This story takes place after the series finale episode "Requiem" and is a sequel to my story "There's No Place Like Home", which introduced the character of Lucas Buck's younger cousin, Veronica Lyn (Ronilyn) Huntley.
Thanks to my beta readers Renee' and Queribus.
Disclaimer: American Gothic characters and canon belong to Shaun Cassidy and Sam Raimi; plot and any original characters belong to me. No copyright infringement intended.
"The evil that men do lives after them."
– Mark Antony from William Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar"
Caleb Temple tossed and turned in his bed, clawing at the sheets as he fought the unwelcome images that invaded his sleep. Again, he saw his mother, young and blond, holding a small Merlyn on her lap. Then, the knock at the door.
"No. Don't answer it," Caleb muttered in his sleep.
The nightmare continued with Merlyn opening the door to a younger Lucas Buck and uttering the only words she would ever say from that moment on:
"Someone's at the door."
Caleb's breathing quickened as he watched Lucas circle his mother and grab at her hand.
"Please..." Judith Temple said, then slapped the sheriff as he reached for her again.
Lucas fell upon her, tearing at her dress as Merlyn trembled in the corner of the room, clutching her doll tightly.
"No! No!" Judith cried, vainly fighting off Lucas.
"Nooooo!" Caleb echoed his mother, sitting straight up in bed, eyes wide open. His heart pounding, his hands sticky with sweat, Caleb glanced around the silent, dark bedroom.
"Why are you doin' this to me, Merly?" he demanded of his sister, knowing her spirit now dwelled within him and blaming her. "I didn't want to see it the first time you showed me."
Rapid footsteps echoed through the boardinghouse and the door to Caleb's bedroom burst open.
"Caleb, what's wrong?" Loris Holt asked her young charge. "Are you havin' nightmares again?"
The sun rose on Trinity, announcing the arrival of a new day to all its residents. The powerful rays even penetrated the woods that ran along the outer rim of the town, causing Veronica Lyn Huntley to reach for her sunglasses.
Not a morning person, Ronilyn had watched only a few sunrises in her thirty years and she certainly hadn't planned on seeing another one while strolling through the woods of Trinity after a restless night's sleep. She stood and listened.
"Nothing," she said, her voice sounding loud in the stillness, the same stillness that had her up and about before daybreak. Ronilyn had paced a deep groove into her bedroom rug before realizing what had disturbed her sleep. The silence. No chirping crickets. No cat rummaging through the garbage cans. No animal howling in the distance.
Ronilyn frowned. And where were the crickets now? And the birds? Squirrels? She was standing in the middle of a forest and not only could she hear a tree fall, she was reasonably certain she could hear a pin drop. The animals were in hiding. Something was wrong...
She started when she the bushes to her left rustled. The wind? But not a strand of her auburn hair stirred. Then Ronilyn heard it.
"A cat? In the middle of the woods?" she muttered to herself. Ronilyn broke off the sturdy branch of a nearby tree and, gripping her ever-present mace in the other hand, plunged into the shrubbery.
"Appreciate all your help in movin' my mother back home, Lucas," Horace Watts said as they stood outside the Java Express.
A yawning Ben Healy exited the coffee shop holding two containers of the hot beverage. He squinted at the bright sun as he walked around to the driver's side of the squad car.
"No problem, Horace." Lucas glanced up at the two-story storefront as a window opened. "She livin' with you now? I thought she was gonna live in that huntin' cabin of yours."
Horace shuffled his feet. "That's what I thought, too. Even fixed it up real nice for her, but I guess my father's death hit her kinda hard. She don't want to be alone."
Horace looked up at the second floor window while Lucas glanced over at Ben, who had shouted through the open car window.
"Comin', Ma!" Horace yelled back and disappeared back inside the Java Express.
"What is it, Ben?" Lucas asked, as he sauntered over to the car and leaned inside.
"Call came in on the radio," Ben said. "We need to get over to the hospital right away."
"What's the matter? Floyd got a hangnail?"
"Maybe," Ben said with a shrug. "But I thought you might be interested in knowin' that Ronilyn just showed up in the ER with an unconscious, half-naked woman."
Ronilyn scrunched herself deeper into the vinyl hospital chair in the emergency waiting room, an old gardening magazine lying unopened on her lap. She licked her lips, trying to rid herself of the unpleasant taste of vending machine coffee. A candy bar would've been a better choice, she thought, crumpling up the tiny paper coffee cup and tossing it toward the garbage can. It missed.
