Part Seven of Lee Hughes' amazing epic horror tale 'The Osseous Box'
Primal instinct got Jon running.
“Run, just run!” He shouted
Beth didn't need encouragement, she was already legging it for all she was worth. She was trying to go too fast and kept taking spills. Then she was gone, too far into the dark for Jon to see her, even with the torch.
The air was a riot of noise as the two animals battled both tooth and nail.
Jon had scarcely managed to grab the torch that Mordecai had dropped.
He stopped in his tracks. He couldn't believe he was running when there was a possibility that Mordecai was still alive. His unthinking cowardice enraged him.
He splashed the torch-light back and forth across the ground searching for something big enough and sturdy enough to knock the dog-thing out.
Jon lifted up a hefty piece of branch and took a couple of one-handed practice swings to get himself familiar with its weight.
He headed back with the torch held like a yank-cop and with the branch raised.
It wasn't difficult to make his way to the spot. The animals were making enough noise to wake the dead.
The two beasts were indistinguishable as they tussled and tumbled in a brawl to the death.
Jon decided on a course of action, one that he'd learned from his mother when either himself or his brother had been naughty and had blamed each other for a bad-deed. Jon gave both the animals a turn of the branch.
The animals broke apart as Jon delivered one hell of a blow and pretty much knocked one clean out. The other animal, the one that looked like an Alsatian backed away and seemed to realise that its part in the run of things was done with and sank back to lick its various wounds.
Jon wasn't sure why. But as he looked at the malformed mutt he felt there was something sinister to it. He raised the branch and clubbed it again and again, and then gave it a final lick for good luck.
Once he was sure the thing wasn't going to be moving anytime soon he went over to the still form of Mordecai.
Mordecai was face down.
Jon rolled him over and sighed. Mordecai's eyes were open, like his throat. His eyes were blank, there was no one home, Mordecai, he'd moved out for good.
Jon made the sign of the cross over his left breast.
During his twelve-years on the force he'd seen plenty of bodies in mean states but it still gave him a queasy feeling.
Jon ran a hand over his face and wondered just what the fuck he was going to do, and more importantly just what the fuck he was going to say to the people that mattered.
He reached his decision.
Jon gripped the pocket-torch between his teeth. He hooked his hands under Mordecai's armpits and worked him up into a fireman's lift and made off in the direction that led back to the bridge.
Jon realised the Alsatian was following him and was impressed, considering the wounds it must have picked up in the scrap.
Jon was glad that Mordecai was scrawny of body, otherwise he'd of had to drag him, which seemed somehow disrespectful.
Beth could see the light from the torch. She'd made it back to, and over the bridge.
“Jon?” She whispered into the night.
With the torch in his mouth he couldn't say much.
Beth waited until he'd crossed the bridge.
She took the torch from his mouth and looked at the unmoving form draped over Jon's shoulders like a maniac's stole.
“Is he?” the question hanging.
“Dead? Yeah.” Jon started on the path back towards the car.
She began to sob. When she saw the dog the weeping ceased and the screaming began.
He was getting tired, it had been a long day and everything had turned to shit.
“He won't hurt you. Just come and shine the light so I can see where the fuck I'm going.”
Beth held the back door open. Her face said it all, she couldn't believe there was going to be a dead body in her car.
He was as gentle as he could be pushing Mordecai's body into the back of the car. He wasn't worried so much about moving the body from the scene where death had occurred. Any coroner worth his salt would be able to tell that an animal had torn his throat out. Jon was just a little concerned that the same autopsy would show up the fact that Mordecai had gained a broken nose a few hours before his death. Jon moved to close the door.
“What about the dog?” Beth asked.
Jon looked down at it. The dog was still heavily bleeding. He didn't know why, but he felt as though he owed the dog.
Jon gave it a sideways nod. “In”
Jon stared out the windscreen waiting for Beth to start the car.
“Want me to drive?” He offered.
She didn't reply. She was dabbing at her eyes with the backs of her forefingers.
He decided to give her a few moments. He decided to take a couple for himself whilst he was at it.
He wasn't fooling himself; he knew what he had to do. It would involve lengthily statements to explain what lead up to Mordecai's death. This would quickly be followed by several disciplinary hearings back on the mainland, followed by a trip to the job centre.
“Yes?” She was staring ahead, looking past the glass, through the road and into some other place.
“Start the car.”
“Where are we going?” She was still peeking through to that other place.
“The police station.”
That made sense to her, it was something normal. It was the normal thing to do in a strange situation. Normal was something that you could depend upon.
Beth gave the key a twist in the ignition, and then screamed.
Jon's eyes widened. He'd only ever seen the woman's face in photographs that had been pinned to a cork-board in the incident room.
Beth's scream only lasted a moment, she stilled as though a flick had been switched.
Sister Gail was stood in front of the car. She was smiling. She had a hand to her side. She brought the hand away and showed them her bloodied palm. Sister Gail set her hand down on the bonnet before she drifted away like smoke on a breeze.
“You see that?” Jon asked.
“The nun?” was the shaky reply.
"Yeah." Jon opened the door and got out. He stood in the flood of the headlights and looked at the red palm-print on the bonnet. Beth joined him, visibly trembling.
Jon touched the stain and felt the wetness of the blood. He looked at his fingertips they were stained red.
“We're not going to the station anymore.”
Jon sat in the chair and took a good long slug of the whiskey Beth had poured him. He looked to the clock, a little after two. They'd decided to wait until morning when it was light and they'd be able to see any incoming attacks.
“Jon, what about Mordecai?” she'd sipped a cup of Chamomile to calm herself.
