2. Frederick was sitting at a table in the local library, encyclopaedias and guide books all around him. One of them was open at an article entitled Edensbridge Village. There were two photographs there, one of a row of many well-preserved houses and another one of a man and a woman sitting in front of what Frederick assumed to be their home. They had a guarded look about them, but that was not unusual. In fact, Frederick had found nothing unusual whatsoever in all the information he had managed to gather about Edensbridge.
Frederick looked at the photographs once more. He studied the faces of the people, trying to read what lay behind their slightly wary looks. For now he saw only a couple belonging to a mistrustful group of people – justifiably mistrustful due to their isolation – yet there was nothing hostile in them. He figured he could get the community to accept him, if he tried hard enough and if he showed them that he meant them no harm.
Frederick re-read the article but he did not find it too informative. It only said that Edensbridge village was a relatively recent community, having been founded about four hundred years before. The people there had always been few and now they were dwindling fast. As far as the article could tell, no inhabitant had ever left the village, nor had any outsiders moved in. The villagers were farmers and lived on what they produced except for a few who went to sell their products in the nearby town. There was no record of any graveyard, but the article did not tell how the people disposed of their dead.
Frederick closed the book and tapped his pen against the table thoughtfully. He had already made up his mind to leave the next day. He would present himself to the villagers as who he really was, telling them that the only thing he wanted was to make a show about them and that he had no intention of harming them. If anything, it might even solve the plight they were in concerning the hotel chain. He would say nothing about Karen Goldsmith, but he would casually ask about the outsiders that came to the village. If he was told about Karen's arrival, he was going to demand more information about her. But he was sure that he would get very straightforward answers. Unlike Pickford, he doubted very much that the inhabitants of Edensbridge village had anything to do with Karen Goldsmith's disappearance.
The librarian came then and tapped him on the shoulder and when Frederick raised his eyes to look at her, she silently pointed her head at the clock hanging on the wall. It was almost five o'clock and it was time for the library to close. Frederick nodded to show that he understood and got up, leaving the books on the table.
He stepped out into the summer afternoon. The sky was clear and the sun was bright. It was the perfect weather for a few days spent in the mountains. Cheered by that thought, Frederick walked home.
When he reached his apartment building Frederick spotted a red car right in front. He frowned, recognising it. His sister had come to visit and that was rarely good news. Sighing, Frederick climbed the steps to the third floor, knowing full well that after her sister let herself in his flat, she rarely bothered locking it back.
"I'm home," he announced on a falsely cheerful tone that he knew fooled no one.
There was no answer. Schooling his face so that it was devoid of the exasperation he could not help but feel, Frederick made his way into the living room. He found his sister examining a small dreamcatcher that had been hanging above the couch. Frederick was rather fond of that object, as it was not an imitation sold in gift shops, but a true dreamcatcher handmade of wood and rope and an eagle's feathers. Frederick had received it recently when he had been filming a Native American tribe. It was not unusual for Frederick to buy objects from the tribes he visited, as the quirky appearance of his house showed too well – but this one had a rather special history.
It had not been bought, for one thing. It had been a gift. A while before, Frederick had shot an episode about a Native American reservation. He had spent about a month there. During that time, he had managed to leave an impression on one of the few young men that had been there. He was one of those rare people who valued traditions and modernity equally. He spent quite a lot of time at the reservation, although he did not actually live there and in fact had a job at a university in town.
When Frederick was ready to leave, his new found friend – who had always insisted Frederick call him by his first name which had turned out to be the rather prosaic and unimaginative one of John – had presented him with the dreamcatcher. Frederick had inspected it with amused curiosity.
"You give this to your children," he had observed. "So that that they are protected from evil dreams. And when it breaks – for the cord is fragile and bound to break in end – it means the child has grown and no longer has any need of its protection. Do you see me as a child, then, to be defended from bad dreams?"
John had grinned at that shaking his head.
"See, I knew we could not fool you like we could some unsuspecting tourist," he had joked. "No, I did not think of that. I only wanted to give you something to remember me by. And, well, to remember that even your own existence is not as dark as you sometimes perceive it to be."
Frederick had cast John a sharp look. He had not mentioned any of his fears to him – he had never mentioned them to anybody, actually. And he was now surprised to hear how close his friend had read him.
"What do you mean?" he had asked, more to find out if it really was so, than because he had actually needed to know.
