The Hunting Tree
design by BelleDesign [BelleDesign.org]
by Ike Hamill at Smashwords
2012-2017 by Ike
Hamill. All rights reserved.
book is a work of fiction. All names, characters, places, and events
have been fabricated only to entertain. This book may not be
reproduced in whole or in part without the consent of Ike Hamill.
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One - Stage of Possibilities
One - Crooked Tree
Two - Davey
Three - Mike
Four - Davey
Five - Mike
Six - Crooked Tree
Seven - Davey
Eight - Mike
Nine - Crooked Tree
Ten - Davey
Eleven - Mike
Twelve - Crooked Tree
Thirteen - Davey
Fourteen - Mike
Two - Stage of Hunger
Fifteen - Crooked Tree
Sixteen - Davey
Seventeen - Mike
Eighteen - Crooked Tree
Nineteen - Davey
Twenty - Mike
Twenty One - Crooked Tree
Twenty Two - Davey
Twenty Three - Mike
Twenty Four - Crooked Tree
Twenty Five - Davey
Twenty Six - Mike
Twenty Seven - Crooked Tree
Twenty Eight - Davey
Twenty Nine - Mike
Thirty - Davey
Three - Stage of the Hunt
Thirty One - Mike
Thirty Two - Ken Stuart
Thirty Three - Davey
Thirty Four - Mike
Thirty Five - Davey
Thirty Six - Mike
Thirty Seven - Davey
Thirty Eight - Mike
Thirty Nine - Davey
Forty - Mike
Forty One - Crooked Tree
Forty Two - Davey Epilogue
The Hunting Tree
Look - Blood Ghost
- Stage of Possibilities -
Tree - 3141 B.C.
He stood in back between his
brother and his father, but he really wanted to be nearer to the edge
of the cliff. On the journey he’d caught a glimpse of the
spectacular view through the trees. From up here they could probably
see all the way to where the big rivers came together—the place
they would meet with the other families at the end of summer. On his
toes, he could at least spy the fuzzy, purple horizon. At sixteen,
Crooked Tree already stood taller than any of his relatives. He was
even taller than his brother, Running Deer, who was the strongest and
most popular youngster of their whole group.
Tree flexed his legs. His muscles ached from travel. Their four-dozen
family members had walked for days to arrive at this cliff on this
warm spring day, but Crooked Tree had run most of it—back and forth
between his father and Talking Bird. Talking Bird led the group and
his father brought up the rear. The tall boy was their messenger,
repeating each string of words verbatim.
at the front of the group on a black rock, at the very edge of the
cliff, Talking Bird explained their duty: “Our people were once
herded by the Snake. He kept us as his pets; he watched over us. When
we turned sour he culled with a swift bite and a tight coil.”
had left in a hurry four days before, collecting meager rations and
water along the way. Talking Bird had surprised everyone with this
trip and had only conferred with Big Bear, who was the natural leader
of the clan. Such a trip wasn’t completely unprecedented. As they
began their journey, several people remembered another spring day
when Talking Bird had uprooted the group and sent them up the
hillside just before a flood washed through and destroyed their home
camp. The old man was wise and trusted. When his voice broke the
still morning everyone straightened and listened.
Tree tried hard to focus on the old man’s words. Whenever Talking
Bird would begin his low, slow cadence, it was all Crooked Tree could
do to pay attention. His mind would wander and he’d always miss a
crucial part of the message. He’d wait for his father to explain it
later. The rest of the group seemed to sense something important. The
extended family stood as still as the rocks that dotted the rough
clearing. Even the children and babies knew that it was time to stay
the Man Who Created Himself opened this valley, he stood before the
Snake and said ‘We will decide now,’” said Talking Bird.
heads nodded. At Crooked Tree’s right, Running Deer whooped,
punctuating the story.
he really meant that he
would decide who should come together to bring more children,”
Talking Bird reminded the group. “It was much later that we bore
our mothers and fathers choose the wisest pairings,” said Talking
Bird. This was met with more nods from the clan. “And we alone are
left to decide when our blood has become poisoned. This is the dream
Tree saw fewer nods at this last line, and many heads dropped.
Mothers with young children hugged them close. His own mother wasn’t
among those standing in the perfect spring sun. She had died just
after Running Deer had weaned. Crooked Tree and his brother had been
raised by many of the women standing in the group, and that had made
it awkward for him to find any of their daughters attractive. They
seemed like his sisters. At the next gathering he planned to find a
young woman from another clan and follow her home. That would leave
Running Deer able to step into his father’s role eventually without
being blocked by him, the older son. He closed his eyes, thought of
the approaching summer, and inhaled the beautiful wet edge of the air
from the forest behind them.
have come to this moment,” said Talking Bird, “when Sun Bringer
tells us through our dreams that dark spirits are in our blood, and
in the blood of our children. We carry the mark, and it will always
Bird had to raise his voice to be heard over the wails of the women.
“We may weep, but we have a duty, just as it would be our duty to
fill this valley with our children if we ran strong.”
Tree snuck a glance at his father, Big Bear, to his left. His
father’s face was a mask of grim resolve. He wanted to ask his
father what was happening, but Talking Bird wasn’t done with his
I ask you to follow me. I will lead the way. Step with me now,”
ordered Talking Bird. With his eyes moving across the crowd, Talking
Bird took a small half-step backward and then leaned way back until
he was almost overbalanced over the cliff edge.
women’s wails drew to a crescendo as the group began to move.
Talking Bird could fall backwards over the edge of the cliff, his
extended family rushed forward and threw themselves over the edge.
