The Children of Astro Springs

Part 5 of the Braunville Chronicles

Lucky’s was a barbecue restaurant locally famous for its décor. Touting a retro atmosphere, the restaurant lot was cluttered with sculptures of famous landmarks as well as other “outsider art” pieces. Well entrenched in local memory is “Ford Rex,” the dinosaur made from scavenged car parts. The Eiffel tower shared a strip of grass with a Mayan pyramid, and a giant tiki god guarded the restaurant’s entrance.

Laurence McGee, known as Larry to the townsfolk, owned Lucky’s. He always corrected people who called him Lucky for, according to McGee, Lucky was the one who had built the restaurant in the first place. When asked about Lucky’s location, McGee would often say he was “drying out,” taken as an allusion to alcoholism.

Lucky’s was part of a consulate of local landmarks, along with the Squatch Watch gift shop and Z’s New Age Books. McGee styled himself as an “ambassador of the weird,” greeting people with obscure handshakes and bizarre slang. As an example of the offbeat nature of Lucky’s: the restaurant served no chicken; chicken orders would come out with a substitution of ‘mocken,’ McGee’s term for wheat gluten roasted as a loaf. The drinks all contained cinnamon, even the soda, and milk was served in a wine glass.

Though the restaurant was small, business was steady. McGee made a point of donating to what he saw as worthy causes, Franklin Moor’s run for Mayorship the most notable among them. He never bought from the same vendor twice in a month, leading to shortages of certain ingredients and thus a radically changing menu.

Around the time of the raids of Harlow Downs, McGee’s behavior became noticeably erratic. The restaurant had always kept odd hours, but suddenly McGee would be absent for days on end. This may not have been notable but for the fact that McGee was the sole employee of the restaurant, acting as chef, maître d’, and waiter all in one. Since he drove a very conspicuous vehicle, a powder-blue Chevrolet Bel Air, his travel was easily traced by local residents, who reported that he took frequent trips up to the surrounding hills. McGee would park at a sightseeing platform and then hike to an undetermined location. It was during one of these trips that a grease fire started in the kitchen at Lucky’s. Authorities attempting to track McGee down were led to the hillsides by townsfolk, who revealed McGee’s car but could not provide current whereabouts, as McGee took a different path every time. A manhunt swept the hillside, and this was how the resort was discovered.

Astro Springs had been a Seventh-day Adventist church before being converted to a resort in the early twenties and finally abandoned altogether after the great depression. The outbuildings were decrepit but showed signs of recent habitation. Deputies were investigating the garage, which had been converted to a machine shop of sorts, when a young child walked over a nearby hillock.

The child was a boy and seemed to be in no distress. He did not react to the officer’s presence with curiosity, nor did he show fear when they approached him. When asked his name, he replied as if it should be obvious:

“Franklin Moor.”

As the boy was questioned, other children began arriving along the same path. Three deputies were dispatched to trace their origin. They found the children were emanating from a site hidden from overhead eyes by a large blue tarp. On the site was a small replica of Braunville, depicted with stunning accuracy. All of the children gave their name as that of an existing Braunville citizen. None of the children wore shoes. None of the children could read. None of them described having parents, or showed familiarity with the concept of parenthood.

Many documents recovered from the site were rants aimed at a “Lucky” who was inferred to be the dual ruler of an unnamed organization, and how he was “drying up” before his time. “The builder and the breaker” were terms that came up frequently, along with unusual vocabulary patterns that mimicked Annika Pataky’s diaries. Also extant were various “observational data reports” similar to that of Pataky’s, detailing daily psychological experiments on the children of the compound. Investigation into McGee’s financial records showed that his philanthropy ran deeper than expected: he held a controlling interest in nearly every business in town.

The site was exhumed, and a jumble of bones were found beneath the model town. Dental records linked some of the remains to the abducted bus passengers, but the rest remain unidentified.

A young blond man was reported hitchhiking out of town around this time: he appeared delirious to observers and was ultimately unable to find a ride. He collapsed by the shoulder of the highway and was taken to Braunville Mercy General where he expired due to a combination of dehydration and heatstroke.

The children were re-homed in the Warm Hearths adoption agency. Amelia Franck’s request to have a DNA test done on children to determine if one is her stolen infant has been delayed, as the children are undergoing a battery of psychiatric tests. They show decreased empathy and lack independence, often asking what their “role” requires. Felix Lowell of Dry Docks construction has vowed, in an act of philanthropy, to redevelop the resort site into a group home for the children. The construction company has also acquired the lot of Lucky’s and vow to re-open it under new management.

Laurence McGee has not been seen since. The identity of the individual “Lucky” is still unknown.

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