They were strangers to the small town. A group of young people whose only outstanding feature was their beauty and vivaciousness. They were renting out the very nice Whitiker place for a long weekend. Typical vacationers who came to their little town to “get away from it all.” Nothing different about them at all.
At least at first.
Ben Nolan first saw the strangers during the Founder’s Day fair. He didn’t think anything of it except his teenage twins both made whimpering noises. He followed their lines of sight and bit down on the laugh bubbling up. Maddie was staring at the big blonde guy while Mikey was staring at the guy’s petite redheaded girlfriend. He squinted at his children. “You’re both drooling.”
“Dad!” Maddie squealed; Mikey rolled his eyes and tried to nonchalantly look away.
He really didn’t pay the strangers any more attention, took note of them just in case they caused trouble like any law enforcement office would, until his very married sister made the same noise. “Gloria!”
“I’m married, not dead,” she sassed back even as her eyes followed the oldest of the strangers. A very built, late twenty-something with dark hair and a 5 o’clock shadow at eleven in the morning.
“Amen,” her best friend breathed. “And hallelujah.”
He rolled his eyes at both of them.
Of course, they weren’t just eye candy for the town.
No, they brought trouble just by being who they were.
“Fuckin’ fag,” Old man Miller cursed around his pipe.
Ben blinked, confused. He looked up from the fried goodness on his plate to where Miller was glaring. He blinked when he saw that the man his sister had been drooling over was wrapped around another man, nuzzling into his brown hair. Ben quickly lowered his plate onto the closest flat surface, placing his hand on his weapon to reassure himself of its presence. He quickly surveyed everyone in sight. Several other townspeople were muttering and glaring, but no one was making a move towards the couple. He prayed to God no one would.
His prayers were partially answered.
Old man Miller took his ever-present pipe out of his mouth and screamed, “Hey you, fuckin’ fags! Stop that!”
The two men jumped, but neither released the other. Instead, the older of the pair stared Miller down. Thankfully, Miller was smart enough to swallow down any stupidity and walked away, still muttering, but at least he walked away.
They were the first ones the sheriff questioned after he left Miller’s house the day after the fair. Old man Miller had stumbled into his closest neighbors’ yard that morning, stab wounds and stories about people in masks terrorizing him that night.
The sheriff was glad he had brought 2 of his deputies with him. The strangers still outnumbered them, three to one, but at least he had some kind of back-up. He carefully questioned them. His town was a quiet one. Drunken bar fights, teenagers out joyriding. Nothing like this had ever happen before.
“We didn’t hear anything, sheriff,” one of the young men said. His face was honest, earnest. His crooked jaw giving him a lopsided puppy dog appeal. His face turned serious. “But we’ll definitely keep an ear out for anything weird.”
The sheriff didn’t trust easily, but even though something about the strangers pinged his radar, he trusted what the young man was saying.
Even when the Johnsons had been attacked next, he believed the strangers had nothing to do with it. Mr. Johnson was in a coma from the attack. Mrs. Johnson was catatonic in fear and shock. Their families were prominent and so was the attention their attack received.
“Ben, you better do something,” Mayor Paul threatened. “Arrest them or you won’t win the next election.”
“Anderson,” Ben said quietly, tired of the constant haranguing from the man. People under his protection were being hurt, who the fuck cared about the next damn election? “There’s no evidence that they’re the perpetrators.”
“It started when they got here!”
“That’s not enough--”
“Bullshit! Arrest them!”
But Ben stood firm, because even though the Johnsons were in terrible condition, it was their daughter who had been beaten with a viciousness that spoke to this attack being personal. Her room had been completely destroyed. Her car burnt to a crisp. Her clothing had been ripped to shreds. She had been the one raped.
The attack was personal. And the strangers had had no contact with any of the Johnsons.
He questioned them anyway.
“Sheriff, to what do we owe this second visit?” Stiles Stilinski asked. The words and tone were polite but his expression said it all.
“There’s been another attack.” He felt pretty terrible that he had to be here, asking these questions.
