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Chapter Six: Back To The Scene Of The Slaughter

The parking lot was empty when the Toyota pickup pulled into view. Xavier and Liam had prepared themselves for a fact-finding expedition in the church parking area and the woods nearby. They always had everything they could possibly need in the specially designed pickup topper behind the cab.

The Toyota stopped well away from the bloodstain that marked the spot where the woman and her baby had died. Before getting out of the pickup, Xavier pulled a laptop from behind the front seat and plugged the dash cam into a USB port.

"I think we might have some usable footage from our first pass through here" he said. "Hopefully that cop wasn't directly in front of the camera the entire time."

"I don't know" said Liam. "I couldn't really see anything with or without the cop standing there."

They fell silent as they watched the video. Suddenly Liam spoke: "Hold it! Back it up!" He hovered over the screen with his index finger. "There!" he jabbed at the screen. "Blow that up a bit."

Xavier tapped the keys and suddenly the screen was filled with the gruesome image of the dead woman with her baby by her side.

"God have mercy!" Xavier breathed, sounding as if he was in prayer. "That woman's abdomen was ripped open and the baby was torn out."

The two of them gazed at the picture in silence for a few moments before Liam spoke. "The wound in her head; it looks like a bullet wound - maybe even a shotgun considering the condition of her head, but if you look up here at the car" he gestured toward the upper left of the screen, "you can see a single hole in the roof. And I don't see splatter from a gunshot wound."

Xavier nodded. After a moment he said, "We're dealing with something other than a gun here. It's not just the visible evidence; I can feel it." He shut off the laptop and closed the lid. After he had placed the computer behind the front seat he turned to look at his son. "Well, I guess it's time to do our thing. You ready?"

"As always" said Lee him patting the eighteen inch blade tucked under his black denim jacket. "Let's take a look around and see what's up."

They stepped out of the pickup, two tall, broad shouldered men, walking slowly toward the blood stain that marked the place where the woman and her child had died. As they moved forward they separated and approached the scene from different directions. Xavier stopped and crouched down near the place where the woman's body had been while Liam continued to slowly circle the area. He was facing the wooded lot next to the parking area when his father spoke from behind him.

"Take a look at this Lee."

Liam spun on his heel and stepped quickly toward his father. "What have you got dad?"

His father pointed to a spot at the edge of the bloodstained. "What do you make of that?"

Liam knelt down on the pavement and gently ran his hand across the surface. His fingertips came to rest in some kind of indentations and he pulled a small flashlight from his pocket to illuminate the area.

"Looks like marking from cleats. Or claws." He stood up while he continued to train the flashlight on the marks in the asphalt. "What I can't figure out is how you always see these things without any light."

"Practice. Lots and lots of practice. That's all."

Xavier moved around the bloody area and stood next to his son. "If you look in the center of the blood pool you can see the same sort of thing, I think.." He made a quick gesture with his hand. "Whoever did this was probably covered with blood, but I don't see any bloody tracks."

He placed his foot beside the gouges in the asphalt. "The spread of the cleats - or the claws - indicate a foot about the width of my size twelve."

"Yeah, I can make out four indentations, with a shape and depth showing movement that way" said Liam as he gestured to the front. "You figure the same?"

"Yes. And that would indicate to me," he turned 180° and peered into the darkness of the forest at the edge of the parking lot, "that the attacker came from those woods - tracks or no tracks."

"Okay. I guess that tells us where we ought to go. Either we can get a feel for what we're up against or," Liam paused for a moment, "or something else."

"Yeah, or something else" his father chuckled."

They started out in tandem toward the trees and then stepped away from each other until there was a gap of about twenty-five yards between them. Then, they began to slowly pace back and forth through an area of about fifty yards square. Liam used a flashlight, but his father continued to do without. After about a half an hour they met at a point near the center of the square they had lined out at the beginning of search. A large tree stood there and Liam leaned a hand against it as they paused in their investigation.

"I'm not finding anything" Xavier said. "The ground is pretty soft so you would think there would be tracks - if what ever are looking for is the sort of things to leave tracks." He shook his head. "But even then, there are enough rocks here for someone to move from the woods to the parking lot without leaving much sign."

Liam yawned. "Maybe we should come back in the daylight." He slid his hand down the tree trunk as he pushed himself fully upright. His hand felt sticky as he pulled it away from the tree. "In the day time I probably wouldn't be so apt to stick my hand in a bunch of pitch." With the flashlight in his left hand, he turned the narrow beam on his right.

