A Thing Greatly Feared, Chapter 14

English: My car at night with halos on. 18&quo...

James Morgan's ride — beware the man inside. ... Image via Wikipedia

“Hi, guys. Come on in.”

“Hi, Sara.”

“Hi, Miss Kremshaw.”

“Where’s Hank?”

“He, uh, had something come up at the last minute,” said Darrell, “but he sends his greetings and says he’ll try to be here next time.”

“Alright, well … that’s too bad. But we can still have a good time – as long as my cooking doesn’t send you all to the infirmary.”

“I’m sure it’ll be fine, Sara. You certainly could never do as bad as Hank.”

“Hank’s not a good cook?”

“Only if you like your food coming out like charcoal.”

She laughed. “Alright, so you got all the cooking talent in the family; what does that leave Hank with?”

“Umm, brains, brawn and wit. So I think he and I balance out pretty well.”

“Oh, stop it. Everything’s ready. You two want to eat now?”

“Naw, you go ahead,” said Wade. “We’ll wait.”

“Oho, I see that humor is genetic in your family, and gets better with each generation.”

“He spends too much time with his uncle, that’s the problem.”

“Well, let’s gather round the table to eat, and we’ll also toast the uncle in his absence.”

“Better not,” said Darrell.

“How come?”

“Well, Hank’s never been a fan of attention, even if he’s not around to notice it.”

“Oh, honestly. Your brand of humor cracks me up. Go on, sit down.”

Darrell gave a half smile as he took his seat. You won’t be laughing for long.

* * *

James Morgan threw his bag into the front passenger seat of his car and climbed in. He backed out of his drive, honked the horn as he pulled away, and a short while later was cruising along a state route that would lead him to his old stomping grounds. There was still some daylight, and good thing – his mind was too occupied with other things to focus on the road.

You’ve really done it now, Harvey. Only this time I’m not gonna let you get away with it.

* * *

Sara and Darrell and Wade had just finished eating, and Sara was now inviting the Daleys into the living room.

“You want any help with the dishes first?” said Darrell.

“Oh, no, that’s fine. I’ll do them up after you leave.”

“You sure? We don’t wanna make you do all the work.”

“I invited you, right? It’s no good having guests do the work. Tell you what, though – next time we eat at your place, you can do all the dishes.”

“He won’t do any of ’em,” said Wade. “He’ll make me do ’em.”

“You’re so abused, son.”

“So tell me, Wade – before we start our big game of charades – or Scrabble, whichever you prefer – how’s your report coming?”

Darrell swallowed and took a slow, deep breath. Here it is.

“Um, okay, but, uh … I think Dad had somethin’ he wanted to say about that.”

“Oh?” She looked at Darrell, but Darrell looked everywhere but at her.

“Sara, there’s something we need to talk to you about.”

“Alright.”

“It’s … a sensitive topic, and we don’t want to scare you anymore than you already have been, but … what we have to tell you may be scary for you to hear.”

“Is this about Hank? Is he alright?”

“Yes and no, to both questions. The creature you saw a couple weeks ago – it wasn’t a dog, and it wasn’t a bear.”

“What was it? I know I saw something; I know I’m not crazy.”

“No, you’re not crazy; you did see something, but we don’t know what it is.”

“What do you mean? How … how do you know it wasn’t a bear or a dog?”

“Because the description you gave – orange eyes, an awful screech – matches Hank’s description of it.”

“Hank? He’s seen it too?”

“Remember how I told you he was attacked by a bear nineteen years ago?” She nodded. “While he was being attacked, this other creature – the thing you saw – attacked the bear, and killed it. This is the mutilated bear that Wade found that story about in the newspaper.”

“But the sheriff said– ”

“He lied. Both Hank and I tried to get him to talk, but he won’t say anything.”

“So this thing … saved Hank’s life?”

