The Coffee Shop
I decided to drive around Sutter for a bit before heading out. Something about this little town peaked my interest. It called to me like a voice in the distance yet I wasn't sure I wanted to answer. There in a large tree at the corner of the first street I came to, I saw them. The ravens, two of them, black and glistening in the morning sun. Omens of death or carriers of mysterious messages?
I had every intention of leaving town as soon as possible. The combination of small town dullness and crazy stalker/killer made my stomach queasy and I wanted out. Small shops with aged brick fronts and cracked sidewalks lined the street. Quaint, that was the word to describe it. A little oasis of the past, as if time had stopped here and with it all the modern changes to architecture. Like a page out of the past, Sutter was forgotten and hidden from the larger world. Little did I know that what was hiding here was even older than the history of Sutter. Ancient and timeless.
I shook my head to clear it of thoughts, but even with the beauty of the morning other thoughts, darker thoughts, intruded and increased my anxiety about last night. A big fat slug, I sat behind the steering wheel watching as I drifted past the shops. I needed coffee and bad, I thought. Then low and behold, the corner coffee shop appeared. In the glistening sunlight it appeared magical and majestic, but then that was just my burning desire for java messing with my head.
The street with the coffee shop was lined with vehicles, cars, trucks, even a motorcycle or two. Almost at the end of the street I pulled into a parking space next to a black sedan, The license plate identified it as a sheriff's department vehicle. Wondering why in the world, they'd pick black in this god forsaken land of heat and dust, I headed up the street. Glancing behind myself several times, I tried to shake the memory of last night but it lingered, along with an eerie feeling of dread.
While I had never been chased by a crazy killer before, there was something about last night that felt vaguely familiar. Something resonated and I searched for connections but they simply teased along the edges of my mind. I reached my hand into my pocket and rubbed the red bead bracelet between my fingertips. With my other hand I touched the cross around my neck. Both for some reason gave me small comfort.
It startled me when a small bell jingled as the door to the shop opened. Two weathered old men stepped out into the morning light and I watched as they headed down the street. As they passed I caught a snippet of conversation. "I've lived here 60 years and now I'm carrying a gun." Goosebumps played across my skin even in the brilliant sunlight.
A single droplet of fear bubbled up inside me again. I shook my head trying to dislodge it. Something wasn't right in this town and I needed to find out what. Inside the shop, disappointed to see that the corner table wasn't available I took a seat at the counter. I itched with nervousness as I didn't like having my back to the door. Shifting on the stool I let my eyes roam around the room. Then I saw him, at the end of the counter, the man from The Owl. He was sipping a cup of steaming coffee and letting his eyes wandering around the room, just like me. Our eyes met and held for a brief moment, then the waitress was asking for my order.
The waitress darted from one person to the next, wearing a name tag that said Trish, she seemed efficient and weary. Sitting my coffee down she paused for a minute to ask if I was new in town. I nodded yes while taking my first sip. "Well, if you plan on staying a bit. I have rooms for rent above the shop here. We don't have any real motel here in Sutter. I can show you a room after the rush hour of you want." I found myself nodding yes and wondered what was drawing me to stay in this dusty place that offered little in entertainment.
"About time." the man next to me said. His gnarled finger pointed to a headline in the paper he had spread out in front of him. Reading it my heart clenched with fear again. It was not particularly eloquent but the simple words sizzled in my mind. Murders in Sutter. "What do you mean?" I asked. The words caught in my throat and I had this swirling sensation as if I was trapped in a kaleidoscope inside some crazy fun house.
He paused and looked at me with green eyes filled with sadness. "Everyone's been saying we got ourselves a psycho yet this is the first time the story has made the front page." I didn't even answer. I just sat there with wide eyes and jumbled thoughts. He slid the paper toward me, taking it with trembling hands I started to read.
The article was short and simple. It outlined three recent deaths in Sutter, questioning whether all three were murders. Challenging the "official" story out there and calling for a full investigation. I looked at the names. Ezra Jacobs, Emma Hope and Ester Smith. Emma's death was the most brutal but it some ways the 10 year olds death seemed the most senseless. No one could argue that Emma's death was an accident it was the other two that everyone was whispering about. This article was just about to make that whisper a shout.
