Monday, January 28, 2013

HARMONY - Chapter Five

Chapter Five
Marcus Davis drove down a patch a road that seemed too long. Audrey had told him that Harmony County was a small place and yet since passing through the strange fog it appeared as if they been driving forever. His junior partner had sat quietly in the passenger seat ever since they’d ran with their tails between their legs. Marcus still couldn’t figure out what the hell was in that fog. The howl the creature had made would haunt him for a long time. For the first time, he started to regret helping his partner.
“Audrey,” he said, “We how long before we the town?”
Staring straight ahead, she said nothing.
“Audrey, you okay?” When she didn’t respond the second time, he touched her on the shoulder. “Hey partner.”
She shrunk away from his touch, still silent.
He pulled the Saturn to the side of the road. The car’s headlights revealed an old tilted mailbox not far from where he’d parked. A red lever on the side of the box was tilted up in the outgoing selection forever waiting for the postal service to make a pickup. Growing up the side of the rotting wood post, overgrown weeds and vines grabbled for domination of the mailbox. Marcus just barely made out the name written on the side of the box, MILLER.
He looked at Audrey and regarded her with concern. He forgot sometime just how young she was. Only twenty-two, she has yet to see much of the violence and misery the world had to offer. Marcus himself had seen much and until tonight, he thought he had seen it all. Still, just because he could not explain what happened, it wasn’t enough to have him question his own sanity. But he couldn’t say the same about his partner. Her youth and inexperience couldn’t protect her mind from all the places her mind could take him.
He gently grabbed her shoulder. When she tried to pull away, he held her in place. “It’s time for a reality pill, Audrey.”
Her lost expression fell on his strong gaze. “What?”
“I don’t know what’s going on in that head of yours right now, but what I do know is that I don’t like it.”
She gave him a questioning glance.
“There’s no such thing as monsters. Whatever was in that fog was an animal. I grant you it was a big one, but it was only an animal.” Some of the fear left her face. He felt her body relax under his touch. “You get that, right?”
“An animal,” she whispered.
“That’s right. I know it’s Halloween, but this ain’t the dark ages,” he said then laughed.
Her head started bobbing up and down. “You’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry, I’m not asking much like a Special Agent am I?”
“You’re doing fine. Believe it or not, I was spooked too,” he said smiling, then he added, “If you tell anyone I was scare, I’ll make sure you’re transferred to Alaska.”
She laughed. “It’ll be our secret.”
He pointed to the mailbox. “That says Miller over there. Does that tell you how far we are from town?”
Her grin faded away and her eyes began dancing in their sockets. “That’s just it, Marcus. We should have been town a long time ago.”
“Maybe I made a wrong turn somewhere.”
“You didn’t. There’s only one road leading into Harmony County,” she explained. “I can’t wrap my mind around what is happening tonight.”
He squeezed her shoulder. “There’s nothing happening,” he said softly. “We just got turned around, okay?”
She didn’t look convinced but at least she lost the thousand-yard stare. He looked at the mailbox again.
“You think the Miller’s will let us use their phone?” Neither his nor her cell phones had been functioning right since they landed in Michigan. He figured there might be some weird weather phenomenon causing the problem. The fog at the edge of town only supported his thinking. 
“No one has lived on that farm in years.”
“What happened to the Millers?”
“No one really knows. Well, no one that’s willing to talk about it. There are plenty of rumors, of course but nothing that can be proven. One day they were just gone.”
“Don’t tell me, the Millers were witches?” he joked. When she didn’t laugh, he flinched. “Oh come on, really? Witches?”
“Wiccans actually.”
“Is there a difference?”
She frowned, embarrassed. “Witches are those who practice magic but are not connection to any form of religion or spiritual rights. Wicca is a religion that many follow around the world.”
 “You seem pretty knowledgeable on the subject.”
“I took an online course on the subject.” Audrey had taken all her college courses online, never taking a step inside the halls of a physical university.
“And what do you believe really happened to the Millers?”
“They probably retired and moved to Florida,” she said grinning again.
Though but agents were trying to keep things light between them, both were harboring some deep-seated worries. Though, Marcus had a feeling his were grounded in reality. Before taking Audrey on as a partner, he went over her file, though highly intelligent, her introverted personality tended to keep from opening up to others. He known that but still took her on, figuring that she’d one day open up to him. Still, after months of working together, the only real thing he knew about his partner was that her mother was dead and her father was the sheriff of Harmony County. Now to find out, she took classes on witchcraft, he started to worry he made a mistake in taking her on.
