Artemis discovered an address for Laina Lynn’s mother, Ruth Lynn. It was not difficult to determine after a basic internet search. She drove her rental truck into the dense Appalachian forest along narrow, winding blacktopped roads. She dodged several hulking coal trucks, drove past the shaved mountain sides, and then proceeded to got lost in the wilderness.
As Artemis drove along, she found a local gas station next to a single story grocery store. She parked her truck in front of the grocery with an old fashioned Coca Cola sign bolted next to the front screened door. She walked inside over wooden planked floors, and found an older man with a buzz cut. He waved over at Artemis from behind the counter.
“Can you help me?” Artemis said. She pecked with her forefinger on her smartphone. She positioned the screen for the man to read the address. “Any idea where I can find this?”
“Sure can, just up the road, on the right,” the old man said. “But it’s empty, nobody home, as Ruth Lynn’s over in the hospital.”
“Drugs,” the old man said. “Poor girl went and got pregnant, again, I’m not sure what to say.”
Artemis stood near a partially full rack for moon pies, fig newtons, and off brand potato chips. She huffed.
“What about her daughter, Laina Lynn?”
“Ain’t seen her, lately,” the old man said. “Them drugs are powerful, evil stuff, ain’t like getting a handle of Kentucky nectar, them drugs they’ll put you down.”
“Sorry,” Artemis said. “I don’t understand. Handle?”
“Bourbon sweetie,” the old man said. He tilted his head as he examined Artemis. “You know, get the big bottle, one’s that got a handle on it, cheaper, it lasts for weeks if you know how to drink.”
“Oh,” Artemis said. “I’ve never, well-.”
“Laina Lynn’s like a feral cat,” the old man said. He glossed his tongue into a irritable spot on his teeth. It sounded like a mouse squeak. “She’s got nobody, hadn’t seen her, just like she disappeared. Maybe at the hospital?”
“Well, thank you, perhaps I’ll go there,” Artemis said. She pointed toward the road. “This the same way out?”
“You look like you got a little angry in you,” the old man said. He chuckled as he scratched his chin. “If I poked at ya.”
“I’m not angry,” Artemis said. “Just lost… anybody think to place signs for the roads?”
“I know, it’s a problem, but I recon that you’d be fine going back that way,” the old man said. His brow revealed long wrinkle lines between his bushy eyebrows. “Best be careful up in here, I know my way, but, there’s been some weird happenings, up in the old forest, like up there praying to trees, don’t like it.”
Artemis studied the old man’s blue eyes, she thought he was being bluntly honest. She opened her coat to reveal her loaded weapon holstered to her waist.
“I can take care of myself,” Artemis said.
“Nice gun, I have no doubt,” the old man said. He leaned forward across the store counter. “Be extra careful, it ain’t just one, there’s a bunch roaming. I’ve had some come in for whatnot, they just don’t look right, I know they ain’t from here, like you.”
“They’re alive?” Artemis said. She waved her hand. “I mean, they’re sort of, pale looking, unfocused?”
“I guess,” the old man said. “They just seem drugged up… they pay-up in cash, even so, I’m prepared, that’s why God invented shotguns.”
“Sorry,” Artemis said. She handed the old man her business card. “What’s your name?”
The old man put on his eye glasses. He stared above them back over at Artemis.
“Virgil Sammons, ma’am,” Virgil said. “Fancy card, from down in Florida. Caduceus? You work for the hospital?”
“Yes, we only consult, I don’t work for the hospital,” Artemis said. She noticed Virgil stepped backwards. “Not an employee, I investigate liability cases for our company. Hospital’s a client, seriously, I’m just trying to figure out a legal problem.”
Virgil crossed his arms.
“Not sure what to think about you-“
“I understand,” Artemis said. “I came looking for Laina Lynn for her father, he’s gone, but he, how do I say this?”
“Benjamin,” Virgil said. He sighed at the cruelty of life. “I knew him, good boy, sorry he got mixed up with Ruth Lynn – she’s a mess. But, last I checked, the boy died, they never told me where, just that he’d been killed.”
Artemis stared down at the dusty vinyl floor.
“I was there, can’t say where,” Artemis said. She wiped her eyes. “I was a medic, tried to save him, died holding him as the bullets whizzed past us.”
They quietly stood near each other inside the modest grocery store for several minutes. Artemis remembering the moment Benjamin’s bloody body passed from her clutches and into limbo.
“That’s terrible,” Virgil said. He coughed.
“Well, I have a job,” Artemis said. She rubbed her forehead. “I was just checking up on Laina Lynn, I’d do what I can to help her.”
“I believe you,” Virgil said. He opened his wallet, and carefully stuffed Artemis’ business card into the paper cash section. “I’d go look inside that hospital, she might be there, where I’d go if I were her, you know, near her momma.”
“Good idea,” Artemis said. She shook ’s hand. “Thank you, if I can help, remember anything, call me.”
“I’ll be fine,” said. “Go find her, and you get out of here before it gets nightfall. Since they sold the hospital, year or so, just stay in town, you’ll be safer there.”
Artemis turned toward the front doors. She stopped and turned back around.
“Stupid question,” Artemis said. She gripped the door handle. “What’s Laina Lynn look like, I’ve never met her?”
“Oh, I see,” said. He looked up at the tin ceiling. He pointed back over at Artemis. “Bout your shoulder height, dishwater blonde, got Benjamin’s blue eyes, she’ll look right through you.”
“Thanks,” Artemis said. “I’ll find her.”
Artemis exited the grocery, drove the truck over to the gas station where she refueled. As she finished tightening the fuel cap, as the temperature had dropped below freezing within the dusk across the two lane road, from within the tall oak and sycamore trees, appeared a white stag, and walking with the muscular stag was a ghostly Native American warrior. Artemis guessed he was painted in his traditional tribal markings, he tightly held a bow and arrow. She looked up into he sky to discover a blazing full-moon.
Artemis thought the warrior appeared to act as a protector for the stag, they were blended at the intersection for the living and the dead. The healthy twelve-pointed stag scratched at the ground with its front hooves, it snorted foggy breaths through its snout, and it bit off a brown leaf that winter had not taken. The warrior relaxed and stared over at Artemis, he appeared curious how she had the vision to see him. Then the stag turned and trudged back within the dark forest’s protection. The warrior threateningly shouted over at Artemis and quickly followed the stag.
End. Chapter 6
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