A gunshot went off seemingly from nowhere, but it was from one of the officers at the young girl’s site, me.
Mr. Whimpley’s head lay at his daughter’s feet, brains laying across her feet and up her muddy legs. Her body was thin, and she looked as though she were part of the marsh she and her daddy had sprung from.
Her nightgown, if that is what you would call it was tattered, dirty, and long dragged in the mud. Her long dark hair was greasy, and the leaves and brush seemed to grow from it. Her face was red, her nose bleeding still as the blood ran down her lip from her nostrils. She carried a doll in her hands holding it tightly up to her chest as though the damned thing would protect her from whatever was going to come next.
I felt terrible about the situation. We had gotten a call from some hikers saying they heard screams coming from an old shed behind the Whimpley’s homestead. When one of them investigated, they saw a hold in the ground about ten feet deep and Mr. Whimpley’s young daughter, Colette. No one had seen either of them in ten years, the old homestead had been boarded up, and Mr. Whimpley was gone. If any of the town’s folks in Baldwin had known, he would have been arrested for locking up his daughter like that.
When we did hear word, he put up a fight, something awful yelling and screaming about her being a demon from hell that it was for her protection. Some crazy ass shit if you ask me.
No one was asking me, and instead, my boss at the police station was telling me something had to be done and done now before he killed her. Mr. Whimpley had run at us with a gun, but by the time we realized it was a water gun, his brains were already on the overgrown dirt trail that led to their old house.
I decided to take Collette back to the police station and let one of the women officers get her cleaned up and some food in her scrawny bones. They had to take photographs of her for evidence and then close the case now that Mr. Whimpley’s neglect charges were null and void with him being dead and all.
It was a task that took hours to remove ticks from her scalp and the dirt from her body. She was taken to the local hospital after to get a health clearing, and luckily she was okay at least physically. They had washed and curled her hair and given her a blue dress to wear after. They were going to put her in a battered women’s shelter for young women until they could find a suitable place, but there wouldn’t be an opening for at least a week. I hemmed and hawed but finally took pity on the creature. She reminded me of my youngest sister Belle, who had died of cancer as a teenager.
The psychiatrist evaluated at the hospital and then presented me with the results. On paper, Collette Whimpley was healthy for all that had happened to her. The way her father had kept her prisoner in that hole for over ten years, healthy as she could be except for one weird thing. When Dr. Novel asked her how old she was, and she answered eight, although she was at least eighteen.
I guess it was small potatoes considering what she could have been like. Instead, she seemed a bright and happy young lady. My wife Elma was unnerved by my offering to take Collette in for the week until a room could be presented. I felt a sense of responsibility towards her since I was the one who shot and killed her daddy. In front of her, no less.
My wife gave me the silent treatment over it for the first day Collette was at our house. My daughter, Ashleigh, was six years old, and Elma lectured me about what sort of person I had brought into our home. What if she were mentally unstable and poisoned our dinner? Surely after everything she had been through, she would be angry at the world.
I reassured my wife that, Collette, who still clung to her doll, was anything but that. She was innocent and childlike in ways that reflected my child. When Collette met Ashleigh, she smiled so big and sat down in front of my daughter playing with her Barbie dolls, and they had a great deal of fun for the entire evening.
“I’m sorry, Hank, I didn’t realize.” Elma had said to me when we were tucked in our beds. Colette was in our spare room, and Ashleigh in her new nightgown and fluffy pillows.
I patted my wife’s hand and kissed her forehead. “You know I’d never let any danger come to our family.”
“I just can’t believe she was held prisoner for ten years in the ground. How terrifying for a child, I can’t even imagine. It breaks my heart, Hank.”
I agreed, but I had seen other cases over the years in my time as a Sheriff. I had seen mothers murder their little ones. Fathers molest their babies and other horrifying things—none of which I wanted to tell Elma about. Knowing we were doing a good thing by helping Collette adjust to her new life of freedom was enough.
I still had to go into the police station every day, so it was up to Elma and Ashleigh to entertain our young guest. Elma helped teach Collette how to bake cookies and clean and wash dishes. Elma had remarked that Collette was all smiles and took great care to do each task as though it were a fun new game. She spent a lot of time playing with Ashleigh in the yard. Hide and seek and tag seemed to be their favorites.
