The mountain community prepares for an evil it can't see or predict.
Debi gave a small smile as the clock above the counter showed fifteen minutes until the end of her shift. She reached behind her and untied the strings of her apron.
“What are you in such a hurry about?” Marva sat at the counter sipping on a cola before it was her turn to put on one of those aprons and take the helm of the café.
Debi lifted the apron over her head and began to fold it. “Nothing…”
Marva glanced over her shoulder to the one customer in the diner. She leaned forward, her elbows on the counter and whispered, “I know you girl… what are you up to?”
Debi gave a nonchalant shrug as she silently cursed herself for being so obvious. Marva was such a busy body. “Nothing, just tired and ready to get out of here.” She glanced back up at the clock, a mere two minutes had passed since the last time she checked. “You want to clock in early?”
Marva sat back and gave Debi an intense stare. “Nah, I think I’ll wait until it is my time to start. You know that fifteen- minute rule… anything under is free time. If I clocked in now, I’d just be giving them the extra time and you’d be taking the money home on your paycheck. I like you and all that, but…” She gave a twisted smile as her mouth found the straw of her drink, her eyes never leaving Debi’s face.
Debi glared back and silently mouthed, ‘bitch’.
Marva smiled as she stood and stretched. “I’ll be out back having a cigarette.” She moved to the kitchen door. “See you in about ten minutes.”
Debi sighed as she reached for the coffee pot and headed to the table where the one remaining customer in the diner sat. She smiled at the man as she refilled his cup and placed his ticket on the table.
She stood looking out the window at the almost empty parking lot. She glanced over her shoulder at the clock… five more minutes and she was out of there.
Marva stepped behind the counter and began ringing out the cash register. She looked at the total and frowned, “Looks like you had a lot of free time on your hands… slow day.”
Debi grabbed her tickets and put a rubber band around them with the register tape. She waited silently for Marva to pull the cash drawer.
“What did you do today?” Marva nodded toward a half full sugar shaker sitting on the counter. “I can see what you didn’t do…”
Debi snarled back, “What are you, the complaint department?” She yanked the cash drawer from Marva’s hands and headed back to the office to check out. She stopped just before she disappeared into the kitchen, “Just to make sure you understand… If you see something I didn’t do, it’s because I didn’t do it.”
Marva moved toward the kitchen door, her face red with anger. “Yeah, well if I do see something is done… chances are you didn’t do that either!” She kicked the kitchen’s swinging door hard enough to make plates rattle on the shelf. “You’re playing on the wrong side of the bed… You don’t mess with another woman’s husband!”
Debi glanced over to where the cook stood next to the Hobart dishwasher. She hesitated and nodded toward the front of the diner, “Sorry about all that Jack…”
Jack shook his head as he mumbled, “Crazy women… always a cat fight.” The door of the Hobart opened and engulfed him in a cloud of escaping steam.
Debi was sorry for the outburst in the diner. She was sure to hear about it from Maxie, the owner, when she returned to work tomorrow. For now, she had better things to do in the form of Dante. She hurried to the little Volkswagen that was parked alongside the diner. She saw Marva watching her leave from inside the diner window. Debi reached out the open window of her little bug and stuck up her middle finger in the air as she drove from the parking lot. Fuck you Marva…
She freed her ponytail from the rubber band that held it as she drove. It had been two long weeks since she had seen Dante last. He had sent her a text telling her to meet him at the usual place when her shift was over.
She turned off the main road and travelled the old dirt path back to where an old decaying barn stood. It was Cal David’s property and she was trespassing, but Cal never came out there and there was no one around for miles to care. She smiled, during the day the place was just a desolate old barn that time forgot. But come the weekend things got busy around there. Any weekend night you could pull in and find several cars parked randomly, the occupants busily fogging up the interior of the windows.
Dante hadn’t arrived yet so she pulled inside the leaning structure and parked. The barn was a skeleton of what it once was, what few boards remained intact provided some respite from the heat of the day.
She checked her face in the rear view mirror and added a touch of red lipstick to her lips. Finger combing her hair she laughed as she blew an air kiss to her reflection. She undid the top three buttons of her blouse and plumped up her breast. My girls are feeling perky.
She sat feeling the heat of the afternoon as a trickle of sweat coursed down the back of her neck. Come on Babe, don’t keep me waiting…
Her thoughts turned to Marva. Miss Goodie Two Shoes… She resented that Marva was always trying to tell her what to do. Marva, the boss’s niece, made it very clear she didn’t approve of men or women who cheated. She suspected that Marva had been the victim of a cheating husband herself. Bitterness seemed to have invaded Marva’s soul… the woman rarely smiled. She needs a good lay… problem is she’s such sour grapes and no man wants to get close to her.
She checked her watch, she’d been there a good twenty minutes and still no sign of Dante. Where are you? She got out of the Volkswagen and walked around the hard packed dirt floor of the barn.
