Joanna kept running, even though she could feel her lungs burning. The sheriff’s office was within sight. She stopped just in front of the door as a creature bounded in front of her, screeching in an unnatural pitch. She wasted no time in snuffing the light out of its soulless eyes.
With a quick pump, Sheriff Joanna Wheeler ejected the spent shells from the shotgun and barged into her office. It was empty, except for the blond man, who was still in the holding cell. She pointed her gun through the bars of the cell, breathing hard.
“What the hell’s going on here? What are those things?”
The bedraggled prisoner shook his head sadly. “I toldja you should have let me go.”
“I’m gonna need a better explanation,” Joanna growled.
The blond man looked her square in the eye. His eyes were very blue, the irises standing out against the bloody veins that surrounded them.
“Shoulda let me go, Sheriff,” he repeated.
Perhaps she should have. When Deputy Earl Mason had brought the stranger in for driving drunk, Joanna had expected it to be a fairly routine case. They’d let him sober up in the cell while they tried to find someone to get him. But he didn’t have any ID and was too incoherent to give them a name. He had screamed about how they had to release him and babbled on about monsters before passing out. They didn’t give him a second thought. Until sundown.
Joanna had received a call about some sort of disturbance at the Wilburs’ farmhouse. She knew something was wrong the moment she pulled into the driveway. There was pin drop silence. She walked toward the house, taking her pistol out of his holster. There was some sort of sound coming from the barn just adjacent to the main house. Joanna slowly walked toward it, noticing the door was ajar. She pushed the door open and almost threw up.
All of the animals were dead. Their mutilated pieces lay scattered around the barn, the floor thick with blood. The Wilburs lay near the entrance. Most of the meat had been stripped off May Wilbur’s body, and Henry was in the process of being disemboweled by some sort of troll-like creature. It whipped its head around to look at Joanna, licking its bloodied gums. She emptied an entire round of ammunition into it and ran. As she was getting into her car, she saw more of those same creatures on the roof of the farmhouse. They leapt off and ran towards the town.
Joanna drove after them, hoping she could prevent them from hurting anyone. But she was wrong. Within minutes, there were hundreds of them, attacking anyone in sight. They overwhelmed the squad car and Joanna barely managed to escape, taking her shotgun and a couple of boxes of shells with her. She had come running to the office to collect some more ammunition, and hopefully some answers.
She kept her gun trained on the blond man, contemplating whether to just shoot him and get it over with, when a thought struck her: where was Earl? She heard a screech behind her and turned around just in time to blow the head off the creature trying to attack her. There was blood pooling under the door of the evidence room. Inside, Joanna found what was left of Earl. This time she did throw up.
Composing herself as best she could, Joanna unlocked the cell door and dragged the blond man out.
“Alright, you’re free. Now what?”
He shook his head again. “It’s too late.”
“The hell it is.” She grabbed him by the collar and led him out of the station. The blond man’s car was parked outside, apparently untouched. As they walked toward it, she realized the whole town was silent and completely dark, except for a few flickering street lights. She caught sight of a tall figure under one of the lights by the station. He was dressed in a preacher’s outfit with a wide brimmed hat covering most of his pallid face, leaving only a grinning mouth exposed.
“Good evening, Sheriff,” the creature said in a low twang. “He’s right, you know. It is too late.”
Joanna stepped in front of the blond man and raised her shotgun.
“Is it now? Well, why don’t you step into the light, stranger, and maybe we can talk about that.”
The figure grinned wider, jagged teeth glinting. Its eyes remained hidden.
“I appreciate the offer, Sheriff, but I’m much more comfortable here.”
“What the hell are you?”
It responded with a soft laugh that snaked its way up her spine.
“You may consider me a harbinger. This town is on its last legs, Sheriff. It’s beyond saving now.”
Joanna tried to keep her hands steady. “Why? Why here?”
The figured looked thoughtful. “Well, to be honest, Sheriff, we just wanted him.” It pointed a long finger at the blond man.
“But then your friend came along and took him in. We thought we might wait for his release before continuing our pursuit but, well, we got hungry.”
The figure’s grin widened into a ghastly rictus. Joanna cursed loudly and fired a shot as the street light flicked off. When it came on again, there was nobody there. She snapped her head around to look at the blond man.
“Get in the car.”
“Don’t you see? There’s no point! They’re everywhere!”
“Get. In the goddamned. Car.”
“It’s too late…”
The blond man lunged at Joanna and managed to wrap his fingers around her throat. Reflexively, she pulled the trigger and the back of his head exploded in a shower of blood, flesh and bone. Bloody spittle flew out of his mouth, staining her jacket and her cheek.
She stared at the blond man’s corpse and then looked around. She could hear humming. It was a low rumble, like several car engines idling at once. It was coming from every direction, pounding itself into her skull, sapping the energy from her body.
Things were about to get much worse.
Joanna slid into the driver’s seat of the car, taking slow, deep breaths. She laid the shotgun across her lap and started up the engine. The street lights started coming back on, casting deep shadows across the street. She could see that the creatures were perched on the rooftops and crowded along the sidewalk, watching her with unblinking eyes. They were humming in unison. The ground vibrated beneath her. She put the car into gear and drove off, with the creatures still watching.
Joanna said a small prayer under her breath. She was going to drive as far as she could go before the car broke down or was attacked. After that, all she could do was take out as many of the bastards as possible before they ripped her apart.