Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
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The Homestanders
Book Four of the Bradford Exiles
Wes Boyd
2005, 2011

Chapter 25

Saturday, October 30, 1999

Although she wouldn’t admit it, one of Emily’s true passions was organizing things, especially things like events. Her friends and classmates had known about it for a long time, back to when she’d always been the most enthusiastic about organizing activities like school dances and car washes when she’d been the class president.

Her desire for organization had taken a back seat for a few years, although it had shown through in having to organize a household, and in her work. But back in ’94 when Dayna had been recovering from her near-fatal illness and needed help to take her solo show on tour, Emily’s long-repressed skills came back to the surface. She had organized her classmates and did a lot of detail work to get Dayna’s show on the road. She’d been back to organizing things ever since.

The second annual Class of ’88 Halloween Party gave her organizing skills a good workout – not to the limit of her abilities, for she didn’t get near them. It was just good solid exercise.

As far as she was concerned, the big breakthrough was thinking of having the party in the basement of a small barn at Malvern Hill. Although Bert said he thought the basement had been used for raising chickens many, many years ago, he just used it now for storing a couple of unrestored pieces, the biggest of which was a Great War 75-mm. There was plenty of space elsewhere to move them to for a while. There was still any number of years’ worth of dust and dirt remaining in the place, but one of the handy things about Malvern Hill Living History Artillery Museum was that Bert had plenty of handy gadgets lying around, including an industrial-sized steam cleaner. It only involved a routine arm-twisting to get Kevin and Mike Austin to hog the place out one Saturday morning.

Over the course of the year Malvern Hill had become quite a bit more accepted in the community, in spite of the efforts of Lynnette Hershberger. If there had been a breakthrough, it had come the last weekend of September when Bert hosted the Malvern Hill pumpkin toss. This involved a little more promotion and organization than just a line in the Courier; it was widely advertised, and Bert had leaned on some of Emily’s Chamber of Commerce Festival contacts to flesh out the event, with such things as food concessions and some kiddie games. When the chamber ran out of hands, a donation to the football team’s annual camp fund gave them people to take admission at two bucks a carload, park cars, and other supporting activities.

It had been a lot of fun, and a huge success. The turnout was well over what the chamber festival had drawn earlier in the summer. There was a grand total of seventeen trebuchets at the event in several classes down to junior high kid size (firing oranges, rather than pumpkins). Big John wasn’t the biggest trebuchet there; a guy from Pennsylvania had brought one he called Stone Horse, half again as large and easily capable of outranging the local catapult – and leaving Bert muttering things about an escalation in the medieval arms race.

They also trotted out the air guns that afternoon. Emily had never seen Bert’s big air cannon in use until then, but it could toss a pumpkin well over half a mile. With a favorable wind, a pumpkin with good flight characteristics and a bit of luck, the air gun, named Saint Vincent for no reason she could understand, got a shot close to six tenths of a mile to win the air gun category and salvage some bragging rights for the home team.

Malvern Hill still only boasted two Napoleons – one of them belonging to a friend – but Bert drew on his contacts around the re-enactor community. That afternoon they had the first four-gun battery firings as a demonstration, pounding the living hell out of an old Chevy that had been given a brief side trip on the way to the car crusher at the local junkyard.

All in all it had been a good deal. It had been a festival that was a big draw and clearly was going to be bigger in the future, with good cooperation with the local chamber of commerce and a nice reaction from most of the local citizenry – always excepting Lynnette Hershberger, of course. But Emily had been the point of contact and the spark plug between Bert and the chamber, and had put her organizational skills to work for him in other ways, so naturally Bert was glad to repay the favor.

Decorating the place took a little Spee-D-Mart coordination and some good thinking. She was kicking the problem around one slow afternoon when she got to thinking about the haunted houses Bruce Banner had put on a few years before. They were plenty scary and a touch on the gross side, considering Bruce and his buddies had started doing them in high school. They’d proved such a fun thing that the kids had come home from college to put them on. But they hadn’t been held the last couple years; Bruce was a couple classes ahead of Duane, and now was married, had kids, and a job too far away to consider continuing what had become a middling Bradford tradition. The rest of his buddies had drifted on to jobs, marriage, and other responsibilities, as well. There were several things Bruce and his pals had done that might not be all that big a deal to duplicate, although some seemed a bit of work to do for just one party.

Just about that time, Bruce’s mom Lucy drove in to top off her tank and buy a bag of chips to cheat on her diet, so naturally Emily asked about what had happened to all the Halloween stuff Bruce used to have.

“It’s all in the basement, and I’d like to free up the space,” Lucy told her. “Bruce won’t be using it again, and he told us we could get rid of it, but it’s a lot of work to get up the stairs.”

The deal was quickly done. For whatever reasons, Bruce’s tastes had been a bit on the rough side, so it was just as well the barn basement looked like a dungeon. On looking at some of the static displays in good light, Emily thought she recognized some of the mannequins that had formerly been in the window of Goldbaum’s Mercantile, the dry goods store that had once stood on the main four corners. In fact, on thinking about it, she thought she could remember them in the huge pile of stuff that had been put out on the sidewalk for the dumpster after Mark Hawkins bought the place and started to put in his Subway. Apparently, Bruce had seen them too and been thinking further ahead.

