HOWLERS

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holy water...or something like it...

Whatever power the church possessed that comforted Gail in her sleep did absolutely nothing for her fibromyalgia when she woke up in utter agony to a blaring alarm on a narrow church pew at 4:00 am. Slowly she reached for her phone to quell the blast of Rob Zombie’s ‘Scum of the Earth’ after discovering that moaning ‘Stooooop.....shut uuup.....’ repeatedly doesn’t work as well as actually shutting it off. By the time she realized the error in her approach, Olivia had sat up in her pew and was stretching, arms out wide.

“Kill that thing!” she groaned, managing to pry one eye open, “God, I think someone kicked my ass while I was sleeping.”

“I did ’cause you won’t stop bitching,” said Gail in that early-morning-just-woke-up grumbling kind of voice as she shut off the alarm, “Come on, we gotta get outta here and back to the car.”

Gail sat up very, very slowly, easing into a seated position, wondering if this is what steel joints would feel, if they could, when they’re rusted up and forced to move. Her Pericodin was in her purse; her purse was in the car, which was farther than she felt she could make it without medication.

Too early for irony this rich and thick......

She leaned back to slide her phone into the right front pocket of her jeans. Olivia had already set about the task of gathering everything up, but when she reached for the witchboard to put it in Gail’s backpack, she had a sudden feeling of unnameable dread and pulled her hand back, hesitant to touch it. Keep them separate, the voice had said. She pulled Gail’s backpack up closer and looked inside, finding the planchette and moving it to a large pocket in front. The board went back into the laptop compartment in which it had resided since Gail acquired it. By this time Gail had made her way to the side door through which they had entered the night before and was peering out, looking in every direction for signs of anyone stirring. No cars, no one on the sidewalks, only that one lone streetlight burning faintly in the cold mist of the morning.

“Liv, come on. This is as good as it’s gonna get,” Gail whispered, though she didn’t know why, being as nobody was out and about at this hour. “We should be able to get to the car without anyone knowing we were here.”

“OK, I got everything together here,” said Olivia, who had since donned her jacket and had her camera bag over one shoulder and Gail’s backpack over the other. Gail slipped into her jacket and eased the door open, looking left, right, forward and even up. They stepped out into the wet early morning air and began to make their way toward the back of the old brick building. Gail took her keys out of her pocket and readied the key for the door locks, keeping an eye out for anyone who might sneak up on them and ask questions they didn’t want to answer. Luck and the forgiving smallness of Derby Cross afforded them a clear path to Gail’s car, a quick load-up, and successful getaway. The ride back to the motel was short and quiet, both longing only to get into a real bed for a few more hours of restful sleep.

Finally they were parked in front of that familiar door again. Gail opened a bottle of water from her backpack to take an extra dose before going inside. Olivia had already gathered the bags and was waiting at the door, eyes closed with her head against the wall. Gail made her way to the door, produced the key and unlocked it. There they were; beds, blankets, pillows, the whole nine yards, and they never looked better.

Olivia let her load slip to the floor and walked over to her bed, tossing her jacket onto it then slipping under the covers and curling up, shoes and all. Gail locked the door behind her and eased herself down onto her bed, face down on top of the covers. Her eyelids felt weighted, closing slowly until she felt herself beginning to drift away, closer and closer to that peaceful abyss where blissful REM sleep cocoons the human mind and body in tranquility and gives us reprieve from the stresses of the previous waking hours when BAM BAM BAM!!

Someone knocked hard on the door and Gail’s bloodshot eyes sprang open when her heart leapt into high-speed pounding from the sudden burst of noise, which came again in the same pattern of three.

“Are you fuckin’ kidding me?” she groaned, rolling over onto her back.

“Who the hell could that possibly be?” Olivia asked in a severely irritated tone, pulling the covers up over her head. Gail struggled to pull it together enough to get up and answer the door, then suddenly a shining epiphany pierced the foggy veil of sleep deprivation; what if it was someone with something, anything that would help? She slid out of bed and went over to the door, and unlocked it, cracking it open to find Sheriff Whaley’s face behind it.

“Ladies, I apologize for coming by at this hour, but I thought this might be a big break in your case. I just got a call from Evert Earwood, and he says there’s a pack of wolves, big ‘uns, runnin’ in and out of the trees around his farm, ‘cross the fields an’ what-not!” he said, trying to keep his excitement and coinciding fear contained, “I figger this might be the best chance to get up there and see the sons-o’-bitches been causin’ all this bloodshed here lately.”

