Estimated reading time — 155 minutes
Part 1: “The Detective and the Hangman”
Plymouth County Massachusetts, December 21, 2015, 11:21PM. Five miles outside Duxbury.
Detective Johnathan Mcarthy stood in the ankle deep snow, blowing hot air into his cupped hands, while examining the scene. There really wasn’t much to see. Just a guy hanging from a tree. A guy hanging from a tree in a dark, snowy forest, that is.
It really just looked like some redneck had decided life wasn’t quite panning out, and hung himself in the woods. But Sheriff Dan George had called the Detective anyway. As a general rule of thumb Dan, and Johnathan didn’t like each other. Johnathan being a ten year veteran of the force in LA, and the Sheriff being a fifty something backwoods, red neck. The two were natural opposites.
Still, Johnathan knew that the fat man hadn’t called him out of bed at this hour out of spite. Not this time anyway. Even over his cellphone Johnathan could tell Dan was spooked. Now that he was on scene, he guessed it was because of the plastic bag over the dead guy’s head. To be honest it looked spooky as shit. But Johnathan had seen far worse back in Los Angeles.
They hadn’t been able to identify the Vic on account of the bag. His face was completely hidden by the thick plastic. Now they were just waiting for forensics to finish up, before they cut the guy down, and figured out who it was that decided to off themselves today.
The wind picked up suddenly. Blowing through the trees, and causing a chorus of creaks, and groans from tree limbs. Johnathan cursed, and shoved his hands into the pockets of his trenchcoat. Giving up on the idea of warming them with his breath. A camera flashed, as Billy Thorton, one of the two forensics guys took another photo.
The scene was briefly illuminated by the brilliant blue of the camera, and Jonathan thought he caught sight of something he hadn’t seen before on the dead man. He moved to the right. Trudging through the snow in a wide circle around the hanging man. His breath coming out in big white puffs. It couldn’t be more than twenty freakin’ degrees out here!
“He’s got a bag over his head Johnny.” Johnathan remembered the Sheriff saying in a shaky voice over the phone. He could practically here the man’s double chins quivering, out there in the snowy darkness.
As soon as Johnathan had laid eyes on the body his first thought was that the bastard had wanted to be thorough. If the noose for some reason hadn’t been enough, the plastic bag surely would have finished the job.
Johnathan continued to trudge around to the right of the corpse. Giving the body a wide berth, as he circled through the snow. Still looking for whatever it was that had caught his eye during the flash of the forensic guy’s cameras.
He was a big guy, whoever the Hangman was. He wore a black, and red plad jacket. Bob Vila style. And a pair of rough cut blue jeans. The boots that covered his dead toes, and swayed in the bitter wind, were a brand called “Bear Claw”. Johnathan had never heard of it.
“Hell of a way to go.” Mike Lawry, the other forensics guy said through a mouthful of chewing tobacco.
“Who you think it is Mike?” Bill asked, as his camera flashed a few more times.
“Dunno. Maybe Darby Gents?”
“Darby?! It’d be a God damned shame…”
Johnathan half listened to the two men, as he continued to circle around the body. Duxbury was a small town. Everybody knew everybody.
Darby Gents was the football coach for the local high school. And by virtue of the local grapevine, Johnathan knew that Darby’s wife had left him a few weeks ago.
Still, he wasn’t sure if that’s who was hanging in front of him. There was something unfamiliar about the body. Johnathan had come to know virtually everybody since he’d moved to Duxbury two, and a half years ago. And the Detective in him was saying that this wasn’t anyone he’d ever seen…
Thunder suddenly boomed in the distance. Halting his movement, and drawing the Detective’s attention from the hanging corpse, to the dark overcast sky above. The moon was full, but hidden. Illuminating the clouds above in a pale ghostly light.
The forest itself was well lit for such a late hour. It had snowed three inches the previous night, and now the woods were lit up in that magical pinkish, purplish glow that only a freshly fallen blanket of snow can create.
“Sounds like a storm’s a’comin’.” Deputy Jimmy Mcduff said to no one in particular.
“Hm.” Was all Johnathan offered in reply. The Detective turned his attention from the sky, back to the dead man.
The guy had to be at least fifty pounds overweight. His jacket and undershirt were pulled up, as a result of the noose and the corpse’s weight. His belly sagged out over his pants. Yeah. He’d been a big dude. But who was he?
Without taking his eyes off the corpse, he reached into the breast pocket of his jacket, and pulled out a Marbaro Light. He tried to be slick, and light the smoke without looking away from the dead guy. But the wind forced him to look down, and light the cig like a normal person.
“You guys think we can wrap it up soon? There’s a storm a’comin’.” Sheriff George said from the shadows.
Johnathan turned to gaze at the six foot, burly, fat man standing against the trunk of a tree. His normally imposing figure looked strangely small as he stood there. The Sheriff had his arms crossed over himself, but Johnathan could tell it wasn’t for warmth.
“What the hell was wrong with him?” He wondered. Johnathan didn’t like the man, but he knew he was no coward. And certainly not afraid of the woods, at night. Sheriff George was a born and bred country boy. And yet there he stood. Hugging himself in his big trenchcoat. His eyes nervously darting around the surrounding forest.
All told there were six of them out in their woods. The two forensics guys Bill Jenkins, and Mike Lawry. The Sheriff, and himself. Deputy Jimmy McDuff, and the local reporter Jennel Buttchins. Six grown adults, and the Sheriff was shaking like a leaf.
“What the fuck?” Was all he could think to say to himself.
“Sheriff would you care to make a statement?” He heard the reporter ask. She was quite the looker. Johnathan supposed that’s how she got the job. It had to be, because the chick was definitely no rocket scientist.
“A statement?” Sheriff George asked condescendingly.
“Why yes Ms. Buttchins, I surely would. Here goes- It’s as cold as the ice Dante found Lucifer in. There’s a blizzard the size of Texas coming this way. And we should really think about getting the Hell out of here. How’s that for a statement Ms. Buttchins?”
Jennel gave a “hmph” in response.
Jimmy McDuff gave a somewhat stifled chuckle.
Bill Jenkins, and Mike Lawry continued on with
their tasks. Chatting away about who they thought the dead guy was. They were either oblivious, or didn’t care about the Sheriff’s obvious discomfort with the situation at hand.
“What the Hell is he so nervous about?” Johnathan asked himself again.
Finally he decided he’d had enough. He felt bad calling the Sheriff out on being scared, but the Detective in him wanted to know what his problem was. So he momentarily turned his attention from the hanging man, and started to walk over to Sheriff George.
That’s when there came a sudden sound that he couldn’t quite place. It was a sort of quick “swooshing” noise that came from behind him. Followed by the cracking of several branches, and then the frightened cries of his companions.
There was a – “Holy Christ!”, That came from the Sheriff.
A -“Sheeeezus!”, That was from Deputy Jimmy.
And a sort of high pitched muppet sounding “Meep!”, that had come from Jennel.
Johnathan whirled back around in the direction of the corpse. For a second the Detective did not understand what he was seeing. The hanging man was nowhere to be seen. And neither was Mike Lawry.
Bill Jenkins was on his ass, frantically scooting backward through the snow. His mouth agape and his eyes on the dark canopy above.
“What the fuck?” Was all Johnathan could think to say.
“He’s not dead!” Bill suddenly shrieked, as his frantic ass scooting took him passed where Johnathan was standing.
“Jesus, he’s not dead!”
“What the fuck?” Johnathan asked again. Feeling suddenly very much like how Sheriff George looked. He reached for his pistol.
“Did you see that?!” Sheriff George cried. “Holy Christ did you see that?!”
“Where’s the body?” Johnathan asked.
“It took him!” Bill was shrieking. The man used his ass to carve a path through the snow, all the way back to the Sheriff. “Oh god, Mike!”
At this point Johnathan was feeling very out of the loop. “Could someone please tell me what the fu-!”
The loud snapping of branches above his head made his words catch in his throat. Instinctively Johnathan dove out of the way, blindly rolling through the snow. A split second later there came a heavy “thwump!” from the direction he’d dove from.
Jennel, and the Sheriff shrieked. And Deputy Jimmy shouted “freeze!”
Johnathan combat rolled and came up on one knee, with his gun pointed, and at the ready. A maneuver that had saved his life more than once. But then his eyes settled on the sudden source of all the commotion, and his mind missed a step.
For what he beheld made no sense. The dead man was back. He was still hanging from a noose. Except this time the noose wasn’t wrapped around the original tree branch. It was just stretching up, and up, into the dark canopy above.
The man was hanging over where Johnathan had been standing only seconds ago. The man’s arms were outstretched, and his head tilted upward, in a position Johnathan found reminiscent of Christ on the cross.
“Holy shit he’s not dead!” Johnathan’s mind screamed. He aimed his weapon at the hanging man.
“Freeze!” He shouted. Repeating Deputy Jimmy’s words. “Get on the… Ground?”
His words faltered as the noose around the man’s neck suddenly yanked him upward. Neck bones, and vertebrae cracked sickeningly. And the man rocketed up in a blur. Disappearing into the darkness above.
“Well that’s certainly not something you see every day.” Johnathan thought to himself as he stared up into the dark canopy.
“Detective we’ve got to get out of here!” The Sheriff’s voice cut into his thoughts.
“What?” He asked, dumbfounded, and turned to face the big man. Sheriff George wasn’t waiting for a reply. He and Jennel were already high tailing it out of there. Deputy Jimmy for his part, had stood his ground. Bill Jenkins was nowhere to be seen.
“Are you fucking kidding me right now?” He asked the rapidly fading figure of Sheriff George. “A perp just took one of your men Sheriff! And you’re running away?!”
“That ain’t no perp Detective!” Sheriff George shouted back over his shoulder, as he disappeared into the darkness.
“I-I think the Sheriff might be right Johnny.” Deputy Jimmy said to Johnathan’s right. Keeping his gun trained on the darkness overhead. “I think we need to call for backup.”
“Now that does sound reasonable Deputy.” Johnathan agreed. Straining his eyes to catch any sign of the Hangman. There was nothing up there. It was all just shadows and, leafless branches, against a dark gray sky.
Then there came another loud snapping of branches. This time from the direction the Sheriff, and Jennel had run. A scream erupted from Jennel’s lips, followed by the deafening crack of gunfire.
Both Johnathan, and Deputy Jimmy took off in the
direction of the sounds. There were six shots in total. Johnathan could tell that the Sheriff was firing “Old Betsy”, his treasured Smith and Wesson 500.
The ridiculously huge pistol fired .44 Magnum rounds. Pretty light on the ammo side, but a round fired from that weapon could blow the trunk of a small tree in half.
Johnathan heard that unmistakable sound of an empty chamber “clicking”, followed by a loud jumble of curse words from the Sheriff. Then came another cacophony of snapping branches, and a scream from Jennel.
Both Johnathan, and Jimmy rounded the large trunk of an ancient oak, and almost ran straight into the Sheriff, and Jennel.
Jennel screamed, and the Sheriff swung wildly with the butt of his pistol. Jimmy dodged just on time. Narrowly avoiding what Johnathan was sure would have been a concussion.
“Jesus Sheriff it’s just me!”
“Jimmy?! Mother Mary! You’re lucky I didn’t just knock your block off!”
“Sheriff…” Johnathan gasped, as he struggled to catch his breath. “We need to stick together.”
“Then move your ass Detective! George snapped.
“For Christ’s sake, I’m thirty years your senior, and twice your weight!”
“Are you kidding me?!” Johnathan snapped back. “You just took off, while you’re Deputy, and I stood our ground! I don’t know what’s going on, but someone just assaulted an officer of the law, and you’re the God Damned Sheriff!”
Sheriff George flinched from Johnathan’s words, as if he’d been struck.
“I saw what just happened.” He said, in a quite growl. “A dead man hanging from a noose, just grabbed one of my men, and went rocketing up into the trees with him.”
“He wasn’t dead.” Johnathan said matter-of-factly. “He couldn’t have been.”
The Sheriff suddenly laughed. “He wasn’t dead?! Well he sure as shit should have been after I hit him with four of my six shots from old Betsy! Cause that fucker dropped right down beside me, and little Ms. Jennel here, and I can tell I just pegged that fucker at least four times at near point blank range! Any normal person would have had the courtesy to keel over and die! But that son of a bitch just went right back up into the trees!”
As if on cue, there came the sound of tree branches bending, and breaking from the canopy above. The three men simultaneously snapped their weapons up toward the darkness above. The Sheriff realized he hadn’t reloaded his weapon, and cursed. Quickly bending down to the task.
Johnathan thought he saw a dark man sized shape swoop by overhead through the shadows. But then it was gone.
“Johnny here don’t believe me.” Sheriff George sneered. “Tell him Ms. Reporter. Tell him what you just saw!”
“It’s true.” Jennel said in a shaky voice, as she stared at the dark canopy. “That man just came falling out of the trees right beside us, and the Sheriff shot him! I think he might have even…” She struggled not to vomit as she said it. “I think he might have even shot off one of his arms.. And he… And he, just went flying right back up into the trees.”
Johnathan glanced away from the canopy, and scanned the ground around them. It was too dark to be sure, but there were black puddles all over the ground, that he guessed was blood. There was no sign of a disembodied appendage though.
“So where’s the arm now?”
“Oh for God’s sake, how should I know! He took it with him!” The Sheriff shouted.
“Look, you ain’t from around here Johnny.” George said as he slammed a 45caliber round into the last open chamber of his gun, and then snapped it back into place. “But there’s some strange things that happen sometimes in Duxbury. City folk just don’t understand.”
“It’s true what the Sheriff says Johnny.” Jimmy said, in little more than a whisper. “My Grandaddy used to tell me stories about this part of the land.”
“He used to tell you the land was bad out here, didn’t he?” Sheriff George asked.
“Yeah…” Jimmy nodded, as he gun played across the darkness above. “He told me these woods got something in em’. Something that lives beneath the ground. I never believed him of course. But I never really come out here either.”
“Not many people do.” Sheriff George said. His voice taking on the same whisper-like quality as his Deputy. “Now Detective I know that you’re a practical man. And I begrudgingly respect you for it. But there’s what appears to be a dead man, hanging from a noose, whose flying through the trees.”
There came a sudden peel of thunder, and everyone tensed up for a moment. Johnathan noticed for the first time that Jennel had a can of mace in her hand. He almost laughed despite himself. The guy was wearing a bag over his head! What was mace going to do?
“So what do you suggest Sheriff?” Johnathan asked finally.
“I suggest we get back to town. Get backup. Come back with an armed posse, and clean house.”
“Tonight? Not tomorrow? We come back tonight, and find Mike?”
“Of course! I ain’t leavin’ him out here!” The Sheriff spat. “Now common! It’s more than a half hour drive back to town. This storm’ll be on us before we get back anyway, so I suggest we get a move on.”
The storm was getting closer. That was a fact. The wind was picking up, and big fluffy flakes were already beginning to fall through the air. Johnathan pondered their options for a moment. Finally he spoke.
“Fuck that.” You go back to the SUV, and radio for backup. Then go get your posse. I’ll stay here.”
“What?” Sheriff George asked. Incredulous.
“You’re right Sheriff. I’m not from around here. And because I’m not from around here, I’m not buying into this supersticious bullsh-.”
Johnathan’s words were abruptly cut off as the large figure of the Hangman suddenly dropped from above, and landed on the Sheriff with bone crushing weight. There came a sudden explosion of snow as both figures collided with the ground. Johnathan instinctively raised his hands to protect his face, and took a few faltering steps backward.
Jimmy shouted out in surprise. And Jennel screamed. Johnathan heard the snapping of several bones, along with a sort of guttural, gargling from the Sheriff. But by the time the Detective lowered his hands, the Sheriff’s broken body was wrapped in the Hangman’s embrace, and rocketing upward toward the dark canopy above.
Johnathan got a better look at the Hangman as he rose back up into the trees. The man had three large holes in his chest, from where the Sheriff had shot him. And his right arm (though still attached) looked like it could fall off any second. Never mind the fact that the arm was bearing the weight of a man who had to be at least two hundred and fifty pounds.
Johnathan took aim with his weapon but did not fire, for fear of hitting the Sheriff. In another instant both fat men had disappeared entirely into the trees above. That’s when Johnathan noticed the coughing, and gagging sounds coming from behind him.
He whirled around. Jimmy was on his knees gagging, and shoveling snow into his face like a madman. Jennel was standing over him, Just patting him on the back and saying “I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” Over, and over again, in a shaky voice.
“What the fuck?” Johnathan asked for the umpteenth time this evening.
Jennel looked up from Jimmy’s gagging form.
“I’m sorry!” She squeaked. “I maced him by accident!” The would-be reporter was almost crying.
Jesus. And for a second there he had been considering giving the chick his spare sidearm. Johnathan quickly sprang into action. Running over to Jimmy, and helping the man to his feet.
“Alrighty buddy. We’re gonna take the Sheriff’s advice and get the fuck out of here.”
Jimmy sputtered in reply.
“Jennel, you stay close. We move quickly, and quietly. We’re only about a half mile from where we parked.
Jennel sobbed, and nodded. “O-Okay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to spray him.”
“I know.” Johnathan said, with as much sympathy as he could muster. “It’s okay Ms. Buttchins. Let’s just get out of here.”
“Okay.” Jennel’s crying quieted somewhat.
And with that the trio started moving. It wasn’t easy. The ground was uneven, and the snow was deep in some places. Snow was starting to fall more heavily as they moved through the forest.
The wind began to pick up. Blowing through the dark trees in great gusts, that kicked clouds of the winter elements up into the air around them.
Jimmy moved well for a man who could barely see. Recovering quickly each time he stumbled. And with every moment that went by, his vision cleared up more.
“Can’t believe she fuckin’ maced me.” Jimmy said under his breath.
Johnathan smiled, despite himself. He could believe it. Johnathan was of the opinion that in this day and age, the only thing reporters, and journalists were good for was spreading lies, and rumors. Most, he thought, simply worked for the military propaganda machine.
“Almost there.” Johnathan said, as they neared the edge of the forest.
There came a sudden horrified shriek from out from somewhere in the darkness behind them. That’s when it had occurred to Johnathan that he hadn’t seen Bill Jenkins since he’d gone scooting passed him on his ass, more than ten minutes ago.
The shriek lent strength to their legs, and the trio picked up the pace. In another moment they were out of the woods, and crossing the field they’d parked the police SUV in. Thunder boomed overhead, and the wind howled. There was no doubt now that the storm was upon them.
By the time they’d all gotten situated in the vehicle, Jimmy’s eyesight had recovered significantly. He snatched the radio receiver.
“This is Deputy Jimmy McDuff, we’re out at the edge of the Northern woods. We have…Officers down. Requesting immediate backup.”
The only answer they got was static.
Jimmy repeated the message. More static. Johnathan turned the key, and the engine of the SUV roared into life. The headlights illuminated the field, and the edge of the forest. Johnathan strained his eyes for a moment. If something was out there watching them, the falling snow was keeping them well hidden.
“God damn storm must be messing with the radio.”
Johnathan nodded, as he threw the SUV in reverse.
“Like a badly written horror story.” He said.
Then he punched it, and the vehicle took off in the direction of town. The three sat in tense silence for a moment, as they flew down the bumpy dirt road. Johnathan kept his eyes focused on the land in front of the bright headlights. Not wanting to think what may be stalking them from the darkness of the trees that zipped by on both sides.
The snow was falling even more heavily now. Coming down in sheets so thick that using the brights would have been suicide. And so Johnathan kept the low beams on as they rolled down the dark road that looked more like a tunnel than a street.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, they crested a hill, and the lights of Duxbury came into view in the valley two miles below. They reached the end of the dirt road, and Johnathan took a hard left onto Apple Tree Lane.
The tires would have squealed loudly had there not been four inches of compact snow between them and the pavement. As it was, the SUV swerved and careened dangerously to the right. But then the vehicle regained its traction, and straightened out.
A few seconds later they were shooting down the road. There was roughly two and a half miles of rural darkness between them, and the edge of town. Johnathan decided to slow it down to about forty-five.
“What the Hell just happened back there?!” Jennel asked in a shaky voice.
“You tell me.” Johnathan said. “You know a helluva lot more about the lore of this county than I do. And that sure as shit looked like something straight out of some old horror story.”
“Jesus. My Grandaddy wasn’t kidding about Kene’s Road.” Deputy Jimmy said, in an exasperated voice.
“Kene’s what?” Johnathan asked.
“My Uncle used to tell me about this old road that used to run through these woods somewhere out here. Said it was there before the colonists arrived, and that no one had any clue who made it. He said the first settlers of Duxbury were warned by the local Indian Tribes that the place was bad ju-ju.”
The SUV went over a bump in the road, and Johnathan had to swerve slightly to keep control.
“You know now that I think about it, there was a story about a man being hung on Kene’s road.” Jennel chimed in. “Supposedly a gallows was built out here a long time ago. But only one execution was ever performed there before the place was abandoned.”
“So… You’re saying that there’s an ancient, haunted road somewhere out here?” The Detective asked. His voice a mixture of incredulity, and apprehension.
“That’s how my Grandaddy told it.” Said the Deputy.
Johnathan shook his head. He couldn’t believe he was having this conversation. This was ridiculous! This was fuck-ing ridiculous! Why on Earth had he moved out to the country?!
“Jimmy.” He began. Trying to sound like a logical Detective once again. “I don’t mean to be disrespectful toward your Grandfather but doesn’t that sound a litt-?”
His words were cut short as something heavy landed on the roof. There was a heavy “thwump!”, and the frame of the SUV shook violently. The roof buckled, and caved in, as if a boulder had been dropped on top of it. The SUV swerved to the left, then to the right.
“Shit! Shit!” Johnathan cursed, as he fought to regain control of the SUV. He glanced in his side view mirror just on time to see a bloody hand wrap around it. The mirror was violently yanked upward, and both hand, and mirror vanished.
After a few tense seconds of swerving left, and right, Johnathan managed to regain control of the vehicle. The SUV straightened, and Johnathan accelerated as fast as he dare. Jimmy was already in the back, struggling to unhook the 12-gauge shotgun from it’s mount, as the car jarred around.
Before Johnathan could say anything else, his
eyes were drawn to a dark shape falling through the sky just in front of them. The Hangman landed on the hood of the SUV, and the hood violently buckled inward. The SU V careened dangerously once again.
The Hangman reached up and grabbed both windshield wipers. Then the noose pulled tight, and the man rocketed back upward. Ripping off the wipers, and taking them with him on his rapid ascent into the overcast sky.
Johnathan simultaneously fought to keep the SUV on the road, while continuing to watch in disbelief, as the man disappeared into the swirling snow over their heads. Looking like some sort of twisted marionette making a rapid exit from the stage. The last thing he saw of the man was his “Bear Claw” brand boots being swallowed up by the gray clouds.
“You have got to be, fucking kidding me…” He said to no one in particular.
Jennel screamed once again. As if that was going to help anything.
“Well at least she put her mace back in her purse.” The Detective thought to himself. The hood of the SUV looked like shit. He couldn’t tell if there was smoke rising out of it, or if it was just swirling snow. He supposed that if the engine had been damaged, they’d know either way soon enough.
Johnathan heard the distinct “Ca-Chak!” of a round being loaded into the 12-Gauge Jimmy had pulled off it’s mount.
“I’m gonna blow that fucker to kingdom come!” He heard the Deputy say. The shaky timber of his voice had been replaced with one of wrath.
Johnathan was impressed with the man’s intestinal fortitude. Anger in a situation like this was much more useful than fear. And the man seemed to be holding it together a lot better than Johnathan. The Detective’s hands were shaking badly. It made steering the vehicle that much harder.
That’s when the engine first started going wonky. There came a sudden slamming noise that came from under the hood, and echoed loudly throughout the interior of the SUV. Johnathan glanced down from the road to the dashboard, and saw that the engine’s temperature was rapidly climbing.
Then there came second slamming noise from under the hood, this one much louder. It was accompanied by a violent jarring of the entire vehicle. The SUV began to slow. The gas pedal no longer responding, no matter how hard Johnathan pressed it.
“Shit.” Jimmy said from the back seat. He started to climb over to the front passenger seat.
“Well Jimmy.” Johnathan said, with as much composure as he could muster. “It looks like you’re gonna get your chance to blow that fucker to kingdom come sooner, than later.”
“Good.” Was all the Deputy said in return. There was steel in both his voice, and his eyes.
“There – There’s something in the road. ” Jennel said shakily, from the backseat.
Both Detective, and Deputy strained their eyes to see what she was talking about. It took Johnathan a moment to realize the reporter was right. There was something in the road. Something was a far more accurate description than someone. That was for sure.
Through the swirling snow, and darkness, barely outlined by the headlights, was the Hangman. He was hanging about three feet off the ground. The rope attached to the noose around his neck just stretching up, and up, and disappearing into the night sky. The man’s arms. outstretched in a Christ-like fashion once again.
“Fucker must know that the SUV’s done for.” Johnathan said through clenched teeth.
“Looks like it’s do or die time.” Jimmy answered back.
The SUV continued to slowly roll toward the Hangman. The engine sputtered it’s last, and finally died. After a few more seconds the vehicle lumbered to a stop, in the middle of the dark, snowy road. For a minute they just sat there in silence. Listening to the wind and snow blowing around in the darkness outside.
Johnathan stared at the Hangman, looking the distant figure up and down. What was this thing? It just didn’t make sense. Gangbangers, and serial killers made sense. Johnathan was not a superstitious man. He did not believe in ghosts, or goblins.
Monsters he believed in. He’d killed monsters with his own two hands. But monsters were just flesh, and blood men. Men made into beasts, by the unfair, economically imbalanced society that the U.S. tries so hard to pretend that it isn’t comprised of. But this, this was a different kind of monster.
And suddenly Johnathan found that he very much missed the monsters of old. The old monsters were back in a reality he’d left behind, in a dark forest, about an hour ago. The old monsters were much easier to deal with. You can’t arrest something like this.
Johnathan took note of the ragged holes, torn through the Hangman’s chest. Even in the dark he could see the big red spots where, the blood from the bullet wounds had frozen. If the man wasn’t wearing a shirt, Johnathan knew his chest would look like Swiss Cheese right now.
The thing’s left arm was barely attached anymore. The bone had been clearly obliterated when Sheriff George had put a round from “Old Betsy” through it. Now it was just hanging by a few tendons, and muscle.
“Well at least it bleeds.” He thought to himself.
“If it bleeds we can kill it.” Now where had he heard that line before? It seemed like pretty sound logic. Except in this case, it didn’t seem to apply. The Hangman had bled. But it didn’t seem to be having much of an effect…
Then suddenly a thought struck him. It was a true Eureka moment! At least he hoped that it was.
“Jimmy, when we get out, I want you to aim for the guy’s rope.” Johnathan said.
“The-rope?” Jimmy asked in a confused voice.
“Yeah. Let’s see how dangerous this fucker is when he’s stuck on the ground like the rest of us normal people.”
Jimmy’s eyes widened in sudden comprehension. He even let out a short laugh.
“Alright.” The Deputy nodded, a grim smile playing across his face. “Let’s do this…”
“Ms. Buttchins.” Johnathan said just before he stepped out into the cold night. “You better just stay here.”
All the young woman could do was nod. She had been staring in wide eyed terror at the motionless Hangman, ever since the engine had died.
Johnathan pulled out his nine millimeter, and checked that it was fully loaded. He already knew it was. He hadn’t fired his weapon once since this whole ordeal began. But still he checked anyway.
Then the two men opened the doors, and stepped out into the darkness, and swirling snow. They were instantly wrapped in the night’s cold embrace. It seemed to have dropped at least ten degrees. Thunder boomed overhead, and the snow continued to fall in sheets.
