By Karolyn Gray
Shaking his head in bemusement he started the truck up, engine coming to life with a roar before idling back to its usual rumbling tenor. He glanced over to the glove box again feeling foolish for his reaction and flipped it back shut before he put the truck into gear and started on to his destination.
Twenty minutes later he slowed his truck to a halt on the dirt road, noting the police tape, the barricades and two police cars parked outside the now familiar cabin and workshop. He had heard the Chief had put security around the old Mitchum cabin after someone tried to burn it to the ground a couple of days back.
He could already see the two cops, one of which looked to be Stan, coming towards his truck. He killed his lights and turned off the vehicle, not really wanting to explain what he was doing out here when he wasn't sure himself. Resigning himself to coming up with an excuse he opened the door and climbed out.
Then he heard it. A soft tune in his mind. He froze midway through slamming the door shut, breath caught in his throat. This time, it wasn't fear he felt. He had his solution. He started whistling what he had come to think of as the Whistler's Song.
"Hey Nathan, what're you doing out here this time of night? Thought you'd be at the party," Stan asked curiously, looking Nathan up and down. He noted the officer behind Stan looked less than friendly, eyes overly wide and hand resting on his service weapon.
Nathan just whistled as he finished closing the door and slowly turned to face the pair. After a few more bars, he stopped and closely looked at the duo, noting the glassy looks in their eyes.
"I was never here," he told them.
They both blinked, looking around with puzzled expression before Stan looked at the other officer with an annoyed expression. "Are you sure you saw something out here?"
The other man frowned and glared out into the surrounding woods, seemingly looking right through Nathan. "I thought I did."
Stan just huffed and started walking back towards the cabin. "Well come on, it's too cold to tromping around out here at this time of night."
Nathan watched the entire exchange in silent surprise, watching the pair turn back to their post lightly griping about the duty they'd been assigned. Satisfied at the results he started whistling again, a different tune. He wasn't surprised when heard an echoing answer. It was barely discernable but it was enough to guide his way.
He walked through the forest, into the heavy canopied growth that blocked out the moonlight. He didn't have a lantern or flashlight to guide him through the gloom, but he didn't stumble once. The path was clear to him in his mind as he whistled his tune. There was no frightful run through the woods, gasping for breath, no fear-fueled adrenaline coursing through his veins, and no nightmarish thoughts and deeds to be performed.
Soon he broke from the cover of the trees into the familiar glade. He stopped short at seeing the changes there. The grasses were drying, three of the Five Sisters—the five pines—were now mere timber fall their bark silvered with age and shriveled roots twisted in the air, and the black spruce looked to have been split in two by a lightening strike, hollowed with broken limbs littering the ground around it. He could see in the moonlight the first pine saplings already sporting mosses and lichens, junipers, moosewood and blueberries bushes, and, as he got within twenty feet of the remaining two pines the woodbine's maroon cover. The forest was reclaiming Wytchebough at an unnatural rate.
'Or putting it back the way it should have been.' Nathan mused as he stopped a couple yards away from the where the Five Sisters had stood.
He smiled gently and turned to his right to see the little girl he knew was Alice Mitchum walking towards him with a gentle smile on her face.
Alice didn't offer him anything to eat this time, she merely wrapped her thin arms around him in a hug, Nathan shivering even as he welcome and returned her cold embrace. Releasing one another she stepped back.
"Why did you call me Alice? I thought you were free." Nathan knelt down to be face to face with her, concerned by her very presence here.
The girl nodded her head, dark hair flowing over her shoulders. "I am. We are. When Wytchebough is reclaimed by the green the Whistler's song will never harm another and the door will close."
Nathan welcomed the news until he remembered one important fact. "Honoria-Marie is still alive."
"There will be no more Whistlers by the end of this night. My sister Bethia will see to it." Alice said the words so emotionlessly that Nathan felt a tremor of fear at their implication but not for himself.
"Kenny?" he asked.
Alice's merciless expression smoothed away into a kind smile. "He has nothing to fear. Neither do you. You both know the song but haven't the gift. She does, so she must die."
He knew he should be concerned that Honoria-Marie Mitchum was going to die tonight if what Alice told him was true but honestly didn't see how it could be stopped. Certainly no one would believe him that a centuries old ghost was intent on murdering someone.
"But I just used it." Nathan waved in the direction of the cabin and the two police officers there.
Alice shrugged as if the answer was obvious. "Because this is Wytchebough and you are a part of this place. When we are done, when the green overruns this place, so too will the song be done."
"So why did you call me?" Nathan asked.
