Logan heard the sound of the Chief’s Bearcat Z1 XT GS snowmobile rolling toward them and shouldered his Winchester.
Mike looked up at the sky and grimaced. “Thank God he’s here. I’m freezing my ass off and it’s just getting colder.”
Logan gave him a dark look and inclined his head at Trent. Mike gave him a “what the hell” look and then sheepishly shook his head when he looked at Trent.
Trent seemed not to notice as he sat in the snow, stroking Jake’s fur. He didn’t even notice as Chief McCloskey shut down his Bearcat and approached.
He stopped a few feet from Trent and looked down at the man and his dog. Trent looked up, pain etched across his face and tears in his eyes.
“Who would do this, Doug?”
McCloskey winced. “I don’t know. But you’re not the only victim. The Mayor lost one of his dogs and Tom Duncan’s got a Dall sheep in his backyard with the same kind of holes in him.”
“So we’ve got some nut job with a camp fork running around killing animals?” Mike asked.
McCloskey leaned down and began examining Jake. “Beats the hell out of me.”
Logan looked down at the animal, paying particular attention to the holes. “It’s not a camp fork.”
The chief pulled some of the fur back and inspected one of the wounds. “He’s right. It wasn’t a camp fork. The distance between the holes is about right, but the entry wounds are too big.”
Mike glanced down at the dog and then back to the tree line. “Do you think it could be some kind of animal?”
“No”, Logan said, quickly.
Logan saw all three men were looking at him. They knew he was one of the most experienced hunters in the area and had chased game on every continent.
“The only thing that could make a wound with holes that big and spaced like that is a wild boar, maybe. And I stress the maybe here.”
McCloskey looked down at the wounds again. “Okay, but why do you say Maybe?”
Logan looked at Trent. What he was about to say might make the man breakdown emotionally and that was the last thing he wanted.
“Trent, you may not want to hear this.”
The man wiped his eyes and gently slid his arms out from under Jake. He stood, looked out at the forest, and then nodded at Logan.
Logan put a hand on his shoulder and squeezed. Then, letting it drop, he knelt beside Mike and McCloskey.
“These wounds are equidistant, consistent with an object repeatedly goring poor Jake here. What’s not consistent with a boar is the fact that these wounds are not ripped outward from the boar having to pull back.”
McCloskey nodded. “I see what you mean. A boar’s teeth come from the lower jaw and would have mangled the wound coming out. Besides, I see a couple of wounds on his back. There’s no way a boar could’ve done that.”
“How would a boar have gotten out to the island anyway?” Mike asked.
McCloskey scratched the back of his head and stood up.
“Not the most impossible thing. You could get some dumbass hunter to have a boat bring a few in, dump them off somewhere out beyond the city limits and think he might be able to bag them before any law enforcement or NPS people catch on. Doesn’t matter, though. This wasn’t a boar.”
He shook his head and sighed heavily.
“Shit. That means we’re going to have to do a necropsy.”
Logan caught the grimace of pain in Trent’s face from the corner of his eye.
“Is that really necessary?”
McCloskey caught the look on Logan’s face and realized what he’d done. He sucked in a breath quietly through his teeth, closed his eyes and lowered his head. After a moment he looked up.
“Maybe I won’t have to. I’ve got the other two animals. I can have the work done on them and just a precursor look done on Jake. Will that be okay, Trent?”
“Do what you need to do. Jake’s gone. I’m going up to the house if you need me. Come up if you want coffee.”
He started to walk away.
“I’ve got stronger if you need it. That’s what I’ll be having.”
The other three men watched him walk all the way to his back door and enter the house.
Finally, Mike broke the silence.
“Chief, there’s something else you should take a look at.”
They walked around the woodpile and Mike indicated the orange, gelatinous mound.
“What do you think?” He asked.
McCloskey scratched the back of his head again. “I think it means Jake gets a Necropsy no matter what pain we’d hoped to spare Trent. I’ve got some ziplocks and plastic spoons under the seat of my Cat. I’ll need to take a sample of this.”
