He saw trees. Broad, dead trees, intermingling with the silent pines. Blue moonlight creeping through the night, painting shadows darker than charcoal across the leaf litter. There, in the shadows, movement. Eyes like golden coins sinking through water.
Suddenly the door opened, and he realised that he was pacing the interrogation room.
“Mr Walker, please sit down”.
“I’ll sit down when you guys explain just what the fuck is going on. Where’s Vick?”, he said, voice raised with anger and fear. Fear of what he had seen.
The man rubbed his fingers at his temples, forcing in against the bone until it hurt. He wanted to yell at the two men in the room with him, to beat them senseless, to tear the whole police station to the ground. He wanted to rip apart the world, bring down the system in which he was imprisoned. He was about to burst out again when he realised that, for the first time he could remember, he was thinking like his step-father. He felt the fight leave him.
With a sigh, he slumped into the metal chair. Out of the corner of his eye he glanced at his reflection in the one-way mirror. The eyes gazing back at him were bloodshot, set in a sagging face of grey skin. The room was stark, lit by fluorescent tubes overhead that cast everything in a sterile white light that left no shadows. In the corner, a pot plant wilted next to an impassive water cooler.
The two men sat down opposite. They wore expressionless faces, pure bureaucracy. The one on the left had sharp features beneath short chestnut hair. He pulled out a cigarette from a packet and rolled it between his thumb and forefingers without lighting it. The one on the left was older, and a little doughier. His dark hair had the odd length of white in it. There was a little bit of grey stubble around his chin, and he looked nearly as tired as Walker felt.
“I’m sorry,” Walker said at last. “I’m just so… exhausted. Victoria Walker, my daughter. I just need to know that she’s safe.”
The man with the stubble nodded in recognition. “Mr Walker-“
“Please,” he interrupted. “Don’t call me that. Puts me on edge.” He cracked a weak smile and was about to suggest that Mr Walker was his father, but the words caught in his throat and he suddenly felt very empty.
“Would you rather we call you Kevin?” the man with the cigarette asked.
He nodded, staring at his hands on his table ahead of him. He resisted the temptation to rub his temples again. It was a nervous tic from his childhood he thought he’d kicked in college.
“Kevin”, the tired man said again, “don’t worry about your daughter. She’s being looked after by one of our officers until her mother comes to collect her.”
Kevin looked up in horror. “Her mother? Shit, do you really have to bring her in? She’s not meant to have her for another two weeks.”
The tired man hesitated, but his partner launched in. “Mr Walker, you don’t appear to understand the gravity of the situation here. We’re not talking about some petty bullshit here like the odd switchblade or some old sticks of TNT left over in a quarry. We’re talking about illegal weapons, explosives, drugs labs-“
“And,” the tired man interrupted, voice heavy with authority, “the murder of three police officers.”
Silence hung in the air like a physical presence, a living thing, growing and changing with the lengthening seconds. Kevin stared at his hands again.
“I think we ought to introduce ourselves,” the tired man continued. “My name’s Richard Hudson and this is Martin Cooper. We’re from the FBI, and it’s our intention to get to the bottom of how things got as bad as they did up on that hillside last night.”
Cooper finally put the cigarette to his lips but didn’t light it. “We’d like you to answer some questions of ours, then maybe we can start to look into helping you out.”
Kevin ran the back of his hand across his lips, and it came away with a little blood. It was only then that he realised he’d been chewing his bottom lip since he’d sat at the table.
“Shouldn’t I have a lawyer?” he asked. Hudson looked over at Cooper, who shook his head once.
“I don’t think that’s necessary for now,” Hudson said, and shrugged. “It’s up to you. It could take two more days to get one in here for you, but we’d really rather get this over with. The sooner we finish here, the sooner the gears of office get to work, the sooner you see your daughter.”
Kevin let out a deep breath of air, stood, and paced up and down the room once, before sitting back down. “Ok,” he said, reaching out and accepting the cigarette Cooper offered. “Ok. What did you want to know?”
