In the Barrens
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The cruiser slowed down as it left the paved road and pulled forward onto the dirt path that ran deeper into the Pine Barrens. The gravel crunched loudly under the tires and Paul tweaked the gas a little making the car fish tailed slightly, laughing as he did.

His partner, Officer Rick Moss, cursed spilling his coffee in his lap which just made Paul laugh harder. “Loosen up Ricky!” Paul said grabbing and handing him a napkin from the cardboard tray the coffee came in. “Its Friday night, It’s slow as balls out here, and we have the rest of the weekend off!”

Paul gave a whoop and goosed the gas again making the back end of the car swerve around in the dirt before pulling its self in line. “Isn’t this what you Piney’s like, Whooping it up in the woods” Paul said and laughed again.

Rick grinned, “No,” He drawled in his best “Deliverance” voice, mostly we like to gut city boys like yourself, They makes for good eating.” He said and they both laughed.

Paul cut on the head lights as they went deeper into the woods, slowing the car down to little more than a crawl as Rick took the portable spotlight and ran it through the woods along side them as they drove, looking for anything out of the ordinary. Though it still was light out the shadows grew thick as they went deeper into the woods and the spotlight cut a clean swath through them.

It was late October, bow season for deer had just ended and as his partner has alluded to earlier, Rick didn’t expect it to be a very exciting night. Maybe at best they’d run across a poacher, most likely it would be local kids partying in the woods or drag racing. Later on they would stake out a patch of highway and maybe get a speeder or two if they were lucky.

Rick was forty two years old and had grown up not more than 5 miles from where they now patrolled. He was a “Piney” by birth, and had been playing in and exploring these woods since before he could walk.

His partner, Paul Walker, Was Thirty two, and born and bred in the big city of Philadelphia. He only transferred to the force last year after marrying a local girl and buying a small house out near the highway.

Rick liked Paul, he could be a bit loud at times, but was a good cop and a good partner. Rick believed he had his back, and he wasn’t one to give trust lightly. He had known Paul’s wife Jolene since she was a baby and thought the two made the best couple he knew personally.

Rick cut off the spot light. “Lets go down by Merle’s” he said, “we can follow the creek down into town and grab some diner before we run the speed gun.”

“Sounds good to me” said Paul, Turning the big cruiser left at the next fork, heading back to the highway and along side of the bogs that were part of Merle’s farm.

They both saw the car at the same time, Less than a quarter mile ahead and pulled off into the woods. “What have we here.” Said Paul as he clicked on the cruisers high beams. As they drew closer, it became apparent that the car wasn’t parked but had driven off the road and struck a tree.

The cars engine was still running as was evident from the blue smoke puffing gently from the vehicle’s exhaust. Paul pulled the cruiser over about twenty feet behind the accident and flashed on the cars spot light and flashers, illuminating the scene in a bath of red and blue.

Rick was all ready moving out the door as the cruiser came to a halt, telling Paul to “call it in.” He took his flashlight from his belt and started towards the car. He moved quickly but cautiously, his eyes never leaving the vehicle as he approached, thumbing the switch on his flashlight and turning it on. He had learned in his years on the force to never rush into anything, better to take your time, get your bearings, things were not always as they seemed.

As he neared the rear of the car, he could see the interior light was on and that the passenger side door was hanging open. He dropped his right hand to the butt of his gun as he ran his flashlight through the car and then the woods to the right of the car, looking for movement.

He continued slowly toward the driver side door, his senses on high alert, and for the first time he felt that something wasn’t right, something just didn’t click.

The driver’s side window was splashed from the inside with a fair amount of something that Rick immediately took for blood, causing his heart to ratchet up a notch. Rick glanced back at the cruiser, seeing Paul watching him, the radio mike in his hand as he talked to dispatch.

“Stay alert” Rick called back to him and he saw Paul’s demeanor instantly change, he shifted the mic to his left hand, and unbuckled his revolver with his right. He said something into the mic then tossed it back into the car. He drew his gun as he moved towards the hood of the cruiser, scanning the area along the woods.