Some mothers clutched their children to their chest before jumping
over the ledge. Others threw their babies, tossing them in high arcs
past the tumbling bodies.
them,” Big Bear said to his sons.
up the rear, Big Bear, Crooked Tree, and Running Deer herded the
group to their death and waited for stragglers or cowards to bolt
away from the edge. Their family was strong and proud and took their
duty seriously. In the end, the father and two sons reached the cliff
and found no stragglers. Their family lay dead in a bloody heap,
hundreds of feet below the black rock where Talking Bird had
delivered his final address.
are strong,” Big Bear told his sons, “this is a proud day.”
Tree and Running Deer watched their father gather his legs and leap;
their father folded his arms back to his sides and smiled.
go, brother,” said Running Deer.
still hadn’t figured the whole thing out, but his heart told him
that he belonged with the rest of his family, and he should follow
jumped together, feet first, and fell at the same pace. Just over the
edge their eyes locked and Running Deer whooped for the last time in
his young life.
— Two Years Ago…
“Just a quick one?” Davey
begged. He sat up in his bed while his father, Christopher, waited to
tuck him in.
tonight, bud,” said Christopher.
I’ve been seven for a month, and you said you couldn’t tell me
the old stories until I was seven,” said Davey.
fair,” Susan interjected from the doorway. “I was seven three
years ago, and I’ve
never heard those
told you,” explained Christopher, “that they’re not to be told
to kids one at a time.”
tell us now,” said Susan. She came into Davey’s room and climbed
over the frame at the end of his bed. She propped a pillow against
the wall and made herself comfortable.
just isn’t a good night for it,” said Christopher. He was
thinking about Melanie. She was still downstairs, muttering at the TV
with a full glass of wine. Up until three glasses she was fine, but
her anger always came out with the fourth. This wasn’t a night he
wanted to be caught telling old ghost stories to the kids.
stretched out her legs and pushed her blond hair behind her ears.
Davey stared at Christopher with unwavering intensity.
wasn’t a pushover, but he knew when he was beat. He reached behind
him and pulled Davey’s little chair from under the desk. It was a
tiny room, just big enough for the single bed, a bureau, and a
cramped desk. Christopher had to maneuver around the chair just to
spin it. When his foot caught on the edge of the bed he nearly
flipped over backwards.
he’d finally put his legs to the side and found the seat, he
agreed—“Okay, but just a short one.”
one do you want to hear? There’s the one where the twins slept too
long side-by-side and their hair grew together,” said Christopher.
don’t know,” said Christopher, “that one’s pretty scary. What
about the Stages of the Night?”
repeated Davey. He flopped back down, pulling his covers up to his
said Christopher. He snuck one more look over his shoulder to make
sure his wife wasn’t within earshot and then started his story—“A
long time ago, in the middle of winter, a little family was snowed in
for the night. They lived in a little cabin in the woods and they had
a good fire going, so it was nice and cozy inside. The dad put his
kids to bed early, so they could get up at dawn and help him dig out
once the snow quit drifting. The kids, a girl and a boy, had never
known their mother—she died at childbirth.”
were their names?” asked Susan.
do you want to call them?” Christopher asked her.
and Davey!” his son interjected.
let’s give them make-believe names,” said Christopher.
and Ava,” said Susan.
continued—“So the dad, we’ll call him John, he put the twins to
bed, but he had to go back out into the night. He had a night job
watching over the town granary.”
a granary?” asked Davey.
sister tsked and rolled her eyes—“It’s where they kept the
grain, retard,” she said.
use that word,” said Christopher automatically.
she mumbled. Susan rearranged her nightgown and tried to seem
yes, John watched over the community supplies of food and livestock,”
said Christopher. “He felt bad leaving his kids alone all night
when he worked. They were only about your age, Davey, but they were
good kids and didn’t make any trouble when Dad had to work at
night. At least until that night: the snowy night, when Liam found
out firsthand about the Stages.”
saw Susan’s right hand move up to her mouth and then away. She knew
she wasn’t supposed to suck her thumb, but it was a deep-rooted
habit. Davey still had his big smile. Nothing seemed to scare Davey;
he was happiest amongst the spooky and ghoulish.
continued—“That night, when the whole world was covered with a
thick blanket of snow, and the blowing flakes spattered against the
side of their cabin like sand, that was the night that Liam decided
to see the Stages for himself. He wanted to know if the old stories
his uncles told were really true. The uncles always warned the kids
to be asleep before the Stages started, or else they’d be sorry.”
are the Stages?” asked Davey.
let out an exasperated sigh, but Christopher continued on,
incorporating Davey’s interruption—“The Stages are like the
chapters the night moves through after everyone is supposed to be
asleep. The first stage is the Stage of Possibilities. You see,
daylight keeps everything orderly; makes everything obey the laws of
nature. Gravity, physics, life, death—these are all concepts of
daylight,” he glanced back and forth between their blue eyes. “If
you stay up too late all those rules disappear, and the shapes and
shadows of the night are free to turn into hungry monsters. The old
black rock near the pond will shift and become an angry dog with huge
fangs, dripping with blood. Liam thought he would be okay because
everything was cold and frozen outside. He just wanted to see what
would happen, so he kept one eye open and watched the firelight play
against the walls while his sister fell asleep.”
had pulled her legs up close to her body. Davey’s eyelids looked
a long time, Liam didn’t think anything would happen. But then he
finally saw,” said Christopher. “Next to the fire, their Dad kept
a pail for hauling away the ashes. That pail cast a big shadow on the
wall next to the door. Where the handle attached, a hole let a little
light through, and it gave the big shadow an eye, to watch over the
room. As Liam peeked between his thick fur covers, the head of the
shadow turned to look at him, even though the pail never moved. Liam
held himself perfectly still as the shadow slinked off to the left
and out of sight. He didn’t want to turn his head to follow it. He
thought if he turned his head and revealed he was awake, the thing
would certainly come after him. You see, Liam had stayed awake until
everything was possible. There were no more rules to keep that shadow
from turning into a monster.”
assessed his children. Davey was still grinning, but his eyelids
drooped and swayed. Susan was curled up, hugging her knees to her
chest. He lowered his tone, hoping to lull the kids the rest of the
way to sleep—“When the monster moved, this was the second stage,
the Stage of Hunger. This is where everything called to life by
haunted imagination roams the earth. Liam was frozen with his fear.
