The Call That Ended My Career
The call that ended my career came on a dark night in the foothills of the Appalachian trail.
“All units check in. 11-24. Abandoned vehicle at the intersection of Hutchinson and Gallows.”
Missing persons can mean a lot of different things in the woods. Sometimes hikers underestimate nightfall. Sometimes kids are just looking for a place to have fun. Sometimes drivers wander off the highway, looking for a place to piss, only to lose track of the road in between the trees. The point is that this kind of shit happens in the hills more than the average person might suspect. And so the initial report didn’t really worry me. Not at first.
My partner, Mike, grabbed the radio and phoned in our position.
“10-8 heading north on the Turnpike.”
Dispatch responded back with some boilerplate information. The car in question was a 2010 White Chrysler Town & Country. They had one of those stick figure family decals stuck to the back window. There were no initial signs of a robbery, accident, or any other emergency that would cause the occupants to up and leave. Just one deserted minivan on the side of the road.
“Town and Country,” Mike murmured. “The Soccer Mom special.”
A bout of thunder growled its way across the empty highway. A wave of light drizzle followed in its wake. Heavy wind pounded us from the east and I had to hold the wheel still just to keep the car from drifting. The creeping feeling that something wasn’t right slowly moved its way up the back of my neck. I think it was only in that moment, driving mindlessly down the turnpike, that I finally grasped the severity of the situation. Nobody intends to be lost in a storm at night.
I hit the gas, threw on the siren, and gunned it down the quiet turnpike.
“Any ETA?” the radio cackled. “Sergeant Simmons is on scene.”
“Ten minutes out.”
The turnpike ended unceremoniously around Springfield. A side street took us west, then east, then north. I followed the arching back roads anxiously as we made our way up into the towering hills. The twists and turns raked my nerves. The storm itched that nagging feeling even worse.
The rain was everywhere now.
White whips of water smacked against the windows as the wipers of our Jeep worked furiously to keep up with the pace. Rivers of mud and leaves streamed down the sides of the street. The wind turned back the tops of trees and turned them into swaying toothpicks in the night sky. Lightning and thunder battled back and forth. Mike scanned the woods for suspicious persons as we got closer to the scene. He didn’t see any.
“Five minutes out.”
“Relax, kid,” Mike chuckled quietly. “You’re shaking.”
My hands were planted so firmly on the steering wheel that my knuckles had turned white.
“Are you sweating?”
“Definitely looks like you’re sweating.”
“What do you think it could be?”
Mike thought about his answer for a second.
“You know, report the car stolen, dump it on some highway all fucked up. Hope the storm chips in a few dents. Insurance company pays it all away.”
“Wouldn’t they just try to give it back?”
“Not if you took a bat to the engine.”
“Nothing suspicious about the scene.”
“Says Simmons,” Mike snorted. “Sergeant Shakes himself.”
I swallowed my retort and focused on the road. Mike was a middle-aged Yankee fan with a penchant for demeaning jokes and a history of uncomfortable over-shares. I was a twenty-three year old rookie soaked in arrogance and ambition. He won most arguments just on volume alone. A lifetime of movies and television built me up for some great kind of friendship built on trust and respect. Six long months together proved exactly the opposite.
We found the crossroad for Gallows after a brief search through my archaic GPS. We followed the street down to where it met Hutchinson. I missed the intersection, at first, but caught it on the way back. The storm seemed to badger us the whole way. But it showed up in full force by the time we arrived to the alleged crime scene. A wave of water pounded the asphalt. Thick clouds covered the dark sky. Fog danced in front of the headlights to obscure the trees into shadows. Visibility was down to near zero.
I parked the car.
Lightning flashed and I caught a short glimpse of a white, pristine minivan pulled over in front of us. A man stood behind the trunk. But neither of us could see his face.
I threw on my brights and pulled down the window.