Cooper lit his own cigarette, before reaching over and touching the flame to Kevin’s. “We’re still trying to piece a lot of this business together,” he said, smoke seeping out of his mouth and rising, collecting in a blue haze around the strip lights sent into the tileboard ceiling. “More or less, we want a statement from you about your family in the lead-up to the events of April 23rd, 1995, your step-father’s illegal activities, and anything you can recall about the situation prior to the ATF raid on the National Park cabins.”
“Ok”, Kevin said. “Where am I starting?”
“We’d like you to start with your step-father, Mr David Howell, if possible,” Hudson said, checking that the cassette recorder on the table was functioning.
“Ok. Ok,” Kevin repeated, unsure of how to begin. He looked over at his reflection in the one-way mirror and felt nauseated, running one hand through his greasy dark hair.
“My mother was never great after dad died. My father was a… dominating presence, if you will. Not that I’m suggesting anything untoward, you realise, but they’d been wed as soon as they were out of high-school. Mom had spent more than half her life with that man, I mean, the longest they’d been apart was the 18 months after I was born, before my dad was sent back from ‘Nam with a flesh wound.
“When my father died-“
“For the record, your father, Kevin Walker Sr died on the 12th of October, 1989?”
“Yes,” Kevin said. He looked at the cigarette in between his fingers, noticing the dirt beneath his fingernails and feeling mildly disgusted. The smoke spiralled lazily above the ash tray, a blue phantasm, disturbed briefly as Kevin tapped the tip against the glass, before raising it to his lips and taking another drag. “Nothing unusual, mind you. Guess the old guy wasn’t as healthy as he looked, and his arteries just couldn’t keep up with the… rich lifestyle he was known to engage in, foodwise.” Kevin briefly became aware of the grease in his unwashed hair and thought of the cholesterol that had taken his father.
“If you would, sir”, Cooper ventured. “Mr Howell?”
“Right, right, I was just getting to him”, Kevin replied. “See, my dad’s death had a huge impact on my mom. I guess you’d call it depression, but for whatever reason, she could barely think, barely eat, barely even get up and out of my bed. For the last twenty-two years of her life, my dad had been there, a fixture in her every moment, and now that he was gone, she didn’t want to continue. Broke my heart to see her like that, I can tell you. I tried to get her to come have Thanksgiving with Karen and I down in Spokane, but she just wouldn’t listen. She wouldn’t answer the phone, wouldn’t look at her mail, even knocking on the door would usually get no response.
“That Christmas, Karen, my wi-“, he cut himself off, “my ex-wife, the baby and I went up to stay with her. I guess I never consciously courted the idea, but I was worried being alone at that time of year, well, I thought it’d kill her. Karen was… opposed to say the least. Her parents had already offered their hospitality, and our marriage wasn’t exactly doing so great. Looking back, I thank God Vick was too young to remember. The atmosphere was toxic that evening as we headed up north, driving into the mountains. I remember half hoping that the roads would be impassable as we headed towards Colville, just so that we could turn around and head back to Karen’s parents in Spokane.”
“Then, come Christmas morning, something changed when, searching for something to do or say, I suggested we head to church.”
“Church?” Cooper asked. Kevin nodded.
“Yeah. Karen didn’t like it, I can tell you, she’d barely set foot in one outside of our wedding day, and she took some persuading then. That’s not so say that I was jumping at the chance to go, though. I mean, I wouldn’t say my upbringing was godless or anything, but my dad had always been a practical man, too concerned with the here-and-now to be worrying about philosophy and his immortal soul.
“My mom, though, I saw a light in her eyes I’d never seen before, not even in the good old days when I was a kid. There was something strangely girl-like in her as she got ready to head out, which I guess makes sense. She’d not been a regular church-goer since before she’d started going around with dad, way back when. I guess it was some way for her to reclaim herself, to take back a teeny bit of her personality that didn’t revolve around my dad. That day, I swear, it was amazing to see how swept up she was in the enthusiasm, singing along with the Lutheran congregation like she’d always belonged there. I was so happy for her, and, for a time, things were looking up. We got back into regular contact, she began to look healthy again, and every few days we’d talk by phone about this and that. For a time, at least, it looked like she’d begin to live a healthy, happy life.”
