Waldron Road

13 April, 1987 — near Addison, Michigan

The rain picks up the moment they pull out of the parking lot and just keeps getting heavier as they work their way through town and out to the highway, heading west. Geisler had been planning to use the flasher for a little extra speed on the way, but the rain is so heavy it’s all he can do to maintain the speed-limit, flashers or no flashers. In any case at 2:30 in the night there’s hardly anyone on the road that the flashers would have warned. Geisler remembers thinking that there would be a full moon that might help with visibility—but no trace of illumination is penetrating the clouds and rain. The inadequate glow thrown by the car’s headlights might as well be the only light in the world.

Or so it seems until the lightning starts. They have just turned south onto 127 when the storm becomes electrical. The lightning is only visible through the heavy rain as diffuse flashes, but it apparently sours Leonard’s mood still further. For the last ten minutes he’s been scowling out the rain-drenched windows. At the third flash of lightning, he makes a decision.

“All right,” he says. “Fuck this. I want some backup on this fucking thing.”

Geisler glances at him, then looks back at the highway. “We don’t even know what’s going on,” he says.

“Yeah,” Leonard says grimly. “Exactly.” He picks up the radio handset and keys it.

~

When they at last pull into the driveway, Sheriff Germond is waiting for them: a fit-looking man who looks to be about Leonard’s age—although the Sheriff still has his hair—standing under the shelter of the house’s porch in the pool of its weak yellow light.

“That’s interesting,” Leonard says as Geisler brings the car to a halt in front of the house behind the sheriff’s car.

“What?”

“Sheriffs have deputies,” Leonard says. “Where are they?”

Glancing around, Geisler sees that, indeed, there are no other vehicles in evidence. He shuts the engine down and he and Leonard get out to run through the downpour to join the sheriff in the shelter of the porch.

“Officers,” the sheriff says seriously, shaking hands with them, “thanks for coming.” Patrick makes introductions.

“I just want you to understand, Sheriff,” Leonard says as he briefly shakes the man’s hand, “Bill and I know that we don’t have any jurisdiction here.”

“Yes, yes, of course,” Germond says. “I don’t care about that, officer. I just—” He shakes his head, uncertain of how to proceed. Germond looks like he would normally be an easy man to talk to. Now, however, his face is closed, his expression troubled. “I just thought,” the sheriff speaks hesitantly, “since you both had some interest in—what’s been going on. And since you’ve already been talking to people about it, it might be better not to get too many people, you know—involved out here.”

Geisler is reminded that a sheriff is an elected official. A cross between a police officer and a politician.

“You don’t want too many of your deputies to get involved.” Patrick says.

Germond doesn’t like hearing it said quite that baldly, but after a moment he nods.

“Come on in and see what we’ve got,” he says. “If you’re worried about getting in trouble with your own boss—well I can always deputize you if you want. I just—I sure wouldn’t mind having some more eyes on this.” He looks at them for a moment longer then turns without another word toward the house.

~

The front door opens onto a sitting room that has a single lamp turned on and the sheriff’s rain coat draped over one chair. The men pass through this room and enter a short, darkened hallway that leads to the bedrooms.

“I left the lights off in here,” the sheriff says. “I didn’t want to touch anything.” He takes his flashlight—a long, silver Maglite that he detaches from a holster on his belt and holds in a grip that can make it into an effective club. Its circle of light fills the little hallway.

Geisler smells death before they enter the bedroom. And hears it, he realizes. The sound of rain is louder from the room up ahead, and as he reaches the door behind the sheriff and Leonard he sees why. The room’s window has been shattered inward. In all his years in the Ann Arbor police force, Bill Geisler has personally witnessed exactly three murder scenes. None of them have been easy.

Ahead of him in the room, Leonard curses. As Geisler enters, he sees what Leonard saw and has to look away for a few seconds, breathing deeply. One of the murders he worked on, several years ago, involved a stabbing. Even that did not involve nearly this much blood. And it did not prepare him to see a woman’s neck torn open.

Germond’s flashlight illuminates her, a middle-aged woman sitting against the bed’s headboard, her head hanging at an unnatural angle and the sheets soaked with blood.

“I think it actually killed her second,” Sheriff Germond says. The pool of illumination moves to the corpse of a man in the room’s corner. His neck has been opened in the same manner and the blood has flowed freely there as well, but there is also an isolated oval of blood on the wall several feet above the man’s head.

“Any idea what that is?” Patrick asks, pointing to the spot.

“Yeah,” the sheriff says after a moment. “That’s where the back of his head hit. I guess it sorta—” He takes a breath. “I guess it sorta threw him across the room.

