Saturday, October 5, 2013

Tastes Like Chicken (A Jacob Slade story)

Genre: Horror (A Jacob Slade story)

Daniel Skye

          The word rolled off Jacob Slade’s tongue and exited his mouth as a harsh whisper. He never meant to speak it, just think it. But now the cat was out of the bag.
“Wendigo?” Sheriff Booth inquired. “Is that something like a Winnebago?”
“Far from it,” Slade winced. “Got an ID on the victim?”
Booth shook his head. “I haven’t called this in yet. I wanted you to see it first.”
          “I can understand why. It’s Donnie Zito all over again.”
          “We don’t know that for sure,” Booth disagreed. “For all we know this could just be the work of some wild animal.”
          “This is Dorchester, Karl. Name one wild animal that can inflict this kind of damage. You’re telling me a deer did this?”
          “Well there has to be some logical explanation.”
          “A Wendigo defies logic.”
          Slade shone his flashlight down the narrow trail that was now blanketed by a thin layer of snow. It was mid-October but it felt like winter already. Winters are always rough in Dorchester, but the early snow told Slade they were in for one hell of a season.
The victim appeared to be male. The body was stripped of its clothing and possessions. No wallet, no ID, no jewelry, no distinguishing marks or tattoos.
          The face was shredded beyond recognition. The flesh torn away, exposing the victims jawbone, nicotine stained teeth, and the pink mangled lump that used to be the victims tongue. The right ear was missing, ripped off. But the left ear remained intact. What made Booth shudder was the fact that neither he nor Slade could determine the murder weapon. This, disturbingly, appeared to be the work of hands. Deep grooves covered the victim’s arms and legs, which Slade observed with his flashlight and identified as teeth marks. The skin of the torso was flayed, peeled back. Chunks of fat were visibly absent from the chest and abdomen region, as if they were scooped clean out.
          “So are you going to explain this whole Wendigo baloney to me or is this a guessing game now?”
“A Wendigo is an urban legend connected to Native American mythology. Many Algonquian speaking tribes believed a Wendigo to be the wandering spirit of a bloodthirsty cannibal. Those same tribes passed through parts of Canada and northern America in the 1600s, burying their dead in unmarked graves along the way. Some theorize that the tribes left a trace of the Wendigo behind. The main theory is that the spirit attaches itself to a person the same way a parasite leeches onto a host. It can control their body in order to… feed.”
“Cool story,” Booth muttered. “Could’ve thrown in a mummy or werewolf to spice things up though. Then I would’ve really believed you.”
“Mock if you will, but do you have a rational explanation for this?” Slade shone his flashlight over the mangled corpse again to illustrate his point.
“What about your pal, Drake? He’s a creep if I ever met one. You think he could’ve done something like this?”
“Drake is a lot of things, but he’s not a killer. He wouldn’t do this, not willfully. But since Zito died, the spirit has moved on. It could be inside anyone now. It could be you.”
“And it could be you,” Booth said accusingly.
Slade cracked a smile. “You sound like you’re starting to believe.” He almost laughed before the severity of the situation dawned on him.
“Say I do believe this horseshit,” Booth said. “How do we stop this thing?”
          “The beast does not obey the laws of man. It obeys the laws of the beast. It will feed until its thirst for blood is quenched, and then it will return to its state of hibernation.”
“And just how long will that take?”
“No way to determine,” Slade sighed. “When the beast awakens, it awakens with insatiable hunger. All we can do is keep tracking it to find the source of the host.”
“How exactly do you track a spirit?”
“In this case, it’s pretty simple. Just follow the red brick road. Wherever a Wendigo goes, a trail of blood and carnage is sure to follow.”

JACOB SLADE’S vocation strikes many as odd. It’s not every day you meet a Supernatural Investigator. Some people–especially those who refuse to believe in the possibility of life after death–balk at the very idea. It sounds like something you’d see in mainstream horror movies or read about in science-fiction novels. But S.I.’s are more common than you would think.
Slade’s investigations range from the paranormal to the occult. His business attracts some of the most paranoid, neurotic, or skittish people you will ever encounter. These people claim to witness books or other items falling from shelves, seemingly being pulled by some invisible force. Others report strange noises in the basement or muffled voices emanating from the attic.
A lot of people tend to ignore the signs. They convince themselves it’s a figment of their vivid imaginations. And other people immediately jump to the sane conclusion that there’s a poltergeist floating around their home. This is where Jacob comes in.
