Tuesday, October 28, 2014

TRAIL OF TERROR (A Jacob Slade Story)

Genre: Horror

By Daniel Skye
For weeks, Jacob Slade had followed the trail of terror that ran through the town of Dorchester. It was mid-March when the killings began. Bodies were discovered in the woods surrounding Dorchester Park.
There were no footprints, no blood or saliva other than the victims, no murder weapon found at any of the scenes. Only hair.
Hair that the unequipped Dorchester crime lab could only determine was that of an animal. The species remained ambiguous.
Baffled by the murders, Sheriff Booth issued a nine o’clock curfew for all residents of Dorchester and urged people to stay out of the woods.
In early April, they got their first break in the case. Byron Phillips decided not to heed the warnings and stay clear of the woods. He had taken his nine year old son on a hunting expedition. He figured with the curfew in effect, and everyone banned from entering the woods, this was the ideal time for hunting. The perfect opportunity to bag himself a ten pointer.
He didn’t have to worry about any crossfire or accidently getting struck in the back by a hunter’s arrow. But he still wore his puffy orange jacket to make sure he stood out from the wildlife. And even though Dean Phillips protested that the jacket was too dorky to risk being seen in, Byron made his son wear an identical coat for his safety.
It was getting close to curfew when the killer struck. Dean watched in shock as his father was torn to shreds. He had a rifle, but Dean was an inexperienced shooter. What if he accidently missed and hit his dad instead?
So when the initial shock subsided and Dean was able to snap back to reality, he bolted like a coward into the approaching darkness.
No one blamed Dean for his hesitation. He was just nine years old and he had witnessed something no boy should ever be forced to witness. But the cops did want to speak with him once he calmed down. They needed a description, anything that could lead them closer to catching the sadistic creep that did this.
“Please, Dean,” Sheriff Booth had begged. “We need to know what you saw. Who did this to your father?”
“It was…it was Big Foot,” Dean stammered.
* * *
          Jacob Slade is a supernatural investigator, and proud of it. His work doesn’t pay nearly as much as it should, and it doesn’t bring him much respect from the community, but it’s what Slade chose to devote his life to, and there was no backing out for him.
          Slade rents a small office that’s housed above a deli. And that’s exactly where he was on Thursday, April 4th, 2013, when Karl Booth stopped by to pay him a visit. But Booth hadn’t come alone this time.
          He dragged along Deputy Brackett, the only one besides Karl who gave Slade any credit or believed in the supernatural abilities he possessed.
          Jacob Slade is telepathic. He can tell you what you had for dinner last week or what time you go to bed in the evening. In addition to mindreading, Slade possesses minor telekinetic abilities. He can levitate certain objects depending on the weight and size. It doesn’t work on humans, but he can still hurl these objects across the room at you if he concentrates hard enough.
          Deputy Brackett had donned a peculiar hat for their meeting. It was made entirely out of tinfoil.
          “I suppose you know why we’re here,” Booth said. “So I’ll skip the pleasantries and just ask if you’ll help us or not.”
          “You know I will,” Slade said.
          “Excellent,” Booth said. “We really need you on this case.”
          “Are we not going to acknowledge the hat?” Slade asked.
          “The tinfoil is to stop you from reading my thoughts,” Brackett explained as if this rationale was common sense.
          “I can still read your thoughts,” Slade informed him.
          “Prove it.”
          “Right now, you’re thinking about lunch. But last night, you had eight beers and one of those microwavable TV dinners. Then you touched yourself while looking at Victoria’s Secret catalogs. Thanks for the image, by the way. Oh, and you didn’t shower before you came into work today.”
          Brackett threw his tinfoil hat to the ground in frustration as Booth laughed it up. Then it was right down to business.
          “We’ve got a witness,” Booth shared with Slade. “Dean Phillips. Nine years old. He claims that Big Foot tore his father to bloody pieces.”
          “Now I see why you want me on the case,” Slade said.
          “All we’ve found at the crime scenes so far is hair. The boys say we’re looking at an animal. They’re just not sure on the species.”
          “We could be dealing with a Lycan,” Slade suggested.
          “Lycan? Wendigo? Where do you come up with these phrases?”
          “A Lycan is a werewolf in layman’s terms. But slightly different. Werewolves are afflicted by curse. They can only transform against their will at every full moon. Lycans on the other hand possess the ability to transform into their werewolf state at any given time they choose.”