He wanted to call out and wake Ava, but he was too afraid. His heart
pounded in his ears. It was so loud he thought for sure the
shadow-monster would hear. The fire popped and Liam nearly screamed,”
sucked in a startled breath. She forgot herself and took her thumb
into her mouth.
strained his ears and tried to ignore the sounds of the fire. That’s
when he heard it. A scraping noise, barely audible at first, was
getting louder and louder. Liam shrunk down under his blankets,
hoping to make himself disappear into his bed. Scrape, scrape,
scrape. In her sleep, Ava groaned as if she sensed what was coming.
Scrape, scrape, scrape. The sound got louder and louder until Liam
didn’t think he could stand it any more. He wanted to run from
their little cabin, out into the night, to get away from the sinister
shadow-monster. And then…” Christopher trailed off. It looked
like he would get away with it—both kids were sliding into their
own dream-world, the troubling story already forgotten.
took a breath and prepared to rise from his seat.
what?” asked Davey. Christopher was startled. He looked between
Davey and Susan and found them both alert and ready for more.
he said. He lowered his voice again and got back into character—“And
then, CRASH! The door banged open and their father, John, burst in
from the cold night.”
it,” said Davey.
it?” asked Susan. She shook her head. “That’s a crappy ending.”
really?” asked Christopher, raising his eyebrows. “But that’s
not the ending, as far as I know. Oh well, I guess I must have it
wrong. Ready for bed then?”
both kids yelled.
he glanced back at the hallway. “But I thought this story was too
predictable and crappy,” said Christopher.
on—please tell us the rest?” begged Susan.
I guess,” said Christopher. “There’s not that much more to
waited a beat, until he captured their full attention.
came in to the cozy cabin slapping the snow from his clothes and
warming himself by the glowing fire. Liam sat up straight and threw
back his covers. He ran to his dad and hugged him around the waist.
John lifted him from the ground and said ‘Liam, what are you doing
up?’ Liam explained about how he had defied the Stages and stayed
up, inadvertently awaking the shadow-monster. John comforted his
son—‘It’s okay, Liam. What you saw was just a regular shadow.
You thought it walked away, but it was just the fire dying down. Now
that I’ve stoked it, the shadow comes right back, see?’”
kids nodded along with Christopher.
continued: “So Liam went back to his bed and watched his father get
ready for his own rest. His body was warm and safe, but his thoughts
were still troubled. This time he thought about the Stage of the
Hunt, what his uncle called the ‘Hungry Feast.’ That stage was
supposed to be particularly
dangerous. All the hungry hunters prowling the dark would make even a
peaceful man’s blood boil. Liam realized he hadn’t been paying
attention, maybe he’d even drifted off—his father was missing.”
happened to him?” asked Davey—his voice a smiling whisper.
Christopher shuddered a little at his son’s morbid curiosity.
the question that drove Liam from his bed. All he could think was
that somehow the shadow-monster was somehow real. He imagined his
father struggling for his life, and Liam pushed off his covers to go
help. He couldn’t bear the thought that his dad would be killed by
something that his curiosity had called to life.”
he stayed up too late?” asked Davey.
said Christopher. He noticed that Susan’s chin was resting on her
chest—she had drifted off at last. He lowered his voice to a
whisper and continued the story for Davey—“So Liam crept away
from his bed, tiptoeing across the room to the passage that led to
the summer room. When he was about to round the corner, Liam got his
second big scare of the night. Right around the corner, as if waiting
for him to approach, came…" Christopher paused, but Davey
offered no guess, “his father.”
waited for Davey to be disappointed again, but Davey just watched. If
Davey had been someone else’s son, Christopher would have called
continued—“Liam was glad to see his father alive and well, and
was even more comforted at what his father said next—‘Liam,
you’re just jumpy tonight. You can sleep in my bed until you settle
down.’ Liam nodded and followed his dad to the big bed, farthest
away from the fire. His dad hugged him tight under the heavy covers,
and Liam knew nothing bad could happen to him in his father’s
strong arms. At least that’s what he thought until he felt his
father’s hot breath on the back of his head. That’s when Liam
remembered why the Stage of the Hunt was so dangerous. It was one of
the most feared Stages because it was contagious.”
understood—Christopher could tell from his eyes.
next thing Liam did was the last thing he would ever do. He rolled
over to look his father in the eyes. He looked his father in his
glowing… red… eyes.”
Davey breathed. His eyes fell shut with the word. As if, now
satisfied with a gruesome ending, Davey could finally sleep in peace.
Christopher shook his head reflexively—dismissing the revulsion he
would never admit feeling.
leaned over—“Ready for bed?” Christopher whispered in Susan’s
reached towards her and she put up her arms. He plucked her from
Davey’s bed quietly, not moving the bed more than an eighth of an
inch. Christopher was clumsy, except when it came to his kids. With
his kids he was strong and graceful.
carried Susan to her room and slid her under thick covers. She had a
better room than her brother, but it would still be cramped for a
teenage girl, which she would soon become. Their inadequate house
pushed at the back of Christopher’s thoughts, like a forgotten
errand. Now that the kids were in school most of the day, he was
supposed to go back to work. It had been nearly a decade since he’d
decided to be a stay-at-home dad; the prospect of a job-search was
pulled up the covers, kissed her forehead, and tucked her in tight.
night, sweetie,” he said.
she replied. She turned her head and closed her eyes.
backed out slowly and closed the door to just a crack.
in Davey’s room, his son had already kicked most of the covers off.
