Read Time: 7 minutes | Episode 3
An officer was injured, and the neighborhood watch, volunteer search party was now a broken bunch. They arrived back at Mrs. Kathy’s residence, tired, disheveled, and in desperate need of a pep talk. But Officer Dalrymple had more important things to worry about. Mrs. Kathy would also need a positive update, and he had none. And he was certain that something had followed them, lurking behind in the shadows. It was like a whisper he could barely decipher. Like many distant voices carried on the wind in an open field, and it gave him goosebumps. He was not a man given to erratic emotions, in fact, it was his very detached persona that made him good at what he did. It is why he had been moving up the ranks and was on the cusp of another promotion. But he was hearing voices and that was not something to mention at his next psyche evaluation.
Mrs. Kathy had stood on her porch, arms folded, awaiting the return of the twelve. She had kept Alice’s favorite toy with her, and a fresh change of clothing lay neatly folded on the rocking chair on the porch. She was distraught when she saw the two officers carrying a makeshift stretcher. Her hands clutched her shawl, and she rushed out to meet them. Her relief when she saw that it was just a wounded officer Sanchez was palpable, but the sadness returned almost instantaneously, once she realized Alice wasn’t with them.
“We thought we heard her Mrs. Martin.” Officer Dalrymple began to apologize.
“Bertha found her shoes, and we heard a child’s voice. We are close Kathy.” Mr. Lee intervened with his own positive spin.
Mrs. Kathy nodded vigorously. She had to cling to whatever strands of hope were being offered.
There was an immediate switch in her personality, as she began to tend to Officer Sanchez’ wound.
“What happened out there?” she asked him.
“Douen, Mrs. Kathy. The soul snatcher of the unclaimed paid us a visit. Men should not venture where angels fear to tread.” Travis answered on his behalf, but he looked directly at Officer Dalrymple.
It could have been withdrawal or genuine relief, but Travis was agitated, and Officer Dalrymple was beginning to have his doubts about him.
“It was a bear, Mrs. Kathy. Don’t pay Travis no mind. We will find Alice when we return at first light. It was just getting too dangerous out there.” Sanchez meant well, but he only exacerbated the situation.
“It’s just as dangerous for my Alice too, you know. She’s just a little girl, alone in the dark. Away from her mother and the safety of her home. Yet you come here and tell me, that there’s a bear roaming the woods, attacking grown men, and it’s too dangerous for you? Who knows what harm has come to my child? I prayed….” Her voice broke off, as she fought the tears.
Officer Dalrymple wasn’t sure what to do, so he signaled Officer Barnes over.
“Mrs. Kathy, can you point me in the direction of the bathroom?” She asked.
Mrs. Kathy nodded and started back into the home. Then she stopped near Travis.
“Tell me the truth, Travis. What really happened out there?” There was a pained look in her eyes.
“It’s like Officer Daly says, Ms. Kathy. A bear came out of nowhere, and the officer had a little accident. So, we turned back.”
“Why did the helicopter leave?”
“They needed fuel. I’m guessing they’d be back soon, to assist with the search.”
“Do you think my Alice,” …she paused and composed herself… “Do you think she is still alive, Travis?”
Travis was trying hard to conquer his own demons presently. He looked around for some help, but everyone left him alone, just as they’d always done.
“Mrs. Kathy, I’ve known you since I was a little boy. I never lie to my elders. A Douen will never hurt any child, and it protects the forest. So, on my heart, Alice is alive, but she is in real danger out there by herself.” It was as fair an answer as he could give her.
“Thank you, Travis.” She nodded, then she took Officer Barnes by the hand.” Come here child, let’s get you fed and cleaned up.”
Officer Dalrymple had watched the exchange. He wouldn’t have managed the situation with the same poise as Travis. But he also had more questions for his old friend. This entire operation began on the eyewitness statement of a known substance abuser, with a criminal history.
“Travis, walk with me.” He led him some distance away from the small group of men.
“We go back a long way, Travis. I need you to be straight with me. Did you really see someone take Alice into those woods?”
Travis seemed disappointed. He had the look on his face of a confused dog, as he thought about a response.
“Travis. I promise that you won’t get into trouble. But I need you to tell me the truth. No more ghost stories about douens and demons. That little girl may die out there. In fact, she may already be dead.” Officer Dalrymple whispered.
“Answer me this, Officer Dalrymple. What attacked us out there?” Travis met his gaze.
“I can’t say for certain, Travis.”
“We both saw it at the same time. It leapt over our heads, and nearly killed your boy Sanchez. What would it take to make you a believer?”
Officer Dalrymple hesitated. Alice was out there for sure. The tracks had led into the forest. The dog had led them straight to her shoes, and something had attacked the search party. He had even heard a child’s voice out there. He was convinced, but not a believer in folklore.
“How do we stop it, Travis?”
“It has been so long since you’ve had any friends, that you’ve forgotten how to be friendly. The devil just wants to play, Officer Dalrymple.” Travis smiled, and his face transformed into something hideous, then he was normal again. It happened so quickly that Officer Dalrymple thought he was just seeing things. He was exhausted. Perhaps Travis just misunderstood what he’d asked.
“That may be the case, Travis. If I ever had a friend in this life who could know everything about me, it is most certainly you. But how do we stop the Douen?”
“How do you stop a train? How do you stop the stars from falling?” Travis hugged himself and rubbed both his arms.
“Are you saying that we can’t?”
“Once certain things have been put into motion, they must be allowed to play out to their inevitable conclusion.” Travis pulled himself away and walked into the house.
Officer Dalrymple needed sleep. He had been awake for nearly forty-eight hours. In less than three hours it would be sunrise.
“Everyone, I suggest you get some rest. I have requested assistance from the neighboring counties, and they’re sending whomever they could spare. We will return to the search area at sunrise. He knew he would get no sleep. His own memories would trample on serenity, his own ambition demanded a resolute approach.
“What don’t break you, won’t kill you.” Mrs. Kathy had returned.
“I’m sorry I didn’t keep my promise, Mrs. Kathy?”
“You need to get some rest as well, Thomas Dalrymple. I appreciate what you’re doing for my Alice. There is always hope, and we start again in a couple hours.” She handed him a cup of coffee.
Officer Dalrymple lowered his eyes. He wanted to say something; he had to say something.
“Mrs. Martin. This may sound foolish. But there… there was something else out there. I don’t believe it was human.”
“Neither you nor Travis could ever tell a lie. What do you think you saw?”
“I don’t know. It moved too fast, and it wore a hat. Like them paddy hats that Mr. Lee’s wife use to wear when doing her gardening.”
“You saw a Douen,on it’s own turf, yet you are still standing. Remarkable. It means, dear Thomas, that the Douen would have followed you here.” She smiled.
“Why are you smiling?” Officer Dalrymple asked.
“Because it also confirms two things; my Alice is still alive, and the Douen has found a new plaything.” She turned and walked inside the house, a new spring in her step.
Officer Dalrymple shook his head. Some people would stay ignorant until the day they died. There was no such thing as Douen, big foot, the Candyman, Dracula… you name it. But beliefs, true or false, were powerful.
To be continued…
Tune In Tomorrow Morning 4-28-2023 at 5AM Eastern, for the Final installment.
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