Most of the claims turn out to be bogus. It’s either some whacko looking for attention or some sucker who let his or her paranoia get the best of them. Either way, Slade still sends a bill in the mail.
The biggest pain in the ass is the crank calls. Jacob’s business also attracts a lot of jokers looking for a laugh at his expense.
One guy had phoned Slade to share that a leprechaun was trying to swipe his Lucky Charms. Judging by the volume of the call and the muffled laughter in the background, Jacob could determine he was on speakerphone.
“I tried to call Ghostbusters,” the man had told Slade. “But they said they don’t handle leprechauns. Can you believe that shit?”
Another woman called to report a unicorn sighting in her backyard. Slade takes all these calls in stride. On his good days–which are sporadic–he even laughs along with the merry pranksters that phone him.
But he wasn’t laughing that frigid October evening when Sheriff Booth barged into his office.

SLADE rents a small office that’s housed above a deli. The rent is cheap and the landlord doesn’t bust his hump if Jacob’s a few days late with his payments.
Jacob had wasted a full afternoon sitting at his desk. He drank a full pot of Irish crème coffee, smoked half a pack of unfiltered Camels. Used his fingers to trace the number 99 branded to the flesh of his forearm. The phone rang once; another prankster. It was a woman with a shrill voice who asked if Slade could exorcise a demon from her Shih Tzu. He was too cranky that afternoon to laugh. He just cracked a smirk as he slammed down the receiver.
Despite the gaps in his memory, Jacob knows his powers are not the result of a freak accident. Nobody develops telepathy from a bump on the head or an electrical shock. It’s certainly not something you’re born with either. This strange gift is just another mystery waiting to be solved. But this gift could also flood Jacob with premonitions, warning signs of things to come. And that day Jacob knew a bombshell was about to be dropped. That’s why he waited all afternoon.
At six o’clock, he poured a glass of bourbon and downed it with two gulps. He filled the glass again and a knock came to his door. He shouted for his guest to enter.
Sheriff Booth marched in from the cold, brushing off snow from his shoulders and thinning grey hair. He removed his red parka and wool scarf, hanging both on the mounted coatrack in the corner.
Karl Booth always made Jacob Slade feel inferior in his presence. It wasn’t a spoken thing. He didn’t have to say a word to make Slade feel beneath him.
Slade sitting there with his long greasy hair, Salvation Army clothes, black combat boots. And Karl standing there proudly with his shiny badge and snazzy blue uniform. How could Slade not feel inferior?
Slade was the brunt of many jokes from the local police force. Booth was the only one to give him any recognition. When the police were left baffled by the first rash of mutilations, when their investigation yielded no results and they started running on fumes, it was Booth who let Slade in on the case.
To his credit, Jacob found their man. Donnie Zito. There was enough forensic evidence to put Zito away for six lifetimes. Donnie played the part well, claiming to be possessed by an unseen force and gleefully admitting to cannibalizing six different people. Considering the circumstances, his lawyer went for the insanity defense.
Zito died one week before his trial date. The toxicology reports turned up nil, ruling out all suspicions of foul play. All the autopsy report confirmed was that his death was “heart related.” It wasn’t an attack. His heart just… stopped beating. Zito never had any previous conditions, and was in remarkable health for a guy that liked to eat people.
“Sheriff Booth,” Slade feigned enthusiasm. “What do I owe this pleasure to?” He attempted a smile, but he was really just gritting his teeth. He already knew why Booth was here.
“Put that smile away before you give me a stroke. And cut the bullshit pleasantries. I’ve got news.”
“You have an ID on the corpse.”
“It’s Brendan Zito, Donnie’s brother.”
“Interesting twist,” Slade said and downed his bourbon.
“It’s happening again,” Booth said, nearly trembling. He was only 52, but looked about 75. His gaunt, weathered face told the tale of a man who’s been to hell and back again, and shared no regrets about it.
“I told you it would,” Slade sighed. “Nobody ever takes me seriously.”
“You work above a deli and you hunt spirits for a living. You make it challenging for people to take you seriously.”
“Touché. What did forensics find?”
“Forensics couldn't even ID the body. We got a match on Zito through old dental records. Do you know that guy hadn’t been to the dentist in over twelve years?”
“Sheriff, do you think I’m crazy?”
“Crazy is one word I can think of to describe you.”
“There’s going to be a fire. A big one. I don’t know how and I don’t know when. But it’s going to happen. I keep getting flashes of it in my head.”
“Is the fire in Dorchester?”
“I can’t tell.”
“Well, if it’s out of my jurisdiction it isn’t my problem.”
“Your attempt at humor?”
