by Norsebard





Thank you for your help, Phineas Redux :)

Wynne Donohue and Mandy Jalinski were introduced in the short story Silent Invasion in the chiller anthology Book Of Chills, Volume 2. They returned in Forever We Must Travel, a short story written for the 2017 Royal Academy of Bards Halloween Special - both stories are available at the Academy's website.

As usual, I'd like to say a great, big THANK YOU to my mates at AUSXIP Talking Xena, especially to the gals and guys in Subtext Central. I really appreciate your support - Thanks, everybody! :D

Description: If Wynne Donohue didn't have bad luck, she wouldn't have any luck at all. For the third time in only a handful of years, she, the feisty Deputy Sheriff Mandy Jalinski and their two dogs Blackie and Goldie find themselves going up against an otherworldly foe so terrifying, so nauseating, so spine-chillingly awful that such a confrontation could only take place on Halloween - the night where the gates between the world of the living and the realm of the ghouls are wide open…





The quiet hamlet of Goldsboro - pop. 463 as the city limits sign proclaimed - and the vast expanses of barren wilderness that surrounded it on all sides didn't seem to be a natural spot for any kind of otherworldly activity at first glance, but the town's recent history showed that appearances could deceive.

Goldsboro had been near the epicenter of several creepy goings-on over the past few years; a few of which had taken place on that most ominous of dates, namely October 31st. The few people with knowledge of the incidents had managed to put an effective lid on the horrors that had transpired, but it was only a question of time before something would happen that could not be contained so easily…


Main Street was peaceful as it invariably was during the hours just before the light of day surrendered to the darkness of the evening and night. The parking bays on both sides of the pale-gray strip of asphalt saw their fair share of trucks and SUVs as always, but nary a person was in sight anywhere. A white-and-gold Dodge Durango was parked in front of the Sheriff's Office ready to respond if an urgent call came in - a witty soul had slipped a home-made parking ticket under one of the SUV's windshield wipers.

Above Goldsboro's sole intersection of Main and the aptly named Second Street, the traffic signal continued to blink yellow though it had no audience that could appreciate its efforts. The sound of a rumbling engine approaching from the other end of town proved to be a truck driven by one of the locals; after parking, the driver stepped out and entered the tobacco store which left Main Street quiet all over again.

A few intrepid store owners had put up traditional Halloween decorations in the shape of witches flying on brooms, Jack O'Lanterns, cauldrons and the like, but it seemed the residents of Goldsboro on the whole were less interested in Halloween than most. A chilly breeze blew in from the desert which left a layer of fine sand on the street and every vehicle there; it also rustled the scattered decorations, but nobody seemed to care or even notice.

The one spot along Main Street that seemed more popular than the rest put together - at least judging by the number of trucks parked outside - was Moira's Bar & Grill. Though Moira MacKay had in fact put up several Halloween decorations to continue the traditions of her Scottish ancestors, they were thoroughly ignored by the patrons and barflies who had taken up semi-permanent residence in the warm, cozy establishment.

Like most other such places, Moira's Bar & Grill was divided into three parts of roughly equal size: to the right of the main entrance, seven tables had been crammed in though there was really only room for six. They all carried small reed baskets holding napkins, bags of toothpicks, salt and pepper shakers and the pre-requisite bottles of ketchup, mustard and hot sauce. The tablecloths ought to have been washed earlier in the decade, but it was a task that had apparently been overlooked.

The section of Moira's occupying the side of the bar room opposite the eating area saw a full-sized pool table, three video poker machines and a neon-lit jukebox that was hardly ever used because the records in it weren't just old but scratchy as well. Two tall, round tables had been put up next to the video poker games so the players could put their cans of beer somewhere safe while they watched the machines eat up their hard-earned dollars.

The middle part of the Bar & Grill was equipped with a row of bar stools and a wooden counter that had been painted silver to offer the illusion it was made of some kind of precious metal; a large mirror straight out of an old Western movie had been placed on the wall opposite the main entrance. Bottles of all shapes, sizes and colors containing all sorts of alcoholic beverages had been lined up on five shelves below the mirror. Although the colorful shelves created an impressive spectacle for the patrons, they were only there for show as Moira MacKay kept all her stock well-protected in a vault-like storage room at the back.

Behind and off to the side of the central counter - underneath a pair of range hoods that seemed to possess the suction power of jet engines straight off an F18 Hornet fighter aircraft - the four-wing aluminum grill that formed the heart of the business was occupied by a nice selection of hamburgers, pork chops and greasy frankfurters. The grill had three flat cooking panels, two basins for deep-frying purposes and finally a section that held four gas-powered rings. The latter weren't in use at present, but both deep-fry basins had the characteristic French fry-baskets lowered into the sizzling fat.

While a column of pale-gray smoke rose from the hamburgers, one of the frankfurters suddenly popped its skin which sent out a large splatter of sausage juice onto the flat panel. The juice sizzled for a moment before it turned black and grew dearly attached to its new home. When the column of smoke from the burgers slowly turned dark-gray, one of the regulars who sat at the row of bar stools in full view of the drama leaned forward and put his hand up to his mouth.

"Wynne!  Your burgers are burnin'!" he shouted to be heard over the sizzling fat and the infernal whooshing of the range hoods.

A loud and heavily-accented "Sonovabitch!" was the inevitable reply as a tall person came flying around the corner from the back room before hurrying over to the grill.

Wynne Donohue slammed down an opened can of her beloved H.E. Fenwyck beer onto the bar counter before she grabbed the spatula and began to flip the burgers, the frankfurters and the pork chops like her life depended on it; the baskets with the French fries were given a solid stirring as well. When it seemed she had mastered the little drama, she went back to the beer and took a deep swig.

The spooky events that had taken place while Wynne had worked at Otto Kulick's independent gas station - the Gas 'n Go! - up in the hills had convinced her to seek better employment elsewhere. Moira's Bar & Grill was Wynne's favorite haunt so it hadn't been a tough sell for her when Moira MacKay had been looking for help after the tough lady had fired her last cook for embezzling funds and for selling weed.

Wynne had promptly offered herself as the establishment's new burger-flipper slash bartender slash resident spiritual counselor. The other barflies were only too happy to finally see a friendly face behind the counter, so Moira had agreed and they had signed the contract the same day.

Now thirty-eight but every bit as spry and youthful as she had been when she had turned thirty-seven, Wynne Donohue still liked to consider herself the Last Original Cowpoke. Her pale-blue eyes and shoulder-length dark hair offered a strong visual support to her rugged, unpolished, uncomplicated ways. Her traditional, salt-of-the-earth outfit offered an incontrovertible statement about her, and she wore it with pride: it consisted of neatly decorated cowboy boots, heavily faded straight-cut jeans and a white T-shirt advertising H.E. Fenwyck's line of products - she did in fact have a pair of leather chaps for the jeans and even jingling spurs that she could attach to her boots, but she only put them on for special occasions. While working, she also wore a formerly white, now grease-colored, Burger Chef apron, but that was temporary.

Her beloved wool-lined denim jacket that added just the right amount of rural ruggedness to her ensemble hung on a hallstand next to the door to the back room. The pair of sturdy sheepskin gloves that she always wore - or carried in one of her rear pockets when she wasn't working - had been tucked into the jacket's sleeves so they wouldn't end up being lost. Her low-crowned, somewhat greasy and definitely well-worn cowboy hat hung atop the hallstand where she put it each afternoon she arrived at the Bar & Grill. Like she always said, no self-proclaimed cowpoke would ever wear their hat indoors, nosirree… except if they wanted to impress the ladies, of course. Since that part of the equation had already been fulfilled for her, she took it off whenever she came to work.

With all that denim and cowboy swagger, everyone who didn't know Wynne would expect her to sit astride a proud horse ten hours a day mending the fences or driving a thousand heads of cattle from A to B, but all she ever rode was her old truck - she was scared stiff of large animals. Although most of the patrons knew about her phobia, they also knew to keep their smart-alec comments to themselves. Now that Wynne had full control over the beer taps, the advice was even more vital.

After checking that all the burgers, chops and frankfurters were behaving themselves, Wynne moved over to the counter. "Thanks a whole bunch for that, Geoffrey. Holy shit almi'ty, that coulda been some nasty bizz-ness right there," she said as she grabbed her can of beer and saluted the man who had warned her - Geoffrey Wilburr.

The balding, gray-bearded Geoffrey carried just as much denim as Wynne did, but his rugged outfit had been worn thin by decades of hard physical labor on his cattle ranch a couple of miles out of Goldsboro. His threadbare John Deere baseball cap had been exposed to everything from driving rain past snakebites and over to being showered in animal excrements, but he never complained. He was no fan of unnecessary words, either, so he just nodded at Wynne's comment.

They shared a silent moment drinking beer before Wynne returned to the grill to continue to slap together the hamburger that Geoffrey had ordered.


A short hour later, Wynne moved around the pool table shooting a few rounds of eight-ball with herself while occasionally slurping from another can of Fenwyck's finest. Most of the patrons - save for a couple of barflies who nursed their beers and chasers - had left Moira's Bar & Grill for the evening so she had little to do. This was her preferred time of the shift. Sure, she could work the taps and pour draft beer like the best of them, and she was no slouch at the grill either, but the quiet moments where she only needed to answer to herself were her favorites.

A guttural growl from underneath the pool table made her put the cue across the green felt and crouch down. "Hiya, Blackie!  Hope ya had some nice shut-eye," she said as she reached out to give the fur of her near-black female German Shepherd a good rubbing. A short Woof, Woof! was the affirmative answer.

Moments later, Wynne's other dog, the Golden Retriever known as Goldie, popped its pale-yellow head out of the protective cave that had been formed by the muscular Blackie's shoulders. The dogs couldn't be more different: even beyond the contrasting colors, Blackie was as fearless as any dog had ever been while Goldie was cautious to the point of being a big chicken - or scaredy-cat, though either description would probably be taken as a severe insult if Goldie could speak Human.

"Awwww, who loves ya?  Who loves ya, girls?" Wynne said as she rubbed the furs of both her dogs.

She was rewarded by a long line of happy woofs, growls, yelps, licks and even a fair-sized nose-poke by Blackie that nearly sent her onto her rear end. Laughing, she did in fact fold up her long legs and sit down on the somewhat sticky carpets under the pool table so the dogs could really come at her in a full-on love crunch.

After tousling plenty of fur and getting plenty of animal love in return, Wynne reached for her smartphone that she kept in her jeans pocket. "I sure could lissen to mah sweet, li'l de-per-ty Mandy breathin' on the phone right about now… how 'bout it, girls?  Ya think she's got time to talk to li'l ol' me?" she said as she found the number in the registry.

A couple of knowing Woof, woofs proved that Wynne had forgotten about a vital part of the plan - a moment later, she realized her mistake and slapped her forehead. "Aw-shoot, that's right… that mean ol' Sheriff Rains has banned them de-per-ties from usin' their own phones while on duty. Durn, how Artie Rains… that dirty, rotten so-and-so… could ever get re-elected, I'll never know. I ain't never talked to nobodda who voted for him!  Okay, the other number is right here so lemme just try…"

After pressing the correct spot on the display, she put the phone to her ear and leaned back while waiting. The call went nowhere, so after a short while, she broke out in a one-shouldered shrug and clambered to her booted feet instead. "Naw, the landline's busy. I guess I'mma-gonna hafta wait. Hey girls, ain't this a good time to get me a li'l can o' goodness to drown the disappointment?  Sure is. Be right back," she said as she shuffled over to the refrigerators to get another can of her favorite beer.


