“What a frickin’ mess this is.”
Detective Mike Barrow stood atop a muddy ridge on a humid Monday morning, looking down at a small crew of police personnel in a heavily wooded ravine. In the middle of the action was a dead body that had apparently washed up onto the bank of the river below them. He could tell they were all working more quickly than usual, trying to get out of the sweltering heat of the Midwest summer. The storm the night before hadn’t helped matters. The entire riverbed was swarming with insects, the long-sleeved shirt Mike always wore was soaked through from the humidity, and the terrain all around them was pure mud. He surveyed the terrain for a moment, trying to find a way to get down the ridge as cleanly as possible. As his eyes were searching, a hand pressed against his back and gave enough of a push to make him momentarily lose his balance in the wet earth.
“Don’t fall, Mike!” said the girl behind him with feigned shock in her voice. His partner, Maria Rivela, walked to his side and smirked at him. “Just get it over with. It’s just mud.” In contrast to Barrow’s pristine, clean cut appearance, Maria wore a short sleeved blouse with a garish shade of yellow that appeared to have just been dragged out of a clothes hamper. While the Odella Police Department may not have had the professional standards of a major city, she still pushed the limits of what was acceptable.
“Cute, Rivela,” said Barrow. “But I just had this dry cleaned yesterday. I’m waiting for the crime scene guys to drag him up here.” His partner raised an eyebrow at him.
“Oh, come on,” she said, tilting her head. “Well, guess I’ll have to go solve it myself before you even get to look at the guy.” Maria stepped over the edge of the ridge and slipped her way down the muddy slope, somehow making it look easy.
“Dammit.” Mike rolled up his sleeves and began to make his way down the hill himself. By the time he made it down onto the banks of the stream, Rivela had been through the entire scene like a whirlwind. No one could fault her efficiency. Before he could talk to anyone else, she appeared beside him holding an evidence bag with the victim’s wallet.
“Well, this couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy,” she said, holding the photo ID towards Barrow. “James Myers.” The name rang a loud bell.
“You mean Jimmy Rivers?” he asked, pausing to swat a bug off of his face. “How’d he die?”
“As far as we can tell, in a way that makes his nickname very ironic,” said Rivela. “Judging by the tracks in the ground, he dragged his way out of the river down there during the storm last night. Must have fallen in somewhere and gotten caught in the current.”
“That killed him?”
“No, that would be the branch that fell out of the tree up there and landed on his head.” They watched as the team loaded up the body and began carrying it up towards the road above. Mike couldn’t help but flinch noticing the body bag was noticeably flat around the head region.
“You’re telling me he survived getting dragged around the river only to crawl up onto the bank and get cracked by a tree?”
“Sucks, doesn’t it?” asked Rivela. Her tone had no sympathy in it for Jimmy Rivers. Barrow knew the guy was a scumbag drug dealer. He knew better than most people how bad the guy was. However, he doubted anyone deserved to die like that. He heard Maria’s phone ring as he walked over to investigate the scene. Just like she said, a large trench of mud pocked with shoeprints and handholds led from the river to a brownish-red stain on the ground where a large branch had been rolled to the side.
“Mike!” called Maria. “We’ve got something!” He began to turn to hear what she had found, but something strange caught his attention. The end of the branch was blackened and charred. He had been assuming the wind had blown it down, but that meant it must have been struck by lightning. He looked up into the trees, wondering how bad Myers’ luck really was.
“What is it?” he asked, meandering back to Rivela, not looking forward to climbing back up the muddy hill.
“We got a report of an abandoned car a few minutes ago. We ran the plates and it belonged to Jimmy.”
“Up at the rest stop on the highway.”
“That’s half a mile, Rivela,” he said. “And if I remember right, the river’s not exactly close to the parking lot there. The only way he gets to the river is if he was really drunk or if someone is chasing him down there.”
“Or if someone carried him down there,” said Maria, looking her partner hard in the eye. “This could be an execution that didn’t go well. Could be he tried to cross Hawthorne.”
“Again? Really?” Barrow asked with slight exasperation. “Not every little thing that happens around here is Hawthorne’s fault. Let’s get back to the station and see what’s up with the body.”
Mike knew there might be some truth to Maria’s line of thought. Sometimes it seemed like everything bad that happened in the region could be traced back to Isaiah Hawthorne. His gang, the Thorns, operated like a Midwestern cartel, spreading drugs and influence across half the country. Even the small town operators like Myers worked for him. The ones that tried to stay independent seemed to end up in ditches and back alleys. But this couldn’t be his work. It was far too brutal and, by all accounts, Myers was too loyal.
Mike had begun trudging up the hill when something caught his attention.
“Rivela,” he said. “What do you make of that?” He pointed to the side of a fallen tree half-buried in the mud. Carved into the side of the tree was a strange symbol. The two of them made their way through the mud to inspect it.
“It looks like a backwards seven,” said Maria. “But, like, fancy.” Mike had to agree. It had curves, flourishes, and a vicious line across its center. There was no way it was natural or accidental. Someone had very purposely carved it.
“Does it look fresh to you?” asked Barrow.
“I can’t tell,” she said. “You know kids come out in the woods all the time. They bring cameras out and go looking for monsters like in all the stories. Maybe it’s supposed to be some ancient, mystic thing?”
“Yeah, maybe,” he replied. He turned back towards the top of the ridge, but a cold feeling had begun to grow in his stomach, despite the sweltering heat. There were still splinters on the edge of that symbol. It looked freshly carved. Very freshly carved.
A short, but frustrating climb later, they were back in their car heading through the town of Odella. The only reason anyone outside the town cared about it was the Odella State Prison that resided on the outskirts of town. Other than that, it was an idyllic, boring town with pothole-filled streets named after random trees. Driving through downtown, they passed by buildings filled with small cafes, antique stores, local pubs, and pawn shops, most of them with signs saying ‘Go Omegas’, referencing the high school sports teams. Right now, in the summer heat, the signs had a baseball theme to them, but they’d eventually rotate through football and basketball. Mike’s own son, Matthew, was on most of those teams, more by Mike’s pressuring than any real love of sports. He always said that kids needed something to keep them out of trouble. Otherwise, they end up getting mixed up with people like Myers.
“Stop at Gerry’s,” said Mike to Maria from the passenger’s seat.
“Again??” she said. “They’re the worst bakery in town! Why do you insist on going there?”
“They’re also the cheapest in town. And the new cashier is very cute.”
“What would your wife say if she heard you talking like that?” said Rivela with a grin as she parked the car. “At least get a coffee cake or something instead of the donuts.” Mike tried to brush as much caked mud off his shirt as he could and hopped out of the car. “You’re just perpetuating a stereotype of cops, you know!”
Later, as they pulled into the station, Barrow grabbed his box of fresh donuts and got out of the car. He turned to see his partner grasping the steering wheel for a moment and taking a deep breath. He had figured she was hungover again, but she hid it well enough that it took a keen eye to catch her struggling. The hot weather couldn’t be helping. As she fought through it and got out of the car, smiling once again, he studied her a bit more closely.