"Hope you don't litter like that in the woods," Lucas said, picking up the paper cup and handing it to Ben behind him. "You know we got laws about things like that."
Ronilyn looked at him, her mouth set in a grim line.
"Didn't think you were back in town yet," Lucas continued, strolling across the room until he stood over her.
"Well, I guess you must be losing your touch then," she replied. "All my stuff was moved from Chicago last week. Everything's taken care of."
"No loose ends left up in Chicago?"
Ronilyn shook her head. "All tied up nice and neat."
"Shame." Lucas hitched up his pants and sat down on the table in front of her. "What were you doin' in the woods so early in the mornin', missy?"
She shrugged. "Taking a walk."
Lucas gave a short laugh. "You? Out and about at sunrise?" He shook his head. "I don't think so, Ronilyn. You've never been an early riser. What's really goin' on?"
"You know, your suspicious nature is one of your least appealing qualities," she said, frowning at him. "I couldn't sleep, okay? Wouldn't be the first time that's happened since I've been here. So I went walking in the woods." She raised her hands in a flippant gesture. "Big deal. Not everything has an ulterior motive."
"Uh huh." Lucas studied her.
"You didn't carry that woman all the way back from the woods, did you?" Ben asked.
Lucas and Ronilyn both looked incredulously at the deputy. "Uh, no, Ben," she answered. "I carried her out of the woods to my car and drove her here."
Lucas stood up and clapped Ben on the shoulder. "What'd you think, Benji? She hauled that woman over her shoulder and jogged on over to the hospital? I know you're mighty impressed with my cousin, but I think something like that's beyond even her."
His deputy reddened. "Lucas, I..."
"Speakin' of which," Lucas turned back to Ronilyn. "You shouldn't have moved her."
"She wasn't dead, Lucas." Ronilyn was now sitting on the edge of her chair. "What did you expect me to do, leave her there while I got help? What if something happened while I was gone? What if an animal got to her?"
"Now something tells me you would've seen to it that the animals would've left her alone." Lucas grinned broadly.
Ronilyn glared back at him. "I wasn't going to just leave her there all exposed!"
"He's got a point, though, Ronilyn," Ben chimed in. "If a crime was committed, movin' the victim disturbed the evidence."
She looked at Ben through narrowed eyes. "Nothing was disturbed," she stated.
"Well, now, I know you were probably careful and you meant well," Ben said, "but there could've been tracks or..."
"Nothing was disturbed," she repeated.
"Let it go, Ben," Lucas said, having watched the exchange. "If she said nothin' was disturbed, you can bet that there ain't a leaf out of place."
"Thank you." Ronilyn gave him a tight smile.
Ben protested. "But, Lucas..."
"Never mind, Ben. It's water under the bridge at this point. We'll look over that crime scene, if that's what it is, with a fine toothed comb, see what there is to see." Lucas noticed Dr. Billy Peale stride through the ER doors and glance in their direction. "You get all the particulars from Ronilyn," he told Ben. "I'll see what Billy boy's got to say."
"How you feel there, ma'am?" Lucas looked down at the woman lying in the hospital bed.
"Fine, Sheriff," Sharon Malloy replied. "Just a little dizzy. Mostly confused. I don't understand what you're doin' here. I don't understand what I'm doin' here. Did I have too much to drink?"
Lucas and Billy Peale exchanged glances. "I don't know, Miss Malloy," the sheriff replied. "Did you?"
The woman looked uncertainly at the two men. "Last thing I remember is bein' in Deke's. You know," she gestured aimlessly, "over by Highway 5. Oh, Lord," she said, covering her mouth with her hand. "I didn't drive drunk, did I? I didn't kill somebody, did I?"
"Not that we're aware of, ma'am," said Lucas. "Matter of fact, we're tryin' to locate your car right now."
Sharon looked up at him, tears spilling out of her eyes. "What's wrong with me? Why can't I remember?"
"Now exactly where was it that you found her?" Ben asked, his lucky pen poised over his notepad.
Ronilyn sighed and for the third time described the area of the woods where she had stumbled across the woman.
"How could she not remember anything?" Lucas asked as he and Billy left Sharon's bedside. "She doesn't even know how she got to the woods. Ben!" he called as they walked down the corridor towards his deputy and Ronilyn. "We find this Sharon Malloy's car yet?"
