The Gods Are Always At The Gates / Chapter Two
- CHAPTER TWO -
Paige Anderson drove a cautious nine miles over the speed limit, keeping a wary eye on the cars well ahead of her for signs that they’d seen a cop lying in wait. Time was a luxury she didn’t have. Stuck between the rock of needing to get to the site as fast as possible and the hard place of not getting unavoidably delayed by the well-meaning rule of law. She glanced compulsively from speedometer to rear-view to clock to road to GPS to speedometer ad infinitum. 84 MPH, ease up on her right foot. No cops in sight. 10:41, making good time. Minimum safe distance between her and the car in front. Halfway there, exit the highway to the right in fifteen miles, then all back roads. 79 MPH. She nodded to herself in satisfaction and thumbed the cruise control.
Twenty or so miles outside I-285 the traffic thinned into more stable patterns familiar with road trips and long-haul truckers. She let out a long breath and worked her shoulders and back into a more comfortable position in the seat, unwinding tension she’d been collecting since she got the call from Marjory Parilla. Marjory had been something of a mentor to Paige while an undergrad and was now her PI and source of encouragement in her post-doc. She’d received her call upon arriving at the lab and was out the door after a few frantic moments packing her field kit, wheeling the squeaking dolly full of equipment behind her. Marjory had explained on the phone that there was an incident in the mountains a couple hours north and that there was a peculiar, potentially dangerous, involvement with fungi of some sort. Despite her age, Paige was a published mycologist, proven among her fellows, on the cutting edge of fungi-human interaction and symbiosis. Naturally, she had been Marjory’s first call when her contact had described the events and its connection to mushrooms.
Marjory had explained that one of the men suspected to have ingested this mushroom concoction was dead, and had urged Paige to exercise caution as a result. Paige had assured her she would, but cutting-edge science involved risk. It was unfortunate that a man had died, but what an opportunity that afforded her. In truth that was the greatest reason for her rush. The body changed so rapidly after death, every minute counted when it came to the details, and now six hours or more will have passed since the subject expired. Paige had begged Marjory to tell the officers on scene not to touch anything and certainly not to put the body into cold storage. According to Marjory, no one was going near the body until someone more qualified was on the scene.
That suited Paige, but it still meant she needed to get there fast to collect crucial data. She flicked her indicator and exited the highway. Her path took her past farm-land and pasture, plot after plot, interspersed with the modest homes to broken down trailers owned by the people she assumed also worked the farms and animals that grew there. She cranked the AC to max and bumped the blower another notch as a bead of sweat trickled from behind her left ear and traced the line of her neck. The Hyundai’s AC just couldn’t keep up with Georgia August heat and humidity.
She reviewed heat and humidity trial records in her head. From spore to spawn should be about five days in this temperature, and another week from spawn to fruiting body. At least that was roughly true of any of the psychoactive varieties currently cataloged in nature so there should be plenty of time to review and catalog data before their next life cycle. She would have to make some allowances for the officers. It was unlikely that they would allow her to keep a putrefying body in their lock up for any length of time beyond what was absolutely necessary for evidence gathering. Maybe she could request a good tissue sample, something that would allow her to study the lifecycle of the fungus without also leaving a whole body decomposing in the jail.
She had hardly formulated an argument for keeping the body in place when she saw the sign “Entering Garfield’s Crossing” and shortly after she was idling at a stop sign on the end of a business district behind a pack of bikers fifteen strong. Marjory had told her that Doctor Dutch Houser would meet her at the police station and make all the appropriate introductions. The bikes roared away and left her ears ringing.
She checked her GPS, no signal. "Damn," she breathed. The map was still up, but it had stopped recording her position. Prodding her device, she tried to trace the purple overlaid route to where she assumed she now sat.
Just then there was a sharp tap-tap on her driver's side window. She flinched.
