A Tiny Light To See By, Part 9

(Psychic horror)

When I returned to the hotel, I was burnt out.

               Forensics was crowded and busy, not to mention unfriendly.  I was half expecting the maelstrom to have followed the corpses, but it did not.  Still, places like that still manage to overwhelm me.  I fought through it.  What I came away with was helpful, sort of.

               The bodies did not give me anything, in particular, other than the slightest feeling of resigned calm; a strange sensation for me to pick up, considering.  It was not universal, but highly prevalent.  I managed to confirm from overtired forensics staff that the bodies had not, as far as they could tell, been touched by scavenging animals.  The cuts had not been precise, but what did the cutting had been incredibly sharp.  The details were so unusual that most of the staff felt the RCMP would be involved soon.  After too long getting all of this, I called a cab and returned to the hotel.  I had taken enough cruisers for the day.

               Adam had not responded to my earlier text but I sent another update, anyway.

               I was still in over my head, yet I had a nagging feeling there was something familiar about it.  I might manage to find myself above water if I could pin it down.  The hotel room kept giving me a feeling of drunken joy, a strange and welcome distraction.

               Sleep beckoned.  It had been a second rough day in a row.  The forensics area was loaded with psychic energy, above and beyond the mess of recent corpses, which automatically burnt me out.

               The dream was remarkably similar to the last.  I walked into the clearing, which was empty and devoid of the overwhelming energy I first encountered.  Then, the figures appeared, the same as before.  I was surrounded before I thought to run, only having enough time to brace myself before they held me as before.  Their hands were cold and felt like they were biting into my skin.  I strained against them, trying to force my way out, but they were too strong and too many.

               “Last warning,” one of them said, more sinister than before.  The same bladed object appeared, stabbing me in the same spot, only this time the pain was much more intense; and I was not able to awaken quickly.  They were holding me for a moment, just long enough to prove they could.

               I woke with the same shock as before.  Only this time the pain in my leg was agonizing.  It was as though a hot poker had been driven in and electrified.  It felt numb from the knee down.  It was barely four in the morning, but there would be no more sleep for me.

               The pain left me slowly, certainly slower than the day before.  Sensation below the knee also returned in a similar fashion.  I shook like a leaf for a good hour before my nerves returned.  Only one positive came from nightmare number two: I remembered why the maelstrom and void from the crime scene seemed familiar to me.  It was a tainted positive, really, but better than the dead end I had been facing.

               It wasn’t until nine that I felt halfway normal.  I searched my phone contacts for what I needed.  Gary Tellmann, luckily, was still on my list.  Gaetan Boucanne was not there, but Gary would likely connect me, if we got that far.  I was getting ahead of myself, and knew it.  Adam needed to approve anyone or anything I might bring in that was out of the ordinary.  The media would be involved, and I did not need to be psychic to know that police scrutiny would be high for some time.

               I sent a quick text to Adam, stating I needed to discuss something fairly urgent.  I made a handful of internet searches on Tellmann and Boucanne to make sure no recent activity of theirs was especially odd.  Breaking anything like this to Adam meant due diligence; and I was proposing to introduce a pair who were unusual, even by my standard.

               It took me a nearly an hour to jog my memory on Tellmann.  How long ago was our last communication of any kind?  I knew it had been several years since we visited in person.  It was my best guess that our last, meaning exchange was nearly two years before.  We exchanged a few professional emails in a debate over subtleties related to language interpretation during psychic events.  Tellmann was psychic, for certain, but his real strength was academic.  He had studied all things psychic to a nearly ridiculous level.  I mostly used my abilities by feel, like an art more than science.  It could be studied, I was sure, and rules found that could be applied and honed; where I fell off with Tellmann was the degree of personal interpretation involved made that study dizzyingly complex.  He believed that over time, with enough scientific research, the human psychic nature could be fully understood and explored.

               I remember, in one of our earlier exchanges, explaining how I saw the positive application of psychic ability.  The vast majority of the world was living completely blind to an entire sense, and probably the poorer for it.  Most of those who could sense it either lived in denial, thought they were crazy or explained it away with some rational nonsense that in no way applied.  Those who could see it could only catch a glimpse, looking through a tiny keyhole into a large, cluttered, shadowy space; but we could see, at least.  I told Tellman that psychics were tiny lights to see by.  The light we caste was small, but better than nothing.

               Tellman, being on an academic mission, disagreed.

               Boucanne was the one I really wanted to get on board.  Tellman had psychic skills, but certainly weaker than mine.  Boucanne was on another level.  His abilities were extraordinary, much greater than anyone else I had ever encountered.  Unlike Tellman, Boucanne had gone in the opposite direction of science, embracing all kinds of supernatural, paranormal, mystic and occult practices.  The weirder the better was how I saw his approach to adopting new approaches and practices.  He was a brilliant psychic, through all the other nonsense, and wrote prolifically about all of it.  Even as a I skimmed his most recent blog entries (oh yes, he had a blog) it boggled my mind at the volume of information he churned out.

               Adam would be fine with Tellman, even though he was unaware of his worst quirks.  Boucanne would be harder to sell, but I needed him more.

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 6

(Psychic horror)

The next morning was a lot of down time.  Calling the police station only got me Adam’s voice mail or road blocked by anyone I got on the phone.  It was clear they planned to call me when and if I was needed, not before.  My appetite was shot, and I had to force down half a bagel and some apple juice.  I spent time reviewing the meaningless notes from the day before.  Only the map felt like it had any merit.  The numbers I marked out formed a vague oval, nearly matching the space of the clearing.  It meant nothing in itself, but was too symmetrical to be random.

               This was all against the backdrop of my dream, which continued to cause shivers.  I had been warned and threatened before by odd sensations or presences, if you like; but nothing like that dream.  It was entirely more intense and real than anything I had felt before.  There was no chance in a billion it was unconnected to the events of the crime scene.  Someone, or possibly something, wanted me to back off in a hurry.  My leg hurt, right above the knee, when I thought about it too hard.  Still, I wrote it all down in the pad with every detail I could recall, rubbing my leg to soothe it.  The words “stay away” were sounding like good advice.

               The department called late in the morning, telling me to be ready in fifteen minutes.  They were on time, down to the minute.  A young cop picked me up and drove me rather quickly to the station.  It seemed like he was at the end of a traffic shift and unhappy about giving me a ride.  The station wasn’t busy and still managed to give off too much information.  I focused on keeping it out with modest success.

*condoms-a painful, freshly broken forearm-butter-hallway of doors-despair-trees-a burnt island-vodka-harmonica-curling iron*

               A long, restful break would happen after this, I promised myself.

