Death on the Tombigbee
Copyright © 2014
All Rights Reserved
Hard times had come to Golgotha. To the unknowing eye it seemed like any other cracker-barrel town in Alabama; spa-grade heat and humidity, a main street with a light that turned into a blinker after sundown, a couple of stores, and dozens of farm ponds. Piney wilderness and Oak trees sporting crepe ornaments of Spanish moss stood cold-eyed sentinel on the ancient banks of the Tombigbee river, judging the works of man and God with equal disinterest.
There was no industrial base left in Golgotha. The mills and factories had shut down years ago and the luminous flower that Golgotha had once been had dried out to a colorless, dying weed. The train that came through once a day mainly carried chemicals for more prosperous enterprises further down the line. It never stopped in Golgotha.
Some folks were doing okay, mainly the big agricultural concerns and a few merchants. Bob and Louise Coleman raised cows and sheep on their 2400 acres. Leonard Pitts owned the foul-smelling chicken houses that lent an earthy aroma that settled into every knothole and crumbling mortar seam in the town. Lonnie Maness operated a grain mill that provided scratch to the chicken houses, and an unappetizing concoction of corn, barley, wheat, oats and molasses with all the oil and germ pressed out of it -the infamous “cake” to which Marie Antoinette had referred- to the cattle farmers. These folks, the movers and shakers, made hay even when the economic sun had set on everyone else.
Things were worse for most, like John Key. With five kids -Irish quintuplets with barely a year between them- and a part-time job at a convenience store owned by Bob Coleman that paid him minimum wage plus all John could steal, times had cracked hard and inched into desperate.
His two eldest boys, Jeshua -Jesse for short- and Hunter, were the only siblings with more than eleven months between them, Jesse at eight and Hunter at ten. The three younger children, all girls ranging from five to seven, had been dropped off at a county sponsored crèche where they could at least get sandwiches and milk. Jesse and Hunter, too old to qualify for the program, had been left, as they had been many times before, to their own good judgment.
By nine o’clock on that June morning the mercury had rocketed into the eighties and would only burn higher from there. Mom was at work, washing out dirty drawers for some of the more well-to-do citizens of the town, Dad at the store. Once convinced that mom and dad were really gone and not likely to come back and check on them, the two brothers set out to explore the countryside.
Jesse needed adventure. He had recently been diagnosed with late onset Krabbe disease, a very rare disorder affecting only 1 in 100,000. Calling the prognosis poor was more than putting lipstick on a pig. The only treatments were bone marrow transplants or cord blood transfusions, neither of which were very effective, and neither of which his family could afford. Jesse had somewhere between two and seven years to live. He might not even see ten, the same age as Hunter. Hunter didn’t know how much Jesse knew about the disease that was slowly wasting him away. He didn’t know if Jesse knew that he would soon suffer blindness, deafness, muscle atrophy, respiratory failure and death. He already showed some of the first outward signs with episodic weakness in his legs. But as long as he could still move around like a normal kid, Hunter was not going to treat him like glass. His mom and dad, with all their worries, had already begun to consider the two eldest boys an afterthought, but Hunter wouldn’t do that to Jesse. Jesse was a kid, he was his brother, and he needed to live.
The boys had outfitted themselves with canteens and pocket knives for this expedition. Their tired blue jeans and dirty t-shirts were the ideal gear for tramping through the woods and scaling barbed wire fences. Hunter had overheard his mother wistfully remarking that she had heard of abandoned gem and precious metal mines on the prodigious holdings of the Coleman family. Just another way, she had sniffed, that the man kept the poor down. With that new intelligence in mind, Hunter had decided to take Jesse on a treasure hunt. The one ounce, Silver Eagle coin his dad had given him on his eighth birthday, before things had gotten so bad, weighed heavy in his pocket. It was Hunter’s good luck piece and, to his dad’s credit, he had never asked for it back, no matter how hard times got. Maybe the two kids could return the favor and ferret out some gold or diamonds to help out the family. No ten year old kid in America should have to worry about eating, but this is where they found themselves. Jesse idolized his older brother and had followed him without question.
They walked down the dirt road mirroring the endless barbed wire fence rimming the vast Coleman property. Arid dust clouds kicked up from their cut-rate tennis shoes and sweat popped from their pores like bullets as the hammering sun beat down. Heavy Black Angus cows watched with their limpid brown eyes as the two brothers hunted for a place to clamber over the barbed wire.