A wiry officer stood on the street outside with the bottom edge of an overlarge Maglite against her window. He bent at the waist and looked in, smiling cordially, “Ma’am?” He had a narrow jaw, freckles, blonde peach-fuzz on his upper lip and would have been cute had his face not landed halfway between baby and rogue. He reminded her of someone’s kid brother. He tapped the window with his flashlight again, “Ma’am.” he said, this time more sternly. She rolled down the window and someone behind her laid on their horn.
The officer, R. Lovett by the stitching on his uniform, stood up sharply and pointed with his flashlight again, hand on a radio at his hip where Paige expected to see a gun.
“Now, hold on Patty,” he commanded.
A horn bleated rapidly before being pressed solid again. “Move it, you tourist!” came a gravelly female voice, spitting words like they tasted foul.
Officer R. Lovett took a warning step forward and jabbed the air with his flashlight. “Patty! I’ve got this under control.”
The words had barely left his mouth when the horn held down again, “You too, Scooter! Get the hell out of the road!!”
Officer R. Lovett flinched, skipping backward as if to avoid a kick aimed at him and stooped down to eye level with Paige. “Ma’am, please move your car. Just park at Greene’s Pharmacy across the street and I’ll meet you over there.”
She started to ask a question but the horn sounded again and R. Lovett, looking miserable and now quite desperately pleading, gestured with his head to the lot on the other side of the intersection. Paige complied, pulling into a parking space just in front of the brick building with Greene’s Pharmacy painted across the glass.
Watching from her car, Paige saw the horn’s owner, a whale of a woman in a faded floral pattern blouse and stringy gray hair glaring at her as she accelerated away in an Astrovan made of rust and primer. R. Lovett glared after Patty and jogged over to the pharmacy. Paige noted his easy lope and the disparity between his head and his body, one a gawky teenager, and the other built like a farm implement, robust and lean.
The young officer paced up to her car, slipping his flashlight into a wide loop on his belt and bent at the knees, leaning on her open window frame. “I’m sorry about that, ma’am. Patty... Well, some of the locals just don’t like tourists.”
“Oh, I’m not a tourist.” she said quickly.
“No?” he furrowed his brow, “I didn’t mean nothin’ by it. I just thought... Well ‘cause you look lost, and you were messing with your GPS there.” he squinted at her outdated nav unit. “Is that a TomTom? Yeah, those things just don’t work up here for the most part. You’ll have a better time with a map.”
“A map? Where am I going to find somewhere to buy a map?” she said, incredulous.
“We got a few general maps at the Sheriff’s office I could get you for free or if you need more detailed one, Samuel at the General Store sells local road atlases.”
“Actually, Officer Lovett,” she added with a sly grin, “I was looking for the Sheriff’s station. I’m supposed to meet Doctor Dutch Houser there.”
“Are you?” he said nodding while his eyes lost some of their light, and the corners of his boyish smile fell.
“Y-Yeah,” She stuttered, “I’m supposed to be advising on a case. Is there something wrong?”
“What?” then as if remembering himself, “Oh! Right, no. No. Nothing’s wrong. I just. You aren’t what I was picturing when they said a doctor from Georgia State was coming in.” He stood and walked around to her passenger door, then opened it and sat down heavily.
Paige’s eyebrows drew together and lifted an inch, “Umm, what are you doing?”
“Oh! I’m sorry. I’s gonna show you where the station is,” he added sheepishly, “and I don’t have my own patrol car yet, so it’ll just be easier this way.”
Her eyebrows fell but remained knitted as she put the car into reverse, “Oh. Okay, thank you?”
Ray, as it turned out his name was, guided Paige to the station past the two dozen shops that made up the downtown strip. It was mid-day on a Saturday, but even still she was surprised by the quantity of people on the streets and in the shops and handful of restaurants for such a small town.
“Planning on sticking around for long?” Ray asked.
“A week or two maybe, it really depends on the situation,” she replied automatically then as if catching up with the conversation, “actually do you know a decent motel? Near the station if possible?”
