Chapter 16: Crapsville
Mandy watched as Dudley refilled his little cup with water from the tap. He was going through a lot of water. She figured it was his calming mechanism and had to fight back telling him to get a larger cup, so he’d quit getting refills. She turned and saw Maggie sitting on a table they used for preparing food before rushes. She was biting the inside of her thumb, the web-like area between the index finger and thumb. It was a nervous habit she had developed as a child, a result of an angry father. Her dad was always blowing a fuse over something. Even during sleepovers when Mandy was hanging out with her. He’d go off about them playing too loud, or the food her mom prepared being boring, or how messy his life was and how it was always someone else’s fault. And respect. He was always demanding respect.
Mandy took her hand from her mouth and held it between hers. “Look, Maggie, I know you’re nervous. Scared. We all are. But if you don’t stop gnawing at that hand, you’re gonna start bleeding.”
“Yeah,” Maggie said, “I know. It’s stupid.”
“No, it’s a coping mechanism,” Mandy said. She hopped up on the table next to her and put an arm around her. “We all have them. Dudley’s drinking water like it’s going out of style, or he just really wants to pee for an hour. And even Lucas. No doubt in that locked office, he’s got something he’s doing that’s making this all a little less—whatever the hell it is.”
“It’s Crapsville,” Maggie said. “Pure Crapsville.”
Mandy smiled and nodded. “Nailed it.”
The office door unlocked and slowly opened. They all stopped what they were doing and watched as Lucas came out, half leaning against the wall as he did so. Dudley was standing in the middle of the kitchen floor, cup in hand. He swallowed his previous sip. Lucas was clawing at the inside of his left forearm with his nails. He had been doing it for some time by the looks of it, as he had clawed into his skin and the blood was running down his arm, through his palm, and off his fingertips to the floor. He noticed Dudley first and stared at him for a moment.
“I’m hungry,” he sniffled. “I’m so damned hungry.”
He slowly turned his head and noticed Mandy and Maggie for the first time since stepping out. Mandy saw that his eyes were bloodshot, and a tear of blood dropped from the side of his right eye. He snarled at them. And he began to breathe heavier and heavier as he looked at them.
“Lucas,” Mandy stepped down from the table. “Are you OK?”
“Look at you,” he said. “Stupid whores. The whole lot of them.”
“What are you talking about?” Maggie said as she dropped down from the table. “We saved your life! We’ve been fending off these—whatever they are.”
He hawked up a ball of spit and spewed it on the floor between them. Mandy noticed it was a mixture of saliva, blood, and a tooth. “It’s mine,” he said through gritted teeth.
“What is your problem, dickweed!” Maggie yelled and started to step towards him, but Mandy put an arm out stopping her.
“You can’t have it!” he yelled and lunged from the wall at them, but lost balance and slammed into a wall before them.
Dudley jumped, dropped his water, and ran out of sight around the corner.
Mandy started to nudge Maggie backwards. “To the freezer,” she whispered to her.
“I saw it first!” Lucas yelled and lunged a second time. Mandy pushed Maggie aside and tripped Lucas up with her feet. He went reeling into the table they had been sitting on.
Mandy and Maggie took off running for the freezer around the corner at the back of the kitchen. They could hear him clumsily getting up and yelling profanities. Still going on about how It was His. Maggie pulled the heavy, stainless steel door open, and stepped in. Mandy grabbed a kitchen knife as she ran by it. She pulled the door quickly to its latching point. She looked and saw that Maggie was all the way in the back of the freezer. She was chewing her thumb again. Mandy didn’t say anything this time.
She stepped back away from the door and watched it, waiting for him to open it. Ready with the knife to stab him when he did.
“I don’t have a weapon!” Maggie screamed. “Dammit!”
The door shook with a thud. Maggie jumped.
The door shook again.
But it didn’t open.
Mandy recalled the confused look on the man earlier in the evening. He couldn’t remember how to open a door. Like all the basic functions of a man had left him, and he was only left with the primitive kind. Hunger. Aggression.
“Maggie, he doesn’t know how to open the door anymore,” she said.
“Earlier, when the man came at me from the parking lot,” she started, “he didn’t remember how to open the door. But he knew he was hungry, and he was really pissy about it. Lucas is hungry and pissed, and more aggressive than usual. And now, he can’t open the door. He’s turned into one of them somehow.”
The door began to shake repeatedly without ceasing.
“He’s losing his mind,” Mandy said. She knew that’s what had happened to Lucas. He had turned into a savage, primitive beast. Mindless, ignorant. In need of only one thing: food and It. What was It? “What do you suppose he was babbling on about? He kept making out like we were a threat to him. That there was something he had and we were trying to take it from him. What did that even mean?”
“The motivations of Lucas never made sense to me before,” Maggie said. “They sure as crap don’t make sense to me now.”
There was a dampened pop from outside the door, and the rattling of the door stopped. There were a few more pops, and then silence. Mandy and Maggie looked at each other, not sure what to make of it.
“Gunshots?” Mandy asked.
“Maybe?” Maggie replied.
They waited in silence. No more pops. No more rattling.
Mandy took the knife in her right hand, ready to thrust it forward if someone came at her. She slowly reached out with her left hand to the handlebar.
“Don’t do it,” Maggie whispered.
“We can’t stay in here forever,” Mandy said. “We’ll freeze to death.”
Maggie stomped her foot in frustration. “Fine.” She bit into her hand.
Mandy took the cold handlebar in her hand and slowly began to unlatch the door, but then she felt it was being done for her. She let go and stepped back. The latch opened, and the door slowly opened. She stepped forward with a thrust of the knife, but stopped when she saw a leather covered arm reach around the door to pull it open. The door opened and there stood Sheriff Elderton, behind her was another woman she didn’t recognize.
“Where is he?” Mandy asked.
“He’s dead,” Elderton said. “Wanna come out of there?”
Chapter 15: One-Nine-Four-Seven
Richter slowly cracked open the janitor’s closet door he’d broken into. When the chaos of gunfire had broken out, he didn’t know what was going on, but broke off the handle to a nearby janitor’s closet and hid inside. He had been waiting for the sounds of gunfire and shouting to die down before making his way back out into the high school and trying to blend in with the other soldiers. He had tried to make out what was going on, but from what little he’d heard from shouting, all he could piecemeal together was that there was someone else in the school. Probably another agent like himself. Some other country had no doubt heard about the UFO crash outside of Tipton. No doubt they were also aware of the bounty in store for whoever could get the chemical agent returned home and analyze it. No doubt there was a new war on the horizon. One very sick and nasty. One fought from afar by dropping pollutants into the air and just watching the aftermath. If the rumors were true, the chemical agent was very effective when used against the enemy.
The Americans were calling it Agent One-Nine-Four-Seven.
It was a reference to the Roswell, New Mexico, UFO crash and sighting which took place in the summer of 1947. An incident that was highly debated amongst many. But to the American government, at least from outside appearances, they were bound and determined to deny any such existence of a UFO in Roswell that year.
Richter had never put much stock in the idea of UFOs or extraterrestrials. But even he had to admit that everything that had happened over the past twenty-four hours was challenging his belief system. He had taken on the assignment assuming Agent One-Nine-Four-Seven was simply a chemical born in a laboratory by American scientists. He didn’t expect to find anything but a vial in a lab. He had assumed he could just swoop in, snatch the vial, and swoop out. Just like in the past with other missions. But this had proven much more complicated. The previous night had proven a complete train wreck.
Richter had stowed away in the American convoy involving both the U.S. Army and Homeland Security. What he found was not a vial of some chemical, but a bizarre alien pod. He didn’t know what to do with it, and before he had made up his mind, some rookie soldier had shot off several rounds of bullets. He hid behind the pod while bullets whizzed by him. He waited for the rookie to run out, but before he did, he shot the driver through the head. As his lifeless body lunged forward from the gunshot wound, he took the steering wheel on a sharp left. They went through the railing and rolled down the side of the lower-half of the mountain. The rookie was rolled all over the backside of the truck.
Richter had taken a few turns around the truck before he realized the pod was bolted in place to the bottom of the truck. It hadn’t moved an inch. He lunged and grabbed onto it with his right hand. Then, he rolled and wrapped the rest of his limbs around it. He held onto the pod his feet, his hands. Even his head.
And they rolled.
And then, there was a crash and more rolling with no ground. They were airborne. He knew the next thing they’d feel would be the ground. He watched the rookie’s body being tossed around like a ragdoll, and he admired it. It was the rookie against nature and nature had broken every bone in his body.
The landing was harsh and knocked his grip loose. He fell and sat motionless for a bit. His eyesight was blurry for a moment, but he quickly took stock of himself. He hadn’t broken anything noticeable like a leg, or arm. He seemed to have all his movement, but he was sore and in a lot of pain. He was going to have the worst whiplash of his life. He would need to see his masseuse when he returned home weekly for at least six months.
He knew then he wouldn’t be walking away with the pod that night. He needed a vehicle, and the truck was sideways in a creek. He stumbled out of the back of the truck, he could see helicopters circling around. They had searchlights following the path of the crash down. He knew they’d eventually light him up, if he didn’t move. He took off running through the creek and eventually threw himself down into the creek face down at the banks. The light was almost on him.
He had lain there, face down in the water, pretending to be amongst the dead. The light shone over him for a few seconds and then moved back to the truck. He crawled across the rocky bottom of the creek to the banks. He crawled into the thick grass and into the trees. He stood up and looked from behind a tree. He could see a sea of soldiers, like ants, rushing down the mountain side. They’d shoot him if they saw him.
He had torn off into the woods. He made his way to Tipton, knowing they’d eventually have to travel through it, as it was in the valley between the mountains. It was either that or they turned around and went back. But Agent Wilcox wouldn’t do that, because their destination was Arizona. If he made it to Arizona, and got it underground, Richter would lose his best chance at retrieving it. He had to take it in Tipton. He knew that.
So he waited.
He waited all day on the upside of the outside of Tipton. He watched all day, waiting to see that convoy come moving into town. Coming down the mountain.
And they did.
He stepped out of the janitor’s closet and closed it silently behind himself. A lot of the lighting which had been bright and obnoxious when he came in was now broken. Someone had been evening the playing field. He admired it. It also worked to his advantage. He moved quickly.
