It seems strange, now, to recall that place. Almost as if it were a dream, or some imaginary tale I once heard as a child. But the evidence is damning, As much as I like to think it did not, It happened.
I was a private investigator at the time, nothing big, we just tracked down missing people, caught cheating spouses that type of thing. Nothing too grand, but it made us a living. I say “us” because, of course, I had entered a partnership with another investigator, and my longtime friend George Wiles. I suppose really I should have introduced myself earlier, but my mind is trying to blurt forth too much at once, I fear.
My name is Henry Scott, and by this point, I had been in my field for little over half a decade. Our shared establishment held a “Wiles & Scott Investigations” sign painted across the door and window. (We had played cards to decide whose name would go first on the sign)
As is wont with such stories, the case started like any other. A middle aged man who’s name I can’t, or won’t give on both agreement and out of respect asked us to track down his wife and daughter. They had gone out of town for a few weeks, planning to stop over at a few towns on their way on a round trip journey that would bring them back here, to their home. The client originally had accompanied them on the trip but had been called back to work at a local car part manufacturers and had been forced to leave them. “They were gonna come back with me, But I told ’em no, you keep on goin’ an’ I’ll meet up with you soon as this is sorted out.” He had done what he had said, the clocking cards and employee stories told of how he had planned a two week vacation but had been called back after only three days, Two days later he had headed out again on the train to meet them at an agreed station, and arrived promptly if not a little early. His family’s train wasn’t due for another thirty minutes or so yet and having just recently travelled through the vicious weather himself was not at all surprised when the train appeared late.
Neither his wife or daughter arrived on the first train, And so he simply assumed they had arrived late at the departure station and missed it, When they did not show on the next train either is when he began to slightly panic and called the hotel he knew they had been staying at, the clerk that answered informed him (And later, myself and partner) That they had signed out at the front desk and handed over the keys at 9:34am, leaving plenty of time to reach the station at the next town and catch the train at 11:25.
He next called the departure station to find out if their tickets had been used, only to find they had not, He quickly booked himself a ticket on the opposite train to that he had been waiting for and waited rather anxiously for it to arrive.
He detailed the journey back as half full of fear and half of expected embarrassment when he would arrive at the station within moments of his family only to find their car had stopped with a flat tire and, As the road they had travelled was infrequently used, were forced to wait for a rescuer to aid them, and find all his worries were for naught.
Unfortunately, this was not the case. His arrival at the station did not spur any sudden relief, or let fate have his family suddenly appear at the station desk. Nor, once he had hired a car, did the drive to their hotel reveal any flat tired vehicle and stranded family awaiting a passerby. Their car was not at the hotel, and their keys were, as said, at the front desk.
It was as if they had all but vanished.
While it was true we could not discount our client as a suspect, neither could we prove any guilt on his part.
Our course of action was simple and obvious: To thoroughly retrace and investigate the steps our client and his family had taken, then continue along the route his family would have undergone.
It was no later than Mid-Afternoon when my partner excitedly bounded into the office clutching the two train tickets he’d acquired with a set destination of our clients first stop ready to leave the following Morning.
That afternoon we closed up the offices early to give ourselves the appropriate time to pack whatever we deemed necessary and make ourselves presentable come the morning. We had always found there was a certain amount of authority attached to an appropriate presentation and should we need to ask anyone questions they were usually a little more willing to answer.
Terrible, Foreboding dreams plagued me that night, Dreams of troubles long past and yet to come. Of Innocence and horrible nightmare things.
That these dreams were perhaps a warning or precursor of the events that were to follow, I still wonder to this very day.
It was not uncommon to have bad dreams for me back then. Not as common as it is now, but not at all uncommon.
I had spent several years as a police officer and a further two as a detective for the Los Angeles Police Department, which even then saw its share of terrible and violent crimes that haunted more than just myself.
However, those dreams ended that night. I can squarely mark that night as the point my old demons faded into normality and timidity whilst being eclipsed by the new current masters of my sub-conscious fears.
I awoke, hardly five hours later and despite my obvious fatigue found myself too restless to sleep.
With it still the early hours of the morning I decided to double-check my packed case and review the information we had at hand so far. A few brief phone calls the day before had confirmed that our client had returned to his place of work on the date we were informed, this was further proven by the clipped train tickets the client had provided.
The second call confirmed that both the clients daughter and wife had spent the night at the hotel marked as their last known location and that our client had turned up at the reception lobby later that day in some distress and confusion. When pressed a little more on the wife and child, the receptionist on the line stated that nothing truly seemed amiss between the pair, they had been courteous in handing over the room key and complimentary of the services on hand.
Although, she did recall that the child had seemed oddly distracted, quiet and sullen, spending much of her time standing near and staring out of the lobby window, twice ignoring her mother’s call in favor of watching the woods outside.
Whereas it isn’t uncommon for a child’s attention to be easily caught, I thought it best to run it by the father before leaving that morning.
I then called the train station and as luck would have it managed to talk to the same attendant that had been on duty that morning, I asked if he had seen anyone of the description our client had given me but he couldn’t be sure, he’d worked several shifts since then and had seen so many faces it would have been nigh on impossible to pick out one face from all the others. I also asked if a car had ever turned up at the station, or had been towed away from unpaid fee’s, and after checking the records for that week he told me that no, no vehicle had ever turned up or been towed.
