Chapter 2: Mysterious Death
It had been six days since we’d found the boy in the car, and the most horrifying thing about his body was the condition of his eyes. When I was first called to the scene, I’d arrived to find it clean—no fingerprints, no gasoline, and no matches to light the boy on fire. I’d walked down to the car and found that the boy inside was dead, his body burned to a crisp, but his eyes were still on fire. When the EMS team took the corpse to the coroner to be examined for cause of death, I got an eerie feeling in my stomach.
Now, six days later, the coroner’s office called me. In a monotone, the male voice on the phone said, “This is Pablo, and I am calling in regard to the little boy that was brought in six days, six hours, and six minutes ago.”
I looked at the clock, and to my surprise it was 6:06 a.m. It was odd that the coroner’s office would call me this early in the morning. I asked whether they’d been able to determine anything about the cause of death, and Pablo replied, “You have got to come down here as soon as possible.”
“Rodger, it’s the boy. He’s…he’s…I can’t explain. Just come down to the coroner’s office, and I will show you.”
I got up and started to head for the shower, but then I decided the case was significant enough to skip my morning ritual. I opened a drawer and pulled clothes out, getting dressed as I made my way toward the garage. The morning air hit my nose as I opened the garage door. Unlocking the car using the button on the remote, I got in and started her up. The engine roared with might as I depressed the gas pedal, looked into the rearview mirror, and backed out of my driveway.
When I reached the coroner’s office, I met Pablo at the front door and immediately noticed that something wasn’t right about his eyes. They burned a fire-like red, and in a horrible voice, he croaked, “He comes to feast upon all your souls.”
Sweat trickled down his face, and the fire glowed in his eyes. I looked at him and asked, “What is wrong with you?” Getting no response, I shook him and asked again. He proceeded to grab his pen, which he lifted up into the air, about to stab himself in the chest, but I reacted in just enough time to stop him. My reaction, though, was not proper—I punched him hard in the face, so hard that I knocked him out.
Picking Pablo up, I laid him on one of the gurneys in the back. I got some water and poured it on his face to wake him, which he did, gasping for air and yelling out. I gave him a few minutes to pull himself together. He wiggled his jaw a bit, making sure I had not broken it.
“All right, lad,” I said. “Why did you call me down here? What is so important that it had to have my immediate attention?”
“Rodger, I am sorry. I called to tell you that the boy’s eyes will not turn off.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“The boy, Rodger! His eyes, those firelit eyes, will not turn off! We’ve tried everything—everything—and they still will not turn off. They light up the room at night. I poured water on them, and they will not stop burning. I just don’t have an explanation as to why the eyes will not turn off.”
Impatiently, I said, “What do you mean?”
“I’ll show you.” He led me to where the boy’s body was and pulled the sheet off the body, but even before he did so, I could see the glow coming from underneath. I gasped at the sight of the crisp body lying there motionless on the table, those eyes still burning bright. Taking matters into my own hands, I went to the sink, filled a cup with water, and poured the water into the boy’s eyes. The water and the fire met, and steam started to rise, but to my surprise, the fire in his eyes kept burning!
I was shocked. How could this be true? What had caused this boy’s death?
“Pablo, has anyone else been in this room?”
“Just my staff,” Pablo replied. “Why?”
My mind started to race as I thought about every aspect and possibility as to the boy’s cause of death. I had just now witnessed the most horrifying thing I had ever seen in my life. Or perhaps I was speaking too soon. The coroner now pulled out another dead body, laying it right next to that of the boy, whose eyes still burned. It became hard for me to look at, and I started to feel sick.
Rather than diminishing, the fire from the boy’s eyes danced ever more intensely for a while longer, and then in a terrifying instant, it crossed over to the other body. What happened next was so terrible, it made me puke. The body was dead, but once the fire reached its eyes, the corpse started to twitch and crumple like foil. Suddenly, embalming fluid began to gush out its mouth, nose, and ears, shooting up toward the ceiling and walls of the room.
I was still in shock, starting to feel chills creep down my back. The bones of the corpse began to break, each of them popping as the body crushed itself into a ball. The only parts sticking out were the head and neck. The head became animated, starting to look in all directions as if searching for someone or something. Reaching me, it stopped, its eyes closed. There I was, in shock, staring at the dead body. I had no explanation as to why this was happening. Then, to my horror, the eyes shot open, and the same fire that had been in the boy’s eyes was pointed directly at me. I was sick, and my heart was pounding. The fire in the dead body’s eyes whirled around and around.