“And it was through the church that your mother met David Howell?” Hudson asked. “We see that he attended the St. Paul Lutheran Church in Washington, alongside three other churches.”
Kevin hadn’t noticed, but at some point, while talking, he’d stubbed out his cigarette in the ash tray. He took another when Cooper offered.
“Yeah, yeah”, Kevin replied, nodding. “I guess it was about… eighteen months after dad’s death?” He paused. “Yeah, I think it was about June when mom first mentioned him to me. God, the way she talked about him, you’d think he was the Archangel Michael himself had come down among the parishioners. I didn’t really get his deal at first, you know. Sounded like just another church busybody but then, at Christmas, I met him for the first time.”
He took a drag from his cigarette and stared at the back corner, above the wilted house plant, not really seeing it. “I was alone that year. Karen had begun the divorce proceedings and was living with Vick at her parents’ house, and, as you can imagine, I was feeling pretty down. So, when mom phoned and offered her house for the week? You bet I jumped at the chance. It was only when I got there that I realised he’d be joining us.
“If I had to narrow Howell down to one word, it’d be… charismatic. Nothing really about his appearance. I mean, he was handsome I guess, late 40s when I met him, hair still dark, but I don’t really know how to explain it. Nothing he said was especially witty, especially clever, but it just seemed to sound right. I remember as a kid hearing about that shit down in Guyana or whatever, Jim Jones? That’s the sort of vibe I got off of him. Charismatic, but with just that hint of crazy. I remember, though, sitting there at Christmas dinner, down on my luck, across the table from this guy who seemed to be saying the exact right stuff at the exact right time? If I were ever gonna fall under that man’s spell, it would have been that dinner, right over the god damn turkey. Until I saw my mom, that is.”
“Your mother?” Hudson prompted. Kevin stopped looking at the corner of the room and shook his head, as if clearing his thoughts.
“She was a changed woman. Now, I’m not talking about her generally being in a better mood- I mean, she was- but everything about her seemed to be tweaked a little. Most obvious was the dress sense. Mom had always mostly kept up with the times, and had always had an eye for nice clothes. That day, though, on Christmas, when she always used to pull out the stops and dress nice? A grey cardigan and a heavy wool skirt, down to the ankles. No earrings. No make-up. Her hair put up in a tight bun. I swear, when I really looked at her, she looked like she’d stepped out of the 19th century.”
In his minds eye she saw her again. Her skin pale, gaunt. Her forced smile. An image of a toothless grin in the night filled his mind, but he forced it away.
“It wasn’t just the clothes, either. Her smiles looked stretched and taut. The wrinkles that had barely been there two Christmases ago were now deep, scarred trenches on her face, but her eyes were what scared me the most, though. Every time Howell spoke, her face would snap back into that taut smile and her eyes would latch on to him and just… glaze over. It was like the woman my mom had once been was just sucked out by his presence.”
Kevin put the cigarette to his lips and noticed that his hands were shaking. “There were bags under her eyes, too. She’d gone back to work about May, which I guess was about when she met the creep. Fucker must have been working her to the bone, and for what? A Walmart turkey and stuffing out of a can? He was bleeding her dry, I’m sure of it. Look back through his bank account records and I wager you’ll see a hell of a lot of payments from my parents’ shared account.”
“We have colleagues looking into the financial dealings of Mr Howell, sir,” Cooper replied. He scrawled something on his notebook in front of him and tapped the ash off his cigarette. “Now, if you’ll continue, we’d like to learn some more about his ethos.”
“I started paying more attention to what he was saying once I saw through what he was doing to mom. The man was a madman, ya know that?”
Hudson glanced at Cooper, who nodded and said “We are aware that Howell sought help for schizophrenia in February 1985.”
“Schizophrenia, psychosis, paranoia,” Kevin muttered. “Whatever you call it, dude was fucked up in the head something fierce. Drugs probably didn’t help, either. Back in college, I remember, had a couple of friends who got screwed up on reefer- not”, Kevin said, suddenly nervous, “that I’d have anything to do with that.”