Once a football field past the last knot of calmly grazing cows, the two kids carefully scaled the springy barbed wire fence and landed on the Coleman property. To Hunter, stepping foot on the forbidden land was like being the first man on the moon. Keeping one eye on the cows that might rumble over to investigate, and the other out for sploshy green land mines, they crossed the verdant grazing land towards the endless, unknown woods.
They crunched into the forest, predominantly pine. The rotary drill buzzing of mosquitoes and gnats which had been their constant company as they crossed the pasture changed to the chirping and scurrying of the woods insects: millipedes and ants and beetles. Hillocks of fallen leaves and dead-falls gave safe harbor to venomous copperheads and rattlesnakes. The boys inched their way into the thick undergrowth, Hunter carefully probing the ground ahead of him with a broken branch. They once in a while heard the crackling of leaves as an unseen serpent slithered away at their approach.
Signs of human interaction began to fade the further they moved in. At first they saw a lot of abandoned, rusted out appliances and threadbare tires, then, further in, lighter items like bags of trash and paperback books. Past that were a few used condoms, lying on the ground like shed snake skins. Interspersed amongst all this were cans and bottles like a modern trail of breadcrumbs. Some five hundred yards into the forest, they stopped by a pile of discarded wine and beer bottles, heaped up in a mound.
“Hey, what’s this,” Jesse asked.
He picked up a dark, heavy-bottomed bottle barnacled with a thin layer of dried mud. The kosher ghosts of fermented grapes breathed from the neck of the vessel in a quiet sigh. He scraped the dried mud from the label and presented the bottle to his brother.
“Maybe there’s a genie inside,” Jesse speculated wisely.
Hunter inspected the bottle. “That’s a Manischewitz bottle,” he cautioned, speaking knowingly from the recently plumbed depths of his social studies class. “That means it would be a Jewish genie. You don’t want that.”
Jesse tossed the bottle back on the pile where it landed with a clink.
They explored further, the pile of bottles seemingly the last trace of civilization. This was unexplored territory. They could now smell -even though they couldn’t see it- the dark water of the Tombigbee river. The sporadic eruptions of wild animals crashing through the woods -a deer bounding away, rabbits scurrying into their burrows, maybe a concealed wild boar or shivery bear- were all reasons to hesitate and peer about with mistrustful, Neanderthal eyes. The benevolent sunlight had been wrestled into submission this deep into the wilderness and it was a little scary.
From somewhere ahead of them, they heard the soft lowing of a cow, not close, but not distant, either. They looked at each other curiously. The cows were behind them. Maybe one of them had got loose, or they were coming to the opposite edge of the woods. But that couldn’t be right. The river was ahead of them and it cut directly through the thickest part of the forest. Curious, Hunter crept ahead with Jesse close behind. They heard other sounds now: the bleating of a sheep and the unmistakable cackling of hens.
“What the heck,” Hunter murmured. Who would have a farm in the middle of the woods?
“What is it,” Jesse asked. He wasn’t afraid. Not yet. Hunter was here to take care of him.
“I don’t know,” Hunter answered. “Something ain’t right.”
Hunter didn’t quite know what to make of it, but he was almost certain he smelled smoke. He peered deeper into the woods but the towering trees pressing around him masked his view of any smoke that might be rising over their leafy peaks. The primal forest had grown hungry eyes that stalked him like a hunting cat. Maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea. He turned to Jesse.
“Come on. We need to get out of here.”
No sooner had he turned to backtrack when he saw the flash of movement somewhere deep in the woods. His heart jumped in his chest. He wasn’t sure what he had seen. This deep in the woods it was almost like twilight. It may have been something as harmless as a deer or a wandering heifer, but he couldn’t be sure. He forced himself to walk slowly, not showing fear to his little brother.
He saw movement again off to his left from his peripheral vision. He was now certain they were being hunted. He quickened his pace, briefly forgetting Jesse tagging along behind him on his weakened legs.
“Hunter,” Jesse cried. “Wait up!”
Hunter turned around to wait for Jesse’s stubby little legs to catch up to him. He stared all around, seeing things creeping and darting through the woods. It might have been his imagination, but he thought not.
“Come on, Jesse,” Hunter admonished. He took Jesse by the hand and they crashed through the woods, Hunter burdened by his brother’s awkwardness. They tripped and flailed in the unfamiliar forest and within thirty seconds Hunter had gotten so turned around he had no idea which way he was going. Jesse was crying, frightened, but Hunter held it together. He looked desperately ahead, sure he saw what seemed to be a clearing opening up. He made a run for it, knowing that anything had to be better than being in the smothering maw of the woods.
