Lockley’s hand was like ice around my arm, cold and immovable. I tried to yank away, but he held firm. Giving up for the moment, I took a few deep breaths. Things were getting stranger by the moment, and I’d need to stay calm to figure out how to get out of them. If only I could figure out what they were to begin with.
“Not yet,” Lockley repeated. “There’s some things we have to talk about before you can go get this car of yours.” He smiled again, but it was the same lying grin Jake’s parents had had.
I tried to smile back at him, tried to play it cool, but could feel the twitch of fear behind it. “Of course, Mayor. Let me just call my parents and let them know I’ll be a bit late. I can always take another bus later, I suppose.” I made to go for the phone in my pocket, but he beat me to it.
“Somehow, Ms. B, I think they’ll understand. No need to waste time.” He reached a frigid hand into my pocket and retrieved it himself. It disappeared into his own pocket. “Come along, Ms. B. This won’t take long.”
Famous last words, I thought.
Lockley’s hand stayed plastered to my arm until we reached his car, parked around back. Playing the gentleman, he opened the door on the passenger side and let me climb in. Despite the feigned politeness, I knew there was no chance to run; he would have grabbed me and forced me in if I’d tried. He shut the door, clicking the child lock in place, and walked around to his side.
His inane chatter filled the car for a few minutes, but when I didn’t respond, the polite and friendly façade fell and he drove the rest of the way in grim silence. I tried to take advantage of the time and examine my situation for hope, but aside from causing a wreck and possibly killing myself, things looked incredibly bleak. And that was at very best.
Finally, we pulled up to a large house out on the outskirts of town. Groves of trees surrounded the property, and the landscaping looked immaculate, even in the dark. I’d never been here, but I was pretty sure it was the Mayor’s house.
“Nice place. Very gorgeous.” I tried to keep the friendly feeling between us, and failed.
“I believe you’ll appreciate the interior even more, Ms. B.” He smiled again, but this time there was something more devious in his glance.
Suppressing a shiver, I got out of the car as he opened the door. No hand clamped itself around my arm, but where would I run now? It was too far back to town, and he could run me down before I even made it past the driveway. I let him guide me to the front door and inside.
No surprise, the place was well-decorated and luxurious. The foyer was spacious and led off to large rooms on either side. A wide staircase stemmed off to the right and up, and a closed door further into the house led who knew where. In another time and place, it would have been impressive, but in the here and now, I merely made mental notes for future reference.
“Come along, they’re waiting for you in here.”
I’d known it had to be a group effort, that most if not all of the town had to be in on whatever was going on. Nonetheless, his words frightened me. I knew it was in my best interest to continue along with the charade and play cooperative, but for the first few moments, my feet failed to move.
That cold hand encircled my arm again. My feet began to work again, and I hesitantly followed him off to the right. We passed through the large room, what looked to be the dining room, and through a door into an even larger room. Several couches lay around the room, and at the center was a roaring fire. A small coffee table sat between the two, decorated by a bowl of stones and candles. Portraits of gentlemen and a few bookcases gave the room a rich, dignified ambience.
The townsfolk sitting in those couches took it away.
Several families were scattered around the room. Each face was turned towards me, some with the fake smiles, but most completely emotionless. My insides froze, but I looked them all over and took note of who was here. Jake and his parents were not there, but Amy and his mother were. Several other children, from last year’s class and this year’s, and their families were also staring me down. As I watched them watching me, I realized they were the same kids that I had thought I imagined across the street. Guess I didn’t imagine them, I thought.
No one moved forward or said anything, so I took the initiative and hoped I didn’t regret it later. I was through being friendly and naive, but didn’t want to piss anyone off. No one was coming to back me up, and I was slowly getting the feeling that everyone, in fact, was going to come after me if I fled.
“Hello, everyone. It’s lovely to see you all here. But where are Jake and his parents?”
Brian, one of the children I’d taught last year, spoke quietly from his place between his parents on a couch. “Jake shouldn’t have told you. They shouldn’t have tried to warn you.”
Audrey, a girl from his class stood and looked at me. Her parents made no move to stop her.
“They had to be punished.”