After a final brief phone call to our client I went over what the clerk on duty had told me, and the father in turn told me that it wasn’t at all unusual for his daughter to wander off from time to time, she had quite an adventurous streak in her. What concerned him more was that she had been quiet as in his own words “I ain’t never known ‘er to be quiet for long. She’s such a chatty kid, y’know?”
I thought that this may just be a child’s behavior, which could mean just about anything, so I left it there and thought no more of it.
A few hours later my partner met me at the station, He’d run a little late but we still had plenty of time so I went over what I’d learned, as little as it was, and brought him up to speed.
‘Hm… So they left the hotel, but never arrived at the station? I guess that narrows down our search a little, if we go from the station to the hotel we’re probably gonna use the same roads as she would have. We should go slow and see if there’s anything noticeable along the way.’
I nodded my agreement as the speaker announced the arrival of our train, we grabbed our cases and climbed aboard.
The train journey itself was uneventful, but I did manage to use it to catch up on the sleep I’d lost that night. I must have sorely needed it too, the first thing I knew about our destination was my partner giving me a firm elbow to the ribs for a wakeup call.
‘Hey, this is our stop. Wake up.’
‘Jeez, be careful’ I yawned ‘How many times have I told you, you don’t know your own strength.’
‘I only gave you a nudge’ he mumbled, taking down our cases from the overhead shelf.
‘Yeah? Last time someone got nudged with that kind of force, a bus parked on them’ I rubbed at my sore ribs. He really didn’t know his own strength, He was strong as an ox, but he at least had some wits about him too.
We left the train and the station behind, my colleague’s frown bringing a slight smile to my face, he always took chastisement straight to heart.
We promptly hired a car, grabbed a bite to eat and a few bottles of cola to take with us and began the reverse journey of what our client’s family should have taken. As George said, we went slow and kept our eyes open for anything unusual.
It was only by chance we found it.
We pulled over for a brief rest stop and cracked open one of the few bottles we’d brought with us, by this point the sun had climbed high into the clear blue sky and by my reckoning it was around two.
‘Looks like a beautiful day, huh?’ remarked George
‘Yup, too bad we’re stuck in a tin can for most of it though’ I replied
‘At least we aren’t in the city, Henry. Can’t beat the fresh country air on a good day’ to emphasize the point he tilted his head to the open window and took a deep breath through his nose.
‘I guess, can’t really argue with that bud’’ I took a sip from my bottle and savored the sweet taste on my tongue.
We sat for a little while longer talking over menial things, before we got ready to set off again.
‘I’ve got to take a leak before we go anywhere’ George said as he opened up the passenger door and headed into the bushes.
I looked out the window and into the sky at the faintest wisps of cloud had started to form and slowly drifted in the breeze, and started thinking that maybe we were on a wild goose chase, maybe the wife had left the husband and taken the kid with her.
George came back with a rap on the window that made me jump right out of my train of thought and almost out of my damned skin.
I opened my door and stepped out ‘What?’
George smiled back at me ‘I think I’ve found something, Henry.’
He turned about and walked back a little way leaving me no explanation, so I followed his lead. All I could see from where I stood was more bushes and trees.
‘I was looking for a break in the tree’s or something so I wouldn’t just be taking a whiz on the side of the road, and I found this.’
It was so overgrown that without George pulling back the branches at the front, I’d never have noticed the dirt road that led off of this one.
‘Hm, Maybe, but surely if anyone came this way George, these branches at the front would have been broken off?’
‘I thought so too, until I stepped inside, here’ He waved me on in.
I took a step into what seemed another world, shifting from the bright warm afternoon outside the line of tree’s into the cool, damp, darker air beyond. The trees were so thick that looking up all I could see was the faintest trickle of light filtering through, the sun itself almost obscured.
The track beyond was clear, looking closer the branches that should have covered the road like the ones out front had been broken off.
‘And look here’ George bent down beside me ‘the dirt here is still a little soft from where the sun can’t quite dry it out, and there’s tire tracks heading down.’
‘I don’t remember seeing anything like this on the map though…’ I tilted my hat slightly and scratched at my forehead.
‘Worth checking out though?’ George could tell my curiosity had been peaked, he already knew we were going to be coming down here to check it out, even if it amounted to nothing and so he stood there smiling at me, just waiting for my word.
‘Alright, let’s go get the car.’
Fifteen minutes later we were creeping our way down the narrow track, I bent over the steering wheel trying to keep an eye out for anything that could cause damage to the car, George leaning over the dashboard to keep an eye on the tracks.
‘Hey, look’ George pointed ahead of us, nailed to a tree was an old rotten wooden sign that had clearly not been maintained. The front half was nothing but splinters, the second half read “ille”
‘Something-ville? Still nothing on the map about that?’
George pulled the unfolded map from the back seat and took a hard look at it.
‘Nope… Just… empty land on this…’
‘Well, at least we’ve found something, fingers crossed if there’s a town there’s people, and if there’s people we can ask a few questions. It could be nothing but since we started on this dirt road I’ve had a bad feeling.’
George left my last words hanging in the air, which told me he felt it too, like the whole world is pressing in on you from all sides and you’re trapped.
I eased my foot down and we crept on along the path.
It wasn’t much longer than that we came into the clear, the trees became better tendered and the sky gradually became visible again.
Perhaps it had just been the dark closeness of the path’s start, but our feelings of uneasiness faded as the sky opened up before us again and the road itself began to look more normal, even so far as eventually having asphalt.
Maybe twenty minutes later we eased into a small town square.
‘Well, I think we found something-ville’ George remarked.
