A/N: This, like half the other stories here, was written as an English assignment. Although the assignment didn't call for it, this is very loosely based elements from the legend of the Pied Piper of Hamelin and the tale of Hansel and Gretel. Not the best thing I've ever written, but I rather like it. I expect to one day make a better version of this, one that is a little more fleshed out and lengthy - meaning a chapter story. But in the mean time, enjoy this version. :-)
by Fiyero Oberon
The village of Little Browning, Virginia lived up to its first name - small and quaint, with tidy little houses all in straight lines down the street. Everyone knew everyone and their neighbor. As for the Browning part - well, I never did figure out where that came from. Mom used to say it was the city's first mayor. At any rate, Little Browning was the most normal city you could ever imagine finding. Each red-brick home had perfectly-lined shingled roofs and most lawns had a neat garden bed beneath the windows and fresh, green grass. Probably the only exception was the home of Old Wilhelm Herman. All of the kids called him Old Willie behind his back, but to his face and when speaking of him in front of our parents, he was always Mr. Herman. Old Willie's home was made of red-brick like the rest of us, but the shutters on the windows had peeling paint and a few of them were crooked or had fallen off entirely. His grass was yellowed and dead and he had no time for the garden, which had become littered with weeds ever since Mrs. Herman had died.
All of this changed with the stock market crash. People stopped watering their lawns and gardens to save on water money and the grass shriveled up and browned like Mr. Herman's lawn. Men began losing their jobs; Dad worked at the big city nearby and he was one of the first in Little Browning to "take a vacation," as Mom put it. Soon, however, only a few shops remained open - Doc's Candy Suite and the dime store on Fifth Street and Diamond Road became hit spots for the kids in town after school. Candy at Doc's was only a few pennies and anything at all could be bought cheap at the dime store.
I lived in a red-brick house with green shutters with my father and mother, Frank and Emma Knott. My sister, Nell, and I were their only children. Our neighbors, Jacob and Emily Rose, were nice people - well, Jacob was at least. Emily didn't talk much; she practically stopped talking altogether six years before when her daughter, Annie, was crushed under a moving train. Annie had been in my grade, but I had never really talked to her. Emily Rose fell into depression after Annie's death and rumors spread that she had lost her mind. Mom and Dad told us to ignore the rumors because they weren't true - but I still couldn't help but wonder.
Little Browning's reputation for strange occurrences began at the end of my freshman year of high school, a year or two after the Great Depression had fully plagued herself upon us. Junie James disappeared on the first day of June; the policemen were running all over town for two weeks, questioning every suspicious person and a few more. They searched the big city nearby for Junie, but she was gone. Mrs. James became as exclusive as Emily Rose, locking herself away and heard crying for hours at a time.
Junie was followed by Thomas Smith at the start of July. Investigations sprung up immediately and newspaper editorials wondered in their headlines if the disappearances of Junie and Thomas could possibly have any connection - every little parallel they could find was brought up. Thomas was sixteen; Junie was fifteen. Thomas and Junie both had blond hair. Their fathers both worked at Doc's Candy Suite before the Depression - they both were last seen in Doc's Candy Suite. Detectives questioned Doc for three days when these last points were brought up, but he was let go because no evidence could be squeezed out of him.
August took Ruthie Withers, also last seen at Doc's. The Candy Suite was closed for the entire month of August while detectives searched it and Doc's home - who else could it have been? Whispers flew between adults and children alike - it seemed like every grown-up in Little Browning knew that Doc had kidnapped the children and was keeping them in some sort of hidden cellar beneath the shop. The children of Little Browning, however, held Old Willie as their prime suspect. Mr. Herman had never liked children and was constantly chasing them out of his property with his dog, Rutherford. "Who names a dog Rutherford?" Freddy Ryans had asked him once. Old Willie had just snarled and let go of the big dog's chain.