He pounded ahead, sensing something closing in on him, but not daring to look back. There was a sudden drag on his trailing arm and he heard Jesse cry out. His burden suddenly lessened and he realized Jesse was no longer holding his hand. He started to turn to see what had happened, but before he could get his head around, he saw it.
The giant head of a goat towered at the treetops. Its spiky horns jutted like spears into the blue sky. Smoke billowed from its nostrils and its eyes were the raging red of cooking fires. Hunter jolted to a stop, his mouth open, his heart pounding like an engine seizing from overheating. The noises in the woods rose to a frenzied flurry and the world swirled into total oblivion.
Some forty volunteers had been rallied for the search. Even the high and mighty had turned out to assist their lowliest fellow man. Bob Coleman had lent his pack of bloodhounds to track the search area, his own 2400 acres. He led the effort himself, arguing that he knew every twig and pebble on his land better than anyone. Leonard Pitts had lent not only himself to brave the briars and beasts of the forest, but also ten of his workers from the chicken houses to comb the overgrowth. Lonnie Maness shut down the feed mill for two days and had his twenty employees join in the effort. This was in addition to the local police force (numbering two) that normally were called on only to take down the rabid raccoons that flourished in the high part of summer. It was an example of the best of America.
Bob Coleman -on his daily inspection of the barbed wire fence- had been the one to find Hunter sprawled at the edge of the road. He was unconscious, dirty, battered and beaten, and apparently drugged. He had regained a sort of foggy consciousness before the paramedics arrived, but had no memory of how he had gotten the way he was, or where his brother was.
The search party was quickly formed and Hunter’s parents notified. Diana Key had gone to the hospital with Hunter while John joined the men of the search party, agonizingly scouring the woods for his missing son. At the hospital, Hunter was treated for severe trauma. He had suffered a wicked beating, either fighting for his life, or trying to protect Jesse. Try as he might, he had no memory of the preceding several hours. Blood assays confirmed that he had been doped, but couldn’t pinpoint the actual compound. All the lab techs could determine was that it was some kind of beta blocker or histone deacetylase inhibitor, both known to hamper memory.
Things back at the scene of the crime were little better. There had been some excitement when the dogs had caught a scent and gone haring off, their wrinkled muzzles quivering and snuffling, their full throated baying echoing through the woods. They powered their handlers along like a sled dog team, the muscles in their haunches tensing and bulging, their big paws scratching out flying chunks of dirt as they labored against their restraints. In minutes the clear smell of decay came distinctly to the searchers. The men exchanged tense glances. But their exhilaration and dread were both short lived as the hounds gathered and bustled around the rotting carcass of a deer ripped apart by coyotes.
The searchers’ mood deflated and for the first time they thought that maybe they would fail and turn up nothing; that maybe the boy really was gone. But they kept at it, continuing to search through the day and the next week. But their numbers began to dwindle as hope faded. By the tenth day, only a few people were searching and once two weeks had passed, most people had despaired of ever finding the boy. Jesse Key had vanished as if he had been spirited off by a UFO.
Even before Hunter was released from the hospital, the powers that be in the town had assembled, believing the worst, and decided the Key family needed a break. After a suitable period of grieving, John would be promoted to store manager and sent to management training school to take over the operations of the twelve stores in the district, a kick in pay from part-time minimum wage to seventy five thousand a year. It was well known that Diana had always had her heart set on a little boutique called Nick’s Knacks. The owners, Nick Price and Mark Gates (known as Fairy and Fairier to most), had never really been comfortable in Golgotha and would probably be happier elsewhere. They wouldn’t be missed.
At Lonnie Maness’s request, as Deacon of the First Baptist Church, a love offering was collected in places of worship around the county and a down payment was made on the little boutique in Diana’s name. With John’s newly risen income, it was thought she might be able to make a go of it. It was just a shame, the church elders nodded to themselves, that they hadn’t done more before. It took the loss of a child to make them do the right thing.
Not to be outdone, Leonard Pitts started a college scholarship for the remaining Key Children. It could never be said that the Cream of Golgotha were heartless.
They took care of their own.
Over the years, he reckoned that it was guilt that turned him into an outsider in his own family, but his mom and dad never seemed to blame him. They seemed, indeed, to make a combined effort to believe that Jesse had never been born at all.