          “I’m out,” Brackett said, raising his hands to the air in mock surrender. “I’m not tangling with any Lycans or werewolves.”
          “You won’t have to,” Slade told him. “I can handle this.”
          “Should we call Drake Furlong?” Booth asked.
          “No can do,” Slade said. “He’s off searching for any information he can find about the Black Lodge and Project Blackbird. Speaking of which, did you find out anything new about who was my legal guardian after my parents died?”
          “Not yet,” Booth said uncertainly. “But I’ll keep digging.”
          “See that you do,” Slade said. “Consider it my fee. In the meantime, I’ll look into this whole Big Foot allegation and report back to you if I find anything.”
* * *
          The night vision goggles he had acquired from Drake Furlong paid dividends that evening when Jacob Slade ventured out into the woods beyond Dorchester Park.
          It was ten o’clock, an hour past curfew. But Slade had been granted permission by Sheriff Booth to scour the grounds for as long as he needed. If the killer was human, Slade would’ve been able to get a mental reading on him.
          But his telepathic senses seemed to be blocked by whatever twisted fate awaited him.
          Slade believed in the legends of Big Foot. He’d seen video evidence, photographs, gigantic footprints left throughout the United States. If the beast that slaughtered all these innocent people had been Big Foot as Dean Phillips alleged, it would’ve left distinguishable prints behind.
          He couldn’t see too clearly past the green glare of the night vision goggles, but the rustling branches overhead told him he was not alone. It dropped to the ground with a heavy thud and soon the deranged primate came into focus.
          It wasn’t a monkey, as monkeys have tails and Slade didn’t see one. He determined by the size it had to be an ape. He estimated the weight somewhere between four-fifty and five hundred pounds, twice the size of an ordinary ape.
          The animal appeared to be enraged just at the sight of him. It pounded its chest and screeched as Slade reached for his gun. Guns weren’t his style, but if his past few experiences had taught him anything, it was that carrying a gun was mandatory in his line of work.
          The ape came charging and tried to take a chunk right out of his skull. He fired several deafening shots that echoed through the trees. He couldn’t tell if he had injured the ape or not, but he certainly succeeded in scaring it off into the night.
          He gave chase to the beast, but by the time he regained his senses, it was out of sight. He checked the ground for blood, and found none. He had missed every shot he took.
          He did a thorough search of the grounds again, but the ape was nowhere to be found in the encompassing woods of Dorchester Park.
          Jacob retired to his home after midnight, with more questions than he started out with.
* * *
          “I met Big Foot last night,” Slade told Booth over coffee that Friday. He was really craving a swig of bourbon, but Jacob was trying to cut back on the booze. “We’re not dealing with a Lycan as I suspected. We’re dealing with an ape. But this is no ordinary ape. It looked twice as big as any gorilla I’ve ever seen before.”
          “So we’re dealing with some kind of Super Gorilla?” Booth asked, a hint of sarcasm in his voice.
          “I’m not pulling your leg, Karl. This thing was huge. It went right for me. I did nothing to provoke it. The thing was filled with rage. It wanted my blood. It wanted it bad.”
          “So this is our killer? A runaway ape?”
          “It’s not the craziest thing I’ve ever heard.”
          “I won’t ask you what is.”
          “The ape didn’t look right, either. It looked sickly and disoriented.”
          “Can apes get rabies?”
          “Yes, but they tend to die faster than humans or other animals with rabies. But I don’t think that’s what we’re dealing with.”
          “Then what are we dealing with?”
          “Animal experimentation. Something or someone must be pulling this ape’s strings. And I’m going to find out who it is. There’s no zoo in Dorchester. Where’s the closest one?”
          “That would be in Greenville.”
          “Then that’s where we’re heading.”
* * *
          Greenville was host to many strange occurrences over the years. Bonnie Wheeler, the woman who had a one night stand with a mysterious stranger and nine months later gave birth to an infant with fangs and a taste for blood. Or Sam Shaw, the ghost that haunts the highways and hitches rides from unsuspecting drivers.
It was a town Slade had visited numerous times in the past. But this new case was a mystery even he hadn’t attempted to solve before. The local zoo was their only hope for answers.