“Sorry. But the Wendigo, the visions, the mind powers. I’m really trying here, kid.”
“You don’t believe in telepathy?”
“I believe that you believe in telepathy.”
“Your neighbor’s dog woke you up this morning. It was about five o’clock. You had bacon and eggs for breakfast, with a side of toast and fresh squeezed orange juice. You stopped at Duke Crawford’s place in the afternoon for gas. Then you went and bought your second wife a diamond necklace for your twentieth anniversary.”
“Stop looking in my head,” Booth demanded. “I believe you. Just cut it out. Now, like I asked before, what can we do to stop it?”
“Trying to locate the host would be a waste of energy. It could be anyone in town. It could be your next-door neighbor. It could be one of your deputies. It could be the little girl with pigtails skipping rope down the street. All we can do is wait for the host to strike again. And it will.”
          “Oh,” Booth said. “One more thing that might be helpful. We tested all the blood found at the scene. Not all of it belongs to Brendan Zito. Artie Clay has his DNA on file and some of the blood matches his.”
          “Artie Clay? The sweet old man who runs the hardware store? Get the fuck out of here.”
          “Tomorrow morning you’ll meet me at the station. We’re going to talk to Clay together.”

          JACOB didn’t sleep well that evening. He dreamt of the fire every time he shut his eyes. He didn’t dare mention it to Booth again that morning at the station. Booth arrived with two cups of coffee and handed one off to Slade.
          “Is there bourbon in it?” Slade asked.
          “It’s eight-thirty in the morning,” Booth exclaimed.
          “Just get in the truck.”
          The hardware store was across town, five minutes from the station. That was the convenience of living in a small town. Everything was five minutes away. On the ride, Jacob counted the meticulously carved jack-o’-lanterns that sat on every porch, every doorstep. Halloween was right around the corner. And Slade knew better than anyone that a night like Halloween draws out all the crazies.
          Booth parked in front of the hardware store, debating putting his sirens on but decided against it. He didn’t want to make a big scene. He just wanted answers.
          “Artie,” Booth nodded as they entered and approached the counter.
          “Morning Sheriff Booth,” Artie nodded back. He wasn’t much older than Booth, but his lack of hair and raisin-like skin said otherwise. That morning he was sporting a fresh white bandage over one side of his head.
          “Have yourself a little accident?” Booth pointed to the bandage.
          “I guess you heard about the other night,” Artie hung his head low with shame. “I didn’t start the fight, I swear. You can ask Fred the bartender. I tried to reason with the guy. Next thing I know, he’s smashing a frigging bottle over my head.”
          “Brendan Zito. They managed to calm him down and get him out of the bar. I begged Fred not to call it in. I didn’t want the kid to get in trouble.”
          “The kid is dead, Artie. They found his body mutilated in the trails by the hills. Your blood was found on the scene.”
          “The bottle,” Artie explained. “I was bleeding like a stuck pig. He had my blood all over him.”
          “We’ll have to confirm all this with Fred,” Booth told him.
          “Go right ahead, Sheriff,” Artie stuttered. “I don’t know nothing about no mutilation, I swear guys.”
          “I believe him,” Slade whispered. “But we still need to check with Fred.”
          On their way out, Slade and Booth bumped into Kim Kruger. She had her kids, Stan and Lily in tow. In addition to being a traditional hardware store, Artie also carried Halloween costumes and candy around this time of year.
          “Hello, Kim,” Booth greeted her warmly.
          “Morning Sheriff,” she smiled. “It’s that time of year again. Got to get the kids costumes for Halloween.”
          “I’m going to be a princess,” Lily shouted with excitement. She was only six, but she had a bright future ahead of her. She was already reading at a fourth grade level.
          Stan was eight and had his mother’s golden brown locks and benevolent smile. And when it came to his height, he took after his father. Eight years old and the kid was about to hit five feet. At the rate he was growing, Slade figured it wouldn’t be long before he ending up playing basketball or starring as a local circus attraction.
          Booth said his goodbyes and they left the store on a mission to confirm Artie Clay’s story.
          They made a quick detour at Duke Crawford’s gas station first. Duke was the size of a grizzly and had the body hair to match. Slade once inquired about the name. Duke explained his father was an avid John Wayne fan, as was Slade.
          Duke was reticent that morning, he just pumped the gas and nodded politely as Booth paid and they drove away from the station.
          A part of Karl laughed at the thought of Artie Clay getting roughed up by Brendan Zito. He couldn’t imagine what would happen if a beast like Crawford got his hands on scrawny old Artie.