Christopher rearranged Davey’s limbs and folded back the heaviest
blankets. Davey was always radiating heat, but he was even hotter
tonight, still getting over the tail of a fever. Christopher leaned
in to kiss Davey’s forehead when he saw the mark.
dug in his pocket for a mildly-used tissue. Pushing Davey’s hair
back, Christopher wiped the white smudge from his son’s neck.
Christopher left the tissue in Davey’s trashcan and closed the door
most of the way.
the kids safely to bed, he turned his attention to his wife. She
would be downstairs, either talking on the phone or watching
television, a glass of wine clenched in her right hand. Some nights,
maybe even most nights, she didn’t drink at all. They would stay up
until the news, talking, making plans, and cleaning up the kitchen.
Nights like these, where she would be on her fifth or sixth glass of
wine when he tucked in the kids, had become a regular part of
Christopher’s life. On those nights he had three children, and it
was time for him to see the third to bed.
flipped on the light at the top of the stairs and put his hand on the
railing. Even something he did dozens of times a day, something that
any normal man of thirty-six years would completely take for granted,
was affected by Christopher’s clumsiness. Ever since he was a
little boy, as young as Davey was that night, Christopher had learned
to always use a handrail when climbing or descending stairs. He
noise from the end of the long hall, from the door to the master
bedroom, claimed his attention and he turned his head. He wondered if
Melanie, his wife, had somehow managed to slip past him while he was
tucking in their children.
* * * *
Melanie woke on top of the
covers, blinking away the light from the nightstand lamp. She rolled
over and reached for the slender stem of her glass, but she wanted
water, not more burgundy. Melanie glanced at the clock, suddenly
confused and waking up quickly. It read two seventeen.
cried Davey, from the next room. “DAD!” he screamed.
sat up. It felt like her body was two steps ahead of her brain and
she settled back down on her elbows. Christopher would see to Davey.
There was no need for both of them to get up if Davey was yelling for
eyes were half-closed again before her confusion came back even
should have been there by now.
time Melanie sat up and swung her legs off the side of the bed. She
pushed to her feet and steadied herself on the bureau. She ran
fingers through her hair as she consulted the mirror. She
straightened her blouse and smoothed the front of her slacks. Her
head began a slow drumbeat in time with her pulse. There would be a
headache waiting for her in the morning if she didn’t get that
glass of water. Davey’s room was two doors down.
wrong, honey?” she asked, as she pushed open Davey’s door. The
hall light was on, so she didn’t open it all the way.
think I stayed up too long,” he cried.
What do you mean?” she knelt next to his bed and smoothed his hair.
wanted to stay up until the Stage of Possibilities, just to see,”
he said frantically.
she said, “don’t wake up your sister. Just tell me what
started again, slower, as if explaining something very complicated—“I
wanted to stay up to see the Stage of Possibilities, so I could see
what it looked like,” he whispered.
does that mean, honey?” she asked, while she stroked his face. She
reached over clicked on his lamp. The bulb came on slowly, with its
slightly cold fluorescent light.
told us about how the night has stages. I just wanted to see the
first stage, so I tried really hard to stay up. Even when the scary
noises started, I just pinched myself on the arm, see?" He
pulled his arm from under the covers. A string of welts ran from his
wrist up to his elbow. One had a small spot of blood from his sharp
honey,” Melanie licked her thumb and wiped the blood from his arm.
She cleaned her thumb on a tissue from the nightstand and then used
the tissue to wipe a smudge from the side of Davey’s face.
scary noises stopped at one, zero, seven,” he pointed to the clock
on his bookshelf. “And nothing happened for a long time. I almost
went to sleep, but then, at two, zero, zero, I saw it.”
Dad tell you scary stories before bed?” Melanie asked as she
tightened her mouth.
stowed her anger for later, and tried to recover a more appropriate,
sympathetic look. “What did you see?”
saw the sideways-head thing over there,” he pointed at the corner
where his dresser met the wall.
the sideways-head thing?” she asked.
looked normal until about here,” he indicated his chest, “but
then, where the head should be, it was all sideways. And it made a
sound—it sounded like this,” Davey made a low growling sound in
the back of his throat. She was nodding sympathetically when he
started the noise, but her head stopped moving on its own. That noise
coming from her son was creepy. The hair stood up on the back of her
it was over here?” she asked, crossing to the dresser.
I think that was your imagination,” she said, looking around the
dresser. “Or maybe you fell asleep and didn’t know it, and then
had a bad dream.”
Mom…” he began.
cut him off, “Honey, there’s nothing over here, and if something
had been here, I’m sure I’d see a sign of it.”
in the Stage of Possibilities…” he started.
talk with your father about the Stage of Whatever in the morning,
okay?” she asked.
I just talk with Dad now? I just want to ask him something,” begged
don’t want to wake up Dad,” she said. “He had a long day, I’m
sighed—“Okay, I’ll go get him. You stay here,” she said. She
left his light on and pulled his door shut.
Davey’s room, she noticed the light at the top of the stairs.
Melanie moved quickly at first, but then slowed as she approached the
stairs. She rounded the corner with her breath held, but then
released as she relaxed.
did I expect to see? she
it!” Davey shrieked from right behind her. Melanie jumped and
nearly slipped on the top stair. Her hand shot out and touched the
wall, steadying her balance.
you scared the life out of me!” she said. “I thought I asked you
to stay in bed.” She knelt down next to him.
going on?” Susan asked shuffling from her dark room, rubbing her
eye with her knuckle.
okay, go back to bed, dear,” said Melanie.
