Sam and Scott are a couple of teenagers who live in the small town of Atom. A year ago something horrible happened in the town, which affected Sam's father, Brad, the Sheriff, badly. Although things have quieted down now, and the pair are enjoying a warm summer, Scott and Sam are still intrigued about the events of a year ago. When a stranger buys the place that nobody wants to own, the boys pay him a visit. The stranger proves to be a rude and unusual looking man called Felstar. This is bad enough, but when Scott's mother takes an interest in him, Scott is infuriated. When Brad is called to investigate a murder that has all the hallmarks of the previous nightmare, he questions his own competency. Sam wants to repair his parent;s fragile marriage, but how can he, when his father is troubled so deeply? Sam seeks solace with his grandfather, George but does George know more than he his ready to say? The fingers of suspicion are pointing firmly at Felstar, but Felstar intends to do an awful lot more than just point back.
Atom is now available. You can preview the first two chapters below.
It was the start of the summer in the town of Atom. The sun hid behind the clock tower of the church that sat at the head of a small market square. Around the market square was a series of parking spaces that sat on a diagonal to it. When the market was not on, these were occupied by the cars that belonged to the residents of Atom. Market days were lively affairs and served as a meeting point for the local community. The road that ran around the square was closed off and people gathered to gossip and catch up with their neighbours. Today was not a market day though, the parking spaces were full, but the road was quiet as the townsfolk went about their daily routine.
Sam Newell sat on the crumbling stone wall at the front of the church with his best friend Scott Jennings. Behind them, scattered gravestones punctuated the worn grass in front of the church. Sam wondered what was actually beneath the gravestones, dead people or dust? He thought it best not to dwell on the subject. Walking the hallways of taboo in his mind could sentence his soul to damnation. He shook himself from his sombre reflection and glanced back towards Scott. Scott had moved from the wall and was reading the inscription on one of the gravestones. Scott’s dark medium length hair supplemented his perfectly symmetrical latin features. Sam was a little envious of his friend because Scott looked like a movie star. Not only that, but Scott was athletic in build too. Sam had a much lighter frame than Scott and he also cropped his red hair very short as it curled ridiculously if he let it grow a little too much. He jumped up and stood behind the object of his admiration.
Scott turned to face Sam and pointed at the gravestone.
“Do you think there’s anything left of the person beneath there?” he asked.
Sam reeled from the query. Did Scott know what he was thinking? Could this perfect physical specimen also read his mind now?
“I don’t think we should discuss things like that,” stuttered Sam.
Scott stood back a little, alarmed at Sam’s sudden show of expurgation.
"You think that discussing the dead will cause zombies to climb out of those graves and eat our brains, don't you," Scott said to Sam.
Scott ran to one of the gravestones and then turned to walk slowly towards Sam in a mock zombie fashion.
"Brains, brains," growled Scott.
Sam picked up a small stone and threw it at Scott.
"You're out of luck, shithead. I ain't got any brains," said Sam, laughing.
The stone hit Scott on the shin and he forgot the zombie walk and ran after his friend.
"Hey, zombies don't run," shouted Sam.
"I'm an Olympic zombie," said Scott, as he dragged Sam to the floor.
Sam pushed Scott off and lay on his back, laughing. When he turned his head to look at Scott, he saw that he was looking sheepishly at the path below the church wall.
"Good morning, Mrs Pope," said Scott.
On the narrow path separating the grounds of the church from the road stood an elderly lady. Although it was an unusually hot summer in Atom, the woman wore a heavy tweed coat and a thick woollen hat. She was staring at the boys, disapprovingly.
"Have you no respect? There are people at rest in this churchyard," she said.
Before either of them could offer any sort of defence, she shook her head and mumbled something that they could not hear, before walking off towards town. Sam and Scott shook their heads and resumed their positions sat on the church wall.
"As if she's called Pope," muttered Sam.
"It is very apt, young man," said Scott in a parodical, authoritative voice. Scott slapped Sam across the head.
"Ouch, chill it dude," snapped Sam.
The pair of them laughed and fell backwards onto the grass, enjoying the warmth of the sun. They had been friends for as long as they could remember, and nothing had ever come between them, not even girls. Scott had come the closest to any sort of relationship with the opposite sex. For two weeks, he had dated a girl called Katie, who he met at school. The relationship ended when Katie discovered Scott and Sam, drunk, in the school playing fields. Katie demanded to know where they had obtained the drink from and Scott told her it was a gift from heaven. Katie called Scott blasphemous and did not speak to him for another two weeks. When she did eventually speak to him again, it was only to tell him that she felt he was incompatible with her beliefs and that their relationship was at an end.
"You remember when I went out with Katie?" Scott asked Sam.
"Pig-tailed bible basher," said Sam. "Yeah, I remember."
"You ruined it for me by taking a bottle of vodka from your Grandpa's," said Scott.
"Dude, it was a gift from God. Don't you remember?" said Sam.
"She still wants me, you know that?" asked Scott.
"Yeah, sure man. What she wants is some dick to carry her bible for her," said Sam. “If I remember rightly, she said you did not have the right Christian values.”
Scott laughed, stood up and crossed himself.
"You remember Barbara? I wonder what happened to her. She had the biggest hooters," said Scott.
Sam turned and stared wide-eyed at his friend.
