Here’s a new mystery for you to enjoy. Let me know what you think!
The Valley of Decision
Story by J.R. Underdown
Amy Alkaline was crossing through the Valley of Decision. I don’t mean this metaphorically. On the campus of Boyce College, there was actually a place called the Valley of Decision. It was part of the valley that separated the college and the Seminary. It received this name because it was a picturesque area with clumps of trees and a small stone bridge crossing a small stream of pebbles. This scenic valley thus became a prime spot for young college men who were madly in love to bring their sweethearts and propose to them. And so the name developed.
Anyways, Amy Alkaline was passing through this valley on her way to Carver Hall late one evening to hang out with friends and flirt with boys. It was late February, and a light chill hung in the air. She was ascending the hill and passing near a tree when suddenly a masked man jumped out.
“Now I’ve got you!” he yelled.
Amy screamed. The man curiously jumped away and ran. Amy didn’t stop to ponder this. Instead, she cut across the hill and entered Carver through the patio room.
Her ecstatic scream and behavior alerted everyone gathered there that she had either lost her sanity or just had a harrowing experience. She told her story exactly as it had happened. In the end, fellow females gave her a comforting pat on the back, but most laughed it off as a prank, explaining why the man ran away.
That Friday night, a group of girls (official term: gaggle) was walking away from Carver after a late class. When they came to the same tree that Amy had stopped at out jumped a masked man.
“Stop right there, Candice!”
Obviously the girls screamed and ran back to Carver and down into the patio room. They explained what happened and most people thought it a terrible prank that was getting old since no one likes to hear the high-pitched scream of a woman (except for owners of haunted houses).
But what made this case strange was the naming of someone named “Candice” (no girl in that group was named such) and the fact that one of the girls saw a gun holstered to the man’s hip. This unsettled all the ladies and most of the men. This was a prank that had gone way too far.
But four students present in the patio room at this second occurrence did not think this was a prank. Three of them figured there was some deep, lurking mystery afoot. One of them thought it a distraction to the board game he was dominating.
“I think this Valley of Decision matter is calling our name,” said Laura.
“The only thing calling your name right now is that card on the table,” John retorted.
Laura sighed and drew the card. She sighed again. “Better luck you wish there’d be, Uncle Figgily hops back by 3.”
“Yes!” John proclaimed.
“You know,” came Bryan, “I think Laura’s right about this mystery. It seems perfectly up our alley.”
“We don’t have an alley, Bryan,” said John. “Right now we have a dusty pathway to Grandma Turtleneck’s Cottage. And I’ll be there first! Now draw a card!”
Bryan drew a card and laughed. “Uncle Figgily had some gin, he runs ahead 20 for the win.”
“What?!” cried John as he watched Bryan’s piece advance far ahead of his and into Grandma Turtleneck’s backyard to swing.
“I don’t think that’s an appropriate rhyme for our school,” Jess remarked.
“Yeah…now what about this mystery?” John said.
“I think we should try and solve it,” Laura suggested.
“It does hold some interesting facets,” Bryan concurred.
“Okay, so where do we start?” Jess wondered.
“By finding a Boyce student named Candice,” Bryan answered.
“Sounds like something Jess and I can take care of,” Laura volunteered.
It didn’t take Laura and Jess long to figure out who this mysterious “Candice” was, since not very many parents name their daughters “Candice” these days. Her full name was Candice Catheter, and she fit the description of the other two girls who were mistaken for her: long silk black hair, a beautiful smooth face, and slim body. At the urging of Bryan, they sat her down to have a chat.
“Candice,” Laura began, “We have reason to believe somebody wants to kidnap you.”
Candice remained unmoved, but something flickered in her eye. Laura continued.
“Do you know anybody who would want to or why?”
“I have no idea,” Candice’s petit voice almost whispered.
“We know the guy’s been looking for you in the Valley of Decision.”
“Do you ever go that way?”
“On occasion. A friend of mine works in the Seminary office and I’ll go visit her and cross through the valley to get to class.”
“Do you ever go at night?”
“Sometimes. But not often.”