Mom,” yelled Davey, “that’s it, that’s it. It’s right
straightened up and rolled her eyes. “Okay, Davey, what?" She
turned around and looked down the stairs where Davey pointed, but
still didn’t see anything but stairs that descended down into their
reached to the wall and flipped the switch for the lights at the
bottom of the stairs.
when Melanie’s inebriated, thirty-four-year-old eyes saw what Davey
pointed at—the sideways-head thing.
steps from the bottom, with an outstretched arm clawing a tread, a
perfectly normal body lay. But the body was topped with an
abomination. The neck skin was split—torn and stretched. The man’s
face was pointed down and away, his chin resting on his back. All
Davey and his mother could see from the top of the stairs was the
back of the Christopher’s head.
crossed the hall and came up next to her brother and mom to see what
the light had revealed.
was the first to scream—“Dad! Oh Dad!” she cried as she pounded
the stairs to her father.
fuck,” said Melanie.
— Present Day
“Bathroom?” Mike asked, his
body halfway into the cramped gas station. It was a stretch, but he
was desperate. He couldn’t imagine finding a public restroom
somehow jammed into this small space—packed-in shelves filled with
the squat cashier said between clicks and pops of gum. “Try the Tim
Hor’uns. They open.”
the cahnuh,” she waved. “Tim Hor’uns.”
he was halfway back to the van before he mentally inserted the
missing “T” and came up with Tim Horton’s, a chain of coffee
shops. Sure enough, around the corner from the tiny gas outpost, they
found a Tim Horton’s lighting up the darkness.
could call this a one-horse town, but I bet they have tons of horses,
and cows, and chickens.” Mike chuckled.
that?” Gary asked. When Gary drove he dropped into a deep trance.
should call it a one-bathroom town instead of a one-horse town,”
Mike amended, his chuckle now forced.
this it?” Gary asked, pulling into the parking lot.
thanks,” said Mike.
jumped out as Gary was still bringing the huge van to a stop. He
rounded the front, walking a stiff-legged shuffle to contain his
with the van,” he said when Gary’s door swung open.
want to get something,” said Gary.
got thirty-thousand dollars of equipment in there—please stay with
the van,” said Mike. His temper was fueled by his urgency to use
said Gary. “Get me a doughnut.”
tugged at the restaurant’s door, but his hand snapped back empty.
He reached and grabbed the other handle, which pulled easily. He
hustled in and found a friendly door on his right. Ten minutes later,
after a loud and malodorous session which he attributed to that
evening’s Greek salad, Mike exited the men’s room.
young man and older woman stood behind the counter, staring at Mike.
approached the counter trying to look casual, but he read unmasked
disgust in their eyes.
I get a dozen glazed?” he asked.
we got is cherry,” said the young man.
Mike considered, “could I get a dozen cherry?”
we got is six.”
Six cherry and a diet then,” said Mike, reaching for his wallet.
* * * *
Outside, Mike found the van
abandoned and the driver’s door open.
poked his head around the corner of the building with a cigarette in
I just ask you to stay with the van?” Mike asked his approaching
don’t want me to smoke in there. I went over here,” he waved.
you close the door and lock it when you leave?”
was listening to the radio,” said Gary.
held out the bag of doughnuts in one hand and rubbed his temples with
the other. “Whatever,” he said, “let’s get going.”
on it,” said Gary, jumping back in the driver’s seat with his bag
* * * *
When they finally got back to
the gravel lot, they found that their site had changed. Another car
waited in the lot, and a group of teenagers were down next to the
flipped on the night-vision scope. It emitted a high-pitched tone as
like kids drinking,” said Gary. “Want me to go run them off?”
no,” said Mike. “That might even be better. Sometimes human
activity actually fuels the entities.”
sat in silence while Gary observed the teens.
knock on the passenger’s window startled the men. Mike spilled his
he whispered. He rolled down his window a few inches—“You scared
the shit out of me.”
Dr. Mike,” she said, smiling. “Am I early?”
you’re right on time,” he said, recapping his drink. The girl
outside the window backed away as he pushed open the van door. “We’re
about to get set up. You can help me in back.”
is so exciting,” she said.
you have a sweater or something?” Mike asked. “It might get cold
fine,” she waved, “I’m from around here; I don’t get cold
led the young woman around to the rear of the van and motioned for
her to stand aside as he pulled open the back doors.
look at all that stuff,” she said.
lowered a built-in stepladder to the ground and smiled at her
appeared from the left side. “Hey, I’m Gary.”
she said, taking Gary’s hand. “I’m Katie Brown, from Bowdoin.
The college, not the town.” She pointed south.
going to be studying that area of rocks, just past that sign,” said
Mike, stepping between them.
know that place,” said Katie. “Sometimes kids go down there to
get drunk. Mostly high-school kids though.”
ever seen anything down there Katie?” asked Gary.
said Katie. “I’ve heard of it, but I don’t drink.”
for you,” said Gary softly, tilting his head.
said Mike. “We’ll set up the narrow transmitter from here, and
then we’ll get multiple angles with the thermals and infrared.”
is the new one?” asked Katie. “The narrow one? Is that it?”
said Mike. “The main thing we’re testing here tonight is my new
narrowband amplifying transmitter.”
invented it?” asked Katie.
said Mike. He turned to the van and started pulling equipment. “Gary,
can you get this on the roof and aim it at the bottom part of the
problem.” Gary made a show of hauling the tripod up the ladder on
the side of the van.
handed the end of a cord up to Gary and swiveled a rack of equipment
so it faced out the back of the van. He reset knobs and powered up
the equipment as Gary mounted and pointed the antenna.
what’s it do, exactly?” asked Katie.
ignored her for the moment—“Hey, Gary, what’s your compass
can think of it like a power supply for paranormal activity,” Mike
explained as he began his calibration process. “Gary and I measured
specific types and frequencies of energy that were being drawn, or
tapped into, by paranormal activity. You ready, Gary?”
