An older man (still moving on in his fifties) sat on the edge of Lake George, his fishing pole propped up with one wrinkled but strong hand. The water was placid, save for a light breeze blowing across the water, causing a very light stir. In the heat, it felt quite good.
The man did not like to think about it, but could not help it. He had been sitting in this very place when it had all occurred. The most terrible thing he had ever lived through in his life. It seemed so calm right now, but he could not help but think about it…
It was only two years past when it happened. Charlie had been sitting in the exact spot, as he always did, when a policeman abruptly showed up at his cabin and told him the news. George now sat in the same spot, not worried, for he had an idea who was at the heart of these disappearances.
For the time being, someone showed up, and it turned out to be the Constable, for he wore the green jacket with the patches stitched on the shoulders. George looked up, slightly alarmed at his sudden presence.
“Pack up your stuff, George.”
“Why, what’s going on?”
“Just do it, please. And if you have any weapons, put ‘em away.”
George did have weapons, of course; he had been in the Special Forces in Vietnam, and at this point in his life, he was not too old to use them.
“Alright, Ok, but I still don’t see what the hurry is.”
“There’s a girl missing, alright? Tabatha Tysick. She goes by Tabi. Twelve years old. She’s from the village. We need to investigate.”
“Oh my God, I know her!”
George packed his gear, and stuffed if into the jeep. As he lifted the gray tarp, he abruptly noticed a new, very expensive assault shotgun was missing. He was still a little perplexed as to the problems.
“I’ve been coming here for years. Why the sudden stop?” the older man said.
“Like I said, she’s missing. Twelve-year-old Tabi Tysick. We need to figure things out. In the meantime, everyone needs to leave the lake. Even you, George. I know the lake was named after you and the road, but I have to do it.”
“It’s ok. I have all the time in the world. Whoever it is, they stole my new shotgun. Watch out, that thing is a killer.”
“Yes, whoever it is, he is a killer,”
George shook his head. “I was talking about the gun, Constable. Anyway, can I join in on the search? I’d be happy to.”
“That’s the spirit! We certainly wouldn’t want anything happening to our lake’s namesake.”
Yes, it was true; George was a true dinosaur of the lake. When he moved here for peace and quiet, and perhaps write one more book; nothing had a name. Some of the town’s people got together and decided that George was the best name for the lake, since he spent so much time there. He was the town hero, and had even written a book about the town. He was the only one from these parts that had gone to war.
Now, the town had the adopted name, a quaint name: Treadwell.
It had been two years since Charlie had vanished, and now a young girl. The Constable was looking in the wrong place, George was sure of it – he had gone to the small library and studied the history of Lake George. It had a long history of disappearances, that all went back around twenty years.
Those cases were cold now, closed. This was the Appalachian Mountain Range, and news like this did not reverberate long; it was, in fact left for local law enforcement. But now, well, George wasn’t sure what to think. In fact, many were afraid to frequent the lake, but the younger ones showed no fear (of course, many went out to the lake to party at night), and often went swimming and fishing there. But with this new development less would be making the sojourn to the lake. George had never run into any problems; in fact he loved the lake and the surrounding woods. He would return as soon as possible. It was difficult not to return, for his cabin was just a short walk up a well- worn path through the woods. There was also the smaller road, really only big enough for one vehicle.
There were many abandoned cabins scattered around this area, and he knew they were hiding out in one of them. It was in one of these cabins that he had found all the evidence he needed to draw his own conclusions. Regardless of that, he found no people. He recalled thinking that he should never underestimate the enemy. He had learned this before in a difficult and painful way.
They’ll be back, they’ll be back.
In the meantime, flyers were posted all over town, and the local TV stations did not hesitate to bring yet another disappearance to light. Constable Minor organized search parties. Most locals showed up, and although the Constable was not too pleased that most of them carried hunting rifles, he simply told them to be as careful as possible.
The first day revealed nothing except a lot of angry people bent on stopping this once and for all. They had no idea what they were up against. It was twenty years ago when the first if them migrated to this part of the forest. George knew they had come, but did not want to panic the town. George had no fear – his fear had died in a minefield somewhere in the ‘Nam. It had been around ten years when he began to sense another presence in the woods. Finally, the day came, but George had been expecting it. Charlie was gone, but it wasn’t so easy for George.
He sat on the banks of Lake George, listening to the tell-tale footfalls behind him. George abruptly jumped up and ran to the nearest tree. He climbed and disappeared.
The mutant stopped and gazed around. From his position George studied; the face and body were mutated, saliva running down his chin. His head was misshapen, two huge lumps on either side of his head. He was slumped over because of the hump on his back.
George dropped down from the trees only a foot away from the deformed man before he split his head in half with his machete. He kicked him in the chest and the mutant fell over backwards onto the dirt.
“Good God,” George said, as the brain and fluids slid out through the fresh opening in his head. “Guess I better call the Chief,” he said.
They had no choice but to cross the mine field if they wanted to drop the sniper. Four men had already fallen from the sniper’s bullets. Lieutenant George Mayfield kept going, watching for tell-tale signs of mines. His troop followed single rowed, firing up into the tree tops on the other side of the minefield.
George finally left the field, and he glanced back at his company. They were scared shitless The smell of death and body parts scattered around them was quite enough as they staggered quickly through the mud. A shot rang out, and George panicked. One of the last in line, Garcia fell over sideways directly onto a mine. George winced.
The rest of his platoon made the cross,but by then they had another problem. Many trees demarcated the boundary on that side of the mines. Very quietly, George said, “You men find a nice, cozy hiding place, and keep looking up. Spafford, you’re with me.”
“You’re not too scared, are you?”