The Hangman for his part just hung there. His body swaying back in forth in the wind. It was as if the thing was waiting to see what the two officers were going to do next. Johnathan knew that hitting the rope at this distance would be near impossible. They would have to get closer.
And so they trudged on through the snow. Slowly making their way toward the Hangman. When they got to about twelve feet away, they stopped and raised their weapons to the rope, just above the man. The Hangman cocked his head to one side in confusion.
Both men fired nearly simultaneously. Neither shot found it’s mark. The Hangman suddenly came rocketing toward them. Gliding over the icy road at frightening speed. Johnathan took another shot with his revolver. Missing again.
The hangman had halved the distance between them in a split second. It would be upon them in the blink of an eye.
Johnathan switched tactics, and let off a few rounds into the oncoming nightmare’s chest. The Hangman’s body jerked violently, as three rounds tore through him. Adding more to the Swiss Cheese quality of the thing.
Jimmy took another shot with the twelve gauge. Even before he took it Johnathan knew it would be the man’s last, before the Hangman was upon them. The weapon boomed loudly. The sound of modern man winning out over the cacophony of nature for a second.
The wide spray from the twelve gauge gave Jimmy a much better chance of hitting the Hangman’s noose, than Johnathan’s pistol. The Detective almost “hooted” in elation as the Deputy’s shot found it’s mark.
The Hangman’s noose violently snapped. For a second Johnathan thought the monstrosity was just going to keep hovering over the ground. His body jerked in the air as the noose snapped. And for a second Johnathan swore that the unholy thing did defy the laws of physics.
But then gravity kicked in, and the Hangman collapsed in a heap. Johnathan, and the Deputy just stood there watching the motionless body, as snow blew around it in great gusts.
“Holy crap, would ya’ look at that?” Jimmy said, as he pointed upward.
Johnathan’s eyes moved upward in the direction the Deputy was pointing in. The Detective’s eyes went wide, as his gaze settled on what Jimmy was pointing at. Even in the darkness he could see the seemingly impossible length of the Hangman’s rope falling out of the sky.
It was piling up on, and around the motionless body. Forming great cords. The two men stood in the blistering cold, watching in disbelief as the rope continued to fall out of the sky.
“What- what the Hell was it attached to?” Jimmy wondered out loud.
Johnathan shrugged. “Satan’s dick maybe? At this point I’d believe just about anything.”
“This… This is crazy Johnny.” Jimmy sounded exasperated. Fear had not yet returned to his voice, but the steely edge had gone out of the man, that was for sure. Thunder boomed once again overhead. The chords of rope were starting to obscure the body from view.
Finally after what seemed like an eternity, the end of the rope came falling out of the darkness. Johnathan guessed that there had to be at least a mile’s worth that had just come out of the sky. It was the sight of that rope that had finally unhinged Johnathan’s concept of reality. And in that moment the Detective from LA truly did believe in monsters.
As one the two men started to approach the body. Keeping their weapons trained on the Hangman all the while. A few seconds later and they were standing over the seemingly dead monster/man, half buried in rope.
It now looked as lifeless as it had when Johnathan had first seen the man hanging from a tree branch in the woods. The detective looked down at the thick plastic bag covering the man’s head. He just had to know…
Slowly he began to reach down for the bag. Jimmy read his intent and stepped back a few feet. Keeping the twelve gauge leveled at the seemingly dead man. Johnathan’s hand closed around part of the bag. He took a deep breath. Steeling himself.
Then, much like one would rip off a band-aid, he gave the bag a hearty yank. It gave a bit of resistance as it’s lower section caught in the noose, still wrapped tightly around the man’s throat. But then the bag gave way.
Both men gasped in surprise. Johnathan really hadn’t known what to expect. But what he beheld certainly wasn’t anything he’d even considered. As the plastic ripped free, the two men were greeted with a sight as disturbing as the plastic bag had been. Covering the man’s head was an old style Hangman’s mask.
It was made of rough, weather worn burlap. It was like something you’d see in execution scenes in old black and white westerns. Except that there were two buttons sewn into the mask, made to look like eyes. And there had been a ragged cut made where the mouth was. Though this had been crudely stitched shut with what looked like old-style fishing twine.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph.” Jimmy muttered. His voice barely audible over the wind, and snow. For a moment the two men just stared down at the mask. Already, snow was beginning to cover the body.
“Well what do you make of that Jimmy?” Johnathan finally asked.
“My Grandaddy never had any stories about something like this. That’s for sure.”
“Did you guys really kill it?!” Jennel Buttchin’s nervous voice, came echoing from down the road near the SUV.
Just as both men turned, there came a loud
“swooshing” from behind them. The noise was not unlike that sound he’d heard back in the forest, when the Hangman had first sprung into life. Out of his peripheral Johnathan watched Deputy Jimmy McDuff get violently ripped off his feet.
The man gave a cry that was quickly cut short as his back slammed into the snowy ground, and the wind was knocked out of him. Jennel screamed (helpful as always), and Johnathan spun back to face the Hangman.
The Hangman’s body suddenly went rocketing down the street, dragging the Deputy through the snow with him. Johnathan saw that the monstrosity had grabbed one of Jimmy’s ankles. And that the rope. That God Damned unholy rope, was just stretching off down the road into the darkness, pulling the Hangman by the throat.
The Hangman, and the Deputy kicked up a cloud of snow as they carved a path down the road. Johnathan took off running after them. Although he knew it was hopeless. They had to be moving at least twelve miles per hour! Jimmy was kicking, and screaming, for all the good it was doing him.
“Hang on Jimmy!” Johnathan shouted after the rapidly disappearing figures.
Deputy Jimmy McDuff answered back with an “Oooaahh!” just before he disappeared into the shadows.
“Shit! Shit!” Johnathan shouted, as he stumbled through the snow.
His heavy breath came out in big white puffs. The Detective ran. The snow fell. The wind howled. And the sky rumbled. Johnathan just kept following the trail they’d carved. If the storm kept up, the path would be hidden in a matter of hours, maybe less.
He followed the path through the snowy night at a full sprint, for about ten minutes, before doubling over. He struggled to catch his breath. Johnathan glanced back. He could no longer see the SUV, or Ms. Buttchins. Shit…
“Johnny!” Johnathan turned back at the sound of Jimmy’s voice.
The Deputy was sprinting up the road toward him. Running like Hell itself was fast on his heels. Which might actually be the case. The man’s clothes were torn, and tattered from being dragged across the icy road. And there was something about three feet long attached to his ankle, that was just sort of flopping around.
“Jimmy! Jesus man!” Johnathan went running toward him.
The two men reached one another and their eyes locked. Jimmy was pale as a ghost. Despite himself Johnathan laughed.
“Holy shit Deputy! I thought you were a goner!”
The Deputy doubled over. Hand’s on his knees, as he struggled to catch his breath. He was in slightly worse shape than Johnathan.
“How’d you get away?!” Johnathan asked. Elation, and relief etched in his voice.
Jimmy shook his head. “I don’t know. That- that thing was just dragging me down the street, when I heard this loud popping noise, and I suddenly stopped moving. When I looked up the guy was nowhere to be seen. So I just took off running!”
Johnathan’s eyes turned back to the Deputy’s left ankle. His breath caught in his throat, and his eyes went wide.
“Holy shit.” He murmured quietly.
Jimmy’s eyes turned down to his ankle, and he let out a gasp. Clearly in his mad dash to get away, he hadn’t noticed there was a hand wrapped around his ankle. The hand was attached to a stump, where the tendon’s had finally snapped. It was the appendage Sheriff George had weakened earlier with “Old Betsy”.
Jimmy yelped and started dancing around like a madman. Trying to kick the thing off. But to no avail. The hand had a vice-like grip on him. Finally after a few minutes Johnathan got Jimmy to calm down enough to stop jumping around.
They sat there in the middle of the dark road. Prying the Hangman’s fingers off of the Deputy’s ankle, one at a time. After another couple minutes they finally got the damned thing off him. Then the two just stood there in silence, staring at the torn appendage.
“We’ve gotta take it with us.” Johnathan finally said.
“What?” Jimmy asked back. Not comprehending the words he’d just heard.
“Even if I have to carry it all the way back to town myself, I want the forensics guys to take a look at it.” Tonight he’d come to believe in monsters. And he’d be damned if he wasn’t going to take some evidence back with him.
“Okay Jimmy said, with trepidation in his voice.
“Let’s go back and get Ms. Buttchins, and high tail it back to town.”
Johnathan nodded, as he stared down at the arm. Finally he reached down and picked it up by the wrist. He half expected the thing to snap into life and latch onto him. But nothing happened.
The two took one final look down the road. Hoping that the Hangman wasn’t going to come flying out of the darkness, at them. Darkness, and swirling snow, was all there was to see. Then they turned, and started making their way down the snowy street…
August 6th, 1982 was a day that no one in Duxbury liked to talk about. No one who is still around who remembers it anyway. It had been a hot one. Hot, humid, and most of all, wet. It had been that way all summer.
“Unnatural,” The old timers were wont to say.
By mid-summer rainfall all along the East coast had hit records not seen since the 20’s. The nearby swamps and bogs had deepened, dark, murky water encroaching onto lands normally dry. The Duxbury Bogs and the North Hill Marsh Sanctuary in particular had been cause for concern.
By mid-July (Courtesy of the Bogs), Pilgrim’s Highway had been flooded over, blocking Mayflower Street all the way down passed East Street. Island Creek Pond and the North Hill Sanctuary had joined forces, turning the lands that divided them into one giant wilderness of muck and water.
And by the end of July it looked like Cranberry Bog and Pine Lake were on the verge of rising up high enough to join the other two and submerge the whole damn area. It had been an ugly business already.
Homes in and around Pettibush Lane, Maple Pond Lane, and Evergreen Street had already been lost to flooding. And there had even been talk during the Duxbury Town Hall Council Meeting the previous weekend of the possible necessary evacuation of Tinker’s Ledge Road if the rains kept up.
That had gotten people buggin’. Markus McDuff had leapt up and shouted with the vigor of a man half his age, declaring, “They’ll have to drag my dead body,” off his Apple Farm if they came to evacuate him.
There had been a grasshopper boom as well. Everyone said it was because of all the rain. The population thickened as one got further from the busier streets. Certain sections of the Whiton Woods were so thick with the little green bugs that it was hard to describe it in words.
One had to “see it, to believe it.” On some of the trails every step one took would literally be accompanied by a multitude of tiny springy noises as the brainless bugs leapt away from whatever giant passed them by.
They hadn’t been the only insects to flourish in the unusually wet weather. The cicadas had come out in force for the season as well. And they sang their summer songs with an unprecedented fervor. Every evening around dusk, they’d alight in the branches of the trees and chirp up at the brilliant, shifting purple and orange canvas in the sky.
In the trees all along Island Creek, the insects seemed to be especially prevalent. There were certain sections of the creek where one would have to practically shout to be heard over the buzzing cacophony. It was, needless to say, not a good season for insectophobes.
Despite all the climate issues, the “tourist” season (small as it was) did not seem to really suffer. Which had been quite a relief to the local business owners. And ever since August started it hadn’t rained. As a result, the general mood around town was brighter than it had been.
But on this early afternoon, one resident’s mood was especially chipper. Officer Robert Maxwell was walking down Harrison Street with a particular “pep” in his step. That was because Bob had just scored a dyno date with the town Betty!
She was a bodacious babe by the name of Mary Barbadino. She’d been the morning waitress at Alice’s Restaurant for going on three years now. Bob had grown up in Duxbury and had always liked Alice’s. But it had been Bob’s pre-shift breakfast spot pretty much every day since he’d first laid eyes on Mary in that tight-fitting waitress uniform. Even on his days off.
He still couldn’t believe his luck! Bob, at the ripe old age of thirty seven, was not exactly known for being a lady’s man. He wasn’t some hoser or anything, but he was no primo stud either.
And she’d approached him! Bob had known that Mary had broken up with her boyfriend Marcus Greene four months prior. But he had never had the cahones to do anything about it.
The situation between Mary and Marcus had been like a badly written movie. Marcus and his posse were the local tough guys. He and his crew seemed to always be getting into trouble. Be it a fight at the local bar, or a “domestic dispute” at one of their biker parties.
If it was true that in life everyone had a role to play, then it was Marcus’s destiny to be an asshole. That’s not what had stopped Bob from making a move on Mary, however. Bob was a Roller after all. He’d just been too chicken.
So this morning when Mary had come over with a cup of coffee in hand, and slid into the empty booth across the table from him, he’d been struck speechless for a few seconds. The conversation had been quick and direct. Mary talking, and Bob mostly nodding while trying to keep his mouth from hanging open.
She’d wanted to know if he was interested in catching a movie after her shift. Bob would have watched the bunkest movie in the world with Mary. He’d quickly agreed, and the two had made plans to meet when she got off at five.
Bob made it to the corner, and took a right onto Washington Street. He was headed to Barry’s Meats, the local butcher shop. Barry was legendary in the region for his kielbasa. And tonight after whatever movie they ended up seeing, he was going to surprise Mary with a better meal than Alice’s had ever put on a plate!
He walked briskly, passing Beaver Brook Lane and making a mental note to stop at Snug Harbor Wine on his way back home. It was nearly 12:30, which gave Bob approximately four and a half hours to get dinner made, get dressed, and be back at Alice’s.
He had been originally scheduled to be on duty until six and had agreed to meet Mary without giving it a second thought. After realizing it, he’d been worried that the “boss man” wouldn’t be accommodating to his sudden plans. But after he’d made it back to the station, Sheriff Copper had been all too happy to give Bob the night off.
In truth Copper had at first been as incredulous as Bob had initially been. But the Sheriff was a good (if not gruff) man., and had granted his request with a hearty laugh. He gave him a hard pat on the back and left him with the wise words, “Happy hunting son!” as Bob had walked out of the Station doors.
He swiftly passed by a group of children playing in Washington Park. Off in the distance a baseball game was going on. He vaguely remembered seeing a flyer earlier in the week stating that the Duxbury Dragons would be playing their first game of the season today.
On the other side of the street loomed the Saint John’s Evangelist Church. The ancient stone structure cast a long shadow across the asphalt. Bob only gave it a cursory glance as he passed it by.
He was not a religious man, though his Mother regularly attended. In truth, the place had always kind of creeped Bob out.
He looked around. He didn’t see the local Pastor, Father John, anywhere. Which he ironically thanked God for. The short, fat man was always lurking about somewhere in town. Always looking to “add to the flock” as he put it.
“Lurking.” No. That wasn’t the right word for it. For all their brief encounters, and by all accounts, Father John was a pleasant man. Known for his charity work, and volunteering at the local soup kitchen in fact. He felt like a dick for having the thought in the first place, and quickly pushed it out of his mind.
By the time he’d crossed Freeman Place and was walking alongside the monolithic structure of the Hudson Bank, his thoughts had once again returned to Mary and what exactly he’d done to make this morning so different than all the countless others. He glanced to the left. Looking at his wavy reflection as he passed by the floor-to-ceiling windows of the massive building.
Well, he had started working out. In fact in the last two months he’d lost almost twenty pounds! A big part of it was the change up in his diet.
Egg whites and coffee for breakfast, instead of pancakes. Salad for lunch, instead of a burger. Come to think of it, hadn’t Mary been the one to first suggest his change- up in breakfast?
Or maybe it was his fresh new ‘stache. At first he’d been hesitant to try and grow one. Never being one for stylized facial hair. But he quickly realized that it was totally choice. His mom said he looked like Tom Selleck.
Bob was enwrapped in these thoughts as he reached the corner. He wasn’t looking in any particular direction, and only half heard the quick, panicked steps just as someone came sprinting around the other side of the building and collided straight into him.
Bob was knocked off his feet. Landing hard on his back, he managed to keep his head from bouncing off the pavement. But for a few seconds he saw stars anyway.
“Bab!” He recognized Boston George’s voice. He sat up, and attempted to bring the man into focus.
“Oh, Babby, thank Gad it’s you!”
Bob began to slowly climb to his feet, but the skinny forty-something man was faster. He practically leapt up and dashed over to the deputy. Offering him a hand, the man helped him up.
“We got a real situation here, Babby!” the man said, his eyes darting around frantically.
Georgey McCabe, or “Boston George” as he was known by the locals, had gotten his name because of his heavy accent. And because, well…he was from Boston. Which could be quite a big deal in some circles within such a small town.
He was a “born, and bred Irishman of the Big City on a Hill”, as he was wont to say. Bob had never been, but he imagined that Georgey was a pretty accurate representation of the average Bostonian.
Boston George had moved to Duxbury from Beantown three years prior. He always seemed to have a lot of money, though no one knew exactly what it was that he did. He drove a candy apple red BMW M1. Anywhere he went with it he drove like a man on his way to save the world.
Georgey had accumulated quite an impressive pile of tickets and citations since coming to Duxbury. But he always had the money to pay off his fines, and so had remained on the road.
“For now,” Sheriff Copper had said to Bob one night at the Station.
Copper didn’t like Boston George, though Georgey seemed oblivious to the fact. He kept speeding, and the Duxbury Police Department kept profiting off his “stuntman” antics.
Bob had never ticketed Georgey personally, however. He and the Irishman had become some-time poker buddies shortly after his arrival. Bob liked to gamble once in a while. Georgey loved it. And the man had one hell of a poker face.
Over the last two years, he’d taken far more of Bob’s money than Bob had his. That was for sure. The man also liked to sometimes go out “day drinking” as he put it. And as Bob took in George’s disheveled appearance, he began to suspect that was exactly what the man’s afternoon activities had consisted of thus far.
The thinning hair on his head stuck out in tufts, pointing in all directions. His Aloha shirt was only half tucked into his trouser shorts. Bob realized that the man was also missing one of his flip-flops.
But there was a distinct panic in Georgey’s eyes. A sort of wild terror that gave Bob pause. The man was talking, Bob realized. Thickly accented words flowing out of his mouth a mile a minute. Though he had no idea what he’d been saying.
“Take a red, Georgey!” Bob shouted, raising his hand in a silencing gesture as he did.
George fell quiet. For a few seconds all that could be heard was the birds chirping, and George’s ragged breathing.
“What is the problem?” He didn’t have time for this.
“There’s…” George gulped in a lungful of air, trying to steady his voice. “-There’s some kind of mahnstah in the dampstah behind Bahne’s Mahket. And I think it got Old Man Pete!”
“What?” Bob asked. Truly at a loss.
“Oh for Gad’s sake, Bab! I’m tellin’ you that there’s something in the dampstah behind Bahne’s Mahket, and I think it got Pete!” The man was quickly becoming hysterical.
“Okay. Okay,” Bob said, raising his hand once again in a placating gesture. “So tell me what happened.”
“I was sittin’ outside Lux Cafe. Out in one of the chairs on the patio. Just having a drink ya’know?”
At this Bob quirked an eyebrow. Georgey didn’t seem to notice.
“Anyways, so I’m sittin’ there out on the patio when I see Old Man Pete come out of his store, and go around to the back alley with a bag full of trash.”
Peter Barne’s was the elderly owner of Barne’s Market, the local grocery co-op. Pete was in his seventies, but had moved like a man half is age up until his wife Edna had passed last winter.
Since then Pete had developed a noticeable stoop in his stance. Now he walked with slow, pained movements. These days he seemed to look at the ground more than anything else.
In truth it pained the Deputy to see the old man slowly fall apart. Bob had known Pete since he’d been just a boy. He’d been known as “Old Man Pete” even back then. But in those days he’d sported a full head of gray hair.
“So like after five minutes go by,” Boston George was saying, “I notice that Petey hasn’t come back out from the alleyway yet. So I staht worrying that the poor old bugger’s hurt himself or something ya’know? So I get up, and I go across the street to go check on him.”
Bob knew the area George was referring to well. It was called East Cove Plaza, and was consequently the only spot on Surplus Road that had any businesses on it. Four to be exact.
All located around the same two square blocks. Barnes Market and the Red Herring Diner on one side of the street. East Bay Salon and Lux Lounge on the other.
Up until a year, and a half ago there had only been three businesses. But Lux had opened up next to East Bay. It was this “new age” hippie cafe/bar. And was owned by this unbelievably sexy red-headed fox named Gretta Thompson.
She’d moved to Duxbury about two years ago and after about six months had opened up shop. That was all he really knew about her. He’d never been in the bar, though it had simultaneously become a hit with the younger locals and an endless source of gossip for the elders.
“So what did you find when you went to go check on him?” Bob asked, feeling a faint sense of apprehension as he did so.
“That’s the thing, Bab,” George said in a hushed tone. “There wasn’t no one back there when I got up there. Just an empty alleyway with the dampstah in the back.”
“But I got this real weird feelin’, Bab. This real weird feelin’ that Old Man Pete was in that dampstah,” Georgey continued.
Bob already did not like where this was headed. Though admittedly he had absolutely no fucking idea where this was headed.
“So I get to like about ten feet away from the dampstah, and somethin’s telling me—somethin’s telling me not to get any closer. So I call out Pete’s name. Feeling a bit silly as I do, mind you.”
Bob smirked despite himself. Yes. Silly was one word for it.
“And just as I say his name there comes the sound of trash slammin’ around. And I mean a loud sound! And the dampstah…” George trailed off as he gave a shudder. “The dampstah, Bab… it jerked towards me!”
Bob raised an eyebrow.
“The dumpster jerked towards you?” The words just didn’t sound right.
“Yeah, Bab. And I mean like three freakin’ feet!”
“So what did you do?”
At this George looked incredulous.
“What did I do? I fackin’ ran for my Gad damn life! That’s what I did Bab!”
“Okay. Okay,” Bob said, raising his hands once again. “Let’s go.”
“Back to Barnes Market.”
“Yes,” He said,pinching his nose. “Back to the Market.”
“Come on, Georgey,” Bob cut him off and started walking.
Five minutes later they were moving down Surplus Road, almost halfway to their destination. Up ahead loomed the wooden bridge that went over Bluefish River. The raging waters echoed off the surrounding trees that bordered the street on both sides.
Bob had kept up a brisk pace. Partly because he was worried for Old Man Pete, and partly because of his rapidly shrinking timetable. George, to his credit, had kept up.
“Are you sure you don’t want to call for backup, Babby?” he half shouted over the thundering river, just as their feet met weather worn wood.
Bob glanced down at the rushing waters of the Bluefish as they clunked along. The river was normally more than a dozen feet below the bridge. On this day however, it was half that. If it got any higher, the city would have to close it off.
“Not quite yet, George,” he shouted back. “I think I’d like to check things out for myself before I go and do that.”
After another moment they were across the river and back on asphalt. With each step the thundering of the Bluefish faded.
The pair looked up at the looming trees on either side of them. The White Pines had grown fuller, and lusher than ever before, it seemed. Bob gazed off into the shadows of the surrounding forest.
There was pretty much nothing in the remaining half mile. Nothing but trees and encroaching swamp water that is. Pretty much everything West of Tremont Street was flooded.
But thankfully the four business that made up East Cove Plaza had thus far been spared from the weather thanks to their location about a half mile East of Tremont, on the corner where Reynolds Way crossed Surplus.
As they walked, Bob reflected on the dumpster in question. It was a fifteen yarder, if he recalled correctly, situated between Barne’s Market and the Red Herring for the convenience of both businesses. With all the flooding, it really wouldn’t be too outlandish if a bear or some other critter had made its way down and jumped in looking for food.
They came to a flooded part in the road just as they hit the intersection of South Station Street. The water stretched all the way to the woods on both the right and left. They wordlessly walked to the right.
Entering the edge of the woods, they used the rocks and roots to keep their feet as dry as possible, as they made their way. The water stretched on down the street for a good twenty feet before relinquishing its hold on the road.
Soon the surrounding forest gave way once again to a suburban sprawl. Up ahead in the distance stood East Cove Plaza. He felt an inexplicable twinge of apprehension at the sight of the buildings. And for about a second, he really did want to call for back up.
But what would he tell dispatch? Boston George thinks that there’s a monster in the dumpster behind Barne’s Market? Yeah, that would go over well. Then he realized he didn’t have his radio on him anyway. So the point was moot.
After another moment of walking they had reached the front entrance of Barne’s. The “Now Open” sign still hung in the window. Bob opened the door and stepped inside. They were greeted by the refreshing coolness of the air-conditioned store.
“Mister Barnes?” Bob called out.
No answer, save for the soft hum of the air-conditioning unit. Bob walked deeper into the store, swiveling his head this way and that as he continued moving down one of the aisles.
Again no answer. This wasn’t good. Something was up.
“I’m tellin’ you, he’s not in here, Babby,” Boston George said in a hushed tone from behind.
“Officer Maxwell?” Came a voice from the back of the store.
Both men turned to see Pete’s nephew Doug Jenkins emerge from the back storage room. Doug was in his forties. He seemed to possess an endless supply of plaid shirts and blue jeans that he wore no matter how high the temperature was. A nice guy, though a bit slow.
“Hey, Doug,” Bob said, with a wave. “I was just looking for Pete. Have you seen him?”
At this Doug shook his head.
“I was supposed to meet him here. We’re going down to the dinner at Saint John’s tonight. But I can’t find him, Bob.”
That last part carried with it a tone of worry.
“Don’t worry, Dougy.” Bob managed a smile. “We’ll find him. I’m going to take a look around outside. Why don’t you stay here in case he shows back up?”
“Okay,” he said.
“Cool beans. Alright, me and Georgey here are gonna take a look around back. We’ll meet you back here in ten minutes if we don’t find him.”
And with that George and Bob turned and walked back out. The sticky summer heat practically slammed into them as they stepped back outside. Together they walked in silence to the entrance of the alleyway.
They rounded the corner and just stood there for a moment. The area was empty, save for the hulking form of the dumpster that stood in the back. It was a big, ugly thing, standing about six feet high. And, yeah, it was a fifteen yarder.
“There’s no way Pete fell in there,” Bob thought to himself as he scrutinized the hunk of metal.
There was something off about it though. But he couldn’t quite put his finger on what. At first glance it appeared the same as it always had.
It was just as rusty and weather worn as ever. Still the same dirty green color, with the words “Patterson Waste Disposal” written in big white letters on its beat up exterior. He was pretty sure that Boston George was right though. The dumpster seemed like it was farther from the back wall than normal.
Maybe George had been partially correct. Perhaps some bear or something had wandered down and climbed in looking for food. Again, considering the flooding, it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility. After all, the wildlife was known to wander into town from time to time.
Bob moved cautiously forward, and then stopped when he was about fifteen feet away. Some vague, primal instinct warned him not to get any closer.
He stood there in silence for a moment, listening for any sign of movement from within the rusty metal structure. Nothing. Not a sound. He straightened, and let out a sigh. Jesus. He was being ridiculous.
Georgey was just buzzed. Pete Barnes had just gone out on some sudden errand and forgotten to lock up. Yeah, that was it. He started to turn back to George. That’s when he noticed the shoe…
It was just lying there about three feet in front of the dumpster. It was black. That was about all he could tell from this distance.
But he knew. He just \*knew\*, that it was a black penny loafer. And there was only one guy around here who sported those kind of kicks.
“Mister Barnes?” Bob called out toward the dumpster, knowing full well how ridiculous he would look to his peers in that moment. He received no reply.
He took a few more cautious steps forward, calling out again and once again being answered with silence.
God, what if he had fallen in? As impossible as it seemed. What if Pete had fallen in and was lying broken and bleeding right now as he stood there like an idiot?
“What’s goin’ on fellas?”
A voice suddenly asked from behind, causing both men to jump. Bob turned around only to see Christie Villarmarin’s pug-like face. Christie was the “owner” of East Bay Salon.
