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Dark Harvest Part 1 - A Strange Death in Iowa

Posted by Max_Writer , in Call of Cthulhu, Campaign Log 07 May 2017 · 292 views

CoC 1-6e Jazz Age

Monday, April 24, 2017

 

(After playing the Call of Cthulhu scenario “Dark Harvest” by Kevin A. Ross from The Resurrected III: Out of the Vault Sunday from noon to 7 p.m. with James Brown, Yorie Latimer, and Ben Abbott.)

 

Frank Fontaine had continued to return to the Dreamlands after their strange adventure there. He spent a good amount of time dreaming up gems, gold, and other precious items to trade for slaves in Dylath-Leen, choosing to do so all at once in the fear the slavers might grow suspicious if he bought slaves over a period of time with dream gold that later disappeared. He purchased some two-score men and women of various races and took them out of the city and onto the road back towards Ulthar.

 

They settled on the river in a pleasant spot a day’s walk or so south of Ulthar. There he declared them free but suggested they settle on the spot to build a small village or a new home. The suggestion was met with some skepticism and worry from most of them. He tried to instill a sense of unity amongst them though many of them were unsure about the dreamer and his intentions.

 

He also learned that when he went back to sleep, he returned to the Dreamlands through the Cavern of Flame each time, and he didn’t always remember everything that had happened to him when he returned there. Sometimes his trips to the strange land seemed to be nothing but dreams themselves.

 

* * *

 

Dark Harvest

 

* * *

 

On August 8, 1928, William Schmidt aka Robert Ingerton received a letter in his P.O. Box postmarked Des Moines, Iowa. There was no return address. When he opened it, he found it contained a letter and two newspaper clippings. The letter read:

 

August 6, 1928

 

While on an investigation in Iowa, I stumbled across these two articles. The whole thing
has the stink of Aylesbury or the Putneys and I want nothing to do with anything like that
again. I thought it might interest you, though.

 

Sincerely,
Raymond Sayers

 

He remembered Raymond Sayers vaguely as one of the “no-names” he had brought along in the investigation of the missing children in Aylesbury, Massachusetts. They had investigated the missing children, which eventually led them to an altar dedicated to some terrible fertility god or goddess. The trees themselves had moved from the woods and attacked them. Sayers had accompanied them earlier, when they dealt with some kind of terrible goat-like things that had attacked them near the nearby Indian reservation. The man had been terribly injured in the fight.

 

He had no idea who the Putneys were.

 

The newspaper clippings were marked as being from the Boone News-Republican in Boone, Iowa. The first was dated July 19, 1928. It read:

 

Oak Valley Hunter sees naked witches

 

Oak Valley―A local man who says he was sober claims to have seen witches near
his hometown.

 

Lonnie Garber of Oak Valley was gallivanting about the county Tuesday night in the
wee morning hours, allegedly hunting and not just drinking, when he claims to have
witnessed the rites of a devil-worshipping cult near Oak Valley.

 

Garber claims to have seen a number of naked people cavorting and performing
animal sacrifices in “the middle of nowhere.”

 

“It was awful!” Garber said. “All them naked people doing … things.”

 

Needless to say, Garber stayed around for some time to watch, apparently hoping to
gather some kind of information, or at least to enjoy the show, perhaps?

 

Garber claims he wasn’t drinking but such claims hold little weight in the face of
such an outrageous tale. One simply has to wonder if the ‘witches’ had broomsticks
and cauldrons or if they were simply some couple having a tryst in the woods.

 

Garber denied the latter though perhaps it wasn’t drink that made him see what he
saw. Perhaps the man, who allegedly lives by himself in a shack in the woods, has
simply gone crazy. Garber denied that as well but who takes the word of a crazy man?

 

The second was dated August 4, 1928:

 

Oak Valley Hunter Found Dead in Creek

 

Oak Valley―A local man was found crushed to death in Smith Creek in Dodge
Township Thursday.

 

Lonnie Garber of Oak Valley was found dead and partially submerged in Smith
Creek north of Boone Rural Route 3 east of Oak Valley. Boone County Sheriff Roy
Creed stated the death was caused by the attack of an unknown wild animal.

 

The body was found by local Abe Riker, who noticed the corpse stuck on a tree limb
in the creek while hunting Thursday morning.

