When Eric came to, he was stretched out on a cot in the tack room, and a black woman he did not know was bathing his forehead.
“Oh, good. You’re awake. You wait here, and I’ll get Brandon,” the woman said.
She left. There was some talk outside the room, and she came back in.
“Freddy’s gone to get Brandon. I’m Winnie Fenwick. I live here on the Farm. You had a shock or something,” the woman said.
A few minutes later, Brandon arrived. “Well, well, well. Back among the living are you? Can you tell us just what happened back there?”
“Horses are big,” Eric croaked.
“Yeah, bigger than we are, anyway. But most horses are friendly. Beauty certainly wasn’t hurting you. In fact, I doubt that you came within ten feet of her,” Brandon said.
“Huge,” Eric said.
“Well, I guess we’ll have to put off your first ride. Wouldn’t want you falling off the horse, now would we?” Brandon conceded. “Can you sit up?”
Eric sat up.
“Good. Now, can you stand up?”
Eric stood up. He was a little shaky, but he was standing.
“Now, can you walk past the horses back to the house?” Unfortunately, the tack room where they were located was in the center of the building, with stalls between then and the doors at both ends.
“No. No more horses.” Eric sat back down.
When it became obvious that Eric was not going to walk past the horses, Brandon told Freddy to go round up some of the boys, and take all the horses at one end of the stable out to the paddocks. Once Freddy returned, saying that had been done, then Brandon walked Eric out of the stable and back to the main house. He led him to the kitchen, where he was fed some freshly baked cookies and a glass of milk. Then, he was allowed to sit in the courtyard at one of the tables, as he refused to talk to anyone. Freddy stayed nearby.
From time to time there was a shout from out in one of the pastures. If Eric were not careful, he might look up, and see one of the boys having a great time on horseback. Later, they would come in, laughing and shouting and slapping each other on the back. They sort of gave Eric a pitying glance.
Brandon returned. He had consulted others and decided that, as soon as supper was over, he would take Eric back to town. He was obviously not going to be able to participate with the other boys in the primary activity on the Farm, horseback riding. Eric claimed there was nothing wrong with him, but horses were his enemies, and were ganging up on him. Giving up on trying to understand that, after they ate Eric and Brandon got back in the car in which they had arrived only a few hours before, and rode back to Clifton and Brandon’s Boys group home.
When they got there, they were met not only by Aunt Barbara, but also by Josh Castleman. Brandon had called from the Farm, and related to Josh an account of Eric’s fainting fit. They wanted to check to see whether this was something physiological which had been missed in the check-up earlier that day. Josh spent some time checking, but in the end he determined that the fainting was most likely not caused by some physical problem. He suggested that Brandon call in another member of the Brandon’s Boys Board, the psychologist Ben Spalding. Through all this, Eric continued to maintain that there was nothing wrong with him. It was all the fault of the horses, who emanated some kind of hostile aura. While Brandon was not as adamant about it as Sandy Todd, his partner’s mother, he shared the basic opinion that anyone who considered horses his enemies definitely had something wrong with him. He called Ben, and scheduled an appointment for the next morning.
Ben agreed to come in an hour early, as his schedule was pretty full that Thursday, so this entailed getting Eric up, fed, and over to the office on time. Eric did not like getting up early, especially as he continued to insist that there was nothing wrong with him. While Ben saw Eric in his consultation room, Brandon waited in the outer reception area. He gave thought to the situation, but could come up with no solution. Eric continued to refuse to talk about his family or the cult to which he belonged. The only thing Brandon could think of which might help was to take Eric out to a mall and buy him some new clothing. After all, it was almost Easter, the feast of renewal, and new clothing might herald a new attitude. That seemed to help with some of the boys. Before anything could be done, however, Eric evidently engaged in some shouting, as a loud voice was heard coming from the consulting room, and it was not Ben Spalding’s voice. Shortly thereafter, Ben and Eric emerged, both looking flushed.
“I’m afraid we did not make much progress this morning,” Ben told Brandon. “Eric does not consider that he needs my help.”
“I keep telling you [a series of expletives deleted] that there’s nothing wrong with me!” Eric shouted.
