TUESDAY OCTOBER 4, 2005

18:46 GMT-3

MAZ MOREAU

SEVEN TREES FARM | MERIDIA FALLS

“There was no way I was staying in the house,” I say, pressing my phone tightly against my ear. I fight off another yawn. “Since Mom got home, the atmosphere has been colder than the hurricane that blows down Main Street every day.”

“Don’t let her get to you, Babe.” Steve’s soothing voice fights through the bad reception. “We’ve got a lot more to worry about than your Mom’s affair.”

I nod, even though there’s no one here to see. Unable to stop another yawn, I make my way between the trees, blinking away the sleep from my eyes.

Shining the flashlight randomly on the branches, the beam picks out several dangling apples. They shine like delicate Christmas ornaments. Isaac’s precious Red Perens.

“I know… I’m trying to not let her get to me…” I pause, trying to stop the memories from the past couple of days flashing through my head. “But I could do without her on my case… I need to focus on helping Logan.”

Steve coughs, it sounds like thunder through the phone speaker. “I wish you’d never met Logan!”

“Steve!” I bite my lip, holding back the rising anger threatening to erupt. “It’s not Logan’s fault.” My voice wobbles; I’m not sure if it’s because of anger at Steve or sadness for Logan. “You don’t know half of what he’s been through.” I angrily flick the flashlight between the apple trees; the beam zips between the branches like lightning.

“Yeah, Babe. I do feel sorry for the kid… But he seems to have brought a whole heap of weird shit down on us… on the town.”

I pull the phone away from my ear, not wanting to argue. I can understand his feelings, but — I whip the phone back up.

“Look, Steve. A lot of that ‘weird shit’ was happening well before Logan arrived in Meridia Falls… Look at the crap going on at school. The injections….” My arm aches at the thought of the vaccinations — vaccinations I, nor anyone else in the school, ever questioned before. “Look at what happened to Elle Horton…”

My phone speaker crackles as the reception gets even worse. “I just wish you weren’t in the cross-fire. You shouldn’t have—” His voice cuts out.

“Gimme a sec. I’m gonna find some better reception.”

I weave through the darkness, the flashlight leading me to the edge of the east orchard. I stand still for a moment as the tree leaves blow in the darkness, sounding like a whispering voice warning me to keep back.

I move out of the orchard, and my flashlight pics out the dilapidated structure of the old barn. My old sanctuary is now tainted by Mom… and the farmhand.

“I’m almost at the barn.”

“I hope you Mom and her guest aren’t in there… again,” Steve’s crackling voice says.

I push open the creaking barn door and walk inside. My phone reception goes up another bar.

“I doubt she’d come back here… now that she knows I know about her affair.” I pause and swing the flashlight around, checking out all the dark corners, just in case. “She’s probably found another place for her sordid liaisons… You should have seen the new lingerie she bought.”

Satisfied I’m alone (apart from all the regular spiders), I climb the rickety ladder to the mezzanine.

“Seeing Mom having sex was enough,” I say, fighting back the rising bile in my stomach. “But her doing it in my place of solitude, and with the new farmhand too…” I swallow hard and take a deep breath, forcing the image of their writhing bodies from my mind. “I don’t know how she didn’t see me.”

I sit on an old wooden chair, one that I’m pretty sure Mom didn’t use.

“Throes of passion.”

“Don’t!” I say. “I think I’m gonna throw up. This place smells a little… funky.”

“I think I’m gonna throw up too,” Steve says, forcing a dry retch. “I’ll change the subject. Is Logan still going to see his dad?”

I set the flashlight down and point it at the back wall. “Yeah, he’s gonna book a morning flight to Texas …” I rub my hand through my hair. “I hope he’s doing the right thing.”

Steve sighs again.

“Look Steve, I don’t know why, but I feel like I have to… I want to help Logan.”

Silence from the phone, silence from Steve.

“Are you with me?”

“I’m always with you, Babe.”

“Thank you.” I can’t stop the wobble in my voice.

“Do you think I should try telling my dad again? But everything this time. Give him the full, weird, magic shit report.” He pauses. “I’m not sure if I trust this Church guy and his entourage.”

“You’d need a second weird magic shit report for them too,” I say, as Victoria’s baby bump flashes in my mind. “Let’s wait for Logan to get back from Texas before we think of that. I just feel so helpless now. It’s weird, but I kind of miss Penny… I don’t even know why — I hardly knew the girl, not really. But I feel it. You know what I mean?”

Steve goes quiet for a second. “I just wish I could do something to make you feel better,” he says. “I could still come over later.”

“Another late-night McDonald’s?”

He laughs. “Probably not a good idea — not after the other night. Isaac would go all wrestler on me again.”

I laugh, stifling another yawn. “I wouldn’t be able to stay up anyway.”

“Are you still not sleeping well?”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I feel like I’m getting a full night of sleep, but I always wake up tired.”

Even though I can’t see him, I can just imagine Steve’s expression in my mind.

“Hey, you can’t blame me for that,” he says in a playful voice

“Not this time… I’m gonna head back and get an early night — after I raid the fridge.”

Steve laughs. “Text me when you get home.”

“I will. Love you.”

“Love you too, Babe.”

I close my phone as a huge yawn forces its way out of my mouth; feels like I’m about to dislocate my jaw. Damn. I need to get a handle on this sleep thing. I’ll be passing out in class soon. I’ll be no use to anyone, let alone Logan.

I reach for my flashlight, but a sudden noise makes me stop. Goosebumps spring up all over my skin, tingling — and not in a good way. It sounded like a crunch… like someone eating an apple. I point the flashlight in the corner, by the large opening. A shadow moves across the edge of the light beam.

It’s Isaac.

Crap! How long was he there? What did he hear?

He tosses a half-eaten red apple on the floor. It rolls through across the wooden planks, picking up several strands of dry straw, reminding me of a scene in a horror movie. I can’t help checking the white flesh of the apple for blood.

“I’m thinking of tearing this place down,” Isaac says, licking his lips.

He walks further into the light, dragging his finger over the back of the moth-eaten old sofa. “I didn’t think this place was still… used.”

“I come here to relax, to think… to be on my own.” I stand and shine the flashlight around the darkness. “But, go ahead and tear it down… I think I’m moving on from this place.”

Isaac smiles his usual smarmy smile. “We need to get back to the house. There’s a storm coming.”

I inch my way to the ladder, keeping the flashlight on him. I quickly climb down, almost missing the bottom rung. His presence here makes me more uneasy than normal.

He follows me down the ladder. “Your mother won’t want you out here… on your own. Especially as you’re so tired.”

So, he did hear some of the phone call.

“You don’t want to fall asleep in this old barn for the night. No one wants to… sleep in here.”

Did he hear me talk about Mom too?

Isaac holds out his arm, like a ballroom dancer does to his partner. “Let me escort you back to the house. I’ve checked on all the trees now.” He smiles. “No sign of any… damage to my babies.”

I turn my back, refusing his arm. “I’m fine. I can make my own way back.” I walk out of the barn, putting as much distance between me and him as I can. The flashlight beam jumps across the ground, betraying my shaking hands.

“Be careful!” Isaac shouts. “And make sure you get an early night. You look as tired as your mother.”

I pick up my pace as I replay my conversation with Steve through my head, hoping against hope that Isaac didn’t pick up on any secrets about Mom… or Logan.

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