In twenty years as sheriff of Roxbury Falls, Ronnie Hanson had never seen a sight like the one before him now. When the call came in that a jogger had stumbled across a mutilated body in the middle of Lakeside Park, Ronnie thought it was some sort of sick practical joke. Now, with both Roxbury Falls patrol cars, two state police cars, an ambulance, and the coroner’s van all sitting in the middle of the park, Ronnie thought back to his days in New York City. Even the everyday violence of New York seemed tame compared to this, and now that damn reporter Nancy Holliday was here.
Sheriff Hanson thought about what he could possibly say to poor Mr. And Mrs. Martinez as he stormed over to head Nancy off before she reached the scene. It was tough enough to tell parents that their daughter had died, but this was worse. Something completely decapitated Kim Martinez and tore her to shreds. Who or what could have done this? A crazed psychopath? Some sort of wild animal? These were all questions that Ronnie Hanson vowed he would find answers to. He wanted answers before there were any more deaths in Roxbury Falls.
The alarm beeped on his cell phone, and David groaned as he reached over and silenced it. Still half asleep, he got out of bed and noticed that he was wearing his clothes from the previous day. Then he realized that his clothes felt damp and sticky. David turned on his bedroom light and looked down at himself with shock and horror. His clothes were torn to shreds and covered in blood. David’s body and hair were also sticky with blood. He stripped off what remained of his clothes and looked himself over. David could not find a scratch or mark anywhere, so where had all the blood come from? Whose blood was it if it wasn’t his? What had happened last night? David was scared. He couldn’t remember anything since he laid down for his nap last evening after Skylar left.
No, wait there was something else. He woke up in terrible pain last night. The phone had been ringing, but the pain had kept him from answering it. After that, he could remember nothing else until the alarm woke him up just a few minutes ago. David knew something terrible must have happened. The blood had to have come from somewhere. He saw with horror that in addition to the blood, mud also covered his feet and legs. He had been out last night; he just couldn’t remember what had happened. David looked around his room and saw the shattered remains of his window. What had happened here last night? He couldn’t remember and that scared him. David looked out into the hallway to make sure no one else was up yet, and then he ran to the bathroom to shower and get dressed. After his shower, David put his bloody clothes and sheets in a trash bag and hid them in the woods behind the house. He couldn’t take the chance of putting them in the trashcans in case someone went out there. David decided that he couldn’t tell Matt about any of this until he figured out what was happening to him, but he had to talk to someone. That someone would, of course, be Skylar. Sky had been open-minded and helpful so far, hopefully that would continue.
Matt smiled as Terrie came rushing across the lawn. She grabbed his arm and started to pull him across the street. “What took you so long? Where’s Brad? Hurry up; something is going on in the park. My dad and some state cops have been down there since before daybreak.”
Matt had to jog to keep up with her. “Hey! Come on. Slow down for a minute and tell me what’s going on.”
Terrie looked at him and rolled her eyes. “I don’t know what’s going on, Matt. That’s why we need to get down there. If my dad called the state police, then it must be something big. Nothing ever happens in this town. That’s why we need to go down there and see what’s up. Now hurry.” Terrie was already ten yards ahead, so Matt broke into a run to catch up with her. Matt and Terrie entered the park and saw that Terrie’s instincts were probably right. Something big must be going on, the cops had half the park roped off with crime scene tape, and there were at least half a dozen police cars as well as several other official vehicles parked all over the place.
“I wonder what happened. Everyone left the house before I did this morning. I wonder if Brad heard about this from Aunt Nancy. I bet he’s here somewhere.” Matt was looking out into the park to see if he could see what was going on. He thought about his dreams and about David, but he knew that David was alright. He had seen David leave for work this morning, and Terrie said that whatever was going on here had happened before daybreak. David had looked tired, but otherwise, he had seemed fine.
“Look! There’s my dad. He’s talking to the state cops.” Matt looked in the direction that Terrie was pointing in and saw Sheriff Hanson leaning against his car and talking to the state troopers.
“We better get going, Terrie. Your dad spotted us, and you know he’ll kill us both if we’re late for school.” Matt started to turn away, hoping that Terrie would follow him.
“You go ahead. I’ll catch up to you in a minute. I want to find out what’s going on here first.”
“No way. If I leave you here by yourself, you’ll never make it to school. I know you want to be a cop like your dad, but if he finds you messing around at his crime scene, he’s going to hit the roof.”
Brad stepped out from behind a tree next to where Matt and Terrie were standing. “No need to investigate, Terrie, I already know what happened. I overheard my mom on the phone this morning before she took off. Her source told her that a jogger found a mutilated body in the park and called the police. This could be the first murder in Roxbury Falls in over thirty years.”
“Murder? Are you sure?” The news stunned Terrie. Murder in Roxbury Falls? Things like that just didn’t happen here.