"Blood."

They looked at one another and then as if on cue they turned to gaze upward into the dark branches of the tree overhead. Suddenly they heard what sounded like a quiet sigh.

Liam stepped back in order to achieve a new angle for his flashlight when all at once a dark form fell from the tree, knocking his father to the ground. Before Liam could react, the fiend had plunged a long ragged talon into Xavier's chest. He could hear his father grunt in pain.

"Dad!"

Liam bound forward as he drew the short blade from beneath his jacket. He was upon the creature before it had time to fully turn and struck a blow at the monster's head. The creature was lightening fast and it was merely grazed by the short sword. It wrenched free of the downed Guardian and turned to face its second foe. Liam pressed the attack, calling upon long hours of training and years of battle experience. He parried strike after strike as he bore in, hungry to plunge his blade into the belly of the beast. He could hear the creature breath and sigh each time his sword made contact. Suddenly the monster gave way and Liam's momentum carried him over the brute and out of attack position. As he tried to leap over his enemy, it thrust upward and Liam could feel the fire of a ragged claw tearing into the flesh of his leg. He hit the ground and rolled upright, sword ready to block the expected stab from the monster's claw. Instead he saw the creature shudder as a blow from his father's hatchet fell on its back. The ogre dropped to the ground and scuttled to one side in a crab like maneuver then stood upright. Liam could see its eyes in the darkness as two pools of deep gloom. The creature hesitated a moment and then turned and loped away, quickly disappearing into the darkness.

"Dad!" Liam sprinted toward his father, ignoring the searing pain in his leg. "Where'd it hit you? Are you okay?"

Xavier was down on one knee, leaning on the handle of his ax. His breath came in rattling gasps. "I'm okay." He paused to catch his breath. "That's relative I suppose. That thing tagged me in the shoulder.." He struggled to his feet as Liam lifted him from the waist. "A little lower and I'd of bought the farm." He paused a minute. "I think we can handle this in the usual way - no doctor, for now." Xavier suddenly collapsed to the ground as blood pulsed from the wound in his chest.

"No way." Liam helped his father up and toward the pickup. "I'm taking you to the hospital."

* * * * * * * * * * *

The Toyota screeched to a stop just in front of the emergency entrance at the local hospital. Liam jumped from the car and rushed to the passenger door. His father staggered as his son helped him toward the entrance.

"I need some help here!" Liam yelled as they burst through the doorway. The hospital staff on duty looked up and reacted instantly. Several staff rushed forward, instructions were shouted and moments later Xavier was on a gurney being whisked away for evaluation and treatment. Liam limped after the group only to be waylaid by an emergency room nurse.

"Hold on there cowboy. Looks like you need some help yourself."

Liam turned to see who is speaking and was surprised to find he had the same feeling of familiarity toward this stranger that he had experienced with Connie earlier that day. He stared at her with his mouth slightly open looking like a lovestruck fool. But it wasn't love - although the girl was beautiful - it was the confusion he felt over meeting with the same sensation of acquaintance. For ten years Liam had been wondered about the dream. He had never met anyone who seemed connected to the dream until now - and now there were two people who seemed to be part of the vision.

"Are you okay?" she smiled. "You look like you've seen a ghost."

"Uh, no, it's just," Liam shook his head. "It's just that - uh - you look familiar."

The two of them stood in the middle the hallway gazing at each other for an awkward moment before Liam spoke again. "Look, I - I need to stick with my dad and make sure he's okay," he glanced down at the bloody wound running along the inside of his thigh. "I can get this taken care of later I think." His head was spinning; not from the wound or loss of blood but due to the concern he felt for his father - and because of suddenly coming face to face with the girl in his dream.

"Don't be ridiculous" she said. "He's under the care of trained medical staff so it will be okay for you to catch up with - your dad is it? - to catch up with your dad after you've been patched up."

Liam glanced down the empty hallway before looking back at her. He wanted to make sure his dad was okay but - now - he also wanted to speak with him privately before spending any time around this young woman from the dream. Yet, he knew his father would be out of it for a while and so he would have to handle this on his own. "I suppose you're right - as long as it doesn't take too long."

The nurse glanced at the wound on his leg. "It's going to take a little while to patch that up. You're going to need stitches that much is clear. Now, let me get a wheelchair and we will get you to an examination room -"

"I don't need a wheelchair. Show me where to go and I can walk there."