"Sure did, Lucas," Ben replied. "Floyd called while you were in with her. He found it sitting in Deke's parking lot."
"So either this woman was abducted from Deke's or she left with someone," Lucas mused.
"Someone who just dumped her in the woods? Nice guy," Ronilyn said.
"Well, Sharon Malloy was with someone last night," Billy said. "We found traces of semen in the vaginal area."
"She was raped?" Ben said.
"Not necessarily," the doctor replied. "There wasn't any tearing or bruising around the vaginal area or the thighs or anywhere else, for that matter. And as you saw, Sheriff," he glanced at Lucas," except for a faulty memory and a headache, she's in good health."
"So this is just a simple case of a couple gettin' drunk, decidin' to turn the woods into their own little Lovers' Lane and the fella just takes off afterward? Not very chivalrous," Lucas said, "but it ain't criminal either."
Billy put his hands in the pockets of his lab coat. "Well, it could very well be."
Lucas sighed and looked Billy squarely in the face. "You just want to spit it out, Doc? You don't want to be playin' games with me this early in the morning."
"You've heard of rape drugs?"
"They're put into someone's drink. Popular with the college crowd," Lucas answered. "Are you sayin' someone spiked this woman's drink at Deke's, took her to the woods and raped her and she doesn't remember any of it?"
Billy shrugged. "I can't say for sure in this case because these drugs are virtually undetectable after twelve hours, but they do cause short term memory loss and drowsiness similar to what Miss Malloy is experiencing. We're having blood work done on her right now, but if she was given the drug early last night, it's probably out of her system by now."
"Well, what can you say, Doc?" Lucas wanted to know. "All I'm hearin' are theories and suppositions..."
"About a week ago," Billy interrupted, "a woman from Goat Town came into the ER, hysterical. She woke up naked in a strange bed and didn't know how she got there. Because she came right in, we were able to detect traces of ketamine in her blood."
"Ketamine?" Lucas repeated as Ben scribbled furiously in his notepad. "What the hell is ketamine?"
"It's a cat tranquilizer and probably one of the more easier of these type of drugs to get a hold of. Most veterinarians have it."
"I'm on it, Lucas. Check out the vet and anyone workin' there who might have access to this ketamine," Ben said. "Maybe look into some of our farmers that got a lot of animals."
Lucas turned back to the doctor. "How come I didn't hear about this Goat Town woman?"
Billy shrugged. "She refused to file a police report. Patient confidentiality. What could I do?"
"Well, if Miss Malloy in there -" Lucas pointed in the direction of the emergency room "- don't want to file a report either, there's nothin' we can do. Let's go, Ben."
"Wait a minute," Ronilyn said, blocking his path. "Are you telling me you're not going to do anything about this? Since when do you let a minor technicality get in your way?"
"I don't. And I don't let little ladies get in my way either," Lucas said, as he took her by the shoulders and moved her aside. "Ben and I are goin' to the woods to see what we can find out, then we'll have a little chat with Deke." He grinned and shook his finger at her. "Who's makin' assumptions now, huh?"
Caleb sat up in bed the following morning, his pajama-clad body drenched in sweat. He got up and quietly turned on the faucet of the small sink in his room. This was gettin' ridiculous, he thought, splashing water onto his face several times. He looked up at himself in the mirror. A pale, wide-eyed face stared back at him. He needed to talk to somebody. He needed help.
Caleb quickly ate breakfast with new boarder Sam Richardson and, escaping Miss Holt's motherly concerns, left the boardinghouse with his book bag over his shoulder. Instead of walking to school, he snatched his bicycle from the back yard, flung himself on it and pedaled furiously toward Juniper House.
Ronilyn rode the elevator down to the first floor of Juniper House. Dr. Mitchell seemed to think her mother was doing better since Ronilyn moved back to Trinity and was able to visit her more frequently, but Ronilyn didn't care much for Dr. Mitchell. If Sarah Huntley had more of a spring in her step or a light in her eyes, Ronilyn hadn't seen it. Now if her mother had actually spoken, Ronilyn thought as the elevator doors opened, that would've been a change. Instead, her mother remained as silent as ever, not uttering a word in almost thirty years.
"Look, ma'am, I really need to see Doc Crower," the young voice pleaded. "Can't you just let me see him for a couple of minutes?"
