Chapter 7: Quiet Mountain Town
The town was small. We knew not to expect much, especially in this mountainous region, but it was considerably smaller than I hoped. As we approached the outskirts of the town, I saw it was barely more than about two dozen small, squat buildings shoved into the dirt at the base of the mountain. There seemed to only be two roads, both untended dirt, leading in and out of the town to intersect near the center. Even between the houses, there were no paved streets to differentiate between, only more heavily traveled stretches of dirt. Plus the bizarre nature of time we had experienced seemed to have spread to this place too, as the breeze shifted and trees were the colors of autumn.
When we reached the edge of this tiny town, I immediately began to grow worried. It was a small quiet community, but it was too unnaturally still. There were no sounds of vehicles, no human feet walking across the autumn leaves which had fallen from the town’s few trees, not even the sounds of birds or other animals that one would expect to find in such a quaint little town; only silence greeted us.
“Creepy…” I could hear Bobbi speaking behind me, and her single word was enough for me to jump, ever so slightly. I tried not to let anyone notice, but I saw Bobbi’s amused smile and knew that she, at least, had seen.
“No kidding.” Rick was staring about the town from where we stood at its edge. “It’s almost like something out of a horror movie.”
Bobbi punched him on his good arm. “Shut up you idiot. That’s exactly the sort of thing that someone says right before the monster grabs you. If you’re going to play the horror movie card, at least know how to not get yourself killed.” She was giving him a look that was trapped somewhere between amusement and annoyance, a feeling that I shared nearly every time these two started talking.
Almost as an after thought, I glanced over to see how Tom was acting. As we neared the town, he had been growing increasingly agitated and skittish. I hadn’t heard him mutter a word in hours, not since his disturbed muttering had ceased.
With a defeated sigh, I looked around our motley crew and worried about how any of the locals would react to us. Bobbi with her blood-soaked bandanna (I made a mental note to suggest washing it as soon as possible), Tom in his messy suit and that broken look in his eyes, Rick and his broken shoulder and myself covered in scrapes and bruises. We looked a mess and we all felt like it too. I could only hope that this would inspire sympathy and not worry or fear. That is, if we ever found anyone in this eerie town.
I gestured for the group to follow and I began walking into the town proper. I had visited enough small towns in my life to know that, if there was anyone to be found about the town, it was most likely a diner or a gas station in the heart of town. Without word spoken to the effect, we walked cautiously and watched the silent and darkened houses warily. It felt like we walked through some ancient necropolis, and none of us wished to break the silence of this grave. The sensation was only enhanced as we took in the details of the town’s scattered houses and other details.
Every one of the vehicles we spotted, all four of them, seemed to be of some long forgotten vintage, the newest of which seemed over fifty years old. Each of these antiquated automotives was sitting beside a house which seemed even older. I would honestly have been surprised to learn any home in this town had been built after the 1950s, based solely on their design and decorations. However, something struck me as odd about these things. Trucks and townhomes alike seemed outdated and ancient in appearance, but they showed no signs of wear and tear. Either, everything in this town was very well maintained or there was something else, some truth which escaped me.
It took only a few minutes to reach the center of town and here was the origin of the curling trail of smoke which we had seen from afar. It rose from a small diner in the center of town. The building itseslf seemed ancient, a stone structure with tiny windows that seemed almost biblical in age. It looked as if the town itself had grown up around the building, like the center of a flower or a sprouting seed. A crude metal chimney stuck awkwardly out of the top of this small squat building and seemed out of place, it may have been a later addition or alteration to an older structure. The chimney spewed a deep black smoke which was accompanied by the smell of cooking meats.
It smelled delicious, like the finest pork cooking over an open fire. My stomach growled to remind me that we had not eaten in at least a day, perhaps longer if my sun estimations were off. I glanced to my companions and saw a similar hungry look in their eyes. Clearly, it was meal time in this small town, and we could only hope that there would be enough to share. Our caution forgotten, we moved to the front entrance and I excitedly opened the diner’s door.
The door swung open on a terrible scene. The walls were covered in splatters of blood and viscera, scattered across nearly every inch of the wall’s surface. The floors still slowly trickled with the slowly coagulating pools of liquid. Tables and chairs alike were thrown wildly around the room as if some terrible storm had torn through the room. Stacked, surprisingly neatly in the cleared center of the room was a pile of about thirty human bodies, their horror stricken faces frozen in silent screams.
There was blood everywhere and the bodies sat atop the largest pool of the clotted and clotting blood slowly spreading across the floor. I found myself trying to guess at how long ago these people had died, burying my horror at the grisly scene in cold analysis. I was no expert on forensics, but knowing what I did of rigor and blood clotting, my best guess was a time of deth ofless than a day. Probably less than half that, but I wasn’t certain. The unclotted blood would imply less time, but the stiffness of the bodies implied longer.
