The old wooden ladder creaked under his weight as he moved up through the gloom, old hay dust hung in the air. he paused listening but there was only silence. Emboldened he started up the ladder once more till at last his head rose above the loft floor. Moon light from an open hatch in the wall spilled across the wooden floor revealing old boxes and trunks half covered by canvas, and in an open area two empty sleeping bags and unlit lantern.
His smile of amusement twisted into a frown as Simon gazed at the empty sleeping bags. First the boy had failed to be home, and only his observation of the boy and his friend during the afternoon had given Simon a name to look up. Allowing him to locate this place. But now the boy was gone again, it was… Annoying, he thought as he clambered up into the loft.
Outside he heard a foot step in gravel and moved towards the hatch in the barn wall. As he reached the opening he heard low voices down below.
“hurry up before my dad spots us”
“Sssssh, he will hear you an hour before he see’s us” the voice of the red head replied. “besides it was your idea to meet the girls at the old Owens place.”
“Vickie wanted to see the cemetery, figured it was a good way to be alone with the girls.” The other boy said with the same eager lust Simon had observed in far to many people.
The Owens Cemetery, he thought. he was long Familiar with the place it had a certain, Ambience, a charm, at least for one like him. It was not his first time in the area after all and his family had an association with the land here, or rather one particular plot of land and that made the surrounding area important.
Remaining hidden he looked out and saw the boys were walking slowly pushing their motorcycles. Breakers of rules, little hellions as his Great Grandfather would have called them. If caught they would no doubt get a switching, though the current rage amongst the enlightened, fools in his book, was to spare the rod.
Simon had seen the man who ran this farm and he rather doubted the Farmer would ever be mistaken for what passed for enlightened in this day and age.
No need to follow them now that I know where they are going, and if the young ladies do appear it will make my little game so much more entertaining, he thought.
0045 hrs the Sloan house.
Pappy sat on the edge of his bed, the flimsy yellow curtains Melissa loved fluttering at the open windows, the room chilled by the night breeze. he didn’t sleep a lot these days, more age than situation, he thought as he rose silently to his feet and padded down the hall to the kitchen for a glass of water.
Standing by the sink, where moonlight dappled the countertops, he gazed outside as he sipped the cool well water thinking about the conversation he’d had with the deputy who had dropped by to ask for a truce in his fued with Crist. The low life, thieving, son of a whore, he added under his breath. The mans breath was so bad, that skunks felt threatened.
Id be happy to let things drop if that little twat would leave well enough alone, but ol Charlie just keeps coming. Back in the civilized days, only thing I would have to do to end this would be to shoot him and every worthless member of his family, about sixty rounds all told, Pappy thought with a grim smile then felt guilty for such thoughts knowing what Melissa would say about them if she knew.
A small boyish smile, almost shy, spread across his face as he let his guard down here in the dark kitchen as he thought about his wife. He could still remember the day he had first seen her coming out the Piggly Wiggly, her long legs flashing under the hem of her fashionable skirt his ma would have called scandalous. Her hair fairly glowed gold in the sunlight. Pleasure at just being alive danced in her eyes as she saw Pappy watching, and then she had winked at him. and that as they said had been that, he had fallen in love.
He had stood there like an idiot as she loaded her groceries into a small car and as she climbed into the drivers seat, skirt sliding up to show a tanned silky smooth thigh, he a veteran of several battlefields and no stranger do death and danger had finally worked up the courage to approach.
“excuse me” Pappy had said as she looked up at his already old face. “I was wondering if you would like to have dinner with me, I don’t give a damn where, or what the hell kind of food it is. Id just like to spend a little time with you.” The smile had dimmed a slight bit as the curse words he had tired to keep bottled up had slid out, but laughter flickered in her eyes.
“lets start over, you should say Hello, then ask my name” she had said, not in a snotty way but in a tone like two friends sharing a joke.
He knew people were staring, hell there was probably a crowd gathering to witness the beginning of the Apocalypse as Pappy asked out a woman. And not just any woman, but a woman young enough to be his daughter.
With out a bit of shame or embarrassment, he did as she asked and when she gave him her name and smiled it was like the sun coming out after years of gloom. They had dated four months, with Pappy being on his best behavior before she had seduced him with laughter and bikini and everything had changed in his life.
Hell he had never cared what any one thought about him till Melissa, still didn’t care what others thought but if he disappointed or upset her he did anything he could to make it up to her. Mostly he worked hard not to end up in that position in the first place.
He took another sip of water and frowned as he saw the barn door open just enough to let some one slip out. Those little peckerwoods are going to try sneaking off, probably to go check out that damn circus after hours, he thought as he sat his glass down on the counter then stopped as he saw a figure that was not either of the boys slip into the barn and close the door slowly behind it.
He rushed upstairs and shook Melissa awake, the moment her eyes opened he said. “saw a man creeping into the barn, you call the Sheriff, tell em to bring a body bag, I’m shooting the son of a bitch” he said and then was racing down the stairs grabbing his shotgun from the rack and then outside.
Something’s never leave a man, Pappy thought as he felt the old familiar pre combat jitters start. Who ever it was, was dressed mighty odd and that didn’t place him in the I’m just going to steal a few things from the barn category. No that pervert was after the boys, and ain’t no way in hell that was happening on his watch, no sir, not in this life time he told himself as he reached for the handle.
0120 the woods.
Simon moved quickly and silently through the woods, the darkness was his friend it had always been that way. it hid him, protected him, and had given him purpose Tonight it had once more come to his aid, he had barely escaped the barn before the Farmer had entered like an enraged bull.
If the man had been just a little more observant he might have spotted the boys and kept them home, which would have made things a little more entertaining as a family event. But it was not to be, not tonight at any rate.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his old child hood friend strolling along beside him. why it was here, now Simon didn’t know, but it had taken an interest in his game and that meant his little side game might fit into the bigger picture. Not that Simon cared, the end result would be the same, blood, pain and chaos.
“you’ve never been to the cemetery” Jeff asked quietly as they pushed their dirt bikes down the road. they could have ridden them, but once they turned down the gravel road the sound of dirt bikes would probably have some one calling the sheriff, since no one had any business on this road at this time of night.
