“About this piece of wood, Szófia, how big does it have to be?” I ask. We pace around the outskirts of the woods, carrying a duffel bag with a saw, a machete, gloves, rope and other utilities we definitely over packed. “Sofi?”
Szófia examines a tree. She turns to me and shrugs. “I’m not sure, Petra,” she says. “We should be cautious and cut a block roughly the size of the original wooden totem. That makes the most sense, no?”
“I guess so. We don’t really have any other reference point,” I respond, shining my phone’s flashlight over random trees. We walk over rolling foot hills, hidden rocks and mounds of dirt as we examine bark in an attempt to find the perfect piece. “Did he say anything else in his Facebook message? Like, does the bark need blood on it, is there any special thing we need to do to it, or anything like that?” I ask Szófia, getting irritated at how much more complicated this is turning out to be. In the distance, there are flash lights and men patrolling. There are also police lights rotating in the distance with their sirens off. “We should probably speed this up actually, Szófia,” I say stumbling over a rock. I lose my balance and stumble down a small hill, screaming at the top of my lungs. The duffel bag with the rope, machete and other tools tears open, and the contents spill around me. I grab the machete and dig into the ground to support myself up. The ground beneath me is saturated and makes a slimy, suction sound when I walk over it. I step over dense branches that crack under my weight and stomp into a wet hole filled with warm, wet garbage. I wail and panic, kicking and shrieking profanities, until a light shines on me. I see man’s face. It’s an officer.
At first, he looks stunned, then he leans against his radio and says, “This is Officer Smith, near the shack on the lower west side of the forest. I need back up. I repeat, back up requested.” His eyes shift and he slides his gun out of his holster and shouts, “Drop your weapon and put your hands up! Hands where I can see them, now, ma’am!” I slowly step back, crunching over more sturdy branches. I put my hands up while walking backwards. Something wet slides down my arm and I flinch. My foot gets caught again in another cavity. I look down. “Fuck me,” I mutter, walking over a pieces of a fresh shredded corpse. The officer panics and cocks his weapon. “I said, don’t move!” he screams, frightened. His hands are shaking and his eyes are wide. He grits his clacking teeth and breathes through his mouth, frantic and anxious. A group of men scramble over to us and surround me. There’s a loud click, then a bright light blinds me. I scream and start crying as officers cuff me and recite my rights.
They escort me away and I see Szófia standing between some trees. Her phone illuminates her concerned face. When the light disappears, so does she. I glance at the spot where I was standing and feel sick. My tools and torn duffel bag are scattered between mounds of flesh and limbs. The branches I stomped on were bones. A cop slams me against his car. “We found several bodies. You look like a nice lady. If I were you, I’d get a lawyer and keep my mouth shut,” he says, forcing me into the back seat. He and his partner drive me to the police station. The air is thick and smells sterile and waxy, like a school. “Name,” the officer demands, assertively. He doesn’t make eye contact. Another officer approaches me and guides my hands through the finger printing process. “We’re holding you in custody for the next few days. You are the first and only murder suspect for the recent forest killings,” he says, indifferent and robotic. His hands are cold, clammy and pale. I shudder and shake feeling even sicker to my stomach.
Two officers escort me to a small cell. A cot hugs the corner opposite of a metal toilet and a sink. There’s a small, iron-grated window above the bathroom space. Despite the summer weather, it’s chilly and damp in the holding cell. I sit on the cot mortified and horrified, reviewing the sequence of events in my mind. How did this happen? Why did this happen? I don’t know what to do now. How are we going to get the bark?
Őfelsége has only been free for a couple weeks. How many people could she have killed? If Őfelsége was eating 31 spirits a month to keep her starved and docile, then she must have been eating one person day before my great, great grandmother trapped her. Dammit. I just let loose a natural disaster that will 371 people a year. That’s assuming her desire and diet don’t change. Shit. This is bad.
There’s a loud click. The metal doors creak open and heavy boots squeak toward my cell. Embarrassed, I keep my head down. “Petra?” Wayne asks. His in uniform makes me uneasy. I have never been any trouble with the law before and never thought it would happen like this. He takes a knee and leans against the bars. “Listen, Brad is writing some reports. So far, it’s pretty obvious the killer is someone is someone tall, heavy and didn’t use any weapons on the corpses. If you know anything about this, please reveal what you know. I can’t promise that you and your cousin won’t face any consequences, but I can promise that I will do everything I can to help you however I can,” he says, nodding. His face is serious and pensive, and his forehead glistens under the crude, dirty lamp dangling over my head.
“If I told you what I know, you wouldn’t believe me,” I respond, sighing. I shake my head and take a deep breath. I bite the inside of my lip , anxious and uncomfortable.
“Try me,” Wayne says, staring at me concerned and sympathetic.
I sigh again. After a short pause, I open my mouth. Time slows to a crawl when the heavy door to the rest of the precinct clicks open. Another set of boots squeak in our direction. Wayne clicks his tongue. He tries to say something, but stops himself. Instead, he nods and says, “I’ll leave this to you, Officer Gunn. She clearly isn’t the killer, but she knows something. Did you finish your write up?”
“Thanks, Officer Gunn. I’m going to check how the evidence archiving is going. If anyone tries to interrupt you, tell them to talk to me first, understood?” Wayne asks.
“Yes, Lieutenant. Will do. Thank you,” Brad responds, nodding in confirmation. Wayne walks out of the holding cell area. His thick soles squeal across the polished, institutional floor. After a loud click and some screeching, the door slams.
“We’re alone, Petra. I need to know… What do you know about this?”
“Like I told, Wayne. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you, Brad. Like, at all,” I state, self-conscious. I feel like there’s a spotlight on me and I need to get out of it as soon as possible. “Brad, I–I–“
“Just the facts please, Petra,” Brad says, interrupting me. “I won’t judge. Wayne and I can’t help if we are out of the loop,” he adds, appearing frustrated, but optimistic.
I groan. There’s really no way out of this. Think, Petra. You’re a nurse. You work with law enforcement sometimes. What’s my best play here? I should probably tell the truth. But, look at him. He’s going to think I’m nuts. I can’t just tell him that I used to hunt and wrangle semi-corrupted souls to feed them to a forest demon that my great, great grandmother captured to get revenge. That’s ridiculous. On the other hand, I also shouldn’t lie to him. “Okay, but I wouldn’t believe myself,” I mutter, gazing into his eyes and exhaling heavy. Fuck it. He’ll probably find out eventually and I’ve seen too many tv shows where being open and upfront would’ve prevented an entire shit show.
“Take your time, Petra. If you need to, I mean,” he says, patient and reassuring. Still a little intimidated by the police uniform, I look at his boots.
I look up at him and say, “When I was girl, my mom had a chest…”
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