The girl rolled her eyes as if to say "men" and shook her head. "It doesn't really matter if you think you can walk or not, it's standard hospital procedure to transport emergency room patients - especially with that kind of wound - " she gestured toward Liam's leg, "in a wheelchair, so," she turned toward a fellow nurse working the emergency room check-in. "Tammy could you please bring a wheelchair over here for Mr. ..."

"Smith, Lee Smith."

"And you might as well bring a clipboard with the forms we need filled out too." She took the hand-off from the other nurse and maneuvered the wheelchair in place. "Alright - nice and easy - have a seat" she said as steered Liam into the wheelchair.

Liam leaned his head on one hand as he was wheeled toward an examination room. If this really was the girl from the nightmare then he needed to warn her. But nothing like this had happened before. Normally the dreams and visions of Guardians would guide them to a particular place or alert them to the character of an enemy. There was nothing in the Guardian's Bible about a dream or vision designed to provide a warning to a victim. Liam felt unprepared and was unsure how to proceed.

The young nurse helped Liam remove his torn jeans and guided him onto the examination table. He sat on the edge of the table clad in his shirt and underwear but his natural embarrassment was blunted by his concern for his father and the confusion he felt concerning the dream. He hardly noticed while the nurse cleaned and prepped the wound for the arrival of the doctor.

"How in the world did this happen?" She asked. "It's not deep but it extends about twelve inches in length. It looks like someone ran a jagged piece of steel along the inside of your leg." She dabbed at the wound with antiseptic.

"Uh, no, I mean yes - it was sharp and jagged but, uh, it's a work related incident."

"Hmm." she glanced at him. "What kind of work; construction or something?"

"More like demolition."

"In the middle of the night?" She straightened up and looked at him with her hands on her hips. "That doesn't seem very safe, doing that kind of work in the dark." She stripped the protective gloves from her hands and turned to toss them into the bio-hazard container. She faced him again and crossed her arms. "I can't think of any place in town where they are doing demolition. Who did you say you work for?"

"I didn't say who we work for." Liam suddenly realized he wasn't wearing any pants. "Um, do you think I could get, uh, something -" he made a vague gesture toward his bare legs.

The nurse shifted her gaze from Liam's face to his legs for a moment and smiled. "You can't have your pants back - what's left of them - until the doctor stitches you up." She crossed to a cabinet on one side of the room and pulled out a paper hospital gown. "But you can drape this over your legs to preserve your modesty until Dr. Clark gets here."

"Gee, thanks" Liam said with mock politeness.

They were both quiet for a moment and Liam's thoughts quickly returned to his dilemma; what should he say to this young woman, if anything? Once again he wished he could discuss the situation with his father. He was so distracted that he didn't initially here the young woman's question.

"Hello. Are you okay?"

"Yeah, I'm sorry." Liam shook his head. "Did you say something?"

"Yes. I was asking you again about how you received the injury. You said something about demolition work."

"Well, yeah, demolition work" he shrugged.

"Who do you work for?"

"Well, actually, my dad and I have a couple jobs." Liam shifted uncomfortably. "We contract to do building maintenance. Really, the demolition stuff is on the side and kind of behind the scenes, I guess you'd say." He looked steadily at her face. "That's probably why you haven't seen evidence of our work in town."

She looked at him with her arms still crossed, a slight smile on her lips. She opened her mouth as if to say more but Liam interrupted before she had a chance to speak.

"So, what's you name?"

"This time the young woman broke into a broad smile. "Lily. Lily Seymour." She stepped forward and extended her hand. After a quick handshake she stepped back and resumed her former posture.

"I'm Lee Smith, but I guess you already knew that" he smiled and drew a breath to continue when the doctor burst through the door.

The doctor snatched up the clipboard and quickly scanned the forms. "So, Mr. Lee Smith" he emphasized the first name. "Is that your father, uh, John Smith, I just patched up?" "Yes - how is he? Will he be okay?"

"Oh yes, he'll be fine. The puncture wound was well away from the lung or any other vitals. He'll need time to recover of course, but there shouldn't be any lasting problem." The doctor tossed the clipboard on the counter. "Your dad said the two of you have a business doing small demolition jobs and that's how he was injured." He seated himself on a stool in front of Liam and pulled an instrument tray alongside. "Looks to me like the two of you tangled with the same piece of material." He lifted his chin to indicate the ragged cut on the inside of Liam's thigh.

