Wilderness Paradise Pt. 06byu06la14b©
"For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a man." (Mark 7:14-23)
The Way Back -- Finding Rachael
They had been looking through the two rooms of the small cabin and had discovered a cache of backpacks, women's purses, and clothes, under garments, jewelry and personal items that had obviously belonged to other campers or trekkers. They were stashed next to the wooden table and loosely covered with a sheet.
"We had better get going before it gets dark," Daniel Benn said to Rachael. The big man had been in the yard, standing watch, in case Woodard decided to come back.
"There so much here!" Rachael exclaimed, rummaging through the vanity items and clothing and holding up a dress, "God! These poor girls! What do you think happened to them?"
The need for reassurance is common in times of crisis. The reality is so grossly deviant or vulgar that acknowledging it condemns us all in some way; it connects us to the horror within a few degrees of separation. That one person could do so much harm to another is beyond the grasp of normal cognizance when the only perspective we have is gleaned from the Evening News or shows like NCIS, Law and Order SVU and others of that ilk. We are titillated and anaesthetized by their pithy themes. It is the quintessential aphorism: Art imitating Life.
We do not want to believe that the quiet, polite kid with glasses, who lives next door to us, is a child molester or serial killer -- as was the case with Jeffrey Dahmer. A neighbor once saw a naked boy running out of Dahmer's apartment but couldn't believe that it had anything to do with the quiet man he knew and did not report the incident. Psychologists refer to this as Cognitive Dissonance -- our inability to rationalize aberrant behavior with perception. Dahmer went on to kill twelve more people, most of them, young boys.
There was nothing the giant could have said that would have allayed Rachael's fears or coddled her sensibilities.
The big Canadian looked at her and shook his head, "Nothing good, I can assure you. This is a sick man, not right in his head!"
"It's worse than that, Daniel, he's a pathological killer! A rapist and a serial murderer!"
"You had better come and look at this! Quick!" Sarah said poking her head through the doorway.
Rachael and Danny followed her to the weathered hutch in the back. It was made from Western Red Cedar with a coarse, unfinished veneer and looked like a Storage Shed or an Outhouse. It was neither. The narrow door was open and Kyla was standing inside the doorway, her face ashen. The floor, unlike the cabin, was cemented but one look at the interior and the bizarre accoutrements anchored to the floor and walls and it was clear that this was the bastille where the acts of madness were committed.
The shackles with heavy chains and leather braces for the neck and the feet were there to keep the victims immobilized and helpless. There were four sets, three on one wall and one on the wall opposite them. The three were evenly spaced, an arm's length from each other. And judging from the galvanized gleam of the solitary station, it was obvious that it was a recent addition.
Rachael tried to imagine what it would be like to have the door closed and to be shackled like an animal, left naked in the pitch-black darkness, shivering from the freezing cold, unable to move or see; terrified by every sound but helpless to do anything. It sent a chill down her spine. The tangible proximity to this evil corruption resurrected the ghosts of her childhood giving life to those unimaginable monsters that had lurked in her closet and haunted the dark corners of her imagination.
"Look there," Kyla said pointing to the corner where the wood was discolored with a wide spattering of reddish brown stains, some blotches more recent than others.
The floor had been scrubbed clean and there was a mild smell of pine and ammonia but neither time nor disinfectant could mask the subtle stench of human death. It clung tenaciously to the walls, carried by eddies of air that filtered through their nostrils stirring in them a nauseating repugnance.
They stood quietly, eyes darting from shackles to stains, each lost in their own form of abhorrence unable to reconcile the madness with the insouciant existence of their isolated and sterile worlds. Words would have only desecrated the memory of those who had suffered here. It was obvious that they were looking at the bloody marker of some poor soul (or souls) whose single requiem lay in this Stygian origami. The sordid thoughts and images that swirled in their heads, detailing the butchering of another human, were simply too overwhelming.
It was Kyla who reacted first. She squeezed by the others, leaving the shed and turning to one side she doubled over as the bile regurgitated up in a series of dry heaves. They could hear her retching. The memory of her experience was too recent and spoliated by the clammy insinuation she had just witnessed. This was too near to her fantasies; the encounter, too morbid to be erotic and so similar that it made her sick. It was especially disgusting, the fact that she had on some level enjoyed the fantasy -- that she did it for her own survival was lost in the stark malevolence that was on display. It was the admission of taking pleasure from sex with this deviant that filled her with revulsion.
