The young journalist glanced over at the two members of her crew. Her photographer, James and his assistant Chris seemed eager to set up and get some photos of the gathering. She’d been told the fair was being held to celebrate the opening of a new library. Amid the groups of people and rows of stalls on a neat reserve of park-land perhaps one hundred people were sat on folding chairs set up in rows facing a small dais. Three people had already taken their turn to speak. Two of them: Joseph Wright and Stephen Marsh headed two of the three families who claimed descent from the town’s founders. Her research had made it fairly plain that this small town with no real industry or exports and an apparent desire to avoid attracting tourists could only seem as prosperous and independent as it did by way of frequent, generous donations from these three founding families. They were the towns de facto owners.
Now it was the turn of Joseph Wilkinson. He was the very picture of an older yet still vital gentleman, and dressed in a superbly tailored suit he appeared a robust and athletic forty-something although he was in fact approaching his fiftieth year, and the only clue was the odd grey in his close cropped, dark hair. He gave a congenial smile as he looked over the small crowd. After tapping the microphone once he spoke earnestly about the superior community values, and spirit of fellowship that existed in Point Pleasant and pontificated, at length, on their ongoing ability to dodge the pervasive corruption of post-modern apathy with its culture of degeneracy. This saw the crowd react with insufferable smugness or, at least, the men did. That was the thing about Point Pleasant. The men, or rather the women, or - in fact - both of them. Particularly when seen side-by-side. Joseph for example occasionally received adoring waves from a tiny thing clutching a couture purse who could not have been more than twenty five and nothing about the way she looked at him suggested he was her father, unless they had an unwholesomely close family.
Though she was more fashionable in her accoutrements she was no less made up, dolled up one might go so far as to say, than the other young women in the assembly. Many of whom stood next to much older men. They kept their mouths and listened, or tended to the children, and speaking of the children, there were a lot of them. Point Pleasant seemed very big on families. In fact a fair percentage of the women present were visibly pregnant. The young journalist thought of the photographs she had brought with her. Each had been sent by the family or friends of a young woman who had seemingly disappeared while staying at or passing through the town. She couldn’t be certain, but several of the young women she’d seen so far had reminded her of those photographs.
Joseph’s speech contained further oddities for anyone who was listening, and the young journalist was definitely listening. For example after remarking on the excellence of its reference facilities, the breadth of subjects covered on its shelves and the rich collection of literature he added that their new library boasted an entire section intended for the women of the town. The subjects it focused on or at least those he listed were quaint in the most chauvinistic fashion but the women did not seem to mind. In fact a number of them seemed impressed, some almost giddy in their excitement over having simply been mentioned.
What was wrong with them?
Finishing his speech the patriarch alighted from the podium and was greeting by an athletic young man not far from the dais. The familial resemblance suggested it was his son, one who had not wanted to listen to the speeches. The two traded a few words which she wasn‘t able to overhear, and Joseph followed his son’s gaze as the young man pointed towards her photographer. The two regarded him even as the dispersing crowd gave rise to a confused colloquy which overtook the area as each individual aired their views now they could speak freely, although the chorus of raised voices had a depth and timber which was wholly masculine.
As a chattering group of young women obscured her view the journalist did not realize that Joseph was approaching her until he stood almost in front of her.
‘Good afternoon miss [your character], I trust you’ve been welcomed suitably. If not, welcome to Point Pleasant-’ there was a charmingly personable quality to the way he offered his hand and smiled, ‘I hear you’ve spoken to our deputy councilman, Jack’s a decent enough fellow but, well, between you and me - no verve, or backbone. I can’t stake the reputation of our wonderful community on his say-so. As one of our esteemed patrons, a member of one of our founding families, I’m prepared to answer any questions you might have. First, though, let me introduce you to my son-’ Joseph turned then, ‘Jared?’
The dark haired youth took a step forward, bereft of his fathers energy in presenting himself to this lovely young woman - a fact neither had missed or were shy about acknowledging by way of their glance - although there was absolutely nothing in his posture or expression which spoke of reticence. He was appraising in his nature, his manner invested with a careful patience. His eyes dark to the twinkling shade of blue of his father’s, but otherwise the two were much alike save that Jared was a hair taller, his posture a straighter, and his arms and shoulders noticeably bulkier . He wore a simple pair of trousers and a long-sleeved, button down shirt although the warmth had seen him fold the cuffs back, and he held a sports coat in one hand.
‘This is [your character],’ his father went on. ‘[your character], my son Jared, and my wife Christine,’ he directed to the young woman who had just swept over to stand by his side.
‘Pleased to meet you,’ the journalist remarked with feigned interest before fixing her gaze on Joseph, ‘Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about your town?’
‘I’m not in the mood for questions,’ Jared interjected brusquely, speaking to both of them, before Joseph could respond.
He looked the journalist over a final time with that, raising an arm to sling his coat over one shoulder, the cotton of his freshly pressed shirt flattening against his chest as it was drawn out between the pinions of his backward-thrust shoulders to mark the rigid contours of his athletic sinews. A studious, dark eyed gaze took in the curve of her hips, her waist, and with one slightly raised eyebrow he seemed to take some pleasure in tracing the arc of her bare neck, his lip curling into a slight smile.
‘But I might see you later,’ he remarked, and with that he left her and Joseph alone.
‘I‘m afraid my son doesn’t appreciate small-talk,’ Joseph stated with a shrug, making no apology for the young man. ’or it may be that he’s simply tired of hearing me talk about the wonderful community we have, oh!’ his voice became louder as though there was some revelatory point he had forgotten, ’before we go on, in case I should forget again, as we are so seldom lucky enough to receive any media attention you are of course welcome to stay for as long as you wish, and your entire group as well. Unfortunately we have so few hotels now, so you’ll need to see Jack again. I’ve arranged matters and he’ll direct you to an apartment. Your crew as well, though you may be in different buildings. If you have any problems just let Jack know as we’re eager to keep any members of the press, and hopeful that if they do stay they’ll, naturally, be willing to tell the world about how wonderful our community is.’
