Where monters lurk

Photo credit: Franck_Michel via Foter.com / CC BY

“So, when did you say the attacks happened?” The officer looked at the old man, who looked at the uniform as if he was about to throw up. “At 10, like every other day.” The officer nodded, noted something in his small booklet. “Okay, and any idea who might be behind it?” The old man raised his cane, as if he was about to hit the officer. “I’ve told you already! I’ve told all of you! We all did!” He was practically screaming at this point, his face twisted with frustration, anger, and sorrow. The officer scoffed a little, trying to hold in a laugh. “Oh right, the monster tale. I’m sorry sir, we are official detectives and we do not hunt down old wives tales.” He closed his notebook and turned to his partner. “And this is why I hate being send here, these people are nuts.” The young man looked past his colleague, towards the old man who seemed so desperate. Jacob had heard of the tales surrounding his village, and of the stories that all the officers of the local police department had fled years ago. Every time something happened now, the national police was sent down here.
“If you hate it here so much, why are you always assigned when something happens?” Peering over the edge of his cup of coffee, Jacob eyed his partner. Mark was older, a lot older than he was, yet not old enough to be near retirement. Mark sighed, put down his espresso. “Listen kid, everything that happens here is either vandalism or murder. We don’t know why, we just know that the villagers always tell the same made-up story. Be careful around them, it’s how I lost my old partner.” Jacob looked confused. “I thought old McWree retired?” Mark scoffed again, his way of expressing humour that was humourless. “Retirement, yeah right. Charles was a good officer, a good detective. But he got dragged into this place by those folk. Started to believe their stories, and talk about them at the office. Clearly lost his marbles, they had no choice but to let him go. Before he became a danger to himself and to others.” He had not seen Charles McWree since, and now they assigned him with a complete rookie. Mark sighed. “Okay look kid, I want you to go back to that place tomorrow and see if anybody has some actual useful information, while I go to the morgue and see if they have found anything. I want to hear none of those ghost stories, just find me some reliable witnesses. Okay?” Jacob nodded. Those instructions seemed crystal clear.

