"I need you to do me a favor. I need you to help me hide a body." The young man said, his clothes and face covered in red. Two boxes sat beside him, one leaking out onto the floor. Pools of blood separated them, seeping through the cheap carpet under their feet. Sam noticed chunks of something scattered around in the red. He put his hand to his mouth. He asked to the young man on the other side of the room. "What the hell did you do?" "I killed someone, about an hour ago." The young man said, eyes dull. "Why?" "It's a long story. I'll explain after we're done." He said. "Caleb, you can't expect me to help you cover up a murder and not tell me why first." The other young man said. "Do you trust me?" Caleb asked. "Do you really think I'd kill a man for no reason?" "I don't...I don't know." "We don't have a lot of time. They have to know he's missing. Sam, please." Caleb begged him. Sam stared at the bloodied floor and Caleb's dead eyes. "Explain on the way. How are we doing this?" "First, we're setting this place on fire. I've got the bones in this box." Caleb patted the cleaner box beside his chair. He got up. "Did you bring me some clothes like I asked?" "Yeah..." Sam handed him the bag he brought. "What is this place, anyway?" "An abandoned house, obviously. Don't think anyone ever lived in it." Caleb stripped quickly and tossed his soiled clothes into the pools of blood. He changed into the other clothes. "No one will miss this place. They didn't even lock the doors." "Where are we going?" Sam asked. "Out to the mountain. I know a spot they'll never find him at." "Who did you kill?" Sam asked. Caleb looked Sam in the eyes. "Did you bring the gasoline?" Sam nodded. "In the car." "Got it." Caleb walked past him out of the house. "Caleb." Sam grabbed his shoulder. "Who is it?" "The mayor." Caleb brushed his hand away. "The mayor?!" Sam exclaimed. "Shut it. This neighborhood's abandoned, but that doesn't mean we're alone." Caleb said. "Now, help me. We need to move quickly." "But what if the fire gets too big? What if it catches the other houses on fire?" Sam asked. "Doesn't matter." Caleb said. "They're all empty. The ones on that end were never even finished. The fires will be put out before they reach any houses people live in." Sam looked out at the houses nearby. Caleb wasn't wrong about them. This was one of many neighborhoods that began development around 2008 that were never finished. One cul-du-sac had only half finished houses. Another part of the neighborhood was even less complete, with the ground leveled out but nothing to show for it beyond a few discarded wooden beams and cracked concrete. Supposedly from what his parents told him, there were plans started in 2006 that involved turning the mountain into a tourist spot, and the land around it was meant to be developed up to support all the coming jobs. Nothing came of it after the economy crashed. All the construction companies moved away and left behind places like this. The deals all fell through and the half finished neighborhoods were left as the only reminder that it ever happened at all. The area was littered with half finished buildings and houses bigger than his home that were never once lived in. There were a lot of woods nearby. He wasn't worried about the empty houses so much as the woods catching on fire and spreading out to the occupied ones near town. "What if they're not? What if no one knows about it until it's too late?" "They will be, because we're gonna call the cops ourselves." Caleb got the gasoline out of the trunk. He poured it around the house. "Get the other one and get it everywhere." Sam hesitated, but he did as his friend asked. He wasn't sure why he was doing this, or if he could really trust Caleb. Inside, Caleb made a point to pour a lot of it on one of the two boxes by the chair. When they'd emptied out all the gasoline in and around the house, Caleb packed up the other box into the trunk. Then, he set everything on fire. "Get in the car. We're going to the mountain." Caleb grabbed Sam's keys from his pocket and got in the driver's side of Sam's car. Sam followed him and took the front passenger's seat. "When are we calling the police?" Caleb started the car. "After we hide the bones." "What if the fire spreads too much?" "It won't. We need it to build up for a while before we call." Caleb drove out of the abandoned neighborhood. The path to the mountain was mostly forest with the occasional cabin here and there in the distance. Only one road led up to the mountain, an old road that hadn't been well maintained. It was covered in potholes and the reminders of accidents less cautious drivers got into along the way where metal and wooden barriers had been broken through. This was definitely not a place for tourists. Even if they had fixed up the area with houses and businesses, the road itself needed to be fixed and more roads added. He couldn't see any out of town tourist wanting to visit this location. It was isolated, but not photogenic, and far too dangerous for hobbyists photographers and adventurers looking for something inconsequential to brag about to their well off suburban friends. For