Read JACK KILBORN ~ ENDURANCE Online

Authors: Jack Kilborn

JACK KILBORN ~ ENDURANCE (6 page)

Mal didn’t answer.

Deb tried louder. “Mal!”

A faint sound caught on the breeze. Something high-pitched.

Is that giggling?

Deb considered going to the trunk, putting on her running legs to make it easier, and then decided
screw it
and began to make her way down the slope.

Just as she reached the bottom, something lunged out of the bushes at her. Deb couldn’t react quickly enough, and her balance was thrown off. She landed hard on her backside.


Mal!”

Mal’s eyes were wide. And his pants—

They were covered in blood.

Deb positioned herself onto her knees. Getting up off the ground in her cosmetic legs was difficult, so she reached for Mal, wrapping her fingers in his belt to steady herself.


Deb...”


Call an ambulance, Mal,” she said, grabbing his penlight and pushing into the bushes.


Deb, don’t go in there. It’s—”

Deb didn’t hear the next thing he said. Once past the bush, her senses were overloaded with the stench, and the sight, of blood.

A ridiculous amount of blood.

It soaked the ground, and drenched the surrounding foliage.

But it was more than just blood. It was bits of tissue. Sinew. Organs.

The spectacle overtook her, and she stumbled forward, losing her footing on something slippery, falling forward into a wet loop of intestines.

Deb recoiled, squealing, pushing herself away, bumping into a severed head with...

Antlers.

It’s a deer.

Jesus Christ, it’s just a deer.

Then someone grasped her shoulder.

Deb turned around, the scream building in her chest, and saw Mal above her.


Looks like we both need a dry cleaner. I slipped, too.”

He offered his hands, and she used them to pull herself up.


I didn’t hit a deer. I’m sure of it.”

Mal’s face was kind. “I know.”


It was a man.”


I know. We both saw it.”

Deb played the light over the carnage. Deer parts were everywhere.


Did that guy do this?”

Mal nodded. “I think he killed the deer, and was skinning it.”


There’s blood on the hood of my car.”


Deer blood, probably. Maybe he didn’t have a hunting license, heard you pulling up, thought it was the game warden. Hell, it might not even be hunting season, for all I know.”


So I didn’t hurt him?”


I don’t see him anywhere. If you hurt him, he’d be nearby, don’t you think?”

Deb shined the light on the deer head, wincing as she did.


When skinning a buck, is it normal to cut the eyes out?”


No. It’s not. Let me see the light.” Mal took it, moved in closer. “The ears are gone, too. So’s the tongue.”


That’s disgusting.”

Mal pointed the light at her. “I think we should go. Right now.”

Deb didn’t like his tone. He sounded scared. When he took her arm, she didn’t protest, and when he put his hands on her hips to help her up the embankment she cared more about haste than dignity or modesty.


I’ve got water in the trunk. We can clean up.”

Mal shook his head. “Not here. Not now. Let’s get out of here.”


What’s going on, Mal? You’re freaking me out a little. And it’s not like this situation isn’t already freaky enough.”


It’s Monk Creek. It has a history. When I was researching this article, I read up on it. Things have happened in this town. Bad things.”


Like what?”

Mal looked over his shoulder into the darkness, then back at Deb. “I’ll tell you in the car. Please. Let’s go.”

The breeze kicked up, and Deb heard it again, faint but unmistakable.

Giggling.

It took less than ten seconds for them to get into the car, lock the doors, and get the hell out of there.

 

# # #

 


Buck and a half.”

The bartender was overweight, unshaven, and his apron bore stains from days before, stains that were easy to see even in the low lighting of the smoky, shitkicker bar.

Felix Richter slapped a ten next to the can of
Miller High Life
. The bartender reached for it, but Felix’s finger kept it pressed to the bar counter top.


I’m looking for a bed and breakfast in these parts.”

The bartender spit tobacco juice into an ashtray. “Then get yourself a map, boy.”


This one isn’t on any maps. It’s called the Rushmore Inn.”

The man sitting next to Felix—stereotypical redneck hunter-type—leaned closer. Felix ignored him, watching the bartender, searching his eyes for any sign of recognition.


Never heard of it.”

If the bartender was lying, he was good at it. Felix had become pretty good at spotting liars. He’d talked to more people in the last year than he had in his previous twenty-six.

Still keeping his finger on the bill, Felix tugged a worn photo from the breast pocket of his flannel shirt. He held it up.


Seen her before?”


Can’t say that I have.”


Maybe it would help if you looked at the goddamn picture.”

The bartender’s eyes flitted to the photo, then back to Felix. “Don’t recall,” he said, spitting again.


I’ll pay for the information.” Felix dropped his voice. “I have a lot more money.”


Then buy yourself some swabs to clean out your ears. I never saw the girl before.”

Felix let him take the ten. Then he flipped the picture around and stared at it.

Like always, seeing her face made his jaw get tight. Her voice played in his head, even though her last words to him had been an acronym-filled text.

Felix – you’re probably asleep. I’m at a creepy B&B, not the hotel. Long story, but it’s free. That equals more money to spend on our honeymoon. We’ll talk later. Ta-ta for now, hope to see you soon, love you, Maria.

He thought about looking at his phone to read the message again, for the ten thousandth time. Then he thought about calling her, just to hear her voicemail message. He kept paying her monthly cell bill even though the account hadn’t been used in twelve months.