"Scott, don't even bring that shit back up. My old man still has nightmares about it now," said Sam.
"Sorry man. Didn't mean to bring that back up, but she was mighty fine," said Scott.
"Yeah, she was, wasn't she?" said Sam, smiling.
"Does your old man ever talk about it?" asked Scott.
Sam shook his head.
"Nope. Never. Won't let my mum or grandpa talk about it in front of me either," said Sam. "It's taboo in our house."
Scott picked up a twig from the grass and started to strip the bark from it. Sam frowned when he saw Scott doing this. When Scott started pulling things to pieces, it was usually a sign that he was about to ask something awkward.
"My ma never talks about it, either," said Scott. "It's like a year ago now and we still don't really know what happened."
"All I know is that they found Jeff Walker and his two daughters ripped to pieces. Everyone said it was bears. Then they found Barbara locked in the cellar," said Sam.
"Dude, they don't know for sure it was bears," said Scott. "I reckon it's a cover up. Maybe it was aliens."
"Shut the fuck up," said Sam, laughing as he slapped Scott on the shoulder.
"What's so funny, boys?" asked a voice behind them.
Sam and Scott turned around to see Reverend Smith standing over them. Reverend Smith’s balding head dripped with sweat, and his light brown eyes twinkled at this opportunity. He smiled and sat next to the boys on the wall. Scott and Sam shuffled up to each other uncomfortably in order to accommodate the Reverend. They both knew what was coming next.
"So what are you two up to today? Have you been waiting for the church to open?" he asked.
Sam and Scott looked at each other, both silently asking the other for a plausible excuse to offer Reverend Smith.
"I can't Reverend," said Sam. "I have to meet my mother soon, much as I would love to come to church."
Reverend Smith smiled and placed a hand on Sam's shoulders.
"Yeah, sure Sam," he said. "What about you Scott?"
"I can't either, Reverend," said Scott.
"And why is that, Scott?" asked Reverend Smith. "Are you meeting your mother as well?"
"Hell no," said Scott. "I don't believe in God, that's all."
Sam turned away and lay down along the wall, praying for the earth to open and swallow him.
Reverend Smith smiled and took Scott's statement in his stride.
"Look at the day. There's not a cloud in the sky, the birds are singing and Atom is the most peaceful place on Earth. You think this is random, Scott?" asked the Reverend. "Do you think that beauty is accidental? Beauty such as this is sculpted."
"Atom wasn't that peaceful a year ago. I'll come to church the day that God brings Barbara Young back to Atom. Then I really will believe," said Scott.
Reverend Smith glared at Scott for a moment, but then laughed and stood up.
"If Barbara Young returns to Atom, I suspect that I won't see you for dust," said Reverend Smith.
Reverend Smith said nothing else. He walked over to the large oak doors of the church and disappeared inside.
Scott turned to see Sam staring at him.
"What?" asked Scott.
"Do you have to do that? Say stuff just to wind folks up?" asked Sam. "You have got to meet your mother. Why didn't you just say that?"
"I can't do this with religious shit. Tell Jeff Walker and his girls there's a God. I'm sure he'd feel the same as I do," said Scott. “Sculpted? Shit. So God does all the nice stuff but isn’t responsible for all the crap? It’s all a fraud.”
"Talking about cover-ups and conspiracy shit, I can't believe his name is John Smith," laughed Sam.
"That's the trouble with this town," said Scott. "It's so damn predictable."
"Except when the bears kick off," said Sam.
Scott stood up and started to wag a finger at Sam.
"Young Samuel, we will not be discussing bears kicking off, in this house, you hear me," said Scott.
"Yeah, okay dad," said Sam.
"Hey, let's go find my mum," said Scott.
Sam laughed and the two friends jumped from the wall and walked away from the church.
Brad Newell sat at his desk, reading the local newspaper from one year ago. Had it really been a year now? It seemed like it was only yesterday. Suddenly, he found himself staring at the wall again, trying desperately not to replay those macabre events again in his mind. He fought against the memories but failed to stop them from haunting him once more.
It was midnight and Brad received a call from Ron McCabe. McCabe lived a mile away from Walker, but he was his nearest neighbour. McCabe said he could hear screaming and gunshots coming from Jeff Walker’s place, and he and his boys were going to make their way over there. Brad told him to stay put. Brad wished with all his heart that he had let McCabe and his boys go to the Walker house. They would have got there quicker and maybe they would have stopped the attack, but it was too late now. Brad grabbed a couple of deputies and made his way over to Walker's house.
The house was a large old property that stood on the top of a hill. Walker and his two daughters had lived there for just over a year now, and they had quickly integrated with the local community and were well liked. When Brad and his men got there, they saw that all the lights were off at the property. The house was surrounded by tall lamps that enhanced the security of the grounds, but not one of them was working. From his vantage point outside of the house, Brad could see no signs of an internal light either. He grabbed a flashlight and entered the house, his deputies following close behind him, both using their own flashlights to enhance the visibility. All the men had their revolvers drawn as they cautiously made their way into the property via the open front door. The house was silent now. Whatever had happened here, the only sound the men could hear now was the sound of their own, nervous breathing and the sound of their feet on the dusty floor. It did not take Brad long to discover evidence of a commotion at the Walker's house. The flashlights lit up the walls of the house as they made their way into the living room. All three men stared in horror as the light fell on the blood-splattered walls. The air in the living room reeked of the smell of urine. The smell was so strong that Brad covered his nose with his shirt sleeve in a futile attempt to relieve the stench. He moved the flashlight from the wall and scanned the floor and gasped as his light fell on the body of Walker's youngest daughter.