“Candice, my friends and I feel like you should have someone else around you at all times, especially when crossing the valley. We would be willing to help you.”
“What can your friends offer me?”
“We can give you protection.”
Candice laughed. “Who are you? The Mafia?”
Laura wasn’t quite sure what the Mafia was beyond a game you played with a bunch of people when there was nothing better to do. So she gave a light laugh and said, “Maybe. But we can help.”
Candice laughed again. “Laura, I’m sure you and your friends mean well, but I’ll be fine.”
“I’ll keep you all in mind. Promise.”
The others weren’t too thrilled with this news, since they were certain of clear and present danger. Nevertheless, as Bryan noted, there was nothing more they could do. But it wasn’t long before they were needed. A couple days later Candice was crossing the Valley of Decision at sunset. Nervously her eyes darted back and forth and up into the trees. A cold sweat broke out on her forehead. She had to stay after class and talk to her professor. She had to tell all her friends to go on. And she had to try the Valley. She wanted to prove the rumors false, but she was having a hard time keeping her nerves intact.
She came upon the stone bridge and crossed it. Suddenly leaves on a nearby bush rustled and out leapt a masked man.
“No mistakes this time!” he proclaimed to a frozen Candice. “You are Candice Catheter and I have you at last!”
“What do you want from me?” Candice muttered.
The villain paused. “What?”
Candice gathered herself and repeated her question clearly.
“Ah, I see,” went the kidnapper, “I suppose you don’t know, but it doesn’t matter. I will have my retribution. Now come here!”
This lull gave Candice time to collect her nerves and now she turned and ran uphill. The man gave chase. Halfway up the hill he grabbed the back of her backpack and tugged. Smartly, Candice discarded it and left the man tumbling down the steps. She bolted into Carver and happened to run into John and Bryan.
“Quick!” she pleaded, “Help me! I’m being chased by a man!”
“Most women around here enjoy that,” John joked.
“No, I mean he’s chasing me to kidnap me!”
John and Bryan exchanged glances.
“Are you Candice Catheter?” asked Bryan.
“I’m Bryan and this is John. Our friend, Laura, talked to you…”
Candice groaned. “I wish I had taken up your offer. He’s real. And he’s really trying to kidnap me!”
“Was he chasing you just now?”
“John, stay with Candice. I’ll go investigate!”
Bryan darted off and John stood there awkwardly with Candice. “So…you come around here much?”
Bryan ran down into the Valley. He looked all around and up in the trees, but no sign of the culprit. Twilight was coming and that made things difficult. The only thing Bryan could find was Candice’s backpack torn open on the hillside with books and paper strewn about. Bryan collected these things, double-checked the ground to be sure he didn’t miss anything, and then hurried back to Carver. There he found John with his guitar serenading Candice with a song about Calvinism and romance. Now Candice was in the awkward position.
“John, do something a little more productive and call Laura and Jess,” Bryan commanded.
“Already done and they’re already on their way!” John proudly replied.
“Good! Now, Candice, I’m assuming this is your stuff?”
Candice eagerly took the backpack and rummaged through its contents. “Yes,” she said as she rummaged. “He tried grabbing me by it while I fled.”
“Right. So tell me exactly what happened.”
Candice told them and they were surprised at two things: 1) he jumped out of a bush instead of a tree; and 2) she actually conversed with him and he said something about retribution. By now, Laura and Jess arrived. Bryan caught them up on the recent developments. They were about to discuss the matter when Candice let out a gasp.
“My day planner is gone!” she declared.
“That’s odd,” Bryan remarked.
“Maybe he left it out there,” Jess suggested.
“No, I made a thorough search of the grounds. That wannabe kidnapper must’ve taken it. But I wonder why.”
“My schedule’s in it,” Candice said slowly.
Bryan cocked his head. “Well, that certainly complicates matters, doesn’t it? Now he knows exactly where you’ll be at all times.”
“Great…” Candice groaned.
“So now what do we do?” Laura asked.
“At least one of us should be always with her,” Bryan answered.
“Couldn’t we just call campus security?” Jess recommended.