A voice shouted through the rain and wailing winds. I thought it was the man but couldn’t see him for sure. I got out of the car with my flashlight at the ready. Mike followed suit. We slowly approached the spot where the car should be. It was weird to walk towards something that you knew should be there but couldn’t totally see. Like slapping an alarm clock when you wake up in the morning. We were only five feet away when my flashlight pierced the fog at just the right angle, revealing the wide shape of Sergeant Simmons. He was soaked to the bone.
“Get over here,” the Sergeant hollered. “We have a situation.”
Mike flashed his flashlight into the woods at the precise moment I thought there was movement. We all waited and listened in silence.
“Just animals,” the Sergeant snapped. “Ignore it. I popped the lock to the van.”
“And?” Mike asked.
“Car seat in the back. Toys and books on the floor. Four cold drinks.”
“I think there was a family in that vehicle.”
Lightning cracked somewhere close. The wind seemed impossibly heavier than before. Mike grabbed his radio and phoned back to dispatch. We had to shelter in Simmons’ car just to get a clear signal. The office pulled some more information from the plates. The vehicle was registered to a John Jacobs. Social media snooping showed that John was married Jamie. We assumed they must have had kids.
“Did you search the area?” I asked Simmons. “We need to search the area.”
“No,” he retorted. “Why would I?”
“Why the fuck not?”
“And what if they came back, kid?” he shouted, “What if I got lost before you got here?”
A crack of thunder downed a tree somewhere in the distance. I conceded the point.
“We need to do it now.”
The three of us came up with a plan. Simmons would stay with the cars and keep in touch with dispatch. He was wet enough. Mike would search west of the road. I would take east. I headed back to our car and pulled a poncho from the trunk. Bits and pieces of hail crashed into the street around us like shattered glass. I found an old newspaper stuffed underneath a package of water bottles. I lifted it over my head and used it as a shield. Then I headed into the woods.
The forest has a unique way of shielding itself from the worst of a storm. The hail stopped slapping my shoulders the moment my feet hit the sanctity of the forest. Instead it settled instead for the branches and treetops overhead, creating an unsettling and unique chorus of cracks and slaps, the likes of which still sits stuck in my memory today.
I didn’t have to look for long.
The first thing I noticed were the leaves. I’m not an expert in tracking by any stretch or imagination of the word. I’m not an expert in anything. But the Academy required all students to take basic classes. A spot in the woods without leaves is suspicious because it could be an indication of recent traffic. From there I noticed the tire iron. Then the drag marks. Then the blood. Too much blood. The smell took over from there. I pulled out my flashlight and followed the trail to a small clearing underneath an oak tree.
Perched up against the oak was the horrible disfigurement of a man in his mid forties. His body was a ruin. Blood and gore caked his arms, legs, and hands like corn syrup in a horror film. Laceration marks flagged his ragged flannel in unimaginable criss-cross patterns of brutality. Some of the cuts were so deep that bits of bone and tendon were visible under the glare of my flashlight. I turned into the trees to vomit away from the scene.
The man had been stabbed and bludgeoned over fifty times.
And we still needed to find his family.
“10-54. We got a body by the ravine.”
If you stare at a corpse long enough, you can see it move. I know that sounds crazy. I know it’s not real, of course, just a trick of the mind. A trauma stricken brain seeking to fill in the gaps it only hopes to see. I can remember, as a kid, standing beside our family dog after she passed away. I didn’t handle the death very well. The heartbreak of losing my best friend in the world shook my small body like a sickness. I sobbed and buried my face in her fur, refusing to let go, refusing to give up; and for the slightest of a second… I felt her chest expand. I pulled my head away in a panic and shouted for the veterinarian. She’s still alive, I screamed, Sookie’s okay! The vet rushed forward. He checked her pulse, her breathing, her heart rate; everything. We waited inside his office for an extra twenty minutes. But it was no use. The dog was dead.
John was dead, too, but then his eyes opened.