               I expected to wait and was pleasantly surprised at how quickly they ushered me upstairs to a large meeting room.  Adam stood at a table at the end of the room.  He looked tired and intense as he spoke with two other men I recognised from the day before.  My usher directed me to Adam and quickly left.  The room was modern and new; and the intensity of sensory events was much reduced from the first floor.

               Adam looked relieved to see me when I approached.

*snow capped mountains-blood-shivering in the cold-plastic bags*

               “That will be good enough for now, guys,” Adam said, dismissing the others.  “Get some lunch before this gets going.”

               We sat down behind the table and he stretched his back, looking completely burnt out.  “Tell me you have something to break this one, eh, Norman?” was all he started with.

               “Sorry to let you down, Adam,” I said.  “What I have is awfully thin.  I need to go back at least one more time.”

               “I’ll start with the thin stuff, first,” he said through a yawn.

               “Okay.  You already know how this works for me.  I was not able to get a specific read at the scene.  That same intensity I told you about was still going strong when I left.”  I showed him the map I made with little intensity level numbers, from tens to ones, circling the site, explaining what I did.

*a predatory bird-dice-glue-waffles-plum sauce-a wooden plate*

               “Does this mean anything to you?  Am I missing something?” he asked.

               “On its own, no,” I explained.  “I was hoping for some kind of clue or something.  What is curious, and possibly relevant, is I did not observe a single animal of any kind closer than the perimeter I marked.  Even those animals appeared agitated.  I was told the canine unit was occupied, but I would bet those dogs would have freaked out if they got too close.”

               “Well, that’s something, I guess,” he muttered.  “Anything else?  Please?”

               I nearly smiled, except the memory of the dream blotted it out.  I told Adam about the dream, even looking through my notes to cover everything off.  My leg positively ached as I did so.

*darkness-strong wind-heat-a dancing crowd*

               “I’m not sure what to make of that, Norman,” Adam said.  “I can tell it still hurts your leg, though.”

               “I never was a good faker,” I clenched through the words.  “Maybe I should work on that.”

               “Maybe, but for now it sounds vaguely like a cult thing, even if you’re not feeling it that way.”

               “I can’t rule anything out,” I said, massaging my leg, “but dreams are not so direct.  Dream imagery is highly abstract, in many respects.  The message, and this business with my leg, was clear enough.  Someone does not want me here.”

               “You and everyone on the case,” Adam said.  “Whoever is behind this is really bad news, you can be sure of it.  Listen, I’ve got a ton going on, including the missing Timberton kid, so if that’s all you have, I will let you go.  If you are ready for case details, you are welcome to stay.  We’re having a group briefing in about half an hour, just to go over everything.  If not, I understand.”

               “What about going back to the site?” I asked.  “If there are fewer people around, I might have a better shot.”

               “The site is being cleared up as we speak,” Adam said.  “I’m guessing that will throw you off, too.”

               I thought about it for a moment.  The briefing did not seem premature at this point.  “I’ll stay for the briefing if I can still go back to the site.  How about that?”

               “It will have to be quick,” Adam said.  “We have a press conference at five.  Then we have to be careful about what we do.”

               This was Adam’s polite way of telling me it would look bad for a contracted psychic to be openly associated with the case.  How could I blame him?

*smoke-bright lights*

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 5

(Psychic horror)

The ride back to the hotel with Kirby had mostly been in silence.  He said little, other than telling me how this was the worst thing he had seen.  I became aware that I did not have Adam’s cell number; having hoped I could text him about the animal thing.

               “Kirby,” I said to him as I was getting out, “I know how I’m perceived by people, police included, and I know Adam is probably taking a chance by bringing me in.  If I can’t help, I’ll be the first to say so.  It happens.”

               He looked at me like he was trying to read me.  “The chief mentions you, once in a while,” he said.  “Not casually, but he says you helped him solve a big case a long time ago.  He’s a loyal guy, so I don’t think it bothers him to stick his neck out.  Have a good night, Norman.”

*Lemons-a small dog-a sitting room filled with men smoking cigars and pipes-the entrance to a house*

               The hotel was rife with sensations, which I did my best to ignore.  Hotels were always a pain.  So many people coming and going left a lot of psychic energy behind.  Sleep would not come quickly, I was sure.

               I showered quickly and got to bed, trying not to over analyze the day.  I decided to forgo a review of my notes; usually a must, except that my sprawling comments had no real substance to them.  It was a vague compilation of negative feelings and emotions that had battered me every second I was there.  Not much to review.  Sleep did not come quickly.

               When I dream, it is a very odd experience; and odder still compared to how ordinary people relate dreaming.  My dreams always feel very real, and often connect with the ambient energy of the room.  I am pretty ruthless about back checking a hotel room to see if a death had happened there, and I am pretty good at sniffing out the truth when I am on site.  But even avoiding that massive, psychic thrill ride is no guarantee other nasty business has been avoided.  The best practice, I have found, is to take the newest hotel in the nicest area.  It generally works out.

               The room had an even mix of energy, leaning to the positive; so it was a win.  Dreams, however, had a way of reaching out beyond the walls of a hotel.  This was the other downside of a hotel: all new energy around me.  At home, I was so used to the surrounding vibe that it was practically background noise.  An extended stay anywhere else was an adventure.  The general impressions I was getting were balanced enough; and the upside of my day was that it left me a bit numb.

               The dream was like almost all my dreams, in that it was more of a psychic event than a dream.  In the dream, I walked to the clearing, wandering to the middle of it.  The bodies were not there and overwhelming psychic energy was absent, yet I was not alone.  I looked up to see figures enter the open space from the trees.  I had the sense they were men, though they were heavily obscured; as though someone had taken a pencil and thoroughly scratched over their image, leaving only a trace of a form.  Their suspicion and curiosity wafted into the clearing like the smell of smoke.  I was not welcome or desired, and yet they surrounded me.  There was no way past them.

               With more time I might have overcome my fear and disorientation enough to ask a question.  Instead, they began to close in, remaining obscured in their penciled out fashion.  I began to sense a bit of strain from them, and felt certain it was related to the blocking of their images.  It was clear to me they were hiding themselves deliberately, but with great effort.  A moment later they set upon me.  I resisted as best I could, but they were strong and numerous.  I was dragged to the ground and pinned there, helpless and terrified.

               “You should not have come,” one of them hissed.  “Stay away!”

               A bladed weapon appeared, perhaps a knife or dagger, but possibly a spear or sword, and I went into shock at the sight.  It pierced my leg, delivering agonizing pain and I began to scream.

