Spirit Of The Dead

April 2014

The door of the shack opened slowly, the rusted hinges protesting as they always do. The old woman leaned out, sniffing the air as an animal might.

Snow, she thought. Soon, no much.

She hobbled outside on the unsteady legs that had supported her for well over a century now, unwilling to succumb to the ravages of age. She’d long been the Baba Yaga, the elder of her tribe, the only one privy to the long-kept secrets the Romani never shared with outsiders, and would not tolerate weakness.

Those traits made her a fearsome individual within the circle of immigrants she’d now outlived, but an object of scorn and ridicule to the outsiders that lived in the village her shack sat on the outskirts of.

She turned the corner to go to her herb garden and paused when she saw the large dog sniffing her plants. Mangy, clearly a stray by the way his ribs showed in clear relief to its flank, sniffing for food at her herbs.

Sensing her, the dog’s ears pinned back flat as his teeth bared, a low growl emanating from within.

The old woman didn’t flinch, staring at the dog and muttering something in her native tongue. The dog’s tail curled between its legs as it began to whimper, turning to run off into the woods behind the shack.

Another, she thought. You will see. You ALL will see.

The old woman gathered some herbs, snipping them with her coarse fingernails and stuffing them into the worn pockets of the sweater beneath her many scarves.  As she filled her pockets, she slowed and stopped, looking around with a confused expression.

She’d forgotten why she came outside.

But she hadn’t forgotten the way the dog had dared to bare his teeth and growl at her. No, she remembered that quite clearly, not realizing that anger seemed to make her even more forgetful, yet determined to exact revenge on the impudent animal.

And the villagers. She believed they mocked her, showed no respect for her position, conspired against her among themselves when in fact, they didn’t even give her a moment’s thought. She, like most eccentrics and homeless individuals, was completely invisible to them as they went about their lives.

Only a select few, like the woman who’d come to see her about her suspicions concerning her husband, knew enough to offer her the respect she deserved. The rest though…they would learn. And they would know.

She nodded silently to herself and began the slow journey back inside her shack to make the necessary preparations.

She’d waited long enough.

The tall man stood at the plate glass window, looking out. The office lights were dimmed to offer a breathtaking view of the glittering lights of the city, his city, as he looked out without really seeing, deep in thought.

Hands in pockets, he closed his eyes and pursed his lips, (flexing his mighty mustache, Sarah thought with a grin) as he mentally reviewed his options. He finally relaxed a bit, having decided on the course to take. Just then, he heard the click of the office door, and turned to greet his visitors, as the screen faded to black.

When the screen filled with carefree people in a park and the narrator began an overview of this latest wonder drug, Sarah knew they’d spend 15 or 20 seconds praising the virtues of the medication and then the remaining 40 or so seconds outlining all the potential side effects and warnings about how the wonder drug could possibly maim or kill the user. The lawyers were earning their keep, she supposed.

Sarah pressed the Mute button on the remote and noticed how that button had more wear on the white printed title than any of the other buttons on the remote. Our habits do leave their mark after all, she thought.

She cleared her throat as she glanced at the time on the cable box and Charlie, her dog, looked up from his perch on the couch, ears alert and head cocked, with that inquisitive look he does so well. If there was any opportunity at all to do something to earn a treat, he’d be up and at it in a heartbeat.

She picked up her iPod from the coffee table and tapped the passcode digits without thinking, planning to scroll quickly through the news headlines as an alternative to the parade of muted commercials on the screen and noticed new emails sitting there, waiting to be opened. More commercials, no doubt.

Charlie looked up and whined loudly, then burrowed under the blanket on the couch as the first splash of blood splattered the bright iPod screen before it fell to the floor, where the next cascade of blood and brain matter saturated the entire screen. Her feet jittered on either side of the device, then fell still.

It had begun.

“Mother Nature is bipolar, and the bitch is off her meds again.”

Deputy Adam Clark chuckled to himself and thought it would be good to take a photo and put it up with that phrase on his Facebook page. After all, here it was the second week of April, and he was driving through two inches of fresh snow to get to work. Sure, it’s New England and all, but enough is enough already.

Still, he had to admit it was beautiful as the golden light of dawn cast its glow on the untouched snow. As he took the back way into town, there weren’t any tracks through the snow yet and the lighting made it look like a painting.

As he passed by the town cemetery, he stopped his Jeep a little faster than he should have, causing it to swerve slightly before the tires got their grip back. There was something stuck on the top of the wrought iron fence, and not even the golden light could disguise the crimson blood sprayed everywhere.

He started to open the door and get out, then caught himself. There were no tire tracks on the road ahead and his were the only ones behind. As he looked over at the fence, he saw no footprints at all, and the fan of blood on the snow was uninterrupted by who or whatever was responsible.

What he saw quite clearly was a dog that had been slammed down on the pickets at the top of the fence hard enough to completely impale it, and then eviscerated, its entrails lying on the snow at the bottom of the fence, still warm enough to steam in the chilly air.

Whoever did that should have been splattered, leaving a gap in the spray of blood that landed on the fresh snow, yet there was no gap to be seen. The fence was six feet high, so the perp had to be a very big individual, very strong, but there wasn’t a single footprint in the fresh snow anywhere.

That was enough. Adam reached for the two way, then thought better of it, picking up his cell phone instead and called Jake directly.

 “Sorry to bother you so early, Jake, but I got a strange one here and I didn’t want to put it over the air yet.”

“That’s OK Adam… what’s up?”

Deputy Clark described the scene he had come upon carefully, noting all the detail as best he could. Jake grimaced at the thought of it.

“It was a good idea to stay in your Jeep and not disturb the scene. I’ll call in the lab boys from the city to process the area and ask Ray to have a look too.”

“But Jake, it’s a dog and Doc Ray isn’t a vet.”

“No, he’s not, but he is one of the smartest people I know, and this is anything but normal. Stay on scene until we get there and slide out the passenger side to put out some cones. There isn’t much traffic out there, but I don’t want anyone stopping to gawk and trample all over everything before we get there.”

“Roger that, and thanks. I’ll see you when you get here.”

Adam disconnected the call and slid across the bench to fetch the cones to put out. He’d already forgotten his Mother Nature phrase, and the idea to put it up on Facebook, and probably wouldn’t remember it anytime soon.

Jake frowned, grateful Adam had the presence of mind to stay off the radio. He didn’t want the media picking up on this, at least not until he knew exactly what was going on. He made two calls, first to the State Crime Lab, and then to the town doctor, Ray Longobardi who also served as the Medical Examiner when those duties were necessary.

That apple hadn’t fallen far from the tree at all. Ray’s father had been Jake’s favorite teacher in high school back in New York. He’d heard they moved to New England around the time he enlisted in the Marines and had lost touch for many years.

Ray was just about to leave for his office when Jake called and agreed to head to the cemetery to meet Adam and see what he could make of the scene as Adam had described it.

“This is really strange, Ray. From what Adam told me, it sounds like a scene out of a horror movie.”

“You’re close. It’s a nearly perfect match for a scene from a book.”

“Really? What did it mean in the book because it makes no sense to me? Who the hell would want to do this to a dog?”

“Well, in the book it was done in preparation to welcome a vampire to a small town in New England.”

“You have got to be shitting me! You mean I’m looking for a nut who’s acting out a scene from a book in real life?”

“Well, it could be worse. You could be looking for a vampire,” Ray replied, chuckling.

“In twenty plus years on the job, I’ve seen a lot. Some of the worst things you can imagine, but no vampires. Let’s leave them in the books, where they belong, okay? I’ll see you out there, and thanks.”

“Glad to help. I’ll see you there.”

About an hour later, Jake McCallister pulled his Jeep in behind the Crime Lab van and walked over to the scene. He waved hello to the techs and shook Ray Longobardi’s hand.

“Thanks for coming, Ray. What do you make of it?”

“I don’t know. I mean, if your suspect was trying to recreate the scene from that book he did a very respectable job of it, but two things trouble me quite a bit.”

“Let me guess. We have no motive and looks like no physical evidence either.”

“Right on both counts. That fence looks to be about six feet tall, which means this is one big S.O.B., but where are his footprints? Also, that fan of blood spray has no voids in it at all from where he had to have been standing. How’d he manage that?”

“Why was the dog killed in that book you told me about?”

“Legend has it that vampires don’t like dogs. Dogs can sense them and can alert humans that something is wrong. The vampire’s servant killed the dog in the book and he was also a big guy but there was no snow on the ground in the story.”

Phil Hoffman, the lead crime scene tech walked over to join them, stripping off his latex gloves as he arrived.

“We’re gonna wrap up here, Sheriff. We took blood samples from all sources which is about all we got from the scene, I’m afraid. I called Animal Control, and they’ll be out to remove the remains. Can you contact Town Hall about the cleanup after?”

“Sure, I’ll take care of that. If you do happen to find anything, can you…”

“Oh, I’ll call you myself, Sheriff. Never saw anything like this before, and I’m curious too.”

“Thanks, Phil.”

“So, Ray,” Jake turned to look at his friend, “Other than the book this reminded you of, does anything else come to mind?”

“Sorry, but not at all. I’m sure there might be more we can find with some research but nothing comes to mind offhand. I’ll do some digging and let you know if I find something.”

“I appreciate it.”

“Yeah, sure you do… but when do I get my badge?”

“Tell you what. I’ll buy you a box of Cracker Jacks, and maybe the prize inside will be a shiny new Sheriff’s badge.”

“My father once said you were a pretty good student when you weren’t so busy being such a smartass,” Ray laughed, as he made his way back to his car.

Jake walked over to Adam’s Jeep, waving to Ray as he drove past them.

“How are you holding up, Adam?”

“Fine, thanks. This is just so… weird, you know?”

“That I do. This is a first for all of us.”

“I took a bunch of photos with my phone before anyone else got here. Don’t know if it’ll help, though.”

“They sure can’t hurt. You had the scene completely undisturbed, so we may come across something in them. Can you swing by the station and get them onto the computer? Oh, and send copies to the Crime Lab, so Phil can have a look too.”

“Will do. Do you need me for anything else here?”

“No, go on ahead and get those photos done. I’ll wait here for Animal Control.”

“Thanks, Jake,” Adam scowled, “I really didn’t want to see that.”

Jake looked up at the faultless blue sky as Adam drove off. He really didn’t want to see it either but he knew Adam could use a break.

He’d seen a lot in 20 years on the job as a NYPD Detective, thought he’d seen it all until this morning.

That there was no physical evidence at a snow covered violent crime scene was impossible. The dog was probably just a mutt, scrounging for food, and came across… something.

But what?

Something was missing, something they had overlooked somehow, but he couldn’t nail it down. He wasn’t quite ready to run out and buy a crucifix just yet either.

By late morning, the crime scene techs had left with what little evidence they’d gathered, the dog’s remains had been bagged and sent to the village vet for examination, and the cemetery caretakers had been notified that it was clear to clean up the grisly mess on the fence, a job no one wanted to think about.

Jake was heading back to the station when Sally’s voice came over the two way in his Jeep.

“Jake? It’s Sally… are you clear yet?”

“Yeah, Sally, I’m heading in now. What’s up?”

“We got a couple of calls from people complaining about a neighbor’s dog that’s been whining and barking all night long and no one is answering the door.”

“Whose dog is it?”

“Sorry, it’s Sarah Dawson. She used to drive the school bus until she retired a couple years ago.”

“Oh sure, I remember her. They threw her a party at the Village Square. Where does she live?”

“She’s in that small apartment complex over on Maple Street, near the park.”

“OK, I’ll head that way myself. I’d rather Adam get his paperwork done from this morning. He was the first on the scene and I want to be sure it’s documented while it’s fresh in his mind.”

“I heard that was a bad one.”

“You heard right, but do me a favor? Let’s keep the details to ourselves. I don’t want people getting spooked before we know what’s going on.”

“Understood, Jake. I’ll tell Adam too.”

“Thanks. Also, please find out who the owner or manager is at the apartment complex and give them a call. Have them meet me there in case I need them to access her apartment. I’ll check in after I see what’s going on out there.”

Jake signaled and turned right at the next cross street to head east toward the park and the apartments where Sarah Dawson lived. He hoped she hadn’t taken a fall or anything but dogs don’t whine and howl for no reason.

It had been a long time since his gut did that tightening thing it always did when he was heading to a bad one but it was back again for the second time today. He pulled over to the curb and picked up his phone to call Ray.

“Hi Jake, I’m almost at the vet’s. I thought I’d see what he has to say before I come to the station to see you.”

“I got called off for something else. I’ll be there after I do a wellness check. Sarah Dawson’s neighbors are complaining about her dog making noise and they’re afraid something may have happened to her.”

“That’s odd. I gave Sarah her physical a few months ago and she’s as healthy as a horse. Let me know how she’s doing, will you?”

“Count on it. I’ll see you later.”

 Not long after his call, Jake parked in front of the complex. A small man in a tweed suit got out of a sedan nearby and walked over.

“Sheriff McCallister? Tom Barton, I own this property,” he held his hand out and Jake shook it.

“Mr. Barton, do you have a key for Ms. Dawson’s apartment?”