  “Ready to go home, Audrey?”
She nodded solemnly. “I think so,” she said staring off toward the darkness horizon in the direction of the farmhouse. “It’s just this place holds so many memories. Some that I’ve tried to forget.”
“You and your father get along?”
“Honestly, I haven’t spoke to him since I left for the academy. He’s been leaving messages and sending me letters, but I haven’t responded to any of them.”
Marcus decided not to ask any more questions, he was trending on family troubles. When she was ready to talk about it without his nudging, he’ll ask more questions then. The car pulled away from the side of the road and the tilted mailbox was swallowed away by darkness. They drove in silence for another five minutes when caught in the headlights, the same mailbox appeared just ahead.
“What the hell?” The car had been driving in a straight line. What Marcus was seeing was impossible. “Are there more than one Millers farms in town?” It had to be any other explanation would border on insanity.
Audrey’s head shook side-to-side. “No.”
Marcus pressed his foot down on the pedal accelerating past the mailbox. Five minutes later, the Millers box came up again in the headlights. He and Audrey exchanged questioning glances but said nothing. His foot was all the way down on the pedal now. The car rocketed down the road, twice more they passed the same mailbox, but on the third time around something darted in front of the box and out into the road directly in the path of the Saturn.
Marcus slammed bot feet on the brakes. The car fishtailed, the smell of burnt rubbed filled his nostrils. Audrey screamed and perhaps he did to, but he wasn’t sure. The Saturn stopped feet away from a naked man doubled over in the middle of the road. The scene reminder Marcus of when the Terminator first appeared in present day from his time travel, except this man wasn’t muscle bounded, he was flabby with age, had gray hair and had red blotches all over his body.
Audrey jumped out of the car and raced to the man before Marcus could stop her. She knelt beside the man and started talking to him as if she knew him. It dawned on Marcus that perhaps she did, she probably knew everyone in town. Before joining the pair, he went to the back of the car, opened one of his luggage bags. He pulled out a wool blanket. Marcus brought it expecting a cold Michigan winter but was surprised by the heat. Taking the blanket to the man, he covered him up. Audrey helped him stand upright.
“You know who he is?” Marcus asked.
“I do,” she said offering nothing more.
Marcus stared into the man’s brown eyes and for a brief moment, he thought he seen something swimming behind them.
“Who is he?”
The man weakly answered himself, “My name… is Dr. Milburn.”

Monday, January 21, 2013

Harmony - Chapter Four

Chapter Four
Sheriff Buckley squeezed the water bottle hard sending its top rocketing into the air. The bottle cap bounced several times on a desk and then rolled off to the floor. Water drained out pouring over Buckley’s hand.
“Ah, sheriff…’ was all his deputy could think to say.
“I’m okay,” Buckley answered, “I need to figure this out.” He willed his legs to move and headed toward his office.
Womack drew his pistol and kept in step. Though perplexed by the men’s fear and hesitance, Dr. Milburn curiosity got the better of him, he too followed. All three entered the office. The pieces of the cell phone remained where they had fallen. The ring tone seemed to come from every component all at once.
Buckley searched until he found the phone’s LCD and picked it up. The cracked display flashed on then off but there was no message.
“What the hell?” Milburn asked, and then snatched the LCD from the sheriff’s hand. The doctor twisted the device to its backside. Loose wires hung from one side. “I thought it might be getting a residual charge from the battery, but there’s nothing to draw power from. How’s this possible?” He scratched his head, confused.
 “It’s not,” Buckley answered.
Milburn gasped in horror. His cheeks bloated suddenly as if holding back vomit and then tossed the LCD to the floor with the urgency of a man with his hand on fire.
The sheriff grabbed his arm. “What’s wrong?”
The doctor pointed a shaking finger to the floor. “Keep that thing away from me!” The ringing stopped as abruptly as it started, sending the office into startled silence. Milburn continued pointing toward the cracked display. His mouth opened and closed several times, but whatever he had to say stayed trapped inside his throat.
Womack must have drawn strength from his raised pistol, because he was the only one with nerve enough to approach the object of everyone’s concern. He knelt down and gave the display a slow, appraising glance. Words were scrolling across the powerless screen.