The two of them made a strange pair, to be sure. The girl was a classic beauty, even with her jet black hair cut into a punkish half-shaved style he could barely stand. Her flawless mocha skin was half covered with tattoos. The variety was staggering to Barrow. There was a barbed wire heart, a cherub with an assault rifle, and a cartoonish grim reaper on her arm she could make dance by turning her hand.
Meanwhile, it took him an hour in the morning to look presentable, even with the best suit (and hairpiece) he could afford. He was still amazed his wife, Sarah, had stayed with him this long. She was still less than pleased about him cavorting around town with the younger woman.
Entering the station, Mike blew past the reception desk, placed the box of donuts on the break room table, and the two of them walked toward their office. Going past a series of pictures of former officers, he always had to glance at a certain picture. It read ‘Isabella Rivela’ and it was the spitting image of the girl walking beside him, minus the tattoos and slightly glazed eyes. Maria’s grandmother was still a legend in the Odella Police Department, killed during a brutal prison riot 48 years prior. That was the main reason a blind eye was often turned to her lack of professionalism and worrisome obsession with Hawthorne.
Later, at the end of their shifts, they were no better off than before. Myers had no drugs or alcohol in his system, his tracks were the only ones leading to the river from the rest stop, and they had no witnesses, leads, evidence, or promising suspects.
“Don’t tell me we’re giving up on this.”
“Anything could have happened out there, Rivela,” said Mike, heading for the door. “If we get any information at all, we can come back to this, but for now, Myers’ death is an accident. For all we know, he was taking a piss by the river and got hit by a gust of wind.”
“Karma coming back to bite him in the ass?”
“Whatever you want,” he said. “I’ve got to get into the high school though. They’re trying to get the game in before another storm hits tonight and my wife will kill me if I miss another one.”
“Matthew still warming the bench?” asked Maria with a smirk.
“Yeah, but he’s good at it,” said Barrow. “See you tomorrow, Rivela. Keep out of trouble!”
“Will do,” said Maria, well aware they both knew she’d be at the Fifth Street Pub in ten minutes.
It was as normal a night as Mike could hope for after that. The Omegas lost their third game in a row and everyone scattered out of the diamond as the rain set in. Between the storm and the case, he didn’t get much sleep that night. Myers’ death might actually be an accident, but Mike doubted it. He knew the man’s reputation too well. He had blood on his hands and too many people that wanted him dead. If someone did take get some revenge on him, good for them. When Hawthorne found out about it, though, may God have mercy on their soul.
Almost immediately the next morning, another call came in about a mysterious death. It almost came as a relief to Mike to be able to get his mind off of the drug dealer. It was much less of a relief when he saw that the address was an old apartment complex on the outskirts of town. It wasn’t the friendliest place in town and he wasn’t particularly welcome there after certain events several years earlier. In fact, the building’s landlord, Carla Stanton, might be the only person who liked him on the entire block.
Twenty minutes later, Mike was standing on the edge of the apartment complex’s pool looking at Carla’s body floating in the water, the scent of chlorine almost overpowering in the heat. While Rivela talked to the lead crime scene investigator, he scanned the three story block of apartments surrounding the central courtyard with the pool. There were plenty of curtains shifting and eyes watching. The last thing these people wanted was for the cops to come around asking questions. If anyone knew who was responsible, these people weren’t going to cover for them.
It was no secret that the stately, 40-something woman wasn’t the most popular landlord in the world. Between rent hikes, the sketchy state of repair of the building, and more than a few questionable evictions, the list of suspects would be a long one. Mike turned to find Maria walking towards him.
“Well, this one’s going to be weird,” she said with a consternated expression.
“They have a cause of death already?”
“A pretty solid one, too. She got pitched off her balcony up there and died hitting the water.”
“You’re joking,” said Mike. He looked up at the third floor. The apartments on the ends did indeed have balconies jutting out into the air. The issue was that the balcony outside of Carla’s corner flat was a good sixty feet away from the pool. “You’re saying that someone threw her off of her balcony, while she was alive and probably struggling, and hit dead center in the pool from that distance?”
“I said it was going to be weird. And it gets weirder,” she said.
“Great, what now?”
“The lady that lives in the house across the street says she saw the whole thing,” said Maria. “Heard screaming outside during the storm, went to the window, and saw Carla up on her balcony yelling her lungs out at someone.”
“That’s the thing,” she said. “She was apparently yelling into thin air. Then some huge wind gust came up, almost broke half the windows in the building, and the next thing she knows, Carla’s down in the pool.”
Mike stared at her for a moment, hoping she was going to add something that would help this make more sense. He looked at the balcony again, then back down at Carla in the pool. He had a flashback to Jimmy Rivers laying in a ravine two days ago, with no explanation other than “the storm did it”. There was something bigger going on here, but damned if he knew what.
It was as he was about to walk away from the pool that he saw it: a mark scratched into the concrete; a mark like a backwards seven that reminded him of a fallen tree in a ravine. He nudged Rivela and pointed to the ground. Her jaw dropped slightly as she saw the mark.
“You must be joking,” she said, her voice low. She knelt down and brushed a hand over it. “This has to be some kind of signature, right? If someone did chase Myers down into the river, they could have followed him and carved it into the tree.”
“I think we might need to start treating his death like a homicide,” replied Barrow in a sheepish tone. “But who in the hell would want him and Carla both dead? And how the hell could they have done this to Carla?”
“This is officially getting too weird for my tastes,” said Maria. “And I’m usually okay with weird.”
They were turning to enter the parking lot when a uniformed officer came running up to them. Mike recognized him as a rookie named Paul something-or-other and it looked like he had just gotten here in a hurry.
“Detective Rivela!” he said, coming up to her first. “I just heard about Miss Stanton! I should have told somebody last night, but I thought they’d call me crazy!”
“Told us what?” asked Barrow, storming around Maria toward the kid.
“She called the station early yesterday morning. She said there was an intruder outside of her apartment, so I came out to take a look.”
“And why the hell wasn’t anyone checking up on her last night, then?” asked Mike.
“Sir,” said the officer. “She said someone was screaming at her from her balcony. That’s three stories up with no access. I thought she had to be high or something!” Barrow took a deep breath and walked over to their car while Rivela grilled the kid. As he reached it, he found someone waiting for him. It was an older woman in a floral sundress. She carried herself with a regal bearing that was counter to the streaks of gray in hair that had once been dark and flowing and to the arthritic stiffness in her joints. She sized the detective up, a look of obvious disdain on her face. Barrow cursed under his breath.
“Hello, Ms. Harris,” he said. “What can I help you with?”
“That woman’s death was no accident,” said Rose Harris. Her voice was strained. The last time the two had met had not been on amiable terms, but whatever she wanted was dire enough that she had put that aside momentarily.
“Is that so?”
“It was the Stormcaller,” she said, whispering the word.
“Is that some kind of Malcaw legend?” asked Mike. He stared daggers back into her pale blue eyes; the kind they called the Malcaw eyes around Aldona County. It was a tribe with a bloodsoaked history that used to be feared by native and settler alike. That was a long time ago, but the word still held a sinister undertone in the older parts of the region. Old stories died very slowly in small towns. Rose didn’t respond immediately, apparently gauging her words.