What that really meant was that her husband, District Circuit Court Judge, Troy Villarmarin, had bought his incredibly unpleasant wife a business so as to keep her out of his hair. And quite literally in someone else’s.
“Everything alright, Officer Maxwell?” she asked innocently.
Bob didn’t really dislike people as a rule of thumb. It was not in his nature. But God Damn if Christie just didn’t naturally piss him off.
She was one of the town gossip “ring leaders,” as his mother always put it. Christie had an affinity for other people’s business. Her Salon only amplified her powers. Bob noticed a few of Christie’s customers/cronies had gathered on the sidewalk in front of the Salon and were watching their conversation with rapt attention.
And God Dammit if he didn’t have time for this! It was going on 1:15 and he hadn’t even made it down to Barry’s yet! Christie was a shark circling a piece of meat on a hook. But he wasn’t going to give her one bite.
“Yes, ma’am,” Bob said, beaming. “We’re just looking for Old Ma- Mister Barnes. I think he may have stepped out, and forgotten to lock up.”
“Oh,.” was all Christie said, mirroring the Deputy’s smile right back at him.
She knew that he wasn’t telling her something. And she was determined to find out what. As a member of the upper echelon of the community it was her duty to. After all there were very few police officers in Duxbury who were truly mentally adequate to do their job. But what could you expect from a profession that literally accepted anyone who applied?
For a moment the two just stood there, beaming their smiles at one another. Boston George looked back, and forth between the two of them. Lifting a brow in confusion at their “smile duel.”
“Why, good afternoon everyone!”
The three turned to see Father John standing in the mouth of the alleyway with Sheriff Copper and Deputy David Quimby. The Priest was dressed in his usual black underwrap. He was carrying a cake with pink frosting in a big tupperware. The short, balding, round man wore his usual warm, toothy grin.
“Bobby!” the Sheriff said in greeting, and began walking up.
“Great,” Bob thought.
Copper nodded at Christie.
“Sheriff,” Christie smiled. This time the expression was genuine though.
Copper reached Bob and gave him a clap on the back.
“Don’t tell me you got stood up?!” He said. Letting out a great bellowing laugh as he did.
“No, Sheriff. I-
“I’m just teasin’ you Bobby,” Copper cut him off. “Ol’ Dougy told me about Mister Barnes.”
Bob noticed Doug poking his head around the corner.
“I told the Sheriff you was looking for Pete,” he said.
“Thanks Doug,” Bob replied.
“Me and the boys here were just on our way down to get ready for the Church Cookout tonight,” Copper said with a grin as he turned to face the others.
“Now this right here is a shining example of an outstanding Officer of the Law. Even off duty, right before a big date no less, we find Bobby here still ensuring the safety of the good citizens of Duxbury.” He laughed once again. His big belly bouncing up and down.
“A date?” Christie quirked an eyebrow at this.
“Shit,” Bob thought.
“Yes, Deputy Maxwell,” Father John cut in, smiling up at Bob, who stood a full head taller than him.
“You truly are a good man, aren’t you? You know you are always welcome in God’s house, my son. Perhaps tonight you and your lady friend might stop by and partake in the festivities?”
“Th-— Thank you Father. We just might do that,” Bob lied.
“Tell ya’ what Bobby,” Copper said, “why don’t you go run along, and let me handle finding Mister Barnes?”
Bob let out a sigh of relief.
“Thanks, Sheriff. I owe you one.”
The Sheriff waved this off with a grin.
“Don’t mention it, Bobby. But before you go, do you have any leads?”
“Leads?” Bob asked, not understanding.
“Yeah, ya’know? Like any idea where Barnes might have got off to?”
Just then there came a brief, faint echo of shifting trash from within the depths of the big, green dumpster behind them. Everyone turned.
“I don’t know. But I noticed a shoe that looks like one of his beside the dumpster.”
“Um, so did you check it out?” Quimby asked.
Deputy David Quimby could have passed for Larry Wilcox’s twin. He acted like it to. The all American high school football hero turned cop. Every day on the job you’d think that Quimby was acting out an episode of Chip’s Patrol.
The man was wearing his pump-action Mossberg 590 strapped to his back. Despite the fact that he didn’t need it, the Deputy almost always had the weapon on him. He thought in made him look tough. And in truth it really did help him get laid.
“I actually just got here a minute before you did,” he answered. “I was about to look. But George said that he thought there was some kind of animal in the dumpster. So I was… assessing the situation before approaching.”
“Hah!” Quimby exclaimed in a clearly fake laugh, slapping a hand across one knee. “Ya’ll are scared of a raccoon in a dumpster?!”
“It ain’t no raccoon, Officer Quimby,” Boston George replied in a foreboding tone.
Christie Ackerman huffed.
Bob just ground his teeth. Partly because he couldn’t think of an adequate retort, but mostly because the answer might very well be “yes.”
That’s when Bob realized how quiet it had gotten. The near constant chirping of chickadees was suddenly absent. He tried to remember if he’d heard any birds when he’d first gotten to the neighborhood.
“Don’t none of ya’ll worry your pretty little heads off ,” Sheriff Copper said as he began walking down the alleyway. “The Sheriff’s on the jo– Oh, what in the Hell?”
The Sheriff looked over the other’s shoulders. Bob turned. The small group of onlookers from the salon had been joined by a group of curious younger folks from the cafe. They were now gathered in the middle of the road watching them.
“Alright!” the Sheriff shouted toward the street, “There ain’t nothin’ to see here people! We’re just havin’ a conversation, and ya’ll are wastin’ your time if you’re hoping for some action.”
“And since ya’ll are grownups, I don’t think that I have to lecture you on how dangerous it is to bestanding in the middle of the road. Now I suggest that ya’ll git!”
A couple people shuffled their feet. But no one really moved. The Sheriff huffed and turned back around to face the dumpster.
“Fine,” he said and began walking.
“Sheriff,” Father John said. And Copper paused.
“I’d be careful. The woods and swamps are not far away. And there’s no telling what may have crawled out of the bogs this time of year. Keene’s Road is flooded over you know.”
The Sheriff smiled.
“Aw Father, your concern for my well being is truly touching. But I’m a big strong man, and I think I can handle some little woodland critter.”
“Besides, Keene’s Road and all its ghost and goblin stories are a long ways off.” He winked, and continued moving forward.
“It’s never really that far,” Bob heard the Priest say under his breath. It was a peculiar statement.
Copper walked up to the dumpster while the others watched with trepidation. Everyone except Quimby. He was standing there with his hands on his hips, smiling ear to ear. No doubt thinking about how he was going to tell everyone at the station of Bob’s newfound dumpster phobia.
The Sheriff made it to within a foot of the dumpster and looked in. Nothing happened. He turned around to face the others, a big shit-eating “I’m better than you grin” plastered on his face.
“Ya’ see, fellas,” he said, “there ain’t nothing to be afraid of.”
“Are ya’ sure sheriff?” Boston George asked hesitantly.
Copper shrugged and turned back around. Stepping up to the lip of the dumpster, he stood on his tip-toes to get a better look.
“Whatever animal it was prob-” The Sheriff’s words caught in his throat, and his body froze up like a dear in headlights.
“Jesus, Mary, and Jose-!” Copper’s words were cut short as the two hundred and thirty pound man was violently ripped off his feet. Simultaneously there came a small explosion of trash. Garbage whizzed by and Copper’s uniform billowed as if caught in a strong gust of wind.
The big man went up, and over the edge, disappearing in a blur. He didn’t even have time to scream. Everyone instinctively back-pedaled.
The group of onlookers that had gathered in the street quickly herded themselves back across to the sidewalk on the other side. The smaller group that had been near the Dumpster practically leapt backward to the lip of the alleyway.
Deputy Quimby shouted in surprise.
Christie screamed, and Bob joined her. To the passerby it might have sounded like the two were having a “damsel in distress ” screaming contest. If they had been, Deputy Maxwell, to his credit, would have won.
“Oh my Gad! Oh my Gad!” Boston George was shrieking over and over as he back-pedaled into the street. His hysterics were abruptly cut short as he was struck by Henry McDuff’s truck.
Marcus’s son hadn’t even noticed Georgey until the man was rolling up onto his hood. The farmer panicked as George smashed into his windshield, simultaneously jerking the wheel hard to the left, while slamming on the breaks.
A split second later the rusty, red pickup smashed into a car parked in front of East Bay Salon. George went rolling off and over the hood of the other vehicle, falling over the other side and disappearing from McDuff’s view as quickly as he’d appeared.
The open bed of the truck had been literally overflowing with freshly harvested apples. Upon impact, the fruit erupted out of the bed like a volcano, creating a small apple tsunami that rolled across the street.
The screeching of tires forced Bob’s horrified gaze from the spot where Sheriff Copper had recently occupied to the street behind him. But only for a moment. Once he realized that it was just a car accident, he quickly snapped his gaze back down the alleyway, pulling out his service revolver as he did so. Carnivorous dumpsters took precedence over car accidents.
For a moment everybody just stood there in silence. Then there came a great rumble from within the Dumpster that sounded like a giant belching to Bob. A small explosion of assorted trash shot up high into the air.
The crowd took another collective step backward as the assorted debris came raining down, clattering and clanking to the ground between them and the alleyway. Glass shattered. Empty metal cans went bouncing across the pavement.
The smaller group at the edge of the alley raised their hands over their heads protectively as debris rained down upon them. A big aluminum can bounced off Bob’s shoulder. It didn’t really hurt, but it did make him jump.
The last thing to land was the Sheriff’s hat. The brim had a jagged tear that looked like a shark had taken a bite out of it. The sight of the hat was apparently Quimby’s breaking point, for a second later, the man let out a howl that was one part terror and one part war cry.
He raised the Pump Action (which Bob only now realized the Deputy had unslung from his back), and the weapon boomed deafeningly. It happened so fast that Bob didn’t even have time to shout at him to stop or he could hit the Sheriff.
The buckshot struck the side of the Dumpster, sending out a shower of sparks. But as far as Bob could tell, it failed to penetrate the thick metal.
Quimby continued moving forward. Pumping his shotgun and firing over and over, howling all the while.
One. Two. Three.
Each shot that hit the rusty metal sent out another shower of sparks. Every round ricocheted off. Bob saw a chunk of the red brick wall of Barne’s Market disintegrate beneath the weight of buckshot.
Everyone but Quimby seemed to be aware of the danger, the crowd collectively panicking as the Deputy continued to unload the contents of his weapon.
Another shot rang out.
Just then one of Quimby’s shots finally did manage to penetrate the damaged metal. And that’s when the proverbial shit truly hit the fan. The Dumpster suddenly exploded into motion.
It came rocketing forward in a blur. Its wheels screamed maddeningly as the rusty behemoth attained a speed it had never been meant to. Quimby, who had only been about ten feet in front of the nightmarish Thing, had no hope of getting out of its way.
It smashed into him with bone crushing force. Bob was sure that, had it not been for the screeching tires and the shrieking people, he would have surely heard Quimby’s bones shattering.
Several things happened in the next three seconds. The unfortunate Deputy Quimby was violently dragged beneath the rusty behemoth. Except no part of him really fit between the five, or so inches of space between the bottom of the Dumpster and the pavement.
What quickly followed reminded Bob of what he compulsively did every morning with his toothpaste at home. Everything inside the Deputy’s body was forced forward, rocketing up under his skin until the bottom of the Dumpster met with Quimby’s head. Then his head exploded as it was crushed beneath the weight of the monstrous Thing.
In some grotesque feet of physics, most of what had made Quimby tick blew out of the top of the man’s head like a cannon. There came a loud “thwop” that sounded a lot like the noise a balloon might make if one jumped up and landed down on it with both feet.
Bone, entrails, and other less identifiable things quite literally erupted out into the street, blood and bone mixing with the apples and broken glass.
That was all in the first second. Bob and Father John were the next people standing in the monstrous hunk of metal’s deadly path. There was no time for words. Bob prepared to leap for his life, but everything felt like it was moving in slow motion.
The rusty monstrosity was practically already on top of them. That’s when Bob felt Father John shove him with a strength that seemed impossible for a man so small. It felt like Conan the Barbarian had steam rolled into him with all his fictional might. The Deputy went flying off his feet, hitting the ground and tumbling out of the way just on time.
For one split second, just before his mad rolling forced his eyes away from the passing monstrosity, Bob thought he caught sight of Father John standing calmly on the other side. And as insane as it was, he could have sworn that the man wore a look of mild amusement.
Bob felt the wind of the massive Thing on his face as it passed. He caught the scent of trash, and blood, and…something else…. Some ungodly stench that made his eyes water and his stomach lurch.
Then the Dumpster was rocketing across the street. It kept going on its straight path. People shrieked as they tried to get out of the behemoth’s way, slipping and falling over each other and the apples. There came the near defending crash of metal hitting concrete as the Dumpster went up and over the curb.
The Thing (to the great misfortune of those still in its path) barely slowed as its nightmarish momentum took it onto the sidewalk. There was a fire hydrant in its way, but it offered up little resistance as it steam rolled over it and into the shrieking crowd.
The hydrant was ripped from its base. Water instantly began to geyser up into the air from where it had been. But the Dumpster paid it no mind as it continued on its deadly path. Several people who had failed to get out of its way were struck and carried along with it.
It then slammed into the front of East Bay Salon with a deafening boom that was followed by a chorus of shattering glass. The Thing bounced off the brick building, and slowly rolled backward and back off the sidewalk before coming to a stop.
Bob dazedly climbed to his feet. The front of the Salon was painted red. He didn’t have to see the other side of the Dumpster to know that it was covered in something akin to what you’d see on a conveyor belt in a meat packing plant.
Most of the crowd had finally decided to take the late Sheriff’s advice and “git”. People were shrieking and running down the street in both directions. Bob for his part just stood there in a shock as the icy water from the broken hydrant rapidly flooded the street.
The water reached where he was standing and soon his socks were soaked. But he paid it no mind as his gaze roamed slowly around the scene. There were still about a half dozen or so people stumbling about in a shell-shocked daze that mirrored his own.
“Christ! Robert, are you okay son?” Henry McDuff’s panic etched voice brought the Deputy out of his stupor.
Bob turned to face the farmer. The grizzled forty-something man was holding a double barrel Remington in hands that weren’t shaking quite as badly as his.
Bob managed a nod.
“Babby!” Boston George came running and limping up, huffing all the while. “Oh, Bab, thank Gad you’re okay!”
Bob turned and met the man’s concerned eyes, thinking in that moment that George was a lot nicer of a guy than he’d ever given him credit for. He’d just been hit by a truck and was asking if he was okay!
“We gotta get outta here, Bab!”
The Deputy nodded, and just as he did the Dumpster turned. Not at blinding speed, but not slowly either, wheels squealing shrilly into the air. As ridiculous as the thought was, Bob swore that the rusty, blood stained hunk of metal had turned to look at them.
“Oh shit,” McDuff said under his breath.
Without another word the trio took off toward the row of cars parked in front of Lux. They all sensed what was coming next.
Like a dog giving chase to a rabbit, the unholy Thing came for them. Everyone who’d been wandering around after the initial impact had been brought out of their stupor when the Dumpster once again began moving. But at that moment Christie Villarmarin was awful close to it.
She shrieked and began running. Her massive blubbery form bobbing up and down so violently that for one insane second Bob half expected her to start bouncing away. She did bounce once though. Just before the speeding Nightmare struck her she gave one last panicked leap into the air.
The woman attained an astonishing altitude. As impossible as it seemed, her tennis shoes had to be at least three feet off the ground when the Dumpster struck her. She bounced off the frame and even higher into the air, cartwheeling round and round before falling directly into the Thing’s open maw. She made a sort of gurgling shriek as she fell away from sight.
A split second later Bob, George, and McDuff were busy trying to scramble over the hood of a big gray Buick Century in front of them. The cars lining the sidewalk, having been parked nearly bumper to bumper, seemed to offer up as good a defense as any.
McDuff was the first to make it over. The farmer was surprisingly quick on his feet. He turned to help Bob, who was right on his heels. He made it to the other side just as McDuff was once again saying, “Oh shit!”
Bob whipped around. Boston George was about halfway across the hood, the un-athletic man doing his best to move quickly. But the Dumpster was a second away from plowing into the car.
Bob and McDuff instinctively stumbled backward. The Dumpster blasted into the Buick. The side of the car crumpled like an accordion as the vehicle was forced up onto and over the curb.
All the windows exploded at once. The sheer force of the impact was so powerful that it shattered the floor to ceiling windows in the entrance of Lux and knocked both men on their asses. And for the second time that day, Boston George was sent hurtling off the top of a vehicle. He landed on Bob and McDuff, who were blindly scrambling (and failing) to get out of the sliding vehicle’s way.
Miraculously the Buick slid to a stop mere inches from the three men. They only had a second’s reprieve though. For as they began climbing to their feet, a massive tentacle came shooting through the broken passenger side window.
The Thing was terrible to behold. Rippling with corded muscle, at its thickest it was the circumference of a hubcap. The flesh that covered it was the color of bile. And the smell. Oh God, the smell!
It thrashed around madly over their heads, the entire frame of the Buick rocking back, and forth with the Thing’s movements. Bob reached for his gun.
Only it wasn’t in its holster. Where the fuck was his gun?! That’s when he remembered that he’d taken it out before the monstrosity’s initial charge.
His shock was broken by the sudden retort of McDuff’s Remington going off deafeningly over his head as the weapon unloaded both rounds into the Thing. The nightmarish appendage jerked violently as both shots found their mark.
The flesh about four feet down from the tip exploded like a watermelon. A sizzling, purplish fluid came out in a spray as the top part of the tentacle struck the ground with a heavy thud. The severed appendage began violently thrashing about.
There came a hellish shriek that shook the very air around them, and the stumpy tentacle violently snapped back through the ruined car as the Dumpster quite literally jerked backward. The metal behemoth rocketed back across the street, attaining a speed that defied reason.
It grated deafeningly along the sides of several parked cars in front of East Bay before abruptly changing direction. It flew across the street, slamming into a sedan parked in front of the Red Herring. The frame of the vehicle folded inward, metal shrieked deafeningly.
Bob quickly leapt to his feet. Stumbling to avoid the thrashing tentacle, he looked down. The sizzling purplish blood (if it could be called blood) was burning holes in the concrete, making a patch of the sidewalk look like smoldering Swiss cheese.
He turned to help McDuff up, realizing at the same time that it wasn’t the farmer who had fired the weapon. In front of the gated entrance of Lux stood their savior.
It took Bob a moment to recognize the woman. It was Gretta Thompson. She was standing there in a blue and white dress, holding the smoking Remington, her face a mixture of rage and terror.
“My fucking windows!” she shrieked at the Dumpster, as it rocketed back across Surplus and smashed into a Volkswagen van with a giant “Peace” sign painted in bright yellow on the sliding door.
The three men stood and looked at her with dumbfounded expressions. Gretta fixed her green eyes on McDuff.
“You have any more bullets for this thing?”
“Uh, yeah, back in the truck.”
“Well that’s just fu-” her breath suddenly caught in her throat as her gaze shifted over their shoulders and her body stiffened.
“Come on!” she shouted a darted back through the entrance of her cafe.
There came another deafening roar from behind. The three instinctively began sprinting for the entrance. Bob was the last one in and, just as he entered, he turned to see the Dumpster once again rocketing toward them.
This time, though, it had clearly given itself room for a running start. It plowed once again into the accordioned Buick with a deafening crash. The car was lifted up off the ground and sent tumbling toward the front entrance of Lux.
It smashed through the little iron gate that bordered the patio. Bob saw the “No Alcohol Past This Point!” sign blast off the gate and come rocketing toward the cafe. A second later, both the rolling vehicle and mangeled gate slammed into the main entrance.
The frame of the building shook with the impact. The double doors were blasted off the hinges and sent clattering to the floor. More glass shattered somewhere in the background.
The Buick had rolled and slammed into the Cafe while on it’s side, wobbled back and forth for a moment before finally tipping backward, and hitting the pavementan impact that shook the ground.
The roof collided with the pavement and instantly flattened. The mangled metal fencing clanged to the ground a second later.
Gretta gave a primal shriek from behind Bob. “My windows!”
The Dumpster began to slowly roll backward, lazily twirling round and round as it did so. In the distance could be heard the faint but distinct sound of approaching sirens.
“Alright, ya’ Gad damn trash manstah!” Boston George cried out to Bob’s right.
The Deputy turned, and watched in disbelief as Georgey pulled out an entire bottle of moonshine from his trousers as if he were a magician and this was really just some elaborate performance. Then to Bob’s further disbelief he watched as George unscrewed the cap and began stuffing a handkerchief into the open top.
“George what are you—” The Deputy’s words were cut short, as his attention was drawn to another deafening crash. The Dumpster slammed into another car in front of East Bay Salon.
“Let me show you a city folk trick, ya’ unholy bastad!”
Bob turned once again to look at George just as the man was stepping back out onto the ruined patio. To his disbelief he saw that the he’d ignited the handkerchief and was drawing his arm back.
“Oh, Christ,” He heard McDuff say.
“George what are you—” the Deputy attempted to ask the question once again, but his words were cut short as Georgey hurled the flaming bottle in the direction of the Dumpster.
Whether it was blind luck or the fact that Georgey’d been an accomplished pitcher at some point in his youth back in Boston, Bob did not know. But the makeshift Molotov cocktail flew nearly seven yards, and hit the erratically moving target right on the mark.
“Yeah!” Gretta cried her approval. “That was totally flange baby!”
Georgey blushed despite himself.
Bob gave a cursory thought to poor Christie Villarmarin just as the flaming bottle of liquor disappeared behind the rusty, blood stained walls. He assumed that she had to already be dead. At least he hoped she was. Because a second later there came the shattering of glass, followed by a small explosion of flames.
It was as if every piece of garbage inside had been bone dry. Within seconds the interior of the Dumpster became a raging inferno. At least the top layer of trash had.
God only knew what occupied the depths of the behemoth. Flames shot out in a pyre, adding to the nightmarish quality of the Thing.
An unholy howl that all who were present would remember for the rest of their days erupted from the bowels of the Dumpster. Then the Thing took off once again, this time rocketing straight down the street, moving East.
“Oh, God,” Bob thought, “it’s headed into town!”
Just then Bob caught a glimpse of how the Thing propelled itself for the first time. Jutting out from the bottom of the Dumpster were at least a dozen of the sickly yellow tentacles, each of them thicker and more muscular than the first one they’d seen.
The tentacles were moving in a blurred frenzy, all of them swiping at the ground and tearing up chunks of asphalt as they propelled the monstrosity down the road with incredible strength. The way they moved somehow reminded him of the frantic, spasmodic way a centipede’s legs moved when the insect was suddenly flipped onto its back.
The Dumpster continued to roar as it rocketed down the street, its unearthly howl echoing off the sides of the buildings. The sheer volume of the sound vibrated the windows of the glass that still remained intact.
For a moment the four companions just stood there in the shattered remnants of Lux’s entryway watching the rapidly shrinking form of the Dumpster. It was moving faster than ever. Whatever passed for the Thing’s adrenaline had clearly kicked in.
The sound of approaching sirens was growing louder, though they were still a long way off. Much to Bob’s dismay, they were coming somewhere from the East. The crunching of a pair of shoes on broken glass drew everyone’s attention to the door. It was Father John! He rounded the overturned Buick and greeted them with a smile.
Bob looked at the Priest incredulously. For all the horror that had so recently transpired, the man looked no worse for the wear. He realized that he was still holding the cake in one hand; the bright pink frosting appeared to be completely unharmed.
“My children,” he began as if addressing a congregation, “it is truly the Lord’s will that has put us all here today. And I think that he would want us to see this adventure through.”
McDuff grunted in agreement.
“What makes you think God’s a man, Father?” Gretta sneered.
At this the Priest quirked an eyebrow. Then smiled.
“Freudian Slip my dear. But I digress… The Lord has willed us to survive thus far. And I believe that the Divine Creator would want us to drive this beast from our lands.
“I’m all for that!” Gretta exclaimed. “Let’s kill the shit out of that Thing!”
Father John cleared his throat at this, and Gretta looked over at him, pushing a lock of curly red hair out of her eyes as she did so.
“You know, I’d say I’m sorry. Father, but I’m not.”
“That fackin’ Manstah messed up my new favorite bah!“ Boston George added, his voice carrying with it an unnatural tone of wrath. ”Let’s finish that Fackah!“
Bob looked incredulously at the others, especially at Boston George. Until about two minutes ago, the man had been practically pissing himself. Now he and everyone was juiced up all of a sudden. Bob looked around at the unexpectedly determined faces with confusion.
Then his eyes were drawn to the cake in Father John’s hand. The bright pink frosting shining clearly through the container, practically glowing.This was insane. Go chasing after a two-ton carnivorous Dumpster that could move upwards of fifty miles per hour?
“Are all of you out of your fu—” He stopped mid-sentence, suddenly realizing his position. Realizing that this was his town! And thatthere was a living nightmare headed straight into the heart of it!
Bob nodded in affirmation. “Judging from the sound of the sirens, I’d say someone’s already called in the cavalry. And God help me if I ever walk around off duty without my radio again McDuff, go get your ammo out of your truck. If you can still get into it that is,.” he added.
“Gretta,.” she said flatly.
“Gretta then. Ms. Gretta, I like where George is headed with this Molotov cocktail idea. Would you mind if we bor—”
“On it,” Gretta cut him off as she turned and raced toward her bar.
Boston George suddenly let out a hoot.
“Alright! Let’s do this!” he exclaimed and took off running out across the decimated patio.
“I’ll get ol’ Lassie!” he shouted.
“Get what?” Bob asked, staring after the man in confusion.
Georgey paused and looked back at Bob with an incredulous look on his face.
“My cah Bab. My cah. It’s paked right around the corner.”
“You call your car Lassie? he asked, despite the fact that time was of the essence.
Yes Bab. Lassie’s my baby. Jesus Gad, do you even know me?” And at that he took off running.
With everyone in motion, Bob turned his thoughts to the fact that he didn’t have a weapon. He patted himself down frantically. The clinking and clanking of glass bottles echoed throughout the bar as Gretta presumably pulled down her higher proof booze.
Shit! All he had was his baton and mace. He slapped an open palm to his head. There came the sound of Lassie’s engine roaring to life somewhere down the street, followed by the screeching of tires.
He’d forgotten his spare sidearm at home! It was a Beretta M9 that his Mother had “uncharacteristically” gotten him as a gift for Christmas last year. He almost always carried it on him! Not that 9mm rounds were going to be much use against a two ton Dumpster from Hell.
“Could you perhaps put this to good use son?” Father John asked.
Bob turned and gave a start. In one hand the short, bald man still held the pink cake. In the other, he held Quimby’s blood spattered Mossberg 590. Bob stared at the little, chubby man in disbelief. The Priest beamed.
“I thought that it might come in handy. And that the unfortunate recently departed Deputy Quimby would have no objections to it being used as a tool to avenge his death.”
“I took the liberty of reloading the weapon for you, Officer Maxwell.” Father John smiled. “Also it appears that the late Deputy Quimby had been carrying a copious amount of ammunition on him.”
Father John held out the pump-action, and Bob hesitantly (though he didn’t quite know why) took the weapon, feeling Quimby’s blood smear on his hands. It was still warm.
Then the Priest reached into his garments and produced a box of shotgun shells. At this Bob’s incredulousness increased two-fold. For in Father John’s hand was an opened box of Brenneke Shotgun Slugs.
Brenneke were top of the line. The closest thing to armor piercers that you could get for a shotgun in this day and age. They were damned expensive, too. What further perplexed the Deputy was that he was almost one hundred percent positive that the late David Quimby kept his weapon loaded with the cheaper, standard 00 Buckshot.