 Womack stood upright, stared over his shoulder at the doctor with a pitying look and then turned his attention back to the LCD. He brought the heel of his shoe down on the screen, shattering it into several dozen pieces.
 “Look fellows, this has got to be some kind of trick. In this day and age, we can’t let ourselves believe in any mumbo jumbo,” Womack said, though not sounding confident of his words. “I mean hell, sheriff, it is Halloween. This has got to be a trick. Maybe even doc here is a part of it. We both know Jeremiah walked into the station himself.”
Buckley considered his deputy’s comments. He was right of course. There were no such things of zombies, that was only in the movies. Milburn could be part of a joke being played, the doctor was well known for his sense of humor. Buckley studied Milburn for a long time trying to determine if the man had played him and his deputy for fools.
“Is this a joke, doctor?”
Womack placed his sidearm back in its holster. “Oh it’s a joke all right, sheriff! Jeremiah is probably in the other room having himself a good laugh right now!” All three turned to look at the young man. He still sat motionless in his chair. “Come on, Jeremiah, jokes over!”
“He’s dead. I told you that before,” Milburn said and then looked at the sheriff, “I wouldn’t play games like this. Whatever is happening, I’m certainly not involved.”
Buckley didn’t think he was lying. Still, someone obviously was playing games, if not the doctor, then who? The mysterious ring tone could be explained away by hidden electronics in the office and perhaps Jeremiah did indeed come into the station in a drug filled haze that eventually led to an overdose. Milburn did do a hasty examination of the young man, the timeline of his death was more than likely a mistake. If this was a trick, it wasn’t funny and the sheriff planned to damn sure find out who was behind it all.
“Do me a favor, doctor and checked out Jeremiah again,” Buckley finally said. He glanced around the room. “And if whoever is playing this stupid game is listening, you can expect a night or two in the cell when I figure all of this out!”
Everyone relaxed realizing how foolish they looked believing that any of the night’s strangeness was real.
Milburn smiled. “When you find the delinquents behind this, please ask them how they did the trick with the display. That scared the crap out of me.” He and Womack laughed.
   Buckley didn’t see the humor, there was still a dead man in the station. “Doctor, if you please, Jeremiah remember?”
“Oh yes, of course.”
When they turned to leave the office, all three froze in their tracks. Jeremiah was standing, looking in their direction. His arm was outstretched pointed toward the front door. The lights flickered on and off. All the phones in the building suddenly started ringing. Jeremiah’s mouth opened and thousands of blood red maggots started pouring out, piling at his feet.
Milburn stumbled back and fell to the floor. Both Buckley and Womack had their pistols out and aimed at Jeremiah. Between the flashes of light and dark, Jeremiah seemed to have been replaced by another man, Deacon Grimes. Grimes’ eyes burned with fire and an ethereal voice that was as loud as thunder came from everywhere at once.
“I will have my revenge!”
The entire building went dark in blackness so thick it seemed to have weight. The darkness held the men in place as if time had stopped.
The lights came back on.
The phones stopped its ringing.
Jeremiah was gone.
Everyone might have thought it a nightmare, but writhing in huge piles on the floor and in the chair where the young man had sat blood red maggots remained. Hundreds had slithered away from the larger mass and moved in the men’s direction.
Buckley fired three times. Red misty plumes of scattered pieces and blood rose where the bullet had impacted. Still they advanced and even more descended from the larger piles and made toward them. Buckley determined that being on the offensive was a losing battle and switched tactics to defensive. He grabbed Milburn and dragged him out of the way of the door and then kicked it shut with a foot.
The maggots were much faster than they should be and already they started to edge into the room through the spaces beneath the door. Buckley cursed under his breath straining to pull the doctor away.
In a panic, Milburn tore himself away from the sheriff’s grasp, got to his feet and charged toward the door. Maggots crawled up his shoes and eventually got onto his legs, stopping the doctor in his tracks. He screamed and scratched at his legs. “Oh God, help me!”
The maggots seemed to focus their attention on Milburn, slithering further up his body, some were already on his neck still climbing further. They crawled into his mouth, nose and ears. The doctor’s body crumbled to the floor in a heap. There were so many maggots on him that his body you couldn’t tell where he started and where they ended. Milburn’s screaming stopped but beneath the thousands of tiny red insects, his body quivered and jerked.
Buckley and Womack could do nothing but watch in horror as the doctor’s body mass deflated like a tire losing air. In less than a minute the maggots had moved away from their prey, swarming back beneath the door and into the other room.