Jacob did not fully understand Mark’s resentment towards the village. It was a small place, half of the houses were empty and it only had a handful of shops. It radiated the sleepiness of rural towns, which gave it most of its charm. He had understood that once, it was a blooming area where people owned a second house for vacations, where people went for long weekends or family holidays. According to one weathered down poster, there even used to be a large music festival in the middle of the town. However, something had changed and the life had drained from it. While children played In the streets, carefree as only children can bee, the adults eyed him nervously and warily. Nobody seemed keen on talking, or even on acknowledging his existence. The old man who had spoken to Mark the day before practically followed him around the streets, it annoyed Jacob slightly but it was not uncommon for elders to act a bit strange in places like these.
“So they send the pup to check if we are hiding something now, are they?” Jacob looked up from his coffee. He had hit a complete dead end, as none of the villagers were willing to talk to him, and grabbed a coffee at the only café that seemed to be open. “Excuse me?” He looked at the old, rumpled up man. Was he insulting him? And if so, could he arrest him for that? The old man sat down on the seat on the other side of the small table. “They think we’re all lunatics, raving about ghosts and monsters like little children. Don’t deny it,” the man said when Jacob had just opened his mouth. “We know how the world sees us. Only because they are too afraid that it might be real.” Jacob realised he had taken the bait as soon as he opened his mouth and asked the question: “What is real?”
The ghost story the old man told him would be horrifying enough to scare small children into weeks of sleepless nights, yet he told it with a complete straight face. “We are cursed, everyone here,” the old man started. Jacob had enjoyed such stories when he was younger, he still liked horror movies and the occasional haunted house. Yet he felt unsure about talking to this raving old geezer. “Every night, when the clock strikes 10, every door here is locked. Every window is closed, the streets are empty.” Jacob frowned a bit. He had heard about the paranoia of small town inhabitants, but this seemed a bit farfetched. However, he decided to play along. “Because the ghosts can tell time and decide to be early party crashers?” The young officer could not help himself, could not help the slight mockery in his voice. The next thing he registered was a sharp pain in his scalp, the old man had hit him with his cane. “Of course not, you imbecile. But they never turn before 10, and never later than 11. So 10 is safe.” Turn? Safe? This man sounded like he was performing an operation, or fixing a car. “Listen carefully pup, it all happened a long time ago. Long before you, or even I were born. The story goes that one day, a stranger arrived. No one knew him, but he stayed for a while. This was when the first murder happened, and then a second one, and a third. All mutilated beyond recognition, some were never truly identified. However, the fourth victim survived. They found him in a shed just on the border of town, wounded badly while he kept rambling about a monster that attacked him. They thought him mad, that he had gone into shock. If only the villagers had listened that night.” The old man sighed, stroked his thinning grey hair backwards and ordered a coffee before he continued. He waited until the waiter had walked out of reach to overhear them, as if he wasn’t supposed to tell this to an outsider. Jacob started to understand why Mark thought that the old man himself had gone mad, probably because of too much sun over the years. But before he could interrupt, the geezer continued. “Of course the stranger had been suspected from the beginning, and they arrested him. But after a week, the mysterious murders started again. Until there were two survivors, both again rambling about a monster. Around the time I came around, they had realised for a long time what heinous curse was cast upon this little town.” Something in the man’s eyes, in his voice, triggered Jacob. The man was old, his hair grey, he badly needed his cane to walk. However, he did not seemed tired, until he said that last sentence. The young man knew he would regret his words, knew it would at least earn him one of Mark’s lectures, as soon as he let them escape from his mouth. “Again with this curse. What is that all about?”
The old man looked at the young man. Eyed him, gauging the atmosphere Jacob gave off. He knew he had the man, still a boy in his eyes, on the hook and yet he felt unsure to go on with his tale. He decided to follow that gut instinct, it had never failed him before. So he scoffed and retreated into himself. “You’ll see if you keep poking around,” he murmured. It pissed Jacob off that suddenly, the man stopped. As if he wasn’t important enough. If it was Mark sitting here, instead of him, the old man would have told the whole story. He was sure of that. Afraid he would become angry, would yell at an elderly citizen, Jacob got up, paid his tab and left the bar as quickly as he could. He had more important things to do anyway.

“So you mean to tell me you got nothing?” Mark’s gaze was stern, as if Jacob was a small boy reprimanded about some mischief he had taken part in. Jacob felt an almost instinctive urge to almost physically defend himself. “Well… no. No one seemed eager to talk,” he mumbled hastily. Mark frowned, again as if he was scolding a misbehaving child. “That almost always means someone knows something. I want you to go back there, and don’t come back until you found something.” Jacob’s surprised look must have annoyed the older officer even more, because the frown became a scowl. “Listen up rookie. This is where you show me you’ve got what it takes, okay? Because up till now, you have shown me nothing to work with and I feel a lot like asking for a replacement partner. We’ve got three other open cases, and I don’t need you on any of those. So you scour that village until you find something useful, understood?” Jacob grumbled a silent ‘yes, sir’. This was even worse than the old man shutting him out halfway in the story…