 

The Boone News-Republican wishes to apologize for statements made in an earlier
article about Garber.

 

Ingerton realized he might be able to refer the articles to his associate, Griffin H. McCree, the big game hunter. He could get McCree to pay him something for the hunt and then if he found anything esoteric at the sight, he could claim that for himself and sell it to Frank Fontaine.

 

On contact with McCree, he found the man willing to pay him $50 for the letter and the newspaper articles. Ingerton told McCree to wait and travel to Iowa the next day, having already found out when the next train west was heading out. He was too busy to go himself, he said, as he was trying to raise money for an orphanage.

 

He also contacted Joseph Johnson, whom he knew from dealing with the dark carnival a few months before. When he telephoned the man, the phone rang three times before it was picked up.

 

“Hello, who’s this?” the man on the other end of the line asked.

 

“Robert Ingerton!” Ingerton said. “Local philanthropist and child savior.”

 

“I remember. Child savior. Ran away from the children. Gotcha. Gotcha.”

 

“Ran away from the children?”

 

“Yeah, you were the first one out of that place, if I remember correctly.”

 

“Didn’t I shoot that zombie in the face with the flare gun?”

 

“I didn’t see anything like that.”

 

“When everyone else was outside?”

 

“Yeah, but you were still the first one out.”

 

“Oh, you mean I wasn’t able to stay with you all. I got called away on business.”

 

“Oh. Okay.”

 

“So, yes─”

 

“What are you calling about?”

 

“There is another fun-sounding adventure for you!”

 

“Fun?”

 

“I’ve asked my friend, a local big-game hunter, to help out in finding and stopping these forest murders.”

 

“Ah. How much … how much are y’all paying?”

 

“Paying? You’ll be in the paper!”

 

“Ah.”

 

“As the man who helped bring down the beast that killed Lonnie Garber!”

 

“So, just more honor? I’ve already been paid in honor by some other people too.”

 

“What about glory!?!”

 

“They paid in that too. Got the medals to show for it.”

 

“But this beast didn’t just kill the man, it crushed him with its body.”

 

“A tank’ll do that. I’ve seen it happen.”

 

“True … there were naked people dancing in the forest … are you interested in that? They could be witches. That’s what Garber thought and now he’s flattened.”

 

“Look, you’re going to have to come up with something much more substantial than naked people in the forest.”

 

“It was in the newspaper. About the naked people.”

 

“No, it’s not that I don’t believe. I mean as a reward. Payment. As … something to interest me.”

 

“Ah.”

 

“I have a job. I can’t just run around and help you.”

 

“How about if I gave you $50 to go help out my friend, McCree … with his hunt in the woods?”

 

“Fifty dollars sounds like a good starting fee. It’ll at least get me out there.”

 

“He said he’d be on the train at 10 a.m. in the morning.”

 

They rung off. Ingerton rang off to telephone McCree about the man.

 

* * *

 

McCree was determined to bring a camera with him this time as he had not gotten any photographs of the terrors that had attacked them in Howard Phillips’ nightmares. But first he had to get a few more people to join him on his Iowa safari after whatever had killed the man.

 

He knew a Providence Police Officer from the shooting range who preferred a Thompson sub-machinegun and the two had met at the range several times and hit it off. The young man’s name was Angelo Giovanni but everyone called him “Zippy.” He was a tall, thin, Italian man with slicked back hair. He had a New York City accent.

 

He telephoned Zippy.

 

“Hello,” a man answered on the other side.

 

“Zippy!” McCree said. “How are you, lad?”

 

“Uh, who’s this?”

 

“It’s McCree.”

 

“Aw, from the range. Yeah, I’m doin’ just fine, partner.”

 

“Good. I was wondering if you would like to go on a … a domestic hunting venture with … some rather dangerous game.”

 

“Dangerous game? Look, I ain’t lookin’ for any big chickens that you’re interested in. I’m not a … I’m not a huntin’ guy. I think you got me figured wrong.”

 

“But Zippy, I actually may need extra fire support because this sounds like something very dangerous. It smashed another hunter in the woods.”

 

“Yo, what kinda goose you chasin’?”

 

“That’s the thing. I’m not sure what kind of … goose … I’m chasing.”