“You could stay down by the river, but” He gestured up a rise of steep hills, “Sunset Inn is pretty much the nicest place in town. It’s clean and they got cable.”
Paige leaned on the steering wheel and craned her neck at the next of the numerous stop signs on main drag and saw the building Ray had pointed out. Perched at the top of a steep rise midway up one of the myriad ridges that made up the Appalachian foothills was a long white single-story building with a shingled roof. Jutting off the main office on the far left corner was a retro futuristic 1960’s neon sign that read “Sunset Inn” and another below it that read “Vacancy”.
Ray said, “turn’s coming up,” and indicated with a nod to a building at the end of the business strip. The police station was a modern red-brick two story with a severe, but welcoming exterior and generous parking lot in front. As she slowed she could see the tall chain link fence topped in decidedly unwelcoming coils of razor wire, behind which rested a small fleet of squad cars.
She pulled in and started to wheel to the front but Ray reached over and rolled it the other way, guiding them around the side of the building toward the fence. “Just around the back here there’s a couple free spots, you can park in one uh them.”
She looked down at his hand on the wheel and one of her eyebrows rose nearly to her hairline. He released the wheel back into her hands. From the street, the chain link looked like it ran directly into the building, but as they closed on the barrier she saw that the side of the station jogged back to the right with enough space between the building and the fence for a pair of overlarge cars to pass each other side by side. After roughly a hundred feet the building continued its backward journey and it was there that the chain link intersected the station. The result was a small parking lot which terminated in the building’s booking entrance.
His eyes locked on the reinforced double doors as she rounded the back edge of the building. The muscles at his jaw and close-cropped hairline stood out as knotted bulges and his head swiveled to track the door as they pulled between two faded white lines next to a beat up green Tahoe. She touched his hand which had curled, knuckles white around the e-brake handle and said impatiently, “Ray.”
He flinched from her a fraction but recovered quickly, “Huh?” he asked.
“Are you getting out?”
“Oh. Uh, yeah,” he said and released his grip.
She put the car in park and killed the engine, bumping the open trunk button on her way out. Ray was already at the back of the Accent hefting out the dolly and stacking her gear. She slung her messenger bag with her laptop and some reference materials over one shoulder and across her chest. Ray snapped on the last bungie, tilted the dolly up to its wheels and cradled the last Rubbermaid under his arm. Paige blinked, and readied an admonishment but on closer inspection her equipment was safe and secure, and despite the weight of the tub under his arm he didn’t even have lean to balance it, he just waited patiently.
“Well,” she said. “Lead on.”
Ray led them up the short ramp to the stairs. As they approached the doors, there was a loud rattling buzz. In practiced motion, he hiked a foot and hooked his toe in the looped steel door handle.
Paige rushed forward to catch the door as Ray hauled it open with his foot, “Oh! I could have—“
He turned smoothly and opened the door with his back, smiling warmly, “It’s okay, thank you though. I got it.”
She rolled her eyes and pressed her lips together, walking around the dolly and in through the open door. “Thank you, Officer,” she said stiffly.
Ray continued giving her a puppy dog grin.
The back half of the building was all reinforced cinder block, sealed and enameled a pale yellow that gave the interior a incongruously cheery appearance. Wire-mesh reinforced windows were installed halfway up the wall and ended twelve inches before the ten foot ceilings affording a view into the various rooms on either side. Immediately to her left was a room with hard plastic institutional seating built in two rows with plenty of exposed metal piping. While the room was empty now, Paige could imagine it full of men resembling the bikers she’d seen on her way in, surly or drunk, with fresh black eyes or fat lips from some bar fight. There was an office or internal room resembling a bank tellers window complete with a metal box designed to pass small objects or forms back and forth projected into the room, it too was unoccupied.