               I jumped from the hotel bed to a shaky stand in one violent motion.  My leg ached where the blade had touched me, yet no mark could be found.  I was drenched in sweat and shaking like a leaf.

               “What the fuck have I gotten into?” I asked myself out loud.

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 4

(Psychic horror weirdness)

I decided on an unorthodox approach to my return.  Presuming the same feeling I got the first time, I would not try to focus.  Instead, I would try looking at the forest instead of the trees.  There was no way I could focus any harder or better than I did the first time.

               Adam told me he would probably be in touch the next day or so, unless I had a major revelation or something.  Other than this, he let me wander the carnage again.

               Deliberately not focusing was much easier, even though the general nausea and headache were there.  It was a random approach, like sticking your hand into a river and hoping to catch a fish.  I started making notes on the intensity of the energy coming through, to see if it varied from spot to spot in the clearing.  The results were inconclusive, although it was clear the feeling dropped substantially after being only a few yards from the edge.  I started wandering the perimeter, mapping this feeling on a scale similar to a pain index.  I made a rough sketch in the pad to map it out.  It was during this process that I noticed something that escaped me earlier.  I noticed a squirrel in the distance, much further from the crime scene than I.  It was agitated and nervous.  It was not a pure psychic connection I made at that moment; however, something definitely clicked.  I went looking for Adam directly.

               He was busy, an officer advised me when I returned.

               “Then maybe you can help me,” I suggested, politely, despite my sense of urgency.  “Have you had the canine unit in here?”

               “No,” he said, sounding annoyed.  “I think there was a missing kid in Timberton, so they would be on that before we called them here.  Why?”  His question was laced with suspicion.  I ignored it.

               “Have you noticed any animals in the vicinity?” I asked.  “Birds, squirrels, chipmunks, or anything like that?”

               That earned me funny look.  “I haven’t, but this is a homicide investigation.  Unless you think this was done by animals or something.”

               One of the fantastic perks of being a psychic on a police crime scene is the attitude you get.  I had heard worse from better cops than this.  You learn to roll with it, like when you get pulled over; or it only gets worse.

               “This is just an observation, and I only noticed it a few minutes ago,” I said, being as deferential as possible, “but I have not seen an animal within fifty yards of this place since I got here.”

               “Listen…” he glanced at my badge, “…Norman, I know the chief called you in and I’m sure you’re trying to help.  But we are really busy.  I’m sure the chief will get in touch with you.”

               If I had been in a better state I would have known better, but I wasn’t, so I pressed.  “It does not strike you as odd that there are no animals anywhere near here?”

               “There are a lot of people around, I’m sure the animals are just not used to that.  Now please go back to whatever you are doing.  Thank you.”  And that was that.

               I returned to mapping the range of my reading.  It was starting to get dark when I finished.  Sergeant Kirby approached me as I returned to the scene.  “We are starting to wrap up, here,” he advised me, “so if you have anything left to do, now’s the time.”

               Adam was nowhere to be seen, and I was beginning to suspect he had left.  It did not matter.  In my second round of mapping, I confirmed that no animals were within fifty yards or so of the scene.  Steering clear of human activity only held so much water for me, even accounting for the rural setting.  That none of them had got closer across a whole day was strange.  I definitely needed to chat with Adam.

               “I was hoping to speak with Adam,” I said to Kirby, keeping my voice down, “but another officer said he was too busy.  Any change in that?”

               “I haven’t kept close tabs on him,” Kirby said, “but that sounds about right.”

               “I asked about the canine unit,” I said, carefully, “and the other officer said they were tied up in Timberton.  Do you think they will be called in?”

               Kirby glanced over in the direction of the officer I spoke to earlier.  “I doubt they will be in here today, anyway,” he said.  “And don’t worry about him.  He’s part of the provincial unit.  The collars are on tight but they do good work.  Tell you what, I’m out of here in thirty, I can drive you back.  It’s been a long day for all of us.”

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 3

(Even more psychic horror)

I wandered through the scene, following whatever paths the forensics unit approved.  It was gruesome and disturbing.  The urge to back out and run was strong; I needed several breaks to regroup and try again.  It was like a nightmare that would not end; sensory overload.

               When I sense things, which is almost a constant state, they come through as tiny fragments or splinters.  If I focus, I can usually expand the fragment enough to get a bigger picture.  Results are never consistent and often get into loops, where I sense the same thing again and again.  The main thing is to stay focused so every bit I sense can be expanded as much as possible, hopefully enough to piece together into something coherent and useful.  It was all about focus; otherwise, it was like going from a view through a pin hole to a view through a key hole.

               And yet, as I wandered through a scene of carnage, the fragments I sensed came through in a torrent.  No matter how hard I tried to focus the bits flew through me before I could sense them.  It was like being in a speeding car and looking straight down from the side window; you see the ground as a blur, with details being impossible to identify.  It was all evil, hostile, aggressive and negative stuff, but nothing concrete.  I kept jotting the big picture senses into my pad until I grew frustrated at the lack of detail.  Every ounce of effort I had was put to making out something.  This was an all new experience with no familiar landmarks to guide me.  I was lost and did not know where I was or where I wanted to go.

               It was tough to say how much time passed, but I finally took a longer break.  Someone had brought me a coffee, which was nearly cold.  I had a headache and nearly overwhelming nausea.  My pad was open but I could not remember what I planned to write, or if I had planned to write.  Everything was a blank.

               “Norman,” I heard Adam call from a short distance, “you all right?”

               “Been better,” I said after a delay, shaking the haze in my head for a moment.

               Adam approached down the trail, looking tired, possibly discouraged.  “Some of the guys are worried about you, they are…you know your nose is bleeding, right?”

               I had no idea, touching my hand to my face.  I was bleeding.  Another first.  “So I am,” was all I could say, instinctively searching for a tissue, finding it, and wiping.  No gusher, but more than a spot.

               Adam stopped in front of me, looking at me more carefully than before.  “You need some time away from this,” he said.  “Grab a meal and some proper coffee, you know.”

               “I suppose,” I agreed without much thought.  “I will need to come back.  There’s something here, something really…different.  It’s hard to explain.”

               “The stuff you do is always hard to explain, Norman.  I would be worried if you told me different.  It is past supper time and I need a break and a meal, too.  How about we grab some food and talk though it, unless you just need to decompress?  I know a great take out place.”

               Stubborn instinct wanted to refuse until I realised I had been at it for several hours.  It had felt like twenty minutes.

               It was an hour before we reached Betty’s Diner, an easy to miss spot attached to a farm supply store.  Adam ran in and brought back drinks and food, remembering my aversion to public or crowded places.  He didn’t ask what I wanted, bringing back a ginger ale with burger and fries; offering to swap it for his chicken burger if I disapproved.