Across town - or rather, two-hundred yards further up Main Street - the person Wynne had tried to get in contact with sat at her desk in Goldsboro's jail house listening to what was being said through the receiver of the old-fashioned landline telephone.

The jail had originally had direct access to the Sheriff's Office which was the next building down the street, but the fire-proof door that connected the two had rusted shut ages ago. Thus, everyone who had business in either the holding cells or the Sheriff's Office itself needed to go out on Main Street, walk twenty yards north or south, knock-knock-knock on the next door, and then wait for the deputy on duty to let them in. Despite Sheriff Rains' countless complaints and reports in triplicate, the town council had yet to grant them an increased budget so they could get the door fixed. Chances were it would never happen given the town's poor fiscal situation.

The reception office of the jail house was held in a dull shade of gray that had been used on not only the linoleum floor but the walls, the metal furniture, the bars that protected the two windows and the reinforced door to Main Street, but even parts of the felt squares that made up the inner ceiling. The glue used to hold the squares in place had been unable to withstand the test of time so a handful of them had come crashing down; the replacement squares were white as the old, gray ones weren't made anymore.

A video monitor showing parts of the sidewalk in front of the jail had been bolted onto the frame of the door leading to Main Street. It looked, and was, a clumsy installation, but one that was required by law. The regulations clearly stated that the deputies weren't allowed to open the front door if they were unsure of the situation outside.

Another reinforced door was located at the far end of the reception office - it led to the actual holding cells. Despite the sturdiness of the door, drunken singing and the occasional mangled cuss word that came from their sole house guest were able to filter through.

The dark frown on Mandy Jalinski's face proved that speaking to the person at the other end of the connection wasn't her number-one favorite thing in the world. She continued to grimace as she jotted down the highlights of what Sheriff Rains told her.

Mandy, who had just turned thirty-nine, was still the only female deputy in the entire State which was the reason for much uncool, and certainly ungentle, ribbing from the Sheriff and even some of her fellow deputies and the cause of much grief for her. Her hazel eyes shone bright with steely intent as she focused on the notepad. "Yes, Sir," she said as she drew a box around some of the information. "At six-fifteen, PM, I issued an eighty-dollar fine to a Mr. Robert, better known as Robbie, Neilson for being drunk and disorderly, and for urinating in public. He only had petty change on him so I proceeded to carry out an arrest according to the- yes, Sir. He's in Holding Cell One. He's still inebriated and- yes, Sir. I had planned to let him go in a few hours' time- very well, Sir, I'll keep him over night instead. Noted."

Her uniform consisted of black ankle boots, dark-brown, high-waisted pants and a long-sleeved shirt held in a paler shade of brown. Along with her necktie, the shirt's dark-brown shoulder straps and flaps on the breast pockets added a little contrast to the drabness. A shiny bar that displayed her surname had been pinned to the shirt, but no matter what she did, she could never get it to line up level. The polyester outfit did nothing for her compact, athletic frame, but at least it fit her so she wasn't about to complain too much. Her Mountie hat hung on a coat hook on the opposite wall of the reception office next to an oilskin rain cape - both were dark-brown, of course.

Her utility belt that carried her nightstick, handcuffs, can of pepper spray, two-way radio and finally her service sidearm hung over the backrest of the four-post chair she was using. She employed a square-L sitting position since the chair was as hard as a rock: her boots were flat on the floor, and her back was at a ninety-degree angle to her thighs. It was a tiring way to sit, but the alternative was even worse.

Sighing quietly so the sound wouldn't go through the connection and into Sheriff Rains' ear, she reached up to run her fingers through her short, blond hair - something she often did when she was frustrated. The drunken shouting that came from the cells beyond the reinforced door grew louder, so she inched around on the chair to send their house guest a few hard glares. Despite her best efforts, she was unable to burn a hole in the door so the shouting continued. At least it gave her an excuse to break off the conversation.

"I'm sorry, Sheriff… Mr. Neilson is yelling for me. I better go and see what he's up to. After all, we don't want to- very well, Sheriff. Goodbye." After putting down the receiver, Mandy let out a long sigh before she reached for her utility belt just in case it would be needed in the holding cell.


Once she had made it into the cell block itself, she clicked the inner door shut behind her and put her hand on the grip of the nightstick to be ready for anything. The drunken man in Holding Cell One, the forty-four-year-old Robbie Neilson - a former delivery truck driver but currently unemployed due to excessive beer-guzzling while on the job - was sprawled over the uncomfortable bunk bed that had been put in there.

A dark stain around the crotch of his faded blue-jeans proved he hadn't been able to make it over to the metal toilet bowl before he'd had to relieve himself - the rank smell confirmed it.

The man continued to yell various lewd remarks and barely hidden threats at the top of his lungs, but not only were they mostly incoherent due to the level of his drunkenness, Mandy had heard everything twice over. In short, the comments barely registered with her. "Sir, your situation will not be improved by hurling abuse and obscenities at me or any of the other deputies. In fact, it may be used against you. There's a surveillance camera wired for sound installed in the ceiling, and you are subjected to constant monitoring through visual checks as well as recording of audio and video material. Do you understand what I'm informing you, Mr. Neilson?"

When all that came back at her was a long sequence of incoherent, drunken babbling that might as well have been in Cantonese, Mandy rolled her eyes and opened the reinforced door. "Helluva way to spend Halloween… drunk off his ass and stinkin' of piss," she mumbled to herself as she left the holding cells once more to move back to the metal desk.

It was high time for her regular evening patrol of Goldsboro's few streets, but with all the other deputies away on various business - Rodolfo Gonzalez, her only ally, had been handed the thankless task of performing speed trap duty on the desolate stretch of the US route that went through the rolling hills some ten miles south of the town - she was forced to stay in the jail to keep a regular eye on the drunken fellow. Grunting, she bumped down onto the hard chair and propped her head up on her arms.


Half past ten, Mandy had twice read the day's newspaper cover to cover. She had twice inspected her sidearm, the can of pepper spray and her metal handcuffs, and she had twice studied the almanac she had found in the bottom drawer of the metal desk - she was sure the small book of odd facts and figures had been far more fascinating in 1978 when it had been printed. Over the years, some of the deputies who had been on jail house duty had used the book's pages to draw vulgar pictures or jot down lewd poetry, but Mandy cared little about any of those crude offerings.

At least the obnoxious assault on her eardrums had stopped when Robbie Neilson had finally fallen asleep. That he would be an even worse pain in someone's neck - or elsewhere - come Friday morning would not be her problem as her shift ended at one AM. She kept up a strict regime of checking up on him at least once every fifteen minutes as the regulations dictated she should, but beyond wetting himself for a second time which had made the stain even larger and the stink even stronger, all had been quiet in Holding Cell One.

A sudden knocking on the door to Main Street gave her a jolt, and her hand flew down to her sidearm even before she had time to think about it.

'Breaker one-nine, breaker one-nine, De-per-ty Mandy!  This here is the one an' only, the cute an' cuddly Wynne Donohue talkin'!  I come in peace!  I got some hot coffee an' a buncha goodies, too!' Wynne's silky voice said in her characteristic drawl from somewhere outside. The message was accompanied by several woofs and barks proving there was plenty of company to go around.

"Fih-nally!" Mandy said as she got up from the chair and moved over to the reinforced door. After checking the monitor hooked up to the exterior camera to verify that Wynne was alone and not under duress from any kind of criminal, she unlatched the safety bolts and pulled the heavy door aside. "Hi, honey!  Holy smokes, am I glad to see you," she said while wearing a broad grin; then she stepped aside for Blackie and Goldie who came storming into the jail.

After establishing that it was pretty much the same as the last time they had been in there - which had only been the day before - the two dogs settled down by the desk to keep an eye on their owner and her girlfriend.

The heavy door was soon closed and locked once more. Then it was time for the most important item on the late evening's agenda - namely a good, long kiss.

"Lawrdie, if I'd known I'd be gettin' such an enthusiastic welcome, I woulda come a whole lot sooner!" Wynne said with a grin as she shuffled further into the drab reception office.

"Did you try next door first?"

"Yeah, but Bessie said you wus in here. All by yer lonesome an' in the slammer. Mercy sakes, I said, that ain't right!  Not mah sweet, li'l De-per-ty Mandy!  But, Lawrdie, you wus." In addition to two plastic bags, Wynne carried a cardboard tray featuring two to-go mugs - she put the latter on the metal desk before she reached into the first of the bags.

"There better not be contraband beer down there, Miss Donohue!" Mandy said with a grin as she slid around the corner of the desk.

"Naw!  Just a freshly nuked pumpkin pie an' a li'l Halloween gift for my favorite de-per-ty, De-per-ty!" Wynne said as she pushed her beloved, greasy cowboy hat back from her forehead. The wool-lined denim jacket she wore was perhaps a little too hot for the pleasant ambient temperature inside the reception office, but it looked sublimely cool on her tall frame so she kept it on.

The grin didn't leave Mandy's face as she eyed the plastic bags. "Is that so?  I'm kinda partial to hot pumpkin pie."

"I know. Why'd'ya think I took one from that there refri-gy-rator over at Moira's?" Wynne said wearing a grin that reflected her girlfriend's like a mirror.

"Yeah?  I hope you remembered to pay for it."

"But o'course, de-per-ty!  Cross mah heart, bust mah hump!" Reaching into the stash of goodies, Wynne produced a round cake in an aluminum pie tin, two cake forks and a pair of napkins from the first bag. Once those items were on the desk next to the to-go mugs, she put her hand into the other bag and took out an odd-looking plastic monstrosity. "An' here's yer Halloween gift!  How 'bout this li'l piece of fun right here… ain't this somethin'?"

Mandy chuckled as she looked at the green-and-orange plastic reproduction of a two-armed cactus. "It's definitely something, all right… something else!"

"Yeah, ain't it awesome?  This ain't no Jack O'Lantern, nosirree!" Wynne said as she pointed at the colorful toy that sported a carved pumpkin-face sitting crooked atop the upper branch. "This here li'l piece o' fun is a Cac O'Lantern!  That's right, de-per-ty, a Cac O'Lantern. Get it?  Get it?"

"I get it."

Wynne nodded as she took off her cowboy hat and slapped it against her thigh like all the rugged, original cowpokes did. After putting the somewhat greasy thing on the desk, she nabbed her own mug from the cardboard tray. The first probing sip proved the coffee she had made for them was just right, and she grinned and took a longer swig. Once the mug was back down on the desk, she glanced around at the drab interior. "Now, Mandy, uh… 'bout that durn Sheriff o' yours…"

"Sheriff Rains is on sick leave, so you can relax. He won't show up to spoil our little Halloween party," Mandy said as she pulled the pie tin closer to take a whiff of the delicious-smelling warm pie.

"Aw, that be some awesome news right there. Artie Rains gets on my last nerve even on one o' his good days… and he ain't never got no good days," Wynne said and placed her right buttock on the corner of the desk. Another sip of her coffee followed. "He sick or somethin'?  Mebbe we could get lucky an' he gotta hand in that star o' his…"

"No. His wife's pregnant again," Mandy said as she sat down and drove her cake fork into the warm pumpkin pie. The face she made as she chewed on the first bite proved it was all she had hoped for.

"Haw, that poor woman!  What… ain't that their fourth?"