“Yes sir, I am scared.”
“That’s normal, Spafford. I’m scared, too.”
“You, sir? Scared?”
“You’re fucking right I am – but we need to stay calm, and keep scanning these trees. He’s the one who’s really scared. What do you say we go and get this asshole?”
“Yes sir! Let’s take care of him!”
“Good man. Slowly we go now, taking cover wherever we can find it.”
George waved his hand, and the two of them started following the tree line. They approached a rather large tree, and Spafford said, “This is the tree, Lieutenant. The one we thought the shots were coming from.”
“Ok, we’ll just have to hang out here for-”
As he spoke, a North Viet Cong dropped from the lower branches of the tree. He wore a small woven hat, and black pajamas. He called out some gibberish, and then ran his bayonet into Spafford’s chest. The enemy turned toward George just in time to have a machete split his head in half. He stood there, each side of his head now laying on his shoulders.
George kicked the dead man in the chest, watched him fall, brain matter oozing out onto the ground. He ran over to Spafford. “Spafford! Spafford!” There was no response, no pulse.
George went to the spot where they had exited the mine field, and called his men together. “The sniper is dead.”
“Where’s Spafford?” someone asked.
“He’s gone,” George said. All the men lowered their heads in silent reverence. “Let’s get him and get out of here. We should hit a drop zone soon. But keep in mind there may be more on their way back now. I’ll take point – don’t follow until I give the signal.”
In silence the men followed George back to where Spafford lie dead. Some of their eyes widened when they looked at the thing in the black pajamas. They looked at George’s hardened features, and then went about the business of putting Spafford in a body back.
“Let’s go,” George said.
“Ok, what happened, George?” Constable Minor asked. Actually, he knew what happened; he just wanted to know why.
“I was fishing, and it was really quiet. And then I heard footsteps. I turned my head and there was one of those mutants. He had an axe in one hand – not the full size, but enough to kill a person. He came at me with the axe, and I had just enough time to draw my machete and fight back.”
“By splitting his head open,” the Constable said.
“It was just instinct, Constable.”
“Ok, ok, but you’re going home.”
“That’s fine, but I’ll be back in the morning. Good time to fish.”
The Constable’s face flushed – he knew what was coming.
“Constable, did you forget that I own this property? Everything from here to my cabin.”
“Yes, I know, George.”
“Ok then, why don’t you climb in your car and go around the lake. They could be anywhere.”
“I’ll be watching you,” the Constable said.
“I hope you are watching me in case I get in trouble,” George said. He suddenly noticed the tarp in the truck bed was pulled back. He had fishing poles, a cross bow, an axe – the shot gun was gone. He went into the cab of his truck and grabbed the Glock under the seat. He dashed for a tree.
Constable Minor took off in his truck, but just a short ways down, he turned around and slowly approached George’s fishing spot. One of the mutants stood near the lake, holding George’s shotgun.
He grunted and pointed the gun at the Constable. The Constable heard a discharge, like a pop!, and a hole appeared in the forehead of the mountain man; his body went limp and seemed to fold to the ground. Several times, blood rose from the bullet hole like a geyser and then altogether stopped. And the trees above emptied their birds into the clear sky.
Constable Minor could only stand and gawk at the figure lying on the ground. He cautiously approached the dead man, staring disbelievingly at how mutated he was; and he was wearing ragged jeans and a black tee shirt, which abruptly brought to him the stories he’d heard since being at Treadwell. At the time, he put little credence in the tales, but now…
“I suggest you finish your ride around the lake, and I’ll look around a little, and then we had better take these bodies back into town. If there are more of the mountain men around, we don’t want them to find the bodies. It will only piss them off. Meet me back here,” George said.
“All right George. You know, normally I would be a little angered because of your weapons. I warned you. But, in this case, I’ll make an exception. Thanks, George. You saved my life.”
“My pleasure Constable Minor.”
Minor climbed into his vehicle and took off slowly down Lake George Road. The road provided easy access to all the fishing spots and camp site around the lake. After Minor left, George thought about the very names of the lake and the road; it was only because he had been decorated for saving a few lives while overseas, but if had been important to the people of Treadwell. They would not have known had it not been for Charlie, the only person George kept in close contact with during his time away.
Thanks, George. You saved my life.
George took a good long look into the woods. Across the lake he saw the white flashes of Minor’s truck through the thick brush and trees.
They had been followed down the thin trail through the jungle, And George remembered thinking that he could actually hear the frantic voices of the Viet Cong. Several shots rang out, followed by the painful cries of the two that had been following up at the rear. “Get ahead at fast as you can and get ready,” he said to his sergeant.
“No Sir, it’s too dangerous.”
“Do what I said! Now!” And then George was gone. He had abruptly become a part of the jungle. He crept back to the bend in the narrow trail, using the jungle as cover. He reached the men just about the same time the enemy had; he realized there were seven in the patrol. Difficult, but not impossible.
One of them gave one of the fallen men a good swift kick in the slats. That was just before George put a bullet through his head with his sniper rifle. Without hesitation he dropped the next man as well. The other four soldiers scattered for the cover of the jungle, two on each side. One of them yelled out a command, and all four abruptly fired into the jungle on both sides of the trail.
Regardless, George had already moved down too far, and was a short distance behind a pair of Viet Cong. Giving up his position was not an option – the two enemy soldiers were far enough apart for George to carry out his plan.
He crept up behind one of the enemy soldiers, who were too busy frantically watching the path. As George grew close he could smell the rancid odor of sweat and body odor; and then his left arm was wrapped around the man’s neck, a human vice clamp. All the soldier could do was gag, and it was exactly what George needed, to keep the man quiet so as not to alert the other soldier.