“Then why is it that you don’t seem to be able to get along with anyone?” Brandon asked.
“Because all those [another series of expletives deleted] at your place are a bunch of wimps and do-gooders who are just agents of the enemy. You keep trying to change me. There’s nothing wrong with me. [Another series of expletives deleted.]”
With a sigh, Brandon thanked Ben, and steered Eric back to the car. Let’s see if new clothes help, he thought. Rather than head back to the house, Brandon drove to one of the mid-priced malls out by the Interstate. He explained to Eric that, as he would be starting in a new school on Monday, it seemed appropriate to outfit him in new clothes. Eric said nothing. They went inside. Even this was not without conflict, however, as Eric discovered a shop with tee-shirts with offensive slogans, and began to insist on having one or more of those. Brandon stood firm.
“I told you yesterday that we would not put up with things which clearly insulted any of the boys or their beliefs. Those shirts [pointing] are insulting to blacks, which includes Clarence, Freddy, and Bobby, and that other one is an insult to Hispanics, which includes Joe,” Brandon insisted.
“Bunch of inferior slave races,” Eric mumbled.
“All of them seem to be doing better than you. I’ve had enough of this. Let’s go home,” Brandon gave up.
Back at Brandon’s Boys, Brandon insisted on Eric continuing with the placement tests. He administered the same ones as the previous day, convinced that Eric had purposely answered wrongly, and he added others. By lunch time, Brandon had graded some of the tests, and found the results equally unsatisfactory. He compared today’s answers to the answers given on the same tests the day before. They were equally wrong, but not the same wrong answers, which reinforced the opinion that he was purposely screwing up.
After a very tasty lunch prepared by Aunt Barbara, and which Eric ate without a word of thanks, Brandon decided to take Eric down to Mike’s gym. One of the benefits of being one of Brandon’s boys was membership in the gym, and Dr. Castleman did say he needed exercise. If he would not ride, maybe he could get some at the gym.
Eric seemed to appreciate the gym. This attention to physical strength appealed to him. Brandon did the exercises along with him, as Eric showed a tendency to overdo it, and might hurt himself. It soon became apparent that the man was in better physical shape than the boy.
After this happened with three consecutive exercises, Eric threw down his barbells and shouted, “Shit! I can’t do my usual! It must be the influence of those damned horses yesterday.” After that, he sat and sulked, and refused to perform any more exercises. So, with another sigh, Brandon walked back to Brandon’s Boys with Eric.
Then came the first conflict over religion. At least, the first not directly related to Eric’s foul mouth. Brandon noted that it was Maundy Thursday, the day on which Christ’s last supper with his apostles was commemorated, and which also marked the establishment of the Eucharist and the sacramental priesthood. He and all the boys would be attending the services that evening. Would Eric want to accompany them?
He should have known better. His question was followed by a string of curses, blasphemies, and simply foul language as yet unprecedented. Among other things, there seemed to be invocations of Beelzebub and Mephistopheles. Whether these were considered two beings or two names for the same being was not clear. They were also mispronounced.
“Okay, okay, I get it that you’re not enthusiastic about the idea. We will make provisions to have someone stay with you here while the rest of us are gone,” Brandon conceded.
Brandon gave that some thought. Aunt Barbara would be at the same services at the Spanish language parish, St. Francis Xavier. Aunt Anne was Episcopalian, but they had Maundy Thursday services, too. Then, Brandon thought of his friend Robb Allen. Robb had a degree in Electrical Engineering, and was part owner of the compute store, Cross Electronics. He was married to Jenny Allen, and Jenny would be at church, but, as far as he knew, Robb had no religious affiliation. He sometimes accompanied Jenny, though. So Brandon called Robb.
“Are you going to church with Jenny and the kids this evening?” he asked.
“No. I figure I’m doing my share by attending once or twice a month. Three days in a row is above and beyond the call of marital duty,” Robb replied.
“Well, if you’re not busy, then, I have a job for you.” Then Brandon explained the situation, at least to the extent of saying that Eric did not want to go out to St. Rose that evening and needed an adult to sort of keep an eye on him, as he was as yet an unknown factor.