Bryan cocked his head again and considered this. “Oh yeah. That would probably be smarter.”
Ironically, one of the security guards came walking down the hall. His name was Allen and he was a fellow Boyce student (though much older than most), so most of the kids in the dorms knew him.
“Allen! You’re just the man we need!” Laura greeted.
“What can I do for ya’ll?” Allen asked.
“Somebody’s trying to kidnap me!” said Candice.
“Oh, you Candice Catheter?”
“Heard rumors about you and kidnappings. They’re true, huh?”
“Unfortunately,” said Bryan. “And now we’re wondering if you guys could give her a constant escort.”
Allen whistled. “That’s a tall order for our small team. She’s not the president, you know.”
“How do you know?” John retorted.
“Is there nothing you can do?” Jess pressed.
At this, Allen took out a piece of paper and scribbled something down.
“That’s my number,” he explained. “I’m usually on campus for something, so if you are in an emergency I could run and help. Otherwise, I’d say call campus security to send an escort if you’re walking anywhere alone on campus.”
Laura took the slip of paper and pocketed it. “Thanks, Allen.” And with that, he walked off.
“Well, I guess in the times there isn’t a strong man to escort you, we’ll have to do,” Bryan concluded.
“Don’t you feel lucky?” John nudged to Candice.
“Well, for now we’ll all escort you to Mullins. And as we go, I want to make sure we’ve covered all our bases so I can form a hypothesis.”
And so they made their way to Mullins, simultaneously listened to Candice’s story, and kept an eye out for shadowy figures. When she was finished and Bryan was sure of the facts, he began spinning theories.
“Clearly there are two things about this man: He’s a novice kidnapper, and he doesn’t really know Candice.”
“Explain, please,” said Laura.
“Well, it’s clear that he’s a novice because he’s been so unsuccessful. Jumping out of trees and bushes into plain sight isn’t exactly professional or clever.”
“You know how professional kidnappers act?” John questioned.
Bryan laughed. “Yeah, I worked overseas as one in high school.”
“Anyways, I figure he doesn’t really know Candice since he’s mistaken two other girls for her.”
“Coulda been the lighting,” Jess posed.
“Maybe, but I feel like this guy is unfamiliar with Candice.”
“Then why’s he after me?” Candice asked.
“I know that. But why on me?”
“I think he wants to use you to get to someone else. And my guess it’s family related. So what do your parents do?”
“Well,” Candice began, “My dad’s the COO of an insurance company and my mom’s a defense lawyer.”
“Maybe she put someone in jail that wants to get even,” Laura noted. “Has she mentioned any such case?”
“No, she never talks about ‘em.”
“Candice, do you think you could schedule an interview between us and your parents?” Bryan wondered.
“Schedule an appointment?” Candice replied. “Who are you guys?” She looked at John, who shrugged, and continued, “I could take you to see them now if you want. They live in the Pewee Valley.”
“That’s about 30-45 minutes away,” Jess remarked. “Would we get back in time for curfew?”
“If you’re worried ‘bout that,” Candice said, “we could go tomorrow morning.”
“John, Laura, and I have a class,” Bryan replied.
“I don’t,” said Jess, “I could go.”
“Then let’s do that,” Bryan concluded. “Jess can investigate for us while we educate our minds. Candice, I believe you have Laura’s number. John, give her your number so she can get a hold of you. You’re never far from me.”
John grinned as he gave Candice his number. By now, they were at Mullins, and the girls parted ways with the guys.
The morning dawned with a wintry brightness, and Jess and Candice were on their way to the Pewee Valley (which is, believe it or not, the actual name). They arrived in the driveway of a gorgeous house, which in Jess’ eyes looked like a mansion.
“You live here?” Jess asked in awe.
“Yep,” answered Candice, “It’s what you get when you have rich parents.”
“I wanna have rich parents when I grow up,” Jess wished in a daze.
Candice gave her a look and then said, “OK…shall we go in?”
