When I was a kid, my parents used to take me to this family resort up in the mountains of Vermont. For ten years I spent a week of my summer there, hiking, swimming, playing with the occasional friend or two I would make up there, if only for a week. It was one of the only times I ever remembered being happy as a kid, being relaxed, being almost normal. We stopped going towards the end of my time in high school, since college put a lot more on my plate and I didn't have the time to devout a week out of my schedule to come up here.
Despite all the years I was up here, I only ever ventured into the town of Stowe once or twice; once with family, once with a group of friends I had made that week. It's a small town, I don't think too many people live there, but the people who do I remember were friendly enough, and it seemed like a hot spot for a lot of passerby's. So it was weird driving into town to find it completely bare, not a soul in the streets.
I parked it outside the post office and stepped out. Spooky. Almost like the place had turned into a ghost town. Maybe they had had a bad summer season, I don't know.
I found Wren's car outside of the general store, empty. His was the only car on the whole street. I parked up alongside him and got out. Keys were in the ignition. Alright, I thought, he had to be in there. I stepped inside.
The general store was pitch dark. I hit the light switch, no dice. Electricity was out, though I haven't gotten to check if it was the whole town or not. It'd be hard for me to believe that Slender Man had the whole town cleared out, but then again, Indiana proved he had a bit more influence than that.
It was at this point that I had my handgun out. I hadn't seen or heard anything yet that there was something to worry about, but then again, I hadn't seen or heard anything to convince me that all was well in this town. I took a couple steps further inside when-
“Who are you?”
Probably jumped a foot in the air when she said that. I turned around and there she was, staring at me, with a fucking box of Wheat Thins in one hand and a can of cheese spray in the other.
In a way, she looked almost like she did in the old photos of her and Lizzie; black hair, brown eyes, a looker for sure. Her face was different, though; not with the playfulness of a child, like Lizzie always had, but one who had seen a lot of shit in her life and had the scars to prove it. Thinking about it now, I like to think this is what Lizzie would have been like if she had survived long enough to run, because personality wise, they're almost exactly the same. But I didn't know that at that moment; all I knew was that this is who I was looking for.
“You're Mary Gallagher?”
“What are you doing in here?”
She held up the food items. “I was hungry.”
“Wheat Thins and cheese spray constitute a snack?”
“Well, I was going to try the diner down the street, but they seem to be having staffing problems. As in, they don't have a staff.”
She shrugged. She was probably used to it by now, eating whatever she found.
“So who are you supposed to be?”
“Zeke Strahm. You knew Lizzie growing up?”
She had shown genuine confusion when I introduced myself, but as soon as I gave Lizzie's full name her face broke into a wide smile.
“Oh, you're a friend of Liz's? God, I haven't even thought about her in...well, forever. Yeah, we grew up together, you know her well?”
“She was my partner. We were close.”
“How is she?” Apparently she didn't pick up on the “was” or the “were”. “Is she doing well? Is she still living with that asshole father? I told her as soon as she was eighteen she should get the hell out of there and never look back.”
I sighed. This was painful as hell, but she had to know. No way could she keep going not knowing.
I swear, it was like telling a child Santa Claus didn't exist. That smile faded right from her face, and what color there was to her pale face drained.
“She died last year.”
“It's not important-”
“How did she die?”
I sighed. Did she think this was easy for me? “We were pursuing a murder suspect in his warehouse-”
“We were both detectives working for police homicide. I went in, she was supposed to stay at the station, but she went in after me anyway, and the guy found her and...cut her up.” I ended that sentence with what felt like a weight hitting me. Even over a year later, I still wasn't over it.
She looked even worse. She went over to the counter and placed her items down, looking as if I had kicked her in the gut. Then she glared at me.
“That can't be all it was, or you wouldn't have been trying to find me,” she said, her tone suddenly angry. “He was involved too, wasn't he? He found her again.”
I nodded. “Yeah. It was because of him-”
As soon as I said it she grabbed the can of spray and threw it so hard at the mirror it shattered into pieces and the holder fell off the nail it hung from and clattered onto the floor. Scared the crap out of me.
“Dammit!” She pushed her hair back from her face, which was now dark red. “I thought she was safe, I thought he wasn't going to go after her anymore. He shouldn't have gone after her!”
“Wait, what the hell are you-?”
And then all of a sudden there was screaming from the back room, a lot of banging, and someone laughing. I looked at the door, then back at her.
“What was that?” I asked.
“I'm assuming you sent him? He showed up a few days ago. Wasn't too keen on seeing him again, but he said to hold tight, someone wanted to talk to me. I'm guessing that's you?”
I didn't wait to answer her. As soon as she said “you sent him” I hurried over and kicked the door open, my gun at the ready to find-
Wren was standing over what looked like a human-formed barbecue. Everything from head to toe was either on fire or was badly burned, and yet somehow he was still alive, writhing in pain. In one of Wren's hands was a can of Air sol, and in the other was a lighter. He looked at me and grinned.
“Oh, hey Zee,” he said, holding up the items. “Take a look. Portable flamethrower. And you say I'm not resourceful.”
“You just...torched...a random civilian-”
“Not random. This fucker was stalking her for three days until I put him in his place.”
I looked back at her. She just nodded.
“He's hollowed out, complete proxy. He's been following me from Detroit to here. I didn't tell Wren to turn the guy into a hot dog, though,” she said, glaring at him.
“Well, shit, looking at you, I'm amazed you haven't resorted to cannibalism a lot sooner. When's the last time you had any meat? And I mean in the food sense.”
“Drop dead, Ferret Face.”
“Ahh, definitely missed your sense of humor, Little Lamb.”
“I told you if you ever called me that again-”
“Both of you!” I demanded, shutting them both up. After this summer, I was in no mood to play baby-sitter again. But my yelling was definitely more than my throat could handle, and I soon erupted in a bit of a coughing fit. Mary walked out of sight, and came back with a bottle of water. She gave it to me.
“Thanks,” I choked out, taking a sip. Not as helpful as my medicine, but definitely tasted a lot better. “Where are you staying?”
“Place in the resort. Up high. Why?”
“'Cause I've got a timeshare up there and if I'm gonna stick around I might as well make myself at home. You're coming with me so we can figure that out. Wren, you take care of the body.”
“By myself? Oh, come on, Zee, you know how long that's gonna take me?” He immediately whined.
“Well, Jesus, Wren, you should've thought of that before you turned him into shish kabob, now, shouldn't you have?”
He didn't directly answer me, just grumbled a bit, but he dropped his “portable flamethrower” and went to do his work while I lead Mary back to the car.
The resort was as empty as the town was; I don't know how busy their fall season was, but I imagined, given that we're up in the Green Mountains, that with the trees changing leaves it'd be a hell of a sight. My timeshare in one of the condos higher up was exactly the same as they had been all those years ago; even those weird pictures of the bikes were still mounted on the walls of the kid's room. Power's out, so can't take advantage of all the TVs that are in here, but otherwise, it feels like I'm having yet another vacation.
But I'm not here for pleasure this time.
I've found Mary. Now finally time to peace together where she fits into all of this.
I'll post my findings as soon as I can.