Doc's Candy Suite was a shop on Fifth Street with grays walls and a white-and-red awning dome over the door. The glass windows revealed stacks of chocolate bars and shelves of lollipops and other random assorted sweets. Inside, the store was brimming with every candy imaginable to the children of Little Browning. A clean counter with half a dozen metal stools stood near the front of the shop, behind which Doc stood with his cash register. Doc's reopened just before the closing of August and was immediately packed with children who had sneaked away from home to buy candy, despite their parents' threats and warnings of what would happen if they went anywhere near the sweet store. Nell dragged me there to buy her some peppermint that day. Everyone had a good laugh when Eddie Black knocked over an entire shelf full of candy, which sent greedy hands flying through the air to catch free sweets. Doc had thrown Eddie out good-naturedly, telling him that he's only doing it because he has to: the police are watching him constantly.
The first two days of September, everyone was tense, ready for another child to disappear. Parents sent their children to school on the first day of September, instructing them to be home by ten minutes after school ended or they would receive a whooping. But after the third day passed, the folks of Little Browning began to relax - a few children were seen going in and out of Doc's again and the dime shop was as crowded as ever.
Eddie Black vanished from Doc's on the fourth day of September. I remember it vividly: Nell and I got home to see Jacob and Emily Rose running out of their home. I called over to them, asking what was so big that they were in such a rush for - even Emily's cheeks were blushing pink. "Not now, Charlie!" Jacob had called. "Eddie Black's gone missing!" Nell and I shared a glance, and then rushed inside for more information from Mom and Dad. All we got was a note on the kitchen table, instructing us to lock the doors and stay inside and giving us an approximate time for when they would be back. I sent Nell to check and make sure the doors were all locked and I started making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich for myself. I didn't eat it though, and Nell didn't even ask for a snack. Neglecting our homework, we sat at the kitchen table together, watching out the window as parents hurried down the street toward Doc's.
I saw Jacob and Emily arrive home. Warning Nell not to leave, I stepped outside to see what information I could pry out of them.
"Is he really gone?" I asked, walking up to Jacob.
"Yep," Mr. Rose said. "Poor guy."
Emily just stood there, twisting her curly red hair around her fingers nervously; her eyes were shifty and looked ready to spill over with tears. I knew that all of this reminded her of Annie and her own loss, and it must have been hard on her to see this happen to other families. She looked up - her face burned red when she realized I was staring at her and she murmured some excuse and ducked into the house. Giving me a small smile and patting my shoulder, Jacob followed his wife. Upon returning to my own kitchen, Nell demanded I tell everything I knew. She was disappointed when it wasn't as much as she had hoped for.
Our parents came home long after dark and wearily went straight to bed, only speaking to tell us that there would be no school the next day.
In fact, there was no school for the following week, during which time every child of Little Browning was kept locked away. Doc's Candy Suite now had a huge "CLOSED" sign hanging on the front window; the candy within looked too bright and cheery to be in the middle of all this devastation. Doc had been taken to the police station in the big city for more interrogations and for a full search of his house.
School started again and rules became even stricter. No children were out after four o'clock and even adults stayed indoors after dark. Policemen could be seen throughout the city, strolling along as though there was nothing out of the ordinary in our small town.
The first of October came and school was cancelled right away: everyone expected another child to vanish. Police were at every corner and stood huddled around Doc's Candy Suite.
Of course, it was Nell who came up with the idea that would lead into the plan I would develop. We were sitting at dinner, if you could call it that with the lights so low and the heat turned off and such a bare minimum of food on our plates, when she said, "These policemen are being so stupid. They want to catch the kidnapper, don't they? Why would the kidnapper be around if there are policemen everywhere? They should try to make the kidnapper think that it's okay to kidnap again, then they can catch them in the act."
I didn't sleep at all that night: Nell had a point. If we could give the kidnapper a false sense of security, they would strike again. We could reopen Doc's and plant one child in there, along with a few other people inside and out to keep watch over the child. When that child disappeared - we could follow the kidnapper and find the missing children!
But when would the kidnapper strike? My mind worked its way quickly through this problem - the first of June, the second of July, the third of August, the fourth of September. The next kidnapping would be on the fifth of October.