 

“So, wait, hold on. Is this … is this actually a huntin’ trip or are you lookin’ for somethin’ else?”

 

“Honestly, I don’t know what I’m looking for!”

 

“Hm.”

 

“But I want its head.”

 

“You gonna have to give me the full story before you can expect me to just go runnin’ after you. What’s goin’ on here?”

 

They arranged to have dinner at a coffee shop they both knew and McCree showed Zippy the articles he’d been given by Ingerton. The police officer looked over them carefully, reading them both with a frown.

 

“Hey, McCree …” Zippy said after reading them. “Did you hear anything about the carnival in town that recently got shut down?”

 

“I did read about that when I got back from my venture,” McCree said.

 

“Now, I probably told you about it too. I got myself a nice bounty in that. It was a … fun adventure. My gun jammed on me in my moment of greatest need.”

 

He’d already told McCree about the Asian man who’d tried to hack his head off with a pair of swords who he valiantly fought off with his own fists. McCree noted that whatever killed the man might have been something like Zippy saw at the carnival. Though Zippy had not seen anything stranger than crazy carnies himself, he had heard rumors around the department of strange things in the caves and caverns under the carnival itself. Supposedly, some Pawtucket Police officers had encountered something very strange in the place. He had done a little research before he was told not to look into it by his superiors. He later learned orders for no one to talk about the raid came down from the United States Bureau of Investigation, seemingly overreaching its own jurisdiction. Nevertheless, Providence Police Superintendent William F. O’Neill seemed to be backing them.

 

“All right, McCree,” Zippy said. “I’ll help you with this. But I can’t get anybody from the station. I can’t get anybody else. Because I’ve already told you more than they’d like me to about the carnival.”

 

“That should be fine,” McCree said. “We already have an x-military man coming with us as well.”

 

“Oh. All right.”

 

“My good friend Robert Ingerton.”

 

“I’ll load up and I’ll meet you. Where is this going down?”

 

“We’ll be taking the train at 10 o’clock tomorrow.”

 

They made arrangements to meet at Union Station the next morning.

 

* * *

 

They met the next day, Thursday, August 9, 1928, at the station.

 

“You must be Joseph Johnson,” McCree said.

 

“Yes sir,” Johnson said. “I was told I was going to get fifty dollars for at least coming out here by your good friend Robert Ingerton.”

 

“Interesting.”

 

“At least.”

 

“At least.”

 

“Hello sir,” Zippy said. “My name’s Angelo Giovanni. Everybody calls me Zippy.”

 

“Good to meet you, Zippy,” Johnson said.

 

He turned back to McCree.

 

“So … uh … yes,” McCree said. “I guess, here is the down payment. When we bag our prize though, that’s when you’ll get the rest.”

 

“Okay,” Joseph said, taking the money from the man. “Sounds fair.”

 

He pocketed the money.

 

“So, he didn’t really give me any information on this,” Johnson said.

 

They decided to discuss it on the train.

 

The train left Union Station at 10 a.m. on the dot. They were housed in a sleeper car and took their meals in the dining car, switching trains and railroads on several occasions. The three men had almost two days to get to know each other in their trip cross country. In that time, they filled Johnson in on the strange occurrences near the town of Oak Valley, Iowa. They told him about the naked people in the woods, the man reporting them, his strange death a couple of weeks later.

 

They arrived in Boone, Iowa, on the evening of August 10, 1928. The city of roughly 12,000 was also the county seat and they saw the courthouse on their taxi ride to the hotel. They also noted the Boone Police Station and the Boone County Sheriff’s Office. They were able to get hold of a county map and located Oak Valley upon it, some miles north of the county seat.

 

They stayed in a hotel that night, having a good dinner.

 

* * *

 

Saturday, August 11, 1928, was overcast and cloudy.

 

The three men rented an old, rugged, two-door Fort Model T sedan. The trunk was not present on the back of the vehicle and it looked like it had been through some rough handling. It was an older model but seemed to be in adequate shape. It didn’t have an electric starter.

 

They discussed where they were heading, Zippy pointing out the man’s body was found on Smith Creek. It was noted they needed to talk to Abe Riker, who had found the body. The dateline on the newspaper articles was for Oak Valley. Johnson asked if they should talk to whomever wrote the newspaper articles first.