Gary called down from the roof.
Mike said to Katie, “we’re going to calibrate the baseline."
He pointed to a display which showed a jagged horizontal line.
“Gary’s going to do a slow spin of that antenna to find the
natural hotspots." They watched the display closely as noise
moved quickly across the line. A giant spike tracked across the line
from right to left.
that?” asked Katie?
just the sun,” said Mike. “Too big to be anything local. What’s
your bearing Gary?”
in the two-forties,” said Gary.
see, that’s about west,” said Mike. “We always get a big hit
roughly west. It’s probably some lingering effects of the sunset."
They waited for almost a minute before their next spike. This one
rose only a fraction of the previous reading.
back at south?” Mike asked Gary.
that’s the thing we’re here to measure tonight. You can see that
it’s pretty small right now, but we’ll be able to jack it up when
we turn on the emitter,” Mike informed Katie.
jumped down from the ladder and landed beside Mike and Katie. “Ready
for cameras?” he asked.
You want to show Katie the ropes while I finish the calibration and
tuning?” asked Mike.
be glad to,” said Gary. “If you could grab a reel of those
cables, Miss Katie?”
Katie,” she replied.
smiled at his dials.
* * * *
Thirty minutes later, all the
equipment and cables had been properly deployed. The three
researchers gathered inside the van to monitor the displays.
you could just slide in a little and shut that door, Katie?” asked
Mike. “We like to make sure that people driving by don’t get
curious when we turn on the video equipment.”
sure,” she said.
control center showed them the river at the base of the dam, the
rocks, and a group of drunk teens passing a bottle around their small
you can see from this meter,” Mike said, continuing his tutorial,
“there’s some activity down there, but we don’t see any visual,
infrared, or thermal evidence. Those kids don’t seem too impressed
either. But, if we use our amplifier, we should be able to find a
resonant frequency for the entity to tap into.”
does that make it visible?” asked Katie.
we don’t know yet,” said Gary.
true,” said Mike. “We’ve detected this energy drop several
times, and we surmise that the activity is limited by the amount of
energy in the area, but this is the first time we’ll attempt to
cool,” she said, “so this is groundbreaking.”
certainly hope so,” said Mike. “Let’s start small. Give it an
that,” said Gary. He made an adjustment. “Okay, we’re there.”
yet,” said Mike. “No change from the ambient levels at all. We
might need to cross a threshold to see results. Try ramping up to
five over thirty seconds.”
do,” said Gary.
held out his watch and slowly turned the large dial. After ten
seconds the three looked up to the roof as the humming sound grew in
intensity. When the dial read three, a set of headphones hanging from
a hook began to rattle. Mike pulled them down and sat the headphones
on shelf, but they resumed rattling when he let go.
going?” asked Gary.
said Mike, studying his meter. “I think it’s about to start
that thing is supposed to go down?” asked Katie.
this display is inverted, but if we see a spike it would represent
the energy decreasing. The theory being…” he trailed off. “Wait
a second. Hold it there, Gary.”
but we’re pulling some serious power. We’ll only have a couple
minutes of output,” said Gary.
think that might just be enough,” said Mike. He tapped the display
and Gary and Katie looked over his shoulder. “See this?”
like it’s gathering or something,” said Gary.
said Mike, transfixed by the jagged green line.
Mike?” asked Katie. “Dr. Mike?” she said louder.
asked Mike. He snapped around. Katie pointed at the video display
which showed the output of one of the infrared cameras. The picture
showed green teens, drinking on green rocks, next to a green river.
At the center of the image a green blob slid slowly uphill towards
the teens. “What is
that?” she whispered.
Gary, turn it off,” said Mike.
fumbled for the big dial and spun it with both hands until the knob
clicked off. Mike turned back to his readout, horrified. “It’s
still drawing,” he informed them. “It’s drawing more than
think they see it,” said Katie, drawing their attention back to the
the screen, the teens had dropped their bottle and their circle had
flattened, with all five members scrambling backwards, away from the
water’s edge. One boy, in the direct path of the creeping entity,
doesn’t he run?” cried Katie. “We should go help him.”
is amazing,” said Gary. “We’ve never caught anything this
what’s going to happen to that kid?” Katie scanned the various
can’t hurt you,” said Gary. “They’re like psychic movies.”
never seen anything this powerful, Gary. She might have a point,”
they had a chance to act on any decisions, the blob leapt towards the
drunk teen, gaining definition as it moved closer. Even through the
crude night-vision, the researchers could discern a gaunt woman with
shoulder-length hair and tattered clothes resolving from the green
a woman,” said Katie.
girl,” corrected Mike.
the girl from the river reached the closest teen, the spell on the
other four seemed to break. She clamped down a thin hand on the boy’s
leg as the others ran, fleeing up the rocks. The boy in the white
t-shirt remained motionless, until the girl from the river backed up,
pulling him by the leg. He made no attempt to escape her grip.
go, go,” said Mike. “Let’s get down there, now!” he shouted.
fumbled for the door, trying to open it without taking his eyes from
yelled Mike, pushing Katie into Gary’s shoulder.
looked down and threw open the door. The three researchers spilled
into the gravel parking lot. Mike was the first away, running down
through the scrub and vaulting the chain-link fence. His eyes had
barely adjusted to the night when he arrived at the rocks, and he
nearly plunged over a small ledge. Mike turned left at the last
instant and ran along the edge of the drop, waving his colleagues to
arrived at the clearing just as the boy’s legs slipped into the
roiling river. Mike threw himself to the ground and grabbed the boy’s
kid, hey!” he yelled, but the boy’s gaze remained on the
arrived as the boy’s shirt tore away and Mike shifted his grip to
under the boy’s arm. Gary grabbed his other arm and they both
pulled against the single boney arm dragging the boy into the river.