He approached the entrance to the gym; the lights were shining through the door. He figured it was a sure bet. Somewhere big, lots of room. And open, easy to protect. Put some snipers up in the top of the bleachers. His palms started to sweat. That was always an indication to him that he didn’t like the odds. They had the high ground. The only thing he had going for him was his borrowed uniform. That would only work from a distance, because up close no one would recognize him or the name on the uniform. He figured he had to work up a distraction. But maybe the distraction that was already in place had done just that. Perhaps he could sneak in under their nose, while they chased whoever came in before him, and push it right out. It might just be the easiest snatch he’d ever made.
He stepped up to the first set of doors. He stood next to them and leaned over to look in the window. The pod was there. From what he could see, the gym looked empty. He couldn’t even see any snipers at the top of the bleachers. Had they really abandoned the pod like amateurs?
He figured it was best to move to the second set of doors and check a different angle. He took one step and a fire alarm started to ring. He looked back through the window. No movement. No shadows. Nothing.
He looked down the hallway behind him and before him. The same. No movement. No shadows. Not even a sound. Where was everybody?
He decided to run with it. He pushed the doors open and moved in quickly. He held his rifle up and moved around to the edge of the bleachers. He quickly took stock of all the corners he’d set up shop in, and there was nobody. He shook his head.
Frustrated and confused, he just stepped out onto the court and stood there with his hands up. He danced a little jig. Nothing. Nobody was there. It was insulting. Who could be so much more important, that they abandoned their post with the pod and left it wide open for him?
Nobody. He was their greatest threat. They were complete amateurs.
He ran over to the pod, slung his rifle over his shoulder. They had put the pod on a cart of some kind from the school. He dropped to the hardwood floor, looked underneath and confirmed it had wheels. It was going to be so easy.
There was a loud crash and popping sound. He spun over onto his back with his gun trained in the direction the sound came from. Someone had taken out one of the lights in the ceiling, between the rafters. Someone was shooting the lights out.
He listened. But he couldn’t hear anything through the fire alarm. He checked the various angles someone might have been shooting the light from. He didn’t see anyone in the bleachers. No one on the floor beside the bleachers.
Crash. Pop. Pop, pop.
He spun around and watched as sparks fell from another light that had been taken out behind him. It was the opposite end of the court. They were messing with him and slowly taking out the lighting between them. He figured they could see him, in the middle of the court and on the floor like an amateur. But it was pointless. Getting up and running was only going to push their trigger. They knew they had the high ground. He just needed to spot them, just once. And then he could kill them for taking him for granted. For thinking they could kill The Judge.
Crack. Pop, pop. Pop.
They had the high ground, and they should have taken their shot when they had it. He’d given them an inch, they wouldn’t get a mile. They were cocky, and he was going to enjoy killing them. Watching them suffer and he would remind them why you don’t walk into his courtroom and try to take The Judge at his own game.
Crack. Pop, pop. Pop. Crack. Crack. Pop, pop, pop. Pop.
There were so many flashes and sparks flying that he was losing count of the lights. He started seeing blue spots and rubbed his eyes.
Crack. Pop. Crack. Pop. Pop, pop, pop. Crack. Crack. Pop, pop, pop, pop. Crack. Pop.
He closed his eyes. The flashes and sparks were only hurting his vision. He would have to wait until the sparks dissipated. All he could see was the blacks of his eyelids and blue spots. All he could hear was the fire alarm blaring nonstop.
He still had touch.
He set his left hand on the hardwood floor next to him and felt for anything. Any sign of vibration that might indicate someone was walking the floor towards him. He couldn’t feel anyone. No one was on the floor, not near him at least. They could be standing at the edge of the court, taking their aim on his body. He was poised with his back against the pod, sitting on the floor. He was so compromised. They had the high ground and were making an assault on his senses.
They would screw up. They had to. No one had ever outwitted him. No one had ever gotten the high ground on him. They would have to slip up eventually. And when they did, he’d destroy them. And then he’d kill them.
He moved his hand gently across the hard wood, still feeling for something. That slip up. That…
The pod suddenly began to shake back and forth violently on the cart. It was so violent it knocked him over onto his side. He jumped to his feet, his eyes still closed.
They were atop the pod.
He fired off several bullets where he figured the soldier was atop the pod. He heard the shrieking sounds of metal against metal. He opened his eyes, ready to see a defeated opponent. But instead…
The alien had left one light in place, right above her pod. It lit her and the pod up before him. The symbol on her abdomen was glowing white, except for four black marks which slowly regained their light. He had shot her four times, but his bullets simply ricochet off her abdomen.
He couldn’t believe what he was seeing before himself. This was why they had abandoned their post. The alien had come back for her pod. The alien wasn’t ready to let it go. Anyone who took ownership of the hive had to answer to the Queen. He looked up to her face.
Her brow was scowling. Anger. Pure, unadulterated rage.
Chapter 14: A seven nation couldn't hold her back
Elderton and Martha had moved to the teacher’s desk and were rummaging through it. They found a box of twinkies in the top drawer and placed it on the desk. Elderton suggested they should all eat one as it was uncertain how long it would be before they might have a full meal. She called to the soldier and he came over and took the offered twinkie and went back to the door without a word. Behind a computer they found a radio. Elderton turned it on and began to surf to the usual stations. Static. Static. Static. No one was broadcasting, or someone was blocking the frequencies. She wondered if anyone even knew what was transpiring in Tipton. Was it only happening in Tipton? Was it spreading beyond its borders? How long before a proper response was even taken? If it were up to her, she’d be calling the governor, briefing her, and calling for an emergency state to bring in the National Guard and do it right. Take care of their people, save as many as they could. Try to find a cure. Try to reverse the effects of whatever was causing this outbreak in aggression.
She pulled open another drawer on the teacher’s desk. It was filled with binders, and she pulled them out with her free hand and dropped them haphazardly on top of the desk. They slid all over and one fell to the floor with a crash. The soldier jumped and gave her a look. She ignored him and kept rummaging through the drawer. Nothing. She grabbed the binders on the desk, one by one, and dropped them back in but stopped when she reached the last on the pile. It had been sitting at the bottom of the drawer when she removed them. It was old, grey, and had no labels on it like the others. She noticed what appeared to be a picture of someone’s leg sticking out the bottom, where a page was sticking out from her carelessness. She opened the binder and on the first page there were four different photos, all from the same angle, and all of different pairs of legs. All were girls. She turned the page. Another four photos, more pairs of legs. She turned the page--more of the same.
“What is this?” Martha asked when she noticed the photos Elderton was paging through.
Elderton knelt down beneath the desk and followed a cable from the computer to a webcam that had been taped upside down underneath the desk. It was aimed for a perfect shot of getting the two pairs of legs on the front row. She grabbed the webcam and yanked it out. She slammed the webcam on the binder of pictures.
“Our teacher has been doing up-skirt photos of his students,” Elderton growled. She was fuming with rage. She turned to the soldier. “What’s the name on the door?”
He frowned and reluctantly stuck his head out the door and looked at the plaque with both the room number and teacher’s last name.
He reported the name back to Elderton. She shook her head. “I always thought he was kind of a pervert.” She thought about how if she got out of the night alive, and found out Higgins had too, she was gonna arrest him and throw away the key. “Hey, kid,” she said to the soldier, “Can I make a phone call? I need to check in on my deputy and secretary. At least let them know I’m fine, and Martha’s fine. I won’t say anything about what’s going on.”
The soldier shook his head, “You must think I’m pretty naive.”
“No,” Elderton replied, “But I was kinda hoping you had some sense left in you.”
He shook his head again. “No phone calls.”
“Well, I just thought I’d ask,” she said.
“Besides, we got the phone lines cut all over town. You couldn’t even--” He caught himself bragging and saying too much, but it was too late. The damage was done.
“Thanks,” Elderton said with a smile. “That’s all I wanted to know.”
The soldier turned his head away and stared out the window to the classroom. He was seething with anger, she could tell. She’d really gotten under his skin using him like that. She mildly felt bad, because he hadn’t been horrible to them, but he hadn’t been exactly empathetic either. She was tired of waiting for people to make the right decisions, she was tired of sitting on her hands hoping something would fall right. Despite how much she and Mayor Marsden hated each other, she was still taken aback that he had not only allowed her capture to transpire but that he also revealed in it. He was handing over control of Tipton and he didn’t even know it. That’s how arrogant he was--how arrogant the soldier was--and everyone else she’d met that night. Everyone thought they had some big play, some big power move they were making. Reality was that they were just making a dire situation worse by letting egos get in the way. She was ready to break out and take Tipton back.
“Someone’s coming,” the soldier said and readied his rifle.
“One of your own?” Elderton asked. She could tell he was nervous and likely trigger happy.
“No, a man in a polo shirt and shorts,” He said. “Kind of a big guy. And bald.”
“With a mustache?” Martha asked.
“That’s Mr. Higgins,” Martha said.
They all looked at each other awkwardly for a moment. The footfalls of Higgins could be heard coming closer and closer. The soldier took several steps back from the door. “Put those binders away,” he told Elderton. “We don’t need a fight over that right now.”
Elderton just looked at him and didn’t flinch. “No.” She put her one free hand on her hip.
“I said put them away dammit,” he growled at her.
Even Martha placed her free hand on her hip.
The soldier turned his rifle towards them and started to make a threat, but before he could do so there was a knock at the door. A slow, prodding knock at the door. It almost sounded as if Higgins was trying to paw his way inside.
They all looked at each other, confused. If it was Higgins, he would surely have the keys to his own classroom. And even if he’d lost them, knocking on the door in the middle of the night wouldn’t have made much difference.
“Something doesn’t add up,” Elderton said. “If that’s Higgins, why is he knocking on his classroom door in the middle of the night?”
Knock. Knock. Knock.
“Mr. Higgins!” The soldier called out. The knocking stopped. “Is that you, Mr. Higgins?” Silence. No response. “I said, Mr. Higgins, is that you?”
Knock. Knock. Knock.
