The next day he watched as the posse of rifle-armed men trailed through the forest in search of their murderous beast. They combed the woods like predators themselves, in all directions but towards Dale Benshaw’s. This, George found strange, and it gave just a little bit of credibility to Martin’s story. He took it upon himself to search the woods that led to the creek, where none else seemed interested to look.
He had been wandering the forest for hours. The evening was setting in, and the darkness of the falling sun was encroaching all around him quickly. It was time to head back, empty-handed but with a new lead that seemed solid rather than fictitious. Therefore, the mosquito bites and hours lost felt worthwhile, and he headed back to town with fantasies of a pillow and a warm bed in mind.
It wasn’t more than a few steps toward town that he heard a sudden crack of the forest floor, the sound of a tree branch snapping under the weight of something more than a rabbit or a squirrel. He immediately stopped in his tracks, scanning the trees around him when he came to see a figure twenty, maybe thirty feet from where he was standing. Dusk had settled in, and the woods were dim, so it was difficult to make out just what it was. From what he could see, it was dark, hunched over as if working on something. It looked like a person but broad at the shoulders; a hunter perhaps. Maybe even the elusive Dale Benshaw.
He didn’t holler out at first, more curious about what he or possibly she was doing. The forest grew darker by the second and before his eyes lost sight of this mysterious figure, George called out to it.
Suddenly, the figure rose to its feet. From where George was standing it looked huge, tall unlike any man, he had seen before. What had looked dark a moment ago looked even blacker now, and George could hardly make it out all.
His body jolted with an abrupt rush of adrenaline as the sound of a gunshot echoed through the air, the bullet slitting the bark on the tree next to him where his head would have been if he had taken even the slightest step sideways. It was a direct shot at him, and he was sure of it, and so he dropped to the ground in a hurry as he peered into the distance to find the figure was no longer there.
Retrieving his pistol he rose to one knee as he released the safety, regaining his bearings. Swiftly but cautiously he ran in the direction of the stranger, gun in hand only to come to a halt at the sight of a ravaged fawn. It was disturbing enough to drop his guard. The kill was fresh; the flies hadn’t even found it yet. It was butchered almost beyond recognition, torn at with something sharp and rigid, a knife perhaps. George wasn’t sure. The only thing he knew was that it wasn’t the work of an average hunter — a madman if not something more.
He had found his way out of the forest before the night darkness had set in. Believing that his armed attacker had vanished, he took the time walking to run through the possibilities of who it might have been back there. All of what he had learned recently pointed to Dale. It made perfect sense to him, catching the man in his work of horror; an outsider baring witness to his murderous deeds, a secret that perhaps had been kept here in the middle of nowhere for who knows how long.
George was almost to Mrs. Radford’s house, walking down the main road when he heard the rumble of an eight cylinder engine roaring up behind him. It was Sheriff Druxy, and he came to a stop to greet him.
“Are you alright?” Druxy questioned, speaking over his left arm propped on the window ledge of the driver’s side door. “Someone said they heard gunshots a while back.”
He was accompanied by an unsavoury-looking character in the passenger’s seat wearing a filthy red and white cap that sheltered the night’s darkness around his face along with two other men armed with rifles seated in the bed of the truck.
“Fine,” George replied, his nerves still shaken and his guard up.
“So how’d you make out? Find anything out there?”
“No. Nothing yet.”
Druxy nodded slightly, looking straight ahead through the windshield for a moment before turning back to George.
“Dale,” George spoke out. “Is he a large man? Tall, husky?”
“Well, he’s no Tinkerbell. Would have made the football team if we had one if that’s what you mean. Why do you ask?”
George was cautious with his reply, an unsettling feeling brewing inside of him.
“I haven’t had a chance to meet him yet. Just want to put a face to the name when I do, is all.”
“Well when you see him, tell him to hang tight till we catch this thing.”
“I will,” George replied. “I’ll be sure to warn him of the situation.”
“Nah. I just don’t want to be running amuck up there disrupting his hunting and what not. Dale likes his privacy out there, and we like to give it to him. I wouldn’t worry about giving him any kind of a warning. Ol’ Dale can take care of himself and anything else that gets in his path.”
George simply nodded with a faint smile. He felt he had said enough already without revealing what had really happened out there. It seemed best for the time being to keep such things quiet at least for the time being until he had a chance to figure a few things out.
“Well, you be careful, George and get some rest. We’ll catch up with things tomorrow.”
