The Fallowing – The First, Part II
by Steppen Sawicki
Novel: Occult adventure
“The eyes and tongue are missing, and there is severe damage to the thoracic, abdominal, and pelvic cavities.”
I leaned in closer to the body, looking over the empty and gashed sockets, the torn lips. Tissue at the shoulder laid bare. The chest displaying the meat inside, yawning open like a roadside carnival attraction – come on in, see inside the woman.
“The heart is gone as well,” I stated.
“Yes,” the doctor said. “And the stomach. They appear to have been ripped out. Again, there are marks from claws and teeth.”
I ran my fingers through stray strands of hair, blonde and piled beside either side of the head, all luster gone. Young. Sweet sixteen. Dead. “And you didn’t retrieve any of these parts? Eyes, tongue, heart?”
“No, all gone. The damage looks brutish, but the organs missing… Well it’s almost…meticulous. Thought-out.”
“Exactly.” I let the strands fall to the cold table, beside the cold head.
“I know what you’re thinking. They told me.”
I tore my gaze away from the girl. The doctor was studying me. He looked tired, as if it were his own daughter there on that table.
“I’ve seen,” he said, “humans do some horrible things. We all have. But nothing like this. Nothing even close. She’s been chewed on.”
I took one last look at the torn girl. At those eyeless sockets and that lipless mouth, as if I were looking at some rotting ghost that just two days ago was a person.
As I thanked Allen and the doctor, we walked back to the entrance way of what part of the hospital still functioned. The place was lit only by the dim daylight through sparse windows, but the commotion was audible enough even from down the hall. He was there, arguing with a nurse or doctor or somesuch. It was my first impression of him as I turned that corner, so let me describe him for you.
His coat was wrinkled from night upon night of sleepless nights, once white but now tanned with dust and dirt. His hair was dark but with enough highlight that it wasn’t quite black, and reached to the middle of his back. Both it and the stubble on his cheeks were untended. His eyes were dark on dark, circles and creases lining them. It was clear that his face was once lovely, might be lovely once again, but fatigue and irritation wrestled in it now. He was tall. He was a mess.
“It won’t matter anything to her,” he said, his words trying to convey contempt but falling flat over his weariness.
The nurse stood erect in all of her five feet two inches and looked him directly in the eye. “It will certainly matter to her family. We don’t show bodies to complete strangers.”
He was about to respond when he saw the doctor’s white coat. He shoved past the nurse, eliciting shouts from her. He ignored them.
“You, doctor,” he snapped. “I have questions about the body of the girl killed by a wolf in this town.” His emphasis on “wolf” was deep and guttural.
Doctors tend not to take any shit, and this one had already been iffy about letting me near the girl. “This isn’t some sideshow. Everyone coming here and demanding a look. Elisa will show you out.” He waved to the nurse that had been bumped aside.
This guy seemed authentically surprised that his tactic of demands hadn’t worked, and while he was thinking over how to respond, I stepped forward.
“Here Elisa,” I said, grabbing the man’s arm. “I’ll help you.”
He jerked away as if my hand were made of fire, but Allen stepped forward as well to take his other arm.
“Let go of me,” he said, not shouting or making a scene, only speaking as if we were sure to listen. We pulled him to the door and shoved him outside. He stumbled down a few steps before righting himself, brushing off his sleeves where Allen and I had gripped him. His cheeks were reddening, whether from embarrassment or anger I couldn’t tell. He didn’t look at us.
“I’ll watch him,” I told Allen. “Tell the doctor I apologize for the scene.”
“Are you certain?”
“Of course. After all, he doesn’t have much fight in him.”
With one last look, Allen went inside.
“You may want to learn some social skills,” I said to the man on the stairs.
His face had cleared, though he still refused to look at me. “You saw the body, didn’t you? Just tell me its condition. Are the eyes and tongue gone?”
A goddamned bounty hunter. No wonder he was so full of himself.
“Her face was thoroughly mauled,” I allowed.
“And the heart, stomach, genitals? Are they gone?”
“Don’t be ridiculous. The torso was gnawed at is all.”
He finally looked at me. His eyes weren’t so dark after all. They were gray, as if they were full of shadows. He wasn’t angry or disarmed anymore; he regarded me calmly, as if I were a spider he was considering whether he should crush. I met his gaze with equal impudence.
“You’re lying,” he said. He turned away, finished descending the stairs, and walked down the path through the snow.
Allen had reappeared at my side at some point. “We were too hard on him,” he said. “We need all the help we can get.”
“Don’t worry.” I watched the retreating back of the man. “I’ll take care of this murderer.”
Alone, I added internally.
Simon lived with his father and grandmother. I don’t know what happened to the mother, but a couple of photos on the wall showed the grandfather in military dress and stern face, standing next to a plane in one picture and a fellow enlistee in another. You can guess what happened to him.