In fact, some of the tricks and decorations were so well done it seemed a shame to pitch them all when the party was over with. Bert told her he had plenty of storage space; it was no big deal to leave it there, and maybe the chamber or someone would like to consider reviving the haunted house tradition at Malvern Hill in future years. Emily had agreed to see what she could do from that end.

After discussions with various people, it had been agreed while the drag theme had been fun last year, doing it again would be overdoing it. After tossing it around a bit, and considering it could be cool in the unheated basement, the decision was made to just suggest people come in costume, of a historic theme if they happened to come up with one.

Inviting people was a snap. Emily decided to cast a little wider net than Scott and Aaron had done the year before, so she called, sent letters, or e-mailed most of the members of the class who she had contact information for. Since the party last year had garnered a reputation, it soon became clear that there were going to be a lot more people attending. Emily filled the list out a little with some people who had been a lot of help, like the Woodwards, and a handful of well-remembered teachers. Naturally, there were several who couldn’t come; the one who would be the most missed was Eve, who had added such sparkle to the party the previous year. “I’d really love to come,” she told Emily on the phone. “But I have a Gay-Lesbian-Bisexual-Transgender workshop I have to address in San Francisco that evening. It’s been on my schedule a long time, even though I’d really rather be at your party. Maybe another year, or maybe we can get together if you get back this way or I get out that way.”

Another who couldn’t come was Shae, who would be calling a game in New Orleans that evening. It was probably just as well, since the ceiling was a little low in the basement, and she’d have her head up in the rafters all evening long even if she didn’t wear her normal heels. Emily had also sent an e-mail to Jennlynn just on general principles – she’d made it clear she didn’t want to come into Bradford itself. Malvern Hill might just cut it a little close, but it was only polite to ask. To her surprise, she got an e-mail back saying, “I’d hoped if things worked out I might be able to get there, but a project at the office is in trouble, and I’ve even had to cancel a weekend in Nevada.” When Vicky saw the e-mail, she snorted, “Skipping the Redlite! It must be really serious trouble.”

The Heislers and the Tylers were among the first of the guests to arrive. Aaron and Amber were doing cowboy and cowgirl this time, while Scott and Sonja reached back into another corner of her heritage and came as a samurai warrior and a geisha girl. Laura Woodward had on a Civil War period nurse’s costume, while Bert was in a finely turned out colonel’s outfit – that was a little more authentic; he was, of course, the commanding officer of the First Michigan Light Artillery. Jason and Vicky didn’t work very hard at it; she was wearing the corset she had on more or less permanent loan from Sandy, along with the rest of the renaissance faire outfit, including a jacket for the cool evening. Jason had decided to forego the usual MacRae hunting plaid kilt and wore a simple black one with a peasant shirt and vest. There were many others too numerous to mention arriving over the next hour or so. Everyone was greeted by Emily and Kevin, dressed in black leather, partly from their biker gear and partly from the collection of apparel in the Banners’ basement; the total effect was to make them look like evil dungeon masters.

Although the basement was set into the side of a hill, and a barn door opened out the end to where Mike and Liz were busy with a huge charcoal grill with a hog spitted on it, the normal practice was for the guests to arrive down the narrow, dark wooden stairs as if it were a descent into a dungeon – which, of course, it had become. “Wow,” Scott commented at his first look at the decorations, “Some of that stuff looks so real it could be used.”

“It could be,” Emily said in a fake approximation of a threatening manner. “At least, sort of.” She explained about reusing the decorations from the salvage found in the Banner basement. “I don’t know if you ever saw it, but when they ran their haunted house, the kids used to be in some of those things, like the rack, the pillory, and the stocks, all dressed in rags and made up to look like they’d been under torture for days. The screaming was incredible. It was really pretty cool.”

“In a rack?” Sonja said incredulously. “Does it really work?”

“Well, yes in the sense that they had to set it at different lengths for different kids,” Emily said. “I suppose it would be possible to stretch someone out pretty good, but they just made it tight enough to look cool. They really made it look like a torture chamber.”

“This is really cool! I see you don’t have a mannequin or something in all of them.”

“Not enough to go around, and some weren’t designed for it anyway,” Emily shrugged.

Just to make life interesting, there were some party games of a rather grotesque nature. Following the lead of the demonstration up at the Maple Leaf – the story of which had gotten around the class rumor mill a little – Emily had done a little arm twisting on Jason and Vicky to bring some throwing knives. A piece of composition board was placed against one of the walls; Vicky stood in front of it, and had a few knives thrown close to her. They’d also worked up a couple tricks, like having Jason throw a knife through a paper target she held to one side in her hands, and popping balloons the same way. “Now,” Jason said as he wound up. “Would anyone like to be the victim, er, subject of Vicky’s demonstration?” figuring there would be no one quite that brave.

“Vicky,” Emily shook her head. “I know you’re good, but I don’t think I’m quite up for it!”

It was after midnight before the party really wound down. It had been a good one; nobody got too terribly blasted, although there were a few people who were feeling pretty good. There was no way it could be considered anything but a success.