I saw it happen while waiting for backup at the crime scene. I was analyzing the stab wounds in his chest, the bludgeoning to his forehead, the tire iron, the drag marks through the mud. I was trying to make sense of it all. Pitifully attempting to put the pieces together in my head like a puzzle. The way a good cop would. The way a detective would. A blunt object like the tire iron would explain the bruises. But what made the cuts? Tiny little stab wounds peppered the bloody body like chicken pox. Something had to make those marks.
The eye opening only lasted a moment. Just long enough to see a hint of pale blue underneath all of that caked fucking red. He looked funny, in a morbidly absurd kind of way, like something you might see out of one of those old Hitchcock films in the fifties. A flick of the eyes, tilt of the head, and the suspect is finally dead. But it still made me scream.
I screamed so loud that I wondered whether they’d let me keep this job at all. My panicked voice carried through the woods and bounced off the hills. The storm had quieted down, now, and the bouts of hail dissipated into gentle drops of rain.
I waited in the darkness for a response.
I expected a shit ton of laughter. Maybe some judgmental comments from my partner or the Sergeant. ‘Did a cat die?’ they would snicker. Or, ‘rookie caught his first stiff?’ I actually yearned for their ridicule, truthfully, because anything would have been better than standing alone beside a dead body in the middle of nowhere.
I waited for a full two minutes. But nobody responded.
I pulled out my radio again.
“10-63… anybody there?”
Nothing but static.
I stared at the corpse for a little while longer. His eyes stayed shut under the glow of my flashlight. Underneath all of the carnage, the victim looked like an average, every-day dad. He wore a pair of tan khakis, with a blue polo, with one of those clip-on cell holsters attached to the hip. A shattered pair of glasses sat crooked across his broken nose, forever masking his slightly wrinkled features in confusion. John looked like the type of guy you might expect to find in one of those fold-able chairs, coaching his kid at a weekend soccer game; not dead in a ditch by the highway.
A gust of wind drifted through the trees. The breeze had an icy chill to it, even in summer, and the cold made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. I knew I needed to stay put. The Sergeant would insist on somebody staying with the body. But I also wanted more than anything to leave that spot. Not even wanted. I needed to leave. Like an innate instinct in my gut insisted on getting the fuck out.
I cupped my hands over my mouth one more time and shouted;
But nobody responded.
I hopped back over the ravine and found the path that led to the road. Fuck protocol, I thought. Simmons and Mike could come look at the body themselves. They would just tell me I did the whole thing wrong anyway. I was angry. I was sick of their attitudes. I was sick of cops in my precinct treating me like a know-nothing millennial and then leaving me with all the work. They should have known that a rookie can’t be alone in that kind of situation. They should have known better than to ignore my calls.
“10-63… you guys are worrying me… check in.”
A few yards off the path sat a small creek overgrown with weeds and vegetation. I walked down to the bank to try and get better reception away from all the trees. The wind picked itself up into another frenzy. Ice cold water soaked through my worn boots. The static grumbled for a few moments. Then I got my wish. The signal came through crystal clear.
“10-63… check in.”
I was dumbstruck. The voice belonged to a small child. It sounded like a little girl. I tripped over myself trying to spit out a non-threatening reply.
“Hello?” I choked. “Who is this? You are using an official police frequency.”
I turned back around to find the road. I knew the path had to be nearby. I just didn’t know where to find it in the darkness. The tree limbs I recognized from before looked different. The gnarled roots and limbs all looked foreign.The twists and turns I took to get down there started to sound backwards in my mind.
The little girl’s desperate tone sent a shiver down my spine. She sounded scared. But I didn’t even know who the fuck she was. I looked around helplessly for headlights from the road. I shouted back for my partners. Nobody responded.
“Who is this?” I repeated. “Tell me who you are and we will help you.”
The little girl hesitated.
“Where are you lost?” I asked. “Who is we?”
“The woods are really dark at night.”
