Chapter 3 - 23/10/2017
Stalking through the cornfield Jane had deduced the footprints belonged to two people: One who she believed to be Lynn Kline, and the other who was likely was her kidnapper. Complete sneaker treads were rarely left in the earth. She had been dragged, kicking, struggling, for at least several dozen feet into the cornfield before finally going limp.
Her attacker was strong. Strong enough to drag a young woman without any signs of difficulty. The footprints in the earth were unwavering. Never a slow in step or stride. Most likely a man. Maybe 6 feet tall. Possibly over 200 pounds. Hopefully unarmed, but Jane knew better than to assume the best case scenario.
Jane recited these facts to herself while following the trail. Blindly following the footprints made it impossible to know what direction she was going. The sun still hung overhead, giving her a clear sign of the attackers unpredictable tracks, but the rows of corn made it difficult to see much further than an arms length ahead. She kept herself moving low and slow, ready to spring aside at the first hint of danger.
Crops had begun to thin and Jane saw she was approaching the farmhouse somewhere between the backyard and the eastern side of the home. At a glance everything looked normal. Patio furniture, a swing set, and an abundance of toys made Jane wary someone would be inside. Families didnt stray far from safety these days, and few places were safer than an armed farmhouse.
The drag marks left the cornfield, then continued on in the dirt for about a foot before disappearing into a healthy, green lawn. Stepping out into the open would be a sure way to expose her presence, but she knew her options were running low. If the killer was here she wanted every advantage possible.
She crouched, hidden, waiting to see if there was anyone home. Exploring the perimeter from the safety of the cornfield she searched for signs of movement. A light, a shifting curtain, a shadow -- anything.
It was the cellar that caught her eye. Its two wooden doors were faded red from years of sun exposure, but a chain sitting in the grass seemed out of place. At a glance she thought the lock was still on the chain. She paused, weighing her options until she noticed the lock was smashed. Crushed, like it was hit with a rock or hammer.
With no one in sight, Jane risked moving from the safety of the cornfield. Dashing across the lawn she pressed herself close against the backyard wall. Pressing an ear to the cellar door she listened for any sound of a disturbance below. Leaning with her body craned against the wood her eye took note of the dried blood smearing the doors handle.
Slowly, carefully, she pulled the cellar open with one hand. She grimaced through the low pitched whine its hinges made, keeping her revolver raised and ready. Something inside smelled of heat and decay, and she turned her head reflexively to keep from gagging. Thumbing back the weapons hammer she paused a moment to gather her courage before peeking downstairs.
Dirt and dried mud caked the basement floor, marking a clear trail of footsteps where Lynn had likely been dragged. The stairs down were steep slabs of uneven pavement. Without a source of light it was impossible to see too far below. After a quick scan of her surroundings Jane reached for the keyring in her back pocket. Unclipping a miniature flashlight she gave it a quick click into her palm to make sure the battery was still strong.
Praying she hadnt already given her arrival away Jane stepped down the stairs, guiding her approach with a thin beam of light. Ducking her head to avoid the low ceiling she performed a quick scan, facing her back to the nearest wall the moment she felt it was safe. The pitch darkness of the basement made it difficult to take in her surroundings. She relied heavily on the flashlight while adjusting to the dark, resisting the urge to pull the lamp light chain she spotted nearby.
The basement was dusty, but normal for all intents and purposes. Her back was to a very well organized toolbench that stretched across the entire far wall. Basements werent common around these parts, and she guessed the home must had been built within the last year or so. There was only a single wooden staircase leading up, obscured by several metal shelves. It seemed completely ordinary, so long as your gaze never settled on the floor.
Following the drag marks along the ground she could see where the footsteps became muddled and impossible to read. The concrete floor was stained in layers of dark red. A lack of blood splatter meant whatever happened had been without a struggle. At first Jane thought there had been a stabbing or puncture resulting in massive blood loss. Bringing her flashlights beam across the ground she realized it was clearly beyond her expertise.
Chunks of flesh had been left pulped so thoroughly into the ground she wasnt sure where the meat had come from. Small bundles of paper and cloth lay strewn about the floor as though someone had made an effort to clean. It only added to the confusion, making it difficult to tell what was definitively human and what was simply stained with gore.
Any doubt of Lynn Klines fate was silenced by the clear remnants of a once-yellow dress. Now torn apart and left unceremoniously on the ground, its lace pattern looked more like a bloodied doily than clothing. Questions bubbled through Janes mind.