“Yes sir, I have a master key for all apartments here. I keep it locked in my office. Right this way, please.”

Jake followed him into the building, walking to a door marked ‘Private’ at the back of the hall. Barton produced a key on a ring and unlocked the door.

He walked behind the desk, selected another key, and unlocked the drawer. Opening it up, he picked up a key on a fob and handed it to Jake.

“Here you are, Sheriff. This will open the door.”

Jake took the key while ruling out the possibility that someone had gained access to Sarah’s apartment by using the passkey. Barton kept it well secured and it was right where it belonged.

Barton followed Jake up the stairs to the second-floor landing.

“Which apartment is hers, Mr. Barton?”

“She’s in 2B, right over there.”

Jake knocked loudly on the door as he called out.

“Ms. Dawson? Sarah? It’s Sheriff McCallister. Are you all right?”

The knocking caused Sarah’s dog Charlie to resume barking and howling in earnest, but no other sound came from inside. The door to 2C opened and an older woman stepped out.

“Sheriff, is Sarah all right? I’ve never heard little Charlie fuss like that before.”

“Please wait right here with Mr. Barton, Ma’am, and I’ll check on her.”

Jake unlocked the door, opening it slowly, and little Charlie ran out, rushing to the woman and jumping up on her leg.

“It’s OK now Charlie, you come here,” she picked him up and held him, as he was trembling and whimpering in her arms.

Jake glanced at Barton and walked inside. The thick, coppery smell of blood filled the air, and he saw the dog’s red paw prints all over the floor.

Sarah was sitting in her recliner, her head nearly split in two to the jaw line, having been struck from behind by something very sharp and heavy. Her body was saturated in blood, brain matter spilling down onto her lap, splatter everywhere around the chair from the severe force of the blows.

Despite the mess, the only prints on the blood-soaked floor were the dog’s paw prints. There was no weapon in sight, the door had been locked when Jake opened it to enter, and there were no other signs of a disturbance in the room. In fact, the TV was still on, the volume low.

“Sheriff?”, the neighbor called in, “is Sarah all right?”

Jake walked carefully back to the door, insuring he didn’t disturb any evidence. He stepped out, closing the door behind him.

“No, I’m afraid she’s not. Can you take care of her dog for now or should I call Animal Control to pick him up?”

“Goodness, no. Charlie and I are friends. He can stay with me. What happened?”

“I’m afraid I can’t discuss it, as this is now a crime scene. Mr. Barton, I’ll need to ask you to stay here, and let the lab techs in when they arrive.”

“Certainly Sheriff, whatever I can do.” He was visibly shaken, very pale now. Jake felt he must have looked inside while the door was open and wished he hadn’t

The neighbor carried Charlie into her apartment and Jake could hear her sobbing. She’d obviously been close with Sarah and was deeply troubled by whatever had happened to her.

Barton walked down the stairs, returning to his office as Jake went outside to the Jeep. He picked up the mike and called in to have Sally mobilize the crime scene techs for the second time this morning.

What the hell was happening in his village?

       Carson’s Mill is a small village, one of 8 that make up the town of Richmond in Southern Rhode Island. Interestingly enough, there is no actual town of Richmond… it’s comprised of those villages and towns, each with their own unique demographic.

       Named after one of the village’s founding fathers, Jedediah Carson, who opened a textile mill on the bank of the Pawcatuck River in 1847, the village has been a small, but thriving community since it was founded that same year.

       The small village has a police department with Jake McCallister, a transplanted New Yorker, as its Sheriff, 6 officers, a volunteer fire department, a row of shops on Main Street, the Baptist church, and convenient access to I-95 for commuters and residents to travel to work, school, shopping, and entertainment.

       By lunchtime that Saturday, rumors had begun to spread about something unusual going on out at the cemetery. No one knew about Sarah Dawson yet, but they’d find out soon enough. Secrets don’t stay secret for long in a small town.

Jake turned it over in his mind, trying to make sense of it. First, a stray dog slaughtered, then a retired woman who had a dog that wasn’t touched. Was the first dog a test of some kind? And what could the Dawson woman possibly have done to merit that level of brutal violence from anyone?

He finally closed the manila folders and decided to call it a night. He’d worked right through the evening and it was nearly ten PM. He made a sandwich, opened a cold beer, and sat in front of his TV, trying unsuccessfully to divert his thoughts.

After cleaning up, Jake turned in at about eleven. He tossed and turned, finally settling into a restless sleep. It wasn’t long before the old nightmare came back for the first time since he was a little kid.

He was four years old again, cowering under the covers in his bed, peeking out at the closet. The door was slightly ajar and something was moving around inside, rustling his clothing. The door moved ever so slightly and there was a pale face peering out at him. He could only see one eye through the narrow opening, but he also saw part of its mouth.

Dear God, that mouth…

Jake woke with a start, sitting upright in the bed. The LED digits on the clock said 3:57 and provided just enough light for him to see that his closet door was firmly closed. He got up and went into the bathroom, squinting against the bright light.

He knew he’d be unable to get back to sleep again so he dismissed the idea. He showered and dressed for the day, then decided to take a drive and get some breakfast instead of making something himself.

The only option available at 4 AM was that diner out near the highway ramps, but the food there wasn’t bad at all. It was a favorite among long haul truckers passing through, and their never-ending cup of coffee sounded perfect.

As he drove through the village center, he noticed an unusually tall man walking along in front of the closed, dark shops. As Jake drove by, the man passed under a streetlight and glanced in his direction.

Jake was so startled he swerved the Jeep, nearly hitting a parked car. He made a fast U turn, pulling in front of the shops but the man was gone.

He grabbed his flashlight and stepped out, standing next to the Jeep. He slowly swept the store fronts with the light, pausing in each of the dark, empty doorways, his right hand resting lightly on the holstered Glock at his side.

Nothing. Complete silence, nothing moving, not even a breeze to flutter the awnings over the doorways.

When the walking man looked at him, Jake recognized his face. It was the face that had haunted his childhood nightmares for all those years. The pale skin, narrow eyes, and the impossibly wide smile full of razor sharp teeth.

The 1920’s era ‘Steeplechase’ face from his first ever trip to Coney Island as a small child that had scared the hell out of him.

The face leering through the open closet door at night or looking out from the deep shadows under the bed, always there, always hungry. The face he’d just dreamed about after all those years.

The Bogeyman’s face.

As he got back into the Jeep, he realized his arms were crawling with gooseflesh. He made another U turn, heading back toward the diner. He needed to think, to try to understand what was going on. What he’d just seen was impossible, but he was certain he hadn’t imagined it.

When he pulled into a spot in front of the diner, the little white US Mail truck pulled up alongside, parking next to him. George Parker, the town’s mailman, got out and waved.

“Mornin, Jake. Mighty early for you, isn’t it?”

“Good morning, George. Yeah, got something I’m working on, so I’m starting early today. Surprised to see you out on a Sunday morning at all.”

“I have a special delivery for that old witch out by the town dump.”

“Old witch?”

“Oh, what’s her name again…. Anna something?” he glanced at the package wrapped with twine in his truck, “Anna Scorczy, that’s it.”

Jake remembered some old timers talking about her once. There were rumors that she was an old Gypsy woman, or a witch, and older than God himself. One of them, well along in his 80’s, had said she looked exactly the same today as she did when he was still just a kid.

Deeply wrinkled face, snow white hair to the waist, always wrapped up in scarves and big, gaudy jewelry. Lived in a shack somewhere at the edge of the village, not far from the landfill.

And those eyes. They all agreed she had scary, piercing eyes, that looked through a man right into his soul.

“Figured I’d stop for a bite, and get the smell out of my nose,” George continued, “whatever is in that box stinks to high heaven. I’ll be glad to get it done and gone. Truth be told, that old buzzard gives me the creeps.”

“Well, I’ll join you if you don’t mind a little company, George,” Jake said, holding the door open.

“Not at all, Sheriff, thanks. Be nice to have some company.”

The two men sat down and ordered, the conversation changing to local events, the weather, the village, and so on, but in the back of his mind, Jake was thinking about the old Gypsy woman. As crazy as it seemed, could she possibly know anything? The killings were like something out of a horror movie, and so, it seemed, was she. He made a mental note to find out exactly where she lived and stop there for a chat.

Neither Jake nor George had any idea that Stu Siebel, a computer programmer, was also up very early. He’d been awakened by a noise downstairs in his home, and crept down the stairs softly, a baseball bat in his hand, ready to face his intruder.

He silently moved to the wall switch, and snapped on the light, gasping aloud, gaping in disbelief.

His older brother once left out a horror comic book when Stu was little and the story he’d read about the Grim Reaper had scared him to the core, haunting his nightmares for several years to come.

Standing fully seven feet tall, that Reaper now stood in Stu’s living room, red fiery coals burning in the empty eye sockets, a scythe in its bony right hand. Stu smelled the musty aroma of the heavy looking robe it wore.

He did not feel the bat slipping from his hand or his bladder letting go.

Nonononono,” he mumbled incoherently, eyes filling up.

The Bogeyman of Stu’s childhood, the predator of his dreams, seemed to grin as it grabbed the scythe in both skeletal hands and stepped toward him.

Stu moaned softly as it whipped the scythe around at frightening speed, decapitating him in one swift arc. His head rolled backwards off his neck as his knees gave way, a fountain of blood showering the wall beside him.

His headless body fell heavily to the floor, blood still flowing from the neck, pooling on the polished hardwood.

Stu’s head lay behind his body, eyes wide open, seeing nothing.

The red coals in the Reaper’s empty eye sockets burned even brighter as it surveyed the carnage, its permanent grin somehow wider than before.

Jake waved as George backed up and drove off to make his delivery. He wondered who he could talk to about that old woman, especially so early on a Sunday morning. He wanted someone who’d been in the village for life, but not prone to gossip and old wives’ tales. He considered Reverend Haines, out at the Baptist church. He got into the Jeep and made his way to the church.

There was only one car in the lot when he arrived, a modest late model sedan, with a Clergy license plate on it.

He walked into the church and saw Reverend Haines making his way through the rows, placing song books out to prepare for his morning services.

“Good morning, Reverend. I know you’re busy, but can you spare me a minute?”

“Good morning, Sheriff. Of course, how may I help?”

“You’ve been in Carson’s Mill a long time, haven’t you?”

“All my life. My father and his father before him were the pastors at this very church. Why do you ask?”

“I’m curious about a resident,” he glanced at his notepad quickly, “Anna Scorczy, lives out on the edge of town?”

“Ah yes, the old Gypsy woman. I don’t know her, but I know of her.”

“Is she really a Gypsy?”

“Oh yes. She and her husband settled here when my grandfather was still the Pastor. He called on them to welcome them, as we always do with new residents, but received a very rude reception. They wanted nothing to do with him or the church. I understand the things they said to him were highly blasphemous.”

“Your grandfather, you say. So, she must be really along in years then.”

“I heard she was well past one hundred when my father was still Pastor. I’m frankly amazed she’s still here, which of course feeds some of the unkind rumors the villagers are fond of discussing.”

“What happened to the husband?”

“No one really knows. People noticed she was coming alone into the village for whatever she needed from the market, which wasn’t very much. I believe she raised chickens and tended a garden for most of her food, again from things people have said. If he passed away, any arrangements she made did not involve the church at all.”

“What else have you heard about her?”

“Just the silly nonsense people say about an odd stranger. She’s a witch, beware the evil eye, she’ll cast a spell, that kind of thing. Oh, and something to do with her and people’s dreams seems to concern a lot of the older residents. I really don’t know the details as I dislike gossip. I am sorry, but if there’s nothing else…?”

“No, sorry Reverend. I know you’re busy, and you’ve been very helpful. Thanks for your time.”

“My pleasure, Sheriff. Come join us for a service sometime?”

“I’ll see what I can do,” he extended his hand, and the Pastor shook it with a firm grip.

Jake returned to the Jeep, checking the time. Just past seven, still too early to call and see what Ray might know about the Scorczy woman. He decided to head to the station instead and see if there was anything back from the Crime Lab yet.

George Parker pulled his mail truck in front of the battered shack that served as Anna Scorczy’s home and carried the package to the door. He set it down, knocked at the door, and called out.

“Package delivery… right outside the door.”

Grateful he didn’t need a signature, he used his hand scanner to read the bar code on the package, indicating a completed delivery. He walked back over to his truck and headed on down the road, glad to have this chore finished.

He didn’t even realize he’d made the sign of the cross as he drove away.

He also didn’t notice the thin man with threadbare clothing standing behind a tree, watching him drive off, nor did he see the door open and the clawed hand picking up the package by the twine it was wrapped with.

Jake was sitting at his desk, poring over his notes and preliminary reports when Sally arrived.

“Morning, Jake. Can’t sleep?”

“Good morning, Sally. No, not very well, with all this going on.”

“Let me put up a pot of coffee.”

“Thanks… that sounds great,” he replied, as his cell phone began to ring. His Caller ID showed it was Ray calling.

“Good morning, Ray… I was going to call you before, but felt it was too early.”

“Oh? Did something else happen?”

“No, well at least not that I know of. There are a couple of things I was hoping I could pick your brains over though.”

