There were a million things about being a Sheriff’s Deputy in Long Prairie, Minnesota that Jason had to learn on the fly. He was hoping they’d have more directions about his job besides the description from when he applied. He’d found the listing online during his break at Stillwater Prison where he worked in corrections. He knew it was time to move on. A week before he decided to apply, a prisoner ripped a pipe off a kitchen sink and nearly beat a CO to death. That expedited Jason’s decision.
Now Jason was out in the country, bobbing over green hills between farmhouses and sheds delivering warrants, helping the local law enforcement, and doing some small investigations. One aspect he’d wished he’d been briefed on when taking over a position that dealt with the rural life was the obsession with supernatural. It didn’t matter who it was talking to him. Farmers getting court summons, waitresses serving him his coffee at Geno’s Countryside Diner, or even gas station cashiers, someone was always telling him about figures they were seeing in the dark.
It also didn’t help that someone had been murdered recently.
That was what helped make the job available to Jason. The killing had gone unsolved, despite the bloody nature of the crime. An elderly man named Ebner was ripped apart by someone inside his camper. Whoever tore up Ebner had also demolished part of the wall he was standing next to when he was murdered. Due to the violent nature of the crime, the FBI was called in to do forensics. They said the pattern matched a few other murders in Duluth. No tangible evidence was recovered though. The only clue was a few warnings Ebner had given the deputy at a diner a day or two beforehand. Now that officer was gone, and Jason was in his position.
Driving from warrant-to-warrant over empty daylight through Stearns County always got Jason thinking about Ebner’s case. The long gaps between farmhouses and small towns were perfect for daydreaming. The landscape outside his windshield never changed. It was spring. The hills were blooming to patches of green and flower. The sky was ready to be clear, and the sunlight felt like it had to be everywhere.
Jason was short, stocky, with parted brown hair and a round face. He loved to talk to people, even though everyone thought he was shy because of how unremarkable he looked. People always told Jason he smelled like coffee, even though he only drank one cup a day. The other deputies could suck down gallons. Jason never understood why all the many strangers he was meeting in these small towns had to make such observations about him. Not even one of them knew him as an actual person.
Ebner was on Jason’s mind more than usual. His evening drive was taking him through Long Prairie and close to the scene of the crime. There were more than a hundred rumors going through local law enforcement about what happened to the old man. Most people thought Ebner had stumbled across some sort of meth lab or drug deal at the slaughterhouse just across the road from him. They killed the old man so brutally to make an example of him.
The night had just started to crawl across the horizon. Every empty piece of the countryside was filling in with shadows. The world looked like that scene in Independence Day where the spaceship blocks out the light. Jason had one more summons to drop-off before he could call it a night. It was a recently divorced farmer on the northside of town. The evening became one inky cloud surrounding his headlights and dashboard. Pretty soon, Jason passed the dirt road to Ebner’s trailer. The caution tape to its entrance drifted by him like a dead memory. Jason took a sigh of relief and glanced in his rearview mirror.
Then he noticed it.
Behind him on his right, across the road from the murder site stood the abandoned slaughterhouse like an empty square skull. Inside of it, in the maze of office rooms and cavernous killing floor, a single light beamed on like the tip of a lighthouse on a rocky shore.
“What the hell?” Jason said to himself. He slowed down his cruiser and turned around on the shoulder. The road dropped down into a deep ditch. Jason probably should’ve picked a better spot for that maneuver, but he made it just fine.
“Why is there a light on?” Jason said.
It took just a few minutes for him to reach the building. Something in his stomach made it want to take longer. He radioed into dispatch a quick location. He didn’t wait for a reply. The slaughterhouse stood like a spaceship in the dark. A tall fence with missing skins of chain-link mesh surrounded the large building. The killing floor was topped with a high roof that spiked at the sky. The rest of the building nestled behind it in small doors and stairs, like they didn’t want to be affiliated. The place had been closed for years, but in the gloom of spring, it looked like it could power up at any second. The air was sharp, but smelled sour with manure. There were no sounds but the crunching of Jason’s boots pressing on the gravel.
The light looked to be coming from the killing floor. It was a small beacon of fluorescent sharpness in the dark. There were windows in the slaughterhouse, it was built before they wanted to hide the process. Now it was sending a slant of illumination into the star-stuck abyss. Jason took a deep breath and craned his neck at the beam of white like it was trick.
Then something moved behind him.
Jason couldn’t see it completely in the dark, but it looked like a very tall man wearing some sort of cloak, only there were pieces of him sticking out, like his frame had random bones breaking free of his skin. The shape was carrying something gold and sharp. It looked attached to its body.
“What, what the hell?” Jason said, drawing his gun.
The mass moved backwards like a haunted cloud, and vanished into the dimness of the surrounding underbrush as quickly as it appeared. A few echoes of distant cars aching down country roads filled in the dark. Jason twirled around in every direction looking for the shape. After a few moments of nothing, he dropped to one knee gasping at the adrenaline.
“What was that?” He said.
Behind him, the light quietly went out.
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