Authors: Andrew E. Kaufman
Tags: #Speculative Fiction Suspense
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental
Copyright © 2010 by Andrew E. Kaufman. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means , or stored in a database or retrieval system without the author’s written permission.
To the memory of my mother, who gifted me with her love for the written word.
While the Savage Sleeps
Far beyond the rough-hewn mountaintops, beyond the pathless desert flowing with cacti, yucca, and sagebrush, two stony peaks rise through the air like massive, chiseled arms reaching for the heavens.
At first glance, they can almost pass for mirror images of each other; but as you steady your gaze and narrow your focus, the illusion begins to fade—so too, do the similarities, and it is there you find that the two are nothing alike.
High River Peak is green, picturesque, and well-traveled, its swift-moving rapids a sure bet for those seeking recreation as well as reprieve from New Mexico’s searing summer heat.
Sentry Peak is its antithesis.
Vacuous, dismal, and barren, it’s a no-man’s-land. The only sign of life is an old and abandoned six-story building resting along the easternmost bluff; although,
would hardly describe what it does—
, much like a hungry vulture eying its prey: imposing, hostile, imminent.
There is one thing the two peaks have in common, and that is Faith.
Tucked away like a well-kept secret, Faith, New Mexico lies nestled directly between them. It’s the kind of place, where, if you didn’t know better, you’d almost swear time stood still. No fast food chains here, no superstores, no multiplex movie theaters—everything is still mom-and-pop-operated. Residents dwell in cozy pastoral farmhouses passed down through generations, white sheets sway on clotheslines—wiggling and puffing to the commands of a fitful wind—and people get their milk, not at the corner convenience store, but from cows grazing just a few hundred feet from their front doors.
Highway Ten, the region’s time-honored thoroughfare, edges its way along the town’s outskirts. It captures the classic image Madison
venue has, for years, tried duplicating in both TV and print ads: terrain dominated by flat, dusty stretches of sun-beaten blacktop, along with nostalgic-looking filling stations and greasy-spoon diners, each decked out in luminous, wandering neon. You can almost hear the scratchy old vinyl 45s spinning in the background as an unforgiving sun bakes the midday air, forcing temperatures to teeter just a few degrees beyond livable. It’s not Route 66, but it’s close, and Faith is about as apple pie as any town can get without tasting too saccharine.
The much-celebrated annual fair and rodeo begins on the Fourth of July, an unofficial induction to the dog days. Arcade games bang and clang, organ music swells, and auctioneers prattle. Through the causeway, the smell of fried grease and cotton candy locks horns with the moist, earthy tang of livestock, while amusement park rides dance in the distance against a moonlit sky. The whole scene is noisy, chaotic, and in its own sort of way, enchanting—a rhythm of life, effortlessly weaving together into one pleasing rhapsody. This is Faith at its best: a picture-perfect snapshot of good old Americana.
Not for a second could anyone imagine that the picture had another side. Nobody knew that beneath the broad smiles, the beaming faces, and the stirring moments—beneath the surface—hid something else.
Faith, New Mexico
The clock struck midnight.
Something in the air seemed to change. Something sudden, mysterious, and filled with bad intent. Wind-driven clouds gained momentum, swirling into the path of a fiery moon.
What once was settled began to stir. Where there had been order, there was unrest, and from the gathering darkness, new life emerged.
The sort born of pure evil.
Deputy Bradley Witherspoon felt an odd chill run through his body but didn’t know why. He’d parked along a shadowy frontage road running parallel to the Saddleback Ranch, one of Faith’s oldest and more established cattle producers. Barely drivable and punished by years of neglect, deputies often referred to the old dirt path as the Refueling Station
Translation: the perfect spot to stay beneath the radar and catch-up on much-needed sleep. For those working swing shift, it seemed a good place to find refuge and restore sanity—or at least meet up with it for a brief visit.
On a scale of slim to none, chances wavered near zero that anyone would bother making the trip to check on the deputies’ whereabouts. One needed only travel a few feet down the pitted path to understand why: a vigilant pack of cattle dogs kept close watch over the property. More than capable of making themselves heard, they remained on the lookout for the first sign of unwelcome company. This gave the deputies enough warning to wake up and look sharp in the unlikely event someone
arrive to check on them. With all those safeguards, you might think it difficult to catch a deputy dozing off.
You would be wrong.
Witherspoon caught himself nodding off several times before drifting toward a more restful state of sleep that didn’t last long. He woke to the sound of stirring behind his seat, a rustling noise, like plastic bags rubbing together. Before he could turn around and investigate, he took a swift blow to the head from something cold and heavy, something metal. Right away, he felt a warm liquid trail from his ear. Blood trickled alongside his neck, then into his lap where it began to pool.
He tried getting his bearings, but another piece of thick metal slammed into him, this time just below his Adam’s apple; it coiled around his neck, pulling him straight back, jerking him hard against the headrest.