Robb responded with a counter proposal. He had been planning on spending the time at the store, doing some work on computers which had been brought in for repair. How about bringing Eric to the store, and letting him sit there for about two hours? He could play some video games. Brandon accepted this alternative with gratitude.
Shortly before dinner, Chris and the boys returned from the Farm. As usual, Brandon, Chris, and Little Chris would have their evening meal at their home, served by Aunt Luisa, while the boys had theirs at the group house, prepared by Aunt Barbara and Aunt Anne. After dinner, Brandon walked next door to make certain everyone was ready. The Mass started at 7:00. Freddy sorrowfully reported that Eric continued to refuse to talk to him. Aunt Barbara noted that, while he said nothing other than mumbling to himself during grace, there was nothing wrong with Eric’s appetite. They piled into three vehicles, driven by Brandon, Chris, and Clarence. Brandon made certain Eric was in his car.
That car left first, as they had to stop by Cross Electronics on the way. While the others in the car waited, Brandon escorted Eric into the shop through the back door, as it was not open for business at this hour. There, they found Robb Allen in the work room, amid a series of machines and parts which Brandon found totally confusing.
“Eric, this is Mr. Allen. He has graciously agreed to keep an eye on you while the rest of us are at church. Please do not cause him any trouble,” Brandon said.
Eric shook hands with Robb, and sat at one of the work tables.
“We’ll be fine,” Robb promised. “See you in a couple of hours.”
And so the others continued on to St. Rose of Lima, and the Maundy Thursday services.
When Brandon stopped by later to pick up Eric, he found him engrossed in computers rather than games. Before they left for home, however, Robb found opportunity to speak to Brandon.
“I hope Eric was not too much trouble,” Brandon said.
“No, not unless you consider having to listen to two hours of complaining to be too much trouble. But this guy is seriously disturbed, Brandon. A lot of what he says seems to come from some comic strip, but there are more disturbing things. I recognized some things I think come from Mein Kampf and some from Nietzsche.”
“Oh,” Brandon exclaimed. “The old Wille zur Macht thing. I should have recognized that from all the talk about slave mentality and strength and power. Thanks, Robb.”
“Like I said, he’s seriously disturbed,” Robb repeated.
“I took him to see Ben Spalding, but he refused to cooperate. We’ll keep trying,” Brandon promised.
Friday was a lot like Thursday, in that Eric refused to consider attending the Good Friday services. In fact, he announced that he was glad they knocked off one of his chief enemies. He would go if he could cheer when Christ died. Brandon had pulled Eric aside to ask him about going, and was very glad the boys did not have to hear this. Eric would again visit Cross Electronics while the others were at church. Brandon admonished him not to distract Mr. Allen from his work, without much hope of success. He had not shown himself considerate of anyone else thus far.
On Saturday morning, Brandon got a call from the man he regarded as his father-in-law, Zip Todd, father of Chris and husband of Sandy. He had found a few things by searching the web which might interest Brandon. So, naturally, Brandon went across to consult with Zip in the Todd House library. First of all, Zip laid before Brandon some information he had gathered on Eric’s family. There was a birth certificate, but it had no additional information except that Eric’s parents were not married and that he was born in Clifton, at Clifton General downtown. Eric’s father was named Ronald Raglan, and had died three years before. The death certificate was not very specific about the cause of death, but evidently it was something having to do with the lungs. Eric’s mother, Doreen Hunt, died about six weeks after her partner under suspicious circumstances. There was a police report, but nothing specific could be proven, and it might have been an accident, but she died in a garage with the doors tightly closed and jammed shut, and the car motor running.
Eric’s legal guardian was Allison Poteet, who was a half-sister of Doreen Hunt. Same mother, different father. On the papers from Social Services, she was said to be married to a man named Jude Faust, but Zip could locate no record of a marriage, and no birth certificate for anyone by that name.