Where was the body? Where were the bones? Organs? If all she could see was pulped meat and shredded skin she had to wonder where the rest of Lynn had gone.
Footsteps sounded off above her. Jane heard it after the heavy slam of the farmhouse front door. A single pair, moving about the house. They walked directly above her, then moved elsewhere before finally settling with a hard thump.
Jane turned her light away, glad to finally have something else to take her mind off the scene on the ground. Giving the murder scene a wide berth she kept her weapon trained on the stairway. Placing a foot at the base of the stairs she tested her weight on it, wincing slightly as it give a slight creak under the pressure of her foot.
Somewhere above footsteps began again. She aimed her weapon at the door, working hard to steady her breathing as someone walked past. A faucet turned on somewhere above, rattling pipes with the squeak of water pressure. Jane took the opportunity to move up the stairs, turning off her flashlight so she could take hold of the doorknob.
With a twist and push she slowly stepped into the farmhouse hallway to find herself poised somewhere between the front door, den, and kitchen. Family portraits hung on cream colored walls; a collection of the farms workers over the years. The furniture looked like hand carved wood, save for a cloth sectional couch which dominated the living room. It looked ordinary. A family home.
She took a step. Weapon raised, Jane carefully took a peek around the corner into the kitchen. A single dining room table. A long row of cabinets stretching across the wall. A double sink, and modern-looking island burner. Rinsing his hands in the sink was a heavy-set man in his late forties. Black hair that sat straight down to his shoulders and darker complexion gave away his heritage. He was dressed as though he spent a day in the field, but Jane didnt recognize him in the slightest. Not like that meant much. He could have been anything from someones distant cousin to a representative from another tribe.
Jane eyed the boots at the door, covered in mud. Maybe it was a coincidence, but it was one she couldnt afford to take.
Hands up! Jane yelled with authority, revolver pointed at the man while she used the corner of the wall for partial cover.
Startled, the man turned, wide eyed with his hands still in the sink. He seemed frightened at first. Then, narrowing his eyes down at Jane his fear turned to anger.
You breakin in, bitch? Here to steal from my family? his voice sounded hoarse. Scratched from too many years of smoking and yelling.
My names Jane Pilton. Im the law around here. she spoke clearly, and with authority. Now Im not gonna hurt you unless you give me cause. Understand?
The man blinked for a moment, considering her words, then nodded.
Whats your name?
You got a last name, Tom?
Yazzie. Tom Yazzie.
Alright. Tom, Im going to need you to step away from the sink now. Hands up. Nice and slow.
And then what? Tom asked, turning his body slightly to get a better look at Jane.
We take a step outside and have a conversation. her voice was steady, calm.
Neither made a move. Toms hands still soaking in the sink. Jane steadily training her weapon on him. It seemed like he was ready to speak again when a heavy slam made them both jump in shock. Jane turned to see the wind had caught the screen door, suddenly pushing it shut. When she looked back at Tom it was just in time to duck against the wall as something round and metal was tossed her way.
Raising her weapon she fired once in a clumsy flinch. A miss. Tom Yazzie was much faster than she had anticipated. Kitchen knife in one hand he swung at her revolver with a dinner plate in the other. She fired a second shot, but was off balance, stepping back to try and put distance between her and her attacker. Again her bullet flew too wide. The plate exploded into ceramic shards, but only after the gun was knocked from her grasp and across the hall into the living room.
You wanna steal from me? Thief! Tom screamed in defiance, bearing down on her.
Tom twisted the knife in his hand, getting a better grip to stab down at Janes smaller figure. Knowing that another step would put her closer to the basement Jane kicked out, catching the man square in the gut. Doubling over with a spray of coughing spit he stumbled backwards. It was all the opening she needed.
Pulling a picture frame from the wall with two hands she swung hard at her attacker, catching him across the jaw. Wood and glass cracked violently sending him reeling backwards. The knife dropped to the floor as he fought to keep his balance. Face bloodied and only somewhat aware of his surroundings Tom stumbled backwards down the hall.
Help! Tom yelled as loud as he could. His voice cracked with pain as he held his jaw in one hand. Stop! Please!
Jane tossed the ruined picture frame aside, boots crunching on glass as she walked over to him, triumphant.
Oh so now you want to fucking talk? Ill bet. Jane fought hard to control her adrenaline, wringing her hands together to keep them from shaking.
