Continued from Part One. Thank you for your support and feedback, as always.
“The man was straight up O-V-W-I, deputy.” Said Officer Robins, the smooth-faced state policeman, - call me Jeremy, he said - to the deputy, his face flashing multi-colored, the narrow road now crowded with massive towing vehicles tearing at the immobile truck and trailer, police car backseat holding the intoxicated and silently raving driver.
“I figured as much,” Deputy Moors replied, deflated curls of graying auburn hair sticking matted against her forehead, “he’s a bit on the belligerent side if you haven’t noticed.”
“Oh, most definitely noted,” the young officer smiled, mouth of large white teeth. The deputy smiled back, feeling her face flush – fine looking black boy, she thought, if only I were fifteen…no, ten years younger I would – as his partner, older and broad-shouldered man, came up the road from back where their squad car sat once the drunken trucker was secured.
“Man, you see the back of that cab?” the older officer, Sergeant Gomez was his name, asked, coming up to put a hard-landing hand on Robins’ shoulder. “Musta been like fifty bottles rollin’ ‘round back there.” Out stuck that same large hand, rough and dry, to the deputy, “Thanks deputy, think we got things ‘bout covered here now.”
She took that hand, hard grip and a thin smile from the man looking squinted in her direction. That was the signal, the sign, for ‘get gone’, it was now time for the big boys to work so run along girl, run along and go on keeping them back roads safe. And the two turned, and in that moment the deputy heard another noise carried in on the wind, another animal maybe, but something out of place for certain, far away and quiet. The two officers had hardly flinched though, ignoring it if they even heard a thing, laughing quietly among themselves, shrinking silhouettes walking away.
If at all possible, Morris Road was blacker than most others. Further and further, Doris drove away from the tiny glittering jewel-points of the truck stop. She drove down a road older than any living person around, older than the counties and the towns, built over dirt paths traveled on by the first white settlers to the land, growing their maize and beans.
That thing, that piece of spurting something lying in the road, they hadn’t seen it, nor had the deputy, at least not since she’d flung it with a shriek clear into the night to land lost among the ditch weeds. For some minutes after, she spoke out loud to the air, convincing herself that she had seen nothing, that she was overtired and worn thin – maybe she should take that desk job – the thoughts running through and through, over and across her mind, that she had heard no sound of a dying cattle, until at last the first responders to her call for assistance arrived, twirling ghosts in the night.
But even if the officers hadn’t heard that second cry on the wind, the deputy had for certain. Doris had grown up in Grant, little town south and east of where she drove. She knew the farmers along old Morris Road, knew their wives and their kids, knew how important the well-being of their animals were and when she heard that second creature, she knew she was bound to at least see that everything was in its right place. So deeper down the road she drove, rolling slowly.
Out into the unspoiled black standing in for fields and sky, the deputy stared, looking for spots of incandescent-lit window outlines, looking for signs of distress and disturbance. But the night remained still. The road moved along underneath without incident until trees approached up ahead, encroaching over the road, the end of farm land and the beginnings of the marsh.
The marsh – there had been trouble around there in recent weeks, with folks complaining about strange noises in the night, sights of fires burning between the trees, people in weird dress traipsing across the road at all hours – some said it was the Ku Klux Klan, others saying it was devil-worshippers, with others yet saying it was nothing more than teenagers screwing around. Whatever the case, once inside the forested border, the deputy slowed further still, sensing at once something not quite right, bringing her squad car to a near crawl. She rolled the windows down to let in the air, the sounds, and the smells of the marsh.
She smelled the body before she came upon around the bend. Iron in the air, a fresh kill with only the smallest hint of rot setting it. Then, dead center in the road, it appeared, the tawny shape of a young buck lying with its back to her windshield.
“Hell…” she muttered, stopping the vehicle and pulling herself out. It was a job best left to the guys riding around with their big truck looking for roadkill to dispose of but they didn’t ride as often or as far out as they should these days, what with budget cuts and all. More often than not, best that could be done was to pull the dead thing out of the way before someone else made a mess of it, especially if it was something so big.
“Dammit.” Said the deputy as she came up to the fallen beast, seeing that the buck was much bigger than she had thought, far too heavy for her alone to pull let alone nudge. Still, she would have to try or at the very least wake someone up about it, as it would no doubt cause another crash were someone to take that bend faster than they should.