“Holy shit.” And “Shit!” were muttered nearly simultaneously by both Rick and Bobbi from behind me and I could hear the sound of Tom retching somewhere behind them. I was prepared to start running away as quickly as my legs could carry me, except for one thing. There was still a fire going and I could smell the familiar tang of cooking meats. Something strange, at least as strange as anything I had seen so far, was happening and curiosity won out over reason.
I took one cautious step into the room, trying desperately to ignore the pile of bodies looming high in the center of the room. I tried not to think about how, likely not long ago, these people had gathered here for a good meal with good friends. Now they were dead. More so, their deaths did not have any immediate relevance to my situation, so I should ignore their presence for now. Sympathy and justice could come later, after finding any possible survivor.
As I stepped into that macabre room, I heard the sound of whistling from the back of the building. With horror I slowly realized someone was someone back there, alive and cheerful, despite the terrible scene in the main room. Only two types of people could whistle such a cheery tune in the face of horror, the ignorant and the mad. Someone had to have done this to these townspeople, and I had a solid guess at the culprit’s location.
Reason finally overcame my curiosity in the face of a likely murderer. It just wasn’t worth the risk. My companions had already wedged themselves in the doorway however, having followed so closely as to have blocked the exit. With a worried sigh, I turned back around and began to walk towards the kitchen. I tried to step around the gore and the bodies as best I could, utter disgust obvious on my face. Glancing around, I sought something to defend myself, just in case. Finding a shattered chair leg left abandoned on the floor, I picked it up with a grim nod to the others.
As I approached the door, the others scattered throughout as they also tried to avoid the gruesome pile and follow me at the same time. Bobbi and Rick stayed close, and I noticed they too had grabbed defensive debris. The only one who did not, was unsurprisingly Tom, who hung to the back of the room and never leaving the promise of escape that the door gave his increasingly skittish mentality. Fine, I thought, at least one of us might get out of here alive. Taking a deep breath, I turned and started to take the final steps towards the kitchen door only to see a small man standing framed in the doorway.
“Oooh. Who are you?” The small man was only as tall my shoulders (and I was no giant myself) stood in the doorway to the diner’s kitchen area with a smile plastered across his impish face. There was no obvious sign of malice, only contentment and amusement at our presence. “Come, come. I have just fin-ished din-ner. There is not much, as I did not ex-pect vis-it-ors, but I will share what lit-tle I have…” His voice was oddly halting, with a pause after each syllable, lending his voice an odd and unsettling stagger. He nodded heartily to us and walked back into the kitchen with a grin.
I glanced between my three companions, a pleading expression on my face that begged for help. All I received was a pair of shrugs and a trembling grasp for the doorknob from Tom. With a gulp, I entered the kitchen, with the hope that I could at least escape the gore long enough to catch my breath.
The tiny man hummed to himself as I followed him carefully through the door. As his back was turned away from me, I let the chair leg fall to my side and somewhat out of sight. When I entered the room, I was surprised. If I had hoped for a cleaner kitchen, I was clearly a fool. There were fewer bodies, but there was somehow more blood. It was everywhere. It stained the ceiling, splattered the walls and cabinets, and trickled down the drain. Atop a large wooden table in the center was a half dismembered corpse, still oozing with clotted blood. What once might have been an attractive young woman was now so much meat. I felt my bile rise, but I forced it down when I saw the tiny man playing with something on the stove and he lovingly stroked a large butcher’s knife resting next to him on the countertop. I took a large gulp and stood my ground, worried that any sudden movements would startle the man.
I had no idea if the man was responsible for the bodies, but I had no doubt that he had been eating the corpses in the time since their death. Whether he was the cause of death was largely irrelevant, as any man willing to cut up and eat the corpses of another human being was a dangerous man. These thoughts were raced through my mind when the man finally turned to face me. His grin was wider than before, almost splitting his face in half. He carried two bowls, one in each hand, each filled to the brim with a steaming dark liquid and offered them to me. I could see pieces of meat floating in this dark broth and I had to hold back bile once again.
“My ap-o-lo-gies. I seem to be short of hands. I have e-nough for ev-er-y-one to have a bowl, all it means is that I will have to make more.” He chuckled to himself over some small amusement. If he was offended that I had not taken a bowl yet, he did not show it. “Sadly, I will have to dig up more bowls. That does not mean that you can-not start eat-ing. Here, let us re-turn to the din-ing room.” He lifted one of the bowls, gesturing behind me and started walking towards me. I backed through the doorway quickly, nearly tripping over Bobbi, who had crept up to door to listen. I shot a glare in her direction before righting myself. As I stumbled, the little man walked slowly and carefully over to one of the few tables that had not been knocked to the floor. “Par-don the mess. I am af-raid that there was an in-fest-ation that had to be dealt with.”