With a sigh, Jacob stretched his back. He had spent three days in the village, not finding anything useful to the case. He always came early, returned home long after office hours. The only thing he had not done yet, was spent the night. The old man had greeted him every morning with an obvious malicious delight in “Good morning pup. Did the big dog kick you out again?” Jacob ignored him most of the time, not in the mood to talk. But this day, when he got out of his car and stretch to shake the tiredness from his bones, he knew he needed the old man. Or more, he needed information. Therefore, the greeting was the same with the only difference Jacob walking up to him. “I need a place to stay tonight. Is there a hotel somewhere?” The old, wrinkly grin the officer had gotten used to in the last couple of days, disappeared immediately. “You can’t stay.” A short, almost aggressive answer. Defensive, at least. Jacob frowned. “You can’t tell me what to do. I am staying here, for the sake of the investigation.” The man scowled and got up from the bench he always sat on. “If you have a death wish, you’ll stay here at night. Otherwise I suggest you go home.” “So someone you know can murder again?” The question was asked before Jacob had the chance to think it through. Yet it was exactly what he had wanted to ask for days, to anyone he saw in the streets. The old man froze, his eyes flared with an unspoken warning. “I warned you boy. Don’t be out after 10, or you’ll regret it.” After which he waved to a small building, which Jacob found to be an almost deserted hotel run by a small woman who seemed scared of her own shadow.
The idea of sleeping in an old, dusty hotel with mold on the bathroom walls was not something Jacob looked forward to and he planned to spend most time at the bar, observing the locals. It was crowded in the small café, the only place that served alcohol as well as a simple, but hot meal. Fish and chips was not something you could mess up, he assumed when he ordered it, as well as a pint of beer. He was going to need it to get through the night, he thought with the image of his old and lumpy bed in mind. The villagers eyed him warily, but he decided to ignore it. What Mark wanted him to find here was still unknown to Jacob, as this was nothing new from other cases in the village. Jacob had looked up the files on this place during the days he spent here, as no one was cooperative when it came to talking. Seven deaths this year already, nine last year, and eight the year before. Twenty-two of them adults, all happened at night, all mutilated as if a wild beast had been feeding on the victims, and never any evidence of witnesses. No one ever talked, except for the old man, who kept repeating the same tales. “It’s time to pay.” Jacob looked up, surprised by the barking tone. The host looked down on him, presenting the bill. “Pay? I’m not done yet.” It was not even midnight, and he craved another beer. “I don’t care, we’re closing.” Closing at 9 on a Friday evening? That was just plain weird… That the streets were completely deserted, while the weather was still nice out was even more odd. It was as if someone had turned off the power of the entire village. It was only 10 in the evening, he heard the bells of the old church ring not too far from him, it seemed like the town did not even dare to breath. Growl, yes, but not breath.
Jacob’s head shot up. Growl? What was he hearing? It sounded too large for a dog, but he had never heard of wolves hanging out in this place. The officer turned around, to see where the sound came from. The streets were empty, the last rays of sunlight had just sunk below the skyline. Suddenly he felt a hand clench around his shoulder, an iron grip that reminded him of the claw of some animal. Startled, he yelled and struggled, but the hand would not let him go. It dragged him inside a house, the door shutting behind him. He heard locks being turned, not just one but several of them. “You idiot, do you want to get yourself killed?!” Only when he realised it was the voice of the old man, Jacob seemed to relax, his heartbeat slowing down, the adrenaline slowing down a bit. Completely baffled he looked at the man. “Are you insane?!” The words left his mouth a lot louder than he planned to, but he also did not feel like toning them down at the same time. “You nearly gave me a heart attack!” The geezer passed him, hunched over his cane, as he walked into the house. Jacob looked at the door, secured beyond compare. There was no way to get out without multiple keys, all of which he had not in his possession. “This is kidnapping,” he mumbled. “No, this is saving your life,” the old man responded. “Come on, I’ll show you what this village is really all about.” He hobbled to the window, which was also locked tightly and protected with bars. Jacob had noticed bars on ground floor windows at more houses. He barely saw anything as the old man pulled away the curtain and spied outside. “Look, over there,” he whispered and pointed. Jacob squinted, it took him a while to see the man walking out on the street. He had not seen him before, before the man had grabbed him and had dragged him inside. “What about him?” What where they waiting for. “Ssh, just watch.” So Jacob surrendered, for now, and watched.
He had expected nothing to happen, watched for a couple of minutes before he stretched his back and wanted to turn to ask where the bathroom was. The beer was taking its toll on his bladder. But that was when it happened. Suddenly, the man walking outside screamed. An agonizing scream, that soon turned to a low growl, a growl that turned into a howl as the man hunched and started… well started to change. It was a scene Jacob knew from horror movies, and seeing it happen in reality not only startled him as much that it made him visibly sick. The snapping sounds were probably bones, being forced into the posture of a beast that seemed to be the mix between a wolf and a human. A new howl sounded, from further away, and the creature that stood where the man had stood only a minute earlier responded. Jacob jumped at the sound, fled from the window. The old man let go of the curtain, let it fall back into place. “Now you’ve seen our curse, just like me only a couple of years ago.”