To her right, Paige could see the familiar sight of a clinic made slightly hostile by the way most of the cabinets and doors had reinforced locks on them. A man slouched on a stool in front of a laptop looking down his nose through a pair of thin reading glasses with a sour look on his face. His hair, and stubble on his jaw and neck, was mostly gray, shot through with black threads, but despite the obvious signs of age his face remained that of a man in the last throes of his prime. He reminded her of Robert Redford in Spy Games. The door closed loudly behind them and the man blinked up from his computer. He hopped up and pointed to the door several yards down the hall, moving in the same direction.
He opened the door and voice like gravel, though not unpleasantly so, issued from his throat, “Paige Anderson, I presume?” He pulled the readers apart at the bridge of the nose and let them hang loosely around this neck by a thin wire strap. Dark circles were under his eyes.
She nodded, “Dr. Paige Anderson. Dr. Parilla said someone needed a consult on a case here?”
“We most certainly do. Dutch Houser, but most people here call me Doc,” He offered his hand, and she shook it. “Marjory said you were the expert on fungi and the like.”
“An expert at least. The expert remains to be seen.” She smiled.
His face remained solemn and he gestured at the field kit Ray was still holding.
“Scooter, can you put that in here and help set it up on the bench next to my laptop?”
“Sure thing, Doc.”
Paige began to protest, but Doc took her by the shoulders and started them down the hallway again, “Scooter’s a sharp kid and he’s uncommonly careful for one who grew up throwing hay and spiking tobacco leaves. We need to get you up to speed and get you introduced.”
He let go of her shoulders and started down the hallway in brisk strides. After one final glance at her precious lab equipment, she hurried to catch up. By the time she reached him, Doc had already gone through a door to the right where he held it open for her. Through the threshold, the institutional laminate floor and cinder block gave way to high traffic carpet and drywall. A short distance down the hall took them past a kitchen and a stairway then into a bullpen, lined with two rows of desks. She could see the waiting area and front door beyond from where she stood at the back of the room. Near the front and off to one side, a woman with copper hair sat facing stacks of radio gear, a big computer screen, and a phone with two dozen lights on it. A coiled cord dangled from the oversized headset and mic that cupped her ears and ran into a box between the phone and the radio. In addition to the desks, there were three offices marked: Conference room one (currently unoccupied), Deputy Sheriff (closed with the lights off), and Sheriff. A tall dark skinned man with a square jaw and hair cut close to the scalp stood in the Sheriff’s office’s doorway with a phone pressed to his ear with one hand and beckoning with his other. He had a day’s growth of silver and black on his cheeks and jaw and hard look in his eyes.
Paige and Doc walked over.
“The site’s empty?” he said to the phone in a neutral tone.
As they closed the distance, Paige could hear someone on the other end of the phone speaking but couldn’t make out what was being said. Judging by the star on his chest and the title on the door, this was the Sheriff.
He squeezed his eyes shut and pressed on the bridge of his nose with the index finger of the hand holding the phone, leaning on the desk with his other fist. She could hear the phone's plastic creak in the Sheriff's hand. After a moment, he re-settled his grip on the phone and relaxed the tension in his fist, resting his hand, palm down on the desk. “Mazzy, I’m gonna need you to bring in Eric Bacon.” There was a pause. “Tell him I’m cashing in a favor.” His voice was warm, with an intermittent southern twang.
The other end of the line buzzed with an animated voice.
“Make sure the boys know the score, and you don’t go into the Devil’s Grin without at least two other officers.”
Though the words were unclear, the tone on the other end was clipped and tense.
The Sheriff hung up the phone with his lips pressed into a line then looked up and addressed the pair waiting at his door. His eyes were the color of dark honey, though the scowl and bags of a sleepless night that they wore made Paige somewhat less distracted by them. He held out his hand, “Sheriff Abernathy Jackson.”
Paige took his hand and while he did not actually crush hers, she was intensely aware of the strength behind it. “Doctor Paige Anderson. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Doc spoke up, “Abe, this is the mycologist expert Marjory recommended.”
“Excellent,” he said getting up and turning sideways to get past them out the door, “Come with me.” They followed in step behind him and started back the way they came. “Doctor Anderson, thank you for coming up on such short notice and lending us your expertise. How much has Doc told you?”