And to have been carrying a box of twenty-five slugs? Why in God’s name would Quimby have had all that ammo on him? With these questions echoing through his mind, he accepted the bright orange box, Father John smiling up at him as he did so.
“Th-Thank you, Father.”
Just as Gretta was rounding the corner of the bar with an armload of bottles, the sound of screeching tires echoed in through the shattered windows.
“Let’s go!” Bob shouted, and everyone ran for the door.
Thirty seconds later they were practically flying down Surplus Street in the candy apple red BMW, Boston George at the wheel. The trees whizzed by in a blur. Bob was in the front, while Gretta, McDuff, and Father John rode in the back.
They passed Christmas Tree Way so fast he couldn’t even make out the sign. George took the bend in the road ahead at a death-defying sixty-five. Bob realized he was subconsciously stomping on the floor as if he were going to magically find a brake pedal there.
For the first minute, all they did was follow the trail of black smoke the flaming nightmare had left in its wake. Lassie took another turn with speed and precision that would make Steve McQueen jealous. George really did know what he was doing, Bob realized.
Just as the racing vehicle passed South Station Street, they hit the flooded section. Bob remembered the water hazard only a second before they hit it. The BMW instantly began hydroplaning dangerously. George (much to Bob’s relief) slowed down a fraction.
The patch of water must have given the Dumpster some trouble too, because just as they cleared the mini-lake and hit asphalt again, the flaming behemoth came into view. It was racing over the wooden bridge of the Bluefish.
For a second Bob was sure that the bridge would collapse beneath the weight of the Thing. And had it lingered longer upon the aging wooden planks it just may have. As it was, the Thing was moving so fast that the bridge remained upright.
A split-second later, Lassie was crossing the Bluefish and gaining on the speeding nightmare. Now that they were on a straightaway of sorts, Bob was sure they’d be able to catch up to the Thing. But the billowing plume of smoke became blinding as they closed in.
The wind from the Dumpster’s momentum only added strength to the fire. The flames leapt up high and bent backward against the wind. The top was down on the BMW, and as they got closer Bob, could literally feel the heat from the Thing on his face.
Within the flames could be seen huge sickly yellow tentacles thrashing madly about and flinging pieces of trash high up into the air. Bob silently thanked God for how wet everything was as he watched some large, unidentifiable piece of flaming debris disappear into the shadows of the nearby forest.
And that wasn’t the only obstacle. The thick tentacles jutting out of the bottom of the Dumpster were literally tearing up the road as they propelled the Thing forward. The car swerved this way and that, bouncing and bumping along ruined asphalt.
“Holy Moses!” McDuff cried out from the back seat. “Maybe we should just let it burn itself out!”
At this Bob shook his head.
“Who knows if the fire will be enough to kill it?” Bob asked. Then turned to George.
“Georgey,” he shouted over the wind, “try and get up alongside the thing! Me and Henry will try and shoot out the wheels!”
“Ten-Four, Bab!” The man answered and took the BMW into the left lane. Fortunately there was no oncoming traffic.
Boston George put the pedal to the metal, and Lassie’s engine roared mightily. The vehicle began to rapidly close the distance now that they were out of the plume and away from the ruined asphalt. When they were about eighteen feet away, McDuff’s Remington suddenly boomed deafeningly over his head.
The buckshot struck the lower right side of the speeding Dumpster. There came a brief shower of sparks about eight inches above the wheels. Close but no cigar. Bob turned to find that the Farmer had climbed to his feet, balancing precariously on the seat of the speeding car as he aimed with his weapon.
“Hold up, Henry!” Bob shouted. “Let’s get a little closer first!”
“Alright!” Henry shouted back, as he bent to the task of reloading.
“Here, use these,” Bob said, handing him the open box of Brenneke. “They’ve got a way better chance of doing some damage.”
McDuff’s eyes widened. He gingerly took a handful of slugs, placing them in one of the pockets of his blue jeans.
“En’ how they do!” McDuff exclaimed. “Where’d you get these?!”
Bob nodded to Father John, just as McDuff finished reloading. He snapped the Remington back into place. The Farmer looked down at the smiling Priest in disbelief.
The next few seconds saw Lassie and her “stuntman driver” managing to nearly pull up alongside the Dumpster. The Thing was no more than a half dozen feet ahead and twice that to the right. At this distance, Bob had a chance to get a good look at the blood stained Thing, and he took in its nightmarish details for a brief second that seemed to stretch on for an eternity.
The flailing bile colored tentacles, thick with corded muscle, looked like they could crush the life out of a buffalo. He saw one of the tentacles below the frame of the Dumpster smack the ground. As it pushed off the street, adding to the momentum of the Thing. A few sizeable chunks of asphalt tore off and up into the air.
There were rows of…bone? Cartilage? He couldn’t even begin to guess at what they were made of. At any rate there were these rows of triangular shaped objects that lined the bottoms of the tentacles.
They looked terribly sharp and were clearly incredibly strong, considering what they were currently doing to Surplus Street. Bob shuddered at the thought of what it must feel like to be dragged deep down into the stinking, darkness of the garbage by those things.
Suddenly, a flaming bottle of liquor went flying over his head, snapping him out of his trance. Gretta having stood up in the backseat, and hurled it at the rusty Beast. He had no idea how she’d managed to get the thing lit amidst the howling wind. The bottle burst just on the lip of the bloody frame, exploding on impact and adding to the inferno.
“Yeah, motherfucker!” she exclaimed, apparently pleased with the damage she’d done.
The action had startled George as well, and he reflexively jerked the wheel to the left. The car swerved back and forth perilously for a few seconds. Finally the BMW straightened back out, as George regained control of the vehicle.
“Jesus, woman!” Bob said breathless, turning back to look at her.
In that moment, to Bob, she looked like something out of a comic book, her blue and white dress billowing in the wind, her curly, red hair flying all around her face.
“What?” she answered back in a perturbed voice.
In those green eyes Bob saw a madness that made him turn back around in his seat. He instead busied himself with preparing his own attack on the metal monstrosity. Bob propped himself up on one knee as best he could, leaning into the seat for balance.
“Alright, Henry,” Bob shouted, “let’s do this!”
Henry said something Bob couldn’t quite make out. George took Lassie as close to the Dumpster as he dared. Both men took aim. And that was about as far as they got, for a second later the flashing lights of an ambulance turning off of Washington Street suddenly appeared up ahead.
The ambulance was followed by two police cruisers. George hit the brakes. The wheels of the BMW locked up, and Bob flew forward, smashing the side of his face on the windshield as Lassie’s tires cried out in protest.
The three oncoming vehicles swerved erratically to avoid the flaming Behemoth. One of the cruisers went off the side of the road. The Dumpster whizzed by the other two, missing the ambulance by mere inches.
Then the worst happened. A half second before the Dumpster crossed Washington a fire truck came racing around the corner, intending to turn onto Surplus. The Dumpster, which had been veering slightly to the left, T-boned the emergency vehicle almost dead center.
Glass shattered. Metal bent and shrieked. Flaming garbage erupted into the air.
Upon impact three of the fire truck’s wheels were blown off the frame and sent bouncing down the road. Bob saw all this as Lassie skidded across the road, nearly turning completely parallel to her original position.
The Dumpster bounced off the emergency vehicle and rolled back lazily, whatever was inside of it seemingly dazed from the impact. Lassie finally skidded to a halt.
Firemen stumbled out of the ruined fire truck in a daze, and water spewed out from the broken water tanks. For a moment the men just stood there, watching dumbfounded as the Dumpster slowly spun round and round, flailing tentacles frantically hurling out flaming pieces of trash.
Then almost as one, they snapped out of their trance, springing into actions that had been drilled into them. A man unhooked a hose from the disabled truck. Two others joined him and together they began running for the nearby fire hydrant.
As if caught up in the same spell, everyone leapt out of Lassie and began running toward the firetruck, Gretta already attempting to light another Molotov cocktail.
“Don’t put it out!” they were shouting.
Flaming trash of assorted size fell out of the sky. The firefighters looked on at the small group with perplexed expressions, but only stopped when they saw McDuff’s Remington and Bob’s uniform.
“Don’t put it out?!” A frazzled looking Firefighter with the name “Gacy” emblazoned on his uniform stepped up to the approaching group. “What the Hell are yo—”
His words were cut short as a deafening roar shook the air. Everyone turned to see the Dumpster rocketing backward, the Beast within seemingly have regained its senses.
It slammed into a telephone pole, snapping the wood like a toothpick. Slowly it fell over, the upper half landing on the roof of the Fire Truck with a loud crash. A second later the power lines hit the street and the rapidly growing pool of water from the leaking tanks.
Two of the Firefighters standing in the water realized the danger too late, and Bob watched their demise with a mixture of disbelief and horror. For a brief second Bob swore he saw the two men’s skeletons beneath their uniforms, outlined in blinding blue light.
A second later they were no more than blackened husks smoldering in the shallow water. Everyone ran in a blind panic from the spreading pool.
McDuff was the first to reach the relative safety of the sidewalk. He turned and unloaded both rounds of his Remington into the Dumpster. Bob quickly followed suit.
Their shots were joined by a few others, the cops who had been in the squad cars instinctively following the actions of their fellow police officer.
Amidst the shower of sparks Bob knew that at least one of the rounds had penetrated the rusty metal hide, because a second later the Dumpster jerked like an animal being shot.
It roared again, but Bob was reasonably sure that he was partially deaf by now because the volume of the sound wasn’t as painful as before. The Dumpster took off once again, this time South down Washington.
A split second later Lassie was roaring up to Bob and McDuff, George behind the wheel and Gretta riding shotgun. Bob wasn’t sure when the two had run back to the car. But Father John, and his pink cake were nowhere to be seen. Wordlessly the pair leapt into the back, and the BMW took off.
As Bob reloaded, he saw his fellow officers running back toward their vehicles, but he didn’t have time to see how long it took them to get their squad cars moving. His attention was focused on the task at hand.
The task at hand? What exactly was he doing? Did he really just allow a group of citizens to help him chase down a literal monster? Is that something a Roller should do?
Bob suddenly found himself doubting his actions. How had he been convinced to go about this the way he had? Father John? Had a Priest really so easily riled them up? Bob turned to look at George.
Boston George had apparently learned from his previous pursuit of the Beast. He kept Lassie to the Thing’s right, avoiding the paths of ruined asphalt that he knew would be there. They were caught up to it by the time the Thing was passing Josselyn Avenue.
Bob and McDuff both took shots at the wheels, but only succeeded in further damaging the rusty beast’s hide. The Dumpster seemingly took no notice of them as it flew down the road, pushing sixty.
Then unexpectedly, the Thing suddenly took a hard left onto Wadesworth Lane, bouncing off the side of the Eagle’s Nest Grocer’s as it did so. George for all his driving skills could not take the turn quite so well.
He stomped on the brakes as he spun the wheel. The car slid. Mimicking the motions of the Dumpster, Lassie struck the side of Eagle’s Nest, but maintained her forward momentum.
“Lassie!” George cried out in horror.
“Where the Hell’s it going?!” McDuff shouted over the wind. His voice had lost its determined timbre.
Bob already thought that he knew the answer to that. After all, about a mile up the road was Eagle’s Nest Bay. But first there was a hill to climb, not that the Dumpster seemed to care. In fact it looked like it actually picked up speed as it went up the slope.
It was a steep one. Steep and tall, offering up a beautiful view of the Bay below. It was also a favorite for fitness freaks, but fortunately none of them were currently jogging or cycling up it.
No wait, there was someone on the sidewalk! Bob couldn’t tell who it was at this distance, but he saw them turn and run away from the street, kicking rocks as fast as they could across the unused field to the left.
The Dumpster seemed to have no appetite at the moment, and it continued to rocket up the hill. And Bob thanked God for that, because it surely could have easily caught the would-be jogger if it had wanted.
“Bab, what are we doing?” George asked in a voice that sounded much more like himself and not the super hero persona he’d put on for the last ten minutes.
Bob turned. Much like McDuff, the man had clearly lost that steely edge. It was as if scraping his beloved BMW against the side of Eagle’s Nest Grocer had sobered him up. Though he was still keeping the pedal down.
“Just back off a bit,” he heard himself saying. It was as if his reasoning abilities were returning to him one by one.
George did just that. No one offered any objections, as he eased off the gas slightly, putting about thirty feet between themselves and the Beast. They watched in awe as it reached the crest of the hill and launched itself over the other side and soared. through the air like the General Lee. For a moment time seemed to slow down. And in that brief time lapse Bob took it all in.
The roaring flames. The billowing plume of black smoke. The monstrous tentacles jutting out of the bottom of the rusty frame. Any second now, he was going to wake up. He was sure of it.
This had to all he a dream. It had to be! After all, he’d scored a date with Mary Barbadino! Which in retrospect had definitely been a sure sign that this was all in his head.
But then the Dumpster slammed into the ground on the other side with another deafening crash. The impact was so strong that it shook the car. And in that moment Bob knew that all this had to be real, since nothing could sound that loud in a dream.
Now on the downward slope of the steep hill, the Dumpster began rapidly picking up speed. The tentacles hardly had to do any work at all as it flew down the hill toward the bay, putting more distance between them.
“Jesus,.” Gretta said breathlessly from the front passenger seat. . “Why the fuck were we chasing that thing?”
The Dumpster became a blur of speed and flickering flame as it rolled downward. The Thing’s sheer weight, in combination with the wheels, allowed it to accelerate to incredible speed.
It cleared the remaining distance between itself and the entrance to the bay in a heartbeat, smashing through the chain link fence like papier-mâché. There was no heavy equipment in its path. And as they rolled down the hill, Bob could see the dock workers scattering.
Bob honestly couldn’t tell if the Dumpster had hit anyone on account of that God Damned plume of smoke. By the time Lassie was crossing over the ruined fence, the Dumpster had reached the edge of the land.
It raced across a dock, fortunately a far more sturdy construction than the bridge over Bluefish. Then it went off the edge, soaring out over the water.
The unbelievable momentum the monstrosity had gained on its mad race down the hill caused it to launch more than twenty feet out over the water before the rusty wheels touched the surface.
Then, as if to further defy reality, the Dumpster skipped across the water like a stone, bouncing once, twice. Then on the third time it hit the water, physics kicked in, and it went tumbling.
Flaming trash exploded outward in an awe striking display as the Dumpster flipped end over end. Bob couldn’t be sure, but between the flames and the white spray of water, he could swear that he saw the dark outline of some massive Thing fall out.
A second later the Dumpster lost its momentum and sank like a stone. A two ton stone that is. A great plume of bubbles and roiling water rose up to mark its final resting place.
The group pulled up close to the dock and got out. Behind them came the sounds of men shouting, and behind that were the sounds of rapidly approaching sirens.
The four just stood there in silence for a while, staring out at the water. The afternoon sun was reaching its zenith, casting the bay in its golden light.
It looked picturesque. Though Bob guessed that it would be a long time before anyone went swimming in the Bay again.
“Good work, Deputy!”
Father John’s words startled Bob out of his trance. He turned to see the Priest approaching with several police officers and other emergency responders. Bob noticed that the Priest no longer had his pink cake.
“You got here awful fast,” Bob heard himself saying, an accusatory tone in his voice, though he didn’t know why.
At this the Priest quirked an eyebrow. Then he let out a laugh and clapped a hand on the Deputy’s shoulder, having to reach somewhat upward to do so.
“Your actions and quick thinking drove the beast from this land,” Father John said, addressing the four companions. “Had it not been for your bravery I am sure that this foul creature would surely have done much more damage.”
Bob just looked at the little man. He felt like he was seeing the Priest in a new light. That smile that seemed perpetually plastered to his chubby face suddenly appeared more forced than genuine.
It was as if… As if…
“Officer Maxwell!” Bob turned to see Lieutenant Dan George, who he assumed was now his current ranking Commanding Officer, fast approaching. “What the hell happened here?! Where is the Sheriff?!”
The line of questioning was not intended to be intimidating. There was panic in the Lieutenant’s voice. The young man was not used to being in charge.
Bob began to explain all the events leading up to the Docks. He told him about Sheriff Copper being attacked. About the chase down Surplus Street and then Washington. As he did, Bob watched Father John slink off and out of sight.
Slink. No. That wasn’t the right word for it. For all their brief encounters, and by all accounts Father John was a pleasant man. Known for his charity work, and volunteering at the local soup kitchen in fact…
THE DUXBURY CHRONICLES
“NIGHTTIME ROAD CONSTRUCTION”
Duxbury MA, September 22nd, 2017, 10:05 PM.
“Me an lil’ shorty in the back (back)! Talkn’ ’bout dis (dis)! Talkn’ ’bout dat (dat)! Talkn’ ’bout ah-!”
“Aargh!” Brooks Parker emitted a primal sound somewhere between a shout and a growl.
He ripped his I-Phone 6 from his pocket. Struggling to stop the God awful song that was his current ringtone from playing. Sarah Howard his “ex” girlfriend as of six hours ago had insisted relentlessly that he put her “like, totally favorite song” on his phone as a ringtone.
He’d been barely tolerating it for the last four months of his life. Finding himself unconsciously grinding his teeth every time his phone rang. Sarah loved this kind of music. In Brooks’s opinion “Pop” in all it’s generic, evil forms, was one of the major contributors to the steady decline of American Society today. And also a genuine reason why they as a couple would “never” work out.
After another twenty seconds of frustrated button pushing and The Dream polluting the night air with IQ dropping lyrics, he finally managed to silence the damn thing. The phone continued to vibrate in his hand as he looked at who was calling. Well speak of the Devil! He pushed “ignore”, one of the buttons he actually did know how to find.
He felt a small boost in his ego ignoring Sarah’s call. After all she was the one who’d dumped him. He’d seen it coming a mile away. The steady decline in affection. The distant timbre in her voice when they talked.
He felt that all too familiar lump form in the back of his throat. If Brooks was being honest with himself (which he rarely was) he would have acknowledged that he was in love with Sarah. Despite his denial, the long drawn out death of their relationship had been agonizing. Especially toward the end…
Pushing the painful jumble of thoughts to the back of his mind he continued down Mayflower Street. His destination the East Bay Pub. Where he planned to drown his sorrows in cheap whiskey. Off in the distance to his right could be seen the dark beginnings of the Knapp Town Forest.
This section of Mayflower was pretty poorly lit on account of the surrounding area being rural as fuck. Over the years more than a few pedestrians had lost their lives to careless (oftentimes drunk) drivers on this particular stretch of road. Brooks knew this of course, but at the moment he was filled with that youth fueled “I ain’t scared of shit!’’ mentality.
Strolling down the middle of the dark street he listened to the sound of crickets singing their faint, end of the season songs as he fished the silver metal flask from inside his jacket. His breath coming out in white puffs.
It wasn’t cold really. The temperature was hovering just around sixty. But the Autumn New England humidity had already rolled in at the beginning of September. Blanketing the land and marking the true end of summer.
He was already pretty buzzed, and it took him a frustratingly long time to get the flask out. Once freed he instantly dropped the damned thing. The metal clinked loudly off the asphalt. The sound disturbing the peaceful quiet of the night. He cursed. Bending in the dark and groping around.
Even though it was a clear night the Moon had begun a new cycle only two days ago. The Waxing Crescent was little more than a sliver in the sky. It’s faint yellow glow offering up little in the way of illumination. After a few angry moments of fumbling around he finally spotted the small shadow of the flask, and wrapped his hand around it.
He practically ripped the cap off, and soon fiery liquid was rolling down his throat. After more than a few healthy swigs he pulled the flask back from his lips. Coughing as he screwed the cap back on. He tucked it back in it’s place, and went for his pack of American Spirits. A task that went somewhat smoother than the retrieval of the booze.
He lit a smoke with his Zippo and inhaled deeply. Exhaling slowly through his nose. The distant swishing of grass drew his attention to the field between the street and the woods. His eyes roamed lazily over the dark land.
The field was large, and it’s shadows deep, but he could still make out the general shape of the landscape. He thought that he caught the distant swaying of grass way out near where the field met the edge of the Knapp.
Something flew by in the darkness overhead. He didn’t look up, but a moment later he heard the distant hoot of an Owl. In all his buzz fueled anger he’d forgotten how creepy this area was after dark. He started walking again.
Faster this time. His shoes crunching on the dead leaves. It was the first round of foliage to succumb to the season. And as such still had their bright autumn yellows, and reds. Soon though there would be more dead leaves. Many more. And they would blanket the streets in varying shades of drab wet brown.
East Bay Pub was about a mile South from where he was. The neighborhood the business resided in marked where civilization began once again. For about two miles both East and West was nothing but marshland.
To the South was Island Creek Pond, and beyond that the muddy waters of Cranberry Bog. About a mile to the North situated between Knapp Town Forest, and North Hill Pond was Henry McDuff’s Apple Farm, but that was pretty much about it. A lot of space. A lot of darkness.
Brooks was afraid of the dark. Even his raging, drug induced haze was not enough to dampen that fact. He picked up his pace even more.
“Well at least she had the fucking decency to dump me on a Friday.” He muttered to himself.
Brooks had been working for the State doing Road Construction for going on a little more than a year now. It was hard work. But the money sure beat the shit out of cooking in a kitchen. And unless there was an emergency they always had the weekends off.
He was twenty-six years old and all things considered, was doing pretty well for himself financially. It hadn’t come easily though. After high school he’d sort of blundered his way through life for a length of time that lasted far longer than his four years of schooling.
He’d gone through a series of dead end jobs. And two failed attempts at Community College. Finances were definitely a major reason for his “two” College dropout moments. But not the sole cause. Brooks by nature (much like his Father) was a lazy American. But all that had changed when Bartlett Consolidated Inc. had offered him a job.
He’d started off as a Flag Waver. A job for some reason he’d thought only women were given. He’d quickly learned his ignorance. His Foreman, after all, was a Woman. Helen Jives was her name. When it came to Hard Labor the Woman was a literal force of nature.
She possessed the same vulgar language skills of her male counterparts. But ran a tighter ship than most of the other Crews. Strict, but fair. The safety of her Crew was paramount in her eyes. And so she was a true zealot when it came to organization, and code adherence.
He’d gotten the customary jibes that came with the territory of being a newbie. But in his work Brooks had found a motivation he’d never known before. And after only a month he’d been promoted to shoveling and hauling. A promotion that had come with a dollar an hour raise.
The Hard Labor had been a boon for his flabby physique as well. Brooks had never been fit, even as a teen. And the healthy drinking habit he’d developed after high school had nearly turned him into a sloth. But after the first eight weeks of work he’d started to notice his body changing.
Fat started being replaced with lean muscle. Amy even noticed. And for a little while their sex life had improved dramatically. By the eighth month he was looking pretty shredded, and getting quite a bit of “friendly” attention from the ladies.
More so than he’d ever imagined possible. But he never cheated. Not once. Even as their sex life inevitably died back down he was never tempted. Not really.
And then just three weeks ago he’d started operating some of the heavy equipment. That’s what he didn’t get! For as long as he could remember Sarah had been harping on him to get a “decent” job. As she so reverently, ambiguously called it.
He suddenly found himself fumbling for the flask as his thoughts turned sour once more. This time retrieving it with little trouble. A few seconds later and the rest of the liquor had been drained. He choked and coughed on the last bit as it went down.
“Fuck!” He shouted at the darkness. His childish fears momentarily forgotten once again. “Fuuuck!”
He thought about flinging the flask out into the night. But that wouldn’t do. His Grandfather had given it to him before he’d passed away. And besides he figured that it would come in handy later.
He threw the half smoked cigarette instead. The orange cherry bouncing a few times through the darkness before rolling to a stop. A few seconds later he lit up another one as he continued down Mayflower…
Twenty minutes later and Brooks was on a stool in front of the bar at the East Bay Pub. With two shots of Jack already down, and another on the counter. Nursing a Guinness in his hands.
He was getting pretty wobbly. His vision having hit that telltale mark of periodically going in and out of focus. Already he’d had two close calls with knocking his glass off the table.
The atmosphere of the Pub was typical for a Friday night. A mixed crowd. Both young and old. Country music playing on the jukebox. The occasional “Crack!” of pool balls striking one another echoing out from the back room.
He was grateful for the background noise. For as he grew progressively intoxicated his mood only darkened. And he’d started swearing to himself under his breath.
“What’s goin’ on bro?”
A voice to his right cut through his drunken brooding. Despite his growing inebriation he instantly recognized who it belonged to. He didn’t turn to look.
Eric Stalvei. The local “Whiteboy” Gangster of Duxbury. Brooks had unfortunately known him since high school. At the ripe old age of fifteen they’d met, and Brooks had instantly become one of Eric’s objects of torment.
For four years it had been the typical shit you’d see in a movie. Wedgies. Sudden shoves into lockers. And the occasional man handling in the Boys Locker Room after Gym Class. Those had always been the worst.
Getting surrounded by Eric and his thugs behind closed doors. Away from the watchful eyes of any adults. That was the truly shitty thing about it. It hadn’t ended like a movie where the “Good Guy” wins, and gets his vindication.
Life had just played out in all it’s mediocre, unscripted glory. They’d all just graduated. Eric like Brooks had never left Duxbury. And they’d occasionally see one another at the local watering holes. Now Eric wasn’t a high school bully though.
Now he was a broad chested, muscle bound wannabe Thug. And all his loser friends had likewise grown in stature since they were teens.
“I said hey bro! What’s goin’ on?” Eric said again. A little more forcefully this time.
Brooks hadn’t even seen him come into the bar. Maybe he’d been in the back playing pool. At any rate it didn’t seem like he was going to be able to avoid his former classmate’s company.
He turned. Burping as he did so. Eric was facing him from the stool to his right. One arm leaning lazily on the bar counter. His Yankees hat on sideways, and a shit eating grin on his face. Four of his “homies” were standing behind him.
Brooks had always been mortally afraid of Eric. And for good reason. He’d gotten his ass kicked a few times by his Crew, Who thought it was “manly” to jump a person when it was five on one.
Strangely though, in that moment the only emotion he felt was the boiling anger in him quiet down to a simmer. Like that calm moment before a geyser explodes scalding water high up into the air. He just stared blankly at Eric’s ugly face.
“What’s up hombre?” He asked. Still wearing a smug grin.
“Just hanging out Eric.” Brooks answered. “Having a few drinks.”
“Yeah? Where’s your bitch?”
In a daze, Brooks pondered his answer for a moment. Finally. He settled on throwing the remainder of his glass into Eric’s unsuspecting face.
Then in one fluid motion of drunken luck that could never again be replicated, he leapt from his stool, and threw a perfect Isshinryu Yellow Belt level front kick. Catching Eric squarely in the solar plexus just as he was staggering to his feet.
Eric flew back. Landing at the feet of his shocked Posse. It was amazing. Not that Brooks had any time to admire his handiwork. Almost instantly the Bartender started cursing, and shouting for the Bouncer.
“Butch! Butch!” She screamed.
Three heartbeats later and the Bouncer was bellowing and barreling toward them from across the room. Butch was a great Ogre of a Man. Clad in leather, complete with matching fingerless gloves. His large cueball head gleaming beneath the dim lighting. The disparity between the Bouncer and the Group was the stark contrast between man and boy.
Butch looked like a character straight out of Mad Max. Eric and his Crew looked like just what they were, spoiled children playing pretend. In this case most of them were playing “Gangster”. Butch clearly wasn’t impressed.
At any rate Brook’s wasn’t waiting around to see how the Road Warrior was planning on addressing the crowd. He spun on his heels (somewhat less gracefully than his previous motions) and high tailed it for the exit.