Elderton could see the soldier was sweating from head to foot. He was shaking in all of his joints and his gun was still trained on her and Martha, but his wide-eyes were fixated on the door. She knew he was going to end up shooting someone prematurely. She’d seen that look before in her old partner back in Oakland in 1993. The fear slowly took over any sense of logic, any sense of restraint. She had tried to talk her partner, Winston, down back then but he couldn’t even hear her. The fear was too loud. He fired at the first movement he saw, which came from an unarmed fourteen year old black boy. After the gunshot was fired, she tackled Winston to the ground and handcuffed him. She called it in and tried to save the kid before the paramedics arrived, but it was too late. The bullet severed a major artery to the heart and the child died in less than sixty seconds. She held the kid, Terrell Jones, until the paramedics pried him from her hands. She testified against Winston before a grand jury, but it didn’t matter. It was never brought to court, and Winston stayed on in Oakland. But she was shunned by her peers, and false accusations were slung against her regularly in an attempt to get her fired. She finally left Oakland for a small, presumably quiet position in the lazy town of Tipton.
But now she was staring that look down again.
She knew any sound, any movement could set him off. She kept thinking of Martha. She wouldn't tell her not to move, as she figured even a whisper could be the trigger to set him off. She just had to wait and hope the first movement, the trigger came from somewhere else.
That was it. The soldier let out an unintelligible scream and rushed to the door. He opened it and grabbed Higgins by his shoulders and threw him across the floor in the classroom. He aimed point blank at Higgins on the floor.
“What’s your problem, man?” He yelled at Higgins. Higgins didn’t respond, he lay face down on the tile motionless. “I’m talking to you, pussy!”
Elderton watched in slow motion as the classroom door slowly closed. She knew when it latched the soldier was going to react again. All she could do was watch and hope for the best. She needed an opening to take him down and deescalate the situation, but she also knew she would be dragging Martha with any move she tried to make.
The door latched.
The soldier spun around and took two quick shots through the door. The glass of the window shattered onto the floor. Higgins sat up and grabbed the soldier by his leg. He began to bite on his leg, but was met with a mouthful of pants. The soldier screamed and turned back to Higgins, who was clawing at him in an attempt to topple him over. Instinctively, the soldier shoved his hand in Higgins’ face to try and get him back, but Higgins seized the opportunity to take a bite of his unprotected hand. The soldier panicked and stepped on his own boot while trying to step back, he fell over and Higgins climbed atop of him. He lost his grip on the rifle and it slid across the floor and under some chairs.
Elderton took a firm grip on Martha’s hand and they both took off running for the rifle.
The soldier pushed at the mouth of Higgins with his left forearm, as he tried to bite his face over and over. With his other hand he pulled his pistol from its holster and placed it against Higgins’ head. He took the shot and blood splattered all over his face and mouth. Higgins went limp on top of him, all four-hundred pounds. He spit blood and brain tissue out of his mouth in disgust. And then he saw Martha and Elderton running for the rifle. He aimed his pistol at them.
“Freeze!” He shouted. They stopped. “Turn around slowly!”
Elderton slowly turned about with Martha to face the soldier. He was underneath Higgins, face covered in blood, with an expression of anger and fear. He had his pistol trained on them. Higgins was still bleeding from his head wound over the soldier and into a puddle on the floor.
“There’s more at play tonight, bigger problems than us,” Elderton tried to reason with him.
“Don’t move!” He yelled at them from his compromised position. He wiggled out from underneath the weight of Higgins, sliding around in the blood. He stood up slowly, gun still trained on them. “Move away from my weapon!”
“We’re moving,” Elderton said, as they slowly sidestepped away from the rife and back towards the front of the classroom. “There’s no need to yell. We’re all on the same side.”
“Shut up!” He yelled back at her. “I’m sick of your crap! Just shut up!”
Elderton gently nodded while she and Martha continued away from the rifle. He walked over and picked up the rifle from the ground, he slung it over his shoulders with the strap. He never did lower his pistol. He slowly walked over to the door to the classroom, his back to it and his gun still trained on them. He walked through the broken glass, the sound of it crunching beneath his feet was all they could hear. He reached the door, and opened it. He looked up and down both ends of the hallway, his gun still fixated on them. He looked back to them with the door held open in his hand.
“We’re not on the same team,” He said.
He let go of the door and took off running down the hallway.
“Where’s he going?” Martha asked.
“He’s going AWOL, Martha,” Elderton said. “He’s a lost cause. Don’t worry about him.”
They kept their distance as they walked around Higgins on the floor. He had clearly become like the rest, a mindless cannibalistic nightmare. But Elderton wondered what had brought him back to his classroom. Was there still some of Mr. Higgins left inside? Somewhere buried beneath the primitive behavior was he still cognitive of who he was and his life before the disease? She was frustrated at how little she knew and understood what was happening to the people in Tipton, but she wasn’t going to shed one tear or lose one night of sleep over the death of Mr. Higgins, ninth grade Biology teacher and pervert.
Elderton and Martha looked out into the hallway in the direction the soldier had just gone running. He was already long gone. Gunshots rang out and screaming followed with it, it came from the other direction and they both looked down the long hallway they had originally come from. Soldiers were shouting, shooting, and it sounded like overall chaos.
“We’re going that way,” Elderton said. “But we’ll have to be careful not to be seen.”
“Are you crazy?” Martha said. “Can’t you hear that?”
“Yeah, but do you really wanna follow G.I. AWOL?” She said. “Besides, we need to see what they’re hiding in the gym. I need to know what the hell is going on and what we’re up against.”
“We’re gonna get caught,” Martha worried, and tried to cross her arms in discomfort, but the cuffs didn’t allow it.
“Not if we’re smart, Martha,” Elderton reassured her. “And you and I have more brains between us than their whole damn army.”
As they moved down the hallway, they tried to stay out of sight as much as possible. Ducking behind anything they could, moving from doorway to doorway. The gunshots and mayhem continued, and it only got louder as they moved nearer and nearer to their destination in the gym. They found a row of concession tables that were used during basketball games folded up against the wall. They hid behind the wall they created, Elderton with her arm wrapped around Martha behind her. Up ahead there was still shouting and the sounds of footfalls throughout the area, but the gunshots had stopped. It appeared they had lost their target.
Elderton could see two sets of doors up ahead, each leading into the gym. There was yellow light pouring out from the windows in the door, and they cast yellow lines against the floor in the hallway. She noticed the hydrogen light bulbs on the roof above had been strategically busted out. There was glass all over the floor outside of the gym. It was going to be hard moving around without making a lot of noise, but at least they had some cover of darkness to help. Whoever was stirring up trouble for Wilcox and his men was smart.
She turned back to Martha and whispered, “We’ll head to the first set of doors, look inside through the glass, but we won’t go in unless the gym is absolutely empty, OK?”
“And another thing, there’s glass--” before Elderton could finish speaking, Martha started tapping frantically on her shoulder and pointed behind her. She turned around expecting to see a soldier coming their way, but instead it was something else entirely.
There was a feminine figure moving around in the darkness outside the gym. She slowly moved up to the first set of doors and looked through the glass. The yellow light lit enough of her that Elderton could get a better look. She was taller than most women, she estimated six foot, five inches at least. Her head was round, slick with no hair on top. Her skin was a greenish grey, and had a reptilian texture to it. Her eyes were black, large and there were no whites or noticable pupil. Where her nose should have been, there was no cartilage but instead simply two oval-shaped nostrils flat against the skin. Instead of moving one’s eyes to look around, she moved her head to-and-fro to get different perspectives. The movement had a bird-like quality. She placed a hand to the glass, ready to push the door open. The hand had long fingers with sharp nails at the tips. Between the fingers was a webbing of sorts. Elderton wondered if it was used for climbing, like a spider. She started to slowly push the door open, but then there were voices in the gym, and she turned suddenly away. She started to walk away, but then stopped. Her head slowly turned and looked exactly in the direction of Elderton and Martha.
Martha had a deathgrip on Elderton’s bicep and said curse words under her breath.
The figure stood in the rays of light from the gym, a towering presence not only to Elderton and Martha but surely to all the frantic soldiers that had been pursuing her. Her body was long, and slender, but with an athlete’s build. Her arms were noticeably toned, as were her calves and thighs. Elderton figured she was fast as hell, and there was no point in trying to outrun her. She slowly tilted her head as she looked Elderton dead in the eyes. Elderton didn’t sense a threat, but more a curiosity.
“Trust me Martha,” Elderton whispered to her.
Elderton slowly stood up with Martha’s hand in hers. She slowly stepped out from behind the tables and tugged at Martha like she was a child. They both stood there, hand-in-hand, just breathing. Elderton was playing the only hand she felt she had, the rest was up to the figure before her.
The figure lowered and lifted its head, as it looked them over. She was studying them, no doubt weighing the threat as well. Eventually, she seemed to meet Elderton eye-to-eye again. She raised her brow. Elderton felt as though she was smiling at her. Elderton managed to conjure up a smile in return.
She raised a webbed-hand and slowly waved at Elderton and Martha.
“Oh my gosh,” Martha said. “She’s waving.”
Elderton and Martha each raised their free hand and waved gently back. This seemed to delight her, as she jiggled a little in her stomach. Her face also seemed to lighten up more. She stopped waving and a white light began to illuminate in her abdomen, just below her breasts. The lines of two triangles overlapping took shape in her abdomen. When it was completed, you could see not only two triangles, but the diamond they created in the middle with the overlap.
Elderton didn’t know what it meant, but she had painstakingly tried to hide herself from the soldiers. She had busted out the lights, and snuck around in the dark. But before Martha and her, she was showing herself. She wasn’t afraid to show herself. Elderton had no idea what was going on, or if this creature was responsible for what was happening to the people of Tipton, but she was certain shooting at her wasn’t going to solve it.
“OVER HERE.” A voice shouted from the hallway behind the figure.
She turned and saw a group of soldiers. She spun back and went running straight for Martha and Elderton. They retreated back behind the tables. The soldiers started shooting. Elderton watched with squinted eyes as the flashes of the guns caused a display like firecrackers through the hallway beside them. The soldiers ran by in a large group, pursuing the figure that waved.
“It’s too fast!” Screaming, gunshots. Chaos.
Elderton waited and listened with Martha for the last soldier to pass. But the last one was really trailing behind the rest. She could hear his boots slowly approaching, and labored breathing. Just as he started to pass them, he stopped. Knelt down, hands on knees. He gasped for air and cursed. But then he noticed Elderton’s boots and looked up.
It was the soldier who had taken her guns.