The first few days went on without a hitch, and then something odd happened while Collette was helping Elma make dinner. One of the neighbors’ dogs came running over into our yard while Collette and Elma peeled potatoes, and Ashleigh broke green beans in half.
“Oh, you crazy dog, go home!” Elma had yelled, laughing at the big puppy as Ashleigh ran it home.
When the chaos had been over, Collette curiously looked at Elma. “You can keep puppies that big?”
“Well, yes, they are pets.”
“Whenever I had one, the bad man made me put it in the hole. I don’t know where they went, but they screamed something awful until the darkness took them away. I was never allowed to keep them long; he said they carried infections.”
“No, Colette, most people keep them and love them and take care of them. I’m so sorry your daddy wouldn’t let you keep them.”
“Seven down the hole,” Colette said randomly.
“What?” Elma asked her.
“I’m eight,” Colette said matter of factly and then got up to wash the potatoes.
Elma was frightened and didn’t want Collette to tell those stories in front of Ashleigh. I promised I’d talk with Collette.
After everyone was getting ready for bed, I knocked on Collette’s room to talk.
“How was your day, Collette?”
“Very good, Elma taught me how to boil and mash potatoes. I didn’t know you could cook potatoes.”
“Yes, I’m glad you liked them. Elma is a good teacher.”
“Oh, she is the best.”
“Collette, Elma told me something that you said to her today about puppies.”
Colette stopped smiling the second I said the word.
“You said you had to put them down a hole?”
“Well, can you do me a favor and not say that in front of Ashleigh?”
She nodded in understanding.
“If you need someone to talk to, Elma or I can talk to you any time and no judgment, but Ashleigh doesn’t yet understand the ways of the world. Does that make sense?”
She nodded and then smiled up at me.
“Thank you for letting me sleep here.”
“We enjoy having you as our guest, Colette.”
I shut the door, and as far as I knew it, that was that.
Around three in the morning, I heard a scream that woke both Elma and me out of a dead sleep. We both ran down the hallway Elma checking on Ashleigh first, who was sound asleep. Then I went to check on Collette. When I opened the door she was running around her room, eyes wild and black as night. She was acting like a feral animal.
“Collette!” I yelled.
She seemed unaware I was calling to her. Instead, she ran past me and sat on the closet floor. Her bed was untouched, but the floor had clothes and other items strung about. Most were in the closet in a high pile. It was as though she had built a den on the floor of the closet. Clothes were stacked up in a circular formation. I went over to her and put my hand on her shoulder. It seemed to jar her awake as if she had been sleepwalking.
Colette looked frightened, and tears welled up in her eyes. “The bad man can’t find me, can he?”
“What bad man?” I assumed she meant her father.
“He looks for me at night, and I hide from him so he can’t touch me. I don’t want him to hurt the puppies. I was eight. Seven down. He made them go away! Is he dead?” she cried.
I wasn’t sure what she meant. I just nodded in reassurance. I looked at Elma, and then I knew instantly what she was referring to. Puppies weren’t puppies. That bastard, I thought to myself. If I could have reshot him, I would have.
The very next day, we took Collette to see the psychiatrist who helped map out a treatment for the trauma she had gone through. Colette had been through so much evil in her eighteen years on this planet. I didn’t understand how it could have been possible for someone to survive.
Dr. Novel would continue to see Collette once a week, even when she was moved to the young women’s shelter.
I got word that same day that her date to move into the shelter had been pushed back two more weeks. I didn’t mind it, though; we had adopted Collette as our own by this point. Elma enjoyed having Collette help keep Ashleigh busy while she cleaned and cooked during the day. It was better than sitting here in front of the television.
Colette was a natural caretaker, and she was a kind young lady. Something in her eyes told you she cared about the world even if the world cared nothing for her.
One evening I was late coming home from work due to some bank robbery in town. When I got back, I was met at the door by Elma, who was beside herself.
“It’s Collette; something happened today. Something that makes me absolutely want nothing to do with her.”
“Come on, Elma, you know what the therapist said. These things take time.”
“NO!” She grabbed me by my arm and led me out to the shed behind our house.