The place looked deserted at first glance, there was no one wandering the streets as would be expected for the middle of the day, although the few stores on the street all displayed an “open” sign somewhere out front.
‘Well, it’s worth us taking a look around.’
George nodded his agreement and we pulled up and parked the car just a little way off the main street.
‘Hit the stores first? If they came through here, if they came through here they may have bought something to eat or drink.’ I suggested.
‘Okay, I’ll go check over at that place’ George nodded to a huge beaten down house with an old sign out front “Rooms for rent”
‘Good thinking, worth a shot’
We arranged to meet up at the car in a few hours and set off our separate ways.
I headed back to where I could remember seeing a diner, following the road in the reverse path of what I’d already taken.
On my right stood a row of houses, some with curtains open, some closed, one with a for sale sign, It seemed normal enough.
Except I’d still not seen a soul anywhere.
As I came to the end of the street, the first sign that this wasn’t just some ghost town finally drifted to me from afar.
The low steady hum of a motor engine grew steadily nearer until I could see it round a corner on the street I was about to enter.
I crossed as it passed and began to make my way toward it, maybe the driver could give me a few places to check out but mostly I think I just wanted to actually see another human in this town.
Children had begun stepping off and heading in their own separate ways, a few passed me and I noted they all had the same pale, sallow complexion and their lack of enthusiasm that the school day had ended and they were home free. There was no jostling, no jeering, no chattering, those that passed me did so without uttering a word and gave me no more than a passing glance.
I got to the door of the bus and put my hand around the frame to lean in.
I got no further, the driver whipped about in his seat and wiped the words from my mouth with a look of utmost horror, as if I were holding him at gun point. The man had the same pale skin as that of the children, with dark circles around his eyes and light growth of facial hair, looking like he’d missed two or three shaves more than grown a beard.
He turned and slammed his foot to the floor, the bus lurched forward, and I, still dumbstruck at the driver’s reaction to my appearance almost sent me hurtling over.
I stumbled and recovered as quickly as I could, standing straight and running alongside the bus for a few steps, reaching up and giving the side a good whack with the palm of my hand. ‘Hey!’
The bus steadily increased its speed before it outstripped me completely, I slowed and frowned after it, left clueless as to what had just happened.
The sound of a door slam brought my back to my senses as I turned about, all those children that had gotten off of the bus were already gone.
Already my feelings of unease were steadily coming back and I began to wish George and I had gone about this together, as a team.
I tried to shrug off my feelings and go about my work, again making my way to where I remembered a diner to be.
It was a pretty small place, beaten down looking from outside and with one of those “Open” signs I mentioned on the door.
I pushed against it and found myself quite surprised that it was locked. I tried tapping on the glass and calling out, but got no reply.
It was only then that I got an answer. A woman who must have been in her mid-forties to fifties, pale as everyone else I’d seen in this town and with a few bald patches amongst her wiry auburn hair came into the main store from a back door and looked to me looking in through the window.
There had been some light in her face at first, but as soon as she saw me it quickly faded and by the time she opened the door it was an out-right grimace.
The door swung inward sending the bell above jingling.
‘Can I help you, Mister?’ I had been guessing that this town was a pretty poor place to live from the lack of activity on the streets and the complexion of everyone I’d come across, but being able to see this woman confirmed it to me.
Her t-shirt hung from her shoulders as if it were still resting on its hanger, her stick thin arms protruding from the sleeves ended with hands that were damn near skeletal.
In my mind, clearly, this was a place where money for food was scarce and the people were malnourished and struggling to get by.
‘Well, I hope so Ma’am’ I said reaching into my jacket pocket and pulling out my notebook and pencil ‘I’m detective Henry Scott. I’m looking for a woman and a young girl who went missing not far from here, I was wondering if you could answer a few questions that might help us out.’
She looked back at me for a few seconds as if I’d just started talking French.
‘I suppose I can.’ She said begrudgingly.
‘Thank you, we really appreciate it.’ I pulled the picture of the family I’d been given out of my notebook and held it up. ‘These are the two we’re looking for, do you recognize any of the people in this picture?’
She glanced at it for about half a second before shaking her head.
‘Right… Well, have you seen anything unusual? Any automobiles come through lately that you didn’t recognize?’
‘Mister, does this look like a town that gets many visitors?’
I looked down the deserted street ‘I can’t say that it does, Ma’am.’
‘Then I’ll stop you there and let you know you’re wasting your time, you’re not gonna find anything here.’
‘I’m sorry, Ma’am, I’m just-‘
‘Get out of here, Detective, You’re wasting everyone’s time.’ And with that she stepped back inside, closed and locked the door and went back to her back room.
I stood outside the store feeling more than a little insulted by the woman’s rudeness. Turning about, I marched back toward the car, passed it and toward the hotel where I knew George had gone, playing the conversation out in my mind again and again.
I got onto the street with the hotel when something clicked in my mind.
The woman at the store had acted suspiciously, that was obvious, but her wording only just dawned on me. ‘You’re not gonna find anything here’
Perhaps I was reading too much into it, but it seemed… odd to me.
I’d been so busy storming off, I hadn’t even put my notebook away. I opened it again and took note of the store name and what I presumed to be the owner’s words.
I put the notebook away and carried on my way, I mulled it over in my mind as I went on into the carpark of the hotel, and saw the first signs of life outside that day. Two cars were parked outside the hotel.
Again, I presumed George must be having better luck than me.
I checked my watch, He could well still be inside, there was over an hour before our agreed ‘meet-up’ time.
