Authors: Nancy Roe
Tuesday, August 6, 2013, 9 a.m.
(later that morning—in a pink room)
The door creaked opened.
“You’re up. Good.”
I expected the person from last night in the ski mask and hoodie. Instead, a woman a few years younger than I held a tray with orange juice, toast, and jam. She put the tray on top of the dresser near the door.
Smiling, she said, “I brought breakfast to you this morning. Thought you might want to be alone, gather your thoughts. Bathroom’s down the hall to the right. I’ll be downstairs when you’re ready.” She then turned and closed the door.
I hadn’t moved. Not uttered a word. I’m not sure I even blinked while she was in the room. Jack Deveraux wouldn’t be pleased with my lack of action.
With the arrival of the toast, my stomach grumbled. In the novels I wrote, my captors would spike the meal with truth serum. Except in the novels, the person being held had information she was willing to die for. I didn’t have any information, at least not that I knew of.
The longer I concocted stories in my mind, the colder the toast was getting.
Might as well have breakfast
, I decided.
Fresh-squeezed orange juice, toast a perfect golden brown, and homemade strawberry jam. At least I was eating well for now. The woman definitely knew how to cook. A silly notion crossed my mind—I wondered if she could beat me in a pie-baking contest.
After ten minutes of sitting on the bed realizing I wasn’t going to collapse or die right now, I gathered a change of clothes and opened the door.
I poked my head out to get a glimpse of the house. Down the hall on the left was a closed door, followed by a staircase to the first level. Straight across the hall, a railing. I tiptoed over, stretching my neck to see a dining room and living room below.
The woman sat poised in a chair, ankles crossed, reading a book. I studied her for a few minutes. Her straight blonde hair fell below her shoulders. She was fair skinned, mildly attractive, and wore a purple-and-white-striped summer dress. She looked like a normal woman in a normal house, but this wasn’t a normal day in my own life.
I proceeded down the hall to the bathroom, went in, and closed the door. No lock. No window. I put down the toilet seat and sat, hugging my clothes. My right knee bounced—one of my nervous habits. Should I take a shower or just change clothes? My usual routine involved a shower every morning after breakfast, and that’s what I needed to do.
The warm water had a calming effect. I closed my eyes and let the water flow over my head. For the first time this morning, I felt almost relaxed. It was time for clean clothes and time to face the woman downstairs.
Peeking over the railing as I left the bathroom, I found the woman sitting in the exact same position I’d witnessed earlier. I slowly walked down the stairs, stopping at the bottom step. Ten feet in front of me sat the woman in her chair. Five feet to my left, a solid wood front door. For a brief moment, I thought of running out the door and screaming for help, but I had no idea what was out there. In my writings, I’d have a muscular man in black pants and black t-shirt armed with a machine gun guarding the exit. I wasn’t ready to die in a blaze of bullets. But then again, maybe only flowering mums and periwinkles sat outside in mosaic pots.
Okay, get a grip
, I thought. I shook my shoulders letting my arms flail, releasing tension.
The living room looked bright and cozy. Centered on the wall straight ahead was a brick fireplace. A large painting of poppies hung above the mahogany mantle and on either end of the fireplace were two small bookcases filled with books and pictures. To the right, rested a tan couch with two red pillows and a red throw draped over the back. A square mahogany coffee table sat between the couch and two red chairs. A bouquet of gerbera daisies in a crystal vase stood on a round oak table between the chairs. Sunlight poured in through the large picture window.
Taking a step forward, I asked, “Can you tell me where I am? And who you are?”
The woman stood and placed the book on the coffee table. “Oh, what terrible manners I have.” Smiling at me, she held out her hand. “My name is Jaime. Jaime Clark.”
Feeling the need to be polite in turn, I walked over to her, shook her hand, and said, “Isabella Retsul.”
“Yes, I know.” Jaime nodded. “Come sit on the couch with me.”
“How do you know who I am?” I asked as we sat.
“The town council informed me of your upcoming arrival yesterday afternoon when they dropped off some of your things. I hope you don’t mind that I put them away for you. Anyway, it’s my job to inform you of the rules and tell you about Shadow Pines.” Jaime sat calmly, hands folded in her lap.
Raising an eyebrow, I said, “Rules?”
“Yes. To keep everyone safe.”
Safe from what
, I thought. My right leg started to bounce. I quickly put my hand on my knee to stop my nervous twitch.
Jaime picked up a yellow folder from the coffee table. “This will be yours to keep and use as a reference. Let me go over what’s inside.”
“Okay.” Too scared to do anything else, I sat and listened.
“Usually, new residents are quarantined and learn about Shadow Pines and its culture gradually. Today, you’re getting a crash course. I’m extremely proud the town council gave me the honor of teaching you our ways.”
Leaning forward, I shook my head. “I’m sorry, did you just say new resident…of Shadow Pines?”
Jaime straightened up, tilting her head to the right. “Yes. Shadow Pines is very lucky to have you join us.”
Jaime reached over and put her hand on my knee. I hadn’t realized my nervous knee bounce had started again. “Are you okay? You seem a little jumpy. Trust me, you have nothing to worry about. You’re safe in Shadow Pines.” Jaime leaned back and smiled.
“Right. New resident in Shadow Pines. Nothing to worry about.” I wasn’t doing a very good job convincing myself everything was going to be just fine.
“First off,” Jaime said, “welcome to my home. I’m sure the town council will find you your own home pretty soon, though. Upstairs, besides the bedroom and bath, there’s also a spare bedroom. You’re in the living room, and the dining room is behind you—but you probably saw it from the landing. To the right of the dining room is the kitchen. You have to go through the kitchen to reach the half-bath. In the kitchen are two doors—one to the garage and one to the basement. I use the basement as a pantry, and of course the storm shelter is down there. Every house in town has one. Also, every person is required to have an emergency backpack in the shelter. Past the dining room is the closet for the washer and dryer, then my bedroom at the end of the hall.”