“The Malcaw had many legends, Detective,” she finally said. “Many legends, many spirits, and many old gods. Not all of them were kind to humanity.”
“Well, if I run into any gods, I’ll come to you for advice,” he said, turning to get in his car.
“I heard James Myers is dead,” she said, making him pause midstep. “And that he died strangely, like Miss Stanton.” Word spread fast in small towns.
“I thought you’d sound happier about that,” said Barrow. “A scumbag and your price gouging landlady both gone.”
“She evicted me last month,” said Harris. “I’m living…elsewhere now.”
“Sorry to hear that.” A long pause hung in the air.
“My son is gone because of James Myers and because of you, Detective Barrow,” she said. “But if the Stormcaller has returned, then many other people are going to die. And you have to save them.”
“Me, specifically? Why?”
“Because it comes for bad people, Detective. Do you think it will come for you?”
“I have better things to do than look into your crazy legends!” said Barrow, a flicker of anger in his voice.
Rose Harris’ gaze narrowed. She pulled back a hand and slapped him full on in the face. She turned and walked away irately while Mike reeled from the surprisingly painful blow. He heard a scoff from the other side of the car and turned to see Rivela watching him with an amused grin.
“You have a way with the ladies, don’t you, Mike?”
“Get in the car.”
The ride back to the station was largely quiet. Rivela must have sensed that Mike needed time to clear his head and was content to watch the people walking down the streets of Odella. She waved at a group of kids playing on the sidewalk. They waved excitedly back at her.
Mike and Carla hadn’t been close for a while, but there was a time, no so long ago, when they were an item. He’d even contemplated proposing to her. It hadn’t worked out though, and they ended up going their separate ways. They talked from time to time and he’d helped her out of a couple of health code violations, but that was the extent of their current relationship. Still, when the victim was someone he knew, a long time ago or not, it got into his head. He tried to take his mind off of it by focusing on the only other thing he’d learned that day.
“You big on Indian legends, Rivela?”
Maria turned towards him with a questioning look and said, “Which one? This entire region is loaded with them. You’ve got the cannibal legends over in Campsong, the ghosts out in the woods in Arbormill, et cetera, et cetera.”
“Harris was talking about something called the Stormcaller,” he said. “Said it killed bad people.” Mike could see the gears in her head working as she thought about it. Eventually she just looked back at him and shook her head.
“Not one I’m familiar with.”
“Know anyone that would be?”
“Hell if I know. The museum over in Arbormill maybe. Don’t tell me you’re starting to believe in ghost stories.”
“No, but if Harris starts spreading that rumor around, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to know about it. Remember the “Hunger Murders” twenty years ago?”
“I was out of town and also, like, five when that went down.”
“Okay,” said Mike, sighing in an exaggerated manner. “They started finding mangled, half-eaten bodies out in the woods that happened to match the details from an old legend about a monster called ‘The Hunger’. So, being Aldona County, rumors start flying and instead of, say, watching suspicious people, everyone is burning incense and chanting at crossroads. Any normal investigation we might have done was out the window.”
“So what did you do?”
“We did about everything we could, but we couldn’t find a lead to save our life. Eventually, people see smoke coming from the woods out east. We go check it out and find this clearing in the woods just smoldering and full of dead bodies. Honestly? It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen. Most of the old-timers around here won’t even talk about it.”
“What happened then?”
“The killings just stopped. Whether the killer burned to death out there or just left town, we don’t know. I just know the case is still open and I don’t want the same thing happening this time.”
“So, you think these deaths might be someone imitating this other monster?”
“I won’t know that until I learn more about it,” he said. “Didn’t think I was a history buff, did you, Rivela?”
“Not since I had to remind you that we didn’t win Vietnam.”
Back at the station, Mike looked up the number for the museum and walked down to an interrogation room, leaving Maria to fill out the paperwork. He wanted some privacy if he was going to be calling a museum on official police business involving monsters. Precedent or not, this wasn’t something he wanted to take shit for later. Ducking into one of the gray concrete rooms, he dug out his phone and called the number. It took five or six rings, but eventually, a man with a dull, mumbly voice answered.
“Arbormill Historical Society,” the man said. “Thomas Lyndon, curator, speaking.”
“Yeah, this is Detective Mike Barrow with the Odella Police. I have a weird case that might be related to a native legend and I was wondering if you could help me.”
“I would be more than happy to help you, Detective!” said Lydon, his voice taking on a more animated tone. “Local mythology is our specialty!”
“Great,” said Barrow, feigning excitement. “I have two cases that someone is linking to a monster called the Stormcaller. Does that name mean anything to you?” There was a heavy silence on the other end of the line. Eventually, the historian responded.
“I presume that means someone has died,” he said. Despite his lack of belief, a chill went down Barrow’s spine. “I know the vague details, but let me grab a book on the subject. I’ll be right back.”
“Take your time,” said Mike, with a glance at his watch. Thankfully, the curator only took a couple of minutes to find his information.
“Alright,” he began. “The Stormcaller is an old story. A very old story. The earliest version of the creature is described in Mesopotamia in roughly 4000 BC.”
“Wait, I thought this thing was a Malcaw legend, not some Middle Eastern thing.”
“The Malcaw are the only current version that uses the original name of Stormcaller. The most famous offshoots of the legend are the Furies of Greek mythology and the Banshee in Irish folklore. Many other cultures had similar creatures, but the core legend is commonly known as the Storm Banshee in academic circles.”
“So what does a Storm Banshee do?”
“According to the original legend, as well as the Native version, the creature is only awakened during thunderstorms, primarily during seasons where they are nearly continuous.”
“Like now,” said the detective.
“Exactly. It needs these seasons because during the first night, it appears before its victim and screams at them, its cry hidden by the storm to everyone but its prey. On the night of the next storm, it returns, kills them, and then flies off to find a new victim.”
“You said it flies?”
“Yes, it is always depicted as a winged creature.” Mike couldn’t help but picture something standing on Carla’s balcony. Something with wings. Something screaming.
“Well,” the historian mumbled, stalling for a moment. “Some people view this creature as a positive. It is said to only go after evil people that have gone unpunished for their crimes. A document found from the time of the Persian Empire states that “it washes away the wicked as the storm washes away filth from the earth”. And these people do not die quickly, Detective. They supposedly die in very painful, agonizing ways. May I ask how these people died?”
“I can’t divulge that information, Mr. Lydon,” said Mike. “But…thank you for your help.”
“Anytime, Detective.” Barrow was about to hang up when a thought popped into his head.
“One more thing.”
“You wouldn’t happen to know anything about a symbol that looks like a curvy, backwards seven, would you?” There was silence for a moment on the line, even heavier than the pause before. He thought he might have been disconnected, but the curator finally answered.
“Could it have been a scythe?” Thinking back, Mike couldn’t believe he hadn’t seen that already.
“It might have been.”
“The Mark of the Harvester,” Lydon said in a hushed tone.
“What the hell is that?”
“Sautoras the Harvester is the patron god of the Malcaw. It only appears in the most ancient of texts.”
“How many people would know about this mark?”
