The body of the alleged four-legged freak may have been missing from my mother’s basement, but his blood stain was still there. I couldn’t take my eyes off it. The spot was round and puddled, wet but partially dry, seeping but somehow still coagulated. The way he got away was obvious – the basement window was open, the night stand had been moved to the left, and red handprints covered the walls.
“You shot him in the head?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Not the ear?”
“Not the side of the head?”
“We need to call the police.”
My mother drifted upstairs in a daze. I guess some people respond to trauma differently. Some people are planners. I must have opened and closed the window a thousand times, knowing it meant nothing, but trying to do something all the same. Some people prefer denial. My mother just wanted to complain about the stain.
“We’re never going to get that blood out of the carpet.”
“Call the police.”
“We need to bring it to the street. By we, I mean you, that’s too much for me to carry.”
“CALL THE POLICE.”
“Do we really need to?”
“PLEASE CALL THE POLICE.”
She wandered back downstairs. This may sound harsh; but if she was a friend, I might have smacked her, just to wipe away the shock from the moment. But this was my mother. And so I had to yell at her. I felt just as bad about it all the same. But it worked.
A newfound horror flicked into realization on her face after that. She finally seemed to get it. She finally seemed to grasp the severity of the situation. She could have murdered somebody.
I moved to take the phone from her hand a moment before she spoke into it.
“Yes. Yes, is this Dana?”
She paused. I mumbled something about why the fuck that mattered.
“Oh okay, hi Renee, this is Tiffany. Yes, yes, Tiffany from Blanco. Listen, I hate to bother you, but we’ve had an issue with an intruder here. Yes. Yes. No, nothing serious, but maybe an outsider, and he ran on all four legs…”
I ripped the phone from my mother’s hand and yelled into it.
“Last night a man followed my mother home and tried to break in. She shot him in the head. Now he’s gone. He disappeared. He got away.”
The line stayed quiet for a second.
I gave it.
“We’ll have someone out there in fifteen minutes. Meet them outside.”
The line went dead. I rushed for the door. I had to get out of that house. I couldn’t take it anymore. My mother followed me out.
“I wish you wouldn’t talk that way.”
“We know these people.”
“We have to live with them.”
“You have to live with them.?”
She stopped me.
“So we have a reputation to protect.”
I stopped her.
“Mom. You shot someone last night. They’re not dead yet, hopefully, so that’s a good thing. But we need to figure this out the right way.”
We spent the next fifteen minutes in silence.
The cop arrived on time. She didn’t come with a partner. It was surprising that the decaying Blanco PD truck made the journey at all, because it scraped against our driveway on the turn in, and rattled the whole way up. I didn’t recognize the driver until my mother jabbed me under the rib cage.
“Jamie Windicut,” she whispered. “Five years younger than you. Don’t get any ideas, old man.”
She stepped out purposefully, and I’ll admit, it was hard not to get ideas. She was jaw-droppingly beautiful; with long, dark brown hair, and bright green eyes. She took her time with the long walk up to our porch. She smiled at my mom, and hugged her warmly when she reached her, then cordially stuck out her hand to me.
“Jamie,” she laughed. “Or, Officer Windicut, whichever is easier.”
I smiled back and shook back. I must have said something stupid, like,
“Wish we could see each other under better circumstances,”
before ushering everybody inside.
“So it looks like we have a home invasion,”
“Yes,” I responded quickly. “Yes, Mom, you said he broke in?”
My mother nodded sweetly.
“Door frame is cracked. Now, Tiffany, how did the fight get to the basement?”
My mother looked flustered.
“Well, he confronted me, I was down there folding laundry.”
Jamie put a hand on her shoulder.
“That must have been horrible.”
“Can you show me where it happened?”
My mother led us all downstairs.
Jamie stared at the blood stain for a moment. Then she stared at the window. She did the same opening and closing thing I did. Then she sighed evenly.
“Looks like the jerk got away.”
My mother breathed an additional sigh of relief. Jamie shrugged her shoulders. I wasn’t so convinced.
“Don’t you want to know when it happened?”
Jamie stared daggers. I didn’t mean to offend her. I was flustered too.
“Last night. You mentioned that during your outburst on the phone. The rest your mother needs to tell me on her own. Now if you’ll excuse us, Tiffany, my mother used to say you made a mean cup of tea.”
My mother nodded emphatically and left up the stairs with Officer Jamie at her heels.