“Well yeah, but I’ve never been inside the place.” Jared replied.
“I swear Jared, no wonder you and my dad get along” Jeff said shaking his head.
Jared laughed softly “your dad barely tolerates me, I think the only reason he talks me to is because of who my dad is and your mom.”
Jeff was quiet for a moment, out of all the guys he knew Jared was the only one who really understood Pappy or that pappy could tolerate for any length of time.
“That’s not really true you know” Jeff said after a moment. “Dad thinks your okay, even if you do that hand and foot flailing Asian crap as he calls it. Its your mom he really thinks is a pinko liberal.”
Jared laughed again, remembering last summer during a very rare BBq that included Pappy Sloan. Pappy not being the most tactful person had overheard Jared’s mom talking about some new child rearing technique from some magazine. Pappy had immediately launched into how “boys should be allowed to be boys and that some twisted homosexual communist liberal loving Pussy didn’t know shit from the corn cob in his ass about raising kids.”
“Your dad is not my moms favorite person.” Jared said with a chuckle that faded as he gazed around at the night-shrouded trees on either side of the gravel road.
“Yeah, if it wasn’t for my mom, I don’t think any one would let their kids hang out with me.” Jeff said bitterly.
They were quiet for a little bit standing there with the cool night breeze blowing around them. The trees on either side of the road rustling and creaking in the darkness it should have been soothing instead it creeped Jeff out tonight.
“Come on, if Megan and Vickie get there before we do, they will probably get scared and leave before we show up.” Jared said eager to see Megan again even if it had to be in a cemetery.
Jeff nodded, he was as eager to see Vickie as Jared was Megan. Once he had stopped denying he liked Vickie he had found he like her even more than he had thought. which had only come as a surprise to him since Jared had already figured it out.
Simon moved silently through the fallen leaves under the tree’s just barely keeping the boys in sight as they walked slowly with out a care in the world. Snatches of their conversation reached his ears. The usual inane conversations of boys, mostly centered around the two young sluts they were so entranced with.
Reaching the cemetery before the boys had proven easier than he had thought, He resisted the urge to rub his hands together in glee, a proper gentleman did not do such things, as his mother had often said, actions such as that indicated a lack of self control and a proper gentleman always had a self control.
Simon stopped, hidden in the darkness under the tree’s watching as the boys approached the gate. Just a little further, and then the game will start he thought with real pleasure. Far more pleasure than anything in life gave him.
Oh this would be perfect, Simon decided as the boys pushed their two wheeled vehicles past the gate and into the old cemetery. Oh yes this will be a special night.
The moon what there was of it, rode high bathing the world below in a blue silver light where shadows ebbed and flowed under the dark canopy of the forest.
Jared pushed his dirt bike forward, following the old dirt road that passed under the groping bows of trees that were starting to shed their leaves in preparation for the oncoming winter. Around them leaves rustled on their limbs, some shook free falling like a brittle snow.
Up ahead Jared could see the brighter glow of moonlight in an open area and a moment later the boys found themselves in a weed choked circular parking area before the low stone wall of the Owens Cemetery. Decorative wrought iron placed atop the stone wall rose six feet into the air. Jared stopped before the wrought iron arch. One gate lay in the weeds, the other hanging by one hinge swung in a short creaking arc.
The cemetery, established in 1865 on private land, hadn’t seen a burial on its five acres since 1956. the families who had once used the place had either died off or moved away. The Owens family who had established the cemetery set up a trust to maintain the property.
Over the years the four grounds keepers had dwindled till only one had remained after the last burial and he had died in 1968 a year before the trust ran out of funds and folded leaving the forest to slowly reclaim large sections of the hallowed grounds.
These days, the place was all but forgotten. Remembered only by the remaining old timer’s and the kids who listened to and spread the ghost stories.
Jared grimaced silently then pushed his dirt bike into the Cemetery looking around.
Many of the tombstones, made of limestone, had been worn down to the point they were no longer legible. Most were crumbling, broken stumps scattered around in family plots amongst the weeds and tree’s. Here and there a Marble tombstone rose up, marking one of the later and last burials.
“I didn’t think you were scared of anything but clowns” Jeff teased him, as he hesitated just inside the cemetery.
“don’t see you rushing off into the darkness either” Jared replied as dropped the kickstand on his bike. Jared ignored his rapid heat beat, or the way his stomach seemed to drop lower in his body that not even the butterflies that swirled there could keep where it belonged. “I’m not scared.” Jared added.
“sure your not, that’s why your white as a sheet.” Jeff said with a grin that Jared could barely see in the night cloaked cemetery. “I am not rushing off because I don’t want to leave your pansy butt here to pee your pants.” Jeff said, but the nervous glance he gave the shadow filled grounds gave away his true feelings. “come on lets find the girls then we can go see chief Wascomti’s grave.”
“My dad said there was never an Indian chief called Wascomti around here, its just one of those made up stories” Jared said as he leaned his bike against an ancient spread limbed oak.
“your dad is wrong” Jeff said with all the conviction of a teen aged boy. “Maybe we can see the white lady tonight.”
“I would rather just find a clearing outside this place, and sit and talk to Megan” Jared replied.
“Talk, are you stupid” Jeff said then turned and headed deeper into the old cemetery softly calling the girls names.
Jared looked around “I don’t think they are here yet” He called out. He couldn’t see either girl moving far from the gate, not with out Jared and Jeff being with them. He didn’t want to move to far away from the gate himself.
He tried not to look around, where shadowy shapes flirted between trees or peered out from behind crumbling weather worn tombstones. One a deeper shade of black in the sea of night under a tree stood watching him.
A beam of light speared out from Jeff’s hand and swept from side to side. Where that beam fell the shades of long dead men and women vanished. Jared started to tell him to turn it off but there was something safe and comforting about the light and there was no chance any one else would see the light since this old place was out in the middle of the no where and hadn’t been used in years.
Bravery, his dad had said, was a man facing what he is scared of and doing what he has to do. Jared nodded to himself then took a deep, steadying breath and started after Jeff, who was to damn stupid not to get himself in trouble.