"Just that I think you sometimes need to be reminded of the brighter side of things," John had replied. "This is part of the reason why you travel – right? You search for people who can still live a life free from the complications and pretence of the modern world. You seek honesty and light to compensate for the lies and darkness you think surround you. Maybe this dreamcatcher is to remind you that there are things protecting you against that darkness."
"But what about when the cord breaks?" Frederick had wanted to know. "Will it mean that I will no longer need protection from these things?"
Because Frederick knew that could signify only one thing: that he himself would eventually become all that he now despised, that one day he would be so world-weary that he would no longer care for the ideals that he now strove to uphold. Yet John had hastened to put him at ease:
"Not at all," he had replied. "But rather that you will not need to be reminded any more."
And as Frederick was sure that day had not come yet, he hastened to rescue the dreamcatcher from his sister's clutches.
"It's rather fragile, Mildred," he told her. "I'd appreciate it if you handled it with care."
Mildred turned around at the sound of his voice. She looked unimpressed.
"I can get you one just like that from the gift shop down the street," she reminded him, but she put the dreamcatcher back in its place nonetheless.
"This isn't from a gift shop," Frederick informed her. "It's rather special. A friend gave it to me and it's original."
"Oh, of course it is," Mildred said contemptuously. "Only what's authentic for Frederick Pryce Junior."
The way she pronounced his name annoyed Frederick. It was like she was hinting he was not worthy of bearing such a name.
"In the end what do you want, Mildred?" he asked wearily. "I doubt this is a mere call of courtesy. You rarely do that."
"We tried calling you last week," Mildred told him promptly. "That is, Mum did. But you did not answer. Then we called you again and still there was no answer. Then we had to call your boss and ask him for your whereabouts."
She paused as if giving Frederick a chance to defend himself. He said nothing, however, knowing there was nothing to say.
"I think you should let us know when you're living the continent," Mildred advised him.
Frederick shrugged his shoulders in a careless manner. He was aware that would irritate Mildred even further, but Mildred had already programmed herself to be irritated by their conversation. He was merely living up to her expectations.
"I'm out of the continent almost all the time," he pointed out. "That's nothing new."
"Oh, of course," Mildred spoke sweetly. "For your show."
Her tone made Frederick frown, even though he had told himself not to be affected by whatever his sister had to say.
"What's that supposed to mean, Mildred?" he wanted to know.
"It's about that show, of course," Mildred confessed, looking as if she was slightly reluctant to say this, even though Frederick knew she was anything but. "I mean, I understand it was something you'd think fun to do for a while, but really, Frederick. You'll be thirty this time next year. You cannot expect to still be doing your show by then."
"Why not?" Frederick demanded.
Mildred looked at Frederick with an expression one would use on an errant and rather slow child.
"Because it is high time you started thinking of a career, Frederick," she told him. "A real one."
"My career is real enough," Frederick persisted stubbornly. "Who says it is not real?"
But he already knew who. His family and all their respectable friends had already told him time and time again their opinion on Frederick's chosen job. He was son of Frederick Pryce Senior, after all, former dean of the Anthropology department at one of the most prestigious universities – so they said. His mother was an important doctor, a pioneer in her field who had also written several books and his sister, Mildred, had been teaching Sociology at their father's university for some time now. Could one of such a distinguished pedigree expect to be doing something as mundane as TV documentaries all his life? Hardly not!
"If you're talking about what Father thinks," Frederick told Mildred. "Then you can let him know that he has already given me his name. He can hardly expect me to live his life also."
Mildred sighed and shook her head with a weary gesture. She walked over to the couch and sat down heavily upon it.
"Do you remember Professor Robertson?" she asked abruptly.
"Robertson?" Frederick repeated slightly put off by Mildred's sudden change of subject. "I think I took a few of his classes when I was in college. He taught Visual Anthropology, didn't he?"
Mildred nodded in confirmation.
"That's the one," she replied. "He'll be retiring next year. The Dean told Father that, as a favour, he could hire you. You have, after all, some experience in that sort of thing."
Frederick took a deep breath and counted to ten. He was not going to get into a shouting match with Mildred. She would find a way to use even that to prove her point. She would probably say that he was so stressed out by his current job he was no longer able to control himself. No, he was going to handle this calmly and with dignity.
"As a favour to whom, Mildred?" he inquired coldly. "To me? Or to Dad?"
"To both," Mildred replied firmly. "Frederick, you have to understand that…"
Frederick raised his hand, interrupting his sister's speech.