When the sun rose, I was up with it, my heart pounding as I stepped out into the brisk, cold air of autumn. I zipped up my jacket as I ran down the driveway, turning onto the street. My eyes darted around, watching for any sign of activity. I found a policeman quickly enough.
"Hey! Hey, you! Officer!"
He turned to look at me, snorted, then went back to his stroll.
"No, wait! Come back!" He still ignored me. "I know how to find the kidnapper!"
The officer whirled around, an angry look distorting his features. "Don't joke about something like that, boy," he said, his voice low and menacing.
"Really! I swear! Honestly, I don't know why you didn't think of it before. I mean, it was my sister's idea to begin with, but I - "
"What is it?" he snapped. I spilled everything to him and gradually, the policeman began to stroke his beard, showing interest in what I had to say. "That... almost... makes sense..." He spoke slowly, still processing the information. "That could work!" he announced. "You're coming with me, boy."
The officer took me to the police department in Little Browning, where I was allowed to call my parents so they wouldn't panic when they woke to find me missing; the policemen even requested that my parents and Nell come down to the station. Everything was explained all over again and the police officers began to look excited about getting this case solved.
"I'll do it."
All eyes turned to Nell. "Beg pardon?" the officer asked.
"I'll be the kid in Doc's."
Mom's eyes got wide. "No!" she cried. "Nell! What are you thinking?"
"I'm sorry, Mom, but I've got to do it: for Ruthie and Eddie and the other kids." I couldn't help but admire my ten-year-old sister in that moment: she knew what she had to do and by doing it, we wouldn't have to reveal the plans to other people, so we had a higher chance at finding the kidnapper. Mom was nearly in tears by the time we left the police station.
The school was still empty for the few days between. We were first all sworn to secrecy: we couldn't tell anyone about the plan, because at this point there were no clues about who was the kidnapper. We couldn't even tell the Roses about what was going on. But we knew that it would be worth it to find Junie, Thomas, Ruthie, and Eddie.
Doc was brought back to Little Browning and we all worked for a few days on setting up the Candy Suite to look nice again. The melted candy was taken out and replaced and the counters were cleaned and the floors were mopped and swept. On the morning of October fifth, we were all very excited.
I was chosen to stay in the shop and so was an officer in disguise; my parents and another few officers were instructed to stroll around on the street outside. A few angry parents were the first to show up, protesting the reopening of Doc's. Nell chased them out eventually and we went back to waiting.
A bit of a surprise came to me when Emily Rose came in - but of course, everyone needs a little chocolate every once in a while. She smiled at Nell and asked her where the chocolate bars were - Nell led her to the back of the shop. I sat down at the counter to talk to Doc.
"So how's custody?"
Doc chuckled. "Nicer than I expected," he admitted. "Has Little Browning changed much in my absence?"
I shrugged. "Other than no school for weeks at a time, no, not really."
"Where's Nell?" Doc asked.
"In the back," I told him. "Our neighbor just came in and Nell's showing her where you keep the chocolate bars."
"I see. Who's your neighbor, if you don't mind my prying?"
"Emily Rose... You know, that sounds familiar... Oh, isn't she that woman whose daughter died in that train accident?"
Everything clicked at once.
Doc and I stood and rushed to the front, calling Nell's name - there was no response.
"Is there a back door, Doc?" I asked.
"Yes, but I don't know how she would have known about it." He led me back to a storage room and then opened the door to the alley behind the shop - at the end of the street was Emily Rose, dragging away my sister.
I darted down the alley, shouting instructions to Doc over my shoulder to get the police and go to the train station: the train left at twelve o'clock.
Emily was driving away in a car when I turned the corner and I ran as fast as I could to keep up - my heart was pounding and my mind was racing to figure everything out. A police car pulled up next to me and I jumped in, telling him to keep up and make it to the train station.
The ride there was long; a second police car pulled up next to us as we were getting out and my parents and Doc popped out. I sent them to the right while I took the left to search for Emily.
