Toby had heard many tales about “the light” from those enduring near-death experiences. He found that light to be much brighter than described. It overwhelmed Toby’s senses like an overdose of unbridled joy. His cares and fears no longer seemed to exist- total, absolute peace blanketed him like a mother’s hug to a crying infant.
It seemed as though the previous night’s terror ended in his favor and, as far as he could tell, there was no sign of flame-filled chasms or horned beings with pitchforks raving excitedly for his arrival. It appeared he’d chosen the narrow and less traveled path to a more positive place. The warmth of the welcoming light heated his smiling face, and birds could be heard chirping their morning songs more audibly than ever before. If this was indeed the outcome for those who’d lived honest lives, he felt nothing but regret for every tear he’d cried at his parents’ funerals. With any luck, if every other urban myth about death and the other side were equally correct, he would be seeing them at any minute.
More of his senses were beginning to return because he could now feel the moist, dew-covered grass as it grew ever upward in its eternal quest to reach for the skies above. Oddly enough, this only furthered Toby’s theoretical reckoning on whether there were maintenance crews in the afterlife, or if things just remained as they were. His late night, teenaged, drug-induced, conversations with Johnny hadn’t been for nothing after all. Either way, he was happy for the simple fact that his brain still worked in the same mysterious and nonsensical way it did while he was living. Even though his vision was still clouded due to the light above, he imagined he was lying in a vast field of glory which stretched for miles. As far as he was concerned, he’d earned this.
It was no secret for months now that Jessica would’ve been the death of him and, all puns aside, he’d been correct. The only thing unfortunate about the whole situation was that he hadn’t died sooner. Seeing her being pleasured by Jessie McGee was the most shockingly hated vision he’d ever endured, followed shortly after by the fearful realization he was being chased by a man with a loaded gun. The beast he’d encountered in the forest with the glowing, piercing gaze was the worst of it all, though. What in the hell was that thing, anyway? Perhaps it was the harbinger of death on a mission to capture and take him home, or maybe the devil himself thwarted at the last second, realizing Toby was meant for a different destination. Regardless, the troubled man was finally in a better place.
Gazing again into the unimaginable light emitted from the pathway to eternity, he noticed the silhouette of a man stepping confidently toward his resting place. At first, he was slightly disappointed at the fact cowboy hats were allowed in the afterlife but was calmed once again at the remembrance of his father’s insistence on sporting one daily. Toby smiled in gleeful assurance and reached out his arms for a well-deserved embrace. The shadowy figure never strayed from its direct path toward Toby and it left him with no other imaginable outcome.
“Dad,” Toby sighed as the figure now completely blocked the light from his field of vision.
“No, I’m not your daddy, not yet, you murdering son of a bitch!”
The dream was officially over.
The Sheriff’s undeniable, booming voice ripped Toby from the serenity of his imagined sanctuary. He felt an iron grip which jerked him up to his unsure feet. Stumbling forward, Jessie McGee delivered a blow to his stomach doubling him back over and onto his knees again in the saturated grass of what he now noticed were the YMCA soccer fields.
“Why’d you do it, Liberman?” came the Sheriff’s scream. It echoed repeatedly inside of his spinning head. “Why did you feel the need to go out and kill people?”
“What the hell are you talking about, McGee?” Toby gurgled at his captor.
“Why don’t you take a look around? Open your freaking eyes!”
Blinking rapidly to remove the dirt and debris blurring his vision, Toby realized the moisture he’d felt between his fingers and on his clothing hadn’t been the dew-covered grass of blissful eternity, but what appeared to be an entire body’s worth of fresh blood from an unknown source. His stomach lurched forward at the sight of the horror, but that view was immediately replaced by the up-close image of a boot speeding toward him. The impact was sudden and devastating as the force of the blow flipped him onto his back, knocking the breath from his lungs.