George reached down and pulled his K-bar from its sheath and pushed it into the back of the gook’s neck. The man went silent, and George carefully laid the dead man down before working his way back into the jungle. The two Americans on the path were still groaning in pain. George could not stand to hear it; he took care of the other Viet Cong soldier more swiftly than the first time.
The enemy could have easily shot the soldiers lying on the path – regardless, George knew why they didn’t. They were using the men to draw the enemy out. They knew the Americans would try to return for the wounded men. Thank God they’re still alive, George thought.
Farther up the trail, George moved closed in and tried to spot the two remaining enemy soldiers. And spot one he did. The gook was down the trail a ways, but not that far. Success would count on him crossing over to the other side. He saw the other soldier join his partner. It was perfect.
George was hidden about twenty feet behind the enemy. They had not seen him cross over, did not hear him as he moved swiftly and quietly to a spot behind the two, at first allowing a wide berth between he and the enemy. Once in position, he stealthily worked his way up to his current position. It was time to put an end to this bullshit.
George aimed his rifle and fired. The two Viet Cong tried standing, their bodies twisting back and forth with each impact. He managed a shot directly into the face of one of them; and the back of the man’s head sprayed blood and brain matter from the gaping hole in the ruined skull.
George’s unit was far up the trail, yet they were close enough to hear the gun fire.
Sergeant Wilson jumped up and listened. After a short while he heard rustling in the jungle – someone was drawing near.
“Lock and load,” he said quietly to the others. They found cover behind some thick foliage, and waited for what could be a firefight. Instead, the heard the Lieutenant’s voice.
“Give me a hand, quick!” George said, as he entered the clearing nearly carrying one of the wounded soldiers. “Medic, where’s the medic?” The medic scurried out from the thick jungle growth. “Take care of this soldier.”
George turned his attention to the sergeant. “Sergeant, you’re with me – let’s go! We have one more man down.”
Once they started down the path, the sergeant studied George. “What happened to all the gooks, sir?”
“They got scared and ran away when they saw me comin’,” George said, a smile crossing his dirty face. Sergeant Wilson nodded. Finally, they reached the other man, and the two of them lifted him up and started back down the path.
The soldier’s name was Cole. He was drenched with sweat, and winced with every step; regardless he said, “Thanks, Lieutenant, you saved my life.”
“Aw, hell, just doing my job, Cole.”
“I think he saved all our lives,” Wilson said.
George remained quiet, but finally said, “Let’s just get these two men fixed up and get to the landing zone.”
Wilson didn’t say anything at the moment, but he had seen at least two of the enemy lying dead just off the path. He quickly glanced at George.
“What?” George asked.
“Oh, nothing, sir.”
The two wounded soldiers received Purple Hearts. George had been decorated as well, the third time since his tour of duty. Lieutenant George Taylor thrived on being one of the best – a man in which ruled confidence and duty. He had no room for fear. Nonetheless, he was a humble man; perhaps that was why everyone automatically liked him, and showed him respect. George certainly enjoyed it, but never got too wound up in it.
When he returned to Treadwell, he was treated as a hero. They even named the lake after him, and the road surrounding the lake. His eyes had grown moist as he gave a short speech to the town’s folk before leaving for his cabin.
The cabin had been in his family for years, his property reaching all the way to the lake. It was the perfect place to heal. After all, no matter how brave he had been, Vietnam had had an effect on him. He needed the time to get used to the idea that the enemy was gone. And he didn’t hurt for money, for his parents had left insurance policies for him. So, there was one thing he just had to do first chance he got; he needed to go fishing.
Minor pulled up at George’s fishing spot and got out of the truck. “Didn’t see anything out of the ordinary,” he said. They both stared across the lake a few moments. “Just who are these people, George?
“I’m not sure. But I am sure they are responsible for all the disappearances over the years. They are mountain men, inbred. Thus, the deformities. It also means there has to be at least one female. I think they move from place to place like animals. When the food supply runs out, for animals, that is, they migrate.”
“Are you saying these people are-”
“Whoa, hold on, Constable. I am not sure, but I will find out. We better get these bodies to the Chief.”
George pulled the first body from the bushes. With its head slit open, the face was indiscernible. They drove down to the next fishing spot; the body was still lying on the dirt. They took no time to examine it. Instead, they loaded it in the back of George’s truck and covered both bodies with a canvas tarp. That being done, they headed for town.
In some of the thickets along the way, and in at least one tree top, bloodshot eyes trained their empty gazes upon them.
The two trucks pulled up at the curb in front of the police station, and both men approached the bodies. Treadwell was not that small, and there were people window shopping all along Center Street. “We need to be discreet about this, George. I’ll go and fetch the Chief. You stay out here and watch over…them.”
George leaned against the back of the truck and watched Minor enter the Chief’s station. He returned with Chief Smith in tow.
“This better be good, you two,” Smith said.
“Look what we found,” George said, lifting the tarp.
Smith stared, and then snagged George’s arm. “Cover it up! My God!”
“George thinks they’ve been responsible for the disappearances all along, and to tell you the truth, I’m believing it myself,” Constable Minor said, lowering his voice.
The Chief turned to George. “What makes you think this?”
“They’re obviously mountain men,” he said. “They probably know these mountains better than anybody.”
“Hurry, cover ‘em up. Let’s go to the funeral home. It’s probably the only place we’ll have some privacy,” Chief Smith said. He glanced at George doubtfully, recalling when Charlie had disappeared, and George had discovered the cabin hidden in the woods.
Of course, George had been the first person notified, since the personal items had been discovered on his property. He met the Constable at his fishing spot, and immediately knew the items left behind hand been Charlie’s.