“I can swing by before I make my rounds at the Med Center. Are you still at home?”

“No, I’m at the station. Waiting for anything the lab boys might have found, but nothing yet.”

“That’s fine. Can I bring you a coffee?”

“No, thanks. Sally just put up a pot.”

“Even better. I’ll be there soon,” Ray hung up, and Jake put his cell on the desk.

When Ray arrived, Sally brought him a coffee, and left them to talk. Jake detailed everything, his dream, what he saw in town, and what he’d learned from George and Reverend Haines, and sat back in his chair.

“And that’s it. What do you think?”

“I’m not surprised that the Scorczy woman is being mentioned. She’s always been very reclusive, very eccentric. We heard the stories about her when we first moved up here from the city. The old timers warned us to steer clear of her, or she’d take control of our dreams somehow, or something like that.”

“Reverend Haines also said something about dreams. Tell me, Ray, am I going nuts? I don’t believe in this mumbo jumbo, but I had that nightmare last night for the first time since I was just a little kid and then I saw the damned thing walking along Main Street right afterward.”

“Crazy, no. Power of suggestion is a strong thing, though. You said you stopped and looked carefully and there was no sign of him, right?”

“Not a trace. He’d vanished, or…”

“Or, you imagined it, having just had a disturbing dream.”

“Maybe so,” Jake mused, “but I still think I should at least go and talk to that old woman.”

“Let me know when you’re planning to go,” Ray said, looking at his watch. “I’d like to tag along and try to evaluate her mental status, especially considering how old she seems to be. But for now, I have rounds to make.”

They both stood up, and Jake shook Ray’s hand.

“Thanks. I appreciate the help as always.”

“Wait till you get the bill, then see if you still want to thank me,” Ray laughed, and left the office.

The thin man in the woods had stretched out beneath a large oak to rest a bit, and when he opened his eyes, he jumped at the sight of the piercing eyes staring at him, seeming to look right through him.

“I-I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to trespass, I’ll get a move on…” he stammered.

“No. You sick. You come in, you have food, you rest.” The old woman said, her accent as thick as the bark on the old oak tree.

He stood up, shivering from the cold that had settled in while he rested, and followed her to the shack.

Derek Matthews had been homeless for a long time, and had slowly made his way south from northern Maine, where his former life was far behind him now. He didn’t know what to expect as he entered her shack, and really didn’t care at this point. He was beyond tired, and if this was where it was going to end, then so be it. He was sick now, sicker than he’d ever felt before, and welcomed the thought of just sleeping forever.

The next few days passed like a series of dreams, and Derek wasn’t sure what was real and what wasn’t. He teetered on the edge of death, but the old woman managed to care for him in such a way that he was feeling stronger, as impossible as he knew that to be.

After a couple of days spent poring over the reports yet again and fumbling through Google to learn what he could about Gypsies and dreams, Jake’s restlessness got the better of him.

“Sally, did you find that address for the Scorczy woman?”

“Sure did, Jake, here you go,” she handed him a small sheet of paper. He walked over to the large village map on the wall and set a push pin in the location Sally had given him.

“If you need me, get me on the two way. I’m going to go up there and interview her. Oh, and if Ray calls, can you tell him I went up there? He wanted to come along, but I can’t sit here doing nothing all day.”

“Will do. Should I have Adam meet you up there?”

“No need. She’s just a little old lady,” he said, walking out the door.

“For your sake, I hope so,” Sally muttered to herself.

“Soon, my son, soon…”

Anna Scorczy placed a cool, damp cloth on the man’s forehead, letting him sleep. She hobbled out to the main room in her small cabin and sat in the great chair at the rough wooden table her husband had built so long ago.

She lit the candle in its holder and opened the large book to the page with the final ritual, as she glanced over at the fireplace. The branding iron stood next to the poker, and would be ready for the ritual, which would occur at the next and final blood moon of the tetrad.

The iron had been crafted centuries ago from pure silver, forged with the blood of a sacrificial virgin added to the molten silver. It bore the symbol of the Baba Yaga, and would keep the Dragorka in her control.

 Without that brand and the proper incantation, she would be in as much danger as anyone else that came across the Dragorka.

Last night had been the third blood moon, and he had suffered excruciating pain as she spoon fed him her fetid broth and performed the ritual incantation, while she drew her ceremonial blade, forged at the same time as the branding iron, across his bare flesh. He barely survived the ordeal, and was now ready for the last step, during which she would end his mortal life, and restore him as the Dragorka, the Slayer of Worlds, and she would be the only force that could control him in that state.

During the decades that spanned her lifetime, she had seen the legends begin in small European villages, where the peasants used charms and talismans to protect themselves against creatures that evolved into the vampire and werewolf of folklore and popular fiction. She was one of the few in the world today that knew those legends both spawned from the actions of the Dragorka that hunted the mountains and forests. The creature sustained itself on blood, hearts, lungs, and especially the ovaries and uterus of a female virgin, which were a delicacy to the beast.

The Dragorka that had once been her father and the tribal elder before his becoming.

It was a renegade Romani that understood what it was, and used that knowledge to kill the creature as it transformed back to human form. That action led to him becoming the target of Anna’s bloody revenge, which elevated her to a place of honor within her extended family, ultimately becoming their elder, their Baba Yaga.

For now, she would care for him, feed him, and restore his strength. He’d need every bit of it for the final ritual, the becoming.

Anna Scorczy, nearly two centuries old, was well beyond senility, thoroughly insane, yet still yielding the great power of the ages. She’d already cast demons that represented the worst nightmares of those she imagined had slighted her in any way, those demons invisible to all except their victims. They could not only see them, but could be slaughtered by them, and that slaughter had begun. In her enthusiasm over the creation of the Dragorka, she’d completely forgotten casting the Cucuny upon the residents of the village, running rampant on all those she felt deserving.

She looked out her small window, hearing a motor approaching. Setting her placeholder on the page, she slowly closed the great book as the sound arrived right outside of the cabin, glaring at the vehicle and its sole occupant.

Jake pulled the Jeep over in front of the ramshackle cabin that served as Anna Scorczy’s home. There were no curtains on the window and he could see candle light flickering inside. He grabbed the mike on the two way and called in.

“Sally? I’m here at Anna Scorczy’s place, copy?”

“Copy, Jake. I did speak to Ray and let him know you went. Are you sure you don’t want Adam to join you?”

“No, I don’t think so. I just need to have a word with her.”

“Roger that, have to go, phone’s ringing again.”

Replacing the mike in its clip, Jake got out of the Jeep, looked around and walked to the door, knocking loudly.

“Go way!” yelled a gravelly voice from within, more vibrant than he’d expected from such an old woman.

Jake opened the door, stepping inside. The woman glared at him from her seat at a worn table.

“I said go way! You have no right be here!”

“I’m afraid I do, Ms. Scorczy. The law gives me the right to ask you some questions.”

“Law? I spit on your law, puny man.” the old woman sneered.

“I think you know something about what’s been happening in the village, and I need you to tell me what that is.”

She said nothing, brow furrowed, glaring at him with a fierce light in her eyes. The old timers had been right about that part… those eyes drilled right through you. It was unsettling, but Jake mentally pushed it aside. He needed to know whatever she knew about all this.

“People in the village, good people, are dead. Something has been killing them, something not natural. And I believe you know something about whatever that thing is.”

“So, you come here. You tink de old Gypsy to blame. Pah.”

They stared at each other over the table, like chess masters beginning a match.

“Ms. Scorczy, I’d rather not bring you to the station to talk to me but if you don’t cooperate, that’s exactly what I’ll have to do.”

“You no take me anywhere.”

“I’m sorry, but if you insist,” Jake started walking around the table, planning to escort her to the Jeep. He’d had enough.

“I show you MY law… Cucuny,” she intoned in her heavily accented, rough voice.

 It stepped out of the shadows behind her chair, that pale, round face illuminated by the candles on the table. The smile was even wider than he remembered, the teeth sharp, gnawing against each other, eyes narrowed to slits in eager anticipation.

The woman chuckled aloud, her piercing eyes unblinking as she stared at Jake. He stared back, unbelieving, as the nightmarish thing that terrified his earliest memories started moving silently in his direction.

Cucuny,” she whispered again, clawed hands moving in the air.

Jake stepped back, slipping his Glock smoothly out of the holster.

“Stop right there, whatever the hell you are,” he commanded, aiming as he spoke.

The Bogeyman was silent, making no sound at all as it kept approaching. Jake’s reaction was textbook, firing a tight group of three shots into center mass, easily on target at less than ten feet away.

The thing didn’t react at all. There wasn’t even a single hole in the fabric of its black suit as though the bullets had passed through a cloud. Jake fired two more rounds before it effortlessly backhanded the gun out of his hand, sending it sliding across the floor to his right.

And then it was on him.

It put its hands on Jake’s shoulders, pressing him down easily. Jake struggled, but the thing had remarkable strength. Jake’s legs buckled, the thing looming over him as he dropped to his knees on the hard wooden floor.

Its mouth opened wider than he’d thought possible, as though the lower jaw had somehow unhinged itself, revealing a jet-black tongue, sharply pointed at the end. It held Jake down with one hand, pushing his head back with the other to reveal his throat, and hissed as it closed in.

The old woman was cackling loudly now, Jake’s struggles futile against the force of the thing. Hot bile rose in his throat as he smelled its rancid breath, mere inches away now.

Jake turned his head as far as he could, closing his eyes to the inevitable.

The single gunshot echoed loudly in the small room and Jake fell forward, the Bogeyman no longer pushing him back.

It was gone.

Jake looked up at the old woman. She’d slumped back in her chair, the single gunshot wound perfectly centered in her forehead, blood freely flowing down, creating a network of red trails in her heavily wrinkled pale face. The fierce light was gone from her eyes, dim now, staring up at nothing.

Jake turned to his right, and there was Ray, still holding Jake’s Glock in the classic shooter’s stance, pointing at the old woman.

“You OK, Jake?”

“Thanks to you, yeah… I am,” he said, slowly standing. “Where the hell did you come from?”

“I called, and Sally said you were heading here, so I thought you might like some company.”

“Is it over, Ray? Is it finished now?”

“I believe so,” Ray said, as he turned and held the gun out to Jake.

“As far as I can piece together, she somehow had the ability to bring people’s worst nightmares to life, and that’s why we could never explain how these things happened.”

“Why’d you decide to shoot her instead of that thing?”

“That’s my point, Jake. I saw you on your knees, clearly struggling, but with nothing. I never saw what you were fighting with. That was your Bogeyman, not mine. She was waving her hands like a lunatic, drooling with excitement, and I thought if I stopped her, it would stop whatever was happening to you.”

“Well, you thought right, and I can’t tell you how grateful I am,” Jake put his hand on Ray’s shoulder. “I’m going to call this in and get Crime Scene and the Staties out here.”

“Do I need to worry about using your gun on her?”

“Hell no… I’m gonna put you in for that badge you keep pestering me about. Hell of a shot, by the way.”

“You cops like your ‘center mass’, but a doctor knows where the Off switch really is.”

“Thank God for that. Come on, I’ll call in and we can wait outside.”

“What’s going to happen to this shack once the crime scene techs are done?”

“I don’t know… the village might eventually put it up for sale, I suppose.”

“I have a better idea. Burn it down and leave the land alone afterward. I think it may be cursed.”

“You know, I think you may be right.”

As they walked out to Jake’s Jeep, neither of them was aware that Derek, awakened by the gunshots, painfully crawled out the back window of the cabin and made his way through the tall grass into the forest beyond.


Derek woke with a start, looking around. He was lying on a sidewalk against a building, a forest of legs walking quickly past in both directions. Beyond the walkers, a huge boulevard filled with vehicles of all shapes and sizes, angling to move forward, despite the throng. A discarded candy wrapper rested on his head, where it had landed, a cluster of crushed cigarette butts in front of him. He’d somehow awoken on a busy street in Boston, as invisible to the passersby as most homeless people generally are. Something, however, was very wrong.

There was no noise. No footsteps, no engines, horns, nothing.

Well, almost nothing, there were birds, singing as their tiny wings flapped along.

Derek closed his eyes and shook his head. He opened his eyes to reveal the forest he’d found shelter in when he left the cottage. Large roots from a tall oak provided a shelter that he’d curled up in, the ragged blanket he’d taken wrapped around him. A squirrel passing by stopped, regarded him for a moment, then continued his run. The candy wrapper and cigarette butts were just a leaf and some twigs on the ground.

He didn’t understand why his brief stay passing through Boston had flashed back to him now, but he was grateful that’s all it had been.

He stood up, letting the blanket fall into the hollow. Listening carefully, he thought he heard water nearby, so he followed the sound, hoping for something to drink.

The walking came easily, his legs somehow strong and agile, despite his having been homeless for so long, becoming so thin from lack of nourishment. Holding his arms out, they were also thick with muscle, adding to his confusion. Was it that horrible broth the old woman had been feeding him? He’d felt sure he was near death when she took him in.

Without realizing it, his hearing had also been enhanced, becoming far more acute. He made his way directly to the stream, led by the sound of the water gently moving along. He knelt, cupped his hand, and scooped up some of the cool water, sipping it greedily. He splashed water on his face, in his hair, cool and refreshing.