Jaime sounded excited to have me staying in her home. I’m not sure I’d ever met anyone so perky.
“I’m allergic to peanuts. So, I hope you don’t mind that you won’t be able to eat nuts or peanut butter during your stay at my house. Are you allergic to any foods?”
I couldn’t believe the woman I’d just met was talking to me as if we were old friends. “Um, no. Not allergic to anything.”
“You’re lucky. Okay, let’s get started on the contents of the folder.” Jaime sat tall and read from the sheet of paper in her hand.
The town of Shadow Pines, formed on the twentieth day of January, Eighteen-Hundred-Fifty-Four, consists of two-thousand-eight-hundred-eighty-eight acres purchased by Isaac Stovall. A stone wall shall signify the boundary of Shadow Pines.
Shadow Pines is a unique town, created to keep the residents with the same religious beliefs safe.
The residents shall follow the rules and regulations instituted by the governing body of Shadow Pines, also known as the Town Council. All residents shall live within the boundary of Shadow Pines, and only those specified by the town council may be allowed to pass beyond the stone wall.
Every resident shall be given a Bible and will follow the teachings as directed by the town council. Daily prayer, in conjunction with bi-weekly town gatherings, will be required of all residents. Any resident not following the requirements shall be met with harsh punishment.
Upon agreement with the State of Iowa dated the nineteenth day of October, Eighteen-Hundred-Seventy-Three, Shadow Pines is considered a sanctuary and under the sole control of the Shadow Pines Town Council. The outside world will have no impact on how the residents of Shadow Pines raise their families or influence our common decisions.
Bylaws have been created to ensure personal safety, educate, and guide us in how to comply with the rules of living in Shadow Pines, making Shadow Pines a safe and beautiful town to live in. Every resident shall follow the rules or receive disciplinary action by the town council.
The five-member town council shall oversee all activities of Shadow Pines. The town council shall have one male member from each of the five founding families: Stovall, Blair, Gillen, Larson, Luster. If a founding family lineage ceases to exist, the residents shall vote in a replacement member; however, the remaining town council members shall have the final decision.
The church shall be the gathering place for all activities in Shadow Pines as assigned to each resident by the town council. Attendance is mandatory for all activities.
God has granted us this opportunity to live our lives in peace without the chaos and destruction of the outside world. May God bless Shadow Pines.
Jaime returned the sheet to the yellow folder then looked at me. “Right now we only have three town council members. Two members have died in the past five months, one from a brain aneurysm and the other from a heart attack. Customarily, we wait six months before voting on a replacement. The three current council members are Hudson Gillen, Zachary Larsen, and Oliver Blair. Hudson Gillen owns the grocery store. He’s been on the council the longest and oversees the town’s finances. Zachary Larsen’s an electrician. He’s the leader of the prayers and church functions. Oliver Blair runs the drug store. He’s pretty much in charge of everything else. All three must come to an agreement before any final decision is made on the town’s behalf.”
Jaime paused. “Devlin Stovall should be on the town council, but he had an accident when he was seventeen and has some mental and physical issues. Should he ever recover, he’ll automatically be a member of the town council.” Turning to look at me eye to eye, Jaime asked, “Do you have any questions so far?”
I leaned back, resting against a red pillow, not losing eye contact with her. “So let me get this straight. Everyone follows the same religion and rules, and no one leaves Shadow Pines unless given permission by the town council?”
Jaime furrowed her brow. “In very simple terms, yes. But you make it sound like it’s a terrible way to live. It’s not. We have peace and harmony among the residents, and we live as one big family. You’ll come to find it’s an incredible blessing to live in Shadow Pines.”
Dropping my head, I stared at my right leg, which had started to bounce again. I didn’t know what to think. Part of me wished this was all a crazy dream. Putting my hands on my knees to stop my nervous twitch, I sat up straight and said, “Let’s continue with my orientation.”
“We can take a short break if you need one.” Jaime said, and she put her hand on my shoulder as if she was trying to comfort me.
I forced a smile. “No, I’m fine. Thank you.” I wasn’t fine. Not at all, but I wanted Jaime to continue with the contents of the yellow folder.
Taking the next sheet of paper out of the folder, Jaime said, “This is the list of rules. There are ten. Just like the Ten Commandments.”
I sat and listened as she recited each rule on the list.
Rule 1. The five members of the town council oversee Shadow Pines and its residents. There will also be an extended council totaling twenty. The extended council shall assist the town council in serious matters of rule violations. The extended council shall consist of members of Shadow Pines elected by the townspeople each second day of May. The extended council members must be age twenty-five or older and may be male or female. The voting right of each townsperson extends to those eighteen years of age or older. The voter must be present to cast his or her vote.
Rule 2. No violence. Violence is considered the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.
Rule 3. No stealing. Stealing is considered taking something unlawfully; taking something that belongs to somebody else, illegally or without the owner's permission; taking something furtively; taking or getting something secretly or surreptitiously; or through trickery dishonestly presenting somebody else’s work as yours.
Rule 4. Each town resident shall have an activity each day as defined by the town council. During the month of April, each resident may submit an application to change up to three activities. The town council shall review all applications and decide accordingly. Each resident will be notified of any changes on the second of May.
Rule 5. Each resident of Shadow Pines shall be granted shelter. No person shall be subjected to living in the elements. If deemed necessary, Shadow Pines will build a home upon approval of eighty percent of the residents.