               My nausea had largely passed and my empty stomach agreed with the food, out of necessity rather than quality.  We were half way through before he started talking.

               “You up to talking about this yet?” he asked.

               “I suppose,” I said, “but I think you will be disappointed.”

               “I’ll take what I can get,” he said.  “Besides, I think you are going back with me, anyway, right?”

               I nodded agreement.  It had not taken long after we left the site for my mind to clear, letting me make an appraisal what had hit me.  I was not sure what I could do differently but knew what I was getting into.  I briefly explained what had happened and how bad it felt.

               “You think it might settle down, lose enough intensity for you to sift through it?” he asked.

               “Can’t say.  I’ve never experienced anything like this before.”

               “Overwhelming negative evil crap, eh?” he wondered aloud.  “Are you talking freaky sociopath evil or maybe organized crime evil?  Anything?”

               I shook my head.  “It’s not like that, as best I can tell.  This is something deep and spiritual.  It’s scary.”

               “Like a cult thing?” he asked, reaching for answers now.

               “I don’t know, I really don’t,” I said, a little angry at myself for having nothing at all.  “I need to go back, maybe take a different approach.  I am flying blind, Adam.  Sorry.”

               “Don’t be sorry,” he said.  “The whole thing is a mess.  The forensics guys aren’t doing much better, either.  Just let me know when you are ready for details from my side.”

               “Just let me have one more look,” I said, feeling queasy at the though.  “Then we’ll see.”

A Tiny Light to See By, Part 1

(Back at it with a newer story idea. This is a story about a modern day psychic. It is not quite a horror, by my standard, though it should be scary enough. Fair warning, the opening is slow, and I reserve the right to go back and add the scene before this. I do not want to give anything away, so details will be revealed as I go.)

The cop driving me to the site was young, certainly new to the job.  He was clean cut and polite, and exceptionally professional.  I wondered how long it would take him to adjust to a life on the force.

*Apples-orchards-happy people with smiling faces on an autumn day*

               “So how long have you been, uh, doing this sort of thing?” he asked me, carefully, like he knew how awkward it was.

               “If you mean assisting police investigations, then it has been several years, on and off,” I said.  I had hoped to travel in silence; it helped me to focus better.

               “How do you find the work?” he asked, less awkward, now that ice had broken.

               I tried not to focus on him.  It was easier to converse, that way.

               “The work,” I said, answering the question with practiced ease, “is about as bad as anything I can imagine.”

               “Sorry to hear that,” he said after a pause.  “I didn’t mean to make you uncomfortable.  Just curious because I’ve never met a hired psychic before.  In fact, I didn’t know we used psychics until this morning.”

               “It’s fine,” I said.  “I have a gift, so I do it to help people.  I suppose a similar sentiment motivates police officers.”

*Old century building-morning mist*

               “How does it work, if you don’t mind me asking?” he inquired.  If nothing else, this cop was direct.

               I had long since lost track of how many times the question had been posed and answered.  Almost every client, cop or not, would inevitably ask.  I never seemed to give the same reply, though I had a better reserve of metaphors built up.

               “It’s hard to explain,” I said, hoping to put it off.  I was at a loss to come with a deflection.

               “Try me,” he said, a bit of overconfidence leaking through his modest, professional shell.  I restrained a sigh.

*Lost mitten-old wallpaper pattern-smoke*

               “When you are working, and you walk into a room, you are trained to notice things,” I began, knowing we had another half hour or so.  “Some people are better than others, but you try to take in as much as you can and make quick, likely connections so you can draw probable conclusions.  Those who are especially good are almost like Sherlock Holmes’ with what they can figure out.  It that department, I am getting better but no sleuth.  I have a different skill set, though it has parallels.”

               “So you feel things you can’t see, you mean?” he asked.

               That made me smile.  “Not exactly.  The best analogy might be a dog’s sense of smell.  With all of the modern technology at our disposal, they are still used for sniffing out drugs and bombs, tracking people.  They can smell so precisely that it might as well be a sixth sense, really.”

               “True enough,” the cop agreed.  “The difference is that we smell things, too.  We just aren’t as sensitive to it as dogs.  There’s science behind that. Now, is this where you tell me that everyone is a little bit psychic?”

               I laughed.  It was nothing fake or forced.  His intention was not mean spirited or demeaning.  This young cop was bright and funny.

*a pleasant ride in the back seat of an older car-an overgrown fence in the country-a little girl with red hair*

               “No,” I explained, actually happy to for the first time in a while.  “Most people are not psychic.  One in twenty, at most; and most of those are only marginal.  People anywhere close to being like me are one in a million, maybe less.  But I didn’t answer your first question properly.  You asked how it works, so let me tell you.  Imagine there is a whole, separate layer of visible material in the world.  It almost never interacts physically with anything else, but it is connected.  Now imagine that most people in the world, nineteen out of twenty, really, can’t see this at all.  Most of the rest might only be able to see this layer occasionally, or weakly; like person who is nearly blind other than seeing shadows.”

               “And psychics can see it clear as day,” he incorrectly attempted to summarise.

               “That is where it gets murky,” I said.  “One of two things is true about this other layer.  It could be that it doesn’t follow the same rules as the solid world we live in; or it could be that even an extremely sensitive psychic can’t see it perfectly.  I don’t know which it is.”

               He grunted acknowledgement, cocking his head slightly as he processed my theories.

*slipping on ice-watching constellations*

               “So do you see things, then?  Visually, I mean?” he finally asked.

               “How I experience it is…random,” I said, surprised at myself for enjoying the conversation.  “I experience it through any of the five senses, and I also catch emotions, thoughts, memories.  In most cases it is fragmented, so I usually cannot put it all together in one moment.”

               “Interesting,” he said, still pondering.  “How do you put it all together, then?  For an investigation or crime scene, I mean?”

               “I used to wing it, go on my intuition.  Then, during a fairly long investigation, a cop I was working with suggested I borrow a law enforcement technique.  I started making notes, somewhat police style, about what I sensed.  Then, I could refer to it later and piece things together, after a fashion.  Not a perfect solution, but it often helps.”

               “That’s it?  A notepad?” he nearly blurted.

               “Oh, there are other things,” I chuckled.  “As much as possible, I want no information about the case beforehand.  It doesn’t affect my read on things, but might skew how I interpret it.”

               “That explains my gag order,” the cop said.

               “Yes, that would be about me,” I said.  “Are we nearly there?”