The barkeep brought back his change. Felix took it, left the beer untouched, and got up to leave.

How many bars had it been so far? Fifty? Sixty? Add in the restaurants, the gas stations, the motels, the homes, and it was well over a hundred he’d visited.

Not too many left.

And then what? Give up? Finally have her declared dead and give her the funeral her parents have been pleading for since Christmas?

No. Felix wasn’t going to give up on Maria. Ever. When he’d asked questions at every shop and residence within a hundred square miles, he’d start over at the top of the list.

Someone had to know where the Rushmore Inn was.

If the Rushmore Inn even exists.

Felix stepped out into the night, rolling his head on his neck, loosening up the tension in his shoulders. The bar parking lot wasn’t paved, and the gravel crunched underfoot like freshly fallen snow.

He looked out over the road, into the dark forest.

The women I love is in there. Somewhere.

After Maria went missing, he’d tried all the conventional methods of getting her back. The police. The FBI. Hanging fliers. Offering a reward for information. Even hiring a private detective.

The only thing he’d accomplished was getting fired from his job, which turned out to be a good thing. It freed him up to investigate full time.

Unfortunately, his unemployment checks were just about ready to run out, and the only lead he’d uncovered in all of his searching and questioning was a vague reference by an old drunk to a bed and breakfast called the Rushmore Inn.


Supposedly it’s been in these parts forever, but no one knows where it actually is. Or those that know, don’t tell. It’s like one of them roach motels. People check in, but they don’t check out.”

Felix questioned him further, but his answers became increasingly incoherent. Drunken mumblings of strange rituals and birth defects. The old woman who lived in a shoe. Something to do with blood types. He eventually passed out in mid-ramble, right at the bar. When Felix went to visit him the next day, having written down his address from his driver’s license, the old man wasn’t there.

He turned up that afternoon. The state trooper said it was a car accident. But Felix had seen the supposed crash site. The blood trail went on for almost a quarter of a mile. Like someone had tied a rope around the old guy and took him for a drag.

Felix took a big gulp of West Virginia air. It smelled clean and fresh, but there was a sour note beneath it. Felix hated the country. He hated the trees, and the mountains, and the clear sky, and the beautiful sunsets. If he ever found Maria, he’d never leave the city again.

When,
he corrected himself.
When I find Maria.
Not
if.

He climbed into his pick-up; a purchase meant to help him blend in with the locals, like his flannel shirts and work boots and unshaven face. Digging out the area map, he drew an X through
Mel’s Tavern.
The map contained so many Xs it was getting tough to see the roads.

A knock on the driver’s side window startled Felix. He looked up, saw a man standing next to his truck. The hunter from the bar.

He was older than Felix, maybe mid-thirties, and in no danger of ever winning a beauty pageant. Tall and pudgy, like he’d never lost his baby fat, sporting a plump, almost feminine face, which had a strange appearance to it that Felix realized was a complete lack of facial hair. No stubble. No eyebrows. Not even eyelashes. In contrast, the black hair on his head looked like a wig.

Felix unrolled the window with one hand. The other he stuck under his seat, finding his nine millimeter Beretta.


Heard you talkin’ ‘bout the Rushmore Inn,” the hairless guy said. “You payin’ for information?”


Top dollar.”

The man looked around, uneasy. His denim overalls were splotched with brown stains. “This ain’t a good place to talk. You stayin’ nearby?”

Felix considered what to say. He decided on the truth, since the chance of learning something outweighed the potential danger.


Place called the Cozynook Motel. Outside of Slatyfork.”


What room?”

Did he really want the hunter to know his room number? What about Cameron?

The hell with Cameron.


One ten.”


I can come by, hour or so.”

Felix tried to play it cool. Maybe the hunter knew something. Or maybe he just wanted to round up some buddies, drop by, and rob him. In these parts, apparently strangers weren’t missed.


I’m looking for this woman,” he said, flashing Maria’s picture. “Have you seen her?”

The hunter studied the picture. Felix studied his eyes.


She one of them try-atha-leets?”


You’ve seen her?”

The hunter shrugged. “All kinda look the same. But if she was at the Rushmore, she probably got in some deep shit. I’ll come by later, we talk some more.”

If he did have information, Felix didn’t plan on leaving him out of his sight. He’d done that once before, and the guy wound up a thousand yard smear on Highway 39.


I was planning on checking out tonight,” Felix lied. “If you have something to tell me, we could take a walk in the woods.”

The hunter shook his head. “Woods ain’t safe ‘round here.”


How about we take a ride, then? Drive around for a bit?”


Maybe. What’s your blood type?”

Felix blinked. “Excuse me?”


Blood type. You know. Type A, type B, type O.”

What the hell kind of question is that?

Then he remembered the old drunk said something about blood types.

Was there a connection?


I’m A. A positive.”

John sucked on his lower lip, then blew it out. “Okay. We can take a ride.”

The big man walked around the front of the truck, and Felix noted the large hunting knife strapped to his leg. When he climbed in, the cab bounced from his weight.

All of the sudden this seemed like a very bad idea.


We drivin’ or what?”

Felix had to let go of the gun to turn the ignition. His initial feeling of hope was replaced by uneasiness. This guy was so big his head touched the ceiling.

Other books

Angel Falling Softly by Woodbury, Eugene
The Bandit King by Saintcrow, Lilith
Stone Maidens by Lloyd Devereux Richards
The Handfasting by Jenna Stone
The Relatives by Christina Dodd