          EVERYONE LOVES FRED THE BARTENDER. At least that’s what Fred would tell you. And on some level, there was truth to the statement. Everyone that came in to Portside Pub left with a good buzz, a stomach full of chips and pretzels, a few laughs from Fred’s witty jokes. Every month Fred would rent the boxing fights on pay-per-view and wouldn’t charge a cover. He’d even let the guys come down and watch without buying a single beer.
          It was nine when they arrived at Portside Pub, but the place was already open for business. The early morning lushes usually started filling in around ten o’clock. By noon, the place was packed with unemployable losers who drink their sorrows and welfare checks away.
          “Fred?” Booth called as they entered the empty pub. The interior design left something to be desired, and the place always reeked of stale beer and sweat. No matter how hard Fred scrubbed and cleaned, he could never get rid of that smell.
          Slade checked behind the bar. “Nothing here.”
          “Check the storage room.”
          “You check the storage room. You got the gun.”
          “Just check it.”
          Slade nudged the door to the storage room open and stepped back, his hand clasped over his mouth. “Don’t look,” he warned Booth. “You don’t want to see this one…”
          “Is he dead?”
          “If he’s not, it would be a goddam miracle.”
          Booth gave an extended sigh. “We’ll have to go back and place Artie Clay under arrest for the time being.” He turned and walked towards the door to radio the station.
          “Don’t trouble yourself,” Slade stopped him. “There’s no way Artie Clay did this. This was done recently. Artie opens the hardware store at five A.M. Portside Pub opens at eight to give Fred time to restock the bar from the night before. I’m guessing this happened in the last hour.”
          “Jesus… so you’re telling me the killer could still be in the area?”
          “It could be sweet Mrs. Rogers next-door who runs the sewing shop. It could be Duke Crawford who runs the gas station. Everyone in the area is a potential suspect.”
          “Dear Lord,” Booth’s eyes bulged thinking of Crawford being the one possessed. “Anyone but Duke. I don’t have enough guys on the force to run down that tank.”
          “That’s the thing here, Sheriff. It could be anyone.”
          “So basically what you’re really saying is we won’t know who it is until it’s too late?”
          “I’m afraid that’s a distinct possibility.”
          Booth was halfway to the door when he tossed Jacob his cell phone. Slade caught it in one hand and tucked it away in his pocket. “I know you don’t have a cell. Put some distance between yourself and this place. The boys don’t know you’re working with me on this one. I’ll call this in on my radio and have the forensics monkeys work their magic. If they turn anything up, I’ll give you a ring. In the meantime, be careful. And use the back exit.”
          As Booth reached the door, Slade called out, “You’re hiding something from me. When we were in the hardware store and you were talking to Kim Kruger. The whole time you were picturing a beach. You were thinking of an ocean, beach umbrellas, sandcastles. A clever trick to block me from reading your thoughts. Kudos.”
          Booth refused to acknowledge his statement. “Just sit tight and wait for my call.”

DRAKE FURLONG had the heat in the kitchen cranked up to eighty degrees. Standing over the hot stove, it felt like ninety. But he still wore long sleeves to conceal the number 81 branded into his skin. Drake blinked once and the radio across the counter popped on. He blinked again and the channel switched to his favorite rock station, which was playing a double shot of Jimi Hendrix.
Drake is what the sci-fi geeks would call a technopath. He possesses the ability to manipulate technology. In addition to this unexplainable gift, he’s also quite the talented artist. His specialty is cartoon characters, but his drawings are not for children’s eyes. His sketches contain lovable, hallmark characters in inappropriate situations. Like one sketch that features Shaggy and Scooby passing a peace pipe back and forth, or the infamous sketch where Homer is pile-driving Marge. Collectors shell out a pretty penny for Drake’s sketches. It’s not like you’re going to find them anywhere else. The Five and Dime rarely stock drawings of Mickey dressed as a Gestapo interrogator.
It had been one day since the grisly discovery of Fred the bartender. His face slashed and the top of his skull ripped open like a tin can. The brain was scooped clean out. Slade needed an outlet, someone to vent to, and decided to turn to his friend.
Drake and Jacob bonded over their conditions and the fact that neither can recall moments from their past. They knew the numbers on their skin linked them and would eventually lead them to something much bigger, but until that day, they needed to stick close together.
Drake welcomed him in from the cold and showed off his latest creation, a sketch of Wile E. Coyote crushing Road Runners skull with an ACME anvil.