“I know, sweetheart, tell me where you are and we can help,” I blathered. “What do you see?”
“Trees. Little ones.”
“Okay. What else?”
“Leaves. Big ones.”
“Okay…” I stuttered. “Who is with you?”
“Daddy fell and hit his head,” she whispered. “I think the bad man got him.”
“What bad man?”
Static crackled wickedly as my radio fought the storm and forest for reception. Rainfall trickled its way down through the treetops. A strong gust of wind turned down the hills and pulled its way through the trees. I waited for a response. But nobody answered.
“What bad man?” I shouted. “Hello?”
The crackling static stopped. The radio fell silent. A small green light ticked on the bottom to indicate a low battery. I couldn’t believe the timing. All of that fighting for reception must have drained the old piece of shit’s power.
I tried searching for the path again. I noticed two twisted trees that looked a lot like the ones that led me to the creek. I made my way in that direction. But a rustling from the bushes shook my concentration. I focused my flashlight in every corner of the dark woods and listened closely.
A yelp echoed off the hills in the ravine. The sound bounced the same way my voice did while standing beside John’s body. My first thought was that it could be an animal. Maybe a vulture feasting on the remains. These woods were notorious for coyotes. Wolf sightings were not unusual either. I reached down for the gun on my holster and the knife in my boot.
Then I heard the hoof-beats.
I had enough time to turn once before something monstrous knocked me on my back. My flashlight fell to the forest floor. I tried to kick but my legs were held. I tried to shout but my mouth was covered. The next five minutes began the most unimaginably brutal fight for my life.
I don’t remember much about the creature that attacked me.
I don’t think it wanted to eat me. It could have. I don’t think it wanted to drag me back to a cave and save my remains for later. It probably could have done that too. I think it enjoyed the hunt. I think it enjoyed fucking with me. I can still hear it’s growl. I can still feel it’s raking jaws against my skin.
At some point I found my knife in a side pocket. I swung it backwards blindly and felt the blade connect. The pressure in my leg subsided. The growls subsided into a pitiful whimper. I heard footsteps a few moments later. I heard the creature run back towards the ravine. And my consciousness faded right around the time Mike fired his gun into the air.
I woke up to the sound of two middle-aged men arguing directly over my broken body.
I couldn’t open my eyes. Not yet, at least, and I couldn’t move much either. But I could hear their panicked voices as clear as day. And I could feel their rough hands on my wet skin.
“We need to stop the bleeding.”
“Take off your shirt. You got a towel?”
“That’s fine. No, no, that’s fine. Apply some pressure. Then wrap it around his leg. Yup. Like that. You got it.”
“Did you see it?”
“The thing that got him.”
“No. Heard it, though. Sounded like a coyote.”
“Had to be a coyote.”
“What else could it be?”
“Did it get him anywhere else?”
“Don’t know. Look for cuts.”
“Arms look good.”
“Head is bruised.”
“I see that.”
“Eyes are moving. Hey, I think he’s awake. Can you hear us, kid?”
“Rise and shine partner.”
I opened my eyes to two bright lights. Mike and Simmons stood behind the beams with panic written all over their gawking faces. A fat raindrop fell from a leaf and smacked me in the forehead. Even that brought pain.
“We need to move,” Simmons spit. “Now.”
They weren’t joking this time.
“I know. I know that. Just give him a second, Sarge, he’ll be alright.”
They were worried.
“Can you walk, son?”
“Where the fuck is he gonna go?” Mike countered. “We can’t go anywhere.”
“Can you walk, Richardsen?”
I didn’t want to look at the bites. I knew they were bad. The nerve pain that shot vibrating barbs of white, hot agony up and down my leg already pretty picture. But the stress of the situation gave me a surprising burst of adrenaline. I pushed up in one motion and shouted out the moment my mangled feet hit the ground. Mike stuck his arm under mine for balance. The night sky spun around my head like a bad acid trip as we bounced our way back towards the path.
