Three Months Ago.....
Emma almost skipped out of the small shop, happy with her purchases and feeling energized by thoughts of her night . She shaded her eyes with one hand and shifted the load of the shopping bag in her right hand. Her blonde hair glistened in the spring sunshine, she smiled to herself and thought about how losing those ten pounds had made the new black dress cling in just the right places. A cool breeze picked up, making a piece of paper skitter across the sidewalk in front of her. She pulled her light black sweater tighter and headed to her car.
It was an early spring day in Sutter and more people were out than had been during the frigid days of winter. The snow had melted but the yards and roads were still muddy, soggy with the memories of inches and inches of fluffy white. Emma was anxious for the evenings festivities. Eric had invited herself and a dozen others to partake in a chili cook off and the thought of spicy chili and cold beer made her mouth water. It also didn't hurt that Eric was pretty spicy himself, blushing at the thought.
She sometimes regretted not going away to college, most did, just to escape this lonely dusty town.At the time though she couldn't even stand the thought of another book, another lecture or another assignment. At the time she had told everyone that she was simply taking a year off before heading to a university. But one year turned into two and then three and after that it just didn't seem worth pursuing. So here she was with a dead end, meaningless job with her brightest prospect a silly chili cook off. She sighed and shrugged off her sober thoughts and allowed the joy of her purchases to lift her spirits.
Later that night......
Her mind on Eric and imagining what he might think of the skimpy black dress filled her mind."Would he think it too much for a casual night in at his ranch?" She worried that she was over dressed as she maneuvered the muddy gravel road that led to his land. Land in South Dakota was like gold, the more you owned the more you were worth and Eric was worth plenty.
Glancing up at the night sky, her heart lightened as she watched the wispy clouds, the sparkling glitter of a thousand stars cascading across the landscape of the heavens. The moon peeking from behind a cloud mesmerized. The moon held a strange fascination for her and suddenly a vision of her dancing naked under a full moon swept through her mind causing her to blush and smile. She was so absorbed in the beauty of the night that she took her eyes from the road for too long.
She was jarred from her thoughts by the huge pothole in the rough road. It jarred her back to reality with a sudden jolt. Her car hit it and bounced across the road, while she gripped the wheel, struggling to keep her car on the narrow road. The night sky was clear, the trees dark images against the skyline, branches reaching in all directions. In a bizarre kaleidoscope, tree branches, stars and dark night clouds shifted before her eyes. Her heart lurched but slowly the spinning world came to a stop. Once she had the car slowed down a bit she took another moment to appreciate the beauty of the clouds drifting across the dark night sky, dotted with stars. It felt exhilarating. She drove much much slower but she still wasn't prepared for what happened next.
When she turned the sharp corner, about a mile from Eric's ranch she reflectively slammed on her brakes. Her car lurched to a stop and she was thankful for the earlier pot hole that had slowed her down,, a faster speed might have propelled her forward into a collision with the figure .Just ahead of her was a large dark shape in the middle of the road. At first she thought it might be a cow hit and left by some careless driver and she mutter obscenities at the action. Rubbing her face with both hands she cursed repeatedly, knowing it did little good. if she was getting to the chili cook off she would need to take action. She sat in the warm car and pondered her options.
The moon cast light on the object. It was dark and massive. The placement, dead center in the road, made it impossible to maneuver the car around it. She stared at the bundle in the road. She was confused by its shape and mass. It was familiar and yet not. Something niggled her mind and she strained to capture and sort through the thought. It escaped her, so instead she turned her mind to more practical matters. She looked down at the black dress, regretting her choice now. It wouldn't be easy to drag a carcass across the muddy road and into the ditch, without ending up covered in mud. If she was even strong enough to do so.
Grimacing she opened the door and stepped out into the cool night air. Gingerly she walked across the gravel in her cute black pumps. She was paying more attention to her shoes than the body in the road or she might have noticed it shift slightly, no longer flat on the road but rather almost on all fours, hunched down, waiting, like a cat, ready to pounce. She did sniff the air slightly as the stench of his body reached her nostrils. She turned her head slightly at the burnt smell wondering about this scent that was foreign. It clung in the back of her throat causing her to gag.