“I found a buyer for this baby instantly,” Drake bragged. “You remember Steven Uris, our old chemistry professor? He’s a huge Road Runner nerd.”
“That’s great news,” Slade said. “How’s Molly?”
“My little sister got a babysitting gig,” Drake said, turning off the stove. “She’s working for Kim Kruger.” He offered Slade some of his pancakes and he politely declined.
“I saw Kim and the kids yesterday with Sheriff Booth.”
“How’s that old grump doing?” Drake chortled.
“He still hasn’t removed the yardstick from his ass yet. But he’s working on it. That sort of brings me to why I’m here. Booth has me working on another case. You remember Donnie Zito, right?”
“How could I forget?” Drake shuddered.
“It’s happening all over again.”
“Well, you called it.”
“That’s not all, Drake. I came to warn you. Something big is about to go down. It’s going to involve a fire. That’s all I can tell you.”
“Thanks for the heads up,” Drake sighed. “Anything I can do to stop it, you know I’m here to help.”
“I might have to cash in on that offer soon.”
“Hey, why don’t you tag along with me? Professor Uris lives right down the road.”
“What the hell,” Slade shrugged. “Let’s roll.”
“I just need to find my keys,” Drake’s words trailed off as he abandoned Slade in pursuit of his car keys. The backdoor opened and Molly entered, a lit cigarette dangling from her sparkling red lips. She smelled Drake’s pancakes instantly.
She laughed. “He always forgets his food and lets it get cold. Oh well, more for me.” She extinguished the butt of her cigarette–now smeared with her purple lipstick–in a nearby ashtray and took a seat at the table.
Slade tapped his foot nervously and silently begged for Drake to find the damn keys. Being around Molly alone made Jacob uncomfortable. Fresh out of high school and just eighteen, Molly was barely legal. She had a body that could steal your eyes and never return them. She was also his best friend’s sister and he felt an obligation to show respect to Drake by ignoring her flirtatious remarks and rejecting her subtle advances.
She managed to finish every bite before Drake returned. Jacob tried to make small talk to manage passing the time. “How’s college?”
“Professor Uris is a pain in my ass.” Please don’t make me think of your ass, Jacob thought. “But all my other classes are going well. I just hate the schedule. It’s so stressful. And I’m babysitting on the side too so it’s just like overload for me. I can’t wait for the break we get in the winter. I don’t even have time for yoga classes anymore. And I’m babbling, sorry about that.”
“It’s okay,” Jacob laughed. “I do that myself sometimes.”
“Hey,” Drake said as he returned. “I found the– my pancakes!”

STEVEN URIS lived half a mile from Drake’s place, in the most desolate part of Dorchester. Across the street from his house, an abandoned factory that stretched out for half the block. There was a clear gap of about five hundred feet between his house and the only other occupied house on the road.
The muffler of Drake’s white Trans Am had a golf-ball-sized hole in it and the car sputtered like a bad lawnmower with the lightest acceleration. They had to keep the windows rolled down at all times to fend off the fumes that were rising up from underneath the car.
The brakes seized for a moment and the Trans Am skidded along the curb before it came to a stop an edge from Steven Uris’s driveway.
“When are you going to sell this deathtrap and get a car with functioning brakes?”
“As soon as you chop off that greasy mop you call a hairdo.”
“I guess you’re stuck driving this thing until it crashes then.”
They got out and Drake tucked the sketch under one arm as they walked towards the door. They halted several feet from the porch when Jacob spotted all the glimmering shards of glass. The front window was smashed and the door–clawed and battered–looked as though a pack of wolves were fighting for their supper.
“Professor Uris?” Slade called the name repeatedly as he peered through the shattered window, looking for any signs of life. He didn’t know why he was calling. In his mind, he knew there wasn’t going to be a response. He didn’t need telepathy to figure that out.
“You have a weapon on you?” Drake asked.
“I left my gun back at the office.”
“You left your gun in the office? Why would you leave your gun in your office? What's the purpose of even having a gun?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know I was going to be walking into a double homicide this morning.”
“We don’t know Steven is dead for sure. And by the way, who else died?”
“Fred from Portside Pub. We found him this morning. And Brendan Zito’s body was discovered a few days ago. He was mauled beyond recognition.”
“And you just failed to mention all this?”
“I told you the Donnie Zito fiasco was happening again.”
“But you didn’t give me any specifics.”
“You didn’t ask for the specifics.”
“I think everything you just told me could have easily been shared with me an hour ago.”
“Do you want to argue about this or do you want to go inside?”
“You want to go in there?