“I figure,” the sheriff goes on after a moment, “that when it came in through the window, Jim went for the shotgun there.” The flashlight highlights an old double-barreled weapon standing untouched in the corner next to the empty side bed.

“Sheriff,” Patrick says slowly, “how did you get here?”

Germond doesn’t react for a few seconds, then turns to look at Leonard. The side glow from the sheriff’s flashlight underlights his face, making his hesitation to answer Leonard’s question obvious.

Leonard is just as obviously not very happy to be asking it. But he’s still going to ask. “These people were asleep when—” he waves a hand at the carnage. “When all this happened. They were surprised. ‘Jim’ here doesn’t look like he was in much shape to walk to the kitchen and make a phone call. But here you are. Sir,” Patrick looks at the sheriff, “how did you know to come here?”

Germond slowly lowers his light, looking at the two officers in its reflected glow. Outside, rain continues to fall, its sound loud through the broken window. There is a faint flash in the sky. Geisler had hoped that the electrical part of the storm had calmed down or maybe would pass east of this area, but it has apparently followed roughly the same path as he and Patrick did on their way down here. Geisler watches the sheriff’s face closely, waiting to see how he will react to Leonard’s questions.

“All right,” Germond says at last. “All right, come on, let’s at least go into the living room.”

He turns to leave the scene of slaughter.

~

Moving slowly, the sheriff walks to one end of the large living room where there are two matching leather chairs, oriented to face a modestly sized television. He does not take a seat, but walks around behind one of the chairs and puts his hands on its high back. Patrick enters the room and takes a seat on a sofa, while Bill Geisler contents himself with leaning against the wall just inside the room’s entryway. Germond looks down at his hands, deciding what to say.

“I got a call from Matt Rollin’s wife this evening,” he says, still looking at his hands. “Martha. She was—very upset. She was apparently talking to him on the phone when they got cut off. So, I went over there to check up on him.” The sheriff looks up at Leonard and Geisler, his expression tight. “He was gone. Door broken into. Blood on the floor. Just like this.”

He looks at the two Ann Arbor officers until Patrick breaks the silence.

“And then—you came here?”

Germond looks at Patrick then away again.

“Thirty years ago,” he says, “I was fifteen years old, working at my first job at Gamble Stores, over in Coldwater. I grew up there, actually, over in Branch County.” He pauses, seeing times long past. “I started working as a dishwasher at the lunch counter, three days a week after school, and that’s how I heard about this big deal that spring. It was three men from out of town, doing some early-season fishing on Coldwater Lake. Disappeared. People were talking about it at the restaurant or I actually wouldn’t have thought much about it. You know, kids that age don’t pay attention. But then there was this newspaper reporter who stopped in one day, and he was talking to people about it. He even asked me if I knew anything about the men. I didn’t, of course. But later on, he turned up missing, too. That’s what got my attention. At the time I thought ‘It got him too, because he went looking for it.’”

The sheriff hesitates while Patrick scowls, trying to understand his reason for bringing up this personal history. Watching Germond’s carefully controlled expression, a sudden understanding strikes Bill Geisler. He’s afraid, Geisler thinks. He’s afraid of this animal or whatever it is. The thought sends a thrill of fear up Geisler’s own back.

“When I saw that it had come for Matt Rollin, just like he was afraid of,” the sheriff resumes, “that did it for me. I’ve been getting this feeling ever since those boys were killed. I think this is the same thing from thirty years ago. It likes to takes its victims around water, for some reason. And it also deliberately goes after people who might be—a threat to it. People who start investigating.”

Geisler knows what the sheriff is going to say before the words come out of his mouth, and he knows with the certainty of predestination that the man is correct. Patrick, however, radiates skepticism.

“Sheriff,” he says, “you can’t seriously suggest that this is a killer from thirty years ago starting up again. I don’t think there’s any record of anything like that in the whole history of serial killers. The man would have to be in his mid-fifties by now. No man in his mid-fifties jumped through that window tonight, Sheriff.”

Outside, Geisler sees a flash of lightning which is followed a long ten seconds later by an almost inaudible rumble of thunder. He looks toward the window.

“You heard what Matt Rollin described, Detective,” Germond replies. “You know what I’m saying. The thing that’s killing people—I don’t think it’s a man at all. And not exactly an animal, either. It’s smart enough to go after people who know too much about it. And I think it’s been doing this for a long time.”

“What kind of not-exactly-an-animal waits thirty years between killings?” Patrick demands. “Why are you connecting this with something you heard about that long ago? There’s no reason!”