“Not many,” said Lydon. “I learned what I know from the history department at John Barons University in Chicago. Arbormill College also has some knowledge on the matter. These are not well known subjects.”
“Alright,” said Barrow. “Thanks again.”
“Not a problem,” said Lydon. “And Detective? Be careful.” There was a click as the call ended.
Walking back to his desk, a thought had begun to roll around in his head. Not much was known about Isaiah Hawthorne, but they did know he had started out in Chicago. Barrow couldn’t help but wonder if he had had anything to do with John Barons University; specifically, the history department. As he reached his desk, Maria turned to him with a haunted look in her eyes.
“Mike,” she said, laying a folder down on the desk. “I just got the report back on Carla. There were no marks on her other than what would have been there from the impact with the water. No defensive wounds or signs of a struggle. And…she apparently didn’t die from the fall. She drowned.” Barrow slowly picked up the file and read through it without saying a word. He paused for more than a moment at the picture of Carla lying on the autopsy table. He couldn’t believe he’d never see that radiant face alive again.
“Are you going to be okay?” asked Maria.
Mike didn’t respond. He only looked out the window across his desk. There was a storm on the horizon.
It didn’t seem like it was a surprise to anyone when the report of a death came in around noon the next day. A man named Elliot Marning hadn’t shown up for his job at the bank. Fearing the worst with the rumors already spreading around town, a co-worker had driven out to his house in the countryside outside of Odella. They found the front window shattered and Marning dead inside his living room. After a brief scan of the squad room, Mike headed outside to find Maria sitting on the curb by the parking lot. He found her out there a lot when something was bothering her. She liked watching the clouds or the cars go by or something.
As they drove across Odella, Mike knew something was really off with Maria. Her normally chipper attitude was nowhere to be seen. Instead of talking, she was just staring out the window of the car, quietly watching the streets. They were a lot emptier than they should have been at that time of day. Things were bad in town, but it wasn’t like her to brood for long. She was relentlessly positive, even in the darkest hours.
“Alright, Rivela,” he said. “What’s wrong? And don’t tell me it’s this case we’re on. I’ve seen you barrel through worse.” She looked at him with forlorn eyes for a moment before replying.
“It’s Jimmy Rivers, Mike,” she said. “They finished up checking out everything; his car, his house, his shithole of a hideout. There’s nothing to link him to Hawthorne. You know what that means.”
“Yeah,” he said in a soft tone. “It means there’s nothing left we can do. There’s nothing left to link Hawthorne to our jurisdiction.”
“Dammit, Mike!” she yelled, slamming a fist on the console. “I actually thought we could be the ones to get him! Then the witnesses disappear. The evidence gets tainted. And Myers bites it in a river.” She stayed silent for a moment. “I really thought it’d be us. Imagine it, Mike: small town detectives take down crime lord!”
“Yeah, that would’ve been great. National headlines. Medals. Fame and fortune. All that jazz.”
“Yeah,” said Rivela, giving him a look and a smirk. “All that.” Her normal demeanor was starting to come back.
“We’ll get another shot, Rivela,” said Mike. “But for now, we’ve got a body to get to.”
Barrow expected the worst as he and Rivela entered the banker’s residence, but it was worse than he could have imagined. The sun, shining through the humid air, cast a wavering light over the scene. The body was under a sheet in the dead center of the room and the floor around it was stained with a massive quantity of blood.
“The other ones were weird,” said Stevens, the department’s lead investigator. “This one’s worse. Ever hear of “death by a thousand cuts”?” He pulled open the sheet on the body and the veteran detectives both took a step back in shock. The man’s face, chest, and abdomen had been impaled by dozens of razor-sharp shards of glass.
“Are those from-“
“Yeah, the window,” said Stevens. “Only explanation whatsoever is that a massive gust of wind hit the window when he was standing in front of it and blew it all right at him.” The man checked to make sure no one was listening, leaned closer to the detectives, and whispered, “My guys are all freaked out after the last few days. If someone, somehow, is doing this, we need to stop it. Information is getting out and the town is starting to get afraid. Really afraid.”
“We’re trying, okay?” said Barrow. “So what’s going on over there?” He pointed to the floor opposite Marning’s body, where investigators were photographing a multitude of pages blown over the floor.
“That part’s almost as weird, if you can imagine that.”
“Try me,” said Mike, following him over to the strewn paper.
“This guy was the president down at the bank, right? These are all documents that, as far as we can tell, prove this guy was robbing the bank blind.” He directed their attention to a relatively clean page. “We need an accountant to verify it, but we think he was giving out bad loans to himself. A lot of them. If you had money in that bank, I suggest you get it out while you still can.”
Barrow was about to turn his attention back to Stevens when he noticed a long list of names sticking out from under the couch. He saw the name “R. Harris” at the bottom of the list.
“What the hell was he doing with all of this evidence sitting out in his living room?” asked Rivela.
“If you ask me,” said Stevens. “I think he was about to turn himself in. The co-worker that called this in was ranting about him acting crazy all day yesterday. She says it was like he was looking over his shoulder.”
“You think someone had him figured out?” said Mike. “And he wanted to turn himself in before they could?”
“Only thing that makes sense to me.”
Barrow turned back to take another look at the scene when his phone rang. He froze in place and, for a moment, considered just letting it ring. Instead, he took a deep breath and answered. It was the dispatcher from back at the station. He braced himself for bad news.
“Detective, we’ve got another weird call. It might be connected to the case you’re on.”
“Great,” he replied. “Where?”
“Some guy named Arthur McCann just called in with a report of an…intruder. I’ll get you the address and you can talk to him yourself.”
After writing down the street number, Barrow headed back over to where Rivela was speaking with the crime scene investigator.
“Maria,” he said. “I’ve got a report that might be something across town.”
“I’ve still got a few more things to do here though.”
“That’s fine. I’ll head over myself.”
“Okay, I’ll hitch a ride back to the station after I’m done here.”
“Yeah, that’ll work. And Rivela?” he said. “Be careful. I have no idea what’s going on.”
“You got it, Mike,” said Maria.
Barrow headed out towards McCann’s house on the edge of town. He didn’t know the guy, but most people in town knew the house. It was a huge, old Victorian that hadn’t changed for decades. Its owner was only seen periodically and for short periods of time. Kids told each other the old guy had bodies buried in the basement. The detective, normally an overly cautious driver, sped through the streets of Odella.
The first thing he noticed when he arrived at the old man’s house was the immaculate state of the place. Even after the vicious weather of the past week, the lawn was exactly level and free of debris. The hedges along the exterior of the building were trimmed to perfection. It looked like the front of a home and garden magazine. The second thing he noticed was that the shutters of every one of the house’s many windows were tightly shut and latched despite the currently mild weather. For some reason, Barrow’s mind went back to Carla’s body back in the morgue; to that face that was so pretty with those closed eyes that were never going to open again.
McCann met him at the door. Mike was immediately caught off guard by the presence of the man. He was wearing a suit and tie and spoke in a formal, old-fashioned tone.
“Welcome, Detective Barrow,” said the old man. “Please come in.” There was an authority in his voice that demanded respect. “Allow me to show you the scene of the crime.”