"No, Mildred," he began, "You are the one that has to understand. You and Mum and Dad also. You all may enjoy the kind of life you lead, but I would not. All this moving in the tight academic world, with brainstorming of ideas among the select few and analysing everything from the superior point of view of the so-called scientist who knows better, all this keeping of discoveries only to a restricted, elitist circle, because common people could not possibly understand - I do not want that kind of life. I have never wanted it and I'm sure I never will, either."
"What do you want then, Frederick?" Mildred asked, appearing interested.
But why should he tell her? Frederick wondered. She would still insist that she was the one that knew what was truly best for him. She would probably not even listen to what he had to say. Still, Frederick had to try and say it. He had to prove to all of them that he had his own ideas of how he should live his life.
"I want to travel," Frederick confessed. "I want to explore and study all kinds of cultures, yes, but I do not want to approach them from the cold point of view of the scientist who only wants to analyse them. I want to present myself to them as one who wishes to understand them and tell their story to others so that they in turn can understand and respect them. That is what I like to do, Mildred, and that is what I am already doing."
Mildred stared at her brother with something that looked suspiciously like commiseration.
"You mean," she corrected. "That is what you think you are doing. But that is not why they keep you. They keep you for entertainment. That is all those at Outlands TV think you are – a way to entertain people and bring in more money. And their viewers do not see things differently, either."
Frederick swallowed uncomfortably. Mildred's words reminded him too much of that morning's conversation with Pickford. He had said something along the same lines.
"Look," Mildred added, "Why don't you have dinner with us the day after tomorrow. Maybe Mum and Dad will have more success in convincing you than I did."
More likely they would have more success in estranging him from then even more, Frederick thought bitterly. He shook his head.
"I can't," he informed Mildred. "I'll be leaving first thing tomorrow. I'm to do a show on Edensbridge Village."
"Really?" Mildred asked, sounding politely interested, "You're going to the quirky ones?"
Frederick raised his eyebrows.
"That is what one of my colleagues calls them," Mildred hastened to clarify.
"Hardly an academic term," Frederick commented dryly.
"Maybe not," Mildred admitted. "But the villagers do seem quirky. This colleague of mine, he wanted to do a study, see how they would react to city life. He offered good money to whoever agreed to spend a month in the city, away from the village. Not only did they refuse. They also looked at him as if he were an enemy."
"Maybe in their mind he really was," Frederick said thoughtfully.
He wondered whether he should ask Mildred to speak to her colleague and see if he had more information on Edensbridge Village. Still, he loathed the idea of asking Mildred for favours. And anyway, he would be going there himself the next day. He would soon find out all there was to know.
The phone ringing robbed Frederick of the necessity of making a decision and he got up quickly to answer it. Bess' voice sounded on the other end. Frederick tensed, anticipating further trouble. First Mildred, he thought, and now Bess. Why couldn't everybody just leave him to do his job in peace?
"I have a message from Mr. Pickford," Bess announced, getting straight to the point, as usual. "He says that, since this is a big one, he wants the audience to see your face, not just at the beginning and at the end. He says he wants to see you interact with the villagers. Which means you won't be the one doing the filming."
"Oh great," Frederick muttered, knowing exactly what that meant. "Look, Bess, that really won't do. It's not my face that's important, anyway. The audience would want to see that villagers, not me."
"I'm just the messenger," Bess reminded him. "I'm not the one making decisions. And the decision is already made, so be a good boy and don't bother Mr. Pickford. He won't change his mind. He told me to tell you that, anticipating that you would argue. Oh, and please call Thomas and inform him too. I did not get round to do it myself."
"But look, Bess," Frederick pleaded. "I need to get these people to accept me, haven't I? They usually accept one person quicker than two and, anyway, this is Thomas we're talking about. It takes years to accept him."
"I'm just the messenger," Bess repeated. "And Thomas is your best friend which makes what you're saying really unfair."
"Possibly, but it's no less true," Frederick insisted. "Look, Bess, at least tell Mr. Pickford that my opinion is that it would be better if I worked alone on this one. Can you do that, Bess?"
"No," was Bess' prompt reply before she hung up without as much as a good-bye.
Frederick put down the receiver, cursing softly. It was not just the fact that Bess had not agreed with him that made him angry – in a way, he had expected that to happen. What made it worse was the fact that Mildred had been a witness to the scene. Bracing himself, Frederick turned to face his sister and noticed the slight smirk on her lips.
"Still think you're not being used?" she asked him innocently.