He turned and started for his snowmobile.
“Does it look like that crap from Kivalina?” Mike called after him.
“Could be. We were told if we saw anything like it to send it up to Fairbanks.”
“What’s in Fairbanks?”
Mike’s face grew taught, his eyes wide with fear. He stared at Logan.
“Holy crap, man, do you think this stuff is toxic?” His voice was shaky.
Logan laughed. “No. They can identify what it is faster than anyone else.”
“What the hell does that mean?”
“It means relax. The way you eat French fries you’ll be dead in ten years anyway, so lighten up.”
“Very funny. This could be serious!”
“Yeah, I know. But if we’re gonna catch something from that orange crap, we’ve already got it.”
“You’re seriously a jerk, do you know that?”
The crunch of McCloskey’s boots in the snow made the two men turn.
“Chief, have you heard anything about this orange crap? Will it kill us?”
McCloskey shook his head. “Mike, you need to calm down. If it was something bad, I would’ve heard about it. I know the VPO in Kivalina and they haven’t had any problems except for having to clean that orange crap out of every nook and cranny. So just relax. Logan, have you got a trailer for your cat?”
Logan nodded. “Yeah, what do you need?”
A series of clicking noises from just beyond the tree line stopped the chief from answering. Logan unslung his Winchester and McCloskey drew his service automatic.
The clicking grew more intense and soon it was joined by chorus of chittering like castanets rapidly tapping.
“What in the hell is that?” Mike said, his voice faltering.
Reaching under his coat, Mike brought out a Colt automatic, and aimed toward the trees. He let off eight rounds as fast as he could pull the trigger and the slide locked open.
The chittering abruptly stopped. Logan grabbed Mike’s arm, yanking it down.
“What in the hell is wrong with you?”
McCloskey tore the weapon free from Mike’s grasp, released the empty magazine and set the weapon on top of the woodpile. He eyed Mike incredulously.
“That was stupid! We might have found out what did this to Jake if you hadn’t started shooting.”
Mike eyed the Chief for a moment and then shrugged.
“I panicked, okay! That noise creeped the shit out of me!”
The three men turned as Trent’s back door banged open and he appeared, shotgun in hand.
“What in the hell’s going on,” he yelled.
Logan cupped his hands and yelled. “False alarm. Mike thought he heard something.”
“Well tell him to be sure next time,” Trent said and stormed back inside.
“Screw that!” Mike said. “I heard something. You both know it! I want my gun back.”
He reached for it, but McCloskey beat him to it, yanking it out of reach.
“I don’t think so. Look, Mike, I need Logan’s Cat trailer. Can you go to his place and get it for me?”
Mike drew a breath and settled himself. “Yeah.”
Logan pulled the keys from his jacket and tossed them over.
“It’s already hooked up to my Cat. Just drive over here.”
“And bring some big garbage bags.” McCloskey said. “I hate to do it, but I’ve got to transport Jake in something.”
Mike nodded. “I’ll be back in half an hour.”
“My house ain’t that far.”
“Yeah, well I’m not in high school anymore. It’ll take me a bit.” Mike said, stomping off.
The Chief leaned down and, drawing out a spoon, began scooping the orange goo into a plastic sandwich bag, being careful not to touch the opening edges. After a moment he shoved the spoon into what remained of the goo pile, slid yellow and blue to make green and put the bag into his jacket pocket.
“Now what,” Logan asked.
McCloskey got to his feet and drew his pistol.
“I thought I’d go check out the woods. You coming?”
Logan hefted his Winchester and the two men headed for the tree line.
Mike was cold and pissed. Who the hell did McCloskey think he was? He was the Chief of Police but did that mean he had the right to take a man’s pistol?
After a moment he realized that it did. The more he trudged, the more he realized that he wasn’t mad at McCloskey or Logan, he was mad at the situation and scared out of his mind.