The front door kicked open without warning, startling Jane for the second time while almost clipping the back of Toms head. She recognized the leather jacket before she saw the face. Ben Yazzie knelt down without hesitation, trying to help Tom up before Jane could protest.
Dont you touch him! she scanned around the room for her revolver, unsure where it landed.
I...I heard gunshot! I came as fast as I-- Ben started explain, raising his hands in self defense.
--Shes fucking crazy! This bitch tried to kill me! Tom yelled, his voice labored from trying to sit up. Shes trying to rob us!
T-the sheriff? Ben gestured to Jane. What?
Either of you boys move another finger and I swear on my mother I will beat you so far into the ground they wont need to bother digging a grave. Jane said, her eye finally catching the glint of metal underneath the couch. Youre both under arrest. Or whatever were calling it.
Arrest? For what? Tom spat. I didnt do shit.
I aint even begun to start-- Jane had started to step towards the living room when Ben lurched back.
--HURGPH... Ben tried to speak but only a rolling wave of blood burst from his mouth. Jutting from his chest, puncturing his jacket and out his shirt, was a sleek sharpened point of bone stained a deep red.
Standing behind Ben was a figure that made Janes blood run cold.
It stood tall despite a severe hunch, but looked thin and frail. Like a man wasted away from months of starvation. Ragged jeans hung loose around stilted legs, stuffed into oversized boots. A thick brown raincoat, worn down with holes from the passage of time, made the creature almost look human. Despite its lopsided appearance, it may have even of passed as a man from behind. Facing it directly the illusion was completely shattered.
As the creature continued to lift Ben off the ground Tom scrambled on all fours, partly covered in Bens blood. Underneath the brown raincoat was a mess of human parts. Kidneys, lungs, and a single liver were all twisted and tied together into a slick, wet mass, held in place by a wrap of intestine. A beating heart pumped a sludge-like blood through the semi-transparent organs. The stress and force of each beat sent what looked like wet mud out from ventricles that were no longer connected to a human circulatory system.
It reminded her of a scarecrow, and Jane immediately knew what she had to do.
Jane didnt watch what happened next. She couldnt see the scarecrows face under its hood; a human skull, stripped of all but a few tattered strips of flesh, opened its mouth wide. There was only a single eye in its left socket that seemed to hang in place, as though suspended from something within. The scarecrow slipped Ben onto the ground, pushing from its left arm which had no hand. Insead the bone was sharpened at the wrist to create a spear of bone. Jane had dove under the couch and was reaching for her weapon.
The flow of blood from Bens mouth became a panicked gargle as the teenager went into shock. Mismatched fingers on a skeletal hand reached down with delicate precision. This time it was Toms turn to look away. Scrambling to his feet, he ran to the back of the house while the scarecrow slowly plucked a right eye from a screaming, struggling teenager.
With four shots left Jane knew she had to make each one count. She watched the scarecrow struggle to fit the eye into its empty socket, gently lowering it into the socket while holding back its hood with its arm-spear. Ben Yazzie lay still on the ground, a growing pool of blood spreading out from around his form.
Not waiting for the scarecrow to finish its task, she took aim and fired once. It staggered, head snapping back as her shot connected. An eruption of black sludge splashed across the wall. Then it tilted its attention to Jane, skull locked in a skeletal grin. Its newly installed eye rolled in its head, sagging within the socket like it had yet to be properly assimilated. A reddish black sludge crept out the bullet hole, slowly flowing down its face.
Clicking its teeth in a chatter the scarecrow shambled toward Jane, off balance but ready to strike. She fired another shot into its face that cracked the skull along the right side, sending a flood of black paste down onto the wood floor. It took another staggered step and she fired the third into its heart. The organ squelched, leaking black pus, but it stood undeterred.
Jane hesitated, unsure where to place her last shot. Nothing seemed to have any real effect. Missing most of its head and with no discernible weakness in its vitals she knew there was only one option left.
She broke into a sprint, trying to dash past the scarecrow only to find a horrific pain tear through her arm. The creature had lunged faster than she had anticipated, impaling her bicep with its bone-spear. Body twisted mid-run she turned frantically, trying to pull herself free while it quietly began to drag her back. She screamed in pain and fear and anger. It sounded like an explosion of force sounded off somewhere nearby, then suddenly she was on the ground, free.
You killed him, you son of a bitch! Tom pumped the shotgun in his hand and fired again.
