I wasn’t going to enjoy it. After what must have felt to be ten minutes of waiting, I finally said, “Susan, there’s… there’s something that I wish to tell you that I couldn’t tell you back at the police station.”
“What do you mean?” Susan asked.
“Well, remember when we were talking about Tony, and how I had the same first name as Tony’s relative, and how he was flaky and contradictory?”
“Well, I am… that guy. I am technically Tony’s half-brother.”
There was a long pause after I said that. I certainly felt very odd after saying that over the phone; on one way, I felt as if a ton of weight had been lifted off of my shoulders, and in another way, I still felt very sick to my stomach after saying it. I certainly didn’t hear much coming from the phone after I brought it back to my ear; I figured that she was just as shocked as I was when I first found out the truth. I then said rather hesitantly, “Hello? Are you still there?” All I got was a very weak and shaky “Yes. I’m still here.”
“Well, I think that you want to sleep on this, so if you don’t mind, I’ll just hang up, OK?”
“OK. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, then.”
“Very well, then. Goodbye Susan.”
“Bye.” With that, I hung up. I found it surprisingly hard to get out of my chair and walk around, as I felt that I had jelly for legs. But I knew that I had to, especially if I was going to sleep in my own bed that night. Eventually, I made my way up the ramp and into the dining/kitchen area, and from there the main room. Wilma and Sven had not moved much, if at all, since I saw them last. I then said, “Well, you can do whatever you want, but I’m going to start getting ready to hit the sack. It’s going to be a long day tomorrow.”
“How so?” Wilma asked.
“I’ll probably need to go into work tomorrow, and besides that there are a few other things I need to take care of.” I answered. “Thankfully those few other things are all in town.”
“That’s good to hear.”
“Yeah. Well, I better start cleaning my teeth.” And with that, I headed into the bathroom. Once everything was taken care of, I walked off to lock up the house. After that, I told Wilma that was going to bed. I must have been really tired from that day, because I completely turned off after only five minutes or so.

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