Welcome to Greyhollow, a small town with a dark past and even darker secrets...
|Chapter Two: Dylan Goes Vegan
The lunch bell rang, echoing throughout the music hall. Tristan and the others seamlessly mingled with their fellow classmates as the hallways filled with hungry students. The school lunch turned out to be disappointing, as did the rest of the day. Classes passed by in a kaleidoscope of boredom, assignments and constant glances at the clock.
A.P. History was always an awful slog. Poorly timed to take place right after Tristan had eaten his fill, it was a constant battle to stay awake through the dry discussions of socio-economics. Sitting by the window, he basked in the warm sun like a bloated lizard. Sleep tugged at his eyelids ever so gently, coaxing him to shut them just for the merest of moments.
Aiden and Dylan didn't qualify for advanced courses and Clara was taking A.P. Chemistry, which meant that Tristan was alone for this period. He didn't care to talk to anyone aside from polite conversation and the occasional group project. Being afflicted with a shy temperament meant that he took considerable time to warm up to people, and there wasn't anyone he was remotely interesting in devoting energy to in the room.
The bell rang, startling him from his drowsy stupor. "... and I expect this to be on the quiz next week, so review chapter nine again. Have a safe and productive weekend." Ms. Timmons was nearly drowned out as everyone slammed books shut and stampeded towards the door. Slowly packing up his binder, he looked up to see her smiling wryly. "I see we managed to stay awake today."
Tristan sheepishly grinned. "You might want to invest in a coffee maker, otherwise I can't make any promises." She crossed her arms and sighed. "Unfortunately, I don't think that's in the school budget."
Ms. Timmons was fairly young, compared to most of the other faculty. He placed her about late twenties or early thirties. She possessed one of those faces that was difficult to gauge age by, and captivated the hearts of many teenage boys that she taught. Her light brown hair was always kept neat and short, and she dressed modestly and simply which belied her age.
She made no secret to Tristan that he was her favorite student, despite his constant dozing. He always delivered a well written and interesting paper for her to critique and when he did pay attention in class he asked questions that gave way to meaningful discussions. Ms. Timmons was very passionate about history, and did her best to make the source material interesting. Tristan did his best to make sure her efforts weren't wasted on him. This allowed her to cut him some slack when he took the occasional snooze.
"Did you read my paper on Al Capone yet?" They were currently going over the Prohibition amidst the roaring twenties. "You know I did." She chuckled. "Of course you would pick a gangster as the focus of your essay." Tristan packed up his binder and stowed his pencils away. "I write about what interests me, you know that. Besides, I think I made a compelling case for how influential he was."
Ms. Timmons smiled and sighed in defeat. "While that might be the case, there's more to history than your romanticized views." Tristan rolled his eyes and headed towards the door. "Hey, I thought class was over. Save it for Monday, will ya?" "Rude as ever, Mr. Mathers." He winked at her and waved goodbye with his free hand.
The rest of the day was uneventful, and Tristan met up with Aiden and the others in the school parking lot. Aiden was the only one of the group to have his own car AND license. Dylan still had yet to upgrade from his learner's permit, but said that he was 'getting around to it'. That was his excuse for most things, but was still more hopeful than a maybe.
"Shotgun!" Dylan crowed, prompting Clara to roll her eyes. "Looks like you are sitting in the back with Tristan, oooh la laa." "Shut it, dumbass!" She shoved Dylan, who ran away cackling. "Alright, that's enough already." Tristan groaned wearily. Aiden wisely kept his mouth shut on the matter, knowing that pushing Clara off the edge was courting danger. She was already quite irritable after the incident earlier.
Aiden's car was a Jeep Cherokee that the years had treated mostly well. Being his first car, he loved it as if it was his firstborn mechanical son. There was no surprise that the color was black, but the paint was chipped and faded in sections which gave it a mottled appearance. The back sported a few stickers, such as 'Metal Head' and 'How's my Driving? Actually I don't give a shit.'
Everyone tossed their backpacks in the trunk and clambered into their respective seats. The old car fired to life as Aiden turned the key, belching smoke from the exhaust. Guitars squealed from the speakers, as the driver had choice of music and it was always some form of metal. Tristan and the other two were unfazed by the throaty rasping and thudding of bass. It was expected at this point, and even came to appreciate it in their own way. Aiden liked to say he brainwashed them into loving it, and it wasn't too far from the truth.
