The call came in over the scanner that sat on the corner of Sheriff Rockwell’s desk. It was a little after 2 AM.
“Tank...this is Sam…you got a copy?”
Sheriff Tank Rockwell pushed back in his chair. Thick hands were folded over the perfectly bulbous belly that his wife always said looked like a swallowed watermelon. His eyes were shut and his chest was raising and lowering in the rhythmic pattern of sleep.
“Tank..come in…this is Sam...can I get a copy?” Sam’s voice seemed to be yelling into the handset, bordering on the edge of panic.
“Tank goddamnit...we got a problem here...can I get a copy!?”
Problem may have been the rousing trigger. Volume alone seemed ineffective to loosen Tank’s notoriously slumberous grip. He snuffled, cleared his throat, and leaned forward to the microphone on his desk.
Pressing the mic’s chrome bar, he called back to Sam, “Copy that, Sam. What seems to be the problem?”
“Morning, sunshine,” Sam spat sarcastically. “Need you to swing by and wake up Tracey then meet me at the junction of Quarry and S.R. 180. Some trucker radioed in on my HAM. Said he’d seen a woman out there wanderin’ around half-naked in Halston’s field. Trucker claimed he was on a deadline and couldn’t stop, but he said she didn’t look like she was in a good way. I’m on my way there now.” The radio cut. Tank knew to wait for the over and out.
After a few seconds, Sam was back. “Tank...you know me...somethin’ about this one has the little hairs on my neck lit up like a Christmas tree.” The radio momentarily cut once again. ”Make sure Tracey brings her full medical kit, would ya? Over and out.”
“Copy that, Sam. I’ll get Tracey. Shouldn’t take us but fifteen minutes to get out that way. Over.”
The ride to Halston’s field was silent. Tank figured it was on account that Tracey was still half-asleep, he felt a bit groggy himself. At sixty-six years old, late-night calls were not his favorite. Fortunately, living in Stuckey—a town of less than five thousand—they happened only once in a blue moon.
The Halston farm sat on the edge of town where State Route 180 ran for twenty miles from one side of the Stuckey to the other. Over the years, it had become a popular cut-through for truckers. When plans for the road were announced, Amos Halston had complained and filed injunction after injunction in an attempt to prevent it. He knew what it would do to the sleepy town of Stuckey, especially the part that stretched past his acreage of cornfields.
His efforts were to no avail and in 1996, S.R. 180 was opened for business. Halston died just a few years after. Some say it was the trucks. The coroner’s report leaned towards a heart-attack from years of smoking filterless cigarettes.
Amos didn't have much in the way of family when he passed. Certainly, none that would step in and run his mid-sized farming operation. So, the farm sat for years unkempt. The silos rusted and weeds sprouted up through plow equipment that seemed frozen in time.
In early 2010, the news broke that a German hog farming company had purchased Halston’s land. The details of the sale were a bit of a mystery to the folks of Stuckey, but there was hope they would clean up the dying fields.
Halston’s farmhouse was torn all the way down to the foundation and a large industrial looking barn was erected in its place. Steel girders and large doors on rolling pulleys replaced what was once a rustic looking landscape. It was as if those trucks somehow found themselves a home and had it built in their own likeness.
As Tank and Tracey neared where Quarry intersected 180, the scene they encountered caused Tank's foot to unconsciously ease off the gas pedal. The patrol car slowed to a crawl.
A little over one-hundred yards away they saw Sam’s Bronco pulled perpendicular on the shoulder, its high beams shining into the field. Sam had also directed his side spotlight for additional illumination.
The field was thinly blanketed with a low lying mist that was glowing yellowish-white from Sam’s lights. Late October always brought cooler nights and the warmth that clung to the soil would often cause a damp fog to hug along the earth.
There, in the middle of the lighted stretch, stood a woman.
She was lithe and hunched at her shoulders wearing only a long, filthy, sleeveless nightgown. Her arms were just as dirty and limp. They hung by her side with her palms facing forward as if she was showing Sam that she was not armed. Her head pitched downward and her long, matted black hair shrouded most of her face.
Sam was walking towards her and Tank could see his jaw was moving, most likely offering words of comfort to the woman.
“Oh dear Lord,” Tracey whispered to the windshield. She sat perched, alertly clutching her canvass satchel of medical supplies. “She’s not wearing any shoes, Tank.”
