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Crime & Thriller


Don Williams Jnr




‘The Painmaker’

The Painmaker

Not since his childhood had Mitch Conway been afraid of the dark. But this was unlike any darkness he had ever known. This was utter blackness that encompassed every detail of the cold, silent night and blanketed every inch of the wind swept forest. It was not like Mitch to be frightened. He was a big, strong mountain of a man, as nasty as he was big. Yet the ominous darkness and eerie stillness of the woods both unsettled and unnerved him. In fact Mitch was downright terrified. He struggled to keep his sanity as the night seemed to coil stealthily around him as if stalking his very soul. He was about to turn and flee from the cavernous forest when he heard the sound. It was an ungodly sound, seemingly uttered from the very bowels of hell. Had Mitch not been immobilized by fear he would've bolted that instant, but he found his legs had turned to stone leaving him paralyzed-easy prey for whatever had emitted that hideous, inhuman scream. The sound came again more shrill and angry than before. Suddenly Mitch turned and looked square into the most vile, evil eyes born this side of hell.

7:30 a.m.. Monday. John Davenport swatted sleepily at the alarm clock as its incessant ringing reverberated off his sleep-deprived mind. The beginning of another week of occupational hell he thought listlessly. He had become increasingly despondent as the days passed, believing the future held little more for him than what his meager salary could provide. Yet, he thought to himself with more than a touch of self-pity, he had been the one who had taken the position as director of child welfare at St. John's, bypassing far more lucrative career opportunities. He had told himself that his decision had been made out of a concern for children, but now, immersed in depression, he told himself that it had been more out of his own need for self redemption. Still under the heavy burden of his dilemma he dragged his weary body in the direction of the shower when the phone rang. It was his personal secretary, Flo, calling to say one of the boys at the home had severely injured himself. At the revelation of this latest incident, John felt a irrepressible pang of guilt at his inability to help this boy or any of the other children at St. John's. After briefly outlining the next logical steps and answering questions pertaining to insurance and medical treatment, John thanked Flo for advising him of the situation and hung up. Feeling more beaten than ever he lit a cigarette and tried to clear his head of the demons that stalked his mind. The cigarette did little to help his failing nerves and he briefly considered a double shot of bourbon before he showered. Deciding against this he instead called the infirmary at St. John's and checked on the injured boy. After learning the boy had required numerous stitches but would eventually be all right, John finally summoned up the strength for what he hoped would be a shower of both physical and spiritual cleansing. Sheriff Hank Esham was bewildered. Just the night before he had seen Mitch Conway at the Brickhouse, Whispering Falls predominant beer-swilling establishment, throwing down shots of tequila like there was no tommorrow. Now, less than twenty-four hours later he stood over the grizzled, bloody corpse that had once been the easy-living, hard-drinking, socially maladjusted Mitch Conway. Gazing over the crime scene further confused the sheriff. From all indications there had been no struggle, and the idea that Mitch hadn't put up a fight or defended himself did not sit well with him. Everyone in the small Montana town knew of Conway's love of physical confrontation and his propensity for violence had landed him in the Whispering Falls jail more times than most folks could count. Hank Esham knew better than most the malicious intent of the angry man. Although most of his shanninigans had been confined to drunken, barroom brawling, Hank had the sneaky suspicion that Mitch Conway was capable of slitting a throat without blinking an eye and with no remorse whatsoever. This knowledge along with Conway's intimidating physical presence led Sheriff Esham to believe that no one in Whispering Falls was responsible for the atrocities at his feet. No one in town had the balls to stand up to Mitch anyway, Esham thought to himself. No one dared confront Mitch Conway when he was drunk, as it seemed alcohol further soured his already surly disposition. "Shit", Hank muttered as he wrestled with the idea that one of his law-abiding citizens had actually confronted Conway and proceeded to beat the poor son-of-a-bitch to death. This idea was so unbelievable that he immediately dismissed it, preferring to believe that Mitch had met up with an out-of-towner so mean and nasty that he had been scared into submission and had just let the man beat him to death. Hank knew in his heart that the idea was bullshit, as