"It's Sarah," he called to his deputies. “Get over here.”
Ted Parker and Pete Coleman moved quickly over to Brad who was crouched over the body of a twenty-something woman. Brad was checking the woman’s pulse and shaking his head. He was checking her pulse, but she had been ripped apart. He knew that his actions were just a response, just a way of dealing with horror and the loss of a young life. Both Ted and Pete gagged when they saw the body. Pete moved away and stumbled over the body of Jessica Walker. Jessica was thirty years old and lived with her father and sister in the house.
"Brad," said Pete. "Jessica's over here. Oh, man."
Brad was too busy examining the body of Sarah to pay much attention to Pete. Her chest was ripped open, exposing the fractured rib cage beneath the skin. The flesh was torn away, but Brad could see that some of it was missing. Whatever it was that had done this, it was not human. The chest had been smashed open by some powerful claw and the attacker had partially eaten some of her flesh. Brad gagged as he saw that the killer had nibbled on her fingers and toes. Her head was still intact, perfectly unharmed, but her face was frozen in a silent scream. A disturbing thought crossed Brad's mind. Was Sarah Walker still alive while she was being eaten? He moved over to the body of Jessica. Jessica had that same facial expression and she too looked like something had torn her apart, ravenously trying to consume her flesh.
Pete was standing behind Brad now. The light from his torch flickered up and down as his shaking hand struggled to hold it still.
"What the hell?" said Pete. "Brad, something ate them."
Brad was shaking as well, but he did he did his best to cover it up by snapping at Pete.
"I can see that," said Brad.
"Only thing I know that could do this is bears," said Ted.
"Bears don't eat people," said Brad.
Brad stood up and moved the flashlight around the room.
"Where the hell is Jeff?" he asked.
“I’m not sure I want to know,” said Pete.
Brad did not miss the opportunity to hide his fear.
“We have to know, c’mon,” he hissed.
The three of them moved out of the living room and into the rear hallway that led to the back entrance to the property. Brad could see the glass panels of the door at the end of the hallway. The door faced a stairway to the upstairs rooms. He moved carefully along the hallway, only pausing when his feet seemed to be treading water on the floor. He flashed his light at his feet and could see that he was standing in a pool of blood. He raised his light back towards the hallway and saw the shape of a man lying with his back against the right-hand wall. Brad beckoned Ted and Pete to follow and he made his way over to the figure. Brad crouched down and shone his light on the face of Jeff Walker. Jeff had suffered the same fate as his daughters. As Brad checked the body, it slumped to one side. Pete moved to help Brad keep Jeff Walker upright. As they moved Jeff slightly along the wall, they saw the small doorway to the cellar. The cellar door was covered in Jeff's blood. Brad ran his fingers along the wooden door and then looked at his two deputies.
"What the hell is that?" asked Brad, pointing at the door.
Carved into the door were a set of strange symbols. The door was completely covered in them and some of the characters had been inked in.
"Jesus. You think the Walker's were religious?" asked Ted.
"I don't think so," said Brad.
Pete knelt down and looked hard at the characters.
“I think I know what this is,” whispered Pete.
“Well? Go on,” said Brad.
"It's Russian," said Pete.
"How the hell do you know that?" asked Brad.
"Remember the Russian student that came here a while ago?" asked Pete.
"Yeah, Anya or something like that," said Brad.
"She stayed with my folks and when she wrote home. Well, it looked like that," said Pete.
“You read her letters?” asked Ted.
“No, I didn’t. She left them lying about. I just picked one up one day,” said Pete. “Only found out later it was Russian.”
Brad was staring at the two of them, wondering why anyone would have a conversation about the morality of reading someone else’s letters in the middle of this carnage. Ted and Pete stopped talking and smiled weakly at Brad.
"I don't suppose you know what any of this means?" asked Brad.
"Brad, I just saw the letters. I have no idea what that shit says," said Pete.
"He's different to his girls," said Ted.
Ted was turning Jeff’s head from side to side and checking his eyes.
"Different?" asked Brad. "What do you mean?"
"Look at him," said Ted. "His face. It's angry. That's not the face of someone scared to death. His eyes are open, the same as his daughter’s, but look."
Brad watched as Ted moved Jeff’s head from side to side once more. The head moved loosely, but the eyes remained fixed on Ted.
“What the fuck,” said Brad.
Brad shone the light over Jeff's face. It was the face of a man locked in a life or death struggle, bruised heavily with what looked like a fractured cheekbone. Brad used one hand to turn Jeff's face for himself, but as he did so, Jeff's eyes fixed on him and he grabbed Brad by the throat.
"Kill it. In the name of God, kill it," screamed Jeff.
Brad struggled to free his throat from Jeff's grip but when he finally succeeded, the shaking Jeff slumped back against the door, lifeless. Brad stared at the dead man for a second or two before turning to Ted and Pete.
"The bear must still be around here," said Ted.
“The bear?” asked Brad.
“C'mon Brad. It must’ve been a bear. Look at this shit,” said Ted.