Olivia was now awake and looking at Gail, hoping she was as willing to sacrifice their missed sleep as she was to get a look at these things. Gail was just squinting at Sheriff Whaley with a look that he couldn’t quite interpret.

“He’s got what little livestock he has left locked up in the barn right now. Accordin’ to Evert, right now they’re just out there raisin’ hell and makin’ a lotta noise. He’s still concerned, o’ course. All that could change in a heartbeat, plus he’s got kids out there, y’know. I have to go out there, one way or another, so the invite stands, ladies.”

Gail’s eyes were open now and she was wide awake, heart racing a bit after having heard the sheriff’s story.

“Liv, get your …..”

Olivia was already up, jacket on, camera bag on her shoulder. Minutes later, they were on the road to the Earwood farm, with Sheriff Whaley driving a little faster than Gail preferred. He took it down about ten miles per hour when she politely commented on how much rougher the road felt when going 30 mph over the speed limit. He apologized with an embarrassed smile and slowed down some, but his anxiety was apparently difficult to master while behind the wheel. Had it not been for his lead foot, however, they may have missed the spectacle taking place upon their arrival. All three stepped from the vehicle and almost stumbled to the ground, not one of them paying a single shred of attention to where their feet were landing. All their attention was focused on the scene playing out under the brilliant moonlight in the fields around Evert Earwood’s barn.

What remained of the barn doors was barely hanging on by twisted hinges, the boards broken and deeply scratched as if raked by giant clawed hands, very much like the wounds in almost every corpse at every scene that had been investigated thus far. Sheep, pigs, cows and one chestnut horse were running around the farm in a full-on panic, being chased by something they had only speculated about until this very moment. Sheriff Whaley was hoping for the huge wolves that had been reported. Evert, it turned out, thought if he told the sheriff’s office that Howlers were loose, he wouldn’t come. Gail and Olivia knew what to expect, but now that they could see them, things got just a little too real. They looked like wolves, alright, but not the kind one sees on the nature channel. They were more...humanoid, running on four legs just above the ground, stopping long enough to stand up on their hind legs and howl long and loud, and almost transparent, no absolute outline. A window in the house far across the field slid open, and Evert Earwood stuck his head out of it.

“See, Herbert? I told ya! I told ya weeks ago them damned Howlers were loose! Do somethin’!” he yelled, pointing out toward his barn.

“Well what the fuck would you suggest, Evert? Call the goddamn dog pound?” yelled Sheriff Whaley, forgetting for a moment that were not trying to get the Howlers’ attention.

“How the hell should I know, Herbert? You’re the sheriff, just...do...somethin’, man, shit!” bellowed Earwood angrily before ducking back inside and slamming the window shut. His words fell on deaf ears, the three now watching the Howlers chase down the farm animals and slaughter them one by one. With huge, savage bites they would rip out chunks of flesh, shredding it up with their teeth, then gulping it down only to have the mangled mass of skin and meat drop to the ground in a pile of bloody slop. If Gail and Olivia had been able to think straight and not just look on in horror, they could have been putting all the pieces together at this moment. Olivia was the first to have a moment of clarity and spoke in a whisper, her voice trembling, “He said he told you about this, sheriff. What did he mean by that? You knew about these...things? Fuck, man! That would’ve....God!”

“Well, I’m sorry, Ms. Scott,” Sheriff Whaley whispered back, “I just couldn’t have y’all thinkin’ I was some kinda nutjob! Hell, I’m watchin’ this shit and I don’t believe it! ‘Bout everybody up in this part o’ Georgia knows about the Howlers, just people don’t talk about it so much ’cause they’re afraid they’ll stir ‘em up or somethin’, same reason nobody talks about Elsie Gryder!”

Gail wheeled around to face the sheriff, an expression of angered shock on her face.

“Jesus, man! Were you gonna tell us anything you knew about this?”

“Well, like I said, Ms. Stevens, I didn’t want you two to think I’d lost my mind! Who the hell would believe all that stuff, anyway? I’da never guessed two city girls like y’all would go for it. ‘Sides, ya talked to Barnett James, right? What’s it matter if I knew an’ didn’t say nothin’? I don’t know a damned thing about her that’d be any help to ya, honestly!” He was finding hard to maintain a whisper, but he wasn’t about to raise his voice and get the Howlers’ attention. Gail looked Sheriff Whaley right in his eyes.