He had slept the night away with one eye open, so to speak, making his way to his room being careful not to wake Mrs. Radford. His brief chat with Druxy had conjured any suspicions that had been lingering in the back of his mind. Perhaps it was true, the things that Martin had told him. He wasn’t sure who to trust and so the next morning he left the house before the sun rose off into the woods for more answers.
Along the way, he amused himself with the many familiarities of the path towards the creek. There was the horseshoe-shaped log that rested just off the path about ten minutes in. There was also the big gray boulder that had a permanent home smack dab in the middle of the trail like an ancient piece of the forest as if the trail had formed around its permanent placement half into the earth. He even came to recognize the songs of almost every bird and where along his way he would hear them. Yes, indeed these woods were becoming known to him — if only Dale Benshaw were as familiar.
No one was home at Martin’s house, and so he wasted no time proceeding to the house down by the creek. From afar he stalked Dale’s house crouched down within the brush like a predator watching its prey. Ten minutes or more passed by and he came to the disappointing conclusion that no one was home. Still, he watched. The day was early, and he was determined to see this elusive man for himself.
His attention was turned behind him at the sound of footsteps nearing closer. He came to see Martin casually strolling towards him, greeting him with a soft yet friendly grin and a wave.
“He’s not home,” said Martin, crouching down beside him.
“How do you know?”
“He’s never home,” Martin replied. “If you want to know what he’s been up to, take a walk about ten minutes that way. You’ll find the mutilated body of a buck hacked away at beyond recognition, decapitated and all.”
“How can u be sure it was him?”
“He’s a killer, and that’s what killers do. He’s killed before, and he’ll kill again, there’s no doubt about that.”
“Someone shot at me yesterday,” George said, off topic.
“There’s no doubt it was him.”
“I’m not so sure.”
“Why is that?”
“I was told Dale doesn’t use guns.”
“Have you ever known a hunter that didn’t use a gun?” Martin replied. “It’s like I told you. They’re protecting him.”
Silence stood between them for a moment.
“I’ve seen what he can do — the horror he can bring. He’ll kill again. That’s what killers do,” said Martin as he stood up slowly. “A word of advice from one man to another. If you see him in these woods, you don’t wait until he gets close to you. Shoot first before he does to you what he did to that deer.”
With a friendly pat on the shoulder, Martin disappeared into the woods leaving George alone to carry on with his curious surveillance. It wasn’t long before George grew bored of staring at what he believed to be an empty house with no sign of human life anywhere near it. He couldn’t help but ponder the description of horror that Martin had described. The vision of the massacred deer within walking distance from him drifted in and out of his imagination. Before long, he was on his way in the direction Martin had pointed — always a sucker for his own curiosity.
The bloodied scene wasn’t hard to find. He simply followed the buzzing sound of the cluster of flies that had colonized the butchered carcass. It was worse than the body that had been found closer to town. Even though this was an animal and not a man, the extent of the killing was so excessive that it struck him in a way that sent his adrenaline racing and his mind in awe. He wouldn’t have even recognized it as deer if he hadn’t been told that it was; most of the creature’s body torn to shreds and scattered across the forest floor like confetti-flesh. An emotion suddenly overwhelmed him as he placed his hand on the handle of his gun, deeply disturbed by what his eyes were seeing — fear.
His hands trembling, George looked up suddenly as a man stepped into his sight not far within the trees. The man looked at him as he stared back at him, looking just as surprised as he was. Neither of them moved a muscle, waiting for the other to make the first move to determine what would follow next. George’s first thought was that he had finally found his mystery man, Dale Benshaw. There he was, standing tall and broad just how described to him; a full woodsman beard draped his face like a warm fuzzy brown and grey blanket.
Standing there, nervously, the stranger abruptly dashed back into the forest noticing the gun on George’s belt and his shaking hand ready to draw it. George gave chase, swiftly and on pure instinct.
For a man of his large size, he seemed to run like a cheetah through the trees so fast that George could hardly keep up. By now, George had his gun drawn in hand as he fought his way through an endless sea of leaves and hanging branches distorting his view ahead, leaving only glimpses of the evasive stranger not far ahead in his path. Eventually, they came to a clearing in the forest where the sun shined down on a patch of old dead grass and dandelions. It was then that the stranger stopped in his tracks at the command of George’s voice.
He neither turned nor flinched, his back facing George as he shouted another winded demand with his gun raised and aimed directly at him.
“Put your hands up, slowly! Slowly!”