Elderton and Martha jumped him together and tackled him to the ground. Elderton held his mouth closed while Martha watched for the last soldier to turn off down a side hallway. She nodded to Elderton. They drug him across the hall to a classroom by their cuffed hands. He kicked and gagged, grabbing at the cuff chain across his neck. They pulled him inside the classroom and turned on the light. Elderton stepped hard on his testicles with the heel of her boot. He rolled over in pain, caressing them to ease the pain. Martha gently closed the door behind them.
They were in the drama room. Elderton looked around and spotted a rope hanging over the side of a box of props. “Grab him again,” she said to Martha, and they dragged him over to the box. She pulled out the rope, and it was long. Martha let her cuffed hand go limp for Elderton, who took the rope and made quick work of the knots. She went back over the knots, checking they were tight as possible. She then stood up with Martha and looked down at him. He hands and feet were intricately tied together behind his back. He couldn’t stand up, sit up, or move his feet or hands independent of each other. He could roll though.
She looked over at Martha who was giving her a look. “Girl Scouts,” Elderton explained. “My scout leader was a knot expert.”
“OK,” Martha said.
Elderton lead Martha to the teacher’s desk, where she found a notepad and pencil. She sketched the insignia that had appeared on the figure’s abdomen. Two triangles, a diamond in the middle. She showed it to Martha. “Look about right?” She asked.
“That’s it.” Martha replied.
Elderton folded the sketch and put it in her pants pocket.
They walked back over to the soldier and picked him up. They placed him in a chair. Elderton sat in front of him, face-to-face. Knees touching. He was nervous, but angry more than anything. He had been completely blindsided by their presence, and was still trying to get his bearings. She looked at his name and it read Pvt. Roberts.
“Alright, Private Roberts,” she started. “We’re gonna have a little chat. You’re gonna tell me what is happening and why ya’ll are trying to cover it up.”
He sneered at her and shook his head. “I’m not gonna betray my country, because of some psycho bitch. So why don’t you two ladies just head home, make some popcorn, and turn on a Lifetime movie--and leave this to the big boys, yeah?”
Martha pushed past Elderton and grabbed Roberts by the collar. “My family is dead! My husband killed my children tonight! You getting that through your stupid skull? This ain’t a game. People are dying. So wipe that smirk off your stupid face.” She pushed away from him and walked away. She turned her back to him. She couldn’t look at his smug face anymore.
“This the way you do things in Tipton?” Roberts asked Elderton.
“She doesn’t work for me,” Elderton said. “So she does whatever she wants. But this is about you right now. Are you going to help us, yes or no?”
He leaned close enough that their noses touched for a brief moment. “No.”
Elderton sat back. “Alright, fair enough. So, we’re gonna gag you, leave you here with the door open. How long do you think before that creature comes back?” She could see in his eyes the thought of meeting with the creature from the hallway was something he didn’t want in his present state. “Or even worse, how much longer before one of the fine people of Tipton wander through that door.” She pointed to the door for effect. “Of course, they might not be themselves when they do.”
“You’re not gonna leave me here,” he said. “You’re bluffing.”
“Martha, get a gag.”
They sat there, knees still touching, while Martha rummaged through some boxes with prop and costume pieces. She found an old backpack and put it on the floor next to the box. She found a red handkerchief and smiled. She handed it to Elderton.
Elderton wrapped it up tight around her hand. “I have one more question.” She looked up from the handkerchief. “Where are my guns?”
Roberts was looking nervous finally. He was finally letting the anger wash away and be replaced by pure fear. “They’re in the gym with the rest of the cache.”
“There’s a weapons cache in the gym?” Elderton asked. She was appalled at the thought.
“Yeah,” He said. “But don’t go in there, because...” he slowly stopped speaking.
“Oh, I’m going in there,” Elderton said. She stood up and walked around behind him. She unwound the handkerchief from her hand.
“Now, just wait a minute--” he tried to plead, but she pulled the handkerchief tight against his mouth from behind him. She pulled it tight around to the back of his head. She took the two ends and tied them as tight to his head as possible. She could only hear his gags and moans. No more arrogant rants.
She walked around in front of him. She had hooked the handkerchief between the teeth, and it was so tight she could tell it was going to hurt like hell. But she felt no pity for Private Roberts.
Martha turned to Elderton. “I found a backpack. It might prove useful. Let’s see what else we can find amongst the props and costumes before we go.”
Elderton and Martha spent five minutes rummaging through the props and costumes, and it turned out to be a worthwhile endeavor. Elderton found a baseball bat, which might prove useful in close combat or if they ran out of ammo. Martha found a trench coat her size and gave Elderton her jacket back. She Martha also found a baseball cap, Detroit Twins. She put her hair up with some hair pins she found with makeup and hair items. She slipped the hat on over it. Her hair would be kept out of her face from now on. Martha didn’t need any obstruction blocking her vision.
On their way out of the classroom, Elderton waved at Roberts and propped the door open with a wooden doorstop she found on the floor.
Elderton and Martha crossed the hall to the first pair of doors to the gym. They looked inside and it appeared no one was present. But the large pod-like thing she had gotten a tiny glimpse of earlier was still in the center of the basketball court.
“What is it?” Martha whispered.
“No idea. Come on.” Elderton quietly pushed the door open and snuck through with the bat in hand. Martha held the door until it was closed, and slowly let it latch with the handle in her hands. They both walked along the bleachers and at the front they looked across the gym. They had a clear shot of the entire gym and there was no one present. Elderton turned back to Martha. “Guns first, and then we check out the thing, OK?”
Martha nodded silently.
Elderton looked back out across the gym. There were various pieces of army equipment and weapons. There was also a row of folding tables with documents laid across them along with various thermoses for coffee and water bottles partially drank. She spotted a stockpile of guns in varying sizes on the other side of the thing. That’s where her guns would be, and ammo. And Martha needed a weapon too. She couldn’t believe what she was thinking. Where the evening had taken them. She was about to steal weapons and ammunition from the United States Army and Homeland Security, and then just hand it over to a citizen and encourage her to use it on anything that came at them with intent to attack. It was a bleak night. She found herself wishing for the boring morning of looking at cattle. If only.
They held hands as they crossed the court. Still cuffed together. They kept a distance between themselves and the uncertain object they would soon be inspecting. On the other side of it, they moved to the weapons cache. She found her shotgun easily enough, but it took a little more effort to sift through an ammo box filled with pistols. They filled up their backpack with ammunition, two extra pistols, and a couple of hand-grenades.
“You should pick out a gun.” Elderton whispered to Martha. Martha looked around for a moment, but then picked up an AR-15. She looked it over a little, to adjust to it. Felt it in her hands, the weight of it. Elderton shook her head, “Do you know how to use that?”
“My brother Jimmy had one when I was in high school.” Martha explained. “And I’m not taking my chances. I know what this disease makes people do.”
“Alright,” Elderton said, “I just wanted to make sure you knew what you were doing. Grab some clips and put them in the backpack.”
After Martha loaded some clips for her rifle into the backpack, it was so full they could barely zip it up. “This is gonna be a pain to carry, let’s take turns with it.” Martha suggested. Elderton nodded and tried to pick it up, but Martha stopped her. “I’ll take the first carry. We can switch off when we get away from the army.” Elderton nodded again. Martha slid the backpack over her one free shoulder and carried the rifle in her hand, but wouldn’t be able to use it until after dropping the backpack.
Elderton knew it was the smart thing to do. She had the training, she would do better against the soldiers they might encounter on the way out. And she was really hoping no firing would be exchanged between her and Army or Homeland Security. It was going to be hard to explain that she wasn’t betraying her country later down the road.
They both looked at the pod-like object in the middle of the court. For the first time Elderton had a clear view of it. She could see there were designs in the side, but the one that stood out was in the center. It was the same design they had seen on the creature in the hallway, when she lit it up to them. What did it mean? Was it some form of communication? The creature had lit it up on her abdomen after communicating with a handwave. What was that creature? And what was the pod?
They walked together up to the pod, got a closer look. It was black except for silver markings along the outside of it, which created most of the designs. Some of the designs were just carved into the black areas of the pod.
“Is it an egg?” Martha asked out loud to no one.
On one side Elderton found the markings of a gunshot ricochet. There had also been some repair made next to it, as it appeared to rupture the pod. It looked like they had used sealing caulk to fill the hole.
“Back up,” Elderton said as she stepped back and pulled Martha with her.
“There’s been a leak, they repaired it there,” Elderton explained and pointed to it. “It’s possible whatever leaked out of this is what got into our water supply and is causing the spread of the disease.”
They both stood silent for a moment, considering the possibility that this pod was the very thing spreading chaos through their town.
They took a few more steps back.
“Did you notice the symbol?” Martha asked.
“What does it mean?” Martha asked.
“No idea,” Elderton said, and then pulled her to the tables. “Come on.” Elderton didn’t even look, she just started picking up stacks of them and handed them to Martha. “Here, in the front pocket of the backpack. As many as we can.”
Martha set her rifle on a table, and pulled the backpack off of her shoulder. She set it on the table. She unzipped the front pocket and crammed in the files. Elderton stacked them and handed them over, Martha scooted the backpack over and shoved them in. Over and over. Files upon files. And pictures.
Elderton found two pictures of the pod. She folded one into a small square and it handed it to Martha. “Put it in your bra.” She said. She folded another and they each put an image of the pod into their bra. “If we lose the backpack, and the files, we at least have a photo. Each of us. That way if--” she stopped herself before she finished the sentence.
“I know,” Martha said, “It’s smart. But we are gonna get through this.” She gripped Elderton’s hand. Elderton picked up another stack of papers and folders. Martha shook her head at her. There was no more room in the backpack. She zipped up the pocket on the backpack. She pointed to a door on the backside of the gym. “That one goes outside, Kelly,” Martha said. “But it will set off a fire alarm, so we’ll have to book it.”
“Let’s pick a destination before we start running,” Elderton said.
Martha thought for just a second. “Taco House.”
“It’s three blocks away, and it’s the only thing open late in this town,” Martha said. “There might be people there, or at the very least unlocked doors.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Elderton said. “Taco House it is.”