 

They stopped by the Boone New-Republican Office. It was a small office and, as they entered, they could hear the thump of a press from the back somewhere. The office was divided into a large front and probably a smaller back room. The man sitting and typing at the desk in the front wore a green eyeshade. He looked up as they entered and wiped sweat from his brow.

 

“Can I help you fellas?” he asked.

 

“Uh … I’d like to inquire you about a Lonnie Garber,” McCree said.

 

“Well, well, that’s right,” the man said. “We put some stuff in the paper that was not very kind. I apologize for that. We apologized in the article that we put in reporting his death. So, if you’re a relative and you’re here to complain, I’m really sorry, but he did come across as … a little crazy when he first came in here. So …”

 

“Well, that’s quite all right. Uh … I was wondering where was Mr. Garber talking about the ritualistic things that he told y’all?”

 

“Not sure exactly. He comes from Oak Valley and he said it was near where he lived. I never got information on exactly where it took place because he was obviously … well, he was obviously … I don’t know what was going on up there.”

 

“Well, thank you, kind sir, for your information.”

 

“Well, who are you folks?”

 

“Uh … I’m just a local hunter that’s wanting to take a crack at the wild animal that killed Garber.”

 

“Oh. What’s your name?”

 

“Uh … my name’s Griffin McCree.”

 

The man took out a notepad and pencil and jotted it down.

 

“Where are you from, Mr. McCree?” he asked.

 

“I’m from Providence, Rhode Island,” McCree said.

 

The man asked how long he would be in the county and McCree guessed about a week as the man took notes. When he asked the names of his companions, Zippy merely stated his nickname. Johnson told him he was called Jojo. As they left, they guessed there would probably be a little article in the small daily newspaper, probably the next day.

 

They drove north from Boone along the rugged back roads, passing acres and acres of crops, mostly corn. They passed an old rattletrap pickup truck at one point. The road was crossed by other roads every mile or so. They passed a horse-drawn wagon loaded down with hay at another point. They stopped a couple of times to ask for directions but eventually found Oak Valley.

 

The tiny town had, perhaps, three or four dozen houses. The roads, though dirt, were proudly marked with street signs for such illustrious names as Maple Street and Main Street. The houses were exactly as one would expect to see in a tiny, Midwestern town: small, unspectacular structures which, under some circumstances, might seem “cozy.” The townspeople carried out their daily affairs almost furtively. Suspicious eyes peeked out at strangers from behind curtained windows. Children played quietly, seldom laughing, shying away from the car as it rattled down the road. Dogs, cats, and other animals also shied away from the vehicle. It was readily apparent the town was in the thrall of some unseen fear.

 

There was only one commercial structure in the village. A sign read “Harv’s General Store” on the two- story building. The upper floor was gabled and probably not very large. Large, wide glass windows stood in the front of the building while the windows on the side were open in the heat. The front doors were wide open and a narrow porch ran the length of the front of the building. A smaller sign on the building noted the Oak Valley Post Office was within.

 

McCree parked in front.

 

“Man, so little happens in this town all the streets are named after trees!” Zippy said.

 

“Uh … good observation there, Zippy,” McCree said. “Let’s go ask the general store clerk to see if we can’t find our friend Abe Riker.”

 

They entered the general store and saw an older gentleman behind a counter to the left. The room, which ran the width of the building, was packed full of goods ranging from penny candy to dry goods to hardware and foodstuffs. A door in the back near the counter probably led to a back room. The shelves were filled to nearly overflowing with goods. A small area in the back on the right side held numerous P.O. boxes and a small room for mail. An unlit potbellied stove stood near the front door.

 

The gentleman wore dungarees and a plaid shirt. He looked to be in his mid-40s. He wore a hat and was sweating in the heat, as they all were. He looked at the three as they entered the store.

 

“Uh, hello fine sir,” McCree said.

 

“Well howdy!” the man said. “How are you folks doing?

 

“Doing well this day. I was wondering if you knew of a man named Abe Riker.”

 

“Ayuh, there’s an Abe Riker, he lives around here. What you looking for him for?”

 

“I read his name in the paper about him stumbling across ol’ Garber.”

 

“Oh yeah yeah. Lonnie Garber. Got himself killed. Some animals tore him up or something. Terrible shame. Terrible shame.”

