* * *
It was still partly cloudy and rather gloomy on Sunday, August 12, 1928. They had a cold breakfast of beef jerky and other dry goods. Then they broke camp. They drove back to Rikerâ€™s terrible farm, pulling up to the house. Their knock at the front door was answered by a boy of about 12 who bore a remarkable resemblance to Abe Riker.
â€œWhy hello there!â€ McCree said.
â€œHi!â€ the boy said. â€œWho are you?â€
â€œHi, Iâ€™m Griffin McCree. What might your name be?â€
â€œIâ€™m Eugene. Eugene Riker.â€
â€œHi Eugene. Is your father home?â€
â€œWell, heâ€™s sleeping. Are you the folks â€¦ are you the folks â€¦ that was looking in about Lonnie Garber?â€
â€œWhy yes, we are.â€
â€œCan you help my dad?â€
â€œSure. What does he need help with?â€
â€œHeâ€™s seen some stuff. He-heâ€™s â€¦ he â€¦ câ€™mon in. Câ€™mon in. Câ€™mon in.â€
â€œWhy thank you.â€
He took them into the living room. Several pulp fiction magazines lay on the floor near the tattered couch.
â€œYou â€¦ youâ€™re G-men, arenâ€™t ya?â€ Eugene said. â€œYouâ€™re gonna save our town from bad guys.â€
â€œAh â€¦ yes,â€ McCree said. â€œWe are.â€
â€œWhat bad guys?â€ Zipper asked.
â€œI knew it!â€ Eugene said. He looked at Zippy. â€œThe ones that dad saw. Dad and Lonnie.â€
â€œWhoâ€™d they see, son?â€ McCree asked.
â€œI dunno,â€ Eugene said. â€œThereâ€™s bad people. Everybodyâ€™s scared of â€˜em.â€
â€œReally?â€ McCree said.
â€œDo bad people live in the town or â€¦?â€ Johnson said.
â€œThey â€¦ theyâ€™re everywhere,â€ Eugene said. â€œThereâ€™s a bunch of â€˜em and theyâ€™re bad and they scare â€¦ my dadâ€™s scared. He-heâ€™s scared. Thatâ€™s why â€¦ he said you came by yesterday and thatâ€™s why he wouldnâ€™t talk to you. Heâ€™s scared. You gotta convince him. Heâ€™ll help ya. He said you were looking for Lonnieâ€™s body and where they found it. And I said â€˜You shoulda told â€˜em dad.â€™ And he said â€œI canâ€™t tell â€˜em cause theyâ€™ll get us. Them witches. Or whatever they are. Theyâ€™ll come for us. I ainâ€™t losing another, â€˜cause I lost everything.â€™ Thatâ€™s what dad said.â€
McCree looked bored.
â€œUh â€¦ so, do these witches have a giant animal?â€ he said.
â€œI dunno,â€ Eugene said. â€œYou gotta ask my dad. He said they had something. Something awful bad. Something awful bad.â€
â€œHow can we convince your dad?â€ Zippy said.
â€œI dunno,â€ Eugene said. â€œBut â€¦â€
â€œI believe your father likes a certain kind of drink,â€ McCree said.
â€œWell, I donâ€™t like it when he drinks that stuff,â€ Eugene said.
â€œWhere does he keep it?â€ Johnson said.
â€œI â€¦ I dunno,â€ Eugene said. â€œHeâ€™s says I canâ€™t have none. I donâ€™t want none. Look what it did to him!â€
â€œDo you thinkâ”€?â€
â€œLook what itâ€™s done to our farm!â€
â€œDo you think he keeps it somewhere in his room or in the kitchen â€¦?â€
â€œWhy? Why does that matter?â€
â€œWe could take it. Itâ€™s against the lawâ”€â€
â€œI donâ€™t know where he keeps it, mister. Iâ€™m sorry.â€
â€œWell, how do you think we could convince your father to help us?â€ McCree said.
â€œI-I dunno,â€ Eugene said. â€œBut you gotta get him to help. â€˜Cause he could show you. He was with Lonnie Garber when he saw the witches. Donâ€™t tell nobody, but he was.â€
â€œHm,â€ McCree said.
Johnson was trying to get Zippy to confiscate the manâ€™s alcohol being as he was a police officer.
â€œWhoâ€™s that out there?â€ a voice called from the back.
They heard somebody stumbling around in one of the back bedrooms.
â€œOh, heâ€™s awake,â€ Eugene said. â€œHeâ€™s probably gonna be all hung over and hurting, so â€¦â€
He called to his father and headed back to the room. He returned a few moments later with Abe Riker, who appeared to be under the weather. He had thick bags under his eyes and squinted in the sunlight in the living room. He was unshaven and his hair was a mess. His cheeks and nose were red.
â€œWhat?â€ he cried out. â€œWhatâ€™re you â€¦ whatâ€™re you people doinâ€™ in my house?â€
â€œAh, we were invited in!â€ McCree said.
â€œNo, this boy ainâ€™t â€¦ this boy â€¦ this boy canâ€™t invite you in,â€ Riker said. â€œHeâ€™s â€¦ heâ€™s just gotta â€¦ heâ€™s just gotta â€¦ heâ€™s â€¦â€
He stumbled towards the kitchen and opened a cabinet.