There was no sign of Milburn--no skin, no bones and no blood. Just the farmer’s costume he had worn 

 when he came into the station.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Harmony - chapter three

Chapter Three
Sheriff’s station – 9:15 p.m.
Jeremiah had been deadly still and silent since uttering his warnings. Womack made several attempts to bring the young man back from wherever his fragile mind had taken him but to no avail. In his office, on the phone, Sheriff Buckley tried desperately to contact his daughter, but wasn’t successful. In an age of fiber optics and satellite communication, when NASA can contact a probe on Mars, he couldn’t fathom why he was having so much trouble. The line was nothing but static. Yet, not long ago, his deputy had successfully called Dr. Milburn.
Buckley dialed his home. The line rang four times before going to voicemail. The problem it seemed was only with long distance calls. Picking up his cell phone from the top of his desk, he punched the speed dial for his daughter hoping the cell towers weren’t affected like the landlines. When the call was answered, it wasn’t what he had expected. Strange wailing moans, what sounded like chattering teeth and a great pounding that grew with intensity with each thump filled the line.
Worry drained all the color from his face. “What the hell?” He pulled the phone away from his ear. Disconnecting, he tried calling her again. Once more he received the same bizarre noises, but this time he said, “Audrey, are you there? Can you hear me?”
In the midst of the sounds, a deep voice that sounded far away said, “She is mine. She is mine. She is mine. She is mine…”
“Who the hell is this? Why are you on Audrey’s phone?”
“She is mine. She is mine. She is mine…”
Buckley disconnected the call and stared at the cell phone as if it held answers to whom the voice belonged to. When the phone played a musical ring tone with his daughter’s name and number on the display, he answered right away. “Audrey?”
It was the wailing noise again, but no one spoke in the background. Buckley looked at the display, Audrey’s info had been replaced with--SHE IS MINE.
He flung the phone angrily against a far wall. It disintegrated into a hundred pieces near his door. If he wanted answers it would have to find them himself. He circled his desk and stumped to his door, pulling it open so hard he almost wrenched the screws from its hinges.
Womack looked at him in surprise. “Something wrong, sheriff?”
Buckley ignored him, focusing all his attention on the motionless young man in the chair. Somewhere trapped in Jeremiah’s muddled up brain may be the some answers.
“Have you been able to get him to communicate again,” Buckley asked, switching his gaze to his deputy.”
“Nah, he’s been off to la-la land the whole time and I don’t think he’s coming back.” He scratched his head baffled. “Well, at least not anytime soon.”
The sheriff crossed the room and picked up the bottle water he had offered Jeremiah earlier from a table. He twisted off the cap and splashed some of contents into the young man’s vacant face. Jeremiah did not react, didn’t so much as even blink.
“What the hell was that, sheriff?” his deputy asked, launching up from his chair. “I thought you didn’t approve of treatment like that.”
Buckley studied Jeremiah face. His nostrils were stock-still. The young man didn’t seem to be breathing. “It’s just water,” he finally answered. “It didn’t hurt him.”
Buckley wondered what Audrey had to do with Deacon Grimes. He hoped nothing. Everything Jeremiah had said could have been a drug induced delusion. Yes, drugs, that was it, maybe cocaine or something just as bad. Buckley hated to think that such hard substances were in his town, but he wasn’t naïve. Even though Harmony County was far away from any major cities, obtaining drugs wasn’t impossible to get a hold of for those who wanted it bad enough.
He would have the doctor run some blood work later to confirm his suspicions. Staring into the young man’s eyes, he searched for signs of his being high. Not long afterwards, Buckley thought he saw movement as if something was swimming behind the whites of the Jeremiah’s eyeballs. “What the hell?”
“What is it, sheriff?” Womack had taken up a position right behind him.
“I thought I saw…” The door to the station opened. Both men stared over their shoulders to see who entered.
Dr. Milburn wiped sweat from his forehead. He was dressed in blue jean coveralls, a checkered red, white and blue shirt and work boots, looking more like a farmer than his true profession. Milburn’s wife annually hosted a Halloween party for the kids and their parents. His attire was evidently this year’s costume. In his right hand he carried a black medical bag.
The doctor wiped more sweat from his brow and then said, “Damn heat. It’s just not right being this hot in October.”
