THE WINSLOW INCIDENT

Elizabeth Voss

 

I find myself considerably discomposed and disordered—full of notions.

Poor N. Burt cut his own throat. We hear great talk about witchcraft.

—From the Diary of Stephen Williams, Longmeadow, Massachusetts, 1716-1735

(Poisons of the Past, Mary Kilbourne Matossian)

 

Don’t touch me! Stand back! I am dead, do you hear? I am dead.

I have snakes in my stomach! They are burning burning burning.

—Charles Veladaire, Pont-Saint-Esprit, France, 1951

(The Day of St. Anthony’s Fire, John G. Fuller)

 

Blood is pouring from the sky: We are going to drown.

I see a river of bodies. I see a town of ghosts.

—Aaron Adair, Winslow, Washington, 2010

(A Plague of Madness, G.F. Olson)

 

***

 

 

Prologue

 

 

I’m not well, he admitted.

     Fearful of making a sound, Veterinarian Reed Simmons sat rigid in the dining room chair he’d wedged against his front door. From that vantage point he could make out the patch of brown grass that constituted his lawn but not the vehicle he heard roar up.

     His rifle rested across his knees.

     This intrusion could only spell trouble. Since Simmons’ visit to Holloway Ranch that morning, followed by the realization that he too felt peculiar, he’d had his suspicions. And if those suspicions turned out to be correct, he did not want to be involved in any capacity.

     Nothing I can do about it anyway. He shuddered so violently his teeth clacked together.

     Footsteps on the gravel driveway, as loud as fireworks, advanced toward the porch. Simmons could identify the condition if not the cause: hyperacusis, his sensitivity to sound growing more and more painful as this interminable day wound on and on.

     I’m not well, the thought crept back into his worried mind.

     A dog began to bark . . . and clamor and claw around the porch.

     Simmons cringed, which sent his forehead throbbing again. How did I cut my head so severely? Images flitted through his mind: the red truck, crashed in a roadside ditch; his bloodied face reflected in the bathroom mirror, hands fumbling to dress the wound. Now gauze stuck to the gash, making the area even more tender and sore.

     If only that were the worst of it.

     “Doc Simmons?” a young female voice sliced his eardrums and encouraged the dog to bark louder. “We need your help.”

     Hands trembling, the vet gripped the rifle. Just as he’d feared, they were coming for him. And why? He wasn’t an MD. I wish we had a real doctor on this godforsaken mountainside—

     A thunderous knock erupted inches from his ear, piercing his skull like a spike.

     He sprang from the chair.

     Holding his gun, he crouched in the middle of the living room and twisted this way and that—the barking coming from every direction at once—until he realized, I can’t see. Where were his glasses?

     Floodgates opened and panic the likes of which he had never known washed through his core. I’m not right! There’s sure to be others. Bound to get worse. What should I do? His mind was a book he struggled just to open, written in a language he no longer understood.

     There—he recognized the vague shape of his spectacles on the foyer table and dashed to retrieve them. Donning the glasses brought the world back into focus, brought him instantly back in control.

     “All right, then,” he decided, feeling angry that they expected him to save them when really the situation was quite hopeless, wasn’t it?

     He kicked away the chair and wrenched open the door to find the girl poised to knock and plead again.

     Trick or treat, he half-expected her to say.

     Instead she gasped and drew back from the doorway, a reaction that told him he was the trickster in a monster mask.

     A growl replaced the barking, a sound so menacing it startled Simmons. Because there wasn’t a dog in Winslow that wouldn’t recognize the vet’s scent.

     Truth is, Simmons realized, I don’t recognize myself.

     He looked down.

     Beside the girl, the Irish setter drooled copious amounts of saliva onto the porch.

     “Mad dog!” Simmons screamed. “Mad dog!”

     The girl shot the vet a look of terror before bounding down the porch steps, the dog at her heels.

     Simmons walked to the top step . . . slowly. What’s the hurry? he thought. No one in Winslow is going anywhere. Not anytime soon.

     The girl made it to the driveway with the dog running protective circles around her.

     Simmons raised his rifle and took aim.

 

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© 2011 S Elizabeth Voss - ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

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