I mulled over going inside and seeing how he was getting on, but at the same time wondered if I was just giving up too easily. I opted against it and took a look around the hotel itself.
At this point, my luck in regards to our investigation began to change.
Leading around the hotel was a lane that went on into a secondary car park, and it was there I found our biggest piece of evidence. A broken license plate lay against the fence, the two halves placed atop one another. The top half was clearly visible to me though, and it struck a chord in my memory instantly.
It was the plate from the rental car that had gone missing with our client’s family.
I picked up the plates and took them back to our car, popped the trunk and left them inside.
My mind felt clearer, this was all I needed, the smallest piece of evidence had sent my doubts packing and I felt back on top form.
I looked back at the street that lead to the stores and thought to myself that maybe I’d have better luck going door to door.
Unfortunately I was met with almost the same level of luck as I had been with the stores, No answer from most of the houses, two young women, probably in their late teens and a young man answered. All of them saw nothing.
One encounter that sticks out in my mind most of all is knocking a door and seeing a small figure making its way to answer the door, it looked like a young child through the frosted glass of the front door, although its features were both obscured and warped by said glass.
The kid walked right up to the door then just stopped and stared at me.
I tried knocking again, no reaction. The kid just stayed stock still, staring at me through the glass.
So, I did the only thing that came to mind, I waved at the indistinct figure on the other side of the glass.
It garnered me a reaction alright but not the one I was hoping for.
The child moved right up against the glass, pressing its face against it and doing nothing more, keeping the same blank expression.
At this point, I’d decided that perhaps I wasn’t going to get much out of this house.
As a matter of fact, At this point I’d decided I wanted to get the hell away from this frosted glass door with the gormless, staring kid as quickly as I possibly could.
I think it would be quite accurate to say that that’s exactly what I did, too. As I moved down the street and away from that creepy child, I tried going over everything in my mind.
This town just seemed to make no sense. The locals here truly threw me off at every turn with their weirdness.
‘You’re asking questions in the wrong place’
I was so busy grappling with making sense of this town that I hadn’t even noticed the adolescent girl leaning over the railings of a house that was raised up from the street slightly and the sudden sentence may as well have been a sudden right hook for the effect it had on me.
I startled and stumbled sideways, tripping off of the curb and losing my balance even more.
I must have looked like a damned comedy sketch.
I tried to regain my composure and turned to face the girl.
She couldn’t have been much older than sixteen, maybe seventeen from the looks of her. She was pale like the rest of the people I’d encountered so far yet her eyes lacked the dark circles the bus driver and shop owner had carried and what threw me off the most was she was the first person I’d seen with even a hint of a smile since me and George had split up.
‘What was that?’ I asked, stepping back up onto the sidewalk.
‘You’re asking questions in the wrong place, no one here is going to answer their doors to you, and no one is going to answer your questions if they do.’
‘Oh really? What makes you think no one’s going to talk to me?’
‘Because no one here likes people turning up. What they like even less is people turning up and asking questions.’
‘You don’t seem so tight lipped, if you don’t mind me saying Miss.’
the young girls hint of a smile grew into a little more of a grin. ‘I’m not from around here, my mom moved here about fifteen years ago and I came with her’
‘Huh, so you’re mom had more manners than everyone else here.’
‘They weren’t always so bad. They used to be a lot friendlier here. Things just changed over time.’
‘I don’t suppose your mom would be around to be of any help?’
I nodded toward the house behind her, assuming that was where she lived.
‘No, she’s away, sorry.’
‘Well, would you be willing to help me?’
She looked up toward the sky and shrugged her shoulders. ‘Maybe.’ Her eyes fell back onto me and I could see a sparkle of playfulness in them, she was clearly reveling in the being able to give me such a vague answer.
I wasn’t sure if she was just going to give me the run around, but I felt like not asking anything would have been a betrayal of our clients trust.
I know what you’re thinking, my sense of duty didn’t seem so strong when I ran away from a kid practically licking a window and I have no real explanation there. The kid freaked me out, that’s it really.
I drew out my notebook and pencil and got ready to write anything I could get from the only willing person I’d met.
‘Have you seen anyone over the past few weeks come into the town?’
‘Yes, a woman and a young girl came into town a little while ago.’
I paused, my pencil still forming the “e” in “Yes”. I hadn’t expected that. I looked up at the girl with a raised brow and my mouth slightly agape. I pulled out the picture and offered it out to her.
‘Do you recognize these people?’
She took the photo and barely looked at it before offering it back to me ‘Yeah, that’s them.’
My pencil began jotting down whatever I could get from the girl. Yes, she’d seen them. No, she didn’t know where they went. Yes, she’d seen their car at the hotel. No, she didn’t know what happened to the car. Yes, she’d spoken to the mother when they arrived.
‘What did you talk about?’
‘I asked her how she’d found the pathway down here, I walk up there sometimes and unless you really look for it it’s almost impossible to find.’
‘You’re telling me, what did she say when you asked?’
‘She said her little girl hadn’t been feeling well and asked her to pull over, when she did the girl pointed out the lane and said they should go down there for some food, it would help her feel better. So she checked her map and saw our town-‘
‘This place isn’t on a map, we checked it before we came down the lane.’
‘Did you buy your map local, Detective?’
‘Because only the local maps have us down.’
‘I see… please continue.’
‘Well, that’s about it, they followed the path and ended up here, that’s pretty much all I know. I saw their car around for a few days, but then I guess they just moved on.’