He stopped short, realizing he was staring at the tree line. He had crossed the open field of Trent’s property and could either take a quick jaunt through the forest, or skirt the tree line down to the road and take that up to Logan’s house. It really wasn’t a choice at all. After hearing the sounds by the woodpile, he wasn’t going into the trees unarmed.
He realized that he wasn’t really unarmed. He still had the ram’s horn Bowie knife that had belonged to his father. It had been custom made along with its Elk hide scabbard with intricate bead work. He had many of his father’s hunting tools. He’d inherited all of his father’s possessions. His favorite had been the books. He’d gotten his father’s copy of The Hobbit. It was the favorite of all of his inheritances. Many a night in his childhood, his father had told him the tales of Bilbo and Thorin and their journey to the Lonely Mountain.
Mike’s mother had passed in the winter of ’92 from breast cancer and after that his father had never been the same. With no other family, Mike had moved back home to help his father, but the old man’s heart just wasn’t into life anymore. Mike watched him fade slowly over the years. Then, in 2006, two days before Christmas, Mike had found him sitting on the front porch glider in his underwear, a burned-out cigarette still clutched between his fingers, dead from hypothermia.
Mike pushed out the memory. He wondered what made him think about his father. He hadn’t done that in a while. Maybe tonight he’d put on a pot of coffee, get the fireplace toasty, and revisit The Shire.
He reached the road. He knew traffic would be light as almost no one came up this way unless they were heading down into town or headed up to go Dall sheep hunting, so he decided to take his half of the road in the middle.
He was half a mile from Logan’s when he became aware of how quiet it was. It didn’t bother him until he looked around. The road split the tree line. On either side of him, the forest had grown tall and, in some places, branches had grown together forming a tunnel.
Mike’s eyes darted back and forth. He knew there was nothing to fear. He was almost to the house and he knew Logan kept a shotgun in the garage. He’d grab that for the return trip.
He reached under his coat and withdrew the ram’s horn Bowie. It felt good in his hands. He walked cautiously down the middle of the road, alert for any signs of movement.
This is ridiculous, he thought. But an old admonition ran through his head: Don’t leave the path. Gandalf had warned Bilbo and the dwarves “don’t leave the path”.
It was the clicking that sounded to his right that made him forget the mantra. Running into the tree line on the left, he sprinted as fast as he could toward Logan’s house.
The clicking sound was no longer just on his right. It was all around him and getting louder. He ran as fast as he could, stumbling occasionally on a snow drift or powder covered tree root. He recovered every time and kept running for all he was worth. The staccato clicking noise was closing on him from all sides.
He was feeling winded and didn’t know how much longer he could go on. The sound of rushing blood thundered in his ears. It was almost enough to drown out the horrible metallic snapping. Almost.
He turned to look behind, sure he would see some raging pack of wild beasts, but there was nothing. He knew Logan’s house was only a few hundred yards away. In another dozen yards he would clear the forest.
He ran, his lungs screaming for oxygen, the stitch in his side reaching an almost unbearable proportion. He turned to look back again and still there was nothing. He saw the edge of the trees and knew he was safe when he slammed into what he thought was a plastic fence. Not a fence, he realized, a large fishing net.
He screamed and tried to back up. He found himself entangled. Using his Bowie he slashed and cut in every direction until he felt the binding ease. With his empty hand he clawed at the mass covering his face. It felt like sticky cotton. It was tough and it took him several seconds to clear his eyes.
Swinging the Bowie out in front of him, a word flashed into his mind. He didn’t know why, as it was such a nonsense word, but there it was: Attercop. He felt pain fire through his shoulder and looked up to find the cause. His vision blurred, his head swam and his body began to sag.
“You can’t be real”, he slurred.
He felt his arms and legs go numb, his right cheek felt as if it were sliding off his face. The chittering sound was all around him and yet seemed to echo as if from far away. He remembered once again the word “Attercop” as his mind shut down and his vision went dark.