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.
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?