Otherworld A Novel Online - Jared C. Wilson

CHAPTER ONE

She was dead before she knew it. Before she toppled to the unyielding earth with a dull thud, she was dead. A bone snapped, maybe two, but she didn’t feel or hear them. Just before it happened she knew it was very cold. But it had been cold for days, days she didn’t and couldn’t keep track of, so she never thought to complain. Then she heard the footsteps, quick and heavy on the frosty ground. Then a piercing pain. In a hip? She couldn’t be sure. A searing heat. Then darkness. Had she the mental capacity to philosophize, she would have thought, So this is it. But she didn’t, so she didn’t. If she had been the least bit wise, and of course she wasn’t (it was impossible), she might have realized that what was happening to her was the bizarre beginning to the most terrible story the small town she didn’t know she lived in had ever seen.

CHAPTER TWO

The old man cursed his neighbors’ pathetic aversion to the cold as he began his routine morning trek across his land, semifrozen turf crunching beneath his brown work boots. The news reported eighteen degrees. One would think it a definite sign of the apocalypse from the way the locals were acting. Ice on windshields became top news stories, just like every winter, but Pops Dickey didn’t know what all the fuss was about. He had moved to Trumbull, a small town attached to the Texas mecca of Houston, about five years ago, and every year the Texans, used to the sweltering hundred-degree temperatures in the summertime, became prophets of woe when the weather turned chilly. Pops was a Wisconsin native, so besides putting up with all these Southern oddballs, he had to put up with their moaning and complaining about the cold. He had been through much worse. Much, much worse.

Pops owned a small bit of land on the Myrtle side of Trumbull to the north, not the Houston side. Pure country. He had some woods, a little pond, some animals. The sound of his cow bellowing became audible as Pops latched the gate on his chicken coop.

“Even the freakin’ cows are complainin’,” he muttered, his breath fogging in the crisp air. Wisconsin cows don’t complain, he thought.

When he’d purchased the farm, three cows came with it. He’d sold one of them two years before but held on to the other two for no particular reason. He liked the milk, but he had no ambitions of expanding his operation to supplying dairy or raising beef cattle. He just liked the thought of having cows on his farm. “What’s a farm without cows?” he had said. “Still a farm,” his wife, Gertie, replied, but Pops kept them just the same. He was beginning to have second thoughts as the animal’s lowing seemed to change pitch, nearing an almost shriek. He was in the little barn now, and it struck him that only the mooing cow was present.

“For crying out loud, ya stupid cow, what’s got your tail in a grinder?” Pops examined the animal up and down and from end to end. Nothing appeared to be physically wrong. “Where’s your sister?” he asked aloud. Pops had been around cows all his life. He’d never heard one of the docile creatures make such a ruckus. Her moo became unbearable, and he exited the barn, made a left, and walked around to the rear of the brown wooden building. There on top of a thin patch of ice and scattered hay lay the missing animal, lifeless and stiff.

“Well, dang.”

Something caught his eye. You gotta be kidding me, he thought. He crouched, touched a gloved hand to the animal’s side, and sure enough, there was blood there. It was black and hard, coagulated by time and the cold, dry air. Coyotes? Maybe. It was possible, but there weren’t that many in this area. Plus, he’d never heard of coyotes attacking a cow anywhere around here. Chickens, maybe. Maybe even a pig or two. He admitted to himself that it wasn’t out of the question, though. It was probably the best explanation short of human mischief. He got down on his knees, gripping her belly with his hand firmly. He ran it along her underside and looked for tearing or ripping. It was a pretty clean kill for coyotes, or any animal, for that matter. There was no pool of blood, no obvious damage to the beast, no evidence at all that a coyote—or pack