Then he sat patiently, waiting for the ripples to subside.

Finally, he looked at his reflection in the water. Where he’d previously been gaunt, on the verge of looking anorexic, he’d filled out, looking muscular, powerful. He was nearly starving when the old woman took him in. She’d told him his coming to her was preordained somehow. He didn’t believe half the things she said, believing her to be batshit crazy, but the hot broth, the occasional rabbit stew when she’d trapped one, the bread she baked all helped fortify him, yet didn’t explain the changes in his physique.

He had questions, lots of questions, but he didn’t think he’d be able to get answers anytime soon. When the gunshots woke him, there was a strong feeling of isolation that swept over him, and he somehow knew that the old woman was gone. But, why? She certainly had nothing a burglar would have been willing to kill for, no wealth, nothing to attract thieves at all.

Then he remembered the book. She guarded that old book on her table like it was made of solid gold. Maybe he’d find some answers there?

He determined to carefully make his way back to the shack, and if no one was around, he’d grab the book and some food, whatever he could find, and move on. His renewed strength would easily get him the rest of the way south to Florida, where he wanted to make a fresh start.

That fresh start had diminished in importance now, after his time with the old woman. He sensed something coming, something changing, but did not know what or when. Those were the burning questions that plagued him, more so now with her gone.

Refreshed, he made his way back to the shack, careful to stay hidden. He saw bright yellow tape all around the shack, but no cars, no people. He made his way to the window in back, and climbed silently inside.

He walked into the main room, but the large book was no longer on the table. They must have taken it away when they put up all that tape. He looked everywhere he could, but it was gone. He found an ornate dagger in a leather sheath that she’d hidden away, symbols carved into the blade on both sides. He also found some old men’s clothing that would serve to help keep him warm and not stand out as he did in his old worn clothing that didn’t fit any longer.

He filled a sack with whatever leftover food he could find, fitted the sheath to the belt he’d found, and looked at her chair, empty now, bloodstained at the top, a single bullet hole where her head had been.

Angered, he started a fire as he’d seen her do, and once it got going, he removed some of the burning logs and placed them around against the walls. It did not take long at all for them to begin burning, and he picked up his sack of food and clothing, and left through the same window he’d entered in.

He looked carefully around, and made his way back into the woods, determined to use his newfound strength to continue heading south. Spring led into summer, and no one ever learned exactly how the old shack burned down that June… but it did, leaving nothing of its former occupant behind.

July 2014

Julia was singing to herself as she drove to work, the sun coming up bright and strong on her right. She was thrilled that she’d landed a summer job at Marion’s Rest, a bed and breakfast on the Carson’s Mill border, doing the housekeeping and cooking for Marion Blackmoor, the elderly widow that owned it.

It was demanding work, but so much better than waitressing at a restaurant or a bar, getting hit on by drunken patrons, or sometimes even drunken owners. She’d bounced between three jobs like that last summer, and it was terrible. Marion was a strange old bird, but at least Julia felt safe in her big old Victorian home.

There were only three guests today, the couple heading north to Boston for a vacation, and that retired writer, Mister Wilson, who told such enjoyable stories during breakfast. He’d be there for a few more days, but the couple was scheduled to check out today, so she’d be cleaning their room, putting on fresh bedding and washing the linens.

First thing, as always, put up coffee and make a nice big breakfast for everyone. Her scrambled eggs were always a hit (crumbled American cheese and just a dash of Vanilla extract, her secret recipe), and the fresh bacon and sausage that Marion had delivered in by a local butcher pleased most, although a few had mentioned a funny, gamey aftertaste.

She’d never noticed anything wrong, and actually liked the breakfast meats she prepared. You just can’t please all the people all the time, like her Daddy always said.

She signaled and turned right, automatically pulling the visor down against the bright sun. Up ahead, that old three-story gray home, the old-fashioned crest on the sign in front. ‘Blackmoor’s Bed & Breakfast’ it said, all the capital B’s done up in ornate gold leaf. She parked on the street, leaving the few spaces beside the house for the guests. Marion had renamed the place ‘Marion’s Rest’ after her husband died, but had never replaced the original sign.

Locking her car, Julia smiled and continued singing as she walked to the house. She just knew it was going to be a good day, and looked forward to whatever story Mister Wilson might tell everyone at breakfast today.

“Good morning, Julia,” Marion Blackmoor said, holding the delicate china cup with her morning tea, the morning paper spread out before her on the small kitchen table.

“Good morning Mrs. Blackmoor. How are you today?”

“Fine, thank you. And you, dear?”

“I am wonderful, thanks. The sun is up, the day will be nice, and we have a lively group for breakfast today.”

“About that, dear… Mr. And Mrs. Sands have already checked out and departed early, so it will only be Mister Wilson and ourselves for breakfast.”

“That’s odd. I thought they were planning to head out after breakfast?”

“As did I, but sometimes people change their minds. Young people seem to be in such a hurry these days.”

“All right, Mrs. Blackmoor. I’ll see to their room right after the breakfast cleanup. Are you expecting any new guests today?”

“No, not until next week, dear. The Burkes will be joining us then, on their way up to Maine for the summer.”

Julia carefully avoided using the phrase “snowbirds”, not wanting to offend Marion. She nodded and smiled as Marion gathered her cup and saucer and newspaper, leaving Julia to begin preparing the day’s breakfast.

She was grateful that Marion had left the kitchen. She treated her well, but there was something scary about the way she stared at people, made even worse by her different colored eyes. One was blue, the other amber, a color Julia had never seen before, and when she stared, it raised the gooseflesh on Julia’s arms. She shivered at the mere thought of it, then set about preparing the morning coffee.

She looked in the refrigerator, and noticed there were only five eggs left for breakfast, and thought it was lucky that the couple had left early after all.

“Mrs. Blackmoor?” she called into the sitting room.

“Yes, Julia?”

“We’ve only got five eggs left. Would you like me to run to the market for you?”

“No, thank you dear. That will be enough for breakfast today, and I will go and see Mrs. McManus at the diner afterward. She gets extras from the farm for me, and they’re so much better than store bought, don’t you agree?”

“Yes Ma’am, they are delicious. Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, dear. Well good morning, Mr. Wilson. Sleep well?” She addressed John Wilson, who had just come down the stairs.

“Good morning, Mrs. Blackmoor. Yes, very well, thank you. Is that Julia’s fresh coffee I’m smelling?”

“It certainly is. I’ll ask Julia to prepare a cup for you. I’m going to make another cup of tea,” she said, as she stood up and left the room.

“Thank you,” John said, as he took a seat and scanned the headlines on the morning newspaper. A moment later, the door opened again.

“Here you are, Mr. Wilson,” Julia brought him a large mug, “Just a bit of cream, no sugar, as you like it.”

“Aw, thanks Julia… a man could get spoiled like this you know.”

“My pleasure,” she smiled, “I’m glad you enjoy them. Breakfast will be out in just a few minutes.”

“Thanks,” he smiled back. She was a pleasant contrast to the Blackmoor woman’s stern, overly proper demeanor, and he enjoyed her company in the mornings.

Julia brought the platters into the dining room where she’d set their places earlier, and they gathered for breakfast and small talk to begin their day.

Catherine Carrol (CC to her friends, thank you very much) had been on her own for nearly 3 years, after running away at 16. Her dreams of breaking through as an actress or model soon turned sour after she reached New York city, starting at a youth hostel, finally living on the streets, relying on the shelters for food and warmth in the winters.

She finally gave up, swallowed her pride, and began hitchhiking her way back north, back toward her parents in New Hampshire. She had no means of getting anywhere other than relying on the kindness of strangers, and chose not to make a collect call to her parents for help. She’d face them in person, knowing that they’d be less inclined to give her a long lecture face to face than in a long overdue phone conversation.

She caught a ride with a young couple that took her as far as the first rest area on the interstate in Connecticut, as they were taking the next exit to their home, and thought she’d have better luck finding her next ride there, rather than on the side of the busy highway. She thanked them, and went inside to use the restroom and wash up. She saw a burly man walking out with a large container of coffee, and walked over to him.

“Excuse me, mister? Are you heading north?”

“Yep, I’m going to Rhode Island, Missy. Are you in trouble?”

“No, I’m just trying to get back home to New Hampshire. It’s a long story.”

“Well, I can bring you up as far as a diner in Rhody at Carson’s Mill, if that’ll help. Maybe you can find someone there heading north.”

“Oh, that would be great. Thank you so much.”

“No problem. You need to be careful, out on the roads alone, you know. I’m Joe, and my truck is just over there, end of the row.”

“Thanks, Joe. I’m Catherine, and I am really grateful.”

“Want a coffee or something for the ride?”

“No, I have no money left, I can wait.”

“Come on, let’s go back in. Get yourself something to go, we can’t have you starving in my truck.”

They went back into the rest stop, and she picked a sandwich and an iced coffee, Joe paid the cashier, and they walked back to the parking lot. She had one small suitcase with her, and Joe took that so she could carry her sandwich and drink.

“You know, I tried that iced coffee once, couldn’t even finish it. I like my coffee hot and strong.”

“Oh, I like hot coffee too, but this will go better with the sandwich. I don’t know how to thank you, Joe.”

“One day, when you’re back on your feet, pay it forward, and help someone who’s down on their luck, and we’ll call it even.”

They got into Joe’s truck, and he guided it expertly back into the flow of traffic heading north on I-95. He told her stories about life on the road, and some of the things he’d seen and places he’d been, and she told him an abbreviated version of how she’d left home, trying for a break in the city, and finally giving up.

“I’m gonna sound like an annoying old uncle or something Missy, but in today’s world, you really need to finish up your education before you set off to do anything at all. Back in my day, you could rely on yourself and your skills to get by, but things have changed so much now. Sure, follow your dreams, but finish school and have something to fall back on, like a plan B.”

“No, you’re right. I tried it my way, and fell flat on my face. I was lucky not to get into trouble down there.”

“You sure were. Big cities like that will eat a young gal like you alive if you’re not careful.”

“I’m going to be in a world of trouble with my parents when I get back.”

“Did you let them know you’re coming?”

“No, not yet.”

“My cell phone’s right there. Go ahead and give them a call, if you’d like.”

“Thanks, but I’m going to just show up at the door, I think. I’m hoping they’ll be happier to see me than angry that I left.”

“All right, but if you change your mind, go right ahead and call them.”

“Thanks Uncle Joe.”

He laughed as he put on his directional to pass a group of slow-moving traffic in the right lane.

“There’s one more rest stop here in Connecticut coming up soon, so let me know if you need a pit stop.”

“I’m OK, thanks.”

“Rhody, here we come. If I see anyone I know at the diner there, I’ll find out if they’re heading up to New Hampshire for you.”

Catherine smiled and thanked Joe again, as she watched the scenery passing by. The further north they got, the less she saw beyond the trees that lined the sides of the road. She was glad to see the signs of city, of population fading away, heading back into the country. They chatted idly about the weather, about New England, and before she knew it, there was the big sign welcoming travelers to Rhode Island.

“Wow, that seemed so quick.”

“It goes faster when you have someone to talk to. We’re close now, the diner is off exit three, so we’ll be there soon.”

“I really can’t thank you enough, Joe.”

“Like I said, pay it forward. If I had a daughter needing help, I’d like to hope someone would be there for her too.”

Joe put on his directional and started slowing the truck in preparation for the exit ramp coming up ahead. He turned smoothly off the ramp onto the state road, and pointed ahead.

“There it is. They have great breakfasts here. I only see a couple of cars though, no other trucks.”

“Oh, I can always thumb on the highway.”

“Absolutely not. You’ll either get picked up by a nut case or a trooper. I’m going to sit down and have some food, you’re welcome to join me, and I’ll talk to Barb, who owns the diner with her husband Bill. We’ll see what we can do for you.”

Joe pulled into the lot and parked his truck. They got out and walked into the diner, and Joe waved to the woman behind the counter who was talking with an older woman standing there.

“Hiya Barb. How are you and Bill doing?”

“Doing great, Joe, and you? Heading out or coming home?”

“Heading home, and came across a young friend in need on the way. Barb, this is Catherine.”

“Well hello, Catherine. This is Marion Blackmoor, who owns the Bed and Breakfast down the road.”

“Mrs. Blackmoor,” Joe said, tipping his baseball cap, “nice to meet you. Catherine here is making her way to her home in New Hampshire, and I was able to bring her at least this far. I was hoping I’d run into Willy and the gang, and see if any of them might be heading up that way.”

“Aw, the locals have already been in and gone, Joe. They’ll be back early tomorrow, I’d think,” Barb said.

“Miss, is your family expecting you?” Marion asked.

“No, they’re not, Ma’am. I was going to surprise them.”

“Well then,” Marion continued, “I have a room available. Why don’t you come along and spend the night, and I’ll see about trying to find someone to help you the rest of the way.”

“Oh, thank you, but I can’t. I have no money to pay for a room,” Catherine said, blushing.

“Nonsense,” Marion replied, “we certainly cannot have you sleeping on a park bench somewhere. You can help me with some cleaning, and then have a safe place to rest, and a good breakfast in the morning.”