Too late she noticed its movement and so startled was she to see it up and moving that she lost precious moments before responding. It lopped towards her with a menacing purpose while she stood frozen in horror. It moved swiftly, on two feet, long arms swaying as it moved. In horror she managed to swing around and head for the car, the mud sucking at her feet. The drivers door stood open and she lunged at it. She could feel its breath on the back of her neck and its stench filled her nostrils.
She had grasped for the steering wheel and pulled her self into the drivers seat, when she felt the hand clench her ankle, like a cast iron shackle it encircled her leg, strong and biting. She cried out into the night. It pulled her from the car, thoughts of her muddy black dress never even entered her mind, this was a struggle for her life and she clawed at the ground, squirming and kicking. She managed to get loose and lurched to her feet, running toward the open fields on the right side of the road.
Her pumps slid in the mud on the road and slowed her down as she crossed the small ditch beside the roadway. She briefly considered kicking them off but realized her tender feet in the tangled brush would fare no better. She didn't look behind her but she could almost feel his breath on her, she knew he was that close. The night that before she had thought so pretty and peaceful now resonated with terror. She scrambled up the embankment into the field as he grasped for her but she managed to slip away and hunched down behind some tangled vines. Tears stung her eyes and her blond hair shone in the darkness. It was like a beckon leading him to her no matter which way she turned.
She searched the darkness for him and watched as he lifted his head and sniffed the air, scenting her, he turned in her direction and she flinched as she imagined his eyes glistening with anticipation. He huffed, smelled again, and charged toward her hiding place. She reacted quickly, slipping into a row of tall grass, trying to evade his hunt.
He stopped, silent and listening, picking up her scent and the slight sound of her rasping breathe. He stalked her, through the weeds and grass and undergrowth. She sniffled and he heard. She moved and it twitched across his senses. She became disoriented and unsure where the road and car waited. Wandering in circles, tiring until at last she just sat and waited. He found her there, covered in leaves and he clawed at her throat in anger for she had expended his energy with this senseless search. in his rage he consumed her soul in gasping gulps, swallowing the essence, even while pushing the black bead into her slack mouth.
Afterwards he curled next to her lifeless body, full, content for the moment, filled with the rich savory taste of her. The smell of her blood cloying in his nostrils, luscious and full bodied like a fine wine. She seeped into him and he felt for the first time almost one with this strange world. It was a gift she had given him, this view of the beauty in this night. Still tingling in her essence, he had absorbed it and now felt oddly at peace. it felt foreign and out of place. If he could have worried, he would have worried mightily at this human failing he had somehow contacted like a dark disease.For all its beauty, it would become a weakness that eroded his savage nature.
The next morning
The late night party goers, filled with too much beer and too little chili had crashed at Eric's ranch until the first, groggy headed and blurry eyed had climbed into jeeps and pick ups and headed out into the bright morning sun. In the mile before discovering Emma's car they had complained of headaches and sore necks. Later they would realize just how meaningless small aches can be when compared to the ravages of the beast's work.
First they were puzzled by her car, mid road, door open, speculating what had happened. One slid behind the wheel and turned the key. The engine immediately roared to life, so shaking their heads they started calling her name. What had made her stop here, in the middle of a lonely road and where was she now?
After wandering in circles on the road for a few minutes they noticed the slippery footprints and indentations in the mud and the broken weeds along the ditch. Peering into the tall grass they discovered nothing. It was then that Jeff, pulled his phone out and checking for reception, punched in the number and called for help.
The two deputies that responded took less than 15 minutes to discover her body, noting the trampled grass still damp with blood, they knew this was no accident. One of them called it in while the other heaved his insides out in some bushes next to the crime scene. It took Kane less than fifteen minutes to arrive and he recoiled in horror and grief at the brutal carnage that used to be a beautiful, local girl.
The moments hung suspended, time ticked by silently and he just stood there, unable to move, unable to act, until one of the deputies shook his arm and asked him if he was ok. What a dumb question, of course he was not ok and perhaps never would be again. The world as he had known it came to a screeching halt that day. A shiver danced up his spine and it wasn't the crisp spring morning that brought it on to the dance floor. A burning smell lingered and he wiped his nose hoping to erase it. The coroner arrived and he stepped back unable to watch as the routine examination of the dead began. Later the discovery of the small black bead would set the course for future events, for the unfolding of the investigation in a small Dakota town, rich with history and visited by ancient evil.
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