Had to have been something big to run over such a large animal without leaving anything behind, there was no glass or even a sign of a tire screech on the road. The thought didn’t trouble Doris too much until she bent to take the buck’s hooves in hand and, with surprising ease, pulled the carcass a few feet across the pavement. Only then did she see the dark and wet splatter of liquid on the road – not deer blood, not the right color or smell, streaking across the road, around the body. And she looked down at the buck to see that its belly was nothing more than an exposed hollow space of rib bones.
Dropping the carcass quick, Doris spun her head and self around, searching for a culprit, hoping that they were long gone. From somewhere came the crunch of dead leaves, from the other side came the snap of branch, from somewhere far off grew the shrill scream-call of a fox. Just critters running around the woods, she told herself, whispered over and over as she took hold of her firearm. She backed up, back to the opened door of her cruiser, back out of the cold biting through the thin khaki-colored cloth of her uniform. Then, as she reached a blind hand back to grasp at the car door, eyes and gun held out to the dark, a new noise echoed through the invisible trees, a loud and clear click-click-click above the once-comforting hum of the police car.
“Hello!” the deputy yelled out, gun at the ready, and the clicks vanished and the night was still. “This is the Lemont County Sheriff’s Department,” she called, her voice cracking midway, her hands shaking with that dull pain creeping into her grip, “and whoever you are, you oughta know you’re trespassing on county marshland.” But there was no answer.
“Just get in the car and drive away Doris, drive away, there ain’t nothing or no one out there.” And though she assured herself this, an overwhelming desire to simply see what lay just beyond placed the flashlight in her hand, pointed it out to where the clicks originated. At once, the unsteady beam caught hold of something shiny, reflecting the muted browns and yellows of the leaf-strewn ground on which it stood.
The deputy took another step forward, for what she saw, a thing unmoving, was only a fraction of something larger. Moments later she stopped cold as the light settled over more of what it had grabbed. She recognized the familiar shape and color of the strange object she had flung from the county line road and saw it now for what it was, what they were, as there were many that she could see now attached to a long body: limbs, crawling wriggling legs connected to the segmented torso of what looked to be a centipede, larger than any the deputy had ever seen or known to exist.
Her air caught in her throat, soundless gasp that ceased all functions of the body for time that seemed not to pass, a surge of sharp heat boiling her every nerve rolled up and down the woman’s innards. Doris fell back into the body of the eleven-year-old girl hunting for earthworms under the crawlspace of granddad’s farm – plenty of spiders but those only bothered her older sister, big baby, she’d let them crawl in her hair and in her face it didn’t matter as long as she got her worms – to go fishing later in the river with little Lawrence Moors from down the way. Then that big ugly thing, hundred prickly legger, moving itchy, went and crawled down the front of her shirt to bite her something painful, jaws slashing holes in her chest, down her stomach, down into her pants – they like warm places – and she went screaming out, clawing at clothes to tear the ugly thing away from her, so little in the light, smushed pieces. Granddad had to take her to the hospital, allergic reaction to the venom, hot and thick face, vomit all over the waiting room carpet, orange and red, and she thought she would die right there. And now Doris stood no further than a spit from this terror, a thing pulled fresh and wriggling from childhood nightmares, engorged to meet the ever-expanding depth of her most ingrained phobia.
It twitched. And then the whole length of the giant insect convulsed in an instant before dissolving in a flurry of untraceable movement. The flashlight fell from the deputy’s hand, cracking broken against the raised edge of the road as she turned to run. Her hand just grabbed onto the door as the monster took hold on her body, hundred spiny grabbers wrapping themselves around her arms and chest, two sharp points digging deep into her neck.
She was a cornered mammal, wide-eyed and without civilized thought, struggling wildly against the centipede with hardly breath left to breathe, fear and disgust focusing her every bodily response on escape. And the poison begins its deadly pour into her bloodstream, and Doris feels her self, what little sense of it remains, drift free of her body. So it is with a grunt and the final shred of human memory, of logic, that Doris, still holding hotly the pistol downward in her right hand, pushes the metal against the writhing bug body and squeezes her forefinger in rapid succession, launching a loud – a buried, clunking noise to her ears – volley of rounds deep into the gut of the insect.
Without transition, Doris feels herself fall, slam onto the road, feeling no pain. Above her frozen head there is a terrible high-pitched alarm, a squeal, and in the corners of her vision she can see something violently squirming, the centipede rolling and coiling upon itself, that dark green liquid oozing freely onto the ground in front of her.