Lena Ladimer Chronicles: Bury the Dead

Chapter One
When I asked Mrs. Henry, “Who would’ve ever, in a million years, thought that so few people could get together and decide the rest of us shouldn’t exist?”, she just said, “No one thinks something like this can happen—and then it does."
                                                                           Excerpt from Lena Ladimer Chronicles, March 19, 2017

Lena rubbed a flower between her fingers. The St. Johnswort blossom quickly became a deep red smudge. She looked closely at the stain.  Starts out yellow, you smoosh it, and it bleeds.

She rested her forehead against her knees and the concrete steps felt cool beneath her. It was hot, even for early September. The cicadas’ high-pitched whirring only emphasized the silence outside her house. Nothing sounds so much like summer, except maybe the sound of a lawn mower.

But no one was running a lawn mower. The only other sound was the voice coming from inside her house, a voice that had an edge of panic to it.

"I don't care, Paul! Get him back over here … he can try jumping the car again!” Mom’s voice is coming apart, like her vocal chords aren’t strung properly anymore.  She’s almost shrieking. Lena held her breath. Silence. Then her father spoke in a low voice; she couldn’t make out what he said, but it sounded comforting.  Lena exhaled in a giant sigh.

Her mother responded with a voice that went from a shrieky whine to a sob. “But we need to get up to New Reading and find out for ourselves what the hell is going on. This is just ridiculous!  And what about my sister?"

Yes, what about Auntie Peg?

Dad murmured some more, and Mom started sobbing in earnest.

Lena tried to tuck herself into a ball, but it wasn’t comfortable. Why are butt bones so … bony? With her head down, she grabbed her elbows. The work “lanky” floated into her mind.  I am loose-jointed and spare. I will never be comfortable in a ball.

Her father raised his voice. "Jennifer, c'mon, you know we already tried jumping the cars. The Henrys said it was bad.  And Bill O'Keefe said—"

Her mother screeched, "BILL!  Bill O'Keefe!?  Wow … " Mom gruffed up her voice, making it sound extra stupid, "Oh, hey, yeah … I'm headed up to New Reading in my crappy old truck that runs on grease from the Chinese restaurant … I'LL bring your sister back for you." She switched back to the screechy voice. "He comes rolling in from New Reading and guess what, Paul?  NO PEG!”

Lena heard a crash. She’s throwing things. More shrieking.  “The least he can do is get himself over here and try jumping the car again!" Now her mother was crying.

Lena grabbed the back of her neck and tried to position the inside of her forearms over her ears. Jeez … get a grip, Mom.

Her mother did not get a grip.  Instead, she wailed, "Leave me alone!" followed by a loud, hitching sob. Lena squeezed her arms even harder over her ears. This not my Mom. This … person … is unraveling. My mother does not unravel.

“Lena! Hey, Lena!”

She looked up at the figure loping towards her. Oh great. She got up; the last thing she needed was Gus Lennon poking his nose into her family's business. She ran and met him where the two yards met. He was red and sweaty and full of purpose.

"Lena, do you want to go meet that new kid over at the Henrys’?"

Gus was a year younger than Lena, but she'd known him since he was born.  She thought of a picture in the Lena L’s Lovely Life blog her mom kept for her, a picture of her as a one-year-old with her tiny arms wrapped around a one-month-old Gus while Gus’s mom gently supported Lena's grasp of the newest Lennon. A baby holding a baby. And now look at him. He's a galoot. A stocky galoot with a cracking voice.

Galoot” was an Auntie Peg word.

The screen door slammed.  Dad stormed out and headed into the back yard. Mom stuck her head out the door and screamed after him. ”Fine! I'll figure out a way to get up there …  myself!"

Why does Mom have to be the only one going psycho around here?

Lena felt Gus staring at her. She pushed the greasy hair out of her eyes and glared at him.  His red, sweaty face turned even redder and sweatier. "You know, Gus … just shut up.  Okay?"

Gus widened his eyes and shrugged. "Wasn't gonna say a thing."

Lena turned her gaze across the street to the Henry's.

"Alright. Let's go meet that new kid.”

“My mom says his name is Cyprian.”

They crossed the street and started up the Henry's driveway.

“Seriously?  What kind of name is that?”

“I don’t know.  He’s from Africa.”

“Yeah, but I don’t think Cyprian is an African name.  It’s like your name: Augustine.  I’m pretty sure it’s a white peoples’ weird name.”

Gus trotted to keep up with her.

“For your information, Lena, Augustine is an African name.”