“We are hardly interested in that, sir,” Hudson replied.
“Right, right. Well, they’d get all screwed up and start saying crazy shit, think the government were out to get them and all that. Howell had those sorts of thoughts when he was sober, so I can’t imagine what the crap he took made him think. No wonder the dude thought angels were talking to him.”
“Howell claimed he was a prophet?” Cooper asked.
“Yeah, yeah he did,” replied Kevin. “I figured you’d know all about this, but I guess you want it from me, right? Yeah, he said he was a prophet. Claimed to be the second coming, claimed to be able to channel angels and write in the language of heaven, claimed to have past lives as a 13th century Crusader and a 7th Century holy man and as a pre-Christian martyr and alchemist, said he’d carved the ‘Emerald Tablets’, whatever that meant. Dude even wrote a book about this stuff, I made it about ten pages in, but I guess you’ll get further with it.”
“What were Howell’s views on the government?” said Hudson.
“Not positive, I can tell you,” Kevin replied, putting the cigarette to his mouth. “That’s where it started getting real nasty. According to him, the revelations he was having were a threat to the established order of things. Said that since he was an avowed anti-Catholic, Bush himself was being pressured by the Pope to take him out. Guess it never occurred to him that Bush was a Methodist, but I doubt telling him would’ve made a difference. Things only get worse, but I can keep going if you want?”. Hudson nodded. “Well,” continued Kevin, “He tells us, straight faced, that multiple attempts on his life had been made. Every car backfiring was a sniper’s bullet to that man, every cop a CIA operative, every mailman potentially about to deliver him an envelope full of anthrax. All because, according to him, he was the only one who could stop the rise of the anti-Christ, which was being hurried along by the Jews and the Blacks and the Papists. Eventually, I guess it was only a matter of time before something made him turn his back on society.”
“He told you all this over Christmas dinner?” Cooper said, one eyebrow crept up slightly in disbelief. Kevin shook his head.
“No, no, this was over weeks and months. He played it cool the first few times. I guess he did the same with mom, otherwise she’d have turned around and ran the moment he started spouting his bullshit. Nah, this was all in the lead up to the wedding.”
“He officiated, am I correct?” Cooper asked.
Kevin nodded. “Yup. Didn’t have a church, either, or a reception really, unless you count tinned fruit and Cool Whip in the dining room. I don’t really know why I showed up, unless it was out of hope that mom would finally snap out of it and I could help her. First time I met his children, too. They weren’t bad people, you have to understand. Dumb, yes, and completely in the sway of their father, but you’ve got to understand that it wasn’t their fault. Which ones are still alive?”
“Of the five? Just the two girls,” Hudson replied.
Kevin sighed. “Poor fuckers. Still, better than being stuck with the old lunatic. Anyway, things didn’t change much immediately when they got married. He still came and went, sleeping at home in the night and going off to do, well, whatever a psychopath does during the day, dealing and buying drugs and arms I guess. Gradually, a couple more people would seem to be at home when I saw mom. Friends of Howell, people who thought the same way as him. Unabomber types, gang leaders, creeps and perverts of all description. A couple of times, I shit you not, there were a couple out-and-out white supremacists staying there, swastika tattoos and everything. Made me glad my dad wasn’t around to see it- his dad had been on Idaho beach, he would’ve got ulcers over my mom pouring them a cup of coffee. She mom just wouldn’t see the issue with the freaks that guy hung around. Anyway they continued like this until, I guess two years after they got married. When Waco happened.”
“The ATF siege in Texas?” Cooper asked. Kevin noticed that the agent’s pen was poised over the paper and realised that the two men in dull suits didn’t know about Howell’s interest in Waco yet.
“Yeah, Branch Davidians and all that bullshit,” replied Kevin. “See, what I think happened is that Howell saw what happened to David Koresh, and realised that it was only a matter of time before the ATF or the FBI came knocking and realised what a piece of shit he was. This was only a couple months after Ruby Ridge as well, you remember? Anyway, I think, whether he was right or not, he saw the net closing around him, and decided to try and get out while he still could.”
“And that’s when he moved into Colville National Forest?” Cooper queried.