“Was it last night?” Stilinski surprised him by asking.
Stilinski walked away from him, picking up a sheet of paper from the kitchen table. “You’ll need to contact these people for our alibis.”
Ben stared dropped jaw at the young man. “Alibi – I didn’t ask--”
“You don’t have to, sir. I can see where this is going.” Stilinski didn’t seem angry at all, regardless of his expression from his greeting. More resigned than anything. “We’re new to town and the attacks started after we got here.”
It made Ben irrepressibly angry that his small town was falling into the small town bias. These strangers weren’t the only strangers in town. They just happen to be the only big group and it was a group of at least four people terrorizing their town.
Stilinski nudged the list, drawing Ben’s eyes down. It was a list of people, places, times. All from the next town over.
Ben cleared his throat guiltily. “Thank you. I’ll, ah, I’ll check these out.”
“You do that, sheriff. Let us know if you have any other questions.” Something about Stilinski’s eyes was knowing.
“We were just having some fun,” whined the mayor’s son, the ringleader according to Scott McCall.
“We weren’t really going to hurt them,” his girlfriend chimed in.
Ben shook with barely repressed rage. He wanted to believe them, but he saw the scars left from the axes and knives all over the Whitiker place. He saw the gunshot holes and could smell the powder burn on both of them. He had seen the knife wound in the blonde girl’s shoulder while she sat perfectly still under Doc Robbins’ care. The girl, Erica, had pointed her finger at the mayor’s daughter as the knife-wielder.
“I didn’t mean to hurt her,” Caroline piped up, a sweetly innocent look her face, a white doll’s mask still clutched in her hand. “I slipped!”
“Ben,” the mayor’s tone was wheedling.
Ben physically recoiled from the man, but he knew. Knew that between Mayor Paul, Mr. Donalds (the most successful business owner in town), and Preacher Buchanan – whose teenage children had terrorized not only the strangers but others in their town – none of these teenagers would be going to jail. They would hush it up in that small town way, going through the motions until the strangers left and the others intimidated or bought off. Knew that these so-called “good” kids were going to keep terrorizing the town.
He hinted as much to the strangers. He also hinted that he was going to take his family and get the hell out of this town.
Surprisingly, Stilinski smiled. His smile . . . it was off. Partly reassuring, but mostly disturbing. Strangely, Ben knew that smile wasn’t really directed at him. “It’s okay, sheriff, we figured.”
As they left, he stopped and handed Ben a card. “If you’re okay with moving to California, my dad has some connections to LEOs in the state. He could hook you up.”
Ben nodded in shock, automatically taking the card. He ended up not having to use it.
Ben stared in stupefaction as Caroline Donalds literally frothed at the mouth, once beautiful brunette tresses hacked away, ripped from her scalp in others. Ripped by her own hand if the strands stuck in broken, jagged nails were any indication. Skin from the scratch marks up and down her arms and legs were under her nails. Her physical appearance was bad enough, but her eyes.
Her eyes were wild, vacant, but somehow burning.
No hint of sanity remained in their once pretty green depths.
She screamed and ranted, babbling nonsense as the white-clothed orderlies dragged her half-naked body into the hospital’s van.
Her mother sobbed into their older daughter’s arms. Her father walked away, hiding from the shame, because Caroline had interrupted the businessman’s yearly big to-do.
Bradley Paul, the ringleader, the golden boy fall from grace was equally dramatic. Equally public.
He went on a rampage. Using his expensive car like a bumper car, destroying thousands and thousands of dollars’ worth of damage. He only stopped when he rammed his car headfirst into a light pole. They pulled him from the wreckage. He had been drunk, high.
After he woke up, he was paralyzed from the neck down.
One by one, the other teenagers fell into madness. Screaming nightmares that no one could wake them from, hallucinations that made people question if drugs were involved. One by one, they were all committed and it should have ended there. But karma took care of their families too, each falling to ruin or scandal.
At least that’s what the townspeople thought.
Ben remembered that smile.