The last few days have been a blur.
We drove away from fog town without looking back. I barely even said goodbye to Rook, I pretty much got in the back seat with Cara, and we drove. Turns out we barely got out of there. Without the Scelerats and all Palefish’s contacts, we for sure wouldn’t have made it.
Apparently, a fog person wandered outside the fog on like Wednesday of last week, someone called the police, the police called the hospital, the hospital called the CDC, the CDC called the government, and after a few days of deliberation, but very limited actual research, the government pretty much decided their only option was to blow the problem off the face of the earth.
“That seems a bit dramatic,” I said.
“They’ve done it before,” Neal said. “Remember Fairview?”
Listen, my US history isn’t exactly up to par, but even I remember they blew up a little town in New Mexico in the 60s when they were still testing nukes in the US.
“That was an empty town though,” I said.
“Yeah, that’s what they told everyone,” Neal replied. “Actually it was just overrun by — I mean, not to oversimplify matters, but basically zombies. Only reason the whole world didn’t end was the government bombed it when they did.”
So, that’s the story of how I almost got bombed to death by the government.
Literally, without Protsman, the Scelerats, and Celeste we’d have all been arrested and shipped off to a bunker for indefinite quarantine. I mean, if it weren’t for Celeste containing the blast of that bomb, the whole world would be being lightly exposed to this fog.
Rook did give me his number though, so that’s cool hahahahaha
But to be honest, that was all last week, old news, we’re already on another case.
I literally slept in the back of the car all weekend. Cara slipped away literally the first night. No one was even surprised, they just kept going about their morning as if she’d never been with us, and when I asked, Neal just laughed.
“Cara never says goodbye,” he said. “You’ll get used to her.”
We stopped to go swimming in a river yesterday. They weren’t even looking for a case, we were literally just having a good time. But we stopped in a cute little town in the mountains, and a case fell into our lap.
It’s the quaint, old-fashioned kind of town that wealthy people spend winter break in. I have a certain amount of disdain for these little ski villages, seeing as I’m from an actual small town. Still, if I’ve learned anything in last few months on the road it’s that these places have some fucking excellent diners, and this place was no exception. I was on my second plate of pancakes, listen when Julian’s brow furrowed.
“What is it?” Neal asked.
Julian held up a hand and cocked his head just slightly. After a moment he said, “kids at the booth in the corner.”
Neal twisted to look and I scooted sideways so I could see them between the Hawthornes’ heads. They were probably high school kids, maybe a couple years younger than me, and they were rich kids. Not that they were decked out or anything, but you know when a group of people just is rich?
“What about them?” I asked.
“They’re talking about local deaths,” Julian said. “Listen.”
“Did they just say Granite Falls Devil?” Neal said, gleeful. He twisted to look and Julian swatted him.
“They’ll notice you,” he snapped. “Hold still.”
We all listened.
“…the cops are covering it up, but Gary Sims was delivering papers, and he saw cloven hoof prints on their walk way.”
“He saw hoof prints on their cement walkway,” a girl said skeptically.
“Yeah,” the boy replied. “Bloody footprints.”
“Oh please,” the girl said. “That’s insane.”
Another of the girls laughed. “You’re just saying that because you’re next, Chelsea.”
“Ha ha,” Chelsea sneered. Chelsea was facing us. She had shiny, straight hair and hoop earrings, and although she sounded huffy, she had a familiar nauseous expression that I was willing to bet meant she at least partially subscribed to the fear.
“Why are you next Chelsea?” Neal urged them quietly.
Julian hushed him, but the waitress brought them food and their conversation ended.
“Damn,” Neal said.
Julian was already googling away on his phone.
“Yeah, okay, look at this,” he said and put his phone in the middle of the table for us to look at.
According to the article, three nights ago a Michael Shuck was found mauled in his house. The article made no attempt to explain how a mauling happens inside a mans house.
“I guess we’re supposed to assume that the animal broke into the place,” Neal said, but his tone was unconvinced.
“Should we check out the house?” Julian said, but Neal was already out of the booth.
“I wanna finish my pancakes,” I whined.
“Sorry princess,” Neal said. “The life of a hunter says no pancakes.”
Which is bullshit, okay, I can hunt monsters and finish my pancakes if I want to, but Neal was already out the door.
In the car, Julian grinned and said, “Mk Shiloh, what’s the first thing we do?”
And because I was too busy sulking to notice that they were actively trying to teach me to hunt, I said, “Finish our pancakes.”
“You’re welcome to go finish your pancakes if you want,” Neal replied, smug as shit. “Jude and I can run the case without you.”
Asshole. “We could just go ask the kids at the booth,” I said.
Neal rolled his eyes. “You’re not taking this seriously, pancake girl.”