“Trust me when I tell you, Sheriff Herbert Whaley, I know more about Elsie Gryder than I ever wanted to!”

“SOMEBODY CALL MY NAME?”

That hollow, raspy, displaced voice came as though over a loudspeaker and pierced Gail’s being like thousands of icicles raining down on her all at once. Every Howler in the fields stopped what they were doing and looked up to the night sky as a figure came swooping down from amongst the trees at the edge of the farm, following its path as it rocketed toward the place where the three were standing, all the spirit creatures now fully aware of their presence. All eyes widened, all breathing ceased as all three, in perfect harmony, whispered, “Oooooh SHIT.........”

Elsie hovered right above the ground only yards away, grinning that dead, black-toothed grin of hers. She looked back over her shoulder, then right at Gail and cocked her head, pointing at her.

“They’s outta control, girly, long as you got my board. They been released, see? Can’t be called down, put back, nothin’. Guess they’ll just run wild ‘til y’ gimme that board back, now won’t they?”

Gail was paralyzed with fear, unable to speak or move as Elsie moved closer to her.

“Wanna hear a secret, missy? I can’t send ’em back without the board, tha’s true, but they still treat me as master. HOWLERS!! GIT ’EM!!”

With those words, the ghost-wolves all leapt in the direction of Sheriff Whaley’s SUV and came bounding through the air toward them. Elsie shrieked with delight and shot up into the air to watch Gail, Olivia and the sheriff scramble back into the vehicle. Sheriff Whaley fired it up, hit the gas, fishtailed it in the dirt driveway and bolted back down the road, with the entire pack of Howlers in the field giving chase. They bit at the bumpers, slammed themselves into the sides, rocking the SUV so hard everyone screamed for fear it would tip over. Nobody cared how fast the sheriff drove now, especially the sheriff, and his pursuit training really came in handy as he slid through turns, shot down small straightaways, the Howlers staying right with him and continuing their assault on the vehicle all the way to the paved road. The morning sun was breaking the tree line, and when they passed into it, they could all be heard yelping and howling, pulling back into the shadows of the woods. Suddenly all that could be heard was the engine and the faint roar of off-road tires on pavement.

There was a great gasping for air as everyone now dared to breathe. A look back through the windshield confirmed that their attackers were indeed nowhere to be seen as the morning became brighter and the sun higher. No one spoke until they pulled up in front of the police station, where Olivia was the first to break the silence.

“All the way up there, I was thinking I couldn’t wait to get back here and go back to bed. Now I don’t think I could sleep if I were anesthetized.”

Sheriff Whaley still had a white-knuckle grip on his steering wheel. Gail noticed the terror in his eyes and placed her hand on his, causing him to blink repeatedly, breaking his blank stare.

“Ms. Stevens, I’m...I’m just so...so sorry...I was just hoping it wasn’t..couldn’t be them. It is, though, i’n’t it? Heard about ’em since I was little, didn’t know whether to believe it or not. I sure as shit believe it now, I tell ya that much!”

“We know how to destroy Elsie, Sheriff,”said Gail, trying to sound reassuring through her facade of collected coolness, “but we need help. We have to find holy water, maybe something else, I don’t know, but something to consecrate her body, then burn it.”

“The closest Catholic church is in Crow’s Rest, ain’t it?” asked Sheriff Whaley.

“Yes, yes it is,” replied Gail, gaining some semblance of genuine calm upon focusing on ridding the world of Elsie Gryder forever, “That’s why we need to find a substitute, anything that will bless her remains.”

“How about a prayer cloth?” asked Olivia, leaning forward from the back seat.

“How could we..”

“We get the minister from the church to do whatever it is he does that makes a plain cloth into a prayer cloth to, I dunno, say a bedsheet. We spread it over her body, do the ritual or whatever it is we have to do, and then set it all on fire. Would that do it?”

Sheriff Whaley looked thoughtful for a moment, then it seemed something had dawned on him.

“Now if I recall correctly, Reverend Swafford uses anointing oil to bless prayer cloths, to bless folks’ homes ‘n whatnot. Seems to me y’ might be able to use the oil itself. We could prob’ly get it right now if we drive on over to his place. He lives two streets over from here, on Old Brass Bell Drive.”