“I haven’t said anything to her yet, Abe, I wanted her to get eyes on the situation before I spoiled her interpretation.”
He nodded, “Good point, Doc.” They entered the institutional part of the building again and went through a doorway almost directly across the hall. Sheriff Jackson took down a clip-board, scribbled in it, then put it back on the wall and snatched a key out of a lockbox, then closed box again.
He gripped the handle to the only other door in the room then turned to Paige. “Are you ready?”
During her thesis work, Paige had travelled extensively through South America, Africa, and South Asia. She had seen the ugly face of disease and all the dignity-robbing ways in which it manifests in the human body repeatedly during her travels, and was quite prepared to deal with anything little podunk Garfield’s Crossing had to offer.
She scoffed and rolled her eyes, “yeah, I’m ready.”
Abernathy looked from her to Doc and back, seeming to gather himself, then turned, punched in a code, and hauled the reinforced door open.
The screams and gabbling voices hit her like a physical force and she may as well have been standing at the doorway to an abattoir. A limited number of coherent words and phrases made it to her ears but none of them indicated happy or pleasant things. Without realizing it, she had backed up into the wall behind her, furthest from the now open door. She scowled and admonished herself for having such an emotional response to the screaming. Rationally, she knew that this was a jail block and that all the prisoners would be behind heavy secure doors. Like stepping into a pair of shoes, she pulled on her clinical detachment, and stepped forward. “Lead on, Sheriff Jackson.”
They walked down the single hallway with closed reinforced doors on either side. Every door was recessed eight or nine inches and had no visible hinges. At roughly eye height, there was thin strip of metal with a knob on one end, and another hinged flap of reinforced steel at waist level. A door on her left made a huge bang as someone threw themselves against it and Paige flinched in surprise, then clamped down hard on the irrational panic. She followed Sheriff Jackson to the last door in the row where he waited with the key inserted into the lock.
He twisted the key. She could feel the bolts retract through the floor as they clunked home inside the steel casing of the door. He slid the door aside into its recessed pocket. The smell of death uncoiled from the room like a living thing, slow and lazy.
She heard Doc breathe a curse and Sheriff Abernathy went rigid.
She slid past the well muscled Sheriff and into the room where the body lay on its back, an arm hanging limply over the side of the raised concrete platform that served as a bed. Edging closer she looked on, enthralled. The subject’s black t-shirt hung in tatters, exposing the chest. Pale white bulbous protuberances boiled through the surface of the corpse’s skin in several places across the chest and abdomen. The tallest of such protrusions had already burst open, dripping a sticky tar smelling of rotting meat and was, strictly speaking, impossible at this stage of decomposition. The mushroom’s livid pink flesh gaped like an alien mouth, five thick curled tendrils resembling tongues sagging limply from a pit oozing with the brownish black muck.
“Jesus Christ,” she breathed, “how long did you wait to call for help?”
There was a ripping sound and one of the irregular white bulbs expanded like an inflating balloon. As the surface stretched it became almost transparent exposing more pink arms pressing their way out, trying to burst free as they grew beyond the bounds of their cap.
“Incredible...” Paige stepped closer, taking a pen from her pocket and reached out to probe the yellowed transparent membrane. The sheriff’s hand closed gently around her forearm and pressed it back to her side.
“Doctor Anderson, I don’t think that's a good idea.”
“Huh? Oh... yes. It’s just so remarkable. How long has he been dead?”
“Between six and ten hours,” The Sheriff interposed himself between the body and her, then started walking them to the cell door. Even in a room full of death she could smell Abernathy, all cinnamon and cedar.
“No,” She said firmly, shaking her head, “That’s simply not possible, that’s a clathrus archeri, and they take at least a week to develop a fruiting body like that.” Abernathy maneuvered her out of the room and closed the cell door behind them, locking it again.
She pressed forward as he stepped out of the way and peered through the open slat near the top of the door.