The storm was behind us now. I could see it in the clouds. Distant rolls of thunder echoed through the woods. Brief flashes of lightning erupted in the sky. Mud and broken branches littered the path in its wake.
I tried to keep my eyes open. But consciousness drifted in and out with each step.
“Listen Richardsen. We have a situation.”
“Can you hear me, kid?”
“The road is blocked. A tree fell on Gallows,” he tried to explain. “Dispatch says they can’t get an ambulance in here until it’s cleared.”
“Which also means no backup,” Simmons interjected. “And we already got one victim deceased.”
“I know. I saw him. His eyes moved.”
They both stopped dead in their tracks. I winced from the pressure. The tee shirt around my leg started to slip. The sky turned itself in a one eighty as the pain and pressure in my forehead returned in full force.
“What do you mean; ‘him’?”
The words fell out of my mouth like marbles.
“Deceased male… in the ravine… mid forties… multiple puncture wounds. You found him, right?”
“No,” Simmons groaned. “We found the wife.”
“Deceased female. Middle aged.” Mike filled in. “Hung up from a tree like an animal. Other side of the road.”
“We really need to move,” Simmons insisted. “We might not be alone.”
An uncomfortable feeling trickled through my spine and up the back of my neck.
“Can you take us to the husband?” the Sergeant asked. “Can this kid hear me?”
I looked around the woods and nodded. I recognized the old tree roots. I recognized the way to the ravine. Mike lent me his shoulder for support as we hop-stepped our way through the mud. We found John, stiff as ever, posed horrifically against the same tree. His eyes didn’t move this time. The two of them jumped into the ravine to get a better look while I waited at the top.
They were quiet for a little while.They looked the body up and down for a solid three to four minutes before either one spoke.
“Mom and Dad are dead,” Mike whispered. “But four drinks were in the cup holder,”
“The kids could be dead already,” Simmons mused. “We didn’t know the husband was until now.”
“Could have gotten lost running away.”
“Gotta be one or the other.”
“I think they have walkies,” I interjected from my spot on the hill.
Mike whooped. Simmons ignored me.
“We need to call this in,” he muttered. “Haven’t heard back from dispatch in a while.”
He pulled out his radio.
“10-21, phoning home, we got a problem.”
The line stayed silent. Mike got up to pace.
The static echoed quietly. The Sergeant knocked the radio back and forth in confusion. He repeated his message a few more times. But nobody answered.
“The fuck is going on tonight…” he cursed. “They should be answering.”
And at just at that moment, a small voice replied.
“Yes, hello, Dispatch?” Simmons spat in a panic. “We got two bodies down here by the intersection of… Hutchinson and Gallows. That’s Hutchinson and Gallows. We need immediate backup and an ambulance. Officer down and suspect could still be in the area.”
The radio crackled back feedback for a few painstaking moments. Then the little girl spoke.
“Mommy slipped from the tree,” she whispered. “Don’t let the bad man get me.”
A look of dumbfounded amazement fell upon Simmons wrinkled features. Mike looked like he wanted to vomit. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The radio continued to crackle.
“Where are you, sweetheart?” Simmons repeated. “Tell us where you are so we can bring you home.”
The little girl hesitated.
“I don’t know.”
The storm returned to drop another bout of rain on our already soaked heads.
“Can you see the road, honey?” Simmons shouted through it. “Look for the road.”
A voice giggled in the background of the static.
“I can hear you.”
Simmons shot up like a firework and jogged down further down into the ravine.
“That’s good!” he shouted. “Am I getting louder?”
“How about now? Louder?”
Simmons struck out down the ravine and disappeared behind a thicket of bushes. The sucking sound of his boots faded into the woods along with his voice. I got up carefully and tried to follow. But my leg balked from the pressure and caused me to fall down the same hill that led to the body. The embarrassment from that tumble almost hurt worse than the physical pain.