Catching up to Jeff, Jared stayed close ignoring the imaginary shadow people his mind conjured as he moved almost silently across the old leaves and twigs that littered the cemetery.
Jared let Jeff lead the way, since he knew the paths well from his many visits here. They walked silently down the path that was so overgrown it would be gone in another year or two.
As they wandered the curving paths into and out of the stands of trees and clearings, they ignored the shadows that seemed to flow along behind them. Jeff didn’t point out the three shadows near a row of tumbled head stones that were the right shape and size of children, Shadows that seemed to watch them as they passed. Nor did he say a word about the shadow that flowed from tree to tree.
They stopped finding themselves at the back of the cemetery, the oldest burial site on the property. Against the back wall, the tumbled remains of a native stone and wood prayer chapel lay, its steeple long gone.
“they aren’t here” Jeff said shining the light around. “I guess we wait then” He said.
Jared wanted to say lets wait outside, but if he gave the fear he felt even a slight escape he thought it would all come boiling up making him look like a coward.
Jeff looked around at the night-shrouded trees as something cracked in the darkness. “What was that?” he asked shining the flashlight into the brush that was slowly taking over the old cemetery.
“Coon maybe” Jared replied not so sure that was what it was. He had never been scared of being out in the woods at night at least not since he had been a little kid. But tonight he couldn’t shake the feeling that he was being watched.
“Lets wait by the gate, that’s where the girls will come in anyway, that way we wont miss them” Jeff said with as much bravado as he could muster. Together the two boys started walking down the tree lined path towards the gates.
Jeff swung the light from side to side, nervously peering into the trees. “whats wrong?” Jared asked as they stepped out into the overgrown lawn, where broken tombstones loomed above the weeds like rotted teeth.
“I … shit” Jeff said embarrassed. “off and on I keep thinking I see people moving around us.”
“yeah me too” Jared admitted feeling better that it wasn’t just him. “just shadows and nerves” Jared said as he passed a newer marble tombstone.
“yeah, Your right” Jeff said with a quick look at Jared who now looked as calm and collected as ever. Whether Jared had been scared at first didn’t matter now Jeff thought, his friend wasn’t scared now and that drove Jeff to control his own fear to keep from looking like an idiot.
Jared checked the luminescent dial of the watch his Dad had given him on his last birthday, then looked around. “ I don’t think they are coming” Jared “its after 2.”
“They are coming” Jeff stated, hope springs eternal as his mother liked to say, though he doubted she would apply that belief to his intentions for tonight.
Jared pictured the local map in his mind for a moment then shook his head. “Megan lives on the other side of Old town, and Vickie lives a few miles past that. If they had left around midnight or even one, they would already be here.” Jared said after a moment. “if they left later than that, it wont leave them a lot of time before they have to head back to get home before sunrise.”
Jeff didn’t argue, Jared was rarely wrong about stuff like that. Which at times could be annoying Jeff thought. “I want to wait for a little bit” Jeff said.
Jared only shrugged and started towards his bike. He had only made it half way across the open area before he spotted something laying across the path. “oh crap” he said softly as the beam of the flash light fell on the object.
Elliot Stone woke instantly as the phone beside the bed rang, it took him two rings to wake up, find then answer the hotel phone. A quick glance at the clock told him it was 0200 hrs and that meant bad news and one two people had this number and that meant this call was about Jared.
“Elliot, this is Pappy… Clark Sloan, We have a problem down here, both our boys are gone and it looks like some one got into your house before they headed over to mine.” Pappy Sloan said with out wasting time. “I done called the Sheriff and he is on his way out.”
Elliot Stone was already out of bed and dragging on his jeans as he cradled the phone against his shoulder with his head. “Tell me everything” He barked as his wife Ann sat up worry flaring in her eyes. .
Pappy delivered a concise and almost military debrief in less than two minutes, By then Elliot was sliding on his boots. “I will be heading your way the second I hang up this phone” Elliot told Pappy.
“I think you might need to hurry, If I aint here. I will make sure Melissa knows where I am headed so you can follow.” Pappy said.
Elliot hung up with out another word and quickly explained the situation to Ann, “ I want you to stay here with Eric. I will find our boy Hun, I promise” he told her.
“if some one hurt him, I….” Ann fell silent, she wasn’t a violent woman by nature. But the fury that rose in her heart at the thought of some one hurting her son, either of her sons was a vengeful creature.
“Don’t worry, I will” Elliot said as he opened the door. He knew exactly how she felt and what she had left unsaid. By god who ever it was would wish like hell they had never messed with his son. He had the training, the skill and the will to make sure that who ever it was died slowly and in pain, and no body would ever be found. You do not mess with SF or their Families, he said silently as he closed the door and headed for the car. All his lectures to Jared about letting authority figures deal with problems just so much smoke on the wind now.
0210 Sheriffs Department
Hagen splashed water on his face and considered the haggard eyed stranger staring at him from the mirror. It had been a long three days, he thought, and it promised to be even longer. Half a hour ago he had, had to send two deputies out to the Mason place in case some of the late pastors flock decided to go out there and take matters into their own hands.
The death of the Pastor had spread far and fast the moment Stella had gotten on the phone after his people had left. And of course she blamed the circus, surprisingly it had been Mabel the Gossip queen who had called the station to warn his people of the possibility of violence directed against the circus.
At least he didn’t have to worry about Charley Crist screwing with Pappy tonight, Charley had rushed over to be with Stella in her time of need.
A knock at the bathroom door jarred Hagen out of his thoughts. “you okay in there Sheriff” Lydia Morrow asked through the door.
Hagen donned his hat and opened the door giving Lydia a tired apologetic smile “yes Lydia. “ he said as the older plump woman stepped aside. She was always mothering him, he thought as she clucked disapprovingly .
“you need to hand everything over to Pete and go home and get some sleep” she chided gently.
Hagen cocked a eyebrow, “who was on the phone a moment ago Lydia” he asked knowing she was trying to keep him from an early grave.
She sighed heavily “Pappy Sloan, he had a prowler, Since you were busy freshening up I dispatched Pete to check it out.”
“Lydia..” Hagen said, then stopped himself. There was no sense in berating her. As long as she thought he was working himself to death, she would just tune out his complaints and objections and keep right on trucking trying to protect him from himself and the job.
