That boy and that girl are dead. I expect you’ll want to know who did it, and why. But all that will depend on who you ask. You’ll probably want to get started, and I can imagine how it will go.
Gerald McCoy's boy, Jerry Jr., will tell you it was an animal. Had to be, he'll say, ‘cause of how the bodies were carved up and chewed on.
Jerry Jr. will tell you he was the first one to come up on 'em. He was down there scattering corn on the ground, trying to pick himself a tree to climb up in once bow season started. Must've been that an animal got hold of 'em, he’ll say, tore 'em up pretty good, and left the pieces on the ground. The leaves were thick and fresh-fallen, he'll tell you, and so he didn't see the bodies until his foot bumped into what was left of that girl's arm. When he looked down, and saw what there was to see, he spun around and scurried on out of them woods.
You’ll ask if he knew that boy and that girl, and then he’ll grow quiet. Maybe he knew them a little, he’ll say eventually-- that boy, more than that girl.
Had to be an animal, he'll tell you. Come to think of it, he may even remember seeing tracks around the bodies.
And if you were to ask Jerry Jr. why he didn't say anything to the Sheriff for another two days after he found them, he'll tell you it's because he was afraid of getting into some kind of trouble for scattering corn in a National Forest-- which is, of course, against the law.
Whether you believe Jerry is that dense, well, that'll be up to you.
If you ask that girl's mother, she'll tell you she knew that boy was no good. She'll tell you she don't know what happened, but it sure as shit had something to do with that boy. He came and picked her daughter up from the house in that truck with the obnoxious exhaust system. She could hear the muffler from a quarter mile down the road. She told her daughter she ought not go off with that boy. He was trash. Everyone said so.
She'll show you pictures of her daughter at the Homecoming game, all dressed up, with a crown in her hair. She'll point to her picture in a newspaper clipping under some words about academic achievement. She may even show you a home video of her daughter singing in the church choir-- not any of that new-age secular-sounding worship music, she’ll tell you, but good old-fashioned gospel hymns. Victory in Jesus. The Old Rugged Cross. She'll start to tear up and break down. Why would God let this happen to her baby?
She'll ask you. And what will you say? You know things she could never comprehend.
No, she won't be able to tell you what happened, but she'll tell you she knew that boy was no good. If you were to ask her about Jerry Jr., she'd tell you he was just as bad. Trash, both of ‘em, she'll say, sinners of the worst kind.
She’ll tell you she had a dream the night it happened. She saw a great ogre, with horns on its head like the devil or a demon, and long claws on its hands. It came to her from the forest, covered in fallen leaves and pine needles. It shoved its razor-like fingers into her chest, and took her heart. She’ll tell you it was an omen, or a vision. She’ll say the creature represented that boy, stealing her baby girl.
If you're a little shaken after talking to her, no one will blame you. Just like no one will think any differently of you if the next place you go is the Sheriff's office. It’s a curious case. Plenty of people have questions.
If you ask the lead investigator-- I believe his name is Thompson, or maybe Thomas-- he'll tell you Jerry Jr. had every reason to want them dead, especially that boy. He'll tell you they used to be good friends. He picked 'em up a few times for public intoxication, bar fights, and low-grade things of that sort. They weren’t exactly smooth around the edges but, for a place like this, he’ll say, they weren’t all that bad.
He’ll tell you they had a falling out, around the time Big Gerald was sent down to Huntsville for splitting a black man’s skull. If you hadn’t heard about it, he’ll tell you Big Gerald was part of the Aryan Brotherhood, and pretty high up so far as their office could tell. He didn’t have just a whole lot to do with Jerry Jr., but they saw each other now and again. That is, until a dead black man turned up behind Bald Hill Baptist Church.
The investigator will tell you Big Gerald got picked up for the killing. He was pulled over that same night, covered in blood, and it was said an anonymous witness had tipped off law enforcement. Word got around town it was a high school girl, practicing her hymnals, who had seen him trying to dump the body. But no one knew for sure. He’ll say it was about that time that Jerry Jr. started to get real caught up in the Brotherhood. If you ask the investigator why, he’ll tell you Jerry was trying to compensate for the loss of a father-figure he never had to begin with. For family, for money, for fun—doesn’t much matter why, he’ll say, point is, he got real caught up.