I stuck my tongue out at him.
“You’re the one who said she wanted to learn to hunt!” Neal said. “But that’s okay, trust me, I’m fine to just leave you safe and sound in the car eating pancakes —”
Which changed the shit out of my mind. “We should go look at the crime scene!” I said. “Maybe those hoof prints will be there!”
“Look at you go pancake girl,” Neal drawled. “You’ve seen at least one detective procedural.”
At first there weren’t any hoof prints.
The house was all taped off, but we just ducked in the back door. It wasn’t even locked. Inside was chaos. It hadn’t been cleaned yet, and there was blood everywhere. It’s not really like it is in movies though — it wasn’t like a glorious splatter pattern or anything. It was more like, my brain was trying to make sense of the room, wanted to ignore the signs of struggle at every turn, until finally there it had to admit that the brown stain sprayed across the carpet was blood, as was the smear on the counter, and the — hoof print on the tile in the kitchen.
“Guys!” I called.
“Well look at that,” Neal said, squatting to look closer. “Well done pancake girl. That’s a print.”
“What made it?” I asked.
“No idea,” Julian said. He took a picture on his phone. “Looks a bit big for a goat hoof.”
“Looks like a Granite Falls Devil hoof, to me,” Neal said, entirely too pleased with himself.
“Yeah,” Julian said, doubtful. “We’re gonna need more information.”
In the car it was quiz Shiloh hour.
“Now what?” Julian said.
“Now what, what?” I said.
See, when I was spending months demanding that they teach me to hunt, I forgot that I actually hate school. Ahha, oops.
“We need to learn more about what is going on in this town,” Julian said, endlessly patient as ever. “What do we do?”
So I said, “Idk, google it?”
And Neal said, “I mean she’s not wrong.”
And Julian rolled his eyes and said, “Yeah, but there’s a faster way.”
And we drove to the library.
“Did you guys talk to the librarian at home when you were working my case?” I asked as we crossed the parking lot.
“We did,” Julian said, holding open the door for us. Evergreen trees reflected off the glass doors — it was that kind of town. “You know, she wasn’t super helpful.”
“I can’t imagine why,” I said.
“Pretty sure it was because she was in the cult,” Neal replied as we all marched up to the counter.
“Can I help you?” the librarian said, looking up from her computer.
There was an awkward silence and when I looked at the Hawthornes to see why no one had said anything, it was because they were both looking at me, waiting. Neal smirked and gestured go ahead.
I hate them so much. “Hi, um… we’re looking for information about the Granite Falls Devil.”
The librarian’s face visibly fell.
“There’s a pamphlet by the door,” she said, and while she didn’t say we should let the door hit us on our way out, she didn’t really need to.
“Thanks,” I said, grabbed the pamphlet and ran away.
The Hawthornes caught up at the car.
“Well, that’s one way to ask for what you need,” Neal said.
“What was I supposed to say?” I snapped, mortified.
“We usually ask if there’s a section on local history,” Julian said. “Maybe say we’re writing for a local paper or something.”
“But look, the monster pamphlet, really isn’t the worst thing we could find,” Neal said. “See? There’s a whole bunch of good stuff in here.”
He was kidding. The pamphlet was absolute nonsense. It was designed like a pop up that means your computer is full of viruses.
I was feeling like I’d really messed up, but then Julian took the pamphlet and turned it over.
“Bingo,” he said, and showed me the little logo on the back.
It said, Granite Falls Museum.
So guess where we’re headed now.
The museum was more like a shack really, with a cardboard sign outside that said, The Granite Falls Devil Exhibit: Now with New Evidence!
“Who wants to bet that the new evidence is to do with the new guy that died,” Neal said.
He was right.
Inside we each paid a scruffy, ginger guy three dollars for access to the exhibit.
“Are you here about the new evidence?” he asked, eagerly.
“That’s right,” Julian said. “We heard the devil struck again.”
“You heard correctly, sir,” the ginger said. “For an extra two bucks, I can give you the tour.”
Support local businesses, I guess.
The ginger’s name was Marcus, and he told us all about the dreaded Granite Falls Devil with borderline concerning enthusiasm.
Apparently the GFD strikes a handful of times every fifty or so years, and it’s always a group of people that are somehow connected. Last time it happened was the 70s. It killed 6 people on a bowling team. Before that it was five men who worked at a barbershop.
“Which brings us to the new cases,” Marcus said. “There have been 3 deaths so far.”
“How were they connected?” I asked.
“Our best guess,” Marcus said. “Is this.” He stabbed his finger dramatically at a local newspaper clipping. It was a four-car accident, only newsworthy because they all hit the median of a round about at the same time. Happened three weeks ago, and since then three of the four drivers have turned up dead. Mauled in their homes by some kind of animal.”