"Their fifth."

"Aw, fer Mercy's sake!  Think of all them diapers she's gotta wash!  And all that yella baby shit on 'em!  Lawrdie, that's jus'… jus'… Snakes Alive!" - Wynne snapped her fingers like she had just had the best idea ever - "I jus' got theee perfect notion for a Christmas gift for dear, ol' Sheriff Rains. Yessirree, I got it into mah skull awright. How 'bout givin' him one o' them there en-sy-co-pedias. Yessir… then he can look up the durn deffer-nition of the word condom!"

Mandy chuckled but abstained from making any kind of witty comeback. Instead, she concentrated on wolfing down her half of the delicious pumpkin pie. The hot coffee was nice as well, but the cake literally took the cake. "Did you have a good afternoon and evening over at Moira's?" she said once she had finished the part of the pie allotted to her.

"Aw-yeah. On average, anyhows. I nearly burned one o' them there hamburgers I was makin' for ol' Geoffrey. It got a li'l too crispy for sellin' so I ate it mahself an' made him a new one. Nobodda is ever gonna notice. Not even Moira MacKay," Wynne said and took a long swig of her coffee. With her sweetheart already done with her slice of the pumpkin pie, she picked up the entire pie tin and began to dig in.

Mandy leaned forward to sniff the air around the taller woman. "And did you perhaps have a couple of cans of H.E. Fenwyck to go with it?"

"Aw… I s'pose I did, yuh. Mebbe two or three. Or four. No more than five, though. I'm pretty sure of that."

"You're not driving home tonight."

"I read ya loud an' clear, Ma'am," Wynne said before she stuffed her mouth full of a large chunk of the warm pie. As she chewed, she and Mandy grinned at each other; they played the same game every night. Deputy Gonzalez arrived each morning out at their trailer to pick up Mandy so the deputies could go out on desert patrol without wasting time heading into Goldsboro first, and Mandy always drove Wynne's truck home at the end of their shifts so the cowpoke could lean against the window - or the driver - while sleeping off the H.E. Fenwycks' she'd consumed over the course of the afternoon and evening.

No further words were necessary, so the two women spent a while eating the rest of the pie and drinking the coffee in silence. Though nothing was relayed verbally, it was clear by the love vibes that flew back and forth between their eyes that they were both happy for the company they kept. Now and then, Blackie and Goldie added their two cents' worth to the non-verbal means of communication by issuing a positive growl or even a short Woof! that only caused Mandy and Wynne to smile.

"Haw!  Now we're on the subject of beer and Halloween, mah dear ol' friend Ernie Bradberry done tole me a creepy tale when he wus over at Moira's for his regular evenin' brew earlier tonight," Wynne said as she put down the empty pie tin and wiped her lips on one of the napkins - she stuffed it into a rear pocket so it wouldn't go to waste. "Ya wanna hear it?  It's a li'l yarn 'bout a trailer park slasher over there in Jaw-giah an' stuff… one o' them there 'the sonovabitch is still out there' kinda stories…"

"I don't know," Mandy said and attempted to lean back on the hard chair. Whatever she tried, the chair remained uncomfortable so she gave up and propped her head up on her arms instead. "Is it creepier than the things we've experienced first hand?  First those pesky aliens in the desert, and then those ghosts two years ago?"

Wynne paused but soon broke out in a shrug. "Eh… when ya put it like that… naw. Naw, it ain't as creepy as our own stuff. Durn," she said as she reached up to scratch her neck. Then she shrugged again. "I wish we could tell them nice folks in this there town 'bout those things. Haw, they'd never believe us, anyhows. And Artie Rains would lock us up in this here slammer in a heartbeat."

"No doubt about that. Which is precisely why we need to keep quiet about it."

"Mmmm-yeah. I read you loud and clear, de-per-ty. Five-by-five, all clean and green."

A subdued knocking on the door to Main Street made Mandy get to her feet and walk over to the video monitor. Two kids dressed in Halloween costumes and holding a bag of candy waited outside; it was obvious by their nervous behavior they weren't too comfortable trying to trick or treat at the jail house. Smiling, the deputy went back to her desk to get the bag of candy she had bought earlier in the evening for that exact purpose.


An hour went by with zero activity whatsoever. Some people might consider that dull or even a criminal waste of time - especially on a much-anticipated party night like Halloween that's usually spent getting drunk as a skunk and performing semi-evil, or fully-evil, pranks meant to scare the stuffing out of decent, law-abiding citizens - but Wynne and Mandy didn't mind at all. They were perfectly content with the company of each other and their two dogs. In fact, they could only be more content if they could fully avoid outside interference on a grander scale, but they knew that would be too big an ask.

As always, the hands of time were relentless so the witching hour was approaching fast. The deputy sheriff whose name appeared as the next in line on the duty roster for the night watch, Barry Simms, was due to show up at midnight. Unfortunately, it often became five, ten or even fifteen minutes past the hour before he could be bothered to begin working.

Such wanton casualness about the important job never failed to rub the proud, duty-bound Mandy the wrong way. Not just for the Barry's complete lack of respect for their important task in society, but for the annoying fact that he needed to be present in the jail house so she could conclude her own shift by patrolling the bustling streets of the world metropole Goldsboro. Following that strenuous, six or seven-minute endeavor, she and Wynne could finally drive home to the trailer they shared some four miles out into the desert.

Sounds of distant fireworks filtered through the windows of the old jail. For once, it sounded like the booms and bangs were produced by fully legal, store-bought rockets rather than the home-made pipe or twine bombs that were unpredictable at best, lethal at worst. Now and then, a home-made bomb did join the sound mix, but they were scattered - that would grow far worse at the New Year's celebrations.

Warm chuckles still lingered in the air in the cold, impersonal reception office as the joke Wynne had been telling finally reached its punch line. It had been a long-winded affair, but the surprising end had made up for the numerous twists and turns it had taken along the way. "Five minutes to go an' it's alreddy tomorra," she said after checking her telephone. "Midnight on Halloween. Lawrdie, I sure do hope we ain't gonna get tangled up in nothin' creepy tonight."

"Knock on wood," Mandy said, searching for something wooden to perform the ancient ritual on - she couldn't, and that was a bad sign.

"Anyhows, I think that mi'ty peculiar spell wus broken last year when nothin' at all happened. Remember?  We wus all ready for the apoca-clipse, but we had nothin' to do all night but kiss an'-"

The words had barely left Wynne's mouth before a frantic thumping was heard on the door to Main Street. 'Sheriff!  Sheriff!  We got a bad deal here!  Hello!  Hello, are you there?  Sheriff!' a male voice was heard shouting.

Mandy and Wynne stared at each other for several long, unbroken seconds. Then Wynne buried her face in her hands and let out a braying groan. Mandy rose from the hard chair and hurried over to check the video monitor. When all she saw was Wyatt Elliott - the owner of the hardware store further up Main Street - being as frantic and jumpy as a kitten in a rocking chair factory, she released the safety bolts and pulled the heavy reinforced door aside.

Wyatt flew into the reception office at such breakneck speed that Blackie jumped up and began to bark at the intruder at the top of her doggy lungs. Predictably, Goldie only whimpered and dove for cover behind the larger, black dog.

"Whoa-whoa-whoa there, girls!  Settle down, that ain't no critter or monsta or slasher or green-skinned invader from Mars or nobodda… that's our friend Wyatt. Y'all remember Wyatt, dontcha?  He's got them there yummy doggie treats for ya when we go to the hardware store to buy stuff," Wynne tried, but Blackie was adamant that something fishy was going on with the man who had appeared in their midst. It wasn't until the black dog received a fair-sized fur-rubbing that she quieted down.

"The Sheriff isn't here, Mr. Elliott. What's wrong?" Mandy said as she closed the heavy door behind their guest.

The ruddy-cheeked, double-chinned, mid-fifty-something Wyatt Elliott - who was dressed in cowboy boots, dark jeans with a brass belt buckle, a red-and-green-checkered flannel shirt and a Country Club-style blazer that he had accidentally put on inside-out in his haste to get to the Sheriff - whipped off a gray flat-cap to reveal his thinning hair. "Half of Mary-Lou Skinner's Chihuahua is missing, Deputy!" he said in a strained voice. "Holy Moses, Mary-Lou screamed like a scalded cat and fainted right where she stood!  I had to carry her back inside!  She weighs a ton so I think I've ruptured a gut…"

Mandy, still busy securing the door's safety bolts, only caught parts of the man's frantic delivery. Wynne caught it all and stared at him like he had indeed morphed into a green-skinned, three-headed invader from Mars.

"That's not urgent police business, Mr. Elliott," Mandy said on her way back to the desk. "It's probably just run away. Why don't you come back early tomorrow morni-"

"No!  Will ya listen to me, Deputy!  I'm telling you, half of it is missing!  The back half!" Wyatt could barely control his voice as he shouted; it made Blackie jump to her paws and bark her doggy head off for a second time.

Mandy froze in place - "Come again?"

"Something ate the entire back half!  Only the head and the front legs are left!  Blood and guts and- and- and- and everything are all over Mary-Lou's veggie patches over there!"

Mandy stared wide-eyed at Wyatt who could do nothing but stare back; then she turned to look at Wynne who had nothing to offer but a shrug and a worried grimace. To match the behavior of the humans in the room, Blackie let out a puzzled Woof? and turned to look at her companion - Goldie knew something nasty was going on, so she whimpered even louder and buried her golden head in Blackie's dark fur.

"Okay, that might be police business after all," Mandy croaked as she reached for her utility belt. "Thank you, Mr. Elliott. We'll take it from here. Go back to Mrs. Skinner's place to keep her company. Oh, and make sure your telephone is open so I can reach you. All right?"

"All- all right. Thank you, Deputy," Wyatt Elliott said as he wrung his golf-style flat cap between his strong fingers. After nodding at Wynne and the two dogs, he left the reception office at a more sedate pace than the one he had employed coming in.

"Lawrdie, I can't say I like the sound o' that," Wynne said as she made sure to give her dogs a good rubbing. "Jus' when ya thunk ya've heard everythin'. A hungry coyote?  We've had 'em before, but it's been a while since one of 'em dared to go past the city limits sign. An' tonight… of all nights… it hadda happen on Halloween… aw, Lawrdie. That ain't no good sign, nosirree."

Mandy scratched her cheek and let out a long, slow sigh. Reaching down, she checked her flashlight to make sure the batteries were fully charged. "I agree. But it's definitely the story of our lives. You wanna stay here while I check it out, or…?"


"On what?"

"On what ya find over there!"

Mandy let out a chuckle despite the grim task ahead. "Well, that's kinda difficult to say without actually going over there first, huh?"

"I s'pose that's the honest-ta-goodness truth right there, De-per-ty Mandy," Wynne said and got to her booted feet. She rubbed her face a couple of times before she broke out in a shrug and picked up her greasy, low-crowned cowboy hat. "All righty, then. You got yerself some company. An' we gonna bring them doggies as well. Blackie might provide the clues for us. She done it befo', remember?"

"I remember," Mandy said with a grin.


Holding the flashlight steady so the powerful cone of light illuminated the dark sidewalk ahead of them, Mandy had assumed the lead of their little strike team as they made their way along Main Street. It was long past the bedtime of the town's young trick-or-treaters so there were even fewer people around than usual. A truck rumbled by as they walked, but it soon went out of sight.

