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The following days, weeks had been a whirlwind. Brian’s ‘accident’ and subsequent funeral, Amanda’s resignation from her job, and giving notice to her landlord all came in rapid succession. Amanda’s family had pleaded with her. “This is a mistake. You’ve just lost your husband, how can you just pick up and leave everything behind? They say you should never make big, life changing decisions so soon after a trauma. Wait a year at least.”
She made the excuse that she couldn’t bear to be in the home she’d shared with Brian. She needed a fresh start, in a new town with a new job. This opportunity was too good to pass up. “Don’t worry, I’m not going across the country or anything. It’s only about two hours away,” she had said. And so with her belongings packed and her rent deposit refunded, Amanda drove north and west from Philadelphia with the agency-hired moving truck following her. She had been issued a new phone and she used its GPS to guide her to Makepeace, the small town she would now call home.
The long drive gave her the first quiet time, the first alone time she’d had since Nathan had driven her back to her apartment after that fateful day at the laboratory. She’d been given a more thorough tour, and a cursory interview for the job she would now be performing. Lastly, she’d been required to sign the confidentiality agreement that would ensure her silence about the agency’s true purpose. For all her friends and family knew, she was going to work for a sub-agency of the Department of Energy, responsible for oversight of the region’s controversial hydraulic fracturing industry. She’d left the place with her head spinning. Nathan had been quiet on the drive, just answering questions as they came to her. Upon leaving her, he’d given her a final warning about what could happen if she went to the authorities or the news media and also his cell phone number if she felt that she needed to talk. She hadn’t used it.
The city gave way to suburbs and then long stretches of farmland interrupted occasionally by small towns, more like villages, until she reached the road that circled around the restricted area that once was the mining town of Centralia. A few miles further and she passed a sign welcoming her to Makepeace, established 1947 and boasting a population of 1701. She passed a gas station and convenience store, a supermarket and drug store and a medical complex with a general practitioner, dentist and eye doctor. The town center had a square with a well-tended park and each of the store fronts facing the square seemed to be occupied with small businesses —a jeweler, florist, hair salon, and dry cleaners, as well as the post office. Self-contained, she thought. Then again, the town was out in the middle of nowhere. It made sense to have everything you would need close at hand.
The GPS directed her to turn left onto Elm Street which, true to it’s name, was lined with stately old trees fronting the neat, uniform yards of nearly identical Cape Cod style homes. The street was oddly quiet for a beautiful, sunny Saturday —no children outside playing or people walking dogs. She pulled in front of number 12, allowing the moving truck to back into the driveway. The pale grey house with its black shutters and red front door, were as pretty as a postcard. Window boxes full of cheerful flowers adorned the two sills on either side of the door. Amanda took a moment to absorb it all. She shook her head. A dream come true, a nightmare in disguise. Well, at least I will be comfortable while I figure a way out of this mess, she thought.
As the movers brought boxes and furnishings, she wandered around the rooms, trying to stay out of the way. She found herself at the kitchen window, staring across the lawn to the yard of the neighbor behind her. Another Cape Cod, quiet and eerily similar to her own. A post-war town, she thought. All the homes built for returning soldiers.
“All finished, Ms. Connor,” one of the movers said. “We’ll get our of your way, if everything looks good to you.”
“Sure, sure. Thank you,” she replied absently. Movement in the house behind hers had caught her attention. A figure stood silhouetted in the window, then pale fingers pulled the curtain aside. Amanda instinctively stepped back into the shadows to avoid detection but it was probably too late. The watcher remained at the window, but she couldn’t see the person’s face. Someone curious about their new neighbor, no doubt. Then why did she feel unnerved? She took a deep breath and stepped back into view. She leaned toward the glass and smiled and waved. Immediately the curtain fell back into place. “Hmm, maybe curious, but not particularly friendly…” she murmured.
At the sound of the moving van backing out of the driveway, she looked around at the boxes trying to decide where to start. She had left her suitcases and toiletries in the car. Might as well pull the car into the drive while I’m at it, she thought. So grabbing her keys, she walked out to the street where her car was parked. Movement in the periphery of her vision had her turning her head. Another curtain parted, another watcher in the window, this time in the house across and to the left of hers. Then again, at the house straight ahead and yet again in the one to the right. A finger of anxiety traced along her spine and she found herself running to the car as the invisible eyes of her neighbors watched her.