NINETY, 2.0

Deputy Harland had to hold his mouth to keep the vomit from flowing out. In all his days with the department he’d never thought he’d have to hold back vomit at a crime scene.

Not in Mechanicville.

Upstate New York was home to mostly misdemeanor level criminals the past few years, and most of the violence in the region had come from domestic disputes or bar fights come election season. But this, this was different, and Harland knew he was already in over his head before the Coroner’s van pulled up.

The other Deputies hovered nearby, not wanting to look at the ground, or even each other. They pulled on latex gloves, glanced up at the houses or the sky, whispering that they hoped rain would come soon to wash it all away. For a normal crime scene, that would be less than desirable, but all this blood…

Harland shook hands with Dr. Morton and let the medical man lead the way through the lawn, up to the Sykes house. Morton spoke soft into a recorder, but Harland could still hear, “Six out front, all teenagers or early twenties, multiple stab wounds on each and all necks have been cut, ear to ear. No weapons in the vicinity.”

They stepped over the girl’s body that was propping the front door open.  Inside was much worse, and Harland could hardly believe what he saw, so much that he quickly ran back outside and, finally, thankfully, vomited along the porch. “Ten more in here… no, nine. Just nine.” Morton’s voice was shaky, but Harland was sure he’d seen a lot worse.

Back on the street, deputies turned over one of the bodies, the biggest, which was male. And older. “Cooper, down here!” Harland hurried to the street, saw the hulk of the man they’d turned over, and the machete in his hand. The dead man’s face was the spitting image of John Wayne, and he had blood still trickling out of his mouth and nose.

Harland wondered aloud, “How’d he get his?”

Dr. Morton walked up to his side. “Looks like blunt force trauma. See here, these two boys, their knuckles are bruised. This one looks like he was stabbed only, throat’s still intact.”

Harland looked at the victim under Morton’s hand: Jake Stappe, star quarterback. “Fought to the end, probably didn’t know he’d saved the rest of us. If you don’t mind the phrase.”

Morton stood, putting away his recorder, “This looks like a free-for-all, gonna be hard to put a motive to it.”

“Fourteen vics, all underage or close to it, plus the killer himself. Could he have done all this on his own?”

Morton pointed at the knife. “Lotta blood on that, testing could take weeks. I’d say we… first…” Morton’s mouth was suddenly slack, hanging open.

The other deputies were backing away, and one drew her firearm. Confused, Harland looked around — and saw the victims were slowly standing up, pushing themselves to their feet. The female victim by the front door twisted and tried to stand with her broken spine forcing her back down.

Pus and blood spurted out the necks of the victims, but their eyes were dead and empty as they reached out towards the deputies. Harland couldn’t believe what he was seeing, but he didn’t have a lot of time to try and process as his fellow deputies started shooting.

The shots seemed to wake him. “Doc, get behind me!” He watched bullets pound into each of the walking victims, but they only seemed to slow with each shot. They kept coming, kept reaching for the deputies until finally one was hit in the head and it collapsed, unmoving, to the ground.

“Head shots! Head shots!”

Another few went down, and one of the deputies — a rookie, far as Harland could tell — was reloading when a victim snagged his hair, and bit his neck. The rookie screamed, fell to the ground, and stopped squirming as blood poured out of the bite. Harland shot the somehow-moving victim, and kept firing alongside his deputies.

A few minutes later, the shooting stopped, and Harland saw he only had three bullets left. “Hey, Doc, what say we get some kind of scientific analysis on this garbage, huh?” There was no answer except for a gurgling, throaty growl. Harland turned, saw that Morton was walking like one of the dead-but-not-dead victims.

And he was coming at Harland.

He shot Morton three times in the head, watched him fall onto the Killer’s body. The Killer didn’t move. Harland waved his gun over the Killer’s head, pulled the trigger, but only heard the click of an empty chamber.

“Sir? I’m getting a call from my girlfriend,” said one of the deputies, holding out his cell phone. “She’s at the cemetery, laying some flowers, and… and she says someone’s digging.”

“This is a little bit more of a concern than some lousy grave robbers, wouldn’t you say?”

“Sorry, sir. She says someone’s digging UP, out of the ground.” Harland just stared at the man.  What the hell was he supposed to do, go around and shoot in the head everyone who was already dead?  What the hell was going on?

“Alright, everyone get back to the station and inventory our supplies, re-load as needed. Prepare a statement, somebody, anybody, and warn people not to go near the cemetery.”

“You serious?”

“Have another suggestions?”

No answer. Of course no answer, because no one else could believe what was happening. Harland had faced many unpredictable events over the years, but nothing, to his mind, could top this. And he’d still have to tell Mr. and Mrs. Sykes that their kids were dead.

That’s when Harland suddenly realized: he hadn’t seen Kellie.

As his deputies climbed into their cars and trucks to take off for the station, Harland ran towards the house. If he saw her, he hoped she was still alive. Not “dead-but-not-dead” alive, but actually alive. Kellie wasn’t supposed to be home, but he had to be sure.

He managed to keep his stomach tame when he entered the house again. He quickly moved through the downstairs rooms, even stepping through the blood that had pooled onto the carpets. The dead teenagers still inside were mangled forms, the two tangled at the bottom of the stairs twisted over each other, stretching and reaching for Harland’s feet. He jumped over them, climbed the stairs to Kellie’s room, and kicked in the door.

The room was empty.

On her walls were the posters he remembered seeing when they were kids, and dating, and high school was the only thing that mattered and learning to dance for the prom was the only concern they’d had. It was barely 7:30 in the morning and this day was longer than any he’d felt on the force. There were gunshots outside, and soon there were dozens of shots heard at a constant clip.

They were followed by screeching wheels and shouting, lots of shouting.

By the end of the day, Harland would find his way out of town in a pickup truck with two Deputies and a box of ammunition, but for now, he picked up Kellie’s pillow, buried his face, and SCREAMED.

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