*a formal ceremony-classical music-cold coffee*

               “Just a few more minutes,” he said, checking his dashboard.  We had left the highway some time ago, suggesting a remote destination.  “Just one more question, if it’s all right with you?”

               “Sure,” I said, already tensing up for whatever was at the end of the ride.

               “This gift, is it on all the time, or can you shut it off?” he asked.  “I mean, a dog’s sense of smell never completely stops.  How about you?”

*a crowd of strangers-a turtle-a feeling of tension*

               “I’m a lot like the dog.”

               “So are you getting anything from, say, me?” he asked, a little uneasy for the first time.

               I smiled, mostly to myself.  This was where people got uncomfortable with me, where otherwise pleasant banter turned cold.  They either dismissed me as misguided, a charlatan; or they simply got uncomfortable with the idea I could read their minds or such.  I used to believe I would eventually meet people who would be more accepting.

               “Bits and pieces, but I’m trying to focus on other things,” was the best, truthful answer I could come up with.

               “Interesting,” was his only response.

*flat bike tire-a bee sting-a dream about a lake*

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 7

(The adventure takes whole new turns)

“Apology granted,” Leo said in shock.  “Now keep digging.”

Charles kept digging though the muck for a several minutes, announcing in whispers when he found another piece.  It was tense work with time being short; Charles became more focused on digging and less on being quiet.  Cloud cover began to thin yielding more light, encouraging Charles to dig faster.

The sound of people approaching was obscured until the last moment, when Leo heard a mix of whispers and rustling reeds.  He instantly nudged Charles and whispered a sharp warning.  The incoming party had moved right up to them with little notice.

Leo turned off the safety of the shotgun and Charles drew the thirty cal.  The moonlight was out, making it impossible to hide.

Leo gave his brother a quick look, turning his eyes to the reeds behind them; suggesting they might run for it.  A quick head shake from Charles declined the option.

Red, Tanner and Ann-Marie Gibson approached.  They were all armed, ready for a fight.  Red and Tanner had shotguns, braced for shooting, and Ann-Marie pointed a rather large revolver.  Charles and Leo had been in tight spots before; just never this tight.  The Gibsons were trouble, widely known to be mean, tough people.  It would not take much of a spark to get the shooting started.

“You motherfuckers are trespassing,” Tanner said with a measure of calm, “so drop the guns and get the fuck out.”

“Just hunting.  We got lost,” Charles replied with a hoarse voice.  Leo realised what his brother had already figure out, which was that the Gibsons had not recognised them.  They had no beef with the Gibsons but, given their profession, it would be better to stay anonymous for as long as possible.

“You look pretty nervous for hunters,” Tanner said as his companions spread out as much as the trail allowed.

“And hunters don’t carry no pistols, neither,” Ann-Marie chimed in.

“You better start talking,” Tanner growled, “or you’re fucking dead.”

“Are you cops or something?” Leo said, disguising his own voice.  Accusing them of being police was the best this he could think of to throw them off.

“You guys must be pretty stupid,” Red said.  “You think we’re fucking cops?  What are you really doing here?”

Charles continued the play for time, half hoping a swatch of cloud would put them in the dark long enough to run for it through the weeds.  “Okay, fine,” he said, keeping up the disguised voice, “we aren’t hunters.  We’re working for Rob Sreyfus.  He wanted to start growing some plants near the swamp, so we are scouting it out.  We did get lost, though.”

The Gibsons were hesitating for real.  Sreyfus was known to them; a local who was well known for being connected.  More than that, Sreyfus was rumoured to have less than legal deals with the Gibson clan.  It made the situation wonderfully complicated for the Gibsons, who were not great thinkers.

“We don’t want any trouble,” Charles added.  “Rob will be pissed enough.”  More food for thought the Gibsons would struggle to digest.

“Sounds like bullshit to me,” Ann-Marie squawked in her trashy way.  “Let’s just kill these cock suckers.”

Her words hung in the air.  A long, quiet gap would need to be filled, the brothers knew, or the Gibsons might fall back to their instincts for violence.  They were interrupted before stalling again.

“Police! Everybody stay right where they are!” a voice blared through a loud horn, deafening them after so much quiet.  Several flashlights came on in the surrounding reeds.  They threw little light and the mist dulled the illumination further.  The sounds of people moving through the reeds with some haste were clear.

“Fuck, it’s the cops!” Tanner burst out as he turned and fled.  “Get the fuck out of here.”  The other two Gibsons turned tail and followed him.

Leo and Charles set their weapons down, as slowly as they could manage.  A group of men entered the trail from both sides, guns first.  “Halt!” the loud horn belted out after the running Gibsons.

“I’ve got these two covered,” came the unmistakable voice of Police Chief Dingman.  “Get after those three.”  The cops legged it after the Gibsons, with occasional calls from the loud horn.

“Dingman, are we glad to see you,” Charles said as he raised his hands.

“Yeah, Chief,” Leo added, “we thought we were finished.”

“What the fuck?” Dingman blurted, confused.  “What are you two morons doing out here?”

“On a case,” Charles said, not dropping his hands.  “It turns out it involves you, even though we didn’t know it until just a while ago.”

Chief Dingman’s glare was obvious, even through the mist and partial moonlight.  “Keep talking, then.”

“We were looking for stolen goods,” Leo picked up the story, knowing exactly how they needed to play things.  “Sentimental items were stolen from a client, and we had some leads the Gibsons might be involved.  We have reason to believe they were dumping the goods they couldn’t sell in the swamp.  So here we are.”

“Did you find what you were looking for, then?” Dingman sneered.

“No, but I think we found what you are looking for,” Charles said with a smile.

“What would you know about that?” Dingman asked suspiciously.

“If I can put my arms down, I can show you,” Charles said.

“Keep the hands up, thanks,” Dingman said, “I don’t trust you assholes enough for that.”

Charles sighed.  “Left inside coat pocket,” he said, feigning boredom.  “And even if it’s not what you are here for, you probably know about it.  And if you don’t, then you will be even more interested.”

Dingman did not trust or like the McCoy brothers, though he did not hate them.  Mostly, they were just trouble.  He pulled the bag of blackmail pictures from Charles’ coat, not lowering his gun.  It was obvious from his glance through the bag that he had seen them before.

“How do I know you weren’t in on this?” Dingman said, taking a pace or two backward, aiming more carefully.

“Come on, Chief,” Leo argued, “you know us better than that.  That’s not our style.”  Leo knew Dingman would realise this.

The conversation was interrupted by a distant exchange of gunfire.  They all stopped as a few straggling shots rang out, dulled by the distance and walls of reeds.