“He'll be fine where he is for now.” Jon looked to the dog in the corner. Beth had tended to his wounds and he was now sporting a bandage like it was a belt.
Beth caught him looking at the dog. “You think he's a part of this?”
“At this point in time, nothing would surprise me.” He drained the glass.
“Think I'm gonna sleep for a couple of hours. Feels like I haven't slept in a year.” He closed his eyes.
Beth softly woke him.
Sleeping in the chair had put a hell of a crick in his neck.
“Morning.” He said as he sat up a little straighter. He rolled his neck and filled the air with the sound of bones cracking.
“You hungry?” She asked.
“Yeah, my stomach feels as though its throat's been...” he didn't finish it; thoughts of Mordecai came to mind.
“How long's the drive?” Jon asked.
“About fifty minutes.”
That was plenty long enough for him to do some more thinking. He knew what was expected of them. They had to get the box and put it somewhere safe.
Jon rubbed the stubble on his chin. “If we find the box, you got any ideas of where we should stash it? I mean, you're the scholarly one.”
Beth had been thinking about it. It took her mind off the corpse in her garage.
“I've been racking my brains. I think we'll have to be practical about it. We can't hide it in my garage in just the same way we can't go and bury it on top of Mount Kilimanjaro. I was thinking, maybe re-lose it at sea?”
“That works for me.”
Beth pulled into a car-park halfway up the mountain. There were a couple of other cars parked up.
She caught the look on his face. “We'll have to walk the rest of the way. It's not that far.”
“Great, thought you said last night we could drive to the top?”
“Well, nearly to the top.”
“They're not the same thing.” Jon looked down at his shoes. He'd had a hard enough time navigating the river bank whilst keeping vertical, and now he was expected to get up half a mountain in them, the steep half at that.
Jon went to the boot to get the shovel. Beth was looking through the window at the Alsatian.
“Should we bring him?”
“Open the door, see if he wants to."
The Alsatian jumped down from the seat. It landed gingerly and sniffed at the air.
They began the ascent.
“Have you done this before?” Jon asked.
“A couple of times.”
“Why?” Being from the city didn't mean he didn't like the country side. Some of it was good to look at and there was no arguing that the air tasted good. But why someone would want to cart themselves up a mountain was beyond him.
"I've had relatives come to stay. So it's part of being host to do all the touristy things.”
It took a little under an hour for them to reach the summit and the two small buildings that sat there.
“What are they?” Jon asked.
“Cafe and visitor's centre.”
“Here it is.” Jon said pointing to the ground and the thin streak of blood.
“I can't believe its come all the way from the river.”
“Yup.” Jon started following it.
The blood led them around the back of the visitor's centre and disappeared into brick.
They made their way to the door.
The sign said open but the note on the door said otherwise. Due to sickness they were short staffed and if you wanted anything from the visitor centre then you needed to pop into the cafe.
Jon shrugged. “I'm not surprised. I'd throw a sicky as well if I had to walk this far just to get to work.
He held open the door to the cafe. “After you.”
Beth slipped in and saw that the cafe was empty.
The dog made to enter. “Not you.”
Jon headed over to the counter. A door that probably led to the kitchen was open a tad.
“Hello?” He called.
No one called back in return so he tried again, a little louder. “Hello!”
“One minute, hold your horses.” The voice sounded harried.
“All right.” Jon pointed over to one of the tables figuring they might as well be sitting down as they did their waiting.
Beth anxiously played with the salt and pepper shakers.
Jon took in the history of the place. It was hard not to. The walls were a shrine of photographs through the years, along with yellowed newspaper clippings.
The kitchen door swinging open got Jon's attention. Beth twisted in her seat to look. She instantly felt bad for staring and faced forwards again.
The cook had a terrible limp.
He took stock of the pair. “Sorry about that. It's just me here today, what can I get you?” His voice was slightly mumbled as though he had something wrong with his jaw. It made Beth feel sorry for him. Perhaps he was a bit special.
Jon asked. ”I was wondering if we could have a look around the visitor's centre?”
The cook pondered a moment and looked to the kitchen.
“I have a couple of things to do first. Can I get you any refreshments?”
“I'll have a coffee thanks.” Jon raised an eyebrow to Beth.
“Cup of tea for me, please.”
“Coming up.” He turned and gimp-limped his way back towards the kitchen.
The cook came back with the drinks on a tray. As he set it down the hand scribbled order-ticket slipped off and fluttered to the floor.
“Sorry.” The cook made an attempt to bend down for it.
Jon jumped in. “It's okay, let me.”
Jon shifted in his seat and bent down for the scrap of paper and noticed that the cook wasn't bothering to wear socks and shoes and that his feet were filthy to the point where it looked as though he'd been striding through shit.
Warily Jon straightened and muttered. “Fuck.”
Beth's eyes were wide. The carving-knife at her throat was causing her to tremble.
Jon looked the cook in the face. “Don't be an idiot.”
The man shrugged. “Take it you were the one that blindsided me last night?”
Jon had to take a moment to absorb what the man had just said. Two days ago it would have been laughable. Now it was just one more thing in a long line of things that didn't make sense. He inched forward in his seat.
In a return gesture for Jon moving forwards, the man added enough pressure to gift Beth with a little ruby necklace.
Jon eased back.
The man smiled. “You wanted to see the visitor's centre, so let's go. You've got some digging to do.”
Bio:Lee Hughes's short fiction has, or is due to appear on, Thrillers, Killers 'n' Chillers, A Twist of Noir, Powder Burn Flash, FlashShots, Blink-Ink, MicroHorror, Every Day Fiction, Daily Tourniquet and in Cern Zoo: Nemonymous Nine.Visit http://www.leehughes.net/