She carried her trusty twelve-gauge Mossberg pump-action shotgun over her left arm just in case they would run into any rabid coyotes; then again, the constant stream of whimpers that came from not only Goldie but Wynne as well would most likely scare off the vast majority of wild animals in the vicinity. Blackie walked next to the deputy and occasionally shook her dark head like she couldn't understand why her canine companion and her owner seemed to think it was so scary.

Splashing noises and a familiar, rank smell that emanated from just beyond the mouth of an alley made Mandy come to a sudden halt and swing her flashlight around. The cone of light soon revealed a man dressed in a black baseball cap, blue jeans and an olive-green hunting jacket relieving himself up against the brick wall of the Tack & Saddle, the local leather-goods store. "Hey, you there!" she barked, "Urinating in public is a finable offense!"

The man turned out to be Ernest 'Ernie' Bradberry - Wynne's friend from the trailer park who had told her the slasher-yarn earlier in the evening. Yelping in surprise, the early-forty-something fellow hurriedly tucked everything back inside and then proceeded to wipe his hands on the seat of his pants. He tried to shield his eyes against the strong light to see what was going on, but it was only when he heard Wynne's characteristic warm chuckles that he understood what had happened. "Wynne?  You no-good rascal!  You think this is funny or somethin'?"

"Naw, Ernie, I'm truly shocked at yer behavior!" Wynne said around a further few chuckles. "But I'll bet De-per-ty Mandy here thinks it's gonna be hella amusin' to write ya up for markin' your territory like that!"

"Awwwww-shit…" Ernest said and smacked his palm against the brick wall.

"Wotcha still standin' there for, dude?  Get outta here while we're busy!"

Wynne's friend hemmed, hawed, snorted and spluttered for a moment before he took off further down the dark alley at surprising speed - Blackie gave him a parting Woof, Woof! as a goodbye-present. The sound of a truck engine starting reached the ears of the two women and their dogs soon after; tires grappling for traction kicked up a storm of gravel that clanged against the underside of the truck's bed before it raced off into the night.

"I guess ol' Ernie hadda go, huh?  In both senses of that there word," Wynne said and let out another chuckle.

Mandy grunted and carried on toward the Skinner residence. "Yeah. But he's still earned himself an eighty-dollar fine for urinating in public."


"Good shit almi'ty, that ain't perdy… Lawrdie, that ain't perdy at all, nosirree…"

Wynne's croaked comment hung in the air with the grace and lightness of a lead balloon before it floated away on the perpetual breeze that came at Goldsboro from the vast, barren desert just beyond the city limits.

Mary-Lou Skinner's house and the stamp-sized vegetable and herbal patches in her back yard were at the south end of the town and thus within striking distance of roaming, hungry animals. A cougar had been spotted as late as April the year before, but it had vanished without a trace before a vigilante corps of fire-breathing citizens could chase it down. Predatory coyotes were more common, but they usually avoided contact with humans - a defenseless Chihuahua would be another story, however.

The scene illuminated by Mandy's flashlight was a study in gruesome. Many shades of red dominated the grim remains on the ground. Everything was like how Wyatt Elliott had described it, even down to the gory details surrounding the state of the carcass. "Damn," Mandy whispered as she moved the flashlight around so the powerful cone would fall upon other items in the small back yard that was in fact located next to the house rather than behind it.

Crouching next to the remains, she spotted a few cacti and the like that Mary-Lou had planted in ceramic flower pots. A rake, a shovel, a short spade, a Weed Whacker and a sturdy broom leaned against the inner wall of an old woodshed that had been converted into gardening use. Two forty-pound packs of enriched top soil were lined up ready to be spread over the patches that held the herbs and a few vegetables. Unfortunately, the largest of the four patches in the yard now acted as the final resting place of a deceased, and half-eaten, Chihuahua.

Nothing there offered any clues as to the type of creature responsible for the hideous attack, so Mandy got to her feet and moved a short distance away from the gory mess so she wouldn't get her boots too badly stained. "How are you holding up, hon?" she asked quietly.

"Aw, ya know… I seen funnier things in mah time, that's fo'sure," Wynne replied in a shaky voice. "Mah gut's churnin' somethin' fierce right 'bout now, but it'll go away befo' long. I hope. Lawrdie, that mess back there ain't wotcha wanna see at midnight on Halloween…"

"No," Mandy said as she continued to let the cone of light roam across the back yard of the Skinner residence. She let out an annoyed grunt at the curious lack of hints, pointers or even actual physical evidence. Though the outer perimeter of the back yard was lined by a white picket fence, it was only two feet tall so even the laziest coyote could vault it without breaking a sweat.

There were human-sized footprints everywhere in the grass that had obviously been made by Mary-Lou Skinner and Wyatt Elliott when they had first discovered the crime; most of the grass had been trampled flat which had removed all tracks left by any potential culprits of the four-legged kind.

Mandy let out a sigh as she watched Wynne and the two dogs leave the small back yard. After a moment of quiet reflection, she grabbed her Mossberg shotgun and followed them out onto Main Street. The lights were on in the house they were next to which meant Wyatt had followed orders and had remained there to help the stricken lady.

"I don't know what the hell went down here, but I do know we need to keep on top of it," Mandy said as she moved the cone of light across Mary-Lou's Lincoln SUV that was parked at the curb. "Mrs. Skinner is a senior member of the town council. It's possible this is some kind of retaliation for a political decision she's been involved in. Damn, I sure hope it's just a coyote. That kind of trouble is the last thing we need here in Goldsboro…"

Before Wynne could answer, Blackie took control of the conversation. The experienced guard dog snapped to attention and spun around to stare intensely into the dark desert. Her heckles rose as her sensitive hearing picked up a strange sound. She responded by jumping into an offensive stance and growling from somewhere deep down her throat. A pair of truck-sized headlights approached Goldsboro a few miles out on the two-lane blacktop. They moved somewhat erratically, but it didn't appear they were at the root of the dog's heightened state of alert.

"Whassamadda, girl?  You hear somethin'?" Wynne said, noticing the change in her beloved pet. Goldie tried to overpower the growling through increased whimpering, but Blackie just upped her own volume indicating that whatever it was that had alarmed her, it was getting closer and more dangerous.

Mandy grimaced as she studied the guard dog; then her extensive training took over. After working the action of her pump gun so the first shell was ready to be fired at whatever was coming toward them, she went into the proper firing stance by thrusting her boots into the ground, crouching down slightly and holding the powerful weapon against her shoulder.

The world seemed to come to a standstill around the two women and the dogs as they waited for the unknown to catch up with them at the Skinner residence. Blackie's growls and their breathing - already fast and turning even more so as plenty of adrenaline was injected into their systems - were the only things that broke the silence. Goldie had stopped whimpering to bury her head, her shoulders and the entire rest of her golden body behind her owner's cowboy boots and jeans-clad legs. Although they all continued to stare dead ahead, their eyes were unable to penetrate the shroud of darkness that had fallen over the vast, ominous desert.

The headlights that had been approaching Goldsboro suddenly jerked right and came to an abrupt stop - it was like the vehicle they were attached to had been forced off the road and into the ditch. The lights flickered twice before they went out which left the world out there even darker.

Not thirty seconds later, a creepy, otherworldly groan filled the air. It came from the desert but soon spread over half of the town. The groan could only be described as a thousand voices moaning in torment, and it made goosebumps explode all over Wynne's body.

Pulling her beloved cowboy hat down to cover her face so she could have a private moment while engaged in a severe bout of freaking-out, she performed a manic dance on the spot to get all the goosies to go away. "Awwwwww, hell… here we go again," she croaked as she peeked around the rim of her greasy hat.

"Mmmm," Mandy replied, displaying a mask of stern relentlessness rather than her usual soft features.

Behind them, the door to Mary-Lou Skinner's house was flung open to reveal Wyatt Elliott standing in shirtsleeves in the doorway holding a flashlight of his own. "What's going on out here?  Where did that noise come from?  And what the hell was it?!" he shouted in a voice that was so close to breaking it was a miracle it held up.

"Wynne, deal with him!  I don't have time right now!" Mandy growled between clenched teeth. She never took her eyes off the road leading to the city limits sign. So far, nothing untoward had come into sight, but her sixth sense - and the things she and Wynne had experienced in past years - told her the relative peace and quiet would not last long.

Wynne gulped hard before she plonked her cowboy hat back onto her dark locks. "Will do, De- de- de-per-ty!" she said and hurried over to the house - Goldie whimpered loudly when her cover vanished from one second to the next, but the Golden Retriever was soon hot on her owner's heels. "Wyatt, get back inside!" Wynne cried while waving at the man in the doorway. "There might be some bad Halloweeny monsta shit comin' our way but we ain't got no clue what it is yet… ya'll better lock them doors and windas in an almi'ty hurry… and get yer scatterguhn!"

"All- all right," Wyatt Elliott said before he rushed back inside and slammed the door shut behind him. Soon, all the lights were turned off which left the house as dark as the desert.

The first wave of moaning had just ebbed away when a second, stronger one rolled over Goldsboro and the four souls who kept a keen watch at the boundary to the desert. "Awwwwww, this ain't gonn' have no happy end for neither of us… I swear, I'mma-gonna pack mah knapsack an' move into a cave in them there Rocky Mountains from now on!  Yessir!"

"Won't work…" Mandy said over her shoulder.

"Awwww, don't say that!  She did say that," Wynne croaked as she whipped off her beloved cowboy hat and slapped it against her thigh. "An' why the hell not, if I may inn-quire?!"

" 'Cos plenty of people have died up in those mountains, hon. Bad people. Highwaymen and all other kinds of cutthroats. There are mineshafts all over the place up there so I'll bet there are evil miners hanging around too!  I'd trust you to run afoul of a particularly nasty ghost within ten minutes of gettin' there."

Wynne let out a nervous laugh that almost sounded like a cackle. "Ya know, de-per-ty, ya might be right 'bout that… Lawrdie, we sure didden stand at the front o' the line when they wus spreadin' the luck around," she said as she plonked her cowboy hat back onto her dark locks.

Their banter needed to take a back seat to the horrors at hand when a figure suddenly emerged from the edge of the darkness. The shadowy apparition continued to shuffle toward the city limits sign in a slow and labored, but certainly determined, fashion.

"Holy shit, lookie there!  We got trouble comin'!  Lawrdie, we got some serious trouble comin'!" Wynne croaked while she pointed for all she was worth; Mandy had no time for even the snappiest of retorts.

As the deputy moved ahead to intercept the chilling apparition, Wynne drew a deep gasp that eventually escaped her as a prolonged "Ooooooooooh, I hate this shit!  Mandy, watch ya ass!  I don't want nothin' to happen to it!"

"I'll try!" Mandy replied over her shoulder. Moving her legs swiftly but without taking undue risks, she kept her Mossberg trained on the shadowy figure ahead of her.

Her eyes continuously roamed the nearby wilderness in the hope of getting an early warning in case it was an ambush, but nothing seemed out of the ordinary apart from the figure ahead of her. The apparition was still too far away to make out any details even with the flashlight - that had been attached to the side of the shotgun through a specially designed clamp - pointed straight at it.

"You there!  Get down on your knees!  Hands behind your head!" Mandy cried once she made it a bit closer to the potentially hostile trespasser.

"Don't shoot!  Don't shoot, for Chrissakes!" a strained male voice said; not only did it sound human rather than alien or ghostly, it sounded like the person speaking was in pain.