"Dude, is this Winds of Plague?" Dylan asked, opening a bag of barbeque chips. Aiden nodded, lips mouthing the chorus as he squinted at the side mirrors. Tristan turned to his left to see Clara reading a dog eared copy of her favorite manga. A sappy romance of course, and he unconsciously wrinkled his nose. "You've read that one like a thousand times, don't you get sick of it?" She looked up, and pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Not really... Even when you know what happens it never gets old, you know? Like it's kind of more about the journey and less about the destination." Tristan was a little taken aback by that answer, not expecting something quite so insightful out of a cliche comic filled with vampires and forbidden love.
"Oh yeah, I still have to give you those books you lent me." Dylan looked back at Clara, who sighed and put her book down again. "About time. It's only been what, three months now?"
Tristan gazed out his window as the two bickered. The town of Greyhollow passed before his eyes, the place he only ever knew. Its history was rich, dating back to the Puritan times when it was first founded. There was even a house that had been preserved from that time period by the local historical society, and a few TV episodes were even filmed here. But that was really the nearest thing to fame this town had to offer, otherwise it passed by unnoticed.
Efforts to fully modernize Greyhollow were unfruitful, as most people were set in their ways. Not unlike a deep rut, he supposed. There were no cookie cutter houses, no shopping malls and not even a single fast food chain. If people had the hankering to experience what the outside world was like, the nearest city was a little over an hour away. Greyhollow was mostly surrounded by thick forests, broken only by the river which had to be crossed before entering or leaving town. The woods themselves were thick and full of mystery. Many local legends spoke of strange things coming from them, often in dark of night. Tristan's grandmother was fond of telling him these stories when he was being naughty. Eventually the fright passed and brought forth curiosity, which ceased such stories to his dismay.
"Earth to Tristan..." His musings were interrupted and he turned to look at Clara. "Hm? Sorry I was spacing out." Aiden looked at him through the rear view mirror. "Harry's?" Grinning, Tristan shrugged. "Well if you guys are in agreement I can't say no."
Harry's Diner was by far the best place to eat in town. Specializing in greasy food, the modest diner was a veritable haven for lovers of fried eatables. Thick juicy burgers were accompanied with hand cut fries, and rich malted milkshakes that you could only dream of. The menu had everything from grilled cheese to meatball subs, and if you were a favorite you could even request special orders. Harry opened the place after the first world war, despite only being nineteen years old with a few pennies in his pocket. His skill as a short order cook helped get the business going and customers always left full and happy.
When he was drafted for the second war Harry's son kept the place running for him while his father was away. After the Allied victory everyone celebrated and welcomed the troops home. But he never came back. His son inherited more than a diner, though. Along the way he picked up his Daddy's knack for making delicious food and kept his legacy alive. And the rest, as they say, is history.
The diner looked right out of the 1950's, with glistening chrome and red vinyl seats. The neon sign simply said Harry's in the bubbly letters of that era. On the inside, memorabilia littered the walls, ranging from old Coca-Cola signs to cartoonish rocket ships. Tristan slid into a booth and snatched up a menu excitedly. Food was something that he took very seriously, selecting his meal as carefully as a judge giving a verdict. Dylan didn't even bother looking at the specials. He ordered the same thing every time, despite any attempts to convince him otherwise. Aiden plopped next to Dylan, leaving Clara to sit with Tristan. He wondered if they did this on purpose, but the two seemed to be acting innocently enough. She made a show of placing her purse on the seat before sitting next to him, which amused the others. Tristan buried his face in the menu as a defense against the sly looks that would be coming his way.
"Heya kiddos! Do know what we are ordering today?" The bright voice belonged to Jez, the best waitress Harry's had employed in recent years. Her teasing smile attracted a fair amount of business, but she wasn't hired solely for her pretty face. Never forgetting a face, Jez could recall everyone's name once introduced. And there was the fact that she could whip up milkshakes better than anyone, often adding extra toppings for free. Nearly everyone was in love with her, most notoriously the short order cook, whose advances she deftly fended off.