"Get some fucking lights on and secure this place," said Brad. "Whatever did this, I sure as hell don’t want to be jumped by it."
"I'm on it," said Ted, disappearing back into the living room.
"Help me move him, Pete," said Brad.
Pete knelt down to help Brad move the man away from the door, but Brad stopped him, holding his hand up to indicate to Pete to be quiet.
"Listen," said Brad, nodding towards the cellar door. "Do you hear that?"
Pete kept perfectly still and could hear the soft crying of a woman from behind the door.
"Fuck. There's someone in there," said Brad.
Brad and Pete moved Jeff to one side and pulled at the door, but it would not budge. Brad's light found a heavy duty padlock securing the door.
"She's been locked in there. From the outside," said Brad.
"Jeff must've done it to protect her," said Pete.
"Stand back," said Brad.
Brad shot the padlock three times before freeing it from the door. He ripped the door open and shone the light inside. There crouched down on top of the cellar steps was a young woman, frightened and crying but unharmed.
"Barbara? Barbara Young? What are you doing here?" asked Brad.
He held out his hand and pulled the sobbing girl into his arms.
"What happened here?" asked Brad.
"I don't know. I came for dinner, the lights went out and all hell broke loose," said Barbara. "Jeff shoved me in here and locked the door. I couldn't get out. I heard growling, like bears. Then the screaming started. I listened to them die."
Barbara collapsed into Brad's arms.
"Call it in, Pete," said Brad. "Let's get this girl to a hospital and find out what did this."
Pete left the house to use the patrol car radio, just as Ted walked back into the hallway. Brad shone his light on Ted's face.
"I thought I told you to get the lights on," said Brad.
"The wires have been cut, Brad," said Ted.
"Man-eating bears that cut the wires?" said Brad.
"Maybe it was Jeff," said Ted.
"Why? Why would he cut the power?" asked Brad.
"I don't know, but I'm guessing the bears didn't do it," said Ted.
It had been two days since the slaughter of the Walkers. The locals now referred to the property as the house on the hill. If anyone used that term, everyone else knew exactly where they meant. Forensic teams examined the house, scrutinizing every detail but coming up with nothing. The only blood they found there was the Walker's blood. There was no fur or animal hair in the house, and there were no claw prints consistent with a bear attack. Nevertheless, the authorities and the doctors reasoned that it must have been a bear attack. Despite the protests of the local protection group and concerned external organisations, Brad was told to organise a cull and find the killer animal. Much to Brad's disgust, he was put in charge of the bear cull. Was this the human solution to resolving a case they could not figure out, framing an animal?
They killed six bears before Brad stopped it. They came across a couple of cubs crying for their mother. Ron McCabe wanted to shoot the cubs, but a furious Brad prevented him from doing so. An angry McCabe protested that the killer was still out there and that if anyone else died it would be Brad’s fault. Brad did not know what was more ridiculous, the idea of a homicidal bear or the culling of innocent animals to save public face. The bears that they had killed had no human blood on them and no human remains in their digestive system. So it was that Brad called a meeting at the town hall to inform the civilians that the crime would remain unsolved for now.
The residents of the town gathered together well before the meeting was due to start. Ron McCabe and his two boys were sat right at the front of the hall. When Brad had finished telling the community about the results of the cull and the closure of the case, Ron stood up and jeered at Brad.
"So what you are telling us is that you have no idea who or what did this. You slaughtered a bunch of bears for no good reason and the killer is still out there. Is that right?" asked Ron.
You slaughtered a bunch of bears for no good reason, I wanted no part of it, thought Brad.
"No. What I'm saying is that at this moment in time we have not found the bear responsible for the deaths," said Brad. "And we have to scale the investigation down as it's taking our eye off other offences."
"What other offences?" asked Ron. "There are less than four thousand people in this town. Someone steal your ice cream, Brad?"
The town hall erupted into laughter sending Brad's face a bright red. Brad composed a reply designed to sting Ron.
"No, but there's the matter of illegal poaching," said Brad, staring at Ron.
Ron walked up the steps of the stage and angrily confronted Brad.
"What the hell is that supposed to mean? If you're accusing me and my boys of poaching, then damn well say so," said Ron.
Brad said nothing but stared back at Ron. Brad wanted to punch the loud-mouthed hick so hard. Ron strode back down the steps and made his way through the centre of the hall, beckoning his two sons to follow. As they reached the doorway Ron turned to shout at Brad.
"What this town needs is a new Sheriff. One that ain't scared shitless when it comes to real crime. One that ain't afraid to say what he thinks," said Ron.
With that, Ron and his two boys left the hall, slamming the door behind them.
Reverend John Smith stood up to address the people in the hall.
"I understand the frustrations that you all feel but trust me, Sheriff Newall has done everything possible to solve this case. The fact that he has not found the particular animal responsible should not be held as detrimental to his efforts. The local bear population is large and we cannot go on forever killing God's creatures in the hope of finding the one responsible," said Reverend Smith.
The townsfolk seemed to accept the reasoning and left the hall in a uniformed manner. Brad could only watch as the businessmen and dignitaries of the town gave him disapproving glances on their way out. Reverend Smith walked over to Brad and placed a hand on his shoulder.
"It's not your fault, Brad," said Reverend Smith. "How are you supposed to find one rogue bear in a state full of them?"