"I didn't. You called me and I came to tell you something." Alice smiled innocently as she touched his arm. He shivered at the cool sensation, cool but not as cold as when he had last seen her.
"It wasn't you that did those terrible things. The gift when used as it was against ones such as you twists and corrupts our nature."
"Ones such as me?"
"Those able to resist. Mostly the gifted. But not all, just special ones. Like you. When pushed too hard, it drives some insane. Tricia embraced that insanity. You did not."
"So why are you telling me this?"
"Because you're not cursed, you're not a killer. And you're not a monster. You're kind and gentle and deep. You're a protector. And you're my friend." She peered closely into his eyes. "Do you understand?"
After a moment's consideration of the girl's words he nodded his head. "I think so."
Alice rose to her feet, offering the man both her hands. "Would you stay and play with me until Bethia returns?"
Nathan couldn't resist the sweet smile on her face. "Sure."
Audrey sighed as she stared at the monitor and the report on it with frustration as she idly tapped her fingers against her desk. It was well past time for her to need the lamp on her desk with sunlight now streaming through the office window but left it on anyway. A glance at the wall clock just made her sigh even louder and she slouched back in to chair. She'd been at this for two hours and she still hadn't finished a single thing.
She had come in early, unable to sleep, in the hopes of getting the backlog of paper work and reports done. She thought the early morning silence and solitude would help her work with out the distractions of calls and the bustle of the other officers in the station. All it had done was remind her of Nathan's absence as she found herself flicking her eyes over to her partner's desk. Someone had cleaned and organized it at some point with folders and papers stacked in neat little piles with his pens and pencils sitting in their usual cup holder. She frowned a little at seeing his vials of scent sitting on the corner of the desk, knowing he kept those locked away in the drawer. Beside it, Nathan's coffee cup sat there looking somehow forlorn.
Shaking her head at her maudlin mood, she rose to her feet. 'Okay, definitely time for coffee.'
She gasped when she nearly ran in to Nathan as she exited their shared office. "Nathan." She couldn't help the grin that came to her face at seeing her partner, who seemed as equally pleased to see her.
He stood there with one arm in a sling—his blue jacket hanging loose over the shoulder—as he balanced two coffees and a box of Rosemary's pastries on top of what appeared to be a stack of folders in his only free hand. The sight of the folders brought a frown to her face "You're supposed to be resting."
"I am," he replied easily, raising the stack in his good arm slightly. "Thought I'd drop by with some coffee and pastries."
Taking the hint, Audrey quickly relieved him of the coffees and pastry box, setting them down on his desk. She turned back to him with a skeptical look, nodding towards the papers still in his hands. "Right. And you just happen to have an armload of reports with you?"
"I was bored and wrote up my incident report at home." He set the thick folder down next to the pastries. Unsurprisingly, Audrey started to flip through the pages curious to read his thoughts on the case.
"You could have e-mailed them to me," she commented.
"But then you wouldn't have coffee right now."
She smirked at his quip. "And I wouldn't be arguing with my stubborn partner over his need to rest."
Nathan quickly walked around to the other side of his desk and sat down. "See, resting."
Audrey just shook her head and took a careful sip of one of the coffees. Satisfied at the temperature she set it down in front of him before grabbing the other. "Fine, but if your father comes in here to yell about you being at the station you take all the heat."
He nodded his head in agreement as he finished opening the pastry box and offered its contents for her. "Fair enough."
Quickly choosing a cruller she set her coffee down and flipped open the folder to rifle further through the pages there. Some were hand written, others obviously printed. She stopped at a small slip of paper with hastily scrawled script that was nearly illegible. She could barely make out what appeared to be the words 'whistler' and 'Wytchebough' but little else.
"What's this?" she asked as she started to tug it free from the pile.
Nathan quickly grabbed the paper away from her, crumpling it slightly as he hastily folded it as best he could with one hand. "Nothing." He said evasively. At her bewildered expression and despite his obvious embarrassment he shrugged. "Nothing important."
Deciding to let it go, she brought over her chair to his desk. Once settled again, they ate in companionable silence for a few minutes. For Audrey, she could feel her frustration with the morning quickly slip away, for the first time in days feeling like everything was back to normal.
By the look on Nathan's face and the lack of tension as he leaned back in his chair, she suspected he felt the same. When she called him in what had become their daily ritual of recounting their days to one another, she had heard the frustration and restlessness in his voice over his enforced convalescence.
"So, how are you really doing Nathan?" she asked.
"I'm good," he replied, "Got cleared by the department psychiatrist yesterday. Just have to get the doctor to clear me for duty and I'm back to work on Monday."
