The foam mattress of the RV’s master suite could only contain Former Coroner Ron’s sizable bulk if he slept at an angle. Lifting his head, he squinted through the tiny sheer curtains at the light streaming in the shoebox-sized window and allowed the events of the night before to drizzle into his logy brainpan.
With the sound of police sirens wending their way through the sleepy suburban avenues, Former Coroner Ron took Point in retreating from the backyard carnage. With the duct tape bound duo hobbling along behind, he made for the FBI issue sedan and his long-suffering Mazda.
Once he’d helped to pile the two gore soaked demi-gods into to their car, barely blinking when Paulus took yet another hank of silver tape and lashed his limp left hand to the steering column, Former Coroner Ron wedged himself behind the wheel of his compact. Pulling away from the curb he tagged close behind Paulus and Castro and their little caravan, that as casually as it could, made like a bat out of hell from the kill zone cul-de-sac.
As the screaming squad cars sped past, Former Coroner Ron thought of the punctured body of Detective Reasoner in the backyard blocks behind him. He should feel joy, he thought. He’d found his truth in A World of Hurt. Things really did go bump in the night, cried from church bell towers and scurried through storm drains and earthen floor basements. He felt a guilty twist in his gut at the image of Reasoner’s chest, raked as though by scimitars, slowly leaking blood into the uncut grass. He wondered if the evening’s bloody ballet was merely a preview of greater hurt to come.
Leaving his old Mazda in the vacant parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly brought Former Corner Ron a deep pang of guilty melancholy. He knew the rings were just about shot when the poor old thing began belching oil-rich clouds of gray two weeks ago and the brakes were all but worn down to the nubs, but he was going to miss the old crate. The car had been his constant companion through the last decade of foraging the World of Hurt for proof of the paranormal and it deserved a more honorable discharge than to be abandoned in the cold Milwaukie suburb. Sadly, time was not on his side, nor that of the decrepit Mazda.
As dawn crested, he hefted his tattered file boxes and battered suitcase from the car’s trunk and slipping them into the below storage area of the brothers’ late-80s Itasca motor home was quick but sweaty work. With one companion nursing a recent decapitation and the other still favoring his pitching arm, Former Coroner Ron thought it best to do the schlepping alone and now the baggy XXL polo shirt clung to his belly and man-dugs like a wet winding sheet.
Their plan was simple. Together the trio would hit the road and percolate a strategy to track the Thelema Child, the Carrion Crawler, the random killer of mothers and daughters—the Razor Baby and intercept it before its next attack.
How Former Coroner Ron and his new godling partners were going to track, trap and subdue a magical creature older than time, he hadn’t the slightest inkling.
Turning back to the Mazda, Former Coroner Ron removed the long ignition key from his fob and gently set it on the dashboard. Mindful to leave the door unlocked, he turned and walked to the RV.
Climbing into the rolling one-star motel, Goltry could care for little else but a sudden, sharp physical collapse. Wending his way to the back of the RV, he hit the foam mattress before Castro had set the key into the motor home’s ignition.
The sudden lurch and bark of the lumbering vehicle’s airbrakes brought Former Coroner Ron to full wakefulness. He levered himself up onto his palms and hooked his hammy calves over the edge of the bed. Using his trunk-like legs as pulleys, he righted himself, dropped the full of his weight to the rust-carpeted floor and slid aside the accordion door.
Through the narrow portal Former Coroner Ron could see clear to the windshield of his newly established mobile residence. Scratching his gray scalp he watched as Paulus rose from the bucket command chair. Moving aft, Paulus took a seat at the miniature foldout dinette where his brother sat hunched over a very large road atlas.
Leaning in to the road atlas, Castro scratched at the fresh band of medical gauze wound tightly about his neck, the mere shadow of a deep pink ring dividing its circumference. Tracing the line of an interstate with his finger, he gave the page a brief tap and sniffed.
Paulus looked up, “Doctor, how did you sleep?”
“Well enough. Where are we?”
“Oak Park–a suburb of Chicago,” muttered Castro in a rasp he could not help.
Closing the road atlas, Castro set it on the bench at his side and pulled out a rolled map. Stretching it open, Former Coroner Ron spied the expanse of the continental United States.
Paulus cocked his head at the map and went about setting a salt and pepper shaker at the top-most corners while his brother held down the others with a saucer and a clean, white coffee mug.
Following the brothers’ eyes, Former Coroner Ron noted a spatter of red marks scattered over the map surface.
“Please, Doctor, come take a look at this,” said Paulus.
Former Coroner Ron neared the table for a closer look, but the tiny red marks seemed random. Castro turned stiffly, his neck a rigid post. Leaning tenderly to his side, he retrieved a roll of what appeared to be urethane tubing from where it leaned against the bench. It, too, was spattered with a similar series of red marks.
With the help of his brother, Castro pulled a transparent map from the roll and laid it flat. Paulus did the same.
“Each transparency represents a decade of this nation’s history,” said Paulus tugging another sheet from the roll.
They repeated the process until it became a ritual procedure.
After weighing down the corners once more with salt, pepper shaker, saucer and coffee mug, Former Coroner Ron looked deeply into the transparencies, the layered red dots becoming a jagged Seurat portrait of a winged bird of prey: an owl.
Where the Heart Is
Rusty took the doorknob in his hand and twisted. It was unlocked. Few homes remained locked during the day here in the Little Gray Town.
Upon pushing the door open Rusty’s senses were assailed by something wonderful. A gust of cooking smells engulfed him—aromas he’d only ever experienced beyond the walls of his own home; the Mediterranean restaurant on State Street in Salem, that Greek place he once visited with his folks on Portland’s Westside. Smells beyond the capacity of his under-equipped bachelor kitchen assailed his nostrils: cumin and anise, cilantro and curry and the sounds of things frying and stirring and steaming and steeping. Underneath the delicate timpani of kitchen industry he heard a melodic humming.