Rick had reached the drivers side door, and after peering in with his flashlight put his hand on the door handle, looking back at Paul and nodding slowly before pulling up on it to open the door. Rick let out a slow deep breath finding it locked.

He looked back at Paul again and retreated towards the rear of the car. He got to the trunk and went into a half crouch as he moved quickly around the other side of the car.

The light from the car spilled onto the ground in a semi circular pool. Rick could see a woman, laying on her back, her legs still inside of the car. Her face was turned away from him but he could see the left sleeve of her blouse had been torn most of the way off and her arms had deep gashes that were bleeding freely.

He came around the car quickly after seeing her, and knelt on the ground next to her. He shined the flashlight in the car and saw the driver slumped back in the seat and not moving, scanning the rest of the car briefly he saw nothing to cause alarm. He turned his attention back to the woman on the ground before him.

He shined the light on her face, and saw a large gash across her forehead. Tracing the flashlight beam quickly to the star pattern of broken glass on the passenger side windshield confirmed his suspicion that she had hit it head on during the cars impact with the tree.

Rick put his fingers to her neck, checking for a pulse and her eyes opened and she looked at him. “My baby” she croaked “Please, my baby. Something happened to my baby!” Her eyes were wide and moving wildly searching around her. She tried to rise, pulling her legs back from the car and trying to sit up. She howled in pain, her eyes rolling back into her head and her body going into convulsions.

Paul had joined Rick by now and added the light from his flashlight to the scene. The woman’s body lock in one final spasm before she fell back, her breath coming in ragged gasps, her eyes rolling wildly beneath closed lids. Rick stood, aiming his light into the vehicles back seat, his heart sinking. He didn’t need to worry about the flashlight. The cars light showed clearly what he feared he’d see. A baby seat. And it was empty.

Paul in the mean time had turned his attention to the driver. “Jesus Christ Rick. What the fuck happened here!”

Rick looked forward to the driver, and gasped. Blood was everywhere. Across the drivers side window as well as the windshield and most of the dashboard. The mans head was pulled back and mostly severed from his body. There were deep gashes starting from his abdomen and raking up through his chest exposing some of his rib cage and allowing his lower bowels to have spilled into his lap.

His heart beat pounding loud in his ears, Rick took a deep breath and tried to get his head together, licking his lips as he looked at the driver again. Paul started talking again and Rick hushed him. He turned his attention to the back of the car and the empty baby seat. As he ran his light slowly over it, he could see that the straps on the harness of the car seat were shredded. The buckle for the harness was still connected to its mate, but hung useless along the seats side hanging on the torn straps. Next to the car seat was a plastic shopping bag. Its contents spill across the seat and floor. Rick took quick note of a few notebooks and some local tourist pamphlets.

Rick again glanced at the woman before standing up and shining his light along the ground, then looking at Paul. “She said there was a baby” He half whispered. Paul looked at him shocked, then looked down at the woman as if he were surprised she could say anything, he let his eyes go to the back window at the empty child seat.

“What the fuck!” Paul said looking pale. “Is it some kind of animal? This wasn’t from the accident!”

Though Paul looked freaked, his voice remained calm and controlled. This wasn’t the first horrific scene either of these men had come across in their time in law enforcement and both knew panic wasn’t an option.

Rick knew Paul was looking to him for leadership, and he tried to appear more calm than he felt. In truth, he had no idea what it could have been that did this. There were no real predators in this area that were capable of causing this kind of carnage.

“Get back on the radio with dispatch.” He told Paul. Have Marge get the sheriff out here along with an ambulance and forensics. Tell them we have a missing child and a mother in trauma and to get a move on it!”

Paul nodded and headed back to the cruiser. Rick again inspected the inside of the car with his light. All of the windows in the car were closed including the passenger front side door. He could see that both of the drivers side doors were locked, front and back. A quick look also showed that the rear passenger door was also locked. The only way in or out of the car was the passenger front door.