Tank didn’t respond. He was focused on the mysterious young woman as he pulled the car to the shoulder alongside Sam’s truck.
Where she was standing, the weeds appeared to have been trampled in a circle about ten feet wide. Tank had seen something similar once when he was moose hunting with his son-in-law in upstate Vermont. “The moose will trounce down a small area,” his son-in-law had told him. “They'll use it to sleep in, leaving behind a matted patch.”
But this was not from a moose. There were no moose in the town of Stuckey.
“What should we do, Tank?” Tracey asked as he put the car in park.
Tracey Shelton was in her mid-thirties and had recently finished her residency to become a registered nurse. The nearest hospital was thirty miles away in Overton, so Tracey Shelton was Stuckey's part-time psychoanalyst, full-time medic. Her wide eyes were riveted to the scene in the field.
“Best I stay here,” Tank said monotone, “we wouldn’t want to spook her. You go, slowly. Sam will need your help.”
They both exited the car simultaneously. Tank stood behind the open door monitoring the situation. Cool night air mixed with adrenaline to chase away any remnants of sleep.
Tracey slipped under a single strand of barbed wire which marked the outer edge of Halston’s field. She made her way to the space behind Sam. With one hand outstretched in a calming manner, his head swiveled side to side as if he was expecting an ambush.
“It’s okay, miss. I'm here to help you,” Sam was saying in a soothing tone.
“I’m here now, Sam,” Tracey whispered to his back. “Who is she?”
“Don’t know. She won’t respond.”
From where Tank was standing he could only see their backs, but it appeared as if they were talking. The woman was about fifteen yards in front of them, still in the same position as when they pulled up.
“Mind if I approach her, Sam?” Tracy whispered again.
“I... I don’t know, Trace, I don’t like it,” he whispered back, eyes still scanning. “She won’t fuckin’ respond. Can’t tell if this is some kind of stunt or what?”
“Ma’am! My name is Tracey Shelton. I’m a nurse and I am here to help you. Are you hurt?” Tracey called to her. “Can you please come to us?”
Tank could faintly hear Tracey. It seemed as if she was trying to get the woman to react in some way. He stayed with his arms folded over the top of the open patrol car door. Watching.
Suddenly, without raising her head, the woman caved forward to her knees. Tracey took a cautious step toward, but Sam grabbed her shoulder and held her back. She then folded over to press her head tightly between her knees. Sam pulled his pistol. Tank yanked the shotgun from its hold inside the car.
The woman stayed curled on the ground, motionless. Sam pulled Tracey behind him and the two slowly stepped forward. Tank briskly rounded his car and took over the duty of scanning the horizon as he closed the distance.
As they reached her, Tracey set her satchel next to the woman and placed a latex-gloved hand on her back.
By the time Tank shuffled in, Tracey had been able to get the woman to sit up on her heels. Her face was gaunt, her eyes were sunken and lifeless. Her thin greasy hair lay over her shoulders and came just past her breasts. Filth covered every inch of exposed skin like it had accumulated from years of not bathing. She smelled like death.
“Where the fuck is that ambo,” Sam barked as Tank stepped behind him.
“Ain’t never seen anything like this, Sam. Who do ya suppose she is?”
“I don’t know, Tank,” he said with a sigh of exasperation. “That goddamn ambulance shoulda been here by now.”
“I’ll get a blanket from the cruiser. See if Trace can at least get her out of this field. This whole thing’s got me covered in gooseflesh.”
As the ambulance approached, its silently flashing red lights strobed the mist with a glow that seemed more ominous than halcyon.
Tracey had managed to get the woman up on her feet and moving toward the road. In the slight commotion of the encounter, she never felt her Stuckey Medical Center badge come unclipped from her waist and fall to the trampled weeds.
“I’ll ride with her to the hospital, see if I can get her to talk. Why don’t you boys get some rest and meet me there in the morning?” Tracey said, as two EMT’s loaded the gurney.
Tank arrived at the Overton Hospital around 9:30 that morning. He hadn’t gotten any sleep and felt like an elephant was riding on his shoulders. He found Tracey sitting on a bench outside the Emergency Room entrance and handed her a coffee. She looked almost as bad as the woman from the field.
“Any word?” Tank asked as he sat beside her, she was blankly staring into the parking lot of cars.
