ITS head was much larger than its body. And its skin was gray like the cold stone of the cave.
“Pitts? Diddleman?” Jake saw the hooded shirts Diddleman and Pitts had been wearing. He spotted another piece of clothing-- sky-blue, like the blouse his sister wore when she was taken.
Large, oval-shaped black eyes stared over at him. A sound came from a hole where its mouth should have been.
IT wasn’t human.
“What have you done with my friends?!” Jake screamed, struggling against the ropes biting into him. “Where are my mom and sister?”
Its mouth opened again, and it was as if it was trying to speak, ,“DAAIDDDDDIDIDAWOOOO?”
It stepped toward him.
“Don’t you come near me.”
IT smelled of dirt, rot, decay. A metallic smell itched Jake’s nose, and then he saw blood smeared on ITS gray feet. Not feet exactly. Clubs. Hard. They thumped the stone as it came closer.
“Pitts?!” Jake yelled. “Diddleman?! Mom?!”
It raised its hand, fingers long. Its index finger longer than its middle finger. Much longer. Inhumanly long. It pointed the finger toward Jake.
Jake was sure he was about to be killed.
August 7, 1989, 1 a.m.
“Catch your breath, Walter.”
Walter’s mouth gaped open. His lungs sucked air, bellows trying to ignite a cold fire. His hair dripped rain onto a tee-shirt clinging like another layer of skin.
Sheriff Roger Boggs of Circlegold County found a blanket to throw over him. At the last look outside, a light rain was falling, but this boy got caught in a storm.
What was he doing out so late? Boggs was pretty damn sure the boy’s parents weren’t aware of his late-night activities.
So far Boggs had listened to five minutes of babble. And so far, he couldn’t make heads or tails out of what the kid was trying to tell him.
Boggs took his seat again behind his desk.
“This kid’s pulling our leg,” Officer Hayworth of the Pinkerton City Police sniffed, pulling off his yellow rain slicker. He shook it out onto the floor before finding the back of a chair to hang it. He returned to stand next to Walter. He clenched his hands to his hips, fingers inches away from his gun as if the kid posed a threat.
Boggs ignored Hayworth. “Who did you say was with you?”
“Jake Cahill,” Walter said. “And Oliver Pitts.” He drew in a large breath and exhaled. “I’m telling you the truth, Sheriff.”
Police Chief Purvis Moore held jurisdiction over the citizens of Pinkerton. And Hayworth should have delivered the kid to the city police's threshold. When Moore found out his officer delivered the kid to the sheriff's office, he'd be pissed. No more than pissed. He'd shove his foot in the stirrup of his outrage saddle and mount his high horse.
Of course, Hayworth knew the possible consequences of moving across lines to bring Walter over to County.
Hayworth said, “He kept saying he needed to talk to Sheriff Boggs. Hells-bells, I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t want to wake up the Chief. Not at this time of night. Not if this kid was going to tell him he wouldn’t talk to anyone but you.”
Boggs noticed the slight shiver moving through Hayworth’s thin stature. The trembling wasn’t from having been out in a storm but from the unnerving possibility he may have made the wrong decision.
Pinkerton Police and the County Sheriff’s Office were located in the old Pinkerton City Hall. Unusual in more populated cities, but smaller towns learned to survive by moderation. Different jurisdictions at such close quarters sometimes blurred authority in people’s minds. They would enter on the Sheriff’s side, through the western side door. Instead of the City Police side at the eastern door. Double- glass doors facing north in the hundred-year-old building opened to the Circlegold County Museum. Doors that were generally only opened by elementary school children on a field-trip day.
Jurisdictions also crossed in emergencies. Like when the tornado hit. When the twister opened its jaws onto Pinkerton and chewed its way through neighborhoods, no one checked who worked for whom. All personnel of both city and county were called into action.
However, so far, Officer Hayworth bringing Walter into his office didn’t present itself as an emergency.
Walter Forester was a short, stocky kid somewhere around fifteen-years-old. He had a square head and bad acne. Any name he’d made for himself so far in life came from his position on the wrestling team. He got the nickname Diddleman for his habit of walking with his hands in his pockets. It was a name reserved for those his own age and his friends.
Boggs didn’t know Walter that well, but everyone in Pinkerton knew each other to a degree. Boggs knew Walter’s best hanging-around friends were Jake Cahill and Oliver Pitts. So, hearing their names connected to the possible ruckus didn’t surprise Boggs.