“What do we tell him? ‘Sorry to bother you, Reverend, but we need some anointing oil to help us kill the ghost of a dead witch so she can’t sic her werewolf ghosts on the townsfolk’. He’ll have us arrested.”

Sheriff Whaley looked at Olivia in sarcastic disbelief. Gail half-smiled.

“Oh, yeah.”

“Arrested by who, exactly? To answer your question, though, yes, that is exactly what you tell him. He knows about Elsie Gryder same as ev’r’one else ‘round here, and knows what she’s capable of, even dead. I’d lay odds he knows what to do about this consecratin’ business as well. Now let’s get over there before he leaves for the day. Last Sunday he said he was goin’ to Crow’s Rest for a seminar on...on uh...y’know what, it doesn’t matter what it’s on, fact is he’s gonna be leavin’ soon and we need that oil.” With that, Sheriff Whaley started the engine, dropped it into reverse to back out, then headed for Old Brass Bell Drive and Reverend Swafford’s house. It was a quick ride to a short street and a small yellow house with light brown shutters. A fieldstone pathway led the three to the front porch, where Sheriff Whaley knocked on the door.

“Let me talk to him, ok?” said Sheriff Whaley, keeping his voice low, “He’s a mite leery of outsiders after that incident with some o’ them bikers I told y’all about before. I don’t think he got over that time they hauled him out into the street and took a.....Reverend! How are ya this mornin’, sir?”

The door had swung open just as the sheriff was getting to what showed promise as being the good part. Out stepped a tall, slender older gentleman with close-cut white hair, his long ears reddish at the lower lobes. The familiar scent of biscuits and gravy wafted out onto the porch and immediately caught Gail’s attention, making her stomach rumble with protest at still being empty. From somewhere in the house, an elderly woman’s voice called out, “Who’s out there, Horace?”

“It’s Herbert Whaley, Maudine. Be back in shortly.”

“Tell him I said ‘hey’!”

“I will, Maudine.” He turned his attention back to the sheriff.

“Mornin’ Herbert. Somethin’ I can do for ya maybe?” said the reverend with a smile, adjusting his thick glasses and peering around Sheriff Whaley. “These two friends of yours?”

“Oh, um, yes sir, Rev. This is Gail Stevens and Olivia Scott. They’re from the Wildlife Center of Northern Georgia. They’d been investigatin’ the Gryder’s Cove Massacre and the livestock slaughters around here, tryin’ to figure out if we maybe had a rogue wildcat or bear...maybe a large wolf or two.” The sheriff’s eyes caught the preacher’s with a knowing look. Rev. Swafford exhaled heavily and rubbed the back of his neck.

“My Lord above, Herbert. Not them, I hope. Not her.”

“’Fraid so, Rev. Seems those kids that got killed up in Gryder’s Cove stirred Elsie up again, and this time they managed to find that evil witchboard of hers. These young ladies have found a way to put her down for good this time, but they need a little help from you, sir.”

“Wh-what could I do?” asked the reverend, his face paling slightly as he spoke, his hand partially over his mouth.

“Well, sir, they need to consecrate her remains up there in that old house, then destroy ‘em. Now, I don’t know how they found out, but it don’t much matter, I figger, so long as they get rid of Elsie once an’ for all. Nobody around here’s ever had the stones to try it, so it can’t hurt to let ‘em try. In order to do it, though, they’re gonna need some anointin’ oil, bein’ as holy water’s kinda scarce around here.”

Rev. Swafford looked out in to his yard, to the sky, anywhere but at the sheriff and rubbed the back of his neck again.

“You sure about this, Herbert? Nobody’s ever gone head to head with Elsie Gryder and lived to tell about it. What makes these two so special?”

He didn’t bother to lower his voice or mask his condescending tone. Gail, patently irritated by his arrogance, stepped forward and looked the good reverend right in his eyes and sternly stated, “We have the board.”

Rev. Swafford’s eyes popped open wide and he stumbled backward, reaching for the doorknob and finding only air.

“You brought that accursed thing here, to my home?”

“No, but it is the key to doing what you and others have obviously failed to do. Now I know the secret, and I mean to use it. Now, will you help us or not?”

Rev. Swafford stood staring into Gail’s eyes for a moment, searching them for something. He found it, beyond her eyes, somewhere in her soul, and answered gently.

“Yes, Ms. Stevens, yes I will. Y’all come on in, now. Mrs. Swafford does like comp’ny for breakfast. Join us, please.”