“What the hell is going on?” Dingman called though his radio.  “Report.”  There was a delay of nearly a minute before a response came.

“Clear for now, Chief,” a cop reported.

“What happened?”

There was a shorter pause.  “Suspects are dead, sir.  It was the Gibsons.  They ran for the house and we pursued.  When we broke the cover of the swamp they fired on us.  We returned fire.”  Charles and Leo both mulled over the turn of events.

“Is anyone else hit?” Dingman asked.

“Del caught a bit of bird shot in the arm, but he’s ok.  We are heading to the house, now, unless you need us.”

“I’m good here,” the Chief called back.  “I’ll call this in.  Proceed to the house.”

Dingman lowered his gun, and the brothers lowered their hands.  “I don’t know exactly why you were here, and I don’t care much; other than you probably had nothing to do with the blackmail.  No one knows about these pictures or the blackmail attempt.  I kept that to myself.  This little raid is officially a drug and weapons bust.  It will only be a big deal now because three suspects were shot, but that also helps my case.  Why did you volunteer these pictures to me so fast?”

Leo cleared his throat.  “We know you don’t like us, much, but what they were trying to pull off is bad shit.  Your kid should not have got involved.  I didn’t want that on record in some evidence bag, word would have got out.”

Dingman paused, looking unhappy.  “So here is the deal.  You were never here, and you never saw these pictures.  As I was attempting to cuff you, I slipped and you managed to grab my arm and strike my face.  I was stunned and you ran through the swamp and got away.  I’ll tell them you were headed to the house, so you have a free shot out.”  Dingman pulled out his cuffs and tossed them on the ground, then struck himself in the face with the side of his pistol; a small cut opened over his eye.  He smiled, “If you don’t like that deal, the same thing will happen, only I end up shooting you dead.  So what’s it going to be?”

“Deal number one works, Chief,” Charles said, quickly, “we were never here.”

They turned and ran.  Dingman’s pistol fired twice as they ran through the reeds for cover.  They kept running.

 

Leo and Charles reached the truck in a state of near exhaustion.  The sun was on the verge of rising, and they needed to get away without being seen.  It was all back road driving until they reached the main secondary route into Gillbury.  Charles fumbled through his coat, pulling out dirty pieces of gold.

“I can’t believe we got out of that,” Leo said, checking his speed.  There was no need to be pulled over.

“Yeah,” Charles said, holding the gold in one hand, testing the weight, “we got lucky.”

“So how much did we get, after all?”

“Eight pieces,” he said, “about six or seven pounds, maybe.”

“Enough to pay the rent, at least,” Leo said, scratching at his bug-bitten hand.

“I suppose,” Charles agreed, inspecting the gold further.  “They do have some markings on them, small but distinct; might add some value if there is any rarity.”

“Whatever,” Leo said, starting to relax.  “I’m just glad we got something out of it.  Now, it’s over with.”

“Over with?  What are you talking about?” Charles said, pocketing the gold with a smile.  “There’s gold in that there swamp!”

 

(That’s it for now.  I have a number of story ideas for the McCoy brothers.  Their tales are probably best suited for a series, anyway.  If I get something together for another round, I will revisit Gillbury.  As it is, I am behind on enough writing projects to leave the brothers McCoy driving home with a pocket full of gold.)

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 6

(The adventure turns strange as new, unexpected revelations are made)

Off balance and surprised, Leo did not have time to struggle.

“Relax, it’s me,” came a hoarse whisper in his ear.  It was Charles.

Leo relaxed and crouched in the reed with his brother.  Adrenaline was surging.

Whoever was on the trail ahead was brand new, and probably one of the Gibsons.  There was a bit of sound as this new person shifted around, certainly having heard the brief commotion in the near silent darkness.  A long moment of silence passed.  It was a duel of patience and senses.  If they could stay silent and undetected for long enough then the other side might simply wander off, or go the wrong way to look for the cause of the sound.  They breathed as steadily and evenly as possible, the taste of the swamp air feeling like a film over the inside of their mouths.  It felt like forever.

The mystery person blinked first.  After a bit of movement, the person made some noises like they were digging through something in the ground.  It was done quietly, clearly an attempt to be secretive.  A few minutes later, they got up and started moving on the trail in the brothers’ direction.  Both braced with guns ready.  Whoever this person was, they were up to something they wanted kept quiet.  As the person neared, the clouds parted.  Moonlight flooded the scene like a spotlight in an ancient theatre.  Red Gibson was a few feet away, slowing slightly when the light shone.  He took a quick look around, looking right past Leo and Charles, crouched in the reeds.  Seconds later, he was gone.

Leo and Charles waited several minutes in the reeds before daring to whisper.

“I lost the trail,” Leo admitted quickly.

“Yeah,” Charles said, about as impressed as expected, “no shit.  We’re bleeding time fast while you get turned around on a trail.  Good job, Trusty.”

“We have much bigger problems to consider,” Leo said, dodging further reproach.  “What the fuck was Red doing out here?”

“I doubt it was late night gardening,” Charles said.  “Either way, I am going to find out what he was doing over there.  He may have shown us the prize.”

After a bit more waiting, they half crawled to the spot Red had been.  Leo kept a lookout while Charles poked around a mound of freshly packed earth, eventually digging into it.

“What are we looking at, here?” Leo asked without turning to Charles, keeling behind him.

Charles did not respond immediately.  “Still digging through here,” he whispered back.  “The ground is just firm enough to bury something, though a bit shallow.  It is an awfully small hole, though.”

“Is this him planting pot, or what is it?” Leo asked again, growing impatient.

“Funny,” Charles muttered, digging more aggressively.  “Ah, I have something here…not what I was hoping for…”

Leo waited a few moments.  There was a rustling of plastic and paper.  “Tell me it’s thirty pounds of gold coins and we can go home.”

“This is really messed up,” Charles said, followed by more rustling plastic.  “Very, very messed up.”

“If you don’t start sharing, I am going to shoot you in the back before I walk out,” Leo declared.

“I am in possession of a freezer bag full of blackmail photos and notes,” Charles whispered after a short flash of his hand light.

“Fuck off, already,” Leo shot back.  “Be serious.”

“I’ll let you have a look when we get back to the truck,” Charles said, repacking the hole.  “These ass holes have some pretty freaky pictures of the police chief’s daughter, though it is beyond me why they included copies of blackmail notes.”

“You’re fucking serious!”

“Yes, unfortunately,” Charles said, busy repacking the hole to look as it did moments before.  “The Gibsons have moved on to blackmail as the family crime of choice.  Wonderful.”

“What are they asking for?”