“There’s a slim chance Steven Uris is still alive. But there’s still a chance. And I can’t walk away knowing I might have let an innocent man die for no good reason.”
Slade stuck his hand through the window, minding the few stray shards of glass that still hung to the edges of the window frame. He worked his hand across the wall until he found the doorknob and twisted the lock.
At Drake’s request, Jacob entered first. “Mr. Uris?” Jacob shouted and the echo boomed through the vacant living room. They passed the empty kitchen and moved into the hallway.
They appeared as white specks embedded in the carpet at first. But as Drake and Slade moved closer, the maggots came into focus. Hundreds of them crawled and festered about the beige carpet. The linen closet seemed to be the source of the maggots, and neither man seemed eager to find out what lied beyond the door.
Drake ran to the kitchen in search of a weapon. He came back with a dull kitchen knife and a frozen bottle of water he found stashed in the freezer. “That’s the best you could do?” Jacob remarked.
“You could easily crack someone’s head open if you hit them just right.”
“I’m not worried about getting attacked… I’m worried about opening that door and seeing something I won’t be able to erase.”
As a precaution, Drake raised the frozen bottle, ready to strike at the first attack. He had passed Slade the knife to protect himself. Slade stepped over a white writhing patch in the beige carpet and his fingers grazed the knob.
“On the count of three,” Drake said and started the count. “One… two… three.”
Slade yanked the door open and they gagged from the pungent stench that rushed out at them.
“Who lives in the other house?”
“Duke Crawford.” Slade phoned Karl Booth immediately. He picked up at his desk after the first ring.
“I told you to wait for my call,” Booth said.
“We’ve got a situation here. Have your men go down to Duke Crawford’s gas station and check the place thoroughly. Make sure they’re armed to the teeth.”
“My men are already at the gas station. It’s a mess. Blood, bone, teeth fragments. No sign of Crawford though."
“I have an idea where he might be. Gather up the troops and head down to Industrial Road. Drake and I will be waiting for you. And Karl, you might want to call an ambulance as well. Professor Uris won’t be giving lectures any time soon. Something clawed and slashed his throat to ribbons. Took a huge chunk out of the right side of his head. Looks like it was bit off in one snap. I’m seeing advanced rot and decomposition. There are enough maggots in the hall and the linen closet to fill a dumpster. The smell alone indicates he’s been like this for days.”
“And Crawford’s the only one who lives in that area. He would’ve seen or heard something. He would’ve noticed that Uris hasn’t gone into work lately. It has to be him.”
“I don’t mean to order around the town sheriff, but move your ass on this one, Karl. I’m pretty sure Crawford is home. I think I saw his Hummer parked back by his shed.”
“Hold tight, Jake. I’m on my way.”

HOLDING THE BULLHORN to his cracked, dry lips, Booth shouted, “Duke Crawford, this is Sheriff Karl Booth. I have a warrant for your arrest. Why don’t you make this easy for everyone and just step out of the house with your hands raised high and we can all get this over with.”
Nothing. Crawford refused to budge, though they could clearly make out his silhouette as he lumbered behind the curtains of his front windows.
“Break out the battering-ram,” Booth ordered his men when Duke failed to comply. Two deputies unloaded the battering-ram from their patrol car and dragged it to the door.
The deputies reduced the door to splinters in a matter of seconds. They tossed the ram aside and drew their service revolvers. The two deputies entered as Karl and six other men remained camped on the front lawn. At Karl’s order, the other deputies drew their revolvers and waited for further command.
The blood curdling screams that emanated from Duke’s house sent the deputies charging inside. Karl begged for them to cease, to hold back and wait for reinforcements. But his men weren’t going to stand idly by while their fellow deputies were being maimed.
“What should we do?” Karl asked Jacob as if he were in charge of the scene now.
“Let’s go in,” Jacob suggested. “And Drake and I are sticking close to you seeing as you have the gun and we don’t.”
“I’d share the wealth if I could but I didn’t bring a second piece.”
“Let’s just go before we miss the fun.”
The six deputies stood aghast in the kitchen. Duke was sitting calmly at his kitchen table, waiting for a move to be made. In under five minutes, he had managed to tear Karl’s two deputies limb from bloody limb. The first deputy was lucky. He still had his head attached to his shoulders. Deputy number two was not so fortunate.
Karl stepped forward, his men letting him pass through and then forming a wall behind him. They all had their revolvers drawn and at their sides, their fingers hovering around the triggers, just waiting for Karl’s sign. All six men were itching to put the final bullet in this walking tank.