They took one more look at the pod, knowing they would likely never see it again. Once that moment had passed, they headed to the door at the back of the gym. It had red all over it and the words FIRE ALARM all capitalized in white. Elderton looked back at Martha before opening the door, she nodded to her. She pressed the door open and they ran off into the night to the sound of the fire alarm.
Three blocks. Just three blocks.
Chapter 13: Enemy of the state
Richter hid underneath a tree across from the high school. He could see Agent Wilcox had been fortifying his impromptu surroundings. All entrances were guarded with at least one soldier, most with two. The cover of darkness and lack of activities at the school gave them unfettered access to the facility. He admired the quickness with which Wilcox was able to recover from ambush from the previous night.
He stripped down to just an undershirt and the military standard camouflage pants. He pulled out the rest of the uniform from his backpack and slipped into it. He put the rest of his clothes into the backpack, also a military standard issue. He zipped it up and stood up beneath the tree and took it all in one more time. Based on the shape of the building, he could see there was some large room with a high ceiling, he figured that is where they’d have what he had come for and what his clients were paying him to squander.
He put his pistol in the holster on his military toolbelt. He trained his eyes on the west side of the school where there was a door guarded by a lone soldier, shaded by an old oak tree. He decided that would be his entrance.
He walked through the parking lot like he was supposed to be there and came out from behind a Hummer and frightened the young soldier momentarily.
“I didn’t see you there!”
“Relax, private.” Richter said to him, stripping away as much of his accent as he could.
“I don’t know that I ever will again,” the young soldier said, “not after what we saw last night. I swear—”
Before the soldier could finish his train of thought, Richter had a knife in his heart and a hand over his mouth suppressing his screams for help. He wrestled the soldier to the ground and waited until there was confirmation he had drained all of the soldier’s life before dragging him behind the oak tree. He entered the door and held onto it until he could hear it had latched. He didn’t want it slamming and sending an echo down the halls of the school.
He could see a wealth of light coming from a wall of glass and he wasn’t sure what to expect, but he could see moving shadows on the wall adjacent to it. He didn’t want to take on so many soldiers so early; otherwise he’d struggle to get what he came for. He stepped up to the windows and looked inside. It was the cafeteria, all lit up. There were bodies in body bags, others not yet packaged. He also saw people laying on tables, struggling and writhing in pain, clearly overtaken with some ailment. There was one man who began to struggle with a doctor in a lab coat who was trying to administer a drug to him from a needle. That’s when Richter noticed all the people were tied down to the cafeteria tables. Across the neck, arms, hands, waist, thighs, and shins. They didn’t want the patients getting loose. Richter had seen some weird, and even inhumane sights in his days, but even this was a bit strange by American standards. He might expect something like this in the middle east, but to witness the Americans strapping their own citizens in and forcing them to stay put—sometimes even until they died in pain—was well beyond what he’d seen them accomplish. It was depraved even by his standards, and his standards were lower than most.
He spotted Wilcox walking with an older man he didn’t recognize, someone in civilian’s clothes, a suit. The man seemed to be boasting based on his posture and facial expressions. Even without hearing him speak and at the distance between them, Richter could tell he didn’t like the man. He noted that Wilcox was barely even noticing the man’s presence as he looked over the chaotic and bloody site in the cafeteria. He watched as the doctor finally achieved success with the needle. The patient choked and gagged, kicked and screamed. He thrashed harder than most men. So much so the soldiers stepped back in fright. They all watched the patient thrash and thrash until he coughed up blood and died.
Wilcox turned around and spoke to the older man finally. The older man looked around confused and offered a response that Wilcox clearly didn’t want to hear. He gestured to a few soldiers who stepped forward and gunned down the older man point blank.
From the floor, the older man yelled, “I’m mayor of this city! You hear me! You need me! You don’t know this city like I know this city! I’ve lived here my whole damned life! I am this city!”
The soldiers gave him six more shots. The mayor was dead.
Richter smirked to himself, because the cover up was afoot. Wilcox was tying up loose ends. That meant he didn’t have much time. They were likely waiting on an escort of some kind to arrive before heading down the road once more. He figured they must be nearby, if he was already snuffing out loose ends. Richter had to move quickly. He remembered that hummer outside, it would have to do, if he could fit the dang thing inside.
Chapter 12: Things that bruise
Elderton reached the top of the bleachers and got a good glimpse of the man in the suit for the first time. He looked mid-forties in age, black hair with streaks of white through the sides. He wore a pair of thick, black-rimmed glasses with eyebrows so black and thick you could see them move just above the top of the rims. One eyebrow raised when he got a good look of her up close. It was an eyebrow raise she’d grown accustomed to seeing among her male peers. It meant he viewed her as a waste of time and possibly a threat. She looked him up and down and returned the raised eyebrow for good measure.
“I’m Sheriff Elderton,” she said as she extended her hand to shake his, “and I demand to know what the hell is happening in my town.”
“Nothing that concerns you, Elderton,” Marsden chided and stood up straight, grabbing at his belt with the bullhorn buckle he always wore. “And especially not Martha. Ya’ll can just go home. Everything’s under control.”
The suit never reciprocated the handshake.
“My family’s dead at home, Mayor Marsden,” Martha shouted, but then choked, “so screw that.” She stepped back, as she remembered her children.
Elderton took Martha’s hand without looking and gripped it tight for support. She looked the suit dead in the eyes. “Look, I don’t know who you are but tonight people are becoming aggressive. Killing each other,” she paused, “eating each other.” She looked at Marsden. “And I sure don’t call that nothing or under control.”
The suit took a long sigh before speaking and when he did he sounded bored or disinterested. “I’m Agent Wilcox from Homeland Security. What your town is experiencing tonight is a simple problem with your water. Years of neglect and lack of maintenance from local agencies are likely the cause. Akin to Flint, Michigan. It’s nothing to be alarmed about, we would encourage members of the community to make sure they boil their water before using or use bottled water for drinking. It’s a simple thing to contain, now that the problem is known we can assess the problem areas in the water supply and make the necessary upgrades and changes—through local agencies, of course.”
“If it’s so simple, how come Flint still doesn’t have clean water?” Elderton asked, but Wilcox didn’t answer. “Are the Flint townsfolk eating each other?”
Wilcox took out a silver cigarette case from the inside pocket of his suit. He lit up a cigarette and placed the case back into his pocket. He took a puff and blew smoke back at Elderton and Martha. “Well, that’s the local agencies’ problem. I hope your local agencies can work together to implement a solution quicker than Flint has. It’s all about teamwork, Miss Elderton.”
He smirked with the cigarette hanging out the opposite side of his lips. “This way,” he said as he turned and walked back to the high school building. Soldiers moved in around them, forming a circle around the group as they moved inside.
As they entered the building, the soldiers that escorted them stayed outside to guard the entrance. A new group of soldiers took over as their escort. They all walked down the hallways of the school, Elderton still trying to glean a truthful response from either Marsden or Wilcox. There were so many soldiers inside the high school, some classrooms had been opened up and there were soldiers inside with weapons, caches and more.
“So, if it’s just a water contamination issue,” she started, “why the show of strength? You can shoot the water clean?”
“Elderton!” Marsden reprimanded. “Show some respect. Wilcox and the others are here to help.”
“It’s a simple answer,” Wilcox started, but waved his finger in a circle to some soldiers ahead in the hallway. They quickly moved and closed the doors to the gym before they got to it. They stood in front of it, rifles in hands. “We got wind of certain behaviors, we thought maybe there was a security issue, so we came quietly to investigate. We do this sort of thing all the time. We like to think of ourselves as the silent protectors of America’s freedom. We’re always watching out for you, even when you don’t know we are. It’s a thankless job, really.”
As they passed by the gym doors, Elderton broke from the escort and pushed one of the soldiers guarding the entrance down and only got a slight glimpse of some large and dark object in the center of the basketball court through the window pane before being tackled by the second guard. They fell to the floor, and he pinned her down on her face to the tile. He held his rifle across her back and through her arms. She dropped her shotgun and it slid across the floor. She saw a soldier step on it as it slid; he picked it up and held onto it.
“You don’t make things easy, do you Miss Elderton,” Wilcox said. He stepped over to her, leaned down and looked at her face-to-face. He shook his head. “I see what you mean, Mr. Marsden, she really isn’t a team player, is she.”
With the pain of the tile being smashed against her cheekbone and her rage building up inside, she couldn’t hold anything back any longer. People were dying, people were killing each other. They knew something and were determined to keep her in the dark. Determined to prevent her from doing her sworn duty. She spit in his face. “It’s Sheriff Elderton, damn you, and you don’t have jurisdiction over me. Tell your man to get off me now.”
Wilcox was breathing heavy with anger from the spit. He casually pulled a handkerchief from his suit pocket and wiped it away from his face. He used the handkerchief to remove her pistol from its holster. She squirmed as he did so. He stood up and handed her pistol to the soldier with her shotgun.
“I’m coming back for those,” she told the soldier. “You better hope you don’t have them in your hands when I do.” He smiled. “Smile now, I’m gonna punch that grin off your face.”
Wilcox dropped his cigarette on the ground and stamped it out on the tile. He realized it had spit on it. He pulled out a new cigarette and barked orders while he lit it. “Put them in a classroom. You, watch them. Don’t let them out for anything. Make them use a trash can, if they have to piss. Watch them if they do. Don’t take your eyes off these two for one second. Not even to scratch your balls.”
Moments later they were shoved down into classroom chairs in the middle of a classroom. They were handcuffed together at the wrist. One soldier left laughing about something he’d said to the other, who had remained silent the whole walk to the classroom. He had been part of their escort inside the building. He pulled a stool from a lab station over to the door and sat down on it. He glanced out the window on the door, to see what he could make out from the position. He looked over to Elderton and Martha, both sitting silently. Both angry as hell.
“Sorry,” he said.
“Uncuff us,” Elderton said, lifting their cuffed hands up.
“I can’t,” he said, with a look of embarrassment.
“Then your apology don’t mean crap, does it?” Elderton asked. He bit his lip and looked painfully at odds with himself. Elderton turned to Martha. “Did you see in the gym?”
“How could I?” Martha said. “What did you see?”
“Something,” Elderton said. “Something strange.” She strained herself to recall the visual in her head. “It was large, black, but it wasn’t a box—I don’t think—it was oval shaped. If only I’d had more time to look.” She rubbed her cheek, where it had been slammed and ground into the floor. It was red with irritation.