“Maybe, though Hank said he thinks the bear was done attacking him anyway. And he said the creature’s manner was none too friendly – I think it was more like the creature letting him go, letting him live, than actually saving his life.”

“So, this … creature … is what mutilated the bear?”

Darrell nodded. “Yeah, and … ” He sighed, his eyes darting to and from her and back again. “It killed someone last night.”

She caught her breath. “Who?”

“Molly Laske. Twenty-six years old. In her backyard.”

“Oh, that’s … that’s awful. I– ”

“Sara. Sara, look at me.” He shook his head. “Don’t think too much about it … or about what might’ve happened here. You’re okay; you’re alright.”

“But what do we do? And what about Hank? Where is he?”

“We … Hank told us to find out what the sheriff knows. But since he won’t talk, we got in touch with one of his former deputies; he’s coming to our house tonight, and we’d like you to come back with us to meet him, to help us figure this out.”

She nodded, her eyes showing that her mind was in another place. “Alright.”

“And Hank …” said Darrell. She looked at him, her face writ with dread. “Hank’s gone after it.”

* * *

Greaalf! Rowwrawr!

Hank stopped. His chest heaved, and his head felt light. He closed his eyes and put a hand to his head, not moving for a few moments.

It’s alright, Hank, it’s alright. It’s daylight, so it’s alright. No. Wait. It attacked McDougall’s sheep during the day.

He opened his eyes and lowered his hand, gazed around. The forest engulfed him – old trees stretching to the sky, baby trees at his side, dead leaves and blowdown. He was in a long, narrow clearing, blue sky above, everywhere else some shade of green, brown or dark. For 20 minutes he’d been hiking but still had a ways to go; he’d already passed the spot where he’d been attacked 19 years ago, but he knew that his best opportunity for finding what he was looking for was to go to the heart of the creature’s domain, which he believed was deep in the woods. Problem was, “those stupid flashbacks,” as he called them, were slowing his progress, showing up more often now.

Must be gettin’ close.

He went a little farther – to the end of the clearing, through a wide grove of pines, across a rocky stream into a smaller clearing – before deciding to stop for the night; it was getting dim, and he wanted to make camp while he still had enough light to do so.

First he found a spot for a fire, made a ring out of rocks and pushed the debris away. Then he collected some dry wood – which there was plenty of, since it hadn’t rained in weeks – and built a fire, starting it with matches, twigs and dry leaves. Once he had a good blaze built up and extra wood on hand, he set up his tent, as close to the fire as possible. There was still enough light after that to fix supper without using his lantern, so he slapped together some peanut butter sandwiches to go with his water. Sitting on a comfortable pile of leaves and pine needles close to the fire, he finished eating and watched it get almost dark – the moon was up, about three-quarters full.

At least I don’t have to deal with pitch blackness.

He put away the food after eating, then went around the campsite and with the help of his lantern set up a few smaller fires. They were otherwise identical to the large one, and served as an added ring of light and protection. He knew that he’d now made himself as safe as possible – and he had his guns too, of course – but he still kept watch as if he were defenseless and expecting the creature to show up any second. Nothing was happening, though, except the sweet melody of peepers.

This could be a long night.

* * *

James reached the Foster’s Glen town line just before eleven o’clock. A few minutes later he was on Main Street. One of the first places he came upon was the police station; as he approached it he slowed down. A light was still on inside. He stopped in front of the station, and through the large storefront window he saw Sheriff Danscom sitting at his desk. The sheriff looked up after a few moments, right at James, though James was sure he couldn’t be identified, because there were no streetlights.

James didn’t move. The sheriff kept looking. After another minute the sheriff stood up and moved towards the door. Just before he reached it, James began to pull away, nice and easy. Sheriff Danscom stepped out onto the sidewalk, but by then James was far enough away that the sheriff couldn’t make out any details. James, though, could see the sheriff in his rearview mirror by the light pouring out of the police station.

Hope you’re happy, sheriff. Hope your soul was worth it.

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