‘I don’t suppose you know how many days they were around for?’
‘Not an exact number, no, but it couldn’t have been more than three I’d say.’
‘Great, Thanks for all of this. Is there anything else you can tell me?’
She was silent for a few moments and when I looked up she seemed to be mulling it over in her mind as to whether she should actually tell me or not. ‘Actually, the kid did mention something, asked about the woods, there’s a few old paths around there but it’s too dangerous for kids on their own so I told her mother about the lanes and mentioned that if they were around for a little while, they should enjoy the walk.’
‘Do you know if they took up that idea?’
‘Not really, the mother seemed to think about it a little, but like I said, I didn’t see them after that to ask.’
‘Okay, was there anything else?’
‘No, that’s pretty much all I know.’
‘Well, thanks for all your help anyway, Miss…?’
‘Vance, Lodette Vance.’
I frowned slightly at the unusual name, but jotted it down anyway. I took down the address of the house we were outside and said my goodbyes.
I made my way back to the car, elated to finally have some leads. I met up with George and we exchanged what we’d learned over a bite to eat at the hotel, he’d picked up a little more than I had and between us we managed to piece a few things together.
The mother and child had definitely arrived at the town, they had gotten to the hotel and eaten there, as noted by the hotel clerk on duty and the hotel register that they’d signed in to stay overnight.
I asked George if they had any pay phones at the hotel and he nodded, clearly having thought the same thing as me ‘Why hadn’t she contacted her husband?’ when he asked the clerk if she had tried the phones, he explained George that the night before there’d been a bit of a storm and the phone lines had gone down and that’s what he’d told our missing person too.
They’d made to leave later in the day, but had car trouble. They then waited a few days for their car to be fixed up before heading on their way.
None of it really seemed all that suspicious except for the fact that what had seemed to be a perfectly happy woman had up and left her husband for no reason we could find.
We decided to take a room at the hotel and stop over the night, continue our investigation in the morning and perhaps go on to look into where our missing people could have possibly gone from here.
Exhausted after our inquiries and our early start, it took me no time at all to fall asleep.
A second night of horrible dreams plagued me.
I dreamt of a dirt path, thick with bushes and tree’s either side. Running along this path while the light faded from the sky.
Something was chasing me, a pale, dog-like creature. I’d see it shuffling through the brush alongside me, then lose sight of it.
Its long face, human eyes, snarling muzzle and sloping forehead glaring at me with every step.
I’d run but no matter where I looked, there it was keeping pace with me. Toying with me.
I tripped and rolled and stumbled and as I turned and looked around through the leaves and the mud, there it was, slowly stalking toward me.
It’s long human face with its pale dog muzzle staring at me, it’s bony, thin body and limbs stretching up as it stood on its back legs.
I rolled over and tried to scrabble away, it lifted up its three toed paw-like foot and pressed it into my chest, pinning me to the ground with ease.
It’s long, skeleton-like body leaned in, doubling over until the face came down to within inches of mine.
The maw opened and milky white canines flashed before me.
“You’re asking questions in the wrong place, Detective…”
I leapt out of bed, my chest heaving, the spot where the creature’s foot had been felt like a great weight had just been removed.
I looked over at the clock, it had just gone ten past three. I ran a hand over my clammy face, tried to slow my breath as my eyes darted about the unfamiliar room, my brain trying to make sense of why I wasn’t in my home.
The past day’s events came back to me then, the trip to this middle of nowhere town, interviewing the shop owner, the girl.
I sat at the foot of the hotel bed and pressed the tip of my thumb and forefinger into my closed eyes.
I remember sitting there and thinking to myself ‘Really, God? Nightmares two nights in a row?’
If only it had been just two.
I made my way to the small kitchen and poured myself a glass of water.
The sink sat right in front of a window that overlooked the forest beyond, it was a beautiful night from what I could see.
No full moon or anything like that, it was about three quarters full but still wonderfully bright, enough to give me a decent view of the hotel rear parking area.
I stood there and looked up to the stars, I’d always been a little fascinated by space and the stars, etc., not enough to learn the constellations or anything like that, but on a clear night, ever since I was a kid, I’d go out and just stare up at them and wonder.
That’s when movement out beyond the parking area, near to the tree line, caught my eye.
Something white flickering as it passed behind trees and outside my view. I narrowed my eyes, straining them to see what was out there.
A person. I leaned over the sink and pressed a hand against the glass, my curiosity peaked.
It was a woman, her white dress had caught my attention, reflecting the moonlight and seeming to glow in stark comparison to the backdrop that was the night.
That’s when I noticed another shape moving, this one in darker clothes but now my eyesight had adjusted I could just make them out moving amongst the tree’s.
As my eyes fully adjusted, I could see them all. The tree line was alive with shifting shapes, like a writhing mass amongst solidity, like maggots amongst a corpse was the impression that came to my head but being creeped out enough by my dream I tried to dismiss that image as quickly as possible.
What was going on out there? It looked like the whole town had gone out for a midnight treasure hunt.
I made my way across to the suit case at the base of my bed, my curiosity was peaked and everyone I’d come across in this town had made me more and more suspicious, I retrieved the clothes I’d put there but a few hours before and got dressed.
I left the room I’d been staying in and crossed the hallway to George’s door and knocked as hard as I could to try to rouse him, I’d stayed overnight before with George and knew full well how hard it was to wake him up. The problem being not that he’d sleep through the alarm so much as that he couldn’t hear it in the first place over his own snoring.
