Kat Kimmel stood on the trail that bisected the woods, created a halfway point between the main road and the lakeside.
Her disquiet had grown exponentially since she left the Redding house. She supposed it was akin to coming out of shock.
She knew they needed to call the local police. Kat figured she'd run it by Cameron's dad, but it was pretty much a done deal in her own mind. Something was bad wrong.
And why was she in the woods? Was she nuts?
Kat turned. The woods, heavy with cedar trees, sloping down toward the lake. The treeline that concealed both the sight and noise of the main road that led out of their suburb and into the city with surprising effectiveness.
The sun was lowering in the west, but she knew there was at least 4 hours of light left. Feeling an odd combination of fear and exhilaration, Kat headed for the clearing where they'd found the remains of Taylor Waycross's little schnauzer, Strudel.
The lake, it's ripe sardine smell undercutting the tang of the cedars, could be glimpsed here and there as she walked. Kat had travelled about a quarter mile, and knew that this point on the trail where it curved in towards the lake also marked where she should look for the disturbed grass that marked the path into the clearing where Strudel's remains lay, mouldering.
Kat stopped. Her senses felt too sharp, too acute. She whipped around, sure someone was standing on the path behind her.
Nothing. The wind, rarely still by the lake, was nonexistent.
Kat felt like she was trying to figure out a 3-d magic eye puzzle. The shape was there, everything suggested it, but she just couldn't...quite...
She turned again. Now she faced the opposite side of the path, away from the barely discernible trail into little Strudel's resting place.
She saw the animal lurking in the center of the magic eye's confusion.
It was a single footprint. Three feet off the trail, perfectly preserved in the red clay mud. The woods here were thicker, as in curving away toward the lake the exercise trail widened the gap between it and the main road.
Kat stepped into the high yellow grass and kneeled down to look at the print. It was a plain-soled shoe, like a moccasin or an earth shoe - she tried to remember the name of the style she was seeing in her head. It seemed like all the druggie kids wore them; soft suede, taupe, short laces, ankle-high. Kangaroos?
The print was large, too - a man's.
Kat headed deeper into the grass towards the treeline, following the toe of the print.
If there was an image that symbolized the summer to Cameron Hancock in later years, it was what he saw as he turned into the cul-de-sac.
One house over, the Barber home, Max Siler standing on the front step. Looking dazed, wild-eyed. Covered in blood.
Max wore only his usual khaki pants, always too big for him, the belt on the last loop.
Cameron squealed to a stop, threw the van into park and vaulted out of the driver's side, running for his friend.
As he ran it seemed time slowed. Like he was mired in molasses, and it was only getting thicker, colder. Sound ceased, save his own breathing and the pounding of his heart.
He reached Max just as the young piano prodigy stumbled into the grass of the Barber's front lawn.
Max looked up at Cameron and vomited.
As Kat picked her way into the treeline she glanced up to see that she was surrounded by spiderwebs. She knew they were natural, but the sight threw a terrible shiver down her spine anyway. She turned in a circle, counting the webs and their inhabitants. At least 4. All of them the long bodied tiger-striped variety. Given enough space these creatures could make epic, perfect webs, and seemed to last all summer when they nested at the corner of the deck in Kat's back yard.
She took a step forward and found herself face to face with one. This web was the largest, and the spider was exactly even with her eyes, and it hung in the air like a warning.
It was mid-summer, and chills travelled up Kat's spine. She crossed goosefleshed arms over her breasts and picked her way around the web.
There was a little trail here, after all. It was so narrow she suspected it had been made by generations of animals wild and domestic, following whatever they followed to create such pathways - scent, or habit. It snaked down a slope now, and Kat tried to recall if she'd ever been here before. She was sure she, Max, and Cameron along with any other of a number of neighborhood kids had explored every square foot of these woods in the years since their parents allowed them to play unsupervised.
Still, this just didn't look familiar at all.
Now the slope was sharp, and appeared to cut into a gully.
