Authors: Tamara Thorne
Minerva Payne set a sheet of fresh molasses cookies on the
counter to cool, then walked out into the sales room of the
Gingerbread House and began sweeping the spotless floor. Anything
to keep busy, to keep her mind off the vision of the young
woman floating in the pool below Witch Falls this morning.
Nothing worked; not the morning baking, not the sweeping.
No matter what she tried, the image remained.
Minerva lived in an old log cabin deep in the woods bordering
St Gertrude's land, and each morning she walked the half mile
through the woods to her bakery and candy store on Apple Hill
Road. Today, as usual, she had taken the short detour to the
bridge spanning the Falls, where she paused to take in the
fragrance of pines and fresh water, to feel the rushing power
of nature. And there, in the pool, she'd seen the girl, forlorn,
dead, her hair fanning around her in the dark water.
time. It's almost time again already.
The last time she'd seen a body in the pool was in 1972,
when the little Lawson boy had died. She'd seen the other boys
that morning, the horror on their faces, but they hadn't seen
her, except for one
, John Lawson,
who'd grown up to be sheriff.
Because he saw her, she had expected to be questioned, at the
very least, but Henry Lawson never came around. John hadn't
told. She liked him for that, even though they had never spoken
in the ensuin
g years. He would think of her now, however,
with this new death, and she had a feeling that soon the silence
would finally be broken.
It's almost time. October will be here soon.
Sheriff John Lawson had only one son, a bright boy with
mischievous eyes and a kind smile. He came into her shop
often and wasn't afraid of her, unlike most of the kids. He
would die this October unless she could stop the cycle.
And what makes you think you can stop it, old woman?
never succeeded before, and she was old now, so very old. It
was becoming difficult to maintain her appearance, to perform
tasks that had been easy only a few years ago. This morning,
when she had placed the phone call, even making her voice
sound young and full of life had been a drain.
Minerva returned the broom to its place, hidden out of sight
behind the doorway to the kitchen. Her heart beat hard against
her chest. She couldn't give up now. Not now. This would be
her last chance.
Unable to stand still, she crossed to the front door of the
Gingerbread House, hearing the familiar sound of the little bells
over the door as she opened it. She stepped out into the noontime
August heat. The shop stood alone on its small lot, surrounded
by Moonfall Forest, though no one called it that: it had been
Witch Forest-and Witch Falls-for as long as she could
remember. Across the road was the Snowflake Orchard and a
clutch of antique and gift shops. Just west of Minerva's shop
were Moonfall Park and the Falls, then the orchards of St
Gertrude's and the nuns' store, Apple Heaven. Directly across
from the Apple Heaven was another tourist center with shops,
a museum, and a petting zoo. From there, the road curved out
of sight and down through town; then there were yet more
Long ago, when the first monks had built their monastery,
there had been only forests. The monks planted crops and
peach, pear, and cherry-to feed themselves and
those they took in, but it wasn't until Jeremiah Moonfall arrived
around the time of the Civil War that apple orchards were
planted. By then, the monastery, deserted for more than twenty
ad been taken over by the elements; though, within a
year, it took on new life as St. Gertrude's Convent. As more
settlers arrived, more apple trees were planted. Today, Moonfall
was still small by any standard, but to Minerva, it seemed vastly
As she was about to go back inside her shop, she beard a
car approaching from somewhere below. She waited. A moment
passed; then a black and white sheriff's cruiser came around
the bend. For an instant, she thought it was coming to her place,
but its right blinker flashe
d and the car slowed and turned
the Apple Heaven lot. She recognized John Lawson's tall, lanky
form as be got out of the cruiser and entered the store. Shortly,
e returned and pulled out of sight behind the store.
So that's where the young woman had come
Minerva wasn't surprised at that, but she was at her own
mild disappointment that her long overdue meeting with John
Lawson was not yet to be.
They drove past the orchards and into the forest surrounding
St. Gertrude's Home for Girls, and as the pines and firs, the
sycamores and aspens, thickened and spread their branches
across the narrow dirt road, John felt as if walls were closin
in on him. Between his sudden claustrophobia and the queasiness that had been growing since they'd turned off at Apple
Heaven, be wasn't happy.
"It's beautiful out here," Frank Cutter said. "If you must
be an orphan, what a place to be one."