He was surely correct about that. His wife looked just like a little grandma one might see on the packaging of some delicious snack cakes or similar food product; fluffy white hair, little rectangular glasses, pink cheeks, the whole nine yards. She showed everyone to the dining area on the other side of her huge kitchen and sat them down one by one, then made her way over to the oven and pulled out a pan of perfectly baked biscuits. The scent filled the room and mixed with the aroma of the sausage gravy set to Warm on the stovetop, and everyone’s stomach began to protest that empty feeling. Rev. Swafford led them in grace after the biscuits, gravy, plump sausages, decanter of hot black coffee and pitcher of milk had been set on the table and Mrs. Swafford had taken her seat at the end opposite her husband. Gail was hoping that the previous subject matter would stay out on the porch where they left it, and to her relief, Rev. Swafford seemed content to do so, perhaps so as not to upset his wife. Whatever the reason, Gail, Olivia and Sheriff Whaley were certainly glad he did.

Plates were passed, glasses filled, and forks clinked a tiny symphony atop the table as everyone made short work of the magnificent meal Mrs. Swafford had prepared. They made small talk about when Sheriff Whaley was a punk kid, how church straightened him right out, and led him to his present respectable position in law enforcement, how so little had changed over the years, and how they liked it that way. Mrs. Swafford asked Gail and Olivia about where they were from, and talked about one of her friends that moved there a few years back to be with her daughter’s family. Gail was so pleased to meet someone as wonderful as Maudine Swafford in the midst of all this insanity. Even Horace turned out to be a surprisingly sweet man. Perhaps he only came across the way he did because he was as fear-stricken as anyone who knew anything about that old dead witch. All the gravy was gone, the plate of sausages empty, and everyone at the table was slathering the last of the biscuits in Mrs. Swafford’s homemade strawberry preserves. Horace helped her clear the dishes, then they both sat back down, having refilled the coffee decanter and offered it up to everyone.

“Now then, if I’m not mistaken, I heard y’all folks talkin’ about Elsie Gryder out there, did I not?” said Mrs. Swafford, smiling at Gail and her husband in turn. Mouths dropped open and glances were exchanged all around the table before the answer came. It was the reverend who decided to speak up.

“Yes’m, Maudine, we surely were. These young ladies here think they may have found a way to get us shed of that pestilence for good if I can get ‘em some anointin’ oil. I got some right out there in the office.”

He gestured to the door on the other side of the living room to the left of the front door. Mrs. Swafford looked at both women, one then the other.

“Lord, I hope they can. I’m ‘bout sick o’ livin’ in fear o’ her comin’ back again,” she said , “I knew her a little bit, long time ago, and the only words for her are ones my love for the Lord won’t allow me to use!”

Everyone nodded in silent agreement. The reverend took another bite of his biscuit, sipped at his coffee, and looked reflectively at his office door.

“I imagine you ladies wanna get started soon as possible. Ms. Stevens, if you’ll come with me, please, I believe I can get ya what ya need to do what it is the Lord has obviously called on ya to do. Maudine, maybe you might like to entertain our guests in the livin’ room?”

“Oh, yes, yes I would, Horace! That sounds lovely!” she answered enthusiastically. Gail and Rev. Swafford walked toward his office while Mrs. Swafford and the others adjourned to the living room and sat on the plush forest green couches that faced each other from either side of a heavy oak coffee table. Horace opened the door to his office and motioned Gail inside, then followed, pausing for a moment to look on at his wife pulling a huge photo album from the drawer under the coffee table and opening it to show their guests. He allowed himself a little smile, knowing that what he did, he did for her as well as the entire town. Hell, the whole county, for that matter. He shut the door behind him and began to rummage through the top drawer of his enormous cherrywood desk. It must have been at least 5′x8′, brass pulls, knobs and corner pieces, and the most elaborate scrollwork burned into the wood about a quarter-inch out from the edges from corner to corner. The massive top was neatly arranged with pen and pencil holders, envelopes, sticky notes, college-ruled loose leaf paper, bins of all kinds, pictures of Mrs. Swafford and what she assumed to be their children at various ages, and several religious knick-knacks. Her concentration on the small silver crucified Christ that stared back at her, making her feely oddly guilty, was broken suddenly by a loud ‘AHA!’ from Rev. Swafford. He produced a small green bottle and placed it on the desk in front of Gail.