Kat hopped a little, getting better footing, and stepped onto the bed of what seemed to have once been a man-made pond.
She had been watching her feet, suddenly more paranoid than she could ever recall about creepy-crawlies. The spiders had brought out her fears of snakes and anything else that might slither or bite or both.
She looked up, and screamed.
Cameron squatted down by Max, trying to think, "Max, what the fuck?"
"Tammy - she's gone. This is her blood -" Max's face crumpled suddenly.
Cameron grabbed his friend's shoulder. "Stop, man. Don't say another word. We've got to call 911."
Max nodded. And then he started to sob.
Cameron wondered later if it was common sense or stuff he'd just picked up over the years from having a father on the force, but he made Max sit down on the front step of the Barber house, and wrapping his shirt tail around his hand he opened the screen door and stepped into the Barber's front hallway. He glanced up the steps, and could see Max's trail down the banister, congealing blood from his arm having dribbled on the newel. This was the first time Cameron had ever been inside the house, but he realized the layout wasn't too different from his own home. He looked down, wondering if there were drops of blood on the yellow wood flooring in the foyer.
There were. Fat quarter-sized drops, trailing back towards the kitchen.
Stepping carefully around them, Cameron headed back to the kitchen.
Tammy Barber's kitchen was homey, done up in bright yellows and cornflower blues. As Cameron stood there, the inviting colors seemed mocking. The room was already haunted. He heard the ticking of her cat clock, hanging on the wall above the little breakfast table, it's huge eyes looking mad as they shifted with each click of the minute hand.
He picked up the phone and dialed 911.
It was genius, and it was horrible.
Kat stood as if staked to the ground. Someone had turned this old pit into an awful museum of anatomy.
Arrayed in front of her on sharp wooden stakes were the heads of 5 dogs of various breeds. To her surprise she even noticed a pattern in the way they were staked out - each head was the point of a 5-pointed star.
Piled around the perimeter of the star were the remains of both cats and dogs. All the animals were decaying, some nearly bone, others almost as fresh as the remains of Strudel, across the path in the other clearing.
The bones of the oldest had been artfully stacked into cairns, interlocking like a kind of puzzle, one of those stacking puzzles made of wooden pegs. The skull of the animal topped each pyramidal cairn of bone.
All the heads were facing one direction - they seemed to be looking at Kat. She tried to take it in, the hollow sockets and the half-lidded dull dead eyes.
She turned, and ran.
i hear sirens.
oh, this is good. even better than i figured.
the barber cunt is under my bed. that will change shortly, since mom and dad will be back in two hours. at least she basically bled out in the sink in the garage.
i'm going to get my fill of her first, then i'm going to have to figure out if she goes in the woods or someplace new.
i think i'll keep her head for a little bit, see what that's like.
i have to say, it was a thing of beauty, a joy forever. broad fucking daylight, man, and not a soul saw me enter or leave that house. siler and this slut here didn't even hear me. i sat there and whacked it watching them fuck for five minutes before i put my golfswing into play.
should i have killed siler? i don't know. i never had a problem with the dude.
and you know, i didn't even realize it till now, but since i cut her throat while he was still stuck in her pussy, out cold, to keep her from screaming, her blood was all over him, not me. i'll just burn this shirt, it's got a drop or two on it, but otherwise the old trashbag with a neck and armholes did the job.
this may just be perfect.
fucking 16 years old, and i've committed a perfect crime.
everyone's always told me how gifted i am.
they just had no real idea.
more sirens now. i want to check out the scene, but that's how other guys who do this shit fuck up. besides, i'm on a schedule here, and the body under the bed needs some special attention.
that's the thing - i was wondering if the leap was really big, from breaking pussycat necks and gutting fidos, to going after the most dangerous prey of all. i was thinking it might bother me, put a kibosh on my amibitions.
shit. i nearly spooged when i whacked siler with dad's nine-iron. now i'm wondering why i've waited so long...