Joey Mason lived in a small farming community at the end of a long, stony drive. The house backed onto an abandoned cemetery that saw its last burial at the turn of the century. In it, one could find scores of different gravestones. Some stones were whole, while others were broken down, decayed remains of past distinction-remnants of fieldstone, granite, and marble all on display from a long and forgotten past. This sacred resting place laying in disregard was Joey Mason's playground.
The beginning of summer brought an unwelcome solitude to Joey's social norm. School had ended, and his friends were saddled with family chores and commitments. So, he found himself alone apart from his grandma, with whom he shared living quarters in his hometown of Spring Hills.
Joey was a good kid with a fertile imagination. So, navigating the coming summer days alone was not an overly concerning concept for Joey. His grandma never had to chase him to fulfil the daily tasks at the homestead, so when she saw him fiddling with some broken tree limbs and scrap wood in the cemetery out back, she left him to it.
Once Joey had cleared a desirable area in the graveyard, he began to set up his tent where he would sleep for the foreseeable future. He had situated the campsite beneath a large oak tree near the centre of the yard. The oak tree served two roles: protection from the elements and an observation deck high above Spring Hills.
Grandma Mason was in her late seventies and resided in Spring Hills her entire life. She had taken guardianship of Joey after his parents perished in an unspeakable tragedy earlier that year. Joey had been devastated by the loss of his parents and came to rely heavily on his grandma. After all, he was just a boy of twelve, and she was all he had. Presently, she was in the parlour, lying on the sofa. A nasty headache had come on suddenly, and she needed to lie down.
Joey ran hurriedly to the homestead and entered through the side entrance. "Grams," he shouted, "Have you seen my sleeping bag?"
"Heavens, Joey," exclaimed Grandma. "Take a breath. Your sleeping bag should be in the utility room in one of the cupboards."
"Thanks, Grams." Joey laughed. "I'll go grab it."
"You're planning on camping out tonight, Joey?" asked Grandma.
"Yeah, if that's okay."
"Oh, of course," said Grandma. "Are you going to be okay out there all alone?"
"Ah yeah," said Joey excitedly. "And maybe later in the summer, Billy and Jackie will come over too."
Joey left Grams in the parlour and headed for the utility room in search of a sleeping bag. Grandma felt sick for poor Joey. Ever since his parents died, Joey's friends had stopped dropping by, and it was as if he had been shunned for something he had no control over. It just wasn't fair, thought Grandma.
Joey set up his sleeping bag inside the tent to his satisfaction. Next, he turned his attention to creating a fire pit. There was no particular reason for a fire pit other than any campsite worth its salt had one. The sun set, the stars alit, and the campfire glowed. Buried inside his sleeping bag, Joey lay in repose, quiet and content.
It was the middle of the night, and Joey awoke abruptly. A loud creaking sound had invaded his rest. He sat up straight and listened intently; the creaking had stopped. Silence now but for the neighing of horses. Joey slowly slipped out of his sleeping bag and silently unzipped his tent. He peered out into the dark night, and through a subtle haze, he saw something on the road. Lights, he saw lights.
The next morning found Joey at the breakfast table devouring eggs and bacon courtesy of Grandma. A nice glass of orange juice helped wash away all the breakfast goodness. Joey was all for camping, but he would only take the hardship so far, and food was definitely Grandma's domain.
"Well, how was your first night in the wilderness?" asked Grandma.
"It was great, Grams," said Joey. "It was a little spooky at times but still great."
"And what about tonight?" asked Grams warily.
Oh, I'm good for tonight, Grams. I'm going to camp out there the whole summer." Joey paused and finished his juice. "What's wrong, Grams? You seem a little shaky."
"I've just got this silly ache in the back of my head, and I can't seem to rid myself of it."
"I'm sorry, Grams. I wish you felt better. Can I get you anything?"
"No, dear. I just need to rest. You go on and play. I'll be fine."
"All right. But you know where to find me. Okay? said Joey. And with that, Joey was gone.
In an earlier time, Jerry and Pam Mason lived with their son, Joey, two miles north of Grandma's residence in Spring Hills. Jerry inherited the farm from his parents and set up his mother in the homestead by the abandoned cemetery. Life was good for the Masons, a seemingly happy, contented clan to all who knew them. But tragedy struck and devastated the family in the early part of that year.
