From the personal memoirs of Jonathan K. Sousa. Entry dated April 29th, 2012.
The thick forest has turned to swampland. I find myself surrounded by skeletal cedars and maples in various states of decay, the flooded landscape slowly drowning their root systems. The subtle musk of wood rot hangs in the air, and a combination of roots and rocks hidden beneath the shallow water’s surface annoyingly snag my feet every couple of steps. I trudge onward, sniffing the cool, crisp night air. The evening is exceptionally quiet, and the sloshing of my feet echoes through the grim landscape as I dredge my way through the muck. As I walk, I can see shadowy figures darting behind withering tree trunks in the corners of my vision. I can’t make out precisely what they are, but there appear to be a bunch of them. I’m in no mood to wait and find out if they’re friendly, so I decide to quicken my pace a bit. Shifting my gaze upwards, I pay close attention to the treeline, noticing a slight break up ahead. I make my way toward it.
After a few more minutes of footslogging, the land becomes solid again, and I find myself on a packed dirt path, little more than a deer run, flanked by tangling thorns and briars. A gentle breeze picks up and the scent of woodsmoke touches my nostrils. A fire upwind.
The meandering path eventually leads to a clearing of tall grass with a squat structure in the center of it. The building’s decor suggests a log cabin, albeit one with a concrete foundation and handicap ramp. Smoke issues from one of the two chimneys, and an orange glow emanates from a small window in the basement.
With a gesture, I command the nearby shadows to envelop me and blur my form. I then cross the field, feeling the damp grass squish quietly beneath my footsteps, and I crouch down next to the window. An hourglass figure is visible in the flickering lantern light. Broad shouldered and lean, the woman moves with an odd stiffness, and has long, dark, wavy hair that hangs nearly to the waist of her tight-fitting blue jeans, which are in turn tucked into brown horse boots that come up to her knees. A snug olive green jacket divulges more of her well-proportioned and muscular figure. She is carrying a small cook pot, and ladles an unhealthy-looking brown stew into a dog bowl. Wandering over to a cage set into the wall, she places the bowl on the ground in front of it, and a filthy hand reaches out from the gloom, scooping up some of the slop. I notice other cages set into the wall as well, six of them in total. Three of the cages appear to be occupied, but bowls sit in front of only two of them, where dirty, hunched figures slurp greasy stew off of their fingers. The third occupant lies face down, unmoving.
The dark-haired woman turns and I see her features. High forehead, small chin, somewhat narrow brown eyes, and a down-turned pout of a mouth. She grabs the oil lantern from the shelf it had been resting upon and wanders upstairs, leaving the feeding figures in darkness.
I feel a familiar presence next to me. Turning, I behold Ariana’s sleek, black, gargoyle-like form crouched low a few feet to my left. Her featureless face is turned toward the window, and her barbed tail twitches reflexively behind her. The dream then dissipates slowly.
The vision I awake to is that of Selene’s bedroom. She’s lying on her side with her back facing me, and appears to be hugging one of her pillows. I can hear and feel the soft, rumbling purr of one of her cats at my feet, and the first light of dawn is peeking in around the drawn red curtains. I stretch a bit and crack my neck, feeling the cat shift positions as I do so. Ariana will most certainly be rewarded for this. I’ll also have to call McDermott and give him further details in a few hours. But first…
I wrap my arm around Selene’s waist and pull her close to me, pressing myself against her. I brush her hair aside and place gentle kisses along her neck. Her breathing pattern changes ever so slightly.
“Mmmm… Good morning,” she says, yawning. She stretches and presses herself against me in return.
“Good morning, beautiful,” I say. “Sleep well?”
“Well enough,” she replies. “Weird dreams, though.”
“Yeah, me too.”
I take her hand and begin kissing her fingers, pressing myself against her.
“Mmm.” She undulates her hips gently, then yawns and stretches her free arm. “I dreamed that you were a monster who lived in a tower somewhere. Looked kind of like France. I want to say Burgundy, but I don’t know why.”
“Très bien. A monster, eh?” I smile and nibble her ear a bit before continuing. “Did I have tusks or horns or something?”
I watch little goosebumps appear on her arms. “Horns, yes,” she says. “No tusks, though your teeth were pointed. You were covered in fur and you had a short, hairy tail that stuck out from a hole in the back of your pants.”