“ I will take care of Pappy” Hagen said wiping his hands.
“Now Sheriff, you haven’t slept more than three hours in two days. Pete can hold down the fort while you get some sleep.”
“I have to much going on with the missing Siemns girl, a missing driver, two deaths and more prowlers than a convention of cat burglars hosts. I can’t take that time Lydia, the Siemns girl and her family deserve better, the missing driver and this county deserves better than that.” Hagen had run for Sheriff because he did believe in what the badge was supposed to stand for and he did his best to live up to that belief.
Lydia knew when to fold and step away from the table, with a another cluck she turned and headed back to her desk.
“ I promise, I will get a few hours of sleep as soon as I can” Hagen said as he settled his gun belt and headed for the door.
Jared knelt beside Dale Smith and stared the other boys chest, breathing a sigh of relief as he saw Dales chest rise and fall slowly.
“Jeff, go get help” Jared told his friend who shook his head. N
“are you kidding, one Dale wouldn’t do this for you, and two we are going to get our butts grounded for a year when our folks find out we snuck out to the cemetery especially after sneaking off to the circus.” Jeff said, but he was already turning towards his dirt bike.
“I don’t care what Dale would do, just go get help.” Jared said, not so sure that Pappy would really care about them sneaking out. But with Julie missing the town was on edge so who knew.
Jeff didn’t reply other than to climb onto his bike. A moment later he was shooting out the gate throwing dirt, the engine whining like an enraged mosquito.
The night seemed to grow darker, as if the moon was sliding behind clouds. He shivered as his imagination conjured up a dark oppressive force that seemed to settle over the cemetery. “your going to be okay” He told the unconscious Dale as he looked around at the shadows that seemed to draw closer. The Shadows of the dead, drawn to the bright flame of life that had been denied them he thought remember the line from some old monster movie he had once seen. He shook his head, that was just stupid the dead don’t come back.
Simon crouched in the brush watching the Red head and smiled. Simon had watched as the Two strange boys, both big and dumb, had been sneaking around trying to scare the red head and his friend. He had been tempted to kill them, but that wasn’t part of the game so he had simply snuck up and injected them with a poison that would put them to sleep for several hours. Long enough for Simon to finish his game.
Then while the red head, Jared Elliot, and his friend were at the far end of the cemetery he had carried the bigger of the two unconscious boys to the path so that the red headed boy could find him and add a little fear and chaos to the night.
Oddly the chaos hadn’t ensued, which rather bothered him, people usually reacted in predictable ways. But Jared Elliot hadn’t panicked or assumed he had found a corpse and ran. No he had knelt and checked the unconscious boy over as calmly as if he watching a movie, then sent his friend for help.
Which will reduce the time I have to play, he told himself as he prepared himself to start the festivities.
Jared rose and paced around Dale, working hard to keep his fear under control. Every minute that ticked past, increased his tension. Yeah I know ghosts don’t exist, and no dead people are going to come climbing out of the ground, he told himself. But that didn’t change the feeling he had that some one was out there watching him.
He whirled around hearing a branch snap behind him but saw nothing but moonlight weeds and tombstones. Coon, he told himself as he continued his pacing.
As he made another circuit around Dale, he caught a flicker of movement out of the corner of his eye, he turned his head and his breath caught in his throat, his blood went cold.
A figure, more shadow than flesh leaned out from a behind a tree. It wore a cone hat and a splash of moonlight revealed a ruffled collar around its neck.
It lifted a hand from the tree trunk and waggled its fingers at him then it vanished behind the tree and into the darkness that had spawned it.
Just your imagination, Jared told himself, its all in your mind. the though was great, and it would have been really comforting if he had believed it.
He wanted to run for his dirt bike, but that would mean leaving Dale and if there really was someone there, then that would leave Dale alone with it. Every fiber of his being was screaming at him to run, but he throttled the impulse, taking a deep steadying breath.
“whose there” he called out, thankful his voice didn’t crack. There was only silence and the soft sigh of the night breeze through the trees.
To his left there was another flash of movement, and he saw the rotund clown glide through a patch of moonlight between two trees then vanish again. It had circled half way around him, with out a sound Jared thought. It was trying to cut him off from his dirt bike.
“I got a gun and I will shoot your make up painted ass” Jared yelled, his hands trembling wishing he had one of his dads pistol.
The clown reappeared, rising up out of the weeds beside the statue of a Angel that the kids who came out here called the Dark Angel. It pointed its index finger at him thumb raised like he held a pistol then lifted both hand and spread them as it shook its head.
Jared got the message the clown didn’t believe him, and it was right he didn’t have a gun just his hunting knife. “screw you” He yelled as he drew his knife, the blade flashing in the moonlight. The clown faded back into the darkness with a laugh the first sound it had made.
Oh god I need to get out of here, Jared thought then looked guilty back at Dale who still hadn’t come to. The clown did something to him, Jared realized. And now its after me.
He turned in a slow circle trying to spot the clown, but saw nothing but the overgrown cemetery. He back up and stood over Dale, his hands shaking.
“candy little boy” a voice, full of dark amusement called out from behind him. Jared spun almost tripping over Dale, to face a dark stand of trees, where a white clown face glowed in a beam of moonlight.
“Kiss my butt” Jared shouted, or at least tried to. It sounded an awful lot like a croak to Jared’s ears.
“in due time boy in due time” the clown said and vanished back into the darkness.
Shivering with fear and suddenly understanding his parents fear of what could happen to him and his brother he almost ran for his bike. But that was what it expected him to do, Jared thought.
he began to turn slowly trying to spot the clown, a plan forming in his mind. suddenly there was the clown again, this time closer standing between two crumbling tombstones. Jared shouted and stumbled backwards, tripping on Dale.
Landing on his butt he scooted backwards, and the clown advanced. With a flourish the clown produced a stuffed bear seemingly out of the air. With a flick of its other gloved hand a knife appeared. Grinning the clown cocked his head mouth forming an O of surprise as he drove the knife into the bear. Jared scrambled to his feet as the clown laughed.