The sheriff nods and thinks for a moment.

“Yeah I guess I didn’t tell you that. It’s because Matt Rollin said the thing had claws, Detective. And when I was fifteen, when people were still talking to each other about the fishermen who disappeared, I heard a rumor at one point. People were whispering about it. They found the boat the men were using, a couple weeks later. It had been deliberately sunk in a little cove. And there were claws marks on it, Detective. Just like Matt Rollin described.”

“I can’t prove it, Detective, I admit that. But in my experience if you wait to be able to prove things you don’t get very far. I think this is the same thing that did it when I was a kid. I think it takes some victims and then—sleeps, I guess. It sleeps for a long time, until everybody has forgotten about it. Then it wakes up and—feeds again. I don’t think this is the first time, and I don’t think 1957 was the first time either.

“Now today I’ve had two pieces of very bad news,” the sheriff continues. “One was when I found Matt Rollin after Martha begged me to go over there. But before that, I heard that there’s three boys that are missing over by Mud Lake.”

The sheriff looks at Geisler, then at Leonard again.

“Now if you don’t want to be involved, you should go right now. But if you stay—we can’t underestimate this thing, Detective. I need to stop this thing now before it goes to sleep again, or this is just going to keep happening. It’s going to keep happening forever.”

Lightning flashes again, the sound of thunder coming quicker and louder now. As the sheriff has been speaking, Bill Geisler has been looking out the darkened window, watching, in flashes of momentary illumination, brush moving in the wind at the edge of the farmhouse yard. A sense of dread has been soaking into him until it fills his soul with ice. It feels like, as he looks out at the stormy night, the night is looking back at him.

“You’re the one underestimating it, Sheriff,” Geisler says.

From across the room, Germond looks toward Geisler silent but intent.

“Why didn’t it come here first and then go up to Matt Rollin’s place? Why didn’t it wait until he was asleep? It always hides its victims, so why didn’t it hide these people?” Geisler speaks with certainty flowing through him in cold waves. “Sheriff, it waited to kill Matt Rollin until he was on the phone. Because it knew Rollin’s wife would call you. It left these people here in this house because it knew you would call us. You said it was going after people who were a threat to it? Well, here we all are. In one room. Sheriff, I think it’s still here.”

There is a flicker of lighting outside, and a wind that makes the house’s old walls creak as though a great weight is gently testing their strength.

Geisler can see in the man’s eyes that the sheriff knows he is correct. The thing has trapped them all. Germond opens his mouth to speak—and there is a rushing, snarling sound from the front of the house.

In an instant, Germond has drawn his weapon, a large revolver, and is pointing it at the front door.

“No, Sheriff!” Leonard shouts, standing up quickly. “It’s two of my guys! I got a message to them before we came!”

The sound, Geisler realizes, was a car coming in fast and stopping hard on the driveway’s gravel. Leonard gets to the door first and throws it open. Headlights are still visible outside. Germond moves quickly to join him while Geisler follows more slowly, ice filling his veins. Geisler feels himself actually starting to shiver. He can feel the creature’s attention, like dark light, filling the room. As he steps out onto the porch, he realizes that he has again drawn his weapon without being aware of it.

The rain has mostly slacked off, but there are more lightning flashes in the sky and the thunder is close and insistent now.

Just stepping out of the car, Dantonio draws his weapon and goes into a stance, pointing at the outbuilding at the end of the driveway.

“Halt!” he shouts, then takes a few quick steps to the side and directs his voice to the men on the porch. “Man in black clothing! Just ran behind the barn!” From the other side of the car, Johnson starts to run toward the barn’s opposite corner.

“No! Officer!” Germond shouts. “Don’t follow it! It’ll kill you!” He leaps down the porch’s two steps and runs to his car, opening the trunk.

“Leonard!” he shouts. “Take this!” Patrick holsters his own weapon in time to catch the shotgun that Germond throws to him. It’s a short, pump action 12-gauge. He racks a round into it. “Officer, here! I have another one. Eight rounds in it!” He throws another one to Dantonio. “OK, now, you two around that side! Leonard, with me!”

He’s trying to either trap the creature against the back of the barn or drive it into the forest, each team of two men now armed with both a shotgun and a revolver.

It’s interesting, Geisler thinks, to see all three of them, even Patrick, fall right into line with the sheriff’s orders. The sheriff is, after all, basically a one-man police department for his entire county. And this is his county.

It’s also interesting that he has ignored Geisler, as though he instinctively knows that this particular police officer has somehow become useless, or as though the cold emanations that Geisler is feeling have rendered him invisible.

