A man uses his supernatural gift to save a town.
Three days had passed before they found the body of the little girl. Jack McDermott, the local Sheriff, tried not to gag as he tiptoed around the corpse and scrutinized the ground. His movement disturbed the flies that danced upon the child's face and buzzed heavily about her head. In all his years of service he never got used to seeing dead kids. This one was young, maybe nine or ten. She looked as if God had chewed her up and then not liking the taste, spat her back out again.
Centerville had always been such a quiet little town, and Jack liked to keep it that way. He thought he had left murder and senseless killing behind him in Los Angeles, almost losing himself to the dead he tried to help as a homicide detective. One day, after leaving the scene of a horrible child mutilation, he just up and quit, hopped in his car and drove until he ran out of gas. He ended up here in Centerville, a forgotten little country town nestled in the foothills of the Sierras. Something drew him here, like a childhood memory you can’t quite put your finger on. He liked the way the town felt—it was in the boonies—and after life in the big city, that suited Jack just fine.
“What kind of animal could have done this, Sheriff?” the Deputy asked, his voice muffled by the handkerchief he used to cover his nose and mouth. “Bears don’t come down this far—a mountain lion maybe?”
“Don’t know, Harry, but whatever got her must have been floating in the air . . . there’s not a single track anywhere on the ground.”
A car door slammed and Jack looked toward the highway—the local media networks were pulling up in their vans. “Do me a favor, will ya, Harry?”
“Yeah, sure, Sheriff.”
“Keep those assholes out of here until we can get this mess cleaned up. If this was my little girl, I wouldn’t want to see her picture spread all over the front page.”
Harry nodded. “No problem, I can’t stand to see anymore of this anyway.” The Deputy turned and headed toward the street, blowing his nose to remove the stench of the dead body that hung in the air like the stink on a skunk. The Sheriff watched him zigzag through the stand of trees until he was lost behind a large pine.
When Jack felt he was finally alone, he turned back to the body. By the expression on the child’s face, he could only think that she must have been scared out of her mind when she died. It looked as though some kind of animal had tried to eat her alive. There were large chunks of flesh absent from her hip and torso—her right arm was missing completely. But the weird thing was that there were no tracks. Jack didn’t quite know what to make of it. What kind of an animal could take down its prey, eat part of it, and never leave a print? He sighed heavily knowing that there was only one way to find out.
Jack had a gift — just like his Momma — which was what made him such a good detective. Most of his life he kept it hidden and quiet — asleep. He hadn’t used his power in a long time, and he wondered if he still possessed it. The gift nearly drove him insane once, the memories of the dead speaking to him while it sucked his life force away.
But this . . . this was different. This killing was as baffling as it was brutal. Here the gift could prove to be invaluable if only Jack possessed the courage to use it again.
These people are counting on you, Jack. If there's a monster loose, you gotta find it. You gotta kill it.
He took a deep breath as he readied himself. He could already feel the stirring in the air: a tingling sensation like the charge of an electrical current. Bending to one knee, he gently reached down and cradled the little girl’s cold hand in his, felt the gift flow down his arm into her. As he looked into her dead face, he called her forth, “Wake up! Wake up and show me what happened.”
At first, there was nothing, and then suddenly, the girl’s eyes shot open — milky white, like the color of moonstones. He felt her grip tighten on his hand as her mouth worked desperately up and down, her throat making a horrible gurgling sound.
“Show me!” he insisted. A mental image flashed into his mind.
It was night and she was running from something. Jack ran with her and heard her heavy breathing, her heart hammering in her ears. Then he heard the snarls of the animal, the muffled growls just out of sight along the tree line. She ran toward the highway. She was almost clear of the woods when it attacked—she wet herself with fright.
Jack felt the hot savage breath of the creature, its unquenchable hunger, its sick yellow grin. The child hit at it with her little fists, desperately trying to keep it off of her. He saw its large wolf-like head, its red eyes. It stared at him, knew that he was there, and for a moment, the monster hesitated. Jack saw a glint of teeth as it suddenly bit at his face, but instead it grabbed the little girl’s arm. Then he heard the high-pitched screams, felt the utter horror she felt as something jerked and pulled at her body, eating her alive.