The front hall was one of the cleanest areas Jess had ever seen. White tiled floors glimmered in the light of a gold chandelier that hung far overhead. There was a door to a coat closet, an umbrella stand, and a little table with trinkets on it. In some ways, it reminded her of a funeral home she visited once. They proceeded down the hall and entered a fairly vast and clean kitchen. At the table sat Mr. Catheter, a tall handsome man with every bearing of a successful businessman.
“Jess, this is my dad.”
“How do you do?” they both exchanged, with Mr. Catheter adding that his name was Clarence.
“I have to say, Mr. Catheter,” Jess began, “I was a little surprised to hear you were a COO.”
“Oh, why’s that?”
“Well, with a name like ‘Catheter,’ I thought you’d be a doctor.”
“Erm, yes,” said Clarence. “I heard you wanted to see me?”
“Oh, yes, and your wife, too. But not just me, my friends as well.”
“Where are your friends?”
“They couldn’t make it. Where’s your wife?”
“She went to work early. So what can I do for you?”
“Well, it’s about your daughter; someone’s trying to kidnap her.”
“Would you have an idea of who would do that?”
“Not unless I saw him or heard his voice.”
“Well, we think he’s trying to use her to get to either you or your wife. Have you fired anybody lately?”
“Not personally. I leave that to the manager.”
“What about your wife? Maybe one of her cases left a deranged mind desirous of revenge?”
“I wouldn’t know. Her cases, the big ones when she gets them, are confidential. She never shares the nitty gritty details.”
Jess frowned. She didn’t think investigation would be this hard. Bryan seemed much more natural at it. She thought quickly for another question.
“Is there anything else you know that could help us?”
“I know lots of things that could help you…but none pertaining to this affair. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to get going.”
He gave his daughter a kiss on the forehead and left. The two girls then breakfasted together.
The next couple of days found Bryan and company keeping a close watch over Candice like a cat watches closely a little bird. The lack of information on her parents’ part wasn’t reassuring and didn’t give them much more to go on. No more incidents had been reported in the Valley of Decision and they were beginning to wonder if their poor pursuer had given up.
But then things came to a head one night while they occupied a classroom at Carver. Bryan, John, and Laura were working on a theology paper. Or, rather, Bryan and Laura were discussing the paper and John was taking copious, pointless notes. Jess and Candice were working on homework and occasionally listening to Bryan and Laura discuss post-minimalism.
“So,” Bryan was saying, “Could—?”
“No,” John cut in.
“Now,” Bryan continued, “In order to be beautiful, does something have to relate to something outside itself? Is Beauty subjective or objective in its reasoning?”
“Well,” Laura joined, “I think that if God is the source and measure of Beauty, as we’ve discussed already, then for something to be beautiful it must relate to God.”
“Ah,” went Bryan, “thus that would be contra minimalism/post-minimalism.”
“Uh-huh. Wait, what is contra?”
“It was an awesome video game from the 80’s,” John answered.
“It’s also Latin for ‘against’,” Bryan corrected.
“But is post-minimalism against God?” Laura questioned.
Bryan cocked his head. “Maybe. Let’s review what we know about it. It seems that its emphasis is not on the subject giving meaning or on the object having meaning. Thus, you come into touch with the ontological basis of it…whatever that means…”
“Can you specify?” asked Laura.
“You come into contact with metaphysical foundations.”
“That sounds deep and meaningful but probably isn’t.”
“It’s ridiculous, isn’t it? Or is it? I mean, in the hypothetical realm of objectivity, quasi truths bear no teleological meaning on the matter. But across the ontological equator they find a restaurant of happiness.”
“What?” went John.
“I think we may be onto the ontological basis here,” Laura commented.
Eventually Candice and Jess exchanged glances.
“They’ve been at this for an hour,” Candice noted, “how much longer can they go?”
“At least two more,” answered Jess in all seriousness.
Candice groaned inwardly. This would be a long evening. Just then, her phone vibrated; she had received a text message from an unknown number. Curiously, she viewed it and had to hold back a gasp. It read:
“if u evr want 2 c ur bff veronica berns again u will mt me in the vall now!retrib is near!”