The train station was crowded with people, making it hard to navigate. I pushed my way through the people, finding it hard to believe that so many people ended up in Little Browning each day. I caught sight of Emily's distinctive red hair and made a beeline for her, the policeman right on my heels. She shoved her way through the people out to the platform: we made it outside just in time to see Emily throw a screaming Nell into an open boxcar as the train pulled away. The officer and I together jumped into the next boxcar.
The ride seemed to take forever, never knowing what was going to happen next. The policeman explained to me that the boxcars were open because hobos in these Depression days hitch free illegal rides on the boxcars at the last minute: Emily must have been doing that each time a child vanished. We sat down on the floor of the boxcar; I rubbed my hands together to keep them warm and we waited for the train to slow down.
After what felt like hours, the train began to lessen its pace. We jumped out of the car just before pulling into the station, along with a dozen or so hobos. The officer's fists were clenched tight and I could see his eagerness to arrest these law-breakers, but I knew he had more self-control than that. We searched the crowd for Emily's hair and it didn't take long to find the fiery curls. She was walking now - calm. Even Nell seemed to have stopped screaming. My sister looked over her shoulder and caught sight of us - she smiled before turning back around to follow Emily Rose.
We followed Emily and Nell around the outskirts of the city of Dexter and it wasn't far before we reached a hobo campsite. Emily grabbed my sister's arm and flung her down to the ground among a small of group of other children - and as the solemn faces looked up, I recognized the features of Junie James, Thomas Smith, Ruthie Withers, and Eddie Black.
A hobo, a man in his thirties, stepped forward to converse with Emily. "Another?" he said to her. She bobbed her head up and down. "Why are you bringing these children to us, Emily?" Emily Rose snarled and turned to go, but I stepped forward to stop her.
"Emily, have you been taking these children from Little Browning?" I asked.
"What? No! No, I swear it's not true, I've never here before in my life! It wasn't me! Jacob keeps asking me where I've been going, but I don't know… I keep having these blackouts… But it's their fault Annie's dead, you know… they dared her to go out onto the tracks! They all deserve to die. I was being gracious by bringing them here instead of throwing them in front of the trains like they did to my Annie!" Emily gave out a harsh cough. "Sorry… blackout… but I swear I didn't do it!"
Ruthie burst into tears. "She talks like this every time we see her," she said between sobs.
The officer nodded. "Emily Rose, you're under arrest."
"No!" Emily shouted. "You can't take me!" Emily ran off toward the railroad tracks, the officer dashing off behind her. I don't know for sure what happened there: only that the sounds of a train coming into the station were heard, followed by a loud piercing scream. I never saw Emily Rose again.
Ruthie and Nell, the younger children, ran to me and threw their arms around me. I kissed Nell's cheeks and squeezed Ruthie tight. Junie, Thomas, and Eddie approached me and began to reveal their stories: Emily would come into the shop and ask them where the chocolate bars were. They would take her to the back and she bound and gagged them. Emily was a strong woman, and she managed to carry or drag them to the train station. There she threw them onto boxcars and took them away to the hobo camp in Dexter, always talking to herself.
We all returned home to Little Browning and there was a tearful reunion between the children and their families. The detectives' discoveries were revealed to us and Jacob Rose a week later: Junie James, Thomas Smith, and Eddie Black had been there when Annie Rose had died on the train tracks six years before. According to their stories, it had been on a dare that Annie run out in front of the train. Unfortunately, Annie's estimation of the train's speed was wrong and she was hit and crushed by the train. By locking herself away, Emily spent too much time away from society and gradually dug herself into a pit of schizophrenia. She began kidnapping the children who had dared Annie, like Junie and Thomas - but her insanity carried her away and she began abducting other children when the original children were not in Doc's, innocent children like Ruthie.
All charges against Doc were dropped and the Candy Suite opened again. Ashamed of his wife's actions, Jacob Rose moved from Little Browning. School started up again and, although they were closed the first week of November just for safety, everything there eventually returned to normal - as normal as school can be, anyway.
The Depression continued to pull each of us into its pit of despair. Times were hard and days were long, but if the people of Little Browning worked together, we knew that we could all make it through.
A/N: Please review!