“There you go, Missy. Thanks for helping her out, Mrs. Blackmoor. She’s a nice young lady, just down on her luck, is all.” Joe tipped his hat again, and asked Barb, “Now, how about your lumberjack special, Barb? Breakfast for dinner, then get the rig home.”

“Coming right up, Joe. Anything for you, Catherine? On the house…”

“She can join me for dinner tonight, Barbara, and thank you in advance. Come along Miss, my car is right outside,” Marion said, as she turned toward the door, adding “Barbara, I’ll stop by for those eggs in the morning.”

“Yes Ma’am, and thank you. Thanks again, Uncle Joe!” Catherine smiled, picked up her suitcase, and followed Marion out to her car for the short ride to the B&B.

“You old teddy bear, you,” Barb laughed as she went to prepare Joe’s meal.

Marion parked in the small lot at her home, noting with satisfaction that both Julia’s and Mr. Wilson’s cars were gone. She and Catherine went inside, and Marion led her upstairs to the guest rooms.

“Here you are, Miss. I think you’ll find this comfortable,” she said, opening the door.

“Oh, it’s perfect, thank you so much.” Catherine set her case down next to the bed.

“That’s settled. Come and help me prepare dinner, won’t you?”

“Yes, of course,” Catherine closed the door behind her and followed Marion downstairs. Following Marion’s directions, she seasoned two chicken breasts, and put them in a roasting pan and set the oven temperature while Marion prepared a fresh salad.

They set places in the dining room, and Marion asked Catherine to pour them glasses of cold water to have with the meal.

Catherine found Marion’s stern gaze a little unsettling, but the woman spoke softly, a kind voice in contrast to her appearance. She told Marion how she’d run away three years ago, and how her dreams of success had turned into a hard lesson in basic survival.

“Yet, despite all those difficulties, you never contacted your parents once in all that time?”

“No, I let my pride stop me whenever I thought about it. That was a mistake,” she said, frowning.

“Well, you’ll be back soon, and quite a surprise for them, I daresay. Will you please clean the table for me? You can set everything into the dishwasher, and you’ll find what you need to clean the roasting pan above the sink.”

“I’ll be glad to. It’s the least I can do for the help you and Joe have given me. After everything is cleaned up, would you mind if I turned in early, please? I’m tired after the long day on the road today.”

“Not at all dear, in fact, I was going to suggest you do just that. I have one other guest here, but I don’t think you’ll even hear him when he arrives, so you’ll have ample time to get a good night’s rest. I’ll make sure you have all you need upstairs while you clean up after dinner.”

Marion went up to Catherine’s room and turned down the covers to reveal the pillows. Removing the stopper from the glass bottle she’d brought, she poured a liberal amount of Chloroform on both pillows, knowing it would dry quickly and release its inert gas when Catherine’s head pressed down onto the pillow.

She replaced the stopper in the bottle, then bent down to turn on the small air freshener dispenser, plugged into the outlet behind the end table. That should dispel any residual chemical odor.

She turned the covers back up, and looked the room over. Satisfied, she left as quietly as she’d entered. Now it was up to William.

She went back downstairs, talking with Catherine as she finished cleaning up in the kitchen.

Catherine went up to her guest room after thanking Marion once more, and sniffed. Something was different… fruity? Maybe an air freshener?

She shrugged her shoulders, entering the attached bathroom. She washed, brushed her teeth, and stripped off her jeans and shirt, leaving them on the floor as she turned back the covers and crawled into the large, comfortable bed. All she wanted was a good night’s rest before she went back home, to the place she’d run away from so long ago. She felt better than she had in a very long time, having finally made peace with her decision to return. She smiled, grateful for Joe being such a gentleman, and also for Mrs. Blackmoor’s kindness.

Sometime later, she heard a noise… a rustling in the walls, sounded like something big. Raccoons, maybe. She lifted her head to hear better, but felt so dizzy, so lightheaded that her head fell back onto the pillow. She hadn’t had any alcohol at all, and wondered why she was so weak.

Wha…” was all she managed to say, barely conscious. She thought she saw the wall beside the dresser moving, almost like a door opening, a shadowy figure stepping out and moving closer to the bed. She tried to shake her head, to clear the cobwebs, but a cold hand, hard as stone, came to rest on her forehead, and she was completely paralyzed. She couldn’t move at all now, despite her head starting to clear.

When the thing leaned over and she saw its face, she was unable to release the scream that welled up inside. Its flesh had begun rotting away, revealing gray bone beneath in several places. The right eye was a bright, glowing amber, a malevolent jewel shining in the darkness. The left was missing altogether, the empty socket blacker than the night. It had no lips left, but its teeth looked strong and vibrant, despite being badly stained by something dark. Red, maybe?

Impossible to tell in the dim light. The sparse gray hair looked filthy, sticking up wildly here and there, the thick bushy eyebrows looking almost artificially lush. She thought briefly of the zombies she’d seen in horror movies, but those things just shambled blindly… this thing moved smoothly, with a definite purpose, in defiance of the corruption that ravaged it so badly.

The thing tossed the covers aside and grabbed her roughly under the arms, dragging her out of the bed, toward that opening in the wall. She was dimly aware that she’d begun to wet herself in sheer terror, but was unable to do anything to cover her shame or cry out for help.

Marion sat silently in her own room, waiting patiently for the “thump-thump-thump” of Catherine’s heels on the wooden stairs behind the wall that led to the basement. Once the sound diminished, she went back to Catherine’s room, gathered up her belongings and the two pillows into a pile by the door. She took two new pillows from the closet and made the bed.

She took Catherine’s single suitcase out of the closet, and placed the Chloroformed pillows and all her clothing into it, closing the snaps. She pushed the wall panel back in place, and fetched a mop and bucket to clean the wet streak on the floor.

She shut off the light as she left the room, walking softly downstairs. She left the suitcase in front of the locked basement door in the kitchen, and made her way back upstairs to her own room. She knew the suitcase would be gone in the morning, just as she knew there would be fresh bacon and sausage in the refrigerator for tomorrow’s breakfast.

She unlocked the drawer on her small writing desk and took out a thick journal, using the ribbon to open to the next empty page. She wrote for nearly an hour before locking the journal back in the desk and retiring for the night. If Mrs. McManus asked about Catherine tomorrow, she’d tell her that the Sands couple offered her a ride up to Boston, to continue her journey home, and that would close the subject nicely.

She did not know that John Wilson was wide awake, sitting in the dark in his room, listening carefully to all the furtive nocturnal activity as he tapped silently on the keyboard of his laptop, adding to the notes he’d started taking when he arrived. He was particularly troubled by the thumping sound, clearly descending somewhere inside the house. Varmints don’t typically drag heavy things around.

He’d said he was a retired writer, which was true. He simply left out that he’d been an investigative reporter, and the writing he did was for a newspaper. He’d booked this out of the way place to simply enjoy the area, and do some sightseeing, but his instincts had been humming since shortly after he arrived. He was sure something unusual was going on here, and had determined to find out what. Old habits die hard, as they say.

Catherine was unable to feel it when William dropped her roughly on the hard wooden table in the basement, was unable to see him pick up the hacksaw, but when he began sawing through her shoulder to remove her arm, the pain flared brightly, despite her inability to do anything but lie still. Her wide eyes and the tears flowing from them were the only outward sign of the agony of that hacksaw tearing through her flesh and bone. She began to feel a sense of drifting away from the excruciating pain, as though she was falling asleep. She was blissfully unaware that she was bleeding profusely from the dismemberment, and had mere moments left to live.

Her paralysis made her unable to close her eyes, but she mercifully stopped seeing anything at all just before William dropped his saw, picked up her detached arm, and bit deeply into the meat of her bicep, beginning his evening feeding.

This one was younger, fresher than the last couple had been, and he gorged himself on her sweet young meat before butchering her torso to stock the chest freezer.

Between her and that couple last night, the freezer would be well stocked for a while to come.

The following morning, Marion was up early, as was her custom. She’d just returned from an early drive for fresh eggs and started to read the newspaper with her tea when she heard footsteps on the stairs, which surprised her.

“Good morning, Mrs. Blackmoor.”

“Good morning, Mr. Wilson. You’re up very early today. I’m terribly sorry, but Julia hasn’t arrived yet.”

“Oh, that’s fine. I’m planning a long ride along the coast today, and I can stop along the way for breakfast.”

“There is a diner just down the road, by the highway. In fact, I get my eggs from them because they’re so fresh.”

“Thank you, that sounds just fine. I’ll start there, then go visit those lighthouses along the coast.”

“My apologies for not being prepared in time for you today, Mr. Wilson. I do hope you enjoy your outing. Our coastline has some beautiful places to enjoy.”

John Wilson smiled and waved, and went out to his car. He remembered passing that diner when he first arrived, and headed that way. There were a few big rigs parked beside the place, which was always a good sign. Truckers generally knew the best places on the road to eat.

The counter seats were filled, mostly with the truck drivers, but he saw an empty booth and sat down. Barb came over with a mug and a pot of coffee.

“Good morning… coffee to start?”

“Yes please, that sounds great.”

“We don’t have menus, but everything is up on the board right there.”

“I think scrambled with bacon and toasted English sounds good.”

“I’ll get that right away,” Barb said, pouring his coffee, “Passing through today?”

“Oh, I’m actually here on vacation. I’m staying at the B&B down the road, but I was up early today, and the young girl that prepares breakfast there hadn’t arrived yet, so here I am.”

One of the truckers at the counter turned around.

“Scuse me mister, but you said you’re at that B&B? How is Catherine doing? Mrs. B brought her there yesterday afternoon, when I dropped her off here.”

“Catherine? I’m sorry, I don’t know any Catherine.”

“Joe, I saw Marion earlier,” Barb spoke up, “and she said a couple that was going up to Boston agreed to take her along with them.”

“Oh, that’s good. Nice kid, I hope she makes it home soon.” Joe turned back to his breakfast at the counter.

John said nothing, sipping his coffee thoughtfully. At breakfast yesterday, Marion Blackmoor said the Sands couple had decided to check out early, so they were long gone before yesterday afternoon. She’d obviously lied to these people about them giving this Catherine a ride to Boston, but why? And what happened to the girl?

When he was with the Tribune, this would be when he’d reach out to his police contacts, but up here? At best, he had unfounded suspicions of alleged unknown hanky-panky of some manner. In other words, his gut said something was wrong, but he had no hard facts to back it up. He remembered the Blackmoor woman telling Julia something about a doctor’s appointment coming up. Was that today?

Barb brought his food over, and he began eating, lost in his thoughts. The lighthouses would have to wait, he realized. He needed to do some digging, and he had to do it when she wasn’t around, or risk being arrested himself.

Could he count on Julia to help, or at least not say anything? He’d built up a rapport with her, maybe she’d at least listen to him. And, just maybe, she’d seen or heard something unusual there herself. His mind was racing, but years of experience kept his face neutral.

He finished his breakfast, and watched the cars passing by toward the highway ramps, idly wondering if her car might be among them. As he finished his coffee, he’d made up his mind. He’d return to the B&B, claiming he’d forgotten something in his room if she was there, and having a chat with Julia if she was gone.

John pulled into the empty lot next to the house. So far, so good, her car was not in its usual spot by the door.

He walked in, and Julia poked her head out of the kitchen, smiling.

“Hi Mr. Wilson. I am so sorry I wasn’t here this morning for your breakfast. Can I whip something up for you now?”

“No thanks, that’s fine Julia, but I would like to ask you a few questions, if you don’t mind?”

“Sure,” she said, wiping her hands on a dish towel, “How can I help?”

“Well, have you noticed anything funny here in the house? Any strange noises, or Mrs. Blackmoor acting strangely, anything at all like that?”

“Between you and me, she’s kinda scary, but she’s always been so nice to me. Not noises so much, but every once in a while in here, I get a whiff of an unpleasant smell from something, but I’ve never been able to find it. It comes and goes kinda quick, so I thought maybe something from the drain? I’m not sure, but it doesn’t last too long when it happens, so I didn’t ask her about it.”

“Julia, I’ll be honest. Sometimes at night, I hear some noises and things going on somewhere in the house. I frankly think she’s hiding something, and I plan to try and find out what. I won’t ask you to help if you don’t want to… I don’t want to get you in trouble. But, I’d appreciate if you didn’t say anything about me poking around a bit, while she’s out.”

“Well, all right,” she said, a serious expression on her face, “I trust you Mr. Wilson, I don’t believe you’re doing anything wrong.”

“Call me John, please. I’m going to go up and have a look around. If you see her car pull in outside, will you let me know?”

“Yes, I can do that, sure.”

“Thanks, Julia… I appreciate it.”

John went up the stairs, and found Marion’s door open. He walked inside, giving the room a cursory look, then opened the top dresser drawers, and the nightstand drawers, seeing nothing of interest. He went to the desk and tried the drawers there, finding one locked. It looked to be a flimsy lock, more for decorative purposes than security, and he popped it open easily with his pocket knife.