Buckley and Womack backed away from Jeremiah making room for the doctor. Milburn’s brown eyes immediately fell upon the young man’s spaced out blue ones. He approached slowly taking long sidesteps to his left and then to his right as if to see if Jeremiah’s frozen gaze would follow. Once he was directly in front of Jeremiah, he touched his face. “Why is he all wet?”
Buckley, still holding the water bottle, shrugged his shoulders. “I tried to get a response from him.”
Milburn nodded, still studying the young man. He checked him for responses and then checked for a pulse. “Well it’s no surprise he didn’t respond.”
“Why’s that?” Womack asked.
“This man is dead,” the doctor answered matter-of-factly.
 Both Buckley and Womack approached.
“He was just talking to us a few minutes ago. What the hell happen, did he overdose on drugs while sitting there?” Buckley asked.
Milburn twisted his head around to look at the sheriff. “What’s that you said?”
“Did he overdose?”
“Not that part. You said something about him talking. Is this some type of sick Halloween joke, sheriff?”
“What the hell are you talking about, doc?” Womack asked.
“Best guess, poor Jeremiah here has been dead for nearly two hours now. If he’s been talking, he’s been communicating from the other side. And I don’t see any crystal balls, Ouija board or a psychic channeling the dead. Why in God’s good earth did you think this would be funny?”
Womack took a few steps back, fear on his face. “This wasn’t a joke, doc. He was talking minutes ago. He walked in here himself no more than half an hour.”
“Are you sure he’s dead?” Buckley asked, mustering calm he knew he shouldn’t have. “Could you be mistaken about the time?”
The doctor lifted one of Jeremiah’s hands and wiggled a couple of with his fingers. “No on both counts, sheriff. There are signs of rigor mortis, even his skin is discolored in some places. Two clear indicators,” Milburn answered, now showing signs of worry. “You guys really think he walked in here on his own?”
  The sheriff was about to answer when music came from his office. All the men turned toward the sound.
“What’s that?” Milburn asked.
Buckley’s skin was several shades lighter. “That’s impossible.”
“What’s impossible, sheriff?” Womack asked.
Buckley slowly turned his frightened gaze to his deputy. “It’s my cell phone. I busted it into more than a dozen pieces. It can’t be ringing. It can’t be the cell phone.” The familiar ring tone was something he couldn’t deny and deep in his heart, he knew it was true, someone or something was trying to make contact.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Harmony - Chapter Two

Chapter Two
On a Michigan highway, thirty minutes away from Harmony County - 8:30 p.m.
FBI Special Agent Audrey Buckley was driving forty miles over the speed limit despite the disapproval of her senior partner, Marcus Davis. He had done nothing but complain for the past two days since she received the mysterious call. Audrey had urged Marcus not to come but he would not hear of it. In truth, she was happy to have the backup. If what the caller had told her were true, she would need it.
            Marcus glanced out the window as the green city limit sign for Harmony County came into view. Audrey had no need to look up at the sign. Despite the lack of visibility of the highway, she knew exactly where she was. Audrey had been traveling these roads most of her life. It was only eleven months since she left Harmony County for the first time to join the FBI. A field agent less than four months, Audrey never imagined she would return home so soon—and not quite for the reason she had.
            The caller had ordered Audrey to return to Harmony County to face her punishment or her father would take her place. She had not placed much stock in the warning at first. Audrey’s dad was the Sheriff after all. He knew how to take care of himself. No, it was when she tried to call her father that Audrey began to panic. Each time she phoned Harmony County, she would receive strange static and behind that in the background an eerie laugh. Even her emails were bouncing back to her stating that the recipient could not be reached.
            When she told Marcus about the situation, he’d called in a few favors owed to him. The next thing Audrey knew, she and Marcus received official orders to investigate. Since then, they had taken two planes starting from California and arriving in Michigan, rented a car and been on the road for the past four hours. Harmony County was in the middle of nowhere. There was no easy access from airports, trains or bus stations. If this turned out to be no more than a prank, this could prove to be embarrassing for both her and Marcus. Deep inside, Audrey had a gut feeling that something was wrong.
As soon as the rented Saturn L200 drove into the city limits a thick mist formed. It was as though a blanket had suddenly been thrown down on top of them. Marcus had never seen the likes. He craned his head around to view the fog through the rear windshield. The nighttime scenic backdrop slowly began to be shallow into a gray smoke as they drove further inside. He was struck with the thought of a ravenous mouth of an animal closing its jaws down on its prey. Turning back, he glanced at the digital temperature gauge mounted on the dashboard. When he began rolling down the side window, Audrey threw him a confused look. The air conditioner was running full blast.
