CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 License.
Buck is in his mid-forties, but he’s in excellent shape, even for a man a decade younger—wide-shouldered, with only a trace of a gut, he sports a thick blond curly beard and a thick ponytail to match. He greets Matthew warmly.
“Nice to see you again.” Buck clasps Matthew’s arm and shakes his hand firmly. “Buck Gardener. You’re wearing my boy’s clothes.”
“Matthew Garret,” Matthew says, “and thank you very much.”
“Don’t mention it.” Buck grins. He has tobacco-stained teeth. “He’s at college, and if he wanted ’em he should have packed ’em. Anyway, Henry says you need to go to the sheriff’s office?”
Matthew nods. “In case I need to go to jail, I guess.”
Buck laughs. “Doubt it. Come on, my truck’s outside. Doc, if you don’t need him we’ll take off. I still have to get to work today!”
“Sure. Look, Matthew, here’s my card. If you have any problems, just give me a call.” Henry hands him a plain white business card.
Matthew puts it in his back pocket. “Thanks. See you later.”
Buck’s truck is easy to spot—a rusty old Ford that is the only other vehicle sitting in Dr. Lancie’s parking lot. Matthew climbs up into the passenger side and eases into the seat, wedging his new cane between his leg and the door to keep it out of the way. Buck climbs into the drivers side, starts, the engine, and they drive off.
“Like Daylight so far?” Buck asks.
“Seems nice,” Matthew says. “Haven’t seen too much of it.”
“It is,” Buck says. “Nice. Got its quirks, just like anywhere, but small towns and cities are like that. They look sleepy, but there’s all kinds of things lurking around. And gossip.” He grins at Matthew. “Lord, do we have gossip. I reckon you’ll be the star attraction of that for a while yet.”
Matthew grins back. “I guess so. Sheriff finds a vagrant passed out on… uh…”
“Bridge Road,” Buck says. “Yeah, and that’s a road for strangeness, too. On account of the bridge. Don’t know why we haven’t torn the damn thing down, considering all the trouble.”
“What trouble?” Matthew asks.
“Kids,” Buck says, and the word is almost a curse. “They cross over to the other side, get lost a few days, come back full of stories about this and that.” Buck shakes his head. “Mine did it once, too, about five or six years back. Jack and some of his friends went over there on a dare—climbed over both gates, gone for two days. Drove me half crazy looking for him, though I should have known to look there first. It’s a bit of a hike though. I guess you know that.”
Matthew leans in, intrigued. “What happened?”
He and his friends show up a few days later, dirty from head to toe. Sort of like you were, no offense. They told stories about magic towers and lights coming out of the manor, and zombies dressed in gray rags.”
Matthew’s heart skips a beat. “Gray rags?”
“Yeah,” Buck says. “Of course, his clothes smelled like weed and his breath smelled like cheap beer, so I reckon I know why he thinks he saw fairy princesses and gray monsters. Lit into him pretty good that day for being a dumbass. His mom was going out of her head, worried.”
Buck’s grin turns rueful. “I did the exact same thing at his age. Camped out on the manor with a bunch of my friends, we all got drunk and high and swore we saw ghosts. So I guess I’m a bit of hypocrite. Being a parent does that to you, I guess.” He laughs, clearly not bothered by the notion.
“Well,” Matthew says, “I guess I’ll have to come up with something just as entertaining. Don’t want to let the gossips down.”
“Good idea,” Buck says. “Tell ’em you were kidnapped by gray aliens. Maybe that’ll bring the news down here.”
“When did they close the bridge?” Matthew asks. “I can’t tell you what I felt when I saw the bridge in the distance—and Daylight not much farther off—only to find those chain link gates.”
“I’ll bet,” Buck says. “I guess it was ten years back? We asked the county to tear the bridge down. They never did. Few years later the sheriff got a bunch of us to put up the gates, just to keep the kids out. We should have known that wouldn’t work.”
“Why did they build the bridge in the first place?” Matthew says. “It doesn’t seem to go anywhere.”
“Oh, I know it,” Buck agrees. “Once upon a time there were plans. There’s an old guard tower out there—from the Revolutionary War, I think. Town wanted to restore the tower and turn it into a tourist attraction, so they replaced the old bridge with that one. Then they ran out of money. It’s funny, because they never got around to putting down a road on the other side. So we got our own goddamn bridge to nowhere right here in Virginia.”