          The Greenville Zoo was closed until further notice, but the zookeeper was there to unlock the gates for Slade and Booth.
    “Why are you closed?” Booth asked the zookeeper as he showed them around.
    “Too many break-ins,” the zookeeper explained. “The cost for extra security is bankrupting the owner. And people just aren’t as interested in the zoo as they used to be. The place may have to shut down permanently if this trend keeps up.”
          “Break-ins?” Booth raised an eyebrow.
          “Yes,” the zookeeper said. “Several animals have gone missing in the past three months. Thankfully none of them were on my watch. That’s not to say I’m happy the animals are missing. Just glad the boss isn’t pissed at me.”
          “Any apes go missing in the past few months?” Slade asked.
          “One gorilla was taken from its cage back in March.”
          “Do you remember the date?”
          “It was the third, I believe.”
          “The timeline matches up,” Slade said to Booth. “Thanks for the help,” Slade said to the zookeeper as they excused themselves. On the walk back to Booth’s patrol car, the name came to Slade. It had been on the tip of his tongue since he first laid eyes on the diseased primate.
          Hugo Brown. Dubbed the Mad Scientist of Sycamore, Hugo was an advocate for gene splicing and other forms of genetic experimentation. And his preferred test subjects were apes.
          “Where to?” Booth asked.
          “Sycamore, Long Island. We’re going to visit an old friend of mine.”
* * *
          Jacob was acquainted with Hugo Brown. He had once sought the mad scientists help in developing a possible cure for his strange afflictions. But Hugo failed to formulate a serum that rid Jacob of his powers.
          But this minor failure didn’t discourage Hugo’s later experiments. Doctor Brown had been busy. Very busy.
          For this occasion, Sheriff Booth had enlisted the services of Deputies Brackett and Cole. Brackett rode in the backseat with Cole, sans tinfoil hat.
          Flanked by Brackett and Cole who had their service revolvers drawn, Booth and Slade approached the front door and knocked vehemently. Of course, their thumps against the door garnered no response. So Slade was going to try and different approach as he raised one of his legs in the air, preparing the kick the door in with his combat boots.
          “Hold it!” Booth exclaimed. “We can’t kick the door in!”
          “Why not?” Slade shrugged his shoulders.
          “We don’t have a search warrant. We break into this house without a warrant, everything we find will be inadmissible as evidence. Hugo Brown will walk for whatever atrocities he’s committed.”
          The house was two-stories, not including the attic and basement. The basement windows had been blacked out by some type of residue that had been smeared over the glass. The windows were roughly fourteen inches wide, ten inches long. Even if he managed to shatter the glass without attracting any attention, he’d still never be able to squeeze through.
          And Karl Booth wouldn’t make it either. Not nearly as young or vibrant as had once been, Karl had given up on maintaining his physical appearance. His girth made Slade look like a ballerina by comparison.
          “You guys fall back,” Slade instructed them. “Take your patrol car and park down the street. There’s got to be a backdoor or side entrance. I’ll find a way in and take a look around myself. You guys might need a search warrant, but I don’t. Not if I’m alone and nobody knows. If I need backup, I’ll phone you.”
          Booth was hesitant, but he eventually turned back towards his patrol car and instructed his men to follow. They took off down the block and Slade crept around the side of the house.
          He found a backdoor, slightly ajar. “This is too easy,” Slade whispered to himself. He had his gun at his side, and removed it from the holster quietly and thumbed back the hammer. His index finger was wrapped taut around the trigger as he entered.
          The house had fallen into a state of disrepair since the last time Jacob had passed through. But it wasn’t the decaying walls or the filthy kitchen littered with debris that concerned him. It was what Hugo Brown was brewing downstairs.
          He tiptoed through the kitchen and moved to the hall. He had yet to see a sign of life as he approached the door to the cellar, which housed Hugo’s laboratory.
          Slade crept down the staircase and as he reached the bottom step, a bare light bulb popped on in Brown’s damp cellar-slash-laboratory.
          He was a paper-thin man and Slade’s eyes could clearly trace the outline of his ribcage beneath Brown’s clothing. With his shiny bald head, Van Dyke beard, and grey collarless suit, Hugo Brown’s image replicated the likeness of the James Bond villain, Blofeld. All he was missing was the white cat to stroke and pet. But to compensate for his lack of a feline companion, Brown had his barbaric primate in tow.