            “What are you doing?” she finally asked.
            “It’s strange. I’m no meteorologist but I know enough to know that conditions aren’t right for a fog. Especially not as thick as this one,” he answered.
He stuck a hand out the window and watched it disappear. It looked like his hand had been cut off leaving only a headless stump at the end of his wrist. It unnerved him and he started to reel it back inside when his palm slowly began to come visible. At first he thought the fog was dissipating but as he looked up and peered through the front windshield he realized the car had only driven through. A thick gray wall of mist remained at their rear.
Audrey had to agree with him. In the entire twenty-two years she spent in the small town, she never remembered a fog forming quite that way. She stopped the car in the middle of the road. By the time Marcus had turned to look at his partner, she was already on her way out of the Saturn.
            She gazed at the thick gray mist behind them. It did not seem to be progressing forward or backward. The fog seemed to form into a solid unmoving wall of smoke. Marcus exited the car. He too, stared at the strange phenomenon. She could tell by her partner’s expression, he didn’t like what he was seeing. He held up a hand telling Audrey not to move.  He started toward the fog. While she waited for him satisfy to his curiosity, she grabbed the cell phone from her purse. Surely, she would be able to reach the Sheriff’s station from here.
            Up the road, she saw two bright lights moving fast in her direction. She heard the roar of a powerful engine. It was some type of vehicle. She looked in Marcus’ direction to see if he had seen the same. She could tell he had not. He was too focused on the strange mist. The headlights to the Saturn were on and she hoped the looming vehicle would slow as it approached. But it had done the opposite. It sped up.
            Marcus had started back for the car and was still oblivious to the danger. Audrey called out to him. When his gaze came to hers and then seconds later beyond it--it was already too late. The vehicle was almost on top of her. She whirled back around and faced the danger. The glow of heavy headlights suddenly appeared out of the darkness. The lights seemed to be staggered somehow, disjointed, as though whatever was coming her way was splitting apart.
Two motorcycles rocketed past the Saturn just missing it and her by inches. She spun in Marcus direction. He stopped moving and stood there calm like a deer caught in someone’s headlight. She could see he was unafraid as though he encountered this type of danger everyday. He remained motionless between the two motorcycles as they swerved at the last second and shot by him.
Audrey instantly knew who the drivers were; the Dahlmann brothers. Those two were the only ones foolhardy enough to drive their cycles so crazily giving little concern for the safety of themselves and others.
            Marcus was shaking his head as he watched the motorcyclists drive directly into the thick fog. Audrey was about to join her partner when she heard the sounds of metal scraping against a hard surface, followed soon afterward by horrendous screams. They were coming from the inside the fog. On instinct both federal agents drew their weapons running as fast as they could toward the cries. Marcus reached the fog first but when he tried to run through it, he bounced off the mist as though he ran into a wall. He made a whompf sound as the rush of forced air escaped his body.
            Audrey figured there must be some type of unseen obstacle hidden behind the haze. She reached her partner lying dazed on the road. Bending over him, she did not see any visible bruising. Marcus was only stunned. The Dahlmann brothers’ screams were still being carried across the wind. She never really cared for either them; both bullied her and many others when they were children. Still, her heart ached for them and she couldn’t even imagine what would cause them to so much pain.
She stood and headed for the fog. Stretching her hand out ahead of her, she felt for anything inside the thick vapors that might block her passage. When her fingers touched the mist, Audrey instantly realized that it was not something behind the fog that knocked her partner senseless. It was the fog itself that was the barrier.
            As uncanny as it was the Dahlmann brothers’ needed her help. She would not let the strangeness of the situation stop her from doing her job. Audrey walked the perimeter of the fog trying to feel for an opening in the mist. When she heard an animal like howl come from within the fog, she stepped back. The Dalhmann brothers’ screams became even louder. She heard the sound of clawing—gnawing teeth tearing into flesh and then silence.
            Marcus got to his feet, staggering over to Audrey.
She gave him a once over with her eyes ensuring he was all right.
He had one hand pressed against his left temple. “What happened? Why haven’t you gone in to help them?”
            “I can’t, the fog won’t let me,” she answered.
“Won’t let you? What do you…?”