He removed the large journal sitting in the drawer, and opened to the page marked by the ribbon. Careful to keep it in place, he quickly skimmed the pages backward, reading entries she’d written that could either serve as a script for a horror movie, or document an old woman’s descent into insanity.

Could this be for real? She’d journaled since her husband died, because she’d actually poisoned him, believing he’d been unfaithful, but learned afterward that she was wrong. She’d gone to see some old woman, rumored to be a Gypsy witch, at the village outskirts, and they’d somehow reanimated her husband, but he’d come back from the dead with a hunger for human flesh.

She’d selected guests, knocked them out with Chloroform, and he took care of the rest, getting them down to the basement, using a walled off stairway originally there for servants. She felt she was atoning for having wrongfully poisoned him in the first place.

So, that explained the thumping noises he’d heard. And also, the missing runaway that they asked about at the diner.

What he read was farfetched, but he had to admit, it added up with the notes he’d been taking on his own. If this was dementia on her part, she was acting it out during the night hours. He closed the desk drawer as carefully as he could, taking the journal downstairs with him, and brought it into the kitchen.

“Julia, you may want to sit down. I want to show you what I found, because you’d never believe me if I just told you. Hell, I’m not even sure I believe it myself.”

They sat at the table, insuring he had a view out the window in case Marion came back, and he had her retrace the pages he’d read, as he added his observations. He told her he used to be an investigative reporter, and had been taking notes as things occurred, which the journal entries explained, as unbelievable as it seemed.

“But, Mr. Wil…, I mean John, that’s just not possible. Yes, I agree with you that she wrote these things down, and you heard noises, but she must be losing her mind or something. These things are just not possible.”

“Julia, I completely agree, but the evidence we have doesn’t. I think I need to have a look in that basement.”

“That’s the door, over there,” she said, pointing, “But it’s always been locked.”

“Let’s have a look.” John said getting up and walking over to the door. The handle turned freely, but it didn’t open, as it was locked from the other side.

“Well, that’s odd, isn’t it?”


“This door is locked from the inside. If Mrs. Blackmoor is alone here, then who locked it?”

Julia simply looked at him, having no answer. He pulled hard on the handle, feeling it give a bit. He yanked it again, and it swung open, the simple bolt lock falling to the ground, the screws having sheared out of the wood.

“In for a penny, in for a pound. It’s past the point of hiding what I’m doing from her any longer. I’m going to have a look down there, and then, I’m going to call the local police. I’ll show them this journal and my notes, and let them handle it.”

“I’m going with you,” Julia said simply, standing up. “I work here, and I can let Sheriff McCallister know you weren’t robbing anything, or doing anything wrong.”

“I’d prefer you wait up here, just in case.”

“I’m coming. I want to see what you find, and I hope it’s just dust and dirt.”

“You and me both. Well, at least stay behind me, please.” He saw a light switch just inside the opening and clicked it on. The light down there wasn’t overly bright, but it was enough to light their way.

They went slowly down the stairs, John in front. The smell hit them at once, musty, foul, the aroma of old decay. John reached into his pocket and took out his Chap Stick, handing it to Julia.

“Here… put this on your upper lip. It’ll help with the smell.”

“Thanks,” she said, spreading a generous amount under her nostrils. She handed the tube to John, and he did the same.

The basement was unfinished and dirty, the gray concrete foundation providing the walls for the space. At the back was a shop light hanging over a large wooden table, and what looked like a large pile of scraps carelessly tossed in the corner. On one side was a large chest freezer, humming softly. The top of the table was completely covered in stains, a hack saw resting on its side.

As they got closer, they saw that the stack of scraps was actually a pile of bones, most looking distinctly familiar… human bones.

John and Julia stared in shock at the stack of bones in the corner, some with muscle and sinew still attached. Neither spoke a word, and John heard something, a stealthy sound behind them.

He turned quickly and saw it heading toward Julia. Once a man, it looked like it had crawled up and out of a grave after decay had begun, the bones showing through the skin in places, the suit filthy and tattered. He stepped forward, putting himself between the thing and Julia, and it clearly didn’t like that. Julia screamed and moved to the wall, getting further away from it.

The thing swung around more quickly than he’d have expected, backhanding him, and John went down hard. He shook his head, dizzy from the fall, but something else, something more than just that.

Could the momentary contact from that thing have affected him somehow?

It was coming close now, and he folded his legs up to his chest, pushing through the weakness he felt. His arms went out to his sides, against the floor to form a sturdy brace, and he kicked both legs up as hard as he could, hitting it squarely in the chest.

The thing flailed wildly as it backpedaled, slamming into the concrete wall behind it very hard.

Run!” he shouted to Julia, wanting her to get up and out of the basement, but she picked up an old shovel that was leaning against the wall. Her face was a grim mask of determination as she gripped the wooden handle hard enough to turn her knuckles white.

Holding it beside her like a lance, Julia took three running steps as she screamed,

Leave him ALONE!

She slammed the shovel forward with all her might. The spade’s edge hit William just below the chin, tearing through leathered skin and bone, severing his head completely before hitting the concrete wall hard enough to create sparks.

William’s head fell forward on the spade, face down, his body sliding down to the floor, leaving behind a long streak of thick, black, viscous fluid where there would normally be blood. Julia retched in disgust at the foul odor, dropping the shovel and the head to the floor, as the vile stench permeated the small space.

John was pulling himself up on unsteady legs, breathing hard. He resisted gagging from the smell, and got to his feet. Julia took his arm, guiding him carefully past William’s prone body, finally still, finally dead.

They walked away from the table, toward the stairs, neither one looking down at the head on the floor. They didn’t want to know if that amber eye was still looking their way.

“Now can we call the police, Mr. Wil… John?” Julia asked, as they made their way slowly up the stairs.

“Oh yes, we’re definitely calling them now, and thank you. You saved my life back there, you know.”

“Well, you saved mine first. Is it OK to cry now?”

“Go right ahead, and cry for us both,” John replied, removing his cell phone from his pocket.

He spoke to Sally, who got Jake on the radio, and the machinery moved smoothly into place, crime lab techs carefully gathering the evidence as Jake interviewed John Wilson and Julia, placing Marion’s journal into a large evidence bag.

Carson’s Mill settled down to peace and quiet again, this time for four years…

July 2018

Jim O’Neill, breathing hard now, glanced at his smart watch. Just another quarter mile and his run would finally be finished.

He hated his evening runs, but his last visit to Doc Ray had been sobering. He’d been given the choice of losing weight now or facing debilitating illness in a very short time, so he’d reluctantly added ‘rabbit food’ to his diet and taken up running a half mile before dinner in the evenings.

He started easing off, winding down for the final stretch, then he noticed the boy.

He was sitting alone on a rock, maybe about eight or nine years old. His t-shirt was filthy as though he’d been playing in mud or dirt. As he got closer, he saw that the boy’s eyes were red. He’d clearly been crying for a while.

Jim slowed to a walk as he approached, not wanting to scare him. He pulled the buds out of his ears and crouched down, talking softly.

“Hey kid… are you OK? Are you hurt?”

“No, it’s my dog. I can’t reach him to get him out,” he sniffled, eyes filling again.

“Out of where? Maybe I can help?”

Wouldja? He’s ascared down there, mister,”

“C’mon, show me where he is.”

The boy got up, wiped his nose on his forearm, and started walking into the abandoned field set back from the road, pointing the way. There was still a lot of damage from the old shack that had burned down a couple years ago, the trees around the field just now starting to recover.

Jim followed along, absently tapping his phone to stop the fitness app linked to his watch. He could run again tomorrow but this poor kid was heartbroken right now. He suppressed a smile as he thought, how ironic… Timmy needs help because Lassie fell in the well this time. He didn’t want to laugh in front of the poor kid though.

The boy had run ahead and was pointing down at what appeared to be a forgotten well or storm drain of some kind, the overgrowth hiding it completely until you were right at the edge. No wonder the poor dog had fallen in.

He made a mental note to contact the town tomorrow about the uncovered hole as it was obviously dangerous. Someone could be badly hurt if they fell into this thing.

“He’s in here, mister, right down in here.”

Wishing he had a flashlight, Jim knelt at the rim of the well, squinting against the late day sunlight, hoping to see at least how deep it was. There was something down there, but he couldn’t see clearly in the darkness. He whistled, listening for the dog to respond.

The boy leaned over Jim’s back, his lower jaw unhinging, his teeth growing sharp, stretching up from their gums. When he bit completely through Jim’s spinal column at the back of his neck his eyes rolled fully back, revealing yellow tinged sclera.

Jim never had a chance to cry out, shuddering violently, then falling flat, no longer able to feel his body at all.

He was completely unaware that the boy had wrapped his mouth around the exposed top of his spine, sucking the marrow up through the bone just as most nine-year-olds would work their way to the bottom of a milk shake through a straw.

Jim spasmed once more, then died as the boy drank deeply.

When he’d extracted as much marrow as he could, the boy pushed Jim’s body over the edge, letting it drop into the well.

Jim’s body landed with a wet thump, falling on top of the others.

The boy’s eyes rolled slowly back in place as he smiled and absently wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. His smile looked quite normal once his teeth had fully retracted back into their gums.

His coming to be was the result of the Trito ursitori, the ancient Romany ritual of three spirits that had convened after the killing of Anna Scorczy on this very ground. The mediator spirit and good spirit both proposed restraint, as Anna, in her advanced age, had crossed lines that were best left alone, but the evil spirit demanded Romany justice upon this village, and would not be swayed by the others.

This Mamioro, the Spirit of the Dead, would exact revenge for the slaying of the Baba Yaga in accordance with the old ways upon the chosen residents of Carson’s Mill.

He walked deeper into the field, toward the place he’d set up for himself, knowing he’d sleep very well this night.

He always did, with a full belly.

Jake McCallister stood up and shook Bill’s hand.

“Thanks, Bill. I didn’t realize I was in such decent shape.”

“Jake, you can put in your papers anytime you want. Between your military and NYPD pensions, and what you’ve put into your 401K, you’ve built a nice little nest egg, not even counting what will come from the village.”

“Yeah, I’m sorry I forgot to bring along the contract from when I took this job. I can’t recall offhand when I’ll be vested with them, but it should be soon.”

“No worries. Either drop it off or send it to me, and I’ll revisit your portfolio. It can only get better with that in the mix.”

“Will do, Bill. Thanks again.”

Jake walked out of Bill Evans’ office with a smile. Bill had been his financial adviser since he accepted the Sheriff’s position in Carson’s Mill, and he’d followed Bill’s advice right from the start. He never thought about it much, at least not until that strange business four years ago, but he’d now reached a point where he could finally hang it up and stop chasing jaywalkers.

Now was the time to really focus on getting Adam Clark up to speed. Jake’s deputy, Adam had all the right attributes to step into Jake’s spot, just needed a little more seasoning, a little more experience. Luckily, things had been normal in the Mill for the past couple of years, so he’d spent a lot of time with Adam, getting him ready.

He’d nearly left after those two events, the business with the old Gypsy woman, and then that other mess at the Bed & Breakfast, which was also connected to her somehow. He stayed on, mainly because Adam wasn’t quite ready yet, and the village needed stability more than ever, but he’d been shaken to his very core. Everything he’d always believed to be true had been shattered, and if it hadn’t been for Ray Longobardi’s help and council, he might have wound up in a padded room of his own.

Still smiling, he got into his Jeep and headed to the station to check in. He had no idea what he’d do after retiring from this job, as he’d always kept himself busy. Two tours in the Corps, then twenty years in the NYPD, and now nine, almost ten here in Carson’s Mill.

A lifelong bachelor, he had no family, no ties to consider, so his options were wide open to choose from. The only thing he knew for sure was that he’d relocate to someplace where snow was a stranger. He slipped the mike out of the clip and called in.

“Kelly, it’s Jake. All quiet?”

“Yes sir, no calls at all this morning.”

“Roger that. Heading in, be there soon.”

“I’ll have coffee ready, base out.”

Every time Jake used the radio, he missed Sally, his old dispatcher. After that business three years ago, she’d put in for retirement, and moved down to Florida. He remembered speaking to her at the little going away shindig that Adam had arranged.

“Sally, we’re all gonna miss you around here. It just won’t be the same without you.”

“I know, Jake, but I’m done. I’ve had enough of this strange little town to last me a lifetime. You’re the one they need, someone strong enough to bring them back to normal. I love Adam like a son, but he’s not you, Jake. Maybe one day, but not yet, not now, and right now is what they need here.”

Sally was more than a dispatcher and a friend, she was their surrogate mother, looking after them all. Kelly Olson is young, and bright, and may well choose to become the first female deputy one day, but she was no Sally.

Parking the Jeep, Jake walked into the station. He thanked Kelly for the cup of coffee waiting on his desk and sat down to review his calendar. He smiled again, noting that it was the third Friday of the month, the night when he and Ray typically went out for dinner.

Ray Longobardi was his best friend even before he’d saved Jake’s life in that old shack. Despite Ray’s objections, their monthly dinner was always on Jake, who would not take ‘no’ for an answer. It gave them a chance to touch base, away from the station and the Med Center where Ray was the doctor in residence.