While Tom sprayed the scarecrow with another shell Jane staggered to her feet, her right arm limp at her side. Each new round of pellets shredded away more of the scarecrows clothing, revealing its hanging organs tied loosely to its skeletal frame. One lung was deflated, leaking a sickly-looking goo. It only had a small collection of ribs that were in no discernable order. There were too many vertebrae on the spine.
Its just...parts. Jane said quietly. She took her last shot at the scarecrows exposed kneecap, watching it tumble over. Its just parts! she screamed at Tom, who nodded in recognition.
Sticking its bone-spear into the wood floor the scarecrow immediately began to drag itself, weathering another round of Toms shotgun to make a clattering scramble toward Jane. Afraid she was too slow to run, Jane dove into the kitchen. The THUNK of sharpened bone sounded behind her as the scarecrow moved closer. Her good hand managed to grab hold of the pan Tom had thrown earlier. A desperate swing managed to knock aside the spears next jab.
A mismatched collection of skeletal fingers gripped down on her leg, and Jane swung her pan down on the scarecrows wrist in response. She felt the pressure from its grip immediately cease as the joint snapped. Jane knew she had made a fatal mistake.
The scarecrow lurched up on its spear. One leg crippled, its arm severed, leaving a trail of tattered organs and chipped bone along the hall, it pushed off the ground for a single downward swing. With her good arm crippled there was no way to move in time to escape.
Cracking bone and a hollow thud rang through the home. Tom, using the shotgun as a bat, swung as hard as he could at the scarecrows head. Its jaw shattered, teeth scattering across the room. The force of the blow was enough to roll the creatures lopsided body over and away from Jane. Gripping her pan Jane dragged herself up while Tom swung down.
Together they did everything they could to break it apart, piece by piece. They crushed its arms, splintering bone and removing its only remaining weapon. And yet it moved, so Jane pulverized its skull with her pan. Toms shotgun broke apart after its sixth swing, which shattered the discs in its spine. And yet it moved, so they continued to rip at its organs until only a thin slippery paste slipped through their fingers.
The pair stepped away from it, exhausted, in agony. Tom had cuts all over his body from the struggle in melee. There was a terrible cut across his chest where it must have raked him with a bony limb. Janes arm felt dead at her side.
Did you see that? Tom whispered, eyes wide, staring at the piled remains of the creature. Did it move?
Jane watched, waited, before she finally spoke.
Lets burn it.
What? The monster?
No. Jane shook her head. Everything.
The fire that consumed the farm attracted attention for miles. When help had arrived to control the blaze they came across Jane and Tom, covered in blood and gore. Both had decided it was best to leave Ben inside when they set the fire. Tom had taken the young mans leather jacket to pass on to his immediate family. It was a small gesture, but one that provided a little closure to Bens violent end.
Neither took their eyes off the flames. Their wounds were treated as they watched the farmhouse burn to the ground. Jane fell asleep watching the heat bubble and pop away any trace of horror from the waking world.
She woke up in her home, surrounded by the locals of Beryl Lake, community leaders from Elks Rest, and Open Sky Reservations tribal council. Dawn was there with a box of her favorite cereal as a gift. Tom Yazzie was waiting in her living room. Strangely, she found his presence especially comforting.
Word spread fast. It took some time to come to terms with what she had to report. The creature, its nature, and the fate of both Lynn Kline and Ben Yazzie were hard to describe. There was skepticism when she was done, but Toms testimony and their injuries helped to lend some weight to the truth. Something had hidden itself within their community. No one knew how many other travellers had gone missing during its stay.
Jane would recover over the next few months with assistance from Dawn, who was happy to visit and break the monotony of bedrest. Every now and then rumors would circulate within Beryl Lake of something gone wrong at a local farm, or of someone acting unusually at the reservation. More supplies than normal. Strange weather. Selfish behavior. To their credit the Klines spoke up against such accusations, whenever they arouse. They never forgot it was thanks to those people that their daughters killer was brought to justice.
It was only once that Jane saw everyone band together as equals to a common cause.
Despite her certainty that the creature was slain, a rally was held to help reassure everyone that their land was safe from similar threats. Hundreds of men and women gathered from every corner of their community. They moved from farm to farm in small groups, investigating every home, barn, and bale of hay. Each had their own method of searching for monsters, but there was one precaution that was unanimously agreed upon:
They burned every scarecrow on every farm, without hesitation.