Shutting the door behind him Rusty turned, rocked back on his heels and let his down down ski coat hanging from the back of the door to its best to engulf him. He let out a hesitant sigh
Across the short span of the dining area the owl woman turned to him and smiled. Clad in his sweat pants and gray sweat shirt, a spatula in one hand, a frying pan in the other, she turned a lump of hissing vegetables and returned the pan to the oven top.
“What is that smell,” stuttered Rusty. “I don’t have spices except maybe salt and pepper…”
With a coquettish drop of her head she took in Rusty from beneath her dark brows. “Hello–Owl Woman? I have my ways,” and hers was the slyest of smiles.
The look made Rusty a bit dizzy, and for a moment he had difficulty swallowing.
“Are you hungry, Rusty?”
Rusty could only nod. “Why don’t you wash up and I’ll put some food on the table.”
Walking as though lost in fog, Rusty shuffled to the bedroom.
“Do we scare him, Mommy?” asked the little ghost girl.
Without turning, the owl woman scraped the bright red fried peppers, onion halves and olives onto a plate. “I don’t think we scare him as much as confuse him. We are much for him to accept.”
“I accepted him when I first saw him,” said Dawn. “I could see his heart right through him. He’s lovely.”
“Yes he is, my sweet. He is lovely and he is pure.”
Itasca Days, Itasca Nights.
Taking a seat where the RV’s dinette bench bent into an L-shape, Former Coroner Ron leaned his back against the wood panel bulkhead that doubled as the lavatory exterior wall. Looking down, the coffee cup seemed too small in his meaty grip and filled with not nearly enough black elixir to prime his heart muscle for the day ahead.
It had been years since Former Coroner Ron had been Coroner Ron, steeped in confidence and full of academician’s bravado –his life on the open road had done much to take his bluster down a peg or two. But sitting here on the creaking pressboard bench with two scarred and battered creatures of myth Goltry felt his old take-no-guff-let-alone-prisoners candor settle back over him.
He looked back at the blood red abstract owl in flight and sniffed. “That’s a fairly elaborate paint by numbers kit, gentleman. Tell me why I should care?”
Paulus sighed and moved to the tiny kitchenette where he tugged the glass pot free from the coffee maker. Tipping a dram into his cup, he turned and lifted the pot in offering to his brother who tried to shake his head but only winced and then grimaced.
Leaning his back on the cold miniature stove, Paulus rested his coffee cup against his ample belly and rocked it ever so gently, watching the dark rings slosh against the cup’s white enamel sides. “My brother and I are hunters; trackers. We’ve done our damnedest to track the Thelema Child from one coast to the other and back again. We enjoy the hunt, it gives us purpose, but the quarry has always been a step ahead. We always arrive an hour, a day, a week too late.”
“You have a potential for foresight we do not,” rasped Castro. “You’ve been nipping at the creature’s heels all along and never knew it.”
“You have an advantage over us.” His brother added. “Sadly, like most children today, you lack the intuition or the training to really soar.”
Former Coroner Ron began to tense and prickle. Granted his quest for answers in a World of Hurt was guaranteed to take him down foreign paths, but he didn’t cotton to the notion of being conscripted into a conflict he never started; a skirmish in which he was clearly an innocent bystander, if not a casualty, and that pissed him off.
That, and the events of the last few days coupled with the rough night spent on a foam mat had done great damage to his demeanor.
Former Coroner Ron took a bitter swig of his coffee and felt a long-lost sneer peel across his lips. Collecting himself, Former Coroner Ron very deliberately set his coffee cup on the flimsy dinette table and placed his palms upon the scuffed Formica surface. Coals long cooling in his belly shifted and flamed anew, “What kind of happy horse-shit are you talking…?”
Before Former Coroner Ron could snap off another snarky syllable Castro lurched forward and slapping his hand atop Goltry’s splayed open the man’s fingers with his own and slammed the rigid palm onto the stack of translucent maps.
The second Former Coroner Ron’s hand came in contact with the red silhouette a bolt of blue fire struck him between the eyes. Deep in the core of his rattled gourd he knew the cobalt-nimbus shape instantly. It was the blunt-headed raptor form that came screaming out of the cold body cavity of Carrie Cromwell–the owl creature that struck him cold and sent him tumbling out of all he knew.
Goltry’s head snapped back on his neck bones and a shudder wracked his body as though he’d bitten down on a naked electrical cord.
A tickertape flurry of images and sensations gamboled across the surface of Former Coroner Ron’s brain; Women and young girls, mothers and daughters; holding hands, fingers interlaced, embracing, arms intertwined, tears of joy, tears of anger—
Eyes, thousands of eyes–blue eyes, brown eyes, green eyes and violet, eyes bright and open and expressive. In a flickering the eyes’ structure altered from human to bird, the whole of their spheres perfectly convex shields of gold—cold, calculating and predatory.
He saw landscapes, cityscapes, oceans and mountains and then blood, streaks of blood, streams of blood, spattering, raining and—
As suddenly as the bolt of blue shattered his mind, the barrage of images ceased.
“What?” whispered Paulus.
“Hibbing, Minnesota. The Razor Baby will be there…we have about five hours.”
Paulus threw his cup into the sink and launched himself toward the RV command chair before the cup could shatter against the metal basin.
Goltry felt a cold sweat bead across his forehead. Nausea flooded his guts along with an unfamiliar feeling of adulation and …relief.