“Yeah, I’m sure. My mom took off right after she got the call. I heard her tell David about it. She told him to be extra careful. Speaking of my mom, there she is right over there.” Brad pointed to the other side of the park directly across from where they stood.
“Someone was mutilated, oh my God.” Terrie looked as if she was getting physically ill, and she leaned against Matt for support. “I wonder if we knew the person. Brad, did you hear your mom mention any names?”
“No, I didn’t, but we know just about everyone in town. Odds are we knew whoever it was.”
“How did David react when Aunt Nancy told him? Did he look alright?” Matt asked.
“He looked shaken up, but I guess that’s to be expected. He went to work, so he must be fine.” Brad said.
Matt kept glancing into the park and knew that Sheriff Hanson had spotted them and was keeping an eye on them. “We had better get out of here and get to school, you guys. Terrie’s dad keeps looking over here.” The three friends turned and left the park. When they reached Chestnut Street, they took a left and headed towards the school.
Sheriff Hanson got to the edge of the scene just as Nancy Holliday ducked under the yellow tape. “Nancy, you can’t be here right now.”
“Come on, Ronnie. You know you can’t keep the press out, especially when this is the biggest thing to happen in this town in twenty years.”
“I don’t care about your career or your newspaper. I care about the integrity of my crime scene and about the victim and her family.”
“Her? So, the victim is a female? Come on, sheriff, you have to let me in.” She flashed her press pass at him.
“Ok. Ok. I’ll let you in, but I’m escorting you around the scene. We’re still collecting evidence.”
When they reached the center of the crime scene, in the most densely wooded section of the park, Nancy Holliday was glad that she left home before eating breakfast. The body, or rather what was left of it, was still in the center of the path. There was blood everywhere. The Maine State Police Major Crimes Unit was still bagging evidence, and the state medical examiner was standing by ready to recover the body as soon as it was released by the detectives.
“How did you even determine the sex of the victim? It doesn’t look like there’s much left. Was the body eaten? Are the footprints? Pawprints?” Nancy covered her mouth with her hand and gagged.
“We. Um. We found the head in the bushes over there.” He pointed off to the left.
“Oh. Oh, dear. What could have done something like this?”
“I don’t know. Something big. A bear most likely, I guess.”
“In the middle of town? If I wasn’t looking at the scene, I’d call you crazy for even thinking that. It seems unlikely, but it is the most plausible explanation, I suppose.”
“Nancy, I need you to hold off on printing this story until we find out exactly what happened. I don’t want to cause a panic or have hunters going off all half-cocked into the woods looking for bears.”
“How long are you asking for? The people have a right to know that the park might not be safe.”
“Give me forty-eight hours. I’ll have my deputies and the park service officers on alert and patrolling the park after dark.”
“I can give you forty-eight hours. Have you made an identification yet?”
“A teenage girl. Kimberly Martinez.”
Nancy sighed. “I know her family. I can’t even imagine how they’ll feel or how they’ll deal with this tragedy.”
“I knew Kim well. She was one of my daughter’s best friends. Terrie is going to be heartbroken. They were together just last night at the library. I will have to ask Terrie what time they left so I can start narrowing down when this happened.”
“That’s going to be rough. Brad was close to Kim, too. I think I’m done here, Ronnie. I’ll leave you to your work. Call me when it’s ok for me to release the story. I’m willing to give you your two days, but in this town, I won’t be surprised if word gets out before that.”
“You’re probably right, but I’ll deal with that if and when it happens.”
“I’m going to write the story right away. If word does leak out, I’m printing it. I won’t be scooped in my own town.”
“That’s fair. Thank you for trying. I do appreciate it.”
Nancy left the park and got into her car. She rested her forehead against the steering wheel and broke down in tears. That girl was her son’s friend. What if it had been Brad on that path instead of Kim. She didn’t even want to think about that. She composed herself as best as she could and drove to the newspaper office to start writing her story. She didn’t want to spend her entire career in obscurity as the editor of a small-town newspaper. Sometimes tragedy was what it took to launch a journalist’s career.
Matt sank into the seat at the lunch table. “Thank God that I didn’t have chemistry today. I’m just not in the mood for Elias.”
“Well, then you might want to leave because here he comes.” Brad said.
Eli sat down right across from Matt. “What’s happened. I can feel that something has changed. What is it?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about, Elias. Then again, I rarely do.” Matt shrugged.
Eli pointed right at him. “You know. I know you know. It’s all in your dreams. But now something has happened for real. Everything is different now. I sense it.”
Brad interjected. “Eli, leave him alone. Get away from our table.”
“I’m not talking to you, Bradley. I haven’t been interested in talking to you since you dumped me when I needed you the most. I’m talking to Matt, and I’m pretty sure that he can answer for himself.”