proposterous as the notion that someone from his sleepy little town was responsible for the carnage before him. Thoroughly disgusted at his lack of a better explanation, the burly, barrel-chested man made his way over to his right hand man, deputy Frank Dobbs. "Come up with anything, Dobby?", Hank asked. "Nothin'. Not a damn thing", replied the long, sinewy man. "Got any idea who or what might've done this, Hank?" The sheriff frowned, stroked the end of his mustache and said. "I'd say it was a man, but it's hard to tell no more than we've got to go on. Sure as hell could've been an animal the way he's torn apart. But what coulda done it? The only thing that would've done that is a grizzly, but the weather's to friggin' cold for them. "Sure enough is", reasoned Dobbs, pulling the collar of his insulated bomber jacket tight around his neck. "Reckon we'll have three or four more inches of snow by dark," the deputy said with disgust. "I hate the mountains in the winter time. Miserable, that's what this kinda weather is. Can't see nothin' or go nowhere. It's like you're stranded." Knowing too well what Montana winters were like, Hank said a silent prayer that the forensic specialists from Angel Lake would get there soon. Back in New York John Davenport was praying as well. Praying that this God-awful day would soon end. He was more depressed than ever as he stared indignantly at the mountain of paperwork in front of him. This was not what he had in mind when he had accepted the position here at St. John's. He longed for the one-to-one contact with the children. listening to their hopes and dreams as well as their doubts and fears. He had been on the job less than a year but he was more determined than ever to resign. The argument that the kids needed him no longer carried any weight. Hell, I rarely even see the kids he thought dejectedly. He would turn in his resignation and turn his life around. Make a fresh start, a new life for himself. Maybe even go home. Home. Now there was an interesting thought. John hadn't been back to Whispering Falls since his parents had died, five (or was it six) years ago. Maybe the cozy town in Montana was just what he needed. He could open his own practice and help the children of his own hometown on a daily basis. It all seemed perfect. In fact it was too perfect. Could it really be that easy to change your life? To go from one end of the emotional spectrum to the other by merely changing the scenery? God he hoped so. Hoped with every fiber of his being. For the first time in weeks John Davenport smiled. A genuine smile that stretched from ear to ear. The forensic team from Angel Lake arrived shortly before dusk, in the middle of a terrible snowstorm. The team, made up of three men and a single woman, performed their duties admirably in the face of such adverse weather conditions. Still there was little to be found, no new leads or evidence that might be helpful in providing answers to the perplexing murder of Mitch Conway. Unless one of Whispering Falls own had witnessed the crime, which was unlikely, (who in their right mind would've been in the cold, dark woods at four in the morning), then the only hope for answers to this mystery was in the hands of Whispering Falls medical examiner, Henry Talford. The autopsy would be performed as quickly as possible, just as soon as Henry returned from his business in Sugar Creek, which would be the day after tomorrow. The leader of the forensic team, Paul Atwood, offered Hank his apologies for not having produced any tangible leads. "Don't worry about it, Hank answered, we didn't turn up squat either." At that moment a huge gust of wind rose up, spraying little daggers of ice and snow at everyone. "Damn, it sure is cold up here," Atwood offered. Hank said nothing but frowned as if he were deep in thought, working overtime on the end of his thick, graying mustache. This storm is gonna get even nastier and these roads aren't safe even when the weather's aces, so I suggest you and your people let us put you up for the night at the 'Grove", the sheriff finally said, speaking of Whispering Falls lone, little inn. Atwood thought for only a moment then agreed, eager to be out of the cold and none to anxious to be traveling unfamiliar roads with some crazed psychopath on the loose. "Good enough, thanks for the hospitality. Might provide us a chance to give the area another going over tomorrow, that is if the weather cooperates." At this everyone loaded up for the short ride to town, Sheriff Esham in the lead and the forensic team close behind. But they didn't leave unnoticed. Deep in the heart of the forest something had watched their every move, had heard their every word. And now as the vehicles disappeared into the shadows of the night the thing continued to watch with luminous, hate-filled eyes. It emmerged from the protective cover of the woods, its dark eyes burning with an insatiable need. It was hungry. Gus Mitchell was busy putting away the last of the stock