Of things that go chomp in the night [Writer's Cramp entry for 10/30/11]
|The Legend of Moffat County|
Perfect. Just perfect, Walter thought. I'm going to have some choice words for that rental agent, he muttered to himself as he walked along Colorado State Highway 13. After, of course, they get me a replacement car and after they come up with a reasonable compensation offer and, of course, after I get back to town, so I can get a cell phone signal in the first place! Ralph White Lake was finally behind him, but he was still nearly ten miles from Craig.
Walter Jackson shivered, as neither his pace nor his jacket were sufficient to keep away the chill. He hadn't expected this, of course. It was supposed to be a simple meet-and-greet, the initial contact in the process of acquiring a failed home improvement store to use as a regional distribution center. After getting the rental car at Denver International--it had been cheaper than flying directly from Miami to Green River, Wyoming--he'd taken the Interstate west then switched to US 40, intending to follow it as far as Craig, before striking north to pick up another Interstate for the run into Green River.
Everything had been fine, right up to the part where the left rear tire had gone flat and he'd discovered that the jack was broken. After finding his cell phone was useless, he'd waited a full half-hour, before deciding that whatever volume of traffic that normally traversed this stretch of road was being impacted by the fact that it was Halloween. Now he was stuck with a hike back into town, the sun had gone down and he was discovering that an elevation of sixty-five hundred feet in late October was not at all a warm place to be.
At least the road's in decent shape and there's some moonlight, although the waning sliver looks more like an orange slice, he said to himself, and... He stopped and peered through the gathering darkness at the woods lining the road. He could detect no movement, and whatever sound he thought he'd heard did not repeat itself. Great--now you're hearing things, he chided himself. The rational part of his brain reminded him, though, that he was in the mountains and miles from civilization, and it was the wildlife that was right at home. Well, critters are basically skittish of people, right?, he asked himself. So, just let 'em know you're out here. He picked up his pace and began to whistle. He didn't see a winged shape appear to leap from a tree and glide to earth, growing into a four-legged shape as it lighted on the roadway. He didn't hear its claws propel it forward into springing distance, either.
* * *
Moffat County Sheriff Tom Sanders had almost finished his interview with a very shaken Deputy Sheriff Bascomb.
“I tell ya, Tom, it’s like it knew when I was gonna pull that trigger and just got outta the way. And those eyes! I thought for sure it was gonna… was gonna…” The man swallowed hard, unable to continue.
A State Police cruiser appeared around the bend and pulled off onto the shoulder. The driver got out and approached the two men.
"It’s all right, Steve; remind me to tell you about my second Halloween as Sheriff. Okay, now, remember what I said about your report, and easy on the details. Here," the sheriff said as he handed the man a small hatchet and a pair of rubber gloves, "put this stuff back in my trunk, would you?"
"Evening, Sheriff. I heard the call over the radio. Something about a wolf attack, or some such?"
"That's right. Looks like it jumped the poor guy, knocked him down and then started chewing on him."
The patrolman glanced down at the victim, then back at the sheriff. "What's with the shotgun damage, then?"
"Steve--that's my deputy," the sheriff replied, "was on patrol and came upon the scene. When the wolf didn't run off, he figured it was rabid or something and grabbed his shotgun. When it took a step toward him, he fired. Unfortunately, the critter chose that exact moment to spring to its right and vanish back into the woods. The blast didn't do the guy's chest any good, but he was already dead; just check out his throat."
The patrolman's flashlight beam illuminated the corpse, then lit up the road's shoulder on either side of the body as he swung the flashlight back and forth.
"Odd, how most of the blood's here, near the road, and not so much near the body, wouldn't you say, Sheriff?"
"It's curious, and that's a fact."
"Strange, too, how the guy managed to land directly on what looks to be the only broken sapling in sight. Looks to have gone right through his heart, too; almost looks like a stake, stickin' up like that. I suppose," the patrolman continued, "the wolf could have ripped his throat out right here by the road, and the attack's momentum could have carried him backward where he could have fallen onto the stump. It could've happened just that way, right?"
The sheriff regarded the other man thoughtfully, then asked, "You new to this part of the state, officer?"
"Born and raised right here in the county, in Dinosaur, actually. Why?"
"So, you're familiar with Blood Moons and the Legend of Moffat County?"
The two men held each other's gaze for a long moment, then the patrolman spoke.
"What about the Coroner's report?"
"That throat makes cause of death pretty clear, and the gunshot wound can be explained. Steve'll come around, and I'll back him, if there's any heat. Besides, no one wants to put words like "vampire" into an official report, now do they?"