“Can you tell us if this thing is a risk to anyone else? Is that going to happen to the other people who were affected?”
“I’m not sure, but we can certainly find out. If he truly died less than 24 hours ago then I see no way for the mushroom to be growing in him at all let alone to be fruiting. Don’t get me wrong, a dead body is a great source of nutrients for any fungi but a living body just isn’t hospitable for most until the immune system is compromised or dead”.
The mushroom made a squeal of protest as it stretched an inch further.
Doctor Houser asked, “What would you need to make the determination?”
More squeaking and squealing emanated from the recently expanded mushroom cap, Paige could not tell for sure, but she thought she saw a tendril actually press against the thin but sturdy film that remained over the top.
The mushroom burst with a subdued pop, sending an almost invisible spray in the air. Paige flinched. She slapped the eye slat closed, “That’s incredible.”
She didn’t respond, simply moved with long purposefully strides back down the hall toward the door out.
Dutch and Abernathy caught up to her as she reached the cell door.
“What’s incredible?” Abernathy asked.
She waved in the direction of the last cell frantically, “That’s not possible! None of that is.” Paige stopped and whirled on Abernathy and Dutch, her face alight with excitement, “It just released airborne spores.”
The men didn’t react.
She rolled her eyes, “Which the clathrus archeri doesn’t have!” She turned and rushed forward down the hall again with awkward over long strides, “Instead it has thick gooey stuff called gleba which carry the spore. It’s gotta be some mimic species or mutation. And that growth rate. No way,” she said with a slashing of her hand. “Not even close to normal.” They reached the door to the clinic, and she twisted the knob, yanking with her whole body. It didn’t budge and her hand slipped off. “Doctor.” she said expectantly, now pacing as if she was a windup toy with her spring wound too tight.
Dutch punched a code into the lock and gave it a twist.
Paige pushed through the door before he had it all the way open. Ray had finished setting up all the equipment, but was nowhere in sight. She tore open a rubbermaid and rifled through the contents, pulling out a heavy duty N95 mask with can filters, a set of goggles, blue nitrile gloves, and a white lab apron.
“What can we do?” asked Dutch.
She paused, pulled a few strands of her brown hair out of her mouth with the hook of her pinky then responded, “Yes, I need cultures and plates prepared. I need samples of the gleba, the spores, I need an autopsy performed on the body to confirm TOD and to see what other surprises we have in store. I also need toxicology ran on the body to see if there is anything weird affecting the growth.”
Dutch nodded. “I can do an autopsy.”
“Can you perform it on the cell? I want to try and keep conditions as stable as we can. At least until we know more.”
Abernathy inclined his head, “Dutch, I’ll help you carry whatever gear down that you need.”
Doctor Houser looked up from where he was collecting a second N95 mask and goggles, “Thanks, Abe.”
* * *
They set to their tasks collecting kits and equipment, Paige was ready to collect samples in short order and impatiently tapped her foot while the men collected gear on instrument trays. Abe gave her the code to the cell block and the key to cell four and she rushed off. Dutch and Abernathy carefully wheeled two trays down the hall, stacked full of equipment, kidney shaped stainless steel bowls for samples, a scale, battery operated drills and specialized saws for the autopsy. They met Paige heading back to the lab, her face was red where the oversized goggles and breathing mask had pressed into it. She beamed at Abe. The satchel over her shoulder bulged with sample containers.
As she passed him she reached out and squeezed his forearm, “This is so exciting, don’t you think?” her hand lingered on his arm.
Abe’s brow knit into a knot and he pressed his lips in a line. “Well,” he said, “it is a murder investigation... So, yeah, I guess it’s exciting. Though I’d just as soon have everyone in my cells safe and sound at home and not locked up tripping out waiting to maybe keel over.”
She bobbed her head and shrugged her shoulders, “Well, I mean, of course I don’t wish them dead, but a radically new species of potentially deadly fungi! It’s very exciting.”