As a matter of fact, I was pretty certain I could hear his distinctive low grumble through the door.
I knocked again and called through the door until I finally got a response, George opened the door half asleep and half dressed.
‘Henry, what’s going on? Do you know what time it is?’
‘Yeah, Sorry buddy. Look, get dressed, we’ve got investigating to do.’
He stood there for a moment, looking at me with his half lidded eyes. ‘Henry, it’s three am.’
‘George, did you find the people around here odd earlier? A little bit suspicious?’
He yawned and nodded.
‘Well, how suspicious would you be if I just told you that from my room I just saw half the town wandering about the woods?’
He frowned then, his eyes unglazed a little more as my words kick started his brain.
‘Yeah, you can come right over and take a look if you like, or you can shift your butt, get dressed and we can take a look ourselves.’
He sobered up completely over the course of that sentence and nodded. ‘Alright, give me a minute.’
Ten minutes later and we were heading out over the back parking area toward the tree’s, pistols in one hand and a torch in mine and George’s free hands.
‘Any idea’s how many people you saw?’ George whispered to me.
‘No, there were too many and it was too dark to count.’
We’d made our way out of the hotel with the hall lighting on and so our eyes took a little while to adjust again as we leapt the low wall at the back of the parking lot and landed on the grass.
The air had cooled since this evening and the night had gotten a little chilly, the hairs on my neck were already raised with my nerves on edge as we entered the tree line.
George clicked on his flashlight and shone it across the ground. ‘Look, you can see the footsteps leading in.’ he looked up to me and I could see a hint of a smile playing across his features. ‘Looks like you weren’t dreaming after all.’
I gave him a look and he let out a quiet chuckle. I’m glad he could still manage to laugh, I won’t lie, my dream had come back to me after we’d entered the trees and I was scared.
George must have sensed my mood, he clicked off the flashlight and said ‘I’ll leave it off for now so we don’t give ourselves away.’
We began following the tracks we could still make out in the moonlight, they converged and cross crossed in some places but kept the same general direction.
I tried to remember if there was anything out this way on the map, but it wasn’t until our path began to grow steeper we realised we were at the base of one of the mountains nearby.
We’d made good progress I thought, mentally working out the distance from the town the mountains had been from what I could recall of our map.
The trees began to thin out as the ground grew steeper, and the path became more dry dirt than mud. I wiped a light sweat from my brow that the exertion had brought up and looked back at George.
The difference between the two of us was clear as I watched him come up over the last rise not even breathing heavy and I wished I’d kept myself fit after quitting the LAPD.
I also wished God had graced me with the ridiculous strength and stamina that George had, but there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about that.
We followed the path on, it hit another thicket of tree’s a little way on and as we once again passed from the open air to darkness I began to get nervous.
The people I’d seen out inside the window had maybe had a ten minute head start on us and we’d been going pretty hard at this trail. Unless they ran the whole way, I would have thought we’d come across someone by now.
Doubts crept into my mind and I began to wonder if I had just been dreaming when I looked out my window, or if my imagination had gone nuts after the dream I had had.
‘Henry… Do you hear that?’ George whispered from just beyond my left shoulder.
I paused and listened. Silence. ‘No? What do you hear, big guy?’
‘Nothing, that’s the point… No animals, nothing…’
I worked my mouth slightly and chewed at the inside of my cheek, frowning around us.
I froze, my eyes began to roam around what I could see without turning my head.
Just in the corner of my eye I could see George stock still, too.
The right. I turned and drew my gun level.
Lodette stood there, her white dress trailing to the ground, looking much the same as she had when I’d seen her last. Right down to the playful smile.
Then my head exploded with light and all I could feel was a dull throbbing just above my ear.
Everything felt slow, my body went limp. It felt like an age for me to hit the ground, and when I did I barely felt it.
I could hear a scuffling and scraping behind me, then a thump thump.
Then everything went dark.
The darkness that engulfed me lasted for what felt like hours, I don’t know how long I was out or how far I’d been dragged by the time I came to, I recall my vision fading in after I first opened my eyes.
I was looking down toward the ground, grass and fallen leaves passed by as I was dragged along by the back of my shirt, I tried to raise my head a little but as I did my vision swam again, so I resigned myself to a limp, lifeless hanging while my head cleared. Everything I could hear around me sounded like it came to me from a long way off and muffled, like being underwater.
The world suddenly came rushing back to me.
I kicked and bucked, struggling to get free, quickly realizing my arms had been bound behind me, that earned me a blow to the back of the head that sent my body limp once again.
Slowly, I raised my head, managing to keep my vision this time, and looked ahead of me.
Lodette, maybe four feet away was walking through the forest.
Thinking back on it, it almost seems like she was gliding ahead of us but I know it’s just my memory fading.
Craning my neck back further, I could see through the branches ahead, the three quarter moon making its descent partially hidden by a cliff face ahead of us.
Finally, I turned my head to the side to look at what was carrying me.
Surprisingly, a man. His shiny bald head reflected in the moonlight, the skin of his face and arms as pale as anyone else’s in the damned town. I could just make out the checkered pattern on his shirt by the moonlight, sleeves rolled up and thin pale arms poking out from them.
Regardless of how fragile those arms looked, he was still carrying with one hand like I was nothing more than a bag of groceries.
Looking to the opposite side, another man, his hair receding with patches through the back and beard.