Have you ever heard people say that the dead speak out in pain? Well, I wasn’t a believer until that moment. As the fire in the corpse’s eyes lit the whole body on fire and the flames grew higher and higher, its face started moving from side to side, and a loud, eerie voice screeched at the top of the corpse’s lungs. It was a sight to see. I ran out into the corridor and puked my guts out.
I wanted to get the hell out of there as soon as I could, but as I started for the outer door, Pablo stopped me.
“Are you all right?”
“No,” I stated. “What the hell just happened in there?”
He told me to relax, that this was one of the tests they had done on the boy. I looked at him incredulously and asked, “Relax? Relax? You want me to relax? That was the most horrifying thing I have ever seen, and you expect me to relax?”
He then told me that earlier, in the course of their normal work, they had placed a body right next to the boy’s, and this same thing had happened, just not in the same order. “OK, Rodger, pull yourself together,” I told myself. I waited a minute, put two and two together, and then told Pablo I was going in to see the body again, by myself this time.
I went to where the body was laid out and looked at it very carefully. I walked around it twice, studying it, trying not to look into the eyes. I grew very interested in figuring out who this boy was and how he’d come to be this way. As I walked around the corpse for the last time, I peeked at those horrifying eyes, and for a brief moment, my body felt warm, as if I were being taken in by the fire whirling round and round in his eyes. I quickly made my way out of there.
I decided my next step was to go down to the police impound yard to examine the car. Once I located it among the assorted vehicles, I saw that the trunk had been burned, and it looked as if a chunk of the car had melted off. I thought, “Why does the trunk of the car look like it’s missing a piece?” I walked around the car and found that the driver’s seat showed burn marks similar to the burn marks on the backseat. Odd that the burn marks were larger and that the roof of the car showed smoke damage in these two spots. It became apparent to me that there had been two people in the car, and judging by the size of the burn marks in the front, the driver had been an adult male, probably in his midthirties. The burn marks were pear shaped, and it was evident that he’d clearly been overweight. I took a closer look at the length of the burn marks on the seat and found the burn marks ended high in the seat, so the killer’s height must have been around five feet eleven. The fact that he was overweight and tall and had a broad body structure ideally gave me an idea of what his age could be. I searched inside the car and looked in the many different storage units, such as the center console and glove compartment. I found a picture of a little girl. The date on the back of the picture was recent, and she seemed to be in middle school. What was his motive, and why was he and the boy found at the bottom of the mountain?
Where had these guys been going? How was I supposed to figure out how this boy had died? Had the man in the front seat caused the boy’s death? The burn marks looked as if the guy in the car had reached around behind and killed the boy by smothering him with the fire. If so, what had been his motive? This was all I could think about.
“Think, Rodger,” I mused to myself. “Why did he kill the child, and why is he missing? Where is the other body?”
It then hit me. We had found the body at the bottom of the mountain. The only way in and out of that mountain was that road. I had a hunch that would change my life forever.
I stopped in at my local café on the way back to my office, as I did most afternoons, and noticed a story on the front page of the paper I was about to leaf through about the outcry from multiple families against a school principal. The headline proclaimed, “Field Trip Goes Horribly Wrong.” I sat in my usual booth, drinking a cup of coffee with two sugars and cream while reading the article in more detail. Apparently, the school had gone on a field trip to Camp Devils Lake and never returned. The students and staff had vanished, and the school principal was under investigation. The superintendent of the school had suspended the director of the school, who was put on paid administrative leave while under investigation. Reading on, I wasn’t too surprised to discover that the story was linked to the murder scene I was investigating. The department was under pressure from the media, families, and the mayor. I picked my eyes up off the paper for a moment and looked out the window and noticed the clouds were dark, threateningly purple.
I continued to read the rest of the story. The journalist had found an eyewitness to the scene and therefore had a primary source of information.
“The car at the bottom of the mountain was burning from inside,” claimed the local man. He’d reported the accident as he was driving past the base of the mountain. The reporter emphasized how the local man had shakily stated, “I saw a man wandering through the woods, but his eyes were on fire! When I got to the car, a body was still burning in the backseat, and the driver’s door was wide open.”
To me, the man was obviously delusional. The paper went on to list the names of all the 150 students and 20 staff that were missing. It occurred to me as I saw these names that perhaps the boy had been on this trip. Had he been trying to escape from someone? I decided to drive up to the mountain to look for clues.
