October 30, 2016
Travis Hill and Marshal Brady had been partners for 4 years. Brady was the more veteran officer of the two, having been on the force for twelve years versus Travis' eight.
However, both men bad a mutual respect for each other.
They had patrolled these streets day after day together for four years, hell, they even hiked the trail that they were now heading together.
They shared stories and laughs at family barbecues, but tonight, there were no laughs or stories to be had.
When Marcy's trembling voice came through the radio,
Travis and Brady were sitting in a blind spot on Highway 33 swapping stories of their time on the force and hoping to catch a few late night speedsters.
Marcy's voice was dry and terrified as she told them that there was a reported death in the woods off of Lancaster Avenue and Dutch Street.
Since they started their engine and began driving, neither man spoke a word. The air was thick with nerves. Each man wanted to call their families to make sure they were alright, but didn't.
It wasn't likely that their families were involved in whatever happened and they did not want to worry them if nothing was wrong.
Travis turned the wheel bringing the squad car onto a rough back road leading up to an old emergency trail that was only ever used by the park rangers.
He turned slowly onto the ranger's trail; here the rough asphalt gave way to what used to be a gravel road but the rain had washed away most of the rock, leaving only rough dirt and mud.
As they drove slowly down this winding trail full of potholes and overgrown weeds Brady saw something a few yards ahead of them.
"Slow down. I see something up ahead." Brady said in a half whisper as he motioned his hand in a downward fashion. Travis slowed down to little more than a crawl.
"I don't see anything out there Brady, you sure your eyes aren't playing tricks out here in dark?"
They drove another ten feet before Travis saw it too.
"Is that a pickup?" Travis asked bringing the car to a complete halt. "What in the hell is it doing all the way out here?"
"Let's go find out my friend." Brady replied as he grabbed a flashlight from his back pack, turned it on, and stepped out of the vehicle.
Travis followed close behind with the palm of his hand on the but of his service revolver. As they came closer to the vehicle they identified it as a dark green 2015 Ford F-150.
"That's Lucas's truck ain't it?" Brady asked, tilting his head slightly to make sure Travis could hear him.
"That's his alright, just check out the 'THEMAN' license plate. I tell you that kid's parents spoil him.
" Travis almost started laughing when he saw the glow of a campfire twenty yards into the forest. He motioned toward the flickering light and Brady acknowledged.
They began trekking toward the fire. Travis whispered, "What are the chances this is just kids pulling a prank call?"
"More and more likely every minute buddy, I think we may have to put the fear of God into these kids the same way they did to Marcy."
"I couldn't agree more"
They continued working their way through twisting branches, thorn covered bushes, and knee high grass to what was now clearly a campsite.
Brady and Travis observed that there were four tents surrounding the fire. No occupants were seen and all four tents were completely closed up.
"Must be sleeping," Brady said, "Want to go in, start hitting on the tents, and yelling for them to come out with their hands up?"
"That would have scared the living shit outta me when I was their age. Let's do it." Travis replied.
The two officers walked into the campsite and started yelling at the top of their lungs. They slapped the sides of the tents making them rattle and shake.
"Everybody up!" "Get out with your hands up!" "Let's see your faces you dirt bags!"
There was no response. There were no screams of fear. There were no sounds of stirring coming from within the tents.
As Travis and Brady stood there the forest seemed to push in on them as they realized there was something very wrong.
Not only were there no sounds from the tents but as they opened them one by one, they found no occupants. They checked the furthest one to the north first. Empty.
They checked the one to the left. Empty. They checked the next. Empty. They checked the final tent. Empty. All four tents were completely empty. There were no belongings let alone occupants.
There were no pillows, no shoes, no sleeping bags, no camping supplies of any kind. The officer's stomachs sank. Travis became pale.
"Where are they? Where is their stuff? What is going on here?" Brady asked question after question without waiting for a response.
It was during his second look around the camp that he saw something past the first tent they checked. A light.
It had to have been a flashlight on the ground by the way it was illuminating the rotting leaves.
"Travis, there is a light over there." Brady started walking toward it with his weapon drawn. Travis still confused by the situation followed Brady once again.
The crackle of the leaves beneath their feet was the only sound they could hear over their heavy breathing. After ten yards they came to the flashlight that was resting gently on the ground.
He bent over to examine it. On the silver handled flashlight was a piece of paper with red lettering. Brady silently began to read the lettering:
HA HA HA
Brady used every ounce of strength and willpower to stand up. He knew that if he turned around now he was going to see something that would haunt him for the rest of his life.
He stood motionless not wanting to turn around for any reason. He would rather stand here for the rest of his life than to turn around.
Travis was speaking but Brady could not understand a word he was saying. Brady's soul focus was to not turn around.
It was at that moment Travis's hand landed on Brady's right shoulder and pulled him around to face the direction he never wanted to face again.
That is when he saw what would strike fear into even the most courageous man's heart.