The giant, who had been standing by the door, gently stroked her back, commiserating with her, then ducked his head and came in. His immense frame blocked out most of the light. He examined the shackles and grabbed hold of the chain nearest him, wrapping it around his fist. He adjusted his grip then jerked on it, testing its resolve. It held. He pulled again, this time with greater force, causing them to creak and groan but they withstood the extraordinary strain.
"Pretty strong!" he muttered and flexed his shoulders. He was getting ready to test it further when Rachael reached out and touched his arm.
"Don't break it, Daniel, it is evidence." She cautioned softly.
"You're right," the big man admitted. He dropped the manacles and backed out of the shed.
The dull clatter of metal against cement rang with distinct clarity, a symbolic tolling of bells, the tinny reverberations spooking the women.
"Okay, let's go, this place gives me the creeps," Rachael said walking out into the small yard, squinting to adjust to the evening's sunlight after being in the shadowy dimness of the shed.
She went over to Kyla and hugged her. "Are you okay?"
They stood basking in the comfort of each other's embrace before the tall woman nodded, "I'm okay. Let's just go. I want to get as far away from this place ..."
"I know. Let's get out of here!"
"Wait! Rachael, there has to be more! There must be drivers licenses, passports and other personal items hidden somewhere here." Sarah said her words tumbling out quickly. "We owe it to these girls to try and find them. If it weren't for all of you, I would have been one of them! Their families need closure."
No one spoke until finally it was Kyla who agreed, "We all need closure."
The realization that they had come within a hair's breadth of sharing a fate worse than death weighed heavily on all of them and they stood looking at one another, their disgust and fear attenuated by a new resolve. It was Rachael who sighed loudly, a cathartic gesture, and shook her head as if to rid her mind of the gruesome images construed by morbid illusion. She was their unspoken leader.
"I agree. Let's go through the cabin again, make sure we haven't missed anything." She said and began walking back.
This time there was a renewed urgency to their search, turning things over, looking under the mattress and in the boxes hidden under the bed but all they managed to find were more clothing and jewelry that Woodard had taken from the women. Rachael had read somewhere that serial killers often kept mementos of their victims to relive the excitement of their irreverent avocation and this man was no different. There was an uncanny order to the inventory of trinkets. Rings and bracelets in one box, necklaces and pendants in another, panties folded neatly alongside bras, dresses, jeans and trousers in a larger box -- it was eerie.
After forty minutes, their diligent search had uncovered nothing further. They had rummaged through every possible secret place, in every nook and corner, but their perquisition had come up empty.
Rachael stood in the main room, hands akimbo, "It's got to be here! It has to be! He would want to see their faces to reenact his fantasies so that it would have more meaning for him!"
She looked around the room, her eyes searching for other possible hiding places but there was nothing obvious. She was harried by splintering thoughts of Luke and had to constantly refocus her efforts to the task at hand. The years without him had been the most difficult for her and if she were to lose him again she wasn't sure she could survive. She felt the tightness in her chest growing and closed her eyes.
"Listen, we can come back with the police. They have dogs and we might be able to find them ..." the big man hadn't wanted to say it but then continued, "... find the bodies. But we better leave now if we want to make it back before it gets dark."
"You're right, Daniel, we are wasting time. He could have hidden them anywhere, even outside." Rachael agreed then paused before adding, "I've tried not to think about it, but I'm worried about Luke. I'm ..."
"Don't worry, missy, your brother is a tough, little feller and he strikes me as a bloke who keeps his promises." He answered and gave her a reassuring smile.
"What promises?" Rachael asked, puzzled.
"Ah, yes. Your brother has promised to be my best man!"
"You're getting married?" She was surprised.
"WE are getting married! You and me! It's this karma thing, girl, don't fight it," he said with a big, lopsided grin.
"You're an idiot! And, we were getting on so well!" she snapped back but blushed.