I drove slowly, looking at the beautiful yet eerie scenery. The gravel road was rough on the tires and seemed to get narrower the deeper I went into the forest. As I looked carefully on all sides of the road for anything unusual, I soon came upon a large chunk of black metal dangling from the branches of a tree, hanging ten feet from the ground. I pulled over and approached it, finally jumping up and punching it with my fist. It fell off the tree, hitting the ground with a dull thud. It looked like metal melted from the car in the impound station—its large indentations seemed to match. It became apparent that whatever had happened that night, something enormous had been after the boy and the driver. I picked up the piece of metal and placed it carefully in the trunk of my car.
From there, I made my way up to Camp Devils Lake. When I arrived, I got out of my car and walked down to the lake. Everything seemed dark, eerie, and black as death. The seaweed looked dead and rotted, and as the current pushed against it, the bottom of the lake moved, making me feel depressed and putting my heart and mind in a dark place. It was the kind of darkness that swallows the light and makes you feel trapped in nothingness, where the only way out is to light up the darkness.
As I started to walk to the camp, the trees too gave me an eerie feeling that crept slowly down my spine. Looking up at the vast forest, I realized that the trees were all black. The scene continued to make me uneasy, as if this whole forest was dead. I began walking around the camp, looking at all the buildings. Pine needles carpeted the path that led toward the main building. I was hoping to encounter someone whom I could talk to about the camp, ask whether the person knew anything about a boy and a man having been there, but I found no one. The camp was empty and abandoned. Where were the police investigators and the CSI unit?
I walked up to the radio tower and noticed the door was open. Chills crept down my spine as I made my way up the stairs. Reaching the door, I was about to go in when I was startled by the harsh cawing of a crow, making me jump. Giving myself a moment to recover, I ventured inside. The crow outside the window continued to caw, bobbing its head at me as I looked all around the room. I found that both the radio and the tower had been smashed up, destroyed—by what, I couldn’t tell, but the place was a massive mess.
I walked up to the desk, where some forms were scattered—they were for the James K. Polk High School and Junior High School. They listed the dates the schools would be at the camp and who their guide was to be for the trip. I started to think, listening to the cawing crow outside.
What the hell had happened here? The school had come down to the camp on a field trip—and then it hit me. The newspaper from this morning had described exactly what I had just found. I started piecing together all the available evidence in this puzzling case. As I moved toward the door, all of a sudden the loudspeaker came to life. A voice eerily intoned, “He comes to feast upon your soul.” I turned quickly around and noticed that the loudspeaker was right on top of the desk. Feeling a cold draft on my back, I couldn’t believe my eyes as I saw the button pop back up all by itself. The hair on my arms started to rise, and my heart began to pound. Summoning my courage, I hurried outside and headed toward the cawing crow.
A number of cawing crows had gathered, many more than before. I walked out toward the sleeping quarters—it looked as if one of the buildings had been blown up. Not far away, I found the skeletal remains of two bodies, each ripped in half. Crows were all around, and I made the assumption that these damn scavengers had eaten every last scrap of meat from these bones. The skeletons lay there with their mouths wide open. It was a gruesome scene that made my stomach curl.
As I looked at where their eyes had once been, I noticed large rings of black around the sockets. Both bodies had similar directional burns in this area, and it looked as if the bone had melted—there were severe fragmentation and moderate fracturing around the eyes. The heat must have been extreme, because the structural integrity of the bone had been distorted, causing what looked like facial deformation. The probable cause of this was the dehydration of the collagen in the bone, making it evident that heat likely caused the distortion and severe fragmentation.
The bodies looked masculine, and from what I could tell, they had been adults somewhere in their thirties. They must have been staff members of the school. It seemed the men had died quickly and had been slaughtered brutally. Their spines exhibited multiple fractures, which was likely the reason they died—from what I could tell, their spines had been twisted right around.
Inside the sleeping quarters that were still standing, the walls and windows were splattered with blood. I pulled out my camera and started to take pictures of the crime scene, trying as I worked to find a footprint or something—anything—that would help me identify a killer. What had been the motive? What weapon had been used?
Just then, I heard a loud bang from inside the building. I drew my gun and walked cautiously around to the front. Hanging from two chains mounted to the pitched roof at the front was a wooden sign with a name burned into it. I couldn’t tell what the name said, but I was beginning to feel very uneasy about the eeriness of the mountain, and the camp.