â€œWell, Abe,â€ McCree said. â€œWe could actually help you with your â€¦ issues â€¦â€
â€œNope,â€ Riker said.
â€œâ€¦ being scared of these people.â€
â€œAinâ€™t nothinâ€™ you can help with. Itâ€™s all slippinâ€™. It slips through your fingers no matter what you do. Your loved ones â€¦ and your farm â€¦ and your town â€¦and all your friends â€¦ and your son! It just â€¦ it all just goes and it all goes. Influenza takes â€˜em or whatever that is â€¦ out there â€¦ just takes â€˜em. Just takes â€˜em!â€
â€œWell, you wouldnâ€™t want it to take other peopleâ€™s families away from them would you?â€
â€œWhatâ€™s it matter? Everything gets taken eventually, donâ€™t it? It all just gets taken. All just gets done. Took Lonnie. Took my wife. It took my oldest. Itâ€™s gonna take Eugene. Take my farm! Take the town! Take everything.â€
â€œHow do you know itâ€™s going to take Eugene?â€
â€œâ€˜Cause itâ€™s just awful!â€
â€œOf course itâ€™s gonna take it if you just let it,â€ Johnson said. â€œLook at your farm right now. Itâ€™s already gone. It didnâ€™t take it. You let it go.â€
Riker glared at the man.
â€œWell â€¦ what am I sâ€™posed to do?â€ Riker said. â€œWhatâ€™re you supposed to do against that kind thing?â€
â€œYou look for help.â€
â€œWhatâ€™re you sâ€™posed to do against that thing that crushed Lonnie Garber like he was an ant!â€
He slammed his hand against the wall.
â€œNow Abe, I donâ€™t know if you know this man, but heâ€™s crushed a lotta things that crushed people like ants,â€ Zippy said.
â€œAh, yes,â€ McCree said. â€œIâ€™m actually a big game hunter. Iâ€™ve taken down many things much greater than myself and Iâ€™ve seen â€¦ various things that â€¦ shouldnâ€™t exist per se. And Iâ€™ve bested them.â€
â€œYou can take down something the size of â€¦ the size of â€¦ bigger than a house?â€ Riker said with a snarl.
â€œI havenâ€™t tried that yet but â€¦â€
â€œSomething that makes itself look like its nothinâ€™? Nothinâ€™ important? And then itâ€™s there and itâ€™s moving and itâ€™s coming at you and itâ€™s crushing you down, squashing you with giant goat feet? Huh? Kill something like that, huh? Can you kill something like that? Câ€™mon fella! Speak up!â€
â€œPossibly,â€ McCree said.
â€œEverything dies,â€ Johnson said.
â€œEverything does die,â€ McCree said.
â€œIn my experience, you take a Tommy to anything â€¦ not much coming back from that,â€ Zippy said.
â€œThank you, Zippy,â€ McCree said.
â€œVentilated,â€ Johnson said.
â€œI dunno,â€ Riker said, stumbling to the kitchen where he sat at the table. â€œI dunno. â€˜Cause theyâ€™ll come after me if they know Iâ€™m helping you, theyâ€™ll come after me. They came after Lonnie. They killed him.â€
â€œWe wonâ€™t let them know that youâ€™re helping us,â€ McCree said.
â€œBut they can find out,â€ Riker said. â€œThey can find out. I know. Just like, the people you thought were just your friends and neighbors and it turns out that theyâ€™re terrible. Theyâ€™re doing terrible things.â€
â€œReally?â€ McCree said.
â€œWell, the way youâ€™re talking sounds like theyâ€™re coming no matter what, so why not help us?â€ Johnson said.
â€œBecause if I donâ€™t help you, theyâ€™ll leave me alone!â€ Riker said.
â€œAre you sure?â€
â€œTheyâ€™ll leave my boy alone. Theyâ€™ll leave my boy alone.â€
Riker looked at Eugene who was standing in the living room looking like he was about to cry.
â€œWhat makes you sure theyâ€™ll leave you alone though?â€ Johnson said.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Riker admitted. â€œBut if I donâ€™t do nothing, maybe they will. Maybe theyâ€™ll just â€¦ theyâ€™ll just look the other way. Theyâ€™ll raise their own beautiful crops and use whatever theyâ€™re doing to make their corn grow really high. And then I can grow my little awful dead corn and they wonâ€™t care. They wonâ€™t care, will they? They wonâ€™t care. Itâ€™s just â€¦ you donâ€™t know! Thereâ€™s so many of â€˜em! Theyâ€™re so many more! Theyâ€™re so many that â€¦â€
â€œSo many what, Abe?â€ McCree asked.
â€œAll of â€˜em!â€ Riker said. â€œThem â€¦ them â€¦ in the woods!â€
â€œThe big things?â€
â€œLonnie said â€¦ what Lonnie said â€¦ he said â€˜Iâ€™m telling. Iâ€™m gonna tell the newspaper about â€˜emâ€™ and he didnâ€™t really tell that there was some 20 of â€˜em out there, doing what they did, when we saw â€˜em that night. You know we saw â€˜em? We saw â€˜em that night.â€
â€œThe dancers?â€ Johnson said.
