Chapter 1 - Holy Mystery
In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit. Of course, he wasn't really a hobbit and it was more of a cave than a hole, but he thought of himself as a hobbit. Nobody knows what the neighbors thought, because he hadn't any neighbors, at least not any more. Down on the corner, the pretty Townley twins, Mary and Penelope, used to live with their mother and father in a charming white house with red trim, and they would sometimes play and frolic in the meadow near his hole, picking flowers and dancing to music of their own imagining. The flowers still grew, wild and fair, but nobody had picked or danced among them in quite some time. Around the bend where the sycamore grew, in the old faded farmhouse, the Widow Hodges used to live all by herself, venturing out to feed and talk to the swallows and finches which swarmed around her barn, or to tend her lush garden, where she grew potatoes, radishes, corn and delicious summer squash. Her garden grew wild now, with only an occasional twisted spud peaking hesitantly out of what used to be such abundance. Further still, Joe Tyler and his brother, Sam, used to live in a small log cabin tucked away in the small hills by the bubbling brook, where they would fish and drink and drink and fish, and sometimes fall in. Nobody fell in the brook these days. There was nobody left but him.
It was getting dark, and the small twisted man pushed aside the canopy of vines which covered the entrance to his cave, walked slowly to the edge of the thicket of trees which protected him from the meadow and the world beyond, and peered out into the gathering dusk. He was hungry, but there was not much left to eat in his cave, or outside for that matter. It was late autumn and the leaves had mostly fallen, and he had to search farther and farther for food, and be less choosy about what he ate. Sometime he found nuts that the squirrels had hidden, and sometimes he ate wild crab apples from the other side of the brook, but the crab apples tasted sour and hurt his stomach terribly. On a very lucky day, he might catch a rabbit or a fieldmouse and cook up a tasty treat that reminded him of days gone by. While such food tasted wonderful when he could get it, the ache deep inside him just grew worse. Sighing heavily, intimidated by the silent meadow, empty though it might seem, the gnarled man headed back toward his lonesome hole. He didn't see the thin spiral of smoke coming up from the Widow Hodge's long dormant chimney. He didn't hear the far off feminine laughter, blown away by the endless wind which tormented him whenever he left his protected cave. He was lost in his memories and the thought of another cold night, alone and empty.
"Jesus, Callie, settle down or you'll break your fool head falling off that chair!", Mike sighed with exasperation, but inside he was happy to see Callie so excited. He wasn't sure how his young, vibrant bride was going to take to the idea of moving to Aunt Betsy's run down old farmhouse way out in the country, but Callie seemed to be taking it well so far. Mike didn't know many details of her life back in the city, before she had shown up in Smithebury one day and captured his heart with her joyful smile and warm but oddly sorrowful eyes. Callie didn't like to speak of it, and Mike was not one to pry.
Mike smiled as Callie leaped lightly off the chair where she had been dusting away some cobwebs. He wrapped his muscular arms around Callie's slender waist and kissed the top of her head affectionately. She laughed and snuggled closer in his arms for a moment, smiled up at him with a flirtatious look, then wriggled free and set off to make up the antique double poster bed and get their bags unpacked. She whistled a happy made up tune as she moved about the house, and Mike still couldn't believe that a plain rural boy such as he could have lucked upon such a treasure. Mike looked around at the dilapidated furniture and peeling paint and thought of all the hard work ahead of them, but then his eyes strayed to his lithe and lovely wife and he knew it would be more pleasure than hardship.
After she heard about the farmhouse, Callie wanted to know where his Aunt Betsy was living now, but Mike couldn't tell her much. It had been about three years ago that Mike's dad had gone out to the farmhouse for a visit, worried because he hadn't heard from his older sister in so long. He found the farmhouse closed up tight, with no sign of Betsy and no evidence that she had been living there in quite a while. There had been some hullabaloo, and the village sheriff had looked around and asked everybody nosy questions, as Aunt Betsy wasn't the first to go missing in those parts, but then Madge down at the bakery in town remembered that she had seen Betsy walking with a man through town a few times, and everybody decided she must have run off, tired at last of the solitude of the country. Betsy had always been a loner, and nobody seemed very surprised that she wouldn't have told anybody where she was going. Mike's dad worried more than others, seeing as she was the only kin he had left, but without any other clues to where she had gone, he simply made sure everything in the farmhouse was secure and left it there, empty.
So when Callie and Mike needed a place to live together after their wedding, Mike's dad had asked if they wanted to move into the old farmhouse. "Nobody else wants it", he said in his gruff way, "but it would give you two a place to call your own." Mike's dad had a soft spot for Callie, referring to her as the "leggy blond" when he spoke of her to Mike. Mike's protestations that Callie was only 5' 5", with lovely auburn hair besides, had fallen on deaf ears, but Mike was pretty sure he knew what his dad meant, and felt very lucky indeed.
Mike had hesitated before suggesting a life in the farmhouse, but when he got up his courage, Callie practically whooped with glee. She'd had enough of city life, and was on a month to month lease on her small apartment in town, so they packed their few things, she from her old apartment and he from his dad's house back behind the corner store, and they drove out in Mike's dad's truck to open the place up and see what they could make of it. Turning the ramshackle house into a home might take a little longer, or so Mike had thought. He chuckled wryly now, because Callie's vivacious presence made the old farmhouse feel homey and familiar as soon as she entered and started a lively fire in the old fashioned kitchen stove.
Down in his cave, the hobbit man had pulled out his needles and yarn and resumed his endless knitting. The coarse black wool was hard to work with, especially in the dark of the cave. He had never been a fast knitter, having little use for needles when he was younger, or at least not for this purpose, but he could sense he was making progress. When this was finished, if it was ever finished, then people would see, then they would know. He smiled grimly, but his smile died in an instant as he sat up and sniffed. He thought for a moment that he had smelled wood smoke. Perhaps it was just the remnants of a campfire, carelessly stamped out but not extinguished by a wandering hunting party, but maybe, just maybe...
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