He took a step back, shining his light along the ground right outside the door. The woman was now completely out of the car and laying on her side. There were splashes of blood in the dirt all around her body. The woman’s blouse was soaked in blood on her right side indicating she also had a wound there.

There were drag marks in the dirt. Two thin lines in the sand speckled with blood leading away from the car and towards the deep woods. They ran for maybe three feet, ending in a confusion of marks in the sand along with a splashes of blood, then nothing. There were no foot prints nor did it appear that and more of the sand or the brush leading into the woods had been disturbed.

Rick stopped his search as Paul returned. “Sheriff will be a bit. He was way across town at the Frontier having a late dinner. The ambulance will be here as quick as they can. Marge is going to call in every available officer to the scene.” Paul reported. “Any idea what’s going on yet? What could have done this?” he questioned.

Rick ignored his question but did show him the marks along the ground he had found. “What ever it was” Rick said “It must have taken the baby into the woods.” Both of the officers ran their lights along the boarder of the woods, looking for any breach that might show the path it took.

“Turn the cruiser’s light along the trees. See if you can find where it entered the woods. Yell if you find anything. And Paul,” Rick said with a seriousness in his voice he hoped Paul understood. “Don’t go into the woods.”

Paul’s eyes went a little wide at the last comment but nodded to Rick and headed back towards their car. The sun had dipped low and the darkness was now thick outside of the pool of the cars lights.

Rick walked around the open door and shined his light along the outside of the door and door handle. No scratches, no dents, no sign of anything forcing its way in.

Then what, he thought. Did they capture something. Or were they transporting something dangerous? It seemed unlikely that they would do either considering they were traveling with a baby.

He shined his light along the ground and spotted a cell phone laying in the dirt right past the door. He leaned and picked it up, looking at it and then hitting the power button on. The phone lit up, and the screen saver showed a picture of a maybe two or three year old little girl smiling happily to the camera.

He thumbed the screen and cleared the screen saver and the phone opened to an ongoing text message. Rick read the last message and noticed the blue icon showing the message did not send, not surprising out here in the woods, he thought.

The message read, “We are coming home early. The baby’s not feeling well, running a fever and is cranky. See you soon!”

Rick scrolled up the screen, and saw another picture of the little girl. This time in a pink jumper, her blonde hair pulled into short pigtails, and smiling happily for the camera.

The message under the photo read “Isn’t Abby cute! She is all ready for our trip to the woods!” The reply, from someone named Monica was underneath. She is adorable!! Have fun! Call me when you get home and we will bring Rusty home.”

“Will do! :x was the woman’s last message before trying to text that they were coming home.

Rick looked up and saw Paul crossing back towards the wood. The police cruiser’s spot light was now trained on the trees where the marks they had found lead into the woods. Its bright beam pushed well into the darkness as Paul started his search.

Rick moved back around the car door and moved carefully past the woman on the ground. He leaned back in the car hoping to see anything that made sense of all of this. He again shined his light through it even though the cars interior light showed everything with perfect clarity.

He let his eyes go over the dead man in the drivers seat. Trying to push the fear he felt from his mind, He examined the mans wounds and tried to put together what happened using the experience he had gained as an investigator over the years he had been on the force.

It was obvious that what ever had done this attacked from behind the man, from the back seat. The position of the wounds and the mans posture made it a certainty. The savagery suggested an animal. The wounds on his torso, which ran in a group of four in a parallel lines on either side of his chest, seemed to be from some sort of claws, the mans neck seemed to show bite wounds but not from any kind of animal Rick had ever seen.

He had once been on a hunting trip up north with a group of friends. It was more of a drunken camping trip with guns than a true hunting party. One of the guys had the bright idea to shoot at a bear they had come across down by the water. He only managed to hit the bear in the leg and the bear had attacked. That was the only time Rick had ever seen this kind of carnage.