the starlight, the river’s surface was black. Their tug-of-war was
a standoff. Mike strained against the shore, trying to keep his grip
while pushing with his legs to drag the boy back. His jaw dropped
when he saw another thin arm appear from the water, moving towards
his own foot. Just before it reached his shoe, the world lit up from
a bright flash behind them.
and Mike jolted back with the flash. They pulled a few inches away
from the river and the hand near Mike’s foot had disappeared. Mike
looked back to see Katie pointing a camera.
it again, make it flash again,” grunted Mike.
obeyed and they jerked back again, gaining more ground.
as you can,” said Gary.
time Katie took a picture and the flash lit the river, they pulled
more of the boy from the water. Within a dozen pictures they had
dragged him safely back.
are you doing?” The boy snapped from his trance. “Shit, I’m all
wet. Get off!” He shook his arm away from Gary.
kid,” said Mike.
away,” said the boy in the white t-shirt. Before Mike could explain
further, the boy was off—running up the rocks to the bridge.
you get anything?” Gary looked over Katie’s shoulder at the
really,” said Katie. “The flash only goes so far.”
get back up to the van and check the readings,” said Mike.
backed slowly up the rocks, not willing to take their eyes off the
water’s edge until they had made it back to the chain-link fence.
Katie paused to take a picture of the sign mounted on the fence.
she read. “No kidding. What was that thing?”
tell you when we get back in the van,” said Mike.
back among his instruments, Mike told her the story: “She’s the
reason we came here. Her name was supposedly Marcia Taylor, but we
haven’t been able to turn up any records to corroborate. She was
seventeen or eighteen; at a graduation party on the Brunswick side of
the river, like twenty-five or thirty years ago. She turned down the
host’s advances, and he kicked her out. She had to walk home and
cross the old railroad bridge alone, but she never made it across.”
didn’t she take the footbridge? It has railings,” said Katie.
part we do know. The footbridge was closed for almost six years
because neither town would pay for the repairs. Supposedly they both
contributed after Marcia’s death.”
she fell off and drowned?” asked Katie.
but there’s a little more. The story says that she was an excellent
swimmer, and even made it alive over the dam. She managed to get all
the way over to that shore, where those kids were. Like tonight, more
drunk teens had gathered by those rocks. They saw her crawl out of
the water, but instead of helping her, they ran. They didn’t want
to tell anyone because then they would have been caught drinking.
When the dam operators opened the gates that night, she was still
unconscious on the shore and she drowned.”
man,” said Katie. “So now she seeks revenge?”
Well yes, I guess so,” said Mike. “Until tonight nothing has
really happened, as far as we know. A couple of kids have said they
saw something, but dragging people away is unprecedented.”
it was your machine,” said Katie, excited.
turned back to his instruments.
Melanie reached for a sugar
packet and then put it back down. The tea had lemon; it didn’t need
any sweetener. Something about socializing while sober still made her
nervous. She still didn’t know how to act.
it been two years now? Well good for you,” Sherry congratulated
thanks. I stopped drinking just after Christopher,” Melanie
I’m sorry. I never made the connection,” said Sherry. She reached
across the small table and touched Melanie’s hand.
okay,” said Melanie. “I mean it’s as okay as it will ever be, I
so strong,” said Sherry. “And you’re doing such a great job
with the kids.”
Melanie laughed and wiped the corner of her eye, “I don’t know
you are,” stated Sherry. “Considering everything?”
is just so difficult,” said Melanie. “Everything is a fight with
her. School, friends, how she dresses, when did twelve-year-olds get
just different now,” said Sherry.
worried about Davey, too,” said Melanie.
what’s going on with Davey? He seems so healthy and happy.”
is. Most of the time,” said Melanie. “He’s really good at
sports, he plays soccer, and baseball, and hockey if I can still
afford it next year. He’s got a million little girlfriends too.
He’s one of the most eligible third-graders,” she said, smiling.
what’s wrong?” Sherry prodded.
remember how clumsy Christopher could be?” asked Melanie.
could I forget? You remember that party at the Peterson’s?”
I did forget about that,” laughed Melanie. “I think I was
probably half drunk.”
drunk. I had shrimp in my hair, one in my bra, and…” Sherry
paused to catch her breath between laughs, “I shit you not, I found
one down the crack of my ass when I got home.”
my god,” Melanie was breathless from laughing. “Christopher was
such a klutz at parties." Melanie dabbed her eyes with her
napkin. “I told him one time that that was why I drank so much when
we were out.” Her laughter slowed as her memories cascaded. “I
miss him so much.”
gets easier,” Sherry squeezed Melanie’s forearm. “I promise.”
reminds me of him,” whispered Melanie. “When he’s concentrating
in something, like sports, he’s just so agile and graceful. Then
you see him trying to carry his dinner plate to the table and he
looks like he has Parkinson’s or something. Dr. Innes says he’s
fine, but I worry.”
he have vision problems, or headaches, or anything?” asked Sherry.
Melanie said, considering, “not that he admits to, at least. The
doctor asked him that, I’m sure.”
you remember Julie’s son? Did you know the Kims?” Sherry asked,
but didn’t wait for a response. “They took their son in because
he had double vision, and he had cancer." She lowered her voice
by the end, not wanting to broadcast such a powerful word.
horrible,” said Melanie. “No, I didn’t know them. How did they
optometrist sent them to a specialist. I can get his name for you.
Better safe, you know?”
do,” said Melanie.
* * * *
“Well, Mr. Hunter,” the
doctor said, kneeling in front of Davey. “I heard that you did
extraordinarily well in our little torture chamber.”
guess,” said Davey. He glanced down at the video game clutched in
his hands, knowing he was forbidden to play it until he was back in
the waiting room.
don’t you go sit with the lovely ladies of reception while Mom and
I talk a bit?” prompted the doctor.
said Davey. He slid down from the bench and headed for the door.
