by Brit Lunden
For my family
Chapter 1 - Primordial Soup
“It’s like a primordial soup,” Clay Finnes muttered his hands on his hips.
“A primordial what?” Owen Bishop raised his hangdog face to look at the town sheriff.
“Primordial, ancient, prehistoric…” Clay looked at the deputy’s blank face and finished with, ”old...really, really old.”
“Oh,” Owen shook his craggy head. His bulbous eyes looked like two hard boiled eggs; his hair was matted as if was glued to the top of his round head. Owen never passed any of the tests allowing him to advance on the force. He was a deputy when Clay first got a job in Bulwark right out of the army. As the promotions started coming, Clay eventually became his boss. He wondered if it bothered the older man taking direction from someone who trained under him.
“You mean like dinosaurs?” Owen scratched his head.
“Dino...no...forget it, Owen. What else did the couple say?” He listened to Owen drone on about the car that was now sitting in the middle of the greenish pond.
“Appears they were coming from the other side.” Owen pointed vaguely in the other direction.
“How could they? There’s nothing there. That road has been closed off for years.”
Something was missing. He wasn’t sure what, but a feeling of unease enveloped Clay until his body fairly vibrated with it.
Clay looked up, his deep brown eyes scanning the thicket of trees surrounding the strange body of water that seemed to appear overnight. He crinkled his nose; it smelled pretty bad too. It was a greenish color, like a dirty army fatigue. It seemed shallow. He resisted the urge to stick the toe of his boot in the water. It was still, the surface like polished glass. The Ford Fusion was trapped in the what appeared to be the deepest part of the puddle as if they had tried to speed through it. The brackish water about two feet deep.
“If they had skirted the edges they would have made it through. He shoulda used the choke, probably got an entire engine full of water.” Once Owen started talking he could go on about something forever.
“Where the hell were they coming from?” Clay muttered to himself. He moved away as if to see through the gloom. “It’s a road that leads to nowhere.”
He took off his hat, wiping his sweaty forehead with the back of his hand. It was hotter than usual. No breeze ruffled the leafy trees or relieved the stifling humidity that made his shirt stick to his back.
There was nothing, no sound, not the humming of bees, or mosquitoes. Not a bird in sight or the croaking music of frogs in the late afternoon. When he got home, he’d mention it to Jenna...his wandering thoughts came to an abrupt halt. There would be no conversation. Jenna wasn’t there anymore. His family’s old farm house only had one occupant now. His wife had up and left him. He felt his chest tighten, his throat closing up. His entire life changed and would never be the same. Losing Claire was just the beginning of the end. After that had happened, it was as though they were stuck in some nightmare and couldn’t get out.
“Well,” Owen continued, oblivious to his boss’s distracted air. “The car hit the...um...water, at a high rate of speed, I think. It must’ve started to sink.”
“It’s not deep enough to sink,” Clay observed his deputy scratch his bald head, then turned to look at the enormous puddle. It covered the road from one end to the other. He chewed the inside of his cheek. He had to admit, it appeared larger than when he got here, but it couldn’t be that deep, could it?” Clay forced his attention back to Owen. It helped him stop thinking of his own life. “Where are they?”
“Over at JB’s house. The wife’s pretty freaked out.”
“JB?” Clay liked the old football pro, had shared quite a few stories with the old vet.
“Over what. The puddle?” The interruption was from Dayna Dalton, a reporter from the Bulwark Advance. She was walking toward them, a camera hung around her exposed neck, a spiral notebook clasped in the other. “Think somebody dropped a load of waste here.”
Clay looked at her, his cheek twitched. Her buttons strained to the point that she looked like her clothes had been painted on her body. She shook her mane of red hair like an angry mare. He turned his gaze away, knowing it annoyed her. No matter how much she pranced around in her tight jeans, he wasn't interested. She didn’t do anything for him in high school, and she didn’t do anything for him now. Somehow, it never stopped her from trying to get him to notice her. Clay was tired of it. He sighed gustily.
She came around the back of the car, moving into his personal space. For a minute, Clay thought about backing up, but damn it all, he was the sheriff. He stood his ground, daydreaming of Dayna’s reaction when he threw her into the stinky, green lake that had developed overnight.
Dayna repeated her comment about someone dropping waste. Clay shrugged indifferently, then turned to Owen, ignoring her.
He could feel her bristling but refused to move. He dug his feet in the dark soil, his arms folded over his chest. “JB see anything? Maybe notice something out of place?”
Owen shook his head. “Nope. Nada. I asked. Been quiet. He said this started small. Says he has a few pictures on his laptop he can send us.” Owen paused and then said, “Wait, he mentioned they had a wolf problem lately.”
Clay looked at Owen sharply. “Wolves, there haven’t been...hey!”
He saw Dayna take off, her feet moving quickly toward a thicket of trees.
“Dayna!” Clay called, who was dashing up a small incline toward JB Straton’s small cabin over the ridge.