He shaved his head, and tattooed his body with swastikas and other symbols of sadness. If you ask the investigator, he’ll tell you Jerry believed that girl had been the one to turn in his daddy. To make matters worse, that boy-- the one who was supposed to be Jerry’s friend-- well he starting hanging ‘round with that girl. The investigator will tell you he figures Jerry felt flat-out betrayed. He’ll say Jerry lost a father and a friend. And he imagines Jerry probably had every reason to want them two dead. But if you ask him if he believes Jerry killed that boy and that girl, he’ll say no.
You’ll bring up the fact that Jerry didn’t come forward until two days after he found the bodies, but that investigator will tell you Jerry had a marijuana crop planted in a little clearing down there, and he had to go dig it up before he brought in the law.
He’ll tell you Jerry is sure enough dumb. He’ll say that if he ever had a smart thought it would’ve died of loneliness. But he’s no killer. And even if he did somehow manage to muster up the nerve it would take to do a thing like that, there’s no way he could’ve kept working on them bodies the way they had been worked on.
He’ll tell you, if you’re really wanting to know, that there were dozens, maybe even hundreds of puncture wounds. He’ll tell you he’s never seen anything like this. It looked like the bodies had been run through a paper shredder. And there’s one more thing, he’ll say, lowering his voice. The bodies, found all twisted and torn, were missing most of the muscle… most of the meat. He’ll look off and shudder, but he’ll tell you not to worry. He’ll say an animal got to them after they were killed-- coyote, or a hog, maybe. If you notice his eyes when he says it, you’ll think he’s a bad liar.
On your way out of the Sheriff’s office, I imagine you’ll see Old Man Wiley. His hands will likely be behind his back, as a deputy leads him to one of the two cells in the back hallway. He’ll look at you with wide eyes and scream. He’ll say he knows what killed those people. He’ll say everyone thinks he’s crazy.
You’ll ask the Sheriff who that was. He’ll tell you how Old Man Wiley is, in fact, crazy. Game Wardens pick him up for squatting in the forest, scaring families who are trying to camp. He’s a delusional drunk. Don’t pay him no attention.
But you will pay attention. You’ll wait until no one’s looking and slip into the back hallway. You’ll approach Wiley’s cell and ask the old man who killed those people. And he’ll tell you, not who, what. Okay, then what, you’ll ask. He’ll start to mumble. You’ll probably step forward, straining to hear. Then, as soon as you’re close enough to smell the stink on his breath and the forest in his hair, he’ll reach through the bars and grab you.
The horns! He’ll scream, pulling you against the cell. The Caddaja! His eyes will be wide and so will yours. The demon, he’ll say, in the pines. The deputies will wrestle you away from his grip, and you’ll retreat down the hallway before anyone can try to stop you. As if they could actually stop you.
That night, I imagine you’ll have a dream. You’ve had them before, I’d guess. From the shadows of the pines, a horned creature will come to you in the woods. Its silhouette, minus the horns, will not be so different from a man’s. As it reaches out of the darkness, you’ll see sharp, protracted claws that look like twisted fingers. It will motion, and you will follow.
When you awake, you’ll notice the moon is almost full.
Now folks will look at you differently, strangely, when you go back to the Sheriff’s office. If you ask that investigator, or any of the deputies, what Caddaja means, they’ll say it’s some Indian folklore passed down by the Caddo tribes of East Texas. They’ll say it’s the name of a monster that, in some stories, would eat humans. They’ll say it’s just nonsense. Old Man Wiley probably heard about it when he was a boy. Old legends die out hard around these parts, that’s all.
Folks will call you crazy now. You’ve been here too long. And you’ve asked too many people about too many things. But you can’t leave yet.
That boy and that girl are dead. And I expect you know who did it, which means you also know there never was a ‘why.’ You’ve asked those there are to ask. You’ve heard their answers. But in your gut, you’ve known the truth since the beginning. You figured it out before all of them, but that’s to be expected. They don’t know about the shadows. They don’t know about the things that wait-- the things that watch.
So into the forest you’ll come, in search of the great horned demon of Caddo myth.
The full moon’s spotlight will be shielded by the pines, and only scattered pieces of the ground will be illuminated. You’ll see something in the darkness. You’ll hear the low, graveled breathing. A sliver of moonlight will catch on something sharp, a claw, and you’ll see the reflection.
You’ll take a step forward, and so will I.
And here, under the cover of night, in the obscurity of this forgotten place, we will finally meet-- the demon and the Hunter.
James Wade lives in Austin, Texas, where he writes fiction for his wife and two dogs. His wife is encouraging, but the dogs remain unimpressed. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Bartleby Snopes, The J.J. Outré Review, After the Pause, and Yellow Chair Review.