I paced around the living room. Waiting. I hated to wait but what else could I do. Venturing out into the woods again didn’t seem like the best idea unless I had a plan, which I didn’t. I had to talk to Trevor. He needed to come clean about what he knew. Then there was the sheriff. I wasn’t looking forward to that conversation. I just hope I got a chance to talk to Trevor before the sheriff showed up.
After pacing around the living room, which seemed like an eternity, I decided not to wear out my sister’s carpet any longer. I went to the hall closet and began to search it. There wasn’t anything I was looking for in particular, but rather something to occupy my time. There was a photo album on the top shelf. I pulled it out and went to the couch.
The first page it opened to was a picture of my sister and me outside our old house. I must have been nine years old when the picture was taken. My sister was hugging my neck. It looked like she was half hugging, half strangling me. I paged through more memories of our childhood until one picture made me stop. It was an image of my father and not an old picture at that. It was a recent one. The man was barely recognizable. His face had gained weight. The skin below each eye was purple. Deep lines extended out from the corner of his eyes. He looked weathered.
I looked away from the photo for a moment. Seeing my father’s face staring back at me stirred up memories I wasn’t ready for. This wasn’t the time to start thinking about the past. I closed the album with a snap on my father’s hardened face.
I put the photo album back on the top shelf and closed the closet. There was a knock at the front door. It must be Trevor. When I opened the door, I was shocked to see Sheriff Becket. He was standing on the porch wearing blue jeans, a wrinkled white tee shirt, brown boots, and a six pack of beer. This sure turned strange quickly.
“I take it that this is not an official visit,” I said pointing to the six back in his hand.
“That’s one way of looking at it. Can I come in?”
I stepped to the side and waved him in. The tiny hairs on the back of my neck were standing up again. Never a good sign. I looked outside and saw an old looking Honda Civic at the curb. At least, if Trevor did come by, he wouldn’t be scared off by seeing a police cruiser parked out front.
We stepped into the living room. Sheriff Becket took the couch. I have come to despise that couch for its unholy lumpiness, so I chose the recliner. He handed me a beer and grabbed one for himself. He looked tired.
You can tell when a person was running on fumes until there was nothing left, like pulling an all-nighter and then failing to sleep for another ten or so hours. His face was pale. Whiskers were sprouting out of the lower half of his face. He had deep bags under his bloodshot eyes.
“Is this about my sister? If it is, you can tell me. I can take it. What I can’t take, is all of this not knowing.”
The sheriff moved up into his seat and took a full swallow of beer. A small trickle ran down the side of his mouth which he wiped away with his hand. The room was silent and a faint scent of strawberries hovered in the air. I looked around, not sure where the aroma was coming from until I saw the label on the beer in the sheriff’s hand. Strawberry Ale. I hadn’t noticed it before since mine remained untouched in my hand.
“Charlie, despite what you may think, I don’t know what happened to your sister. I like her. She has spunk. I see that in you, too. That is kind of the reason why I am here.”
“My sister came to you, told you about the animals she found. She saw you dispose of them. Yet, you never investigated it.”
I tried to search his eyes. I was looking for some sort of acknowledgment, a sign that would tell me what side he was really on. He looked down and exhaled. He didn’t deny it.
“Your sister came to me and told me what she found. A pile of animals. Dead dogs, cats, rabbits, and many of others. More than thirty of them. I thought, well, I didn’t know what to think. I told her I would look into it.”
“She was right. They were there. But you cleaned it up. Why?”
I can’t believe how bold I was. This was an officer of the law. I had never had so much as a traffic ticket in my life, and now I am grilling a sheriff. What was I thinking? To my defense, though, he didn’t look or act like a sheriff at the moment. He seemed defeated, wounded, lost and I took that as my opportunity to learn the truth.
“When I found them, they were just as she said they were. But as I was examining them, I noticed something disturbing. The animals had not died viciously. They were killed by a person. The bodies were too neat. Whoever dumped them in that spot most likely was responsible for killing them, too.”
A person killed all those animals? But why? Was there some freak sneaking around town kidnapping animals and killing them for sport? I caught something in the sheriff’s eyes that led me to my next question.
“Do you think Trevor is the one killing the animals? Is that why you are interested in him?”
“He is not from around here. Up until a month ago, no one had ever seen him before. I think he knows something. But I do not believe that he is behind the animal killings. I have another suspect in mind for that.”
“You know who killed the animals? Why don’t you arrest them?”
He took another long swallow of beer. He shifted in his seat. He drained the last contents of the beer and put the empty bottle on the table. His looked up at me.
“It’s more complicated than that. I don’t have proof. I don’t have a motive. What I do have can’t be used in a court of law. I need to wait.”
It was starting to make sense now. It was a small town. He knew the person. Maybe a friend. If this person found out about Becky going to the police, he may have done something to her. The sheriff wanted me to know without actually accusing someone. But if this was true, what did he want me to do about it. Did he expect me to investigate it so he wouldn’t have to?
“Becky found out who it was? This person then came after Becky? Who is he, sheriff?”
I found myself on my feet, looking down at him. My heart was racing. I almost threw the bottle of beer against the wall. He looked up at me shaking his head.
“I don’t know if Becky suspected anyone. I’m not sure if this has anything to do with her disappearance. What I am saying is, I think Becky was onto something, about the woods. You didn’t get all scratched up falling out of bed. And I don’t think those animals were just left out there as a dumping ground. They were left out there for something to find them.”
My head began spinning. Was someone offering these animals as food for whatever was in the woods? I thought about telling him what happened to me in the woods. The strange beast that chased I encountered last night. But what could I tell him? I never got a good look at it and I don’t know if the thing with the animals was really connected to it. I had too many questions I needed answers to. When the time was right, I would tell the sheriff.
“Why would someone do that?”
The sheriff rose to his feet and straightened his shirt. I looked at him for a moment. He pulled out a gun from behind his back. I took a step back. He held it out for me, handle side first. I looked at it for a moment, unsure what he was trying to do.
“Take it. I know you want answers. I want them too. Something is not right here and until we can figure it out, you might need a little protection. If you go up into the woods again, you are going to need something to defend yourself.”
We stared at each other for a moment. A quiet understanding was reached. By taking the gun, I was acknowledging that there was something out there that neither one of us could explain. Something that didn’t belong there.
There was also the possibility that someone in town was aware of this thing and baiting it on by providing it with offerings. If Becky asked the wrong person questions about the thing in the woods, that could have led to her disappearance.
I took the gun. The sheriff walked to the door but stopped just before opening it.
“Tell no one about this. This stays between us. You can’t trust anyone. I have a feeling this is only going to get worse.”