The Missing

Grady woke up with a start. He never could get a good uninterrupted night’s sleep and this was no exception. As usual, his bladder needed emptying, which meant a trip to the outhouse. He grabbed his glasses and the paperback he had been reading, thinking he might get another chapter or two read, and went downstairs. Retrieving his pipe, he filled it with his favorite tobacco, got a book of matches from the kitchen drawer, took a flashlight down from the coat rack, and went out the door. It was late, after midnight, and he was sleepy. Fighting off the cobwebs, he went down the path toward the privy when he heard it. There was a strange rustling sound in the sky. Shining the flashlight upwards, he could see nothing. Still, it was there, he could sense it. Frightened, he quickened his pace, and then he was gone.

It was three weeks later and Deputy Jamison was being watched. He had that uneasy feeling you get when you don’t know what is going on. It spooked him so bad he eased his Glock out of his holster. The call had come through dispatch at 2:43 a.m., and since he was the closest to the scene, he got the call. There were only two of them working the graveyard shift and it was a big county. At the moment he was in the alley behind the small grocery store.

Someone had called in that they saw something strange in town. When asked what it was they couldn’t identify it, the only thing they knew was it was big, real big. It was obvious they were scared. Everyone was in this tiny community tucked deep in the mountains of West Virginia. They had a right to be. Six months ago it had started. Farmers began noticing their stock was disappearing, a calf here, a sheep there. One farmer lost, on consecutive nights, six two-hundred-pound pigs. The strange thing was they never found any footprints, signs of a struggle, or blood.

It had everybody baffled. Everybody from the conservation officers to the county sheriff got involved. Someone had the name of a man who had bloodhounds. They brought them to the scene and they struck out. The dogs didn’t pick up on anything at all.

The theories were all over the place, everything from Bigfoot to... Someone contacted a psychic. Even they couldn’t come up with an answer. The churches were united in prayer, seeking an answer from God, and the small town council was deluged with people wanting to know what they were going to do about it. They had no clue.

Then it happened. Someone went missing. Nobody had seen Grady Jenkins for a while. Normally he came into town a couple of times a week. He liked to eat at the local diner. The waitress mentioned that she hadn’t been in for a while, and wondered if something was wrong. He lived alone on a small farm, about eight miles out of town, back in a holler. It wasn’t much of a place, but it was his. His parents left it to him when they died.

Thinking someone had better check on him, a handful of men went out to his farm. It was obvious there was something wrong. His cattle were lowing, and several were in distress, needing to be milked. They about went crazy when they saw the men. They were desperate for food and water, as well as Grady’s old hound dog.

Knocking on the door brought no answer. It was totally baffling. They could see that the kitchen light was on, and the back door was unlocked. Deciding they needed answers, they divided up, half went to take care of the animals, and the other half looked for Grady.

He wasn’t in the house. They determined that quickly. Going outside, they spread out and began their search. One of the men shouted and the others came running.

“What do you make of it?” he asked the others.

“Darned if I know!”

“Best we call the sheriff. Let him make the call.”

Halfway from the back porch to the outhouse they found something. Grady’s eyeglasses, paperback book, and pipe were laying in the middle of the path. There was no sign of Grady anywhere. Puzzled, they went in the house and called the sheriff. Half an hour later he got there, did a thorough search, and they left with no answers.

Word spread like wildfire that he was missing. Search parties hunted everywhere. No trace of him was found.

A week later someone else disappeared. Betty Burbank never made it home from choir practice. Her husband called the pastor to check on her. The pastor said she had left hours ago. Alarmed, he called the sheriff. Season search parties were organized. They searched and no trace of her was found.

The community held a town hall meeting. The room was packed. The sheriff took the podium and the meeting began.

“Sheriff, what’s going on?”

“I don’t know. Two people missing without a trace.”

“What are you going to do about it?”

“I don’t know what to do.”

“Then what are we supposed to do?”

“Arm yourselves. Don’t go anywhere by yourself, and watch out for each other. We will get to the bottom of this.”

After the meeting, several men approached Sam Buck, the owner of the hardware store.

“Got any ammo?”

“What do you need?”

“Twelve gauge buckshot for starters. Got any 223s?”

“Got all you want.”

“We’ll come by in the morning.”

“Sounds good.”

Sam went home, got out of his truck, was halfway to the back door, and he was gone. He vanished into thin air. His wife was standing in front of the sink. She saw him pull into the driveway and get out of his truck. She glanced down at the sink, looked up, and he was gone. She went to the door halfway expecting he was pulling one of his pranks, but this time. She panicked and began to scream. Her neighbors heard her and came running. She never saw him again.

The sheriff called the FBI. They came and did a thorough investigation, culminating in the same results. No one could figure out why people were disappearing.

The town slowly settled down into an uneasy peace. The men patrolled the town. Nobody went out alone. They went out in four-man teams, heavily armed, and ready for anything.

Everything was quiet for a while with no more disappearances. The men quit patrolling and life seemed like everything was back to normal. That is until the night the deputy got the call.

Bessie Underwood couldn’t sleep. An out-of-control insomniac, she was up into the wee hours of the morning. She was in the bathroom when she noticed something outside her window. Whatever it was, it was big. She watched it disappear down the alley behind the grocery store. She immediately dialed 911.

Now he was inching his way down the alley. Stopping, he checked the rear grocery store door. Satisfied it was locked, he went on. He thought he heard something on the other side of the dumpster. Stepping out of the shadows, he peeked around the corner, not seeing anything, he stepped away, and then he was gone.

Suddenly something grabbed him by the shoulders and lifted him into the air. It startled him so badly, he dropped his Glock. Picking up speed, it ascended rapidly and headed for the safety of the mountains.