Brad shuffled his feet and looked at the floor before looking back up at Smith.
"What if it wasn't a bear?" he asked.
"What?" asked Smith.
"What if it wasn't a bear? What if it was a man and he's still out there?" asked Brad.
"You don't seriously believe that, Brad?" asked Smith.
"Reverend, I don't know what to believe," said Brad.
Brad walked down the steps and made his way outside. Outside, Pete was smoking a cigarette. He smiled at Brad and exhaled a large amount of smoke.
"Makes you wonder whether they're worth protecting," said Pete.
"What does Smith know that the rest of don't," said Brad.
"What do you mean?" asked Pete.
"Every god damn motherfucker in this town has been on my back except for him," said Brad. "Some people would call that supportive. I call it suspicious."
"Maybe he just believes in you, Brad," said Pete.
"Yeah, well he's the only one. Hell, I don't even believe in myself anymore," said Brad.
Brad climbed into his car and drove away from the hall. Pete put out his cigarette and beckoned to Ted who was leaning on a tree a few yards away.
"Yep?" asked Ted.
"We got to keep an eye on Brad. He's a good guy. I'm worried we could lose him," said Pete.
"Nobody could have solved this case," said Ted. "It's impossible."
"Unfortunately, the rest of the town thinks that it could have solved this case. Oh, and Ted. Keep your eye on Smith," said Pete.
"Reverend Smith? Why?" asked Ted.
"Brad seems to think he knows something," said Pete.
"Okay, but Smith is a nice guy. I don't think he could be involved in this kind of thing. By the way, Pete, what did the symbols on the door mean?" asked Ted.
"Most of it made no sense at all, apparently. It was Russian alright, but I'm told it was some very old dialect. Not only that but the words were mixed up and jumbled. Most of it made no sense at all," said Pete.
"Most of it?" asked Ted.
"Just one sentence made any kind of sense. It said, 'provide no answer'," said Pete.
Ted looked baffled, but Pete said nothing further.
"I'm glad I asked," said Ted.
Brad closed the newspaper and made his way from his office, walking through the police station. He did not attempt to speak to anyone as he made his way to the door. When he was outside he moved out of the sight of the windows and leaned against the wall. He sighed and lit up a cigarette. He smoked too much, these days, he knew that, but his nerves were not what they once were. He watched as people walked by and cars drove down the street. He squinted as he looked towards the sun. The heat of the day meant that summer had arrived in Atom once more. There was a time when this would have made him happy, but that was over a year ago now. Summer terrified him. He lit up another cigarette using the one he had not finished yet and prayed.
Scott Jennings was a likeable teenager. His outgoing manner often resulted in some embarrassment for Sam, but Scott always said things with a smile and managed to get away with the gibes that Sam would never dare voice. As they walked to the small real estate business where Scott’s mother, Louise worked, Scott smiled and greeted everyone they passed in the street. Scott seemed to know every person in the town whereas Sam knew most of the faces but not the names. Sam wished that he could be an extrovert like Scott, but he just did not have that level of confidence. Not that he was a quiet boy. His amiable manner and polite conversation impressed all the people he met. It was just that Sam wished he dare say what he thought sometimes. As they approached Becker’s Property Holdings, Scott brought up the subject of Barbara Young again.
“They say she went to the city,” said Scott.
“Who?” asked Sam.
“Barbara Young,” said Scott. “She went to the city because there are no bears there.”
“I guess she’s avoiding the zoos,” quipped Sam.
Scott laughed and pawed at Sam with his hand.
“Put em up, put em up,” growled Scott.
Sam moved Scott’s hand away from him and smiled.
“Do you think she’ll ever come back?” asked Sam.
“Would you come back? After what happened to her? No. From what I heard, she vowed never to return,” said Scott. “Damn shame.”
Sam frowned at Scott. Barbara had never contacted anyone in Atom after she had left as far as Sam was aware. Sometimes, Scott liked to make out that he knew far more than he actually did. He resisted the temptation to ask Scott what his source was. Instead, he moved the conversation to the subject of Barbara’s emotional state.
“I wonder if she’s happy?” pondered Sam.
“Dude, that’s a real strange thing to say,” said Scott. “Why do you think about that?”
“Something as traumatic as that. If you survive it, are you ever the same again? I know my dad isn’t. He never got over it,” said Sam.
“Your dad’s a cop. Surely they send them to a shrink for that sort of shit,” said Scott.
“Well, I think some guy came down to do that. A couple of days later he was gone, but the old man was still the same,” said Sam.
“Maybe he just needs a while longer. It has to affect you. Even if you’re a cop,” said Scott.
“He wants a great deal longer to get over it. He wants to leave Atom,” said Sam. “Ever since that night, he has wanted to leave but my mother won’t budge.”
Scott looked horrified.
“You can’t leave. Shit! Who would I hang around with then?” asked Scott.
“The McCabe twins?” asked Sam, laughing.
“That’s not even remotely funny,” said Scott. “Those guys both look like Marilyn Manson, but listen to boy bands.”
“I know. That’s definitely weird, huh?” asked Sam.
“Plus I think their dad wants to kill me,” said Scott.
“I think he wants to kill everyone,” said Sam. “Struts around like the Terminator.”