How could the man sound so serene? "You have the sou
of a poet," John said, then paused. "You ever come out here
as a kid, Frank?"
''Me? No." A low branch brushed its leaves across the top
of the cruiser. "I was never invited. I wore thick glasses then,
and got straig
s. Classic nerd." Cutter hesitated. "I always
meant to as an adult, just to take a look, but, you know, the
years go by. What about you?"
"No." John suppressed a cringe. After finding Greg's body,
the gang bad decided not to tell anyone they'd been on their
way to St. Gruesome's that night--especially since they weren't
sure themselves. They said they were merely having a clandestine
camp-out and Greg h
ad invited himself along. When the
doctor and his dad
questioned them, they'd all stood by
He felt a sudden urge to confess, but stopped himself.
could be explain a feeling, a h
unch? A few bad
dreams meant nothing. The only fact that supported any of their
fuzzy memories about that night was that they'd found Paul's
loaded backpack in the town square. And of course
they'd kept that bit of information to themselves.
The fact was, they'd wound up at the Falls, and none of
ow or why, or, more accurately, why they thought
they'd been on their way to St. Gruesome's. Over the next few
days, Beano and
bad grown more and more certain that
all they'd ever planned was a camp-out, and as the weeks
passed, they remembered more and more details of the night,
e and Paul Pricket, though perhaps they were persuaded
by a need to belong. Only Doug Buckman stoutly maintained
one to St. G's that night, but h
e could remember
After that, the boys began to drift apart, uneasy with each
other and the confusion they shared. Doug Buckman died in
1973 and Paul moved to Santo Verde
the same year. Like John,
Addams and Beano Franklin still lived in town,
running the family orcha
rd and Beano, his father's pharm
but the three of them, by tacit agreement, were little more than
''There were always stories about the old abbey," Cutter was
saying, "and there were always boys who claimed to have
come out here and spied on the girls. Maybe the tales of ghosts
and gargoyles were started to keep the youngsters away."
John glanced at him sharply and was relieved to see that the
doctor was oblivious to his discomfort.
''Of course, all those females-nuns and young girls, all
the boys of Moonfall with all sorts of
fantasies, but that was all. Except maybe once when I think
some kids might've actually come out here."
"When?" John asked, as a tire bounced over a small pothole.
What was Cutter getting at? He felt like a kid himself right
now and didn't have the nerve to be direct with the doctor.
The physician glanced over inquisitively. ''Remember Brian
Franklin and his buddies? Maybe they were a little before your
''I remember. They bragged about coming out here every
Halloween. I thought it was all bull."
"Maybe it was, but one November first in
or '71, Mrs.
Franklin brought Brian in with a mild concussion and a gash
on his back that took about twenty stitches, inside and out."
''Why do you think he was out here?'' John asked, relieved.
"It was the day after Halloween and he'd been gone all
night. He claimed he and his friends had been climbing the
link fence at the schoolyard and he'd fallen off, cutting
his back and bumping his head. His friends backed him up,
but I had a hunch they weren't telling the truth. There should
have been multiple cuts and scratches if it was chain
this wound was single and wide and he was damned lucky
missed his spine by a fraction of an inch. The boys were all
a little confused about what they were doing at the school. You
know ... "
Cutter's words trailed off and John was sure he was going
to compare Brian's confusion to his own in '72. But then the
doctor cleared his throat and added, ''Your dad and I talked,
and he became very curious about the whole thing, too. He
even went to the school and checked the fencing for ripped
material, blood, that sort of thing."
"Did he find anything?"
"No. But shortly after that, we met at W
esap's Tavern for
and got to talking. He'd noticed the spiked gate. Nasty
thing, he said. He thought Brian's injury was more consistent
with the spikes around the abbey than the schoolyard. But the
boys stuck to their story. Your dad did speak to the nuns,
John slowed as the trees thickened above them. His stomach
was doing flips for no good reason. ''When was that?"
"A few days after Brian's accident. They said they'd had
no trouble, so he let it drop. Any reason you're so interested
ancient history all of a sudden?"
"No reason," he lied. "Dad never mentioned coming here.
All I really remember was that he was positive that Brian
Franklin was the leader of the t.p. pack. He warned us not to
follow in Brian's footsteps .... " In his mind's eye, he could
see the light reflecting off his father's badge that Halloween
If you see anyone hanging around the town square on
your way to the Addams place, make sure and let me know
"Something wrong? You're looking pasty."