Ascending the porch walkway to the door, I turned the knob. No luck. The door was locked. “Damn!” I thought to myself. “Now I have to break down the door.” I pointed my gun at the lock, getting ready to blow it away, but just as I was about to pull the trigger, a crow landed on my gun. Startled, I slapped at the crow with my other hand, and it flew over to the side railing of the porch, where it continued to eye me curiously. “What the hell?” I thought to myself.
I heard the loud bang again coming from inside, so I kicked the door with all my might, and it burst open, hitting the inside wall and then bouncing back a little as a result of the force I’d exerted. As it swung slowly back, it creaked for what seemed like an eternity. Behind me, the crow began to caw loudly. I started to get creeped out—the goose bumps started, and the hair on my arms began to rise once more.
I stepped inside and was greeted by a smell of rotten blood so strong that it stung my nose as I breathed. I walked toward the middle of the large room and found tables, chairs, and other furniture thrown all over the floor. The crime scene started to feel eerie and spooky as I got to the other end of the room, where I encountered a small wolf, which immediately began to growl. My gun was still drawn, so I pointed it at the wolf and waited. Continuing to growl, the wolf arched its shoulders. I didn’t want to shoot the animal, but if it attacked, I would have no choice. I kept my finger on the trigger as I stared into its eyes. After a lengthy stalemate, the wolf eventually backed away, sprinting toward a large hole in the adjoining wall.
I took a deep breath in relief. My nerves were shocked, and I felt I was going to puke. Glancing around, I noticed large pools of blood and what looked like pus all over the floor. I pulled out my camera and started taking more pictures of the gruesome crime scene. The fact that I saw no bodies lying around was a surprise to me. Where were all the bodies? So many questions swirled in my head.
As I turned and looked out the window, I saw that it was close to sundown. “Rodger,” I told myself, “call it a day.” I closed the door as I left the place and headed out toward the main building and the forest beyond. No more than ten feet in front of me, a crow cawed harshly. Looking up at the trees, I saw only darkness, but I heard twigs snapping on the ground—something was coming at me from within the dense brush ahead of me. In a moment, I spotted another wolf, this time a huge one, moseying toward me. The wolf stopped and sat down, put its head down, and then arched its shoulders. Suddenly raising its head, it let loose with a ferocious howl, which startled me. The wolf was about three hundred feet away from me, but it felt as if it were right in front of me. The wolf remained seated, staring at me from a distance. The howl had caused a reaction in the trees, which scared the hell out of me. The trees began to fly up toward the sky. Under my breath, I said, “Those aren’t leaves—they’re crows!”
I started to run toward my car as fast as I could. I was a cop, but not an out-of-shape one. As I ran, I couldn’t resist looking back, and what I saw gave me another shock—all the trees were dead. The crows were flying around me in a frenzy, attacking me and tearing at my skin. These scavengers would devour my body—and my soul. I regretted coming among these creatures.
I finally made it to my car. Having unlocked the doors with my remote, I dived in, slamming the door closed behind me. Momentarily safe from the deadly birds, I took a few deep breaths before putting the key in the ignition. As soon as the car started, I hightailed it back down the mountain as fast as I could. My tires gripped the gravel road as I accelerated and sent rocks flying. Looking into my rearview mirror, I could see the massive swarm of crows flocking toward me. When this flock began forming a gigantic black dog, I started to panic. The crows were out to kill, and it seemed I was their next target. In my rearview mirror, the huge black dog took on immense proportions and jolted swiftly toward me. I could feel my heart pounding as it gained speed and started catching up to me. In another stride or two, the dog, its darkness gone, burst into flames, the fires surrounding its massive body incredible.
I damn near shit my pants as I got to the bottom of the mountain, where another flock of black crows swarmed around my windshield. They met a gruesome demise as they flew into the glass, cracking it and deafening me in the process. My heart jumped with each feathery impact, and I could see blood and guts splatter as they died. I pressed onward, even though my heart felt as if it were about to beat out of my chest. Since I couldn’t see anything through my windshield, I found myself peering through my rearview mirror, which was filled with the massive flaming dog still charging at full speed.
Brainstorming quickly, I decided to pop my car in reverse and nail the fucking thing with my car. I shifted the gear and started to drive in reverse, and although the dog could see my change of direction, it kept running toward the car. I floored the gas pedal and kept on driving, slamming hard into the dog. As I did so, the car started to feel scorching hot, and flames surrounded the car. The last thing I remembered was smoldering fire all around me and hearing an eerie voice saying, “I want your soul! You cannot escape me.”