"Ernie?  Is that you?" Mandy continued at a slightly reduced volume.

"Yeah, it's me," Ernest Bradberry said as he finally came close enough to the deputy sheriff to fall into the flashlight's strong cone. Wynne's friend nursed his right arm that hung limply down his side. He had a deep gash on the upper right-hand side of his forehead like he had paid the windshield of his truck an unwanted house call, and his olive-green hunting jacket carried several dark, bloody stains that glistened in the LED light.

"You're hurt. That arm's broken," Mandy said without ever taking her eyes off the surrounding desert. When nothing seemed to come at them apart from Wynne's friend, she lowered her Mossberg to pay attention to the injured man instead.

"I think it's my shoulder. I was thrown across the cab. Deputy, there's… there's someone out there…" Ernest said accompanied by a groan. "I saw a whole buncha people not too far out. They were clad in dark robes or some shit like that… night camouflage, perhaps. They just popped up outta Goddamn nowhere. I caught 'em with my huntin' searchlights on my Ford and they looked too damn creepy. I was on my way back to warn ya when something… some kind of… crap, I don't know… something appeared right in the middle of the Goddamned road!  I had to spin the wheel like crazy or else I woulda mown it down… I think it was a couple more of those camouflaged people but I ain't sure…"

"Damn!" Mandy growled. Although she continued to cover the boundary to the desert with her Mossberg, she found nothing unusual - and certainly nothing otherworldly - about Wynne's friend. She eased up on her firing stance, but she kept vigilant while she spoke to him. "How far out, would ya say?"

"Mile and a half. Two miles at the most. Headin' this way!" Ernest said through clenched teeth. As he spoke, blood continued to seep from the wound on his forehead. The droplets of crimson liquid eventually dripped off his chin to stain his hunting jacket and the cowboy shirt underneath it even further.

"Not good… did you hear that moaning before?"

"Holy shit, did I ever!  I damn near crapped my pants!"

"Were you able to tell the direction it came from?"

"Naw," Ernest said and shook his head - he regretted the gesture at once when it only made the bleeding grow worse. He grimaced as he needed to wipe off several drops of blood that threatened to move into his eye. "Just that it came from behind me. It was made by the same robed or camouflaged folks, I'm sure of it."


"Ernie, 'zat you I hear yappin'?" Wynne said from somewhere behind the two people. She, Blackie and Goldie soon arrived at the forward post to see what was going on now it appeared the alien invasion had been put off for later after all. "Mercy sakes!  Ya look awful, friend!  Whaddahell happened to ya?"

"I wrecked my Goddamn truck is what happened!"

"Aw, sonovabitch!  Hate it when that happens… I lost mah old truck a couple-a years ago when… when…" - Wynne glanced over at Mandy who ran her fingers across her lips in the age-old gesture known as 'zip it' - "Uh… some sack o' shit mistook mah back yard for a shootin' range an' done blew up mah old Chevy right in front o' me!"

"Yeah, I remember you tellin' me that," Ernest said as he reached up to wipe off another few drops of blood. "And that ain't all… I lost my favorite cap as well!"

"Aw, no!  Not the black one with the blue-and-silver Built Ford Tough logo on it?"


"Oh-fer cryin' out loud!" Wynne said and threw her arms in the air. "That ain't fair!  Our hats are sacred!  Lawrdie, I'd be so dang depressed if I ever lost mah beautiful hat it'd take a whoooole crate o' beer jus' ta get me back ta sunny-side-up!  O'course, I dunno how sunny that side would be after twenty-six beers… but… aw, ya get the picture."

"Sure do… I loved that cap…"

Mandy continued to glance into the desert while the two friends were engaged in their semi-inane conversation. "I'm sorry to interrupt, but you can share the misery later. We need to get off the road… I think we better head back to the jail," she said to break off the chit-chat before they would lose too much of their focus. "My gut tells me this is gonna get worse before it gets better. Wynne, help Mr. Bradberry…"

"You betcha, de-per-ty!  C'mon, Ernie… let's get back so we can getcha all good an' patched up," Wynne said and grabbed hold of Ernest's good arm. Turning around, they were soon on the move back to the far safer reception office that was protected by sturdy bars and a reinforced door.

Blackie continued to growl for a few moments longer, but the dog eventually relented and led its more cautious companion Goldie back along Main Street at a fair clip to beat the humans to the jail.


Not four minutes later, Mandy, Wynne, the injured Ernest Bradberry and the two agile, jumpy dogs had moved back into the jail's reception office. Barry Simms, the deputy sheriff meant to relieve Mandy at the post, had yet to show up despite the hands of time moving around to twenty past midnight, and that had caused quite a barrage of cursing to spew forth from the fiery deputy - even Wynne's suggestion that the deputy might have been detained by some kind of drama of a marital, or extra-marital, nature, had failed to appease the short-tempered Mandy.

Whatever the cause of the delay, it all pointed to one thing: if Goldsboro ended up being near - or at - the front lines in the struggle against whatever creepy tide was flowing their way, the two women and their dogs would be the town's first, the last and indeed the only line of defense.

Ernest sat like a stone statue on the uncomfortable chair while Mandy rigged up a sling for his injured arm. His face was contorted into a mask of pain that looked as if it might become permanent if Mandy didn't do a good job of administering first aid. The fracture had turned out to be the shoulder like he had guessed, but that didn't make the pain any less. To nix some of it, he had downed a handful of Pain-B-Gone and took frequent swigs from a can of potent H.E. Fenwyck Midnight Velvet dark stout that Mandy had appropriated from the canteen of the next-door Sheriff's Office.

Wynne stood guard at the door with Blackie, Goldie and the Mossberg all ready for action - less so Goldie, but even more so Blackie. So far, nothing unusual had entered Main Street, at least not that she could make out in the darkness, but just like her sweetheart's, her gut told her in no uncertain terms that the rest of Halloween night would not proceed as quietly as it had done until that point, and that included the frightening moans that had come from the desert.

She thought long and hard about the description of the cloaked or camouflaged people that Ernest had relayed once more on their way back to the jail house. Something was knocking on the proverbial door up in her brain box, but she was unable to make the connection to anything concrete. Furrowing her brow, she glanced out onto the street for the umpteenth time before she looked back at the can of dark stout her friend was guzzling down. She licked her lips at the sight. The delicious smell of potent brew alone made her realize she needed an oral infusion of something nice and strong, but she didn't dare ask Mandy about getting a can for her.

As had been the case for Wynne Donohue throughout her entire life, whenever she sought an urgent answer to something, the best way for her to find it was to stop thinking about it - the answers never failed to come to her whenever she put her mind in neutral. This instance proved to be no exception. Nothing in particular prompted it, but the name "Raymond Light!" suddenly blurted out of her.

"What's that, honey?" Mandy said before she used her teeth to hold the two ends of the bandages together. While she waited for her girlfriend to answer, she attached a shiny safety-clamp to the sling which kept her handiwork in place.

"The Reverend Raymond Light," Wynne said and turned around to face the two people at the metal desk. Though the name would mean nothing to Blackie, the guard dog began to growl at the tone of her owner's voice and the mere implication of her comment. "Didden he start some kind o'… whut'wussit… a desert cult or some such?  I'm sure he did… yeah."

Mandy furrowed her brow as she tried to run through the list of previous offenders, potential threats and other notorious people living within their patrol area, but she came up short. "Well, he may have, but it's the first I've heard of it. Or him."

"Aw, this was way, way, way befo' ya ever got here. Befo' any o' us ever got here, for that matter. Naw, this woulda been back in the nineteen-thirties or somethin'… ain't that 'bout right, Ernie?"

Ernest nodded. "Mid-thirties, I guess. Yeah. They used to call him the Beam Of Light. That's right, Wynne. Goddamn, that old preacher man had to have been a long-haired freak before them freaks were even invented. The Desert Dwel-"

"The Desert Dwellers!  Sonovabitch, that's it!" Wynne said decisively. When she noticed they had completely lost Deputy Sheriff Mandy Jalinski somewhere along the way, she cast a new glance out onto Main Street before she dared to move away from the windows so she could explain better. "Now, I don't claim ta know the whole picture or nothin', but from what I wus told by them oldtimers livin' here when I wus just a li'l chicky-dee, Raymond Light had done built an entire township outta nothin' in the middle o' nowhere in the desert. A buncha G-men from that there Eff Bee Eye raided Reverend Light's compound an' rounded up ev'ryone they could find… but several o' the most faithful disciples had gone missin' an' they were ain't never found neither, nosirree."

"That's right," Ernest added, "and when the town folks discovered who'd been able to make a run for it, they all said that those who got away were the real psychos, freaks and fanatics. Even worse than the Reverend."

"Yeah," Wynne said before she scrunched up her face into a mask of concern.

The people and even the dogs fell quiet, but it only lasted a short while before Mandy finished patching up the gash on her patient's forehead with an "All done."

Closing the metal box containing the first aid kit, the deputy put it back into the bottom drawer next to the almanac from 1978; then she placed a buttock on the corner of the metal desk. When she reached for the Mossberg, Wynne gave it to her even before she could ask about having it back - she was soon cradling the powerful weapon on her arm like a baby. "Well, it's definitely a nice, spooky tale for Halloween, I'll give you that, but… that can't be the same people you saw tonight, Mr. Bradberry. They'd all be a hundred-and-ten by now. Hardly a threat to anyone."

"Obviously not, but they might'a drawn in… or rounded up… like-minded freaks into their circle. Didya think of that?" Ernest said before he drained the last few drops from the can of dark stout. Once he had wiped his lips with his good hand, he threw the can into a wire-mesh bin that stood next to the metal desk and pulled his hunting jacket up to sit loose around his shoulders. "Or maybe they've lost their minds after all that time alone in the desert. Or maybe they've spent the entire century inbreeding… who knows. Wynne, didya ever hear those rumors about crazy experiments and shit that went on out there?  Even cannibalism."

"Yeah. Yeah, I did hear 'bout that, Ernie," Wynne said and pushed her greasy cowboy hat back from her eyes so she could give her hair - damp from all the adrenaline - a good scratching.

"Okay, this is getting out of hand, fellas," Mandy said and let out a nervous chuckle. "I know it's Halloween, but Jeez… can we keep it real, please?"

Two minutes went by in a stony silence before Wynne whipped off her hat and smacked it against her thigh. "Goddamn it all to Haddersfield Pass and back!  How in the holiest of hells can the same shit happen to the same couple'a gals three Goddamn times in… in… five years!  This jus' ain't right, Mandy!  It jus' ain't right!  First them there pesky stick-figure aliens from outer-frickin'-space an' their shitty hunter UFO who done blew up mah truck, an' then there wus them there ghost drivers from two years ago that nearly made me crap my shorts… and now… now we got inbred, deranged cannibals straight outta the Goddamned Desert Dwellers cult!  I mean, what the hell?!"

"Wynne, for cryin' out loud!  Put a sock in it, will ya!" Mandy groaned, staring at the interloper in their midst who had yet to hear any of the sordid details of the two women's past experiences on various Halloweens.

Ernest Bradberry's eyes grew wider and wider as Wynne had gone through her heated tantrum. He raised his good hand several times like he wanted to be excused before he was finally able to break through her stream of words with an emphatic: "I beg yer pardon?!  Space aliens and ghost drivers?!  Here in dullsville Goldsboro?!"