Finally, only a handful were left, mostly working on the cleanup, local stalwarts like Mike and Liz, Vicky and Jason, and Kevin and Emily, of course. “Nuts to the rest,” Emily said. “What say we just blow out the candles and come out here to finish up tomorrow? I’m so tired I can barely hold my eyes open.”

“I’d say you talked me into it,” Vicky said. “Let’s not do it first thing, either, maybe shoot for around noon. I could stand to sleep in a little.”

“We don’t want to go too late,” Emily cautioned. “We’ve got the real Halloween stuff for the kids tomorrow afternoon and evening.”

Finally they settled on eleven, and in a few minutes Jason and Vicky were in his truck heading back to Bradford – she was driving; he’d had a few but it would be hard to say he had a serious buzz on. Still, just in case they happened to run into a cop, she hadn’t been drinking at all. “Good party,” she grinned as soon as they were in the truck with the doors shut. “Got a little kinky in spots there, though.”

“I think that was what Emily had in mind,” Jason grinned. “I’m surprised you didn’t wind up in the stocks getting your feet tickled along in there somewhere.”

“Hell no,” Vicky snorted. “Been there, done that, and was too drunk to care when I did it. Besides, after I wore that yoke thing at my twenty-first birthday party, I’d had my turn. Someone else can be the victim.”

“There were several people who did tonight, more or less,” Jason giggled.

“Yeah,” she laughed. “I can’t believe Emily finally got hers. She’s deserved it ever since I turned twenty-one.”

Though Vicky hadn’t been drinking, she was really in a good mood, and she thought she might build on it. Their self-imposed thirty-day moratorium had long since expired, but they’d not taken advantage of the several opportunities presented, and Vicky wasn’t entirely sure why. If Jason had given the slightest indication he wanted a repeat performance, she was ready to do her part – even eager – but she realized it had to be his decision as much as it was hers. As far as that went, she wasn’t sure just how eager she was to do it at home, again considering their houses lay right across the back yards from each other. Whatever happened, she didn’t want to embarrass her parents, so anything they did would have to be circumspect, to say the least.

She still wasn’t sure why nothing had been said about the night she’d spent with Jason back in August. She’d commented to her mother that they’d worked late and she’d just fallen asleep, as thin and transparent a lie as could be imagined – but if her mother had seen through it, she’d given no indication. After all, it hadn’t been the first night she’d spent with Jason. There had been trips of one to five nights going back to the summer after she returned from Las Vegas, often going down to North Carolina or up to Marquette to see Duane or to knife and gun shows. There had been plenty of opportunity for messing around on those trips, and nothing had been said about them either, other than “have a good time.”

The lack of follow-up concerned her in a way. Back in August, when they’d made the fast trip to Harper’s Ferry, it had seemed there were doors open to them and they were on the verge of stepping through them. She’d taken much of the time on that trip considering the implications of going ahead and taking the step – but even with inertia, or whatever, it had not materialized. But then, she hadn’t made any decision in her mind to do it, and from things that had been hinted at while driving on that trip she’d gotten the impression Jason was thinking about those same things, and hadn’t reached a decision yet either.

There hadn’t been much talk of it since, so in a sense they were no further than they’d been before that memorable night. They were still friends, even closer than ever – a couple times Jason had referred to her as his “girlfriend” in her presence, and she’d described him as her “boyfriend,” which was something they’d never done before, so there was that milestone at least passed. But pushing on – the issues were the same as ever, no closer to resolution, and with nothing on the horizon that seemed likely to get them there. Maybe she’d have to move things off center again, and tonight the party had gotten her in a mood, anyway. “Jason?” she said softly. “Can I spend the night with you? You don’t have to tie me up or anything, we don’t even have to make out. But I’d just like to cuddle next to you and know you’re there.”

“What will your parents say?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if they’d say ‘Have fun.’ But I don’t intend to tell them. It’ll just have to be like the last time when I fell asleep. I’ll tell them the same thing happened, I just won’t tell them where.”

“All right, Vicky,” he nodded. “I’d be a liar if I said I didn’t want to.”

It was about as different from last time as it could be. This wasn’t wild, frantic, even desperate hunger for each other, but gentle, deliberate, and sensual. She didn’t enjoy it one bit less. From everything she could tell he enjoyed it just as much too, despite it being late and both of them being tired. It was very late indeed when they fell asleep in each other’s arms.

At some time in the very small hours of the morning something stirred Vicky to wakefulness. She lay there half-awake, not really aware of her surroundings, until in coming a little more awake she experienced a disorientation; this wasn’t her bedroom, and she was snuggled up in some warm, loving arms, the warmth of a naked body pressed up against her equally unclothed one.

But the strangeness lasted for only a moment. She snuggled a little bit closer, and felt an arm drawing her even closer by sheer instinct. Still barely awake, her subconscious was talking to her as much as her waking brain. She felt comfortable, relaxed, content, as if a lot of problems and a lot of rationalization just weren’t necessary at all. Strange as it was, she knew she was where she wanted to be.

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To be continued . . .

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