â€œYeah,â€ Riker said. â€œYeah. They â€¦ they were out there â€¦ I â€¦ I â€¦ I recognized some of â€˜em and I â€¦ we were eavesdroppinâ€™ and â€¦ it had something to do with someone they called â€˜He Who Walks Behind the Rows.â€™ Must be their god or devil or whatever. And I found his body out there not far from where they were, worshippinâ€™ whatever that thing was at that altar and that tree and â€¦â€
â€œThereâ€™s an altar?â€ Johnson said.
â€œIf we were to get rid of these worshippers, that could even get rid of the big monstrosity,â€ McCree said.
â€œTwenty of â€˜em?â€ Riker said. â€œTwenty of â€˜em? Thirty of â€˜em? However many there were?â€
â€œAs he said, he has a sub-machinegun. I, myself, was a sharpshooter. And Jojo here, was in the military as well.â€
â€œYouâ€™d just end up like Lonnie,â€ Riker said. â€œHe was crushed up with big bites torn out of him, here and there, bigger than any animal in these parts, I donâ€™t care what the newspaper says. That thing was â€¦ bigger than a house! We saw it. We saw it. We saw something movinâ€™ â€¦ and if you go to that place, I donâ€™t know what â€¦ I donâ€™t want to send no more men to their deaths. Not you, not even strangers to our town.â€
â€œBut â€¦ weâ€™re not your responsibility, Abe,â€ McCree said. â€œBut we do want to help you and your town.â€
â€œIf you know that theyâ€™re killing people to get these good crops, then you know that itâ€™s not going to stop,â€ Johnson said.
â€œThey were killing cows,â€ Riker said. â€œAnd a sow. They had a sow. I donâ€™t know that theyâ€™re killing any people. Iâ€™m pretty sure I know where some of â€˜em are. And I know where it was. And I know where Lonnieâ€™s body was.â€
â€œCould you give us one of those locations or names?â€ McCree said.
â€œYouâ€™ll never find it,â€ Riker said. â€œYouâ€™ll never find where Lonnieâ€™s body was â€˜cause thereâ€™s been rain for two days after that.â€
â€œYou saw it though?â€ McCree said.
â€œI found it!â€ Riker said. â€œYeah!â€
â€œWhat about where theyâ”€â€ Johnson said.
â€œAnd I saw those thingsâ”€â€ Riker said.
â€œâ”€where the altar is,â€ Johnson said.
â€œâ”€I saw those hooves,â€ Riker said. â€œThose hoof prints in the bank. The â€¦ damned things were â€¦ the size of dinner plates, some of â€˜em. And some of â€˜em were more than four feet across. Giant hoof prints. Just crushed him. Iâ€™m sure they were washed away by the rains. He was â€¦ he was squashed. He was broken and he was in pieces. Big, giant bites taken out of him â€¦ whatever it was, was so big. Was so big. Was biggerâ€™n anything. Anything. Just â€¦ what do you do against that!?!â€
He gestured towards the 30-06 rifle over the fireplace and the .22 bolt-action hunting rifle.
â€œWhat thatâ€™s gonna do?â€ he said. â€œAgainst something as big as a house or bigger than a car? Whatâ€™s that? What? You didnâ€™t see the hoof prints as big as this table crosswise. Itâ€™s just â€¦ and Iâ€™m pretty sure the Simons are in it. Lloyd and Wanda. Iâ€™m sure that they got something to do with it. I saw them! I saw their faces. But you canâ€™t understand, when you see â€˜em, and theyâ€™re just â€¦ all clinging all over each other. And then Lonnie said â€˜We gotta tell somebody. I gotta tell somebody.â€™ And I said â€˜No. Lonnie, theyâ€™ll come for you.â€™ And they did. And they came for him and now heâ€™s gone.â€
â€œLonnie wasnâ€™t much of a man but he was my friend,â€ he said. â€œHe wasnâ€™t a bad man. He wasnâ€™t a good man. I guess none of us really are. But he wasnâ€™t a bad man.â€
â€œWhat did they want at Lonnieâ€™s house?â€ Zippy said.
â€œWhat did they want?â€ Riker said. â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œThey ransacked his house,â€ Johnson said.
â€œWe found his shack,â€ Zippy said.
â€œI dunno,â€ Riker said. â€œMaybe they were afraid he wrote something down or â€¦ I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t know. I donâ€™t know. They â€¦ you see your friends and your neighbors and â€¦ you think you know â€˜em. And thereâ€™s a fear. Thereâ€™s a fear. Because you know theyâ€™re watchinâ€™ and their waitinâ€™ â€¦ waitinâ€™ for you to make a mistake and then something happened like Lonnie. And they â€¦ they say â€˜Animals killed him.â€™ And there ainâ€™t no animal makes tracks like that and there ainâ€™t no animal that â€¦ bites gouges outta a man that are two feet across. Ainâ€™t no animal like that.
â€œAnd Iâ€™m afraid. Iâ€™m afraid for my son.â€
â€œBut dad, you gotta do something!â€ Eugene said. â€œYou canâ€™t just stand byâ”€â€
â€œNo!â€ Riker said. â€œNo! We canâ€™t! We canâ€™t! If we do something, then they come for us! They come for us! Everybodyâ€™s scared. Everybodyâ€™s real scared. Because anybody stands up â€¦ will get put down. Hard.â€
â€œNow, I donâ€™t mean to use leverage against you, Abe,â€ McCree said. â€œBut you have already told us the name of one of their higher-up people, so people could assume youâ€™ve already helped us.â€
â€œNo,â€ Riker said. â€œThen thatâ€™s what you â€¦ get outta here! You should just go home. Wherever youâ€™re from, just go back home. Forget about it. Just forget about us.â€
â€œI canâ€™t, in good conscious, do that, Abe,â€ McCree said.