He did, however, locate a blog. It was not very well constructed, but it touted the services of a church called ‘His Power is Great.’ That was the church identified by Social Services as the one to which Eric belonged. Jude Faust was the name of the webmaster listed for that site. Zip identified some of the positions taken on the site as coming from nothing more respectable than popular legends passed on since the Middle Ages and incorporated in various works of fiction. Satan, or Beelzebub, or Mephistopheles is identified with the power of nature. Those who worship him are meant to be the powerful of the earth, and destined to rule over lesser people who are afflicted with a slave mentality. The primary example of the slave mentality was Christianity, especially in its Catholic form, as it encouraged submission to clerical agents, and promoted such slave attitudes as mercy and meekness. That seemed to come from Nietzsche, or maybe from some old Nazi propaganda. The powerful are identified with the white race in its Northern European manifestation, while all others are declared parasites, living off the accomplishments of the whites. The goal of the movement was said to be to restore the powerful to their rightful place as rulers, which had been stolen from them by a conspiracy of Jews, Catholics, blacks, and foreigners. That seemed to come from the nineteenth century Know-Nothings.
One thing which Zip found particularly interesting is that, in what was evidently a side paragraph, not attached to the main description of the movement, horses, dogs, and doves were identified as agents of the anti-superior conspiracy. They were said to give off a hostile aura, which encouraged men to be submissive to the slave mentality of the inferior people. Their aura also provided the inferiors with some protection against the power of the superior people.
While Zip and Brandon naturally found all this disgusting, it did help to explain some of Eric’s attitudes, and in particular his reaction to horses.
Naturally, Eric would not be going with the others to the Easter vigil service at St. Rose, which began at 11:00 p.m. and lasted about two hours. And this time, Robb Allen would not be working in his shop, so some other arrangement had to be worked out. There was a private security agency which provided protection to persons and properties in the general area in which Brandon’s Boys was located, and Brandon was acquainted with the head of that organization, Col. Peter Morin, a retired career Marine. He walked down to the headquarters and spoke with the Colonel. Peter would not himself be on duty at night. In fact, he would also be at the Easter vigil service. But there was always someone on duty at the desk so any problems could be communicated quickly and help summoned if needed. The person at the desk that evening would be Michael Flaherty, a relatively new member of the force. With the Colonel’s permission, Brandon contacted Mike and explained his problem in much the same terms as he had to Robb Allen. Mike agreed to ‘baby sit’ the problem boy, but suggested, in that the equipment at headquarters could not be tied up with video games or the like, that Eric bring with him something to keep himself busy. This was agreed to, and so another friend helped with the process.
The Easter vigil went off without too much trouble. Mike also confided to Brandon when he came to pick up Eric that he thought the boy was seriously disturbed. But they all went back home and slept late on Easter morning.
Later, the boys were treated to an excellent Easter dinner, prepared by Aunt Barbara with the help of Aunt Anne, who put in some additional time on Easter, although she usually took Sundays off. Eric was the only boy who failed to thank Aunt Barbara and Aunt Anne. Then, the boys took Eric down to Mansfield Park to inaugurate him into the sport of soccer, which was almost the official sport of Brandon’s Boys. Eric had never played, but that was true of some of the others when they first came. The difference soon became apparent. Eric quickly reached a high frustration level, and then he began to try to really hurt the others. The boys found their own solution to that problem. They tied Eric to a park bench and left him there until they completed their game. He yelled profanities the entire time, but the other boys simply ignored him. When they had completed their game, they untied Eric and marched him back to Brandon’s Boys. He was yelling about child abuse and police brutality, although no police were involved.
When they got back to the house, Eric was still loudly complaining. When Aunt Barbara asked him whether she should call Brandon, however, he called her several unpleasant names and retreated to the room he shared with Freddy. Freddy had been among the soccer players, and enjoyed the game, although he kind of felt sorry for Eric because he would not enjoy it along with the others. When it was supper time, however, Eric did not remain in his room, but chowed down as much as anyone else.
On Monday, Brandon took Eric out to St. Rose of Lima Parochial School along with several of the younger boys. He consulted with the Principal, Teresa Castro, explaining that Eric was a new placement at Brandon’s Boys and was not Catholic. He would, therefore, not be required to take part in any religious ceremony. But religion class was part of the general curriculum, taken by every student regardless of personal affiliation. Brandon had given up on placement examinations, as Eric consistently failed them on purpose, and just told Miss Castro that he had been in the eighth grade at Abraham Lincoln. He made plans to be home, just in case there was a problem on this first day.