 

“Yeah. I was just wondering if could speak to him about where he found─”

 

“You wanna speak to─?”

 

“─Mr. Garber.”

 

“Oh. Oh. Oh. Uh … well, you can … he’s got a farm. It’s kind of run down. He’s had some sad times since the influenza ran through here a few years ago. Which way’d you come from?”

 

“We came from out yonder.”

 

McCree pointed back down the way they’d driven into town towards the west.

 

“It’s north,” the man said. “It’s north of town, is Abe Riker’s place. If you go north, look for a … there’s a farm. It’s falling apart. Like I said, he hasn’t been doing too well since his wife died a few years ago. Yeah, you should be able to spot it. I don’t know, off the top of my head, the number. But look for the one that looks like it’s been abandoned and it’s probably the right one.”

 

“All right. Thank you there … uh … uh …”

 

“Harv. Harv Taylor.”

 

They shook hands. Taylor had a good, firm handshake.

 

“Mr. Taylor, what did you think of Lonnie Garber?” Zippy asked. “Was he just spouting or do you think he─?”

 

“Oh, about that stuff he saw?” Taylor said. “No. Lonnie drinks a lot. I think … I think … actually, I think Abe does too. So, nothing that he says, you can’t take at face value. Lived out in a shack out in the woods somewhere, all by himself. Maybe he went crazy. I don’t know. He’s … I-I read about that in the paper and I just wondered why. Why did Lonnie have to do that to himself? So … nah. I wouldn’t put a whole lot of stock in anything … anything Lonnie Garber said.”

 

“Well, thank you anyway, sir.”

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

They purchased some food: beef jerky, dried food, and crackers. Johnson bought a canteen. They left the store and drove north from Oak Valley, looking for the Riker farm.

 

Driving on the bumpy road, McCree soon spotted a run-down farm on the left. The crops around it were sickly and heavily overgrown with weeds. The roof of the barn was sagging. The house had a few broken windows, some of which had been repaired with cardboard or newspaper. A porch ran the width of the house but appeared to be in poor repair. When he pulled into the overgrown and rutted dirt driveway, he could see a couple dozen scrawny chickens in a yard by a coop. When the engine of the automobile died, it was very quiet.

 

“He did say it looked abandoned,” McCree said, exiting the motorcar.

 

“You think we should take a look around?” Zippy said.

 

“Y’all could take a look around if y’all’d like,” McCree said. “I’m gonna try to find Abe as quickly as possible.”

 

“All right,” Zippy said.

 

“This place is rather strange,” McCree said.

 

Zippy went around the side of the single-story house as McCree headed towards the front door. Johnson looked over the fields, trying to see a river but could only see farmland as far as the eye could see. A couple of gnarled trees stood in the yard.

 

Around the back of the house, Zippy found an outhouse and a water pump.

 

McCree knocked on the front door. After a few moments, he heard stumbling footsteps from within. The man who opened the door was prematurely gray and had bags under his eyes. His hair was a mess, his cheeks and nose were rosy, and he stank of cheap alcohol.

 

“Wha?” the man mumbled. “What? What … wait … uh …”

 

“Might you be Abe Riker?” McCree said.

 

“Who wants to know?”

 

“Hi. I am Griffin McCree. I came to ask you about that there Garber. When you found him?”

 

“Yeah, I knew Lonnie Garber. Yeah. He’s dead.”

 

“Uh, yeah, I have heard that. I was wondering where you found him in that state?”

 

Riker nodded to his right in a generally eastward direction. He looked at McCree suspiciously.

 

“I’m-a lookin’ for whatever monstrosity might have befallen our good friend Garber,” McCree said.

 

“You don’t wanna know,” Riker said.

 

“Did you see it?”

 

“You just need to go back wherever you’re from. You ain’t from around here. I can tell that. You just need t’ go. No, I didn’t see it. Lonnie saw it. He’s dead now. If’n you’re smart, you’ll just go. There’s bad things here. Bad things here.”

 

“What kind of bad things, Abe?”

 

“Bad things!”

 

Johnson walked over. Riker had pushed the door halfway closed and stood partially behind it. McCree moved his foot forward to try to keep it open if need be.

 

“Abe, would there be a way for me to interest you in … divulging the information that I am requesting?” McCree said.

