Chapter 6 – Cryptic Creeps
Tom took one last look back at the museum as they left. He hadn’t seen the old guard come out of the museum. It must not have been his break time yet or else the guard didn’t like hot dogs. But even if he didn’t, Tom was sure he would have come out to at least talk about his conspiracy theory.
He tried to remember the old man’s name. What was it again? Logan? Or Rogan. Something along those lines. He decided to help push the hot dog cart and accompany Lucas back to his house. It was only a few blocks away. Then he could come back to the museum.
First, he wanted to get Lucas’ input on what really went down that night he showed up in town twelve years ago, but he wasn’t quite sure how to approach the topic without making it sound like he was directly asking about the artifacts in the museum.
Tom wondered if all of this didn’t have something to do with what Pops and his uncles were going to do tonight at the museum. He seriously doubted that they would wait till morning to ‘deliver’ whatever it was they had gone to pick up.
Tom was no dummy and knew how his uncles operated. He had grown up hearing them laugh at the fast ones they had pulled on his cousin Christian. He pretended like he didn’t care, but Tom was soaking up everything they said like a sponge.
If he had to guess, Tom figured that Uncle Torvald would come to relieve him from watch duty. Then as soon as they thought he was gone, they would do whatever it was they planned to do. Most likely steal some artifact from one of the exhibits.
And even though he didn’t have anyone to bet against, Tom would have wagered ten to one that it would be something from the Empyrean Chamber.
If that was the case, he definitely didn’t want to say anything that would make Lucas or the old guard suspicious of him or his uncles. Not that he didn’t care if his uncles got in trouble, especially Uncle Torvald. He could care less if Torvald rotted in the Walden County Jailhouse. But that would simply delay the group leaving the city so he could get out on his own.
He felt a twinge of nervousness at the idea of being on his own but soothed those feelings by telling himself that if Lucas could survive in Walden on his own, then he could as well.
After walking the few blocks in silence, Tom finally spoke up as he pushed the hot dog cart up the driveway.
“So, what do you think the deal is with you and all those kids showing up here all those years ago? Do you remember anything before that?”
Lucas grinned. “I wondered when you were going to bring that up again. Everyone always asks me that.”
Tom felt relieved that Lucas didn’t think it was a strange question.
“I really don’t remember anything before that night. Honestly, I don’t even remember that night itself. Sometimes I have strange dreams that I think may be flashbacks. I see circles of blue light. I see people running in all directions. I hear their screams. But that’s about it.” Lucas said.
“So, nobody knows where these children came from or why they showed up that night?” Tom mused.
“I’m sure someone does somewhere, but they aren’t telling,” Luke said with a wry grin as he opened the gate for Tom to push the hotdog cart into the garage.
Lucas led Tom into the house and gave him the grand tour of all three bedrooms.
“This is where you can stay if Alan will let. I sure hope he does because you’ll definitely be a big help selling hotdogs.”
“And you live here all by yourself without any adult supervision?” Tom asked incredulously. “You are so lucky.”
“It has its perks,” Lucas said with a shrug. “But it gets lonely when Alan isn’t around and keeping up the house sure does take a lot of time. Especially cooking.”
“At least you always have plenty of hot dogs around to eat when you get hungry.”
Lucas made a face and stuck out his tongue as he said, “Not really. You get tired of eating them real fast. It’s always nice to cook up a decent meal when I have time, and there are other people around. I hate cooking just for myself.”
They tossed their jackets and backpacks on one of the beds and then went out to the living room to play some video games. Tom had just flung himself down on the couch when there was a loud banging at the door. Lucas didn’t look like he was going to get up to answer it.
“You want me to see who it is?” Tom asked
Lucas waved him off and shook his head vigorously. “No way. It’s my nosy neighbor, Mr. Richards. He is a retired old vet and the self-appointed neighborhood watch guard on duty 24 hours. He takes it upon himself to check up on me and make up stories about me to pass along to Alan. He hates me, and he’s always trying to get me in trouble. If you open the door and let him in, he’ll hang around all night.”
“Sounds like my Uncle Torvald. He’s always trying to get me in trouble. No matter what I do it’s never good enough for him.”
The banging grew louder on the door as Mr. Richards intensified his knocks. It sounded like he was beating on the door with both hands and was trying to knock it in.
“I know you’re in there, Lucas. I saw you bring the stranger with you. I want to know who it is to make sure everything is on the up and up.”
Lucas just rolled his eyes and kept on playing.
“If you don’t open up right now, son, so I know everything is all right in there, I’m going to have to call Alan and let him know it’s going on.”
The sound of the banging had Tom a little worried, but it didn’t seem to bother Lucas in the slightest. So, he concentrated on the game and tried to ignore the noise.
“Don’t worry,” Lucas said. “Alan won’t listen to him. He says that Mr. Richards is an ornery old cuss that’s always been in his business as long as he can remember. Interestingly enough, Alan says that he moved in next door right about the same time I as I came to town. So blames me for having brought Mr. Richards along into his life as well.”
“Still, that’s kinda creepy having a guy banging on your door like that. It sounds like he’s going to pound the door in.” Tom muttered under his breath as he tried to make a leap across the chasm in the videogame. He kept looking over her shoulder every time the banging started up again, half expecting the old man to come crashing through at any moment.
The banging and yelling continued on for about 15 minutes. The loudness and intensity eventually began to lower as the old man tired. Finally, he gave up completely, and the boys were peace once again to concentrate on the videogame.