Brandon returned home and was busy with many things until after lunch. Then, only a few minutes after one o’clock, the call came. A secretary said she was calling for Miss Castro, and would Brandon come out to St. Rose to get Eric Raglan immediately. Sighing, Brandon drove out to the school. He entered the Principal’s office, and was greeted by Teresa Castro, who looked harried.
“Brandon, you know we’ve worked with your other boys, but we cannot deal with this one,” she said.
“What’s he up to?” Brandon asked with a fear of the answer.
“He was disruptive in all his morning classes, refusing to cooperate with the teacher and using some of the most appalling profanity. At lunch, he threatened to ... well, to have sex with one of the girls despite her objections. He also refused to return his tray to the designated position, and scattered debris on the table and floor. But we gave up when the religion class met right after lunch. Eric began to loudly insult the teacher and the Church even before the class began. He claimed all the other children were being brainwashed, and he would not participate. He then let go with a string of obscenities which took even Mr. Peake, the teacher, by surprise. They were absolutely blasphemous and hateful. Several of the children are in counseling right now as a result of their reaction to all this. Brandon, we simply cannot cope with this.”
“I understand, Teresa. I was hoping against hope that things would turn out okay, but I cannot honestly say this takes me completely by surprise. We’ll make other arrangements. I appreciate your efforts, and I apologize for inflicting Eric on you and the school. Where is he now?”
“He’s in the office shared by Mr. Peake and several other teachers, along with Mr. Peake. I’ll take you there,” Teresa said as they began to move down the corridor.
Jamie Peake was the baseball coach and PE teacher, but like most of the teachers also taught a religion class. It was usually not a traumatic assignment. Brandon and Teresa Castro found Jamie and Eric in the office, with Eric sitting in a chair away from the door, and Jamie right next to the door. He seemed relieved when Brandon appeared.
“Hi, Brandon. Here’s your problem child. He’s tried twice to escape, so be careful taking him home,” Jamie said.
“And just where were you planning to go?” Brandon put it to Eric.
“Anywhere away from the Whore of Babylon. This place is filthy with the scent of the enemy. All you do here is indoctrinate kids with being subject to your damned priests and following your slave morality,” Eric shouted.
“It sounds like you’re really worked up. Let’s go. You’ve caused enough trouble for these good people,” Brandon said, crossing the room and taking Eric by the arm. He looked first at Teresa, then at Jamie. “Thanks, guys. I guess not everything works out. Let me know if I can be of help.”
With a firm grip on Eric, Brandon marched out to the car, and put him in, then got in himself and took off. Along the way, all he said was, “You have terrible manners. Do not think this kind of nonsense will get you out of attending school.”
Eric simply sulked.
Rather than head back to Brandon’s Boys, Brandon drove to Abraham Lincoln Middle School, the public institution where Eric had formerly attended, located to the northwest of Brandon’s Boys, so in the opposite direction from St. Rose. He marched Eric in, and they had a conference with the Principal. Brandon explained the difficulties, and the Principal agreed to take Eric back. At least, there would be no religion classes, something of which he preferred to remain ignorant.
Over the next six weeks, things struggled along. Eric was not a good student at Lincoln, but at least he did not act up as he had at St. Rose. He often did not do his work, even though Brandon tried to have him checked each day. Some days, he lied about his assignments, and some days he did them, but refused to turn them in or respond in class. He got in fights with other kids fairly frequently, and was given disciplinary assignments, which Brandon saw to it he did, but he then failed to turn them in about half the time. He was kept after school for disciplinary reasons at least once each week, and often more. And, of course, this also involved an additional trip someone had to make to deliver and pick up Eric each day. He could not be trusted to take the bus, as he very likely would not show up.
At home, there were many incidents, most of which the boys kept to themselves. They did not want to be tattletales, and so they meted out justice as they saw fit. Eric was locked in a closet more than once. He regularly made hateful remarks about the boys and their religion. He called them slaves and inferiors. He was especially hateful to Clarence, Freddy, and Bobby, the three black boys at the house.