Shouts from behind. Breaking glass. The sound of bar stools grating across linoleum. He burst out the door and onto the unpaved parking lot. His sneakers crunching across gravel.
He ran passed the last row of cars in the parking lot and out into the middle of South Street. Then turned right and sprinted East. He was already running out of steam by the time his drunken half-run took him across the last fifty feet to the intersection of Parkers Grove Lane.
Upon reaching the dimly lit crossroads, he doubled over. Gasping for air. Jesus he really needed to quit smoking. Despite a year of full time hard labor his endurance still sucked. From this vantage point the East Bay Pub could not be seen.
It was just as well. Whatever was going down back there couldn’t be pretty. He was no doubt eighty-sixed from the Establishment.
He stood there in the darkness, listening to the sounds of the night. Had he really just taken a cheap shot at Eric Stalvei?! He laughed. God he really needed to stop drinking.
The distant squeal of tires suddenly broke the tranquility. Accompanied by an angry shout made unintelligible by distance. Brooks knew without even having to see it. Eric, and his goon squad were packed into one of their vehicles like a clown car. Jonesing for some retribution.
“Oh fuck that.” He said. Willing himself into motion again.
Even in so inebriated a state, Brooks had an escape route in mind. After all, he’d grown up in Duxbury. He took a right onto Parker’s Grove Lane, and then veered quickly to the left. Running across the front yard, and then around the side of the first house on the street.
Halfway across the backyard a porch light flicked on. Casting him in it’s golden glow. The sudden illumination spurring him to greater feets of speed. Brooks had no desire to see if the source of the light was automated, or an overzealous homeowner with a gun.
He clambered over the five foot chain link fence that divided the home from the adjacent property. Everything was going smoothly until he reached the apex of the barrier. As he shifted his weight to make his descent over the other side, the damned thing began to wobble.
Brooks completely unprepared for the sudden unexpected motion lost his battle with gravity, and rolled over the side. He landed flat on his back. The impact knocking the wind out of him. A dog began barking from within the darkened home in front of him.
“Where are you, you fucker?!” He heard the distant, but enraged voice of Eric as he peeled around somewhere nearby.
Brooks rolled onto his chest and slowly rose. Struggling to regain his breath, he climbed to his knees.
How the fuck did these assholes know which direction he went? He wondered to himself as he began to move toward the side of the house with the barking dog.
Another squeal of tires in the distance. This time noticeably farther away. Brooks let out a heavy breath. Maybe those idiots weren’t so sure which direction he’d gone after all. Either way he wasn’t going to wait around to find out.
He reached the side of the house and his destination came into view up ahead. Elm Street. The last road before Old Meeting House Swamp. From there he’d use the swampland as cover until he reached Pilgrim’s Highway. And then he’d be home free.
He crouched in the darkness by the corner of the house for a moment. Surveying the quiet road, and the dark tree line that stood beyond that. The dog in the house was barking up a storm now. Brooks guessed the owner’s must not be home.
He listened hard for the telltale signs of his would-be pursuers. Jesus this night had really gone from zero to crazy in a short time. He saw no sign of headlights in either direction. But the infernal barking was keeping from effectively listening for any signs of danger.
Finally he decided to make a move. He sprung into motion. Bolting across the driveway of the home and out into the street. Moving notably slower than before. He’d regained his breath, but was hurting all over from the fall.
He was just crossing the center line when off in the distance a car came squealing around the corner of Stagecoach Road, and onto Elm. The engine roared as the driver pounded the gas. Brooks bolted the rest of the way. Practically diving headlong into the tree line.
He ran straight. Stumbling through the darkness as fast as his legs could carry him. Heart pounding, as adrenaline surged throughout his body. He heard the rumble of the racing car as it drew closer.
“Oh fuck!! Oh fuck!!” Suddenly he didn’t feel like such a bad ass. Confronting the Thug Life Posse in Public was one thing. But out on a dark road…
Brooks stumbled, and fell. The dampness of the ground making itself known as it quickly soaked through the knees of his pants. Then the roaring car was in the street behind him. Then it was passing by.
Brooks remained there on all fours for a moment. Trying to steady his breath. Listening to the Car roar down the road. The tires squealed loudly as the driver took another corner at breakneck speed.
He let out a deep sigh. Fuck that was close! Eventually he staggered to his feet. He needed to get home. And he needed to stay off the streets until he got there.
He didn’t know how this was going to resolve itself later on. But for right now he just needed to get back to home base. Fortunately Eric didn’t know where Brooks lived. He ran over his half thought out escape root as he started walking.
“Trudge through this bullshit right here. Get to Pilgrim’s Highway, then head East to Pine Lake Road. Take Pine to Tinker’s Ledge Road. Get home. Smoke a bowl. Perfect…”
Except he had to do that without getting caught out on the road and receiving a beat down. He was going to have to be careful. Brooks patted himself on the back for his ability to think so rationally in such an inebriated state. Sarah had always said he was an idiot when he got drunk.
“Fuck does she know?” He asked the darkness.
Brooks realized something in that moment. In his haste to get out of harm’s way, he really hadn’t considered the implications of this first part in his journey. His fear of the dark temporarily forgotten in the face of more tangible dangers now came back in full force.
Ever since he was a child he’d been afraid of the dark. Granted as he’d grown into a (semi) rational adult he’d overcome this fear to a degree. But now that he was all alone in a nighted swamp, an unease he hadn’t felt since his early days came over him.
He reached down to the knife hanging on his belt. It wasn’t much. A four inch Buck. But it’s presence was reassuring nonetheless.
He moved as quietly as he could. Lest he attract the attention of some nocturnal denizen of the swamp. He continued on like that for awhile. Feeling an increasing sense of unease that he’d gotten himself turned around somehow.
He continued on in this worrisome fashion for another fifteen minutes or so. Trying his best to stay on dry land. Every sound in the darkness making him jump. His adrenaline had ebbed and his muscles felt fatigued.
Finally after what felt like an eternity he heard the telltale burbling sounds of Island Creek and knew he was still on the right track. Though he’d never been out here he, knew that the River ran through the Southern end of the swamp and had been counting on it for a landmark. As he moved closer he started to hear something else as well. An occasional rumbling, only barely audible over the babbling brook.
As he came up on the dark river, the sounds became clearer. Construction. Someone must be working out on the highway up ahead. By the time he’d reached Island Creek he could see distant lights shining through the trees.
Crossing the River whilst staying dry proved problematic. It was too dark to spot any stones to jump across. Eventually he settled on getting a running start, and leaping. After all the river was pretty narrow here.
He almost made it. His sneakers plunging into the cold water about eight inches shy of the shore. As soon as he hit the water he reflexively leapt again, making it to dry land on the second try. Successfully taking advantage of that mystical split second one gets before their submerged shoes completely soak through. Or at least in his drunken state it seemed like he’d succeeded.
He started moving forward again. Up ahead passed the edge of the treeline was a scene of light and bustling activity. A stark contrast to the cold stillness of the Swamp. As he drew nearer the lights from (what he assumed was a Road Construction Crew) began to illuminate the surrounding trees .
The telltale sounds of hard labor had grown in volume as well. He heard the grating noise of concrete grinding against steel. The whir and release of Pistons.
“Good.” He thought. He probably knew at least a few of these guys. He’d be able to get one of them to give him a lift home for sure.
He popped out of the woods on the grassy shoulder of Pilgrim’s Highway. A Backhoe Loader sitting idle about five yards directly in front of him. Blocking his view. It’s engine rumbling loudly.
He walked about eight feet forward and then turned left, giving the Machine a wide berth as he made his way around it. It was a CAT 420F, he realized as he continued to walk across the damp grass.
Brooks had driven one of these baby’s just the other day. But who were these guys? Brooks didn’t know about any night time Road Construction going on around Duxbury this month. Maybe a gas line had ruptured or something.
This part of Pilgrim’s Highway was pretty old. And had seen some pretty bad weather these past few years. Still, something seemed… Off.
He passed the frame of the CAT and got a full view of the Construction Site. The Pilgrim was pretty sizable in this area. Six lanes wide on this side. And then across the Median another four.
The Worksite itself was startlingly large. And caused Brooks to give a start when he beheld it. More than a half dozen floodlights lit a massive hole that started somewhere around the fourth lane. It’s width spanned nearly all the way to the median. And it’s length was around twenty feet!
“What the fuck?” He said out loud.
Whatever it was, it was definitely a “Big” Project. About Twenty Yards down the Highway he spotted what he assumed was the Foreman’s Truck. The bleed off from the floodlights around the dig site illuminating it in pale artificial light. There dimly illuminated, stood a tall man with his back to him. Scrutinizing a large Blueprint.
Even at this distance Brooks could tell that He was a mountain of a man. Possessing a shoulder width rivaling that of ol’ Butch. But the way his Carhartt Overalls hugged his frame clearly showed that the Man possessed a much higher muscle to body fat ratio than the Bouncer of East Bay.
He started off in the Dude’s direction. Taking in the details of the Worksite as he walked. There were two more CATS digging away in the shadows. The Floodlights struggling against the darkness that the vehicles’ bulk cast.
Several Crewmen were hard at work. Their outlines black against the intense lighting. A couple Workers had Jackhammers, and were “KLAKAKAKING!” away. Busting apart concrete.
Several others had shovels, and were manually loading up chunks of debris into wheelbarrows. That’s when Brooks noticed the three Dumpsters. Two Six’s and a Fifteen Yarder.
“Jesus three dumpsters?” He said to himself as he walked along the edge of the Construction Zone. “How deep are these guys digging?”
The night air was filled with the typical work zone cacophony. The sounds of heavy equipment moving to and fro. The hiss of air brakes. The crunching of tires over rubble. And the loud beeping of vehicles as gears were thrown into reverse.
But still, he had the strong sensation that something was missing. Though he couldn’t quite put his finger on just what it was. He felt it in his bones. Something… Something was off. He continued to move down the road. Watching the dark outlines of the Crewmen as they toiled away beneath the floodlights.
He was about six yards from the Foreman now. His back was still turned to him. The myriad of distant floodlights bathing the man in a dusk-like twilight.
“Well time to be a gigantic bitch.” He let out a sigh. As he crossed the remaining distance between them.
For a moment he considered just turning around and making his way back home. Surely he’d lost Stalvei and his Crew at this point. But a second’s more reflection and he decided to follow through with his new plan to get some help. Lest he be caught out on a deserted road and no be so lucky the next time.
He was about ten feet away from the guy when he realized what was missing. Nobody was talking! With Teams like this you almost always had a constant stream of “Cro-Magnon Speak.” Especially Night Crews.
“Wow this guy really runs a tight ship!” Brooks thought to himself as he drew nearer. But deep down He knew the thought was intended to bolster his confidence against the inexplicable sense of apprehension growing in the pit of his stomach.
As he drew closer he realized that the guy was a lot taller than he’d initially guessed,. Like a lot taller. The dude had to be any least six foot six! Even in the dim light Brooks could see that the man’s bright yellow construction jacket was stained and muddy.
Brooks admired a Boss who wasn’t afraid to get his hands dirty with his crew. Though he was feeling anything but admiration at that moment. He couldn’t explain it. But some vague primal instinct was urging him to turn around and get the Hell out of there.
He did his best to ignore it. Chalking up his frazzled nerves to almost getting beaten down, or worse. That motherfucker… He didn’t know how. But he was going to make Stalvei pay. Him and his loser fr-.
Brooks’s mind froze in mid-thought. And he stopped dead in his tracks. It wasn’t a feeling of fear. Just utter confusion that made him pause.
He realized that the Foreman wasn’t holding a blueprint at. All. He was holding what appeared to be some kind of parchment with strange symbols drawn all over it. Even in the dim lighting it was plainly obvious that It was very old.
Stranger still was that the Paper seemed to have some sort of slight luminescence to it that was independent of the distant flood lights. He stood there in silence for a long moment. Gazing over the Tall Man’s shoulder at the portion that he could see.
Were the images drawn in red ink? It was impossible to tell in the dark. But for some undefinable reason he instinctively thought the image, if out in proper lighting would be in red.
Amongst the myriad of indiscernible shapes, two stood out that his mind could put a certain logic to. Though said logic didn’t really make much sense.
Near the center was this image of what looked like a human with a pig’s head, wearing a chef’s hat, and apron. Above and to the right of that was a crude drawing of a Waxing Crescent Moon. There were splotches on the Beast’s apron that Brooks guessed were meant to be blood.
And then the image turned and looked at him…
It happened so suddenly. So subtly that it took Brook’s mind a few seconds to register what had happened. The Pig Demon Chef Thing turned and looked directly at him from the dimly lit parchment!
Brooks blinked, and shook his head. Was the man holding some kind of gigantic Smart Tablet? Was he just fucking around with some bizarre app, and it was too dark for Brooks to see the frame of the device? That explanation of course fell way too short of making any sense, and he knew it.
The Pig Demon’s eyes widened as it continued staring at Brooks. They continued to widen, and the beast’s jaw dropped open. Not in menacing hunger. It was an odd but far more unsettling expression. And he found himself afraid to define it. Brooks found himself unconsciously stepping backward.
“This… This can’t’ be real.” The voice in his head sounding impressively calm, and rational.
The Foreman’s back straightened. Brooks found his eyes trailing upward as the man gained an astonishing height. Clearly he had been hunched over somewhat. The vague, primal instinct to get the fuck out of there was not so vague anymore.
But from what should he run from? He was in the middle of a construction site! Though the idea still seemed relatively absurd, his legs had apparently already decided for him.
Then the Bloody Pig Chef Thing lifted a gnarled hand. A four fingered hand that had been previously hidden from Brooks’s view. And it pointed. It pointed directly at him!
At that Brook’s body apparently decided that it was done waiting for his brain to get on board with the new plan. He found himself backpedaling faster than he thought humanly possible. Unfortunately, instinct without the refined guidance of the mind can oftentimes be a blundering thing.
After only three quick steps backward Brooks tripped and fell on his ass. In that same instant the Foreman whirled around in a blur. Pain shot up Brooks’s tailbone as he felt and heard the “Swoosh!” of something pass over his head.
Brooks looked up and realized that the man was now facing toward him. The guy had a large shovel in one hand. The digging tool seeming to have appeared out of thin air. The parchment paper lay discarded on the ground, fluttering in the wind.
“Jesus had the dude just taken a swing at him with a shovel?!”
The towering Foreman just stared down at him in silence for a long moment. He wore a pair of dark work goggles, and had a bandana tied around his face. Between that and his helmet he had no distinguishing facial features. Brook’s heart pounded out a drumbeat beneath his ribs.
“Hey man I didn’t mean to sn-”
His words caught in his throat as the Man suddenly began to advance on him. Brooks was quick to his feet. Faster than he would have been had he not already been warmed up from running for his life just a little while ago.
Spinning on his heels he took off back toward the tree line. Not bothering to waste another second with words. He’d seen enough horror movies to know what was going to happen if he stuck around any longer.
He flew back down the street like a Gazelle being chased by a Cougar. Passing the 420-F. The sounds of construction had not ceased. Indeed the cacophony seemed to have increased in volume. Taking on a nightmarish quality.
After another moment of frantic sprinting Brooks was rocketing through the darkness of the Old Meeting House Swamp once again. Headed back the way he’d come. Or at least in relatively the same direction. It would have been near impossible to tell even if he hadn’t been sprinting in blind panic.
After about ten yards he quickly ducked around the base of a large Red Pine, and crouched down low in the darkness. Panting as he struggled to catch his breath as quietly as possible, he listened hard for the sounds of pursuit. But all that could be heard was the chirp of crickets, and the distant rumblings of road work.
He stayed there in the darkness for what felt like hours. But in reality it was only about three minutes before he heard the distinct “Snap!” Of a branch somewhere off in the darkness between himself and the Highway.
“Oh fuck me.” He whimpered.
Brooks quietly got up on his knees and peered around the trunk of the tree. At this distance the lights from the construction site could still be seen, but did virtually nothing to illuminate the woods around him. His eyes roamed slowly across the darkness. He was sweating profusely despite the temperature.
His eyes told him that nothing was out there. But his instincts told him a different story. Something “was” searching for him. Hunting in the darkness. His legs were shaking bad. And he was still breathing hard.
He crouched even lower as he continued to scan the darkness. Pulse pounding in his ears. Shit. Shit. He needed to make a move. Needed to make it now.
Shaky thigh muscles tensed up. Preparing to spring into action. He began a mental count off. One. Two… Thr-.
“Me an lil’ shorty in the back (back)! Talkn’ ’bout dis (dis)! Talkn’ ’bout dat (dat)! Talkn’ ’bout ah-!”
“AHHH!” At the sudden sound of his blaring ringtone Brooks shrieked in terror, and exploded into motion.
Practically flying through the darkness. As he moved he ripped his IPhone from his cargo pants pocket, and flung the God Damned thing off into the darkness of the forest.
Trees whizzed by in a shadowy blur. Twice he almost ran smack dab into a gnarled trunk. That would have been the end of him. He was convinced of that.
He hit a hill and leapt off. Soaring out into the darkness like some kind of Parkour Ninja. Hitting the ground, and rolling with the momentum. In one fluid motion he rolled back to his feet, and continuing his frantic flight without missing a beat.
He was definitely off course now. Even through the darkness and terror he could tell that much. If he’d been going in relatively the same direction surely he would have crossed Island Creek by now. Not that it fucking mattered. The only thing that “did” matter was that he put as much distance between himself and that Highway as possible.
A few more minutes of frantic sprinting later and he burst into a clearing he hadn’t seen before. Under the light of the crescent moon he could tell it was a big one. A grassy field stretching North and South as far as his limited vision could see.
He was gasping for air now. God dammit if he didn’t need to quit smoking. His Adrenal Gland was still going strong, but his leg muscles were threatening to give out. Still he ran.
The tree line of the forest loomed darkly about ten yards ahead. Willing himself to cross the remaining distance, he made it to the edge in less than ten seconds. But just as he was about to re-enter the cover of the forest he slammed into something. Stifling a scream as he fell hard on the ground, his eyes shot up to the obstacle.
It was a Man! He let out a shout, and lept to his feet. Drawing his knife. Flight had failed. It was time for the alternative. But then he stopped. And just stared in horror at the obstacle before him.
“Oh Jesus…” He said to himself.
The Man was dead. It took him a few seconds to realize that he was hanging from a rope tied around his neck. And he had… He had… A plastic bag wrapped around his head!
“What in God’s name?” He asked the darkness. But no answer was forthcoming.
Brooks stood there in silence. Just watching the man slowly swing back and forth in the cool breeze. Taking in the dead Man’s details. His need for flight momentarily forgotten.
Even in the darkness he could tell that he was a big dude. His fat belly sagging over his pants where the weight of the noose had pulled his black and plaid red jacket up. Rough cut jeans swaying in the wind.
And what was that? It looked like the Man’s right arm had been removed, and then reattached. Even in the darkness he could see crude twine sewn through his jacket and into the forearm of his flesh.
Then a sound. A loud breaking of branches from somewhere off in the distance behind. Brooks whirled around. Scanning the darkness across the field. His knife gripped tightly in a shaky hand.
He stood there in silence for moment. Listening to the gentle sounds of the forest, and watching the grass sway gently. Nothing. He let out a deep breath.
Then suddenly – “FWAP!”, without warning strong arms wrapped around his chest like a Venus Fly Trap. Almost knocking the wind out of him. An instant later and Brooks was moving in an impossible direction. Upward. Rocketing through the canopy up, and up. Branches snapping, and gouging into his flesh. It was all he could to to raise his hands to shield his face from the worst of it.
He flailed. He kicked, and screamed. But to no avail. Whatever had him in it’s grasp had a terrifying strength. It was the Man! He realized. The Dead Man had him!
With near blinding speed they broke through the canopy, and flew up into the night sky. The dark outline of the Forest rapidly coming into view below. He screamed then. Shrieking against the icy wind that buffeted him. The cold belying the reality of the heights he was attaining.
A myriad of distant lights began coming into view as he rose higher, and higher over the land. Lights from homes, and the few buildings that still had people pulling late nights could be seen.
The North Hill Country Club came into view. Rich people drinking, and working on their swing in the late evening hours. And to the West of the Club, what looked like a lone Cyclist racing across the darkness of the North Hill Marsh Trail. Their headlamp bobbing up and down as the rider pedaled furiously.
Brooks had no idea why he fixated on this particular detail. Maybe it was because he’d decided that this was all a dream. He’d drank too much somewhere along the way to or from the bar. And was now sleeping on the side of the road somewhere.
He glanced up at the Hanging Man. The plastic covered face looked down upon him in terrible silence. The rushing air causing the bag to flutter wildly. Yes. This was definitely a dream.
His eyes went to the noose around the Man’s neck. The rope stretching up and up into the clouds. He looked passed the Hangman. Struggling to see what the rope could possibly be attached to.
Then, by complete happenstance the clouds above shifted slightly. A small opening in the fluffy fog opened up where the rope of the noose stretched to impossible heights. And Brooks caught a glimpse. He froze. Feeling warm liquid rolling down his legs.
Then suddenly the Hangman released him, and He was falling. Plummeting down through the darkness he’d so recently risen up through. His body cartwheeling through the air.
Down, down, down he went. The lights of the surrounding countryside disappearing from view as he fell to lower altitudes. The icy wind which had been loud on the way up, was now deafening. So much so that he couldn’t be sure if he was screaming or not.
He wasn’t falling back to his original spot on the ground however. Now he was over another desolate part Pilgrim’s Highway. A truck passed by underneath him.
Headlights piercing the darkness below. Then passing by. The driver blissfully unaware of the young man plummeting to the ground overhead.
His rational mind tried to reassure him that this was indeed a “very” lucid dream. But the ice cold wind screaming in his eardrums threatened to shatter that illusion.
At sixty feet he could make out the tiny details of the street below. Even in the darkness he could see the cracks, and potholes that marred this stretch of road. He plummeted the rest of the way in the blink of an eye. The last thing that Brooks Parker ever saw was the concrete rushing up to meet him…
“A TRIP TO REMEMBER”
“… It used to be that to speak out against the Church got you executed.” Caleb De’Marco said to the Crowd of students above him that occupied the rows of Lecture Hall C, at Bridgewater State University. “Then that changed to being excommunicated. Then that changed to being viewed as a Dissenter.”
“And now, in 2016 in America to debate the merits of the Cult of Christianity is to do so as an Equal. If not more so because Dissenters are now coming armed with logic, science, and history. So in that respect I think Society is making real Progress.”
“So this is an Atheist’s perspective then?” A student from the upper rows challenged.
Caleb looked up to see who it was. Interrupting during Lectures was considered rude. But when it came to questioning matters of faith, etiquette usually was the first thing to go out the window.
Sure enough, it was Myles Deets. The younger brother of his good friend David. David was a party animal. His brother however was a Born Again Christian. One of those pro-active types who organized public bible studies and flag pole prayer meetings.
He wasn’t alone either. Those types never seemed to be. Always needing a fellow Cultist nearby to help maintain their perpetual state of mania.
“Sweet.” Caleb thought to himself, as he pushed his glasses back up. He was hoping to get some adversity for his mid-semester dissertation. And having it be Myles was just icing on the cake.
Caleb smiled graciously. Meeting the Sophomore’s angry, indignant eyes. Then shook his head.
“No, no… I wouldn’t call myself an Atheist. Since we’re all on a little blue ball spinning through Infinity I don’t think that it’s wrong at all to speculate, or entertain the idea of their being a Higher Power. Or Powers. But to claim to know the Mind of God is absolutely ludicrous. If not outright madness.”
Myles recoiled dramatically. As if Caleb’s words had physically struck him. Rumbles came from within the ranks of the Crowd. Especially in the group around Myles.
He recognized some of them. After all, it was hard not to forget the face of a person who goes out of their way to make fervent public displays of their Religious beliefs.
“Madness?” Myles did his best to sound righteously indignant. “Is it not a fact that on their deathbeds Atheists and other non-believers have been known to repent? And accept Jesus into their hearts. How then do you then explain that?”
“Unbelievable.” Caleb thought to himself, and sighed heavily.
“If the basis of your argument concerning a sudden change of faith for those who you refer to as non-believers is predicated on it happening in their most desperate moments, then your argument is fatuous.”
At this Myles and his cohorts looked confused. Caleb sighed again.
“In other words. When a person is dying they’re understandably desperate. Most times the individual is also in incredible physical and mental pain. Be it from cancer or hemorrhaging out after a car crash.”
“When a Human Being senses the end approaching they’ll reach out to anyone or anything that could possibly help them. And honestly to take that as a preverbal point on the Biblical Scorecard is reprehensible, and amoral.”
“Amoral?” Mark Shoereman, the Cultist to Myles’s right repeated the word almost as soon as it left Caleb’s lips.
The third year Religious Philosophy Major having been feeling woefully outgunned since the moment Caleb had started using big words. The second he heard one (he sort of recognized) he pounced on it like a starving tiger running down a gazelle.
“Yes absolutely.” Caleb answered unperturbed. “And again. To claim to offer salvation through one’s personal superstitions is borderline lunacy.”
This came with a mixture of angry rumbles, and genuine amused laughter.
“Especially in the case of the Christian God.” Caleb continued on. “Native American’s and Buddhists, and Religions that actually focus on Spirituality and Harmony with Nature, not Dominance and Conformity are probably onto something. But Christianity is a Conqueror’s Religion. It is a Religion of War, and Exploitation that masquerades as a benevolent Cult. But it is not. It is the stuff of Warmongers.”
As if to prove his point Myles, Mark and the others in their group looked ready to storm the stage. Staring righteous holes through him. Apparently he wasn’t eligible for “Salvation”.
“But don’t take my word for it.” He smiled. Raising his hands up in the way a Priest might do as he emphasizes something of import to his flock. “In this miraculous Information Age one does not have to look far to see the truth of these words. You can look backward into the past, or right now at the present day. Every time a Politician tells our Troops they’re fighting for God they’re militarizing Jesus.”
“Personally, and no offense intended to anyone here, but I don’t really know how else to put it, I’ve never actually met a “real” Christian. Supposedly about seventy-one percent of the Nation claims to be Christian. Including our fearless Leaders. But they’re not.”
“If the Christian’s of this Nation actually followed the Doctrines laid down by Jesus Christ of Nazareth than the United States would be a Country of Peace and Progress. Since we’re definitely not those things. And since most of the Citizens of this Country claim to be Christian. It’s easy to see that the Christians of the United States aren’t very Christian at all.”
At these words someone in the middle rows let out a “Whoop! Whoop!”, that was followed by a brief raucous round of applause.
“But do not be dismayed my brothers and sisters.” Caleb said melodramatically.
“For there is a silver lining to all of this. A beacon of hope shining through this otherwise blinding shitstorm that the Upper Echelon has created for Humanity. And that is the miracle of the Internet.”
“Since time immemorial the self appointed political and spiritual leaders of the Human Race have relied on the People, who greatly outnumber them, being unable to unite. Unable to come together and observe, and speak objectively on how those in power choose to conduct themselves.”
“But now when a Politician breaks the law the entire World hears about it five minutes later. So many people have Cameras now that even Law Enforcement Officers in their own clumsy dim-witted way are slowly realizing that they have to be more careful about where they choose to murder people.”
That brought another round of laughter from the crowd.
“We are the first Generation to be connected like this. The Internet is the next Euphrates. Where once Humanity was all in one place, and could look out across the cool waters and behold one another, we at long last find ourselves reconvening. Seeing the rest of humanity for the first time.”
“Where distance once separated us, now we find that we can once again reconnect across these digital waters. Now we can communicate, and speak on the topic of how crooked those that rule humanity and claim to know the word of God truly are. And it is there that we will come to a tipping point.”