“Uh…yeah,” said Mike.
As McCann led him through the house, the detective looked around the house in awe. The perfectly cultivated exterior was nothing compared to the inside. Paintings and statues were everywhere, making the place look almost like an art museum. The central piece of the collection was a large sculpture with radiating arms that he assumed was supposed to be the sun. As he followed the man up a spiral staircase, a strange smell caught his attention. Part of it reminded him of the smell that came right after it rained. And beneath that, very subtly, was the scent of blood.
“Here it is, Detective,” said McCann as they reached the top of the staircase.
Barrow stopped in his tracks as he saw the hallway ahead of him. It was a disaster zone. Light streamed in through a hole in the ceiling onto a mass of broken drywall and shingles. Water was still dripping from the opening onto the floor, where a massive puddle had formed, already ruining the expensive rug and hardwood floors beneath it.
“What in God’s name happened here?” whispered Barrow.
“Well, I had just decided to get ready for bed and was passing through the hallway when I heard a strange sound behind me,” said McCann, his voice unnervingly steady given the situation. “I turned around and saw a creature.”
“A creature? Not a person?”
“Most definitely a creature, Detective. It appeared vaguely like a woman, but she was a very dark blue and surrounded by mist. Before I could act, the creature screamed at me.”
“Like a banshee?” asked Barrow, almost whispering.
“Yes, exactly,” said McCann. “It was…deafening.” For the first time since he had arrived, the detective heard the old man’s voice waver. That was almost as bad as the story. He doubted this man had ever shown weakness in his life. “And then, as soon as the noise stopped, great wings came out of her back and she flew up through the ceiling. I was almost struck by the debris.”
“Wait,” said Mike. “It smashed its way out, but not in?”
“No detective. She did not.” The man paused before continuing. “I know you must think I’m insane. I would myself if not for this pile of wreckage on the floor here.”
“I would any other week, Mr. McCann,” said Barrow. “But not today. Not this week.”
“I hesitate to ask,” said the old man. “But is there anything you can do to help me?”
Mike looked over the ruined hallway for a moment, a cold certainty forming in the pit of his stomach, and then turned back towards the staircase. Looking over the gallery below, he saw the sculpture of the sun. A large orb with rays reaching out to smaller orbs. All the pieces connecting to the whole. Barrow reflected for a moment on a thought that had been growing in his head for the past two days. Finally, he decided it was the only thing that made sense, no matter how out there it may seem.
“I have an idea, Mr. McCann,” he said. “I have to go talk to someone. In the meantime, I’ll have a patrol car come by tonight to keep watch. Do you have any interior rooms that you could hole up in if something happens? Preferably with a phone you can call 911 on?”
“I have a reasonably furnished basement.”
“I’d stay in there tonight if I was you, sir. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.” The detective began to go down the staircase when the man touched him lightly on the shoulder. It was an unnerving touch, although he couldn’t have said why. He turned to see McCann staring into the space over his left shoulder. The look in his eyes gave Mike chills.
“Did you know I used to be an artist, Detective Barrow?” he asked in a tone barely more than a whisper.
“No,” said Mike. “I had no idea, Mr. McCann.” The old man seemed to come to his senses and he gave one last polite smile and nod of his head.
“In any case, thank you for your attention in the matter.”
Leaving the house, Mike looked into the distance and saw the sky growing dark. He had to hope that this worked. He put in a call to the department and had them check on an address for him. He wrote it down and hit the gas, giving one last glance to the spotless house behind him. Spotless except for one very large hole in the roof.
The day seemed to be slipping by at an insane pace. The sun was already lowering in the sky when the detective arrived at his destination. It was an apartment building on the edge of town that had seen better days. Most of the cops were familiar with the neighborhood. Half of their calls seemed to come from there. Before he could get out of the car, his phone buzzed. He pulled it out and saw that he had received a text message from Rivela. Pulling it up, a photo of the crime scene back at the banker’s house came up. They had finally removed the body and were able to see the blood stain on the floor beneath it. Somehow, in the middle of the bloodstain, a darker mark had appeared; a mark that looked like a scythe. Barrow had had enough. If his hunch was right, the end of the case was just around the corner. He steeled himself and got out of the car.
Knocking on the door of a ground floor apartment, a familiar voice came from inside.
“I don’t have any money! Go away!”
“I don’t want money, Ms. Harris!” he replied, his voice stern. There was a tense minute of silence before the door opened slightly, the chain still secured. Rose Harris looked Barrow up and down, trying to decide why he was there. “It’s about your son. Can I come in?” She looked him dead in the eye for a moment and then opened the door.
“Have you come just to apologize, Detective Barrow?” she asked as they moved into the apartment. It was mostly bare. There was little beside a couch, a television, and a small kitchenette. “Or is there something else you need from me?”
“Yeah,” said Mike. His voice was as cold as ice. “I want you to call it off.”
“Call what off?”
“The Stormcaller!” he replied, almost yelling. “I believe, okay? I don’t want to believe, but after what I just saw today, there’s no way I can think anything else! It can blow people’s windows apart! It can fly through ceilings! The goddamn thing is real!”
“I know it is, Detective, but why on earth would you think I am controlling it??” Harris asked while moving slowly towards the door to the bedroom.
“Hell, Rose, how can I not?” asked Barrow, advancing on her as she backed away. “Jimmy Rivers was the one that got your son locked up. Carla evicted you from your apartment. The president of the bank was robbing people blind. I have no idea what McCann did, but he must have done something!”
“Detective Barrow,” said Harris, the fear apparent in her voice. “I may have hated James Myers and Miss Stanton, but I would not have wished death on them. I had no idea the bank was taking my money and I have no idea who this Mr. McCann is. No one summons the Stormcaller. No one controls it. It is a force of nature.”
With a quickness Barrow would not have suspected, Harris grabbed a canister of flour off of the kitchen counter and hurled it at him. He put an arm up to block it, but found himself enveloped in a cloud of flour as he heard the bedroom door slam shut and lock. Brushing off as much white powder as he could, Mike advanced on the door. Regulations meant nothing to him at this point. He had one chance to find a way to save lives and he was taking it. He braced himself and kicked the door. The cheap plywood gave and swung open. Entering the room, he saw Harris cowering against the far wall. He was about to begin questioning her again when his eyes fell on the wall behind her. A landscape had been painted across the entire wall.
The mural depicted a vast field with a huge, red sun on the horizon. The red light cast shadows on the ground from unseen entities. At the center of it all, exactly at the edge of the sun, a pitch black signpost rose from the ground. No words were written on the arrows pointing in every direction. No visible paths extended from it. The light in the room seemed to dim as it neared the image.
“What the hell is that?” said Barrow, the anger in his voice replaced by stunned awe. Harris remained tense, but hearing the change in his voice gave her a slim measure of security.
“It is the Western Crossroads, Detective,” she said. “It is where we will all go when we die. We will all choose a path one day.”
“Why is it on your wall?”
“Creatures like the Stormcaller fear the Crossroads. The old legends say that even an image of it will drive it away.”
“Does it work?” asked Mike.