“Interesting. Did I do anything strange in the dream?”
I shift positions and begin slowly nibbling my way down her tummy.
“I think you were cultivating vines,” she says. “Thick, green, ropey vines, with little carnivorous plant heads here and there. Like Little Shop of Horrors.”
She gasps slightly as I bite her inner thigh.
“You hand-fed them small chunks of beef from a red bucket.”
I look up at her, a devilish smile on my lips.
“Nice,” I say.
“Yeah, I guess s–…”
The final few syllables of her sentence disappear as I find my desired location. Soft moans take their place.
A few hours later, McDermott and I find ourselves driving around the South County back roads in his unmarked, police-issued Chevy Suburban, somewhere between Richmond and Exeter. The roads are a slew of perpetual twists and turns through mostly uninhabited areas, with the occasional house or farmstead poking out of a dank cedar swamp. The scenery is typical New England backwoods, thick with choking vines and briars that would snag the pant leg of even the most careful woodsman. Joe had procured a list of old kennels, ranger stations, and animal rescues, and we were checking them out one by one. We had investigated three places so far with no luck.
Joe can’t sit in a car with someone for longer than five minutes without talking, apparently.
“This shit is nuts, you know,” Joe says, breaking the silence again after minute three, this time. “You’re nuts.”
“Well aware,” I reply, deadpan.
“Just making sure. No wonder you’re banging a shrink. Hah.” Joe taps me on the shoulder with his fist in a jovial, buddy-buddy kind of way.
I smile.“She’s made crazy people her life’s work. Were I even slightly normal, I doubt she’d be so interested. Though I can assure you she’s far from mundane.”
“Heh. I bet. Shrinks tend to be crazier than their patients.” Joe’s grin splits his face in two. “She’s a looker though. I’d totally hit that.”
I turn my head slowly and look at McDermott. My gaze can be unsettling to people at times, sometimes when I don’t intend it to be. In this case, however, my intentions are very clear. Our eyes lock briefly, and he quickly looks back to the road, his face suddenly flushed.
“Um… I mean hypothetically. I mean, I didn’t mean…”
I turn my eyes back to the road as well, then to the blinking GPS in my lap.
“Another two miles or so,” I say. “On the left.”
“Look, Johnny, I wasn’t meaning that…”
“Don’t worry about it, Joe. I know what you meant, and I’m not worried about her fidelity.”
“Alright, just checking. Don’t want ya to put a voodoo curse on me or some shit.” Joe finishes his statement with a short burst of nervous laughter.
“I don’t practice vodoun, Joe.”
“Alright, any kind of curse, then.”
I let the silence speak for me. In the corner of my eye, I see McDermott turn to look at me again, slight consternation on his face. I suppress a smile. Sometimes, its too easy. After an uncomfortable pause, I decide to break the ice.
“How’s that little Jersey side-dish of yours, by the way?”
“Good,” Joe blurts out, relieved to be changing the subject. “Yeah, she’s good.”
“What’s her name again?”
“Dani. Yeah, about that, did you tell the hag about her before I met her?”
“Nope.” My statement is entirely true.
“I don’t fucking believe you.”
“I didn’t,” I say. “Scout’s honor.”
“Come on! How the fuck could she know about all that?”
I turn and look at McDermott. “Rhody’s chock full of colleges, Joe. Lots of Jersey girls with rich parents go to J-WU or URI. Most of them wear short skirts and high heels when they’re out on the town. Some of them like to fuck young cops. Seems a logical enough assumption.”
Joe nods nervously as my logic washes over him. “Yeah. Yeah, I guess you’re right.”
I smile this time. I’d be willing to bet the ‘two martinis and a blowjob in your SUV’ comment she dropped on him the other day was disturbingly accurate, but I’ll keep quiet and let him stew on things for a little while longer.
Now its McDermott’s turn to change the subject. “Ya know, you never told me how you got mixed up in all of this occult shit anyway. You grow up in like a haunted house or something?”
“Demon rape your little sister?”
I laugh. “Nah. Her ex-boyfriends are shitty enough. She probably would have welcomed a little demon-love with open arms.”
McDermott’s shit-eating grin should be illegal. “You mean open legs?”
“If you’d prefer,” I shrug.
“So what was it, then?”