items in the backroom deciding they could wait until morning to be displayed on the shelves. He had owned and operated the lone hardware store in town for the last thirty-five years. The small store was situated at the most western edge of town at the base of the mountains. Hundreds of acres resplendent with towering pine trees billowed out behind the store in an ever spreading sea of green. It being the only store of its kind had helped Gus earn a respectable living over the years, even put his daughter Barbara through college. But even now he still hated the laborious chore of stockpiling shelves and inventorying every part in stock. As he locked the storage room door and turned out the lights he couldn't help but think of his late wife, Joanne. She had been his helpmate in the business and his soulmate in life. She was also the only woman Gus Mitchell had ever loved. Her love was the motivation for everything he had ever done and he had looked forward to retirement and growing old with his beloved. But that dream was gone. Taken from him by one of life's cruel injustices. When his wife passed away most of Gus had died with her. This had been one of her functions, locking up and turning out the lights while he tended to the safe and the day's take. With a deep sense of loss he turned the key in the front door, locking another day of his life away inside the tiny store. As he made his way across the deserted parking lot, he thought of Barbara, his daughter. She had become his sole reason for living, the only true purpose that remained in his life. She was a beautiful girl, chock full of her mother's wholesome qualities. She had moved back to Whispering Falls to strengthen him and help with the business, giving up her own life for his just as Joanne had done. He had been overjoyed when she had returned home but his feelings of guilt grew with each day that passed. She had graduated magna cum laude from Northwestern with a degree in speech pathology and had landed a position at a prestigious Chicago hospital when her mother finally succumbed to the cancer that had taken over her body. It had taken the life out of Gus yet it seemed to affect Barbara even more dramatically. Once a vivacious girl with dreams aplenty she had seemingly lost her spirit. Gone now was the zest and confidence with which she tackled the least of obstacles. Gone also was the infectious laughter she had used to charm the hardest of hearts and warm the coldest soul. Though she was the indeed the very thing he needed, he knew his daughter was unhappy and this was almost as hard for him to bear as losing Joanne. He simply could not stand to see her shrivel up and die emotionally as he had done, not when she had so much going for her and deserved so much happiness. He determined then and there that grief would not steal his daughter's life away. If it took him the rest of his life he would see the radiant smile that used to flash with frequence and ease across his child's lovely face. With this thought in mind he started his car and tooled out of the shadowy, snow covered lot, oblivious to the hulking silhoutte that had been approaching him. The thing had closed to within a few yards of his car yet Gus hadn't noticed. Now as the man slowly moved into the depths of the Montana darkness, the huge figure howled in frustration, its eyes ablaze with an inhuman lust.

Later that evening John Davenport was busy planning his escape from New York. He was enthusiastically planning the details for his trip home, typing out his resignation, closing bank accounts, and the typical things that needed to be taken care of when moving. He was in a euphoric state, feeling more free than he had felt since the days of toga parties and beer chugging contests when he had been an undergrad at the university of Colorado. He was overwhelmed at the thought of going home, of starting his life over again. He felt like the prodigal son returning to the fold. He had a sudden flash to his days at Whispering Falls High and the one true love of his life, Barbara Mitchell. He hoped wistfully that for some unknown reason she had chosen to remain in the comfort zone that was their idyllic hometown. He remembered with fondness the time he had spent with Barbara, and the ease with which he could talk to her, despite her intimidating beauty. He smiled to himself recalling the subtle grace with which she carried herself even at that awkward, frightening age. He had missed her profusely over the years but never with such longing as he felt now. He had never met a woman like her in the fifteen years they had been apart and his dates' inability to meet her precedent had a direct bearing on the fact he had never married. He was suddenly filled with a growing fear that Barbara Mitchell, the object of his undying love, would be a happily married woman, having forgotten the very name John Davenport. This struck a blow to his new found happiness, a blow that would not be easily reconciled. Yet he decided that