She stood before them, snapping her bubble gum with those sea-green eyes staring questioningly. Brushing light red hair from her face, Jez nodded at Dylan who had his hands folded over his menu. "I know Dylan is getting the usual..." She scribbled on her little notepad and glanced up at Aiden, who was gazing at her dreamily. "Aiden?" Snapping her fingers at him managed to bring him back to reality. "Should I come back to you last?" "Uhhh..." Looking down at the choices he frowned. "There seems to be a problem here." Jez cocked her head in confusion. "How so?" Aiden looked up and grinned widely. "I don't see you listed on here."
This earned a collective groan from the group. Rolling her eyes, Jez sighed. "You know, it was almost cute the first time I heard that." Clara shook her head in disbelief. "Seriously Aiden, it's a good thing nobody's lactose intolerant, because that was really cheesy." Dylan and Tristan snickered as Jez gave Clara a high-five. "You know you could learn a thing or two from that girl." Sulking, Aiden crossed his arms. In response, the waitress put her hands on her shapely hips. "Are you gonna order, Mr. Grumpy?" "I'll get a grilled Ruben or whatever." He muttered. "Uh-huh... fries with that?" He grunted. "Kay... and to drink?" "Dr. Pepper I guess." Jez looked at him sympathetically. "It's okay honey, you don't have to get upset every time you strike out." Giggling as Aiden turned red, Clara pointed at her selection on the menu.
More scribbling and then Jez raised an eyebrow at Tristan. "And what are we having today, sweetie?" Slowly and deliberately he folded the menu shut and gravely announced, "Harry's Habanero Hash."
Dylan whistled and Aiden stopped glowering to look at Tristan in disbelief. Clara stared at him as if he had proclaimed he was the Pope. With both eyebrows raised Jez marked three H's on her pad. "Feeling brave today, I see."
"Oh and I'll take a large shake too, please. You know how I like it."
"That I do." She winked and spun on her heel, heading to the kitchen. "I'll be right back with your drinks, guys."
Aiden sighed longingly as he watched her go. "Ugh, give it a rest already." Shaking her head at him, Clara tucked her long blonde hair behind an ear. "You know she's too old for you." He shrugged. "A guy can dream, alright?" "Dreaming is about all you can do, lover boy." Now it was his turn to glare at her as she smirked back, unfazed.
Dylan spoke, breaking the tension. "Hey, guys?" Looking up from his phone, there was a strange expression on his face. "They found another one..."
Silence befell the group. "You can't be serious." Clara groaned, sinking back in her seat. "Ugh. Way to suck at timing." Dylan shrugged. "Someone's got to break the bad news to Jez..." Tristan muttered. Everyone turned to look at Aiden.
Jez emerged from the hot kitchen, deftly balancing a tray of glasses. "Food will be out soon, guys! Here's the drinks you..." Her voice trailed off as she realized the booth was empty. "...ordered?" A twenty lay on the table, with SORRY! emblazoned on it. Placing the tray next to it, she flipped it over and frowned.
Had to go, emergency. Will explain later. - Aiden
Below his name, a string of numbers were scrawled. Jez chuckled and tucked it into her apron. Persistence was cute sometimes.
Thin shadows crept over the earth as the sun kissed the horizon, shedding its dying rays on a black Jeep shuddering up a dirt road. The vehicle spewed exhaust while the engine hummed angrily, as did one of its passengers. "I cannot believe I passed up Harry's for this." Clara fumed. "Freakin' HARRY'S." She glared out her window, the crimson sky seeming to match her mood. Tristan's stomach gurgled. He rubbed it sadly and sighed. "I know, boy. I know." The driver and co-pilot were too busy arguing over the quickest route to comment on the unfortunate departure. Clara glanced over at Tristan, who was still nursing his empty gullet. "What do you think we are going to find this time?" He met her steely gaze and smiled wryly. "Well answers would be nice."
Past the outskirts of Greyhollow, the Jeep puttered past fields of long grass, waving blades gilded by the harvest season. Turning left down another road revealed a small thicket of apple trees straining under the weight of the plump fruit which they bore. The red and yellow delicacies dangled tantalizingly, begging to be plucked. Tristan mouth watered as he imagined sinking his teeth into the crisp skin and savoring the juices. Aiden gestured towards the orchard. "We could always stop for a bite, like old times." Stealing apples from the Matheson's was a favorite past time as kids, the fact it was forbidden fruit made it all the sweeter. Dylan snorted. "No thanks, I took the fall too many times for you guys." He consulted his phone. "Besides, we are nearly at the Davidson farm."