___________________________________

“Not a lot of people grow old here.” The old man stared at the street in front of them. Jacob tried to see what he saw, but he couldn’t. He knew he could leave whenever he wanted, while the man was stuck here. “Why did you never tell Mark who you were?” He looked at the old police officer. Charles scoffed, a sound that sounded exactly the same as Mark’s scoff. “He would never have believed me. They all think I went to some home for the old and crazy, this place changed me so much that even my old colleagues don’t recognize me anymore.” And it seemed, to Jacob, that Charles did not really mind his easy and quiet life. The only thing he could not understand was why Charles McWree had moved here, to the place that had cost him his job. “So, why have you moved here? To such a dangerous place. Are you not afraid they will get you?” It was the reason why not many people grew to old age in the village. Coming home late or being too slow once, would be the end. The monsters that he saw that night would grab you, their instincts too strong to resist. Charles smiled a tired smile, a sad smile. “They won’t go after me, not behind that door. This village is only a threat to adults. Being an adult, coming home late from work because of a broken watch or traffic, that is the most dangerous thing to be.” Jacob tried to swallow the lump of fear that formed in the back of his throat yet again. He had not slept that night, or the night after, could not stop thinking about what he had seen. “So the curse,” he started again. Charles, after explaining who he was, had tried to tell him about it for the last two days but Jacob had not wanted to hear about it just yet. He had to survive the nights first, and that will to live was so strong that he had spent every minute in some survivalist mode. Armed with a knife, his chair with the back against the wall in a position in which he could see all the windows and the door. At some point he had heard one of the creatures maul at the door, but it had hold with ease. It was built to keep them out. Charles nodded. “Yeah, the curse. Once bitten by one of the creatures, it will take only a week for you to turn into one of them as well. Cursed to hunt your fellow villagers every night after the clock strikes 10.” Jacob rubbed his face. He had to shave before he went back to the precinct. “Why doesn’t anybody leave?” Why had the creatures not hunted anywhere else? And why were the villagers still here? Putting their children in such harm’s way, risking their own lives as well as theirs. Charles sighed. “They can’t leave, something binds them to this village. And the others don’t leave because almost everyone has at least one relative that’s been cursed. They take care of them during the day, nurse the wounds from fighting one another over food, make sure they eat healthy and get some sleep. Only to have to send them out to the streets again in the evening.” Jacob swallowed a gulp of beer. It was still morning, but he needed it after the last couple of days. The two days since he had seen a harmless man transform into a murderous beast. “Why do you stay Charles?” The man had not answered the question earlier. The old police officer’s face seemed to become even more wrinkled. “Because the world thinks I’m insane. Here, I’m just one of the many who know this horrible secret. They treat me as one of theirs. I make sure I’m inside before 10, and not out before 5 in the morning, and in return for my peace I tell the police the story over and over again. I know they will never believe me but they get annoyed, leave, and won’t return for further investigation. It protects the people, and makes sure the cursed ones never leave the village.” Jacob sighed. Even at his age, Charles McWree was still an officer. Always serving and protecting. “I know that what you saw here was shocking, pup, but try to forget it. You just became an adult, and growing up means you know which ones are worth keeping close to you. This one is not one of those, okay? Get transferred and forget this village exists.” Charles looked at him pleadingly, but Jacob doubted he would ever be able to overcome the nightmares, let alone forget.

 

 

 

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