By silent agreement, they’d stopped discussing the events leading to that old woman a long time ago, spending time now on friendly discussion and disagreement on topics from sports to politics, as old friends often do. Jake picked up his cell and tapped on the screen to make a call.

“What’s up, Doc?”

“Jake, you do the worst Mel Blanc I have ever heard.”

“Maybe so, but at least I know who Mel Blanc is.”

“Point taken. I presume you’re calling about dinner?”

“Yep. We never did choose the place for this month. Any suggestions?”

“Well, they say when you want a good steak…”

“… you go to a good steakhouse. ‘Cattle Drive’ it is. Around seven OK with you?”

“Seven is fine, sure. I’ll see you there, and this time…”

“Sorry, can’t hear you, signal breaking up, see you tonight.” Jake chuckled, knowing Ray was going to insist he pay this time, as he always did. Jake’s fine mood paled just a bit, knowing he’d miss Ray’s company more than anything else once he hung up his badge.

That evening, they opted to pass on an appetizer, starting instead with the house salad. As they ate, Jake told Ray about his discussion with Bill Evans that morning.

“It’s good that you’re working with Bill Evans. He’s my financial guy as well, and he’s about as good as they get.”

“Funny how you spend your days tending to what’s important, what needs to be done, and then all of a sudden you’re faced with nothing but free time.”

“You say that like it’s a terrible thing.”

“No, not bad, just… different. I’ve never had to plan anything longer for myself than a two-week fishing trip. What the hell am I gonna do with years to plan for? What are you gonna do when it’s your time?”

“I can still see patients for some time to come, so I’m not there just yet. As to what I’d like to do, I’ve always toyed with the idea of writing.”

“Medical journal stuff?”

“No, not at all. Fiction. Novels, short stories, that kind of thing. Maybe even try to give that fellow up in Maine a run for his money,” Ray laughed, then continued, “And you better stay available, mister. There will be times I’ll need to consult an expert on police procedure, and you’re that guy.”

“Oh, you can count on that. Even when I hang up the badge, you won’t be rid of me that easy.”

“I’m happy to hear that.”

The server came along, moving the salad plates and setting the entrees down. He gathered the empty plates to take away and left them to enjoy their meal.

The pause in their conversation lasted a long time, a testament to how good their steaks were. They’d outdone themselves this evening, in Jake’s opinion.

“As your doctor, I’d advise you to avoid such rich meals,” Ray sighed, “but as your friend, wow. That was incredible.”

“That it was, Ray… they really did well tonight. Hell, I have no room left for dessert. You?”

“No dessert for me, thanks. A cup of coffee would be nice though.”

They relaxed and enjoyed their coffee, neither of them knowing this would be their last opportunity to do so.

The weekend passed quietly and without incident as most do in Carson’s Mill. It wasn’t until Tuesday morning that the call came in asking about Jim O’Neill. He hadn’t come in for his job as assistant manager in a retail store on Sunday or Monday and calls to his cell phone had gone straight to voice mail.

“Sheriff, this is base, over.”

“I’m here, Kelly. What’s up?”

Kelly outlined the details she’d been given, including O’Neill’s home address, a loft in a renovated warehouse out near the edge of the village. She said she’d also tried his cell phone, and just like the others, her call had gone straight to voice mail.

“Copy that, Kelly. I’m en route to the home address now. Have Adam meet me there.”

“Roger that, base out.”

Jake frowned. The last wellness check he’d done was for Sarah Dawson, four years ago, when he discovered she’d been brutally murdered by that thing the old Gypsy woman was controlling. He wanted Adam to join him now, to go through the procedure with him and get him familiar with it.

Adam was waiting in the parking lot when he arrived. He looked around, surprised at how quickly the area was being developed, and then shuddered when he realized it wasn’t far from where that old shack once was.

“Morning, Jake. What do we have?”

“Morning Adam. Kelly said this party, Jim O’Neill, hasn’t shown up for work in two days, and can’t be reached on his phone. We’re here to do a wellness check, gain access to his place and insure he isn’t sick or hurt. Let’s go find the building manager.”

With the manager in tow, they went to the door and knocked, not hearing any response inside. They had the manager open the door and stepped inside.

The loft was neat and clean, nothing out of place. The bed was made, the kitchen sink empty, with just a single mug and small dish in the drainer, completely dry. There were no signs of unusual activity at all, just an empty space waiting for its occupant to get back home. Adam took notes, and a few photos with his phone, and they went back out, asking the manager to lock it back up.

“When’s the last time you saw Mr. O’Neill?”

“That was probably Friday afternoon. He always came home from work, then went right back out for his run after he changed.”

“Any idea where he goes running?”

“Sorry, no. He mentioned that his doctor was on him about losing weight so he took up running after work, but that’s all I know.”

“Thanks, you’ve been very helpful.”

The manager left them in front of the loft and went back to his office.

“What’s next, Jake?”

“What would you do?”

“Well, I’d have to find out where he does his running, and then go looking along that route, in case something happened on Friday.”

“So far, so good. How would you find that out?”

“I’d go up to the mall where he works and talk to his co-workers. He may have talked about it to someone there.”

“That’s exactly what I would do. Well, that and one more thing.”

“One more thing?”

“Yeah, I’m gonna call Ray. If O’Neill was his patient, he might have an idea where he does his running. You go on ahead to the mall and interview the employees there. I’ll swing by the Med Center and see if Ray has any ideas. We’ll meet back at the station and go from there.”

“Ten-four, Jake. I’ll head right up to the mall.”

Jake grinned as Adam headed out to the parking lot. That young man will be a fine Sheriff when his time comes, he thought to himself. He went out to his Jeep, called in to update Kelly, and took a ride to the Med Center.

As he walked up to the reception desk, the sole person in the waiting room was called inside. He smiled at the receptionist.

“Hi Barbara. How are Tom and the boys these days?”

“We’re all great, thanks. Here to see the doctor or just bother Ray today?”

Jake barked a laugh, “Oh, you missed your calling, Barbara. You could have done stand up.”

“That’s fine, I like sit down better. I’ll let him know you’re here. He should be free shortly now.”


Jake took a seat and picked up the newspaper left behind by the person that was just called inside. He got through two or three stories before the door opened and Ray called him in.

“Morning, Jake.”

“Hi Ray. Is Jim O’Neill a patient of yours?”

“Yes, he is. Let’s go to my office.”

They sat down in the office, and Ray glanced at the clock.

“Not to be a pest, but I have an appointment due in about twenty minutes. Is Mr. O’Neill all right?”

“We don’t know. He hasn’t been to work in a couple days now, his place is neat and undisturbed, and his cell phone seems to be off. We’re told he runs in the evenings?”

“Yes, I suggested rather firmly that he take some action to lose weight or he’s going to face some health issues. He told me he’d taken up running after work, and he’s been making progress with his weight loss.”

“Any idea where he runs?”

“Not exactly, but he said he tries for a half mile every evening before he has his dinner, so I’d imagine it must be close to his home.”

“That’s a good start. We can use his building as a center point and draw a mile radius around it. That’ll give us an area to look in. One more question if you can answer it. Was his health such that this running might have caused a heart, or any other problem related to his condition?”

“Without crossing the doctor-patient privilege line, I can say I wouldn’t think that likely at all.”

Jake stood and held out his hand, and Ray stood to shake it.

“As always, thank you, my friend. I’ll let you know what, if anything, we find out.”

“Thanks, Jake. I was going to ask you to do that.”

“I know. Let me get going, so you can see your next patient.”

Waving to Barbara, Jake went out to his Jeep. Taking out his notebook, he wrote down the one-mile radius idea, and a mention that a heart attack from the run was unlikely.

He frowned, thinking it looked like another party had to have been involved, and started the Jeep to head back to the station to see what Adam turned up at the mall. It was early enough that they’d be able to canvas the likely area at about the same time as O’Neill generally ran there, which could be very helpful.

Jake arrived back at the station and opened his desk drawer. He took out a compass and brought it to the wall map of Carson’s Mill. Using the key on the map as a guide, he set the spacing to one mile, then centered the point on the converted warehouse where O’Neill lived, tracing a circle around it to give them an approximate search radius. Kelly brought some reports in to put on Jake’s desk.

“Sheriff, you do know you can do that quickly and easily on the computer, don’t you?”

“Nah, the point would damage the screen.” Jake grinned at the face she made.

He looked closely at the map and noticed a small pinhole very close to the center point his compass just made.

“Son of a bitch…” he muttered aloud, remembering when he’d pinned that spot. It was closer than he’d thought.


“Oh, nothing Kelly. I just found something that gives me an idea. Get Adam on the radio and tell him to meet me at the field where the old shack burned down instead of coming back here. I think I know where to look for O’Neill now.”

“On it,” Kelly replied, walking out to the radio on her desk to contact Adam. Jake walked out right behind her, passing her desk on the way to the door. All his years in law enforcement had taught him that coincidence was always possible, but generally unlikely. The proximity of O’Neill’s residence to the remains of that old shack made that even less likely, and his gut told him to search there first.

He got to the field before Adam and sat in the Jeep, just looking and remembering. Shortly after the incident with Anna Scorczy had ended, someone had set fire to her abandoned shack, which went up quickly as it was little more than old kindling. Jake had investigated the arson without much enthusiasm and was glad to write it off as “Arson, perpetrated by a person or persons unknown.” He was personally glad that it had burned down, the debris carted off shortly thereafter, and the plot now abandoned.

He heard the sound of an approaching vehicle and saw Adam’s Jeep in his rear-view mirror. He stepped out as Adam parked behind him.

“Hi Adam. How’d the interviews go?”

“Inconclusive, unfortunately. Some of his co-workers knew he’d started running, but none of them had any idea where. Did Doc Ray give you this?” he gestured to the field.

“In a manner of speaking, yes. Grab your flashlight and let’s have a look around.”

“I have it, Jake. Hey, is that a path?” Adam pointed to the tall grass, and there was an area where it looked to have been beaten down, perhaps by someone walking through the field recently.

“Looks like somebody’s been through there. Let’s have a look.”

They walked side by side, flanking the path as they looked around. Adam was looking into the distance, trying to gauge how far it went when his foot hit something hard, tripping him forward. Jake instinctively reached out and grabbed Adam’s gun belt, pulling him back.

“Thanks, Jake. What the hell was that?”

“Looks like an old well… hit it with the lights.”

They knelt at the edge and centered the high intensity flashlight beams into the well, easily spotting the body down there.

“Jesus,” Jake sighed, “I think that’s O’Neill… or what’s left of him, anyway.”

“He’s a mess,” Adam commented, “Think he was running and fell in?”

“Nah, the fall wouldn’t have caused that kind of trauma. I think he was dumped down there after whatever the hell got to him was finished with him. Adam, call this in, get crime scene and lab out, let them know it’s a well, approximately…” Jake looked down, “ten to twelve feet deep, so they’ll need a means of bringing up the body for autopsy. I’ll call Ray and let him know it’ll be coming in.”

“Will do.” Adam went to his Jeep to use the radio as Jake took out his cell and called Ray at the Med Center. He told him he believed the victim in the well would be O’Neill, and it looked like more than just a fall, based on the trauma and blood loss he was able to see from above.

“Damn, Jake. We haven’t had anything like this in the Mill since…”

“Yeah, I know. And this mess is right in her backyard.”

“Jake, she’s gone. You were there.”

“I know, I know. I just have this nagging feeling that this is related somehow.”

“Didn’t the village do a search for any living relatives when her place burned?”

“Oh, sure they did, and found none. But then, do you think those people were very conscientious about reporting everything promptly to health and vital records?”

“Good point. I’ll be ready when they bring him in and I’ll let you know what I find right away.”

“Thanks, Ray. I think we’re in for a late night.”

“Coffee’s on you. I never did get my badge, you know.”

Jake laughed and hung up. Adam was walking back with some tall stakes and a roll of tape. They’d get the crime scene taped off and have everything ready for the techs when they arrived.

Hours later, Jake sat at his desk, waiting for the autopsy results. They’d rigged up lights and a makeshift crane to lower the tech down and harness the body and Jake had held back dark laughter, thinking of that arcade game where you manipulated a claw to drop on and hopefully retrieve a prize.

Some prize, he thought. O’Neill had been torn apart at the back of his neck, and then they found three other corpses beneath his once they raised him up. The others were much older, basically skeletons with worn scraps of rags on them. Those had come up in a basket and were on the way to the M.E. in Providence for examination.

Jake didn’t need to read any reports to know that they were somehow connected to the old Scorczy woman. Between the killings that nearly claimed his own life, and the discovery of her involvement with the Blackmoor woman, this well might have been her dumping ground for years.

He remembered interviewing John Wilson, the vacationing newspaperman, who’d uncovered what had been happening at that Bed & Breakfast for so long and documented the final events like a work of fiction…

Jake’s memories were interrupted by an incoming call on his cell, but it had nothing to do with the autopsy. They had another victim.

Jake drove quickly to the Med Center, and Ray filled him in. As best he could ascertain, someone had come in while he was performing the autopsy. Barbara either brought them or was forced to bring them back to the exam room, and she had been mutilated.

 The exam room was splattered with blood everywhere and Barbara lay face down on the table, her neck torn open with great force from behind.

