Never Fear Part Four
The air went out of my lungs. My bladder threatened to release. Somehow I was again looking into the face of the thing that had haunted both my waking and sleeping mind. Neither Alice nor Phillips had noticed how my face had fallen, and I couldn’t move or make a sound to alert them. It didn’t move either, just looked back at me with its crippling stare. Before I could force myself to take action, a deafening crash came from the direction of the front door.
In the fraction of a second it took to look toward the sound and back, the thing disappeared. Alice had stood up already, and I was distantly aware that Detective Phillips had grabbed our glasses off of the table, and thrown them into the kitchen sink. She then threw open the door of a walk-in pantry, grabbing each of us by the collar to shove us inside. I could hear footsteps coming from the front room as I scrambled in behind Alice. Phillips closed the door softly, trying not to make a sound.
Once we were inside the pantry, Phillips called out to the intruder. “Police, identify yourself!” The footsteps stopped, but there was no answer. “I’m armed. Make yourself known. I will use lethal force.”
Footsteps could be heard again; the pace was slower now. The sound of them changed as the intruder entered the kitchen, the footfalls now coming into contact with the yellowed linoleum of the kitchen floor. Alice grabbed my hand as we stood face-to-face in the back of the pantry. With stuttering breath, we watched the line of light under the closet door, listening.
“Billy?” Phillips said, surprised. Then, obviously for our benefit, she added, “Stevenson?” There was no response. “Billy, don’t do anything you might…” The bravado in her voice was penetrated with uncertainty as she said, “Wh-why are you here?”
A hollow, hoarse voice responded to this. “It won’t leave me alone.”
“What won’t leave you alone?” Phillips responded, but her tone communicated that she knew exactly what he meant.
“It’s made me do things,” Billy said, ignoring her question. “It gets in my head and stirs up my brain like a mixer dipped in a bowl of bread dough. It doesn’t stop until I… do what it wants.”
Billy kept speaking in a rambling manner, but I wasn’t able to listen to what he was saying. A swampy smell had filled the small space in which Alice and I cowered, prompting me to turn my gaze away from the sliver of light under the door to look at Alice. My breath caught as I realized that something was standing behind her. The face of the creature that was what remained of Samuel Higgins was mostly eclipsed by hers, but one wide eye could be seen, boring into mine. The now-familiar feeling of paralysis came over me. Alice must have felt it. In a barely audible whisper, she asked, “Is it here?” I couldn’t answer. In my heightened state of panic, I kept my focus on the eye which was still locked with mine, while still managing to listen to the conversation happening just outside the door.
Lieutenant Phillips was speaking again. “Billy… What’s your plan here, huh?” Silence was the only answer. After a few seconds, she spoke again. “Don’t do something stupid.” Her voice was edged with solemn intent. “Put the knife on the table.”
I watched, helpless, as a slimy gray arm snaked out around Alice now. A twitching gray hand began reaching toward her throat. More urgently now, Alice whispered, “Where is it?” The hand was right in front of her face, which led me to believe the thing was only making itself visible to me. I sat there contemplating whether it was safer to stay inside the pantry, or to take our chances with Billy out in the kitchen.
Billy could be heard making noises that almost made it sound like he was retching. After a moment of confusion, I realized it was actually sobbing. “I just want it to be over, you know?” He said. “So, I have no choice. It sees you now.” He blubbered for a moment, then said, “It knows you see it too. It doesn’t like that.” He breathed heavily, then stopped his sobbing. “I… I have to… “
The whole house shook from the force of Billy’s stomping as apparently he rushed the lieutenant. Phillips could be heard yelling, “Billy, don’t!” A sound much lower and louder than I expected cracked the air as Phillips fired her service revolver once. Through the ringing in my ears I could hear them continue their scuffle. My heart fell as I heard Phillips yelp in pain.
The creature’s hand was now closing around Alice’s throat, and, as it did so, Alice looked in my eyes. I saw the hope in them drown, dying as the sound of Phillips’ struggling faded. I looked back to the creature’s face, which had moved slightly, only half obscured behind Alice now. For the first time, the vengeful face curled into a smile.