“You killed Archie Weldon’s boy and two damned paramedics and, for what? If you wanted to hurt somebody, you could’ve tried me on instead!” McGee growled through his teeth as he pulled Toby back to his feet by the collar of his bloodstained shirt.
Still gasping for breath and reeling from the lightning fast realizations of his current situation, Toby pleaded his case sincerely.
“Jessie, you gotta believe me, I didn’t do this!”
The Sheriff tightened his grip on Toby’s shirt collar, nearly choking him.
“I’m not Jessie anymore. I’m Sheriff McGee to you, and regardless of your feelings about me from last night, I own you now.”
All of Toby’s senses returned and were firing off in a total overload. Glancing around at the carnage that lay all around, he noticed three blanket-covered objects on the ground. Two large. One small. Blood had begun to saturate their coverings, and a crew of forensics officers snapped photos as they put pieces that had ostensibly been ripped from the three unfortunate individuals into sealed bags. He wanted to believe his previous train of thought was correct and he’d died and gone to Hell instead. Unfortunately, this nightmare was a reality still taking place all around him. He began to cry.
“Dry up those damn tears, you psycho,” the Sheriff said with contempt. “You’re not going to get any sympathy from me.”
“Dude,” Toby began again. “I’m just trying to get a grip on what’s going on! Give me a damn break.”
“No breaks, Mr. Liberman,” the Sheriff said, speaking calmly for the first time. “You’ll get no special treatment because of the things we have in common, either. Your best bet would be to shut the hell up until you can speak to your attorney.”
“Jess-Sheriff McGee, I don’t need an attorney because I didn’t do this, dammit!” Toby yelled.
“Oh, really?” McGee rang out sarcastically. “Then, who the hell did? Who else was running around town last night like a crazed lunatic because he caught his wife cheating on him?”
Toby exhaled deeply in defeat, having come to the cruel realization there was no way out of this situation. Even though he’d no recollection of the previous night’s events following his encounter with the creature, all the evidence on his clothing and on the ground below him would be more than enough to convince a jury of his guilt. In Texas, a guilty verdict in a multiple murder case meant the death penalty. The fact that his ability to think rationally had been shattered due the Sheriff’s violation of the sanctity of his marriage would be a miniscule detail compared to this. After all, this wouldn’t be divorce court; it would be a murder trial.
“Jessie,” Toby attempted again.
“Sheriff!” McGee corrected him.
“Oh, screw off!” Toby cut back at him. “I saw something last night!”
The Sheriff laughed slightly at Toby’s expense.
“I know you did. I was there. Don’t expect me to apologize for that, by the way, because this little predicament you’re in conveniently sweeps you out of the way. Good things do come to those who wait patiently after all.”
“That’s not what I was talking about, Sheriff,” Toby emphasized. “I saw something in the woods. It attacked me. It’s what’s responsible for all of this, not me.”
Jessie McGee no longer held back a bark of laughter, and two of the forensic officers to look up in confusion.
“Is this official? Do I need to be taking notes to add them to the arrest report?”
Toby Liberman raged with anger at the taunting and turned to face the Sheriff.
“I’m not lying!” he yelled with conviction.
The Sheriff officially had enough. He clenched his fists in anger and an incredibly forceful right cross landed on Toby’s jaw, knocking him flat on his back. Panting ferociously, Jessie McGee paced from side to side above him.
“So, crazy old Toby Liberman sees a monster in the woods and I’m supposed to believe him to the point that I let him off murder charges? Being as honest as I can possibly be, you’re out of your mind!”
Struggling against pain and weakness, Toby tried to get back to his feet. He was assisted by the Sheriff once more. Before his mind could catch up to the events unfolding before him, Toby’s hands were forced behind his back and the frigid, metallic heaviness of the Sheriff’s handcuffs ended any possibility of further struggle. Thrown hard against the vinyl of a squad car’s back seat, he gazed again through hopeless, tear-filled eyes at the man who sealed his fate with every passing moment. With the burning sun’s rays barely filtering around the edges of the Sheriff’s rippling uniform, he grabbed the edge of the door that would forever block his exit to freedom.