Matthew laughs. “Your tax dollars at work.”
“Don’t get me started,” Buck says, but he’s still laughing. “Oh, and here we are.”
He pulls up into a marked-off delivery space right in front of the City of Daylight Sheriff’s Department, a modern-looking concrete and steel building that seems almost out place among all its brick and mortar neighbors.
“You all right from here?” Buck asks. “I have to get to work.”
Matthew grabs his bag of wet clothes, his cane, and shoves open the passenger side door with his shoulder. “Sure. Thanks for the ride, Buck. And the clothes. It was nice to meet you.”
“No trouble,” Buck says. “You looked pretty damned miserable this morning. Hope it helps. Welcome to Daylight. If you stick around I might see you again!”
Matthew waves as Buck drives off. Then he turns and limps into the building.
The City of Daylight Sheriff’s Department looks as modern on the inside as it does on the outside. The lobby is full of modern-looking furniture, flat screen TVs mount the walls. The main desk cuts off the lobby from the rest of the room—you have to walk around it to get to the five doors lining the other wall. A pretty young woman sitting behind the main desk smiles at Matthew as he limps in.
“Can I help you?” Her voice is bright and cheerful; her eyes are wary.
“I’m Matthew Garret,” he says. “Sheriff Dobbs asked me to stop by.”
The farthest door to her left opens, with Sheriff Dobbs himself framed in the doorway.
“Ah. Sheriff Dobbs waves Matthew over. “Come on in. It’s OK, Jeannie, I was expecting him to show up.”
Matthew smiles at Jeannie and limps into the Sheriff’s office.
The Sheriff’s office is small but highly organized. Two telephones sit on his desk, along with a flat screen computer monitor, keyboard, mouse, and a few neatly arranged piles of paperwork in various stages of completion. Just behind his desk, his wall is covered with licenses, commendations, and a few personal photos. The rest of his office walls are covered in maps: maps of the Commonwealth, maps of the country, and maps of the City of Daylight.
There aren’t, Matthew notices, any maps specific to anything on the other side of the bridge.
“Have a seat.” Sheriff Dobbs gestures to one of the two chairs sitting in front of his desk. “And shut the door. I’d like this to be as private as we can manage.”
Matthew shuts the door behind him, then hobbles over to the chair to his left. Sheriff Dobbs takes in the cane and raises an eyebrow.
“Sprained my ankle climbing over that bridge,” Matthew explains. “Dr. Lancie lent me the cane.”
Dobbs nods, then settles into his own chair. He opens a desk drawer, pulls out Matthew’s driver’s license, and slides it across the desk. “You can have this back. You are who you claim to be.”
Matthew takes the license, looks at it briefly, then puts it in his wallet.
“Mr. Garret… I’m going to do you the courtesy of being completely up front with you.”
Matthew tenses slightly. The sheriff is using that voice cops have where they’re not threatening you, exactly, just letting it be known that they could threaten you if they wanted, and you wouldn’t like it if they did. He’s heard it before. It almost always gets him into trouble.
Sheriff Dobbs sees him tense, an expression of amusement flashing briefly across his face before it’s absorbed into his mustache. “Nothing like that. Your story checks out, Dr. Lancie says you’re not on drugs, your police record is… interesting, but not relevant to this situation.”
Matthew relaxes a little, but only a little.
“The problem,” the sheriff continues, “is this town. And it’s your bad luck that the way you showed up is making the problem just a little bit worse.”
Matthew waits for him to continue.
“Don’t get me wrong,” Dobbs says, “Daylight is a fine place to live. I was born here, and I don’t intend to leave. But there are people in this town who—despite their many fine qualities—suffer from a… how do I put this. A streak of superstition that makes my job a little challenging from time to time. Follow?”
“Good. Now these folk have never gone so far as burn to witches, thank God, but they get skittish about things they can’t explain, that damn manor house is one of those things.”
“Why?” Matthew says. “It’s an old house, apparently with a lot of stories. Kids think its haunted and they go there to get drunk. That seems pretty straightforward.”