Grandma Mason took in her grandson immediately and provided all aspects of care that could be imagined. But Joey seemed unreachable, distant, at least early on. The days and months would pass, but things did not get easier for Grandma Mason. She bore the guilt, blaming herself for the horror that had befallen them. The good news was that Joey had bounced back. He seemed his old self again and was thriving, if not socially, at least on an emotional level.
Joey struck a match and lit the kindling in his fire pit. The flame took, and Joey added some larger branches. Joey liked fire; it was warm and gave light to the darkness. The fire gained and crackled as twilight claimed the day. The flames danced, and so too did Joey's imagination. He needed to climb the oak to survey the land before darkness completely set in.
Joey was two-thirds up the tree when he thought he saw – lanterns. He closed his eyes hard and gave his head a good shake. When he opened his eyes again, Joey could still see the lanterns. Only now he could see that they were attached to a large green wagon, surrounded by a silken mist.
The wagon was less than a half mile away. From his vantage point in the oak tree, Joey could see two horses in front of the wagon and two passengers, their faces obscured by distance and dusk. Joey wondered who on earth was riding in that green wagon. The Mennonites farmed a great deal at this end of the county, but he had never seen this particular wagon before. Perhaps it was just prospective buyers doing their research on various properties. It was getting late, and Joey decided that he would tackle the mystery of the green wagon the next day. He climbed back down the oak, satisfied that all else was fine in the county. It was time to shut down for the night and get some much-needed rest.
Joey stirred from his slumber and woke to the same rhythmic sound from the road, faint at first but growing louder as it neared. When the creaking stopped, he peered out of his tent and saw the wagon sitting idle on the road, draped in an eerie mist. This time he left his tent and crept slowly toward it, keeping low and out of sight.
Once Joey was as close to the wagon as he dared, he became prone and silently observed the scene. The wagon was nondescript and uncovered. It had four lanterns anchored at each corner of the vessel, one for each wheel. The horses were large and powerful-looking beasts with silver caparison coverings adorning each. The two passengers sat still, facing forward, paying no mind to the present surroundings.
Joey lifted himself to a kneeling posture and began to crawl through the chipped and crumbling grave markers until he was parallel to the wagon. He wanted a better look at the two occupants of this strange and mysterious ride. But just as Joey came about, the horses neighed, the wheels creaked, and the wagon departed. It continued further down the road and stopped in front of Grandma's homestead. There, it sat idle for a few moments more as though waiting for something…or someone. Then it continued down the road until the four lanterns became a soft, distant glow in the darkest of nights.
Maggie White was a middle-aged woman who worked for the Children's Welfare Service. She drove up the long drive to the quaint farmhouse nestled among a large thicket of trees. There she was met by Pam Mason, who had called the service a week before.
"Good morning, Mrs. Mason," said Maggie as she exited her car. "How are you doing today?"
"We're okay," said Pam. "Jerry is a little uptight about the situation; he's inside."
"Well, that's why I'm here," said Maggie. "These situations are delicate. May we go in? I need to speak with both of you concerning this matter."
Pam was concerned about the presence of Ms. White and what she represented. "Well, okay then, but Jerry is miserable right now, and he doesn't really want to see anyone," said Pam. The two women headed inside and settled at the kitchen table.
"Can I get you a cup of coffee Ms. White?" asked Pam.
"No, thank you, and call me Maggie."
"Okay, Maggie. I'll go get Jerry."
Pam left the kitchen to find Jerry, and Maggie arranged some paperwork on the kitchen table. It was not the social worker's first meeting with parents regarding accusations of child abuse, and the initial meeting was always the most volatile and dangerous. Pam returned to the kitchen with Jerry in tow while Maggie finished shuffling some papers.
"Good morning, Mr. Mason. How are you holding up?" asked Maggie. Jerry looked at Maggie with disdain, lowered his eyes, and said nothing. "Well, let me clarify my role in all of this. The police involvement and the court order have very little to do with me. I am just a contact person between you, Grandma Mason, and Joey," said Maggie.
"Perhaps we can get through the paperwork quickly," said Pam. "We've already been through so much."
"Certainly," said Maggie. "I'll just give you the highlights, and if you've any questions, don't hesitate to ask." Pam nodded in agreement while Jerry continued to brood.
"As you know, your mother reported inappropriate behaviour by you, Mr. Mason, toward your son, Joey. Your son then requested to live with his grandmother, and the court agreed to this arrangement pending the investigation results. Any questions?"
"When do I get my son back? asked Jerry.