“Toby,” Jessie McGee spoke with sincerity. “It’s over. All that you’ve come to know in this world – your wife, your daughter, and your freedom, they all belong to me now.”
The car door was secured before Toby could even so much as create and express a retort. The ominous sound of the locking mechanisms inside the car door signaled his demise. If he’d only known the previous night was going to be his last taste of freedom, a few more beers at the bar would’ve been a better way to end it all.
The still air of the secured vehicle and the intensified sunbeams magnified by the car’s windows were the only sensations his outer body experienced. His mind, by contrast, was racing with a marathon of emotions and thoughts which were coming too frequently to process. Jessica Liberman was finally getting what she wanted and would no longer have to worry about hiding her actions or sneaking around to accomplish them. Oddly enough, the thoughts of her were not his top priority. Katie Liberman’s life as she knew it was now officially over. Nothing would ever be the same again. Her home and school life would be unbearable to the point Toby feared for her future and sanity. Even though he’d sooner die than hurt Katie, Toby realized he’d inadvertently killed her, too.
Toby squinted against the glare of the sun now pouring through the window of the police car and noticed Jessie kneeling down and speaking to one of the other officers who was meticulously inspecting the ground. Slowly, his soul heated to the point of boiling, his fear of things to come evaporated in an unquenchable hatred for the man standing a mere fifty feet from his well-secured, interim prison. All began to disappear in a now familiar shade of red, and the inner aching he’d experienced over the past few hours returned to his bones. Glancing down at a pulsing twinge in his right hand, Toby yelled in terror as the nail of his index finger sprang forward and morphed into what resembled a pointed claw. Flailing in fear, Toby shook his hand rapidly to the point of blurred velocity, his loathing for the Sherriff temporarily eclipsed by the phenomenon. Closing his eyes tight against the hallucinations he assumed were brought on by the ever-tightening confines of the squad car’s back seat, he hesitantly forced his eyes open only to reveal all was normal.
“Oh God!” Toby spoke to himself frantically. “I’ve either lost my mind or I actually did this! What the hell is wrong with me?”
Overtaken by near unconsciousness and a lightheaded calmness brought on by his short, desperate breaths in the claustrophobic surroundings, he resignedly rested his head gently against the sun-warmed glass of the window and prepared to accept his fate.
Sheriff Jessie McGee walked through the blood-soaked grass with a sense of satisfaction. It was getting more difficult by the minute to hide his smiling face in the surrounds of carnage and death. Leaning down to one of the forensic officers for an update, he no longer cared about the situation at hand. As far as he was concerned, the man responsible for the devastation was locked away securely behind him in his police car. Whatever it was the investigator had to say was of little consequence.
“Well, Bill, what do you think?”
“What do I think?” the officer spoke in shock while carefully removing his blood-soaked gloves from his hands. “I’ve never seen anything like this before. Has anyone found the murder weapon yet?”
“Murder weapon?” The Sheriff inquired.
“Yeah, the murder weapon,” the officer replied. “You’re not actually thinking that this man accomplished all of this with his bare hands, are you?”
“Actually, I am,” he said with certainty. “Toby Liberman is a sick bastard.”
The investigator looked at him crossly through confused eyes.
“Sheriff, no offense, but if a man did this with his bare hands, then he must’ve taken the time to run over them a time or two with a big freaking lawn mower because there are chunks of flesh everywhere.”
Jessie surveyed the scene carefully before speaking again.
“Maybe he did. With all the noise from the storm last night and the lack of traffic, no one would’ve noticed if he did. Hell, for all we know, he could’ve killed them all with a crocheting needle and just slung shit everywhere because he’s a lunatic retard.”