the move afforded him a much needed opportunity at a gratifying life, Barbara Mitchell or not, and if she was as of yet an unmarried citizen of Whispering Falls...well than that was just a fabulously wonderful perk. In two weeks, he thought optimistically, I'll know. As the last members of the forensic team were checked into the Shady Grove Inn, Hank Esham breathed a sigh of relief. Several times through the course of the evening he sensed that they were being watched. There had been a mysterious air about the woods, not to mention the suffocating stench of death. He was more than a little flustered by the events of the last twenty-four hours and it was beginning to show. Long, creased lines of worry marked his forehead and heavy, dark bags shown under his eyes. At thirty-four he believed he was too old to be dealing with a homocidal maniac who had decided to open shop in a quiet, backwoods town. Hell. I'm too damn old to get a cat out of a tree he thought with a dry laugh. Mitch Conway's body had been taken to the county morgue where it waited for the probing hands of old man Talford when he returned from Sugar Creek. The sooner the better Hank thought with disgust, I don't want the fucker around any longer than need be. The quicker he's in the ground the better I'll sleep, he thought as he remembered the mutilated body of Mitch Conway lying at his feet. Hank shuddered as he recalled the large, black holes that existed where Conway's beady, red eyes had once resided. The sheriff of Whispering Falls visibly flinched as he tried to imagine the person who could disassemble a six foot four, two-hundred-fifty pound man with such ease and violence. Standing in the lobby of the inn he realized that he had bitten his lip in his consternation and that a slow trickle of blood was stealing down his chin. "Damn it, he muttered aloud as he dabbed at his blood with a handkerchief, what the fuck happened to Mitch?" Knowing that he was tired and exasperated, and knowing he could use a drink as well, he decided to kill a couple of shots of Old Grandad and call it a night. With this he stepped into the freezing night air and walked across the street to the Brickhouse. Once inside he beleaguredly hefted his ample frame into the barstool nearest the jukebox and motioned the barmaid. "What'll it be, Hank?", a hard, heavy-set woman with red colored hair asked. "Give me a Blue Ribbon and a tall shot of Grandad, would ya, Rose? "What gives, Hank? You only drink the hard stuff when your day's been for shit. Ruth finally come to her senses and give ya the boot?" "I thought bartenders were supposed to be on the side of the drinkers", Hank replied, trying to hide his reason for the liqour. Staring at the amber liquid, he slowly raised the glass to his lips and drank the viscous flow. The whisky failed to numb his mind and he continued to feel like something wrong, something evil was trying to extinguish the very life out of Whispering Falls.

Despite the terrible snowstorm that had hit Whispering falls Eddie Thomas and Wendy Miller couldn't control their teenage ardor and had ventured out into the night despite their parent's protests and obvious reservations. Parked near the old abandoned farm on Coleman Road the two were involved in the tired formality of petting, their desires engaged in silent war with one another. The big four-wheel drive Ford Blazer offered plenty of warmth and space for the young lovers as they vainly tried to cool the fire that raged inside their bodies. Eddie Thomas, a senior at the local high school, was by no means a virgin. In fact he was probably the most sexually astute teenager in town. Yet by the same token he had never conquered a girl that possessed the the physical beauty of a Wendy Miller. But what made this encounter more erotic, more of a challenge to him was the Miller girl's wholesomeness. She was the ice queen of Whispering Falls High. The prude. The little miss innocent. She had become his obsession, his most involved quest ever. And though she had made him wait, had played all the little games, he had finally broken through. In the six months they had been dating Eddie had turned the young girl's head, diluted her sense of propriety with the promise of unwavering, never ending love. The ironic part was that was exactly what had happened. He had fallen in love with her. Hopelessly. He no longer cared about his casanova image. The only thing Eddie Thomas cared about was Wendy Miller and holding her in his arms for the rest of his life. Now as they were about to prove their love, consumate it on this blustery, icy night they felt more like husband and wife rather than teenagers swept away by love. "I love you, Eddie," Wendy said in a raspy, throaty voice, as she hesitantly unbuttoned her cream and pink sweater. "I love you too," the anxious boy replied, his lips dry with anticipation. Suddenly, through the howling wind came a reverberating scream. Eddie looked at Wendy, his face ashen. The girl's eyes were