“Blast it,” Hayworth cussed, continuing his rant. “I told him he should tell Chief Moore about all this first, but he wouldn’t hear it.”
Skinny, to a point of almost non-existent hipbones, Officer Hayworth readjusted his tool belt and gun.
Hayworth reminded Boggs of one of those little hairless Chihuahuas that yap and bite at ankles. The type that perceive themselves as a Rottweiler but never quite measure up.
“Damn kid said he could only tell you,” Hayworth went on. “And well, blast it, the park is your jurisdiction.” Hayworth finished with, “Even so, the Chief’s not going to like me being here and not there.” He sniffed and pulled at his equipment belt. “I should call Chief Moore.”
“Do as you see fit,” Boggs’ responded, only half listening. His concentration was on Walter whose bulging eyes, frozen wide, staring straight at him. If a door banged shut, Boggs thought for sure the kid would bolt from his chair.
What kind of trouble had these kids gotten themselves into?
“Do you think you can start over from the beginning?” Boggs said.
“IT’s got them,” Walter mewed.
“Got who?” Hayworth spat.
“Who’s got them?” Hayworth demanded.
“The alien.” Walter emphasized the word alien.
Hayworth pursed his lips and gave a sneer. “This is that kid Cahill’s doing. He’s a known storyteller. He tried to pull one over on me when he reported his parents' home burgulared after the tornado hit.” He said tornado like tornad’er. Like he would say potat’er, or tomat’er. “As if we in law enforcement don’t have enough to do. This one here,” he pointed to Walter, “he was in on it.”
Walter twisted around in his chair. “It was bur…gal…whatever you said.”
Hayworth sniffed with annoyance. Exasperated, his hands flapped back to his hips. “As if a tornad’er wasn’t bad enough. All us in the force, trying to keep the peace, are faced with….”
“Why would we write stuff?” Walter objected.
Hayworth snarled, “If I could figure out what makes a kid tick, I’d be rich.”
Boggs needed to get back to why Walter was in his office. “Start from the very beginning. Why did the three of you go to Eagles tonight?”
Walter’s full attention came immediately to Boggs. “We didn’t.”
“Then why’d you tell me you were at Eagles?” Officer Hayworth snapped, butting in again.
This time Walter didn’t bother twisting around to Officer Hayworth. He explained to Boggs, “You see, Jake’s dad was missing We found him at the hospital. Or Jake did. Pitts and I didn’t go into the room. Just Jake. Only, everyone said it wasn’t his dad. But Jake ought to know his own dad. Right?" He didn’t wait for a response. “Jake said his dad was hurt real bad in the fire.”
Walter slid forward on his chair, closer to Boggs as if the information he was about to give him was for his ears only. “When we went back to the hospital the second time…”
“Second time?” Hayworth interrupted. “Hell's fire. Do you kids think the hospital has nothing more to do than…”
“Officer,” Boggs interrupted Hayworth’s interruption. “Let the boy tell it.”
Hayworth turned his head away and sniffed with contempt. “I ain’t stopping him. Go ahead, boy.”
Walter continued, “Dr. Potter took Jake’s Dad out of the hospital because his dad told Jake something he wasn’t supposed to. Something about Eagle’s Nest.”
Walter began coughing.
“Take another breath,” Boggs instructed. “Relax”
“Slow the heck down,” Officer Hayworth demanded. Sniffed. “How’re we supposed to understand you if you’re talking a mile a minute?”
“What is Eagle’s Nest?” Boggs asked.
Walter shrugged. “I don’t know exactly. Jake said it was a place only he and his dad knew about. But Jake said his dad was trying to tell him where to find his mother and sister. You know they’re missing, too? I bet the alien kidnapped them, too.”
Boggs looked to Hayworth for confirmation. Missing persons would be handled by City. “Do you know anything about Bill Cahill missing?”
“First I’m learning about it,” Hayworth sniffed.
“He is missing,” Walter insisted. “I am being legit, Sheriff. Jake’s dad was trying to find Jake’s mother and sister.”
Hayworth sniffed. “Lots of people were taken to nearby hospitals after the tornad’er hit.” Hayworth muttered, “Bunch of baloney.”
Walter said, “Jake said he knew the place his dad was talking about. It was a place where they used to go fishing. That’s why we were at Eagles.”
“In the dark?” Hayworth scoffed.
“Stanley, let the boy talk,” Boggs warned. If he didn’t quit interrupting, he was never going to get the story straight.