“Fifty grand and the police leave the Gibson clan alone for a while,” Charles said.  “I am not even sure they have sent the notes yet, but it is pretty clear who they are for, and what is being asked.  I mean, why else would they bury this so close to the house?”

“I would guess they are the hard copies,” Leo said, trying to quickly wrap his head around the discovery, “probably scanned for an email to the chief.  How old is his daughter, anyway?”

“Not sure,” Charles said, patting down the dirt on the ground, “but I think she is still in high school.  Too young to be doing what she was in those photos, if you could ever be old enough.  I’ll give the Gibson family credit, the photos are good blackmail material.”

“So what now?” Leo said, deciding to get his head back in the game.

“Nothing has changed for us,” Charles said, marking their location in the GPS.  “We can make up a thousand ways these photos could have landed in our lap, considering our business.  Besides, the chief may be a bit of prick, but blackmail like this is…dirty business.  We can get this to him in the morning.  We are near to a point I was looking to search, so let’s get going.”

Ten minutes later, they were in a small clearing, covered with plenty of small vehicle tracks.  The ground had been packed firm from years of traffic, with swamp reeds surrounding the spot.  The faint glimmer of light from the Gibson house was just barely visible over vegetation.  Charles looked at several spots he suspected before giving up.

“What now?” Leo asked.

“Several more spots to check,” Charles said, sound a touch grumpy and discouraged, both uncharacteristic of him.  “We probably have time to check one or two more before it is time to bail.”

Their next movements took them further from the house to a dead end in the trail.  It took a moment to make out against the heavy, rotting air but the smell of human excrement came on strong.

“This gets better and better,” Leo said, looking with displeasure at a mound of filth bordered with a few rumpled pieces of paper.

“Never mind that,” Charles said, abruptly.  “It’s just their toilet when they come out drinking.  The path itself must have been here for a long time.”

“I hope the handle on that screw together shovel is long enough for you,” Leo said, stepping back, “because I volunteer for look out duty, again.”

“Eat me,” Charles said, already screwing together the pieces of the small shovel.  He moved the mound aside as delicately as possible, resisting the temptation to pitch it at Leo’s feet.  The digging was quite easy in the damp, soggy earth.  When he got about four feet down, the familiar sound of metal scraping on shovel cut the air.  Leo turned back to see Charles drop to his knees and flash his hand light into the hole.

“That better not have been a beer cap,” Leo said, trying to force himself to keep watch while Charles sifter through the damp earth in the dark.

“Doubt it,” Charles said, digging around.  “The ground here is too packed in, like it has been here for a long time.  Wait a second, wait a fucking second…”

“What? What?!” Leo was only half watching the dark trail.

“I think you owe your genius brother an apology,” Charles said, holding something up and flashing his light on it.  In the brief light, something half smeared in dirt, gave an unmistakable shine of gold.

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 5

(The adventure continues in the swamp as Leo deals with losing his way.)

A shot of adrenaline cleared his head, and quickly.  He back tracked on his last few paces, and then a few more, before giving up.  The reeds, growing in thick clumps, left too many gaps to clearly make out the way.  The ground was too sloppy to make out footprints.

“Fuck, fuck, fuck,” Leo grumbled as he pawed through his pocket for his cell.  Charles is going to rub this one in, he thought as the screen lit up.

Lost the trail.  Will try to back track,’ he thumbed into the cell.  He waited, hoping Charles would respond quickly.  The message stalled, not going through.  A glance at the signal strength showed a depressing no signal indicator.

“This is bad,” Leo muttered to himself.  He tried holding the phone up high enough to get even a single bar, enough to get the message out, but to no effect.

There were only two choices: keep moving or stop and wait.  Waiting was usually the best approach.  His brother had the GPS and knew the geography.  It would only make sense he would come looking and be better equipped for the search.

Leo wanted to keep moving.  It was a gut feeling that drove him, despite the lack of good sense.  It occurred to him that the air felt heavy, almost suffocating.  His mind wandered to obscure ideas, maybe even facts, about swamp gases and what mild oxygen deprivation could do.  Leo shook his head and got moving.

It made sense that the trails would all be interconnected, Leo reasoned, so finding any trail would ultimately lead to the one he lost.  And odds were good that the original trail would be nearest.  The shotgun stayed in a ready carry, just the same.

The mist got thicker, somehow, making movement trickier and the hand light nearly useless.  Every step was taken with care not to slip or step into soggy ground.  It was like being blind.  Twenty minutes later, Leo checked his phone to find his text message still hanging, unsent.

“Well, in for a penny,” he muttered to himself as he pocketed the cell and started moving again.

Ten steps later he found himself on a trail.  It was hard to make it out, but the gap in the reeds was unmistakable and the ground too firm to be open swampland.  Score one for gut feelings, he thought, moving in the direction that felt right.  It was only a matter of time, and not losing the trail.

A rare break in the clouds flooded the scene with light and, instinctively, Leo took in the surroundings.  The mist limited the light, but for the first time in nearly an hour, he could make out the trail ahead of him for half a dozen yards or so.  The rest was open swamp.  The encouraging detail was a distant house, the Gibson place, off to his right, barely visible between the reeds.  This instantly gave him bearings.  The line from the house to his position was at a right angle to the trail, and the house was on the right side, making his direction north.  The clean geometry in his head, Leo knew, was not as clean in reality, but better than a moment earlier.  The gap in the clouds closed, and the light faded out.

North he continued, hoping to find a way west, presumably back to Charles.  The house had seemed close, though a distance was hard to factor out.  Charles had to be close, and had to be west of him.  The slow, blind man’s walk along the trail continued.

A branch to the left came up some thirty yards later, and Leo nearly laughed out loud.  The trail might have turned or twisted, making this a bad move, but it was more likely it would bring him west.  He moved along, carefully and slowly through the soup of mist and unsteady ground.  Some twenty yards later, he thought he heard something ahead.  It was muffled, the direction difficult to pin point, and sounded like something moving in the reeds.  There had not been puff of wind since they left the truck, so the sound could only be something or someone up ahead.

The easy math suggested it was Charles.  Bears and coyotes were not usually big swamp dwellers, and whatever made the sound was at least that big.

Step at a time, Leo thought.  He moved with more care to be silent, as much for stealth as to hear any more sounds ahead.  Staying on the trail was proving easier, with practice, and Leo was able to focus on staying low and quiet.  He heard the sound again, certain it was something moving in the reeds and directly ahead.  Each step was made with great care, and growing angst.

The clouds broke open, just for a moment, again, revealing a crouching figure ahead of him.  The details were still blurred, but it could only be Charles.  Leo took a short step forward, about to announce his return, when a hand clapped over his mouth and an arm about his waist dragging him back into the reeds.  The clouds closed and darkness smothered the swamp.