“Yeah, yeah,” Kevin nodded. His eyes glazed over as he remembered the cabins. The noises in the night. Snapping twigs, metallic chinking. The grinning.
“…what the living arrangements were there?”
“Sorry?” Kevin said, snapping back into it. His hands were shaking and he placed them together.
“Can you describe for us exactly what the living arrangements were there?” Hudson asked, jotting something down in his notebook.
“There were three cabins. I only ever went into two of them, but they both seemed to have the same layout- two rooms, a toilet, a kitchen barely bigger than a cupboard. There was no gas for the stove, of course, so everything they ate up there was cooked on a hotplate off the generator, or raw. Can’t have been great for their health.”
“And it was in these two houses that the Howell family lived?” Hudson asked.
“Yeah. The cabins were arranged around a central firepit. Howell claimed that his granddaddy had built them, but given the crap that man came up with I’m willing to bet that that’s bullshit, same as the rest. I’d much sooner believe that it’s an old tourist camp ground that the park rangers had mostly forgotten about. It was tucked away really well, I swear I’d have gotten lost on the way there if I hadn’t been following one of Howell’s sons back from town.”
“How many times did you visit the National Forest once Howell and your mother had moved there.”
“Uhh”, Kevin murmured. His chin was nestled in his hand, and he could feel greasy stubble there. A sudden wave of tiredness washed over him, and he realised that he could barely remember the last proper night’s sleep he’d had. He shivered, remembering what he’d seen to keep him up. “Three times in all. Once in the autumn of 1993 to try and convince my mom to get out of there before the snows became impassable, and in summer of 1994. God, I’m surprised those assholes didn’t burn the whole forest down with their 4th of July amateur fireworks display,” he scoffed. “To be honest, I’m even more surprised they didn’t accidentally set off any of their own stock and blow us all to kingdom come.”
Cooper stood up suddenly and paced over to the corner of the room. He poured out a cup of water from the cooler and downed it, then offered one to Kevin. He accepted, and sipped from the Styrofoam, feeling the cool liquid trickle down his throat like a creek cutting through the mountainside.
“Then, one last time, just two weeks ago.”
“With your daughter?” Cooper said. He was still standing, and for a second Kevin felt very small. The FBI agent’s eyes glared down at him.
“Yes, with Vick.”
“Mr Walker,” Hudson said, “you were aware that Howell was a dangerous man with psychotic beliefs. In addition, you had reason to suspect Howell of being an affiliate of several far-Right terrorist organisations, and that he was in possession of and sold illegal firearms and narcotics.”
“Yes,” Kevin said, his voice trembling a little.
“Why did you bring the girl?” Cooper asked. He lit another cigarette.
“Things were going downhill at that place,” he said. “From what little correspondence I managed to have with mom, it sounded like Howell was getting worse. I guess you guys were shutting down his network, taking down some of those Aryan Nation people, dealing with the Militias. Could be Howell thought you were out to get him, could be he was just mad that his source of revenue was crashing. Personally, having known the guy, I reckon Howell genuinely thought it was all a nation-wide conspiracy to target him. He thought they wanted to force him out of hiding so that the Papists could kidnap him and somehow prevent Christ from returning, ensuring the damnation of all the world’s people for eternity. He was convinced that Satan was winning, and, worse, what was much worse, was that mom believed every fucking word that man said. He was dangerous.”
“So,” Hudson interjected. “Why did you bring Victoria into all this? She was safe with her mother.”
“Because!” Kevin exclaimed, throwing a hand up in exasperation. “She may have gone crazy with that man, may have been consorting with evil people and making them coffee, but she was still my fucking mom. She could have served up a mug of joe to Hirohito himself and I’d still have tried to get her out!”
“And Victoria would have aided in this?” Cooper asked. His voice was quiet and controlled.
“Yes,” Kevin sighed. “Howell was very controlling with my mom, would never let us be alone together- and don’t get me wrong, she was fine with this. As I said, she adored that fucking creep, would’ve followed him off a cliff if he’d asked. I just thought, if I brought Vick along, maybe, just maybe, I’d find an excuse to get her away, or she’d just see her granddaughter and realise that this bunch of wackos was not her real family.”