Brad looked visibly shaken, and he sat back in his chair and kept quiet.
Matt looked from Eli to Brad and back again. “Elias, I’m not sure what you want me to say. I told you that David was bitten by a dog or a wolf or whatever. As far as I know, nothing else has happened. He went to work this morning like normal.”
“Something happened, Matt. I guarantee you something happened. Something big.” Eli got up and left the cafeteria.
Matt looked over at his cousin. “You ok?”
“Yeah. I’m fine. Let’s go. The bell should be ringing any minute.”
David had been wracking his brain all day at work, trying to figure out what was happening to him. All he kept coming back to was the impossible. He needed someone else’s opinion, and he couldn’t go to Matt. David took his phone out of his pocket and texted Skylar.
David: Hey. Something else happened. I need to talk… if you don’t mind.
Sky: I’ll be right over.
David: No. Meet me at the edge of the park right near the store.
Sky: Gimme ten minutes.
David: Thanks, Sky. (hug emoji)
Sky: I’ll always be there for you. (kiss emoji)
David: (kiss emoji)
Sky walked up behind David and wrapped his arms around his waist. Sky rested his chin on David’s shoulder. “Hey, you. What’s up? What happened?”
David leaned back into Skylar’s embrace and sighed. “I’m not even sure how to begin.”
“Just tell me, Boo. You can tell me anything, and it’ll stay between us.”
David extracted himself from Sky’s arms and waved a hand toward the police down in the park. “Have you heard about what happened in the park?”
“Yeah. Some sort of animal attack. A jogger found a body from what I heard. You know who it was yet?”
“No. My aunt may know, but I haven’t talked to her. My point is that it’s weird, right? All our talk about werewolves and witches and curses, and now an animal attack in the middle of town?”
“David, we live in rural Maine, not southern California. The middle of town is still basically the middle of the woods. It’s uncommon, but not unheard of. Is that what was bothering you?”
David’s brows knitted together in a scowl. “No. That’s not all.” He sighed again and started pacing. Sky wrapped an arm around David’s shoulders and led him to a bench and made him sit down. David took a deep breath and began to speak.
“Last night, after you left, I went to take a nap just like I told you I was going to. Sometime later, I woke up to the phone ringing, but I never answered it. I remember intense pain all over my body, and then I must have blacked out. The next thing that I remember was waking up in my bed this morning.”
“Were you still in pain? Are you hurt, babe? I can go get my dad’s truck and take you to the hospital.”
“No. It’s not that. I appreciate that, though. The thing is that I don’t remember anything. The night is a blank.”
“Whatever caused the pain and the blackout may have caused the memory loss. Did you hit your head or fall down at work or anything like that?”
“No, Sky, listen. I’m not done telling you what happened.”
“Ok, boo. I’m listening.”
“When I woke up and saw that it was morning, I was a little confused. I sat up to get out of bed, and that’s when I noticed that I was still wearing yesterday’s clothes. That, in itself, wouldn’t have been odd since, at the time, I thought that I’d been in bed since my nap the evening before.”
“What do you mean by ‘at the time,’ have you remembered anything else?”
“What I mean is that when I got up, still half asleep, I noticed that my body felt… sticky. I looked down and saw that my clothes were ripped to shreds, and I was covered in blood and mud. The blood was splattered all over my body, and the mud covered just the lower parts of my legs and my feet. I stripped off the tattered remains of my clothes, and I searched my body for any cuts or scrapes. I couldn’t even find a bruise anywhere on me. The blood was obviously not mine. My sheets were also covered in blood and mud stains. I was seriously freaking out now, but I calmed down enough to wrap all my bloody clothes and sheets into a ball and put them in a trash bag.
The next thing I did was peek out my bedroom door, and make sure that no one else was in the hall. I grabbed clean clothes and rushed into the shower. After I was clean and dressed, I took the trash bag with the bloody clothes and sheets, and I hid it in the woods behind the house. After that, I finished getting ready for work like normal.” David sighed and leaned against Sky. “Oh, my bedroom window is smashed, too. The glass is on the ground outside as if something or someone broke out, not in. Now you’re caught up on my insanity. What do you think?”
Sky got up from the bench and knelt in front of David. He took David’s hands and looked directly into his eyes. “I do not think that you are insane. We will figure this out. There has to be a logical explanation.”
David’s eyes stung with tears that he refused to let fall. He motioned toward the park in the direction that the police cars were just now leaving from. “What if… what if I’m so screwed up that I did something, and then I blacked it out. What if all this talk of curses and werewolves has my subconscious mind convinced that I am one, and I went on some kind of rampage last night?”
Sky’s eyes furrowed and he frowned. Then he looked back up at David. “I’ve only known you for a couple of days, but I don’t think that you could ever hurt anyone, consciously or subconsciously. You are a truly good person, David.”
