Almost ten years ago, on the 25th of January 2012, Child Eater was released. I’m celebrating the 10th-anniversary of this amazing event by releasing a special 10th-anniversary edition on January 25, 2022. I am posting a chapter on Saturdays and Tuesdays until then. Read chapters one, two, three, and four, or find chapter five below.
Mrs. Peters had a cozy little two-bedroom ranch near the center of town. It was picturesque from the outside and reminded Tabitha of the gingerbread house from one of the old fairy tales her father used to tell her. The house itself was painted a creamy brown reminiscent of gingerbread. The shingles bordering all the windows were bubble gum pink. The gutters were a lighter shade of pink, one step above white. There was a big picture window in the center of the front wall with equally spaced smaller windows on either side. Judging by the curtains, Tabitha surmised that the one to the right would be the kitchen and the other a bedroom.
Mrs. Peters unlocked the front door and motioned Tabitha inside. The entrance opened up into a small entryway. A few steps forward brought them into the living room. Just as Tabitha had suspected, the kitchen was to the right and there was a bedroom to the left. The living room contained a plush couch in pink and gingerbread plaid. There was a matching chair to either side. Between each chair and the couch was an end table. In front of the couch was a coffee table. The tables were done in a beautiful oak finish. There was a wood burning stove in the corner, near the entrance to the kitchen. It sat cold in the summer months, but the scent still lingered in the air. Burning wood was one of Tabitha’s favorite smells, it reminded her of days much simpler than these. Directly across from the couch, set in front of a picture window, was a television. There were bunny ears sitting atop the set. The whole room gave the feeling of coziness. There were knick-knacks placed strategically around the room and the walls were decorated with family portraits and cross-stitch works.
“I’ll just start a pot of coffee. You make yourself comfortable, and I’ll be right back,” said Mrs. Peters as she headed towards the kitchen.
Tabitha settled into a corner of the couch. She set her computer near her legs, leaning it against the couch. The couch was as comfortable as it had looked. Tabitha felt herself sinking into it and wished she never had to move again. It was about fifteen minutes later when Mrs. Peters came out of the kitchen. She was carrying a tray with a coffee carafe, cream and sugar, a plate of cookies, cups, plates, and spoons. She set her load on the table in front of Tabitha. The carafe, cream and sugar bowls were cream colored and painted with delicate pink roses and green vinery and leaves. She smiled sweetly as she took a seat in the chair to Tabitha’s right.
“So, you’re investigating that poor, sweet child’s disappearance?” she asked.
“I am,” Tabitha replied, careful not to reveal too much information.
“No one will listen to the ramblings of an old woman. What makes you want to hear what I have to say?”
“I thought I heard you say that you had seen her after her disappearance. I was curious when and where that was.”
“Well, I was going for a walk, must’ve been yesterday, and I seen her wandering around the woods. She was just staring ahead. I called to her, but it was like she didn’t even know I was there. I tried to catch up to her, but she disappeared. I went n told the police right away. They said they’d go look for her, but I really don’t think they believed me.”
“Do you remember where you were walking when you saw her?”
“Of course I do. I go walking same spot every day. There’s a path through the woods that starts right by the cemetery. That’s down next to the church, right up Main Street. You know the place?”
“I think I passed it on my way to the hotel.” Tabitha replied.
“Oh yeah, you probably already visited the scene of the crime, huh? Well, yeah, it’s down about a block from the hotel.”
“How deep into the woods do you usually walk?”
“Never farther than my old body can handle, but I remember the old arthritis was acting up, so I didn’t go in more than a few paces. You can find the spot because there’s a patch of wildflowers growing in a clearing there. Well, maybe not a clearing so much as a void. Well, I don’t know what to call it really. No one knows how it got there. Trees just don’t grow there. Grass neither. But those wildflowers just grow wild there. Guess that’s probably why they call them wildflowers, huh? Here have a cookie. They’re lemon. They were Herbert’s favorite, rest his soul.” She took a deep breath as she held the plate out to Tabitha.