Over his shoulder was a gun, either or a rifle or a shotgun from the length, I couldn’t make out which properly though. In his hands he was carrying a baseball bat, probably what had been used to down me so easily.
I tried to look around behind me, but I couldn’t turn enough to see if anyone else was dragging George up behind me.
I looked ahead again as we left the tree line and approached the cliff face, before us was the entrance to a disused mine set into the cliff.
That dark hole growing wider and nearer, for some reason struck a deep fear in me.
Not the fact I was being dragged along by a bunch of crazy townsfolk, that scared me yes, but this was different. It wasn’t the dark either, it’s only since that night I’ve feared the dark and enclosed spaces.
But again, that was different. This was deeper, a primal fear, a fear of something I had no idea about, just the voice in my head telling me to get away, I had to get away.
Lodette disappeared into the black hole that was the mouth of the mine, her white dress staying visible for a few drawn out moments before she was entirely enveloped in the darkness.
The man dragging me hesitated, then stopped at the cave mouth, I managed to steal a look at baldy’s face and could tell that clearly he was almost as uncomfortable going in to the mine as I was.
There was a few moments of uneasy pause before there was a small orange flicker appeared far off darkness, then grew closer to us.
The flickering light grew until it lit up the entrance, another man carrying an oil lamp appeared before us.
At this point I feel it’s somewhat redundant to mention that this third man was also pale, the only defining features was that his chest was bare, his pale skin was blotted with patches of dirt and dust giving his skin a cow-hide kind of look.
Oil lamp looked down at me then up at baldy and spoke, it was the first time any of my captors had spoken, and it was nothing like what I expected.
I’ve tried writing down the words Oil lamp said that night, but they never seem to match up to what I remember. The ungodly sounds dragged from that throat sounded something like this:
‘glaf’ac k’ullac fug’akar, ia’gfar’asun’
Baldy nodded and gave what must have been an adequate reply because oil lamp began to smile then looked down at me once again before turning around and heading back into the mine, Baldy quickly began to follow him with baseball bat at the rear.
I don’t know how long I was dragged through the mine, it felt like hours, my mind racing through ways to try to get away, to get out of this mine.
The deeper we went, the more uneasy baldy looked in the flickering light ahead.
His eyes darting about in the deep set sockets, his nerves hitting a whole new level when the way the mine had been dug began to change, becoming more cave-like and rougher, with additional tunnels branching off into different parts of the mountain.
Time seemed different in those darkened halls. Some periods felt longer, others shorter, leaving me with no idea how long I’d been dragged down, my surroundings all seemed the same, dripping walls, sudden black spaces that were additional tunnels and old cart tracks beneath my.
The only true constant were the tracks and my feet bumping off of them.
Sometimes, when I think back on it I could swear there were faces in dark passageways, pale faces staring out at me.
Some not altogether human.
Some elongated and canine-skulled in appearance.
Sharp teeth, bright in the lamp-light.
Then our surroundings changed abruptly, the close-in walls fell away and I was dragged out into a huge cavern.
It stunned me, the walls being there, rough, wet and dripping, then suddenly all that’s around us is the darkness. I looked around, upwards, it was everywhere and felt like it pressed in more than the cave/mine walls had.
What the hell was going on? I begged that this was another dream, something I’d snap awake from any second now.
I looked up and beyond the flickering light ahead I could see one thing.
Lodette. Standing there, smiling, wider than I’d seen her smiling before.
‘Hello again, Detective.’
I glared up at her, I was scared, scared of what might happen, scared of how powerless I was.
I was scared of this fifteen year old girl and how she seemed to be the one in charge of all this.
But I was sure as hell going to do my best not to show it.
She nodded over my shoulder and baldy let me drop to the ground chest first, winding me a little. I lay there and gasped trying to catch my breath.
Face down in the dirt I could hear something in the distance, something out there in the darkness.
I lay there for a moment, my eyes closed, listening to the sounds that echoed about that cavernous chamber.
I could hear movement and footsteps, all around me.
Or were they just echoes? I couldn’t tell.
There was something else, too. Water and a lot of it.
I could hear it sloshing and splashing around nearby, but I couldn’t pinpoint where.
I felt a presence over me and held my breath waiting for the blow to come down.
Instead, I was untied. I rolled over and sat up, scuttling back.
The oil lamp had been left on the ground, Lodette stood near it but I couldn’t see anyone else.
I couldn’t see anything else. The small wavering circle of the oil lamp was a bubble of light in the ocean of darkness around me.
‘Sorry detective, I didn’t want them to be too rough with you’
I shuffled back, feeling out behind me.
‘You should be careful, there’s an awful drop nearby.’
I stopped and looked to her left, there, just beyond her was a difference in the darkness.
I kept looking around, trying to get my bearings, which way had I come from? Which way was out?
As I looked into the darkness I saw small pinpoints of light all around.
I narrowed my eyes.
No… Not lights, reflections, reflections of the oil lamp.
Eyes. There were hundreds of them. All around. Watching, staring, never blinking or wavering.
‘I’d not stare too long, detective, they’re only keeping back because the light burns them, but then again… they are very hungry.’
My head snapped back to look at Lodette, still she stood there, smiling all the same.
‘What are they?’
Her smile grew the faintest bit. ‘They’re the people of the town. They’re not as chatty as those that are left, but they’re still residents all the same.’
She looked to her left and over the ledge.
The water below sounding more turbulent than it had a few minutes ago.
‘Where… Where are we?’ I ventured, my prospects were looking pretty grim but if nothing else, maybe some answers would console me.
