MAGGIE KEATON HAD NEVER considered herself to me much of a crier. The way she figured it, her dad had cried enough for the both of them following her mother’s death.
Maggie had been just seven when her mom had died. It had been a car accident. Drunk driver going the wrong way down a one way street, in the dead of night, with their lights off. Both her mother and the drunk had died on impact.
Maggie had cried four times over the death of her mom. Once when her dad had given her the news. Once again that night in bed when she’d realized that her mom would never tuck her in again. She’d cried at the funeral, and she’d cried three days later when she’d walked in on her dad weeping in the living room, a framed picture of her mom clutched to his chest.
Her dad had cried a lot those following days. Right up to the day he took his own life, two months after Maggie had lost her mom.
Maggie had been prepared to give over to her grief at that point. Seven years old and both parents gone. But then she’d thought about her dad, about where his grief had gotten him, and the tears just wouldn’t come.
She’d gone to live with her grandparents after that. They’d found it odd when she didn’t cry at her dad’s funeral. In fact, it had troubled them that they’d not seen her cry once during her first few months with them.
“You have to grieve,” they had told her.
They had even sent her to a therapist. But she didn’t cry. Not once.
Her father had grieved, he’d given over to despair, then he’d ended his life with a rope and a noose.
She’d decided that day, at seven years of age, that she would never cry again.
Then she’d been abducted by strange, green creatures. Taken from the lot of the Happy Hamburger, right in front of her fiancé, Anthony
She had been terrified near to tears, but she did not cry.
The creatures had taken her from the lot and carried her into a tunnel that had been dug into the earth. She had been a long time in the tunnel, the darkness. How long, she didn’t know. It had felt like an eternity down in the black. The darkness had been so complete that she had been able to see nothing but her own helplessness.
She’d screamed, she’d struggled and fought. But she did not cry.
The tunnel had eventually opened up to the night sky. A field, and one she had not recognized. A van had been waiting in the field. A van and six men in dark, hooded robes, belted at the waist. She’d been given over to the men. Men who did not speak. They had bound her wrists and ankles with zip ties and lifting her, had placed her gently inside the back of the van. They had thrown a hood, a dark bag made of cloth, over her head so that once again, she could not see.
Still, she did not cry.
They’d kept her hood on as they drove. She could hear the sound of the tires change from the grass of the field, to asphalt, and then gravel. The trip hadn’t lasted long. Soon after hitting the gravel, they had stopped. She had been taken from the van and the zip tie around her ankles had been cut away so that she could walk.
She remembers hearing the buzz and chirp of insects all around as well as cars passing nearby, their tires sounding distinct on the paved road in the distance. But the sounds had melted away as they had taken her inside some sort of building.
She’d tried to memorize the path, the number of turns, but there had been too many to keep straight.
Eventually they had stopped and her hood had been removed. She’d found herself in a small, windowless room. It looked very much like an empty office or small conference room with its prefab crème-colored walls, tiled ceiling and gray carpet. But the office did not contain a desk, chairs, or even a table. Instead, sitting in the center of the floor was a cage. Like the kind in which you’d keep a large dog.
It was at that point that they had cut her wrists free and gestured to the cage. She had crawled in. The cage was about four by four feet. She could not stand. She could only sit. The men had then locked the cage with a large padlock and left her alone.
The men in the robes had not spoken once the entire time she had been with them.
And yet still, she did not cry.
Thankfully the men had left the light on for her. But the constant hum of the fluorescents began to pull at the frayed edges of her nerves.
A man had come in at one point to bring her food. Bread, cheese, and water. He, like the others, did not speak. He had only left the plate on the floor by the cage and then left.
She couldn’t be sure how long she’d been kept in the cage. She could guess. The same man had brought her food three times since they’d locked her up. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner maybe?
They had also come in twice to take her to use the restroom. Two men in the same robes, as silent as the others, had arrived and unlocked her cage. Then they stood aside until she understood she was to come out. They’d even waited patiently as she’d stretched, her legs cramped and stiff from too much sitting in her confined space, before escorting her to the restroom. They had waited outside the closed stall as she had done her business. And as with the others, they had not spoken a word.
Through it all, she had not cried.
And then he arrived. He was the only one of the men to wear a hood. The other men had all been bald, shaved clean. But this man, all she could see of his face from the shadow of the hood was his nose to his chin, and on his chin sat a small patch of red hair.
The other aspect of the man that made him stand out over the others was the fact that this man spoke.
He walked into the room and sat on the floor before her cage, she was already thinking of it as her cage.
He regarded her silently for a time, his eyes hidden beneath the hood.
“Where is Anthony?” She asked, breaking the silence.
She’d asked them all the same question. None, of course, had answered. Anthony had been there with her in the end, he’d come for her, come to the Happy Hamburger. But he had not been in the tunnel with her.
Had he escaped?
Had they taken him someplace else?
No one was talking.
“Anthony?” The man asked. Then, smiling, “Ah yes, your fiancé. He is dead.”
He had said it in such a matter of fact way that Maggie thought for a moment that she’d heard him wrong.
“He’s what?” She said, her voice sounding shaky in her ears.
“Anthony,” the man said. “Your fiancé is dead. He died there in the restaurant parking lot because he was foolish. He had tried to stop you from being taken. He learned too late that what the Brotherhood wants, the Brotherhood gets.”
“Dead?” She couldn’t quite believe it.
“I’d like to tell you that he died bravely, and I suppose that in a way he did. He was fighting for you, after all. But he didn’t die quickly, I can tell you that.”
“I don’t understand.” Nothing made sense.
“What is not to understand? He is dead. Face up to it. You have a big night ahead of you. Rejoice, girl. For it is from you that the world will know peace. Your sacrifice will be just the start, but it will give to us, the Brotherhood, the power necessary to free the world from the bonds of corruption.”
She tried to follow along, but all she could think of was Anthony.
“You should be thanking us,” he said. “Not thinking about the dead.”
He waited. Maybe he really expected her to thank him. She had no words.
He looked as if he wanted to say more, but instead cocked his head, as if listening for something she couldn’t hear. He frowned.
“There is more that I would tell you, to prepare you for tonight, but I must go. Someone is looking for you and I’m afraid I’m not quite ready yet for you to be found.”
He smiled at her and then left, turning the light off behind him before closing the door and leaving her alone in the dark.
Maggie thought of Anthony. How they had met in New York City. How they had fallen in love. She thought about how much he disliked living in a small town, yet came to Eudora just to be with her.
She played his proposal in her mind. He’d not been foolish enough to plan out some ridiculously complicated event. He knew her too well for all that. Instead, as the two sipped coffee together in the Coffee Bean, he’d simply pulled the ring from a pocket, dropped to one knee, and proposed.
She, of course, had said yes.
It was at that point, immediately following the proposal, that she’d begun to plan out their future in her head. She’d finish school, then law school, then pass the bar and open up shop here in town. He’d get that used book start started; Anthony loved books, especially old books. They’d buy a house out south of town, have two kids—a boy and girl—maybe even a dog. It was going to be great.
No, not great.
I was going to be perfect.
But now he was dead. The future she’d been imagining in her head for all this time crumbled like a sand castle at high tide. With just a few words this man had taken Anthony away from her and destroyed her future.
It was then that Maggie Keaton cried.
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