The fishing pole was still propped up against a large rock, near a tan vest and a water bottle. Near the water’s edge sat a tackle box.
“This is Charlie’s stuff,” George told the Constable.
“How can you tell?” Minor asked.
George nearly screamed. “It’s Charlie’s things, ok? What are you going to do about it?”
“Look, George,” Constable Minor said. “I just discovered this. The reason I called you is because you’re his best friend, and I thought he might be up at your place.”
George stared at the huge blood stain soaking into the soil next to the fishing pole. “I’ll find him myself. I didn’t come back here to be terrorized. I’ll find him.”
Minor pursed his lips together. “George, you can’t do that. Leave it up to us – we’re the law. We’ll do what we can to find him. In the meantime, I suggest you stay in your cabin, just to be safe.”
“Fine, Constable. I’ll stay in the cabin. Will you at least let me know if you find anything?”
“Sure, George. Please, go home, and I’ll go and fetch the Chief.”
George walked toward his cabin, frowning all the way. When he arrived, he instantly climbed the stairs to his loft and went straight to his closet. And then he was holding his sniper rifle; just seeing it brought back cursed black and white memories from Vietnam. How many men had he killed with this gun? He wasn’t sure. It would be no problem if it meant saving Charlie’s life.
George was too far from the lake to see Minor, but he couldn’t take any chances. He crept through the trees gradually until he could clearly see his spot. Minor was gone, so George rushed over and began to examine the area. He noticed a footprint on the edge of the blood, and another near some brush. Small leaves and branches were bent or broken – this is where he started his search.
That day he moved slowly through the woods for what seemed like miles. It became increasingly difficult to track the person or persons he was looking for, but not impossible.
Eventually, he caught sight of a small cabin. He hid in the underbrush for a while, watching for any activity. Small wisps of smoke drifted from the crude chimney. The windows were covered with sheets and blankets. He would have to move closer.
He crept nearer the cabin, and ran to position himself under a window. There he squatted down and listened for any noises that might reveal there was someone inside the decrepit cabin. He heard nothing, however, and scanned the woods for any movement. It reminded him of Vietnam – his unit would come up to a camp, the fire still smoking as if they had been there only minutes before the Americans arrived. There was always a good chance the camp was booby trapped. As for the cabin, he had a feeling that there were no traps.
Fuck it, he thought. He went to the door and kicked it in, pointing his shotgun at anything that might move. It was a one room cabin, very old. In the center of the room was a large table stained with blood. The warped floorboards were also stained, everywhere.
“What in the fuck was going on here?” he said out loud.
George approached, and shook his head. He suddenly noticed something lying in a bundle in a corner of the room. It was a tan goose-down vest, and George immediately recognized it.
It was Charlie’s vest. Now it was blood-stained on a small heap of other clothing. He searched the pockets of a pair of jeans, and yanked out a wallet. Opening the walled saddened him – it was Charlie’s. He stood contemplating the clothing for a while, and started yanking the clothes from the pile and tossing them haphazardly around the room. When he was nearly finished, he suddenly saw hair smeared with blood, and he jumped back.
It was a head! Someone’s fucking head!
George slowly reached down and moved the head with the back of his hand until a face was showing. “Oh, God!” he said, as he stared into Charlie’s face. “What have they done to you?”
Leaving the head, George went to the door. He poked his head out and again looked through the woods for any movement. With Charlie’s vest and wallet, George took flight through the woods.
In Treadwell Funeral Home, the Chief and Constable, along with George stood around the two stainless steel tables, silently studying the two corpses. The funeral director, Wendell Lewis, stood at the head of the tables.
Lewis was an older man, balding and a little hunched over; he had always been Treadwell’s only mortician. “In all my years, I have never seen anything like this before,” he said.
“We believe they are responsible, or partly responsible for the disappearances occurring around the lake. Frankly, we’ve never seen anything so bizarre.”
“Actually, Chief, I have,” Lewis said. “At least photographs. There have been cases of bands of mountain men living in some of the mountain ranges, surviving off the land. Many have reputed to be cannibals.”
“Good God, cannibals?” Minor said. Now there was one more aspect of the twisted bodies that truly sickened the Chief and his Constable. They both stood there grimacing. George seemed to be studying the bodies closely, moving closer and picking at the clothing.
“Jeans and tee shirts. Now just where do you suppose they got these?” George asked. The others said nothing. “They stole them, Chief. After all, they wouldn’t need them when they were dead. Maybe they’re getting two for one – clothing and food.”
The bodies on the table were unnatural. One of them had a head with a bulbous growth on one side, which caused one eye to look smaller than the other. It had a back that protruded out, not allowing it to lay perfectly flat. The second corpse had a face that looked as if it had been stretched down on one side, as if its face was made of putty. Both bodies had scant hair, mere strands hanging down on the sides of their heads.
“Food? Are you saying what I think you’re saying, George?” Chief Smith asked.
“That’s exactly what I’m saying. From my perspective, it isn’t that crazy. Mountain men, moving from place to place, wherever the food is. Who knows how many different locations they have? They know the woods, and can travel indiscreetly. I think they have some kind of intelligence, and we shouldn’t rule that out. Look at these weapons.” George motioned to a small table where they had inventoried everything the mountain men had been carrying. “Look at this – it’s the largest hatchet I’ve ever seen. Their knives are crude. They made them themselves. They may even have guns stashed at wherever they’re holed up.”
“It’s sick,” Minor said.
“Yes, it is. I want you to form a search party – get as many volunteers as you can,” Smith said.
George spoke up. “I want to help. I know these are the same freaks that have been coming here for a long time. They killed Charlie, and now they have a young girl.”