Martha took her hand. “Thank you. Your strength has meant so much to me since…” Her voice trailed off as she tried to find the words to say without a complete breakdown emotionally. Elderton shushed her and pulled her into an awkward embrace with her hand that wasn’t cuffed. Martha rested her head on her shoulder and sobbed into it. Elderton laid her sore cheek atop her head and tried to quell the pain for Martha. Her cheek was another matter, but it would have to wait.
Chapter 10: Friday Night Lights
Elderton was driving down 10th Street with Martha in the passenger seat with her. Martha was shivering, not from cold, but from shock. Elderton put on her hazard lights and pulled over to the side of the road. Right under the lights of the high school football field. She shook her sheriff jacket off both arms and handed it to Martha.
“Here, Martha,” she told her, “Put this on.”
Martha put the jacket on, which proved a little too big for her scrawny arms. She sat there shivering in the jacket, as she zipped it up to the top. She looked like a little kid in her mother’s clothes. “Thanks,” she said. “What’s going on? Why are people doing this to each other?”
“I don’t know, Martha,” Elderton replied, “I just don’t know. I wish I did. I wish I knew how to make it stop. Put an end to it. But for now, we stay smart. We stay in groups as much as possible.” She put her arm around Martha and started to rub her hands up and down the side of her arm.
“What are you doing?” Martha asked.
“Trying to warm you up.” Elderton said. “I don’t need you going into shock or having a panic attack. We don’t know what state the hospital is in right now. I need you to push through, OK?”
“Alright.” Martha said.
Elderton continued to rub an arm against Martha while she reached and turned the heat all the way up in her patrol car. She turned back and continued to rub her arms with both hands. She looked over Martha’s head and noticed a lot of movement and lights in the high school parking lot. That’s when she noticed people in Army fatigues and suits enter the west entrance to the high school.
“There’s something going on at the high school,” Elderton said.
Martha turned around and looked out the window. She could see all the movement and personnel moving around. “Do you think they’ve come to help us?”
“We haven’t even put out any word that I know of,” Elderton said. “And I’d expect National Guard before Army. Plus, that’s a stupid fast response time. Something’s up. I gotta check it out. Stay in the car.”
“No, Kelly, I’m coming with you.”
Elderton looked at Martha and she could tell from her expression she wouldn’t take no for an answer. Besides, it would probably be better for the two to stay together, as she’d already noted. “Alright,” Elderton said, “But we’re probably walking into a mess. Just know that. And let me do the talking.”
Elderton and Martha got out of the patrol car and locked it up. But not before Elderton took her double barrel shotgun from it and a pocket full of shotgun shells. She handed the shells to Martha. “Here,” she said. “Put these in the outside pockets of my jacket. It’s the only pockets I own that can hold them.” She kept two for herself. She loaded the shotgun and checked her pistol. “All right. Come on.”
They climbed the chain-link fence and walked straight out into the lights of the football field. Elderton didn’t want armed officials thinking they were sneaking up on them. And to her amusement, they did her bidding when they reached the fifty-yard line. She saw a group of armed officers come out with a few suits. She couldn’t make out their faces with the bright lights of the field bearing down on her and Martha. She stopped and held her shotgun above her head.
“I’m sheriff of this county!” She shouted to the men at the back of the bleachers. “I’m Sheriff Kelly Elderton! This here with me is a citizen, a victim of violence tonight! We’re coming up to you!” Elderton turned and whispered to Martha, “Let me make the next step.”
She took two steps ahead of Martha and one of the suited men raised his hand. “Stop!” He shouted, and she obliged. “This is a matter of National Security, I can’t let you come up here! I can’t let you anywhere near the high school premises! Go back to the station and wait for me there!”
“I’m sheriff of this county,” Elderton started, “and if it involves the safety of my people, it involves me! We’re coming up!”
“Dammit, Elderton!” Another suited man yelled at her. She recognized it as none other than Mayor Kendell Marsden. He had been a thorn in her side ever since she was elected to sheriff. He was convinced she was unfit for duty. She never could get him to explain how he came to that conclusion. He was always butting in or leaving her out of matters. “This is Mayor Marsden and I’m commanding you to go back to the station!”
Elderton felt hairs tingle on the back of her neck. She was pissed off. “Wendy ain’t answering back at the station! There’s likely trouble, so I can’t go waltzing back with Martha in hand! We’re coming up, dammit!” She overemphasized the dammit in response to his.
She could see that Marsden started to step forward and yell at her again, but the first suit grabbed him and pulled him back. “Come up! And hand over your arms to my men!”
“Hell no!” Martha yelled from behind Elderton. Elderton turned and looked at her with surprise. Martha continued, “If you’d seen what I’ve seen tonight, you’d know why!”
Elderton looked back up to the group of men. There was silence while the condition was considered. Finally, the nameless suit nodded and shouted that it was OK. Elderton leaned over to Martha and whispered to her as they made their ascension up the bleachers. “Well played, Martha.”
Chapter 9: To raise a fighter
Betty pulled her arms around herself, trying to keep warm and get her thoughts in order as she sat below the old, wooden basement stairs. The scratch on her arm was on fire from where her father had gotten her before, but it had finally stopped bleeding. She’d already searched the basement for a weapon and had come up empty. She supposed she’d just have to wait it out until he gave up, but that didn’t seem likely any time soon. Or maybe…
“GAH!” her dad roared from behind the basement door. He pounded on it over and over again, but until he used more force, he wouldn’t be getting through.
The thing was, he was physically her dad, but in her head she knew something was amiss. Her dad was a quiet man who liked hard work and followed the rules. In her twenty-five years, she hadn’t ever heard or seen him be violent. But the way he pounded at the door, not using words, but low grunts… it scared her. She felt thrown into a horror movie. Just living her normal life and then bam! Her reality turned upside down.
Just then, Betty heard a crash, not from the basement door but from somewhere else in the house. She froze and waited. The banging stopped. She heard footsteps—two sets? What was happening?
She crept up the stairs, going slowly, careful to avoid the steps that creaked loudly and pressed her ear to the door. Another crash echoed through the house, vibrating the walls, followed by one of her father’s growls.
“Kevin, hey!” she heard another man’s voice call out. “It’s me! Hey, calm down!”
Her dad clearly didn’t pay one lick of attention. She heard glass breaking and a pained sound, she assumed from the other man. Betty risked unlocking the door, waited a few seconds to make sure no one heard, and then slowly twisted the knob, pushing the door open no more than half an inch. She couldn’t see anything useful, so she took a deep breath and pushed it open a foot.
Betty’s jaw dropped when she saw the scene before her. Her dad had Deputy Marvin pinned to the ground, growling and flailing, trying to keep him in place. It looked like a high school wrestling match, but jerky and random instead of methodical and practiced.
Her dad’s hands grabbed ahold of Marvin’s head, one on each side, and Betty saw what was coming before it happened. “Nooo!” she roared. “Dad, stop!”
In response, her dad glanced back at her. It was like he didn’t even recognize her, her own father. His eyes were crazed and vacant at the same time.
Marvin’s eyes fixed on hers, desperate, pleading. He glanced back and forth between Betty and Kevin. During these glances, he seemed to accept his fate.
“Run!” he yelled as loud as he could manage amid the struggle to breathe. Betty thought it sounded like a good idea, maybe the smarter thing to do. But she was a fighter. She stood up for what was right. That’s what her dad taught her—her real dad, not this slobbery, angry monster.
“Ok,” she said. “I’m running then.” She glared directly into her dad’s foreign eyes. “You hear that? I’m out of here.”
Marvin’s eyes turned sad, as if he’d secretly wished she would help him, but she could tell he also understood. Her dad stared at her, seemingly confused by her words.
Hopefully she moved quickly enough to save them both…
Betty tore off down the hall, toward her father’s bedroom. Fumbling in his desk drawer, she reached to the very back and pulled the pistol into her hand. It was cold to the touch but made her feel oddly warm. Exhilarated.
She knew what she had to do. Hearing another loud grunting sound snapped her out of her sadness. Dashing back to the living area, she rejoined the two men. Marvin’s eyes were wide with fear. Her father had always been a strong man, but he had gained some crazy animalistic energy that fueled him to hold Marvin to the floor.
At the same moment, Kevin twisted hard on Marvin’s head, one intense push that sent a snapping noise through the room, and Betty raised the gun and shot her father straight in the head. He toppled over on top of Marvin, completely limp.
People in movies always say that shooting a gun was so loud and hurt one’s ears, and Betty supposed that was mostly true. But she was so laser focused on accomplishing her mission that it didn’t overtake her. She felt proud, like her dad would be proud.
As the two men lie dead before her, she took a deep breath. On to the next action, she told herself. Find reinforcements. She didn’t know who, but she had to find someone.
Unsure exactly where she was headed, she stole Deputy Marvin’s car keys and rolled out into the night.
Chapter 8: The work of women
Elderton turned off her sirens as she approached the home of Leonard and Martha Hampton. Their small house had been built in the early 1900s and needed major renovations, but it was impossible on Leonard’s factory job and attitude towards a little thing he called women’s work.
A staunch Christian, Leonard had commanded rather harshly one evening eight months prior that Martha quit the cashier job she’d taken at Aldi to help the family. She was working during the days, when the kids were at school, and being a dutiful housewife and mother all other times of the day and weekends. Elderton had taken that call personally, and found an agitated Leonard breathing heavy and quoting scripture at his wife outside Aldi in the parking lot. The Aldi personnel had taken him out of the building when he came in fuming and hit her repeatedly while she was trying to check out someone at her register.
Elderton could see she’d taken a beating as she yelled at him from the automatic doors, which kept opening and closing in confusion while several employees tried to hold her back from getting near him. Elderton recalled how Martha wasn’t mad but rather upset and trying to explain to her angry husband why it was okay for her to take a job. She was in tears.
Elderton didn’t waste any time when she arrived at Aldi that day slamming Leonard into the hood of her patrol car and handcuffing him. She gladly shoved him into the back and took him off to the station. A tearful Martha would later pay his bail, reassuring him all the while that she had quit the job and acknowledging it was a lapse in faith. They hugged and kissed. And prayed.
Elderton wanted to toss the bail money and put him back in jail that day.