"Don't be that way, missy, I know you feel something! I can see it on your face!"
"I feel something alright! I feel like slapping some sense into you, you big ox! And what you see ..." she was midsentence when she caught the movement at the front door.
And that's when they noticed the tall silhouette standing in the doorway. It was Luther Cooley and he had a gun pointed at them.
Karmic Justice -- What goes around comes around
It is hard to explain exactly what I was feeling hanging on for dear life; clinging to a small bump of a rock by tips of my fingers. There was disbelief, desperation, anger, frustration -- all swirling together in one massive, pressing swell. And the sight of the crazy man standing on the ledge with a rock in his hands confirmed the deadly seriousness of my predicament. I was sure that I was done for, a goner, or whatever phrase best suited my situation. Unless lightning struck this asshole, it was pretty much 'game over' for me! He was about to send me headlong into the next life and all I could think of was Rachael. We were on the brink of making up and all those plans I had were now for naught!
Looking up at him, I could see the satisfied sneer on his face as he let the rock go, hurling it at me. I closed my eyes instinctively and felt the wake of the pumpkin-sized boulder as it whizzed by my head missing me by inches. At least that is what it felt like.
There was a sense of disbelief when I opened my eyes. He missed! It was total elation, that is, until he spoke again.
"You ever go bowling, tough guy; the next one's going to be a strike!" he called down to me and disappeared looking for another rock.
I tried using my feet, kicking wildly but there was nothing to grab onto. I was the proverbial sitting duck, hanging helplessly in mid-air. It is at the most inappropriate moments that certain memories pop up, assailing your thoughts with a clarity that is astounding, creating a phantasmal phenomenon possibly to mitigate the immediate and deadly exigency. And for me, it was Rachael's Bugs Bunny t-shirt. Images of the garment flashed inexplicably before my eyes, the manner in which it bunched up above her fleshy thighs revealing a hint of her panties and the slight cleft of her vaginal lips ... that was before I saw his silhouette again and any hope that I might have fostered, faded as quickly as the blink of an eye.
He had a bigger rock and was poised to launch it at me. I closed my eyes and prayed harder than I had ever done before and though I didn't see my life playing out in random snapshots, the reason for my living did -- it was Rachael's face smiling at me. And that's when I heard the dull thud of the boulder hitting close, spraying me with dirt. A heartbeat later, I heard the rock clattering at the bottom of the ravine. He had missed again!
"Fuck! You are one lucky asshole! But don't go anywhere, you know what they say? The third time is the charm -- strike three!" he taunted just before disappearing again.
Letting go meant certain death. If, on the other hand, I could swing my legs a little farther I might be able to hook my toes onto a slightly larger rock to the right side of me and which would allow me to bridge up onto the underside and present less of a target. This would mean swinging my body, to and fro like a pendulum, to generate the momentum required to stretch for the toe-hook. The dull ache in my forearms signaled the build-up of lactic acid and my fingers, crimping the rock, were beginning to tire. There was a voice in my head screaming for me to let go, to chance the fall and hope for the best but the survival instinct is a powerful one and I held on with renewed determination. I was spurred on by thoughts of Mom and Dad and Rachael: always Rachael; my lover and sweet, gentle sister who I cared for more than life itself. I had to find a way out of this. I didn't come all this way to lose her again. But just then the crazy man turned up again with a rock the size of Arkansas.
"Any last words?" He asked getting ready to finish me off, "No? No last words for you sister? Come on, you must have something to say to her? I'm going to enjoy fucking her, making her squeal, you know what I mean? After a while they get to like it!"
I heard him laughing; a high-pitched hyena cackle that rang down the mountain slopes, and all I could think of was how easily he handled that large rock. The fucker was strong.
"You're pathetic, asshole; you couldn't hit the side of a barn if you were standing next to it!" I called up hoping to mess with his mind.
I realized that this situation was statistically stacked against me. Sooner or later he was going to get lucky. I closed my eyes again, bracing for the worst. And just then I heard a sound, a muffled thwack, like that of a baseball bat. I opened my eyes in time to see the madman with his rock falling headlong over the edge in a perfect swan dive. His face was etched in surprise and terror and he was screaming as he hurtled past me. There was another dull thud that rattled up from the bottom of the ravine and then everything went still.