“I’ll tell you what, George. Although I’m not big on the idea, grab your shotgun and join the party. I imagine a lot of men from town will be carrying their hunting rifles. Just remember our little talk – don’t take the law into your hands. I understand you’re train in this kind of thing, but we have to do it by the book. Is that clear?” Chief Smith asked.
“Certainly, Chief. I only want to help because of my experience. It may take a few days, but we’ll find that girl, and the rest of these freaks.”
George drove slowly down Main Street – the town seemed to have grown quite a bit. “I need to get out more,” he said. Several people on the sidewalks waved to him as they walked along, window shopping or just visiting the various shops. They were friendly folks, and George was tired of watching them live in fear.
As he entered the road on the outskirts of town, his thoughts returned to Vietnam. There were many times he and his men had chanced upon villages that had not been raided by the Vietcong, forced into submission so weapons could be hidden, and ghouls in the black pajamas nearby.
The villagers were innocent and unarmed. They were only trying to live their lives; and so many from other villages had already died. George knew that many of his men would have been happy just torching the village, but he was usually able to keep them under control.
And now, he faced a new threat. He was alone, for he did not think the Chief and Constable could deal with these people. In his mind, he saw mutated men running and leaping through the woods, climbing up trees in the blink of an eye. No, he did not think anyone else was ready. He would not rest easy until the threat was gone. The Chief of Police told him not to take the law into his own hands – well, he wouldn’t, but someone would, and only a few would truly know who this stranger was that took care of the threat in the woods surrounding Lake George. Regardless, there would be no evidence.
George arrived at his fishing spot (he was sure the Chief would direct the search party there) and parked his truck near the lake. He examined the blood spot on the ground. Small bits of brain and skull matter were scatter across the spot, becoming more evident as the blood soaked into the ground. He grabbed his shotgun and walked to the edge of the lake, eyes scanning the perimeter for any movement.
George heard an engine, and tires rolling across the dirt and gravel of the road. He turned and waited, shotgun ready. Chief Smith pulled up, blocking the entrance to the fishing spot. “Can’t have the rest of the town blocking you in,” he said, as he and Constable Minor climbed out of the truck. “You look like you’re ready to go.”
“I am,” said George. Luckily, he already had his boots on and fatigue pants. The early morning had been cool, but it was warming up considerably now, and his tee shirt would serve him just fine. “How many people did you get?”
“Quite a few and they’re gathering other people, too. I was thinking of pairing everyone up, just to be safe.”
“I’m going alone,” George said. “I’ll wait until most of them get here, just so they know what I look like and don’t pick me off in the woods.”
Chief Smith gave him a doubtful glance. Finally he said, “Alright George.”
The vehicles began to show up rather quickly, parking alongside Lake George Road wherever there was room. It was mostly men, some with their wives, and most armed. They gathered around Smith and waited for instructions. George stood off to the side, returning the amiable nods from most of the men.
“What I want to stress first and foremost is safety. We may be dealing with someone dangerous, and we don’t want anyone to get hurt. I appreciate all of you volunteering. Now listen – George’s spot is the meet-up point. I don’t want anyone going too far and getting lost. If you run into a cabin, just mark its location, and don’t try to investigate. I am going to put all of your names down before we head off, and I want everyone to meet back here in two hours. Is that straight?”
Scattered yes from the crowd.
Smith continued. “Ok, you know what we’re looking for. If you see or find anything, please don’t touch it. And please, be careful!”
Chief Smith began to note all the names down, and group the men into pairs. All the rifles jutting up into the air reminded George of old memories. They were here to hunt, and not deer. George turned to Constable Minor. “I’m taking off. I’ll see you in a while.”
“Ok, George, be careful out there.”
“I will, thanks.”
Most watched as George hefted his shotgun over his shoulder and walked off into the woods. Everyone knew what the man was capable of, and they were secure knowing that he was around. They did not truly comprehend that the man was slowly falling back into his war day’s mentality. George only wanted to get a feel for the land again, as it had been a while since he had explored too far into the woods. He did recall the cabin where he had found their hideout the first time. Although he was unsure if they would return to the same location, he had to consider that it would be easy territory for them to navigate.
Just like the Vietcong…
These mountain people didn’t dig tunnels to hide in, but they knew the woods better than anyone. They spent their entire lives there. George was determined to discover where they were first, for he did not want anyone else getting hurt. He presumed the girl was already dead, but he said nothing to the Chief. George only wanted to find some signs that someone had traversed a particular part of the woods, and he would return on his own.
And he would find it…
George had left the others behind; he was sure they would not come this far, and with his age catching up with him, he was a little surprised that he had traveled so far so quickly. He hunkered down behind some brush and studied the cabin. It was not a pleasant feeling, knowing that Charlie had died there. The location was all he needed to know.
The cabin’s front door squeaked upon, and a mutated figure stepped outside. There were several animalistic grunts from inside, and the man (as far as he could tell it was a man) grunted irritably over his shoulder, which was humped higher than the other. He walked out to the decrepit shed next to the cabin, opened one of the double doors, and went in. It was too dark inside discern anything, but George had seen all he had needed to see. He waited for the figure to go back inside the cabin, and quietly crept away through the brush.
He worked his way back to his cabin, careful not to draw too much attention. He encountered different groups, and the questions were always the same: Did you see anything up ahead? Any sign of the freaks? The answers were always the same as well: No, I haven’t seen anything. I don’t think they’re up that direction – they must be hiding out on the other side of the lake.
George reached Lake George Road, and went straight to his fishing spot, holding his assault shotgun in a casual manner. Chief Smith was perched on the front seat of his truck, smoking a cigarette and listening to the radio.