“Duke Crawford, you’re under arrest for the murders of Brendan Zito, Fred Johnson, Steven Uris, Oliver Nash, and Mason Freeman. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you cannot afford one, one will be provided to you. Do you understand your rights?”
Duke lurched forward in his seat, giving some vague sign of recognition. Then he slumped back and a sudden stillness washed over him. The room was silent again.
“Duke, you know me. You know my ex-wife. You’ve been a part of this community for about as long as I can remember. And this can only go one of two ways. Please don’t give these men a reason to shoot you. Tell me you understand your rights.”
Caked in blood, Duke rose to his feet. “Stay where you are.” Booth told him. For the moment, he seemed to obey Karl’s command. “I’m only going to ask this once… Oliver Nash, my deputy… what did you do with his head, Duke?”
“I ate it,” Duke finally spoke, then grinned from ear to ear, flashing two rows of red stained teeth.
He lunged for Booth and the deputies fired without warning. Karl threw himself onto the ground under the hail of bullets aimed for Crawford. Sixteen deafening shots later, Duke was still on his feet.
He snapped the neck of one deputy, broke the spine of another by simply lifting the deputy and bending him across his knee like you would snap a twig. He used his bare hands to rip out the throat of a deputy who attempted to Taser him. The other three deputies discarded their revolvers and retreated before further carnage could ensue.
“Drake, can’t you electrocute this guy or something?” Jacob whispered. “Just fry his ass?”
“My powers don’t work like that. I can only manipulate technology and electricity. I can’t make lightning bolts pop out from my fingertips.”
“Then what good are you? Time to improvise.” Jacob snatched one of the revolvers from the floor and fired three shots at Crawford’s head. His head snapped back several times before resuming its normal position. The blood trickled slowly down his forehead and when it reached his lips, he licked it away with delight.
“I surrender,” Jacob said, tossing the revolver aside.
“Like hell you do,” Karl shouted, rising from the floor and unloading his service revolver into Duke’s ample frame.
Duke clutched at his chest and dropped to one knee. In seconds, the walking tank was immobile. The grizzly bear had been slayed.
Jacob waited a good minute before he checked for a pulse. Duke’s heart was no longer beating.
“His ticker gave out on him,” Slade told Karl. “Just like Donnie Zito before his trial.”
“How am I going to explain this to the governor?”
          “Worry about how you’re going to explain this to the victims’ families. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m calling it a day. Working with you Karl has actually made me contemplate early retirement.”
A FEW DAYS BEFORE HALLOWEEN, Booth made another trip to Slade’s office.
“The autopsy on Crawford is in. Thirty bullets and not one of them was a kill shot. The cause of death was heart related. Same as Donnie Zito.”
“A Wendigo can weaken the body of its host,” Slade explained. “A person can only withstand so much before the body gives out and the spirit has to find a new host.”
“There’s something I need to tell you… you were right about me keeping secrets from you. When I was married to that real estate mogul, Kathy… I did her a favor. The house that she sold to the Kruger family was built on an ancient Indian burial ground. Everyone involved was too chicken-shit to disturb the graves and the contractors didn’t want the land going to waste, so they settled for building right on top of it. I did Kathy a solid as the kids would say nowadays. I covered it up for her.”
“How many people know?”
“You, me, Kathy, and the people involved in the construction.”
“And you didn’t see this as vital information? You didn’t feel the need to mention this before? How could you not tell me?”
“How could I tell you? It crossed my mind when you started rambling about Wendigo’s and Native American spirits. But I couldn’t say anything at the time. I didn’t know what we were dealing with. I guess I really didn’t want to believe like you did.”
“If it comes down to it, we’ll have to tell Kim. For now, things look like they’re settling down. No need to stir up any more trouble. I think the spirits are finally at rest again.”
“Yes, plural. The legend dictates that the Wendigo is not one spirit, but one of many wandering spirits in search of hosts.”
“This is too much for me. I need a drink. Where’s that bourbon of yours?”
“You read my mind,” Jacob smiled.
No owls were hooting. No crickets were chirping. The only sounds that could be heard were the crunching sounds of dry fallen leaves whenever Jacob paced back and forth impatiently.
The moon had returned to the beginning of its cycle and was barely visible to the naked eye. And sky was shrouded by ominous banks of dark grey clouds. This would have worked to their advantage except for the fact that it was officially Halloween. All the streetlights and houselights were as bright as could be. The remaining deputies even had spotlights placed all throughout Dorchester to be extra safe. The entire town was bathed in a ghastly yellow-orange glow, and spotting a fire from that distance was going to be harder than finding one particular needle in a needle stack.