“A paradigm shift where the majority comes to see the terrible truth of what American Culture has conditioned us to aspire to. The reality of how our Celebrities live in lavish extravagance, while their fellow Americans sleep in the alleyways between their mansions. Whilst they pat themselves on the backs for being such good Christians.”
“A shift where we come to see that our spiritual leaders. Those that don holy robes and claim to be the mouthpiece of God, are in fact pederasts. And use their undeserved power for the purposes of amoral carnal pursuits.”
“The terrible facts are now making themselves known. More and more, every day. And to quote the Great Bob Dillon. The Times, they are a changin’… Thank you…”
Righteous applause from the hippies. Less enthused clapping from the Hipsters. Laser beams from the Cultists.
“Success!” Caleb thought with glee.
And without another word left the Podium. Walking calmly to the side exit. He opened the door and stepped out into the dimly lit hallway. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Holding it for a few seconds before letting it out slowly.
“Fuck.” He said in an exasperated tone to the empty corridor.
“Yo dog! That was a great speech!” Came an approaching voice from down the hall.
Caleb knew who it was before he even turned to look. David Deets.
“How about we celebrate with some Peyote?”
His eyes widened and he practically spun around on his heels.
“Yeah way bro.” David said. His grin threatening to engulf his head.
David was a small guy. Standing a full five foot six. Timid by nature, but by God did the Kid love his drugs. And they’d been talking about trying Peyote for literally years! But they’d never been able to find any…
It only took a second for Caleb to read the sincerity behind David’s thick rimmed glasses. He’d “actually” gotten ahold of the famous Cactus! What the fuck?!
“Hol-ee shit man! Where’d you get it?!”
“Doel.” David said. Beaming with pride.
“Of course.” Caleb thought to himself.
Doel Barrios was not a student of Bridgewater University. He was a drug dealer. A pretty big one actually. And as Gangster as they come, as far as Caleb could tell from the few interactions they’d had.
How Doel and David had become friends was beyond Caleb. But they were. And though David didn’t outwardly say it. He took no small measure of pride being cool with a guy like him.
“Yeah man he texted a couple hours ago. The eagle has landed bro!”
“Did you tell the gang?”
The “Gang” as it were, consisted of five people. Caleb, David, Rylan Jackson, Sarah Howard and Amy Thompson. All of them were third year students, and had been inseparable since they’d meant in their first Semester.
“Hell yeah I told them! Everyone’s free tomorrow. Are you down?
“Absolutely.” He felt giddy.
“Amy’s all about doing her seance.” David added. Still smiling.
“That’s cool with me.”
They’d all been fascinated by the concept of Native American Cultures’ use of Peyote in Spirit Journeys. Amy most of all. She was a History Major with a predisposition for partying. And after reading about some Native American Ritual a few Semesters back she’d convinced them that if they ever “did” find Peyote they totally had to try this Seance out. Caleb (having a massive crush on Amy) was up for doing anything she suggested.
“I thought you’d be.” David said. Shaking his head.
He just didn’t get what Caleb saw in Amy. Sure she was attractive. But she was weird. Like “Super” weird. And she’d never expressed any interest in Caleb. Though it wasn’t like he’d actually ever attempted to make a move.
“Where are we gonna trip?”
“My house.” David answered.
“You’re house? Why? Everyone but you has an apartment.” Caleb chided.
David smiled despite himself. It was definitely a sore subject. He felt like a kid still living with his parents. Not to mention his psychotic Born Again Brother.
“Amy says it’s the best place to do the seance. The basement that is.”
Caleb dimly recalled the conversation now. On one black-lit, bong filled night last Fall they’d been partying in David’s basement when his folks had been out of town. And Amy had declared that if they were ever going to do a “legitimate” Ritual on peyote it would absolutely “have” to be in David’s basement.
Truth be told it really was a pimp ass basement. David’s parents were very well to do. And like all “true Patriots” with disposable income. They’d spent it on upgrading their property.
Having re-finished the basement a few years back when David’s folks had taken out a second mortgage on the house. They’d spent a pretty penny on it. It spanned the entire frame of the large home. Wide, open, and dry.
Complete with a second living room, bathroom, fully stocked bar,and a pool table. A beautiful teal green fuzzy carpet spanned the width and breadth of the expansive room. A true testament to the self-centered use of disposable income.
But that wasn’t why Amy wanted it for tripping purposes. The reason was because of the unfinished floor on the Eastern end of the basement. While the rest of the floor was concrete there was a ten foot by ten foot space on the far end that was bare dirt.
It was there, Amy claimed that the necessary symbols could be drawn. And the Ritual performed. That was all well and good. But the problem was-…
“My folks are going out of town tomorrow. They’ll be gone for the week.” David said. Reading his friend’s thoughts.
“What about Myles?”
His smile grew wider still.
“It’s like destiny…”
10 A.M. The next morning found Caleb and David sitting in Doel Giovanni’s living room, ready to procure their party supplies. They sat around for awhile making small talk over a blunt. Doel sitting on a plush couch. His Chocolate Lab “Valentina” snuggled up against her owner’s leg. The Canine clearly not yet ready for the morning, or the chill that had come with it.
Caleb and David sat in two love seats across from their host. A glass coffee table between them. As they chatted Caleb took in the decor.
Two posters hung on the wall above the couch Doel sat upon. One of Pablo Escobar. The other of Gucci Mane. Across the room on the opposite side hung an impressively large mural of the Virgin Mary.
“Of course.” Caleb thought with mild amusement.
The coffee table that sat between them was a true testament to the kind of trade that was plied here. A forty-five caliber ACP, and two extra clips rested upon the glass. Beside that stood a bong of exquisite design. Caleb guessed that it had to cost at least a grand. And near the center of the table sat a mirror with a razor, and the telltale residue of substances much harder than Ganja.
Doel didn’t look particularly gangster. To Caleb he looked like you’re average East Coast mid-twenties Puerto Rican. On the rare occasion Caleb had seen him he’d been dressed like your average joe. Jeans and a white tee shirt seemed to be his staple.
And at this particular moment he looked even more benign. Still donned in his morning attire of pajama pants and a bathrobe. Complete with fuzzy slippers in the shape of big yellow ducks. But Caleb was a guy who had his “ear to the ground” when it came to the going’s on in and around Duxbury. And he’d heard stories…
As it were the two friends could hardly contain themselves. Barely holding back the excitement that threatened to explode out of them. This had not gone unnoticed by Doel. Who purposefully took his time. Savoring the moment. Finally though, He produced a Tupperware.
“Alrighty white boys, here’s da goods.” A sharkish grin on his face. The diamond stud in his left ear glinting in the small rays of sunlight that shone through the drawn curtains of the living room windows.
Pulling the top off revealed a dozen Peyote Buttons. Their color was uncanny. Almost a Federal Standard Air Superiority Blue. A truly exotic sight to behold.
Caleb whistled loudly. And Doel beamed.
“What are you whistling for Calebs?” Doel asked, still grinning. “I told you before that I can get you anythings you needs. Especially for my homie Davids.”
David beamed. Though he tried to hide it.
It was true. The few occasions that the two had interacted had always revolved around the sale of one narcotic or another. And the Guy had never been shy about advertising his ability to obtain virtually “anythings you needs.”
“You wanna trip with us?” David asked. Genuinely meaning it.
“Hell no!’ Doel laughed. “I don’t do white people drugs. You honkey’s are crasy.”
Caleb thought about informing Him that Peyote had it’s roots in Native North American Culture, but quickly decided otherwise.
“And don’t go doing all those yourselves either.” Doel added. “That’s waaay too much for you cracker’s.”
“It won’t just be us.” Answered David. “We’re doing it with Sarah, Rylan, and Amy.”
“Rylan?!” Doel said. “Fuck that hippie white boy.”
“Oh yeah. I forgot you don’t like him.” David responded.
“It’s not that I don’t like him. It’s that Rylan is a bitch. Like an litteral bitch. On second thought, don’t be too careful with those buttons. Like you guys should each use one, and give Rylan like five.”
They all laughed.
Caleb wasn’t surprised. Rylan was a bit of a character. Well everyone in “The Gang” was really. But appreciating the company of Rylan was sort of an acquired taste.
He was one of those new age beatnik types. Not quite a Hipster. Not quite a Hippie. Sort of a unique, pretentious blend of both. A lot of flash. Not much substance.
“Right Mima da Pipa?!” Doel said. Suddenly plunging his face into his dog’s midsection.
“Oooh! Mima da Pipa Wrinkleskin Savage! Rylan’s a little hippie bitch, and those are crasy white people drugs mum mum mum mum mummm!” His words dissolving into kissing noises as he smooched the animal all over.
Valentina, appearing indignant to her Owner’s affections let out a deep sigh and farted…
A short while later when Caleb and David were walking down the street, Caleb felt the urge to ask.
“Dude. What the Hell does Mima the Pipa wrinkleskin savage even mean?’
“Well Mima means Grandma. And Pipa means belly.”
Caleb mulled this over for moment, as they walked. Dead leaves crunching beneath their feet. The blue sky, and the brisk air providing an invigorating ambience.
“So… When Doel calls Valentina that long ass name, he’s saying Grandma the belly wrinkleskin savage?” He asked incredulously.
And the two erupted into uncontrollable laughter, as they continued down the street…
Thunder rumbled behind the overcast sky. Thunder but still no rain. Caleb, Rylan, Sarah and Amy were just passing Manhasset Gardens on Congress Street. The day had been brisk but comfortable, and so the four had elected to walk from Sarah’s apartment to David’s parents house.
Killing time before his folks left. Caleb and David having split up after leaving Doel’s, so that he could go and see his parents off. Caleb was grateful for the extra company. Addressing a crowd of peers with a controversial topic was one thing. But striking up a conversation with a girl he had a major crush on was entirely another.
Luckily Rylan’s propensity to make an ass out of himself greatly overshadowed Caleb’s conversational shortcomings. Plus it was just plain funny to watch. Rylan bore a striking resemblance to Tormund from Game of Thrones.
You give the Wildling a big red Afro to go with the beard. Swap out the animal pelts with tie-dye shirts two sizes too small. And exchange about twenty percent of the muscle mass with body fat, and boom. That was Rylan’s mien in a nutshell.
He was one of those “husky” types. The kind of person who’s body fat takes on the shape of pseudo muscle in great quantities around the upper torso. He had these big high shoulders that made him kind of look like he was a football player wearing shoulder pads.
After only five minutes the big hippie had already failed twice in his attempts to flirt with Sarah. Having gotten wind of her split with Brooks Parker only yesterday he (in a classy Rylan way) decided to try his luck. But to no avail.
“You ever wonder why they built this nice sidewalk all the way out here?” Amy asked.
Caleb couldn’t be sure if she was deliberately trying to ignore Rylan, or if she was just talking randomly. Which was something she often did.
Caleb shrugged. “It is kind of weird. It’s not like this area sees any kind of real foot traffic.”
“It’s the freakin’ fat cats in City Hall man.” Rylan said in a scholarly tone. Turning his attention from Sarah. “They spend all this money on these revitalization projects instead of putting that cash back where it needs to go. Into the hands of the people man.”
“Whoever did it knew what they were doing. It’s got high class marks.” Amy continued. Gazing down at the ground as they walked.
“High class marks?” Caleb asked.
“See that divot right there?” She said. Pointing to the ground.
Caleb looked at the weather worn sidewalk. Even though it was only a few years old the concrete bore the unmistakeable mark of New England weather. Cracks, and pockmarks abound.
“Uh… I see a lot of divots.”
Amy heaved a sigh. Like a parent trying to be patient with a slow child. She lowered the tip of her unopened umbrella. Pointing out a particularly deep cleft in the concrete.
“This one. This isn’t just some random dent.”
“Nope. It’s for people to stick their umbrellas. A person can put the pointy end in a hole , and balance the umbrella on their body while they do something else without having having to worry about it falling on the ground.”
“Watch.” She said. And inserted the tip of the umbrella into the hole.
From what he could tell the umbrella sank about an inch down, and seemed to almost fit… Perfectly?
Caleb laughed again. Unsure how to respond.
“It’s an umbrella divot.” Amy stated with finality.
“Jesus. She really is crazy.” Caleb thought to himself. Though it didn’t diminish his attraction to her in the least.
Sarah and Rylan seeming to not have heard Amy’s final conclusion. By that point they were just coming up on Garside Bogs, and Rylan produced a doobie. Stating that “They needed a warm up”.
This section of Congress Street was pretty heavily wooded. In fact there were only four houses on this stretch of road. So despite ganja still being illegal in Massachusetts it wasn’t really a big risk.
Once the smoke had begun filling their lungs and heads Rylan had begun his customary beat-boxing. He actually was exceptionally talented at it. Caleb was pretty sure that if he posted himself on YouTube he’d potentially do pretty well.
And Rylan like a lone hipster with an acoustic guitar, believed that his talents should be shared (whenever humanly possible) with the rest of the world. And was similarly under the false impression that every female on the planet was enamored by his abilities.
“Oonse oonse oonse pa-pa-rah! Oonse oonse-!” He went. The cadence echoing out into the gloom of the trees.
They reached King Phillip’s Path and hooked a left. Caleb turned his gaze to the tree line to the East. Catching occasional glimpses of the icy waters of the South River Reservoir through the orange, and yellow foliage.
Amy rolled her eyes as Rylan passed the joint to her. His big Afro bobbing up and down as he did so.
“… Rah BubbaRahBubba wookiewookiewookiewookie!”
“I tried calling him last night. But he didn’t pick up.” Sarah was saying to Amy.
“He’s probably just being a bitter deush.”
“Still. I thought he’d have called me back by today at least…”
“You should probably give him some space.” Rylan ceasing his beat making to offer up this deep insight.
“Yeah… I guess…”
They fell into silence for awhile after that. Well everyone except for Rylan’s “Funky Beats” that is. Each lost in their own thoughts. Wondering what Peyote was going to feel like.
After another ten minutes they reached Eric’s street. Taking another left. This time onto Indian Cove Road. Their destination coming into view as they did so.
It was a ritzy neighborhood. Every house looking like it’s own mini-estate. Eric’s Parents house being no exception. It sat at the end of the street. Overlooking the Reservoir.
“Dude I can’t believe we’re about to trip on Peyote man!” Caleb shouted out loud. Feeling giddy.
At this Rylan hooted, and the girls jumped up and down. Squealing as they did.
“So what’s the plan with this ceremony?” Sarah asked.
“Well it’s going to take a minute to prepare.” Amy answered. “I think we should dose up about a half hour before we do it.”
“Sounds good to me!” Rylan said with a toothy grin.
A few excited minutes later and they were standing on David’s doorstep.
“Velcome! To zee trip house!” David said in his best Dracula voice as he answered the door.
Everyone shouted and hooted as He bowed dramatically and bid them enter. They made their way through the massive living room to the equally excessively large kitchen. To Caleb the house was a testament to classic American wage disparity. Four people living in a gigantic home whilst people right here in this very community slept in the streets. But at that particular moment economic assholery was the farthest thing from his mind.
“Alrighty. Here’s da goods.” David said excitedly. Repeating Doel’s words as he produced the twelve Peyote Buttons.
“Holy shit.” Rylan said breathlessly. “I can’t believe you guys actually scored these.”
“Believe it.” David said. Feeling a juvenile swell of pride as he did so.
His eyes darted across the table to Sarah, her eyes glued to the Buttons. Hopeful thoughts bubbling in the back of his mind.
“So how exactly is this going down?” Rylan asked.
“I’ll get started on the Ceremony Part.” Amy said. Rising from her seat at the table. “The preparations will take a little bit.”
She opened the door to the basement. Flicking the light on and descending the stairs.
“I’ll get started on the tea.” David clapped his hands together enthusiastically.
He’d taken it upon himself to research the recipe. And was pretty confident that he could pull it off. God bless YouTube.
“So your’e going to take drugs in the house while Mom and Dad are gone?” Myles’s voice suddenly came from the doorway that led to the Living Room.
Everyone turned. The diminutive young man stood their with his arms crossed. Like a parent ready to give his children a stern lecture.
“And we’re going to hold a Pagan Ceremony!” Amy’s voice echoed up from the basement.
Everyone laughed at this. Everyone except Myle’s of course. His scowl only deepening at the words.
“What you’re planning on doing is a sin against God!”
“Yeah? Well I have my doubts about that.” Rylan said. “But I’m going to be getting so high tonight that I plan on meeting him. So I’ll be sure to ask him myself when I see him.”
More laughter at Rylan’s unexpectedly clever retort. Myle’s glowered at them for another couple seconds before turning on his heel and storming off.
The next hour passed by in an excited blur. A cooler was filled with beer and wine. And set beside the pool table. There was a refrigerator down there. But for some reason a cooler full of ice seemed more appealing.
Several trip toys from past hallucinatory excursions were brought. To name a few there was Betsy, which was a stuffed purple raccoon. Brew Dog, a lime colored, six hose porcelain hookah in the shape of a big smiling mushroom man.
And Petey the Wonder Lizard. A small rubber lizard that one could get in a bag of a hundred for a buck at the Dollar Tree. But nonetheless a trip toy of such epic significance that Caleb had a small tattoo of Petey on his right forearm.
Eventually everyone made it down and got comfortable in the basement. David having completed the tea after about thirty minutes. Now it sat cooling on the black walnut bar counter. A steaming glass pitcher, and five empty cups.
Amy had been on her knees in the dirt of the unfinished section of the basement pretty much since she’d first gone down. Busy with the drawing of the symbols deemed necessary for a “proper” ceremony.
At one point someone had plugged in their iPod to the surround sound system. It wasn’t enough to stop Rylan’s sporadic bouts of beat boxing. But It at least gave everyone a musical alternative.
“Alright this should be done in about thirty minutes.” Amy announced from her position in the dirt corner. “I think it’d be a good idea to dose up.”
Everyone hooted and hollered at this. And soon each member of the Gang had a mug full of dark Amber tea.
“Alright.” David said. “What should we toast our first peyote trip to?”
For a few moments no one responded. Then Caleb spoke up.
“How about, here’s to friendship? And new experiences?”
That sat well with the others. They all raised their glasses. Clinking them together, the friends as one took their first swigs.
It was a pleasant flavor. Milder than expected. You couldn’t really taste anything out of the ordinary at all. It really just tasted like semi-sweet tea with a hint of lemon.
“Are you sure there’s peyote in this?” Sarah asked.
“Oh yeah.” David beamed. And drained the rest of his cup.
“Yeah it really doesn’t taste bad at all.” Rylan said. “Great job dude.”
“Thanks. I think it turned out pretty good for a first try if I do say so myself.”
The group was silent for a moment as they finished their drinks.
“Oh ya’know what?” Sarah said, setting her cup back down on the counter. “I left my backpack upstairs. I brought some glow sticks!”
“Nice!” Rylan said. As Sarah skipped back across the basement toward the staircase.
“So how long does this stuff take to kick in?” Caleb asked.
“We should be already feeling the beginning stages of the trip as I’m finishing up the symbol for the ritual. So about thirty minutes.”
“And remind me what this ritual is for?” Caleb asked.
“It’s to commence the beginning of our spirit journey maaan!” Rylan laughed. “It’s going to connect us to the ethereal and open our soul’s up to forbidden knowledge!”
Amy laughed, and nodded. “Exactly.”
“Uh… Guys.” Sarah’s voice came floating down from the staircase. “The door’s locked.”
Everyone turned as one.
“What?” David asked in an incredulous tone.
The group exchanged tense looks as they listened to Sarah’s footfalls squeak back down the stairs. She got to the bottom and made her way back toward the bar. A piece of paper in her hand.
“And there’s this.” She said grimly. Holding up the sheet for them all to see.
It was a single bible verse. Printed in the center of the paper. It read-
“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire.” Mark 9:43.
“You’ve got to be kidding me.” Amy said flatly.
“What a creepy ass quote.” Said Sarah.
“Myle’s is a creepy ass dude.” Answered Caleb. Still looking at the paper.
Then the lights went out. Myles apparently planning on taking this little prank (If you could really call it that) to the extreme. Fortunately the Group had already lit several candles in perpetration for their ceremony. So it wasn’t a complete panic when the basement went dark.
In fact it was quite impressive just how well lit the basement remained as the lights were extinguished. The vast room taking on a soft flickering ambiance.
“This motherfucker.” David said through gritted teeth. His eyes staring up at the ceiling.
“Dave.” Amy said in the shadows to his right. “When we get out of here I’m going to beat your brother to death.”
“Not if I get to him first.” Rylan growled.
The big hippie sounding comical to Caleb in that moment. The role of the tough guy just didn’t fit his Muppet like appearance. The Group just stood their in tense silence. Each of them trying not to panic over the fact that they were locked in a basement after just having dosed Peyote for the first time.
Tense that is, save for Caleb. He didn’t know if he was already feeling the effects of the Cactus kicking in, but he found himself fixated on the big Hippy’s excessive hair. In that moment the shadows dancing across his massive curly beard and Afro made him look like a chunky King Leonidis.
An image flashed through Caleb’s mind of Rylan bursting through the basement door, and charging Myles with a pool cue. Shrieking “Spataaah!” As he charged the wide eyed Born Again.
He suddenly burst into uncontrollable laughter. The sudden break in the silence causing everyone to jump. All eyes turning on him.
“Shit Caleb.” Sarah said grinning slightly. “Don’t tell me you’re losing it already.”
Caleb shook his head.
“Fuck it you guys.” He said, and began walking through the darkness toward the pool table. “If that’s how Myles wants to be then fine. Let him have his hollow victory. He’ll live to regret it.”
“Damn right.” Rylan growled again.
Caleb nearly doubled over with laughter at Rylan’s tough guy impression. He made it over to the pool table. He felt an incredible confidence in his motions. It “must” be the Peyote.
Bending down he retrieved a candle from one of the boxes. He lit it with his zippo, and raised the bougie to his face. The small light of the dancing flame reflecting off his pearly white teeth.
“We came here to have a Ceremony right? That’s the whole point to all this preparation isn’t it Amy?” He asked.
“We’re here. We’re about to be tripping balls. And you’re brother’s an asshole Dave. But that shouldn’t stop us from having a good time right? And besides when we really feel like getting out we can just kick the door down, and then kick the shit out of Myles.” Caleb said with a grin.
“Fuckn’ aye’ right!” Rylan shouted excitedly. Waking over to the cooler by Caleb, and fishing out a couple of bottles.
He popped a top and tilted the bottle back. Taking a few hearty swigs.
“Let’s get this party started!”
That got everyone’s spirits back up. The small Group gave a collective rallying shout. And a few minutes later music was playing from the MP3 Player, and refreshments were flowing as they prepared for the Ceremony to come.
Well really it was mostly Amy doing the preparation. Whilst the others drank, and gabbed about how they “thought they were already feeling it.”
More candles were lit and placed all about the basement. Now long shadows danced across the walls. After the group’s initial rally no one bothered trying the lights. The reason (though no one wanted to say it out loud) was because no one wanted to see if the religious zealot lurking somewhere over their heads maliciously planned on leaving them in the dark as well.
It wasn’t like they needed it anyway. The two dozen currently flickering candles, and the two battery powered lamps were a testament to that. The shadows of the basement now lingering only in the corners and remote crevices of the room. Even the Inherent creepiness of the section that comprised the dirt floor had been banished by the music and light.
Things did get progressively harder to focus on as the Peyote began to take hold though. Amy had been knelt in the dirt for what seemed like an eternity. Painstakingly making a Large intricate pattern with the copious amounts of salt she’d brought with her. An open beer, two more candles and another lamp set up around her worksite.
At one point Caleb walked over to watch her progress. And try his luck. Wondering if she was really going to be able to finish what she was doing before this Trip took hold. Once up close he saw that it was indeed quite the project.
Two books lay just outside of the workspace. The first was clearly a modern day print. The second was visibly much older. In fact it was not a book at all. But a Tome of great proportion. Both Volumes lay open. Various archaic images printed upon their respective pages.
Sarah had been replicating some of the pictures from both books. Incorporating them together into a Salt Mosaic. The Image she was creating was incredibly intricate, and unlike anything he’d ever seen before.
The perimeter of the design was in the shape of a nearly perfect circle, roughly four feet in circumference. But it was the shapes within that drew the eye. Two identical Waxing Crescent Moons hung opposite one another in the upper left and right of the Circle.
The one on the left had a spider dangling from a strand of web attached to the satellite. The insect’s eight legs stretched out wide. Under the Moon on the right was drawn a Coyote. It’s face turned upward in a howl.
Below all this was drawn a lone Mountain. It’s jagged peaks stretching up toward the twin satellites. And at the very heart of the Mountain drawn in a black sand that stood out in stark contrast to the white, was an odd looking eight pointed star. Barbed, rough arrows pointing out in all directions.
For some reason Caleb found the Star unsettling. But he chalked it up to the (not so slow) onset of the Peyote. And quickly pushed it from his mind.
“Wow! That’s amazing!” Caleb said. Genuinely meaning it. But more importantly trying to break the ice with small talk.
“Parts of it incorporate the traditional markings, and characters of the Wampanoag Spirit Hobbomock. But that is only part of what I’m making.” She said. Not looking up from her work.
“The Wampanoag’s believed that during certain parts of the lunar cycle, symbols and ceremonies, if put to use correctly and under the right circumstances could act as a direct line of sorts to the ethereal during mind altering spirit journeys.”
“Hobbomock?” Caleb gave the awkward sounding word a try. Letting it fumble about his tongue, and out into the basement air.
“Sort of a boogeyman in Wampanoag lore.”
Someone hooted in the background. But neither paid it any mind. Both were enwrapped in the evolving pattern on the floor. A floor that was starting to wave slightly…
“Almost done.” Amy said, as she completed another small circle within the eight pointed star.
“Why are there two identical moons?” He asked. The words having a peculiar wavy pattern as they left his lips.
“Some within the Wampanoag believed that a summoning of Hobbomock must be conducted when the Moon is Waxing. And when performed correctly a great, and sacred Cycle would begin. Concluding when the Moon once again enters the phase of waxing crescent.”
Caleb barely comprehended Amy’s words. Realizing that his ability for cognitive thought was rapidly dwindling.
“So you want to summon an ancient Indian Boogeyman for you first peyote trip?”
“Actually the politically correct term would be Native American.” Amy answered. A hint of annoyance in her voice.
“And the United State’s first victims of genocide were not ancient by any stretch of the imagination. But to answer your question, the reason why I would summon Hobbomock is for knowledge.”
She said that last part with an undeniable hint of excitement.
“And the Cycle takes a month to complete?”
“It is said that once Hobbomock begins his tutelage, it lasts for a full month. Concluding after a full Lunar Cycle.”
“Oh.” Was all Caleb had for a response, as he watched the wall behind them breathe. Jesus. This stuff was no joke!
He glanced around at the basement. It seemed larger than when they’d first come down those fancy wooden stairs. Shadows danced across the concrete. Morphing in and out of strange, enticing shapes. Yup. He was tripping alright.
He turned his gaze back to the large tome. Inspecting it more closely. The thing was huge. Bound in what looked like leather stained a dark admiral blue. It had to weigh nearly half as much as it’s owner. He wondered what the title of such a work of literature could be.
“You got this book out of the school library?” He asked.
Amy shook her head, as she continued her work.
“I got it from Saint John’s Evangelist Church.” She said matter-of-factly.
“The Church? Did you borrow it from the Pastor? What’s his name? Father Jim? Father James?”
“It’s Father John.” She said. Reaching over and grabbing up a small shaker of what looked to be filled with juniper green sand. “And no. I stole it.”
Behind them came more laughter, and the clink of bottles. The sounds of revelry competing for dominance over MXPX’s “Chick Magnet”.