Rick took more notice this time of the pamphlets in the back seat as he searched the car. All of them had a common theme. All of them dealing with the Jersey Devil and the local legends. Laying scattered among them was an open spiral bound notebook. Rick’s eyes scanned the loping hand writing and his eyes were drawn to the only words on the page in all capital letters. “DEMON POSSESSION”

He continued to read from that point.

“From all written accounts, one piece of the legend of the Jersey Devil that remains consistent is the fact that when Mother Leeds gave birth to her thirteenth baby it was normal and healthy child. It changed form after the birth!”

“My research has uncovered documentation that there was was a temple to Ba’ock, a demon that legend says was known to eat the souls of children. The location my documents indicate is not two miles from the Leeds family farm. Even if the temple its self had been destroyed. It is my opinion the land would be desecrated and still carries the blood of the sacrifices his followers performed in his name and therefore his power.”

The woman groaned and shifted below him, the noise made Rick jump and he hit his head on the door jamb of the car, cursing softly. He turned and looked for Paul before he squatted down over the woman wondering where the fuck the ambulance was.

The woman moaned again, her eyes flicking open and closed. “Oh god..” she croaked. “My baby… oh god what happened to my baby…”

Rick leaned closer to the woman’s face, cooing to her softly. “It’s alright Ma’am. Everything is going to be all right.” He reached down and brushed the hair from her face.

“Something happened to her… in the woods” The woman continued. Her words coming in short gasps from the obvious pain she was in. “Derrick…. I told Derrick I didn’t like that place…’ She moaned again as she tried to move, she was growing very pale, and Rick was worried they would lose her if help didn’t come soon.

Where the fuck was that ambulance!

The woman was still talking about her baby, but her words were slow and slurred, making her hard to understand. Rick again cooed softly to her, trying to calm her. “It’s OK Ma’am, don’t worry, we are going to find your baby.”

The woman’s eyes shot wide open and meet Ricks, for the first time they showed perfect clarity, her head shook from side to side.

“No!” She said loudly. The look or fear and horror clear on her face. “Something happened….. something happened to my baby… if you see it.. kill it! You kill it!”

Rick pulled back from the woman in shock, falling backwards into the open car door. He looked at the woman in horror, it refused to register in his mind what she was saying to him.

It was then Paul started screaming.

Rick jumped back to his feet, his heart hammering in his chest. He heard Paul fire two shots before he could comprehend what he was seeing. Rick’s hand automatically went to his weapon and unholstered it.

The spotlight from the cruiser lit the scene in perfect detail. Paul was on his back and scurrying crab like back towards the cars. Rick looked at the woods edge towards what Paul was backing away from.

It was small, low to the ground and moving on all fours. Its front arms were elongated and covered in a course black hair. It walked on its knuckles, but there was no missing the razor sharp talons that extruded from each boney finger and gleamed softly in the artificial light from the cruiser.

On its back, there were two wing like protrusions that it spread and retracted as it moved. The head was misshapen and oblong, a large snout protruded from the center of its face ending in a gaping maw that was visibly dripping with thick saliva off of a row of razor like fangs.

The worst was its eyes. Large and seemingly glowing red and bulging from their sockets as they scanned the area then locked on Paul.

Paul scurried back a bit more as this thing pursued him then stopped and raised his gun at it. He had time to fire off one shot before the thing moved with a supernatural speed and quickly closed the gap between it and Paul.

There was a flash of light off of the things claws as it drew them back. Then they slashed down and forward towards Paul as he screamed again. His right arm neatly severed just below the elbow. The dismembered limb fired off one more shot from the gun it held as it fell to the dirt in a spray of blood.

Then it was on him.

The were splashes of blood as the thing savaged the officer with it claws. It made a hellish noise, somewhere between a shriek and a hiss, Paul’s screams quickly turned into bubbling gasps as the thing tore into his chest.

Rick watched in growing horror. Forgetting everything he’d ever learned about staying calm in an emergency he raised his gun and emptied the entire clip in the direction of the monster that was busily killing his partner.