Ray noted the obvious similarity to O’Neill’s condition and said he needed to run a test on Barbara to see if something else matched what he’d found. Ray remained completely professional, but the shakiness in his voice spoke volumes. This one was personal.

“What test is that?”

“Mr. O’Neill’s body had been drained of bone marrow, and that neck wound looks very similar to this.”

“Jesus, you have to be kidding me… the marrow?”

“Yes, I’m afraid so. Like nothing I’ve ever heard of before, not even in fiction.”

“How’d they get it out of his bones in a field with no equipment?”

“I took samples of what appeared to be dried saliva from the spine, but I hope I’m wrong.”

The dark laughter welled up inside again as Jake remembered an old TV commercial for something called a Crazy Straw. Was he losing it completely?

“Jake? You OK?”

“Yeah, sorry… this is getting to me, that’s all. Listen, you go ahead and do what you need to do. I’m going to have to go and notify Tom about Barbara.”

“I don’t envy you that job.”

“It’s the worst part of police work. Always has been, but we can’t let the family get the news from a TV broadcast.”

“Good luck,” Ray put his hand on Jake’s shoulder, “I’ll talk to you in the morning, after I have all the tests back.”

Jake delegated Adam to stay at the Med Center with the techs and insure they had whatever they needed, and he went to deliver the devastating news to Barbara’s husband himself.

The following morning, Kelly ushered Ray into Jake’s office and went to get them coffee, noting that neither of them looked as though they’d slept at all.

“Unfortunately, I was right. Barbara was also drained of her bone marrow.”

“How is that even possible, Ray? What the hell are we up against here?”

“I spent the rest of the night doing some research. I have a theory, and you’re not going to like it. But, if you don’t have me put in a rubber room on the spot, it’s at least something to follow up on.”

“Oh, I’m certain it has something to do with her. I don’t know how, but it has to be related.”

“Exactly. My research indicates there are ancient laws and spirits that figure largely in the Romany culture, and if this woman was some sort of a tribal leader, then her death would likely be avenged by these spirits.”

“Let’s say you’re right. How do Jim O’Neill and Barbara Carson figure in? Neither of them had anything to do with her back then.”

“They didn’t, but I did. I fired the shot that killed her. Jim O’Neill was my patient, and Barbara worked for me. It’s working its way to me through those around me.”

“Well, that says I’m gonna be on the list too.”

“Absolutely, and here’s the loony patch part. Do you have, or can you get, silver bullets for your gun?”

What?” Jake sat upright, “are you telling me this is a werewolf?”

“Not at all, no. Silver is a very potent weapon against the spirit world in general, but a poor metal choice to forge as a blade. Bullets, however, should be very effective.”

“Well, I generally make my own loads for target practice so I have the necessary tools, but I’ve only worked with lead.”

“Silver has a high melting point, but we do have an artisan in the village who makes his own silver jewelry and must be able to melt silver to do it. His name is Edmund Silva and I’m planning to speak to him after I’ve spoken with you.”

“Better idea. Call him now while you’re here. Tell him you’re researching the process of making silver bullets for a book you’re writing and you wrangled me along to help you make a batch, so you can describe the process accurately.”

They learned that Edmund Silva was married to Jacob Greene’s sister, Jacob being the village mortician. Jacob allowed Edmund to use the crematorium to melt his silver down, as it was the only safe location capable of reaching 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, necessary to melt silver to a liquid form which could then be molded.

Edmund said he’d leave his crucible, tongs and safety gloves on the workbench at the crematorium and speak to Jacob to make sure it was alright for them to use the facility for Ray’s research. He said both he and Jacob would expect an autographed copy of the book when it was published and hung up laughing.

“Well, that went better than I’d expected. Hell of an idea, research for a book.”

“You’re the one that said he wants to write… I thought that would make sense, especially to an artist.”

“Let’s hope it works… we’re out on a hell of a limb here, but I can’t imagine any other explanation for the things that are happening.”

“We’re gonna find out. When do you want to do this?”

“Edmund said he’d leave his gear there this afternoon, so I’d plan for right afterward. Make them up as soon as possible because if you’re right, you may be the next target, and you’d want to have these ready.”

“That’s a comforting bedside manner there, Doc. OK, I’ll pick you up at four and we’ll go to Greene’s Mortuary. I’ll bring the mold and press so we can make the bullets right there and leave with them. One problem, though. Where are we gonna get pure silver from?”

“Dad covered that a long time ago. I have the family silverware that he left to me. It’s been in the family for generations, and I’m certain it’s all pure silver.”

“Sure you want to use that, Ray?”

“I’m sure I want this done and over with, so yes… I am. See you then.”

Jake and Ray entered the crematorium and saw the crucible, tongs, and the asbestos gloves on the workbench as Edmund had promised. Ray placed the heavy box containing the old silverware beside them, opened it, and stood back. Jake referred to the instructions in his notebook and started the furnace, turning the gauge up as far as it would go. The gas ignited with an audible thump and he turned his attention to the workbench.

Jake took all the knives first, stacking them in the crucible. He then took some table spoons and added them, which filled the opening. He put on the thick asbestos gloves and practiced lifting the heavy crucible with the tongs. Satisfied, he opened the furnace door and set the crucible inside with the tongs. He closed and locked the door, set the tongs on their end, leaning against the base of the furnace, and removed the heavy gloves.

“Jake, do you think this is going to work? Making silver bullets, based on old legends I found on Google?”

“Am I sure, no… I’m not. But, it’s all we have, so I’m damned well gonna try.”

That said, he picked up the duffel bag he’d brought and began setting up his mold and the press. He’d brought powder and enough casings to make one magazine’s worth of silver bullets and hoped that would be enough. There simply wasn’t any time left. He prepped the casings with primer and powder, standing them carefully on end, ready to receive the bullets once they’d been molded and cooled.

He’d just finished the last one when the door opened and Jacob Greene walked in. He closed the door behind him and then slid the bolt lock home. Jake said nothing but picked up the gloves and put them back on.

“Oh, Jacob, thanks again for letting us use…” Ray stopped, as Jake held up one gloved hand. “Jake, what’s the matter?”

“Look at his eyes, Ray. Look at them and move back into the corner behind me, now.”

Ray squinted through his glasses to see better, and saw Greene’s eyes slowly changing color, from dark brown to the palest blue, like a Husky’s eyes. Jake had already sensed something wrong when Greene had locked the door behind him.

“What the hell…,” Ray began, “How…”

SILENCE!“, the Jacob thing thundered, “You call yourself healer… you, who took the life of the Baba Yaga!

As the Jacob thing glared with open hatred at Ray, Jake slowly turned the handle on the furnace door, unlocking it. The thing’s face started to change first, its jaw unhinging and dropping as the teeth rapidly grew sharp and large.

Ray backed into the corner of the room, his mouth wide open as he witnessed the change. Jake’s face remained grim, no longer a stranger to things that cannot be explained.

It began to grow larger, no longer disguising itself. The suit stretched and tore apart as the thing took its hideous natural form, a second set of teeth located in its upper chest, snapping hungrily.

Its enormous mouth was fully open now, revealing a thick black tongue with a pointed tip exactly like the Bogeyman that had nearly taken Jake’s life in that old hag’s shack. The tearing fabric muffled the creaking as Jake unlatched the door, gloved hand staying on the handle.

Jake swung the furnace door open and grabbed the tongs as the creature swept its muscular arm across the workbench. The mold, press, and all the cartridges Jake had carefully prepared went flying across the room as the thing glared at him with obvious triumph, now unable to form words.

As the thing crouched to jump, Jake grabbed the crucible with the tongs. He screamed from the sheer weight of it as he lifted it out and threw it at the creature in mid leap, knowing this was their only chance.

 The crucible began tipping in flight, the rim striking the thing’s upper teeth, snapping a few off at the roots as the molten silver gushed out, spilling down the gaping maw of the creature’s enormous mouth. Its eyes widened to an impossible size as the pupils expanded, becoming deep red now.

The reaction was immediate. The thing exploded into a ball of searing white-hot flame from within, the intense heat burning Ray’s upraised palms that were protecting his face. Its momentum carried it into Jake, toppling him over, the flaming thing landing directly on top of him. Jake’s agonized scream was very brief, but Ray’s were louder and much, much longer.

It was Ray’s screaming that led Adam Clark to the room, kicking the door hard enough to snap off the bolt lock. He started in, gun in hand, and paused, holding his left arm up in front of his eyes against the blinding flame. The white ball of flame on the floor burned itself out, leaving a black, molten, smoking mass there.

Now that he could see, Adam made his way into the room, pushed the furnace door closed, and turned the knob below the gauge to turn off the gas after holstering his gun.

Ray stood up, holding his burned hands away from himself. He was crying freely as he gestured toward the smoldering mass on the floor.

“Adam…” he said, “Jake….”, and began sobbing again. Adam looked around the room, and spotted security cameras mounted on the ceiling, hoping they hadn’t been damaged by the intense heat. He went over to Ray, gently putting his arm around him, leading him out of the room, well away from the furnace and Jake’s remains.

“C’mon Doc Ray, let’s get out of here. We’re gonna call in and get some help now.”

They went outside, sitting in Adam’s Jeep. Ray kept glancing over at Jake’s Jeep, as he recounted the events leading up to what had just happened to Adam, who held a small digital recorder in his hand. Between his own conversations with Jake, and his review of Jake’s carefully written notes, he already knew much of what Ray was saying, but still couldn’t believe the rest of it.

He was asking Ray some follow up questions when the ambulance arrived, and he had the EMT check and treat Ray’s hands for the burns. The crime lab techs arrived as Ray was being treated.

“Hi Adam. Is Jake here too?” Phil asked, glancing over at the other Jeep.

“Hi Phil. Well, I think so, but I’m going to need your help. Let me check on Ray first, then I need you to help me find and review the security system in here.”

The EMT’s were prepping Ray to go to the Med Center, so Adam told him he’d check in on him later and went back into the mortuary. Phil had located the security setup in the mortician’s office and asked Adam what he wanted to see. They found the recordings from the crematorium, and watched the last entry, both unable to speak.

“Jesus, Adam… that can’t be real, can it?”

“I got here right at the end of it, like you just saw. No one else has been near this place, so that recording is exactly what the camera saw happen.”

“I have no idea what the hell that thing was, but Jake’s last act was killing it to protect Ray. I’ll pack up the system and bring it in for a formal forensic review because nobody is ever going to believe this stuff without the evidence.”

” I sure don’t. I was here, I saw the end of it, I saw the tape, and hell, I still don’t believe it.”

“We’re bringing down the M.E. from Providence, with Ray injured. Hopefully, they can ID Jake’s remains. Ray wouldn’t be able to do it even if he hadn’t hurt his hands.”

“No, he wouldn’t. I’ve never seen Doc Ray lose it, even doing autopsies for the village, but he and Jake were really close.”

Adam left Phil to his work and went outside to meet the State Police captain who’d come on scene with his detail. As the village Sheriff had been killed, the Staties were going to do the investigation. Adam gave him his statement, seeing the doubt visible in his eyes. He turned over his recorder with Ray’s statement and let the captain know that Phil had the video of the entire event in evidence.

“Captain, what about Jake’s Jeep?”

“We’ll process it and advise you when it’s released. You can pick it up then and return it to the village motor pool.”

“Thank you. I just hate to see it here after all this.”

“Deputy Clark, why don’t you head to your station and tend to your reports now. Getting away from the scene will do you some good. I’d like a copy when they’re done, to add to ours.”

“Yes sir. I’ll get that to you forthwith.”

The captain nodded and walked into the mortuary to oversee the forensics being done inside. As Adam drove down the road toward the main route, he passed the state medical examiner’s van, heading to the scene. He was not embarrassed at the tears that rolled slowly down his face.

Three months had passed since the night at Greene’s Mortuary. Jake’s death had formally been ruled a homicide in the line of duty in his capacity as Sheriff, the exact details sealed and known only to a select few individuals.

Adam Clark had been elected Sheriff by the town selectmen, with a strong posthumous endorsement that Jake McCallister had added to his will.

Jake had also specified that his entire estate, and any forthcoming assets, including insurance settlements, were to be divided equally between Adam Clark and Ray Longobardi, with the following provisos:

Adam was to use his share to attend law school in the evenings, and both fortify his knowledge of law as the new Sheriff, and also provide him options for later in life, so that he (in Jake’s own words) would not “spend the rest of eternity drinking that lousy coffee at the station.”

Ray was to use his share to take time away from his duties at the Med Center, and, again in Jake’s own words, “pick up the damned pen and write that damned book already, before that guy in Maine writes it all before you get a chance.

Neither man could ever know that the Romany spirits, the Trito ursitori, had also reconvened, and this time the mediator ruled that Romany justice had been served in accordance with the old ways, and there were to be no further actions by the evil spirit, despite his argument that the Mamioro had been destroyed in its last action against the humans.

The mediator ruled that the suffering the healer would endure for the rest of his days at the loss of his friend was even more fitting than his own death would have been, and their debt was now settled in full.

Carson’s Mill, it seemed, was about to get a fresh start, out from under the veil of darkness that had covered it for so long.


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