DARING DECEPTION'S DAEMONS, Book Two in Hidden Danger Beyond Fantasy series

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Chapter 9

Doctor Friend

In my next lucid moment, I saw an IV bottle and a monitor beside a hospital bed. It took a few minutes to realize I was the one in the bed.

A plump, uniformed nurse entered the door. “You’re awake,” she beamed. “How are you feeling?”

“Thirsty. My head hurts. Mouth is dry. What happened to me?”

“The lab report shows someone slipped you a Mickey.”

“A what?”

“Drugs. You were totally out of it when they brought you in here.” The nurse peered closely at the monitor and adjusted a dial.

“Where am I?”

“County General. It’s between Adelphia Valley and Arcadia. Just a small community hospital, but we have some fine doctors on staff. You’re in good hands. Are you hungry?” She had that perky, cheerful voice nurses use without much sincerity. However, her entire being seemed filled with cheer and inspired confidence that all is well.

“Not exactly hungry.” Eating was the farthest thing from my mind at the moment. My mouth felt as like a regiment of soldiers had marched through it wearing muddy boots. “Could I have a glass of water?”

The thought of being drugged made my head whirl. Who would have done such a thing? Why? All I’d had to eat was pie. Pie and cider. The pie came from a bakery. The cider came from. . . who gave me the cider?

What possible motive could any local have for drugging me?

What had I eaten earlier in the day? A cup of soup at the abbey, just before I started getting ready for the barn dance. Someone had access to my room and had taken my compact for an unknown purpose involving cultish activity. Someone at the abbey may have wanted to spike my soup for the same reason. That unnerved me. But would the reaction have been delayed by hours?

The nurse checked my pulse rate and temperature. Then she removed the IV needle from my hand. “You could take a shower as soon you feel steady on your feet.” After she left the room, I sat up and gave my head a few minutes to clear before climbing out of bed.

The shower felt marvelous. I shampooed, towel dried, and dressed in a fresh hospital gown, carefully roping it in a wrap-around manner so there was no unwanted air-conditioning.

Rummaging around the small room, I located my purse and cell phone. Then I called Ed, since I hadn’t reported to him for a couple of days. Ed likes to hear from me regularly when I’m out of the office. I filled him in on everything except my kidnapping and my night in the hospital. No need to alarm him. I knew he’d demand that I fly back to Chicago immediately. Part of me wanted to be safe and secure back at my desk in the Beyond Fantasy office. Another part of me wanted to stay in Adelphia Valley for just a few more days.

What was the attraction? I had a notebook filled with enough to write three separate stories. Of course, it would be nice to get some photos of the cow carcass too. Ed was all for that. He thought it would make the perfect sidebar to the Harry Potts’ crop circle and UFO sighting, especially with Sheriff Tom’s finding of the pentagram.

“Okay, just a couple days more, and then you’re coming back to Chicago,” he agreed. “It would be nice if something showed up on those surveillance cameras. But if not, we’ll go with what you’ve got. You’re taking care of yourself, right Kaytie?”

“I’m perfectly safe. I promise to call you again soon.”

Ed’s warmth and genuine concern left me with a smile on my lips. There is nothing more satisfying than knowing my well-being adds pleasure to his life.

Back in bed, I continued counting my reasons for wanting to stay the extra days.

The big one was Tom, the lanky sheriff who seemed sincerely attracted to me. Where did he fit in the picture? Was I more attracted to him than I wanted to admit?

A soft knock at the door interrupted me.

“Kaytie? It’s Tom. May I come in?”

“Oh, Tom. Of course. I’m glad to see you.” My eyes feasted on the tall lanky man entering the room.

“And I’m pleased to see you looking so fresh and alert.” He hurried to my side and took my hands in his large, warm ones. “Your hands are cold. How are you feeling?”

“Much better after my shower, thank you. The nurse says I was drugged.”

A look of genuine concern in Tom’s brown eyes tugged at my heart. “You gave me quite a scare. For a minute there I thought my foxy looks had caused you to faint dead away. I don’t usually have that effect women. Are you really okay?”

“I’m feeling better every minute. Tom, who would dare to slip me a drug?”

His brows knitted in a puzzled expression. “Do you have reason to suspect anyone at the abbey? Or someone at the barn dance?”

“No. No one. But you remember we found my compact at the pentagram out past Harry’s farm. Someone took it from my room. Maybe the same one who—”

“Who, Kaytie? Think. Who could it be?”

“I don’t have the slightest idea. What kind of drug knocked me out cold? I don’t even remember how I got here. Can you fill me in?”

“You were out like a candle in a wind storm. I carried you to my squad car and drove you straight to the hospital. Dax followed in his Explorer. He stayed here in your room most of the night.”

“Dax? He stayed in my room?” I felt a rush of gratitude to both these men who had so gallantly come to my rescue.

“Yes, the nurse sent him home this morning, but she had to promise she’d call him as soon as you woke up. He’ll be back any minute, I’m sure. I’ve checked with the lab. The drug was a form of ecstasy. It’s a street drug the kids are using these days. You probably got a small amount, but since you’re not a user it was enough to drop you in your tracks.”

“It sure enough dropped me. The last thing I remember was dancing with you. I’m sorry for falling into your arms that way.”

“You can fall into my arms anytime, pretty lady. Now I’ve got a job to do. I’m going to the abbey to question every staff member in the place. I’m also going to dust your room for fingerprints. I’ll get to the bottom of this.”

Tom squeezed my hands and stood up. His tall frame towered over me.

“Thanks, Mr. Sheriff.” I smiled at him. “But can I ride back to the abbey with you? I don’t have a car.”

“I’d love to take you with me this very minute, but the doc hasn’t released you yet. I expect he’ll want to check you over first. I’ll come back for you though. That is, unless Dax beats me to it.”

He grinned and walked to the door just as Dax was preparing to enter. They exchanged cool but polite greetings.

Dax hurried to my side. “Kaytie, I was so worried. We didn’t know what hit you.”

“Goodbye, Tom.” I gave a little wave. He was already disappearing through the door.

“How are you feeling? Can I get you anything?” Dax looked a little tired around the eyes, but he was clean shaven and had changed into a pair of black sweats. Amazing how he looks as elegant in gym clothes as he does in a suit. Nothing looks shabby on the man.

“I’m just thirsty. Thanks.” I sipped my water. “Tom tells me you spent the night here.”

“Sat right there in that chair. Tom took the one on the other side. I couldn’t leave you until I knew you were going to be okay. We didn’t know what the problem was.”

“Tom? He stayed here too?”

“I thought you knew. We both stayed. I don’t mind telling you it wasn’t the easiest thing to be here with him, but I guess we were more concerned about you than each other.”

I was surprised and pleased. The Medical Center in Illinois would never have permitted two men to spend the night in the room with a single woman, even though the center does employ male nurses. But County General apparently trusted Sheriff Ogilby and whoever was with him. I thought that spoke well of Tom’s character.

“Thank you for staying, Dax. I really do appreciate it.”

“It was nothing. Good exercise.”

“Exercise?”

“Sure. Getting a stiff neck and an aching back from sitting in a rickety chair is always a good workout. Exercise kills germs too. I feel like a new man. The old one wasn’t nearly this sore.”

“Killing all those germs through exercise? I’ve always wondered how you get a germ to exercise himself to death.”

“Uh. . . you buy them tiny little Nordic Tracks.”

Dax leaned over and planted an air kiss on my forehead—his perfect lips very close, but only his warm breath touched my skin. “You look just great. Umm. Smell good too. I like that non-perfume you’re wearing.”

“It’s called hospital shampoo.” I waved him away. “Dax, I need to get back to the abbey. Will you take me?”

“Sure thing. Just as soon as the doctor releases you. You need to know if there are any special instructions you should follow. He wants to see you before you go home.”

Of course. What doctor ever releases a hospital patient just because she wants to go home?

I had to wait through breakfast and lunch, during which time my appetite returned. Dax waited with me, entertaining me with witty dialogue that had me laughing most of the day. He avoided anything serious, for which I was grateful.

The orderlies were shuttling supper trays down the hall when a white-coated doctor finally entered my room. He removed horn-rimmed glasses revealing eyes filled with a good natured, jovial expression under bushy gray brows.

“Hello, Miss Kaytie, I’m Doctor Friend,” he announced, peering closely at my eyes with a tiny flashlight.

“Friend? That’s your real name? It sounds like a character from a book to dispel a little kid’s fear of doctor visits.” I expected him to admit the name was assumed.

“Would you believe my real name is Enemy? I changed it for professional purposes.” He had a baritone voice with a trace of Georgia accent, a full head of salt and pepper hair, and his manner was relaxed.

“Doctor Enemy? Now I know you’re teasing, which means I’m probably going to live and get to go home today, right?”

He held my wrist and looked at his watch. “I know a chiropractor with the unlikely name of Doctor Bonebreak. He did not change his name, and his practice is thriving, but most people wouldn’t choose a Doctor Enemy from any directory on the web.”

He released my wrist, shook my hand, and chuckled, “Yes, Friend is my real name. How are you feeling?”

“I’m feeling fine now, thank you. Ready to go home.”

The doctor ignored my eagerness and chatted amicably while he made me cough with a stethoscope on my back.

“Heartbeat’s good. Pulse rate normal. You’ve had a harrowing experience, but you’re probably good to go.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Tomorrow,” he added, dashing my hopes.

“Tomorrow? But I feel great. Please, Doctor Friend, I need to get back to the abbey today,” I begged.

He put his glasses back on and peered at me with concern.

“Miss O’Hare, a drug like this can remain in your bloodstream for up to three days, maybe longer depending on the dose. I want to keep you another night, just to be sure you don’t have any complications. I’m also ordering doses of Vitamin C and B6 to help combat any psychoactive effects.”

“Psychoactive effects? I don’t like the sound of that. What does this drug do to people anyway?”

“This is not the kind of harmless drug most users think it is. Ecstasy is a street name for meth amphetamine. We call it meth for short. It puts you on a ‘crazy, rolling high’ in street terms. If you want the medical description, it works by forcing massive amounts of serotonin, along with dopamine and norepinephrine to bind with receptors in your brain. The brain can’t regenerate enough serotonin for normal function. Just one overdose can cause temporary insanity, hallucinations, even severe paranoia.”

“Oh, is that all?” I was thinking insanity was more than enough. I swallowed hard.

Doctor Friend continued, “You can also experience changes in appetite and normal thought processes. Sleeplessness. We administer the vitamins to help combat these effects. That doesn’t mean they go away entirely.”

“But hundreds of thousands of kids take that kind of stuff every day across the country and don’t have any complications.” I wanted some reassurance.

“Oh, but they do. Some have very serious complications. They just aren’t savvy enough to be aware of it. This drug can cause death by exhaustion, dehydration, or even heart attacks. It eats holes in the brain. Any time you disrupt the balance in brain chemistry, you can cause severe and lasting depression.”

He raised his eyebrows for emphasis. “Not only that, a dealer is not concerned about a pure product. He just wants to make money. So, he may lace the drug with other harmful substances to increase the volume and his profit margins.”

Depression. Schizophrenia. With growing horror, I thought of Bertha, the mad woman locked in the upper chamber of Jane Eyre’s haunted mansion. “Doctor, if someone reports that I’m talking to Spock or claims I’m dancing with Sponge Bob Square Pants, please call a psychiatrist immediately.”

“You won’t be doing that if we can help it.”

“What can you do?”

“We can administer high doses of a substance that helps to detoxify your body. We can prescribe anti-depressants to help restore the balance of serotonin. You may have to be on sleep medication for a while, too.”

I gaped, astonished to hear what I might be facing. “All this from a single dose of a common street drug? Why would anyone in his right mind want to do that to himself on purpose?”

“You’ve hit on the operative phrase, Miss Kaytie. Right mind. The user isn’t in his right mind. It’s called self-medicating to fight depression, attention deficit disorders, just plain boredom, or the old FTC syndrome. And once a semi-normal person experiences the euphoria and false sense of empowerment, he wants the experience again and again. Before he knows it, he’s not even half normal. He’s completely unable to make an intelligent decision about drug use.”

“What’s the FTC syndrome?” Dax wanted to know.

“Follow The Crowd. The kid who’s never felt part of the in-group suddenly thinks he’s the life of the party. He’s not afraid to approach a girl and dance with her all night long. An ecstasy user thinks he has unstoppable sexual prowess. What young guy wouldn’t risk his brain function for that kind of action?”

I shook my head, stunned. “Don’t they listen to the warnings? I mean, they’re not completely uninformed when it comes to drugs, right?”

The doctor looked sadly matter-of-fact, shaking his head. “There’s plenty of false information out there to make kids think they’re going to be okay. Fact is, there’s no safe way to use mind-altering chemicals. Users are not going to be okay with holes eaten in their brains. They aren’t going to be okay until they stop using, and maybe by then it’s too late. Some of them have permanent brain damage, and they’re too far gone to realize it.”

“You’re scaring me, Doctor.”

“I don’t mean to frighten you. I just want you to understand the seriousness of this drug. Now you see why I don’t want to release you for at least one more night. The fact that you were able to sleep makes me think there was something in that dose besides meth.”

By this time, I willing to stay.

He left instructions for additional lab work and promised he’d check in tomorrow.

After he left Dax tried to cheer me. “Kaytie, you’re looking kinda dismal. Don’t let this get you down. Sounds to me like the doc knows what he’s doing. You’re going to be fine.”

“Thanks Dax. I think I’ll just try to sleep a little now, if you don’t mind.”

He squeezed my hand in his. “You do that. Sleep all you want. It’s actually a very good sign that you’re sleepy. I’ll give the surveillance videos a look tonight and be back to see you in the morning. If you’re still asleep, I promise I’ll restrain myself from kissing you awake.”

He saw the warning in my eyes.

“I know. I keep my promises. I’ll respect your boundaries. Cross my heart.”

I felt relieved to be alone in the room. The doctor’s talk had left me shaken. I didn’t want to freak into a schizophrenic episode, or battle depression, or insomnia for who knew how long? I like sleep. Need sleep for good brain function. How could I concentrate on writing top-notch articles without it?

Why would anyone set himself up for sleepless nights and insanity? Why buy a temporary thrill in exchange for a possible a lifetime of fried brains?

I closed my eyes and tried to tell myself I wasn’t permanently damaged. Still, visions of hospitals, mental wards, endless bottles of sleeping pills, and other psychoactive drugs paraded across the screen of my mind. Would I lose my personality? My sense of identity?

I had almost worked myself into a hide-in-the-bedroom-with-a-box-of-chocolates moment, when haltingly, fearfully I began to pray. “Lord, You know I didn’t want this drug in my system. You know my heart. I don’t believe in putting destructive chemicals in my body. The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and I’ve always tried to respect that.”

A sense of peace came over me. My sleep was completely sound and restful that night.

* * *

Sunshine flooded my room the next morning, and it seemed God’s way of saying, “Good morning.”

Doctor Friend arrived the same time as my breakfast tray. He was all smiles.

“We didn’t find any evidence of any harmful chemicals in your lab tests this morning. How did you sleep?”

“Like a kitten curled up by a fireplace. I feel absolutely marvelous. Do I have to eat this runny oatmeal?”

He chuckled and checked my pulse rate. “I know hospital fare is not always the tastiest. You’re probably thinking about those wonderful cinnamon rolls they serve at the abbey.”

My stomach growled at the thought.

“I’m releasing you today. But you need to call me if you experience any lingering effects like those I mentioned to you yesterday.”

Delighted to hear I was getting out of the hospital, I already knew I would have no side effects.

Showered and dressed in the same clothes I’d worn to the barn dance, I was thinking I’d call the sheriff for a ride. Tom arrived simultaneously with Dax, both men offering to drive me to the abbey.

“What am I to do?” I looked from one to the other, enjoying having such an interesting option. I tried to keep the glee from being obvious.

“Let’s flip a coin, again.”

Dax called it and looked smugly pleased.

Tom grinned agreeably. “Okay, but I have to be at the abbey anyway later in the day, I’ll see you there.” He winked at me while I sat down in the unnecessary wheelchair required for all dismissed patients, regardless of their mobility.

When I was safely buckled into the Explorer, Dax drove me to the nearest mom-and-pop diner and we split an order of pancakes.

“I called Zeke. He’s going to drive us up the mountain to get photos of the cow carcass. I’ve got your camera with us, so we don’t really have to go back to the abbey unless you need something from your room.”

I glanced down at my boots, jeans and green blouse, thinking they might as well double for hiking clothes.

“How did you get my camera?”

“I asked the housekeeping lady. She was leery at first, but I explained the situation and showed her my credentials. When I mentioned Sheriff Tom’s name as a reference, she decided it would be okay just this once.”

“What did she look like?” I was thinking of my stolen compact and wondering if the same maid had opened my room to another person.

“Like a giant koala bear wearing an apron. Short. On the dumpy side.”

“Someone took my compact out of my room. I found it at the pentagram.”

“Kaytie, we’ve got a mystery here. First, someone stalks you in the cemetery. Then crazy Lesley grabs you and drags you off to his camper for whatever weird reason. Not that I blame him. I’d like to carry you away myself.” He eyed me with a look that confirmed his words. “Then you’re targeted by some devil worshipers, and finally you’re drugged to unconsciousness. There’s a reason behind all this.”

We went over the beverages I had consumed, trying to recall who had served them, where and when.

“Someone brought us cider at the dance. I can’t imagine who has any kind of motive to drug me. Earlier, I had a cup of soup at the abbey. Who prepared it, I don’t know. I think it’s more likely that the same unknown person who’s been in my room could have put the drug in the cider at the barn dance because I didn’t have any reaction until then.”

We discussed every possibility as we drove, without thinking of a plausible motive.

Zeke was waiting for us in his Jeep at the turnoff to the mountain road.

“Glad to see you looking so well after that spell at the barn dance.” The gentle giant greeted me with a pat on the back.

I climbed into the back seat and buckled my belt. “Zeke, do you know anyone who might be involved in a satanic coven? I found my compact at a pentagram out in the woods. People had been there on the night of the barn dance. Embers from the fire were still hot.”

Zeke groaned. “Someone has their eye on you, Kaytie girl. And it’s an evil eye.”

“But who? And why?” I hoped he might offer some insight, knowing the area’s people as he did.

“Don’t know, but you have to be on the lookout. That Satanic cult stuff is nothing to fool with.”

He headed the Jeep across a shallow stream covering the road. “Listen you two, I may talk like a backwoods Missouri boy, but I have three degrees and was working on a fourth when I left the university. And let me tell you kids, I know a little more than what’s in the books. Education is not all about books. There’s something called life experiences. I’ve had a few of those.”

We waited expectantly.

“You ever been in the presence of evil?” He kept his eyes on the road.

I thought with a chill of Wolf Boy, the bayou-voodoo worshipers, and the Haitian witch with her deadly poisons and potions. Around those people, the presence of evil had been very real, almost tangible.

Dax had a question. “I’ve been around people who could be described as evildoers. What exactly are you referring to, Zeke?”

“Some people don’t think so, but evil spirits can attach themselves to people. Tempt a person to do things he wouldn’t have done ordinarily.”

“Do you really believe that? A person can become so influenced by a spirit that he’s out of control?”

Zeke slowed the Jeep to avoid a huge puddle. “I’ve seen this kind of thing myself during a meeting at my Dad’s church. A wild man walked in, moaning and wailing and slithering his tongue in and out like a snake. His eyes were glazed over and he talked gibberish. My dad just pointed a finger at him and commanded the evil spirit to come out of him in the name of Jesus.”

“What happened?” I wanted to know.

“He screamed and grabbed his throat like he was choking for a minute. Then he collapsed in a heap right on top of Sister Turnbow, who was sound asleep in her usual pew. Moments later the guy was standing up, in his right mind, and praising the Lord.”

The Jeep hit a rather large outcropping of rocks exposed by the wash of recent rain. After a bumpy ride, the trail leveled again. “This was an exorcism plain and simple. Scared the devil out of Sister Turnbow too. When that guy fell on her lap, she woke up shouting and whooping. Brother Albert got happy and went to dancing. He knocked the Sunday school alarm right off the altar and set it to ringing. Ben Matthews leaped up hollering, This is the Rapture! What a meeting.”

I had to laugh at the scene he was describing.

Zeke grinned. “I’ll never forget the look in that crazy fella’s eyes. It’s the same look I see peering out from the Daniel’s boy’s eyes at times. Dad’s right. Lesley’s got an evil spirit inside him.”

Dax glanced back at me. “There are psychological issues and even hallucinogenic substances that can account for Daniel’s odd behavior. After all, Kaytie has just experienced one of those.”

Zeke’s voice took on a more serious tone. “Drugs can’t explain it all. I never thought much about it until I went to the university. Those psych professors turn everything sideways with their theories of human behavior. They identify a bunch of symptoms and tack on a label. Schizophrenia. Multiple personality. Sociopath. Lots of these symptoms overlap. A definitive diagnosis is never actually completed.”

He pulled the Jeep around a downed tree limb blocking the trail. I could see why he had wanted to wait until the rainwaters subsided.

“They call it behavioral science. Those professors only teach some other guy’s theory of human behavior. Hypotheses made up by that Freud fellow and Carl Jung and so forth. Lotsa folks never get cured from serious mental disorders. Doctors can help control symptoms with psychotropic drugs is all. Now, I’m not saying some of their stuff is all wrong. But some of it is just outright excuses for sinful behavior.”

Dax coughed, and I wondered if it was to cover his skepticism.

“Far as I can see, sometimes the purpose of modern psychology is to excuse bad behavior. Help the guy get over his guilt. Tell him it’s okay to eat toast soaked with his own urine.”

I wrinkled my nose.

“Yeah, that’s what they told the guy. ‘Don’t beat yourself up about it. You can’t help it. It’s just a harmless compulsion. Go on and do it.’ They didn’t know how to fix it. So, they advised him to just do it. Then they marked him down as cured.”

I listened to Zeke’s observations, thinking of my own disappointment with my psych classes.

“People saying they can’t help the way they are, that they were born that way. Well yeah, I was born a sinner too, but that don’t give me the right to deliberately go on sinning. Not when Jesus says sin has no dominion over me.”

The Jeep headed up a steeply rutted trail and climbed over rocks dislodged by the recent downpour. We bounced again and held to the seat to keep steady.

“Nope. Psychology can’t help Lesley. He’s got to get rid of them entities.”

“Are you saying that Lesley thinks he’s being contacted by aliens, but they’re really evil spirits?” I assumed that’s what Zeke was getting at.

“That’s what I’d say.”

“Zeke, you and Kaytie are probably in agreement about evil spirits deceiving people. But what I want to know is, why would evil spirits want to communicate with him in the guise of space aliens? What is the purpose of this whole, elaborate ancient-to-modern-times charade, if indeed that’s what it is?”

“Don’t you see, Mr. Larue? If spirits can get folks to believe a lie that aliens seeded this planet, then people think they aren’t accountable to their Creator. In other words, you won’t need God anymore. You can be your own god. That’s the whole underpin of ufology, humanism, post modernism, socialism and every other ism out there today. Be your own god. It sounded good to Eve and Adam. They bought into the deception. It turned out to be an epic disaster.”

Dax posed his own theory. “Don’t you think it’s at least a possibility that interplanetary travelers are visiting the earth? Doesn’t any church address this idea that maybe God created other life in the galaxies?”

I could see Zeke’s eyes in the rearview mirror. He looked thoughtful. “There’s a host of created beings in the heavens. I s’pose that could mean intelligent life on other planets. And you can bet God didn’t create no unintelligent life, although there’s plenty of that right here on earth if you look around.”

I couldn’t keep quiet. “During my research, I found a document written by Monsignor Balducci, presented at the Ancona Congress in 2000. He made a strong case for the reality of other-worldly contacts with human.”

Zeke surprised me with his next words. “I read the same document when I was in seminary.”

I had forgotten that he had been in seminary.

Dax wanted more explanation. “A Monsignor spoke of beings from other worlds?”

Zeke increased the Jeep’s speed slightly as the trail leveled out. “Well, that doesn’t exactly mean interplanetary visitors. The Monsignor spoke of celestial beings, such as Cherubim and Seraphim. He implied that a whole host of spirit beings from the heavens can visit the earth. I find that interesting, considering the Monsignor was the Vatican’s senior exorcist and demonologist.”

Dax’s tone flickered from skepticism to amusement. “Demons again, huh?”

He gave me a little mock salute. “Touché, my lovely. Is that what you believe then? That extra-terrestrial entities are actually demons?”

I could tell this conversation had punched a few holes in his skepticism, but he wasn’t in complete agreement. “There are plenty of things that we’ll never understand. So much of scripture is mysterious, cloaked in symbolic language.”

Zeke wisely pointed out, “Yep. There’s plenty of things we don’t know about God’s universe, but He says the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children. That’s what matters. The things that are revealed.