After that Tom didn’t talk much as he was too focused on trying to keep up with Lucas who was much better obviously since it was his game. He wanted to know more about these empyrean children but didn’t want to pressure Lucas talking about his past. There would be plenty of time for that over the coming days as they worked together and deepened their friendship.
Pops called a little before the Walden Museum of History and Art’s closing time.
“Hey, Tom. It’s almost time. You got that thing covered for me. Can you be my eyes and ears till I get there?” Pops asked.
“Sure. Of course” Tom mumbled. “I told you I would.”
He was kicking himself for losing track of time and not having gone back down to the museum again to take a closer look at the Empyrean Chamber.
“Good. Because I’m counting on you. We got what we needed, and we are already on our way back. So, we should be there early.”
“What am I looking for? Anything specific that I should watch for? And what do I do if I see it?
“Just make sure nobody goes in around after closing time. Specifically large vehicles that could be used to transport valuable museum exhibits. If so call me immediately, and I will alert the proper authorities. Other than that just send me a message every 15 minutes letting me know that everything is okay. And I’ll make sure you eat the best breakfast of your life tomorrow morning before school.”
Tom jumped up and grabbed his backpack to leave. Lucas wanted to know where he was headed and offered to go with him. Tom considered it, but then graciously declined because he wasn’t sure what Pops would think about that. He decided it would be better not to take his new friend along.
As soon as he opened the door, Tom saw Lucas’ nos,y old neighbor on the other side of the yard mowing his lawn. The man turned off the lawnmower and came stomping over in their direction with an angry scowl on his face.
“Go on,” Lucas muttered under his breath. “I’ll take care of this. Hey, Mr. Richards.”
Tom jumped off the edge of the porch and walked quickly down the driveway to the street expecting Mr. Richards would walk to Lucas. But instead, the bald-headed, old man with his pants hitched up too high, switch directions and began to angle towards him picking up his pace to match Tom’s.
His heart sank, and Tom slowed down before he reached the point where their paths would cross. Mr. Richards stood in front of him with the same angry scowl Tom had imagined on his face when he was banging on the door. The man had picked up a rake on his way across the yard, and he held it threateningly across the front of his body.
Tom stood still. Uncertain about what to do since he didn’t know what the old man wanted. He heard Lucas coming up behind him, but never took his eyes off of Mr. Richards and his bright red rake.
The setting sun glinted off the top of Mr. Richards baldhead. The old man squinted his eyes as he looked Tom over from head to foot. He cocked his head to the side pensively and bit his bottom lip as if trying to make up his mind about the boy.
“It’s okay, Mr. Richards. He’s a friend of mine and is going to be helping me with the hot dog business.” Lucas said still several steps away.
The old man smiled wickedly still squinting his eyes almost completely shut before saying, “You’re one of them. Aren’t you? I can sense it. What’s your plan and what you come for?”
His fingers wrapped tighter around the handle of the rake. Tom could see his knuckles growing whiter by the second. He was relieved when Lucas finally reached their little standoff and stepped in front of him.
“No, Mr. Richards,” Lucas said getting his face right up close to the old man’s. “Tom lives with his mom and pops down the road a ways. And they’re not even from around here. So, you’re going to have to go practice your conspiracy theories on someone else.”
“He can’t hide it. I know what you all look like. I can tell. You don’t fool me. I’ve got my eye on you, and I’m going to figure out what you all are up to. I am your worst nightmare.” Mr. Richard said without ever taking his eyes off me completely ignoring Lucas.
Tom shifted nervously from one foot to the other. Trying to decide whether to stick around or make a break for it. Lucas grabbed onto the rake with his left hand and gently pushed the old man’s shoulder back towards his yard with the other.
“Yeah, yeah, Mr. Richards. You are on to us in almost caught us. We were over here planning how to take over the world this afternoon. Would you like to join us as one of our evil minions?” Lucas said, trying to make the old man laugh.
Mr. Richards had been resisting for a moment but shifted nervously when Lucas said that. Then he followed through on Lucas’s movement and began walking back towards his yard. He paused when he reached the divider between the two yards and turned to look back at me with the glowering look in his eye. Pointed to wrinkled old fingers toward his eyes and then out towards me. It would’ve been funny if I knew he wasn’t so serious.
After he crossed the line into his yard, Lucas walked back over to me.
“You okay? ” he asked walking me the rest of the way down the drive.
“Yeah. I’m fine,” Tom said. “But you shouldn’t say that kind of stuff to him. He’s crazy, and it looks like he takes everything you say literally.”
Lucas laughed off my concerns. “It’s okay. Mr. Richards is just a harmless old man who wouldn’t hurt a flea. I’ve known him all my life he’s always been like that. You better hurry up or your uncle is going to be upset you for running late.”
Tom grimaced as he looked at the time and realized Lucas was right. Only two minutes left before the Museum closed. He spun around on his heel and took off at a brisk pace down the street toward the museum. He counted the trees around him to ground himself in reality to keep the worry of some thoughts about Mr. Richards out of his mind.
He took a deep breath of fresh, clean air to clear his thoughts and then breathed out everything that was bothering him just like pops and taught him.
Enough of worrying about old Mr. Richards and his crazy conspiracy theories. Right now he had a job to do for pops, and he wanted to make the old man proud of him. As much is the despised his uncles disagreed with the way his family lived, deep down Tom had always dreamed of one day doing something great for them earning their respect to feel like he was completely accepted in the family.