 

“You don’t wanna know!” Riker said. “You don’t wanna know any of this! Trust me.”

 

“But I do, Abe.”

 

“No, you don’t. No, you don’t. It’s bad. No, you don’t.”

 

“Abe, you don’t leave the house much, do you?” Johnson said.

 

“Who the hell is this?” Riker said.

 

“Name’s Jojo,” Johnson said. “I’m an associate of his.”

 

“He’s seen some … rather bad things as well,” McCree said.

 

“You don’t wanna find out,” Riker said again, pushing the door shut. “You don’t wanna know.”

 

McCree’s foot stopped the door.

 

“But, if we were to eliminate this threat then we─” McCree said.

 

“You can’t!” Riker said. “There’s too many of ‘em! There’s too many!”

 

“Too many of what?”

 

“Get your foot outta my door! Get your foot outta my door!”

 

Zippy came around the side of the house.

 

“Sir, what were you even doing at the creek?” Johnson said. “What brought you there?”

 

“Hunting!” Riker said desperately. “I hunt! Ain’t nothing illegal about that.”

 

“Well, as a fellow hunter myself …” McCree said.

 

“Did you know Garber was down there─?” Johnson asked.

 

“What about a fellow hunter yourself!?!” Riker said to McCree.

 

“Would you not want to bag this large game?” McCree said.

 

“You ain’t gonna bag it. It’s gonna bag you.”

 

He kicked McCree’s foot out of the way and slammed the door shut. A little dust came down from the creaking porch roof.

 

“Well, that went just about as well as the in-laws meeting,” Zippy said. “I’m guessin’ he didn’t give you much.”

 

“He was rather shaken up by … even mentioning Garber,” McCree said.

 

“Well, the reports did say something about Smith Creek,” Zippy said. “Maybe if we ask somebody else, see if we can find that, we won’t need him.”

 

McCree suggested they go ask a neighbor where the creek lay. Johnson suggested that, at the next house, they not mention anything but that they were there for fishing and hunting. McCree thought it a good idea.

 

They got into the motorcar and drove to one of the neighboring farms. It was a two-story blue and white farmhouse with all of the windows open. It was in much nicer shape than Riker’s farm with some flowers growing out front. The drive was a circle with a pump in the grassy spot in the middle of it. When they stopped, Johnson got out and looked around for the creek again but saw only farmlands surrounding the farmhouse and barn. He went over to fill his canteen from the pump. McCree and Zippy went to the front door and knocked.

 

A woman answered the door wearing an apron covered in flour. Her hands were also covered with flour and they could smell something baking in the house.

 

“Yeah?” she said suspiciously.

 

“Uh … hello there ma’am,” McCree said.

 

She looked over the man, who wore khaki hunting clothing and tall boots.

 

“Uh … I’m looking to find myself a Smith Creek,” McCree went on.

 

“Smith Creek?” she said. “Whatcha lookin’ for Smith Creek for?”

 

“I hear it’s a rather nice location for fishing and hunting.”

 

McCree looked over to where Johnson was working the pump and trying to reach down to the spigot with his canteen. He was sweating profusely as he refused to remove his jacket. A sweat stain had formed on his shirt.

 

Jackass, McCree thought.

 

“That’s east of town,” she said. “Oak Valley.”

 

She pointed towards the south as she looked at the man suspiciously.

 

“So, have you heard about that Garber fellow that died in that creek?” McCree asked.

 

“Nope!” she said.

 

She slammed the door in their face.

 

“What did I tell you?” Johnson said as they returned to the automobile.

 

“Well, I was─” McCree said.

 

“That’s another person that knows why we’re here, looking!”

 

“Well, I’m just looking for a more exact position, but … we at least had the creek.”

 

“Last time I was involved in this stuff, everybody found out and everything got real bad!”

 

They left the farm and drove back to Oak Valley. They passed through the village again, stopping at the general store. As they pulled up in front of the building, two women standing near the place moved quickly away from the motorcar and up the street. The three men went back into the general store and found Harv Taylor restocking a shelf.

 

“You find what you’re looking for?” the man asked them.

 

“Uh … we did,” McCree said. “Thank you, Harv, for that information.”

 

“Oh, you’re welcome. Abe Riker tell you anything? He know anything?”