"Well, as I said, it will be determined pending the investigation results."
Jerry shrugged, stood up, and left the kitchen.
"He's really upset, Maggie. I don't know what to do," said Pam.
"It's important to communicate," said Maggie. "It doesn't have to be the end of the world."
Jerry was making noise from the other room, opening and closing cupboard doors and moving furniture here and there. He began to whistle a decidedly happy tune – then he racked the shotgun.
Joey was determined to follow the green wagon when it came by. Somehow, he knew it would appear. So, he found a large tombstone up the road from his tent and adopted a prone position again. This was the best stone to hide behind, large and intact. The dirt was wet, and his shirt was stained, but why not? He was camping. Joey took a pause and reflected on his recent past. Many changes have happened in a short stream of time. As he lay behind the stone, he could smell the sweet alyssum and the campfire too. There was some comfort here that had been glaringly elusive until now. He drew his legs up, knelt, and waited.
Jerry Mason entered the kitchen armed with a twelve-gauge shotgun. He immediately fired a slug into the startled Maggie White, violently knocking her off the chair and onto the floor in a massive pool of blood. Next, he pointed both barrels at his treacherous wife and fired, slamming her against the fridge and leaving her a mass of death on the kitchen tile. This deed was done, but there was more work to do. Jerry set the farmhouse ablaze with the two women dead inside. Then he snagged the keys to his truck and headed off to Grandma's homestead.
Grandma saw Jerry's truck enter her drive and knew something was terribly wrong. She screamed for Joey to run, and he did, to the cemetery. Jerry exited his truck and racked the shotgun again. Grandma Mason tried to run, but there was no place to hide. So, she stopped in the parlour and waited for her son to find her.
"Jerry, stop," pleaded Grandma Mason. "It's not too late to do the right thing." Jerry put the butt of the gun to his shoulder and aimed at his mother. "If you're going to shoot me, you'll have to shoot me in the back," said Grandma Mason as she turned her back to her son. Jerry fired a slug into the back of his mother's head; she was dead before she hit the parlour floor. He then picked his mother up and placed her on the sofa.
Joey was terrified. He heard gunshots and knew his father had gone mad. Finding a large stone in the old cemetery, Joey hid behind it. His father was coming for him; he could hear approaching footsteps. Joey grew cold with fear as the footsteps stopped. There was silence in the cemetery bringing Joey closer and closer to panic. His chest tightened, and his mouth was dry. He began to cry. Joey's father heard the whimpering boy and bee-lined for the sound. Joey looked up at his father with tears streaming down his face. His father raised the shotgun and fired. Jerry knelt beside his ever-still and bloodied son and stared at the sky with scorn. Then he put the barrel to his chest and fired one last time.
First, the sound of creaking wheels, then the glow from the lanterns; Joey could now see the green wagon approaching. It rolled up just below where Joey had positioned himself. Though the wagon was unadorned, it still had a majestic aura. The two passengers stared straight ahead, but their faces remained veiled, unseen. The wagon came to a full stop, and the mighty horses stood tall and strong. A set of rope steps dropped from the side wall of the wagon as if welcoming Joey aboard. But Joey was wary and stayed safely behind the stone. The steps receded, and the wagon proceeded to Grandma's homestead.
Joey watched the wagon roll down the road to Grandma's place and stop. He heard, rather than saw, the steps unfold as they did for him. Then he saw his Grams approach and board the green wagon. The steps receded, and the wagon began coming back for Joey.
The wagon rolled up beside the stone and stopped a second time. The accompanying mist seemed to reach out and touch him. The steps rolled out again; this time, Joey dutifully joined Grandma Mason. He searched his surroundings and said his goodbyes. He nodded politely to the two passengers, who remained strangers no more. Maggie White and his mother, Pam Mason, returned silent pleasantries to Joey, gunshot wounds apparent yet unremarkable in this realm. He wondered aloud where his father was. Grandma Mason pointed straight ahead. His father was in front of the wagon wearing an onerous horse collar attached to the harness. His mouth clamped down on the bit breaking his teeth. Maggie White reached down to the wagon floor and procured a menacing crop. Joey could see his father's weary legs begin to buckle under the strain. Maggie White took one last look at her eternal companions and duly cracked the whip. Joey could hear his father's footsteps plodding along in a struggle to pull the green wagon. It continued down the road until the four lanterns became a soft, distant glow in the darkest of nights.