The attractive young journalist wondered at this. Confessing a certain surprise that he professed to relish media scrutiny. Of course she hadn’t told them her real reasons for being here and had explained to Jack earlier that she was covering Point Pleasant for a series on small communities. She’d kept from enquiring directly about any of the town’s more sinister qualities as a result. Still her research up to this point had made her certain the town would not relish such attention.
‘However, with that out of the way, I believe you had some questions-?’ Joseph showed a look of disappointment, ‘Only I‘m afraid I won‘t be able to spare the time to answer them just now,’ his regret appeared sincere, ‘but I‘m sure Jack can tell you almost anything you need to know about our town, and you can schedule an appointment with me through him if you find he can’t.’
She felt a stab of disappointment with this. Of course she’d already questioned Jack extensively and although he’d earnestly volunteered a great deal of information about the town in general he hadn‘t been able to give her anything truly useful. On the other hand it she did not get the impression that he was trying to avoid an interview.
‘When do you think you might be available?’ she asked.
‘I‘d say-’ his brow creased with thought, ‘not for a few days I’m afraid,’
The young journalist sighed inwardly at this, but it looked as though she’d be staying at Point Pleasant for a few days at the very least.
The short walk to their accommodations - after getting the details off Jack, and trying once more to see if he could provide any useful information - turned out to be rather interesting. Together with her crew they found it only a short distance from the newly opened library and their route took them through the centre of town. The streets were clean and far from crowded, and the stores they passed all had an up-market feel. She noticed one or two boutiques she would not have expected to find in a place as small as Point Pleasant, but all in all it seemed fairly normal. The air was fresh, and a cool breeze blew off the nearby water however it was the people who drew their attention.
‘I’m not complaining,’ one of her crew, James, spoke up as they passed a gaggle of young women, ’but I don’t think I’ve seen a woman who looks over twenty-five yet,’
‘Or who wasn’t in a dress,’ his colleague added.
This wasn’t hyperbole. In fact even as the two spoke they found themselves swerving around a sundress-clad, twenty-something blonde manoeuvring a stroller out of a clothing store. She was followed by an amiable looking fellow who looked to be in his mid thirties carrying her bags who regarded the small group with a polite nod as they passed.
The street descended along a gentle slope down to the coast where several high-rises - probably the largest buildings they had seen in town so far - redolent of apartments were currently obscuring their view of the water. Two of the largest turned out to be where they were staying.
The apartment itself, one of the upper floor penthouses, proved to be very impressive. The almost panoramic view, thirteen floors up, was breathtaking, and from here it was plain to see that the building was sited at the very tip of the narrow peninsula the town occupied, giving it views of the water on three sides thanks to a substantial strip window that encompassed most of the common areas. A large, split-level, four bedroom residence; it must have taken up a substantial amount of the buildings two uppermost floors. The lower floor was largely contiguous and composed of several large, open-plan living spaces that were pleasantly furnished and decorated. There was a card by the telephone with the number for the front desk and the concierge which suggested to her that the apartment had been used by visiting notables in the past. The upper floor was given over to three bedrooms, and a small sitting room or parlour of sorts with a staircase leading up to the roof. The master bedroom was particularly large, and fitted with a walk-in robe and on-suite bathroom, while a sliding glass door led one out onto a substantial, sheltered balcony fitted with a Jacuzzi, and a spiral staircase that led to the roof. The roof itself being given over to a substantial entertainment area partially shaded and partially open that boasted an outdoor dining suite, verdant gardens and several sitting areas in addition to a dazzling pool built into one corner whose dual infinity edges were rather disconcerting. A large, opaque glass fence marked the boundary on the other side. Presumably bisecting the roof between this, and the complexes other penthouse.
There was an abundance of good natured joking amongst the crew and herself as they looked around, and examined the amenities. James and Mark were especially keen to point out that they were staying on a much lower floor in the next building over - sure to practically be a dungeon by comparison - but before they left they sat down to make plans for the next day. James volunteered to take Chris and spend the day photographing some of the town’s more notable features and locations. They parted ways for the evening with that.
They had hardly left when a package arrived for her. The enclosed note - which included a few generic lines welcoming her to the town - indicating that a number of local businesses and manufacturers had contributed its contents. These were a little peculiar - though of course any local girl wouldn’t have thought it strange - and it all had an almost comically feminine tone. There was a great deal of literature from business cards to pamphlets providing all manner of information about the various contributors, and then the contents themselves. Several outfitters had included items or gift cards along with a number of cosmetics and a substantial selection of fragrance samples from a local boutique, plus a few examples of local produce, all slightly boring save for some hand-made chocolates, along with a ’welcoming,’ gift from the town patrons - an ‘84 vintage bottle of Verve - and if she had even the slightest idea why it had all been given to her she would probably - should, definitely - have incinerated it all. Immediately.
That was all a part of Point Pleasant’s ‘magic,’ though, the additives found in so many of its consumables, including the drinking water. Some worked slowly, effecting a more permanent change, others more quickly and sensationally. All had different effects, but generally speaking they tended to heighten certain impulses, and dull others. Their designers were incredibly proud of them. Especially the effect they had on women. It was almost a civic service. After all the women in Point Pleasant were some of the happiest in the world. Also the most compliant. The most pliable. The most suggestible. The horniest. The least troubled by such terrible afflictions as critical thinking, personal aspirations, and the ability to grapple with anything more intellectually challenging than buying clothes and giving blowjobs. Still it took time before things got this bad. She still had a chance.