“I can only hope,” said Rose. She measured the man up for a moment as he stood mesmerized by the mural. “You think it’s going to come for you. Don’t you, Detective?”
“I don’t know, Rose,” he replied. “I don’t know.” He looked at the painting for a moment more before fixing his gaze on Harris. “Is there any way to stop the thing? McCann can’t have that much longer.”
“There is only one way,” she said. “The Stormcaller punishes those that have not faced the consequences of their sins. Once you have been marked, you have until the creature appears again to confess your crimes. If this man does not confess…”
“How long does he have?”
“It’s already beginning to rain, Detective Barrow. The Crossroads are calling.”
After a second of thought, he spun around and made for the door, pausing as he placed a hand on the cracked frame.
“I’ll, uh, pay for the door,” he said without looking back. “And Rose? I really am sorry about your son.” He hurried out to his car as he heard Harris begin to weep behind him. He got on the radio with the station as soon as he hit the driver’s seat.
“Did you send a car out to McCann’s like I asked??”
“Yeah, Mike, we sent the new kid out there.”
“Tell him to keep the old guy there until I get back! No matter what!” He heard the fear in the man’s voice before he left. People did stupid things when they were afraid. As he was about to step on the gas, his phone rang again from his pocket. He knew it had to be Rivela again. He wanted to answer it and tell her everything, but he knew she wouldn’t believe a word of it. He didn’t even bother sending it to voicemail. He just let it ring as he sped off into the town.
Cursing every slow driver and stoplight, Barrow saw the sun sinking towards the horizon as he closed in on McCann’s house. Then, as he heard a report come through the radio, everything immediately went south.
“He just busted out of his garage and he’s driving like a maniac!” he heard Paul shout into the radio. Barrow felt his stomach drop. Moments later, he careened into the driveway of the formerly pristine home. He leapt out of the car to see the rookie officer running over to him from the house. Mike was horrified to see a massive hole in the door of the garage and skid marks on the driveway indicating the man left at a breakneck pace.
“He went that way!” the young officer screamed, pointing into the distance. “In a black Cadillac!” Mike looked to the west and saw a sliver of sunlight in the middle of the cloudy skies. The madman was trying to outrun the storm.
The wind and rain caught up to Barrow as he barreled down the highway out of Odella. The storms the past week had been bad. This one was worse. Mike could feel the wind buffeting his vehicle, forcing him to crank the wheel to the left, almost forcing him into the opposite lane. He put the windshield wipers on the highest speed, but they were fighting a losing battle. The sun had finally disappeared and darkness washed over the road.
Suddenly, Barrow felt something soar over the roof of his car. He didn’t know how. He could barely hear or see anything through the storm, but, all the same, he felt it blow by him. Dread washed over him and he rode the gas harder, embracing the insanity that had held the last week in its grasp.
Then, through the trail of his embattled windshield wipers, he barely caught sight of taillights off the road in the distance. Mike braked as hard as he dared in the brutal elements. Swerving onto the shoulder, he could see a dark car sitting half in the ditch on the edge of a field. Either it had slipped off the road or it had been forced. He had no doubt it was McCann’s car.
Barrow burst out of his car and spun around the front of his car. He could barely make out the old man running along the edge of the flooded ditch away from his stranded Cadillac. He had to be concussed or panicked or something. Mike was about to yell at the idiot to get back in the car when a massive flash of light blinded him. The night exploded around him.
He was thrown to the ground by the blast as a bolt of lightning arced out of the clouds above and struck McCann. Barrow sunk his hands into the wet earth and dragged himself to his knees, needing to see if the man had survived the strike, no matter how slim the odds. Right as his eyes locked onto the body on the ground, the heavens opened up again and another bolt of lightning erupted downward, directly at the soaked figure across the raging floodwater. Mike fell prone onto the ground and covered his head as he heard another bolt, followed by another, and another, and another, strike the edge of the ditch.
He lay in the pouring rain for a minute, waiting to make sure the madness was over. Finally, he raised his head and saw a blackened shape in a patch of charred earth next to what remained of a car. To say that he had failed would be an understatement.
Barrow struggled to his feet and stumbled back to his car. As he leaned on the hood, wondering what to do next, he sensed something behind him. He wanted to run, hide, or do anything but turn around. But, slowly, inevitably, he turned around.
Even in the downpour, the shape of the creature was unmistakable. Its form was that of a beautiful woman, but somehow wrong and feral. The Stormcaller’s skin shimmered an ocean blue that seemed to meld into the mist surrounding it. Wild, cerulean hair circled a tight-lipped face where gray eyes sparkled.
“Well,” muttered Barrow. “It’s about god damned time.”
Without warning, the creature in front of him screamed. Her mouth seemed to grow to a cavernous void as a deafening shriek emanated from it. Mike was forced to throw his hands over his ears, although it did little good. As he stood there, braced against the force of the noise, he broke eye contact for just a moment and saw a shape glowing from the thing’s skin. His jaw fell slack.
After a moment that seemed like an eternity, the sound stopped. The mist around the creature expanded outward and shaped itself into a pair of bat-like wings. In an instant, it shot into the air, the force of its wings forcing Mike to brace himself. With that, the cry of the Stormcaller still echoing into the storm, the detective collapsed back onto the hood of his car. For a long while, he just lay there, letting the rain wash over him. When he finally stood up and got into the car, the storm had almost passed and dawn was not far off. He radioed the station and told them to call his wife for him, then put the car in gear and headed back for Odella.
Mike had been sitting at his desk back at the office for a long while when Rivela burst through the front doors. As soon as she saw him, she sprinted over and threw her arms around him.
“Dammit, Mike!” she said, suddenly irate. “What the hell were you thinking last night?! I called you like eight times and you ignored me! Your wife was scared to death when you didn’t come home! How could you…I mean…” She hugged him again briefly and then waited for a response.
“Sorry, Rivela,” he said. “I should have picked up, but…I thought things might get ugly and I didn’t want you there for that. I called Sarah a while ago and got read the riot act, but I’m fine for now.”
“Wait,” said Maria. “Called? You haven’t gone home yet??”
“I’ve got more important things on my mind,” he said. “Come on, I really need to talk to you alone. I found out some crazy shit and I don’t need anyone else here listening in.”
Rivela looked like she was about to object, but finally her arms slumped and she said, “Fine, Mike. Exactly how weird is it?”
As they headed for the back of the station, Barrow saw the young officer that seemed to have been following them around.
“Paul, uh,” he began, trying to finally remember his last name.
“Christensen, Detective Barrow.”
“Yeah, I knew that,” he said. “We need some privacy for a bit. Could you keep the gawkers away from the interrogation rooms for a bit.”
“You got it,” replied Christensen.
The two detectives made their way out of the squad room and towards the hopefully vacant space in the back. Mike checked briefly to make sure there was no one in the adjacent viewing area that could look through the glass and then ducked into the small, gray brick room.
Barrow wandered towards the far wall, his face grim and his arms crossed. Maria leaned onto the table in the center of the room, watching him carefully. She was the first to speak.
“What’s up, Mike?” she asked. He turned and glared daggers into her eyes.