wide, filled with apprehension and pure, unadulterated fear. "It was just the wind, that's all," Eddie said unconvincingly. "Do you really think so, it sounded like a scream, Eddie," the young girl said, her voice trembling with fear. No sooner had the words escaped her lips when the nightime silence was shattered by another unholy wail and then by a deep, evil growl. More terrified than ever the two teenagers looked anxiously at one another, eaching trying to draw strength from the others presence. Reluctantly Eddie pulled on his wool hunting jacket and fumbled with the buttons. Heart pounding, he reached with shaking hands into the glove box and pulled out his father's .45 caliber pistol and a box of shells. Realizing her boyfriend's intentions, Wendy's eyes filled with apprehension, knowing too well that Eddie planned to confront the thing that had uttered those horrid sounds. As he popped the last bullet into the chamber of the gun Eddie drew in a long breath and slowly opened the door of the Blazer. The night wind swirled around him, howling as if in pain. For a moment he thought that it had indeed been the wind playing tricks on them, teasing him out of the warmth and comfort of both the Blazer and Wendy's arms. However, he suddenly felt with a sense of despair that they weren't alone, that they were in the forest with something abhorrently evil. Shaking uncontrollably he somehow managed to cock the hammer of the gun and make his way to the front of the Blazer. Illuminated by the headlights of the vehicle he peered into the the dense shadows of the forest, wondering why the night had grown utterly silent. As if on cue a long, low whine came from the cover of the trees, sounding saliciously vile. Eddie whirled to face the sound but saw only darkness. Just above the whispering of the wind Eddie thought he heard ragged, heavy breathing approaching through the surrounding blackness of the night. He cast a quick glance at Wendy and saw that her eyes were wide with fright. He tried to smile reassuringly and failed. He was terrified and it showed. Angered at his fear and his inability to comfort the woman he loved, he slowly backpedaled to the drivers side door, deciding it was wiser to retreat to the safety of hearth and home, and that their long anticipated consumation could wait. Just as he reached for the handle of the door, Wendy screamed. It was a scream of terror and of dread. Instinctively Eddie knew that his life was over yet he was amazingly calm. He turned to see his fate and that was when his sanity betrayed him. What he saw defied human logic and understanding. The huge, hulking figure that hovered over the young man was hideous. For an instant the thing looked almost human in spite of its obvious deformities. Then Eddie saw the eyes. Those eyes weren't human. They couldn't be. In fact had Eddie been a particularly religious person he would've sworn he was looking into the very eyes of Satan. As he continued to gaze into the eyes of the devil Eddie begin to feel his mind snapping under the intense white-hot heat of their stare. The last conscious image of his life was not of the thing and its hell-spawned eyes but of the equally captivating beauty of Wendy Miller. He carried this image with him as he crossed over into the sweet darkness of never-ending peace. When Eddie collapsed at its feet, the beast turned its attention to Wendy Miller. The girl was near hysteria, cowering in the front of the Blazer. She was staring open-mouthed at the grotesque image that stood defiantly outside the vehicle, its eyes emitting a rage that threatened to consume her very soul. As the thing stepped inside the Blazer, Wendy became aware of the stench that poured from the beast. It was a foul, choking aroma that attacked her senses and caught her breath. The rotting, goatish odor carried with it a heat that stung the young girl's eyes. Wendy tried to scream but could only manage a frail, pathetic whimper. The beast sensed her fear and reveled in it, throwing back its head and shrieking in evil laughter. Wendy began to babble incoherently as the insanity of it all started to override her senses. The beast brought its face close to hers and the vile smell that escaped from the things open mouth settled on her skin and made her wretch. With one final act of courage Wendy forced herself to look into the eyes of the thing and there she saw the essence of evil in its purest form. With this she closed her own eyes knowing her young life was about to end. The hunger that coursed inside the veins of the beast was overpowering and would not be denied. Wendy could no longer suppress the sheer terror she was feeling and lost control of her bladder. The beast immediately recognized the smell of urine and the bitter, stale smell drove the thing further into a frenzy. With animalistic fervor the thing sniffed heartily, drawing in great gusts of the raw, base emotions that filled the cab of the Blazer. In one startling quick motion it ripped through the