"Lucassi cleared you? What about your…," Audrey trailed off, deciding the station wasn't the best place to bring up the nightmares her friend had confided to her. She trusted the other officers in the station but she knew Nathan was a private man. She also knew the Chief had signed off on Nathan going to Lucassi instead of the usual departmental psychiatrist given Lucassi's unique understanding of the Troubles. Still she found it a little odd the doctor had cleared Nathan so quickly.
"They're getting better," he admitted slowly. "Takes time."
She nodded at that, noting that he did seem far less disturbed over both his nightmares and his newly recovered childhood memories than he had been the last time they talked about it. "And the…rest?"
"I'm good with it now." Nathan glanced out the window as a strange little smile came to his face. Any sign of the distress he had over his experiences seemed to be lifted. When he returned his gaze to meet her own she could see she had misread him slightly. She could see the guilt was still there but there was something else as well: acceptance.
Nathan didn't give her a chance to push further.
"How's the investigation going?"
Audrey didn't need Nathan to specify which case she was working on. The Whistler case, as it had been dubbed in the Herald, had gripped much of the town's attention over the past week, as well as occupied most of her time. The case was actually wrapping up fairly quickly with the Chief surprisingly passing off most of the remaining investigative work—some forensics and identification of the recovered bodies—to the State Police while she was stuck with tying up lose ends around Haven. Those loose ends included investigating the arson at the Mitchum cabin that had destroyed the remaining evidence there and who was responsible for vandalizing the Mitchum family's now empty home in town.
"Honoria-Marie Mitchum was found strangled to death in her room at the asylum. They've ruled it a suicide. And we still don't know who vandalized the Mitchum home or the arsonist who burned the cabin down," Audrey replied.
"I heard about Mary. And the fire." Nathan seemed rather blasé about the death of the Mitchum girl and the destruction of the property but Audrey put that down to his own experiences with the Mitchums. "People are angry. Could've been anyone."
She merely nodded her head at that as she continued filling him in on the state of the investigation. "Your father handed over much of the case back to the State Police. There's not much more to investigate with all the suspects dead. Rumor was some Staties wanted to implicate you in tampering with evidence and conspiracy but that got quashed quickly by the State AG at the behest of the Mayor and the Selectman. Mrs. Hedgegrove badgered them into supporting you according to Dave and Vince."
Nathan seemed surprised at that revelation. "The state attorney general? Really?"
"That's the rumor." Audrey nodded, still feeling annoyed at the lost evidence. "I get that people are upset and angry but that fire cost us a lot of evidence. And Honoria-Marie's death cost us a good source of information. With the Hamiltons refusing any more access to their son that leaves you as our last real source left."
Nathan pointed to the open file between them. "Wrote down everything I could remember. I even wrote some theories on the Mitchum's Trouble and ways to keep their actions out of the public eye. That'll be the handwritten parts."
Audrey raised an eyebrow in surprise at that earning a shrug in response.
"I've had a lot of time to think."
"I guess so." Audrey chuckled at that and shook her head. She quickly rearranged the papers and closed the folder once more.
"By the way, Vince and Dave want to interview us for the Herald. Something about an exposé on, and I quote, Haven PD's top investigative detectives."
She grinned as she watched her partner groan and rub his right hand across his face. "We're Haven's only detectives," he pointed out.
"The Chief denied their request and convinced them to do a story about the volunteers that helped out instead. That should hold them off for awhile." Audrey leaned back in her chair and smirked. "You know they're not going to go let this go until we give them an interview."
Nathan nodded as he absently scratched at his jaw. "How about next week?"
Audrey laughed at her partner's procrastination. "Coward."
Nathan tried to look offended, but the strange little smile-that's-not-a-smile her partner had perfected ruined the effect, as he wagged a finger at her. "Pragmatist. I'm supposed to be convalescing."
"Big word," she mocked.
"I've had a lot of time to…"
"Yeah, yeah. I get it." She waved her hands at him. "So I can tell them we'll sit down for an interview next week?"
With a satisfied grin, Nathan nodded his head as he pulled the file folder over. "Sure."
"I can write that up for you," Audrey offered. "It'll take you forever with only one hand."
Nathan just shook his head. "I'm good. I need to kill some time before my meetings."
"Meetings?" Audrey asked curiously.
"I'm meeting with Taylor Haskil, Tybalt's son, at the mortuary for funeral arrangements. Taylor wants me there," Nathan explained. "Then a physical."
"It'll be good to have you back," Audrey said.
"Yeah, good to be back." Nathan agreed.
"Audrey, honey, you there?"
"Duty calls," Audrey muttered.