the townspeople, the mountain was where young people went whenever they were up to things they didn't want their parents to know about or whenever some strange out of town man came through looking for a convenient place to commit heinous acts. Sam's own parents warned him and his younger sister about going up there, but he went to plenty of parties on the mountain anyway. Some people vanished after hiking up there, but they were always alone, and people vanished around town every so often too. It was an open secret that strangers always picked through their town and the other communities nearby. Nothing was ever done about it. There were too many isolated places to look into and not enough resources. That's what he was always told anyway. When they were close to the mountain, Sam asked. "So, what happened? Did you really kill the mayor?" "Yeah." "Why?" Sam asked. "Because he eats people." Caleb said blankly. "What?! You...did you see him do that?" Sam's eyes opened wide. "A little girl. He was eating part of her leg that was cut off." Caleb said. "Was she...already dead?" Sam's heart raced. Caleb shook his head. "Not when I first saw them. She was crying, but she was dead not long after that. I think she bled to death." Sam's stomach turned. His mind conjured an imagine he wanted to never see again. "So...was she like...in an accident and he was...or did he...?" Caleb looked in the rearview mirror. Sam looked back too. No one was following them. "No, he did it. She was cut in too many convenient places. I don't know how she was still alive then. He was covered in her blood and I saw an ax. He did it." "Why didn't you call the cops?" Sam asked. Caleb gave him a look. "You really think they'll arrest the mayor over some poor girl because of a crazy story reported by a known delinquent with a record?" "Couldn't we get the FBI involved?" Sam suggested. "Doesn't matter. I saw two cops with him afterwards. They cleaned everything up and carried her off to the mountain." Caleb sped up, going well above the speed limit. There was no one else but them and the mountain. "Then they're covering for him." Sam said to himself. "There won't be any evidence to find. Why would they go that far for the mayor? Money?" "That's probably part of it, but that's not the only reason." Caleb turned to head up the mountain. Halfway up the mountain, there was an old park there that the town had long stopped putting funding into. That area was where teens typically came to party or get up to other things. "They ate too." "Both of them?" Caleb nodded. "I followed them up to the park in my car. The cops were really suspicious of me at first, but they didn't ask for my name and I didn't give it. They just asked what I was doing up there by myself. I said I came to hike, and I pretended I was worried. I asked them if something dangerous was going on and if I needed to go home. That put them off me. They told me they were doing some clean-up at the park and to stay on the west trails while they cleaned the east ones, so I pretended to go that way. I came back around through the woods to see where they were going to take the girl. After they left, I went down to where she was." "What did you see? Did you find her?" Sam held tightly to his seat. "She wasn't the only one down there." Caleb gripped the steering wheel angrily. "That place is a graveyard." "How many?" Sam's mouth hung open. "I couldn't guess exactly, but I saw at least twenty-seven skulls and three heads that still...had skin on them. One of them looked like someone had bitten into it recently. And that was aside from the other girl." Sam gulped. If they were caught, it wasn't prison they needed to worry about. They may never be seen again. "The mayor...I can't believe it. But he seemed like such a nice guy." "Was he? I never thought that." Caleb said. "He was just some rich bastard who moved out here knowing he could buy out any political position or business he wanted. The guy doesn't have any family here other than his wife and son." "But I don't think he's done anything really weird, right?" Sam asked. "I don't really know much about him." "Well, I know plenty enough about him. That disaster of mayor is the reason that nothing ever goes right here. If the economic didn't tank, they'd have scalped the mountain and pushed us out. What do you think would've happened if he'd succeeded in turning this place into a tourist trap? Our parents wouldn't've been able to afford shit. We'd get pushed out to where there's even less." Caleb stared ahead with intent. "My parents can barely afford rent as is. He didn't want to make this place better for us. We're not wanted anywhere on our land." "This again. Did you really see the mayor doing all that awful shit, or did you just kill him because you hate him?" Sam questioned him. "You're always angry these days about something. Did you finally snap?" Caleb glanced over at him. He had a cold look in his eyes. Sam felt a chill down his spine. "Is that why? Well, don't worry about that." "What?" Sam didn't understand what Caleb was referring to. "Nevermind." Caleb focused back on the road. He slowed the car down as he