Tabitha took a cookie and nibbled it slowly while she contemplated her next question carefully. She sipped her coffee and finished the cookie. Mrs. Peters held the plate out again. She looked worried that Tabitha was thinking about leaving. She was so obviously enjoying having company. Tabitha decided to change the course of conversation. Make Mrs. Peters more comfortable. Maybe she’d like to talk about her husband?
“Was Herbert your husband?” she asked, steering the conversation away from Alice.
“He was. He’s been gone some thirteen years now. That’s what brings me by way of the cemetery every day. I just can’t get used to not talking to him every day. You married?”
“No, not me.” Tabitha laughed a little at the thought of ever being married. “I see you have children. Do they live around here?”
“I have four children. They all live far away now. Apparently, they just can’t make a living in this ‘nothing’ of a town, or so they tell me anyways. They come ‘round for most holidays. Fill the house full of grandbabies. I love listening to the laughter of children. I wish they’d have let me keep the house they was raised in, but they said it was too much for an old woman to keep. So, they pooled together and bought me this little cottage of a house. Say it’s just perfect for a grandmamma like me. But they keep on givin’ me more grandbabies, where am I supposed to put them all?”
“I love your house, and your kids are probably right. The house is just perfect,” Tabitha said.
“Fiddlesticks. My husband bought me our house when we were expecting Herby. That’s my eldest boy. A lot of memories were made in that old place. You kids just don’t understand,” she pouted like a child.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. I just think this house is so darling. I live in a tiny apartment in the city. I’d love a charming little place like this. Sadly, I’m never home long enough to make it worth my while to buy.”
“Well, never you mind. I get a little crabby when I remember how my kids pushed me out of my house. But I suppose it could be worse. They might have decided to put me in that ‘Rested Meadows’ with all the other old people in this town. You know, you should head over there and talk to Gertrude White. That’s Alice’s grandmother. Most days, she’s still pretty lucid. Pity what age does to our minds. Where was I? Oh yes, Gertrude. She can tell you a thing or two about this town and that ‘Rested Meadows.’ You know, my Momma and my mother-in-law were both there near the end. Ever notice how our husbands always seem to leave us first? Why do you suppose that is?”
“I really don’t know.”
“When you’re married, you’ll understand. Where was I? Oh right, ‘Rested Meadows.’ Now, my kids never wanted to visit their grandmas when they were in that place. Always said the place gave them the creeps. Come to think of it, all the kids complain ‘bout visiting there. Kids have always said something evil lives up there on that hill. Some of them said there was a monster there.”
This got Tabitha’s attention. “Has there ever been anything like this before?” she asked.
“Like what, my dear?”
“Disappearances like Alice?” she clarified.
“Oh. Let me think…. Not for some thirty years if I remember correctly,” Mrs. Peters replied.
“Do you remember what happened back then?”
“Oh, my memory isn’t so good anymore. You should really talk to Gertrude.”
Just then, the phone started ringing in the other room.
“Oh my, look at the time. That’ll be my Herby calling. You can find your way out, can’t you?”
“Oh sure,” replied Tabitha. “Can I just use your bathroom before I go?”
“Down the hall to the right,” she pointed towards the bedroom.
Tabitha hadn’t noticed a hallway there before. It was nestled so well into the wall; you’d believe the rooms you saw were all there was. She headed for the bathroom, glancing into the bedrooms as she passed them. The one in front was done up in a peaches and cream motif. She decided that it must be the master bedroom. It fit Mrs. Peters’ personality perfectly. The second bedroom, which was across the hall from the bathroom, was done in a powder blue. The bathroom was mint green and palest pink. Tabitha thought Mrs. Peters would have made an excellent interior decorator.
After using the bathroom, Tabitha swung back past the couch to grab her laptop. Mrs. Peters was standing in the doorway to the kitchen with the phone cradled between her shoulder and her ear. She waved as Tabitha grabbed her bag.
“Thanks Mrs. Peters,” Tabitha called. “Have a great afternoon.”
She waved goodbye as she headed towards the door. She pulled the door firmly shut behind her. She decided she should head towards the cemetery and that section of woods where Mrs. Peters claimed to have seen Alice.
Want to know what happens next? You can preorder Child Eater: 10th Anniversary for Kindle, now.
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