When I looked up again I couldn't quite believe it, I had to blink and look again - it was Andrew.
"Luke? Hey, hang on," he called down, "I have a rope. Give me a minute."
Once I made it back up, I sat down, my arms burning with the searing pain of lactic acid. I was reacting to the adrenalin dump and the immense relief that washed over me like an opiate. I tried to control my hands, to stop the trembling but I noticed my fingers shaking as I pulled up my trousers. I needed to take care of my leg which was still bleeding. It was a flesh wound that was pretty deep but not serious.
"Where's the first-aid kit?" I asked.
"Oh, yes, I'll get it," Andrew said and rushed into the tent and returned with the kit.
"Thanks," I said taking the soft pouch from him.
Andrew stood there with a grin on his face while I cleaned and bandaged up the gash on the outside of my calf muscle, "You saved my ass." I muttered up at him.
"Hey, it was the least I could do. And, I owed him that for what he did to me," Andrew replied and then continued pointing to the club-like staff, "I made that after you guys left. I was feeling better and needed to do something to keep my mind busy. I was going nuts worrying about Sarah. I figured I'd make myself a club, something more substantial in case a bear turned up, and a good thing I did!"
"Amen to that, brother!" I replied, "How are you holding up?"
"I'm fine. I look worse than I feel. Did you find Sarah?" he asked unable to hide his concern.
"She's okay. Unharmed. They are all fine. Danny's bringing them here but if you are up to it we can head their way and surprise them, what do you say?"
I wanted to get back to Rachael as soon as I could, wondering if the giant has cast his spell on her. I had to curb the sudden insecurity that welled up in me. I thought about Dennis Stolle and all that it had cost me! Damn! Not again -- never again!
"I say 'yes', let's go!" He answered with enthusiasm.
"We'll leave as soon as we make sure that that asshole isn't a Freddy Krueger reincarnate," I said and got up.
A Giant amongst Men
"Tsk, tsk, tsk, what do we have here?" Cooley said studying the giant and Rachael, "I'm sure Josh wouldn't like this -- fuckin' strangers messing around in his place!"
The room had been ransacked and was in disarray.
"What are you doing here?" Rachael asked recognizing the tall man they had met earlier and surprised by his sudden appearance.
"The question is; what are you doing here, bitch?" he asked disdainfully.
The giant turned, facing Cooley, "Watch your mouth!"
"Don't even think it! Move!" Cooley hissed waving the Israeli made Jericho 941, the light reflecting ominously off of the modified stainless steel barrel, "Move over; next to them!"
Kyla and Sarah had come into the main room when they heard the commotion and were standing behind Rachael.
The giant remained where he was, eyes unwavering, carefully gauging the distance between them, "You don't really think that little peashooter will stop me, eh?"
"You want to find out? It's a .40 caliber, motherfucker - I've killed a fuckin' grizzly with this! Yeah, it'll stop your jumbo ass, I guarantee it! Now move over, I'm not asking again!" Cooley's voice had dropped to an ominous hiss.
"Danny, please ..." Rachael said her voice, soft and pleading but the giant remained where he was.
Cooley realized that he had to either shoot the big man or adjust his position -- he chose the latter. He moved slowly towards the women, to the apex of a spatial triangle, keeping them in front of him so that he could cover the girls and the big man. He wasn't as worried about the women as much as he was the giant. Contrary to his bravado, Daniel's size was intimidating, and he wasn't absolutely sure the .40 caliber would stop this Bunyanesque behemoth.
"You are trespassing and I could shoot you for that!" Cooley said, addressing the giant, "This place belongs to a friend of mine and I know he wouldn't appreciate you poking around in his things."
"His things? Your friend is a maniac! Do you know that he kidnapped us? That he's most probably killed several women?" Sarah interjected vehemently.
"Several women and men," he corrected.
"That's sick! Why? Why would you -" Rachael didn't recognize the implication.
The tall man interrupted her, ignoring the question.
"Josh is good at a lot of things but he'll be the first to tell you, he's not the brains of this organization. I am! There is no way he could manage something as tricky as this!"