Mary was sitting on her front porch beside an ice chest filled with sandwiches, fruit, cookies, and cans of soda when Paul arrived at 9:00 AM. His eyes were framed by purplish circles, and his movements were more tentative than usual.
“You look a little bleary eyed, there, Paul. What’d you do? Stay up all night?”
“You’re going to be awfully glad I did!” Paul’s eyes lit up and the spring returned to his step. He grinned, grabbed the ice chest and headed for the car.
“Seriously? Did you find something good?” Mary asked.
“Wait and see.” Paul teased. “All I’ll tell you is the Warren place won’t be our only stop today.”
No amount of cajoling during the hour long drive could convince Paul to expand on his cryptic statement. Not that Mary didn’t give it her best effort. She teased and cajoled, using every trick she’d ever used to get her way with him, but to no avail. The desert road they traveled was nothing but dull, brown sand and scrubby desert plants stretching out in every direction, but Paul seemed to find it utterly fascinating. His only response to her efforts was a half-smile an intense focus on the long stretch of nothingness. Finally, Mary lapsed into a disgusted silence, staring blindly out the window. People had way too many secrets these days as far as she was concerned.
“Hey, Mar” Paul broke the silence which was beginning to sprout icicles. “Have you talked to Josh or Amy in the last couple of days?”
Grudgingly, Mary lifted the chin she’d tucked into her chest to utter a monosyllabic “no”
“I get the feeling they’re avoiding us for some reason. Maybe they’re hiding something and don’t trust us with their secret any more?” he mirrored Mary’s thoughts. Her chin snapped up and her eyes stopped drooping to go round with surprise.
“We did come on pretty strong when we said we felt bad about driving Sasha away. Josh is sure it was the right thing to do, even if he won’t tell us why.”
“Yeah, he’ll get over it pretty quick. His attention span isn’t exactly record-breaking.” Paul laughed as they pulled into the driveway in front of the old ranch house. The years since the place had been abandoned hadn’t been kind. Windows were broken, doors hung crookedly on what remained of their hinges, and the roof was more holes than shingles. It was the perfect setting for a B horror movie filled with zombies and other flesh-eating creatures.
They got out of the car and walked up to the house, stepping carefully to avoid crunching too loudly on the loose gravel. Mary reached for Paul’s hand and hugged his side as they looked around, listening intently for anything which might mean the place was still occupied. The front steps and porch were missing quite a few boards, and those left had fared no better than the rest of the house. The boards had been parched by the intense desert sun and worn away by summer monsoons, and the driving rain and snow in the winter. Paul tested each one before putting his full weight on it, signaling Mary to follow in his footsteps.
Using the tail of his shirt to brush the remaining glass from a window, he looked inside. The living room was littered with broken furniture, cobwebs, dust and unidentifiable piles he had no wish to investigate more closely. He left Mary on the porch to step through the shattered doorway, again testing for broken boards with each step, The other rooms were in the same condition. Aside from a family of field mice and a couple of raccoons who had taken up residence, the house yielded no clues. They turned their attention to the barn, reminiscing about holiday parties, autumn hayrides and bonfires in ...