“It’s you,” he said in a voice as cold as ice. A silence hung in the air. Maria rose up slowly and gave him a questioning look.
“I know it’s you.”
“What the hell are you-“
“Don’t lie to me!!” he yelled, his voice echoing through the room. It seemed like an eternity passed as the two partners locked eyes, each daring the other to blink. The moment before she finally spoke, Barrow saw the youthful light go out of her eyes. He saw something cold and dead that he never had before.
“How did you know?”
“I saw the scythe on the thing’s arm,” he said, pointing at the ink on her arm. “The same one as that shitty grim reaper tattoo you have. Are all of those tattoos just to cover up one?”
“The first one was. I just kind of thought the rest were neat.”
“What the hell are you?”
“You know what I am.”
He didn’t say the answer aloud. The word was too monstrous, too ancient, and too insane to say. But, behind the silence, in the dim light of a cold, gray room, he thought it: Stormcaller. It had taken the entire night to force himself to believe that the pretty, young girl he’d been working cases with for over a year was something else; something alien and bizarre. He had thought he might be afraid, but that wasn’t the case. The anger was too much.
“Why Carla??” he asked, the rage in his voice barely suppressed. “Why the old man? Why the banker? Why not Hawthorne??” He paused, coming to the real question. “Why me?”
“They were bad people,” said Rivela. “They did horrible things and they were never going to be held accountable for them. You got Carla off for so many things. And McCann? You have no idea what he’s done. You don’t want to know.” Her voice cracked and she fell silent for a moment. “And you? I tried, Mike. I tried so hard to keep it away from you. I don’t control it. But I knew it would come for you eventually. I know you’ve done things. Bad things.” Mike’s began to speak; to deny it, but he couldn’t. His shoulders slumped in defeat.
“How’d you know?”
“I’ve seen it before,” she said. “So many times. I’m older than I look. A lot older. I’ve seen good men go down dark paths. And then I’ve seen…it…come for them.”
“That’s not your grandmother on the wall out there, is it?” asked Barrow.
“My grandmother died a long, long time ago, Mike. That’s me out there.”
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked.
“Probably,” she replied. Mike thought back over the last week. He remembered Myers lying in a muddy ravine. He could see the puddle of blood under Marning. Most of all, he remembered Carla on a table in the morgue. His anger began to wane, the fear in him finally beginning to win out. Barrow pulled out the chair in front of the table and collapsed onto it, his age seemingly hitting him all at once. His voice came out as a whisper.
“Is there any way I can stop it?”
“You could try to kill me,” she said matter-of-factly. Mike’s eyes perked up and his hand began to wander down towards his sidearm. “But you won’t.” He closed his eyes and swallowed hard.
“Nah,” he said. “I won’t.” His hand fell slack at his side.
“I know,” she said, nodding. “Then your only option is to confess. Turn yourself in. Face judgment.” She paused a moment, hoping he would respond. “What did you do, Mike?”
“It wasn’t my fault,” he began. “It was Jimmy Rivers, and that stupid Harris kid, and…Hawthorne.”
“I figured you were working for him,” said Rivela. “Too many coincidences; too many times you’ve stopped me from going after him. What happened?” She sat down in the chair across from him, gazing into his eyes with a look that had suddenly softened.
“I caught my kid with some weed a couple of years back. It shouldn’t have been that big a deal; just a little pot, but then he tells me he bought it from Jimmy. And I could not let him get involved with that scumbag. So I go down there that night, thinking I can threaten him into not selling to Matt anymore.”
“Didn’t go well?”
“I busted in the door and he was in the middle of a deal with two kids. One of them was Rose Harris’ son…Caleb.” He hadn’t said the boy’s name for a long time, as if not saying it would make the entire thing go away. “Myers recognized me and went crazy. He thought it must be a sting and the kids set him up. He pulled out a pistol and shot them both right in front of me. Caleb got winged and hit the ground. The other one died instantly. I was pulling my sidearm when I got hit on the back of the head. He must have had some kind of goon guarding the place. I must have been out a while.”
“And then?” asked Maria.
“He was there. Hawthorne,” said Mike, spitting the name like a curse. “As soon as I came to he starts talking. He knows my wife’s name. He knows my son’s name. He knows where they work and where they go to school. He says if I want them to stay alive, I’m going to cooperate.”
“Jesus, Mike,” said Rivela. “Why didn’t you put them in protective custody?”
“I doubt I’m the only dirty cop around here. He would have gotten to them.”
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
“I didn’t want you involved. I didn’t want anyone but me involved. He tells me I’m going to set up Harris for the other kid’s death. Say they got into a fight over some drugs and bullets started flying.”
“Didn’t the kid know what happened?”
Barrow scoffed and said “He was high off his ass. He didn’t know left from right when he woke up. It was easy as hell to get them to believe it. The kid had been picked up plenty of times for minor stuff. Rose suspected me and Myers, but she couldn’t prove anything.”
“And that’s why she hates your guts. You sold your soul.”
“And after that, Hawthorne owned me. Anything he wanted, I had to do. He knew where my family was. He knew he had enough dirt on me to lock me up for years. He made me swipe evidence, get his people off, and every once in a while, he’d even have me run cash and drugs for him through his center of operations down here.”
“Let me guess,” said Maria. “Gerry’s.”
“I should have known. It’s the worst bakery in town and you always have to get donuts there.”
“It really is,” said Barrow. There was a long pause. “So? Is that it? I confess and I get off with…it?” Maria looked him in the eye with sorrow in her eyes.
“No,” she said. “It’s not me you have to confess to. You have to go out there and turn yourself in. Face the consequences. Do the time.” Mike’s eyes fell to the table between them. His mouth opened as if he was going to say something. Nothing came out.
“You won’t do it,” Maria continued. “And don’t give me any bullshit about your family’s safety. It’s about you.” She pointed back out towards the office. “You’re all about appearances, Mike. You have to be perfect. You have to be that guy. You’ll die before you go to jail because you can’t handle the disgrace. You couldn’t handle the look on everyone’s faces. Tell me I’m lying.”
Mike’s eyes rose from the table, but he couldn’t meet her gaze. Slowly, painfully, he got to his feet and headed towards the door. Behind him, Rivela put a hand to her face and sighed heavily. Mike reached for the door, but his hand wavered. He turned back to the girl at the table and couldn’t help but ask one more question.
“I told you my story, Rivela,” he said. “What’s yours?” For a while, no one in the room moved. The eerie sense of the calm before a storm filled the tiny room. Barrow had just about given up and was about to reach for the door handle when the words came.
“What are you willing to believe?” said Maria.
“A hell of a lot right now,” he said.
“There really were gods, Mike. Real gods. And then the gods died. And so did I,” she said, turning towards him. “I was murdered. Left alone and bound to a tree by the men of ancient cities. Left for the storm. Years and years ago.”
“Thousands,” she said. He wanted to tell her she was lying; that it couldn’t be true; none of it. But he’d seen too much to doubt much of anything. “I saw the Western Crossroads, Mike, but I couldn’t choose a path. I didn’t want to go anywhere. I wanted revenge. And then…it came.”
“A dead god,” she said. “One that wanted vengeance on the world just as much as me.”