turned at a part of the road with no railing. "On my way home, I saw him take another girl. He pulled her into his car. I followed him covertly. He took her to the same place as the other girl. By the time I got there, he'd already killed her too. I waited for the cops to take her away. Then, I ambushed him in the woods. I knocked him out and took him to that abandoned house. That's where I killed him." "Why didn't do you do it in the woods?" Sam asked. "His friends might come back. I didn't want to be there if they did." "How did you do it? There was blood everywhere." Sam said, recalling the messy sight. "I shot him first." "You have a gun?" "My dad makes me carry one." Caleb said. "That didn't work so well at first. He got back up and fought with me. He tried to rip me to pieces." Sam stared at him. "He...how?" "He broke out of the ropes I tied him up in and lunged at me. Then, he sat on top of me and kept pulling at my arm...pulling and twisting...like he was trying to rip it off me." Caleb described the incident in detail. "That was when I noticed how cold he was." "Cold?" "Yeah...he felt like ice and he smelled like death." Caleb's hands shook. "It was like he was already dead." "How could that be? Like a vampire? Come on. It's winter. He was probably just cold from the air." Sam didn't like the implications Caleb was making. "You're not lying to me, are you?" "Do you really think I'd lie to you about something like this?" Caleb yelled. "I don't know how he was like that, but it wasn't 'cause o' the damn air." "Then what?" Sam asked, scared and angry. "What are you saying?" "I don't know what he was, but when I grabbed my gun and shot him again, there was ice in his blood." Caleb turned into the parking lot halfway up the mountain. He looked back again. "I felt it on my skin when his blood got on me. It was freezing cold. Winter air can't do that." Sam didn't know what to say. He looked out at the woods, unnerved. Caleb continued his story. "He tried to bite me. At that point, I just kept firing and firing until he was on the ground. There was blood and ice everywhere. But everything...everything was moving...I got out my knife and cut him up. Split the meat straight from the bones." Sam's stomach turned. "Why would you go that far?" "I don't know...I had this feeling...if I didn't, he'd get back up again. So, I cut everything up and separated the bones from the rest. The box we left behind is all the soft parts. The box in the trunk are his bones. That's why we're coming up here and why we set that fire. I don't want the bones anywhere near the rest of him, just in case the fire doesn't burn everything. I'm gonna make sure that bastard is deader than dead." Caleb breathed heavily. Sam had a hard time believing his friend, but Caleb didn't appear to be lying. He didn't know what to say. Caleb got out of the car and took the big box of bones from the trunk. He went east toward the woods. "Let's go. It's this way." "What's that way?" Sam asked, nervously following behind him. "It's where they left the other bones. I'm going to leave him with them." Caleb said. "Won't they find him?" "There? No. How would they know he wasn't already there? That place is filled with empty bones and rotting parts. They'll never figure out where he is." Caleb said. "Empty?" Caleb stopped. He looked back, then kept going. "The marrow, sucked clean out of them. Some looked like they were cracked open just to dig inside them." "Are you sure? Maybe a wolf did it or..." "No, it was them. There's no way anything big enough to do that, outside of a human, could get down there. Wolves can't climb cliffs that steep." Caleb didn't let Sam finish his thought. The boys walked into the woods for a long time. Sam was getting more anxious the deeper they went in. He and Caleb had been best friends since kindergarten, but they started to drift apart in high school. Saying they were "best friends" felt more like an obligation than anything real. Caleb's family life was always troubled. Sam wondered if Caleb really was lying to him to cover up something terrible he did, or if Caleb knew at all what was going on. With all the talk about ice in blood and this irrational fear that the man would return to life, and Caleb so violently destroying the body--Sam considered his once close friend might be in the middle of a psychotic break with reality. "Hey Caleb, do you know who the girls were? That you saw him kill?" Sam rubbed his arms together. The temperature was dropping fast. He wasn't dressed for being out here so long. Caleb didn't answer him. "Caleb?" Caleb stopped at the edge of a steep cliff. "We'll dump everything here. They're down there." Sam watched Caleb put the box down. Caleb opened it. Reddened bones were stacked on top of each other inside. Sam smelled death in the air, but he couldn't tell if it was from the box or something else around them. The cold winter air was making it hard for him to breathe and smell much of anything. With one quick motion, Caleb turned the box over and dumped everything down the cliffside. He tore down the box and tossed it in a nearby waterfall. Sam stayed near the edge of the