Mike rushed over to check on my leg. I didn’t know if he was scared or genuinely concerned for my safety. But my mud soaked ass appreciated the support nonetheless.
“Did you get a look at the thing that bit you?” he asked. “Sarge thinks Coyote.”
“No,” I told him. “But it definitely wasn’t a fucking coyote.”
My partner thought about that as he went to work re-dressing the tee shirt bandage wrapped around my leg. The entire thing was covered in blood and dirt. He pulled it away to reveal little teeth marks lining my leg like chicken pox. The cuts looked just like the ones on John.
“Does that look like it came from an animal?”
Mike shrugged and shook his head. He pulled out a knife and cut the bottom section of his pants to make a fresh bandage. He wrapped it around my ankle carefully and gracefully. Then he hunkered down beside me. The pain was still there. But it felt good to finally sit and rest.
“Guess we wait.”
The rain persisted for a few minutes before the clouds moved on. A warm breeze drifted down from the mountain. The sky opened up in bright moonlight. The moment felt peaceful, in an absolutely absurd way, almost like the calm before a storm. I didn’t want to leave.
We waited another ten to fifteen minutes before Mike helped me to my feet.
The fresh bandaging seemed to help keep my leg together. The mud hardened, which made walking easier. We found a path that avoided jumping down the ravine. The trees drifted casually in the wind as we stutter stepped our way by. We passed the point where the creek met the path. We passed by trail markers. We passed by anything that looked familiar. I started to get worried.
“We should be careful about getting lost,” I said. “How well do you know these woods?”
And just as we were about to turn back, we heard the Sergeant scream.
Mike sprinted ahead of me. I hopped to the best of my ability behind him. We could hear Simmons struggling. We could hear his skin being ripped apart. We could hear his panicked shouts quickly dissipating into choked gurgles. A bullet discharged somewhere in the clearing ahead, and for a moment, for that one soul sucking, shit hole of a moment… I thought it would be over.
But by the time we found his mangled body, Sergeant Simmons was already dead.
Does anyone else find it strange how a dead body can look so peaceful? It’s almost as if death brings some weird little mask to cover all the horrible shit that sits right underneath the surface. Sergeant Simmons’ eyes were closed. His hands were at his side. His legs laid straight down. Gentle drops of rain fell from the trees and leaves to leave audible smacks on his rosy cheeks. The blood had either dried or stopped bothering to pool. My boss looked at ease, like he could be sleeping; save for the twenty odd cut marks poked into his jacket like candy buttons.
I had to remind myself to breathe.
The forest floor was wet and muddy. My boots sucked deep into the soil as we pushed our way through the overgrown path. Mike looked like he wanted to cry. It’s not a comfortable feeling seeing your veteran partner near tears in the middle of the woods. It’s not a comfortable feeling to be an untrained, idiot rookie in the midst of a homicidal killing spree in the middle of the woods. Every instinct in my body itched like a livewire. I wanted to go home. I didn’t want to do this anymore. I didn’t want to be a cop. I didn’t have what it takes. Sergeant Simmons did. And look where it got him.
“Officer down,” I whisper shouted it into my walkie for fear of the suspect hearing me. “We are in the woods off Hutchinson and Gallows. The Sergeant is down. Help us. Please bring backup.”
“Could still be cutting that tree,” Mike conceded hopefully. “Keep the radio steady.”
A strong gust of wind picked its way through the thin trees. The sky opened up again. A white wall of water pitched in over the canopy and leaked into the woods like a dripping faucet. The Sergeant’s corpse was getting wet. We were losing evidence. I got up, took off my jacket, and placed it over the body.
“Won’t be long, now, kid,” Mike promised. “Any second.”
Mike leaned himself up against a stump and pulled out a water bottle stuffed into his back pocket.
Five minutes passed.
“I bet they had to bring in a road crew,” he reasoned. “You know… wake somebody up.”
Ten minutes passed.