Then Jared’s arm moved in a blur so fast that the clown only saw it as the boys arm dropped back to his side, and pain blossomed in his head as the rock smacked him in the forehead.
The laughter cut off, the clown dropped the bear but not the knife and scuttled bent knee’d towards Jared who threw his second rock striking the clown over the eyebrow.
The clown rocked back on his floppy shoes, Jared didn’t wait he turned ran into the woods while the clown was reelng. Well I think that part worked, Jared thought, his plan such as it was, was to anger the clown enough to chase him and leave Dale alone. Now as long I don’t pee my pants or get caught this might work, he thought as he moved quickly and quietly through the woods.
Simon stood glaring at the dark woods, a trickle of blood rolling down the side of his face. Then nodded, “yes he is a brave one,” he said as if agreeing to an unspoken comment. “foolish but brave” he said his voice low and clear. He tilted his head slightly as if to hear better then nodded again. “yes, I think he should come visit my house, yes indeed.” Simon said as he started into the woods. “but first we have to locate him and that must be done quickly.”
0230 hrs, the Sloan Farm
Hagen drove down the gravel drive an unhappy man. Exhausted he glared at the small two story farm house its windows ablaze with light. Parking the car he called in his location then opened the door. “it never ends” he muttered, tonight promised to be a long damn night.
Climbing out the car he adjusted his gun belt and slapped his hat on his head before walking over the steps were Pappy stood waiting
Pappy climbed down the steps a pump shotgun in his hands. “Hagen, what took you so long. I bet your donut eating ass was parked over at the all night dinner in Goodletsville.” Pappy growled. . “you folks want people like me to trust you to deal with trouble and then you fart around with your thumb up your ass.”
Exhaustion gave way to anger as Hagen unflinchingly met Pappys angry gaze. “First Mr. Sloan, you now live in Goodletsville get used to it, Secondly I was dealing with a death that might have been murder or manslaughter at the very least. I haven’t slept in two days and you had damn well better have a good reason to drag me out here away from my bed or I will shoot your ass and claim I mistook you for a bear. With as little sleep as Ive had most people will believe it, or at least not argue since it was you I shot.”
Pappy glared for a moment longer then shook his head, half amused and impressed that Hagen had fired back at him. “I called for you, because someone broke into my barn, and because my boy and that Stone kid who were staying the night in the barn are both gone.” Pappy replied all trace of amusement gone.
That Stone kid, Hagen thought, considering the fact that Jared Stone was one of the very few kids whose parents would allow their child with in ten miles of pappy the man should at least call his son’s only real friend by name and be happy his son had a friend. That thought like Pappy’s amusement lasted on a fraction of a second replaced by worry and fear that something might have happened to both boys.
“You sure it wasn’t Crist creeping around trying to get even with you for smearing his truck with dog shit”
“It was his dog shit” Pappy replied shaking his head. “and no, who ever this was, was damn good at creeping around. Quiet as a mouse and good at keeping out of sight. I only saw the Pric…”
“Clark” Melissa Stone said from the door.
“er.. feller by a stroke of luck, he was just going around the corner of the barn when I happened to look out the window” Pappy said.
No doubt Pappy had been walking from window to window hoping to catch Crist up to no good, Hagen thought. “ lets go take a look at the barn.”
“aint nothing there” Pappy said. “already looked it over, nothing stolen, just some odd looking tracks around the barn and a few inside. And both boys gone.”
“humor me Pappy, its my job” Hagen said, “Look odds are its was just a thief, probably some pot head looking for something to steal so he could buy more drugs. And the boys probably left to go muck around in the woods.” And maybe meet a couple of young women, Hagen thought. “give me just a second” He added leaning into his car and picking up the microphone.
It took him only a moment to get the word out through dispatch to keep an eye out for both boys. He would personally call Young to see if Megan was asleep in her bed. But only once he had a look around the barn.
“okay tell me the whole story Pappy,” Hagen said once he was finished as they headed for the barn.
“Nothing to tell, while I was waiting for you slow … waiting for you. I took a look around, I found where the dim witted son of a two dollar Whore entered my property, and which way he went when he left here. Didn’t have time to cover his back trail or follow him, what with the wife yapping at me to call you. It’s the sheriffs job, she kept saying. Clark you cant go charging off into the woods alone, Clark you cant go shooting up the forest, and the one I love, what kind of example would you be setting for Jeff.” Pappy said grumpily and not telling Hagen he had in fact taken the time to follow the intruders back trail and found that who ever this was, they had crept around and entered the Stone house.
If the situation hadn’t been so serious, Hagen would have laughed. It was a rare moment to see Pappy so whipped that he was cowed. Not that it would last Hagen thought, and I still think he knows something he isn’t telling me. What that might be Hagen couldn’t guess, but Pappy did know something.
As they walked back to his patrol car, he heard something in the distance and stopped resting a hand on the fender of his car. “That’s a dirt bike,” Pappy said then added “just one.”
Hagen nodded as the porch lights blazed to life, and Melissa Sloan stepped out onto the porch. A moment later a dirt bike skidded into the drive way and came to a stop beside Hagen’s Car. Jeff Sloan leaped off his bike and in his haste let the bike fall over. “Sheriff Hagen thank god you’re here.”
“if he wasn’t I would kill you” Pappy muttered.
“Jared is still out at the Owens place, we found Dale Smith laying on the path, but he wasn’t there when we headed up to the chapel but he was there when we came back. some one else is there with Jared Sheriff, you got to get there fast.” Jeff said.
“Dale Smith? Did he do something to you boys” Hagen asked.
Jeff shook his head empathically. “no, see first he wasn’t there then he was, and then I thought he was dead but Jared said he wasn’t and the whole time I kept seeing some one sneaking around behind us, like they were following us, only I thought that it was my…
“What happened to Dale and is Jared all right?” Hagen asked
“Son take a breath and make some sense or I am going to plant my boot in your brain via your ass to kick it in gear.” Pappy growled. Melissa for once did not correct him
“Jared thinks Dale is unconscious, Jared was fine when I left. I didn’t want to go…”
“Cause you knew your ass would be in trouble” Pappy supplied.