Hunter couldn’t do that. He spent year after year on his own, trudging through the woods, trying in vain to recall what had happened. The only concrete connection he could ever make was his rabid dislike of goats. Before Jesse’s disappearance, he had been very fond of the goats that frolicked on the Coleman farm. The little kids with the floppy ears were just so cute. He even had a favorite, Nan, who would follow him around and sometimes tug at his belt loops with her mouth when she wanted to be petted. Now, whenever he looked at their spiky horns and eyes with vertical slits for pupils, he almost shuddered.
His dad had seemed to try almost too hard to mend fences with Hunter, teaching him to hunt and fish when he had time away from his managerial duties. Hunter soon lived up to his moniker, his father teaching him to become proficient with both knife and rifle. His father seemed to be struggling with guilt of his own, perhaps thinking that had he spent a little more time with the boys, the entire tragedy could have been staved off.
His mother, never the warmest of women, remained cool and distant, though not cruel. There had been no more children since then, the three youngest girls packed off to prep school for most of the year.
As an outsider, Hunter saw things that were off true, skewed from normality. While others in Golgotha struggled, there was a new vehicle in the Key driveway every couple of years. The food on the dining room table was always top-grade, the best beef and lamb supplied at a discount from the Coleman farm. The little boutique his mother now owned seemed to remain always profitable, even with the paucity of customers that came in to buy the pottery and various odd little knick knacks. No matter how bad things got for everyone else in Golgotha, there were always guests in the lobby and cash in the register. The boutique actually seemed more of a gathering place for the wives of Golgotha’s upper crust; women who in times past had hired his mother to wash out their skid-marked underwear and who his mother would normally have dismissed with disdain in the time before Jesse’s death. Now she seemed to be one of them, a pod person, glad handing at social events and enjoying a full belly in the evening and a cool house in the summer.
One October day in his eighteenth year, the girl who irrevocably altered all their lives walked into the boutique. Marie Moreau hailed from the nearby town of Demopolis, a small city founded by the Napoleonic exiles. She had the most amazing, large eyes that held a hurt that Hunter saw every day in the looking glass. They hit it off right away and his mother viewed their budding relationship with distaste, referring to her scornfully as “the Big-Eyed French girl” and once remarking that maybe she and Hunter would get married and they could “have Big-Eyed French babies from her Big French Butt.”
Hunter didn’t understand his mother’s immediate dislike of Marie, but he shrugged it off. For some reason, he felt like the ever-turning wheel of destiny had somehow brought them together for a purpose and it turned out he was to be proven right in spades.
He didn’t know it at the time, but on their final date she had confided her real purpose to him.
“I know who you are,” she had told him, her large, almost alien eyes glistening in the dim light of the car’s dashboard lamps. “And I know what happened to you. The same thing happened to me. My brother. He disappeared five years ago. He was never found.”
“I’m sorry,” Hunter said. “I know how you feel.”
“There are things in this world,” she told him, “that are too terrible to believe. So terrible that people refuse to believe they’re happening. Things dismissed as myth and legend. But they’re real. I’ve seen them. And you have, too. I’m not strong enough to do anything about it, but somebody has to. Somebody has to start.”
“What are you talking about, Marie?” Hunter was uncomfortable, knowing that he had always skirted the real issue, shoving it to the back of his mind where he wouldn’t have to look at it too closely.
Marie paused for a few moments before finally looking directly into his eyes and said:
“Have you ever heard of Moloch?”
And after she told him, Hunter knew his life had changed course as drastically as a river ripped from its banks and completely re-routed. Things could never be the same. He thought briefly that he had finally found an ally, but he never saw Marie again.
Hunter set out the next day. He had searched for an answer for years, but now he knew exactly where it was. Little snippets had become to come back, like cut up lines of text that, when finally assembled in the proper order, would make sense. Armed with a rifle and four full clips, he tramped straight across the Coleman property, uncaring if he were spotted. No one hailed him, no warning shots were fired. The disinterested forest was eerily quiet as he stepped into it, the only sound the soft wind flicking through the trees.
The fear -that long ago stone he believed had been eroded away to a chip by years- returned. It was almost as if Jesse was still with him as he pushed into the woods, grown even denser and darker after nearly a decade. He smelled the river ahead of him and his fear doubled. This is where it had started. But he wasn’t ten years old and helpless anymore and he made himself go forward.
The trees were a little taller now and he had to trek further into the woods before he saw it again, but there it was. Hunter stopped and stared, trembling a little, but not turning back.