Mandy sighed while Wynne let out a long groan at her indiscretion. Slapping her cheeks three times in rapid succession to make amends for spilling the beans, she tried to offer her sweetheart a sincere look as a way of attempting an apology. "Aw, dag-nabbit… I stepped in that big piece o' smelly dog poop right there, didden I?  Don't answer that. I let mah alligator mouth run off with me…"

"Well, yeah…" Mandy said with a shrug - Ernest just carried on staring at the two women.

"Lawrdie, I'm sorry," Wynne said and folded her hands in front of her like she was praying. "I didden mean ta blabber like that. Ernie… you got one o' them there looks on yer face that say ya'd like to hear one or two leeeeetle details or somethin'…"

"No shit, Wynne!"

"I promise I'll tell ya all 'bout it… if we make it through the dang night with our dang heads and asses still attached!  This shit about to go down ain't gonna be fun, ya hear?  This gonna be some bad shit right here, lemme tell ya. Trust me, I know what I'm talkin' about. Through painful experience, friend!"

Ernest didn't seem too pleased with Wynne's rambling reply, but since nothing further came from the rugged would-be cowpoke, he had to settle for what he had already been told. Still, he eyed the two women cautiously like he was suddenly suspecting them of being members of some kind of secret, subversive lodge - or worse: that they might even be registered voters for the Democratic Party.

Before any of the three people in the jail had time to do, say or think the tiniest amount, Blackie jumped to her paws and began to growl all over again. The heckles rose once more on the experienced guard dog, and she flew over to the reinforced door to Main Street. There, she pressed her muzzle against the lower parts of the door's frame like she was asking her owner or somebody else to unlock it. A good distance from the ever-fiery Blackie - physically and metaphorically - Goldie let out a yelping whimper and dove for cover behind Wynne's legs.

"Awwwwww-shit… Mandy…" Wynne croaked as a third wave of the severely creepy moaning suddenly rolled over Goldsboro. Not only did it go on for far longer compared to the first two occurrences, it seemed to originate somewhere close - perhaps even inside the city limits. "I think ya oughtta call Artie Rains anyhow. Ya could ask fer a li'l assistance. Like armed backup or somethin'… mebbe a tank squadron from that there National Guard or someth-"

"The hell I will!" Mandy growled as she replied in the most assertive way she knew - namely by working the action on her Mossberg. Running over to the windows, she moved up on booted tip-toes to get a clear view of Main Street. Once she clapped her eyes on four hunched-over figures dressed in dark robes that shuffled along the sidewalk opposite the jail, she wished she had stayed home in bed instead of going to work. "They're here. Whoever they are. Or whatever they are… but they're definitely here."

"Lawrdie, I wus afraid ya wus gonna say that!" Wynne croaked. Goldie whimpered even louder than before, and Blackie was tearing back and forth in a clear display of wanting to sink her eye teeth into fresh meat - Ernest just gulped and wiped a few beads of sweat off his brow.


Any heroine should be ready when duty calls, and this seemed to be the golden moment for Deputy Sheriff Mandy Jalinski to strike and stamp her authority on the situation before it could spiral too far out of control.

Thus, she donned her Mountie hat, sent Wynne a look of love, unlatched the reinforced door's safety bolts, grabbed the Mossberg and stormed out onto Main Street with the weapon ready at her shoulder in a perfect firing position. "Halt!  This is your only warning!" she barked at the top of her lungs at the creepy figures who remained on the other side of the street.

Even as she spoke, three of the four disappeared into the deep shadows created by the faint light emanating from the street lamps - the town council had decided to only have every fourth lamp turned on to save a few nickels and dimes. The last unwelcome guest continued forward like it couldn't care less about adhering to the barked command.

"Dammit!" Mandy cried and upped her tempo. "You there!  Halt!  Drop that robe and get down on your knees!  Hands behind your head!  Now!  I'll open fire in three seconds if you do not comply with my orders!  I will shoot to incapacitate, believe me!"

On the side of the street that Mandy had just left behind, Wynne, Ernest and the two dogs stood in the jail's open doorway to take in the show. "Haw, my li'l de-per-ty sure got that command-voice-thing down pat, don't she?  Lawrdie!" Wynne said and broke out in a nervous snicker.

"No shit. I can only imagine what she sounds like when she's askin' ya to pass the butter or the buns at your breakfast table…" Ernest said in a mumble.

"Yeah, an'… beg' pardon?  Buttered buns?  Dontcha be talkin' 'bout them kind o' intimate things in a sitter-ation like this!  An' jus' for the record, pal, mah buttered buns ain't no bizz-ness of yours, anyhows!"

"Whut?" Ernest said, once more staring at the denim-clad woman next to him. When all she did was to break out in a ruddy flush and an embarrassed smirk, he shrugged with his good shoulder and turned back to the action on the street. "Aw, never mind that now!"

Blackie was barking, rearing, roaring and ready to go as well, but Wynne held her back as a strategic reserve. Though the dog was fearless, there was a risk the present mess was worse than even the German Shepherd could handle; Wynne didn't want to risk that any harm would come to her beloved pet so she had a firm grip on the black dog's leather collar.

Mandy's first potential detainee continued to care little about her threats and commands: the person just kept shuffling along the sidewalk in a creepy, hunched-over fashion. "When I say stop, I mean stop, Mister!" Mandy growled, moving up close to the cloaked figure. A nauseating wave of decay billowed out to assault her nostrils from somewhere underneath the thick cloak. It made her scrunch up her face in disgust and reach out with the tip of the Mossberg. The end of the barrel caught the edge of the cloak and whipped it off the figure on the sidewalk.

Not a split second later, Mandy drew such a shocked gasp it was a wonder she left enough air for the rest of the world to keep breathing. The individual who had worn the cloak was long past caring about air - it was a six-foot tall walking corpse in a bad state of decomposition. Chunks of rotten flesh hung from the creature's skeleton, and flies and other types of insects swarmed all over the frame. The facial area had suffered less rotting compared to the torso and the lower extremities, and it was still possible to make out how the person might have looked during their time among the living.

Even while Mandy was too shocked to do anything but gulp down the sour surge that threatened to spill over, the walking corpse stretched out its arms and reached for her. The flesh-less jaw was opened to reveal a full set of teeth that were seemingly ready for a little midnight snack.

"Aw, hell no!" Mandy cried and took a hurried step back. Working on instinct alone, she whipped up the Mossberg and pressed the trigger. As the powerful shotgun discharged against her shoulder, the undead corpse disintegrated from the two dozen pieces of high-quality buckshot that tore through its flesh and bone - it collapsed in a disgusting heap where it had stood. The jawbone went one way while the larger part of the skull flew through the air, bounced off the nearest wall and came to a spinning rest on the sidewalk the wrong side up.

"Holy shit!  She done blew 'im away!  You awright, Mandy?!" Wynne cried from the other side of the street; the deputy in question had no time to respond apart from a brief "Yeah!"

A few seconds went by during which the contents of Mandy's stomach debated with itself on whether or not it wanted to get acquainted with the sidewalk next to the other icky, bloody mess, but she managed to keep everything down through a series of hard gulps. "Wynne, this is a bad deal!  Even worse than we thought!" she yelled back across the street.

"So them there critters really are cannibals?"

"Oh-ho, it's just a little worse than that!"

"Good shit almi'ty!  What's worse than cannibals?!" Wynne cried and threw her hands in the air.

"Zombie cannibals!"

Wynne's arms remained aloft for a few moments before she let them fall limply down her sides. She nodded quietly to herself like she had just received solid confirmation regarding everything she had ever found nasty, bad or just plain evil with the world. Then she reached up to push her cowboy hat back so she could scratch her forehead. "Uh-huh. Okay. Ernie… I'm jus' a regular woman, right?  I love mah sweet li'l de-per-ty… and beers, burgers, pork rinds, rasslin', John Wayne movies an' to drive up to Thunder Park to watch that there stock car racin', monster trucks, tractor pullin' an' the demolition derbies, yeah?  So whaddahell do I allllll-ways get thrown into these here crocks o' shit for?!  Huh?  Can ya tell me that?!  Why?!"

Ernest Bradberry had no answer to Wynne's fully justified question apart from a snort and a chuckle that bubbled up due to the woman's highly frazzled appearance - Wynne just sighed and buried her face in her beloved hat.

Working the action once more, Mandy ran further up Main Street in the hope of intercepting the three other creatures she had seen. Forty yards along the pale-gray road, she reconsidered and flew back to the jail house instead. Barging inside, she rushed past the puzzled dogs and the downright confused Wynne until she faced her sweetheart's friend from the trailer park: "Mr. Bradberry, like I said… this is worse than we thought. I'm putting you into protective custody for the rest of the night. Get into the cells. Now. Don't argue with me," she said as she unlocked and opened the inner door that led to the cell block. Once the door had been opened, she flew back to the man and grabbed hold of his good arm through his hunting jacket.

"What in the flamin' pits of hell is this supposed to be, Deputy?" Ernest said, trying to resist being pulled toward the cells.

"Your arm's in a sling," Mandy said as she shoved Ernest into Holding Cell Two. She grabbed hold of the metal door but didn't close it. "And this is definitely a job for able-bodied people."

Wynne piped in: "Able-bodied wimmenfolk, dontchaknow!"

"Yeah," Mandy said; once she was sure Ernest had understood the bigger picture - and that he wasn't about to bust out of jail - she slapped her hand twice against her polyester-clad thigh and pointed at the cell to get Blackie and Goldie to go in there as well.

Goldie stormed into the cell like she was relieved to be away from the terrifying action, but Blackie let out a series of sublimely annoyed Woof-Woof-Woofs! that made her feelings known to all and sundry. Mandy didn't let up, however, so the guard dog had to give in for once. The German Shepherd shuffled into the cell in a clear sulk, but its mood was improved when Goldie began to rub a golden shoulder against the midnight-black fur.

"I'll let you all out as soon as we've cleaned up this mess… if we haven't been eaten by those creatures," Mandy continued as she closed and secured the cell door. She cast a glance at Robbie Neilson in Holding Cell One now she was there, but he was still sleeping it off.

"But you can't just- there must be somethin' I can help ya with!" Ernest tried, moving up to the bars so he was closer to the deputy.

"I'm sorry, Ernie… it's for your own protection," Mandy said as she stepped out of the cell block itself. Blackie and Ernest Bradberry's vociferous complaints were effectively cut off when she closed the inner door to the reception office as well.

Through all that, Wynne had done nothing but stare wide-eyed at Mandy and the hectic activity she had been involved in. After a while, she broke the silence: "So… uh… now what, De-per-ty Mandy?"

"Now we lock up here, go into the Sheriff's Office, get you a firearm and go a-zombie-huntin'. C'mon!" Mandy said and grabbed hold of Wynne's denim-clad elbow.


"Aw, hell yeah!  This is more like it… yessirree!" Wynne cried as she slotted a pair of shells down the two barrels of a police-issue combat shotgun. After emptying out the rest of the box of ammunition - more than two dozen shells - into her lined jacket's wide pockets, she closed the weapon and cocked both hammers. Her sheepskin gloves were on, the collar of her wool-lined jacket had been flipped up at the back, her cowboy hat sat low across her brow and she had a steely gaze in her pale-blue eyes. She was ready.

As was often the case whenever Wynne Donohue was involved, the moment of high pathos didn't last too long: her face soon cracked wide open in a shit-eatin' grin that proved that although she and Mandy were about to square off against inbred, deranged, zombified cannibals who may or may not have been members of the Reverend Raymond Light's desert-based cult once upon a near-century ago, she was certainly up for the challenge.