flesh that had once been Wendy Miller's beautiful, young face. Squeals of high-pitched laughter gurgled from the beast, laughing obscenely at the dying girl's sobs and shrieks of unfettered pain. The gargantuan entity placed its remarkably large hands on the sides of the girl's blood soaked head, placing the oversized thumb of each hand directly over the eyes. With a mixture of blood and spittle clinging to its chin, the beast drove its digits with powerful force deep into the sockets. Grunts of satisfied pleasure were the only sounds in an otherwise silent forest. The thing slowly removed its thumbs from the cavity of Wendy Miller's skull, sucking the blood that clung to its massive hands. Rather than quell the hunger that raged inside its tortured soul the ejaculation of violence had instead unleashed a greater need to inflict pain and death. The hell colored eyes of the devil were alive with pain. It wanted more. At two-thirty in the morning Hank Esham was awakened by the unwelcomed ringing of the telephone. His wife, Ruth, whom he had been married to the last eleven years answered on the third ring and immediately handed the reciever to her husband. "Yeah, what the hell is it?" Hank gruffly answered, thoroughly pissed off at having been disturbed from his slumber. The caller was Sam Miller, the local pharmacist and president of the board of education. "Sorry Sam, what can I do for ya?" the sheriff asked. The story that followed sounded to Hank like the typical call from a worried, over-protective parent. Eddie Thomas hadn't as yet returned Sam's daughter home from their date and they were over an hour late. Trying to be as cooperative as he could under the circumstances Hank suggested that the kids were probably on their way home even as he spoke, but Sam was a stubborn ol' cuss and would have no part of the sheriff's explanation. The weather was terrible Sam explained, and he wanted to be certain his daughter was safe and not in a ditch somewhere freezing to death. As tired as he was, Hank realized he was fighting a losing battle and reluctantly agreed to see if he could find Wendy Miller and her pubescent boyfriend, Eddie Thomas. After hanging up Hank was more irate than before. "The little tease is probably gettin' her cherry plucked and is too damn horny to come home", he muttered to no one in particular. "How in the hell does he expect me to find them kids anyway?", he wondered aloud. "Don't know why he let her go out in this kinda weather in the first place, and now I'm supposed to freeze my ass off tryin' to find the little mynx." "Well maybe he was under the impression that he had dialed the sheriff's house, for crying out loud" a muffled voice called out from the bed. "Would you just quit complaining and go find them before they do freeze to death" his wife said exasperatedly. "Gee, thanks for all the sympathy, Ruth, I knew I could count on you", he heard his own sarcastic voice reply. With a grunt of disgust she rolled over as he slipped on his boots and padded softly into the kitchen. He poured himself a cup of coffee and grabbed the cruiser keys from the table all the while thinking that something wasn't quite right in Whispering Falls.

As the night time sky continued to rain torrents of snow on the sleeping village, Hank was becoming increasingly frustrated. He had searched most of the small, isolated town and hadn't found a trace of the two teenagers. He was hesitant to continue the vigil as that would certainly mean expanding the hunt down roads and make-out points that he feared would be virtually inaccessible. The big, brawny lawmen was not pleased to be out in the cold and even less pleased with the futility of his sleuthing. Realizing that he had little choice but to accept his responsibility as protector of Whispering Falls he veered off Main Street and headed toward the Coleman place. The Coleman farm was a popular spot among the high school kids during the summer season as it was abandoned and remote, offering privacy for those who sought it. The pond that bordered the farmhouse was also a reason for its popularity. During the solstice the kids would migrate to the pond to bathe in its cooling waters as it provided them temporary escape from the sultry heat that radiated through the town and their troubled hearts. Still there was little reason to believe the couple had chosen the farm for their late night frolicking. It was as deserted during the winter months as it was frequented during the summer. A sudden thought made the drowsy man shudder. He tried to dismiss the thought as if it had never been but it clung to his sense of reason, determined to be acknowledged. With a fear and desperation that ate through his disgust at having been made to leave the warmth and comfort of his bed, the sheriff remembered in vivid detail the torn, dismembered, eye-less body of Mitch Conway. He had to accept the fact that what had happened to Mitch may have happened to the two teenagers as well. The truth of such a