As time continued to pass, and still no Dante, she looked at her cell phone repeatedly hoping to see a message, but no red icon flashed showing a message was waiting in her in box. She began a text to Dante, something she had promised him she would never do. Dante had said his wife checked his cell often. Fuck his wife… but she didn’t hit send.
Sighing she reached in the back seat and grabbed a beer from the cooler. She leaned against the fender of the VW as she twisted the cap off the bottle. She didn’t like that Dante was married any more than Marva did. But she was twenty-five and alone. The Buttes were void of eligible men, save for a few teenagers and used up old men. A smile played on her lips as she took a drink of the beer. Dante was gorgeous, and if he was so happy at home he wouldn’t be looking at her. Besides, he told her he was going to leave his wife and then he would take her on the road with him and teach her to drive truck. She chuckled at the thought, what a team they would be.
She checked her watch again, it was getting close to an hour of waiting. She threw the empty bottle to the floor board of the backseat and grabbed another beer. She opened the driver side door and sat, leaning the seat back as far as it would go. She knew he would be in touch and let her know if he couldn’t come, after all he’s the one that set up the meeting… She closed her eyes and imagined Dante was there beside her. Her lips parted in a contented smile as she let her thoughts roam toward their love making. She slept, dreaming of the life awaiting her…
A shadow moved along the dirt floor of the barn. As it neared the small car it grew in size, shimmering in a soft glow. It grew, undulating silently as it hovered, suspended over the sleeping girl; it’s soft glow growing in intensity, it entered her.
Debi’s eyes opened wide in surprise as she gasped, “wha…” The sound stayed on her lips. She lay silent, her eyes frozen wide open in shock.
The apparition left the still form of the girl and silently moved along the interior of the old barn, its glow dulled as it withdrew and blended in with the shadows.
The cell phone chirped as a flashing red icon showed ‘message waiting’.
Henry had his hands full with the surprise visit of his ten- year- old niece. Over the past few days Footie had proved to be self-reliant. She moved through the necessities of life seemingly on auto pilot. He suspected it was her survival mode, having lived her young life being placed hither and yon with strangers. No real roots to hang on too, she seemed overly complacent. The perfect kid… or was she. There was something about her… she was intelligent for her age, but there was something else. He just couldn’t put a finger on it. He decided it was time to get her actively involved in something, anything.
He still had not heard from Alice and her mailbox continued to be full, not allowing him to leave a message. He would deal with Alice when the time came, for now he needed to get back to work and figure out what to do with Footie.
He had received a call from the lab in Sacramento. The results were in on the autopsy of the lion. Nothing out of the ordinary, for the most part. The cat suffered some malnutrition, not an unexpected conclusion taking into consideration the effects of the drought on the wild life in the area. Stu shooting the lion through the eye spoiled some of the tests. But the lab technician did spot a part of the cat’s brain that looked like it was hemorrhaging prior to Stu’s deadly shot. It could be a viable cause of the cat turning into a manic killer. He considered the information and rendered the case closed, pending any further findings.
He found Footie sitting outside in one of the two lawn chairs reading a book. The fifth-wheel he called home provided him with the basics necessary to survive and little else. With Footie there, the quarters were tight and seemingly wanting of creature comforts.
He sat in the one unoccupied chair and looked out at the road and hillside beyond. “You want to take a ride?”
She nodded, “Where to?”
He glanced sideways at her, “Thought you might like to meet a few friends of mine.”
She turned and looked at him as she closed her book, “Sure, okay.”
He rose from the chair, “Well, come on then.”
Martin turned into the long drive that led back to Jeep’s house. It had been a few years since he had made the trip to Jeep’s home and he wasn’t sure how this visit would be met.
He stopped the car just short of the turn to the house and sat rethinking what he was doing. As much as he wanted to turn around and leave and forget the whole thing letting nature heal itself, he couldn’t. Jeep was right, he needed Martin; but the truth was Martin didn’t know what to do.
He put the car in drive and continued the short distance, parking alongside the house. He stepped up to the door and knocked, bracing himself for what might happen when the door opened.
Grace was putting food on the table for their supper when she heard the rap on the door. She raised a hand staying Jeep as he started to get up. “I’ll get it…”
She crossed into the foyer and looked through one of the glass panes of the door. She hesitated a moment, then reached for the knob and opened the door to gaze upon the disheveled form of Martin. She stood stoically, silently, ready to defend her family.
He was the first to speak. “Grace…”
Her chin was raised in defiance. “Martin…”
He fought the urge to turn and leave… “I’m sorry to show up without calling first, but is Jeep around?”
Grace eyed him, taking in his dirty clothes and unshaven face. “What do you want Martin?”
He seemed to shrink under her gaze. He suddenly looked confused and unsure of himself.
“Martin, are you alright?” Grace’s words now were of concern as she reached out to steady him.
“What’s going on out here?” Jeep suddenly appeared in the doorway.
