I’m very sorry to my from-the-beginning readers lol! I took an unplanned hiatus when my novel writing stalled a bit. But here’s the next chapter. 🙂
Willow ate breakfast the next morning and immediately asked her mom to take her to the library. “Research for my story,” she told her.
She’d agreed quickly, and they’d left the boys and Rhiel to their own devices for the rest of the morning. Her mom sat down by the fiction section near the door and told Willow to meet her back there in 2 hours. So Willow went to the nonfiction section first, to deter her mom’s suspicions, just in case she was watching or anything like that. Then she went over to the news and periodical section. She checked articles in only the past five years. She felt that it would be the most helpful section.
But how would she look for a person she couldn’t identify? As far as she knew, the man didn’t have a name. She decided to look under “Des Moines” first, rather than anywhere else, since that was where it had all started. Then she realized something: It wasn’t where it had started. She vividly remembered a time about 6 months ago when she was in the courtyard with her friends. She’d noticed a man with a shaved head watching her from a distance. But at that time, she hadn’t thought much of it. She’d just looked away, ignoring him. She shuddered at imagining herself doing that. How had she ever done it? Regardless of the memory, she went to the section marked “Local” and began to look through the newspapers: The Register, The Tribune, and the CITYVIEW. She started with the Tribune; since it was the biggest one. She flipped through page after page of sports headlines (apparently the Des Moines hockey team had won 12 of 14 games that season), political notes, and birth announcements. She was beginning to get very bored.
Finally, after going through all of the Register and half of the Tribune, she gave up. This had turned out to be a useless visit. She hadn’t expected it to be overflowing with information about a person that she couldn’t even identify, but she had expected to find at least a vague reference. She put all the newspapers back onto the shelves with the help of a young librarian who had noticed her struggling with the weight of all of it and then went back over to where her mom was sitting, immersed in a mystery novel. “Let’s go, Mom,” Willow said. “This wasn’t helpful.”
“I didn’t find what I was looking for.”
They drove back to the hotel in awkward silence. When they arrived at the hotel, Willow’s mother veered to the right. “I’m going to go to the restroom, okay hon?” Willow nodded and headed up to their room. But when she reached the door, she was filled with horror. There was a small shape next to the doorframe.
Oh no, no, no, no, no, she thought. She took a deep breath and slowly walked forward to retrieve the object she knew was a package addressed to her. She didn’t enter the room this time, and she sat just outside the door to open it. She opened it slower than the last two, knowing this time what it contained. This time the note’s words were different: You know why I’m here. She sat back against the doorframe. How would she face this? Then a new thought struck her: What if her mom found it? Willow could only imagine how confused she would be. She stood up slowly and twisted the door knob. As soon as she opened the door and went into the room, she shrieked. The man was standing right in front of her!
“You know why I’m here.” He said in the eerie, whispery voice.
“No, I don’t,” Willow tried to say, but her voice seemed reduced to a whisper. She was unable to speak normally. “Why are you doing this?”
“You know why,” he said.
“But I don’t!” Willow said. She turned around and tried to run, but ran right into her mother.
“Who were you talking to?” her mother asked after the initial shock of the collision.
“I was just talking to myself,” willow said. She desperately wanted to tell her, but felt that it was better to keep it to herself. She knew by then that the man was real, and that she was the only no one else could see him, or so it seemed, since he always disappeared by the time someone else showed up. But why her? Why then? Her questions were endless.
“Where’s your father and Carson and Rhiel?” her mother asked, bringing her back to reality. Willow looked around the room. “I dunno,” she said. Then she spotted a note on the nightstand.
I’ve taken the kids to lunch. Carson was complaining about being hungry.
“Looks like they left,” Willow said after reading the note. “Do you think we should go meet them? I mean, I’m kind of hungry too. Research does that to a person.” She was rambling, and she knew it. But she wanted to get away from the hotel as quickly as possible after what had just happened. “Might as well,” her mother replied. “Did they say where they went?”
Willow looked over the note again. “Nope,” she said. “Try texting him, see if you can find out.”
So Willow’s mother pulled out her phone and sent her husband a text message. They waited for 10 minutes before finally getting a response. It was a somewhat cryptic note that said: Escape the confusion, discover the solution. Her mother sighed. “Guess Carson and your father are in the middle of another of their riddle battles,” she said. “He doesn’t send things like this unless that’s the case.” Willow knew that it was her father (her mother was right about the riddle thing, plus it didn’t really sound like one of the notes from the packages), but she still felt uneasy. Riddles had become a feared thing for her after the packages had started to arrive.
“I guess we’ve just got to guess,” Willow said. Her mom nodded. “My guess is that they probably went to Maxie’s,” She said. “It’s pretty well-known around here.”
So they got back in the car and went there. It turned out that Willow’s mother was right on both counts: They had gone to Maxie’s, and Willow’s father and Carson were in the middle of another one of their riddle battles.
The girls took a seat before Willow’s parents turned to her and Carson. “Kids, since some of you-“ here their mother stopped and looked pointedly at Willow- “Were not at all looking forward to this trip, we’ve decided to make it a little more fun for you.” The parents smiled at each other. “We’re going to make it into a road trip, like a vacation!” Willow forced a smile for her family’s sake, but inside she was screaming What? No! Why can’t we just go home already? Please let us just go home!
As selfish and somewhat awful as it was, she almost wished for something to happen that would cut the trip short.
As her parents and Carson chattered excitedly about everything that they would see and do on the trip, Willow sat quietly. Did this mean that the man would continue to follow her and appear everywhere? She recalled the time when she’d she had seen him back in fourth grade. That told her that it happened back home too, so clearly his appearances were not restricted just to Des Moines.
“Are you okay, Willow?” Carson said, looking at her rather strangely. “You look like you’re about to hurl!” Willow had to laugh.
“I’m alright, Carson,” she said. “Just lost in thought.”