“What about the blood? And the mud? And my window?”
“Well, let’s not get ahead of ourselves and assume the worst. We do know that your dog… or wolf bites healed overnight. It’s possible that you were sleepwalking and crashed through your window. The glass could have ripped your clothes and given you tons of cuts all over your body. People have done worse while sleepwalking. Then you found your way back to bed before you woke up. All that leaves is the fact that you healed overnight again. That’s the only thing that I can’t explain.”
“I know that you’re trying to comfort me, but me having a mutant healing factor like Wolverine doesn’t make anymore sense than me being a werewolf. None of this makes sense. None of this is possible in real life. What the hell is happening to me, Sky?” Now David did break down and start to cry.
Skylar stood up and pulled David up with him. Sky wrapped his arms tight around David and held him close. “We’ll figure it out. Everything is going to be ok, Boo. I promise.”
David sobbed into Sky’s shoulder. “You can’t promise that. We have no clue what is going on, and I’m scared to tell anyone else.”
Sky looked thoughtful. “I agree that we shouldn’t tell anyone else yet. Let’s try and sort this out on our own.”
“What’s our next step then?”
“Let me do some research. There’s bound to be something on the internet, even if it’s wacky conspiracy theories. There may be some truth hidden in there, even if the people posting the stuff don’t know it.”
“I’ll do the same thing, and we can compare notes later. Thank you so much, Sky. I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
Sky’s hands slid down to David’s hips and he pulled him in even closer. David looked up at Sky and leaned in. Their lips met in a brief but intense kiss. Sky pulled back for just a moment. “It’s only been two days, but I don’t know what I’d do without you either.” He leaned back in for another kiss. David’s lips parted allowing Sky’s tongue to dart inside his mouth, their tongues wrestling for dominance as their kiss deepened. David moaned as his arms wrapped around Sky’s neck, their bodies pressing even closer together. The sound of Sky’s phone ringing interrupted their moment. Sky groaned as he looked at his phone and shook his head in irritation.
“I gotta go, Boo. After I run this errand for my mom, I’ll start on that research. I’ll text you as soon as I find anything.”
“We are setting a pattern of poorly timed interruptions.” David chuckled. “First my brother and then your mom. But, yeah, I’ll do my own research, and we’ll talk later.” After one last kiss, the boys parted ways. Sky walked toward his house, and David stared off into the park, wondering what happened last night. maybe Aunt Nancy would know. He hoped that he and Sky could find a logical explanation for the seemingly illogical things happening to him.
Just before David turned to leave, he spotted Brad down in the park. What was he doing down there, right where the police had just been? David stopped to watch his cousin.
After school, Brad went back to the park. He avoided his friends, hid, and waited until it was almost dark. Just after the last of the police officers left, he came out of hiding to have a look around. Investigative journalism was in his blood. Brad had practically grown up at the newspaper office, and by the time he was fourteen, he was the editor-in-chief of the school paper. Now, at sixteen, he was working part-time for his mom at the Roxbury Times.
He had a feeling that something big was happening here, and he wanted to find out for himself what it was. It looked as if the cops had washed the whole area clean. Only broken branches remained behind as evidence that anything happened here. He started taking pictures anyway. Best to document everything.
Brad was about to have a closer look when he heard someone shout. he left the trail and hid among the trees, hoping whoever it was would disappear.
“Brad! Hey, Brad!” Kevin Williamson came huffing and puffing around the corner. “Where did he go? He was right here just a second ago.” Kevin looked all around in confusion and frustration.
Brad came back out onto the path. “Kevin, what are you doing out here?”
“There you are. Why were you hiding in the trees? I was walking home from the library, and I saw you out here. I didn’t see you after school, so I figured I’d see what you were up to. What’s going on? Isn’t this the spot where all the police were this morning?”
“Yes, I waited until all the cops left, and then I came down here to look around to see if I could figure out what might have happened. Not too much to see, though. They cleaned the area up well. They cleaned it up so well that it makes me think they are hiding something from the town.”
David was still watching his cousin and then another boy showed up. Kevin? Yeah, he thought the kid’s name was Kevin. David wondered why Brad and Kevin were looking around right where the police had just been. What could they be looking for?
Then thoughts of his cousin were blocked out by intense pain. The pain completely overtook his body. He fell to the ground and tried to suppress a scream. David looked down and saw his fingernails lengthening and hair sprouting out all over his arms and hands. He looked up at the sky and noticed the full moon. David’s last thought before the wolf took control of his mind was that maybe Matt had been right all along. Perhaps they should have listened to Gramps’ stories and stayed away from Maine after all. Then David’s rational thoughts were gone. The wolf howled, sniffed the air, and went into the trees in search of prey.