“Can you tell us about the events leading up to the 23rd of April?” asked Hudson.
“I remember it. Vick and I were staying in the ‘family’ cabin- mom and Howell got one to themselves. For the past week, Howell had been spending ten, twelve hours straight inside the locked cabin, doing god knows what- brewing every recipe in the Anarchist’s Cookbook, I suppose. Anyway, I wake up at about 9 and hear some yammering in the yard- this must’ve been the morning of the 19th, I suppose? Anyway, one of the sons- Obadiah, I think- had gone down to town and come back up, and he’s yelling his head off, trying to wake the camp up. I stagger inside just as he’s getting out of the jeep, and see Howell come out of the locked cabin. He’s already dressed and has this mighty fierce look on his face, eyes all blazing like a southern preacher, asks Obie ‘just what in the fuck’ he thinks he’s doing- and, for a second, there’s just an ounce of fear in old Obie’s body language- but then he walks up to Howell and hands him a newspaper.
“It’s the NYT– how he managed to find a fresh copy in this backwater is beyond me. The headline reads something about a bombing in Oklahoma, at least 30 dead. There’s this big photo of a dead kid on the front page, cradled in the arms of this panicked looking cop.”
“And the bombing in Oklahoma triggered the change in Howell’s behaviour?”
Kevin let out a single, quiet laugh. There was no humour in it. “That’s understating it. To Howell, it was the end of the world. Now, he’d been going off the rails for a while- since I’d been getting there, he’d been claiming to see the signs. He found weird footprints and dead animals around the house and claimed they were evidence of the Four Living Creatures waiting there to show him to his seat on God’s Throne. Bill Clinton was the antichrist, Janet Reno the Mother of Abominations, Freeh the Great Red Dragon, and my own god-damn mom the Woman Clothed With The Sun. Makes me shiver even now to think about it. To him, Oklahoma City was the opening shots of the god-damn final war, America was Armageddon, and he wanted to bring about the New Jerusalem.”
“And it was to fight this war that Howell brought the weapons out of the cabin?” Cooper asked.
“Yes, and that’s when you made your move?” A thought entered his head. “How long had you been watching us up on that hillside?” Kevin asked, a hint of annoyance in his tone.
“Mr Walker”, Hudson said, putting his hands together and leaning over the table before him in a strangely paternal way. He spoke calmly. “In the hours before we made our move on the cabins, we observed the Howell family readying 10 barrels of what was suspected and later confirmed to be Ammonia fertiliser-based explosive, along with one hundred pounds of home-brewed Semtex. Howell had 19 assault rifles of various make and model, 12 shotguns, both shortened and un-altered, 5 high-calibre hunting rifles and 17 handguns. Inside the cabin, we found 3000 rounds of ammunition, 20 grenades, and one honest-to-god Stinger missile launcher, along with enough rockets to bring down a small fleet of aircraft. If we had not acted, the Howell family could have been responsible for the deaths of countless innocent civilians. Best case scenario, they march into Colville and decimate the town, death toll in the hundreds. That’s the best case. Now, imagine how much damage they could have done if Howell had smarter plans than that.”
“I know”, Kevin sighed, letting the breath out and feeling as if he was collapsing in with it. “I know. I just… wish you could have given me time. Time to get Vick and my mom out of there.”
“And you honestly believe Howell would have let you go?”, Cooper said, eyes narrowing at Kevin. “You think Howell would have let you stroll down off Sinai with his woman cloaked in the sun?”
“I wish I could have tried!” Kevin exclaimed, suddenly angry at these G-Men who had strolled in and placed the final touches to the nightmare he’d been living for months. “Now what? My mom’s lying unconscious in a hospital bed, a bullet put in her spine by those meant to protect her, with maybe a 30% chance of waking up again if she’s lucky. Vick’s sitting in a police station, surrounded by strangers, having just seen her beloved grandma shot in the back by a soldier in full camouflage like this is fucking ‘Nam or something. And me? I’m stuck here”, he said, gesturing at the near featureless room, “being sold some shitty story about how the traumatisation of my daughter and assault of my family is something I should be grateful for.” He felt like spitting on the floor, but dropped his voice. “Sorry, but I struggle to see how big of a help you’ve been.”