“I dunno,” I say. “I’ve always been interested in weird things. Used to meditate a bunch when I was in high school. Eventually bought some books and a tarot deck. Performed an exorcism when I was 19. Been deep in it ever since.”
“An exorcism, eh? Speaking of demon rape.”
I shake my head. “No rape involved.”
McDermott seems genuinely curious and speaks slowly. “Wha… what happened?”
I sigh. “Friend of mine started messing with some heavy shit,” I say, scratching my chin. “Advanced stuff back when he was just a beginner. He couldn’t control it, so I had to clean up the mess.”
Joe seems riveted. “So some fucked up horror movie shit start happening, or what?”
“Meh, nothing so dramatic. More like a student film with no budget.”
He starts shaking his head and chuckling. “Heheh. An exorcism. A fucking exorcism. You really are fucking crazy.”
I pause for a moment before speaking. “Joe, you’re a State detective talking about demon rape while tooling around back country roads with a so-called occult expert. You’re looking for a building said expert saw in a dream after a chatting to a drunken psychic with acute schizophrenia. Crazy is a very relative term.”
Joe’s nervous laughter returns. “You’ve got a point, there, heheh. I guess they’ll be locking up both of us in the looney bin.”
“Both of us? Don’t think so, bud. I’m banging the lady with the keys, remember?” This time its my grin that should be illegal.
“Ha!” Joe slaps the steering wheel, still shaking his head, but smiling. “You asshole.”
“Take this left.”
An old brown wooden sign nailed into a maple tree reads: “RANGER STATION” in yellow painted letters, and a well-hidden dirt driveway opens amid a wall of overgrown trees and brambles. The moment we take the turn onto the driveway, the skin on the back of my neck begins tingling. This is the place.
“Bingo,” I say.
“Looks like it, though I saw it from the other side. I remember the handicap ramp. Same wooden exterior. There’ll be six cages along a wall in the basement. Didn’t get a very good look at the rest of it. Also, I’m pretty sure one of our three girls is already dead.”
McDermott squints, scanning the perimeter. “No cars, but those look like tire tracks to me. Someone was here not too long ago. How long has this place been closed?”
“Your report says since ’92, so twenty years or so.”
“Great,” He says. “You think this guy’s armed?”
“If he’s in there, I’d say definitely, though I doubt he is. No cars. No smoke from the chimney. Might have up and ran already.”
“I fuckin’ hope not. I’m calling for backup.”
McDermott mumbles a mouthful of police codes into the mouthpiece of his dashboard radio transmitter. A tinny voice on the other end squalks back a series of questions, which McDermott answers. The situation feels odd, dream-like. I open the door of the SUV and step outside.
McDermott immediately starts yelling at me. “Johnny. Johnny! Fucking, hold on! Johnny, don’t fucking go in there before backup arrives. Dammit, Johnny!”
I ignore him. He hurriedly finishes the last of his codes and hops out of the vehicle as well, pulling out his Beretta 9mm.
McDermott barks at me. “Are you fucking nuts?!”
“Yes,” I reply, not looking behind me. “We’ve already been over this.”
“Backup’s on the way. Why the fuck are you risking your neck right now?”
I shake my head. “They’re gone Joe. Might as well find out what we can before the other staties make a mess of the place.”
I begin walking toward the house, but an odd feeling tells me to walk past it, through the field in the back, and onto the dirt path that snakes its way through the woods. If my dream was as accurate as I hope it was, it will lead back to the swamp.
“Where the fuck are you going now, Johnny?”
In the light of day, the path looks considerably different, but similar enough to my dream for me to traverse it without any particular problems, though I quickly lament my decision to wear a long coat as it gets snagged and caught by thorn bushes nearly every step of the way. After untangling myself for the the third time, I take the cursed thing off in a huff, bundling it under my arm, and continue on. The going begins to get muddy, and I notice a score of canine footprints emanating from the marsh ahead as the path opens up. I finally reach the water’s edge, my distorted reflection staring up at me. Toppled trees and bare, broken branches jut out at odd angles, partially immersed in the brackish water. Some oaks and maples, and a bone-white birch tree overturned not far from where I stand. I hear a blue jay screech off to my right.
Suddenly, something catches my eye next to the birch tree. An outline that sticks out far more than it should. One that I know is not just an assortment of branches.