â€œYouâ€™re gonna get yourself killed, then,â€ Riker said. â€œYouâ€™re just gonna get yourself killed. I can show you where Lonnieâ€™s body was. I can show you where we saw â€˜em that night.â€
They asked him to first show them where Lonnie Garberâ€™s body was found. They took both Abe and Eugene, all five of them crammed into the little Model T. Riker led them down a road that led them close to the creek. He took them down to the creek bed and they recognized it as a spot they had passed the day before. When McCree started to look around for tracks, Riker said he followed them to the east about a half mile before he lost the trail after he found Garberâ€™s body. He noted the Simon farm was that direction on one of the main roads.
He led them downstream a mile or so before turning to a more thickly wooded area to the east. He told them to be very quiet. They crept forward and stopped at the edge of a clearing in the woods, oddly devoid of any type of wildlife. In the center was a twisted oak that seemed to squat over a low, stone altar.
â€œThatâ€™s it,â€ Riker whispered. â€œThatâ€™s where we saw â€˜em. Thatâ€™s all I can tell you.â€
â€œThank you, Abe,â€ McCree said. â€œYouâ€™ve been more than helpful.â€
â€œDonâ€™t tell â€˜em my name,â€ Riker said.
He and Eugene headed back to the west.
â€œWhat are the leads we got besides this and Simons now?â€ Zippy whispered.
â€œI was going to venture we could go see something about the Simons,â€ McCree said. â€œBe very nonchalant in how we speak about it. Nothing to do with the departed Garber or Abe. And try to find the next meeting. â€˜Cause thatâ€™s when weâ€™ll get our prey!â€
He looked around. He was pretty sure he could find his way back there from the Smith Creek.
â€œMaybe we should explore the grounds a little more before we leave,â€ McCree said.
Zippy walked into the clearing and towards the tree, followed closely by Johnson and McCree a little further back. A closer inspection of the tree revealed that its color was a sickly gray and its limbs hung suspiciously close to the ground, swaying menacingly. The altar was literally covered with brown stains as was the ground nearby and the base of the diseased tree.
Zippy and Johnson had noticed a pile off to the right on the edge of the tree line as they approached the tree and the altar. It appeared to be a pile of white objects. They headed over to it and found it was a large pile of bones that extended somewhat into the woods to the south. Possibly hundreds of animals and some humans were represented by the pile of bleached , shattered, and partially burned bones. They were without flesh at all and some were broken.
â€œSweet Jesus Christ!â€ Zippy said.
McCree noticed several sets of boot tracks plus the large an innumerable hoof prints of some unknown creature. They didnâ€™t belong to anything heâ€™d ever seen or heard of before. He knelt and touched the tracks. Zippy noticed the terrible hoof prints as well. He examined them and noticed they were all about the same depth, almost as if they were all made by the same creature.
Johnson walked back over to the altar. He looked up at the stunted, sickly green leaves on the tree and around on the ground but didnâ€™t see any leaves there. He noticed a few knots on the tree but none of them looked deep enough to hide anything. He walked back to the other two.
McCree saw the tracks lead across the clearing towards the east most prominently. He thought he saw a trail there.
â€œHey, uh, should I load up a bigger magazine?â€ Zippy asked.
â€œYou should probably load up a bigger clip,â€ McCree said. â€œBut sneaking is paramount.â€
â€œAs long as we donâ€™t run into that thing,â€ Zippy said.
They headed across the clearing towards the narrow trail on the other side, passing another trail to the south. As they approached, they smelled a stench like an open grave left open for weeks. McCree and Johnson noticed a very dark tree, the bark actually black and the limbs leafless. It looked long dead and possibly burnt. The trail went right by it. They pointed it out to Zippy and they all stopped to stare at the strange and terrible tree.
â€œI donâ€™t like the look of that tree,â€ McCree said.
â€œI donâ€™t either,â€ Johnson said.
â€œI feel we should walk this way to get around it and back to the trail,â€ McCree said.
The smell was getting worse. Zippy worked the action on his Thompson sub-machinegun and pointed it at the strange tree.
McCree led them to the east, going off the path to keep some distance between themselves and the tree, when it stood up and headed for them. It was a black, ropy, slimy, jelly tree-thing. It stood on terrible black hooves and opened several mouths as it made its way to them.
Zippy felt terribly hungry all of the sudden and wanted to eat all of the dirt around him.
Johnson put his rifle to his shoulder and fired, hitting the terrible thing. The bullet struck but didnâ€™t seem to really hurt it. Zippy opened fire with his Thompson sub-machinegun, unloading a full burst of 20 bullets. Most of them struck the terrible tree-thing, peppering it with wounds. Black ichor spewed from it.
â€œGet rid of the dirt!â€ Zippy yelled, tossing aside his Thompson. â€œGet rid of the dirt! It canâ€™t walk if there ainâ€™t no dirt!â€
He went to his knees and started to shove dirt in his mouth.
â€œGod damn it!â€ McCree muttered as he aimed the elephant gun.