"I already told you he's not allowed any visitors," the woman behind the information desk stated. "You just keep comin' back here, don't you? I heard all about you, Caleb Temple. And what are you doin' here anyhow?" she demanded, reaching for the desk telephone. "Shouldn't you be in school?"
A hand slammed a visitor pass down on the desk dangerously close to the telephone. The startled woman jerked her hand away and fumbled vainly for the phone as it tumbled to the floor. She glanced up.
"Oops," Ronilyn said, smiling coldly. "Sorry. Clumsy me." She dropped a gentle hand onto Caleb's shoulder. "You're wasting your time, Caleb," she told the boy and looked down at him.
"They...are you alright? You look a little pale." Her hand moved to brush against his cheek. Frowning, the boy pulled away.
"I'm fine. I just need to talk to Dr. Matt."
"Hmm. Well, they're not going to let you see him." Not yet anyway, Ronilyn thought, realizing she was going to have to look into this Matt Crower situation. "Can you talk to me instead?"
Caleb stared at her. "Never mind."
"You like animals, Caleb?"
"Animals. You know, like dogs and cats. Pets."
Caleb shrugged. "I guess. We ain't never had a pet. Daddy always said it was enough trouble takin' care of Merly and me without any dog to get in the way."
Ronilyn's eyes flashed angrily at the remark, but she only said, "Well, Caleb, I always had lots of pets growing up. When I lived in Chicago, I could only have little ones, like birds and hamsters, because I lived in an apartment." She laid a hand on the boy's shoulder again and steered him toward the door. "Now that I'm home, I can have dogs and cats and whatever else I want. I took in a couple of strays already. Why don't you come by after school and meet them?"
"I guess that'd be alright," Caleb said, the shadow of a frown still on his face.
"Good." Ronilyn smiled and patted his shoulder. "Now, how'd you get here?"
"Rode my bike."
"Bike, huh?" She pursed her lips. "Well, I think we can cram that into my trunk. Come on. I'll drive you to school."
Selena Coombs turned from the blackboard and faced her students. "Now, class," she said. "Who can tell me..."
The classroom door swung open and the children all turned around as Caleb and Ronilyn entered.
"Well, nice of you to join us, Caleb, honey," Selena said, gliding around her desk. "We were gettin' worried about you. I was about ready to call the sheriff."
"Wouldn't it be more appropriate to call his guardian?" suggested Ronilyn, leaning against the door frame.
Selena regarded the other woman. "He was with you, then?"
Ronilyn shrugged. "For the most part."
"You know, it's considered proper to inform the school if you intend to keep a child out of class."
Ronilyn raised an eyebrow. "I didn't realize you'd become an authority on what's proper."
The teacher walked towards the doorway, her conservative dress unable to conceal her shapely figure. "Why don't you take your seat, Caleb?" As the boy scrambled over to his desk, she said to the students, "I'd like everyone to take this time to read chapter 7 in your history book."
"I'll pick you up after school, Caleb," Ronilyn said, taking a step back into the corridor.
"Okay," he replied, arranging his books on his desk.
Selena shut the classroom door behind them and appraised the other woman. "I heard you were back in town. You here to stay?"
"That's right. Moved everything in last week."
"Hmm. Includin' Caleb Temple?"
Ronilyn looked at the teacher for a long moment. "No," she finally said. "But he's always welcome in my house."
"Well, I wouldn't let Lucas hear you say that, if I were you. You might as well just pack up your bags and head on back to, what was it, Chicago?"
Ronilyn sighed. "You know, I'm getting really tired of hearing about the all-powerful Lucas Buck. I'm not afraid of him."
Selena smiled and shook her head. "It's just amazin' how a big city gal like yourself can be so naive."
"You just wish you could remember what it was like to be naive. If Caleb wants to spend time with me, then he will," she declared.
"Uh huh," Selena said. "Well, I can see how a poor, orphaned child like Caleb would tug at your maternal heartstrings."
"Maternal heartstrings?" Ronilyn repeated with a laugh. "I don't think so. But the way I see it, he can certainly use a good female influence in his life." She eyed the teacher. "He sure as hell isn't getting one here."
Selena bristled with anger. "I am not the one tryin' to corrupt him."
