The closer the night got, the more nervous I became. I made a grilled cheese sandwich. It’s not what I had envisioned for my potential last meal, but there weren’t a lot of options in the kitchen.
Trevor unloaded the backpack. There was one tranquilizer gun, 10 tranquilizer darts, and three larger darts with a metal casing. Those were the poison darts. One dose could wipe out an entire herd of elephants. That was the reason for the metal casing, to avoid accidental breakage. We also packed a first aid kit I found in the bathroom. If last night was any indication how tonight would play out, I wasn’t going to take any chances.
“So, you just shoot the Crog with that and it’s over,” I said pointing to the metal cased darts.
“It’s not that easy. These won’t fit in the gun. The poison will have to be delivered by hand.”
By hand? I would probably lose a hand. How the hell were we going to pull that off? Trevor once again had an idea. I didn’t like any of Trevor’s ideas to his point, so I anguished with what he had in mind. They always seemed to put me in uncomfortable situations. His latest idea was no different. As he suggested, I was to be the bait. He wanted me to wait for the thing to come out and attack. Trevor would shoot the tranquilizer first and then come in with the poison dart for the lethal blow. It sounded simple enough. I just didn’t know if I would be in one piece by the time the poison was delivered.
We decided to leave right after sunset. Sleep would have to wait. Given the opportunity, my body was so wound up with nerves I probably wouldn’t have been able to sleep anyways.
We packed everything away in the backpack. Trevor returned the gun the sheriff had given me. I checked the clip but it only had four rounds remaining. I tucked it in my waistband. As I stepped off the porch, I saw a little girl across the street playing with her dog. She had brown wavy-like hair. She looked at me with her small eyes full of wonderment. She reminded me of when Becky was little.
The air was unusually chilly this August night. The scent of wet grass lofted in the air. Trevor got into the passenger side of my Explorer. I drove down the block and turned right at the corner. When I made the next right, a siren blasted from behind. I checked the rearview mirror and saw a police cruiser with its red and blue flashers.
“What the hell is this? I didn’t do anything.”
“I don’t think it’s for anything that you did but more for what you are about to do.”
I pulled over to the side. In my side mirror, I saw a man in a black three-piece suit walking cautiously toward us. It was not the typical uniform I would expect a police officer to be wearing. My heart was in my throat. The man kept one hand behind his back as he stepped up to the window. I remembered the gun I had wedged in the small of my back and swallowed hard. I rolled down my window.
“Hello, gentlemen. What brings you out this fine evening?” the well-dressed man asked.
“Just taking a drive. Did I do something wrong?”
The well-dressed man offered a smug smile. His greased back hair exposed a deep receding hairline up the middle of his scalp. His eyes were set too close together. His nose was too long and narrow, ending at a curved down point. His lips were small enough that they disappeared into his smile, exposing his exceptionally white teeth.
“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Mayor Tom Hayden.”
“Does the mayor typically go around pulling people over in a police cruiser?” I asked him.
He shook his head.
“I would like to be home now but unfortunately, dear Sheriff Becket was lost to us in the line of duty. I thought you two knew about that.”
He stared at us for a moment as neither one of us offered a word.
“Well, I am all this town has until I can appoint a replacement. So, as I am patrolling the streets of our fair town and ensuring that its citizens are not up to any mischief. Are you up to any mischief tonight?”
His voice had a nasally quality to it. It was hard to take him seriously by voice alone but the icy glare that he cast on us more than made up for it.
“No mischief here. Is there something else we can help you with or can we go now?”
Mayor Hayden leaned into the window. I could smell the garlic he had for dinner. His upper lip arched up and his nose scrunched in. He looked at me and then Trevor. He inhaled deeply as if he were trying to smell if we were lying.
“I know what’s going on. I know what you two have been up to. You need to leave well enough alone. And you, Mr. Moore, should return to where you came from. You don’t belong here. This town doesn’t need any trouble. I will ensure that no trouble befalls this town or its citizens. Mr. Noble, I do hope you have enjoyed your stay in our town but I am sure you must miss Los Angeles. Take this opportunity and do the right thing.”
He straightened himself up. He slid his hands down the length of his suit and smoothed out the wrinkles.
“You both have a glorious evening.”
Mayor Hayden walked back to the police cruiser. I kept the car in idle and watched as he drove away. Trevor started laughing and slapped his hand on his knee.
“What is so funny? I don’t think this is something to laugh about.”
We were losing daylight quickly. And now the town’s mayor was letting us know he was on to us. Trevor, for some reason, didn’t seem bothered by this latest development. I didn’t share his lack of concern for our situation.
“He’s scared. He is trying to intimidate us. After tonight, it won’t matter. Don’t worry about him.”
“What happens to us if we do succeed? What are we going to do about him?”
“He will be dealt with. What he’s doing puts both worlds at risk. Neither side will stand for that.”
The last stretch of sunlight poked behind the mountain’s crest. White and gray clouds fractured the sky. As the sun slid further down, darkness began to sweep in. The beast’s playground would soon be open for business.
