When the new man first arrived, we were frightened. He appeared out of thin air, a ghost marching into our world with silent footfalls. He was not the first person to enter town since Sandy, but he was the only one who terrified us.
Margie spotted him before the rest of us; stealthily, she snuck garden to garden, informing us of the interloper. We moved into position, and from bushes and trees, behind rusted cars and garbage cans, we watched to see what the new man would do.
He walked down the cracked and broken sidewalk of our town, staring at a small device he held in his hand. There was great purpose in his steps, and before too long the soft sound of boots on concrete could be heard. He was not a wraith, after all.
Dread became our companion as the new man reached Sandy's house. He knew exactly where to go. The device, perhaps? It did not matter. He had arrived. And he would knock. He rapped on the front door of the small ranch style home, and waited. The banality of a stranger knocking on a door was now the most interesting thing in the world, to us.
After a few moments, Sandy did answer the door. We listened intently, fearful children hiding in the dark, hoping this new man was not a monster from our collective closet. The conversation was quiet at first, but quickly became heated.
"-is YOUR doing! You. You. You! You did this!" The new man jabbed his finger into Sandy's chest, punctuating each use of the word "you". Sandy stood in the doorway, not budging, but the sadness in his face told us the new man was justified in his accusation.
Sandy had come to us many years ago, long after the Great Autumn had begun. He arrived as a demon to us at first, a troll covered in wet leaves, coughing and sputtering as he choked on bits of apple he could not rid from his mouth. We were not opposed to His will, but something about Sandy brought out feelings of pity from our clan. Behind the maple leaves stuck to his aging face there was a lost little boy, as frightened as any of us. Like the new man, Margie had been the first to see Sandy, and the first to help him. The memory of her gently pulling the leaves from his face and tattered clothing was still very fresh in our minds. Aidan had slapped Sandy's back to help eject the unwanted apple chunks from his throat. And we prayed. We all prayed to Him to spare Sandy, for we knew that he was only a child, like us.
Now Sandy looked exactly as he had the first day he came to us. The despair on his face and the trembling in his hands once again showed us the truth. For so long we pretended that he was no longer lost, convinced of his facade. Now, as he stared down at his own hands, no longer attempting to argue with the new man, that facade was discarded like a leaf plucked from his cheek. This was a broken man, not a frightened child.
"What do you want from me, Kytes? If you want to kill me, then do it. I can't fix what's been done." Sandy continued to stare at his trembling hands. He sounded close to tears.
"Trust me, Agent Sandison, there's nothing I'd love more right now than to put my fist through your face, but I have my orders. And, as it turns out, you actually can fix what's been done, by helping me." The new man's stern demeanor and winter coat were a stark contrast to Sandy's sheepish tone and tattered flannel shirt; his authority was absolute.
"How?" The word was more of a plea than a question.
"We found the new epicenter. We're going to do what we did the first time we contained it. And you're the only member of the original team that's still alive. Otherwise I wouldn't be here."
Sandy looked up at the new man, confusion on his face. "So? It's not like we didn't document every step of the containment process and the operations that went into securing the area originally. You don't need me just because I was there for it all."
"No shit we documented all of it. And all that documentation's been lost. You think the Foundation is still functioning at full capacity? What do you think happened when that thing got loose and started to turn the world into a live show of Children of the Corn? "
Sandy said nothing. He was looking at his hands again.
Sandy sometimes told us stories of what it was like before the Great Autumn. We always listened intently, fascinated by a world we barely knew, a world filled with people, with war, with seasons. Sandy was a good storyteller, but he would get a strange look on his face whenever one of us would tell him we liked the world better the way it is now, that we appreciated the gifts He had blessed us with. That was the look Sandy had on his face when he finally spoke again.
"I'll come. I want to stop this if I can. Even if it can't make up for what I've-"
"Great," the new man interrupted, grabbing Sandy's arm. "Next stop: Chilton, Wisconsin." He pressed a button on the device in his other hand, and the two men disappeared with a soft popping sound.
Their sudden disappearance had scared us, but as we finally crept from our hiding places and gathered in the street, we realized that Sandy's words were much more terrifying. He would end our play time, and send Him back to prison. We had saved Sandy from his fate, and now he was deciding ours. Did he think we would simply accept this betrayal? Did he think we were powerless?
Sandy had been terrified of us at first, though we had delivered him from His will. In time, he came to trust us. He became our lookout, our protector, and our friend, and in turn we ensured he had what he needed. Though Sandy did not like when we spoke of Him, and did not approve of our treatment of the guilty, he never made it a point of conflict. All it took was one new man for Sandy to throw everything we had away. We were wrong to save Sandy, and He had ignored our transgression to teach us this harsh lesson.
With tender precision, we formed a circle. 36 of us joined our hands together in solidarity against this new treachery. Slowly our circle spun, and then we sang. More than anything, we prayed.
Our dreams were broken by the soft singing of other children. The song pierced the flesh of our cocoons, delivering its plea as we awoke from our slumber. We were needed. He needed us, all of us. Some of us tore our own way out of our living beds, then we pulled the rest from theirs.
Small and large, fat and thin, groggy and alert, we formed our circle. Joining hands inside the large barn we found ourselves in, we spun. We started our song, and we prayed. The rotting of our cocoons brought the stench of wet leaves, and the aroma of cider. He was listening. When our singing and spinning finally came to a halt, He spoke: