THERIOPHOBIA: FEAR THE BEAST Finale
TOMORROW: WANING MOON
Hank Frye nodded to the trio of uniformed policemen standing, sipping coffee from their Styrofoam cups, and stepped through the sliding glass doors of the lobby, out of the air-conditioned coolness and into the morning humidity. 95 degrees already, and not even lunchtime. Just a morning like any other in Ironwood. Except that it wasn’t like any morning ever before. Everything felt different. Even the stifling air. *The whole world has changed.* Hank shielded his eyes with his hand and started down the front steps of the Ironwood Medical Center, fumbling in his pocket with his other hand for his sunglasses. *Or maybe it’s just me.*
Hank looked up, squinting. Ron Whitlow came up the steps towards him, offered his hand.
“Detective,” Hank said, shaking Whitlow’s hand. “Guess you’re on your way up to see your partner.”
“Yeah. You been by to see him?”
“I poked my head in,” Hank replied. “He seems to be doing fine.”
“They tell me he would’a bled to death for sure if it hadn’t been for you,” Whitlow said.
“Yeah, well, at least all those years of medical school weren’t a complete waste,” Hank said.
“You saved his life,” Whitlow said. “He won’t forget that. Neither will I.”
“I’m just glad I got to him in time,” Hank said.
Whitlow dug a pack of cigarettes from the pocket of his T-shirt, a lighter from his jeans. “I expect you’re gonna be off the hook now,” he said, lighting up. “Everybody’s gotta figure it was the bear what done all the killin’.”
“Bear?” Hank shook his head. “Is that what they’re saying?”
“Gotta say something,” Whitlow said.
*Maybe it’s just us. All of us.*
Whitlow rubbed at the bandage on his forearm. “A lotta stuff’s gonna get swept under the rug, if you get what I’m driving at.”
“Yeah.” Hank tried to smile. “I appreciate that.”
“Anyhow,” Whitlow said. “No hard feelings?”
“No,” Hank replied. “No hard feelings.”
Whitlow dropped the stub of his cigarette, crushed it out with his tennis shoe. “Well, let’s see if I can sneak by all them damn reporters.”
“There aren’t that many,” Hank said. “Just a few wandering the halls, bitching because they can’t get in to see Detective Brewster. I guess they’re all out covering the hunt for the ‘bear.'”
“Gettin’ in the way, you mean,” Whitlow said. “The Governor called in the National Guard this morning, and every gun-totin’ good ol’ boy in the County’s already out there, coon dogs in tow. Plenty a’ beer and ammo, an’ shit for brains. Throw in a bunch of dumb ass reporters who’ve never been in the woods before, an’ you got one giant clusterfuck just waitin’ to happen.” Whitlow paused, looking at Hank. “Reckon they’ll find it?”
“I don’t know,” Hank said. *Better hope they don’t.*
“I’m not sure as I want ’em to,” Whitlow said. “I think I’d like it better if we don’t never see or hear tell of that thing again.”
“Amen to that,” Hank said. But he thought of Lucas.
“Well, keep your head up,” Whitlow said, walking past him on the steps. “Even with the whole town on lockdown…”
“I know,” Hank said.
“Oh,” Whitlow said, turning, looking back. “How’s Miss Kidde doing?”
“Chaney? She’s gonna be okay. Got her parents up there driving her crazy right now.”
“Good,” Whitlow said. Another pause. “You take care, Doc. Just in case.”
“I will,” Hank said. “Thanks.”
Hank crossed the parking lot. He found his sunglasses, then dug for his keys. He wiped sweat from his forehead with his hand, then wiped his palm on his trousers. A police car cruised past the parking lot; another pair were parked along the highway. A fourth was parked next to Hank’s rental car, beneath the shade of an oak tree at the far end of the lot.
*All of us. We’re all different now.*
Hank opened the door of the blue Saturn, a gasp of heat escaping the interior of the car. He started to get in.
Then he saw Lucas Vale’s reflection in the window.
Hank spun around. “Jesus!”
“Don’t worry, Hank. You’re not seeing a ghost.”
Lucas Vale wore a clean white shirt and pair of jeans, a clean pair of shoes. He looked so normal, as if he were on his way to work. Just another normal morning in Ironwood. Except that nothing would ever be normal again. Lucas had grown a full head of thick brown hair, and his face…
“So it seems.”