"Yeah, that's right." Liam wanted to change the subject. "Uh, will this hurt much?" He grinned weakly. "I hate to admit it but, heh, getting stitches usually makes me pass out."

The doctor looked at him with his eyebrows raised. "Well, Lily administered local anesthesia I assume" he glanced at the nurse and she responded with a quick nod. "That should keep the pain to a minimum.." He shook his head. "Frankly I'm surprised a big strapping young man like you would be put off by a little needle and thread."

"Yeah, I know, crazy isn't it. Just the same, I would like to lie down if that's okay. I'm pretty sure I'm going to pass out."

The doctor exchanged glances with Lily a second time and then shrugged. "No problem. Go ahead and lay down then I'll take care of this."

Liam lay back on the table and closed his eyes. It seems the doctor took a long time to finish stitching the wound but Liam didn't make a sound the entire time. He hoped that Lily and the doctor would think he was semi-conscious at best and stop with the questions.

Finally, the doctor was finished and Liam could hear the sound of a stool pushed away from the examination table and the instrument tray wheeled out of the room. He heard the doctor strip off his gloves and wash his hands. He risked opening his eyes just a slit and saw the doctor looking at him. He stood motionless for a moment and then turned and left the room. Unsure sure what he should do next, Liam lay quietly for a few minutes when he heard someone reenter the room. He jumped as something flopped crossed his abdomen.

"You better put your raggedy jeans back on Mr. Smith."

Liam opened his eyes and turned to see Lily looking at him with a bemused smile on her face.

"Yeah, um, thanks." He sat up and lay the trousers over his legs.

"After that you can visit your father. He'll need to spend a day or two here." She turned to leave and then stopped. Turning back toward Liam she raised an admonishing finger and said "But as long as you're here I'm afraid you'll need to use a wheelchair to get from place to place."

Liam smiled. "Gotcha. No problem." He glanced at the door and then down at the jeans.

"Oops, I'm sorry" Lily laughed. "I forgot you're shy." She turned and stepped toward the door. "Now don't forget to use the chair" she called over her shoulder.

Liam waited a moment and then struggled into his jeans before putting his feet on the floor. His work boots and socks were neatly lined up next to the wheelchair. He limped over to the chair and sat down. It took him several minutes to put the boots on and he found himself wishing Lily had remained behind to help.

Once he was ready, he wheeled the chair into the hallway and asked a passing nurse where he might find his father. Receiving directions to the hallway on the left and then the third room on the right, Liam propelled the wheelchair around the bend and just inside the door of the room. He found his dad propped up in bed, head back and eyes closed.

"Dad? Are you awake?" he asked quietly.

Xavier opened his eyes and smiled. "Yeah, come on in."

Liam wheeled the chair next to the bed and grabbed his father's hand. "I know this isn't the first time but I have to ask again - why are you the one who's always getting hurt."

"That's because I'm always looking out for you kid" He smiled and gave Liam's hand another squeeze before letting go. "Besides, this really isn't that bad considering some of the other injuries." He paused before continuing. "By the way, I've been thinking that one of these days we really ought to get a job doing demolition."

Liam smiled and nodded. "Yeah. I'm just glad you're going to be okay, dad." He glanced back at the open door before continuing. "Something weird is going on. That girl in my dream, the girl who is killed by some creature - I'd swear she's here. I mean - I'm not sure - because there is never any face I can recognize in the dream. After meeting Connie the other day I thought it was her. But now I'm wondering if it's the nurse, Lily Seymour. It might be her who dies in the dream."

Liam glanced at his father and saw him looking toward the doorway. Liam turned to see what drew his attention and saw Lily standing just inside the room, staring at him, her eyes wide with confusion and fear.

Chapter One: Slaughter In The Churchyard
Chapter Two: The Guardians
Chapter Three: The Detective
Chapter Four: Checking Out The Church
Chapter Five: Lunch With Connie
Chapter Six: Back To The Scene Of The Slaughter
Chapter Seven: Suspects In View
Chapter Eight: An Unbelievable Story
Chapter Nine: The Suspects Disappear
Chapter Ten: A Plan Of Action
Chapter Eleven: Lily's Help
Chapter Twelve: Another Victim
Chapter Thirteen: The Briefing
Chapter Fourteen: Attack On A Guardian
Chapter Fifteen: The Fury Of The Fiend


THE END WAS NEAR
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