“It has a history with the town.” Sheriff Dobbs glances at the map of Daylight for an instant, then returns his attention to Matthew. Specifically, the man who built it does. There are a lot of stories wrapped up in that man, and the house is sort of a proxy for all of them. Any time a local talks about something happening in that place, all those stories sort of bubble up. A stranger, found lying in a heap in the middle of Bridge Road, actually admitting spending the night in the Manor the night before… it’s already got the town buzzing. I’m already getting phone calls from excitable people I’d rather stayed calm.”
“Sorry,” Matthew says.
“Not really your fault,” the sheriff says. “I could fault you for trespassing, I guess, but I once had a fever so bad that when it finally broke I found I’d driven myself to my sister’s house and was holed up in her guest room. I don’t remember doing it at all. If Henry says you were sick enough to do that, I believe him. But in the end it doesn’t matter—people are curious because you’re a stranger and you were at that place. It’s started and it’ll take a while to calm back down. Which is why I’m going to ask for two favors.”
Matthew takes a slow breath. “What favors do you need?”
Sheriff Dobbs leans forward. “First, I don’t want you to tell anyone anything about what you saw, or thought you saw, when you were sick. Even if you tell them you thought you were probably seeing things, some folk will just run with whatever story you tell. I don’t need to deal with that, so just say you don’t remember and leave it at that.”
Matthew thinks it over, then shrugs. “Can do.”
“Good,” the sheriff says. “The second thing is that you do not, under any circumstances, try to go back there.”
Matthew stares at him, expression blank.
“Don’t look at me like that. I’m pretty sure the thought crossed your mind once or twice. People have a tendency to get fixated on that place, and I don’t need you trying to get past the bridge gate, understand? It’s private property, anyway, and if I think you’re trying to get there deliberately I will arrest you for trespassing.”
“I’m just not sure how else to get my car,” Matthew says. “I walked from my car to the manor, from the manor to here. I’ll have to go there to get it.”
“No you won’t,” the sheriff says. Based one everything you’ve said I’ll just have a deputy drive down Route 3 until they find where you left it. Then it’s just matter of having it towed back here. I’ll put you up in a motel and deliver the car to you as soon as we get it back.”
“That’s… very kind of you,” Matthew says.
Sheriff Dobbs snorts in exasperation. “I know it sounds a little strange, but you have no idea how much time I spend as sheriff trying to deal with people who believe Old Man Simon is back from the grave.”
A stillness settles over Matthew. He can almost smell the cold autumn night, and can almost hear the music. “Old Man Simon.”
“The man who built the house,” the sheriff says. “Historical figure. Colorful. Subject of hundreds of ghost stories, each one a pain in my ass. I don’t need the trouble.”
“I… sure. Fine.” Matthew shrugs helplessly. “I’ll wait for my car. I won’t talk about the place. I’ll claim amnesia. Just don’t expect me to leave town immediately, or anything like that. I’ll have to wait for my ankle to get better. My car’s a stick.”
Sheriff Dobbs stares at Matthew hard, then sighs. “Well, if you have to wait a few days, you have to. I took the liberty of already booking your motel. It’s clean, it’s across the street from a market, and Sally’s is a reasonable walk, even a with a cane. I’ll have a deputy drop you off.”
“OK,” Matthew says. “I guess it’s settled. Thanks for filling me in.”
Sheriff Dobbs nods. “Just trying to make everyone’s life a little easier. I’ll go round up a deputy. Back in a sec.”
And with that the sheriff gets up from behind his desk and leaves Matthew alone with his thoughts.
Old Man Simon.
“There’s another party tomorrow night, and Simon will be there. I think you should meet him.”
Matthew rubs his eyes, suddenly very tired. That memory of the pristine manor, the taste of the autumn night—none of it meshes with the taste of dust and the smell of rotting wood. Both the same place, at least as far as he knows. But it was probably just because he was sick, wasn’t it?
Simon. Old Man Simon.
It’s not all because he was sick. Sheriff Dobbs isn’t telling him everything, that’s easy enough to see. There’s a hole in this story that he keeps dancing around—it’s very neat work, very clean, but there are topics the sheriff steps around every time they almost come up. Matthew doesn’t know what they are, just that they’re there.
It really isn’t any of my business.
That’s what he tells himself, and that’s what he tries to believe. He manages to pull it off for all of thirty seconds.
It’s a personal best.