Which sounds pretty serious, but listen, if this guy had had access to a smoke machine he would have been using it. He was definitely way too into the whole thing, so we didn’t believe him.
Thing is though, is that we looked it up when we got to the car and it was all true.
“Oh, shit,” Julian said. “The fourth driver, look at this.”
I enlarged the blurry newspaper picture. Sure enough, the fourth driver was girl with the shiny dark hair and hoop earrings. Chelsea, from the diner.
“Thats why they said she was next,” I said.
“Poor kid,” Julian said. “Probably scared shitless.”
“What do we do now, Shiloh?” Neal asked.
“We have to find her,” I said.
“How?” Julian asked.
Finally a question I know how to answer. She was the third person who came up when I searched her name on instagram.
She didn’t put her address on her page, obviously. But she did have a selfie of her in her work uniform — she worked at the local ice cream shop. When I called the number, a girl picked up. “Granite Falls Creamery, this is Chelsea,” said a bored sounding girl.
“Sorry, wrong number,” I said, and hung up. I beamed at the Hawthornes. “I know where she is.”
So the stakeout began. By that point it was getting to be late in the evening and we only had to wait a few hours before she got off work. We all watched her walk quickly across the street to the parking lot, zipping up her coat and pulling up her hood. She had her keys between her fingers, just in case.
Just like we thought — terrified.
And I mean, first of all I get. I too have lived in a small town in which some unknown thing was watching me and wanted me dead.
Also, she was in fact being watched. Also, followed home. Hah, yikes.
“When you’re following someone,” Neal said. “You want to stay far enough behind that they won’t even notice. You don’t want to switch lanes every time they do, only if you have to.”
This was of course useless information, as I still can’t drive. But whatever.
She lived in a big, picture perfect house, with a neat, trimmed lawn. We watched her go inside, and a few minutes later, a light in a window on the ground floor clicked on.
“Alrighty,” Neal said, leaning back his chair. “Now we wait.”
And wait we did. Hours. So many hours that I was entertaining myself by trying to throw jelly beans into Neal’s mouth from the back seat.
“Hang on,” Julian said. “I think I see something.”
He passed Neal the binoculars and both squinted out the windshield. “Yep,” Neal said. “That’s definitely someone creeping at her window.”
“Let’s go,” Julian said and opened his door. Neal and I followed as quickly as we could. As we approached, whatever it was at her window pushed it open, and hoisted itself in past the curtains.
“Shit,” Julian said and we all ran.
Julian reached the window first and launched himself inside, closely followed by Neal. I scrambled in clumsily after them, so I was still half out the window when everyone started shouting. There was a bunch of thundering upstairs, people running, Chelsea screaming. Julian dragged the figure off Chelsea, then pulled away in confusion because it wasn’t an inhuman goat monster at all, it was literally just a moderately cute straight dude, who was obviously her boyfriend.
We were still all processing that, me still hanging half out the window, when the bedroom door burst open and in came Chelsea’s father holding a shotgun and shouting incoherently, and upon seeing three unexpected men (and half a strange girl) in his daughter’s bedroom in the middle of the night, he startled and pulled the trigger.
Luckily, Julian was faster, and pushed the nose of the shotgun up at the last second, so he only succeeded in blowing the plaster off the ceiling, but that only added to the chaos.
Luckily the white dust raining on our heads made everyone cool off a bit.
“Chelsea?” her dad said. “Are these your friends?”
“Only Chris is my friend,” she said. “I don’t know who these guys are.”
“Chris Hardell?” Chelsea’s mom said, shrilly, from behind her father. “What is Chris Hardell doing here at this hour?”
“I think the bigger question,” Chelsea’s dad replied. “Is who the heck these two are.”
And we might have had to answer, too, if it hadn’t been for the knock on the door.
We all froze.
“Who in tarnation…” Chelsea’s dad began as he left the room.
“Daddy DON’T —” Chelsea shrieked, but it was too late. He’d already opened the front door and started bellowing. There was another gunshot.
I, being still half outside, dropped back out onto the grass, but in the dark, all I saw was a long, roughly man-shaped shadow lope inhumanly across the lawn and down the street. I swear to god, I heard the clatter of hooves on the pavement.
Neal landed with a shudder on the lawn behind me. “Which way?” he asked, and I pointed. Neal took off after it. “Go back inside!” he shouted back at me.
I scrambled in the window just in time to see Julian leave the room. I followed on his heals.
Chelsea’s father was clutching his gun, pale as all hell, leaning heavily against the wall.
“Sir?” Julian said. “We’re just here to help. Can you tell me what you saw?”
He looked up with round, terrified eyes. “That was the god damned Granite Falls Devil. I’d swear on it.”