“Yeah, I think you told me that once.” And you’re so white, you are practically fluorescent, Gus Lennon.

Lena grabbed the doorknocker that looked like the knight on a chessboard.  She gave the door three quick raps.

Sally Henry answered the door and regarded them kindly; Lena could tell she wasn’t surprised to see them. Sooner or later a new kid in the neighborhood would warrant some investigation, even under these circumstances.

“Hello, Mrs. Henry,” said Lena.  “Can … is it Cyprian … come out?”

"I'm sorry, children.  Cyprian is not really up to meeting people right now."

Mrs. Henry’s stance had the air of the sentry about it. Lena heard Mr. Henry’s deep voice somewhere in the house murmuring, trying to comfort someone.  They could also hear that someone crying.  Sobbing, actually. Lena tried to look into the room around Mrs. Henry, but couldn’t see anyone.

The new kid has the same cracky voice that Gus has. And Mr. Henry is using the same quiet voice Dad tried to use with Mom.

Mrs. Henry smiled down at them. "Gus, I'll let your mother know when Cyprian is up to having company. I’m sure he’ll be delighted to meet the two of you when he's ready."

"Okay. Um … Mrs. Henry ...” Gus glanced at Lena and then blurted, “Is it true you saw the plane come down up in New Reading?"

Pain flashed across Mrs. Henry’s face and Lena wanted to smack Gus in the back of the head.

What an idiot.

"Yes—we did."  The old woman shook off the memory and smiled at Gus. It was a practiced smile, something that was always on hand to bestow on lame brained, tactless kids— like a good teacher's smile. "Maybe we'll talk about it some other time. Good afternoon, children."

Gus hung his head.  “Okay.  See you.”

Mrs. Henry shut the door.

Lena grabbed the sleeve of Gus’s t-shirt and marched him into the Henry's driveway.  She put her nose very close to his and narrowed her eyes.

"Okay, genius … what do you want to do now? Maybe there’s someone else you can torment.” She looked over Gus’s shoulder. “Oh, here comes Ken the homeless bike guy … maybe you can try and knock him off his bicycle."

Ken Warner went by on his old ten-speed. He ignored them, as usual. Wow, Ken looks exactly the same with the same gray pony-tail, the same painter’s cap and same load of crap tied on to his bike, like nothing is happening.
"Jeez, Lena. You don't have to be a jerk.” He looked hurt, but the look changed to one of accusation, “You wanted to know, too.  You know you did!"
It’s true.  I did.

Lena got out of Gus’s face just as his eyes widened at something over her shoulder. He jumped behind a tree and hissed, "Hide … before she sees you!"

Lena looked across the street at Gus's house. Seven-year-old Ceci, the youngest Lennon, was waving frantically from a front window.

"Guh-us!  Leeee-na! The power's back on!"

Next door, Lena's mom burst out of the Ladimer home shouting for Dad. "Paul, Paul!  The power is on!"

Finally. I can charge my laptop and cell phone, take a shower and watch cable.  Mom can calm down and maybe she’ll even make spaghetti.

Her mom led her dad by the hand into the house, and even from across the street Lena could see that Mom was smiling.

"Okay, Gus.  I'll see you later."

Gus stepped out from behind the tree. "Yeah, see you, Lena."


Lena walked through the front door, but her parents were not tuned into the cable news channel. Her mom jabbed at her cell phone, while Dad fiddled with the cable box and the remote.

Soon, Jennifer was sobbing. The large television showed nothing but a blue background with the manufacturer's logo bouncing here and there across the screen and the radio in the kitchen issued static. Mom threw the cell phone across the carpet, and the charger yanked out of the wall. Dad took Mom in his arms, and rocked her back and forth.

"Th-th-there's STILL no service, Paul.  Oh my God!  Why do we have power, but no cell service?" She sat down and put her head in her hands. "How are we going to find out if Peg is okay?!"

“C’mon, Jennifer. It’s a different system than the electricity. It’s probably taking a bit more time to get it going again.”

Lena would rather be annoyed by the screechy voice than listen to this hopeless, crying voice. A dull fear crowded her chest; her breathing felt stifled. She stared at the floor, but felt eyes on her.  When she glanced up, Dad was looking at her.  He put his finger up in a “wait here” gesture and helped Mom into their bedroom.

Dad’s voice was low and soothing while her mom made the most awful racket. Lena sighed deeply; she’d been holding her breath again, listening.

She found her laptop and plugged it in. At least I can play a game or something.