The stranger complied. As he began to raise his hands, George struggled to catch his breath as he fought to keep his hands steady. His entire body was trembling. The bloody massacre not far back was still fresh in his mind, traumatising. Adrenaline was pumping through his body; he could feel his heart pounding almost out his chest. He was afraid for his life, his finger ready to pull back on the trigger of his gun at any given moment.
Just as instructed, the man slowly began to raise his hands, but as his left arm rose just slightly more than his right, George’s attention was struck by a sudden glare in the man’s hand. His first instinct was to shoot, but he quickly hollered out a stern warning before making any brash decisions.
The man began to turn towards him, the object in his hand still gleaming in the brilliance of the sun. Without another warning, George suddenly fired two shots — he hadn’t even realized he had done so until the echo rang through the forest air and the stranger’s body fell to the ground. Still unsure of what had happened, he stood there with his gun still pointed outward and his heart still pounding.
He never lowered his gun as he approached the body. It wasn’t until he was standing over him that he was sure that he was dead, and his hand slowly fell to his side. Still gripped in the stranger’s left hand was nothing more than a simple hunting knife which George was sure had been a gun. Nevertheless, he was overcome with a feeling of relief knowing that the reign of terror was over. There would be some explaining to do but for now, he had to make his way out of this town, and he had to do it quickly. It wouldn’t be long before the townspeople discovered their dirty little secret had been found out and destroyed by the very bait that they had brought here. Surely, he wouldn’t be leaving this town alive no matter what the circumstances.
With haste, he made his way to Mrs. Radford’s house. Rushing inside, he ran to the kitchen telephone leaving a trail of forest muck across the hardwood floor. Just as he put the receiver to his ear, he heard the soft yet concerned voice of the sweet little old lady. He turned around to find Mrs. Radford standing there by the hallway stairs, slowly making her way towards him as she questioned his frantic behaviour.
“George, what in heaven’s name are you doing here? Look at the mess you have made. You’ve trailed mud all through the house.”
“What’s wrong with this phone?” George asked as he repeatedly tapped the hang-up button in search of a dial tone.
“I’m not quite sure. Sheriff Druxy is coming to take a look at it later this afternoon.”
Frustrated, he hung up the phone and paced a few feet back and forth in the kitchen. Sweat dripped from his brow, and his shirt clung to his body as if it were a part of him. He wore his distress for all to see; there was no time to hide it. He had to find a way out of here before it was too late.
“Are you alright, George?” Mrs. Radford asked.
“Do you have a car?” George fired back in a demanding voice.
“Yes. But it hasn’t been driven in quite some time,” she replied.
“Where are the keys?”
“The keys! Give them to me.”
“Mr. Pinstack,” she said with a frail yet stern voice. “I’m not just going to give you my car. What is this all about?”
George firmly grabbed hold of her shoulders and peered into her eyes with an almost insane glare.
“I know, Mrs. Radford. I know everything.”
“Know? Know about what?”
“I know about Dale Benshaw; about the murders.”
“My . . . What in heaven’s name are you talking about?”
“I know that he’s responsible for all of the murders. It’s not a secret anymore. I know everything!”
“Dale? He’s no murderer. He is a very sweet man. Where did you get such a crazy idea?”
“Don’t lie to me, Mrs. Radford. He told me everything!”
“Martin!” George blurted out without thinking.
She seemed slightly confused as a quick moment of silence lingered between them.
“Martin Schmit?” she replied. “You must be mistaken. I hardly think Martin would have told you anything at all.”
“Really. And why is that?”
“Well, because Martin can’t speak at all. He doesn’t have a tongue; lost it when he was just three years old to infection. Terrible thing that was.”
Now George was suddenly confused. Either this was an elaborate lie cooked up in her elderly mind or there was truth to this, no matter how bizarre it sounded at first.
“What are you talking about? I’ve spoken to him, more than once. The man that lives in the woods on the way to the creek; little blue house.”
“Yes, that’s Martin’s. I’m sorry, but you must be mistaken.”
“What makes you say that?”
“Well, I should know. I grew up with Martin. We used to skip rocks down by the creek when we were children.”
Suddenly, George was overcome with a bad feeling. He wasn’t sure why but he believed her. After all, he knew very little about Martin; in fact, he knew nothing more than his name. Something didn’t feel right.
He rushed back into the forest all the way to the blue house just off the path. It was quiet, but nevertheless, he crept up the porch steps and to the front door softly. With his gun drawn he knocked three times on the door. Just as he had expected, no one answered. That was a green light for him to enter on his own, so he cautiously turned the unlocked door handle and made his way inside.
