Sanctuary: Five

The night crept on, and again Emmett was able to return to some sense of routine. There were no angry children looking for pets they weren’t supposed to have, no calls to wrangle a raccoon from an attic only to find it was dead the whole time, and not a single visit from representatives of the power company or the sheriff. However, there were also no calls made or received to connect Emmett again with Robert. He had to wonder if the school teacher had read into their meeting as much as he did, which only led Emmett to wonder more about how long it had been.
There had been a time, he recalled, when he had friends or at least a sense of drive to make friends. Those days faded into hostility towards anyone he thought was looking down on him when he took an interest in animals. That still left five years of school as Emmett hardened himself into all the more of a reclusive entity. When his folks passed, he shut himself off almost entirely, not unlike those few he remained friendly with, a score of elderly folk in town. Outside of Dee-Dee and maybe one or two near centenarians he genuinely enjoyed talking to, Emmett had to concede he had no friends and hadn’t in a long while.
It stood to reason that bonds to the community would make no difference in his plight. The company would still be out here trying to shoo him away, and Kerry would be along to strong-arm him wherever possible. But the thought of having just one link to someone with a little pull and influence in town felt like it could have had a profound ripple effect. Maybe it wouldn’t change opinions, but it could have helped dull the knives so many seemed to want to stick him with. As much as Emmett hated thinking it, liking it less to believe he might just go through with it, he wondered if he could use Robert as a jumping-off point. A school teacher was a solid line to link him into the community. More importantly, if he could show the shelter had a purpose, maybe others would fight for it to stay.
Up with the sun the next day, Emmett felt a sense of courage, an ability to call Robert and let him know his decision. Yet, he held off, allowing the idea to sit like the heavy stone it was in his guts, mimicking the dense feeling in his throat. It wasn’t as though he were taking without exchange from the man, but it still felt like he was playing him. The lie that Robert would defend him if he knew the situation the sanctuary faced didn’t help anything sit easier with Emmett. As he mulled it over, he went about checking and feeding the animals until he made his way over to the newborn raccoons.
Staring at him in the same way Joseph’s blood on the floorboards had, a broken window sent cold tendrils of ice through his veins. Emmett fingered the grip of the knife before proceeding with caution. All the animals had been accounted for, and unless the window was broken by a force of nature, there was nowhere for an intruder to hide. Looking out through the shattered space, Emmett found no further evidence than the break itself. He had half-expected a note or a torn bit of cloth. If it had been an animal from outside, there would be blood or fur on the glass had it broken in. It was just as likely a bird had randomly crashed into the pane and fluttered away immediately after.
His mind on birds, Emmett remembered the Greens and the owl and couldn’t be sure if the window had been broken the day before. It had been a frantic mess trying to help Joseph and put the owl back into its cage, and then with Robert, he was so enamored it was hard to say. It was then Emmett slid his phone out and dialed one of the few numbers he had saved.
“Robert? It’s Emmett over at the Mausberg Animal Sanctuary. Say, did you notice a broken window the other day when you were here? It would have been by the raccoons.”
“I can’t say I did, Emmett, sorry. Is everything alright?”
His worry was confirmed in that, knowing that he would have noticed the break earlier was enough for him, “No, everything is just fine, I think. I thought about what you asked me yesterday.”
“I can come up and speak to the class. We’ll have to see about bringing an animal. I don’t know what the school’s policy is, but I know that if I go asking, it will get shut down right away. I don’t think odds would be better if I came by and offered to the principal to have the kids out for a field trip, even if it were free.”
“I’ll take care of that on my end,” he sighed but kept on, “Truth is, I’m not even sure if they’d approve of having you in the class for a visit. I know Principal Chambers isn’t quite fond of me for failing one of the quarterbacks last year. I think he keeps me on because I’ve got the only college-accredited class in biology, and it makes the school look good to have that. Leave it to me, Emmett. I’ll call you when I have more information.”
Silence reigned in the barn, but Emmett kept calm in the numbness of the situation. Without any further proof, the window was a new problem and not definitively one he could point the finger at a culprit for. He moved on. A quick patch, cardboard, and duct tape would have to hold up until he could get a proper replacement. In the meantime, he would just have to keep an eye on it to ensure no animals got in. There was a very low likelihood he’d leave a cage or enclosure open, allowing one of the still-wounded animals to escape, but even if it did happen, it would mean the critter was able enough on its own. No, it was the risk of a mischievous and capable creature slipping in that worried Emmett most.
As night crept on, Emmett sank in the couch well past its years with wear. There was little to occupy him in the post-dusk hours before bed. Several calls had come in sometime during the day, about the hour of his nightly rounds of the barns. The first was a muffled mess, something like being pocket dialed but for about two minutes. The second was another offer for the land, a raising of the rate the company was willing to pay for everything as is. And finally, there was the more befuddling call.
The voice was unfamiliar, youthful but attempting some modicum of maturity that the speaker lacked. They addressed him as Mister Mausberg, hardly uncommon, but then declared themselves a cousin of his named Derek. Though it was hard to say if he did or didn’t have a cousin with the same name, Emmett was confident if he did, they had never met. Derek claimed to be in town on business for a night and wanted to catch up at the Old Mill Bar and Grill. The call was hours old as Emmett passed it by again on his phone. If it were his cousin and not just some elaborate rouse for locals to assault him or try to buy him out, it likely was too late for it to matter.
A cloudless night pushed on over the countryside as Emmett tried to concentrate on a recent autobiography he’d picked up weeks before. He kept an eye on his phone, expecting an irate call from Derek or whoever they were. At the same time, he half-expected to hear from Robert. Hardly would he expect a positive response from the school, but he held out hope. A presentation, a field trip, anything of that nature, might just be enough to convince the local children his rescue was a legitimate business as well as an asset to the town. Children may not have enough pull to help stop the attempted land grab, but they had will enough to pester parents into considering the matter. If nothing else, Emmett figured, kids were often passionate enough to protest, even at the level of a sit-in. Hate himself all he liked; Emmett knew this was maybe the only way to save the rescue. With that thought active in his mind, Emmett went to turn in, but no sooner than he had his lamp turned off, conspicuous noises came from outside.

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