Trish poured me another cup and whispered that even though Detective Kane was "mighty nice" people were getting fed up with the lack of progress in the investigation. Looking up I noticed the guy at then end of the counter staring at me. I let my eyes fall back to the paper but my cheeks burned from his gaze. Lost in thought I jumped when the deep voice next to me said, "Don't believe everything you read." Somehow without my notice he had slid onto the stool next to me. It was then I remembered his name from last night, Kane. Was he the Detective Kane she was talking about?
I looked into his eyes and it was then I realized I had to tell him, the significance of last night vibrated inside me, my pursuer, had he been a killer? I just couldn't get the words to come out so I just sat there looking at him like some idiot. He said, "I hear you never made it here last night. I thought you had gone but....here you are. Did you sleep in your car?" He continued to gaze at me and I swallowed before pushing the words from my dry mouth.
"No, in the church." I whispered. He raised his eyebrows and then like I was in a trance my story came tumbling out. He didn't interrupt me with questions. He didn't even seem to breath. I realized that this might be the only real lead he had and he was mesmerized by everything I said. I could feel him analyzing my words when I got to the part about the church. I didn't voice what I thought, that the man couldn't come into the church but somehow he sensed my belief and he seemed to consider it, which surprised me.
"I'd like to go somewhere else, somewhere more private and go over this again." he told me as he motioned for Trish. He paid the bill for both of us which caused Trish to look at me oddly, then he asked her for the keys to one of the sleeping rooms upstairs, which caused that look to turn to a glare but she handed them to him without comment. And then he was telling her I'd check in later in the day.
We went through a door and up some narrow steps to a tiny hallway above the shop. The steps creaked as we climbed and I wondered if this was even a good idea. It was going to slow me down, keep me here in this tiny dot of a town for longer than I had planned.
The door he unlocked opened onto a spacious room. It was filled with sunlight and it reassured me. In one corner a tiny kitchenette offered the comforts of home, in front of the window two arm chairs awaited, and a large bed took up most of the other space. I longed to sink into it's comfort as I hadn't slept much last night.
He led the way to the chairs and we settled in. I was nervous being alone in this room with him especially as his eyes seemed to linger a bit too long on that bed. For what seemed like forever we just sat looking at each other.
"Ok let's go over this one more time" he said. "Start from when you left The Owl."
I started with the idea that I had decided not to stay overnight, leaving out the part that the napkin he had given me had been tucked safely away. I hadn't planned to stay, that was true, but I hadn't firmly left either, had I? Instead, my head still filled with my encounter with him, I had decided to take a stroll along dark and empty streets. Even to my ears that sounded just plain dumb but to his credit he didn't even arch an eyebrow when I started talking about it.
He stopped me a couple times to ask questions, mostly about the location and my description of the man. There! I hadn't called him a creature. Yet in my soul I knew that whatever he had been, he was not just an ordinary man. Call it intuition or call it superstition, either way I knew there was a whole lot more "creature" to him then there was man. I found myself wishing I had brought along some of my books, books that told ancient tales of forgotten monsters, and things that still walk the earth today, invisible to man who choses to look the other way rather than confront what they cannot understand.
I'm not saying I believe everything I've ever read, but sometimes nestled deep inside the pages of the ancient tales, I'd happen upon something that seemed familiar, sort of like an old forgotten friend, yet hidden in the depths of the volumes there were no friends.
Long Ago in South Dakota
On top of the mesa the sun seemed even hotter, with sweat streaming down his face the old priest longed to wipe the dust from his face. It was impossible though with his hands tied behind his back. The rope cut into his old skin and yet he barely felt the pain. He snuck a peek at the three braves that towered over them and asked God for a swift death.
Yesterday he had wandered along the creek, enjoying the sunny morning, he rolled the beads between his fingers as he rambled along. Being lost in thought about the beads, he never noticed the subtle noises in the woods that might have alerted him to the fact that he was being followed. It had happened quickly and efficiently. He was old and they were young, full of the strength that only youth provides, so it had been so easy for them to whisk him away and now he found himself here on this mesa. "What do they want?" he wondered because he offered little in the way of value.