Candice almost interrupted the intellectual conversation of Bryan and Laura to tell them about her kidnapper, but withheld. Did he really have Veronica? If so, could she risk her friend’s life? No, she had to meet this creep on his terms. She thought wildly for a minute to make up an excuse. When she had one, she cleared her throat to get their attention.
“I need to go to the restroom…”
They all stared at her.
“I, um, just thought I’d let you know so you don’t freak out.”
They continued to stare until Bryan muttered, “OK,” and John said, “Have fun!” And so Candice awkwardly left the room.
While she was gone, Bryan and Laura continued their discussion, John began a game of solitaire on his computer, and Jess started knitting a quilt. Suddenly the cell phone of Candice Catheter beeped beside Jess. She glanced at it, saw the unknown number, and looked at the text out of suspicion. She didn’t withhold a gasp.
“Guys! Candice just got a text from an unknown number that says, and I quote, ‘I c where ur @. W8 4 me there.retrib is near!’ End quote.”
“Huh,” went John, “I wonder who that is?”
“The kidnapper!” the other three exclaimed.
“She’s meeting him in the bathroom?”
“No! I bet she went to the Valley,” Bryan explained.
“Bryan, since when do you bet?” Laura wondered.
“You’re right!” Jess cut in. “There’s another text from him saying to meet him in the Valley…this guy texts like a junior high girl.”
“I wonder why Candice left her phone here?” Laura posed.
“Probably hoping we’d figure out what’s going on,” guessed Bryan. “Did you notice how nervous she was when leaving? I should’ve seen it!”
“The ontological it?” John joked.
There was a pause while Bryan contorted his face. Finally, Jess asked, “So what do we do now?”
This snapped Bryan out of his funk. “Go find her now!”
In a rush and panic, they stormed out of the room and into the brisk night air. They descended the steps beside Carver and raced down into the Valley of Decision. They could see two people crossing the bridge and ascending the other side. In less than thirty seconds they came charging up behind. The kidnapper whirled around, forcing Candice in front. Simultaneously he drew a knife and a gun, putting the knife to Candice’s throat and aiming the gun at the pursuers.
“Stop where you are!” he yelled. They froze; John out front, Bryan a foot behind, and the girls a little behind Bryan.
“Who are you?” Bryan demanded. “And what do you want?”
“My name’s Jack Lipswitch,” he proclaimed, “Ol’ Jack the Jaguar they call me. And I’m doing this for retribution!”
“Okay…but retribution for what? You worked for her dad, didn’t you? You were fired and wanted revenge.”
“Ha! Close, but no cigar! I still work for her dad! I’m the company janitor!”
A moment of silence.
Then Jess spoke, “So why…?”
“Because decisions he made cut some of my benefits. I had to get retribution on that rich whelp for overlooking the middle class man and thinking only of himself. I couldn’t get it on my supervisor, he doesn’t have kids. But I clean Clarence’s office everyday and see his family picture on the desk. I heard him talk about how his little girl was at Boyce, and so I decided to kidnap her! And ransom her for money! But I’m willing to kill her, too!”
There was a moment of tension as the cold steel touched Candice’s neck and she let out a light squeal. The other four made a show of moving in but Jack steadied his gun.
“Not so fast! We’re gonna make this interesting. You there! With the facial hair and glasses and the shirt with the question mark on it! You get to decide.”
“Decide what?” John asked.
“Who dies! It’s either the girl or one of your friends.”
“Uh…the other guy! Who looks like your brother!”
“Bryan looks nothing like my brother.”
“Decide! Who dies? Candice Catheter…or your friend?”
“His name’s Bryan.”
“Okay, okay, keep your holster on! This is a big decision, I need to think this through.”
“Pick me, John,” said Bryan.
“No!” Jack interrupted, “He must decide.”
In the cold air, John began sweating. “All right, let’s see, the whole point of this has been to keep Candice from you, so I can clearly not choose the hostage in front of you.”
“So you choose your friend!”
“No! Wait! I’m still working this out!” He paused. “Now, Bryan’s my best friend so I can clearly not choose the hostage behind me.”