"Just try not to blow anyone away who's still alive, okay?" Mandy said as she shut the heavy, burglarproof door to the gun cabinet. Once the LED light next to the lock had turned red indicating it was secure, she moved back over to the windows to get a fresh update on their situation.

"Aw yeah. Sure thing, De-per-ty!  I'mma-gonna shoot them there dead things only. No livin' things, nosirree," Wynne said with a grin.

"I only see one zombie… there were three before. Dammit!  Let's go," Mandy said and opened the door to the Sheriff's Office. Running onto the sidewalk with the Mossberg pointed straight ahead, she was only allowed to run free for a fraction of a second before she was literally jumped by another of the cloaked creatures.

Moving out of the shadows with surprising speed for such a rattling stiff, the semi-rotten beast landed on Mandy's back which forced her down onto her knees on the sidewalk.

Wynne hollered a long string of cussing that went by so fast it all came out as one word; Mandy's similar exclamation was even louder. She tried to reach behind her to yank the chomping aggressor off her back before her neck was too exposed, but her arm was too short - and the corpse too decomposed - to get a firm grip. Although she had lost the Mossberg in the sneak attack, she employed the second-best option by rolling over to trap the creature between her and the sidewalk.

The deathly-grim sight of the rotting flesh and the white bones underneath her made her bare her teeth in disgust - then she whipped her sidearm out of its holster and squeezed the trigger under the corpse's skull. Like the first one, the beast disintegrated upon impact and was no longer a threat. "Crap!  Crap, crap, crap!  Look at my Goddamned uniform!" Mandy croaked as she clambered to her feet: her formerly pristine pale-brown shirt and dark-brown pants were now covered in icky goo, gore and gunk of all shades and viscosity.

"Mandy!  Lawrdie, that wus close!  I didden even see that monsta comin'!" Wynne cried as she helped her girlfriend up. She stared at the glistening goo that had been transferred onto her sheepskin glove, but there was no time to freak out about that - besides, she already had two-hundred-and-seventeen other things she could freak out over.

Mandy adjusted her Mountie hat and readied the Mossberg once more. "Two down, two to go!  If they come at us one at a time, we got those sons'a'bitches!"

"Awwww, shit… I wish ya hadden said somethin' like that… ya know how plum unlucky we iz when it comes to stuff like that!"

The words had barely left Wynne's mouth before the remaining two zombie cannibals - or cannibal zombies; it was hard to tell without asking for their preferences - came at them. A loud "Good shit almi'ty!" and an even louder boom from the double-barreled combat shotgun took care of the first one. Mandy literally went in for the kill and lobbed the head off the other creature with a mean swing of her nightstick to save her ammo. The corpse remained upright for a couple of seconds longer before it collapsed in an unruly heap of disconnected bones.

"Awwww-yeah!  We nailed them critters but good!  That's mah de-per-ty!" Wynne cried, spinning around in a dizzying circle while holding up the combat shotgun. They found themselves alone on Main Street which meant the next part of her plan could come into fruition. Letting out a whoop, she took off toward Moira's Bar & Grill at a fair clip.

"Hey!  Where are you going?"

"I gotta get some brewskis!" Wynne shouted over her shoulder.

"Now?!  We're not done fighting!"

Coming to a brief halt, Wynne spun around and broke out in a shrug. "Ya know what them there H.E. Fenwyck commercials say… it's always high time fer a Fenwyck!  Fenwyck, the time is right!  The time is right now!"

"Yeah, but…"

"Be right back!" Wynne cried and resumed running toward the Bar & Grill.

Mandy blinked a couple of times; then she reached up to scratch her neck. "I love her, but Jeez… sometimes I just don't know what's going on in that gorgeous noggin' of hers!" she said in a mumble.

Less than twenty seconds later, the small hamlet of Goldsboro suddenly echoed with the sounds of screaming womenfolk and howling gentlemen. Not only did it offer a strong hint that more invaders had reached them, it also meant that the brave defenders still had plenty of hard, filthy work to do before they could relax. Drawing a deep sigh, Mandy readied the Mossberg before she headed off into round three of fighting the latest horrors to hit Goldsboro on Halloween.


The town, the night and everything else only turned crazier after that. Clouds of cordite floated down Main Street, Second Street and most of the connecting alleys; the gunsmoke literally gave the hitherto peaceful settlement a strong whiff of Dodge City on a rambunctious Saturday night back in the bad-ol' days.

The invading zombie cannibals may have been tough, but the residents of Goldsboro were tougher and certainly wouldn't accept being invaded lying down. Even beyond that, they were all armed to the teeth and unafraid to use what they had at their disposal.

Loud booms produced by shotguns, hard bangs made by home-made pipe or twine bombs, rapid cracks that came from semi-automatic hunting rifles, and a persistent chatter of small-arms fire echoed ceaselessly among the houses and stores all along Main Street. Constant muzzle-flashes formed the order of the night, and if someone had had access to bazookas, proper hand grenades or belt-fed, fifty-caliber machine guns, chances were weapons of that magnitude would have been deployed as well.

Even with the regular firearms, the air was thick with zombie-fragments that went flying as the undead invasion force came to a sticky end - or rather, a stickier end.

Mandy Jalinski had long since given up hope of keeping any semblance of control over the insane goings-on. She raced from one hot spot to the next to try to make sure that none of the living would end up in the crosshairs, but it seemed that most of the civilian armed forces were behaving themselves. On her frantic sprint through Goldsboro, she was constantly reminded of the old saying: Once the lead starts to fly, no semi-decomposed walking corpse can feel safe.

Car alarms blared out their obnoxious electronic song all over Main Street; several windows had been smashed by stray buckshot, bullets or pipe fragments, and somebody had even blasted Goldsboro's only traffic light to smithereens. At least the rotating lollipop-like sign at the barber shop and the wooden Chief outside the tobacco store had remained unharmed so far.

In the middle of all that chaos and mayhem, Wynne came bounding back with her double-barreled combat shotgun under her arm and her pockets full of cans of H.E. Fenwyck's finest - save for the one she had already cracked open and was chugging down as she ran.

From one moment to the next, a rifle shot rang out and the can promptly exploded between her fingers. The surprising development created a shower of suds that ended up all over her face, up into her hair and down the entire front of her denim outfit. "Whaddahell?!  Mah beer!  What sombitch jus' done killed mah beer?!" she cried as she tried to wipe the beery foam out of her eyes.

"Ooops!  Sorry, Wynne…" a man said from the shadows next to the hardware store.

"Who goes there?  Goddamn, I got beer on mah face… I want beer in mah face, not on it!" Wynne croaked as she needed to use her jacket sleeve to get rid of the golden rivers and the white foam that had ended up in all sorts of unwanted places.

"It's Wyatt Elliott… I'm really sorry!  I thought you were-"

"Goddamn, ya honestly thunk I be lookin' like one o' them there zohm-bee cannibals, Wyatt?  Yer las'name sure ain't Earp, ya know that?  An' watch where ya shootin' that durn scatterguhn, anyhows!  Ya done killed my beer an' ya almost took a chunk outta my titties too!"

"Oh, this is actually a Remington-"

"I don't give a horse's ass what kind o' guhn it is, Wyatt!  An' mah dead beer don't either!"

"Sorry… I'll buy you a new one tomorrow afternoon!"

"Aw hell, don't bother. I got 'nother one right here," Wynne said and reached into her left-hand pocket to get a fresh can of H.E. Fenwyck Lager. After cracking it open, she took a long swig to calm her frazzled nerves.


Mandy and Wynne finally hooked up once more not too far from Mary-Lou Skinner's residence where they had found the gruesome remains of the Chihuahua. The strong odor of beer that heralded the arrival of her girlfriend made Mandy fan her nose hard. "Oh, for cryin' out loud, Wynne!  Did you bathe in it?  Damn, girl!"

"Yeah, I bathed in it!  So?  It's the latest thing in Scottsdale, diddencha know that?  Anyhows. Ya wan'one?" Wynne said and held up a can of H.E. Fenwyck's Genuine American Draft. "They're still cool an' ev'rythin' 'cos they're straight outta the refri-gy-rator…"

"No, I don't want a beer!"

Shrugging, Wynne cracked open the new can and took a long swig. "I do. How's this here battle goin'?"

To provide a non-verbal reply to her question, two shotgun blasts rang out from further down Main Street. The second blast was quickly followed by several rounds of small-arms fire which in turn was followed by the sound of breaking glass and an emphatic 'Shit!  My bad!'

Mandy grimaced; she could already see herself buried under a six-ton mountain of paperwork that would take countless weeks, if not months, to fill out. "Oh, we're winning. I think."

"Haw, that's great-"

"Watch out!  Zombie attack!" Mandy suddenly cried, pointing over Wynne's shoulder at an undead foe that had snuck up on the two women.

"Whu- where?"

The next thing Wynne knew was that her almost full can of beer was knocked from her hand by a set of semi-decomposed knuckles that came at her at top speed. Upon landing on the street, the can's lower end ruptured which sent yet another sudsy shower all over her cowboy boots and lower pantlegs.

The offending skeletal knuckles were inevitably connected to one of the walking corpses; at once, it jumped onto her back and attempted to sink its last remaining teeth into her neck. The two beings were soon engaged in several levels of mortal combat - not only did they compete in the traditional categories Strength, Skill and Determination, the decidedly non-Olympic discipline of Strongest Smelling Wrestler was added onto the playbill as well. The latter competition was pretty much a toss-up between Wynne's beer-soaked clothes and the zombie's rotting flesh, but the zombie just edged out its living opponent.

As Wynne wrestled the grotesque creature - which sent pieces of this, that and the other flying toward all four corners of the world - all she could do was to roar out her frustrations. "Mah beer!  Ah don't bah-lee-ve it… why da'hell iz all them disgustin' critters goin' for my beer?!  Whadda'Goddamned waste!"

"Quit movin', Wynne!  Quit movin' so I can whack it!" Mandy cried, dancing around while holding the nightstick ready for whenever Wynne would stop the one-sided struggle.

"Haw, quit moving?!  That's too damn easy for you ta say, De-per-ty!" - Twist - "Aw!" - Shake - "Haw!" - Shimmy - "Hooohbah!" - Twist - "Good shit almi'ty!" - Shake - "Baw!" - Rattle - "Ah'm… A'hm!" - Roll - "Ah'm bustin' mah hump ovah he'!  This here butt-ugly thing is tryin' ta give me a Frenchie o' the uncool kind!  Wooooooah!"

"I know!  Stand still so I can-"

The wrestling match remained even-stevens until the zombie cannibal made the foolish mistake of knocking Wynne's greasy cowboy hat straight off her dark locks. In hindsight, the creature shouldn't have crossed that particular line as it only made its human opponent break out in a loud yell that resembled "Mah hat!" plus two dozen juicy curses in less than five seconds.

"Ugghhhh!" Wynne cried as she was finally able to reach behind her to grab hold of the skull of the zombie cannibal that had literally jumped her. As the round thing came off the vertebrae with a sloppy crrrrrrunch, the rest of the bones collapsed in a gory heap to end the dastardly sneak attack.

"Killin' mah beer an' knockin' off mah hat!  This ain't mah day, an' it sure as shit ain't yer day, neither, ya nasty li'l piece of… of… of… whatever!" she roared to the sticky, grinning skull. Moving her arm back, she fired off a one-hundred-yard touchdown pass further down Main Street that would have made Joe Montana proud had he been there to witness it.