The images stopped; the girl’s chest arched high up off the ground, her life force realizing it could no longer dwell within this mangled corpse. With a loud sigh of anguish, she re-lived her death, and then her spirit, along with Jack's, escaped through her mouth and her body sank and lay still.
Jack slowly stood on wavering legs and backed away, visibly shaken. The power was like that; it always stretched his essence thin, piggybacking the girl’s spirit for a brief time as it fed upon his soul.
What was that thing? It was unnatural—not merely an animal, but something . . . unholy and evil, a perversion of nature.
The paramedics arrived and Harry led them through the woods to where Jack was. He saw their revulsion as both men grabbed for their surgical masks and slipped them over their faces. One prepared the stretcher while the other unfolded the body bag.
“What the hell took you so long?” Jack snapped.
“This isn’t the easiest place to find,” one of them said in defense.
Jack softened, “Yeah, I know. Sorry.”
As the paramedics went about their job, Harry studied him. “You all right, Sheriff?” he asked, coming around the crime scene to where Jack stood. “You look kinda pale.”
“Just tired," he said as he lifted his hat and rubbed where his forehead met his scalp. “Harry, I’m gonna ask you to do something that you’re probably gonna think is a little crazy.”
“Sure, anything for you, Sheriff.”
“I want you to get me a sleeping bag and a lantern. I’m gonna spend the night out here tonight.”
“Out here? But Sheriff . . . ”
“Don’t ask, Harry, just do it, and you better bring me my rifle, too.”
It was after midnight, when the moon had put on its weight and the dim mountains like old teeth bit at the sky. Jack scanned the area. He could smell the creeping stench of the creature before he knew it was there. It had returned just as he hoped; wild animals always return to finish their kill.
Silently, he sat up and slipped out of his sleeping bag. His rifle leaned against a tree, but it would be of no use. This creature was evil—Jack had felt it. He would use his power to bring it out into the open, ensnare its soul and send it home.
A twig snapped and the undergrowth parted as something made its way toward him. He took a deep breath, prepared himself, and then released his spirit out into the trees. There was a mad slathering snarl.
It was close . . . very close.
He called out to it. “Come forth! Show me what happened. Show me!”
With a growl that came out of the depths of hell, the creature bounded out into the open. It was a wolf—or what used to be a wolf—its body twice its normal size. Jack watched as it hunkered low to the ground ready to pounce. He stood fast and looked into its fiery red eyes, his power emanating toward it.
“Show me!” he demanded again.
An image flashed in his mind.
Voices chanting—pain and torture. The red heat of a large bonfire—a circle of people dressed in black robes. The wolf bound tightly to a stone table—an upraised knife—more pain—the letting of blood. The wolf dying, but its spirit captured and bound to the earth.
Jack knew he had to touch the creature, hold its ghost captive for that one brief moment. “Come!” he commanded. “Show me!”
The wolf leaped, its body-weight crushing Jack to the ground. Desperately, he tried to hold it by the nape of the neck, its huge maw biting at his face, tearing at his flesh. Blood ran down his arms, dripped into his eyes, and then Jack sent his gift fully into the creature.
The wolf whimpered in fright as it began to re-live its death, its life force drawing away Jack’s essence, his soul. It whined and tried to pull away as it felt the sacrificial knife and saw its death.
But it wouldn’t leave; it held on, draining Jack, consuming him, sucking away his life.
Jack's strength waned. He could no longer hold the wolf back, nor could he release it. In a desperate attempt to free the wolf’s spirit, he collapsed his arms and hugged the animal to his chest like a long lost friend. The wolf saw its death close at hand and violently struggled to free itself, biting viciously at Jack’s neck and face.
No more! he moaned inside himself.
And then it was done.
The wolf's carcass slumped and lay still.
Little by little, as the morning sun rose, Jack began to slip away.
He felt the wolf and the little girl standing beside him. He looked up into her perfect face and she smiled, "You done good, Jack. You done real good." The wolf whined and sniffed at him as if it were apologizing, then licked at Jack's face. "Come on," she giggled like a fresh brook running from snow-capped mountains. "Let's go home, Jack. Home."
"Home . . . " he said, his voice empty and rattling like wind inside a split gourd. "No more . . . pain."
"No more, Jack. It's all over. You done good."
He smiled as a vein pulsed at his forehead . . . slower . . . slower . . . and then stopped.