When he saw George he called out, “George, did you find anything?”
“I didn’t see anything, Chief. Feels like I walked forever,” he said, sighing heavily. “I’m sorry I didn’t come up with something.”
“It’s ok, George. I appreciate your help. What are you going to do now?” Smith asked.
“Well, I’m tired. I was thinking about going back to my cabin and getting a little chow, and then some sleep.”
“Ok, George, let me move my truck for you, and you can be on your way.”
“Appreciate it, Chief.”
He waited for Smith to move, and then backed his truck out before turning up the small entrance to his cabin.
When darkness fell, and the moon waxed on the lower horizon, George crept down the rendezvous site. From behind the bushes he watched everyone stumbled in weary and disappointed at not finding anything to clue them in as to the whereabouts of the young girl.
The Chief and Constable were waiting, and among the din, Constable Minor stepped forward with a clipboard. “Ok, I’m going to call out your name, and just like in school, say “here” loud and clear. We just want to make sure no one is missing.”
George hunkered down and listened to the roll call. He was fearful that someone had perhaps run into trouble while navigating the woods. He knew these mountain men could have been anywhere, moving through the woods quickly and silently, just like…
The Vietcong…he would never forget how they ran through the jungle, stashing weapons here and there, building traps. They always knew where to turn, what to avoid – a stranger had chanced upon their home, and they were not about to let the strangers invade their territory.
“Aston! Jacob Aston!” Minor called out. Silence ensued, followed by a low mumbling through the group. “Jacob Aston, are you here?”
“They probably got him, Constable,” a man said in the growing darkness. “We need to go find him!”
The Chief broke in. “Folks, it’s getting too dark. I want you all to go home now! Lock your doors and stay inside. Watch over your families. We’ll stick around here and wait for Jacob, and if he doesn’t show, we’ll look around. It’s just too dangerous for everyone to be running around in the dark. Now clear out, and we’ll meet back here early in the morning around six.”
Mumbling among themselves, the crowd dispersed. George watched as one by one the cars and trucks formed a line and rumbled away down Lake George Road toward town. Most were dismayed – this had been a search party for a young girl, and now another person was gone.
Eventually, the area emptied itself out, leaving only the cloud of dust settling slowly down onto the road. George stayed his position, watching the Chief and Constable standing in the road, eyeing the woods. He decided it was time to go and prepare.
George’s cabin sat a short way up into the woods on a slight rise from the lake. It was larger than most of the cabins surrounding the lake, and yet it was simple and pleasing to the eye. The interior was equally as simple, consisting of the large living area with an open kitchen against the south wall, the stairs against the north wall to the loft, which served as his bedroom. The bathroom he had built conveniently under the wooden staircase. George had hired a man from Treadwell to do the mortar work for the fireplace against the west wall, the back wall of the cabin. Surrounding it was a black leather sofa and love seat, and a recliner coupled with an end table and lamp. The centerpiece was a coffee table fashioned from a tree stump, lacquered to a fine sheen.
There was a twenty – seven inch television near the fireplace (but at a safe distance), but George did not watch it much. When he did, it was always news. That and his cell phone were his only ties to the outside world. If there had not been a tower standing close enough to Treadwell and his home, he would not even have his phone.
All in all, George wanted it simple but comfortable.
After he left town for his cabin, he thought about those that were missing. The lake was void of any people now, which saddened George. It reminded him of his own personal losses and of course the loss of others. The old empathy he had felt during his two tours of duty overseas had returned – the army had changed him, made him angry and strong.
Regardless, soon there would be many people gathering here again to search for the girl.
Thanks, Lieutenant, you saved my life…
Deep within him, he could not help himself. Perhaps unconsciously it was why he had chosen this place to spend the rest of his life. He needed peace and tranquility to truly contain him, but the seeds had already been planted with the death of Charlie, and his discovery at the cabin.
In light of everything that had happened, past and present, George was determined to end it now. In the cabin, he sought out one item in particular, something he had had for years – a long wooden trunk in the loft that served as a nightstand. It had a long cloth draped over the top, and a small lamp surrounded by old framed photos of his old buddies from the war.
George removed everything from the top of the trunk and opened it. Many different odors emanated from within, none of them particularly pleasant, but each scent invoked dusty memories from his past. He paused, letting those odors remind him of who he had been, and what he must once again be.
A tattered blanket covered the trunks contents, and this he removed and set to the side on the hardwood floor. The first thing he saw was his uniform. He had had it cleaned and pressed before storing it away for what he presumed would be a much longer time. George gently lifted up the uniform and placed it on the bed. He unfolded the shirt and pants, laid them out for him to reflect.
All the medals were off the shirt now, as he had removed them and stored them in a small black box somewhere inside the trunk. Another blanket covered what was left in the trunk. It was another green army issued blanket. Knowing what lie beneath it, he slowly and gingerly lifted the blanket, folding it up before setting it on the bed. The items inside took his attention away momentarily.
He could hear gunfire and the battle cries of men from both sides, and then the cries of pain and agony of those on the ground bleeding to death. If they were lucky, a Vietcong would find them and end the misery. To be taken prisoner would have been much worse.
As George stared inside the trunk, the old feelings did come back. He was becoming a soldier again, and his face went serious, just as it used to do when he knew out in the field that he would soon be killing someone. Inside the trunk were two grenades, two Claymore mines, all positioned around his pride and joy – his sniper rifle. There was an ammo belt that strapped on around the stock. The belt was already filled with ammo, and he knew it was plenty for his mission.