The house seemed empty. There he stood in the very same kitchen where he had listened intently to Martin’s wild tale that now seemed to him like a lie. It seemed as though the Martin he knew was no longer home — perhaps he had never lived there at all and so he began searching the room for signs of a more elderly man with the same name.
There was nothing on the counter, nothing to suggest that anyone had ever lived here besides a few dusty glasses and plates in the cupboards above the sink. It was in one of the drawers that he found a framed photograph of an elderly couple that gave further credit to Mrs. Radford’s story. He placed it on the counter as he waved away an annoying fly buzzing around his head and then another. Then he noticed a third fly buzzing around the pantry door.
Hesitantly he opened the door and just as soon as he turned the handle, a tremendous weight pushed its way from behind it. A cloud of flies dispersed through the kitchen as the partially decomposed body of an old man slammed against the floor in front of him. George jumped with surprise. Was this the man from the photograph? George was unsure but through the maggots and rotted flesh before him, he was sure that he had found the ‘real’ Martin Schmit.
His attention was suddenly jolted to the front yard at the sound of a loud crash. Immediately he barged through the front door and ran out on to the porch to find a large rock smashed on the hood of the jeep. It was a massive stone, larger than two human heads; too large for any man to have thrown there. Confused he scurried down the steps to take a closer look.
A terrifying deep roar erupted from the nearby trees. Its echo spun his head to the left where he looked wide-eyed upon a figure of monstrous proportion. Its body draped in black hair standing no less than nine feet tall it let out a deep grunt before running off into the forest. George could hardly believe what he had seen. It looked like a man, broad-shouldered and burly yet appeared beast-like. His brain quickly retrieved the stories he had heard over the last few days. Could it be true; the tales of the man-beast? Despite being afraid, his curiosity led him towards the trees after whatever it was.
Through the forest he ran, catching only glimpses of the beast as it weaved in and out of the trees like a fleeing deer. The creature was fast; almost too fast for George to keep up. It wasn’t long before his lungs began to give up on him and the beast grew further and further away from him.
There were voices in the distance. He couldn’t quite make out what they were saying, but they were hollering, perhaps to each other. The echo of their shouting was followed by yet another thunderous roar of the man-beast not far ahead. Still, George continued to run — there was really nothing else to do but run. Unsure of where the beast was, he was afraid of becoming its next victim and he was fearful of the unknown voices nearby.
He was struck with a sudden pinch in his left thigh. Taking it for nothing more than a muscle cramp, he trekked on until his vision became blurry and his leg became numb, followed by the other. Quickly, the numbness slithered up and through his body like a constrictor crushing every nerve. He fell to the ground, unable to move a muscle or even holler for help.
The voices grew closer. He could hear the running of footsteps drawing in towards him as one of them shouted out to the others.
The sun shining down into his eyes from beyond the treetops darkened with the somewhat blurry image of a man standing over him, followed by another. The strangers appeared to be dressed in black wearing matching black caps, and each of them appeared to be holding a rifle-type gun. The haziness of his vision progressed too quickly for him to tell for sure. The muffled tone of their voices as they looked down at him guided him towards an unwanted slumber that turned their blurry silhouettes into pure darkness.
His eyes reopened to a hazy blend of silver and blackness as he lay on a cold hard floor. There was light shining somewhere within it, accompanied by the smooth hum of what sounded like a fan. The temperature was cool; colder than the warm air he had closed his eyes too. As his surroundings became clearer, he came to find himself surrounded by four walls of steel dimly illuminated by a small rectangular window atop a door in front of him. The space was small, no more than four feet wide by eight feet long. He was trapped; confined in a box fit for an animal, but by whom?
He tried to get up, but his body was still sluggish.
There were voices outside.
“Get Project Twelve ‘A’ back to the lab as fast as possible and don’t lose her this time.”
George recognized this voice. There was no mistaking it — it was Martin. His next instinct was to call out to him for help but realizing he was imprisoned in this box, and he quickly wondered why Martin was on the outside.
“And what about the other one?” spoke another unfamiliar voice.
Suddenly the small ray of light that was shining in through the tiny window before him was eclipsed by the silhouette of a human head. As he squinted through his foggy vision, George stared into Martin’s eyes looking in at him.
“Bring him back to the lab under label ‘Project Twelve ‘B,'” Martin said with a curious and conniving tone. “It’s about time we got started on a male to go along with our female.”
A story by William Hache
Copyright © 2015