“What is it?” I asked, now feeling annoyed more than anything else.
Elma took me over to a box in the center of the shed and pointed at it. I looked down, and it had bits of hay and lavender in it. I looked at Elma as if she had lost her mind, and she continued to point at it. I removed the hay, and the lavender and under was a dead squirrel. It looked as though it had its throat ripped out. Still confused, I looked at Elma.
“She gave this as a present to our daughter! Ashleigh was so frightened by it she screamed and ran into her room and refused to come out of it. She put it in her mouth and told Ashleigh not to be frightened it was a good luck charm she said and held it there for several minutes before I slapped the girl in her face and told her to go to her room!”
“You slapped her?”
“There is something mentally wrong with that girl! I want her out of this house tonight! I don’t care what you have to do to get her in that shelter, but I want her out of here.”
I felt the sting of the moon over my head. It seemed brighter than normal, and I didn’t know why. My senses seemed to be tied to this girl and the hold she had over my heartstrings. I didn’t want to put her out. Colette had become so used to us that it felt wrong to treat her with such malice. I understood she couldn’t go scaring our daughter like that. I would figure out something.
“I’ll call Joyce at the county office first thing and see what can be done.” Joyce had been a social worker that I had known for over twenty years. She was the one I reached out to when we were trying to find the best psychiatrist to help Collette, and she had thirty years of experience with Children and Families.
Elma seemed okay with it but hated that she couldn’t put Collette out that night. When we both went back to the house, Collette sat at the kitchen table, drawing a picture.
She looked up when we walked into the kitchen. “Look what I made you, I’m sorry about earlier today. I didn’t know that Ashleigh would be frightened. My daddy gave me gifts like that one all the time. I’m sorry.”
Elma took a deep breath and walked down the hall to our bedroom and shut the door.
“Collette, do you understand why that isn’t a good gift for someone like Ashleigh?”
“I guess it is dirty, and the blood may have scared her, but it was freshly killed. I killed it myself for her. It’s what we do in my family.”
I sat down across from her and tried to be as kind and calm as possible. “Collette, we don’t give dead animals as gifts in this family.”
“Mommy always said she would come back when she found her sister to undo the spell. Until then, we lived in the dark, daddy, and the rest. There was a bad man who always tried to destroy the puppies. Daddy gave me squirrels and mice to share with him when he’d come so he’d stay away from daddy.”
I was confused now.
“What happened to your mother?”
“She left after doing a bad thing with the beast-man. Daddy said she was a bad woman, so she left to find a way to stop it. He loved mommy with all his heart. He said she conjured the devil when they made me. The man kept me in the ground so I wouldn’t hurt him. The moon makes me wild, he said, but I don’t remember ever getting wild like that bad man.”
“This all sounds like stories your daddy told you because he hurt you.”
“Not daddy, no. He never hurt me, just the bad man. Mommy went to find Cecily, her sister, who lives in the forest in the North. My mommy came from a family of witches. They were mighty powerful and could do lots and lots. Mommy made a mistake making me with her magics when she met daddy. It was the only way they could remain together. A love spell so that they would be the same. That is how the bad man found me, and he was ashamed of me and wanted to lock me away. The other made me go with him into the woods. I don’t remember what happened, but I felt different after. He would come to me once every full moon, and I feel him coming now!” she said, looking at me as terrified as a small child.
I had no words, and I knew then there was no hope for Collette. She had been told these stories for so many years by her crazy abusive father she had come to believe them. A man who rapes his child is a man that deserves to rot in hell, especially if he is impregnating her—such trauma for a girl that had such a bright future. I didn’t see how Collette would ever be okay, not now. It had broken her beyond what I thought possible. She needed round the clock help, and Elma was right, we weren’t capable.
The next morning Collette knew something was up, and when I told her that we had finally got the opening at the shelter, after much begging by me to Joyce, she seemed resigned to the fact that she would have to say goodbye to us.
That morning was one of the hardest I had ever had to endure. Elma hid in her bedroom, and Ashleigh cried at losing her best friend. I promised Ashleigh we would visit Collette as soon as she was settled. Sadly, that would never come to pass.