“Hold up! On the other hand, the chivalrous thing to do would be to keep the lady alive, so I cannot choose the hostage in front of you. But…”
“Hurry up…” Jack gritted through his teeth.
“But,” John continued, “Candice doesn’t seem too interested in me and I don’t really know her so I cannot choose the hostage behind me.”
“Will you decide already?!”
“Patience! Sheesh, you’re hastier than a hobbit. Now, I should consider that Candice’s father is a big-shot COO and her mom a lawyer, while Bryan’s dad is a pastor and his mom stays at home.”
At this point, Bryan couldn’t hold back a laugh. “What does that matter?”
“Well,” John reasoned, “Candice’s parents are powerful and could sue me if I let their daughter die. But your parents would probably forgive me if I let you die…so I cannot choose the hostage in front of Jack.”
“Enough deciding time!” Jack roared. “Make up your mind now!”
John frowned. He knew there was only one option he was fine with, but he was reluctant to speak. Finally, he wiped his brow, cleared his throat, and stood up straight.
“Put your gun down, now!” yelled a figure suddenly beside Jack. The figure held a pistol to Jack’s head. “And the knife. Drop it slowly.”
“Oh, hi, Allen!” Jess greeted.
“Hey guys, looks like I got here in time.”
“Did you ever,” sighed Laura. “I’m glad you got my text.”
“You contacted Allen?” asked John.
“Yep, while you were buying time, I sent a quick text.”
“Nice teamwork, guys,” Bryan congratulated.
“Laura and I are not guys,” Jess informed.
“You know what I mean. Candice, are you okay?”
Candice was looking pale, even in the night lights. “I’m just…over…whelmed…” and she fell forward unconscious. John was closest and stepped up to catch her. When she was safely in his arms, he looked up at the others with a smile.
“I got her! This is the best part of the story!”
During this time, Allen was handcuffing Jack Lipswitch and disarming him. “Cops are on their way, but why don’t you take Candice to the patio room? I’ll let ‘em know where to find you.”
An hour or so later, the police had reports filled out and Bryan and company, along with Candice, were at Founders Café laughing about the whole ordeal over cups of hot chocolate. Well, it wasn’t so much a laugh as it was a sigh of relief. They sat discussing the case and its different aspects. Finally, Laura turned to John with a quizzical look.
“John, out of curiosity, who were you going to choose?”
John stared bashfully down at his drink and then back up at the group. “Well, I didn’t want to choose either Bryan or Candice, so I was going to pick myself.”
There was a brief moment of silence broken by Bryan.
“John, you are more surprising than a hobbit.”
The others nodded in agreement and John blushed. But the red soon paled as panic took his face.
“Jinkies! We left our stuff in the classroom! It’s going to get locked in!”
“What are ‘jinkies?’” Bryan wondered.
“Explain on the way,” said Candice, “I left my cell phone in that room!”
And so the group made a mad dash to Carver, hot chocolate in hand, only to find the room locked. Thankfully, Allen came to the rescue again and dropped by to let them gather their stuff. From there they walked Candice back to Mullins one last time. After parting ways with her, they climbed the tree in front of Whitsitt, named it the “Grunge Tree,” and began calling themselves “Grungers.” And so, henceforth, they shall be named.
Jack Lipswitch spent a few years in jail and lost all his benefits. Candice, who was surprisingly resilient during the whole affair, changed her number and had Jess over for breakfast frequently. In fact, Jess and Candice became pretty close friends and would often talk about how weird some of the Boyce guys were. Laura eventually learned what the real Mafia was and started calling Bryan “Don.” She never explained why, so Bryan never got the joke. But that’s fine, since Bryan spent plenty of time studying and turning down bodyguard gigs. John, disappointed that his Calvinism love song didn’t work on Candice, worked on it more and found it had no affect on the girls he wanted to date, but only attracted the weird ones. He soon trashed it.
And so, the moral of the story is: never leave your phone number in your planner because you never know what creep will steal it and use that information to annoy you.
*college-time mysteries. ’13. All rights reserved.
If you’d like to read more of my writing, you can buy a novel here: http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00DUO3PUK#_