Melanie stopped him to fix his collar, put his tag back inside his
shirt, and smooth his hair. She wiped a gray smudge from the back of
his neck and patted him on the back.
be right out, okay?” asked Melanie.
Davey said. He pulled the door handle and tripped on his own feet,
slamming the door shut before he could squeeze through. Davey took a
resigned breath before re-opening the door and exiting the
Davey had clicked the door shut behind himself, Dr. Chisholm turned
to Melanie and smiled. His face bore the lines of a million smiles,
but his grey hair and grey teeth were stained yellow. Melanie found
the doctor creepy in a way she couldn’t quite pin down; she pegged
him for a closet smoker.
smile disappeared as he began reviewing Davey’s case. “I wanted
to speak with you one-on-one, instead of ganging up on you with the
radiologist, Ms. Hunter. Those guys are notorious hedgers.”
she said. She inhaled and waited for bad news.
he’s fine,” he flashed another yellowing smile, “you’ve got
that near-panic look I was trying to avoid.”
she said without committing.
scans were all perfectly clean. Nothing to indicate the need for an
MRI—no tumors or growths,” the doctor explained.
she nodded her head.
very good. But there are some interesting things about Davey,” he
She tried to concentrate on what he was saying, but her mind wanted
to return to his “clean” comment, she wanted to be sure he meant
that Davey didn’t have cancer.
might want to play around with some genetic testing. These would be
diagnostic tests simply used to rule out any genetic or chromosomal
can I just ask you something?” asked Melanie.
summoned her nerve. “So, he doesn’t have cancer, or a brain
he stated decisively. “To the best of our ability to screen such
things non-invasively, he doesn’t. Nor does anything about his
behavior suggest to me that we should be looking harder.”
good,” said Melanie. She finally exhaled.
he does have some interesting traits that I think warrant further
investigation,” said Dr. Chisholm.
as?" Melanie’s inquisitive, analytic nature began to surface.
there’s the situational clumsiness—as you mentioned,” he ticked
off one finger. “He has extraordinary eyesight, hearing, short-term
memory, intelligence, and concentration,” said the doctor.
got all that from the past half-hour?” asked Melanie.
some,” said the doctor. “I tested his hearing and eyesight, just
to verify the results from the neurologist. I asked Davey to read
this page of numbers and words when we began today’s examination,
and you were here at the end when he was able to recall ninety
percent of this list,” he held up the page.
that unusual?” asked Melanie.
key only goes up to the ninety-eighth percentile,” said Dr.
Chisholm. “So, yes, that would make Davey about the most unusual
boy I’ve examined.”
Melanie pursed her lips, not sure what to do with this information.
She always knew Davey to be bright, but nothing from his school had
ever indicated any superiority.
notes from the radiologist were very interesting, too,” said the
doctor. He flipped open Davey’s chart to the appropriate page and
handed Melanie the document.
pointed to one passage and then read it aloud for her—“When
prompted to ‘sit tight,’ Davey sat ABSOLUTELY motionless. We had
never seen anything like it—he looked like a statue. We read from
his chart that he has exhibited clumsiness and uncoordinated motor
control. This is hard for us to believe based on our experience.”
called this operator,” the doctor tapped the page. “These notes
are not what I expect to find in a professional communication. I
didn’t understand what he meant until I told Davey the same thing
earlier. He has the ability to turn his body to stone—you wouldn’t
know something was alive in there. That’s what I mean about his
squirmed in her seat, she was ready to get home and forget about how
extraordinary her son had become. “So, you said something about
more tests?” she prompted.
one more thing,” said Dr. Chisholm. “Davey’s extremely
developed for a boy his age.”
call it ‘precocious puberty,’” explained the doctor. “The
absolute earliest we expect to see any signs of puberty in a boy is
about nine. Any earlier and we’re looking for the cause. Now,
personally, I’ve seen boys growing up in a house without a father
can sometimes begin a little earlier. Davey is unusually early.”
just about to turn nine—he’s just a boy,” argued Melanie.
for long,” said the doctor. “I think we just need to do some more
tests to see if we can pin down the cause, but I’d say he started
puberty months ago, at least. We’ve ruled out brain tumor, but I’d
like to get him one more CT scan to look for any testicular tumors.
I’ve already got the blood and urine samples, but I’ll send those
out for hormone tests as well.”
does this mean? What do I do?” asked Melanie.
like to try to figure out the cause before we start to suggest a
course of action. If there’s an underlying cause, we’ll treat
that and hope the puberty slows. If there’s not, then we may decide
he needs hormone therapy to counteract the environmental or genetic
about five percent of cases in boys it comes from the father or
maternal grandfather,” explained Dr. Chisholm. “Let’s not jump
to conclusions. I’ll get all these tests and you can schedule a
follow-up with reception.”
said Melanie, rising tentatively.
figure this all out, Ms. Hunter. Please remember, we haven’t found
anything really wrong with Davey. If anything, he seems to be an
Chisholm smiled again; Melanie felt a chill.
They sat in a booth at a
steakhouse. Mike and Gary took up one side and Katie had the other to
herself. Gary kept reaching out to touch the dusty oar affixed to the
wall. Each time he did, he wiped his fingers clean again on his
just saying: I don’t know why we’re not going back to the river
again,” said Gary.
been trying that for weeks, and we’ve seen nothing since that first
night,” said Mike. He gripped his temples and then smoothed his
that was the best evidence we’ve ever collected,” said Gary. “I
think we have to keep plugging away at that until we can reproduce
those results. Have you ever seen anything like that?”
know I haven’t,” admitted Mike. “But how long are we going to
beat that dead horse before we allow ourselves to branch out?”