As terrified as he was, he could tell it was a bird of enormous size. He estimated the wingspan was above thirty feet. It had its talons embedded into his shoulders and the pain was excruciating. Waves of nausea flooded over him.

“How do I get away?” he thought. He still had his taser and momentarily thought about using it. Then he realized if he tased the bird it would probably drop him. At this height, it would be certain death.

He could tell they were approaching a mountain. The bird began circling and slowly descending. He could see what he thought was a large nest ahead. It was nestled in an outcropping of rocks overlooking a valley on one side and a sheer drop-off on the other.

The bird flared its wings and came in for a landing. In the moonlight, he could see bits and pieces of clothing and bones everywhere. What scared him was the human skulls littering the nest floor. What terrified him was the nest’s occupants. Another large bird was there as well as four half-grown chicks.

He got his taser ready and hoped his injuries wouldn’t stop him from using it. The bird released him on the edge of the nest. As soon as his feet touched down he was on the move with the chicks in hot pursuit. They were almost on top of him when he turned and tazed a chick. It dropped in its tracks, and immediately the others were on it, tearing it to pieces in their feeding frenzy. Scrambling over the nest’s edge, he was startled to see that he had few options. Anything was better than getting eaten. Picking his way through the rocks, he had to keep an eye out for the bird. In the moonlight, he could see it soaring overhead. He knew it was hunting him.

His arms were practically useless because of the talon puncture wounds. Every jostle sent waves of pain throughout his body. Only by sheer determination did he keep going, doing his best to stay concealed. Up ahead was an open space that he had to cross and the bird just missed grabbing him again. It was very close.

Realizing it was too dangerous, he found a place to hide until daybreak. As soon as the sun was up he went on. The bird was still hunting him, but the lower he descended the timberline helped to conceal him. Weak from the loss of blood, he had to rest numerous times. He quenched his raging thirst with water seeping from an outcropping he found.

After almost six hours he found a trail going down the mountain. He found a piece of wood he could use for a walking stick. In horrible pain, he kept going until he entered a gravel parking lot at the trail’s head. A pickup truck was parked there and he could see a man and woman eating a picnic lunch.

“Help! Please help me!” he called.

They came running, “Are you all right? What happened?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. I need to get to town.”

“You need a doctor!”

“Later! I need to get to town. I need to warn everybody!”

He told them what happened to him on the way down the mountain. They were skeptical at first. They thought he was crazy. But he was a deputy sheriff. They finally accepted what he said.

Pulling into town, they took him to his cruiser. He called dispatch and asked to be connected with the sheriff. He told him what had happened. There was silence on the sheriff’s end for about thirty seconds. Then he spoke.

“We’ve been trying to contact you for hours. You’re expecting me to believe this?”

“I know it sounds like I’m crazy.”

“Are you sure? You haven’t been drinking on duty?”

“Sheriff, I’m telling the truth. I’m going to Doc Hadley’s clinic when we’re done talking.”

“I’ll get there as soon as I can.”

Doc Hadley patched him up the best he could. It took over three hundred stitches to do it. The sheriff arrived and talked to the doctor.

“The craziest thing I ever saw. I patched up Junior Small’s nine-year-old after their pet parrot grabbed him. It’s the same kind of wound only fifty times larger. Something got your deputy alright, something big with talons.”

Two days later they held an emergency town meeting. The deputy, the sheriff, and Doc Hadley were there and spoke.

“We know what it is and where it lives. The problem is getting to its nest. It is very high up and protected by large boulders,” said the sheriff, “Am I correct, deputy?”

“Yes, that’s right,” he answered, “I was lucky to get away.”

“What does it look like?”

“It almost looks prehistoric. You’ve seen pictures of pterodactyls before. It almost looks like one of them.”

“What are we going to do?” asked an anxious town member.

“I believe we have a solution,” answered the sheriff.

“What is it?”

“The National Guard unit based a couple of counties over. They are always practicing with their A-10 Warthogs. You know, the planes they use for tank warfare. I contacted the commanding officer there. They would be glad to help. The deputy will lead the way in a helicopter. The strike is set for daybreak tomorrow. Those wanting to watch can park at the trailhead parking lot.”

The following morning a caravan of vehicles wound their way up to the gravel lot. The news agencies had found out about it and their vehicles were all lined up in the parking lot. The animal rights activists were also there, brandishing their signs and shouting their indignation about what was about to happen. Even the local bird-watching club was there with their binoculars and identification guides. It was very quickly becoming a nightmare for law enforcement.

The deputy was picked up in town and they were off. The birds saw them coming and rose up to meet them. The helicopter was enough of a distraction that they didn’t see the planes until it was too late. Flaring their wings, they fought to protect their chicks. The A-10s began their attack on the nest. Cannon fire echoed down the mountain as the nest and chicks were destroyed. The birds tried to fight back and almost took down a plane, diving down from above, the male raked the windshield with its talons as it flew by. Machine gun fire took them down. It was over in moments.

A week later the town held funeral services for the missing. National Guard troops had rappelled into the destroyed nest. They were able to gather enough human remains to be able to identify the missing. It was a somber ceremony.

The deputy recovered from his wounds and went back to work. Every once in a while he would get the feeling that he was being watched again. He couldn’t shake it no matter how hard he tried. It kept him on edge, and it was a good thing because he was being watched. Two beady eyes followed him wherever he went, waiting for the right opportunity. What Deputy Jamison didn’t know was that there were three of them out there, another large bird had escaped destruction, and it was always hungry. Always!

He would watch the sky for the rest of his short life!

May 21, 2021