The Davidson's ran the only dairy farm left in Greyhollow, as the other farmers had either moved away or sold their land in favor of easier work. But the Davidson family kept their dairy farm running for generations, and that itself was a great source of pride to them. Supplying the town with fresh milk and butter earned them the respect and appreciation of the townspeople. The mayor even went so far as to proclaim the farm as "one of the town's treasures." Hard-working and humble, the Davidson's never let such praise sour their kind natures. This added even further to their popularity. But lately, they had been struck with horrible misfortune.
As they passed the orchard, a wooden fence marked the border of the Matheson estate. A house loomed in the distance, windows glowing an inviting yellow that dispelled the gathering dusk. Pulling into the driveway, the Jeep's headlights illuminated a figure leaning against a red pickup. He sported a ball cap, faded jeans and a old shirt that said 'Davidson Milk is udderly delicious.' Aiden parked next to the truck as the capped man approached Dylan's window. "The hell took you guys so long?"
Kevin Davidson drummed his fingers on the hood and glowered from under the brim of his cap. Clara leaned forward and matched his frown. "We skipped eating for this, so I am really not in the mood." He cocked his head and smirked. "Then you'll be even less pleased to hear the sheriff is on his way." This brought fresh panic to the group, and everyone piled out of the Jeep hurriedly. "You guys have flashlights?" Aiden rummaged around in the glove box and pulled one out while Kevin strode over to the porch and slung something over his shoulder. When he returned, Tristan saw it was a double barrel shotgun. "Precautions." Kevin muttered with a grimace.
Crickets chirped and grew quiet as the wind rustled through the field. It seemed as if the breeze was whispering hush, warning not to make a sound. Perhaps everyone listened, the grim atmosphere had grown taciturn the closer they grew to the destination. Stars began to peek out between the clouds, setting a celestial backdrop for the glorious full moon as it rose silently over the trees. Dry grass crackled underfoot as they followed the farmer boy out into the pasture. The pungent scent of manure crinkled Tristan's nose and he cast his phone light on the ground to avoid trodding in any dung.
Kevin led them to the barn, shining his light on weathered red double doors far older than anyone present. Tristan wondered why he didn't take them inside, but then eyes widened as he understood what they were meant to see. Long ugly claw marks lacerated the wood, pieces of which lay splintered and shredded on the ground. Maroon paint flakes speckled the scene, eerily reminiscent of blood splatters. Scratches stretched up as high as six feet. Whatever did this was taller than Tristan and as he looked up a sickly feeling in the pit of his stomach grew. Leave, his instincts told him. Leave now and this can just be a distant memory. Gritting his teeth, he pushed his fear down within and swallowed hard. "Follow me." Kevin said softly and gestured towards the door leading to the grain room. Dylan went in first, followed by Aiden. Pale faced, Clara glanced at Tristan and vanished into the barn as well. He took one last look at the scarred door and shivered. The night was growing cold, but chilly was far from how he felt.
It was filled with musty darkness inside, thick with animal smell and the sweetness of hay. Kevin and Aiden were the only ones with flashlights, leaving everyone else using their phones. The barn was massive, with rows of pens holding just shy of a hundred milk cows. Up above was a loft where hay bales and other equipment was stored. Approaching the stalls, they observed the animals inside. Cowering against the walls, the cattle shied away from the light. Tails swishing anxiously, breath steaming the air as they panted. "What's wrong with them?" Aiden muttered. "Jus' spooked is all." The farm boy replied. "But I've never seen it this bad."
Dylan drew towards a spotted cow shielding a quivering calf. The mother lowered her head and charged, slamming into the stall door with a clang. Jumping away, Dylan cursed at the beast. He wasn't the only one to be frightened. The sudden noise startled the other animals and they cried out in fear, trampling the hay as they circled their stalls. As the livestock bellowed, the group huddled together amidst the deafening clamor. Flashlights revealed animals tossing heads, mouths agape, eyes rolling until the whites showed. Clara screamed as another cow smashed into its iron gate behind her. "Let's get out of here!" Tristan shouted over the hellish noise.