The prospect wasn’t very exciting.  She heard the shower running while she played Escape from Ice Kingdom.  After a while it was quiet, the only sounds coming from her computer: the howling winds and overly dramatic soundtrack from Level 2 of Ice Kingdom.

Her dad came out of the bedroom. “I think Mom is going to have a nap.  She’s pretty exhausted—she hasn’t had much sleep in the last couple of days.”

“Dad, what’s happening?” Wow—this is the first time I’ve been able to talk to him alone.

“What’s happening? I don’t really know, Noodle.”

Noodle? What’s with the old baby name? “Okay … well, why is Mom going off the deep end?”

“Mom? Well, I wouldn’t exactly say she’s going off the deep end. She’s just having a super hard time not knowing what’s up with Auntie Peg, and, well, you know how she can get when there are issues she can’t fix.”

Lena looked at her dad … hard. Why does he keep repeating parts of my questions? “Yeah, I know how she can get, but this isn’t it. She gets annoyed or irritated. She doesn’t cry and she doesn’t yell.”

Dad smiled and put his arm around her shoulder, turning her so she wasn’t looking directly at him and started walking her towards the bathroom. “I think it would be a good idea for you to take a shower right now.  We have no idea if the power is back on for good.  I have some things to do while you’re showering, okay?”

“Take a shower? Are you kidding?  And what kind of ‘things’ do you need to do?  And what do you mean, ‘we have no idea if the power is back on for good’? You must know something, Dad.”

He turned Lena towards him, looking her in the eye.

“Please, Lena.  We’ll talk when you’re out of the shower, okay?”

Lena glared at him. “Yeah, whatever.”


She had to admit the shower felt wonderful. Her hair took three latherings.  Mom had planned a spa night, but then the power went out.  Lena was secretly glad; she didn’t like spa nights. Her mother’s close inspection of hair, nails, skin and even teeth was thorough, and to Lena, invasive.

Lena tolerated the monthly beauty ritual, though.  At school, she was not one of the “unkempt,” and it served to help her avoid scrutiny from the girls in the top clique. She walked the line—she was too bookish to be in consideration for popularity, but she was too well-put-together to be an object of ridicule.

The wrong clothes, saying the wrong thing, having an out-of-date cell phone—these were all things that could get you labeled, emotionally tortured and then ignored for a time, with fresh harassment always an arbitrary and unpleasant possibility for the future.

Lord of the Flies, only with girls, makeup and marginal supervision. Lord of the Flies was one of her favorite books, disturbing as it was.  She had picked it up at the Gibeon Library used book sale last year and the whole time she read it, she thought of the clique at school.
She dubbed them the “Bigunettes.”

When Gus started at Gibeon Middle School, the Bigunettes had him on their radar; a slightly chubby, redheaded, freckled seventh-grade boy was someone who needed to toe the line immediately. Lena had been deathly afraid that Gus would run up to her in the hall and blow her cover, but all he ever said was a discreet “Hi, Lena!” as they passed each other between classes in the hall. Gus had a blessed imperviousness to the pecking order at school, and by mid-September the Bigunettes mostly ignored him, except to call him a “fat ranga” when they passed him in the halls.

Lena suspected the only person on earth who could hurt his feelings was her.

She toweled her hair and threw on some clothes.  Grinning, she slammed the bureau drawer on the bras.  She hated them, but considered them part of her below-the-radar strategy.  They were slightly padded and hid the fact that she was as flat as a board.  Her mother had added a new and alarming component to spa nights the day Lena turned thirteen: an inquisition about other things that might be going on in Lena’s body. It was none of Mom’s business.

“My late bloomer,” her mom always said.

Lena bristled every time. Yeah, Mom, whatever.  Still none of your business.

Lena went out the back door to hang her towel on the line.  The Lennon's cat, all black and impossibly fat, waddled into the yard. A corpulent feline. She could picture the word, “corpulent” in her 1947 Thin Paper Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.  The dictionary, her prized possession, was rescued from one of her mom’s cleaning purges a couple of years ago.

“Lena, we have a newer dictionary, which no one ever uses because we all look up things online. I should probably get rid of that one, too.”

“I don’t care about the new dictionary and I don’t care about looking things up online. This one was Dad’s grandfather’s.  Look, here’s his writing in it!” Lena held the page bearing her great-grandfather’s boyish, loopy writing.

“Yes, but Lena … the spine is falling apart, the pages are brittle and it smells musty. It’s probably full of mold spores.” Mom crinkled her nose and folded her arms across her chest.

Lena was stricken. Her mother rolled her eyes and put her hands on her hips. “Oh my gosh … if you want it that badly, be my guest.”