“Then that guy had to wake up his boss,” Mike chuckled nervously. “Shit rolls downhill no matter where you work.”
I repeated my message to dispatch. I waited expectantly for a response.
Cracks of lightning erupted in the sky overhead. Rolls of thunder echoed throughout the trees. I could hear some of massive oaks and pines falling and creating mini earthquakes on their way down. I wondered about our suspect. Was he watching us? Was he listening? Did he know the area better? Did he live here, in the woods? Were the little girls somehow involved? Did he use them for bait, as my partner had guessed, or were we the bait all along? The unanswered questions ran circles around my head. I didn’t know what to do anymore. I fired off one more warning to dispatch.Then I got to my feet.
“We need to leave.”
But my partner ignored me. His legs were crossed and his eyes were closed. The white t-shirt underneath his uniform formed a soaked outline of sweat and precipitation. Mike’s hand was gripped around the pistol in his holster like a rosary bead and he looked like a fly could break his concentration.
“Stop,” he whispered. “Listen.”
The storm slowed. The downpour dissipated to a drizzle. The wind returned to a whisper. And underneath it all, fainter than the sound of feet in the leaves, I heard it. A voice. The same voice. A young female, somewhere in the next clearing.
She was screaming.
I rushed to my feet like an idiot. Mike got up beside me and rested his hand on my shoulder.
“Slow,” he whispered. “Slow this time.”
The two of us trained our ears and weapons and followed the voice towards the clearing. The girl got louder as we got closer. But I still couldn’t hear what she was saying. Prickers and thorn bushes jumped out from the edges as we tried to keep a low profile. Blood poked out from an earlier wound to leak all over my hand.
And then we saw them. Plain as night under a flashlight.
Suspended nearly twenty feet off the ground, dangling on a tree branch, were two pretty young blonde children, wearing tattered white dresses. The older one had her arms wrapped around her sister. She waved to us, casually, immediately discounting the cover we tried to take behind the leaves.
“Help,” she shouted. “My sister passed out.”
Mike sprinted wordlessly over to the base of the tree. I had never seen a heavy guy move so fast. In seconds he was up past the lowest hanging branch. In a moment he had the younger child in his hands. He dropped her in the clearing with me before running back to retrieve the sister.
The little girl’s wide blue eyes looked up at me lifelessly. She couldn’t be more than two years old. I moved to administer CPR. But her tiny little chest was still moving on it’s own. I searched for injuries and found a grape shaped bruise sat just below her hairline. The panic and adrenaline of the moment leaked out of my mind.
“She’s breathing,” I announced. “Looks like she just hit her head.*”
The radio hummed in my pocket. I pulled it out in the midst of dispatch’s cackled announcement.
“The crew has cleared the road. Officers on the way to your location.”
Relief flooded over me like a warm blanket.
“Somebody murdered my parents, you know.”
The voice scared the shit out of me. I nearly jumped out of my skin. I looked up to find the little girl leaning over my shoulder. Mike was resting up against a tree.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart.”
“You shouldn’t call me that.”
“Because I’m not so sweet.”
“What’s your name?”
A sickly little smile flooded the child’s ordinary pale features.
“And your sister?”
She smiled again.
That look made me uncomfortable. Jacklyn looked like she was having fun, and I couldn’t quite figure out why. I was about to say something to my partner, but before I could, the younger sister let loose a wicked coughing spree; and we both rushed to check on her.
“Looks like she’s coming back,” Mike muttered. “Can you hear us, honey?”
Evelyn blinked a few times before sitting herself up. Mike leaned down and gracefully wrapped up the toddler in his arms. She clung to him like a koala. I had to smile. Part of me still felt like there would be a happy ending to this story.But the moment the little child locked eyes with her older sister, she started to scream.
And we didn’t know what to do.
Evelyn pointed and shouted but no words came out. They couldn’t come out. I wondered if she could even speak at all. She was only two, after all, and I bet the trauma of the situation did not help any. I looked to the older girl for help. But the look on her face told me everything we needed to know.