“..Because Jared is my friend and some one left Dale there on the path, and …” Jeff said ignoring his dad. He took a deep breath and then as slowly as he could told them to the story, all of it from beginning to end.
When he finished, Hagen took a his own deep breath then opened the door to his patrol car and grabbed the mic. In seconds he had Lydia calling the girls families to make sure the girls were at home. she could give him the report while he was on his way to the cemetery. “Pappy, I want you to stay here. I don’t need you getting in our way. If there is someone out there at the cemetery with Jared Stone, I don’t want to have to worry about shooting you in the dark.”
“Jeff, is there anything else you can tell me? Anything at all.”
“No sir. Just get out there and make sure Jared is okay. I hated leaving him but some one had to go for help.”
“You did the right thing Jeff” Hagen said then shut the door and started his vehicle. Before he left the drive way his lights were flashing and his siren screaming.
Jeff turned slowly to his father expecting the biggest cussing and spanking of his life, only to have his dad wrap his arms around him. “Thank god your safe” Pappy said almost crushing Jeff whose face was buried in his dads chest. he had never seen his father like this, not once in his life. Pappy was not a touchy feely person or this emotional.
Abruptly Pappy let him go and stepped back. “when this is over I am going to blister your ass so badly you wont be able to sit till your ninety. Now get into the house before you turn into some kind of liberal commie and want to move into a hippie commune and worship your navel or some other stupid new age shit.”
Now that was his dad, Jeff thought as he headed toward the house, not even paying attention to the string of profanity that slipped from his dads mouth, more than half was in Korean and Japanese which usually kept his mom from knowing exactly what pappy was saying. Tonight she didn’t even try to stop him.
Hagen, sirens wailing and lights flashing raced down the old dirt road towards the cemetery. Jeff Sloan had rode up on his dirt bike just as Hagen was about to leave. What ever the truth was, the boy had seen something out there and Jared Stone was still on site with either a wounded Dale Smith or a dead Dale smith.
Any other time he might have discounted the whole story as just another kid who had gotten spooked and ran but not tonight. Pappy was right some one had scouted that Barn, and not finding the boys inside had eventually located and followed the boys tracks as they had pushed their bikes away from the farm.
At least the girls were safe and at home, so that was one worry he could discard.
Pete would already be on his way, but he was across town and it would take him twenty minutes or longer to reach the location. Which left Hagen to deal with what ever situation he might find alone with out back up.
Jared crouched behind a half tumbled wall of the chapel, trying to work up the nerve to run across the open area to the stand of woods twenty feet from where he was at.
He heard the clown moving around, leaves crunching under his feet as it searched. The sound soon faded. Thank god, Jared thought rising into a crouch. Now or never Jared told himself. He darted forward, and then back pedaled as the clown stepped out of the woods in front of him.
“I do hope your not leaving on my account, “ the clown said. “we still have so much to do before I turn my attention to your sweet girl. Don’t worry I have her safely stowed away, some place private where she and I can enjoy our time together.”
Jared felt a fear like nothing else before, it rocked him to his core. His mind raced, if he could stall keep the clown chasing him, long enough for her dad to find out she was missing or Jeff to come back with help then Megan could be saved.
Like Julie? A part of his mind asked cynically. How many day have they been looking for her.
The clown capered around, laughing madly. “oh the look on your face boy,” it said then stopped and straightened the large bow tie around its neck, then pushed its conical hat straight on its head all the while smiling at Jared who stood frozen with fear and indecision.
“I found her first, but you are the one I really want. I find females so, disgusting.” Simon said with another laugh. “dirty slutty things, that befoul a man with their touch.
Sadly I missed you and your family at home, but she was kind enough to tell me all about your staying over night with your friend, Jeff is his name yes. But you were already leaving when I arrived at the barn, sadly his father put in an appearance and I had to kill him before I could catch up to you. And then of course thanks again to our little friend Megan I knew where you were heading and here I am ready to play.” Simon said so smoothly that the Boy believed every word of the lies he wove.
Jared stared at the clown, he knew her name, knew about spending the night in the barn, he didn’t want to believe Pappy was dead, Pappy was to tough and cantankerous for a clown to take out. But if it were true, Jeff was headed home to a night mare.
“What do you want” Jared said as he backed up to the wall he had been hiding behind.
“Just you, we have a game to play you and I. Win or lose the girl will go free, I have no interest in her to be honest, she was just a second place trophy if I failed to get you.” The clown said in a friendly voice as it produced a bouquet of flowers from the air with a flourish. “ of course if you don’t play, I will start with her, then your friend, then your mother and little brother.”
Some place private, Jared thought his fear being pushed aside by the icy anger that rose up inside him at the words of the clown. The clown wasn’t local, he worked at the circus. There was no place private at the circus, so he had found some place nearby. Think Jared, think, he told himself. “what kind of game” Jared asked slowly, letting the fear show let the clown see it and not the anger. The anger was his anchor, what would keep him going tonight.. Touch my little brother and my mom, You can kiss my ass Jared thought. My dad will chop you up and feed you to wild dogs.
“I think you know boy,” the clown said gliding forward a knife in its hands, then hesitated as they both heard a siren in the distance.
Now Jared’s mind shouted as the clown was distracted for heartbeat. Jared scooped up a rock and threw it with a precision and speed that he would later show with a pistol. The rock snapped across the space between himself and the clown and struck the clown in the forehead. Blood spurted from the gashed skin and the clown actually cried out and stumbled backwards.
Jared ran, dodging around trees, trying to stick to the path. Let the clown use the woods, tonight the path was the fastest route and he took it in a four minute mile. “good show, I am coming for you boy.” The clown called out laughing.
Jared entered the front section of the cemetery pausing only long enough to drag Dale off the path and into a high stand of weeds out of sight. Hopefully the clown wouldn’t even bother looking for him. Jared turned and headed for his dirt bike only to hear a twig snap behind him, and then a hand fell on his shoulder.
He twisted, around using a lock break to free himself and roll out of the way with out thinking. A knife flashed and he rolled aside coming up on the balls of his feet and lunging towards the distant bike.
