The following short story was presented at the Jersey City Writers’ monthly genre event–Whispers of an Apparition: Literary Reading of Paranormal Fiction. Please enjoy.
“Where are we?”
“Hopefully on the same path Suzie took the night she was killed Jake,” replied Ken.
The two men had just stepped off of a road and were standing between sycamore trees. It was a cool spring day. Wind rustled the leaves above but barely reached them. They stalked cautiously forward as if fearing an unseen villain.
“Thank you for joining me on this hunt,” Ken said.
“No problem agent, I took a vacation I didn’t quit. What do you expect to find that the police did not?”
“We tend to have unique perspectives. According to a witness driving by, Suzie ran into the trees around here pursued by a man. It had rained earlier that day but it hasn’t rained since, so there might be footprints or other signs of her passage,” said Ken. He turned on a flashlight and began sweeping the ground. Jake hesitated and then did the same.
“Footprints,” Jake muttered.
Ken shined his flashlight where Jake was looking. “Good eye,” he said as he walked to the spot and squatted down. “I see two sets of prints, one from women’s low heeled shoes and one from a man’s work boots. Why would a woman in city clothes be out in the woods?”
Jake looked down at his own boots and then at Ken’s, “Not sure.”
“There is a bus line on the road back there. Perhaps she didn’t intend to be in the woods at all,” Ken said.
“Yes I took that bus once. You know, come to think of it, old man Smithers who drives the bus is known to be a rather dirty old man. Could he be the one?”
“He was cleared.”
“When were you going to tell me buddy?”
“I received information from my police contact after he was interrogated. He completed his shift on time and his clothes were clean. He said Suzie got off at the nearby stop. There was only one other person on the bus, a man he described as shady and wearing work clothes who got off as well.”
“Have the police found the suspect?”
“Not yet. The footprints are going this way,” Ken said shining his flashlight through the bushes. He stood up and walked in that direction. Jake followed.
“We are looking for pieces of clothing or other clues left behind by the victim or the perpetrator,” Ken said.
A few minutes later they stepped into the light of a clearing. The light from their flashlights filtered lazily through the grass and scattered bushes before they thought to turn them off. They saw a patch of ground that looked slightly trampled and torn up. A metallic object mostly hidden in grass shined in the light of Jake’s flashlight.
“What’s that?” Ken asked catching the glint of the metal with his own flashlight and walking over to it. Both men turned off their flashlights since they were no longer needed. On the ground lay a belt buckle and a torn piece of leather belt. Ken crouched down and picked it up the buckle. It was a flat bronze oval with the initials “CC”.
“There are animal tracks here,” he said.
“Large and clawed… The perp could not have brought a dog or the tracks would have appeared sooner,” answered Ken.
“It looks like a black bear picked up the scent here and followed the path to the kill.”
“Then we should follow the same path,” replied Ken standing up.
The two men continued forward into another stand of trees and turned their flashlights on again.
“Look for broken branches and torn clothing,” Ken said.
They stepped lightly through the trees and undergrowth. Several broken branches could be seen, some still dangling from the trees. Jake looked off to the right and Ken followed his gaze. He stepped to the right and grabbed a piece of torn white blouse from a jagged branch, and then the cuff of a man’s shirt sleeve off another.
“It looks like the sleeve was not fastened, was impaled on this branch, and then ripped off,” said Ken. “We should find the scene of the crime up ahead.”
They walked on a little farther until they came to another clearing. There in front of them was a trampled area splattered in dried blood.
“The hunter who found the body said it was torn up and the head was ripped off but it was not consumed,” Ken said.
“There are no other clues here,” said Jake.
“Maybe not but we can follow the perpetrator until the path runs cold,” Ken said yawning.
Jake yawned as well, then asked, “Can we stop and rest?”
“Sure we can sit here while we ponder our next move,” Ken replied pointing to a rise in the ground.
The two men sat down and surveyed the scene. Then Ken reached down and loosened the laces of his boots. Jake looked down at his own boots.
“Take off the boots you wore that day,” Ken said, “You’ll feel better.”
Jake reached down and untied his left boot. He pulled it off, then froze and dropped it in confusion. He whispered, “That’s impossible, I changed the insoles.”
“Those laces look new Jake Chamberlain,” Ken said pulling the buckle out of his pocket. “Jake is your middle name, but your first name is Casper. Your mother gave you a belt like this when you were eighteen.”
Ken pulled out two photographs and showed Jake the first one.
“These are cufflinks found in the false bottom of the victim’s purse. They are the same as the ones I gave you for graduation.”
Ken showed Jake the other photo. It was a photograph of the window of the diner in the nearby town taken from the street. Jake and Suzie could be seen sitting across from each other behind the window. Their arms were on the table and Suzie’s hands were on Jake’s wrists.
“The boy who took this photo just liked Suzie’s half shirt and cleavage. You didn’t tell anyone you knew Suzie,” Ken said. “You knew her bus stop and waited for her. If I look into those boots will I see claw marks?”
A visceral half scream, half howl issued from Jakes mouth. He sprang up as his claws, teeth and hair began to grow.
“Why did you have to unleash the beast? I did not want to kill you!” snarled Jake.
“I followed a small trail of bodies from South Dakota to Kentucky. This was the first case with clues. Who turned you?” continued Ken earnestly.
“The owner of the Cozy Motel in South Dakota. Goodbye Ken,” Jake barely choked out. His flesh pulsated into horrendous wolf-like features. With his transformation complete, Jake hurled himself at his partner, but Ken vanished into thin air.
* * *
Ken woke up seated in a contoured chair with a large device attached to his head. Beside Ken to his left sat Jake unconscious in a similar chair linked to his by a machine with glowing lights.
“I examined his memories. Jake is the killer,” Ken said to a man behind bulletproof glass, “and he’s a werewolf.”
“The device reads that you are telling the truth. You may proceed with sentencing,” said the man.
Ken got up from the chair and put a clip of silver bullets into his .357 Sig. Leveling his pistol at Jake he said with a heavy heart, “Goodbye old friend.” He fired one slug into Jake’s heart and another into his brain.
“Have the body cremated and send a cleanup crew to the Cozy Motel in South Dakota,” he said. As he walked out of the room Ken was reminded of a Shaman who once told him he could never understand the supernatural or sacrifice until he embraced them. Bring it beasts.