 

“He didn’t know too much, but …”

 

“Well, did he help you?”

 

“He kind of looked like he’d been sipping from the well, if you know what I mean,” Zippy said.

 

“I know what you mean,” Taylor said. “He’s been going downhill, like I said, since his wife died in that influenza epidemic a few years back and one of his kids. It’s really sad. His oldest died. His youngest survived.”

 

“Uh, you wouldn’t happen to sell any … uh … maps would you?” McCree said.

 

“You’d probably have to go down to Boone for a county map,” Taylor said. “Or something like that. We don’t … we got state maps. They ain’t got much on ‘em. Just shows where the railroads are.”

 

“I see. So, Harv, would you be able to point out where we could find Smith Creek?”

 

“Well, Smith Creek, if you head … east. Yeah, straight out of town, here on Main Street, that’s the main road. Then that’ll take you … you’ll go over a bridge. Uh … about a mile. No, I don’t think it’s quite that far. Yeah. It’s a mile or two. I’m sure exactly. You’ll pass over a little one-lane bridge and … uh … that’s Smith Creek. I think there’s a sign, actually, that says Smith Creek on it. I think.”

 

“Well, thank you, Harv.”

 

“Matter of fact, we got Smith Street here in town …”

 

Taylor told him some local history about a man named Gerald Smith who was fairly influential in the town and helped to establish it some years before. He bent their ear for about 10 minutes telling them about the man and noting that both the street in town and Smith Creek were named after him. McCree pretended to be interested.

 

“So Harv,” McCree said when the man finally finished his long, dull story. “Out of curiosity, why are all the townsfolk seeming so skittish?”

 

“Do they?” Taylor said.

 

“Yeah, just earlier these two ladies outside were … when they noticed us, they started moving away rather quickly.”

 

“They probably got jealous husbands or something. I wouldn’t pay it any mind. Some people are standoffish. You know how people are. It’s just … normal folks.”

 

“Hey, McCree,” Zippy said. “Third time in a row. Maybe … maybe … you know … has something to do with … maybe it’s you. Maybe it’s just you.”

 

“Well, you got me there, Zippy,” McCree said. “But thank you again, Harv, you have been … more than helpful.”

 

“Oh, anytime,” Taylor said. “Anytime.”

 

They shook hands again.

 

“Good luck with your … whatta you here for?” Taylor said.

 

“Uh … expedition!” McCree said.

 

“Good … good luck with that,” Taylor said.

 

They left the confused shopkeeper behind and drove east out of Oak Valley. They soon came to a narrow bridge. A small sign on the old stone bridge marked it as Smith Creek. McCree parked the Model T off the side of the road and they made their way down to the creek, which was about 15 feet across mostly, and brown with mud and runoff.

 

They loaded up with their long arms. Zippy took out his Thompson sub-machinegun and made sure he had a couple of spare 20-round magazines. Johnson loaded his Springfield M1903 rifle and also made sure he had extra magazines. McCree carried his Holland & Holland Royal Double elephant rifle and his Greener F35 Far Killer eight-gauge shotgun. They headed upstream

 

“We all going the same way?” Zippy asked. “We splittin’ it up?”

 

“I think we should probably all stick together,” McCree said. “That way, we don’t … get ambushed.”

 

“If all it is is naked witches, I don’t think I’ll need assistance for that.”

 

“Zippy … I … don’t even know what to say …”

 

They decided to all head north along the muddy creek. The mosquitoes were very bad. McCree looked for tracks of any kind as they walked. Johnson looked at the murky, brown water. There were constant fallen trees from the growth around the river and they could see the woods followed the water on both sides. They headed upstream for a couple of miles before turning back. They returned to the motorcar around 1:30 p.m., dirty and muddy from their hot trek.

 

“I think we need to make a more convincing argument to ol’ Abe,” Zippy said as he stowed his Thompson.

 

“We should also probably find out where Garber lived,” McCree said. “And check his estate.”

 

“Said he lived in an old shack in the woods. But if you call that an estate … yeah.”

 

“Thank you, Zippy.”

 

They discussed what to do with the rest of their day, Johnson suggesting they linger in the evening in the vicinity to see if they saw people gathering. Zippy thought it important to find Lonnie’s shack or get Abe to show them where the man died. McCree thought it prudent to wait until the next day to talk to Abe Riker but agreed they might need to scout out the town after dark. Zippy thought they should go back to town before it got dark and ask where Lonnie’s shack was.