She didn’t know what to expect when she pulled into their driveway, but she knew what Leonard Hampton was like sober. She had a sick feeling in the pit of her stomach that she hadn’t seen the worst of Leonard.
Elderton stepped a firm boot out of her patrol car. She loosened the fastener around her nine-millimeter pistol and pulled it from the holster. Holding it firmly in both hands, she kept the barrel aimed down to the ground. The safety still on.
She gently closed the door, but not to latch. Slowly and carefully she crept through their yard, ears alert for any signs of life.
She had to dodge children’s toys and bicycles as she made the way to the front stoop. Some toys looked like they hadn’t been moved in a long time from the yard, splattered with grass clippings and dirt. She stepped up the porch of the old home, the wood creaking loudly as she reached the door. She knocked loudly on the screen door, the door itself was open. She could see light shining from underneath what she assumed was the bathroom door where Martha had called from. The door was past a staircase that went to the second story and at the end of the hallway. It appeared the only light on in the house was in that one room.
She knocked loudly again. “This is the police! This is Sheriff Elderton! I’m going to enter unless you come forward Leonard Hampton, hands raised and behind your head!”
No answer. She could see no signs of movement underneath the bathroom door, and she began to fear the worst for Martha.
“I’m coming in!” She called out and opened the screen door. It made so much racket, her skin crawled and she developed goosebumps on her arms. Once inside, she slowly let the screen door close with her boot. She checked to her left and saw a small kitchen with outdated appliances, yellow linoleum tiles, and a puddle of blood on the floor. She looked to her right and she saw the small living room, the TV running, but just static. The antenna was on the floor, the coffee table was broken, and items from it had fallen onto the floor. Very clearly signs of a struggle.
She leaned into the kitchen and what she saw shook her to the core. The remains of their children were piled in a corner of the kitchen, against the cabinets. They were stacked like a wild dog might do with his latest find of bones and animal carcasses. Some of the remains were noticeably chewed upon, others were missing entirely. There was no sign of an adult’s remains.
Elderton slid back into the hallway, regripping her pistol with her sweaty palms. She glanced up the stairs and didn’t see any signs of anybody lurking at the top. She headed down the hallway, closer and closer to the bathroom door. She wasn’t sure what she would find. Another massacre? Leonard? Martha? At the door, she gave a gentle tap and held her breath.
“Martha, if you’re in there, this is Sheriff Elderton,” she said loud enough to be heard, but gentle enough not to startle her. “I’m here to help.” She didn’t hear anything, but she watched as shadows darted about at the bottom of the door in the light. She stepped back two steps, not sure if it was Leonard about to come out to attack. She readied herself and turned off the safety on the gun. “Martha, if that’s you in there, I need you to confirm before opening that door.”
“Stop talking,” Martha whispered through the door. “He can hear us. He can smell us.”
Elderton stepped back to the door. She lowered her voice, “Is Leonard in the house?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well,” Elderton started, “We need to get you somewhere safe. That’s the priority. I’ll need you to open this door and come outside with me. My patrol car is waiting for us. We’ll go back to the station. He can’t hurt you there.”
“He won’t let me leave.” Martha said. “He wants to eat me. He wants to eat all of us.”
“Martha, you have my word, if we see Leonard, I’ll kill him. He won’t hurt you again.”
There was a silence as Elderton waited for a reply. It came in the form of the bathroom door unlocking and opening to a crack. The light cut like blades into Elderton’s eyes. She had to readjust for the light, and she saw only a fraction of Martha’s face. She could see an eye that was red and swollen from crying. Her cheek was scratched open in long, vertical lines.
“I’m ready,” Martha said.
Elderton simply nodded to her in understanding.
Martha opened the door just enough for her to slip her malnourished body through it. She slid in behind Elderton and wrapped her arms around her waist, trembling. Elderton took one hand and held onto one of Martha’s hands. They slowly moved up the hallway, Elderton keeping her aim shoulder level as they headed for the door to the house.
“Hold,” Elderton whispered. She stopped them at the side of the stairs. She looked up the worn wooden railing. Still no sign of Leonard. They moved forward a few more steps. Elderton peered to her right, into the kitchen. No sign of Leonard. She started to turn to her left to check the living room, but before she could get her head turned around Martha was screaming in her ear.
Elderton wrapped her left arm around the back of Martha and pivoted the two of them away from the stairs, trying to get herself positioned in front and Martha protected. Before she could finish the move, Leonard had leapt from the stairs and tackled them to the ground. Elderton’s pistol whipped Leonard in the forehead while she pushed Martha away with her other hand into the kitchen. Leonard climbed up on top of Elderton, hugging her into a tight grip around her shoulders. They came face-to-face, his eyes were crazed, and he drooled on her face a mixture of saliva and blood. Behind them, Martha was screaming continuously. Elderton continued to squirm beneath his grasp. She writhed and squirmed, trying to free up her gun hand, but he had a tight grip on her.
“Leonard Hampton, I will use lethal force if you don’t get off me!” she yelled in his face, but he didn’t seem to understand. He smelled the shampoo fragrance in her hair, and began to lick her hair, but got it caught on his tongue and it began to stick to her face. She tried to turn the gun in her hand until she was certain the barrel was positioned against his leg. She felt it nudge him, and he snarled at her. It was now or never.
She pulled the trigger.
Martha continued to scream.
Leonard rolled across the floor, he rubbed at a gunshot wound in his upper thigh. He was kicking and squirming, hissing and growling. Elderton sat up quick, not sure how much time she had just bought herself, and she took two quick shots. The first one hit his left shoulder, the second went through his left eye and out the back of his head. It lodged into the wood railing of the stairs.
Martha was still screaming hysterically.
Elderton watched Leonard for a moment for any signs of life. She moved in and checked his pulse. Dead. She looked up and saw that Martha was standing in the kitchen, screaming not because of what had just happened, but because she had just rediscovered the remains of her children.
“Don’t look!” Elderton yelled. She jumped and ran to Martha. Elderton put the gun into her holster, and fastened it. Elderton wrapped an arm around Martha’s shoulders and muscled her out the front door. Martha didn’t stop screaming until they had passed the Dollar General, a good five minutes down the road.
Elderton noted that the glass windows had been smashed out. The lights were still on inside, but she couldn’t see anyone inside as she passed. She grabbed her radio.
“Wendy, this is Elderton,” she said, “Come in.” No answer. “Wendy, this is Elderton, please come in.” She only got static as she waited for a response. She switched frequencies on the radio, and pressed the button down, “Marvin, this is Elderton, pick up.” Silence. “Marvin, pick up.” After a moment of more static, she tried the police station again. Frustrated she slammed the radio down. She looked over at Martha who looked horrified and confused.
“What’s going on?” Martha asked.
“I’m working on that, Martha,” she said as she grabbed Martha’s hand and squeezed it tight, “I’m working on that.”
Chapter 7: Out of sight, out of mind
Mandy and Maggie had been listening in horror as the Aldi Lady ate on the man Mandy had killed. She had taken her sweet time, gnawing at the flesh and tearing at his insides. Maggie eventually tried to black it out, but Mandy didn’t. She knew that so long as she could hear Aldi Lady eating, she wasn’t focusing her attention on them.
How much longer? Maggie signed.
Before Mandy could sign a reply, the eating stopped. That noise was replaced with Aldi Lady licking her bloody hands and arms up-and-down, like a cat might do. Mandy slowly peeked around the edge of the booth she was behind and watched as Aldi Lady eventually stood up, staggered onto a chair, her feet still injured from the glass she had walked through. She looked around, and then turned and walked back through the shards of glass. Outside she turned and headed towards the parking lot.
She faded out of sight into the dark of the night.
Mandy stood up slowly. She moved to Maggie, still holding tightly onto the shovel. “We should move to the back, Mags,” She whispered. “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Yeah, Maggie signed in reply. She stood up and looked across the lobby just as lightning struck outside. The Aldi Lady was standing just outside one of the windows. She was staring back in. Mindless. But when she saw Maggie standing upright, her eyes adjusted and focused on her. She let out a scream and started to run back to the broken door she knew. “Move, Mandy! She’s coming!” Maggie yelled as she ran back into the kitchen.
Mandy ran behind the counter, a few steps behind Maggie. She spun around and looked out into the lobby. She wasn’t sure what Maggie had seen. She didn’t know where Aldi Lady was, and she hated not knowing. She didn’t want to be taken by surprise. She took slow steps back into the kitchen and looked to the door just as Aldi Lady came running through it. She ran full speed through the broken glass and started to trip up but dove horizontally just before she fell. She went sliding head first across the front counter, her arms spread-eagled. It happened so fast that Mandy didn’t have time to move out of the way and she tackled her to the ground. Instinctively Mandy let go of the shovel and tried to catch her fall with her hands. She was slammed against the counter where they made food for customers.
Aldi Lady had her legs pinned down. She kicked and squirmed to get loose, but Aldi Lady held onto her and slowly crawled up her legs. She was screaming and dripping blood from her mouth. She grabbed Mandy’s shirt at the neck and pulled it down towards her, trying to pull Mandy’s face closer to hers. Mandy kept pulling, fighting, but she felt like she was fighting a losing battle.
“GET—” Maggie yelled just as she hit Aldi Lady in the head with the shovel, “OFF—” she continued to shout with each blow, “MY—FRIEND!”
Irritated from the pain, Aldi Lady recoiled away from Mandy and Maggie underneath the front counter. Mandy got up and found the large kitchen knife on the line they used to cut up fresh lettuce with. She positioned herself on the right side of the cornered Aldi Lady. Maggie stood front and center with the shovel in both of her hands.
“Hit her three more times, aim for the head,” Mandy said, “And then I’m going in with the knife. When I come out, start hitting her again.”
Without a word, Maggie swung three times. Aldi Lady tried to block each attempt with her hands, but the last one landed a solid blow to her left temple. The blow took the wind out of her just as Mandy slid under the counter with her. She shoved her left arm up under Aldi Lady’s chin to keep her from biting her and stabbed her six times in her left side. She pulled back and took one jab into the side of her neck at a downward angle. It lodged between Aldi Lady’s spine and collarbone. When Mandy felt it was stuck she pulled out and got away from her as fast as she could. Maggie started hitting with the shovel again. Blow after blow after blow to the head. But Aldi Lady couldn’t resist the assault.