He fired both barrels of the gun, which knocked him onto his back. The blast struck the terrible thing coming at them but it didnâ€™t slow at all. More black ichor spewed out of various wounds. McCree tossed aside the gun.
The terrible beast charged right onto the three men who were grouped closely together, Johnson having moved back to the other two. It plowed into them, trying to trample them with its numerous hooves but none of them connected. One of the hooves almost hit Zippyâ€™s head. McCree was looking straight up at the hooves that came at him, rolling out of the way. Johnson, standing under the horrible thing, also avoided the blows of the huge, black hooves. He backed up, desperately working the bolt action on his Springfield rifle.
â€œMamaâ€™s fettuccini!â€ Zippy cried out through the dirt filling his mouth.
McCree aimed the Greening shotgun and fired directly up into the horrible creature that loomed over him, blasting away with both barrels at the sharp-toothed mouth on the bottom of the thing. Black ichor gushed out of the massive wound, splashing down on McCree and covering him in the foul-smelling filth.
The terrible thing swayed.
â€œOh no!â€ Zippy screamed through a mouthful of dirt. â€œEat the dirt! Eat the dirt! Itâ€™s gonna fall. Dig a hole! Dig a hole with your mouth!â€
Johnson looked around desperately. Every time Zippy said â€œEat the dirt!â€ he thought it was a warning of incoming grenades or ordinance.
The terrible thing stumbled and fell away from them, crashing into a tree and snapping it off like a twig, and crashing to the ground atop it. McCree narrowly scrambled out of the way. The stench was overwhelming. Zippy ate dirt with renewed vigor.
McCree stood up and stumbled away to get a better look at the terrible thing. In his own mind, he had killed it all by himself. The damage inflicted by the other two men had been inconsequential at best.
It was hideous. It was covered in mouths that gnashed but seemed to be slowing. The tentacles upon the top of the thing theyâ€™d mistaken for dead branches flailed around ineffectually. It was covered in bullet holes that bled a stinking black ichor which killed the grass as it dripped down. The entire thing was starting to settle to the ground as if it were melting or deflating. McCree thought the thing was just some kind of mutant animal or agricultural accident. It was merely a freak of nature. He reached for a camera that wasnâ€™t there: heâ€™d forgotten to purchase one for the trip.
â€œDoes anyone have a camera!?!â€ he yelled as the thing continued to slough off and melt in front of him.
Zippy handed him dirt. Tears were coming out of his eyes. It tasted terrible but he just couldnâ€™t get enough.
â€œWhat is wrong with him!?!â€ McCree yelled at Johnson.
He tried to wipe off the stinking ichor that covered him. It was not disintegrating like the horrible beast but was, instead, drying and forming a stinking film all over him.
Zippy finally stopped eating dirt after about half a minute. He stumbled away from the small hole heâ€™d dug and induced vomiting, bringing the dirt back up. It was disgusting and hurt.
â€œWhyâ€™d the hell you let me do that!?!â€ he said between throwing up.
â€œIâ€™m still looking for the grenade!â€ Johnson said.
â€œI was busy!â€ McCree said.
â€œYou told me to eat the dirt!â€ Johnson said.
McCree was trying to grab any piece of the horrible thing to keep but it was all melting away. The grass under it was turning black and dying.
â€œSo, big, ugly trees!â€ McCree said. â€œWe donâ€™t trust them anymore!â€
â€œI never trusted them,â€ Johnson said.
Zippy found his sub-machinegun and picked it up, stroking it.
â€œIâ€™ll never abandon you,â€ he muttered to it. â€œIâ€™m so sorry. Iâ€™m so sorry.â€
â€œUh â€¦ Zippy â€¦ whatâ€™re you doing?â€ McCree said. â€œEating dirt. Vomiting all the dirt. Petting your gun.â€
â€œThis is my prize possession! This is my prize possession!â€
â€œI can respect a love of guns.â€
McCree looked back at the clearing.
â€œI think that other tree at the altar might have been one of these,â€ McCree said.
â€œUnfortunately, even if it is, I donâ€™t want to deal with that,â€ Zippy said. â€œEver again.â€
â€œThereâ€™s plenty of oaks in these woods,â€ Johnson said. â€œBut, that thing was not an oak.â€
â€œReally?â€ McCree said sarcastically.
â€œYes,â€ Johnson said. â€œIâ€™m positive.â€
â€œThank you, Jojo,â€ McCree said.
They continued following the path to the east, Zippy putting a new magazine in his rifle. Jojo and McCree also reloaded as they walked through the forest. They had crept less than a mile when Zippy and McCree saw three men coming the other way down the path. Two of them had rifles and the third man carried a sawed off shotgun. The two riflemen were in overalls while the man with the sawed off shotgun wore a long coat and a white hat.
McCree pointed out the three men and they all moved off the path. Zippy went to the left while McCree and Johnson headed off to the right. McCree noticed the man with the sawed off shotgun had a peculiar gait, an almost imperceptible lurch.
â€œEveryone take aim,â€ McCree whispered. â€œAim at the guy in the front.â€
Johnson motioned to McCree, trying to make clear he thought they should fire at 40 feet. McCree shoot his head and mouthed â€œFire.â€ He aimed but did not fire as the intervening foliage didnâ€™t give him a clear shot. Zippy and McCree also aimed at the lead man.
The men continued to approach, looking around themselves carefully.
â€œHowdy there, stranger!â€ McCree suddenly called out.