“I will wear your skin when I am finished” the clown laughed lunging at Jared again.. the knife slicing through his shirt and leaving a shallow cut along his side. Jared pivoted, blocked the next strike then ran for his dirt bike the clown coming up fast.
The Mason place, that had to be where he had taken Megan.. If I can get there before he does, I can find her and get her out. But I stop and talk to the Sheriff or one of his deputies they might take to much time before they finally believe me and then She might be killed.
The Logic such as it was seemed perfect. The faster he got to her the better.
Simon ran for the boy, enjoying the game immensely. Though it would have been better if he had never had to speak to the boy. Silence could add so much terror he thought.
He was reaching for the boys shoulder when the motor cycle started, but before his hand could close the bike roared away taking the boy with it. The fun was over for the moment, Simon decided as the boy raced through the gate. “he will come to me, of that I am sure” Simon said. “ he will come and with out the police and then the real fun will start.”
0320 hrs Owens cemetery, Crime scene.
Dale Smith was alive which was one bit of good news. As was Dales buddy Taylor who had been found half buried in leaves amidst a stand of trees. Hagen stood looking down at the tracks he had found near the old Owens prayer chapel. They matched the ones around Pappy’s barn.
Who ever this was, was after the boys, or just possibly Jared. Either way all hell was going to break loose when Elliot Stone found out and returned. He only hoped the local PD in Nashville got in touch with Elliot before Pappy could call the man. The Ass was probably on the phone the minute I pulled out of the driveway and the last thing I need is a former Special Forces Soldier with a missing boy going Rambo.
And I still think Pappy was holding something back, and if he was that means he plans on dealing with this little problem himself or letting Elliot Stone deal with it. No Pappy would be involved one way or the other. ”Starr, Get over to Pappys house and sit on him.” Hagen called out to his Deputy. “I think Pappy is planning on playing Lone Ranger. And make sure Crow and Rindler go to the hospital and guard the two boys. Who ever did this might want to come back and clean up after himself.”
So lets review he told himself as Starr headed for his vehicle Who ever had been at Pappy’s place had followed the boys out here, at least judging by the tracks he had found it was the same person, Dale and Taylor had been here drinking, if the by the empty beer cans scattered around the area where Taylor had been found were an accurate representation of their night. Why they werent partying with friends after the big Game victory he didn’t know. .
Then for some reason who ever had been stalking Jared and Jeff, had done something to Dale and Taylor to keep them from interfering with his plans. Why he hadn’t killed them, Hagen had no clue and was at least thankful for that much.
Jared had sent Jeff for help, staying behind and playing right into the hands of the Stalker.
If he read the tracks right, Jared had seen something while he was pacing around waiting.
Jared had fallen at one point then ran into the woods. The boy had circled the cemetery, followed by the Stalker. The stalker had spent more time wandering hither and yon than not so he wasn’t a woodsmen.
No lets be honest here the stalker was a clown, you know it but cant prove it. He nodded to himself. That’s exactly what this prints look like, big flopping clown shoes.
But then it gets strange, Jared had somehow gotten away from the stalker at the chapel and circled back around to his dirt bike. Taking only long enough to move Dale off the path, where he had been found. At a guess Jared had hoped the stalker wouldn’t waste time looking for Dale when he had Jared to chase down. at that point Jared had left, probably with in minutes of Hagens arrival, and headed into the woods. There was no way Jared couldn’t have heard the siren as Hagen approached so where had he gone and why.
The boy knew help was going to be heading out here, even if he hadn’t heard the siren heading down the road would mean running into any deputy or even Pappy heading to the cemetery. So why head into the woods?
0320 Sloan residence.
Pappy paced angrily in the living room, constantly looking at the clock on the mantel piece then at Jeff who sat silently, scared for his friend and scared of what Pappy was going to do to him when all this was over.
“I swear I’ve raised smarter pigs than you,” Pappy fumed. “how could you be that stupid. I warned you, both of you to stay home at night while that circus was in town. But No, you little peckerwoods had to ignore me and run off to try and get laid.”
“Clark, do not call our son or his friend a peckerwood” Melissa said, her temper finally breaking free of her control. She glanced at Jeff who looked both angry and scared. “Jared is missing, Jeff feels bad enough about that.”
Pete Starr was none to happy about being here either she thought, “Jeff you did the right thing coming home” Starr said stepping between Pappy and his son. Pappy looked mad enough to spit nails, Starr knew part of that was fear for the missing boy and the need to do something anything to help.
“I should have stayed with him” Jeff said, looking down at his shoes.
“no, then no one would know where you two were at and both of you would be in a serious mess right now.” Starr said, at least not till we found your bodies, he thought.
“I…” Jeff started then fell silent, feeling an unholy guilt for feeling relieved at being safe.
“do you have any clue, who it might have been out there at the cemetery. Have you seen any one creeping around, watching you, or following you lately?”
“no, no one” Jeff said then frowned. “wait,Jared got worked up Thursday night, said there was a clown following him around at the circus, he said it touched him from under the bleachers then followed him outside, waving and appearing and disappearing. He doesn’t like clowns so I just figured he got worked up over nothing.”
Melissa grew pale Starr noted, but Pappy’s lips only thinned angrily. Both of the adults had probably heard the stories by now about clowns creeping around town. Most of the reports had been either outright lies by certain people trying to cause the circus problems while others had been flights of fancy but a few of the reports he and Sheriff Hagen believed the witness’s had seen some one, maybe not a clown but some one lurking around the property.
Like Hagen he had noted how often everything kept going back to the circus, but even with the surprising cooperation of the Circus owner and his crew, nothing had turned up during a single search. No bodies, no evidence of foul play, not even littering.
“You think the clown might have been the one out there at the cemetery.” Jeff asked.
“I don’t know Jeff, I wont lie to you about that. but who ever it was picked you and Jared Stone, and that tells me you might have seen him at least once whether you noticed or not. “
Pappy tensed slightly, Hagen had warned him that Pappy might be holding something back and it did look that way to Starr but before he could ask or push a little two things happened. The phone rang and a car rocketed into the drive way.
Melissa answered the phone as Pappy headed to the front door. “ hang on Lydia, he is right here.” Melissa said holding the phone out to Starr, who took it with a nod of thanks though he really wanted to head out onto the porch, he was sure that Elliot Stone was in that car.