          “Extraordinary, isn’t it? Half man, half primate, but all rage. All it took was a combination of gene splicing and daily injections of my own brand of super steroids. The drug enhances rage, aggression, and increases the animal’s physical attributes.”
          “Why, Hugo? Why?”
          “The real question is how. And the answer is devolution. I’ve reversed the process, forcing man to regress back to his primal state. Soon I’ll have an army of savage primates fueled with rage. The world will kneel before me, and one by one, they will all turn. I’m going to plunge us back into the Prehistoric Ages, when man and beast were bound as one.”
          “I didn’t want to believe all those reporters and animal rights activists. But it’s true. You’re mad.”
          “I’m a mad genius is what I am. You can join me, you know? There’s still time. Work by my side, or suffer the same fate as my hairy chum here.”
          “Fuck that,” Slade said bluntly. “I vote for the third option.” Slade reached for the Taser he had acquired from Karl Booth on the ride to Sycamore and zapped the beast, bringing the ape down to one knee.
          It still had some fight left in it, so Slade increased the voltage. It wasn’t his intention to kill it. But he had to find a way of subduing it.
          “Stop!” Hugo cried. “You’re killing it!” He drew a needle from his pocket, dripping with the same concoction that Hugo had injected his latest experiment with. As he came charging, Slade fired one shot with his gun, hitting Brown in the shoulder.
          Once the beast was rendered unconscious, Slade stood victorious over a wounded Brown. “The antidote, Hugo,” he demanded. “How do you reverse the process so I can turn this person human again?”
          Hugo laughed, applying pressure to his shoulder to halt the blood spurts. “There is no antidote. My research didn’t carry me that far. Not yet. There’s currently no way to reverse the process. I’m afraid the best you can do is ship our friend back to the Greenville zoo.”
* * *
          Slade called it in and Booth returned with his men. Hugo Brown was taken out on a stretcher in handcuffs. “Even if he pleads insanity, he’ll never see the light of day,” Booth assured Slade and his men.
          “That was damn good work,” Deputy Brackett commended Slade.
          “Agreed,” Deputy Cole added. “It was a gutsy move. I don’t know if I could have pulled it off alone.”
          “How do we address the eight-hundred pound gorilla in the room so to speak?” Booth asked.
          “Brown claims there’s no antidote. I looked through his files. I think he’s telling the truth. Seeing as how the process can never be reversed, I’d said euthanizing it would be the humane thing to do. It’s too aggressive, too bloodthirsty to coexist in any habitat. I’m afraid it's the only logical solution.”
          “I’ll see that it’s taken of care of,” Booth said.
          “Well, it looks like my work is done here,” Slade said. “Here’s your Taser,” he added, returning Booth’s property. “And Karl, next time you need my help…please call someone else.”
* * *
          “Jacob, there’s something I need to tell you,” Karl Booth told Slade over the phone. It was just a few days after Hugo Brown’s trial that Booth had called. Brown had been sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole, and Jacob was satisfied with the outcome. Then Booth had to call and spoil his good mood.
“It concerns Project Blackbird and your adoption. Your legal guardian at the time you were volunteered for Project Blackbird…it was me. I was your legal guardian. I signed the papers. I can’t apologize enough. They promised me a better life for you. Heightened senses, enhanced strength, superior intelligence. They never told me they’d be turning you into a mutant.”
          “How…how could you, Karl?”
          “I thought it was honestly what was best for you. I see now that I was wrong.”
          “The Black Lodge, where is it? I know you’re hiding more, Karl. Tell me every last detail.”
          “It’s right here. It’s not on Long Island, but it’s in New York. Upstate, near Albany. It won’t be hard to find for men like you and Drake.”
          “Is the place guarded?”
          “Heavily guarded. I’d be surprised if you made it past the first gate.”
          “So we’re going to need help.”
          “Count me out,” Booth told him. “I’ve helped you as much as I can."
          “I’m not talking about you. I think Drake and I are going to have to acquire the services of more, ‘mutants’, as you called us. They’re hard to find, but they do exist in this world. We’ll have to assemble the perfect team."
          “I wish you the best of luck. You’re going to need it."
          “Don’t wish us luck. Wish the creators of Project Blackbird luck. We’re going to find the truth and expose it to the world.”

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