The goat’s head emerged amidst the treetops, still immense, towering, and unsettling. Its unadorned eyes were dead, cold, and no smoke bloomed from its nostrils. Sunlight reflected dully off of weathered bronze. A stone thrown at it would elicit only a hollow tink. But that it was there, and real, was still terrifying. None of it had been imagination. How could such a thing have never been seen, at least from the air? And were there sentries? Guards to keep its awful secret? Hunter dismissed this almost immediately. Who would be mad enough to come here?
He pushed back the last of the vines and blackberry brambles and broke into a clearing, an unnatural amphitheater of cleared sand some thirty yards across and thirty yards deep. A hundred foot thick stand of trees sprouted at the rear of the clearing in a natural privacy fence, screening the monstrous idol from the river.
Even knowing it would be cold to the touch, and harmless right now, Hunter delayed in approaching the statue. His eye, instead, was drawn to a small wooden building with an unlocked door. The door, in fact, was held closed only by a stub of wood nailed into the jamb which could be turned crosswise to keep the door from springing open. Hunter twisted the piece of wood on its rusty nail and the door creaked open in entreaty.
He stepped into its darkness, unsure sunshine creeping in through the new ingress.
Two wooden shelves braced the rear wall of the building. On each shelf stood a dozen or so containers about two feet high, a foot in width, and shaped more or less like conga drums. Dust coated each container and the opening at the top was covered in some kind of animal skin and secured with twine. On closer scrutiny, Hunter realized the containers were urns. There were no markings on any of the containers, as if it was important to save the urns, but not important enough to identify them. Hunter’s blood felt like icy slush in his veins. His knees trembled and his stomach rolled as he came to the monstrous understanding of what had happened.
This place was a tophet, literally, the “place of roasting”. Marie had told him. There were perhaps thirty urns, each containing the ashes and unburned bone fragments of a child. In one of these drums the uneasy remains of his brother had been callously stowed away. How long had this had been going on. Once a year? Twice a year? He couldn’t bear another second in the building and he backed out into the hushed sunshine.
He turned around and faced the statue, craning his head up to stare into its unseeing eyes. It was just as Marie had described, gloating over him like a demon. The massive bronze idol stood thirty feet tall, the last six feet devoted to the hideous goat head. Piles of ash from untold years had been scooped out and pushed to the side where they formed a seven foot high mound, rounded by years of rain. Hollowed out in the squat body of the thing were seven chambers, the upper chambers obviously accessed by a ramp. The bronze hollows of each chamber had been reddened by heat and blackened by soot. The decades dead smell of burnt blood clung like a nightmare to the inner walls of the chambers. The first chamber was for grain, supplied by Lonnie Maness. The second chamber was for fowl, right in the wheelhouse of Leonard Pitts. The third, fourth, fifth, and sixth chambers were for a ram, a ewe, a calf, and a bull. Their infernal gods had rewarded the Colemans well for their many offerings. And what did the lowly Key family -common and impoverished- have to offer? The greatest sacrifice of all: a child for the seventh chamber.
One arm of the idol pointed towards the ground, the other, hinged at the shoulder with rusty joints, pointed towards the sky. Hunter tried to remain clinical in his study of the statue, but he found it hard to keep his gorge down as he realized the upward pointing arm was articulated in such a way as to allow it to lower the offering in its hand into the seventh chamber.
Is that the last thing Jesse saw, he wondered? The flames leaping high in the burning hollow? The eyes of the idol red hot and glowing, smoke jetting like steam from its nostrils? The torpid, rusty creaking of the mechanical arm as it slowly lowered him into the blazing pit while the leading lights of the town chanted and beat drums? Was he conscious? Was he in pain? Did he scream?
It was simply too much to fathom. The world wavered and became liquid. Hunter stumbled backwards and fell hard. His gorge finally found an outlet and he threw up on the unholy ground. It all came back at once, everything that had happened, as if a dam had broken and all the memories washed in on a rampaging torrent, overpowering his senses. It was worse than he could have imagined.
Once he stopped gagging, slow tears filled his eyes and he sat there on the hard ground while the lulling sound of the river underscored the screeing crickets and whistling birds all around him.
Behind him, the statue of Moloch wrapped its shadow around him, its very existence the sum of a world which Hunter had never believed existed.
They were deep in the woods, but not so deep as to be in the shadow of Moloch. Hunter couldn’t bring himself to go back there yet.
After returning from his eye-opening foray to the tophet, Hunter had prevailed on his father to go on a hunting trip that afternoon. John had agreed wholeheartedly. Things had been tense lately.
They parked the truck on the old, washboard road and walked into the woods, not speaking. Brown leaves fell through the wasted tree branches, clacking dryly through them like a game of Plinko. Dried brush crackled beneath their feet. John stopped, suddenly feeling his son’s eyes on his back.
