Thursday, February 24, 2011

Until Dawn - 20

Em didn’t even bother to pull his blazer off the road. He just stopped and hopped. There was no one coming tonight, anyway. Jim’s squad car was sitting at the bottom of Pritchard’s lane. Em looked at the gate. Locked. No sign of the ambulance either, which wasn’t much of a surprise.

He figured Jim had to hoof it up the Pritchard’s to unlock the gate. He stood there in the snow for a moment, trying to decide. He didn’t see much point in walking up there himself. Jim could handle that stuff on his own.

Em got back in the blazer and drove up the road to the Defibaugh place. They didn’t bother with locking up their driveway, which was some small relief. He just had to hope that the Blazer could get up there without getting stuck. The radio in the truck didn’t work either, which worried Em. Out here, without any way to call for help, that could get a person into a bad situation. Especially when he had no idea what he was going to find at the end of the driveway.

Darkness, mostly. The house looked quiet and still in the light of Em’s headlights.

He left them on as he walked to the house. He looked up at the sky, tried to see the moon. Nothing but grey.

The house was empty. The house was a wreck. The backdoor was smashed, the snow flowing in. Blood was splattered everywhere that Em could see. He shivered, and not from the cold. Something bad happened here.

“Ed?” he called.

The house was spacious enough, a new construction by Ed and Becky to replace the old farmhouse after they inherited the land, but there weren’t a lot of rooms. Emm was able to search in the place in the space of a few minutes. He tried the phone. Dead as the rest of the house.

He looked at the broken door. He could see tracks still, faint depressions in the snow outside, leading out to the Defibaugh’s barn. He knew where Becky had gone, but he needed to figure out where Ed was, and whether he was hurting or if he was the one that had done the hurting.

Emm stood in the doorway. He knew that he probably shouldn’t, that he ought to be trying to preserve the evidence, but he just didn’t see much point. The tracks would be long gone before anyone got here to document them. He looked out to the darkness and didn’t want to go. He wanted to go home, build a fire in the fireplace and listen to Dani complain about being stuck in the house. He wanted to wait out the storm somewhere safe and warm.

But he couldn’t, so he followed the tracks out to the barn. They bugged him. It was hard to say much about them, other than that there were far too many. He stopped halfway and kept the flashlight trained on them. He couldn’t be sure, but it looked like there tracks had been made by lots of somethings. Animals. There were large deep tracks that had to have been from something man sized, but the rest? He didn’t know. It all felt wrong to him.

Stonebury was not a hot bed of criminal activity in the conventional sense. The last two or three violent deaths they’d had were all suicides, and Emm’s most noteworthy case last year was the theft of a bowl of mac and cheese. The criminal there was still at large.

But Emm wasn’t from Stonebury and had spent most of his career in law enforcement in LA, and he had all the instinct you needed to survive twenty years as a cop. Right now, as he approached the barn, every single one of them was screaming at him that this was all wrong.

The barn was open, just like the house. He wasn’t surprised. The barn felt wrong. It felt like a tomb. He knew that Ed kept some cows and goats around in some sort of attempt to keep in touch with his routes. They should have been there, away from the snow. Large animals had a way of taking up all available space. He should have been able to feel them as soon as he stepped into the barn, but everything was still and cold.

He shined the flashlight around and his blood went cold. The walls were black. Blood was frozen to the walls, a black stain in the light. Emm had seen a thing or two, but he’d never seen anything like this.

There was barely anything left of the cows, just red bones and gore. There were smaller skeletons that Emm figured had to be from the goats. He didn’t know what could do this. He trained the flashlight on the floor, looked at the boards beneath the blood soaked straw.

His knee creaked as he knelt. He looked at the tracks that he could see, bloody paw prints left on the floor. Dogs. Lots of dogs. He thought about it for a second. He figured at least half the people in the area had dogs, a lot of them more than one. Sunbury was tiny, and even with the outlying areas included there weren’t a lot of people. Even so, Emm figured that there had to be a couple of hundred dogs in the area. At least a dozen of them had been here.

Em pushed some more of the straw out of the way and looked at something he couldn’t make sense of. It was a footprint. Em put his foot down beside it. Em was big man, and he wore canoe sized shoes, thirteen wide. The footprint dwarfed his.

“What the fuck is going on?” he said.

He stared at it. It was almost a human footprint. Almost. Something about the shape was wrong in someway he couldn’t out his finger on. He looked closer, pulled off one of his gloves. There were faint marks in front of the toes, and he touched it gently with his fingers. The marks were gouged into the floor of the barn. He knew what they were.

They were claw marks. Emm blew out a long breath and just looked at it. He had no idea what he was looking at. He had no idea what was going on here. He had no idea what he was supposed to do with this.

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