We arrived at the park. The grounds were deserted. I wasn’t sure what the plan was. Trevor stared out the window. I gazed at the trees and saw the trail that led up into the woods. It all seemed peaceful.
Sheriff Becket had lost his life in this park less than 24 hours ago and no one knew. I wondered what his family would be told. If I suffered a similar fate, would Mayor Hayden be the one to call my mom? I cringed at the thought of that man talking to her.
Trevor tapped my arm.
“Charlie? We need to get going.”
His voice reflected the solemnness I was feeling at the moment. As I got out of the car, Trevor shot me a quick glance. I wondered if my eyes betrayed the same fear as his did to me.
We walked through the park and stopped at the spot we had last seen Sheriff Becket’s body. Nothing remained from the chaos we saw the night before. I worried that the stillness in the air was a sign of things to come. The night had taken on an ominous feel. I looked at the trees and noticed that not a single branch moved.
“What’s the plan?”
Trevor walked around in a circle. His eyes looked over our surroundings.
“We wait. I’ll take the tranquilizer gun. When it shows up, I will shoot it.”
“Will that work?”
“No. Most likely it will just piss it off.”
“Yeah, pissing it off sounds like a good plan.”
Trevor opened the backpack and took the tranquilizer gun. He gave me one of the metal casings that housed the poison darts.
“If he is focused on you, he won’t see me. If he gets too close, you can try to stick him with the poison. I will come up from behind and whack him with one.”
The sun had completely vanished but the moon was also absent. The sky was clear. The stars twinkled faintly. The thick layers of darkness seemed like they were waiting in anticipation for the carnage that was sure to follow. It was probably just my imagination again but I knew that Death was coming over to borrow some sugar. I just hope that he left empty-handed.
Something rustled in the brush to our right. I stepped back. Trevor moved to a nest of trees twenty feet away, leaving me standing alone in the middle of the park. My eyes watched the tree tops, not wanting to incur a similar fate as Sheriff Becket. I once again returned my attention to the rustling brush. Someone or something was moving slowly.
I felt like I was in a horror movie during the part where some dumb teenage kid heard a scary noise and then asked if anyone was there. The exception was, I was playing the role of the teenage kid and I wanted to know who was out there. I pointed the beam of my flashlight at the brush and the noise suddenly ceased. There were no shapes or shadows to be seen in the dark thicket. I held my breath.
Another few moments of stillness and I moved my beam from the brush. Whatever was there, if anything, remained still. I felt like an idiot standing in the open park. Every once in a while, I peeked up at the trees to ensure nothing was going to drop down on me. My heart was jumping through my chest. Every snap, crack, and pop had me turning in all directions.
“Do you see anything?” Trevor called out from behind me.
“No. But I hear everything. Do you think your senses are heightened when you’re scared? Maybe scaring people who have hearing deficiencies could help them recapture their hearing. Because I hear everything.”
“Let’s keep quiet.”
I checked my phone and it was a little before 9 pm. How long did I have to stand like a loaf? The moment I looked down to put my phone in my pocket, something moved fast to my left. I pivoted too quickly and the flashlight slipped out of my hand. I froze. With no added help from the missing moon, I could barely see five feet in front of me.
I wasn’t alone. This, though, felt different. If it were the beast, I would have heard something menacing before it tore my heart out. I looked down and saw the beam of the flashlight from the corner of my eye. I was being watched.
A quick crunch of earth exposed my visitor’s presence. I did what only I could do at that moment. I lunged to my left in the direction of the sound with both arms extended. Failing to find anything to grab, I fell flat on the hard earth. Turning onto my back, I felt the first, painful, knock, directly into my rib cage. I cried out more from shock than from pain. My arm had deflected most of the blow. I rolled away as fast as I could. The unknown visitor was on me again. Another blow to my back sent thunderbolts riding down my spine.
“You son of a bitch!”
A familiar voice floated above my ear. I threw a quick stab of my elbow in the direction of the voice and hit pay dirt. The voice squawked out in pain. I got onto my knees. The silhouette before me was bent over. I led with a right cross and walloped something hard but it didn’t fall. What was happening, I wondered? Who the hell was this? I stopped immediately as a bright light exploded in my eyes. My hands were up, trying to deflect the light.
My back hurt. My side hurt. I back peddled. I peeked around my hands to get a glimpse of my faceless attacker. Ten feet separated me from the light. The only thing that kept me still was the fact that I didn’t know who I was dealing with. I was careful not to make any sudden movements. Then another thought occurred to me. Where was Trevor? Maybe he was sneaking up from behind.
The light quivered in front of me. I peered left and then right around my hand but still couldn’t see anything but the damn blazing light. But I heard the breathing. It was fast, mixed in with a few grunts.
“I don’t know who you are, but you should leave. I don’t want any trouble.”
Going with the soft approach was more of an instinct than a plan. I should have said something more threatening and cursed at the top of my lungs. The more I stared at the dancing light in front of me, the more I suspected that the person holding it was just as scared as me. I stepped forward.
“Not another step.”