“I swear to God, I wish it had been him and not Jeff Walker,” said Scott.
Sam looked at Scott disapprovingly. Scott knew that Sam felt you should not talk about anyone that way. Not even in fun. Not even Ron McCabe.
Ron McCabe was ex-army. He had never climbed up through the ranks, although he had seen plenty of active service. Sam had no doubt that Ron was a very good soldier, but he had serious misgivings about his intellect. McCabe married his childhood sweetheart, Sarah-Jane, as soon as she reached legal age. Sarah-Jane was a loud mouthed bigot with a racist streak. What little intelligence she possessed was masked by her lack of empathy. When she formed a bible group at the local church, the whole town knew it was little more than a stage for her narrow-minded opinions. Most people in the town would challenge the word of Sarah-Jane McCabe, but very few of them would challenge the word of God. Whilst Ron was still in the forces, Sarah-Jane gave birth to twin boys. The boys were even less intelligent than their parents. They dressed in black t-shirts and wore silver crosses that hung from their necks. They both had a pasty complexion and had long, straight, greasy black hair. Scott had often mused that the twins failed to understand what actually constituted rock music. The McCabe twins had grunted their way through school, stalking the corridors like extras in a cheap zombie movie. The feeling of relief when they left to work with their father was shared by teachers and pupils alike. Even now, when Scott or Sam saw them and said hello, they would just grunt back.
“Do you think they’re the missing link?” asked Sam.
“Who? What?” asked a confused Scott.
“John and Joe, the McCabe brothers,” said Sam. “Scientists go on about Neanderthal man, but I bet even they did more than just grunt and drink beer.”
Scott laughed and pushed his friend to one side.
“I don’t think they have anything in common with human beings,” said Scott.
Sam smiled as they came to the glass frontage of Becker’s. Scott went to go in but turned and waited when he realised his friend was adjusting his hair, using the window as a mirror.
“Sam? Why are you doing your hair?” asked Scott.
“I’m not,” said Sam.
“Dude, you most definitely are. I thought we talked about this,” said Scott.
“Hey. For the last time. I do not fancy your mother, okay,” said Sam.
Scott frowned at Sam and opened the door.
“C’mon, and try to control yourself,” said Scott.
When they walked inside, Louise Jennings rushed over to meet them. Scott’s mother had striking auburn hair that hung across her shoulders. Her blue eyes and warm smile melted all the men’s hearts in Atom. She also had the body of a Playboy model, and yet she was still single. She had dated a few men but never found anyone she felt anything for. This was a fact not lost on Sam, who surmised that the reason for this was that most of the men in Atom fell to pieces whenever they were anywhere near Louise. Sam tried to keep control, but he could feel the warm flush of his cheeks betraying his thoughts.
Louise hugged Scott and then Sam, who nearly fainted.
“So how are my boys today?” she asked.
“Very well, thank you, Mrs Jennings,” said Sam.
“Oh Sam, I swear you are the most polite boy I have ever known,” she said. “Just give me one minute, boys and I’ll be right with you.”
“Very well, thank you, Mrs Jennings,” mimicked Scott, under his breath.
Louise turned around just as Vaughan Becker emerged from the back room with a bottle of champagne. Vaughan stopped when he saw the boys and gave them the kind of slimy smile that only Vaughan could.
“You boys come to walk Louise home. You know there’s no need. I’ll drive her back in an hour or two,” said Vaughan.
“You sure that’s wise. If you’re gonna be drinking that stuff,” said Scott.
“Well, it’s only a glass or two, Scott. Hell, we have something to celebrate, don’t we Louise?”
Scott turned to Sam and was about to say something smart when he suddenly realised Sam was staring at his mother.
“Dude, close your mouth,” he whispered. “This is seriously fucked up. Just stop.”
Sam composed himself and smiled weakly at Scott.
“What are you celebrating?” asked Scott, turning away from his guilty friend.
“We have only gone and sold ‘the house on the hill’ for a shit load of money,” said Vaughan.
“No fucking way,” said Scott.
“Scott!” snapped Louise.
“Sorry mum,” said Scott.
“Yes, way,” said Vaughan. “Straight cash sale. The guy didn’t even negotiate. Just came in and said he wanted the house. The easiest sale I have ever made.”
“Is he sane?” asked Scott.
“Do I care,” said Vaughan, filling his and Louise’s glass with champagne.
“Does he know?” asked Scott.
“Yes. He said that he knew the house was cheap because of what happened, but he just had to have it,” said Vaughan.
“So he’s not sane,” said Scott.
Vaughan laughed and Scott was about to say something about the insane buying from the insane but decided to shut up when he saw the look his mother gave him.
“He’s actually rather nice, and polite, like Sam,” said Louise. “Dreamy, waist-length hair, and dark piercing eyes.”
Sam’s mouth came open once more.
“He actually looks a little weird,” said Vaughan. “Guy has no sense of humour, either.”
“Vaughan, that’s so mean,” said Louise.
Vaughan apologised immediately and began to perform the grovelling act that always sickened Scott when he saw it. It was no secret that Vaughan tried desperately every day to bed Louise. After all, most of the men in the town felt the same way. Vaughan would try to entice her out for a drink, even bringing alcohol into the office. He asked her out for dinner constantly, and what was worse he would find any excuse to touch her. Scott sometimes blamed his mother for being over friendly. Not in a seductive way, but in an entirely innocent way.