"Yeah, there's that, too," Ronilyn said, Selena's reference to Lucas perfectly clear to her. "Just one more reason for me to stick around." She started to leave, then stopped. "You know, I was really surprised to hear you'd become a teacher - and at an elementary school yet. I figured if you taught anything, it'd be sex education to high school boys. But that's right," she said, rubbing her chin thoughtfully. "I remember you already did that when you were in high school."
Caleb parted company with his friend Boone after school and stood outside near the curb waiting for Ronilyn.
"How you doin', son?"
Caleb glanced over to see Lucas leaning against a nearby tree. The boy sighed and turned back toward the street.
A frown quickly passed over Lucas' face and, pushing away from the tree, he strolled over to the boy.
"So how's school goin'? Miss Coombs loadin' you down with homework?"
Caleb repositioned his book bag on his shoulder and concentrated on looking for Ronilyn's car.
"What do you say we go fishin' this weekend?" Lucas suggested, watching his son closely. "We never did get a chance to do that. Dig up some worms, pack ourselves a lunch. I know this fishin' hole that's got..."
Caleb's head snapped around in his father's direction. "I ain't goin' anywhere with you!"
"So you can talk," Lucas said. "I was startin' to wonder. Those aren't exactly the words I wanted to hear, but they'll do for a start."
A car horn blared. "Just leave me alone!" Scowling, Caleb ran across the street and climbed into Ronilyn's car. She smiled and waved at Lucas as she drove away.
"Looks to me like you've been replaced," a soft voice drawled.
Lucas whirled around to find Selena standing behind him, the smile on her face indicating she'd heard most of the one-way conversation with Caleb.
"You'd know all about bein' replaced, wouldn't you?" Lucas said. "Men are always replacin' you with a younger, classier female, once they're through with you. Kind of like a used car bein' handed off to another owner 'til it winds up in the junkyard." He turned and stalked off.
Nurse Kelly kicked off her shoes, put her feet up on the coffee table and sighed deeply. It was always a grueling day at Fulton Memorial Hospital when she returned from a day off, but today had seemed worse than usual.
"Mama? Is that you?" her nineteen-year-old daughter called from the kitchen.
"Yes, Sally Mae, it's me. Who else would it be?" Kelly frowned. "You aren't expectin' anyone, are you?"
"Good. Now I know I've told you before about bein' careful when you go out, but you be extra careful from now on, you hear?"
"I am careful, Mama," Sally Mae said. "What are you talkin' about?"
"A girl was brought in yesterday. Apparently," Kelly could hear her daughter setting the kitchen table, "some pervert put something in her drink. Knocked her out cold and she was raped. Now the poor thing doesn't even remember what happened to her, which is actually probably a good thing." The nurse sniffed the air. "You got something cookin' on the stove, Sally Mae?"
A long moment passed before her daughter answered, "Uh, dinner, Mama."
"Smells like it's burnin', dear. Anyway, this here drug causes memory loss, so no one even knows what this fella looks like. The doctor says that it can be put into any kind of drink, even pop, and you can't even tell, so you watch yourself." She paused. "Sally Mae? You hear what I'm sayin'?"
The sound of a pot crashing to the floor sent Kelly leaping to her feet. She rushed into the kitchen. "Sally Mae, what on earth is the matter?"
A large pot of half-cooked pasta noodles lay splattered on the tiled floor. Her daughter stared at the mess, both hands clapped over her mouth, crying, "Oh, Mama!"
Kelly grabbed an oven mitt and picked up the pot. "What happened? Did it slip?" She placed the pot on an unlit oven burner and turned to her daughter. "There's no need to get hysterical now. Nothing's broken. We'll just clean it up. You get the mop and..."
"No, Mama, it's not that," Sally Mae sobbed, as she remembered waking up recently in the back seat of the car, her hair messed and her clothes disheveled. She grasped her mother's hands. "Mama, I think I have something to tell you. And the sheriff."
Click. Click. Click.
Ronilyn flipped through TV channels with the remote when a large black cat jumped on top of the TV set, hissing.
"What is it, Midnight?" she asked the animal she'd recently found and named for the pure blackness of its fur. "You don't want to watch Home Shopping? You want to watch the Andy Griffith Show instead? What?"
The cat continued hissing, its fur standing on edge.
Frowning, Ronilyn switched off the TV and listened. The birds upstairs in her bedroom chattered and banged their toys against the sides of the cage. Outside, a dog barked nearby.
She got up and peered out the front window.
"Whatcha lookin' at?"