“That’s weird that there would be this kind of book in a Church.” He said as he absently watched the walls take another breath. “It’s a Native American Book?”
Amy shook her head again.
“No. I honestly have no idea what the origins of this Tome are. It’s got some trippy guides, and references for Ceremonies that seems to span across several different Native American Tribes.
She began methodically shaking the salt shaker over the Crescent Moon with the Spider hanging over it. The dark green adding interesting highlights to the image.
“Weird.” Caleb said. It seemed to be his go to word at the moment. “You seriously stole it?”
“Yup. I snuck into the Study one day when I was doing community service for my DUI last summer. There were all kinds of weird books, and other… Things… Anyway this baby really caught my eye, so I took it.”
She finished with the shaker and returned it to it’s original place.
“I doubt Father John will ever notice that it’s even gone. I’m pretty sure he’s a one book kind of guy. If you know what I mean.”
It took Caleb’s inebriated mind a moment to catch the joke. Jesus stealing from a Priest. “God” this chick was hot…
A trippy ten minutes later, and the five of them were sitting around the completed salt pattern. Several more candles had been lit, and the music turned down low. Everyone was tripping pretty good at this point.
“Okay everyone.” Amy said. Her voice coming out in a glittery wavy pattern. “Let’s begin.”
“Before we’re tripping too hard.” Rylan laughed. Bringing a round of chuckles.
“What’s first?” David asked. To Caleb the sound of his voice had an Amber color to it.
“First I want you all to think of something that you want to know.”
“What?” Asked Rylan. His Afro and beard beginning to take on a life of their own.
“According to Wampanoag Lore Hobbomock is a Spirit that possesses great knowledge. In some lesser known accounts he is known as the Keeper of Secrets. To start off this ritual you must all think of something that you yearn to know.”
The Group exchanged looks.
“Don’t say it out loud. Just focus on it in your mind for a moment. And don’t make it some trivial bullshit either.”
Everyone was silent for a few moments. Considering Amy’s words. It was a fantastic novelty, Caleb thought to himself. That even as young adults they could get together and whole heartedly be caught up in such a fantastical moment.
So what exactly “did” he want to know if he could have any question he desired answered? He drew his knees up to his chest, and wrapped his arms around his legs. Rocking back and forth, and staring up at the wavy ceiling as he considered this. Just then the ancient furnace in the far end of the basement kicked on. The low rumble echoing gently throughout the cavernous room.
Hm. What would he want to know? He would want to know… If… If there really was any truth to the supernatural? Yes. Is there truly anything beyond the set rules of reality that Humanity has established for itself? That’s what he truly yearned to know.
“Everybody set?” Amy asked after another few moments of quiet. “Okay then. Let’s join hands and close our eyes.”
Closing his eyes was a whole different experience altogether. A myriad of colors that were somehow at once both dull and bright, danced against the back’s of his eyelids. He focused on the abyss before him. The amorphous blobs of color began to resemble the overcast sky of an alien planet.
And behind the beautiful rolling clouds… Stars… At least he was almost sure that he could see the faint, distant winking of vast celestial bodies.
“Kókkinos Pnévma.” Amy’s strange words echoed from outside the world behind Caleb’s eyes. “Kókkinos Pnévma…”
Caleb was surprised. He’d taken Greek 101 as an Elective a few semesters ago. And though he couldn’t speak a fluent sentence of it to save his life, he’d retained enough to be able to recognize the language when he heard it. This really was a Hybrid Ceremony.
“Chorígisi hmón theía gnósi.” She continued. And the prismatic clouds shifted slightly. As if an ethereal wind had begun to blow.
“We humbly ask the Great Spirit Hobbomock to hear our words. And to grant us divine knowledge beyond that of our mortal kin. With open hearts we offer up our mind’s and soul’s to your tutelage.”
“Now everyone. With your eyes closed, and your thoughts bent toward the knowledge you desire, repeat after me. Prosféroume ta myalá mas.”
“Prosféroume ta myalá mas.” The Group said in unison. Struggling to pronounce the words.
The wind in his mind’s eye grew in strength. The Clouds beginning to swirl, and twirl about.
“Prosféroume tin kardiá mas.”
The myriad overcast sky began whirling about intensely. Offering up glimpses of what lay beyond. Sure enough. There were stars…
“Prosféroume tis psychés mas.”
As the group repeated these last words the clouds parted, and the Endless Abyss revealed itself in all it’s unblinking glory. Impossibly distant stars winking out across the endless gulfs. Caleb let out an awed breath. Hearing similar sounds from his companions. But it would be crazy to think they were all having a similar vision.
Then suddenly there came the soft, melodic sound of a flute. Caleb smiled without opening his eyes. Lest he lose the amazing vision playing out behind them. Amy (who for awhile had played in the Bridgewater University Student Orchestra) was really going all out for this.
It was a song he’d never heard before. But making an educated guess he decided that it was Native American in origin. The melody was beautiful. The notes flowed out, and across the basement.
He gazed on at the twinkling stars behind his eyes. Occasionally a variegated cloud of vibrant color blew across the endless sky. As he looked, and listened the colors of the stars shifted between hues of white, yellow, and blue. And in the beautiful melancholy of the vision and music he silently wondered… Is there really anything beyond?
The minutes stretched on in this harmonious fashion. Never had Caleb felt so content to simply sit with his eyes closed, and listen. “Hobbomock.” Caleb said the name in his mind. “If there was more to this reality would you show me?”
As he gazed on, Caleb became aware of one star near the center of his vision that stood out against the rest. It took him a moment to notice the celestial body as it’s hue had started out a very faint scarlet. But as the moments ticked by, and the melody went on the glow of this Great Red Giant grew in strength.
“That’s where it is.” Caleb said to himself. “That’s where true knowledge resides. Hobbomock’s home.”
What an odd thought. But as it crossed his mind the Scarlet Star pulsed brightly once. Then twice. On the second time the Star retained a significantly brighter glow than before.
As he focused on it the rest of the Stars began to fade into the background. In the world outside of his vision Caleb was dimly aware that Amy’s song was reaching the peak of a crescendo. The Scarlet Star seemed to draw closer as the Melody increased in volume.
He began to make out the details of the burning Star. Deep red bolts of electricity arched across the vast sun. Dancing, and leaping across it’s colossal surface. And beneath the nuclear pandemonium something dark and vast shook, and undulated.
He couldn’t make out it’s details. Only that it was there. A great lightless spot in an otherwise blinding landscape.
The rest passed like a dream. The vision stretched on and on. The crimson flames leapt, and the flute played on in the background. Eventually the sun faded, and the scene once again returned to the infinite abyss.
He couldn’t even recall the scene shifting. One moment he was looking at the flames. The next he beheld an expanse of darkness that took the breath away. Way, way out across the void, stars winked and shimmered. It was at once unsettling and serene.
“This is where we came from.” He mused. “We are but visitors to this place…”
He sighed contentedly. Contemplating this newfound knowledge. Staring out into infinity. The view unobscured by an atmosphere.
“Yo homeslice you still dreaming?” David’s voice echoed across infinity.”
“Wha-?” He asked the void.
“Hey man.” David’s jovial laugh rolled across the cosmos. “Where are you?”
“I… Where… Am I?”
He felt hands on his shoulders. The feeling was like an electric shock. He’d all but forgotten he possessed a corporeal form. His eyes snapped open, and he found himself once again in the dimly lit basement.
David was kneeling in front of him. Smiling.
“God damn man!” David laughed again. “You’ve been there for like… A million hours!”
Caleb laughed heartily. His senses reeling in a pleasant way.
“Holy shit dude! This shizl is amazing! You wouldn’t believe the visuals I just had!”
“Dude me too!” David said. “You wanna get down on some peyote pool?”
He asked, gesturing toward the bar. Caleb saw that the others were gathered around the widescreen. Laughing hysterically at Eric Andre as he went through his usual ceremony of destroying the set at the beginning of his show.
Time went on in a good-humored blur for awhile after that. The group staying easily entertained between the flat screen, the pool table, and themselves. It wasn’t until they all started having the same hallucination that things started getting out of hand.
The Group had been milling about the pool table. Occasionally taking shots, but no real coherent game happening, when the ground around the Salt Pattern slowly began to sink. Not much initially. It was so subtle at first that every time someone looked at it they chalked up the slight anomaly to their own individual high. Which was growing in intensity by the minute for the entire Group.
As the little party progressed everyone just sort of avoided the area. Not wanting to be the first to mention it.
Caleb was the first to investigate. He meandered over in the general direction of the dirt floor. Glancing down at the slowly sinking ground. He cocked his head to the side, and furrowed his eyebrows.
“Man this stuff is amazing.” He thought to himself.
He bent down to get a closer look. Nearly touching his nose to the ground. Scrutinizing the anomaly. He could have sworn that even as he watched, the ground sank ever so slightly.
He righted himself and shrugged. Making his way back to the group he attempted to ignore the growing sense of apprehension in his belly. But after about fifteen more minutes the growing indentation was becoming a serious “Elephant in the Room.”
“So… I don’t want to make anyone panic or anything…” Rylan started hesitantly. Bouncing a pool stick between his hands.
“But the fucking floor is sinking?” Amy asked. Looking over at the hole that had now reached a depth of a half foot. The ground around it had started to slope with the sinking Symbol.
“I… I see it too.” Amy said. A breathless, awed quality to her voice.
Everyone was quiet for a few minutes after that. The gravity of the realization that they were all seeing the same thing weighing heavily on each of their minds.
David wanted to break the tension. Say something like “Daaamn this is some good shit!” But he knew it wouldn’t alleviate the growing sense of apprehension. This wasn’t part of the trip.
The pit began to grow more quickly. As if it knew they were now watching it. The center of the dirt floor fell out of site. A dark hole taking it’s place. As one the Group wordlessly took a few steps backward. All thinking the same thing. The Basement was going to fucking eat them!
Everyone kept their eyes on the deepening hole as they continued backward toward the basement stairs. There came a strange echoing, grinding sound from all around. The noise was somehow both frightening, and sickening. They had backed up about twenty feet, and the pit had reached nearly two yards in circumference before this new spacial anomaly was noticed.
“Holy shit you guys!” Rylan said. “Look at the stairs!”
The others turned to look. The Basement had grown along with the pit! The stairs were more than ten yards away now! The opposite ends of the Cellar rapidly receding into the deepening gloom. Candles now flickering in the distance like faint beacons.
The five Friends just stood their in awed silence for a moment. Listening to the nauseating sounds of the basement as it grew, and stretched it’s corporeal limits. It was a sickening, revolting sound. It’s unnatural timbre somehow eliciting such feelings.
Caleb chanced to look up. Instantly wishing he hadn’t. Sure enough, the ceiling was getting higher. Or the ground was getting lower… Or maybe. Please God. Maybe they were all just tripping way too hard.
And then came the chanting. Very faint, it came echoing up from the deepening pit. Resonating up from a distance impossibly far away. The Group exchanged looks of horror, and disbelief. Their expressions wordlessly confirming that they were all indeed hearing it.
They stood there, frozen, listening to the voice as it drew closer. Wood, and concrete popped, and squealed. A macabre background cacophony to compliment the approaching monotone droning from the Chasm below.
The air began to vibrate with the power of the nightmare droning as it drew closer. Without warning David and Rylan lost it. Both sprung into motion as the same thought ran through both their minds. Escape! They went sprinting for the horrifically distant stairs.
Caleb tore his eyes from the Nightmare Pit to look at the rapidly shrinking forms of his two Friends.
“You guys! What the fu-?! But his words caught in his throat as Sarah let out a terrible shriek.
Caleb whirled back around. He felt a sudden warmth running down his leg. Oh God! He had to wake up! Oh please Jesus Fuck! He had to fucking wake up!
The Chanting was close now. The Source slowly rising up out of the Pit. A vast nightmare form. A Giant! Caleb’s legs felt weak, and he knew he was going to puke.
Oh God… It was ten feet tall at least! Cloaked in a great scarlet robe. The vast hood pulled up. Partially obscuring it’s mottled green countenance. The all too large head dotted with dark splotches that reminded Caleb of his alcoholic Grandfather’s liver spots before he’d died of cirrhosis.
Taking great, majestic strides the nightmarish Giant slowly stepped up, and out of the Chasm. In one gargantuan hand It bore aloft a massive, dripping Tome the same color as It’s robes. A dark, thick liquid dribbled out from between the yellowed pages.
And The Giant read from the Book. It’s terrible voice booming out in a strange nightmare language that made the skin itch, and crawl. Though the Thing didn’t look at the Caleb and the others as It spoke. But rather raised it’s voice up to the now cathedral like ceiling, and addressed the growing darkness. Like a Priest before a congregation.
And from beneath the Red Giant’s robes fell an assortment of Arthropods. Chitin clacking, and clattering onto the ground as segmented bodies struck stone. The noise competing, but failing against the cries of the growing Basement, and the chants of the Monstrosity.
For his two remaining companions the spell broke. They cried out, and ran off in two different directions. But not Caleb. He just stood there, pissing himself. Pissing and screaming that is. Pissing and screaming…
September 24th, 2017, A very dark time, in a very dark place.
The ceiling had been gone for days…
The basement having grown into a colossal Pit. The vast expanse of cold stone still occasionally undulated and moaned. From their current vantage point It was impossible to tell whether or not the Pit was still expanding. For it was only the Northern wall that could still be seen from their little hiding place. Though every time Caleb glanced in a Northerly direction it’s dim, gargantuan outline seemed to have receded slightly further into the gloom.
The Red Priest chanted on and on ceaselessly. His black, booming words echoing out across the darkness. Holding his massive dripping tome aloft, he strode thunderously across the murky land. His gaze turned ever upward as he addressed the looming darkness.
The spell that had kept Caleb rooted to the ground when the Pit had first opened up had broken as the Red Priest had come striding toward him. He’d spun on his heel, making a beeline for the stairs where the others were already gathered. Caleb made it to the base of the staircase just as they had come undone. The wood apparently stretched too far beyond it’s corporeal limits, crumbled.
Rylan, who had been pounding on the door to the kitchen had come crashing to the ground amidst a shower of wood. The clatter of pre-finished gunstock red oak momentarily adding to the horrific cacophony of chanting, and the moaning of expanding stone and steel.
They’d all stood there in shocked silence. Watching the locked door that led to the kitchen inch up higher and higher. Everyone except Rylan that is. He’d twisted his ankle pretty bad and had been rolling around on the ground.
Their hopeless vigil was interrupted by the stentorian voice of the Red Priest as he strode toward them. A terrible assortment of Arthropods falling out from beneath his robes with each earth shaking step the Giant took. A lobster or crab clattered to the ground here. A couple of earwigs landing on the cold stone with soft “ticks” there. It was as if an assorted host of creepy crawlies were clinging to the massive body behind the scarlet folds.
In that instant before the group exploded into motion, Caleb found his eyes drawn to the massive Red Tome the Giant bore aloft. Bound in what looked like worn leather dyed the same scarlet as the robes the Priest wore. It was clearly not made for human hands. Being far too large for any mere homo-sapien to bear, it nevertheless fit perfectly into one of the Red Priest’s palms.
The Tome was opened to a yellowed page somewhere near the middle. Raising it slightly above his head. The way someone might hold a paperback while making a quick trip from living room to kitchen. He’d shuddered at the thought of what could be written on such pages.
They’d once again taken off running. Scattering in all directions like a group of scared rabbits. Caleb had made it nearly ten yards into the growing gloom before Rylan’s hysterical screams brought him to a skidding halt. He’d turned, only to see the hippie’s bulky form trying desperately to rise as the chanting Giant strode toward him. He scrabbled frantically across the ground, unable to put weight on his ankle.
Without thinking Caleb bolted toward him. Just before he reached him, Amy’s form appeared out of the darkness to his right. Between the peyote haze, and the rising tide of overall madness he couldn’t be sure, but it seemed to Caleb that Amy moved at an impossible speed. Before he knew it they each had one of Rylan’s arms draped over them and were hobbling away as fast as they could.
None of the trio dared to look back as they moved. There had been no escape plan. The only goal being to put as much distance between themselves and the Red Priest as possible. It was a frantic, heart pounding flight. Only once the Scarlet Preacher was out of sight, and his ceaseless chanting began to recede into the hazy distance behind them did they allow their pace to slacken. And their burning muscles a brief respite.
They moved slowly for awhile after that. It was impossible to tell for how long. The sickening groaning, and grinding cacophony occasionally punctuated by a loud “Pop” of wooden beams splitting apart. Every once in awhile a warped piece of wood would plummet from the rising ceiling and come clattering to the ground.
Each privately wondering where David, and Sarah were. But none of them daring to call out their names into the darkness. It was Rylan who chanced to look upward. And it was his sobbing that alerted them to a new horror.
“It’s going to be gone soon.” Rylan whined. The childlike timbre out of place on his large features.
“Oh Jesus.” Caleb had whispered under his breath, as his gaze followed Rylan’s.
The dim outlines of the copper and PVC piping that ran across the frame of the ceiling were barely visible. In that moment Caleb had wondered if it was really the ground that was sinking, or the ceiling that was rising. As they watched it vanish into the darkness above a feeling of woeful despair fell upon him, and he decided that it didn’t matter.
They’d wandered aimlessly for awhile after that. Hastily moving in the opposite direction of the Red Priest’s booming voice whenever it drew near. The air grew progressively colder until they shivered, and their breath came out in big white puffs. All of them having left their coats, and hats on the couch near the bar before the “festivities” had begun.
Rylan’s ankle recovered enough so that he could hobble on his own. That or he was too waisted to feel it. Either way suited Caleb just fine. It had been hard going bearing the hippie’s weight. Amy for her part had hardly seemed winded.
It was the faint hum of the running furnace that initially drew them to the North. At first it had been nearly indiscernible from the terrible pandemonium of the pit. Amy had been the first to hear the near imperceptible sound.
Soon the dark rectangular outline of the ancient furnace appeared on the horizon. And much to their relief Sarah, and David were already their. Having been similarly drawn to the sound, and relative warmth. It’s large form like a buoy in a nightmare storm.
The ductwork had long ago warped, and stretched, and fallen to the ground. And yet somehow the furnace itself had remained running. Warming the air around it. No small miracle considering how frigid the pit had grown.
They stayed there for a long time. The furnace seeming to be as safe a place as any. Plus it was the only solid object in the visible area. Though everyone knew that they could not remain there indefinitely.
To Caleb’s surprise it was David who had first suggested the pilgrimage to the couches. For before the world had ended there had been blankets upon it. Not to mention their coats.
“And somewhere beyond that is the storage closet.” David whispered. His eyes darting about the grinding landscape. “There’s ski gear there. Enough for all of us to wear.”
“And food.” Rylan said. Stroking his beard furiously.
“Yes, yes!” David hissed. “Food near the bar. If we can find the bar.”
Communication between the group had been difficult. Every word having to worm it’s way through a hazy wall of peyote, and primal fear.
“I don’t know you guys.” Sarah said. Her words green with apprehension. “It’s a long way.”
“We have to make a move or we’ll freeze to death.” David said. His teeth chattering as if to drive home the point.
The group stared off to the south for a few moments. Each of them contemplating just how far the couches might be. There really was no way of telling.
“The red priest’s down that way.” Sarah said. “I can hear him.”
“We can all hear him.” David answered back.
It was a strange thing. Having given the terrible giant with his dripping book, and robes that bled arthropods such a title. In fact Caleb couldn’t remember who had first started calling him the Red Priest.
But that’s what they all called him now. It just made sense. He clearly was, and always had been the “Red Priest”.
Amy remained quiet. A contemplative look on her face. She hadn’t said a word since they’d regrouped. Which by Caleb’s reckoning had been a very long time.
Before Caleb knew it they were all on the move. Walking quickly, and quietly across the cold groaning land. He couldn’t recall them having settled on this course of action. Then again it was hard to recall much of anything with any kind of clarity since they’d dosed up.
The Red Priest’s black words echoed on, and on across the dim landscape. Candles flickered like distant light houses across a dark sea. There seemed to be more of the tiny flames now then there had originally been.
As they journeyed south the stone floor became increasingly uneven. The group coming upon many depressions and rises in the concrete. Then unexpectedly they came upon a great hill of concrete that stretched from East to West as far as the eye could see.
The group hesitated at it’s base. It was an unnatural thing. An anomaly amongst anomalies. The hill rising up to dizzying heights. The Red Priest’s chants emanating from somewhere far beyond were muffled by the mountainous rise.
At its base lay the ruined forms of the washer and dryer. Their frames barley recognizable. They’d been flattened and stretched like pancakes. But the white paint had remained unblemished, and smooth. Recognizable only by the dials that had somehow remained unchanged.
The warping of materials was so unnatural that Caleb found them difficult to look at. Plus they were breathing. Though the line between where the peyote effects ended, and the living nightmare began was blurry at best. He forced his eyes from the sight of them.
Wordlessly they began to ascend. It was easy at first. But as the group climbed higher and higher up the concrete slope they began to breathe heavy. As they continued on Sarah started to get the increasingly uncomfortable sensation that they were being watched. The truly unsettling thing was the direction from whence the sensation came.
Slowly she looked up toward the yawning black abyss. For a few moments she saw nothing but darkness. Then suddenly her heart jumped up into her throat as she caught a faint glimpse of some monolithic shape shift ever so slightly. Some tremendously vast, terrible thing that hung suspended in the cold void above.
She snapped her gaze back down. Simultaneously throwing a hand over her mouth to stifle some sound or another of distress. She’d run through the entire gamut and really couldn’t be sure what was going to issue forth from her mouth. Shrieking, screaming, crying, retching , whimpering. The whole shebang.
In fact at this point it really didn’t make any sense at all to stifle any sort of sound of despair. But she did it anyway. Maybe she just didn’t want to put any more unnecessary stress on the group. And besides, she wasn’t really sure if she’d seen anything.
“Do you hear that?” Amy asked. Breaking her silence at last.
Everyone paused. Cocking their ears. From everyone’s expression it was clear that no one heard whatever she was talking about. Amy gave a smile that Caleb inexplicably found deeply unsettling.
“We’re going in the right direction.” She said with an eerie confidence. “Let’s keep moving. You’ll hear it soon enough.”
Caleb couldn’t help but wonder what she meant by “the right direction”.
It was just as they were finally nearing the crest of the concrete hill that Rylan finally spoke up.
“I hear it!” Rylan said through heavy breaths. His eyes wide. “Running water!”
“Running water?” David asked. Cocking his head to the side like a dog. He looked pale from the strain of the ascent.
Soon they all began to hear the faint noise of rushing water. It sounded like there was a river on the other side of the hill. As they continued on the sound grew in volume. Beginning to compete for dominance with the distant chanting of the Red Priest.
Just before they made the summit Caleb turned to look back, and the sight he beheld took his breath away. Far below the shadowy landscape they’d crossed stretched out behind them. The view being akin to standing upon a mountaintop. Cold uneven concrete stretched out in all directions as far as the eye could see before disappearing into the dark haze that dominated the horizon.
There were candles burning way out there. Their tiny flames offering up a disturbing sense of scope. It was a humbling sight.
He took note of the soft mist that hung above the concrete land at this altitude. It was almost as if they were outside. But they weren’t. Whatever this basement had become, they were still in it. Still below the house. Of that Caleb was sure.
Finally they crested the hill. An icy gale blowing in from the South greeted them. The group staggered against it’s frigid fury for a moment. The land to the South was significantly less vast than the Northern regions they’d left behind. At least from North to South it was.
For one, the Southern wall was clearly visible. It’s gargantuan structure stood in the distance roughly a mile away. A few candles burned softly at it’s base. The land between was mostly shrouded in shadow. Caleb felt somewhat relieved to just behold another edge of this nightmare landscape. Even if it’s upper reaches did disappear into darkness of the vast gulf above.
The source of the rushing water had also come into view as they’d gained the summit. A large, winding river far below near the Southern base. The icy black waters flowed from East to West like a stampeding herd of elephants. They guessed that it was from broken pipes having been stretched far beyond their corporeal limits.
“Look!” David said excitedly. Pointing down into the gloom. “I can see the couches!”
Sure enough the distant outlines of the furniture could be seen near the Southern wall. To the right of the couches was what looked like the bar counter.
“Do you think our coats are still in one piece?” Sarah asked. Her arms wrapped tightly around her body as she convulsed from the cold.
“We’ll find out soon enough.” David answered through chattering teeth. “But we have to hurry, cause I’m gonna freeze to death if we don’t.”
“Where is the Red Priest?” Rylan asked. His eyes wide and scanning for the source of the chanting.
That’s when they collectively noticed how distant the voice now sounded. Where was the Giant and his massive dripping tome?
“He must be down there.” Amy said. Pointing to an area not far from the couches.
It was difficult to see. But to the east was a massive hole at the base of the southern wall. Spanning about forty feet in circumference. A soft scarlet glow emanated from it’s depths.
“That’s where the symbol was.” She said.
“How do you know that?” Caleb asked. Shivering as he did.
She shrugged nonchalantly.
“I just do.”
“If we’re quick, and quiet we can grab out gear and get out before he spots us.” Rylan said.
As one they began to descend. It was slow going. The slope was steeper on the Southern side and they had to tread carefully, lest they loose their footing and go tumbling. Strong winds buffeted them with frigid fury as they journeyed down.
After a treacherous descent they found themselves standing before the riverbank. Staring out at the raging black waters. The strength of the rushing torrent which had seemed prodigious from atop the concrete peaks, was now revealed to be far more treacherous than had been originally guessed. Indeed being in such close proximity to the cacophony of the river effectively drowned out the already distant chants of the Red Priest.
“It’s t-to w-wide to cross here.” Sarah said through chattering teeth.
“What about that over there?” David answered back.
Pointing East along the winding riverbank. Off in the distance could be seen the faint but distinct outline of some large, twisted object.
“We might be able to use that to get across. And besides the river looks more narrow up that way.”
“Let’s check it out.” The big hippy’s words coming out in great white puffs that floated gracefully on the frigid air, with a seeming life of their own.
As they drew near it became clear that the malformed shape was in fact the pool table. It had grown taller. The table having grown in a lopsided fashion to about five feet on one side. And seven, or eight on the other. The wooden frame had also been bent both inward, and outward into a rough “U” shape. Stretched to about eleven feet in length, and four feet at it’s widest.
The twisted frame was wet, and tipped on it’s side. As if it had been caught in the path of the sudden deluge, and spit back out along the bank. At the sight of it Caleb felt his stomach heave and threaten to once again erupt. Though he doubted there was anything left inside him to puke up. He averted his eyes to the rushing waters.
He knew it wasn’t just the peyote. And it wasn’t just the fear that made his stomach turn. It was the way the laws of physics had been so utterly defied. Covalent bonds so fundamentally raped and pillaged. The sight of the violated pool table was akin to that of a decaying corpse.
There was even a smell to it. A pungent, noxious odor that the primal side in him instinctively shied away from. It was the scent of wounded physics. And for a moment he found himself contemplating a queer question that instilled in him a terrible sense of foreboding. Could atoms bleed?
“Holy shit! Everybody down!” David’s hissing voice cut through Caleb’s disquieting thoughts. “Everybody down down down!”
Before he had time to figure out what was going on Amy grabbed one of his hands and began pulling him toward the ruined pool table. He saw that everyone else was making a mad dash for it as well. Instinctively he ran along with her. But oh God did he want to resist. He would have given his right arm to be away from that twisted abomination.
Everyone ducked low to hide behind the upturned frame. Just as he and Amy reached the others he chanced to look out across the raging waters, and felt his heart drop into the pit of his stomach.