I looked back to Alice to see her expression had changed from one of fear to one of resolution. I felt that same resolution fill my chest, replacing my fear. I realized I could move again, and looked at the closet door, then back to Alice. The creature was gone now. Alice put her hand on the doorknob, and flung the door open.
We burst into the kitchen, and a wide-eyed Billy Stevenson looked up in utter confusion from his gruesome task. He was hunched over Phillips’ limp body. His hand, which he held high in the air, gripped a long kitchen knife, its bloodied tip pointed toward the lieutenant. Phillips didn’t open her eyes. She had been stabbed at least a few times, and blood was beginning to pool beneath her. Though she was unconscious, she appeared to be breathing.
Billy stood slowly, eyes darting between the two of us. When he turned his body toward us, I noticed that his free hand was pressed tightly against his abdomen. The white t-shirt he wore was reddening beneath his clutch. I understood with a grim satisfaction that Phillips must have hit him with the shot we heard. Billy’s hateful eyes softened, and his sunken features rearranged into a profane contriteness. His left eye twitched, and he looked right through me as he said, “You don’t know. You couldn’t possibly understand.”
A glint of light caused me to break gaze with Billy. I looked down to see the light was a reflection coming off of Phillip’s pistol, which had been knocked under the kitchen table. The gun was close enough that I knew I could grab it before Billy had a chance to stop me. He followed my gaze. Having come to the same conclusion as me, he shifted his feet, brought his arm back, and hurled his knife in my direction. It hit the wall flat and clattered to the floor. In the same motion, I ducked his throw, and grabbed the revolver out from under the table. Staggering back to my feet, I managed to squeeze the heavy trigger only once before Billy escaped through the kitchen door, still clutching his stomach. My shot left a hole in the wall about a yard to the left of him.
We could hear Billy’s truck, which he had left running, rev its engine and drive away. Before the sound of the truck had faded, Alice and I were kneeling next to Phillips’ side. I grabbed her hand, and yelped her name, noting that her breathing had become shallow. I focused intently for a few moments, watching for signs of vitality while Alice called her name a few more times. After what felt like too long, Phillips’ eyes opened into slits. Her unfocused pupils found me, and she whispered something inaudible. Alice and I leaned our heads down to hear her better.
“Time is up for this geriatric old cop,” She said. I started to shake my head, but she continued. “This nightmare is finally over for me.” Her eyes opened fully, and seemed to exert a great effort to come back to lucidity. “Listen to me, kids. There are some things you can’t fight.” She winced in pain. “Get yourselves away from this place, somewhere so far you’ll forget you were ever here, forget this ever happened. Some evils can’t follow you, if you run fast enough.” Then she grabbed my wrist with one hand, pushing an old flip phone into my hand with the other. “Call Officer Tibbits. He’s the one you two met at the front desk at the station. He’ll be able to…” She couldn’t finish her thought. Her eyes rolled back, and her head, which leaned up against the wall, slumped to the side.
Alice yelled trying to keep her awake as I scrolled the contacts on Phillips’ phone. I came to one titled Tibbits, Alex. I heard a dial tone as I looked back to Phillips, who wasn’t responding to Alice’s attempts to bring her back to consciousness.
The red lights of the parked ambulance flashed across our vision as Alice and I sat on the curb outside Lieutenant Phillips’ house. EMTs had wrapped blankets around us when the Officer we now knew was called Tibbits came out to speak with us.
He stood to our side, not looking at either of us directly as he said. “They called it.”
Having resigned ourselves to this possibility, and in obvious shock, the idea that Leah was gone didn’t have much visible effect on us. Through the fog in my mind, I could find here and there thoughts about how tragic it all was. But, in my current state, trying to focus on these thoughts was like trying to catch a mosquito in a windstorm.
We didn’t respond, so Tibbits spoke again. “I’m headed over to Billy’s place. Are you two gonna be ok?”
“Take us with you.” I was surprised to realize this voice was mine. I wanted nothing more than to heed Phillips’ final warning, and get the hell away from everything that had happened to us in the last couple of days, but some morbidly curious part of me wanted to know what had happened to Billy.
I looked up to see that I was being heavily scrutinized by Officer Tibbits. The thin, younger man seemed to waffle for a minute, deciding how to respond. He was still in his uniform, and he stuck his thumbs into his belt as he thought. Then he ran a hand through thick brown hair and scratched the back of his head before he asked simply, “Why, kid?”