The thing raised it’s head from Paul’s chest, blood spraying from its fangs and mouth as it threw it’s head back and it made it’s hiss screech noise again. It’s eyes, now flaming red fell directly upon Rick and with a flick of its “wings” It started towards him.

Rick heard the woman scream as the thing closed the distance between them. It was purely survival instinct that made him jump backwards and into the car, slamming the door closed as he did so.

The monster hit the car so hard it rocked it on its suspension and the sound of bending metal accompanied the thump of impact and the things howl of pain and its frustration at missing its prize.

For a moment, Rick and it were eye to eye with only the thin pane of safety glass in the passenger side window keeping Rick from meeting the same fate as Paul. Rick took in ever detail on the monster’s hideous face before the woman screamed again, attracting the things attention, it pulled away from the glass and dropped to the ground where the woman lay.

Rick heard the woman’s scream rise in pitch before being silenced with a wet thud and a loud hiss screech from the creature. There were tearing and rending sounds that made Rick’s stomach turn as he knew the thing was eating.

Rick looked frantically around the car as he loaded his spare clip into his gun. His mind worked feverishly and did not want to believe what his eyes had seen.

The thing…. the monster… it wore….. it wore the remnants of a pink jumper, and on the sides of its misshapen head were strands of blonde hair still pulled high in pigtails.

Rick heard the sound of the siren at the same time the thing did. The monster stopped its feeding, raising its grotesque head and peering through the window at Rick, blood dripping from its open mouth, then back up the road where the ambulance’s red flashing lights could now be seen weaving through the trees as it approached.

The thing snarled at Rick through the glass, it eyes flashing deeper red as it leaped up, easily landing on the cars roof. Rick could hear it claws scratching along the roof and he looked out of the rear window, seeing the ambulance pull in behind his cruiser.

Rick knew he couldn’t let those EMT’s get out of that ambulance with out this creature attacking. Thinking fast, he raised his gun and fired four shots through the roof of the car. He heard the monster howl and then a thump as it fell and slid down the windshield and landed on the hood of the car.

It gained its feet quickly and screeched at Rick. He raised his gun and let off two more shots, blowing out the glass of the windshield. Rick couldn’t tell if he hit it or not but saw it stumble back on the hood. It gave one more hiss screech at Rick before turning and spreading its wings. It rose from the hood but fell to the ground almost right away.

The monster lifted its head towards the sky, stretched its wings again and this time managed to take flight. Rick watched it rise and clumsily take to the sky. Peering through the passenger side window He watched as it disappeared over the tall pines.

The driver of the ambulance opened his door and watched the thing disappear into the night sky. Rick turned at the sound of the ambulance’s siren dying and recognized the driver as Earl Ruters. They had met at more accidents than Rick cared to remember.

Rick opened the car door, slowly getting out of the car. His eyes locked on the patch of sky where the monster disappeared.

“What the fuck was that” Earl screamed from behind him.

Rick looked back at Earl

The fucking Jersey Devil.”









5 Responses so far.

  1. Avatar of L.A. Camp L.A. Camp says:

    Good story very atmospheric setting. One thing I would have left out was the bit when Rick thinks of course, it’s wings haven’t developed yet. Just my opinion but I think Rick should have been scared to his wits and still be trying to figure out wtf it was. I really liked it though but just thought it would play better with maybe no mention of Jersey Devil until the very end and your last line might have had a bigger impact, providing people know who the Jersey Devil is. (I’m from England but luckilly I watched a good X-files episode on this once) Like I said just my opinion but please keep up the good work. Regards Lee

    • Peter Hartke says:

      Thanks for the comment!
      I do see your point but I wanted to make sure everyone understood what was happening. My thought was he realized what was happening, being a cop, he had put the clues together by then.
      I do appreciate the feedback though as you never know how other people take things.
      Glad you liked the story, and thanks for reading!

  2. Peter Hartke says:

    Did a little editing and reformatting.
    If you missed it the first time, check out the new improved version! Now with less typos!!

  3. Avatar of Derek Derek says:

    Very good story. Gothic with an old boogey man twist! Keep it up!

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