“Sautoras,” whispered Barrow. The word had meant nothing to him a week ago. Now, it turned his blood to ice.
“Yes. The Harvester offered and I agreed. I became the Stormcaller; the aspect of vengeance.” She got up from the table and walked over towards Barrow. He could barely see his partner anymore in the bearing of the creature in front of him. She moved like someone with the weight of millennia on their shoulders. The eyes looking at him seemed a much darker shade of gray than usual. They reminded him too much of the eyes in the storm the night before.
“I came back,” she said. “And I got my revenge. And do you know what? It wasn’t worth it. Because when the storms came back, so did the Stormcaller. At first, it went after horrible people. Murderers. Rapists. No one complained. Some people loved it. But, eventually, the really bad people ran out. And then it started going after people that didn’t deserve death. Thieves. Liars. Cheaters. It didn’t discriminate.”
“And that’s when you started moving around?”
“Yeah,” she said with a smirk. “Too many people dying. Too many people realizing I didn’t age. And I just kept moving.” She turned around and walked to the other side of the room. “Eventually, I couldn’t stand it anymore. I wasn’t in control, but I still saw through its eyes. I saw the blood and the torture.”
“That when you took up drinking?” asked Barrow.
“Yeah,” she said. “It helps. I don’t have to remember it. I don’t have to see it.” She sighed. “I didn’t think I’d be a coward in the end, Mike.”
“That makes two of us,” said Barrow with a smirk. Rivela turned back towards him and, for a moment, it was just like the week before. She started laughing nervously, a light coming back into her eyes. Mike couldn’t help himself and, before they knew it, they were both laughing like idiots.
“That’s us, alright,” she said. “Two cowards against the world.” Finally the laughter died. Mike steeled himself for a moment before speaking.
“Maria,” he said, using her first name for perhaps the first time ever. “After…whatever happens tonight, go check the toolbox in my shed. I collected a ton of dirt on Hawthorne. I’ve got dates, places, names, recordings; everything you could ever want to bring him down. I was keeping it for an emergency; for if he ever went too far. Take it. Do the right thing; like I never could.”
“Mike,” she said, confused. “If I use that, they’ll know. They’ll know what you did.”
“Doesn’t matter. I’ll be dead.” He paused a moment. “He died in prison, you know? The Harris kid.” He turned the door, opened it, and was half into the hallway when she called out one last time to him.
“Please,” she said. “Prove me wrong, Mike. Go out there, turn yourself in, and then you can help me take him down. Then, whenever you get out of jail, I’ll pick you up and take you wherever you want to go.”
“That’ll be a long time coming, Rivela.”
“I’ll be around.” The silence hung in the air one last time. Barrow stood trying to believe he could do the right thing. Rivela prayed silently to some power beyond a dead god. At long last, an answer came.
“I’ll see you tonight, Maria. I’ve got things to get in order.”
He closed the door behind him and walked back to the squad room. She fell back against the cold, gray wall and slid softly down onto the floor. It was a long time before she finally got to her feet. She felt as though she should have cried, but she had almost lost the ability after so many years. She believed that there were only so many tears someone could shed.
That night, around sundown, Mike Barrow sat at the work bench in his shed, writing a letter to his wife and son. He told them how much he loved them and how sorry he was, to make sure and get the tapes and documents in his toolbox to his partner, and to get out of town as soon as possible. As he put the note into an envelope, he looked out the small window at the storm approaching.
Not that far away, in the alleyway behind the Fifth Street Pub, Maria Rivela (a name she might have to change soon) sat drinking from a bottle of whiskey. She regretted decisions made twelve thousand years ago, cursed the men of the long dead cities of Carn, Sted, and Zatan-nataz, and raised a spiteful toast to The Harvester. She sensed, rather than heard, the rain coming in. As the sun sank beneath the horizon, the first drops of rain hit her skin. Her half-glazed eyes moved down to her arm. Where the rain had struck, the skin had begun to turn an ocean blue.
As the wind began to rattle the sides of his shed, Mike opened the drawer of an old desk and pulled out a revolver. He thought how strange it was that after years of wondering whether the afterlife would be the Pearly Gates or just pure darkness, he knew exactly what he was going to see. Rose had been right. The Western Crossroads were calling. As he put the gun to his temple, the single light bulb in the shed burst into glass above him. Darkness fell. There was the sound of breaking glass, the scream of something inhuman, and the blast of a gunshot. Then there was silence.
The next week went by like a dream and the storms went with it. Two more deaths took place and two more incidents were explained away as “accidental” or “suicide”. Reports included the phrase “act of God”. The bodies were buried along with their cases. The people of Odella knew there was a wrongness about it, but with the season of storms at an end, most were willing to forget. One was not.
Her shift having just ended, Maria sat on the curb outside the front door of the station. She sat slumped forward, her eyes towards a large puddle on the pavement beneath her. In the red glow of the setting sun, the pool of water reminded her too much of how she had found Mike, in a pool of blood and rainwater. She had worked hard to get to the scene first and try to give people answers. She had explained how the storm had wrecked the scene, how the suicide note had been too waterlogged to read, and why his family had moved out of town so suddenly. She had a lot of answers that might not hold up if people looked too closely. It might be time to move on again.
The door behind her opened and Paul Christensen exited the building. He didn’t seem surprised to see her sitting outside.
“Still trying to wrap your head around everything?” he asked. She pried her eyes away from the shimmering water and met his gaze.
“No,” she said. “I think I know what happened pretty well. I’m just thinking about what to do next.”
“You’re going after Hawthorne,” said the young officer with a tone of surety. Rivela, not one to be surprised, raised an eyebrow. “I followed you two the day before Detective Barrow died. I was behind the glass. I saw everything. Heard everything.” Maria met the young man’s gaze and marveled at how he looked back without even blinking. He might be good at his job yet.
“Then why don’t you seem to be afraid?” she asked.
“Hell,” he said. “I was scared as hell for a few days, but I got over it. I figure I’m not one of the bad guys, the storms are gone, and we’ve got to get after Hawthorne sooner rather than later.”
“You weren’t exactly paying attention, were you?” said Maria, her eyes turning to the setting sun. “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions. Good men can do horrible things and there’s always another storm.”
“I’ll do anything I can to help! Just tell me what to do!”
“Forget,” she said with ice in her tone. “Forget everything you saw. And when I die again- soon probably- forget all about me. Forget about the Stormcaller.” As the sun finally sank beneath the horizon, Paul searched for some way to respond. Finally, with a nod, he headed back into the station leaving the detective alone in the parking lot.
She thought about the papers and tapes she had stashed deep in a drawer in her desk. She had grabbed them from the toolbox in Barrow’s shed after soaking the suicide note and staging the scene a bit. She still wasn’t able to explain away the exact way he had died. It seemed that, a moment before he shot himself, something, possibly the storm breaking the window, had jarred his arm and caused him to shoot himself in the neck instead of the head. It had taken him quite some time to bleed out.
Hanging her head, the tears that Maria had thought were gone forever finally came, fell, and vanished into the muddy waters of a puddle.
Credit : Alex Taylor
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