“As funny as that sounds…” the officer spoke, attempting to hide his reaction to the Sheriff’s joke. “I think that it’s impossible. There are marks on the trees near where one of the bodies was found, the Weldon kid, that looks like marks made by a swinging axe or machete. All I know for sure, and from experience, is that they were made by something sharp being swung with a lot of force.”
“Well, where is it then?” McGee inquired sarcastically.
“Hell, I don’t know,” Bill said surely. “I’ve got a couple of guys combing the woods for it.”
“How do you know that he didn’t ditch it elsewhere like in a dumpster or something on the other side of town?” the Sheriff asked again, attempting to cover all the angles, but the forensics officer had an answer for that, also.
“There aren’t any footprints leading away from the scene of the crime, only toward it,” the officer said matter-of-factly. “Besides that, why would he leave the scene, ditch the weapon, and come back?”
“I told you, he’s not all there upstairs,” McGee assured the man with a raised voice. “He probably came back here to roll around in the blood like a pig in a mud puddle!”
“And he did so until he passed out from exhaustion, conveniently still laying here when we arrived this morning?”
The Sheriff was getting irritated.
“What is your damn job?” he asked with authority, not caring much for the answer. “Is it to pick up all the little pieces of hair, blood, and shit, or to figure out the crime and get on my freaking nerves? You do what you’re supposed to do, and so will I!”
The officer hung his head low like a dog who had just been punished for inappropriate behavior.
“Yes, Sheriff,” he said quickly. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to overstep.”
“Apology accepted,” Jessie McGee said softly and playfully. “Just let me know if you find anything else. I’m going to take this idiot to the jail with the rest of Myrtle County’s finest. With any luck, he’ll get shredded by the rest of them before the day is up.”
Jessie gave the cowering man a reassuring pat on his back for a job well done and took one last stroll over to the three bodies lying only a few feet from where he stood. Carefully lifting a corner of the small one’s blanket with the toe of his blood covered boot, he revealed what remained of the young Ryan Weldon’s almost unrecognizable face. Confidently smiling, he slowly turned his head away from the morning’s rising sun and toward the confined Toby who he knew was watching his every move. Pointing downward and averting the man’s attention, he opened his mouth as wide as he possibly could and mouthed three words to him.
Stepping carefully to his right, he repeated the same gesture with one of the paramedics who’d been discovered mangled at the crime scene.
Pointing to the third covered body…
The smiling was getting impossible to hide and, quite frankly, the Sheriff no longer cared what anyone else thought. Barking out a laugh of self-satisfaction and ultimate pleasure, he motioned to Toby one last time. Slowly and surely, he pointed his stretched finger toward him in a final gesture of insult.
Sheriff McGee wiped all visible signs of triumphant joy from his face, un-holstered his weapon, and chambered a round. He ground his boots hard into the parts of the grass not covered in blood and stepped toward the vehicle as though he were moving in slow motion. Securing his weapon once again and snapping the guard shut, he glared smugly at his captured prize who sat waiting. Tonight, he would be with Jessica without fear of interruption. Twenty-two years of repressed hatred for Toby Liberman was dissipating with every step toward the car. He had hoped for a triumphant moment like this from his first day at the academy. There was nothing and no one left to stop him from achieving his long-awaited objective.
Though he knew in his heart it was useless, Toby still looked around for a way to escape the squad car as the Sheriff approached. There was nothing. The internal door handles were removed, and a thick iron cage dashed any hopes of bursting through the glass. Between the front seats and his crumpled body in the back of the car existed another iron cage that was bolted and welded firmly, discouraging any thoughts of placing his hands on the Sherriff as they traveled.
Squeezing into the vehicle amongst the menagerie of police hardware in the driver’s seat, the Sheriff buckled his seat belt, brought the engine to life with a roar, and placed the car in gear. He adjusted the sights of his rearview mirror, but not for a better view of the road; he wanted to keep his eyes on Toby at all times. Reaching down onto the center console, he retrieved the radio handset and spoke.
There was a sudden return coming over the car’s speakers.