“Starr speaking” he said watching the front door and wishing he could hear what Pappy was saying. He could barely hear the new arrival but he could hear enough to recognize the mans voice.
“Sheriff Hagen needs you to work a wreck with three injuries and a fatality out on the highway, he had me call in Bowden and Crocker, but it will be half an hour before either of them show up. he said and I quote, Guess we will have to trust Pappy to not do any thing rash.”
“Elliot Stone just showed up here Lydia, I think rash is to mild of a word for what he and pappy might do.” Starr stated. “ let the Sheriff know whats going on here and Ill head out right now. “ he said then asked for the wrecks location before hanging up.
Stepping out onto the porch, he grew suspicious when Pappy fell silent. But the look on Elliot Stones face struck him hard. He was a man faced with the possible loss of his son, there was anguish and anger glittering like a knife edge in the mans eyes.
“Mr. Stone, we are doing everything we can to find your son. Sheriff Hagen believes your son is unharmed.”
“Has he been kidnapped” Elliot asked deadly calm.
“At the moment any answer I give would be pure speculation, we don’t honestly know.” Starr replied, wishing that his boss were here instead of him.
“so you don’t know that he is unharmed then” Elliot Stone said icily.
“all we know is that it appears he left the cemetery alone.” Starr replied and as soon as the words had left his mouth he knew he shouldn’t have said it.
“he hasn’t come back here, and I can tell you he isn’t at our house. If he had escaped this pervert he would have come back, no matter how much trouble he might be in. So pardon me Deputy if I am not filled with confidence.” Elliot Stone paused, his lips tightening for a moment then the lines smoothed as he reasserted control. “ I know your trying to give me hope, and I believe your and the Department are doing your best. What I want is to go out to the cemetery and look around for myself, I might spot something you missed and that’s not being insulting Deputy, I have a unique skill set.”
“I will relay that to the Sheriff Mr. Sloan, he will be here shortly. Meanwhile, as much as I dislike it, we are short handed tonight and there has been a bad wreck that I need to get to. Promise me that you will both wait here for the Sheriff.”
Elliot Stone nodded and Starr knew that was the best he was going to get. He wouldn’t be surprised if both men headed out as soon as he was out of sight. Starr couldn’t delay any longer, he turned and almost ran to his unit.
Pappy watched the cruiser drive away then turned to Elliot. “I know you don’t like me, but that’s neither here nor there. I aim to be helping you get your boy back, this happened on my watch and….. to be honest I like your boy, he is smart, and a good friend to my son.”
Elliot started to rip Clark Sloan a whole new butt, but that would be unfair and he knew it. The boys had snuck off, and the only way Pappy could have stopped them was to have set in the barn between both boys , all night. Elliot knew his son, if Jared wanted to sneak out somewhere, short of hog tieing him or locking him the box the boy was smart enough to come up with a good plan to escape and evade with the best of them.
And he admitted to himself, it took a lot for that crusty old fart to say what he had just said. He had to respect that, and the way Pappy was willing to risk Elliot’s anger by facing him knowing Elliot would probably blame him.
“Pappy” Elliot said using the nickname every one used for Clark Sloan, for the first tme. “I’m hoping you have a damn good idea where my boy might be, or where he might have been taken so lets hear it.”
“I might at that Sergeant, because I think your son is either at or going to where all this started decades ago.”
“What do you mean, Started decades ago”
“Well that’s a long story and one better suited to when we have time, but I think your son is up at the Mason place and I think we need to hurry.”
“Why there? why not some old shack or abandoned building out in the middle of no where. If this stalker, kidnapper, what ever really does work for the circus he wouldn’t want to use a place so easy to see and search right there next to the circus, especially knowing half the town thinks every crime committed in the last week has all been committed by the circus folks.”
Pappy looked uneasy as he gazed at Elliot Stone. “I told you it’s a long story, why the Mason place, because that’s where the last boy was killed when the circus was in town. It wasn’t just the last of the Mason family, no sir it wasn’t. Eddie Warren was killed up there too, he was about our sons ages.
There is something wrong with that house, Sergent, and the damn ground it sits on. I aint one to put much stock in haints and such, not normally but that place… something lives there Sergeant and it wants your boy.”
Eliot wanted to scoff at pappys belief in the weird. He needed to, but he had seen some weird things during his time in uniform especially in the jungles of Nam. If Pappy was wrong and Jared was someplace else his son could die with out help showing up in time
Bit searching the cemetery for clues could take him an hour or more and every minute put his son in more danger.
“how sure are you Pappy” Elliot asked. Softly.
“Sure as the fact I got a big…” Pappy fell silent as his wife elbowed him. “feet” he added lamely.
“Then let’s go, and if you have a weapon I suggest you bring it.” Elliot said, he had stopped at his house on the way here and picked up his pistol. Who ever had broke in hadn’t take a thing from any room in the house that Elliot had noticed except Jared’s room. Where the intruder had taken only a framed picture of Jared sitting with his grandmother.
Pappy disappeared into the house and returned a minute later carrying an M1 Garand and the butt of a M1917 .45ACP revolver sticking out of waist band of his jeans. “never thought Id see the day a Marine and an Army puke teamed up.” Pappy said, a gleam of anticipation in his eyes.
“Then lets get moving before Hagen shows up and stops us” Elliot said heading to his car, pappy following right behind him.
“Just remember something Sergeant, nothing in that house is what it seems.” Pappy said as he opened the passenger door. Elliot usually was sharp as a tac, but he finally noticed that Pappy had barely sworn since he had arrived and that bothered him. “give it an inch and it will trick you out of a mile.” Pappy added.
Jared having abandoned his bike a mile back, climbed the hill and stepped into the derelict yard of the Mason place. It was cold under the shadow of the old mansion, colder than it should be for this time of year. God don’t know if your listening, but I hope so because I am about to do something stupid. I have to do it, but you already know that, so if you could help me out here, I would really appreciate it, Jared prayed silently as he walked through the fallen leaves then climbed the rickety steps and stood on the porch staring at the Front door a large oval of frosted glass in its center.