He picked up the rifle and held it close – it was his, alright. He gazed at the stock and saw the notches he had carved into it all those years ago. Tonight, there may be more. The gun felt good in his hands. He pointed it out the loft window toward his fishing spot. He eyed through the scope and saw Minor and Smith in a deep conversation. It was growing dark, so George removed the day scope, replacing it with the night scope. He again looked at the two standing near the lake. They were green, but clear. He could have picked them off one by one, for neither would have heard a sound – the silencer took care of that.
George disrobed and got into his uniform. It was a little tight, but nonetheless would do the job right. Next were his boots. They were somewhat worn out, as was his uniform, but both were useable. It fact, it heightened the change he was experiencing. He was a US Marine, and a bunch of freaks weren’t going to stop him. He found a small jar of face paint, and rubbed it across his cheeks and forehead, and chin.
He carefully put the Claymores into a small duffel bag, along with the grenades, hanged the rifle over his shoulder and exited through the front door and into the night.
Far into the woods, but near the cabin, George hid his duffel bag and crept closer, carrying his rifle. He stuck to the surrounding trees and brush where he would not be noticed. A window at the side of the cabin was lit, and he lifted his rifle to peak through the scope. He saw three males, and what looked like a female standing around a naked body on a wooden table.
One of the males took out a knife and sliced a strip of meat from one of the legs. He took a large bite and began chewing, while the woman snatched the rest from his knife and nearly stuffed the entire piece into her mouth. The other two men followed suit, slicing off pieces and chewing on the raw meat.
George moved up to the shed and pulled open a door. He saw figures hanging in the darkness, and when he pulled out his small high beam light he saw two bodies hanging by hooks planted in the back of their skulls. He didn’t recognize either of them, only that strips of meat had been sliced from them as well. He closed the door quietly.
George didn’t know the missing man from the search party, but he presumed that the body was his. He worked his way to the rear of the cabin, and found only one window lit up, flickering with what seemed to be candlelight. The curtains were too thick to see through his scope, so he snuck up and peaked; he saw the young girl huddled in a corner, hands and legs tied. The bedroom door was closed, which gave him an advantage.
He tried to lift the window, but it was stuck. He drew his Kbar and jammed it under the window and pried until it came loose. The girl had already noticed the noise and huddled against the corner, tears streaming down her face. George grabbed the bottom of the window and slowly lifted it, cringing slightly at the squeaking. Finally, it was up far enough, and George stuck his head in, putting a finger to his mouth.
George slowly crawled through the window, rifle in hand. Not wasting any time, he cut the ropes around the girl’s feet and wrists, and removed the gag from her mouth. He whispered in her ear, “It’s George. I’m gonna get you outta here.” She threw her arms around his neck, and he gently pushed her back. “Don’t make a sound. Go out the window and wait.”
George followed her through, took her hand, and began to lead her through the woods to the trail where he had stashed his duffel bag. He dug a flashlight from his bag and handed it to her. “It’s a long walk, but you’ll end up at my fishing spot, and the Chief should be there. If not, go to my cabin and stay there. Do not stray from this trail! Understand, dear?”
“Yeah, I understand. But what are you going to do?”
“What should have been done a long time ago. Oh, if you run into the Chief, you didn’t see me. You escaped through a window. You never saw me. Promise me.”
“I promise, George. You saved my life.”
“Ok, get going, and don’t look back. Move!”
She took off down the trail, and soon George saw the flashlight flicker on. Now it was time to take care of business. He carefully attached the Claymore to a tree, and ran some fishing line across the path. He stepped over the line and moved closer to the cabin. It didn’t take long for him to spot the mutant creeping down the path.
It wasn’t the large man, but one he had apparently sent. George moved farther down the trail, and cleared his throat. The mutant immediately assumed he would kill this man, and bring home more food. Holding his hatchet high, he walked through the fishing line, and then the mine exploded. What was left of the mutant fell to the ground.
Tabi appeared suddenly, to the surprise of the Chief. “Where have you been?”
“They took me, locked me in a room. They tied me up, but I got loose and crawled out a window.”
“You didn’t have any help?” Smith asked.
“No. No help.”
Minor got close to her face. “Not even George?”
“Run up to George’s place and see if he’s there,” the Chief said. Minor took off running.
“Ok, now that he’s gone, you can tell me the truth. Don’t bullshit me, girl! George was there, wasn’t he?”
Tabi lowered her head. “He was there. He saved me!”
“And then what?”
“He gave me a flashlight and told me to follow the trail back to you.”
“Don’t worry – he’s not in any trouble. We just want to help.”
“Please don’t hurt him,” Tabi said.
“We won’t, I promise.”
The apparent leader of the group was pissed off- he growled at one of the men to go outside. He hesitated, and the leader knocked him down. He growled again and the mutant stood up and opened the door. George had his night vision scope trained on the man and fired one shot into his head. He fell back into the cabin, a pool of blood growing beneath his head.
The leader screamed, pulling the dead man in far enough to shut the door. He already had a sheath of arrows on his back, and a bow strung across his shoulder. He also had a large knife in a sheath hanging from his pants. A double blade axe leaned in one corner, and this he grabbed also. He looked at the other two, a man and woman, and then headed for the door.
George had his rifle trained on the door, but he was nonetheless surprised when the figure yanked the door open and dashed into the woods. This changed everything. There were still two more in the cabin, however, and George rushed forward, pulling a grenade from his belt. He hurled it through a window and ran back the way he came. He heard the explosion and stopped to watch. The cabin would burn down. And as soon as that thought entered his mind, an arrow pierced his shoulder. “Fuck!” he cried and kept moving down the trail.
Minor appeared, and as soon as he saw Chief Smith, he said, “He’s not there, Chief.”
“I know, Minor. Do you remember that cabin George found two years ago?”