Dax didn’t refute the idea.

“You two gentlemen, here’s the biggest tip-off that Lesley is not in contact with harmless aliens. He’s convinced that bad choices must be done over and over in reincarnated lives to work them out. His beliefs are a complete hodge-podge of New Age religions—other realities in different dimensions. If aliens are contacting earthlings, why would they be so interested in our religious beliefs? Why would they be so intent on changing them?”

Dax ignored my question. “Even if Lesley is experiencing contact with deceiving spirits, that still doesn’t explain the lights or the crop circles.”

Zeke gave a small snort and a chuckle. “All just part of the charade.”

Leave it to Dax, the reporter for Supernatural Seeker, to bring up the cattle mutilations. He continued. “I interviewed this guy, Phil, once. He was no dummy. Very educated and very credible. Phil claimed he’d been contacted by aliens from other worlds who are harvesting biological samples and human DNA in order to preserve life in case this planet blows up in a nuclear war.”

“That’s a common theme, Dax. The abductee hears Earth is headed for destruction. Most people don’t doubt that. But harvesting DNA? If these beings are so advanced, they would know that DNA can be extracted from hair samples. They wouldn’t have to kill and mutilate the poor animal.”

“True enough.” Dax agreed.

“Besides, why are the aliens so interested in saving this planet anyway? They have plenty of other planets to visit. Billions of them according to modern astronomers.”

“Phil believed some aliens are actually coming back from the future. Simply put, they are us. They’re having trouble reproducing and need to harvest reproductive biological samples from healthy human specimens. I’m sure you’ve read, Kaytie, how countless people are convinced they’ve been painfully examined and probed. The stories have too many similarities to discount entirely.”

“But don’t you see the fallacy in that thinking? Some of these beings are warning of the planet’s imminent destruction. Others are claiming they come from the future, which obviously has survived destruction. There’s a good deal of false and contradictory information fed to the contactees.”

Our vehicle bounced to a stop. The engine whined and the tires spun.

“We’ve hit a mud hole.” Zeke turned off the motor. “Runoff waters musta cut a new channel under this pile of leaves. This road’s usually dry as a bone.”

He climbed out and gave a low whistle. Dax and I climbed out too. The Jeep’s front tires were buried in mud all the way up to the axle.

“We’re going to have to do some digging to get outta here.”

Dax began picking up sticks. “We can gather dry brush and leaves and throw them in the mud hole to get some tire traction.”

“We can do that after you take your photos.” Zeke pointed to the cloud bank heading toward us. “We want to get back down before that front starts dumping more rain on us. We’ll have to hike up from here, but the meadow isn’t far.”

We followed the ruts probably half a mile to the meadow, which looked pleasant in the mid-morning sunlight which sparkled on the grass ahead of the clouds. We climbed through the fence and headed for the carcass. Dax and I photographed it from several angles and examined the area for animal tracks. There were none.

Curiously, there were no flies on the mutilated body. The other cows avoided it, choosing to graze across the meadow.

Dax pocketed his camera. “I’ve known of Satanic cults doing things like this.”

Zeke’s eyes widened. “Told you the devil was here.” He took out a handkerchief and wiped his brow, even though the morning was cool.

“There used to be rumors of a group who met in the woods and danced around a fire. Whatever else they did, I don’t know. But that kind of thing—a fire dance in the woods—always draws thrill seekers. I figure there’s drugs involved too. I haven’t heard of any activity in a long while. Not until you told me about the pentagram on the Potts’ farm.”

“Did Lesley belong to the group?” I wanted to know.

“Kinda doubt it. He’s always been more of a loner.”

Banks of clouds moved in, hiding the sun. Zeke glanced up. “Time to go. We don’t want to get caught up here in another rain storm. These hills can be treacherous. The runoffs turn to rivers and waterfalls.”

We crossed the meadow and crawled through the fence again.

“Hold it right there.”

Lesley Daniels stepped out from behind a tree. This time he leveled a gun at Dax.

Zeke spoke first. “Lesley, put that thing down! You’re already in trouble with the sheriff. You don’t want to be adding to your charges.”

“I’m not going to hurt anybody. Miss O’Hare comes with me. She won’t be harmed. You two can go.”

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