Tommy Jenkins Went to Hell - Part 3
When John returned to the cottage, it was well past 3 in the morning. He didn’t stop to talk with Evans, as the both of them were tired and, frankly, sick. John promised to see him in the morning ready to go. The house was dark, save for one lantern sitting on the sill of an open window from the living room that Jane set to wait for his return. Inside, Jane was asleep on the sofa, Josiah curled under her arm cradling a stuffed toy fox. Silas and Isabella must have gone to bed.
He set his bags and outdoor clothes down by the front door and slid off his shoes. He would clean it up in the morning. Jane and Josiah looked peaceful. They must have fallen asleep waiting up for him. He took Josiah from Jane’s arms and carried him to his room. He passed Isabella’s door first, which was shut, but a soft, yellow light glowed from under the doorway. John sighed. He’ll talk to her later. He passed Silas’s door next, which was ajar. Inside, he saw the slow rise and fall of the boy’s shoulders and heard the soft snores from within. Silas always did sleep soundly. Even as a baby. The third room on the left was Josiah’s. John pushed open the door softly with his toes and set Josiah down on his back in his crib. As John pulled his arms back, Josiah stirred. He hated the crib, and now that he could talk, he voiced those feelings loudly and daily. Jane often let him sleep with her on the sofa or in their bed. It didn’t bother John, really, but he did often press that the boy needed to sleep on his own otherwise he’d never learn to be independent. But Jane always protested.
“Why would he need to be independent when he has me?” she would say.
John would just shake his head and let her be, because in all honesty, he did enjoy the little warm body curled into him between him and his wife. Josiah, though he was two, still had that baby smell. Odd as it may be, there was something comforting about it. Sure, Josiah would have to grow up eventually, but it ached him to see the growth already between his other two—Silas turning five that year and Isabella already seven, almost eight in a month. He wished they all still had their baby smells.
After putting Josiah to bed, John went to Jane on the sofa and gently shook her awake.
“Would you like to go to bed?” He asked.
She groaned and batted him away weakly.
He smiled and let her be. He wasn’t going to bed, either. Instead, he headed to the kitchen first to grab some bread and jerky, then settled in at his desk in the back study. The study was a small room, added on with a wood frame and stone walls when he was a child. It used to be his father’s, as was the mahogany desk and the leather recliner that was purchased brand-new from the furniture supplier. He pulled out a black leather-bound notebook from the bottom drawer and opened it to a blank page.
He couldn’t get away from the gnawing feeling in his stomach. Why couldn’t he remember the night of Peter’s disappearance? Why is Isabella being secretive? Where is Tommy? And why does it all feel connected? He scribbled in the journal, writing down his questions and possible answers to them, then scribbling the answers out that didn’t make any sense at all until the entire page was covered in scratched out scribbles and only the inked question remained—WHERE IS TOMMY?
There came a knock on his study door. John flinched and caught his breath.
“It’s open,” he said, closing his notebook and laying his pen on top it’s soft leather. The door opened slightly and a small figure in a white linen gown stepped through the doorway.
“Isabella. What are you doing up?” He sat back in his chair and took his reading glasses off, placing them to the side of the notebook. Isabella’s eyes shifted from the notebook to John.
“Did you find Tommy?” She asked in a soft voice.
“No,” he said, sighing, “We didn’t find him. We did, however, find a dead deer.”
Her eyes widened—whether surprise or fear, John would never know. Isabella stepped forward in the silence that followed John’s comment, and she sat upon his reclining chair. She lifted the footrest and pushed the seat back to lounge. She stared at the low ceiling. She rested, but John did not. Isabella was acting stranger—stranger than usual. No matter how much John thought about the events from when Mrs. Williams pounded on their door to just then when Isabella entered the study, there was one detail that protruded like a light against the dark.
“You didn’t tell them about Marwos,” John said.
Isabella tensed, forced her shoulders to relax, and then shrugged. She did not look at him.
“What happened after Tommy got sick?” He knew she was hiding something. It was obvious. Her nervous glancing and fiddling fingers that have not stopped messing with the hem of her gowns since he had come home earlier were a telltale sign of dishonesty.
A pause. Then she blinked. Then she said, “We got separated. And then he ran away.”
“He ran?” Questions flooded his mind. “What made him sick? What separated you?”
She shrugged again. “I don’t know. He just got sick all over the floor and ran. I don’t know where he went.” Shards and splinters. She wasn’t giving anything more than fractured information. It was frustrating John. That was not her. That was not something Isabella did. Do children often lie to their parents at a certain age? He thought it started around twelve or thirteen, but seven was supposed to be a golden age of obedience. Or so he thought. Thinking back, he lied to his parents around her age, didn’t he? When he was hiding something, certainly. And she was hiding something.
“You lied to the sheriff,” John said, trying to pry more information out of her.
Restless shoulders, restless lies. Another shrug. He was not going to pretend to understand her anymore. She knew better, and if she didn’t, she would learn now.
“And you lied to Mrs. Williams. And to me. Why would you do that? You realize that Tommy’s life is in danger? He could be starving right now, or dehydrated, or worse—he could have fell into the lake and drowned. He could have been eaten by the coyotes. You both know those woods are dangerous. And worse—you went into Marwos? People don’t come back from there, that’s why it’s off-limits, do you understand? There are sinkholes and cliffs and predators. Grown men do not go in there. There was no reason for you to.”
She cried then. Balled fists to her eyes, she sobbed in his recliner. She tried to speak, to apologize, maybe, but all that came out was a stream of huffs and hiccups and coughs. He waited and watched her cry patiently. Her fit would pass, but he was not going to let up. He was her father; there was no reason for her to lie to him about anything. She was seven; what was the worst that happened? They saw something and got scared and separated? Probably. She lost him and it was lucky that she had made it out to the church for Mrs. Williams to find him. John’s heart sunk to think if it happened the other way around. It wasn’t a pleasant thought—a sudden morbid relief came over him that his daughter was able to survive while Tommy did not. Best case was that they both made it home, but what if that wasn’t possible? What if it was a sacrificial situation? Was Tommy a hero who placed himself in the sight of danger to save Isabella? Or was he merely the weaker of the two who fell prey to a terrible predator of Marwos? He did not know. Part of him really did not want to know, but just as something bothered John about the situation, it was swallowing Isabella up and making her spit up over herself sobbing in his recliner.
“Isabella,” John said in a softer tone as her cries died to soft hiccups, “what happened to Tommy?”
“Tommy—” she said, taking deep breaths between her words, “went to—went to—”
“Yes, where did he go?”
“Tommy went to hell.”