I was left in the basement with the stain.
The next twenty minutes passed painfully. I was scared, frustrated, and emotionally exhausted. I paced around the basement and tried to look for something that could give me a hint. But everything looked the same. Even down to the laundry… My mother’s story fit.
After that long break, Jamie emerged happily as ever, with a smile and wave from the staircase.
“Up for a ride?”
I got up.
“I want your mother to tell me more about where she followed him. We don’t often see outsiders around here. Not anymore. I have the office running receipts at the stores in town. And we should all go out and take a look at this mysterious mine she tracked him to.”
I didn’t know what to say. It was a good thing that the police listened to us. But something about this entire encounter felt sticky. My mother wasn’t blameless. They could lock her up for less, I guess, but Jamie acted like there wasn’t a problem here at all.
And why did the blood dry so quickly…
We met my mother in the kitchen and followed her outside. The three of us got into the Blanco cop car and hit the highway towards Whippoorwill. An afternoon storm creeped in along the way.
We didn’t say much. I surmised that the two of them had already concocted their plan. Good. Better to leave me out of it. About halfway through the trip, the radio chirped, and the ladies bolted to attention.
“Credit card matches a White Valley University employee. Names listed as John Dougherty. Can’t tell if that’s real or not… probably not… but there’s a picture. I’ll text it to you.”
After a moment, Jamie held up her phone.
“Is that him?”
My mother nodded. She didn’t say anything else for the rest of the trip.
We arrived at the mine about ten minutes later.
I couldn’t believe that they actually found it. The rain and high winds made it almost impossible to see. We were in the middle of nowhere, at least ten miles from the nearest building or structure of any kind, and the hills dipped and jumped so dramatically that it was impossible to get my bearings. But my mom remembered the spot perfectly. She even pointed it out when we parked. And Jamie seemed like she didn’t really need directions either. I couldn’t help but wonder why.
“Let’s go,” my mom shouted. “Lots to see.”
Rain soaked my clothes in seconds. The lightning cracked overhead so ferociously that it was worth considering the fact that we should not be searching a wide open field at all. But I followed them, nonetheless, doing my best to stay in the middle of Jamie and my mother as they each searched in opposite directions. The ground didn’t dip here, thankfully, and I had a visibility of about ten-fifteen yards.
Somewhere along the way, my mother suddenly stopped, and kneeled down close to the ground.
She pulled something back.
And then she disappeared.
I ran over and looked for her frantically in the dirt. I couldn’t find the exact spot. Everything was muddy. Everything was wet. The wind whipped at my face like a blanket and I looked for Tiffany, but lost her somewhere, probably by the edge of the woods, and I could hear my mother’s voice calling me from somewhere down below.
I found the hatch. I don’t know else to describe it other than a small metal door in the ground. I didn’t think. I opened it up and there was a ladder inside. I moved to go down it.
I shouted for my mom to come back.
She ignored me.
I knew full well that she wouldn’t be able to climb out with me coming down after her. I knew full well that I could be climbing into a collapsed mine, or a tunnel, or any of a thousand different types of death traps buried under Blanco. But that was my mother. And I had to help her. No matter what. I couldn’t let her go down there alone. She goes, I go, or so I calculated in about two minutes of panic fueled adrenaline.
My foot found the metal rung and my body descended downward.
It got colder the lower we went.
I waited for the sound of the police officer’s footsteps above me. They didn’t come. I thought that to be a good plan at the time. Somebody needed to stay behind if we needed help. Because the lower we went, the more apparent it became, we were going to need help.
The temperature must have dropped twenty degrees. I struggled to keep from slipping. The water that dripped down from above was already forming into ice on the handles. My running shoes were soaked to through to the socks. My legs started to buckle. I tried to count the steps, but lost track after one hundred.
After a near eternity, my mother called out from below.
“Oh my God.”
Her voice echoed. I climbed down faster, reaching the last rung of the ladder in a panic, and fell through.
I landed on some kind of cushioned mat.
We were in a cavern. Initially, I couldn’t tell how deep. But I heard my mother’s footsteps through the darkness, so I rolled over, and pulled out my flashlight, and the first thing that I noticed was the Giuseppe’s Bakery sign, a relic from my childhood, pinned to a low hanging beam about twenty yards away.
I blinked. I needed time to understand the second thing.
Propped underneath the sign were half a hundred complete human skeletons.
They looked like they were waiting in line.