possibility terrified him. With growing panic Hank Esham realized there was a danger lurking in his town and, though it was as yet undefined, it was very real. Too real. Hank fought to keep his emotions in check and tramped the accelerator, desperate to find the teenagers and exorcise the demons that had begun to haunt Whispering Falls. Cursing the heavens for their lack of cooperation, Hank braved the falling fragments of ice and snow, urging the cruiser even faster down Coleman Road. Through the sheen of ice that attacked his windshield Hank noticed headlights in the distance, faintly illuminated by his own. Optimistic that he had found the two youths he radioed the station house and related the good fortune to his dispatcher, finding that he was near euphoria in his relief. He pulled up along side the vehicle and recognized Gene Thomas' Blazer. Although he couldn't see inside the Ford he was surprised that there was no more commotion than there was. Surely they had heard him approaching or at least seen the headlights of the patrol car. They had to realize that they had been discovered yet they seemed either not to care or too embarrassed to acknowledge his presence. Hank's anger began to resurface. He had gone out of his way to make sure these kids were alright and now they were indignant enough not to expain their actions. "Ungrateful little shits," he muttered as he opened his door and stepped into the night. "I'll scare them to death then," Hank thought a tad sadistically. He pounded on the passenger side window hard enough that he feared the glass would break. He had expected to startle the inhabitants inside, but still nothing came. No muffled whispers or sheepish giggles. Nothing. "The sons-of-bitches are fuckin' with me!" Hank whispered to no one but the wind. "Eddie? Wendy? It's Hank Esham. Your parents are worried sick about you! Do y'all have any idea how late you are? Haul your asses on out here, y'all gotta heap of explainin' to do." Still nothing. Not a single movement came from inside the Blazer. Had they heard him above the wind? He had nearly shouted in his anger. They had to have heard him and still they were playing with him. More enraged than before he pulled hard on the doorhandle but found it locked. "Damn it, open the fuckin' door!" he screamed. He walked angrily around the Blazer to the driver's side, ready to play hell with the two teenagers inside. What he saw and smelled on that side of the vehicle made the bile rise in his throat. Eddie Thomas or rather what was left of him lay face down in the snow, turning the ground a rich crimson. Bordering on hysteria the large, jowl-faced sheriff made his way to the body on rubbery legs. Hank knew before turning the body over that the boy was gone. There seemed to be a river of blood flowing from him and he was as limp as a dishrag. Still he had to search for a pulse and Hank turned him over. Immediately he wished he hadn't. Two black holes existed where the youth's green eyes had once been and the entire left side of his face had been torn away, as if eaten. Hank could no longer repress the nausea he felt and he vomited all over the already-molested corpse. Crying now, the man's thoughts turned to the Miller girl. "No, please dear God, no," he whimpered. He turned toward the Blazer and noticed the door was standing wide open. He knew theren it was useless to hope. It had gotten her as well. It? Why had he referred to whatever had done this as an it rather than a whom? He was losing it he thought. Just stay calm he told himself. Relax. Peering inside the cab of the Blazer his stomach was again assaulted. Large, dark stains of blood marked the seats and speckaled the dash and windshield. Bits of hair and flesh were matted into the material of the seat covers. In the passenger seat was Wendy Miller. The late Wendy Miller. Her torso was hideously bent and Hank reasoned that her back had been broken, snapped like a toothpick. Her once beautiful face, full of life and hope was gone. Nothing remained but bone. Her throat had been ripped open or perhaps bitten through. Yes, bitten through. Something had attacked the two teenagers and dined on their carcasses, seemingly with a voracious appetite. Belatedly, Hank learned of the foul aroma that permeated the night. It was a harsh, sickening odor. Unlike anything he had ever encountered. The flesh smelled burned and there was the underlying stench of death and hell. It was all too much for Hank's tired mind to comprehend. Too much of it couldn't be real, it just wasn't possible. It was all a bad dream, an unbelievable nightmare from which he simply could not awaken. Try as he might Hank knew he couldn't merely wish the truth away. Three of his citizens had been savagely murdered in less than a day. It was perverse and gruesome, but nonetheless real and the evidence of the carnage was all around him. Shaking as a coldness enveloped his haggard soul, a beaten Hank Esham used his radio to call for backup. And more body bags.