And he’s still feeling those emanations, stronger than ever.

Like a man in a dream, Geisler turns back toward the front door. He knows that he has to move as quietly as he has ever moved in his life, and even then he will need help.

Help comes in the form of a brilliant lightning flash just as he is laying his fingers on the door knob. An instant later the thunder comes: an enormous crack followed momentarily by a reverberating rumble that shakes the house. The lightning forked into two perfectly equal halves just before it reached the treeline, and the thunder is a weird deep vibrato of interference peaks and troughs.

At the height of the tumult, Geisler slips inside the farmhouse’s front door, moving as silently as a shadow.

And the beast is there.

He sees it standing in the kitchen, leaning with both hands on the edge of the sink, looking just like a man exhausted by infinite labors. It is barely visible, in the glow reflected from Dantonio’s headlights outside. The lights throughout the farmhouse have gone out. Did it cut the power? How did it get here so fast from behind the barn? Geisler wonders, even though he knew it would be here. The thing’s skin is perfectly-absorbent black, but it is wearing tattered clothing. It is not large, standing only perhaps five and a half feet if it were to straighten up.

It’s old. Understanding strikes Geisler like a blow to the heart. Older and more tired than you can imagine.

Then the thing moves, quicker than his eyes or thoughts can follow, and it is facing him. Its eyes are molten amber. Now it will kill me, Geisler thinks. He knows that it can cross the space between them and tear his throat out in the time it will take him to raise his weapon. There is hatred in the focus of its attention: hatred, fear, anger, betrayal, longing, hunger, and infinite, endless weariness.

These thoughts all come to him between one hammering beat of his heart and the next.

The creature takes two quick steps and launches itself into the air, just as there is a sound on the porch. The door bursts open, and Dantonio is there with Johnson behind him.

Dantonio doesn’t have time to react to the sight of a vague shape hurtling through the air before the beast is upon him and swiping at his neck with one blurring-quick claw. Geisler sees a spray of blood arcing through the air, lit in stop-motion by a muzzle-flash. Johnson has had time to get one shot off, although it goes wide. In the same flash, Geisler sees the sheriff kicking open the back door to the kitchen. He comes through shooting in the instant that he can see into the room.

The creature uses the momentum of its blow against Dantonio’s throat to rotate its body in mid-air, landing its feet on Johnson’s chest. It pushes off again, sending him hurtling backward and launching itself back toward the sheriff, but downward toward the floor. As the creature hits the floor six feet in front of him, the sheriff’s shot passes over its head. Claws raking grooves in the old flooring, the beast leaps upward, batting the sheriff aside with one hand and finally turning back toward Geisler, who has at last managed to raise his weapon. He is squeezing the trigger when the sound of a shotgun fills the room with thunder. Patrick has entered the front door.

The creature staggers backward as Patrick fires again. It turns and throws itself through the entryway into the kitchen and he fires twice more.

Geisler feels a sudden wave of nausea, gets an impression of space, darkness, and distance—and somehow knows that the beast is gone.

Patrick runs into the kitchen and stops, ready to fire again but lacking a target. As soon as he decides the creature is gone, he runs back into the living room.

“Bill! William!” he shouts, running up to put a hand on Geisler’s shoulder. “Are you hurt?”

Geisler blinks at him.

“No, I’m OK,” he mumbles finally, moved to speak by Leonard’s worried expression.

“OK,” Leonard says. “All right, good. Let’s get to the car.”

“The sheriff—”

“He’s gone.”

Geisler turns back toward the kitchen and sees Germond’s body, nearly decapitated, lying across the threshold. He turns back to the living room’s outside wall. Dantonio has had his throat torn out. Johnson doesn’t have a mark on him, but he is slumped against the wall, not breathing, his head hanging at an unnatural angle.

“Bill, you sure you’re OK?” Leonard asks.

“Yes, yes!” Geisler responds angrily. “It didn’t touch me.” The headlights from Dantonio’s still-running car are shining through the open front door. Looking down at himself, Geisler sees that he is covered with spattered blood. He staggers like a drunk, putting one hand to the doorjamb to steady himself.

“Let’s go call in,” Patrick says. “I nailed it twice. Whatever that damn thing was, I don’t think we’ll be seeing it again.

No we won’t, Geisler thinks. But he knows, as certainly as he could feel its presence in the house, that Leonard’s shotgun blasts didn’t kill it.

No, we won’t be seeing it for a long time.

From the farmhouse porch, Bill Geisler looks out into the darkness beyond the cars.

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