The three men stopped and looked around carefully.
â€œTheyâ€™re over there!â€ the man in the back cried out.
He put his rifle to his shoulder and aimed at McCree.
Johnson opened fire. The bullet struck the man in the back in the right hand, which was very close to his face. There was a splatter of red around the manâ€™s nose and then something splattered out of the back of the manâ€™s head. His hat flew straight up as he was flung violently backwards to crash to the ground.
Oh Jesus, Zippy thought, having just seen a man murdered in front of his eyes.
He tried to squeeze off a single bullet from the Thompson sub-machinegun but the weapon merely made a click as it jammed.
â€œSon of aâ”€!â€ he yelled.
The man in the front looked at Johnson, put his 30-06 rifle to his shoulder and fired at him as he tried to pull back behind the tree. The bullet struck him in the right hand, piercing it, and entered his throat, going straight out the back of his neck. He fell backwards to the ground, gurgling. He tried to call out in vain â€œGive it all to Joell.â€ No one heard and even if they had, theyâ€™d wouldnâ€™t have been able to understand.
Narrowing his eyes, McCree fired his elephant gun at the lead farmer, a massive, hulking figure whose countenance was alive with menace. He was unbelievably hairy, almost beast-like in appearance . The bullet struck the man in the right hand, the bullet shattering it, and then the lower half of his face. The manâ€™s jawbone was actually detached by the force of the bullet striking his jaw and ripped from his head as he was flung backwards and fell to the ground.
The last man turned and ran down the trail away from the shooters.
Zippy looked over at Johnson. The man was tearing at his own throat, obviously choking on the copious amount of blood pouring from both the front and back of his neck. With a shudder and a hiss of escaping breath, he finally lay still.
Zippy pulled the bullet free of his Thompson and replaced the magazine.
McCree fired at the fleeing man, the blast smashing a branch near him. The man ducked behind a nearby tree and disappeared from sight. Zippy headed towards where he saw the man disappear at a jog, crashing through the woods off the trail.
McCree also moved up, reloading both shells in the gun.
â€œMight I ask why youâ€™re in the woods?â€ he called.
â€œWho are you murderers!?!â€ a manâ€™s voice with a British accent called. â€œWhat are you doing on private property!?!â€
Zippy continued moving forward through the brush, trying hard to be quiet without luck. McCree jogged forward as well.
â€œWhy did your men try to shoot us?â€ McCree called.
He saw the man peeking out from around the side of the tree as he approached and he put his elephant gun to his shoulder, moving forward more slowly. The man made eye contact with him and he was certain heâ€™d been seen.
â€œI need to know why youâ€™re in the woods trying to kill us!â€ he called.
â€œYou are trespassing!â€ the other man yelled.
He mumbled something else but McCree couldnâ€™t make out what heâ€™s saying.
Nearby, Zippy moved at an angle to the tree where he thought the man was hiding, trying to flank him. He ran to another tree for cover.
McCree was still aiming and thought he had a clear shot at the man. He fired a blast from the elephant gun which caused him to stumble back but he didnâ€™t fall. The blast struck the side of the tree. The man let out a yelp as the blast went through the side of the tree and struck him. McCree saw a splash of blood. The man fell to the ground. McCree felt a little guilty about killing the man in cold blood.
Then the man rolled over and crawled out of sight behind the tree. McCree found that strange. He didnâ€™t think a man whoâ€™d just been shot by an elephant rifle should be moving at all. He was pretty sure heâ€™d gut shot the man and didnâ€™t think he should even be alive.
Zippy walked out from behind his cover, assuming the man was dead. He headed over to the tree where the man had been hiding.
â€œJesus Christ, McCree!â€ Zippy yelled.
â€œHeâ€™s not human!â€ McCree said. â€œFill him with all your bullets.â€
He headed towards the tree himself.
As Zippy walked towards the tree, McCree heard chanting. Zippy suddenly let out a cry of pain as a stinging went up his left hand and arm. Within moments, the arm blackened and shriveled up, pulling close to his body painfully. His hand was pulled into a almost a claw.
â€œYo! What the zippinâ€™ heck!?!â€ he screamed. â€œWhat the zip!?!â€
Then he saw the man peeking out from behind the tree. He opened fire with the Thompson sub-machinegun, holding down the trigger. Most of the bullets struck the tree near the manâ€™s head, many of them tearing through the wood and bursting out the other side. Most of them embedded into the tree as Zippy sprayed side to side, trying to use his crippled arm to hold the weapon down against the recoil. Wood splintered and blood splattered before the man fell to the ground again.
McCree walked toward the tree.
â€œDid you get him?â€ McCree called.
â€œYo, if this guyâ€™s still zippinâ€™ alive, Iâ€™d be impressed,â€ Zippy yelled.
He walked towards the tree as well. They found the man dead on the other side, unmoving, his eyes glazed over. His legs looked odd and when McCree patted him down, looking for identification, he looked up at Zippyâ€™s arm and gasped at what had happened to him.
â€œHey â€¦ uh â€¦ can you help me load a magazine back into this?â€ Zippy said.
â€œUh â€¦ yeah â€¦â€ McCree said.
He attached another magazine to the weapon before he went back to searching the dead man, finding a knife in his boot but no identification. His feet seemed too small for his shoes. He took of the manâ€™s shoes and saw that he had hooves and a lot of fur on his legs, almost as if he had goat legs.