            The howl came again—this time moving toward the FBI agents. They held the weapons up pointing into the fog. Heavy footsteps lumbered loudly, getting closer. Instinctively, Audrey and Marcus backed away. Whatever was in the mist was big--maybe too big for their guns to take down.  She wondered if the animal would even be able to breach the mist. Perhaps the fog kept things in as much as it did out.
            Marcus did not wait for an answer. He tugged at her shoulder. In a whisper, he said, “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
            “What about the two trapped inside?”
            “Audrey, we both know they’re already dead. Do you want us to end up the same way?” he explained.
            He was right of course and she knew it. She nodded and they moved further away from the fog keeping their guns trained in its direction. They could hear that the animal within the mist was moving slower, heading in their direction. A cat stalking her prey just before the kill flashed through her thoughts. Audrey did not think they would make it to the car. Marcus must have thought the same thing because he fired a shot into the mist. An ear piecing guttural shriek emitted from the thick cloud.
            The scream sounded like nothing either of them had ever heard. They bolted for the Saturn. At the car’s door Audrey froze and stared out at the fog. The animal had stopped its scream and the sounds of heavy footfalls began to recede. Whatever was inside was backing away. The bullets may not have been enough to kill it but obviously enough to do some damage. Jumping inside, she put the car into drive. Marcus had his arm hanging out of his window, his gun trained toward the fog. He did not retract his arm until the Saturn was at least a mile later.
            “Do you think that was some type of bear?” he asked.
            Audrey did not answer. Her thoughts were on the Dahlmann brothers. Yes, their family had always been troublemakers in town but they did not deserve to be torn apart by some vicious animal. She also wondered if it was really Marcus’ bullets that chased the beast away. Harmony County was within a valley and there was only one road that led in or out. Had the animal retreated only because they moved away from the road leading out? Was the animal some type of sentry? If so, they were trapped along with everyone else in Harmony County. Audrey’s hometown just became their prison.

Friday, January 4, 2013


Chapter One
Harmony County, Michigan – 8:15 p.m.
Covered in dirt and dry blood, Jeremiah Butler staggered into the sheriff’s station. His eyes were wide as two full moons and his skin had lost all of its color. Barely able to stand upright he stared at the two astonished officers. Eventually, Jeremiah’s weight became too much for him to support. He collapsed to his knees. His face contorted in agony. Sheriff Dean Buckley and Deputy Stephen Womack ran over to the man. Jeremiah fought their efforts as they tried to pick him up from the floor. Too weak to resist, he finally relented.
            While helping the injured young man to a chair, Sheriff Buckley’s hand brushed against exposed skin on Jeremiah’s arm. The sensation sent the sheriff an eerie chill. He felt as though he touched a leather pouch filled with hundreds of live squirming worms. He looked at his deputy. Womack also seemed to notice the strange feeling. After getting Jeremiah to a chair, Buckley rushed to the refrigerator and retrieved a bottle of water.
Deputy Womack kept the man upright in the chair. “What the hell happened to you?”
            Jeremiah did not seem to hear the question. His eyes were blank and he appeared to be staring into space. Womack was threatening to give Jeremiah a slap across the face if he did not snap out of it. Buckley knew his deputy would restrain himself from such an unsympathetic action. Womack was well aware he would object to him giving anyone that type of treatment. When Buckley returned, he placed the plastic container of water into Jeremiah’s shivering hands.
            As their hands touched, he no longer felt the wiggling worm sensation. This time Jeremiah’s hands were ice cold. Much colder than he thought was humanly possible.
That’s odd.
He couldn’t possibly be suffering from hypothermia?
The weather had been uncommonly hot for this time of year. For the past two weeks of October, the temperature had been in the lower eighties. Unless Jeremiah was stuck in a deep freezer for a couple of hours it was unlikely the lack of heat searing from his skin was the result of the weather.
Womack began snapping his fingers in front of Jeremiah’s face to see if he could get a reaction. The young man did not so much as blink. After Womack realized his efforts were in vain, he began shaking his head from side to side. “What do you suppose happened to him, Sheriff?”
Buckley rubbed at his chin like he had since he was a boy when puzzled. “I don’t know but we better call Doctor Milburn. Jeremiah might be in shock. That would probably explain his current mental condition.”