"Honey, your jacket got a little worse for wear…" Mandy said, trying to wipe off a little rot, blood and gunk from the formerly white fur around the collar.

"God-DAMN!  Mah jacket!  First mah beer an' then mah hat an' now mah jacket!" Wynne said, constantly spinning around in a circle to catch a glimpse of the zombie-afflicted part of her garb. "Aw… aw… aw… naw. Can't see it." Giving up the unequal struggle with the laws of physics, she scooped up her beloved low-crowned cowboy hat and plonked it down onto her locks.

Further up Main Street, someone let out a resounding Rebel Yell that was followed by an equally resounding 'Hell yeah, that's what I call a proper, old-fashioned shootin' war!  We massacred them thar critters!'

The random rifle shot and shotgun blast still rang out between the houses and stores, but Main Street soon fell quiet. As the clouds of cordite eventually dispersed in the gentle breeze that continued to roll in from the desert, the victorious residents of Goldsboro came out of their homes carrying enough firepower to invade a medium-sized Central American country.

While Wynne cleared out the barrels of her combat shotgun and inserted a pair of fresh shells just in case, Mandy let out a sigh of relief and put the Mossberg over her arm. Turning around, she looked into the pitch-black desert that was as dark and ominous as it had been throughout the frightening invasion.

A pregnant silence fell over the hamlet. It seemed like everyone was holding their breath in case the undead creatures - or perhaps more to the point: whatever unseen force had reanimated them in the first place - had another card up their proverbial sleeve.

Nothing happened at first, but then Mandy's sharp eyes picked up another phenomenon far into the desert. It was as frightening as the zombie cannibals had been, though on an entirely different plane. "Aw hell. That was the last thing we needed," she said and let out another sigh.

"Whut?" Wynne said, turning around while sipping from a new can of Genuine American Draft.

"We got trouble coming. Big trouble."

The can of beer only made it halfway up to Wynne's mouth on its next pass - then it was lowered to the point of releasing a few squirts of golden liquid onto the asphalt down below. "Ya kiddin'… right?  What is it this time?  More killer UFOs?  Ghost drivers?  Hungry dinosaurs?  Mutated vampire bats?  Carnivorous locusts?  Santa-frickin'-Evil-Claus an' his merry band o' butcher-Elves?"

"None of the above. Look," Mandy said and pointed out into the darkness.

A few miles out, the all-too familiar - and wholly unwelcome - sight of a dozen or more LED emergency lights flashing all at once came into view. The vehicle the numerous lights were attached to was clearly racing toward the Goldsboro city limits at high speed.

"Awwwwww-shit," Wynne croaked. She forgot all about the can of beer as she stared at the collection of multi-colored lights that sent plenty of psychedelic patterns into the night-time sky. "It's the sheriff…" she added in a distinct nasal whine to no-one in particular.


Far, far too soon for Wynne and Mandy's liking, a white-and-gold Dodge Durango SUV came to a screeching, dust-flying halt on Main Street right in front of the two women. The driver's side door was flung open to reveal Sheriff Artie Rains who looked less than pleased with life in general and the fact that he'd had to come to work while on official sick leave - less so for the condition of his pregnant wife back home than for the winning hand of Five Card Stud he had held at the time.

Arthur 'Artie' Rains had been called everything from a 'low-down piece of meanness' to a vast selection of four-letter words - though rarely to his face - and all but a few of those negative descriptives hit the bullseye. He was forty-seven but looked a good ten years older due to a somewhat unhealthy appetite for life's many splendors: he smoked two packs a day, drank plenty of beer and booze, and spent countless late hours playing poker, eight-ball pool and any other kind of bar-room sport he could place a few ten-dollar bets on.

That he had been able to be re-elected Sheriff four years in a row came from his undeniable presence: Whenever he walked into a room, it fell quiet. Mostly because the people in there had been talking about him, but also because of his square jaw, his steely gaze and his six-foot-three frame.

"Deputy Jalinski," he said in a low, threatening voice that utilized all his bulk, "Bessie Robinson called me to say that World War Three had broken out in Goldsboro. And that you and… and… her," - he waved at Wynne whose upper lip curled into a sneer as her only response - "were in charge. You have ten seconds to explain what the hell's been going on here. Starting now."

"Through the help of the brave citizens, we fended off an infestation of zombie cannibals, Sheriff," Mandy said matter-of-factly.

Artie Rains sighed. Then he glared at his deputy and the tall, denim-clad woman next to her. Then he sighed again. "All right, that does it. Hand in your star and your sidearm. You're on suspension pending… hell, Judgment Day!"

Now it was Mandy's turn to sigh. Shrugging, she reached into her shirt pocket to release the pin holding her brass Deputy Sheriff star in place.

The depressing development was too much for Wynne who took a step forward: "Now lookie here, Sheriff… ya can't suspend the de-per-ty jus' like that!  We ain't done nothin' wrong… hell, we saved the town 'cos we did exactly what De-per-ty Mandy here done tole ya we did!" The dark look that graced Artie Rains' features was an indication that Wynne needed to pipe down before she would be hog-tied and hauled off to the slammer.

For once, Wynne and Mandy's luck was about to change for the better. Not only did Wyatt Elliott holler and wave at the Sheriff from further down Main Street to get his attention, the hefty Mary-Lou Skinner lumbered toward the little drama carrying a reed basket that she usually used to collect herbs, spices and vegetables in. The pile of skulls, bones, rotten flesh and zombified gunk that presently filled the basket was a different story entirely, and the pinched look upon her fleshy face proved she couldn't wait to dump it on the ground.

"Sheriff Rains!  Sheriff!  Ya'll need to see this," Mary-Lou said once she was close enough. The overweight senior member of the town council - who wore loafers, support-stockings, a flowery dress and a cardigan that she had slipped over her shoulders - was too short of breath to speak while she walked, so she had to pause until she had arrived at the spot where the others were.

Once she had put the disgusting basket on the ground, she used a handkerchief to wipe away a few beads of sweat that had formed at her hairline. "Look at this pile of bones… we got another two dozen just like it if this ain't enough to convince you, Sheriff. Hell, one of those creatures probably killed my poor, little Zippy!  You ought to be mighty proud of Deputy Jalinski. She saved the day by taking charge and showing us what to do."

Artie Rains' jaw worked overtime as he stared at the gruesome contents of the basket; a dark scowl fell over his face as he glared back at Mandy. He opened his mouth to make a snappy comment or two, but nothing came out. After a while, he did in fact let out a grunt before he spun around and went back to the SUV. "Very well," he said after he had opened the vehicle's door. "Forget the suspension, Deputy. But we still need to have a long, stern conversation come Monday morning when my sick leave is over!"

"Yes, Sheriff," Mandy said, once again closing the pin that held her star in place - Wynne just sported a goofy, beery grin.

As the Durango made a U-turn and left Goldsboro behind in a roar and a cloud of dust, Wynne shoved her cowboy hat back from her forehead and let out a relieved chuckle. Working on autopilot, she reached into her jacket pocket and found a can of beer. The metallic flap and the delicious, golden liquid inside the container were soon dealt with in time-honored fashion.

The quiet sigh of relief that escaped Mandy's lips proved how thankful she was for not being suspended from duty. She took extreme pride in performing her solemn task to the best of her abilities; she was ready and willing to carry the uniform and work for the good of the people twenty-four-seven if she needed to, so to sit idly by twiddling her thumbs while the sheriff stalled her suspension review would be murder on her soul.

He would stall it, and he would do so deliberately, she was sure of that: even when he had been the senior deputy during the old sheriff's time in office, he had been strongly opposed to having a female colleague. The needling had started on the day she had shown up at the Sheriff's Office with her transfer papers in hand, and for the first several months, he had called her 'Manly' instead of her real first name - he had then had the gall to say that if she couldn't stand the tone, she better find another choir to sing in. She had taken it all in her stride through her dedication to the job. She expected a similar dedication from her fellow deputies and superior officers, but she had discovered it was in short supply.

Smiling wistfully, she reached into her uniform pants to find a semi-clean handkerchief so she could wipe the worst of the zombie-gunk off her hands. Once they were in a better shape, she walked over to Mary-Lou Skinner who was still trying to catch her breath from the long walk. "Thank you very much for your support, Mrs. Skinner. You came at just the right time," Mandy said and reached out for the traditional greeting.

"Oh, you're very welcome, Deputy Jalinski," Mary-Lou said and shook hands with the younger - and far smaller - woman. "Sheriff Rains needs to be reminded of his place now and then. Believe it or not, his father was even worse back in the old days. At least the town council has been able to keep the Rains family under our thumb for the most part. Well, I think I hear Mr. Elliott calling my name… I better see what he wants. Goodbye for now, Deputy. Miss Donohue," she continued, offering Mandy and Wynne a pair of nods before she lumbered back to her house.

"See ya at Moira's tomorra, Mrs. Skinner. I'll keep the root beer cold for ya," Wynne said and offered a Fenwyck-salute to the other woman as she walked away. Once they were alone, she turned back to her sweetheart. "De-per-ty Mandy, if I ain't mistaken too badly, yer shift ended a long, long time ago. How 'bout a brew to mark the occasion?"

"Can't. I'm driving, remember?" Mandy said and swung the Mossberg over her shoulder.

"Aw… yeah. True," Wynne said, nodding like she hadn't even thought of that. "Okay, how 'bout we went back to that there jail, sprung Ernie and them dawggies loose an' then drove home…?  Say yes."

Mandy let out a tired chuckle. She looked down at her formerly pristine uniform that had been coated in zombie-guts or whatever the proper term was. Nobody would catch any sleep in Goldsboro for the rest of Halloween night, but it seemed the worst of their most recent ordeal was over, at least for the time being.

There were a hundred questions burning on her mind but zero answers to the hellish goings-on of the past few hours. She wasn't sure it really mattered; there would undoubtedly be other Halloweens and even worse horrors creeping up on the small hamlet in the middle of the vast, beautiful and lethal desert.

But there was a positive side to it as well: if the world gives you horse manure, you shovel it into a sack and sell it as Premium Grade Organic Fertilizer. If Goldsboro could play its cards right, it might even be able to make a few dollars off exploiting the many otherworldly events that had transpired - like the space aliens, the ghost drivers and the zombie cannibal invasion - by attracting the kind of tourists who were searching for thrills of that nature.

Mandy only realized she had zoned out when Wynne took a particularly long slurp from her latest can of beer. Grinning, she leaned over to bump shoulders with her denim-clad, beer-swilling, strongly-smelling girlfriend. "Okay, honey. Let's head for home."


Not long after, Mandy slipped behind the steering wheel of Wynne's old but serviceable truck. As she started the engine, she was joined on the bench seat by a yawning Wynne who snuggled up close like she always did. Blackie and Goldie soon assumed their favorite positions up on the truck's rusty, dented flatbed so they could enjoy the full effect of the headwind.

An upbeat Country & Western oldie played on the truck's radio as it left the mayhem behind and moved onto the two-lane blacktop. Its destination: the trailer that was home to the fearless German Shepherd, the scaredy-cat Golden Retriever, the determined Deputy Sheriff Mandy Jalinski and The Last Original Cowpoke, Wynne Donohue.

The rumble from the exhaust and the red shine from the taillights soon grew weaker until they were lost in the darkness of Halloween night…




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