I didn’t know how to convey what I was thinking, so I shook my head, and shrugged.
He looked at Alice, who said, “We just want to stay with you, Officer. Phillips told us we could trust you.” When he still didn’t look convinced, Alice added, “It would make us feel safe.”
Tibbits winced and breathed out a sharp sigh, nodded his assent.
It took us about fifteen minutes to make our way to the home of Billy Stevenson. Like Phillips’ house, there were police cars and an ambulance outside the run-down home. Officers and crime scene investigators moved in and out of the dark brown front door. Officer Tibbits reminded us that he was breaking rules to have us here, admonishing us again to stay in the back of his squad car. He then went to speak with another officer who stood by the door of the house. Alice and I sat in the backseat of the car in silence. Neither of us was able to process the circumstances in which we found ourselves, much less discuss them.
After a few minutes of watching the people at work outside, I said, “It would have been hard for Phillips to hold on to this secret herself for so many years. It must have been nice to finally have someone to talk to about it all.”
To my left, in the corner of my eye, I could see Alice had turned to face me. “Yeah,” she said. “I’m glad she had someone to share the burden with.”
It was then that I saw something I hadn’t noticed before. In the back of the ambulance, which could be seen through the windshield of the cop car, sat a young boy. I didn’t know him personally, but I thought I had seen him at school before. He looked familiar. I thought maybe he was a year ahead of Alice and me. He had a gray blanket wrapped around his shoulders just like we had back at Phillips’ house. It became clear that he must live here in the house with Billy Stevenson. Under the blanket, I could see that he clung tightly to a silver laptop which was covered in stickers.
There was one sticker on the laptop that caught my attention, an Egyptian-styled eye inside a pentagram. The gears in my brain grinded together, fueled by recognition. I waved my arms spastically to get Alice’s attention, and, when I had it, pointed to the boy in the ambulance. “What?” She asked. I just kept pointing, and she put the pieces together for herself after a few moments. We looked at each other, stunned. We knew we needed to speak with him. Surreptitiously, we exited Tibbits’ car and made our way to the ambulance, using the cars in between to hide ourselves in case Tibbits was watching us.
When we made it to the ambulance, I got the boy’s attention. His eyes narrowed when they met mine, and he had a curious expression, but gave no response.
Alice spoke now, pointing. “Where did you get that laptop?”
Uncertainty flickered across the boy’s expression before he asked, “Why do you care?”
“That sticker,” I said. “It’s the symbol a… friend of mine used to use on his website. I think you stole this from him.”
The boy’s eyes went wide at this, but then a knowing smile flowed into his features. “You’re not friends of his.” The smile became a pompous grin. I wanted to punch him, and I wasn’t even entirely sure why yet. “One of you must be the person I sent the links to. The links to Evan’s podcast, I mean.”
“You sent…” I looked at the ground as I tried to process what he was saying. Coming back to myself, I said, “So, it is Evan’s laptop. That’s where you got his podcast audio from. Where is Evan now?” His eyebrows cocked in an almost whimsical expression, then looked toward the house. “Oh, it looks like they’re bringing him out now.”
When we followed his gaze, I was crestfallen. Two investigators, both wearing solemn expressions, were carrying a white freezer chest out of the basement door on the side of the house. Neither of us had to ask the boy what he meant.
I was barely aware of his voice as the boy spoke again. “My name is William, by the way.” I could hear the smirk in his voice. “William Stevenson the second. I go by Will, unlike my ridiculous father, Billy”
It was all becoming clear. Evan had been researching the creature that dwelt in the woods of our small town. He learned too much, and, as Billy had said, it doesn’t like when people “see” it. Billy must have killed Evan, and then given Evan’s laptop to his son.
“You learned about the creature, went to the forest where you took the pictures you sent us. You…” I faltered for a moment “…accepted the creature’s offer,” I said. It wasn’t a question. “I assume your dad died from the gunshot wound Lieutenant Phillips gave him.”
“Mmhmm, they took him away a while ago.” He said. “As for my mom, they’ll find her body just outside the woods. She always drove drunk; it was just a matter of time. No one will question anything.”