The father was a nervous man. I got the feeling that something in his past had changed him at some point, made him perch on the edge of his chair as if expecting someone to burst into the room, made him incapable of setting down his cup of tea without it clinking spasmodically against the tabletop. I wasn’t surprised when the grandma explained that Simon did most of the work around the house.
“He’s a good kid,” she said. “So was Carrie. Her death hit him hard.”
“Would you say they were in love?” I asked. I took a sip from my mug. I wasn’t fond of tea, but since they had spared some of theirs to make me even a weak cup I felt I should drink it.
The kitchen was spotless. Even the paint on the walls was even and clean. The table we sat at was freshly lacquered. Simon must be pretty handy.
“Oh yes. Sometimes I’d walk in on them on the back porch, just sitting and staring into each others’ eyes. And then they would blush when they saw me there. Typical love story for teenagers. And tragic too.” She sighed. Her eyes moved to me, unfocused. She knew she needed glasses, but had told me that “things are as they are.”
“And since her death? Has he spoken about it?”
“I’m afraid he hasn’t said much of anything.”
“And about her? Possibly relating it by saying he had some dream about her?”
“No, he’s said nothing. He’s kept himself quiet. If only – ”
The front door creaked open in the next room, and we went silent as if guilty of something. Simon entered the kitchen, shrugging his coat off. On seeing me, he stopped.
I stood and gave a polite smile. “You must be Simon.”
He eyes went to his family, then back to me. “Yeah.” His voice was flat.
“This is the lady who chased the wolf off Ben last night,” grandma introduced me. “She’d like to speak with you.”
He looked at the floor and continued to shrug off his coat. “Okay.”
“Thank you,” I said to the other two, and motioned to the doorway. “If you don’t mind.”
They went into the living room, and I shut the door behind them. Simon sat down before I could motion him to do so. I sat on the edge of the table.
“I think I saw you last night, at the bar. That was you that came in, right?”
He was staring at the mug his father had forgotten and left behind. The steam rose lazily from it. “Yeah.”
“I had wanted to talk to you then, but I felt daytime was more appropriate for this kind of subject.”
He said nothing.
I got right to it. “I understand you were very close to Carrie. Where were you when she died?”
His eyes shot up, flashing anger. “I thought it was a wolf that got her. Am I a suspect?”
Good, a reaction. “Not at all. I’m just working out the circumstances surrounding that night.”
His gaze didn’t waver. “I was home. The whole night.”
“When did you last speak to Carrie?”
His eyes widened and he gulped hard. He looked away from me. His lips moved as if trying out different answers. It would have been a strange reaction if I hadn’t already been hoping for it.
“Are you alright?” I asked.
“The day she died,” he whispered. Then louder, but with a crack in his voice, “I saw her that day, maybe around four o’clock.”
“Were you at her house?”
He shook his head. “Her dad hates me.”
That didn’t surprise me. I had met with Carrie’s father earlier that day, and it didn’t seem that the man would like much of anyone. I had been waiting for this opening with Simon. “And Carrie and her father, did they get along?”
“Hell no!” He about jumped out of his chair at this, but immediately collapsed back into himself. “I’m sorry.”
“No, what do you mean by that? It’s important.”
He considered for a moment, then “It doesn’t matter anyway if you know. Everyone else knows, but they never did anything about it. He beat her. He didn’t even have to be drunk to do it. He blamed Carrie for her mom leaving.”
“Did Carrie feel for her father regardless?”
“Anything other than scared? No. I would have killed him if she hadn’t been so frightened I’d miss.” He realized what he had said and looked at me, as if to ask whether I had noticed.
“Don’t worry,” I said. “You’re really not a suspect. Was she as in love with you as you were with her?”
“She wanted to leave town. She kept asking me to go with her.” He watched the tabletop, blinking back tears. “But I couldn’t leave dad and grandma. I just kept…thinking if I could just…”
“Kill him,” I finished.
He said nothing.
“I understand how you feel. When I was little I had a friend who’d sometimes show up to class with bruises on his arms or legs. I didn’t believe him when he’d tell me he fell on the ice. I’d beg him to tell me what kid was beating up on him, that I’d take care of it once and for all,” I smiled sadly at the memory. “I don’t know what I was going to do to some bully at seven years old, but I was certain I could end it. Turned out the bully was his father all along. Well, there wasn’t anything I could do after all.”
Simon had looked up from the table, and for a moment we watched each other.
“The people who deserve to die are never the ones that do,” he said.
“That’s why I hunt those people.”
“Do you really think it wasn’t a wolf?”
“I’m not certain what it is. But I’m going to catch it.” He seemed to be trusting me a bit more now, so I went for it. “Simon, I have one more question for you. Have you had any nightmares about Carrie? About her calling you or telling you to go with her somewhere?”
His eyes went so wide they would have fallen out of his head. But he said “No.”
It didn’t matter. His reaction was all I needed. I had the thing’s next target.