The first night that Collette went to the women’s shelter, I got a call shortly after Midnight from the house mom of the shelter. She expressed her deepest sympathies, but she went to check on Collette and one of the other girls and realized Collette had vanished. She had left all of the things she brought with her but was nowhere to be found.
I got out of bed and explained to Elma where I was going. I owed it to Collette to ensure she was safe. I was getting into my car when I heard it.
“I couldn’t stay there. I felt the bad man coming to find me.”
I turned to see Collette in her nightclothes standing behind my car. Her eyes looked strangely as I walked closer to her.
“Hank, please don’t come any closer. I only came to say goodbye and show you I wasn’t lying. The moon makes me wild.”
“Collette, no more than anyone else. Now come on, and I’ll take you inside the house. We can get this sorted out in the morning.”
But her eyes glared goldenly, and there was something in the way she was now standing. She suddenly fell to the ground on all fours and began to cry. I ran to her to see what I could do. Perhaps she had gotten hurt at the shelter, and that is why she had run away.
“I had his babies. They will be looking for their mother tonight. I must return to the pack. I can feel him coming for me. I can hear him in my head.”
“Collette, this is absolute nonsense.”
Before I could say more, I felt something behind me piercing my head’s back with its eyes. I turned around slowly, and when I tell you, there was no rhyme or reason for what I saw, there just wasn’t. Standing behind me was a creature that had the head of a German Shepherd or Wolf. It had the body of a man but was covered in hair in large patches all over it. It stood on two legs, but they were backward like a dog. I heard it mutter in a deep voice.
“SHE IS MINE.”
Colette began to cry, and I went to reach for my revolver. As I did, I felt the creature turn and walk towards the woods behind my house as though he didn’t have a care in the world. I shot at him, and he turned to look at me with a sickening grin on his face. He pulled at the bullet that was now lodged in his chest and yanked it out, throwing it to the ground. There was a mist that crept up behind him like some sort of fog that followed him. He continued to walk towards the woods but then stopped. I looked on and realized seven smaller creatures were standing next to him. They were wolfen creatures like the creature that stood before me, but they were childlike in size. That is when I understood.
“Collette, don’t you don’t have to go with him.”
“I have to follow him because I belong to him. He saved me when the bad man forced me into the hole.”
“No!” I yelled.
“Hank, these are my brothers and sisters, and this is my daddy.” She was crying but crying happy tears.
I looked at the creature in the woods, and then I realized the bad man was who we had all thought was her father. Mr. Whimpley had indeed been married to her mother, but she had an affair with another man if you want to call him that. How had I not seen it before? Of course, Mr. Whimpley kept her in the ground. He knew what she was all along, and I was just now finding out.
I looked at Collette, and she began to scream and cry as her fists hit the ground. She turned towards me as her jaw began to crack open and expand outward into a snout. I heard her yelp as her body twisted and turned into the dirt, and before I knew it, she was now a full-on Lycan. She growled at me, and her eyeshine was red like the strawberry moon that hung above us. It seemed to grow in size as she did, making me sweat profusely as though I had a fever. I had a hard time being around them as if they were all trying to use their minds to keep me from her.
Colette ran on all fours and stood up next to the others. I counted the children, and she was number eight. They all fell back into the mist behind the trees and disappeared with it as it cloaked them in the dark of night. That was the last time I ever saw Collette.
As strangely as Collette had come into our lives, she had disappeared with as much mystery. I still heard strange sounds coming from the woods at night, but I guessed they all had moved on by now.
A few months later, a body was found on the old property of Mr. Whimpley, as you may have guessed it was Collette’s mother. She never made it look for her sister because Mr. Whimpley had shot her dead like a dog and buried her body in the marshy fields behind the Whimpley homestead.
We went back to our daily lives, but now and then you would hear tales of upright dog-like creatures spotted on the side of the road or out by one of the camping sites. Over time, you heard less and less until about a year ago; I read a news clipping of a father of two that had gone missing after an animal attacked a guy delivering pizza to his house. It made me wonder, but Collette wasn’t violent.
I kept watch over the strange goings-on in the news, and I saved clippings trying to figure it all out. One thing I now knew was that the world as we knew it didn’t exist.
Keep your loved ones close. You never know what lurks out there in the darkness.