Just then, Officer Tibbits stepped out from behind the open door of the ambulance. His mouth was agape in a shocked expression. He had obviously been eavesdropping from his hiding spot on the side of the ambulance, and I was grateful for this fact.
Will adopted a sort of disgusted expression upon realizing the officer had been listening. Before he could say anything, Tibbits said, “You killed them.” I could almost hear his heart beating through his ballistic vest as he said this. “Shit, she was right. Phillips was right this whole time, and we all treated her like she was crazy.”
Still looking disgusted, Will said, “Prove it in a court of law, Officer,”
Tibbits looked at the boy in horror. It took him a moment to recover as he was obviously taken aback by how callously Will was discussing the murder of his own parents. “I may not be able to prove it,” he said. “But… I can hound you for the rest of your life, just like Phillips did to your dad.”
Will snorted. “I’m not a fool like my dad. I’ll escape you. I’ll escape all of this.”
Will said nothing more. None of us said anything. There was almost a minute of terribly awkward silence as we all contemplated the situation. Will glared at each of us in equal measure, making the moment all the more unnerving. Ultimately, Officer Tibbits must have decided it was better to get away from this situation. He put a hand on each of our shoulders and led us back to his car. He stopped another officer to tell him something, then he glanced back toward Will with an indecipherable expression. Will returned the gaze without, unblinking.
Officer Tibbits drove us back to my house, and stood guard at the front door overnight until my parents finally came home.
Alice and I were as honest as we could be with our parents. The only truths we held back were, of course, the most important ones. My mom was distraught that her little boy had been exposed to not one, but two murders in the last forty-eight hours. She alternated between crying, fawning over me, and thanking God for having saved me.
My father’s reaction to the whole thing was much more enigmatic. He listened intently to the whole story as I told it, putting a hand on my mom’s knee every time she tried to interrupt me. His expression never changed from one of intense focus. When I was done explaining everything that happened, he left the living room without a word while my mom erupted in a storm of emotions. I watched him go, confused by his reaction. I watched him throughout the rest of the day. He seemed to be avoiding me, and wouldn’t make eye contact with me whenever we crossed paths. I thought maybe he was angry with me, so I tried not to bother him.
Later that day, I was laying in my bed, tossing a baseball at the ceiling of my room, when I heard a knock at my door. My dad entered the room and I immediately got to my feet. He hesitated just inside the door, then walked over and embraced me in a bear hug. The hug felt different than the ones I normally received from my dad. Instead of having just one arm wrapped lightly around me, he held me tightly with both arms. His hand pressed my head against his shoulder. Overwhelmed, and still a little confused, I felt tears well up in my eyes.
I was startled when he spoke. “You thought I was angry with you, didn’t you?” After a moment, I nodded against his shoulder. “I’m not,” he said. “I’m sorry I was so quiet. I was just thinking about a lot of things.”
“What things?” I asked.
I heard him swallow before he continued. “I was thinking… how terrible it would be if I lost you.”
He didn’t continue, so I said, “But you didn’t lose me.”
Neither of us spoke for what seemed like forever while I cried into his shoulder. I felt him heaving deep breaths. “I’m sorry, buddy,” he said.
I broke off the embrace, and looked up into his eyes, which were red and puffy now. “Sorry for what?” I asked.
“Sorry I wasn’t here for you.”
I looked down at the floor, unsure how to respond. My eyes followed the lines of the hardwood floor as I said, “I don’t want to live here anymore. I want to go somewhere else, far away.”
My dad didn’t seem surprised by this. He nodded, and said, “I think we can do that.”
I looked up at him, surprised myself that he had agreed so easily, then said, “We can’t let Alice stay either.”
He laughed at this as he slid the back of his hand across his reddened eyes. “I can talk to her parents, but that’s not a choice we can make for them. Let’s just focus on us for now, ok?”
We sat on my bed and talked until the police came to the house to speak with my dad again. When he left, my brain veered into thoughts of Alice. I felt a responsibility for her, for having dragged her into this whole thing. I knew her parents would be more difficult to convince about moving away. But I also knew that I wouldn’t rest until they did. Someday I knew we would find a way to destroy the creature that had haunted the forest for the last century, but, for now, we would follow the advice of Lieutenant Leah Phillips. We would get far away from the thing. We would outrun it.