“Not even an utterance, Tank,” she replied, voice soft and raspy. “They cleaned her up. No signs of major injury, but…” she paused and took a breath. “She’s got ligature marks, Tank. Wrists, neck, and ankles, like she was bound. The doctor thinks they are deep too, like she was held for a long while.”
“Any chance of getting an ID?” he asked.
“They took her prints and ran them over to central. I don’t like this, Tank. The look in her eyes, it’s lifeless. It doesn’t add up. I’ve seen plenty of PTSD and this is something more. It just doesn’t make any sense.”
“Give it time, Trace. Let’s get you home so you can rest. You can come back later and check on her progress. Maybe by then, they'll have a positive ID and some answers.”
~~ ~ ~~
A little after 2 AM at Overton Hospital, the nurse on duty decided to get up. She had made her official rounds more than an hour ago but a rousing walk was in order. The blood circulation helped to stave off the body's natural inclination for sleep. She took her phone with her.
If the night nurse wasn’t preoccupied with that phone as she strolled, she would have seen something odd. As she passed room 180, where the woman from Halston’s field was supposedly recuperating, she would have seen her standing in the dark.
The woman didn’t appear to be awake and her hospital gown hung loosely, arms by her side, palms facing forward. Her head appeared to be down, chin to chest as if this position was more comfortable than laying down. As if this position was one she was held in for an ungodly amount of time.
Overton Hospital’s night nurse—had she been paying attention—would have opened the hospital room door and entered. She would have approached the woman from Halston’s field, gently calling to her to ask if she was feeling okay.
If she had reached out to ease her back down into bed, the woman from Halston’s field would have raised her head. Her eyes would have been aglow with rage, face contorted in a fierce look of terror.
Had the night nurse diligently done her job, the woman from Halston’s field would have snapped her neck with ease.
Instead, in the brightly lit hall, she unknowingly sauntered past while the woman from Halston’s field stood silently in the dark, waiting.
~~ ~ ~~
Back in that cold misty field where she was found, along the edge of the trampled down patch of weeds, Tracey Shelton’s Stuckey Medical Center badge glistened in the light of a full moon.
Tracey was safe in her home, locked behind doors and windows that were routinely armed with a home protection alarm system.
She'd tried to nap after Tank brought her back home earlier that day. With her head on the couch, she had closed her eyes. Her muscles were stiff and achy from over exhaustion and adrenaline usage. Her body desperately wanted sleep, but that was something Tracey’s subconscious refused to allow.
Behind pinched eyelids, she kept seeing the woman, kept seeing that blank stare on her face. It tormented her. She couldn’t shake the image of those ligature marks. Scars that would permanently stripe the woman’s wrists, ankles, and neck. What kind of sickness would drive someone to do that to another human being?
By 11 PM, Tracey had given up on the natural path to sleep. She had taken two sleeping aids and lay face up in her bed staring at the ceiling. Time passed slowly and thoughts continued to plague her overly-active psyche.
After a while though, the pills won their battle and Tracey drifted.
~~ ~ ~~
Out in Halston’s field, something stirred. Bathed only in the moon’s light, the field took on a pale glow. A shadowed figure moved from a spot where a gravel road snaked deeper into the farm. It moved slowly as if it floated with the mist.
The figure paused once it reached Tracey Shelton’s badge and stayed there motionless for several minutes. Its head appeared to be bowed in a moment of contemplation.
From a distance, it looked anything but threatening. In some surreal fairytale fashion, one might say it appeared beautiful or majestic. It had a soft shape, like a warmly cloaked woman and for that trifle of rumination over Tracey’s badge, it was tranquil.
Then it began to move, ever so slowly and methodical at first. It spun in a circular motion along the edge of the downtrodden weed-patch with its front facing the center. A solo dance of sorts
As it completed one ambling revolution, its hands raised and its head seemed to pitch backward, in a heavenly taunt. It held that position and kept spinning, faster and faster.
With each revolution of the circle, it sped up until the mysterious figure became just a blur. Then, this enigmatic energy of a being seemed to dissipate into the mist. The only sign it was ever there was a deafening, high-pitched shrill that pierced the night.
It was now a little after 2 AM and even though Tracey’s mind was traversing through the patterns of sleep, her body was not. Tracey Shelton was standing on her bed, head bowed with palms facing forward. Waiting.