Now one of them untied his hand but immediately wrapped the rope around his waist binding him to the stake that was driven deep into the clay dirt. He wasted no time in using his clenched fists to wipe the sweat and dust from his eyes. His eyes stung from the salty sweat and with blurred eyes he looked across the mesa top and what he saw made him wonder again, "why am I here?" The braves danced around him and chanted words he could not understand. They swayed in rhythm to a drum beaten by an ancient man seated in the dirt.
The vision he had seen earlier moved closer to him and lifted a hand. "Was it an angel come to save him?" He had often wondered if angels were young and beautiful. This one was not. Her face was wrinkled like old leather and she shuffled with age as she moved toward him. With her hand up she silenced the men. "surely it must be an angel because seldom did the redskins listen to a woman." But listen they did when she spoke to them in their native tongue. They looked from her to the man and then one by one they stepped away from him and she drew nearer.
He noticed that despite her age her eyes were clear and crisp. They looked deep into him, seeking something, and he knew not what. Her face, like a dried apple was kindly and he felt no fear of her. For long minutes they locked eyes then she held out her hand to him and he found his own hand reaching toward her. He opened his fist above her palm and let the three red beads slid into her outstretched hand. In that moment, the two played out something that had been devised long ago, before either had even existed. As was spoken in ancient times, here on this day came into being, that two unlikely souls would cross paths, bringing with them the source of both destruction and salvation.
She looked at the beads and then at him. Her face softened and her eyes took on a distant look as if she was seeing something far beyond the realm of this world. She spoke again to the men and he felt his heart lurch as they rushed toward him. But instead of the sharp swiftness of their knives he felt their hands untie him and he slid exhausted to the ground. They offered him water and he sipped greedily at it, relishing the coolness of it in his throat. Then he felt at peace and he rested.
The Room Above the Shop
I'd finish the tale and I felt my cheeks burning, realizing how foolish I sounded. But it had been real, the terror, the strangeness of the creature, ok man, I needed to stop using that word, "creature" or he was going to cart me off to a mental ward. He just sat staring at me and that made my cheeks burn even more.
Finally he spoke to me, "Fear can makes us imagine things, or at least put more importance to them than is warranted," His voice was husky. My heart sunk. He didn't believe me. But then he continued. "The thing is your description of this guy matches what Trish finally got around to telling me earlier this morning." I barely breathed but he didn't elaborate.
He thanked me as he left and even though the bed called my name I sat in the chair for a long time before moving. I had done most of the talking but I sensed both acceptance and wariness as I talked. Of course, as far as he knew I could be a mentally unstable woman. On the other hand, perhaps I had been pursued by a killer, human in his mind but undecided in my own. That's what happens when you have a childhood like mine. The barrier between what's possible and what's not becomes blurred. Assaulted by the unknown and unexplainable over and over again I knew that things existed in this world that others couldn't even fathom. It's something I don't speak of very often. I worried that this situation might be the rare occasion when I must.
Soon I found I couldn't resist the bed any longer and crawling into it I sank into the softness. I drifted to sleep immediately but even in sleep I could not escape. Yellow eyes. In my dreams they followed me everywhere. The dreams were disjointed and unconnected. They flowed through me like a memory yet were nothing I had any recollection of. I felt part of the dream and at the same time a strange sense of watching it unfold washed over me.
I found myself walking in the twilight in woods that were both strange and familiar. I felt small and young and alone. Walking in the woods in my long white nightgown. I twitched with nervousness and noticed my feet were bare. Yet my bare feet were strong and sure on this tangled path I traveled. I moved forward silently as if drawn to a strange source of power that I both desired and loathed.
The woods were eerily silent and I looked into the deepening darkness ahead of me. Where was I going I wondered. My heart was beating fast as I took step after step, forward into the unknown. The cool night air caressed my skin, touching me like a lover might, sensuous and alluring. I felt my stomach roll as it played across my skin.
The yellow eyes were there. They were everywhere. Glistening in the air around me. Behind trees, under shrubs, in the tangled overgrown weeds of the forgotten trail. They seemed coordinated, as if following my every move. Menacing. I shivered at the sudden cold, my breath fogging the air in front of my face. It didn't obscure what I saw ahead, there in the woods. With ice cold hands I covered my face and screamed.
I awoke with a start and it took me a moment to realize where I was. Here in a sun filled room in South Dakota. The bright sun of afternoon streamed through the light curtains but even the warmth of the sunshine couldn't chase away the cold the dream had left with me.
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