â€œThe hell?â€ McCree said.
â€œDid we just kill Pan!?!â€ Zippy said.
â€œI guess I could mount this head on my wall â€¦â€ McCree said.
He thought about it a moment.
â€œProbably shouldnâ€™t,â€ he said.
McCree pocketed the knife.
â€œThat looks really weird,â€ McCree said, gesturing at Zippyâ€™s mangled arm. â€œWhat happened to your arm?â€
â€œWell, let me tell ya,â€ Zippy said. â€œIf I knew, I would tell you the whole story right now. All I know is I was going to look at this guy. You said â€˜He ainâ€™t a human.â€™ I said â€˜He ainâ€™t a rabbitâ€™ so I didnâ€™t understand. Then this happened! I shot all the bullets I had left in my gun at him, just as you instructed.â€
â€œThank you for that. Now heâ€™s not moving. So â€¦â€
â€œThis zippinâ€™ sucks!â€
â€œYouâ€™ll have to get that checked by a doctor when we get back.â€
They went looking for Johnson and found his dead body near the path further back.
â€œI donâ€™t think this has been a very good day,â€ Zippy said.
â€œIt has not,â€ McCree said.
â€œI got a belly fulla dirt and a chicken wing for an arm.â€
â€œSo â€¦ Iâ€™m skeptical. Shall we follow the footprints still?â€
â€œHereâ€™s the thing. This is my last clip. If weâ€™re going to run into any people like that down the road, I need more than just this.â€
â€œI think weâ€™ll have to just call it a day for today. Letâ€™s collect their things and Joseph.â€
McCree gathered the hunting rifles and the sawed off shotgun as well as Johnsonâ€™s Springfield rifle.
â€œIâ€™d love to help you carry â€˜em, but â€¦â€ Zippy said, holding out his withered arm.
â€œIâ€™d love for you to help me carry them too,â€ McCree said. â€œBut yes â€¦ chicken arm.â€
McCree searched Johnson as well, taking back the $50 heâ€™d paid the man and finding an addition $100. He ended up taking his id and his wallet as well. He suggested they continue on a little bit but then head back if need be. Zippy agreed, telling McCree to make sure he took Johnsonâ€™s wallet so they could contact his family after all was said and done.
McCree put the guns in a pile by the trail and they headed on to the east.
â€œHey, McCree, before we find whatever it is thatâ€™s out here, youâ€™re one crazy zipping bastard for dragging me into this!â€ Zippy said.
â€œI didnâ€™t know there would be strange stuff like that!â€ McCree said. â€œThe monster, I thought.â€
â€œYou carry that big of a gun?â€
â€œI this carry this big gun because I thought there would be something. I didnâ€™t know it was going to be that big.â€
â€œAll right. Iâ€™m just saying â€¦â€
They eventually came to the edge of another clearing. It was another relatively open area devoid of wildlife. It looked like a windmill made of lengths of thick, metal pipe was under construction there. Incomplete, it stood about 30 feet high. A few more lengths of pipe were lying on the ground next to the windmill. There was also a tool box.
McCree noticed another of those dark trees off to their right about 50 feet away.
â€œItâ€™s another one of those monsters,â€ he said.
â€œA what!?!â€ Zippy said.
He pointed out the strange, dark tree.
â€œHey, look,â€ Zippy said. â€œOne bullet didnâ€™t do a whole lot to that thing. I fired off a whole magazine at that. Are we even prepared to begin doing something like this?â€
â€œNot really,â€ McCree said.
â€œLook, if thereâ€™s no people and this thing stays, relatively, in the same area â€¦ we donâ€™t give it a reason to go â€¦ maybe we can take it out if we actually go back and prepare. Or we just leave it, because that thing nearly killed us all.â€
They crept out of the clearing and returned to their parked motorcar, dragging Johnsonâ€™s corpse back with them. Zippy instructed McCree on how to attach the 100-round drum to the Thompson. McCree carried a second 50-round drum with them. They returned to the clearing by mid-afternoon.
The thing was gone from its place in the trees. They desperately scanned the clearing and Zippy finally spotted it in what he thought was the same place it was before.
They entered the clearing, crossing to the furthest end from the terrible thing, which still hadnâ€™t moved. At the other side, they noticed more building materials for the tower hidden in the trees.
They prepared their weapons.
â€œAre you ready, Zippy?â€ McCree asked.
He lay down prone and readied himself. Zippy noted he probably couldnâ€™t hit the thing until it was closer. They discussed their strategy. Then McCree fired the elephant rifle, blasting away with both barrels and sending himself sliding back several inches. The bullets struck the terrible tree and it lurched immediately into motion. Its mouths made strange noises that sounded like singing as it crashed through the trees.
Zippy opened fire, blasting away at the thing as it roared across the clearing.
â€œGive me back my hand you son of a bitch!â€ he screamed.
He aimed low and let the natural recoil of the weapon pull his fire up as he sprayed back and forth across the thing, every single one of the 30 bullets in the burst hitting the terrible creature. The thing stumbled and fell, crashing to the ground near the center of the clearing.
â€œOh!â€ Zippy said, surprised the thing had died.
They watched the thing while McCree reloaded his weapon and saw that it was starting to melt into the ground once again.