“My God, you, you look twenty years younger!”
“I’d say closer to fifteen.” Lucas reached out, taking the sunglasses off the bridge of Hank’s nose. “You don’t mind if I borrow these, do you?” he said, putting them on. “The light is killing me this morning.”
Hank leaned back against the car, blinked in the dappled sunlight. “I can’t believe this!”
“That’s always been your problem, Hank. You’re too closed-minded.”
“But y-you were…you were dead, Lucas!” Hank stammered.
“It can’t die, Hank,” Lucas said. “Can’t be killed. So I guess I can’t either. They hurt it last night, though. Somebody did. About as bad as it can be hurt, I suspect. And good thing, too. Otherwise it might have wiped out the whole County.”
*His teeth! Were they always that sharp?*
Hank swallowed the hard lump in his throat and tried to smile. “It’s, uh, it’s good to see you, man.”
Lucas Vale didn’t reply.
“So, um, are you, you know, gonna…?”
“At the next full Moon,” Lucas said. “If I don’t figure some way to stop it before then.”
Lucas stared at the ground. “Most of it’s a blur. Last night. Like a dream you can’t remember when you wake up. But I remember enough of it. Too much.”
“That wasn’t you,” Hank said.
Lucas raised his face to meet Hank’s gaze. Even through the shaded lenses of the sunglasses, Hank felt the power of that stare. The eyes of a predator looked out at the world through that tinted plastic. Hank repressed a shudder.
*We’re all different now. And you most of all, Lucas. You most of all.*
“Not me?” Lucas said. “Oh, yes. It was. It was all me, Hank. All me.”
“So,” Hank said after a moment. “Uh, what are you gonna do now?”
Lucas looked off across the parking lot. “I’m going to Mexico,” he said.
“That’s where all this started,” Lucas said. “For me, anyway. If there is an answer, I’ll find it there. And there’s a woman down there who’ll know it. I intend to look her up.”
An acorn crackled, drawing Hank’s attention. He turned.
A second passed, and Hank realized that the woman who had approached, stood now with her hands in the hip pockets of her jeans, watching them, was not Chaney Kidde. The hair was the wrong color and too short. And Chaney didn’t have those bruises all over her face.
“Oh, right,” Lucas said. “You never met Marley, did you, Hank?”
“She’s coming with me,” Lucas said.
Marley smiled at Hank. “Would you be sweet and tell my parents I’m okay?” she said. “Tell them I’m going to Mexico, and I don’t know when I’ll be back.”
“They’re right here,” Hank said. “At the hospital, with your sister.”
“Mmm, no,” Marley said. “You’d better tell them.”
“We’re leaving now,” Lucas said. He held out his hand. Hank hesitated an instant, then took it.
Lucas’ palms felt hairy.
“You were a good friend, Hank. You tried to help me.”
“Lucas,” Hank said. “My God, I can’t just let you walk away like this. There has to be something we can do.”
“You’re part in this is over, Hank,” Lucas said. He let go of Hank’s hand. “You should be grateful for that.”
Marley walked up to Lucas, slipped her arm around him, leaned into him.
“Let’s go,” he said. They turned and started walking away.
They turned back.
“Will I ever see you again?”
Lucas smiled. A sad smile. “For your sake,” he said. “Let’s hope not.”
Hank watched them cross the parking lot and enter a patch of pine trees at the far edge. He stood looking at the spot where they had disappeared from his sight for several minutes before he looked away. A breeze blew across the lot, sending dead leaves skittering amongst the parked cars, rattling the denuded branches of the oak tree above him. A hot breeze. Not even noon yet, and already 95 degrees. The worst Indian Summer Hank could remember. The breeze died, leaving the air stale and sticky and miserable.
Hank Frye stood in the patchy shade of the oak tree, and he shivered.
WAYNE MILLER is the owner and creative director of EVIL CHEEZ PRODUCTIONS (www.evilcheezproductions.blogspot.com, www.facebook.com/evilcheezproductions), specializing in theatrical performances and haunted attractions. He has written, produced and directed (and occasionally acted in) over a dozen plays, most of them in the Horror and Crime genres. His first novel, THE CONFESSIONS OF SAINT CHRISTOPHER: WEREWOLF, is available for purchase at https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/734763
MORTUI VELOCES SUNT!