“This is dispatch, go ahead,” came the mechanical sounding voice on the other end.
“Unit 10-24 is in route to the jail with a prisoner,” announced McGee.
“10-24 received. Be careful, Sheriff,” said the dispatcher.
McGee investigated his rear-view mirror and smiled again.
“Copy that, dispatch. I don’t think I have anything to worry about.”
Hanging up the radio, the man with the badge quickly turned over his right shoulder and glared at Toby over the top of his shades.
“Well, Mr. Liberman, are you ready to go check out your new home?”
Toby looked back at the man with hatred. He could feel the strange tingling in his hand begin to twitch again.
“You better get a grip on those looks you like to give, boy. Where you’re going, they don’t take too kindly to the new guy getting all huffy puffy, especially one who has killed a kid and two public servants.”
Toby knew better than to fire a comment back at the Sheriff for fear of the retaliation sure to follow. He was in Jessie’s world now, and a powerful world it was. There’s no fear of consequence when you’re the man with the gun who all other men with guns answered to. He could almost see what Jessica was drawn toward. The power and authority were almost crippling to a powerless person such as himself. The handcuffs behind his back were cutting into his wrists and, no matter which way he turned them, they only cut deeper. Asking the Sheriff to remove them would have been a lost cause.
“Well, look there, Mr. Liberman,” began the Sheriff again. “Isn’t that where you used to live?”
Toby broke his silence.
“Damn you, Jessie. You don’t have to rub this in. Just take me to the damn jail and be done with it.”
“Oh no, Mr. Liberman. I’ve got all day,” sang Jessie McGee gleefully. “I am the Sheriff, after all. I thought that we could take this drive down memory lane together since it’s going to be the last time you see any of it.”
“Don’t be so sure, asshole!” Toby growled back.
“Asshole?” Jessie McGee repeated. “No sir, you’re greatly mistaken. This will be the last time you see anything within the city limits of Twin Oaks. You’ll stay locked up until your trial, which will go quite quickly because of the evidence against you, I might add. Then, they’ll shuttle you down to the penitentiary and throw you in a hole where you’ll stay for 20 years awaiting your death. I should honestly mark this on the calendar or something. This is a special day for me.”
“It’s a special day for me, too,” replied Toby. “Today is the day that I got firsthand reassurance of the fact that you have a little dick and like getting off on the misfortunes of others.”
“Hmmm…” the Sheriff paused until he could hold it no more. This opportunity was too convenient to pass up. “What wonderful timing! Isn’t that your daughter, Katie, playing out in your front yard? Here, let me play the siren for her and get her attention. After all, she’ll be seeing much more of me and much less of you.”
Toby looked for reassurance and, sure enough, there sat young Katie Liberman on her childhood swing set.
“Don’t you dare!” commanded Toby, angrier than ever before.
Toby could handle no more. Murder accusations or not, the minute the car door opened he was going to jump McGee, no matter what the consequences of his actions would be. With any luck, someone would shoot him dead and this entire nightmare would come to an abrupt and eternal end. Weighing his chances of getting a fair trial, it wouldn’t be the worst possible outcome. After all, Katie’s father being gunned down in police custody sounded better than her father rotting away in solitary confinement for two decades awaiting the needle. The car turned down the road that led to the Myrtle County Sheriff’s Department and Toby held his breath in anticipation for the attack. Now, it was his turn.
The squealing garage doors of the Sally Port began to close, signaling they’d reached their destination. McGee cut off the engine, vanished out the door of the vehicle, walked over to a locking box hanging on the wall and secured his weapon inside. Toby knew it was now or never. There would be no weapons involved, and even though he wouldn’t have the use of his hands during the conflict, he felt he would have a fighting chance to get the upper hand in the situation. As the latching mechanism gave way and the car door swung open, Toby lunged forward with all his might to take out whoever was unlucky enough to stand between him and Jessie McGee. Suddenly, Toby’s bid for supremacy was cut short by two loud popping sounds and the debilitating flow of electricity throughout his body from a taser.