As Womack headed toward the front desk, Jeremiah’s lips began to part. Buckley tapped his deputy on the arm to get his attention. A glimpse of recognition returned to the young man’s blue eyes. He finally spoke, “We killed him but he’s not dead. Now he’s killing us…”
The two officers stared at one another in bewilderment saying nothing, giving Jeremiah time to explain his bizarre statement. Jeremiah leapt from his seat dropping the bottled water. He grabbed hold of the sheriff’s shirt--his eyes transfixed with horror.
“You have to help me, Sheriff Buckley! He’s going to kill me--just like he did the others!” Jeremiah shouted.
“What others?” Womack inquired as he pulled the young man’s grip from his superior’s shirt.
Jeremiah turned to Womack. “It’s Deacon, he’s trying to kill me!”
The very mention of his name caused the sheriff to recoil. He hoped never to hear it again. Deacon had mysteriously disappeared a year ago. Freed of Jeremiah’s iron grip, Buckley asked in a firm voice, “Deacon? Deacon’s back in town?”
The young man cuffed his face with both his hands. He fell back to the chair. “He never left, sheriff,” he said sobbing.
Buckley’s eyebrows shot up in surprise. “You want to explain to us exactly what you’re talking about, son?”
Jeremiah looked up from his hands. His eyes darted to both officers. “He never left because we killed him, Sheriff. Now he’s killing us.”
That doesn’t make a bit of sense. If he’s dead, how could he be killing anyone?
Sheriff Buckley pointed toward the phone over on the front desk. “Go ahead and call the doctor,” he said speaking to his deputy.
Buckley was worried Jeremiah’s apparent wounds were causing him to be delusional. Womack nodded and sauntered over to the front desk. Buckley scratched his head trying to assess the information. He pulled up another chair and sat beside Jeremiah, facing him. “I think you need to start from the beginning, son.”
Wiping the tears from his eyes, he straightened in the chair. “Last year this time…” Jeremiah paused and scanned the room nervously as though worrying that someone might be eavesdropping on the conversation. “Do you remember finding the body of the girl in the pumpkin field on the old Miller’s farm?”
Buckley nodded. It was the first case of murder in Harmony County since he began serving as sheriff twelve years ago. “I remember. The young lady was found naked, raped and beaten to death by her fiancé, Deacon Grimes.”
The sheriff recalled the incident. “They were supposed to be eloping two days before Halloween night. They agreed to meet and run off to Shelbyville to get married there. According to Deacon, when he got to their rendezvous, he found Melody dead in the plot of land.”
Jeremiah’s head was bobbing up and down wildly in agreement. His face was a mask of terror. “I thought he had killed her. We all did. Even after you were convince he was innocent. We all thought he had killed that poor girl.”
“You’re not making sense. What does this have to do with anything?”
“We all got together, Bobby, Jake, Gloria… We thought he was guilty. We were so sure.”
Buckley’s gaze turned hard. “What did you do, Jeremiah?”
“We went to Deacon’s house. Pulled him from his bed on Halloween night… In his home, we beat him as badly as we thought he had Melody. We took him back to the Miller’s farm and tossed him into a grave we dug earlier that day. We filled the grave in with rotted pumpkins and dirt.”
The sheriff gasped in disbelief. An unexplained field of huge, pitiful looking and foul odor pumpkins had grown and flourished on a portion of that farm the past summer. It was strangest sight to behold because the pumpkins weren’t orange like they should be, but blood red. It’s become quite a tourist attraction.
Womack returned, catching the tail end of the young man’s confession. “My God. How long did you leave him there before you dug him out of the hole?”
What little color he had drained from Jeremiah’s face. “We didn’t let him go, Deputy. We buried him alive. A tooth for a tooth.”
Shooting from his seat, Sheriff Buckley was shouting, “Damn it, Jeremiah. Damn it to hell!”
He paced around the office stroking his hand through his graying hair in frustration. Jeremiah, Bobby Jerkewitz, Gloria Straub, and Jake Higgins were all children of prominent people in town. If what Jeremiah was saying was true, all kinds of hell would be breaking loose once word was out.
How many more people were involved in Deacon’s murder?
The next words Jeremiah uttered shocked the two officers. “Deacon’s come back. He’s killing everybody that was involved that night! And he’s going to come after Audrey, too.”
A sickening wave of terror welled up from Buckley’s belly. His mouth was motioning as though he were speaking words but nothing was exiting except for his breath. What does my daughter have to do with Jeremiah’s bizarre confession?