“Yeah, I remember. What about it?”
“George is up there now, and we’re going up there.”
“This isn’t a wild goose chase, is it?”
“Grab a flashlight,” Smith said. “And shut your mouth. We’re going.”
Soon, the two were heading up the trail. The Chief was quite sure what was going on.
“Are you sure about this, Chief?”
“John, I’m sure. So is George. Lake George Road is the perfect hunting ground for these creeps. George feels he has an obligation to this town. I don’t blame him, but I don’t want him to get killed.”
“You’re right. Let’s help him.”
“Now, you’re talkin’,” Smith said.
Hidden behind some tall brush, George reached around to his back to find out what kind of tip was on the arrow. He winced in pain as he moved, but was relieved to find that the arrow had a small point. Now George had an enigma: to pull the arrow out and possibly bleed to death, or leave it in for the time being. And for the time being he did not plan on dying.
He chose the latter – he pulled his Kbar from its sheath and held it against his skin where it had entered. He gritted his teeth as he used the jagged side of the knife to cut off the arrow protruding from the front. He felt like screaming, but he had already changed into someone he used to be. He sat still, feeling the pain spread from the wound. Nevertheless, he could not wait for too long. He reached back with his left hand and grasped the arrow. With his right, he sawed the end off, grimacing as if being tortured. Once done, he lay on the ground and took the pain.
George didn’t wait long; he wasn’t dead, and the enemy was hunting for him. He stood and sheathed his Kbar, strapped his gun over his left shoulder. Using the right was out of the question. He stumbled at first, but gained more strength as he moved through the trees. He was a soldier, and the enemy could be anywhere.
He reached the trail, but stopped just outside it. He felt his wounds. They were bleeding, but not nearly enough if he had removed the arrow.
Pain. A little blood. I am going to kill this twisted fuck.
George entered the trail, moving slowly, listening for anything out of the ordinary. He heard a rustling in the bushes behind him, but he had no time to turn around before the mutant was on him.
The mutant screamed a kind of battle cry as he flattened George against the ground.
“What was that?” Minor asked.
“I would say it’s George in the middle of something. We better hurry,” Chief Smith implored.
At first, George felt helpless. Regardless, all the old feelings, the knowledge, took control of him as it did during the war. He felt renewed strength, determination, and the pain was a catalyst that brought all of these feeling together.
They wrestled on the ground, and the mountain man jammed a knife into George’s left thigh. He felt the pain, and yet it seemed to strengthen his anger, that determination. Suddenly, George was on top of his enemy, his knife drawn. Firstly, he sliced through the bow strings. Enough of that. And then he forced the Kbar into the mutant’s stomach.
“You’re one ugly motherfucker, you know that?”
George stood up and stepped away. The mutant stood, staggering. He grunted and growled at George, but George only said, “Fuck you, too!”
He snatched the last grenade from his belt and ran as fast as he could, considering the wound in his leg, and when he reached the mutant, he pulled the ring and shoved the grenade with every bit of energy he had left into his mouth. He heard teeth breaking, but the grenade was not far enough in – George used his left hand, and jammed it in as far as it would go.
He struggled back just in time to run into the Chief and Constable. “Take cover!” he said. “Down!” The three of them flattened themselves onto the ground just in time to hear the blast. “What in the hell was that?” Smith asked.
“The end of our problems. There were two more in the cabin, but I don’t know about them.”
The Chief shined his flashlight on George. “You’re in shit poor shape, my friend. We’re getting you to a hospital. Can you handle the walk back to our vehicle?”
“Yeah, just lead the way.” Minor put an arm around George’s shoulders, and George grasped him back.
George awoke from a drug induced sleep. The first thing he saw was the flowers on the night stand, and a young girl in a chair, reading a book. She looked up and smiled. “You’re awake. Good. How are you feeling?”
“Ok, I guess.”
“They say you’ll be fine. You saved my life, George. You’re a hero again.”
“At least you’re safe.”
The door opened and in walked Chief Smith and Constable Minor. “Hello, George. Glad to hear you’re doing well,” the Chief said.
“Tabi, we need to talk to George alone. Can you give us a minute?”
“Sure,” she said. “I’ll be out in the hall.”
“Good. Constable Minor will explain things to you.”
Minor opened the door for Tabi and followed her out into the hall.
“Looks like you took quite a beating, George.”
“You could say that.”
“Listen, you mentioned that there were two more in the cabin, but we didn’t find any bodies. We searched everywhere. Nothing. Are you sure about that?”
“A man and a woman. That’s what I saw.”
“Alright, George,” Smith said. “They must have escaped. I know you’re not stupid. If they were there, they were there.”
“I suppose this means I’m going to jail,” George said, pushing the button on his IV.
“I can’t imagine what you went through, but in a way I can. You’re not going to jail – hell, we don’t know what happened up there.” Smith smiled. “You’ll be back fishing in no time.”
“And to think I was more worried about that,” George said. Smith started to speak, but George closed his eyes, and everything faded away.
A clean shot. God you saved my life, Sir. You’re like a hero.
Will you shut up and keep moving?
The couple finally reached the summit of the mountain. They were breathing heavily, and sat down to catch their breaths. She clutched her stomach, and the man followed suit. The baby had moved. He looked up at her face, and tried to smile. The right side of her mouth nearly reached her eye, that was lower than her left eye. The bulbs on her head were less evident because she had more hair.
In turn, she gazed at him. He was almost hairless, with thin strands dangling down over a bulbous head. As she watched, one of the bulbs cracked open and puss ran down the side of his head. She wiped it off with her hand, and grunted.
They stood and began their descent down the other side of the mountain.