“When you put it that way, yes, I suppose it is.” he nodded slowly.
“Abe. You coming?” Dutch called from the doorway to the detention cells.
“Duty calls,” He nodded to his arm, where Paige’s hand still rested.
She pulled it back, as if surprised she had left it there, “Of course.” Lifting the strap of her satchel, “Duty calls.” she answered with a little chuckle then sped down the corridor to the clinic.
Entering the cell blocks, the detainees seemed more subdued. The screaming was less frantic and frequent, the constant grating panicked rambling was now a low mumble further muffled by the reinforced steel doors. They rolled their carts down to cell four. Paige had left the key dangling in it. They opened the cell and wheeled in.
A cap popped softly and sent up a spray from where it filled John Doe’s mouth. Five vivid pink tongues flopped with a wet slap onto the dead man’s nose, cheeks and chin. The boil of fungi that erupted from the body’s chest had been excised and was left an angry gash. Dutch fit the face mask over his mouth and nose, settled goggles over his eyes and finally donned a pair of surgical gloves and black rubber apron. The smell of wild roses curled into Abernathy’s nose, replacing the rotten miasma that filled the air outside the cell. A sudden and powerful sneeze demanded his attention, and left his eyes watery, “Doc, what the hell do you wash that with?” gesturing to the autopsy gear Dutch wore.
“This?” Dutch picked at the apron, his voice muffled by the mask. “Downy, it’s the only thing that gets the stink off.”
“Well lay off, maybe.” He sneezed again.
Dutch shrugged, “Listen, I got this. Why don’t you go see to your team. See if they’ve made any progress.”
“Yeah. Okay.” Abe turned away and checked on the detainees on his way out. He stepped up to each door, sliding the view port open to check on his charges as he went. It reminded him of an asylum more than a jail house. Men and women sat on the floor, rocking and hugging themselves, or pacing the length of their cell dragging a shoulder against the wall the whole time.
He found Philip standing stock still and inches from the door when he looked in on him, a persistent twitch in his left eye and a tremor in his hand on the same side. “Phil, you okay?”
Philip nodded spasmodically and a whimper escaped his lips.
“It’s going to be okay, we’re looking for a way to help you. We’ve got a specialist from Georgia State up here and she’s gonna help us get to the bottom of this, don’t you worry.”
Philip’s face went slack and the tremor in his hand stopped. “You can’t stop them, Abernathy.” Phil’s voice was harsh and raw. “They’re so patient. And now that they’ve found a way, they’re gonna do what they’re gonna do.”
He shook his head and a sob escaped his lips before he choked it off, his face returning to a blank mask. Abernathy watched Philip’s eyes fill with tears and overflow. “The gods are always at the gates, Abe. Somebody left the gate unlatched and now they’re here.” Philip looked over Abe’s shoulder and his chest shook with a suppressed sob and his chin wrinkled trying to contain it. “He’s so hungry, Abe. Sooooo. Hungry. I don’t know how to make him leave me alone. Everytime I close my eyes he’s right there. Can’t run. Can’t hide.”
“Philip, what are you talking about?”
Philip looked Abe in the eyes again, “Don’t trust her, Abe. She’ll just tell him where to find you. Don’t trust her.”
Abernathy shook his head, “Phil, don’t trust who?”
His lips pressed into a thin line and he shook his head slowly, tears drawing a clean line down either cheek.
The hair stood up on back of Abe’s neck and a moment later he understood why. Every cell had gone silent. A quick check showed the same thing in every one. The occupant stood in the same posture he’d found Philip, stock still inches from the door, gazing up at the view port.
Coming from cell four Abernathy could hear the battery powered bone saw cut wetly through the John Doe’s ribcage. He was about to go ask Dutch to check on the prisoners in a while, but his radio crackled, “Sheriff?” It was Mazzy. “We’ve got Eric waiting for questioning in interview one.”
He unclipped his walky. “Copy that, On my way.”
TO BE CONTINUED
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