A great seething horde of chitin was moving west along the southern shore. An undulating mass of assorted arthropods that had no doubt fallen from the Red Priest’s robes, and regrouped somewhere along the river bank. They “clicked”, and “snapped”, and “skittered”, and “chirped” in an awful primal symphony not meant for the ears of any earthly being.
“Wait til’ they pass.” Amy whispered. Her voice unnervingly calm.
No one needed any encouragement. They all crouched lower in the shadows of the ruined pool table. Caleb tried to keep his eyes on the black river. Both the sight of the skittering horde, and the twisted ruin of the pool table being too much to bear.
He closed his eyes. Attempting to regain control over his rapid breathing. But he found that it brought him no solace. For the red star he’d first seen behind his eyes while during the ceremony was waiting for him. Burning in all it’s scarlet glory in his mind’s eye.
Eventually he settled for staring at the cold stone they knelt upon. He stared at the ground and listened to the sounds of madness all around him. The grinding, and moaning of the land. The whimpers of his companions. It took him awhile to realize that he was crying.
Finally, after an eternity the horde passed. Disappearing into the haze along the riverbank. Everyone breathed a collective sigh of relief and rose.
“We can use this to cross.” Rylan said with confidence. Gesturing to the pool table.
There wasn’t much debating over the matter. The table being the only visible object in the vicinity. And the spot they were currently standing seemed as good as any to attempt a crossing.
It was difficult to coordinate, but eventually they figured out how to work together on moving the mangled object. It was heavy as hell, but between the five of them they were able to push it out into the flowing water. Almost immediately the current ripped it from their grasp. They watched helplessly as it began floating down the river.
Rylan took off after it. Everyone instinctively followed, though no one had any idea what he was planning. The hippy caught up to it, then made a move that blew his companions collective minds. In an unprecedented display of athleticism Rylan wound up, and leapt out for the bobbing table!
To everyone’s astonishment he made it. Landing near the center. The table listed dangerously but he kept moving, not losing his momentum. Making another leap he cleared the rest of the river. Landing on the other side.
The others “whooped!” And cheered.
“Hurry!” Rylan said. Jogging to keep pace with the table and the others.
They didn’t wait for any more prompting. One by one they leapt for the table, and then the other side. It was surprisingly easy. All save David made it without getting wet. He landed about a foot from dry land on the second jump. Soaking his jeans from the knees down.
“That was fuck-ing incredible!” Caleb laughed. Slapping Rylan on the back!
Everyone shared a laugh. A brief respite from the madness. But all too quickly their mind’s turned back to the shadows, and the denizens of this dark place.
They resumed their journey south. Moving roughly in the direction of the bar and the couches. The view from the ground was not nearly as clear as from atop the concrete mountain. As they moved away from the black river, the Red Priest’s chanting was once again audible. But remained faint, and distant.
Soon after that they began encountering the frayed emerald green edges of the entertainment room carpet. Relief flooded through the group. For though no one had said it each had feared that they had been heading in the wrong direction, and were now hopelessly lost.
The first strands they encountered were just that. Single strands uniformity parallel. The rug having been pulled and stretched all the way down to it’s individual threads.
As they continued forward the remnants of the carpet began to thicken. The strings grew in number, interweaving until eventually entire patches of emerald green could be seen. Soon they found themselves walking across solid carpet, and the dark outline of the bar and couches appeared in the distance.
At the sight of the remnants of the entertainment room the group broke into an excited run. All of them eager to be reunited with their coats. David was the first to reach the couches. Which surprisingly appeared relatively untouched by the “Great Stretching”. They looked like they hadn’t moved at all.
He bent over the side and came up with his jacket.
“They’re here! Oh thank fucking Jesus!” He cried in relief.
Everyone crowded around excitedly. Donning their cold weather gear with great gusto. After a bit more searching the cooler was found resting about twenty feet away. Water bottles were eagerly retrieved.
All sense of urgency was momentarily forgotten as the group preoccupied themselves with the need for hydration. Wordlessly they sat down on the couches. Their coats and hats having grown as cold as the air around them. They shook, and rubbed their arms in an effort to warm their gear.
It took everyone a moment to notice that David was crying. Everyone just stared for a moment. Compassion having long ago taken a back seat to survival. And it was only now that they had been given an opportunity to think about anything else.
“Hey man.” Caleb finally broke the awkward silence.
He slid over on the couch and put an arm around his friend.
“Hey dude it’s okay. We’ll get out of this somehow.” Caleb knew he didn’t mean what he said. But he hoped his voice had sounded convincing.
David let out another sob.
“My parents are going to be so pissed!”
Caleb looked at his friend dumbfounded. That was the last thing he’d expected to hear. Before he could think of any kind of response stifled snickering cut into his thoughts. All eyes turned to Amy.
She was biting her lower lip in an attempt to stem the flow of laughter. But little titters escaped from her clamped jaw.
“Holy shit Dave.” She said giggling. “You’re worried that your folks are gonna be mad that we made a mess with our little house party?”
Everyone exchanged baffled looks. Then David started to snicker too. The others quickly caught on. Realizing how stupid of a concern it was. Soon everyone was trying to stifle uncontrollable laughter.
It was a welcome respite from the horror of the situation. After a few moments everyone regained control of themselves. The moment of levity had done them all a bit of good.
“Anybody want a beer?” David grimly joked. Wiping a coat sleeve across his nose.
Rylan chuckled. “Nope. But I sure could use some food. We should find some grub and bug out before the Preacher shows back up.”
Everyone seemed to agree with that. They rose from the couches. A cursory look around revealed that the pizzas, and other munchies they’d brought down were nowhere to be seen.
“Did the god damned Priest eat all our shit?” Rylan asked in a sardonic tone.
“All the food was closer to the symbol.” Amy said. Gesturing to the massive scarlet hole in the hazy distance.
“Wait!” David said. “There’s food in the closet! Survival stuff my dad has. And more warm gear!”
“Where the Hell’s the closet?” Amy asked.
“It’s near the bathroom.”
“And where the Hell is the bathroom?” Agitation creeping into her voice.
“The doors are still somewhere along the southern wall I’d guess. Somewhere between here and the pit where the symbol used to be.”
“Is the Priest still down in the pit?” Sarah asked. Looking with apprehension at the glowing hole.
Everyone listened to the distant chanting. It was hard to tell where it was coming from. But wherever the Scarlet Preacher was giving his sermon was not nearby. After a brief deliberation they decided to make a cautious eastward exploration. ;
They moved cautiously, in single file along the cold stone wall. Keeping low. The emerald green carpet muffling their footfalls. Eyeing the glowing pit with trepidation as they approached.
The size of the southern wall was humbling. They hadn’t been this close to one since the Red Priest had risen up from the pit. Caleb imagined the sight was akin to what the Great Wall of China would look like if one stood at it’s base. Except that this wall stretched up until disappearing into an infinite darkness.
Luck seemed to be on their side at the moment. For after only about fifteen yards they encountered the door to the storage closet. David opened the door and the group began rifling through the contents as quietly as possible.
There was really only room for a couple people to be in there at once. Sarah who had been hanging back noticed that the door to the bathroom was still to the right of the closet.
Sarah who had been standing in the rear of the group decided to do a little scouting. The bathroom door was only four feet from the closet. If anything she just wanted to use a real bathroom. With the distant chants of the Priest echoing in her ears, she turned the knob and opened the door.
It was dark in the room, save for two candles that burned near the sink. Upon stepping inside the first thing that hit her was the unexpected wall of heat. It was like a sauna in there! Moving across the tile she made it to the center of the room and cast her gaze around.
She couldn’t be sure, but the bathroom seemed different somehow. It was a large room. Nothing compared to the groaning land at her back. It just seemed… Like it belonged in another house.
She moved toward the center of the room. Gazing around. Shadows cast by the soft flames danced across the walls. It was calm in there. Serene. If she were to close the door she could almost convince herself that the madness outside was not happening.
But then her eyes fell upon the shower, and it’s drawn curtains. Instantly she felt a feeling of apprehension. She just stood there in silence for awhile. Staring at the closed curtains.
God she had to use the bathroom! If she didn’t make a move now there was no telling the next time she’d have the luxury of a toilet. Mustering her courage she began walking slowly toward the shower.
If she could just pull the curtains, and see for herself that there was no one in there. Then she could release her bowels in relative peace. She’d crossed half the remaining distance when she heard a soft, but distinct “thud” behind the curtains.
She froze. Her breath caught in her throat. No other sound came from within. She stood there for a long moment just listening. In the background could be heard the muffled sounds of her friends still rifling around.
Was she even sure she’d heard anything? She was after all tripping her face off. Another moment passed with no movement from within. Finally she decided she was being paranoid and began walking forward again.
No sooner had she taken her second step when the shower exploded into a flurry of motion. The curtain began to shake violently. As if a hundred hands were slapping the polyester with open palms. Then the frame itself began to shudder.
Stifling a scream Sarah bolted for the door. Slamming it shut behind her she pressed her back to it. Leaning her full weight against it, and bracing herself for the heavy impact she knew would inevitably come.
But none happened. After a moment she allowed herself to relax. Noticing her companion’s quizzical stares.
“What’s wrong?” David asked. Handing her a heavy parka.
Sarah shook her head.
“N-nothing. Nothing’s wrong.”
Any further inquiries were cut short by the booming voice of the Red Priest. As one the group turned. The Giant was practically on top of them! Striding out of the gloom from the north.
The friends let out a collective shriek before instinctively piling in through the open door of the closet. There was a slight bit more room now that some of the random objects had been cleared out as they’d sought out the extra winter gear. Though nothing would have stopped them in that adrenaline filled moment from piling in.
The door was slammed shut. And the friends found themselves in pitch blackness. Packed like sardines in a can. Listening to the Scarlet Preacher stride about thunderously just beyond the door.
“Oh fuck! Oh fuck!” David hissed in the darkness.
Caleb felt like he couldn’t breathe. The peyote accentuating the sound of their five rapidly beating hearts. Multiple drumbeats pounding out a rhythm in the cramped closet. Someone was crying.
“There’s no way he didn’t see us come in here.” Rylan’s shuddered.
“He’s going to come in here!” David hissed once again. “He’s going to come in here, and he’s going to get us!”
“How did he sneak up on us like that?” Sarah whispered. “He’s ten God damned feet tall!”
“Everybody just shut up for a sec.” Amy’s voice cut in.
She’d been pretty quiet ever since this madness had begun. So quiet that every time she did deign to say something the group found themselves really listening. Everyone obeyed. Hearts hammering they turned their ears toward the chanting.
Ever so slowly, the door was opened. Just a crack. The Preacher was stomping up and down the concrete land between the closet and the scarlet pit. He either miraculously hadn’t seen them, or didn’t care. Either way it was terrifying being so close to It.
They crowded over each other to get a view. After a few moments it was clear that the Giant had chosen this immediate area to continue his sermon. Millipedes, and earwigs crawled about his feet. Some crushed into oblivion by the Preacher’s heedless footfalls.
“We can…” Caleb started in a shaky voice. “We can make a run for it when the Priest turns his back to us.”
“We’ll have to be quick.” Rylan whispered.
“Fuck that.” Amy said suddenly.
The others looked in confusion at her dark outline near the door.
“I’m tired of running.”
“Then what the Hell do you suggest?!” David hissed.
“I’m going to go meet him. I’m going to meet the Red Priest.”
Stunned silence now. Coupled with incomprehension.
“You… Can’t be serious?” Caleb finally said.
Amy didn’t answer. Instead she rose from her crouching position. Pushing the door all the way open, she stepped out. The Red Priest had his back to her. Heading in the direction of the yawning pit.
“Amy!” Caleb shrieked as quietly as possible.
But she paid him no mind as she made her way with determined steps toward the Giant. After crossing nearly half the distance the Red Priest suddenly ceased his chanting. The abrupt cessation of noise was a palpable change in the atmosphere.
Slowly, the Giant turned to face her. As if sensing her approach.
“Amy!” Caleb shrieked full volume this time. His heart fluttering about within the confines of his skinny chest like a panicked bird in a cage.
The Scarlet Preacher stood stoically as her small figure drew near. It was the first time the monstrosity had actually acknowledged any of their presence. Amy reached the Giant and stared up at him in silence. The Red Priest glared down at her. As if sizing her up.
Then he knelt. Bringing himself to eye level with the girl that stood before him. For a long moment the two just stared at one another. At least Caleb assumed Amy was meeting the Giant’s gaze. For her back was to him.
Lobsters, spiders, and crayfish fell out from beneath the folds in his robe and milled about their feet. But Amy seemed oblivious to them. Then the Giant brought the Dripping Book down low so that Amy might look upon it’s yellowed pages.
Without taking his gaze off her he gestured for Amy to look. In order to do so she half turned, so that the others could see her face. Upon beholding the contents of the massive tome she froze up like a deer in headlights. Her eyes went wide, and her jaw dropped.
The Red Priest’s face remained stoic as he watched Amy’s reaction. Gently with his free hand he reached, and turned the page. Amy’s eyes bulged even further. Looking like they might pop out of her head.
She shuddered. The way a person might shiver when witnessing someone jump from the top of a building and explode upon the concrete at their feet. Her breathing became visibly ragged. Like she was on the verge of hyperventilating.
Expression still stoic the Scarlet Preacher brought his face down close and spoke something into her ear. After a moment Amy’s face relaxed. Her breathing slowly evened out. She gave a solemn nod as if in comprehension. Slowly she turned her gaze from the book to the expressionless Giant.
They shared another long moment of tense silence. Then the Red Priest reached inside the folds of his great robe and pulled out what looked like a rusty compass on a chain. He reverently handed it to Amy. After taking it she slowly nodded again, which the Preacher returned in kind.
Then the two turned, and began walking off in different directions. Parting ways like old friends having said their “goodbye for now’s”. Without acknowledging her companions she started walking West. The Red Priest once again raised the Scarlet Tome up and resumed his sermon to the darkness. Moving toward the yawning scarlet pit.
The others watched the scene play out in stunned silence. Unable to comprehend what had just happened. Even Caleb seemed to have momentarily lost the will to pointlessly shriek people’s names.
The scene playing out was almost too intense for Caleb to notice Rylan. Almost. He had that jittery look someone gets when they’re about to do something stupid.
“Rylan…” Caleb started.
In that same moment Rylan sprang into motion. Leaving the flimsy safety of the closet, he began walking at a brisk, determined pace toward the Priest. He had clearly reached his breaking point.
“Rylan!” Caleb shrieked his name, much like he had Amy’s.
He half turned.
“If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.” Rylan said. Shrugging, and then continuing on.
“What?!” Caleb asked. “Are you trying to be fucking profound right now?!”
“Wait! Don’t!” David shouted in a shrill voice.
He payed neither of them any mind as he continued toward the chanting figure.
“God he’s such a tool.” Somehow through the peyote haze and mounting horror, that thought resonated clearly through Caleb’s mind.
The Priest was nearly at the lip of the Pit when Rylan reached him. The Giant once again ceased chanting, and turned to face him. He hesitated for a moment, as the Giant’s eyes met his. This time the Priest did not bend down to get eye to eye. He stood in ominous silence as Rylan crossed the remaining distance between them.
The two stared at one another for long, silent moment. The big hippie’s frame was dwarfed by the massive figure of the Red Preacher. Even from this distance it was plain to see that Rylan was shaking with fear.
“Rylan!” Caleb repeated his name impotently. His breaths were coming in and out so fast he was on the verge of hyperventilating.
Rylan gestured toward the dripping book. At this the Priest slowly shook his head. With one great swing of his arm he gestured to the pit before them. Then he offered up one of his massive hands.
After a moment’s hesitation Rylan took it. As he did so a handful of centipedes, and crayfish fell out from beneath the sleeve of the giant’s robes. Bouncing off the cold concrete at their feet. Rylan looked up into the behemoth’s eyes.
Slowly the giant nodded. Then together they turned, and began walking hand and hand down into the pit. Rylan looking almost like a toddler holding an adult’s hand.
“Rylan!” Caleb screamed again. Feeling his mind slightly unhinge.
But the big hippie payed him no mind. The last the others saw of him was the back of his big afro outlined in the scarlet glow, bobbing up and down as he descended out of sight.
The others stood in shocked silence for a moment. The moaning, and popping of the landscape far more pronounced now that there was no chanting. Slowly. Cautiously, they approached yawning hole.
At this point the large scale of anything should not have surprised him, but when they beheld the pit below Caleb’s heart skipped a beat nonetheless. The incline was steep. Descending about fifty feet before leveling out. The source of the deep scarlet light could not be seen. The floor down there looked like it was made not of cold concrete, but of polished marble.
From their vantage point they couldn’t see very far into the pit. But it was obvious that the landscape below stretched far passed the northern wall of the basement. Way off at the very limits of what could be seen, was what looked like a massive ivory fountain flowing with steaming water.
Rylan and the Priest were already gone. Having disappeared into the cavernous recesses of the scarlet land. Caleb turned to look at his companions. It was obvious that no one had any intention of going in after him.
“Do you guys smell that?” Sarah broke the silence.
“What?” Caleb asked shakily. Sniffing the air.
“Smoke.” Sarah answered.
The trio glanced around. Not seeing any smoke.
“I don’t smell any-.”
“Oh fuck.” David’s voice cut Caleb off.
“Look!” He shouted. Pointing upward.
The abyss above was no longer an endless expanse of darkness. It had grown red, and angry. Great roiling clouds impossibly high over their heads dominated the skyline. The sight reminded Caleb of how the sky over Mount Doom looked in Return of the King. Even as they stood there the maelstrom drew closer to the ground.
“Shit! What the fuck is that?!” Caleb screeched.
“Where’s Amy?!” Sarah cried.
They glanced around the moaning land. She’d vanished. The fiery sky was drawing closer by the second. Like a planet falling into the sun.
“We have to get out of here! We have to get out of here!” Caleb cried. Panic having once again taken over his faculties.
“But where?!” Shouted David.
“The pit. We could go down into the pit.” Sarah said. Shifting his gaze from the approaching inferno to the scarlet chasm at their feet.
“I’m not fucking going down there!” Caleb pulled at his hair.
“The bathroom then!” Sarah said suddenly.
David and Caleb turned.
“The bathroom?” Caleb asked. Genuinely perplexed.
“The bathroom by the bar! There was something in the shower. But I swear I remember seeing a window!” She answered.
“A window?!” Caleb shrieked. “You saw a window?!”
“I don’t fucking know Caleb!” Sarah screamed back in his face. Her panic mirroring his own. “I’m tripping my god damned balls off!”
Without waiting for a response she took off running. Moving west along the northern wall. Caleb, and David quickly followed. Unable to think of any other course of action.
As they ran on the inferno over their heads continued to descend toward them.
Smoke began drifting across the land, as it was slowly illuminated by the fiery maelstrom. Way off in the distance flaming debris could be seen raining down from the inferno. It took them longer to run back to the bar than it had taken them to walk to the pit. But after a terrifying flight they found themselves before the door to the bathroom.
Without hesitation Sarah flung it open. A flaming plank of wood came clattering to the ground to their right. She practically dove in. Not allowing herself to dwell on what she’d seen the first time she’d been in the room. Caleb and David were hot on her heels.
The shower was empty. The curtain having been pulled off the rungs now lay on the floor. Sure enough on the far end of the room was a window. After they entered David slammed the door shut, and locked it. Separating them from the madness outside.
“This… Isn’t my bathroom.” David said. Looking around with a perplexed expression.
“Who gives a shit?!” Caleb said. Making a beeline for the portal to the outside world.
He stepped up on his tip toes and looked out. A gasp escaped his lips. He could see outside! He could see the grass! And the moon, and stars! It didn’t matter “how” this was possible. All that mattered was that they got through this god damned window!
It was one of those sliding ones. Too small to fit through with the frame intact, but Caleb didn’t let that deter him for a single second. Sprinting over to the toilet, he ripped the tank cover off. Then he charged the window with the porcelain lid raised high over his head like Conan the Barbarian.
In a stunning display of athletic aptitude he leapt up and swung the cover at the center of the frame with all his terror fueled strength. The porcelain collided with the white vinyl frame. It was either his prodigious fear or a lucky shot, but in that single deafening strike the window was utterly undone. Glass shattered, and the frame broke in several places.
Heedless of the jagged edges of glass he grabbed the center part of the vinyl frame and yanked backward with all his might. Shards of glass bit deep into his hands, drawing blood as nearly the entirety of the window frame was violently ripped off. A near deafening explosion from beyond the bathroom rocked the door. Black smoke was beginning to seep from beneath the frame.
“Hurry!” David whined.
Caleb needed no encouragement. It was going to be a high jump. But at that moment the copious amount of adrenaline pumping through his veins made him feel like a terror stricken superman.
He backed up about six feet. Steeled himself. And made a mad dash for the window…
“Meanwhile back in Duxbury”
Okay see?! This is the kind of shit I’m talking about right here!” Sheriff Jeremiah Bucknell shouted at the empty interior of his cruiser.
It wasn’t even nine o’clock yet and already his department was being hit with a barrage of phone calls. Apparently last night had been a wild one for Duxbury. He’d received the first one from the office whilst sipping coffee on his front porch. Enjoying the feel of the brisk morning air.
It had been concerning what was an apparent trail of body parts in Knapp Town Forest. Though if he had to put money on it, he’d wager that the supposed “body parts” were nothing more than the remains of some animal.
The second was a call from none other than Michael Bartlett himself. The man claiming that some time yesterday after closing up shop, someone had broken in and stolen a considerable amount of construction equipment from him. Jeremiah hadn’t spoken to him directly yet. But he’d been told that the man was quite livid.
Which didn’t surprise the Sheriff one bit. Rich white men (in his experience) were uniformly all assholes, that couldn’t maintain their composure when faced with the slightest bit of adversity. Jeremiah didn’t know the in’s and out’s of insurance. But he was pretty sure after all was said and done with Bartlett’s insurance company, he’d be turning a profit off this theft.
And the third was about some house fire down off King Phillip’s Path. Supposedly some kid’s had thrown a party and things had gotten out of hand. From what he’d gathered the fire was still going. Having somehow struck a gas line below the street or something.
The entire neighborhood had to be evacuated. And thus far no one had been recovered from the inferno. Jeremiah cringed inwardly at the idea of what he guessed would be the inevitable gruesome discovery of charred corpses.
And now this. Fucking road construction blocking off his route to the Station. And it was a project by none other than Bartlett Consolidated Inc! The sign blocking the Pilgrim read “Construction for the next 2 miles. Detour ahead.”
“Well obviously you’re not completely out of equipment Mike!” He shouted in frustration.
At the very least this little “detour” would cost him an extra ten minutes of travel time. And where the Hell were the warning signs coming up the Pilgrim?! The Sheriff hadn’t recalled seeing anything saying “Caution. Detour ahead”.
“Bunch of bullshit.” He grumbled, and flicked on his turn signal.
He turned off on the East Street Exit. Fighting a losing battle against the urge not to floor it down the off ramp. He was about to put the pedal to the medal when he caught sight of the roiling black plume of smoke on the horizon to the North.
“How could this morning possibly get any worse?” He asked the open air, as he turned onto East Street…
“Well fuuuuck me.” Detective Travis Stiles said in an exasperated tone.
It was official. They’d been following a constant trail of body parts for more than five minutes now. A full quarter mile of torn, and shredded appendages cut a clear path through the woods. It was as if late last night someone had come out to the forest, made a massive conga line of animals, and then stuck lit sticks of dynamite up their asses.
Detective Stiles was the kind of cop who liked things nice and peaceful. It’s why he’d taken a job all the way out here in Duxbury in the first place. It was only 9:32 in the morning, and already he knew that today would be neither of those things.
A one Timothy Berger was to thank for this morning’s gruesome discovery. One of those health fanatic types (Stiles would never understand those kind of people) who’d elected to go for a brisk morning run through Knapp Town Forest. The guy was pretty shaken up.
Stiles could hardly blame him. A veritable trail of gore led from the southern edge of the Knapp, disappearing into the gloom of the forest. The Detective wasn’t sure how far Berger gone in before electing to double back and call the cops. But following this bloody trail even half as far as he and his fellow officers already had would be enough to unnerve anyone.
Even Cops. The three officers that were with him had drawn their guns the second they’d entered the tree line. Stiles had initially resisted the urge to do the same. Trying to set an example for his colleagues.
His mind clinging to the notion that this really was just an animal attack. Though he knew that didn’t quite add up. For one the “trail” as it were didn’t simply consist of body parts.
It was as if someone had driven a large truck straight through the forest. Leaving nought but flattened and broken foliage in it’s wake. And there was the occasional piece of random trash as well.
That part was really weird. Sure you might see some piece of garbage whilst hiking. After all humans were on the whole a bunch of inconsiderate, littering fucks. But the stuff he was seeing was out of place.
Scraps of newspaper, and crushed soda cans. A rusted bicycle frame. At one point they’d even crossed paths with the shattered remnants of a foosball table. Before he realized it he’d unconsciously drawn his own weapon as well.
Even with the sun rising, and the birds chirping. The scene was still spooky as a motherfucker. At first glance Stiles thought he was looking at human remains. But all of the pieces that were relatively intact were furry.
“Thank God for that.” He said to himself.
“What’s that?” Deputy Myron Jackson asked.
The tall, ebony skinned retired marine cut an imposing figure. But he was visibly shaken. He knew it was written on his face, and he didn’t like it. Not that he could do a damn thing about it. He was sweating profusely despite the chill that hung in the air.
“Nothing.” Stiles shook his head. Offering up a smile “Just talking to myself.”
Myron surveyed the landscape ahead. Jesus, it looked like a war zone out here. He compulsively checked his pistol once again. Wishing for the umpteenth time that he had his M4 Carbine on him instead of this peashooter.
He was breathing hard. Harder than he should be at the pace they were moving.
“Okay…” He whispered to himself. “Okay. Just take it easy.”
He was on the verge of having a flashback. He could feel it looming on the horizon like an approaching storm. It was the blood and gore that was to blame. So many body parts. All that blood…
“Deep breaths… Deep breaths…” He said to himself.
“Hey I’ve got something!” Deputy Patrick Hilt’s voice came from up ahead.
Deputy Hilt had scouted farther ahead then he should have. Stiles had instructed his colleagues to remain within sight of one another. The Group broke into a jog.
“Oh Jesus!” Hilt said in a voice that belied revulsion. As if to punctuate this, the statement was quickly followed up by the sound of retching .
Stiles broke out in a cold sweat. He truly did not want to see whatever the Deputy was puking next to. In that moment he found himself second guessing his choice in career.
“Maybe it’s not too late to become a Chef.” He thought cynically.
They crested a small hill and the edge of the forest came into view. The Pilgrim marking the end of the woods. Stiles could see Hilt bent over, and spewing out his breakfast next to some kind of mound in the middle of the road.
The other officers reached the highway. Stiles took a deep breath. Steeling himself before stepping out onto the asphalt. It didn’t do him any good. For the second he beheld the mound of ruined flesh he too was regurgitating his breakfast.
It was only recognizable as human because of the tattered cargo pants laying in the center of the gore. All Stiles could think of through bouts of gagging was that his utterly ridiculous initial prognosis had been right. Someone had indeed lined up a bunch of woodland critters and stuck lit sticks of dynamite up their bums.
And he’d saved the last stick for himself. There was a literal blast radius of gore. Extending out more than eight feet in some places. The mound of ruined flesh was thickest at the center.
“Hilt.” Stiles said as he finally got his gagging under control.
Pale, and looking very gaunt, the Officer looked his way.
“Get on the horn.” Stiles said. “Tell dispatch we need a forensics team out here stat…”
END OF PHASE 1
Author’s Note: Special thanks to Katherine C. for assisting in editing this story!
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