“That’s what we need right there,” he beamed, quite glad to have found it, “That oughtta do what needs doin’ well enough.”

“Is that gonna be enough?” asked Gail, picking up the bottle and sloshing its contents around a little bit.

“Trust me, Ms. Stevens, I’d give ya a firetruck full of it if I thought you needed it. That’ll do it, alright,” he said, his voice confident and reassuring, “Now, there’s the matter of the actual consecration. You need the right words to say over her remains before and after you use the oil. There’s certain prayer you can use, but I think, in this case, you might need a little more than that. God forgive me for sayin’ it, but it’s the truth. Do you know a gentleman by the name of Barnett James?”

“I’ve met him, yes,” said Gail, smiling to herself as she remembered that ruggedly handsome face, “when we first came up here, after the Gryder’s Cove Massacre.”

“That was horrible, just horrible,” said Rev. Swafford, sitting slowly in the big burgundy leather chair behind the desk, “Awful thing to happen to anyone, especially young folks like them. Don’t matter none to me they were up there drinkin’. Hell, you heard me talkin’ ‘bout Herbert’s younger days out there in the dinin’ room. Ain’t nobody perfect. I’d been talkin’ with a couple o’ them kids, counselin’ ‘em, tryin’ to get ’em on the right path. They were good kids at heart, all of ’em.”

He hung his head for a moment, then resumed where he left off before the mention of the massacre.

“I won’t lie to ya, Ms. Stevens. I’m just scared outta my wits that somehow my help might be discovered. I gotta protect my wife, my kids that still live ‘round here. That’s why I’m suggestin’ you go an’ see Barnett. He don’t seem to be scared of anythin’.”

“I will, Rev. Swafford. I’ll call him after we leave.” Gail stood up and offered her hand, which Rev. Swafford took gently and placed his other hand over both. “Thank you, Reverend. You’ve been a phenomenal help.”

“It’s been my pleasure, Ms. Stevens. Now y’all need to get goin’ an’ get this thing started. I’ll pray for your victory, that’s about all the help I can be outside o’ givin’ ya the oil. The rest is up to you an’ the Lord.”

Gail smiled at Rev. Swafford softly, and the two walked back into the living room, where Mrs. Swafford was almost at the end of her photo album, and all three were laughing as she told the story behind the picture of her husband with banana pudding all over his hair and clothes. The expression on his face in the photo was priceless, and when they looked up at him when they heard him clear his throat, he had the exact same look on his face, and they couldn’t help but laugh again.

“My oh my, Horace, that looks does suit you so!”

Mrs. Swafford giggled as she wiped away a tear. His face softened up a bit at the sight of his wife of forty-three years so overcome with rollicking laughter. Soon, though, the laughter ceased and everyone was at the door, saying their goodbyes and thank yous.

“Mrs. Swafford, you’ve got to show me how to make those biscuits before I leave for home,” said Olivia as she took the elderly lady’s hand, “I haven’t had any that good since my grandmother passed.” Mrs. Swafford winked at her and smiled.

“You girls take down Elsie Gryder, an’ I’ll show ya how to make the biscuits, the strawberry preserves, an’ anything else you wanna know.”

“Deal!” Olivia shook the hand she was holding, then turned to walk down the porch steps behind Gail and Sheriff Whaley, who had been saying the last goodbyes to Rev. Swafford. They were just a few feet from the SUV when Rev. Swafford called out, “Herbert, don’t be stranger, now. I promised your daddy I’d look out for ya, an’ I mean to do it. We’ll expect ya at service Sunday mornin’!”

Sheriff Whaley waved and smiled, “Yes sir, Rev. I’ll be there, no worries. See ya then.”

The Swaffords returned to the warmth of their living room and shut the front door. For a few more seconds, it all seemed like a fantastic dream. When Gail became aware of the small bottle she was grasping inside her jacket pocket, the reality of why they came here in the first place flooded back into her consciousness. She took it out and looked at it, the wheels in her mind clicking and whirring as she processed all the new information and everything she had wanted to ask but didn’t. They had to get to Barnett’s place, and right now would not be too soon. Exhaustion, however, was winning out, and Gail and Olivia decided that a few hours of sleep was probably best, just to stay sharp, before heading back up the long road to the James residence, so it was back to the motel first. Sleep came easily, and thankfully, quickly, for both women. The sun rose on a day that promised to be the beginning of the end of the troubled times they had stepped into.

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