Panic struck. Witherspoon reached up instinctively with both hands, choking for air, trying frantically to pry the hook loose. But before he could free himself, the other hook came swooping down, landing inside his mouth, piercing skin, and driving a hole through the side of his cheek. Like a catfish snagged on a line, he felt his jaw jerk wide open, far beyond its normal limits. The skin on his neck and face tightened as both hooks worked in unison, ratcheting into flesh, stretching it in directions it was never supposed to move.
Bradley Witherspoon understood his life was about to end. He knew each shallow breath could be his last. Tears rolled down his cheeks as he thought about his wife, his kids, about never seeing them again. Then he prayed for death to come quickly and end his pain and suffering.
No such luck.
The deputy felt a sharp tug, followed by an intense rush of pain as his captor yanked him between the two front seats and toward the back. The assailant pulled him out the rear door—hook still lodged inside his cheek—and launched forward, leading the deputy by the mouth. Witherspoon let out a shrill, childlike scream. His attacker answered back by jerking the hook harder, continuing to drag him.
In a haphazard, clumsy manner, Witherspoon scrambled across the ground on all fours in a desperate attempt to keep pace. The slower he moved, the more intense the pain became as the forward movement tugged at his flesh. He wanted to look up at his assailant but could not. The hook inside his cheek assured it. Turning his head would have driven the hook deeper into his skin.
Witherspoon could not keep up any longer. His body was just too weak. He stumbled, lurched forward, and felt his skin split and separate as the hook sliced across his cheek, shifting position, and penetrating deep into the roof of his mouth. From there, it moved higher into his sinus canal. Blood began draining into the back of his throat. He choked as it spilled out from his mouth and down the front of his chin.
Their journey ended at the foot of an old feed shed topped off with a rusty metal roof. The assailant grabbed Witherspoon by the shoulders, pushed his heel into the small of his back, then shoved him forward several feet where he slammed into the ground, face first.
He tried to get up but the attacker leaped on top of him. Grabbing a lock of hair, he yanked the deputy's head close to his lips and in a breathy voice whispered, “Just curious: how’s it feel to know you’re about to die?”
Witherspoon recognized the voice. He felt his gut tighten, then a warm, wet sensation slowly crawl between his legs.
Faith, New Mexico
When Assistant Sheriff Cameron Dawson arrived on scene, he barely recognized the dark, obscure object hanging stiffly in the distance; it looked like an old blanket left out to dry. But as he drew closer, he began to see what—or
it was. As soon as he made the connection, he felt the bile rise up, burning through his throat.
The scent of death hung heavy in the air, a coppery, metallic odor—blood, and far too much of it. The corpse dangled upside-down from the roof of the shed, suspended by a hook lodged into the scrotum.
Cameron gazed at the two deputies standing guard, their expressions somber, then returned his attention to the victim.
The weapon of choice: a pair of hay hooks—thick, curved metal fashioned into crooks with spear-like tips, and at the other end, heavy, wooden grips resembling shovel handles with leather cuffs draped around them for better grabbing power. Ranchers use the implements to move large bales of hay weighing more than seventy-five pounds, thrusting the sharp, honed hooks into each end to lift them.
The killer had stripped the body nude, exhibiting it in a manner so peculiar, so hideous it barely looked human. Bent in two at the waist, it gave the illusion of being half its normal size. As Cameron moved his gaze downward, he noticed the ankles and wrists were sliced vertically, then hogtied. This caused the spine to bow and the body to bleed out, while giving it a grotesque, humpbacked appearance. The hook lodged into the groin came straight up between the legs, past the buttocks, with a rope tied to the handle. The other hook stuck out of his mouth, which hung wide-open, leaving the eerie impression of an eternal, silent scream.
Cameron moved closer. On the back of one arm, a dried ribbon of blood ran down past the wrist to a drooping hand, and then alongside the index finger. From there, it had broken away, where it joined a large pool on the ground.
The killer had created a crude hoisting device to lift the body, tying one end of the rope to the steel push-bars on Witherspoon’s squad car. The other went toward the shed, where it looped over a steel-beamed roof support, then straight down to the hook’s handle. The perp only needed to back the vehicle up, hoisting the body, where it remained suspended in midair.
This was not the Bradley Witherspoon Cameron remembered, athletic, vibrant, good-looking. This
—this tangled mass of flesh hanging before him like a side of beef—bore no resemblance to the man with whom he’d worked.
Cameron’s horror turned to disgust, which quickly erupted into rage. He looked up at the deputies almost as if demanding an explanation for what had happened. They answered back with blank, hesitant expressions, breaking eye contact, looking off to the side—anywhere but across the path of his glare. Realizing he’d unnerved them, he looked away.
Cameron moved behind the body, and something instantly caught his attention. He tilted his head, knelt, then focused on a spot just below the right rear shoulder blade.
Sir?” offered Deputy Jim Avello, wondering what his boss had seen.
Cameron didn’t respond. He just stared, eyes narrow, head jutted forward, gaze immovable.
Sir?” Avello repeated.
Jim,” Cameron finally said, his attention fixed on the body. “Go and get the metal briefcase from my car.”
Avello hurried toward the vehicle, pulled out the briefcase, then came back.
Tweezers,” Cameron ordered, holding out his palm, eyes still focused on the one spot.