“We had flashlights,” Walter returned, “and believe me, I wanted to wait until morning. But Jake wouldn’t hear it.” He turned a half-twist toward Officer Hayworth. “Finding Jake’s family was more important than it being dark. We weren’t afraid.”
Officer Hayworth turned his face away from Walter, pulled up his equipment belt.
Walter said, “Jake said there was no trail to the bird’s nest. It’s like a secret place. He thought he could find it. Only, we got kind of lost in the dark.” His words came faster with the telling, “Jake wasn’t so sure anymore. And then something came at us.”
What do you mean, came at you?” Boggs questioned. “Chased you?”
Walter itched his head and circled around the answer. “It’d been following us. I’m pretty sure of that. I figured it was Templeton.”
“Ted Templeton?” Boggs was surprised with another name coming into the story.
Walter nodded. “Teddy’s always following Jake around.” He said, “But then, we saw it.”
“Saw what?” Officer Hayworth asked anxiously. He was leaning over now not wanting to miss a word of what Walter was telling.
Walter’s eyes grew glassy. “It was eating a deer.”
“Coyote, probably,” Officer Hayworth sniffed with a note of authority.
“It wasn’t a coyote,” Walter cried. “It wasn’t an animal.” He stared at Boggs, daring him to call him a liar. “It wasn’t human, either. Pitts said so, and Pitts’s smart.” He gulped. “It wasn’t very big, and it had long arms. Like one of those pictures Pitts has of aliens. It came towards us, and then it must have got scared because it ran off. We followed it.”
“How’d you follow it so easily in the dark,” Hayworth challenged.
Walter retaliated. “We followed it easy because it was squealing.”
“Squealing?” Hayworth asked. “You mean like a pig?”
“Maybe,” Walter replied. He looked off beyond Boggs as if trying to hear it again. He shook his head. “No, not like a pig.” He said to Boggs “It’s hard to explain.”
“Don’t dwell on it right now,” Boggs said. “Continue with what happened next.”
“We came out of the woods into a clearing. That’s when we found the burned house.” New energy ignited. “I thought right away about Jake’s dad. Jake said he was burned real bad. And I thought this must be the nest.” Walter closed his eyes. “Eagles Nest. Although, not really a nest.”
He kept his eyes shut, again as if he had time-jumped to that very moment. As if he was seeing it in his mind. He. whispered. “IT was standing by the body.”
“Body? What body?” Officer Hayworth said.
Walter whispered, “A girl.”
Hayworth was so stunned by the response his equipment belt almost fell to his knees.
“I think the alien killed her,” Walter told Boggs. His words were short and clipped.” He retched. “I’m going to be sick.”’
“Take a deep breath,” Boggs advised, wanting to keep the kid in the moment. “Did you recognize the girl?”
Officer Hayworth gagged.
Walter’s voice stayed low. He shook his head. “It wasn’t Jake’s sister. Shilo’s hair is red. This girl has…” his voice trembled and his body shivered as if he’d suddenly felt a cold breeze. "There was so much blood.”
This time Hayworth retched. Boggs grabbed the wastepaper basket from under his desk. “In here,” he demanded of Hayworth.
A tear slipped from the corner of Walter’s eye. “You need to find them, Sheriff.”
“Don’t worry. I will.” Boggs stood up. “Let’s get you home.”
Walter bulked. “I’m not done telling you. I need to tell you what happened.”
Boggs sat back down. “There’s more?”
“We were coming to get the police,” Walter went on. “But IT showed up again. This time we saw Chewbacca running with it.”
Hayworth stiffened, sniffed, “Didn’t I tell you, Sheriff? He’s making up a bunch of nonsense. Aliens, phooey. This is all about some movie.” He put the wastebasket down and then moved over to the doorway as if, for him, the conversation was finished.
“Good thing I didn’t get the Chief up for this drivel.” Boggs heard him mutter.
“Chewbacca is Jake’s dog,” Walter explained. “I don’t know how Chewbacca got there. Jake told us Chewbacca disappeared along with his mom.”
Walter looked directly at Boggs. “I saw Pitts drop to the ground. It must have done something to him. And then, something hit me on the back of the head. When I woke up, both Jake and Pitts were gone.”
His chin quivered. “I know I should have stayed to look for them. I know I shouldn’t have come back without them. But I didn’t know what else to do.”
“You did the right thing,” Boggs assured Walter. “Let me take it from here.”