“Grab his arm, and help me get him inside.” Jeep stood with his mouth agape as Grace barked orders, “Now Jeep… help me…”
They got Martin inside and positioned safely on the sofa. Matt brought a glass of water from the kitchen which Martin downed in a few gulps. Jeep nodded silently to Grace and Matt to leave them alone for a few minutes. He sat next to Martin on the sofa and waited.
Martin put his head back against the sofa’s cushions and closed his eyes, willing the bout of dizziness to pass.
After a few minutes he spoke, “You were right… I went to the cave…” He looked at Jeep with real fear in his eyes, “problem is, I don’t know how to stop it.”
Jeep flinched as he listened to Martin voice his own fear. He shut his eyes and fell back against the cushions in resignation. If Martin didn’t know what to do… there was little he could hope to be done. There has to be something… Jeep took a deep breath, “There is something, we just have to figure out what.” He looked over at Martin. “Brother, you in this with me?”
Martin looked at Jeep. “You can’t go out there alone. You will need me.” He sat forward, his hands griping his knees trying to calm their trembling. “It’s different this time…” He looked at Jeep. “Whatever it is, it’s real… evil… I don’t know that I can protect you this time.”
Jeep nodded in understanding. “I was just a stupid kid then…” He closed his eyes trying to shut out the memory. “Grandfather… I was jealous that he always seemed to take to you more than me.” Jeep shook his head sadly as he reached over and patted his brothers sagging shoulder. “I never realized what he was setting you up to become…” He looked at Martin. “I’m sorry, I never understood what all this meant.”
Martin shrugged as he whispered. “Irony is, I never really knew what it all meant either.” He dropped his head into his hands as his voice cracked on the edge of hysteria. “You’d think I’d know what to do… I don’t! And I’m the only one left who can... I wasn’t ready…I didn’t want any of this.”
Jeep’s heart tightened in his chest over the realization that it was his own anger and jealousy that had kept his brother distant. He had followed them that night years ago. He had seen things that were not meant for his eyes. It was because of him that their Grandfather had given himself to the spirit world that night. He shuddered at the memory of the shadows that filled the cavern that night. Tears filled his eyes at the memory of the horrific cries of Martin as he writhed in agony from the shadows entering him. Martin had sacrificed himself to save him; Jeep realized that now, so many years later.
He heaved a deep sigh and gave Martin’s knee a squeeze. “I’m so sorry for that night… I won’t let you go it alone… I’ll be there, I’ll do whatever you need me to do.”
Martin nodded in resignation. “First we need to figure out what is happening and why. Maybe then we will know what to do.”
The two brothers looked at each other solemnly, they were doomed to a different kind of fight… one they both had tried to avoid for most of their lives. Now they had no recourse…
Grace appeared in the doorway. “Come on, dinner is on the table. Martin I set a place for you.” As Martin started to protest she shook her head. “Non, you are familia, you come… sit, eat.”
Martin gave a weak smile, “I’d like to wash up some first before I sit at your table.”
Grace smiled as she nodded. “Of course, of course…” she led him to the bathroom and gave him fresh towels. “I have a few things to finish, so take your time.” She left, closing the door softly behind her.
Martin looked at himself in the mirror above the sink. When did I become so old and tired? He jumped as a knock sounded on the closed door.
Matt stood on the other side with a hangar holding a pair of pants and clean shirt. “Mom thought you might want to put these on.”
Martin accepted the clothes and muttered an embarrassed thank you.
When he joined them at the table he was a much cleaner version of himself. The pants he wore were a bit too long, but one roll of the cuff had raised the pant leg so he wasn’t walking on it. He looked at the threesome sitting at the table and smiled warmly, suddenly years of self-isolation began to dissolve as he looked upon his only family. He quickly wiped at his watering eyes, embarrassed at his show of emotion. He took the offered seat at the table and joined them in bowing his head and saying grace.
He looked up surprised to see Jeep’s own eyes moist. Jeep reached over and patted him on the shoulder, “Welcome home brother… we’ve missed you.”
The Holcomb’s were midway through their dinner when Matt heard the truck come down the drive. He stood and looked out the window, “Henry just pulled up.”
Jeep looked at Grace, “Better set another place at the table.” He rose and walked to the front door, opening it before Henry and Footie had reached the porch.
Henry gave a half wave as he saw Jeep in the doorway. “Afternoon Jeep, are we interrupting anything?”
Jeep looked around Henry at the young girl following behind. “Who do you have in tow there?”
Henry smiled. “Well, this is that family matter I was telling you about. This is my niece, Footie.” He nodded toward Footie. “This is my friend, Jeep.”
Jeep smiled, “Well aren’t you a pretty one!” He looked at Henry, “You guys eaten yet… we were just sitting down, come in and join us.”
Henry stopped. “Oh no, I’m sorry, I should have called first.”
Jeep coughed a short laugh, “Fiddle sticks, we got plenty… and you haven’t lived until you’ve had some of Grace’s roast beef!” He turned and moved back into the house without giving Henry a chance to reply. “Grace, set two places at that table, Henry’s brought a guest.”