 

Johnson asked if any of the others had seen a church in Oak Valley. None of them had. There wasn’t even a building that might be used as a church, which also seemed strange. McCree noted the church was usually the first building built in any town.

 

They drove back to Oak Valley, noticing a schoolhouse with children about it, which seemed odd for a Saturday. All of the children were on the swings and other pieces of equipment outside, however, and they saw no sign of a teacher so guessed the children were simply playing there. One young boy stared at their automobile as they drove by.

 

The few townsfolk in town seemed nervous and worried, moving away from the automobile as McCree parked in front of the general store again. Johnson suggested they get some camping equipment. They found that the general store had such, including some two-man tents, a tarp with aluminum poles, and some cooking and camp supplies. It also had a few fishing rods and extra lines, hooks, bait, and even hand-tied fishing flies.

 

They purchased a single tent and some supplies to spend the night, as well as fishing poles, bait, and flies. Johnson also bought a little hatchet.

 

“Excuse me, Mr. Taylor,” Zippy said.

 

“Yeah?” the old man replied.

 

“Do you happen to know where Lonnie was out in the woods? You said he had a little house out there.”

 

“Where he was found?”

 

“No, where he lived.”

 

“Oh, where he lived. It was north of town somewhere but I couldn’t tell you where, exactly.”

 

“Do you know anybody who would know? Or is it Abe again?”

 

“Probably Abe Riker. They hunted together is what I heard. I guess Lonnie was hunting alone those nights he saw whatever it was he saw. But, you know, Lonnie was a drinker. He was a loner and a drinker so … most likely what he saw was pink elephants and … I don’t even know what else you see when you drink.”

 

“Jackalopes?” Johnson said.

 

“I’d like to bag one of those,” McCree said.

 

Taylor looked at the two men, obviously confused.

 

Johnson asked about Abe Riker and his son. Taylor told him his son Eugene lived with the man. When he asked, Taylor thought the boy was 11 or 12. McCree wondered if the young boy watching them at the schoolhouse might have been Eugene.

 

They returned to the motorcar, putting their camping equipment into the back seat.

 

“I don’t know how invasive you want to get but … we could wait for his son to get home, to his house,” Johnson said. “We might be able to get a little bit more out of him than his father.”

 

“What, he sees three strange men walk up to his house, he just starts divulging all his information?” Zippy said.

 

“No no no no. That’s why I’m saying it’s a little weird to do.”

 

“I’m not just saying it’s weird, I’m saying I don’t think that’s going to be particularly helpful.”

 

“I say if we were going to do that, we should possibly do that at the school even,” McCree said.

 

“I think that’s a little bit more weird,” Johnson said.

 

Zippy was of the opinion they should talk to Riker the next day. The others agreed and he asked if they should try to find Lonnie’s shack though admitted it was a pretty far shot. Johnson pointed out they could look for it as they had nothing better to do.

 

They headed north, finding woods that were close enough to the road for them to enter without trespassing. They looked, at random, for Lonnie Garber’s shack, actually finding it north of town around dinnertime out of sheer luck. At least they thought it was his shack. The woods surrounding it was the same belt of trees that followed Smith Creek.

 

The tiny, two-room shack was on a narrow path from the road. Located only a few yards from the muddy bank of Smith Creek, the shack was nearly ready to fall in. Inside, the place was a shambles: torn clothing, a broken wooden chair and cot, pots, pans, hunting and fishing gear all scattered about. A few broken bottles that probably once held alcohol were in a corner. Someone had obviously and thoroughly searched the place.

 

They searched the sad little shack but didn’t find anything of value or interest. The tiny, run-down outhouse proved as uninteresting.

 

Johnson suggested they not camp near the shack that night but rather go a little ways from the shack to the north in the woods and set up camp. They moved the car, taking it north to a rutted road that led into the woods. They set up a cold camp a little ways from Smith Creek. Zippy took the first watch, McCree took the second, and Johnson took the last.

 

The mosquitoes were terrible that close to the river and each of them spent an uncomfortable few hours on watch. The night otherwise passed uneventfully.

 

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