“Were things that bad, dad,” Hunter asked quietly. “So bad that you had to resort to murder?”
John turned around slowly, his hand tightening on the stock of his rifle. Hunter stood ten yards away, his rifle trained on John’s chest.
“Don’t bother with the rifle, dad. I took the firing pin out.”
John’s grip on the rifle stock relaxed.
“How did you find out,” John asked.
“Doesn’t matter,” Hunter answered, his eye never straying from the rifle sight.
John spoke slowly at first.
“I’d seen too much working for Bob Coleman, Hunter. I knew too much. Trundling them kids to his ranch, standing watch by the woods while the fires burned. If I didn’t do it, all of us would be dead. This way, if I gave them what they wanted, the rest of us would be taken care of. We’d be part of the golden circle and never want for anything again. And how much time did Jesse really have? What kind of life would it have been? It’s the way the world works, son. I had no choice.” He still believed that he could talk his way out of it; that his son would never raise his hand against him.
Hunter remained steady as he cocked the hammer.
“You let them burn him alive. You let them seal his charred bones in a drum. Jesse and who knows how many others. My brother. Your son.”
John saw his chances cashing out, his greatest sin uncovered and unforgivable.
“It was never me, Hunter,” he whined. “It was your mother that put the idea in your head. She knew you would go. It was always her!”
Hunter thought back to that moment, he lying helpless in a stupor while Leonard Pitts operated the clanking, grease-clogged pulleys that let the mechanical arm lower his crying brother into the flames. He recalled the bitter taste of some kind of drug he had been forced to drink. A dozen or so of the town’s leading citizens had watched in a dreadful fascination. He remembered his father standing there, crying, yet doing nothing while his mother stood by with dry eyes and a hard look on her face. It was beyond medieval, blackly hearkening back to days of ancient paganism.
Giving not a moment of consideration to his father’s pleas, Hunter dropped the hammer. The rifle boomed and John fell backwards, the light fading from his open eyes like a glowing wick dimming to nothingness. Hunter took a deep breath as he stared at his father’s opaque eyes. It had been far easier for him than it had been for Jesse. And it might have been only wishful thinking on his part, but Hunter almost believed he saw relief in his dead father’s eyes. The world was a cold and evil place, a much darker place than Hunter would have ever believed. He had to be colder. After all he had seen, he left nothing to chance. He pried open his father’s lower jaw and placed the Silver Eagle coin he had carried faithfully for ten hears beneath his tongue, his fare to the toll-taker Charon to carry him across the River Styx.
He had already decided. His sisters would be spared, but the rest would pay.
A reckoning was nigh.
Hunter and John were gone and Diana crept into her house, assuming the worst. She had suspected from the first time she had seen the big-eyed French girl that it would come to this. It was that look in her eyes; that look of loss that told Diana she knew the score. Word traveled fast and the quick assassinations of Leonard Pitts and Lonnie Maness by gunshot couldn’t be coincidence. She should have let them take Hunter as well on that day eight years ago, but she had been weak, giving in to her husband’s pleas. Now he had paid for that weakness.
But she wasn’t going to. She wasn’t stupid. If they couldn’t quickly track Hunter down, she had no doubt they would offer her up to call him off. It was the league she played in, but she wasn’t going to be a helpless sacrifice. Her go bag was packed and she was ready to make tracks.
She thought she heard something at the front door and she looked uneasily around. Surely they wouldn’t be coming for her so soon?
She slowly padded to her front door, pressing an eye to the peephole. The distorted view showed her nothing but the carefully kept front lawn and her car in the driveway, warped into a Psilocybin hallucination by the fish eye lens. She cautiously clicked the door open and looked out.
Stuck onto the door with a thumbtack was a fluttering, handwritten note. With trembling fingers she smoothed it down and held it steady so she could read the message. It took her only a second, and she understood in that second that the message wasn’t meant just for her, but for all of them. Her breath hitched and she closed her eyes, knowing it was already too late.
She never heard the shot when it rang out, the bullet outracing the sound, nor felt the lead as it crunched through the thin bone of her temple. Her hand clutched the note in a death spasm as she fell like a sack of potatoes in her doorway, a fireworks peppering of blood spray on her clean, white door.
The echoing crack of the distant rifle shot faded to a ghost, as if it had never been there. The easy wind rippled the single sheet of paper. It was slightly crumpled where she clutched it, but the message was easily readable to whomever found her:
“Who’s hunting you, now?”
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