“Wait!” Mandy yelled at Maggie.
They both watched as Aldi Lady held onto her butchered side with one hand. With her other hand, she discovered the knife in her neck. She looked confused as she struggled to breathe and coughed up blood repeatedly. She took grip of the knife’s blade, cutting her hand. She yanked the knife out of her neck and dropped it on the ground next to her along with her hand. She was dying. But she didn’t know that. The expression on her face constantly went from irritated to confused as she tried to move. But she lacked the energy, and just sort of wiggled and flailed in place. She finally stopped trying to move. She looked up at Maggie, almost lifeless, and she just screamed with all the rage a woman could have.
And then she died.
“I’m thinking maybe we should fortify the place a little bit.” Maggie said. “It’s too easy for these psychos to get in here.”
“I’m with you there.” Mandy said. “All the way.”
Chapter 6: The Twisted Johnsons
“Well, that sucked,” Eddy told his brother, plopping down on the couch, defeated.
“It’s your fault, you spaz. When you tripped, you ruined everything.” Eric, Eddy’s older brother, kicked a box near the sofa in frustration and sent it flying, knocking into the ladder leaned against the wall and sending it clattering to the garage floor. He glared at his brother, like it was his fault.
It’s not all my fault, you jerkwad. What about that witch next door who called in on us again? He wanted to scream in Eric’s face. But of course, he didn’t. He stayed sitting right where he was, convincing himself it wasn’t worth it to blow up at his brother.
Eric was always sour after a mission. First ecstatic, riding the adrenaline rush. And then bummed it was over, crabby if it didn’t turn out quite right, and downright rageful if it completely failed. Thankfully, this one was at least a partial success.
Eddy said nothing, letting his brother ride out his mood, as usual. It had always been like that between the two of them, loyal as hell to one another, but Eric was clearly superior, and not only because of the one year he had on Eddy. It was something else about Eric, his dominance, a natural leader since he was born. The younger Johnson was a little quieter, tough as hell, but more reserved and silent.
Fiddling with a rip in his jeans, Eddy was content to chill for a second, and then move on to something else, maybe go shooting or play pool. Eric was much easier to stand when doing a hobby together, not counting the people he could aggravate. Just when enough time had passed for Eddy to feel comfortable to suggest something fun, Eric perked up and made eye contact with his brother.
“Here,” Eric called, tossing his brother a water bottle with iced tea they’d made earlier that day. “Drink up.” He grinned. Eddy raised an eyebrow, wondering what the sudden urgency was. “How ‘bout we kick things up a notch?” His eyes danced with excitement. Eddy could see his brother’s thoughts racing, and developed a lump in his throat. No matter how much he tried to wash it down with his drink, he couldn’t seem to. But he hated to admit, he was a little excited, too.
The Crazed Johnsons
Marvin had barely stepped out of his car before Joan Hazel had thrown open her front door and rushed to meet him on the sidewalk.
“Thank God you’re here, Deputy!” she said, out of breath from her jaunt. Her face turned serious as she gained her composure. In a low voice, she told him, “They’re up to something, I just know it.”
Internally, Marvin sighed. He’d dealt with the Johnson boys many times. Most of the time they were simple pranks pulled on neighbors or other people their age, but once it had gotten violent when they’d gotten thrown from a bar—that they were too young to be in anyhow. For what was generally mostly harmless, the older one had a scary look about him…
Focusing back in the present, he looked at Joan and asked her why she had that thought.
“Well earlier, right, they were picking on old Farmer Fred again, up to their usual nonsense. But I saw them out here and told them to knock it off. They both came at me, I honestly thought they were going to hurt me. But then Roxy, you know my German Shepherd? She came up and rescued me, barking away at them.” She shuddered as if reliving it. And then her face grew grim. “The older Johnson boy took one look at Roxy and smiled at me. I got chills, that look he gave me.”
“But,” Marvin interrupted her, “did they physically assault you or give you the impression that they were going to?”
Just then his phone started ringing. He reached to answer it.
“They threatened my dog and basically me!” Joan suddenly yelled. She glanced behind her, looking either for Roxy or the Johnson boys, she wasn’t quite sure.
He let his phone keep ringing, giving Joan his full attention, as she obviously felt he should. He knew that more than likely, everything was fine and would be fine, but he wanted her to feel safe and taken seriously. She didn’t have a husband to look out for her regarding these things, which is exactly why Marvin had given her his personal number. For a situation just like this.
“Ok, Ms. Hazel, how about we take a look around, make sure your place is all secure, and then I’ll go have a chat with the neighbor boys.” She nodded, seemingly somewhat satisfied he’d ignored his phone call for her.
She led the way up her porch and into the main living area, ushering him inside and giving him a tour like he was a friend. He half expected her to offer him a cookie. Upon entering the kitchen, though, she let out a shriek. Water, flowers, and broken glass scattered the floor. A spill like that could have easily been from the bump of a hip on a coffee table, or maybe the dog had knocked it over.
But, as Marvin felt in the pit of his stomach, it was more than that. It was different. It felt… bad somehow. It meant something worse.
Wait. The dog.
“ROXY!” Joan looked at Marvin, startled at his sudden call for her dog. And then he saw in her eyes that it clicked.
“Out back!” she said and ran out. He followed.
When they reached the back porch, all Marvin could do was stare. His phone started ringing again, but he didn’t move even a muscle. Joan shrieked “Roxy!” at the same time as Marvin gasped.
Marvin was all too familiar with the Johnson boys. Hell, he’d been called to their home just a few short days ago by a different unhappy neighbor. But when he saw their faces in the backyard, they looked almost foreign to him. Completely lacking emotion in the facial features, but the eyes looked… mad. Not an angry type of mad. A crazy, insane type of mad.
They walked clumsily across the yard, the older Johnson boy carrying a stick. He stabbed at Roxy, missing by a wide margin, as if his coordination was a little off. When Joan shrieked again, he looked up, as if noticing their presence and not sure what to do with it.
He grunted and pointed the stick at them. The younger Johnson boy looked in their direction and let out a similar grunt. Eddy opened his mouth, almost as if to say something, but then just froze, his lips parted. His eyes were vacant.
Marvin’s phone rang again, disrupting his transfixed stare at the scene before him. The third time in five minutes.
The Johnson boys did not like the sound of his phone ringing. The older one let out a high-pitched screech, dropped his stick to the ground, and broke off in a sprint toward the noise. Roxy bounded back to Joan, and they embraced.
Eddy Johnson, lips still parted, stalked toward Marvin, a few feet behind his brother. Marvin, in his surprise and panic, dropped his phone while trying to answer it. He froze as Eric reached him and let out a grunt.
“Eric?” Marvin asked, barely above a whisper. He had no idea how to navigate this.
Eric stared down at the phone, no longer ringing now. He seemed relieved, like it had given him a headache or something. Drool dripped from his open mouth, and in one quick gesture, he reached up and smacked Marvin square in the chest.
“Hey!” Marvin yelled and scrambled back a few feet, completely caught off guard. The scream turned Eric’s eyes back to the same crazy panicked look that the phone ringing had on him. And then Eric was on top of him, the two men rolling end over end, in a weird violent embrace. When Eddy dove into the mix, Marvin took a blow to the stomach. He tried to pay no attention to it and struggled to grab ahold of one of the boys, do whatever he could to put himself on top.
The crazed Johnsons threw punches and kicks in random directions and places, pretty much did whatever damage they could. Marvin tried to think ahead, planning to get the three of them near a weapon he could grab.
He lunged for it, just a few feet away in the grass. Just when he’d gotten his grip on it, Roxy came barking and dove to join the mess of humans. Luckily, it startled both Eric and Eddy, and they shifted away from Marvin for just long enough for him to take a jab with the stick. He hit Eric in the jaw, producing a long scratch along his cheek. His eyes turned rageful, angry at the pain Marvin had caused.
He took another stab, this time getting Eddy in his side, just above his waistline. Eddy scurried away, clutching the injury. He seemed close to tears.
Eric, blood dripping from his face, dove for Marvin, a fierce determination in him. He wanted revenge. Out of the corner of his eye, Marvin caught sight of Joan running away. Abandoning him! When he’d been there to save her in the first place!
Marvin threw a punch, hitting just beside Eric’s already hurt face. Eric straddled Marvin and grabbed him by the shoulders and forced him on his back, thrashing him to the ground over and over. Marvin could feel his head growing dizzy, his brain ricocheting inside his skull with each impact. Just as he neared unconsciousness, he heard a loud THWACK! and watched Eric fall off to the side to the ground, completely limp.
When he glanced up out of his one good eye, Marvin saw Joan standing over him, bloody brick in her hand from bashing Eric over the head. She threw it at the same spot on his head, and he made no noise, no movement. He was dead.
Shaking his head, Marvin stood and brushed himself off. He needed to find his phone.
“Oh my god,” Joan said with a deep breath. “I just saved your life.”
Marvin glared at her. “I wouldn’t go that far. I was just fine.” He hobbled over to the phone in the grass from where he dropped it earlier.
“OH MY GOD MARVIN SAY SOMETHING!” he heard barking from the phone when he’d picked it up.
“Wendy? What the hell?” Marvin wiped his brow, sweat and blood now covering his hand. “How long have you been on the line?”
“Seven of the scariest damn minutes of my life. What the hell is happening over there?”
“Um, it’s going to sound insane. How about I just tell you things got… out of hand over here and one of the Johnson boys is dead.” After a glance around the yard, he added, “And the other one will be soon.” He expected Wendy to retort about how Mayor Marsden—who was her uncle—wouldn’t like that. But she didn’t. She told him she was glad he was alive.
“I hate to break it to you, but I have another problem for you to take care of. Betty Hoggins needs your help. Get over there ASAP.”
Marvin sighed. Whatever this new thing was surely couldn’t be as bad as what he’d just gone through. He imagined a hot shower and nice meal waiting for him at home. All he had to do was stop by Betty’s house. Surely it wasn’t anything too bad.
He waved goodbye to Joan, washed his face with a cloth from his glove box, and drove down the main road to the Hoggins residence. His heart was still racing a little but, the unsettled feeling, for the most part, was gone. He made a mental note to tell Sheriff Elderton just how much praise he deserved for taking care of the two Tiptonites she hated most.
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