Home > Once Chosen

Once Chosen
Author: Blake Pierce

PROLOGUE

 

 

Sheriff Emory Wightman held the big flashlight steady while two of his cops continued digging into the soft earth. The long, narrow hole was getting pretty deep now.

Officer Tyrone Baldry paused and climbed out of the excavation. Leaning on his shovel, he wiped his forehead with his dirty sleeve.

“Hey, Sheriff,” Baldry said, “care to take over for one of us for a little while?”

“We could use a little breather,” Officer Newt Holland echoed, still scraping at the earth at the bottom of the pit.

Wightman scoffed. “Somebody’s got to hold the light.”

Both of the cops grunted sarcastically.

But indeed, the little clearing in the woods had grown dark while they worked. Wightman considered stopping everything until they could bring in proper lighting. But if there was anything in this grave-shaped hole, he wanted to know it now.

There had been nothing at all here the last time.

He felt a flash of déjà vu as he glanced into the surrounding darkness. It had been on a cool fall night just like this, almost a year ago. They’d come out here on a sinister tip, looking for a missing person—a young woman named Allison Hillis, who had vanished a few nights earlier on Halloween. An anonymous note had directed them to dig here, where freshly turned earth had looked like it might actually be a grave. But when they had removed all the soft dirt, they had found nothing.

Now, nearly a year later, the woman was still missing, and no body had ever been found. A newly delivered note had led them here again. And again, loose earth had made it appear that something—or someone—could be buried in this place.

And again, this was beginning to seem like a cruel hoax, dragging the police out here for the same fool’s errand.

I’d like to get my hands on that prankster.

Maybe I’d even press charges.

Staring down into the pit, Baldry asked, “How much deeper do you want us to go?”

That’s a good question, Wightman thought.

How deep did they need to dig before they could feel confident that this late-night errand was an act of futility? That it was again based on a prank.

“Just keep digging,” Wightman replied. “I guess it’s getting tight down there. You can take it in turns.”

Holland started shoveling again, while Baldry just stood on the edge of the hole. Glancing into the surrounding darkness, Baldry said with a smirk, “Sheriff, I hope you’re keeping an eye out for the Goatman.”

Wightman growled under his breath.

It wasn’t a very funny joke, given how those anonymous messages had mentioned the old legend, both then and now. The vicious Goatman was just a regional tale, of course, but when Wightman had been a kid, it had seemed scary enough to keep him awake nights.

He was about to call an end to the digging when he heard a shaky voice from within the excavation.

“Sheriff,” Holland said. “Bring the light closer.”

Wightman and Baldry leaned over the edge of the hole.

Holland was brushing loose dirt aside with his hand, uncovering something.

Baldry’s voice sounded frightened now.

“Oh, Jesus. I’ve got a really bad feeling about this.”

Wightman held his hand out to shine the light directly where Holland was working.

“It looks like black cloth,” Holland said.

As Holland cleared more dirt away, they could see white paint on the black background—white stripes that looked like ribs. The cloth was part of a Halloween costume.

The missing woman had been wearing exactly that sort of costume when she’d disappeared last year on Halloween—a skeleton costume, black with white bones painted on it.

“Oh, no,” Holland said. “Oh, Christ, no.”

He kept scraping the dirt away with his hands. He hesitated when he uncovered the skull mask.

“Lift it,” Wightman said, knowing all too well what they’d find behind it.

Holland lifted the mask, then let out a cry as he scrambled backward away from the sight.

It was another skull—a real one. Desiccated flesh clung to the bones, and there were mangy tufts of raggedy hair on the scalp.

The truth flooded over Sheriff Wightman like a tidal wave.

Allison Hillis was no longer a missing person.

She was a dead one.

Baldry retreated away from the edge of the hole, whimpering with horror.

Wightman stared down at the skull with his mouth hanging open.

“What do we do now, Sheriff?” Holland asked in a hushed voice.

For a moment, Wightman had no idea what to say.

What does this mean? he wondered.

Why had the anonymous tipster led them here on some pointless errand last year, only to bring them out here again to find an actual corpse?

And why had Allison Hillis been murdered to begin with?

Wightman remembered what the cryptic note had said in cut-out letters …

 

THE GOATMAN IS STILL HUNGRY

 

Whatever else it might mean, Wightman felt sure of one thing.

This was obviously a murder, and there are going to be more.

Holland repeated his question. “What do we do now?”

Wightman took a long, deep breath.

“We’re going to call the FBI,” he said.

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

 

Rounding up her daughters for breakfast seemed to be an impossible task for Riley this morning. After arguing over who was taking too long in the bathroom, April and Jilly kept popping in and out of each other’s room to chatter about nothing in particular. When they finally came downstairs, they even started playing games in the family room until Riley dragged them out.

Have I got more than two girls? she almost wondered.

“Come on, let’s eat,” Riley kept saying. “You’re going to miss the bus to school. And I’m not going to drive you this morning.”

Finally she managed to herd both girls into the kitchen, where their Guatemalan housekeeper, Gabriela, had a delicious breakfast ready as usual. As soon as they sat down at the table, Jilly asked a question.

“Mom, can I have forty dollars?”

“What do you need it for, honey?” Riley asked.

“I need to rent a zombie costume,” Jilly said.

For a moment Riley wondered, Zombie costume?

Then she remembered—Halloween was just a couple of days off.

“You don’t need a zombie costume,” Riley said.

Sixteen-year-old April poked her younger sister and said gleefully, “I told you she wouldn’t let you have it.”

A whine rose in Jilly’s voice as she said, “But I need a costume to go trick-or-treating!”

“You’re too old to go trick-or-treating,” Riley said.

“I’m fourteen!” Jilly said.

“Exactly what I mean,” Riley said, taking a bite of her breakfast.

“This isn’t fair,” Jilly said. “I’ve never been trick-or-treating in my life. I’ll definitely be too old next year. This will be my last chance.”

Riley felt a pang of surprised sympathy. “You’ve never been trick-or-treating?”

Jilly shrugged and said plaintively, “When would I have had the chance to do anything like that?”

April added, “You know she’s telling the truth, Mom.”

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