The Gillbury Swamp Gold, Part 4

(Mystery adventure.  The brothers continue their search in the face of growing dangers)

Two hours later, they found relatively solid ground again.  Half crawling and half swimming through the muck and slop of the swamp proved a test of endurance.  They felt as though every insect in the area had descended upon them with fury.  The smell was almost beyond suffering.  On several occasions, one or other needed help to avoid getting trapped in the soupy ground that threatened to drag them under; and they both knew a bog could make them disappear for good.  Inky darkness, broken up only by rare moments of moonlight through the clouds, made everything just a little bit worse.  Neither of them thought about gold.  It was all a matter for surviving to reach firmer ground.

They agreed to take a more prolonged halt.

Leo sipped at his canteen, trying to ignore the worse of the mosquitoes.  “I hope you are ready for some constructive criticism,” he said, “because I am going to give it to you.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Charles said, already getting his GPS out for another look.

Leo capped his canteen and tried his best to stretch his tired joints.  He had not stood up straight for nearly two hours.  “Let me be entirely reasonable, here,” he began.  “There is no way we can go back this way.  A little bit of body surfing through some shit is one thing, and two hours is another.  We are not athletes.  Point two: there is no way we can haul fifty pounds, let alone a hundred, of anything through here.  Not feasible.  You getting this?”

Charles was distracted with the GPS, not overly concerned with his brother’s gripes.  He knew, though, that keeping Leo’s head in the game mattered.

“Leo,” Charles said, after fully processing both the GPS information and Leo’s words, “this will all work.  This stretch of swamp was worse than I expected, point taken.  It is not the end of the world.  Yes, it is going to be tough, so we just have to work through it.”

“Work through it?” Leo interrupted.  “What’s to work through?  Did you even listen to me?  I’ve lost a quart of blood to mosquitoes and feel like it’s been two hours of wind sprints.  And if you didn’t notice, we both had some close calls back there.  You think adding fifty pounds of gold to that is something we just work through?”

“All we need to do is get some flotation devices,” Charles said, finally taking some liquids for himself.  “Something in foam would be safer than an inflatable, too many pointy branches out here.  It doesn’t matter.  This is only path we have to get us through without being seen, so it has to work.  Anyway, the good news is that we are almost exactly on course.  It’s only about twenty minutes to where we can start looking.”

Leo was slightly calmed.  The idea of bring floats to help them through the swamp had not occurred to him, and the proximity to their goal refocused him.

“Fair enough,” Leo said.  “I am taking another ten minutes of down time, though.”

“No problem,” Charles agreed.  “We have to pace ourselves.  There is more to do.”

“You know,” Leo said, swatting at the latest swarm of insects, “all I want to do is drain this fucking place and pave it.  The bugs are killing me.”

Once rested, they continued toward their goal.  The ground continued to firm up until it was just wet and muddy.  The reeds grew higher than their heads as they approached the search area.  Charles consulted the GPS several times before calling a quick halt.

“This is it,” Charles said, pulling two, odd lights from his pack.  They looked like square cell phone with straps on the back.  “The Gibson house is that way.  It’s just close enough that we would see it, except for the reeds, but we will be getting closer as we search.  That means they could see us, too.  So watch out for breaks in the cover, especially if the clouds thin out; there’s a lot of moonlight coming through.  These lights are red and dim, but enough to see with.  Strap it to your palm, like this.  Just use it in short bursts.  No need to attract attention if anyone happens to look this way.”

“And we are looking for open areas, maybe with recent growth, right?” Leo asked, testing his light.

“That, or anything unusual,” Charles said.  “Watch out for trails, especially as we get closer to the house.  The Gibsons like their skidoos and quads.  If we are lucky, they are using the same paths from years before.  Whatever the case, keep an eye out for anything.  Stay behind me.  I will focus on the right side of our path.  You watch left.  All good?”

“Got it.”

“We have a few hours to do this, so we don’t have to rush,” Charles said.  “It would be a costly miss.”

They set out slowly, moving along in as close to a zigzag pattern as they could.  Charles kept their GPS checks to a minimum, though even he admitted there was some guess work involved.  It was not long before they came across the first trail.  It was also that same time they noticed a thin mist was beginning to form, catching wisps of it with their dull, red lights.

“This is good,” Charles whispered excitedly, going straight to his GPS.  “This is really good.”

“What’s good?” Leo asked.  “The trail or the mist?”

“Both,” Charles said.  “The mist will mean added cover, especially if it thickens up.  This trail is pretty far from the house, and it doesn’t look like it is used much.  I need to mark this point before we split up.”

“Whoa now,” Leo exclaimed.  “When was splitting up ever part of the plan?  I don’t have a GPS to work with.  How the hell do I find my way around with you elsewhere?”

“Listen, chickenshit,” Charles chided, “if it makes you feel all safe and snug, you can hang onto the GPS.  I’m not suggesting you go trailblazing blindly into the Gibson’s back yard.  We each follow this path in a different direction and then return.”

“The trail could be awfully long.  What about that?”

Charles sighed, repacking the GPS.  “Simple.  You follow the path until it ends, starts splitting up too much to follow, or brings you out into the open.  If you check one of those boxes you can scamper back to your stronger, braver brother for safety.”

“You’re such an asshole, sometimes,” Leo said.

“Soon to be a sometimes wealthy asshole,” Charles shot back.  “Just stay on the trail.  When you head back, text me; that way I know you’re coming.  You keep an eye on your phone, too.”

There was not much to disagree with, to Leo’s chagrin; still, he had no love for the plan.  Splitting up had not even been mentioned when they were planning.  Charles set off in what he thought was a northward direction, leaving the other way to Leo.

Leo could feel his fatigue nibbling at his energy reserve.  It was more than just the physical trial of the swamp or late hour; it was that plus the long week of short, irregular sleep and nearly constant work.  The trail was, as Charles had suggested, not recently used.  The mist continued to rise, steadily thickening and swirling, moving higher and higher, until it was nearly at Leo’s chin.  He was not far before he noticed the insects had thinned out in the cool, damp air.

“When the hell did it get so misty in the dead of night?” he half whispered to himself.

The hand light was growing less effective, doing little more than turn the mist into a creepy, red blur.  The trail felt like it was growing closer, tighter; and Leo found it impossible to notice anything unusual.  His path twisted and turned more times than he could count.  The experience felt vaguely surreal and dreamlike, in a spooky way.  It was at that point he noticed two things: he had moved the shotgun to a ready carry; and he had lost the trail.