Jacklyn was still smiling. Grinning, actually, like she knew the reason for her little sister’s tears.
“I told you I’m not sweet.”
In a single swift motion the older child took a knife from her back pocket and slashed at Mike. Blood gushed from the wound like a sieve.
“Stop it,” I choked. My brain wasn’t working right. “Stop that.”
The girl laughed and slashed again. Mike raised up his arms in protection. He got another ribbon nice cut for his efforts. I pulled my gun from its holster and tried to level it. The girl was laughing at me. She knew I wouldn’t pull the trigger. Who would shoot a child? She slashed Mike again and caught his belly, this time. The younger sister was screaming now.
I had to do something.
I fired my gun into the air. Jacklyn hesitated. And so we booked it.
Thick lines of blood leaked down Mike’s arm. He still had the toddler. I crashed behind them through the underbrush while vines and branches reached out to smack us on the way. I could hear Jacklyn giving chase. Panicked screams turned into guttural moans and angry growls. We could see sirens up over a hill. Backup was no more than a quarter mile or so through the trees. We could make it, I knew we could, but before we could… I tripped.
The shock of slamming my knee into a tree root gave way to a thousand little stars in my head. A shape appeared in front of my beleaguered eyes. Long white teeth dripped down viscera into my eyes and face. The triumphant growls of the creature let me know I was finished. I waited for the jaws to sink into my leg. I waited for the pain to be replaced by my body going numb. Some of the veteran cops who were around it long enough say that dying is like going home. I pictured myself at the front door.
The first bite felt like nothing at all.
The second one ripped into my femoral nerve.
It felt like she were scooping bits and pieces of my skin out with a spoon. With each dip the feeling below my waist slipped away a little further. I could see my family house. I could see the place where I grew up. I could see my dearly departed dad putzing through his potato garden and my heart broken brother sitting in the sun with a glass of peach tea. I hadn’t seen them in so long. wanted to go home. I was ready to go home.
I don’t know if I was conscious when flood lights flooded the small ravine by the road. I don’t know if officers hit Jacklyn with one shot or two. But I do know she escaped. She had to have escaped.
I remember gruff hands wrapping around my waist and setting me back down when they saw the blood. I remember bits and pieces of the ambulance ride and vomiting on the EMT. I remember parts of the surgery and I remember all of the pain.
And then everything fades to black.
When I woke up in the hospital, I told them everything. Mike did too. We tracked a family across the woods and watched helplessly while they turned up dead one by one. We thought it was an outsider. But it wasn’t. It was the daughter. The older daughter had some ability to change into a creature that cut people up like fucking tissue paper.
Go figure, nobody believed a word of it.
Some folks thought a bear attack. Some others thought coyote. Some insisted wolf. The theories varied based on the fleeting opinions of experts who drifted in and out of our rooms to examine the varied bites and wounds. After the umpteenth poke and prod by a guy in a white coat, I grew sick of the charade.
I demanded to know why my new Sergeant would not look into the older daughter. She was a young girl with blonde hair, I insisted, only a few years older than her sister. Her name was Jacklyn. She could still be in the woods. She could be hurting other people. Why didn’t anybody care? Why wasn’t anyone doing anything about it? My new boss looked at me sadly for a few minutes. It was an uncomfortable feeling. He looked like he wanted to catch me in a lie. Like he suspected I had been lying to him all along. I didn’t know why.
“You and your partner said the same thing,” he muttered. “Four cups, right? Thought you’d admit some kind of shared delirium by now.”
“Because we looked into the family,” he explained softly. “We looked into all of them.”
“We never found a Jacklyn.”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” he murmured. “John and Jamie Jacobs never had a daughter named Jacklyn.“
I waited a week to heal, quit my job as police, and moved several states away.
The massacre remains unsolved to this day.