Kevin ran towards the other side of the barn with the others in tow. Cattle rammed at them as they passed. Metal squealed and creaked as the bars shook, spurring them to run even faster. Getting trampled to death never seemed likely to Tristan until tonight. He vowed never to see cows the same way again. "Up here!" Kevin was climbing a ladder leading to the loft above. "Hold up guys!" Dylan wheezed, staggering in the back. Tristan ran back to help him while Aiden clambered up to safety.
"Can't run... anymore today." Dylan gasped, chest heaving with exertion. As he put his arm around his friend, there was a resounding metallic clatter of a gate snapping off its hinges. "Don't think you have a choice!" Yelled Tristan, propelling him towards the ladder. Amidst the terrified bawling of the livestock they heard Clara screaming for them to hurry. Hooves thundered as the ladder was just within reach. Looking over his shoulder Tristan saw a cow charging, eyes crazed, mouth frothed with spittle as it bellowed. He shoved Dylan up the ladder and dove out of the way.
Nearly hitting the only escape route, the animal rushed past Tristan and turned around. Thinking fast, he shone his light into its eyes as he stepped onto the first rung. The blinded cow tossed its head and belted out another cry of anger as it stormed forth again. He tossed the phone away from himself, hoping it would work as a distraction. For the most part, it did. Tristan had nearly made it to the top when the ladder shuddered.
Losing his grip, he fell halfway down before grasping the rungs once more. Clinging on desperately with stinging palms, his heart pounded as the ladder teetered precariously. Coming to his aid, Aiden held the top steady and yelled for Tristan to move his ass. But as he ascended once more the animal below snapped. Sinking yellowed teeth into flesh it bit his ankle savagely. Tristan yelped and kicked it in the muzzle, managing to free the injured leg. Wood splintered and creaked as the enraged bovine head-butted the ladder. Limping up the rungs, he was goaded upwards by his friends. "Come on man!" Kevin and Dylan stretched out their arms while Aiden gripped the shaking bars. Almost there, just one more step... With a sickening snap, the ladder gave way. Covering her eyes, Clara screamed.
But helping hands caught hold, snatching him from the jaws of peril. Grunting as they yanked him up, Dylan and Kevin collapsed into the dusty loft. "Thanks guys." Tristan sighed in relief, fear and adrenaline slowly ebbing away. Dylan patted him on the back. "Now we're even."
"Death by cow. That's like the worst way to go." Joked Aiden, but his eyes betrayed that he was shaken by the encounter. "Every time we ate a burger it would be like revenge, man." Clara punched him in the shoulder. "Not funny." Turning towards Tristan, she asked how his leg was. He was about to respond when Kevin held up his hand. "Listen."
The baying of cattle stopped, but when exactly that had occurred was unclear. Not even the faintest of rustles broke the emptiness which smothered the barn. Silver beams quietly spilled from windows as the moon broke through the clouds. Fearful of what they were about to discover, the five friends looked over the edge. Down below lay the phone, shining doggedly. Above it, was the deranged beast.
It was standing on its hind legs, mouth agape. One horn had snapped and lay dangling from a strand of angry red sinew. Splinters of wood jutted out from the snout, which dribbled white foam. The horn stub wept blood, droplets running into the eye beneath. It stared at Tristan with that gory cornea. Then, lifting its head it wailed. Veins stuck out from its straining neck as it screamed. The haunting sound grew as the other animals began howling in an unearthly harmony. Ceasing its cry, the beast returned its hateful gaze on Tristan once more. It was only when he looked around the stalls that he realized every cow was facing him. Rows of eyes glittered in the moonlight. Silky gloom crept back as the moon faded away, swallowing everything in shadow until only the one-horned creature remained. Dropping to all fours it smashed the phone beneath a hoof, and all was darkness.
Backing away, Tristan leaned against the window and steadied his shaking hands. He rubbed his throbbing ankle and bitterly wished he had listened to the little voice which warned him. "This is bad." Muttered Kevin and cradled his shotgun, counting the shells in his pocket. Dylan swallowed and looked at Aiden, who was chewing his nails. Clara sat next to Tristan, shivering. "What are we gonna do?" "Get out of here, for starters." He faced the window behind them and squinted. "Does this open?" Looking up from counting, the farm boy nodded. "Killer cows, man..." Dylan's voice wavered. "I'm gonna go vegan if I survive this."