Scott had never known his father. He disappeared when Louise announced she was pregnant. He was five years older than the seventeen-year-old Louise. He came from out-of-town to work on a construction job, and even Gary Kent, the local builder who hired him, could not trace him once he left. Despite all this, Louise carried herself with a great degree of optimism and an upbeat manner. Vaughan paid Louise far more than the going rate for her job, and Scott knew that this was to keep the woman of his dreams close to him, but he also knew that Louise was the reason for the success of the business. Vaughan was all kinds of creepy. He looked creepy, he acted creepy, and he even sounded creepy. Vaughan could sell nothing, but Louise could sell anything.
“Is he as creepy as you?” Scott asked Vaughan, smiling.
Vaughan did not take the bait. Instead, he dismissed the comment, lightly.
“Creepier,” said a stony-faced Vaughan.
Scott was about to fire off another insult from the queue inside his head but decided not to when he saw Louise glaring at him once more. Scott changed the subject. Not to let Vaughan off, but to prevent the lecture he would surely get from his mother when they were home.
“So who gets the money from the sale of the house?” asked Scott. “As far as I know, Jeff Walker had no family other than his daughters. Well, no one turned up at his funeral anyways.”
“You’re right, Scott,” said Vaughan. “He didn’t, but he did have a will. He left the house to a group who call themselves ‘The Children of Bogatyri’.”
“He left his house to a cult?” asked Scott.
Vaughan shook his head.
“Apparently not. These guys think of themselves as an old religious order,” said Vaughan.
Scott was intrigued by the sale of the house but was even more interested in the buyer of the property.
“What’s the guy called?” asked Scott.
“Felstar,” said Vaughan.
“That his first name or last name?” asked Scott.
“That’s it. Just Felstar,” said Vaughan.
Suddenly, Sam came out of his Louise induced trance and joined in the conversation.
“He can’t have just one name,” said Sam. “That’s a pseudonym. You know, like Slash or Prince,” said Sam.
“You might well be right, Sam, but it all checks out. All legal and above-board,” said Vaughan. “He may well have changed his name in the past, but to be honest, I don’t care.”
Scott turned to Sam and glared at him.
“Welcome back to Earth, Sam,” he said.
Sam gave him a disdainful smile.
Louise grabbed her coat from the hook and gestured to the two boys.
“If it’s all the same to you, I’ll pass on that drink, Vaughan,” said Louise. “Gotta get Scott home and make sure he does his homework.”
Vaughan smiled and held up his glass of champagne to her.
“Another time,” he said.
As they walked home, Scott grilled his mother.
“Why do you work for that creep?” he asked.
“Because the pay’s good and he also bought me a car,” replied Louise.
“Which you never use,” said Scott.
“It’s a beautiful summer’s day and we’re only a short distance from home,” said Louise. “Why would anyone want to sit in a piece of a metal?”
“Because it’s free?” asked Scott.
“Walking is good for you, and let’s drop the subject of Vaughan, okay,” said Louise.
“Yeah, but mum. He only wants…”
“He only wants one thing. Don’t even go there, Scott. I can handle, Vaughan,” said Louise.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” said Scott.
Louise gave him a playful slap on the back of the head, whilst Sam turned a bright red.
“That mouth of yours will get you into big trouble one of these days,” said Louise.
Scott smiled but did not stop questioning his mother.
“So, will you get a bonus for selling the house?” asked Scott.
“Yes,” said Louise. “He has long hair and a European accent,” said Louise.
“That’s not even funny,” said Scott.
“Mrs Jennings?” asked Sam, interrupting the conversation.
Scott looked at Sam and screwed his face up at him.
“Jesus Christ, there is life after death,” said Scott.
“Pay him no heed, Sam,” said Louise. “What is it, Sam?”
“This Felstar. What is he actually like?” asked Sam.
“Well, he has gorgeous, long blond hair that reaches to his waist. Dark blue eyes. He is so handsome and…”
“Yeah mum, we get the picture,” interrupted Scott. “You already told us that. What Sam meant was...”
“He has this sexy, European accent,” continued Louise. “He’s not English but…”
“Enough, already,” said Scott. “You told us that too. Let’s just go home and I promise not to ask any more questions. So does Sam.”
“I do?” asked Sam.
“You do,” said Scott.
As they neared Sam’s house, Scott told his mother to carry on without him as he wanted to see Sam home. Sam looked strangely at his friend, wondering why he felt it necessary to escort him. The reason for this unexpected company soon came to light.
“We should visit this Felstar. Check him out for ourselves,” said Scott.
“When?” asked Sam.
“I’ll find out when he’s moving in and we’ll go up there on the day,” said Scott.
“Won’t that look a little strange?” asked Sam.
“Nah. New neighbours and all that,” said Scott.
“And I thought you just wanted to see me home safely,” said Sam.
Scott smacked his friend across the back and ran off.
“Watch out for the mad bears,” he shouted.
“Very funny,” muttered Sam.
Sam opened the door to his house and entered the hallway. The familiar sounds of argument greeted his ears. Kate Newell was arguing with Brad about moving. Sam wondered how many times his father would pursue this quarrel before it finally sunk in that Kate was going nowhere. The two of them were so loud that they had not heard their son enter the house. Sam put his ear to the living room door.