It was a man. Out of breath. And his voice had a familiar tone to it. Where had I heard it before? It was recent. Real recent. Then it clicked.
“Mayor Hayden? Is this how you treat all visitors to your town?”
The light moved away from my eyes.
“You shouldn’t be out here. It’s not safe for you.” Mayor Hayden’s voice carried a mocking tone.
“So you attack me as a way of protecting me? I don’t think I follow your logic.”
“Desperate times call for desperate actions. You should know that more than most, based on the past couple of days.”
He was keeping tabs on me. This town was creepy enough as it was, but I wondered if he had cameras hidden all over, to keep an eye on its residents.
“You’re a creepy man, Mr. Mayor.”
He laughed. I could see that he was rubbing his jaw. I felt a small amount of pride.
“Ah, well, I’ve been called worse. I don’t think you know what’s at stake here. I don’t have time to tell you but just know that our future hinges on what you choose to do tonight.”
The end of the world. Apocalyptic talk that has driven Hollywood for decades has now made its way into my life. Great.
“I’m afraid you just might be right about that, Mr. Mayor. See, my actions, are aimed at saving lives.”
“Are you sure about that, Mr. Noble?”
A small breeze grazed across my skin and with it, a familiar foul scent emerged. The Crog was nearby. I looked around but continued the conversation.
“Yeah, pretty sure. See, the thing with two worlds converging on themselves, really only leaves one outcome. Besides, this thing that’s out here, that you have been feeding, wants to move on to bigger food. People are dying. And they will continue to die unless this thing is stopped.”
“My, my, dear Mr. Noble. What has Mr. Moore been filling your head with? Two worlds converging? See, their world is dying. And ours, here, is thriving. Those people want to take our world from us. I am merely protecting our world. I would figure you would be on board with that. As far as what’s out here tonight, I wouldn’t worry about that. I think the fate of the world can do with some sacrifices.”
I spun around as I noticed the scent grow stronger. The mayor was more delusional than I first thought. He was trying to keep me distracted until the Crog was ready to attack.
I wondered why he wasn’t afraid of it. As I came back to face him, I understood. The Crog was on all fours at his side like a guard dog. Mayor Hayden patted its ugly head. The menacing look in its eyes told me more than I cared to know of its intentions. I reached in my back pocket for the poison dart, but it wasn’t there. Neither was the gun. I took a step back and surveyed the ground, but without my flashlight, it was a fruitless effort.
“I bet you weren’t expecting this? See, this thing right here,” he said as he stroked the beast’s head, “is as calm as your average dog. But when provoked, he will tear you limb from limb.”
I took a couple more steps back. My hands were down at my sides. I tried to retrace my steps, sweeping my feet along the ground, subtlety. The dart and the gun had to be nearby. I don’t know what Trevor was waiting for but I was beginning to think he didn’t have my back. I had to keep Mayor Hayden talking.
“So the sheriff? Was that your idea to sick your pet on him like that? And me? Or is he just a rabid dog?”
He let out a big chuckle. He and the beast both took a step closer. If Trevor was going to make a move, I was hoping that it was going to be soon. Three more slow steps back. I swept my left foot around me and found something on the ground. I moved my foot a little bit more and determined it was only a rock.
“The sheriff had to go. He knew too much. But sadly, I cannot take credit for that one. Mr. Moore was the one I was after. The sheriff was just at the wrong place at the wrong time. But it’s funny how things worked out. Speaking of Mr. Moore, where is he hiding?”
“Mr. Moore? Oh, Trevor? Come out, come out, wherever you are.” The mayor’s voice sang.
Pointing to the woods, I told him he went up the trail to try to lure the Crog out. They took another step closer. Moving my right foot around, I hit something. Another swipe of the foot and I was certain it was the gun.
“That’s a pity. I was hoping to take both of you out together. Oh, well. One now and one for later, I suppose.”
“What did you mean that their world is dying? You’re from their world. If your world is dying, wouldn’t you want to save it? Save your family?”
“With all the darkness over there, it is ripping their world apart. Have you ever met a werewolf? How about a blood sucking vampire? I know Mr. Moore told you that those are the realities over there. But they are not what you would think. Not the way they you know them from movies or books. A vampire afraid of garlic? A werewolf that only turns on a full moon. Silly fantasy.”
He paused. I found myself listening with deep interest. I didn’t know if I believed him but the more he talked, the longer I lived. He took a breath and then continued.
“What Mr. Moore didn’t tell you is that being cursed, as they say, is the norm over there. People like you are becoming extinct. It’s not that people are being killed by these things. No, quite the opposite. The world, however, just doesn’t have room for people. Their lifespan is not what it’s like over here. Trevor wants to bring people over there, in hopes of saving his world. Why do you think your sister is there?”
What did he know about Becky? He was trying to get into my head. I couldn’t let that happen. He smiled at my obvious frustration. He had hit a nerve and he knew it. The time was now. I reached down quickly and swooped up the gun. I held it in both hands and took aim. The mayor and his beast had vanished in a matter of seconds. How was that possible? Then I heard Trevor scream.