Peering out the window, Tristan caught sight of a haystack below. "Unfortunately for you, we all just might."
The hay was soft and springy but slightly damp. Rain had soaked into the dried grass, slimy strands sticking to faces and clothing like wet noodles. It was slightly more unpleasant than the dry portions, which poked Tristan and left him itchy. Nevertheless, he would have gladly endured worse to be freed from that barn and the nightmarish creatures that dwelt within. Rolling out from the dusty hay, he sneezed and rubbed his nose. Clara was brushing herself off, while Dylan cursed as he tried to find a piece in his shirt. Aiden shone his flashlight on the haystack for Kevin who volunteered to go last. Taking care to unload the shotgun first, he vanished into the pile and emerged as a hairy yellow man.
Everyone had flashlights except for Tristan, who was mourning the loss of his new phone. After shaking off the sweet smelling needles, Kevin reloaded the weapon and cocked it. The metallic sound rang out harshly and hushed the group. Huddling behind the farm boy, they followed their guide once again. Limping along, Tristan stayed in the center as they vigilantly swept their lights across the field.
Paranoia settled in as shadows danced and flickered. Half-imagined monsters loomed against the night sky, driven away by the artificial rays gripped in unsteady hands. Each rustle and snap was something malevolent lurking nearby, and the five friends unconsciously grew closer together as nerves gently frayed beneath the shrouded moon. Off in the distance, a wolf howl drifted on a cool breeze. The eerie sound rose hairs on the back of Tristan's neck.
There was a squelch, and a groan. "Goddammit." Examining his shoe, Dylan froze. "That's not a cow pie." He had trodden on what appeared to be a thick grey tongue, torn out by the roots. Kevin stopped walking and turned to the group. "We're here."
Before them lay the carcass of a black bull.
The head was untouched, save for the missing lower jaw and tongue. From the neck down was an unrecognizable slew of animal parts. Its abdomen was severely torn apart, shredded muscle hanging over the cavernous wound as if veiling the scene from innocent eyes. Rib bones glinted stark white against the pink and grey hued organs spilling forth in a cascade of butchery. Behind them, Dylan retched. Feeling ill himself, Tristan tried to ignore the sounds of vomit splashing and drew closer to the remains. Flaps of skin swayed in the wind. The air was thick with the stench of blood, copious amounts of which caked the surrounding area. Some of the organs had bite marks, but that didn't interest him. What did were three distinct slashes that had ripped out the bull's neck and sliced the hide to fleshy ribbons.
"Oookay time to go guys." Clara tugged at Tristan's arm. "Can we get the hell out of here?" She pleaded, looking around for support. Nodding wordlessly, Dylan wiped his mouth. Aiden was nervously shining his light around, as if it was keeping the forces of darkness at bay. Tristan looked to Kevin, who didn't need any convincing. "Fine with me. At least you guys get to go back to town, I have to deal with this in my backyard." He grumbled, shouldering the shotgun. "Real quick, I want you to see this." Before anyone could protest he put his hand up. "I took a picture, relax." Reaching into his pocket, he took out a cell phone and navigated to the photo gallery. He handed it to Tristan. "Ever seen that before?"
The photo was of an empty stall inside the barn. On the back wall a marking was scratched into the wood, a diagonal arrow pointing northeast. A line ran through it with a squiggle below it, a bizarre looking symbol that Tristan had no knowledge of.
"I found that the day after this happened to Brutus. This was in his pen." Everybody looked at the symbol, but were equally perplexed. Grass crackled in the distance. They stared at each other in horror, and knew what it meant. Something was out there and it was getting closer. It made a strange grunting sound as it moved towards the group. Clara whimpered as the rustling grew louder. Softly hissing for quiet, Kevin held the gun at the ready. A twig snapped, and then the movement ceased.
Everyone was huddled behind the farm boy. He pointed the shotgun at the last location the noise came from, waiting for it to show itself. Aiden tried to locate it with his flashlight, but only found an empty field.
Hearing something behind him, Tristan whirled and was blinded by a powerful white light. A voice boomed aggressively. "PLACE THE FIREARM ON THE GROUND AND PUT YOUR HANDS IN THE AIR!" Raising his hands, he sighed. A monster would have been much better company than the Sheriff.