I'd never seen this side of town before. It was like suburbia, someone's idea of a nice place. There were houses of various styles and sizes complete with lawns and sidewalks. There were lampposts everywhere, lots of them, though most of them were off right now, probably to simulate a "nighttime" experience for the people who lived here. The street was paved and meandered a curvy path through the neighborhood. There was no one out and about.
According to Sheriff Mercury, this road would eventually lead us to The Twilight Zone, a more urban-like area closer to the light at the center of town. It was named as a joke, partially because of the dim, shadowy light that its location provided, and partially because it had an atmosphere that tended to attract weirdos. No surprise, then, that it had always been my father's favorite place whenever we had visited Aphter back when he was alive. It was also no surprise when I found out he had moved into a nice little place over our regular coffee shop after the cancer took him. He had reserved the place in advance on one of his last visits.
My dad had more connections in Aphter than anyone else, living or dead, even when he was still breathing. He'd been visiting here most of his life, since learning the way from his grandfather. All the big names in Aphter knew David Sayer, and some of them even liked him. I was hoping he could help me figure out what was going on. I was hoping he knew something I didn't.
After a few blocks, Amy began to loosen her grip on my neck and slowly lifted her head to look around. "You feel like walking?" I asked her.
She looked me in the face for an instant, and then lowered her eyes. "I'm sorry," she said. "I'm acting like a baby." She let go of my neck and I lowered her to the ground.
"Hey, don't worry about it. You've had a pretty busy day, you know?" She smiled a little. "You're doing fine," I said, patting her on the back as she stood on her own feet.
She didn't feel like saying anything, so I was able to think while we walked. I went over the facts again in my mind, looking for any connections I had missed before: Early yesterday morning I woke up to see the pale figure of a Whim circling the fan in my living room above the couch where I slept. Listening carefully, like my father had shown me, I heard the Whim softly singing these words:
Amy's not the butcher's son
But the butcher's Amy's mum
Amy's all alone today
'Cause the butcher's gone away
And tonight the one's who caught her
Come to get the butcher's daughter
When they see that they were wrong
'Tis the daughter sings the song
Then the dead man, he will bring 'er
To the one who seeks the singer
Hang the butcher, kill the baker
Sing the song to meet the maker
I laid there and listened, keeping still so as not to frighten the Whim, until I had memorized the song. Then, without planning or thought, I said my plans out loud. "I'm going to the butcher shop down the street." It's important, my father had shown me, to act on your first impulse when following a Whim. Too much forethought and the Whim will lead you astray. So, I got up, got dressed and drove to the butcher shop in the little storefront strip down the road. I knew it was there, but I'd never visited it before. I bought my meat at the supermarket, as did everyone else I knew. Nevertheless, it must have done a decent business, because it was a nice looking place in a good part of town. "Montagne's Chop Shop" it was called. The lettering on the door said the place opened at 5:00 A.M., but it was 5:37 and the place was still locked up tight.
This was not the sort of town where people lived above their shops, so I knew I had to figure out who owned the place. It crossed my mind that I might have the wrong shop, but I ignored the thought. Whims didn't work like that. Peering through the door I saw the name "Darla Montagne" on a catering business card at the end of the counter. I jumped back into my car and drove down to the little coffee shop back near my apartment. I took in my laptop, ordered a triple, fired up Google and, within a few minutes, had a listed phone number with an address. I didn't bother second guessing, I just memorized the MapQuest directions and jumped back into the car.
When I got to the place it was immediately apparent that something was up. It was a nice neighborhood, all BMWs and Porches. It was not the kind of place where people left their doors hanging open. I walked to the door and called out. "Hello?" I yelled. Nothing. I didn't really want to go in, because I've always hated getting shot. "Hello, this is the police," I lied. "Is anyone here?" Still no reply. Nervously, I stepped into the large entryway. "Amy?" I called out. "Is there an Amy here?" After a minute, I heard a noise up above, and then I saw Amy peak from the top of the stairs. "Amy," I said, "I think I'm supposed to help you find your mother or something."
She was easy to convince. Kids always are. I just told her the truth, as strange as it sounded. I even told her the Whim's little song and asked her if she knew what it meant. She said she had no idea, and I believed her.
My next compulsion was to come to Aphter. Why? Well, because of the words "the dead man." Like I said, you don't over-think a Whim.
And so, here we were, walking through the suburbs of Deadsville, heading for The Twilight Zone. Might sound strange to you, but for me, it's just another day on the job.