She didn’t turn her head, but continued to stare off of the ledge and into the deep darkness.
‘It’s one of the old mines… You know, the ones I mentioned earlier today.’ She then looked back over to me ‘I don’t even remember what it was exactly they were mining for anymore, but what they found was much greater…’ She held out her arms and gestured to the darkness around us. ‘This magnificent hall, they had no idea what they stumbled into when they broke that wall. We have since learned.’
She bent down to one knee and picked something up from beside the oil lamp, I hadn’t noticed it before but my mind had been slightly preoccupied.
‘What do you mean? It’s just a cave, isn’t it?’ keep her talking, I thought. Keep her talking and maybe you can think of something.
I had no way of knowing how far this ledge was, or how deep the water at the bottom was but I was beginning to think maybe throwing myself off would give me a better chance of living than up here.
‘Oh no, not at all. That’s how it looked at first, of course.’ There was a faint click and her face was suddenly illuminated.
My torch, I hadn’t even thought about it since I’d come to. Obviously they’d picked it up from beside me when I’d been knocked out.
‘Why, this is a chapel, Detective.’ She held the torch out over the ledge. ‘And this, is the alter… atop it…’ she dropped the torch, it spun away further and further into the abyss, my eyes trailing after it.
‘Is our God.’
The light flashed, for an instant, over something.
An instant was all it needed to seal its image in my mind.
Dozens of eyes reflected from a gargantuan head, horns sprouting from the temples and sprouting back up and over.
Its circular maw, filled with rows upon rows of blade like fangs.
Thin, spider-like arms extended from its rounded body, webbed claws feeling away at the edges of the great pool of water it sat in.
My body froze, my mind blank. The torch hit the water and went out.
I continued to stare.
‘We are changed here, detective. We are… evolved.’
I turned back and looked around, the eyes around me now had faces. Pale, elongated faces.
Then, slowly, they all moved away.
I looked back at Lodette, She had picked up the oil lamp and took a step closer.
Her body grew with each step, her arms lengthening at the forearm, the fingers curling around the handle as they grew longer.
I looked at her face, No longer her face, the space above her eyebrows split and bled as they opened and a second set of eyes revealed themselves.
Her nose and jaw grew longer as they became a dog-like maw.
‘The mother… the child…’ I don’t know why those words came from my mouth, I couldn’t move for fear had rooted me to the spot. Some part of my mind must still have begged for answers and with the rest of it being blank that came to the forefront.
The creature that now stood before me paused and tilted it’s head, the long black hair fallen over its face as it’s elongated body hunched over and one clawed hand touched the ground.
‘The mother, for me’ it still had her voice, the voice of a young girl from such a creature unsettled me all the more. ‘The child…’ it nodded its head to the side, over the cliff ‘… Youth… helps to sustain him.’
It took another step.
Light burst out from our right, I and the creature both turned toward it.
The creature hissed, I covered my eyes, dazzled by the light,
Bang-Bang. Two shots. A gun. A sound like glass shattering and a sudden roar followed by a shriek.
I open my eyes again, the dress the creature before me was wearing had caught fire, it swatted at it with its elongated arms, stepping back from the light.
Instinct took over, I kicked out at its stick thin knee hard and heard a crack. I pushed myself up and grabbed it’s free arm, the skin cold and clammy, I hauled with all my strength and dragged the creature over my body and over the ledge.
Away it spun into the darkness, the flames flickering with the wind, its howl echoing out from the pit it continued to fall down.
Something grabbed my collar, I twisted and swung, snarling and spitting.
A strong arm grabbed my wrist and pulled me away from the edge.
The howl from the deep pit suddenly stopped, its echoes carrying on, up into the cavern around us and continuing on.
Then other howls began to ring out from the darkness, other inhuman voices echoing the pain.
The hand around my wrist tightened and dragged me up.
I opened my eyes and prepared myself to go down fighting with anything I could.
‘You’d better still be able to fucking run, Henry.’
George threw me ahead of him, his torch shining out before us.
‘That way! Fucking go!’
The next few moments are a complete blur, I recall a deep, resonating howl of pain coming from the pit and so, so loud the ceiling began to shake.
Chunks of the mine fell down around us.
I remember we broke out into the early morning sun.
The forest before us quiet. We looked at each other and fell to the ground, we were both covered in scrapes, cuts, bruises and dust.
We made our way back to the town, our car had been moved but not far.
It sat just outside the hotel, still running, the front seat covered in a strange yellow ash.
We climbed in, and drove away. Neither of us spoke a word to one another until we brought the car back to the rental place.
George explained to me what had happened when I’d been knocked out, they’d come up behind us and hit me first, underestimating George’s speed for his size. He’d managed to turn and fend off the second attacker before making a run for it, he’d then circled back to where we’d last been and followed the trail to the mine where he could see the lamp light in the distance.
He’d followed it at a distance, keeping as quiet as he could until he got into the cavern and used it as a marker. He’d been taking his time, he said he felt other things in the darkness, and could even see them against the oil lamp, but they were all so focused on me that they’d not even noticed him.
He’d shot the lamp when he’d caught the creature by surprise and set it ablaze.
It took some time for me to tell George what I had seen down there, what had happened to me. What I had seen.
I’m not sure he believed me, but he listened, and that’s all I needed. I think.
All I am certain of now, is I am glad we got out of that place alive.
And, that creature beneath the mountain, remains buried in the pit it sat in.
Credit To – S. Meek