Brandon once found Freddy crying. When asked what the matter was, the boy sobbed, “He still won’t talk to me. He just yells.”
Aunt Barbara used the time tested punishment for his foul mouth. On more than one occasion, with the help of other boys holding Eric down, he had his mouth washed out with soap. He claimed child abuse.
The denouement came on Saturday, May 14. On that day, Abraham Lincoln Middle School held graduation exercises. Brandon attended, as, despite a terrible record, Eric was being passed on to the next level. Very few people failed in the public schools. That was not good for their self-image, but Eric came closer than most. The ceremony was in the morning, followed by a lunch at the school cafeteria. Eric was given presents by Brandon and Chris, but none of the boys felt moved to do so, as he had been such a negative presence in their lives since March.
About three o’clock in the afternoon, there came cries of pain from the kitchen. Oliver and Joe, who were nearby, went to investigate. They found that Eric had backed Aunt Barbara into a corner and was pummeling her with his fists. She evidently could not provide him with some snack he wanted as his reward for completing Middle School. They immediately grabbed the boy, and locked him in a closet. By this time, a closet off the rec room had been cleared of everything else and reserved for this purpose by the boys. Then those two called a meeting of all the boys in town at the time. It took a while, and Eric spent more than an hour in the closet. But when all the available boys were assembled, they held something like a trial. Eric was dragged out, and sat in the middle of the rec room, surrounded by the other boys. He was accused of all sorts of things, from constantly bad mouthing the boys and their beliefs to stealing to beating on poor Freddy to the attack on Aunt Barbara. In response, Eric delivered more verbal abuse, calling the boys all kinds of names, insulting them, the Catholic religion, Jesus, Aunt Barbara, and Brandon.
Freddy asked to say something, and of course was given the opportunity. He had put up with Eric’s bad manners more than anyone. “Eric, I’m sorry it has come to this. From the first day you were here, I tried to be a friend. I tried to help. But you rejected all my offers. You refused to talk to me. You even hit me when I tried to help. You do need help. You keep talking about the rest of us being brainwashed, but, Eric, you have a barrier in your brain which will not allow anything in which contradicts the silly nonsense you’ve been taught. I don’t know if that’s being brainwashed or not, but I know it makes no sense. I’m sorry, but I give up. I tried to be a good friend. When you decide you want a friend, and not someone to beat on, let me know. I’ll still be here, and still be willing to help.”
That was followed by another bout of vulgarity from Eric.
The boys took a vote, and unanimously voted to ask Brandon to send Eric back to Social Services. Brandon was next door, knowing nothing of all this until Oliver went to get him in person. Chris was with him, and also came across, and Aunt Barbara was also present when they again assembled in the rec room.
Brandon was surprised, but not much. He knew things were bad, and no progress was being made with Eric. He had not cooperated at school. He had not cooperated with Ben Spalding. But Brandon had not realized the extent of the dissatisfaction of the other boys, and certainly did not know Eric was beating on long-suffering Freddy, or being obnoxious to Aunt Barbara. He listened to everything the boys said. He got confirmation from Freddy, who still said Eric needed help. He got confirmation from Aunt Barbara, who reluctantly said she agreed with the boys. He asked Eric what he had to say.
He was greeted with another round of vulgarity and insults.
“Do you remember what I said on the first day me met? What did I say would happen if you absolutely refused to cooperate?” Brandon put it to Eric.
The response was more vulgarity and abuse.
“I said I would tie you up, and lock you in a room, and call Ken van Meter to come get you,” Brandon reminded Eric. “I don’t think the tying up or the locked room are necessary. I think the other boys would love an excuse to knock you about a bit if you tried anything.” To the boys, Brandon said, “Freddy, you go collect all Eric’s things and bring them here. The rest of you, keep Eric here until Mr. Van Meter comes for him.”
The boys cheered.
With that, Brandon went off to a quieter place, and called Ken. It was a Saturday, and even social workers get some time off, but Brandon was merciless. He tracked Ken down. The first thing he said when he got Ken on the phone was, “Your statistics are safe. Brandon’s Boys just recorded our first failure. Come get him.”