“Mr Walker”, Hudson said, his voice dropped into a monotone, giving away nothing. “I would like to sincerely apologise on behalf of the FBI, ATF, and National Guard for the trauma that you and your daughter have been through, and the wounding of your mother.”
“I don’t want an apology,” Kevin spat, his voice heavy with resentment. “I just want to see Vick.”
“And you will, soon,” Cooper said. “We just have one more question.” He looked at Hudson.
Hudson took over. “On the night of the 21st of April, National Guardsman Matthew Walters, who was patrolling the woods around Howell’s compound, went missing up-slope of the cabins. Despite a fine-toothed search of the area, no remains have been found. His rifle was found half a kilometre away neatly disassembled and wrapped in a ripped, bloody portion of his uniform jacket. While the other deaths have been accounted for in the process of the firefight, we would like to know if you have any idea what might have happened to him. Did Howell have any traps in the area? Did you notice anything unusual on that evening?”
Kevin opened his mouth as if to speak, then shut it. The colour had dropped from his cheeks. “What did you see?” Cooper asked.
Hudson recognised the look in Kevin’s eyes. Like Kevin’s father, he’d served in Vietnam. Unlike Mr Walker Sr., though, who had been an infantry grunt, he’d been a medic. There was a certain absence in the eyes of people who had experienced true horror. Hudson always thought that they were trying to concentrate on the world around them, but inside a single memory, a single image was playing over and over, their mind broken like a scratched record. A friend disappearing in the noise of a landmine. Your own arm torn half off by a Viet Cong sniper. And, he supposed, whatever Walker had seen in those woods. Whatever had happened to the unfortunate National Guardsman.
“I mentioned… I mentioned that Howell claimed to have seen things moving around the cabins? ‘Living Creatures’?”, Kevin begun. That absent look disappeared and he shook his head, as if trying to rid himself of the image in his mind. “It’s silly, I don’t want to tell you more.”
“Mr Walker”, Cooper asked, “May I remind you that any information you give us regarding this case will be met with favourably. At the moment, you are not being charged with anything, and are free to go once this interview is over. Don’t ruin it and make us consider obstruction of justice.”
“You’ve got your justice”, Kevin replied. “Howell and his sons are dead. My mom is going to be paralysed below the neck if she makes it through the night.”
“I have my right to remain silent. I choose to.”
“Please,” Hudson said once more. There was a tone of earnestness in his voice that nearly made Kevin reconsider, but he shook his head.
“I’d like you to leave now,” Kevin said quietly. The image was already replaying in his mind, and he barely heard Hudson sigh.
“We’ll let you know about your daughter,” Cooper said. Despite his carefully controlled expression, he sounded pissed. Kevin could hardly have cared less about his mood at that point.
“Come on Coop,” Hudson sighed, standing up. Kevin closed his eyes, and heard a shuffle of clothing, the snap of a notebook being closed. He reached out and finished his water.
In front of his eyes, memories danced. He was standing by the window of the cabin, called over by some rustling outside. By the light of the dying bonfire outside, through the misted pane of the window, he saw something huge and terrible lurking. Pale skin, limbs with too many joints, a face shaped wrong, animal and horse-snouted. Something worse though. His mind tried to block it out, but like a drill piercing flesh, the image came through. There- its eyes, shining in the firelight like golden coins sinking through water, there was an intelligence. In long-fingered hands, it examined and manipulated an assault rifle, dwarfed in its hands like a child’s plaything. As the embers finally sank into blissful, cold dark, the creature looked up at him, and grinned with a toothless mouth. With a rustle and a crack of twigs, it sloped off into the forest, until even those faintly luminescent eyes disappeared into the inevitable dark.
When Kevin opened his eyes again, there was a layer of cold sweat on his brow, and he was sat in the interrogation room alone.
[Author’s Note: Happy Hallowe’en everyone!]