Tonight is the night, Jacob thought. He could feel it in his bones. Some-thing ugly and terrible was about to occur.
He had acquired the services of Drake, and they spent the day camped out on the hills overlooking the town of Dorchester with a pair of binoculars.
When night fell upon them, Jacob turned to Drake. “Okay, this is where your powers come in handy. Work your magic, buddy.”
“Shouldn’t we let Karl in on this first?”
“Karl never needs to know what we’re about to do. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, he’s not your biggest fan. And his deputies think I’m a loon. It’s a wonder we’re not both in a mental institution. The less Karl knows in this case, the better. You know when he first brought me in on this, he thought you could be the one responsible? Could you even imagine?”
“Hey, you never know. I could be possessed right now.” Drake stuck his arms out in front and starting walking crooked and dragging his feet as he slowly lurching towards Jacob. “Brains,” he mumbled, doing his best zombie impression.
“Stop fucking around and just do your thing.”
“Have it your way. Just be warned; I’ve never used this much of my power at once before. I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen.”
“I’m fully prepared and ready to accept all the responsibility for this if it comes down to that.”
“Very well,” Drake said, getting in the zone. “As a great man once said; let’s do this shit.”
“Who said that?” Jacob asked.
“I don’t know, some guy I met in a bar once. I think his name was Ed.”
“Just out of curiosity, what was this man referring to when he said ‘let’s do this shit’ to you?”
“I assure you it was nothing sexual.”
“It sounds kind of sexual in the context you’ve placed it.”
“Look, do you want to sit here all night and debate the context, or do you want to just get this over with?”
“Fine,” Jacob shrugged. “But we are definitely finishing this conversation later.”
Drake stood straight and raised both hands from his sides. A great surge rushed through his body and both men felt the ground quake slightly. Jacob could hear the sound of power lines exploding, wires snapping and sizzling as they dragged along the ground like electric snakes.
Jacob stared through the binoculars and watched every light in town dim and wane. Drake had successfully caused a blackout. The effort drained his body, but he was able to rise from his knees and catch his breath after a few minutes had passed.
With the town enveloped in darkness, Jacob used the night vision feature on his binoculars and perused the landscape of Dorchester. In the distance, he could see dark curls of smoke billowing up from Shadmoor Lane. In seconds, the thick orange flames came into focus, though with the night vision function the fire appeared green.
“Take a look,” Jacob said, passing the binoculars to Drake.
“Fuck me,” Drake said, the binoculars dropping to his side. “The fire’s coming from Shadmoor Lane… Molly is babysitting for Kim Kruger tonight. And her house is on Shadmoor.”
“Let’s do this shit,” Jacob mimicked as they raced to Drake’s car.
MOLLY FURLONG was locked in the upstairs closet of Kim Kruger’s bedroom. She was not forced or locked inside against her will. She went in voluntarily as a means of escaping Stan and Lilly.
In the weeks that she had watched Stan and Lily in Kim’s absence, they never once disobeyed her. They never even changed the TV channel without her permission.
What she saw in their eyes tonight was not the look of obedient children. Instead, she saw a dark murderous glint that no parent, sibling, or babysitter should witness.
In the terrifying chase that ensued, Molly’s arm had struck the window-sill jack-o’-lantern and sent it toppling over, the candle spilling out and igniting the wool carpet. In a fit of desperation, Molly made a dash for the stairs and headed for Kim’s bedroom. She couldn’t get to the door because Stan and Lily were blocking, armed with kitchen knives ironically used to carve the same lantern Molly had accidently spilled over. And the entrance to the kitchen was cut off by the rising flames.
Molly was helpless; stashed away in a dark closet, Stan and Lily on the other side trying to carve their way in with the knives. Her cell phone was in her purse that was in the living room. And she knew if Stan and Lily didn’t get to her, the fire would soon consume the three of them.

THE FIRE DEPARTMENT arrived on the scene seconds after Drake and Jacob pulled up in the Trans Am. The firefighters extinguished the flames and Drake darted in, screaming Molly’s name the entire time.
Jacob trailed behind, an uneasy feeling in his gut.
A path of blood on the second floor led them to Kim’s Kruger bedroom, where Stan and Lily were serving themselves a second helping of Molly.
“What does this taste like to you?” Stan asked in a hypnotic state. The look of a child’s innocence was lost in his cold, unaffected eyes.
“Chicken,” Lily responded, her lips and corners of her mouth smeared red. “It tastes just like chicken.”

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