And so the Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary became a fixture on Lena’s bedside table, and she read a half column of words every night.

Java lumbered back into the Lennon’s yard as Dad came around the corner of their house.  He looked surprised to see her standing there.  “Oh, hey Noodle.”

Noodle again.

“My turn for a shower, right?”  He grinned, but it wasn’t very convincing.

“Why were you at the Lennons’?”

“Like I said, we’ll talk after I’m out of the shower.”

“No, you said we’d talk when I was out of the shower.” Lena stared at her dad.

Dad sniffed his armpit and made a face. “Hey, my turn now … your old man’s pretty ripe. It’ll be really short, okay?” He smiled, but it looked phony, like when Lena and Gus played “Snooty British People” and held their teeth together while speaking with terrible accents.  Lena used the smile on Gus when he was the butler. The smile that dismisses.   “Thawnk you, Awwgusteen.  Thaht will be awll.”

They were interrupted by the sound of the vacuum running somewhere inside the house.
Lena’s father brightened. “Oh, hey … Mom’s up and doing some housework!”

Well, maybe Mom is shaking off the crazies.  Maybe she’ll talk to me about what’s going on.

But Lena's mom was not "shaking off the crazies."  They found her, hair still damp, eyes wild, muttering in a low voice, frantically pushing the machine back and forth, over and over the same bit of carpet.  The scene was weirdly frightening and put Lena in mind of the summer’s Shakespeare Festival up in New Reading.

Lady MacBeth with a modern small appliance.

Dad had to shout over the noise of the vacuum. “Lena … Go! See if Mrs. Lennon can come over!”

No more “Noodle.”  And he wasn’t even pretending to smile as he pulled the vacuum cleaner plug from the wall.


Lena took off running. Jeez … I had him for all of two minutes. Mom gets psychotic running a vacuum and it’s all “Go get Mrs. Lennon!”  She almost tripped over a clump of witch grass sticking out of the lawn. When she looked up, Gus was running around the corner of his house.

Crap … what does he want?

“Lena, my dad needs your dad.”

“Well, he can’t come right now. As a matter of fact, my dad needs your mom to come over right away.”

“What for?”

Oh, great. Keeping Gus out of her family’s business was about to become an impossibility.
“My mom’s having a hard time. What’s the problem at your place?”

“There’s no problem at my place.  It’s Mr. Henry.  He couldn’t get his insulin when he and Mrs. Henry went to pick up that Cyprian kid in New Reading … you know, because of the plane crash and all.  So he’s about to run out of it and if he doesn’t have any, he’s gonna die from his diabetes.”

“I’m not stupid, Gus, I know what insulin is. What does any of this have to do with my dad?”

Gus looked hurt for the second time that day. “Jeez, Lena. I forgot you know everything.”

 "Okay, I'm sorry. Why does your dad want to see my dad?”

“Well, Mr. O’Keefe siphoned some gas out of our minivan into the Henry’s old Volkswagen, so it can get to New Reading and back.”

“Yeah … so?” Get to the point, Gus.

“My dad wants to go to New Reading to see if he can get some insulin and your dad was just here saying he wants to go up there, too.”

Auntie Peg.  That’s what Dad was up to over at the Lennon’s.  He’s trying to find a way to get to New Reading to find Auntie Peg!

“Okay.  C’mon.”  Lena grabbed Gus’s wrist and tugged him along to her house.

“Dad, Gus is here!  The car is ready to go.”

Mom and Dad were sitting in the living room together, and Mom looked calm.  Not happy, but calm. Dad smiled. “Hey, Gus.”

“Hey, Mr. Ladimer.”

“Gus, and Lena … why don’t you two head back over there and let them know I’ll be right over.” 

Ten minutes later, Lena and her family, the Lennons and Mr. O’Keefe were crowded around the VW that was idling in the Lennon’s driveway. Lena’s mom wept quietly as Dad enveloped her in his arms.

My turn. Lena hugged her dad and felt the dull fear in her chest when she had to let him go. There it is again. I’m afraid. She felt stunned for a moment. I’m afraid … and it feels like I’d better start getting used to it.

Mr. Lennon and Dad got into the red and black VW; Mr. Lennon drove.  The little car backed down the driveway and pulled out onto Tootin Hollow Road.  Lena and her mom, the Lennons and Mr. O’Keefe waved.  Mr. O’Keefe yelled, “Godspeed!”

Mr. and Mrs. Henry waved from their front porch across the street. The new kid was looking out from behind the curtains at the window next to the door.

He waved, too.

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