''I'm fine." The trees thinned slightly and he saw bits of gray
stone buildings looming between the most distant branches. The
last few yards went quickly. ''My God." John braked as the
outer walls and gates of St. Gertrude's came into view. For a
horrible instant, he thought
was going to be sick; then it
passed. The dirt road continued on around the stone and
wrought-iron enclosure. Behind the outer walls, the Gothic
turrets and steep roofs were clearly visible. ''No wonder they
call it St. Gruesome's." John pulled the car slightly off the road
and killed the engine, then stared at the old monastery. These
buildings bore no resemblance to Father Junipero Serra's
famous California missions, with their graceful arches and tile
roofs. These medieval structures looked more like San Quentin
dressed up with bizarre touches of Notre Dame.
But it was the narrow, spiked front gate with its gargoyles
grinning monkey-faced creatures crouching on either gatepost
that took John's breath away as be stepped from the
cruiser. Queasy again, be forced himself to ignore the feeling
as he took a camera and a briefcase containing a fingerprint
kit, tools, and evidence bags from the back seat. He shut the
car door, then turned and looked at the gate, his stomach in
"Speaking of spikes
.. " Cutter said, joining him, hi
bag in hand
I thought the gargoyles were watching me wh
n I opened
that gate ...
In his mind he could hear the rusty creaking of a gate. Sudden
images flooded him in photographic black and white as he
remembered taking hold of the bars and pushing the gate slowly
open under the leering gaze of the creatures. The memory, if
that's what it was, lasted only an instant, then fled, a nasty little
fantasy, a piece of a nightmare. He felt Cutter looking at him
and said, "Ugly, aren't they?"
The doctor nodded, studying the gargoyles. "I've seen pictures
of them, of course, but these are more remarkable than
I'd ever imagined." There was a tightness in his voice that
belied the calm words. ''The work is magnificent."
"Maybe so, but those things are as ugly as sin.
be an orphan here."
You've been here. You
er of Cutter's mouth crooked up. · 'Ugly, yet beautiful.
I'm surprised the nuns don't give tours. Judging by these
fellows" -he gestured at the small gargoyles-"they could
have a healthy business if they showed off the place."
"When we were little kids we thought they could fly," John
Don't worry about those stupid gargoyles, Greg. They're
"So did we," the doctor said. "When we camped out, we'd
listen for them. We thought they screamed like banshees, but
any night bird's call satisfied us."
"They'd fly out to steal babies for the old witch in the
woods," John added, as they moved to the gate. He hadn't
thought about those ridiculous old stories in years.
afraid of them.
"Let's go." He made himself put his hand on
the gate latch, trying to ignore his racing heartbeat.
The gate swung open smoothly, without creaking, and the
two men stepped onto the flagstone path that led across the
lawn to the buildings. Despite the grayness of the structures,
once the barred gate was behind them, St. Gertrude's didn't
seem as forbidding. White wooden benches encircled the thick
trunks of some of the sycamores that dotted the vast manicured
lawn. Here and there were pristine chairs and benches of gracefully
ornate wrought iron that looked as if they wouldn't dare
rust. At the west end of the lawn were a few picnic benches
in the shade of a cluster of oak trees.
And straight ahead were the buildings
all with steep-pitched
roofs that seemed to grow taller with each step. John could
make out gargoyle waterspouts crouching at the edges of the
gables and Gothic gingerbread vining along the eaves of all
the buildings. To the left was a chapel
overgrown with ornamentation
with a tall scrolled cross above the door. A low privet
hedge began at the rear of the building and John could see that
it encompassed a small cemetery behind, the graves presided
over by a weeping angel.
To John's far right was the narrow end of a three-story
rectangular building, and directly before him was the long main
building, three stories of heavy rough-cut gray stone, relatively
simple despite the gargoyles and gewgaws. A large cross-gabled
entry at the top of a dozen wide stone steps broke the flat
rectangle. The building looked cold and ominous, reminding
him a little of the old schoolhouse in
He could see the roofs of a few smaller structures peeking
out from behind and between the chapel and main buildings,
and from somewhere out of sight came the sound of a lawnmower.
The smell of freshly cut grass wafted on the air, but
otherwise the place seemed deserted.