“Why can’t you just drop it?” stormed Kate.
“Do you see them looking at me when I walk down the street?” asked Brad. “They sneer and make jokes behind my back.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” said Kate. “It’s all in your mind. Everyone around here respects you.”
“Well that’s wrong for a start,” said Brad. “What about Ron McCabe?”
“Oh, like Ron McCabe counts,” said Kate.
“Well he’s a citizen of Atom,” said Brad. “He might be loud and ignorant, but he’s not the only one who thinks I’m incompetent.”
“Come on, Brad. It’s a public office. You are always going to be criticised. It won’t be any different, anywhere else,” said Kate.
“You think? They gonna call me Officer Dibble everywhere else then?” asked Brad. “Jesus, even Ted has been dubbed Deputy Dawg.”
“It was one year ago,” said Kate. “Every lawman with the exception of Wyatt Earp came here and failed to solve the case. What chance did anyone stand with that mess?”
She spat the words out one by one, her patience snapping because of this constant thorn in the side of their marriage.
“One major crime. That’s all, and I couldn’t solve it. Three people murdered in their own home in a small town and I found nothing. Hell, I still have nothing,” said Brad.
“This is insane. It was a bear. What are you supposed to do about it?” asked Kate. “Fit an innocent bear up? Jesus, Brad.”
“It wasn’t a fucking bear,” stormed Brad. “You didn’t see it, Kate. I’m telling you that whatever did that, it wasn’t a bear.”
“So it was a human? A human being smashed a hole in their chests with his bare hands and tried to eat them?” asked Kate, incredulously.
“I don’t know. I seriously don’t know,” said Brad, his voice quieter and more thoughtful now. “I just know it wasn’t a bear.”
Kate moved towards Brad and stroked his hair.
“How are you ever going to come to terms with this case, if you’re not here?” she asked.
“I’m never going to come to terms with it, whether I’m here or not. I’m just gonna stay the subject of ridicule if I stay here,” said Brad. “Please, Kate. Let’s just go. I can get another job in a different town, miles away from here.”
“Not without my father,” said Kate. “I can’t leave him alone here.”
“George? Christ, he’ll never leave here,” said Brad. “You know what he said when I asked him to leave with us? ‘My time is not done here, Brad’. What the fuck does that mean?”
“He lives and breathes this town. You can’t expect him to leave here,” said Kate.
Brad banged the wall with his fist and screamed at Kate.
“I don’t. I expect you too, though,” he said.
Brad turned away and made his way to the door.
“Where are you going?” asked Kate.
“To get steaming drunk,” stormed Brad.
“That’s right, run away, Brad. Run away from your misplaced guilt and this town. Run away from me,” cried Kate.
Brad threw open the door and grimaced when he saw Sam standing there. Sam said nothing but the tears streaming down his cheeks told Brad that he had heard it all. He reached out and placed a hand on Sam’s head.
“I’m sorry son,” he said and left the house.
Sam walked into the living room. Kate sat on the sofa. Her hands covered her eyes as she sobbed. Sam sat down beside his mother and hugged her.
“It’s okay, mum,” said Sam. “Don’t cry.”
Kate raised her eyes to look at Sam and kissed him gently on the forehead.
“That’s the trouble, Sam. It’s not okay,” she said.
The rest of the night passed peacefully. Kate made Sam dinner, and they sat together and watched television for a while before Sam decided to go to bed. Sam heard his father come back to the house in the early hours of the morning, but thankfully, there was no repeat of the argument. Sam guessed that they had worn each other out and that both of them were too exhausted to continue the quarrel. Brad never discussed the death of the Walkers with him and, until tonight, Sam thought that Brad believed bears were responsible. Now he knew that his father thought it was something else that attacked and killed the Walkers, but what? He peered from behind his curtains at the moon, shining brightly in the night sky.
‘Did you see it?’, he asked the moon, silently. ‘Did you see the killer?’.
He left the window and climbed back into his bed. He understood how his mother felt. He did not want to leave his grandfather behind, either. He loved George. George was a Blackfoot Indian who told him tales of mythical creatures and wonderful lands. He also would recount the history and the fate of the Indian nation in North America. His home was full of books on history and mythology.
Very often, Sam would grab one of those books and sit on the porch with his grandfather as they watched the day pass by. It was peaceful and tranquil, not at all like Sam’s home. George was a quiet, calm man, but Sam could see the steel in George’s soul behind his soft, brown eyes. The only fault that Sam could find with his grandfather was his refusal to discuss the Walkers with him. Sam knew that Brad had told George not to talk about it, but George laughed when Sam challenged him about this. He said that Brad did not tell him what to do and that he did not talk about it because young hearts do not need knowledge of evil. Sam laughed at the drama of his grandfather’s words and pulled the bed covers’ tight over him. He drifted towards sleep and hoped that tomorrow would be better for his family. He had left the curtains a little apart and a thin strip of light lit his bedroom wall. He considered getting out of bed to close them properly but was too tired to bother. Instead, he drifted off into a peaceful sleep, where in his dreams, his parents did not argue and the bears did not dine on the local population. If he had decided to get out of bed and close the bedroom curtains properly, he would have seen the man with the waist-length, blond hair and deep blue eyes, standing outside, staring up at his bedroom window.