â€œWell, that was zippinâ€™ easy!â€ Zippy said.
â€œSee, weâ€™re fine,â€ McCree said.
â€œWell, what else is there now?â€ Zippy said.
They walked over to the windmill and looked it over. The tools and loose parts looked like they were hastily abandoned. McCree thought the men theyâ€™d met in the woods had probably been there, working on the structure. It didnâ€™t look finished. There was no sign of a well or anything under the structure either, which didnâ€™t make much sense. There was a platform of sorts on top.
â€œWeâ€™ll probably have to destroy this at some point,â€ McCree said.
â€œIt â€¦ just looks like a bunch of metal to me,â€ Zippy said.
â€œBut if theyâ€™re making it, it canâ€™t be good.â€
â€œWell, I mean â€¦ hereâ€™s the deal: I get that theyâ€™re evil witches, rituals and all that. Maybe they just need a windmill.â€
â€œThey are farmers as well.â€
â€œThis is not for a windmill. My bet is that this is more of something for their dark rituals, I would assume.â€
â€œAll right. We can break it.â€
â€œI donâ€™t have dynamite. I have a friend who loves it.â€
The terrible creature was melting away into the ground as the other one had, killing all the grass under it.
â€œHey, what if thereâ€™s some tools in that pile we saw thatâ€™ll just saw it off?â€ Zippy said.
They found tools that would allow them to pull the thing down but nothing that could simply destroy it.
McCree found another trail out the other side of the clearing and they followed it to the edge of the woods. Fields filled with lush corn grew almost up to the edge of the trees and they could see a road in the distance. McCree guessed they were northeast of Oak Valley but was unsure exactly where.
They headed back through the woods, dumping the two dead farmers in the woods and covering them with debris and leaves. The body of the British man was gone, leaving only a greasy patch on the ground and his clothing. They took the clothing, dumping it with the bodies. He shot the tree in the clearing with the altar with his pistol. Then they made their way back to the motorcar.
They wrapped up the corpseâ€™s neck, which was still oozing blood, and put it into the back of the machine. It was about 4 p.m. by then.
McCree suggested going to the Simons. Zippy told the man he liked his plan though he had one caveat, noting if they didnâ€™t want to be suspicious, his withered arm would be a hindrance. McCree suggested he wear a coat. Unfortunately, Johnsonâ€™s coat was covered with blood. Zippy also wanted to know what the plan was for getting into see the Simons. McCree asked if they should ambush them at their residence and Zippy reminded him he was an officer of the law. He suggested they go to the place and if they attacked them, they could then ambush them. However, he wanted to get his arm fixed and he planned to tell the Simons about it, which would break the charade of being a normal family. Then, if they tried to attack him, they could do whatever they needed to do.
They discussed tactics for some time.
â€œFirst we gotta figure out where they live though,â€ Zippy finally said.
â€œShouldnâ€™t be hard,â€ McCree said. â€œHarv is a great, upstanding fella thatâ€™s clearly not part of this.â€
â€œI ainâ€™t going in for that though. I ainâ€™t lettinâ€™ him see this if heâ€™s good or heâ€™s bad.â€
â€œOh no. God no.â€
â€œI donâ€™t think itâ€™s gonna do anybody good.â€
â€œI donâ€™t want to have to kill Harv either. Heâ€™s been so helpful.â€
â€œAll right. Iâ€™ll stay in the car.â€
He opened the car door, looking in the back.
â€œHey wait,â€ he said. â€œWe have a body in this car!â€
â€œNow you realize,â€ McCree said.
â€œShouldnâ€™t we do something about that before we just pull up to Harvâ€™s?â€
â€œWeâ€™re going to put him at Garberâ€™s. Garber wonâ€™t mind.â€
â€œI hear heâ€™s renting now.â€
â€œAll right. Weâ€™ll stash our friend at Garbers, go back to Harvâ€™s, Iâ€™ll stay in the car, find out where Simons live, go to Simons, Iâ€™ll talk to them about my arm, and then theyâ€™ll probably be evil and weâ€™ll kill them too. Sounds like a great plan.â€
â€œIf, by chance, theyâ€™re willing to talk though, which I would prefer â€¦â€
â€œOh, me too. I prefer to go home with a whole arm, empty mind, belly not full of dirt. Who knows whatâ€™s going to happen?â€
â€œâ€¦ then we could easily get them to divulge the other people in their cult so we can rid this town of its taint.â€
â€œWell, if theyâ€™re part of a cult, why they just gonna reveal people?â€
â€œBecause we will threaten them.â€
â€œOkay. Letâ€™s do it.â€
They drove the automobile as close as they could get to Lonnie Garberâ€™s shack, hauled the dead body through the woods, keeping his bloodstained coat but leaving his hat on him. They left the body there in the shack, propped up in the corner. Then they drove back to town but when McCree realized he was still covered in the black ichor that had come from the terrible creature, they decided to return to Boone to the hotel so he could shower and get clean clothes.
It was dinnertime before they returned to Oak Valley. They found the general store closed.
McCree suggested going back to the woods to ambush the other cultists while they looked for their friends. He noted they could do that or return to Boone for the night and come back the next day. They discussed it for a few minutes with Zippy pointing out there were at least 20 or more witches still out there in the woods. He said he would leave it up to McCree. McCree eventually decided to return to Boone that night and return the next day.
They left the village.
* * *