cliff. He wanted to see proof of the other bones actually existing. Sam leaned forward a little. Before he could get a good look, Caleb covered his eyes. "We need to go now." Caleb said. He pulled Sam away from the cliff. "But I want..." "There's no time for that. We don't need to stay around this place. We can't be seen here. Let's go." Caleb yanked him back by the wrist and walked hurriedly in the direction of the car. Sam didn't fight it. If this was all a delusion in his friend's mind, he needed to get him back home and they needed to contact the police about the fire. Sam was the one who made the call on their way back. They had to wait until one of their phones could get a signal. When they passed the fire, several of the empty, unfinished houses had been consumed. The operator instructed the boys to get clear of the fire for their own safety. After the call ended, Caleb and Sam got their story straight. They went on a hike on the mountain to get in one last trip before it was too cold to go up there and saw the fire on the way back. The police didn't question them thoroughly about it when they got back home. One remarked to Sam it was likely started by a homeless person squatting in one of the empty house, trying to stay warm by lighting a fire. Once the cops left, Sam questioned Caleb himself. "Caleb, was everything you told me really true?" Sam asked him in a low voice. "Why did you really kill him like that? Please, just tell me the truth." "That was the truth. Everything I told you was exactly what happened." Caleb said. Sam checked the local news on his phone. "Then how come I can't find anything about the mayor being missing?" "It's too early. They wouldn't be reporting on that yet. Give it a day or two." Caleb replied. "What about the girls? Who were they?" Sam demanded to know. Caleb didn't say anything. "There aren't any girls, are there? You've lost your mind. I'm sorry, but I'm taking you to a hospital." Sam told him. "So, that it? You're going to have me locked up?" Caleb looked him in the eyes. "Is that what you do to your friends?" "I don't want to, but you...you just murdered someone and I can't prove any of what you said is real." Sam put his hands on Caleb's shoulders. "I have to do this." Caleb opened his mouth to say something, but he was interrupted by Sam's mother. She rushed outside. "Were those the police? Did they find her?" Sam's mother asked. "Find who?" Sam asked her back. "They were here about the fire." "What fire?" She stared at him. Caleb spoke. "There was a huge fire out near the mountain. We saw it when we were coming back from a hike." "Then they weren't here about Sandy..." She said. Sam's heart raced again. "Did something happen to Sandy?" "She never came home this morning. Amanda's mom said she left their house hours ago, but she's not anywhere. No one's seen her. Do you know where she is?" His mother's eyes were wet and full of fear. Sam shook his head. Once she left, Sam turned to Caleb. Caleb was looking at something on his phone. "Did you..." Sam began to say. Caleb held up his phone in front of Sam's face. It was a news article about the mayor being labeled missing. "Uploaded one minute ago." "Then that really was him..." Sam took that information in. If the bones were really the mayor's, Caleb may be telling the truth. At the very least, the person who was dead in that box was probably the mayor. Sam couldn't explain to himself how the rest of that story could be possible. Sam's neighbor came out. She yelled from across the fence. "Have you boys seen Mary?" Sam shook his head. "Let me know if you do. She hasn't come back from the store in hours and she won't answer her phone." The woman said. "We'll let you know." Sam said. The woman called someone on her phone and went back inside. Sam looked over at Caleb again. "Caleb, who were the girls?" He asked again. Caleb looked away. A fear greater than any Sam had felt that day washed over him. Sam rushed back to the car and got in. Caleb ran over to the door. "Where are you going?" "To the mountain." Sam said. "Don't." Caleb told him. "I have to." Sam yelled. Caleb reached into the car through the window. He put his hand on Sam's hand that was resting on the steering wheel. "Don't go up there." "Why?" Sam's eyes watered. Caleb didn't answer him. Sam leaned his head against the steering wheel and cried. Missing posters went up around town, but they were ignored like all the others. This was a dangerous place. Between the woods, the mountains, and the strange travelers passing through, people went missing all the time. That's what everyone told him. Two weeks later, on the day two police officers went missing and two more posters were added to the graveyard of paper and telephone poles, Caleb received a phone call from Sam. "Sam? What is it?" Caleb asked, leaning against the boxes that were soon to go into storage. He hoped his mother was right about when his phone service would be cutting out. Sam started his car. Catching a glimpse of himself in the rearview mirror, he wiped off his face. "Meet me on the mountain. I need you to do me a favor."
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