“Good job, Officer Reed!” shouted Sheriff McGee. The shout echoed throughout the enclosed structure. “I knew that this son of a bitch was going to try something!”
“You’re welcome, Sheriff. It’s what I do for a living,” the pudgy deputy replied.
“You see, Mr. Liberman,” the Sheriff yelled, leaning close to Toby’s face, “I told you that there was no way out of this situation. I own you.”
Two more deputies exited the building and grabbed Toby up to his feet.
“Take this bastard to holding cell number one and throw him in there with that Yankee drunk we arrested this morning,” ordered Deputy Reed to the two jailers.
With the clanking of oversized keys, there was a grinding of metal within the lock and the holding cell door was flung open. The strong and overwhelming smell of years of urine, fecal matter, and who knows what brought Toby back around to his senses just in time to see a familiar yet terrifying sight he’d hoped would never be seen again. Amidst the darkness of the cave-like holding cell sat the darkened shadow of a man with two glowing yellow eyes nearly bringing Toby Liberman to his knees again.
“NO, NO, NO, NO!” he screamed and clawed as he tried to prevent the deputies from securing him. “That guy is a freaking monster or something! Look at his damn eyes man! Don’t lock me in here!!!”
“Mr. Liberman,” commanded Deputy Reed once again. “If you don’t sit down and shut the hell up, I’m going to put enough juice through you to drop a horse. Now, sit the hell down and shut up!”
The young deputy slammed the door firmly between himself and Toby and turned to the Sheriff with a sly grin that was all too familiar. McGee had obviously been offering attitude classes to his underlings.
“Mission accomplished, sir!” rang out Reed.
“Good job again, Deputy,” he patted him another time and looked deep into the tinted windows of the holding cell, directly at Toby. “I’ll be back for you soon, Mr. Liberman, you can bet on it.”
Finally, McGee vanished out of sight, followed by the deputies, and all was quiet for the first time since his morning unconsciousness.
Toby Liberman was not about to follow the Sheriff’s orders. He wasn’t betting on anything whatsoever. Today had been the single most heinous ‘bad luck’ day of his entire life and he wasn’t about to wager anything else on it. His life was more than enough collateral. Stuck in a damp holding cell with a possibly deranged and murdering psychopath or out in the free world with a dozen cops hot on his heels with guns, dogs, and tasers, Toby didn’t much like the odds either way. If only he’d picked up on Jessica’s problems sooner, perhaps he could’ve prevented all of this. Hell, he could’ve just turned and walked away rather than confront the Sheriff. At least he would’ve only been going through a divorce and his daughter could’ve come to stay with him on the weekends. The sea of what-ifs and possibilities came rushing in, flooding his brain, but none were was a solution to what was currently going on.
Sitting in the corner furthest away from the man he was housed with, whose eyes were thankfully no longer glowing, he would’ve given anything to speak to either Katie or Jessica.
Even though he would’ve said all the things that Toby didn’t particularly want to hear at that moment, he wished he could’ve talked to Johnny. He sat quietly, having been assured that a taste of home was a luxury he would never again be afforded.
Winner – 2011 Reader’s Favorite Award
Toby Liberman is nearing the end of his rope. After a fateful confrontation with his wife’s lover, he is chased into the woods only to be discovered by an unidentifiable creature. He is attacked and rendered unconscious. Upon waking at the scene of a gruesome triple homicide, Toby is arrested as the sole suspect and thrown into a jail cell with a strange man that knows way too much about his predicament. The stranger reveals to Toby that he now possesses the curse of the werewolf. Using his new-found strength to flee his captors, Toby begins to discover that things are not what they seem in the sleepy town of Twin Oaks, TX. Now hunted by law enforcement, as well as the town’s gun toting civilians, Toby seeks vengeance against his false accusers and embarks upon a quest to clear his name once and for all.