Five Days Late, But Here’s The Conclusion to “A Tale of Two Psychos”
I know, I know. I didn’t write any posts last week. I’m working on most of them today. I had a really tough week with work, so I’m sorry if you’ve had to wait a few extra days to find out what happens with Danny and the Horton family. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, then go back and read “A Tale of Two Psychos (Part 1),” then come back here for the conclusion.
A Tale of Two Psychos (Part 2)
Danny kept his distance on the four lane highway, but he also made sure to keep the dark green Tahoe in sight. His Stingray wasn’t a state-of-the-art supercar or anything, but it did have a 350 in it, and on I-84 West, he was sure he could catch up to his quarry in a hurry if he needed.
Even with the holiday weekend, the traffic on this major freeway was relatively light. Between Danny’s Stingray and Mark’s Tahoe, there were about seven cars staggered between the two westbound lanes. Danny loved the summer holidays. Likely all of those cars ahead of him carried some sort of family on their way to stuff their faces with hot dogs and burgers and chips and potato salad. He only wished they still allowed fireworks. Fireworks used to make the Fourth of July so much fun for Danny.
He barely noticed the string of fire-trucks flying by in the eastbound lanes from the Dalles to Biggs. Ordinarily, he would head back and watch for a bit, but the Pilot station was just an appetizer for Danny today. The main course—with that soft, pastel sundress that stuck to her skin in just the right spots— well, she was seven cars ahead.
Danny briefly wondered where they were headed, though it really didn’t matter. He was in it now. Wherever that Tahoe was going, Danny would follow. That was his way.
Danny was a hunter—a predator, through and through. He didn’t wear camo or drive a giant mud truck, but he hunted all the same. In fact, most people who saw Danny thought he was a high-school burnout who worked as a janitor somewhere. He was loud and brash in the way he dressed, drove, and talked, but in a way that nobody really took seriously. It was a personality that worked really well for him. After all, he’d been doin—well, what he did—for a couple of decades now, and he never really got caught. Not once.
They didn’t catch him the first time. That was back in ’86 when he lived on the family farm. He was only a boy then, but they left him alone a lot. He had acres of outdoor playground at that farm, and when neglected, he could find all sorts of dangerous implements with which to experiment. And animals, too. Not the livestock of course, heavens no. That was his dad’s money, and he knew better than to mess with daddy’s money.
But they lived in a rural part of the inland Northwest, and they farmed hay, raised beef cattle, chickens, and rabbits. Danny hated it. They were close enough to Spokane, the biggest city in the area, that he could pick up the rock radio stations and two TV stations from the regional capital, as it were. He watched TV shows like Miami Vice and wished he could see Ferraris driving around the streets of a big city with palm trees. He heard Bon Jovi and Motley Crue on the radio and wanted to be on the sunset strip watching all of the madness.
His dad, on the other hand, wanted him up at dawn feeding cattle and chickens, then moving on to cutting or bailing hay by the afternoon. He was only eight years old, but he could drive the small farm pickup and a medium-sized tractor with a bailer or a swather pulled behind it.
Danny had to admit, he liked the driving. It was one of only a few things that gave him any sense of control. He hated the farm life and longed to move to a city. He wanted to listen to rock and roll, grow his hair out, and live out the 1980s pop-culture dream. Instead, he was shackled by his age to a family that lived in the middle of nowhere and tried to repress all of his big-city interests and dreams. Depending on which adult role-model he talked to, rock and roll was either Satan’s music or jungle music, and why didn’t he just listen to some Ricky Skaggs or Alabama.
Danny learned early on that he was different. That his interests, desires, and opinions didn’t mean anything to the people around him. He was an only child, and it seemed, a constant disappointment to his father. His mother was a depressed housewife, who, unbeknownst to Danny, felt every bit as trapped by this life as he did. But Danny’s real father had left them when he was three. His mom shacked up with the first guy that offered to buy her a drink, and six months later, Danny had a new daddy.
So in 1986, a few weeks after school let out for the summer, at eight years old, Danny killed for the first time. Well, he supposed if you wanted to count insects, or worms for bait, and fish to eat, then he’d killed before, but that was “normal.” What he did that late June afternoon was the first time he’d murdered a thing.
Their land was in a part of Washington where the central high desert (caused by the rain-shadow of the Cascades) meets the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. More mountainous than desert, Danny had acres of forested land, as well as marshes full of cattails and tall grass, fields of hay that rolled for miles, and a decent creek running through the property about a half a mile from his house. He had dirt roads and trails that ran all over the property, and he rode every one of them on his BMX bike.
He was on that bike, the one his uncle had given him for his birthday a little over a month before, when he found the pond.
It was rainy, so his dad couldn’t do much work, and the fighting started around 7 am. Danny could hear them yelling nonsense at one another through the floor in his basement bedroom. He popped in a tape one of the few rock and roll tapes he had and heard Laura Branigan singing “The Lucky One.” It helped keep his parents’ voices out of his head, but as he listened, he found himself really paying attention to the words. “Take what you want and you don’t think twice,” got stuck in his head. He listened to that song, then rewound the tape, and listened to it again. Finally, when he heard a thud against the wall upstairs, he decided to go out and get on his bike. Rain be damned. Besides, they were into it and they wouldn’t even know he was gone.
Danny hopped on that royal blue BMX and rode out toward the creek. He didn’t bring his pole because he knew the trout wouldn’t bite in the rain, but he’d been working on trying to build a ramp to jump the creek on his bike. When he got to his spot at the creek—he had several “spots” on the property, places where the wiles of his imagination could manifest unimpeded by the disapproval of his parents, the farm-hands, or any of his extended family—he leaned his BMX against a tree and started to look around for things to use on his MacGyver’d ramp. Of course, MacGyver was as much of a hero to Danny as Luke Skywalker was, and because of that, Danny loved to tinker.
This particular affair was to be constructed of a rotted pice of plywood he’d found along the banks about fifty yards upstream. His plan was to prop the plywood up using flotsam and jetsam from the creek that littered the banks. He knew if he wandered long enough, he’d find exactly what he needed. Looking downstream, he noticed a now-defunct beaver dam and started walking toward it. When he got close, four ravens flew off of the ground where they were feeding.
Curious, Danny went over to investigate. What he found was a beaver skeleton. The ravens were cleaning up the last of whatever flesh remained. The skull was picked completely clean and the rest of the bones, some with specks of rotted flesh, were strewn about. Coyote. Danny thought without much else behind it. He picked up the skull and examined it. He was fixed by the size of those two front teeth. He looked around at the stumps and thought it definitely made sense. That was their job. He didn’t wonder why the beavers made their dams. He just knew they did and didn’t care much else about them.
This dam, though, had been broken for a while. Could have been a bear. Danny thought. That excited him. He’d seen black bears on the property before, and he was in awe of them. He envied their power and the fear that came into people’s eyes when they saw them. Truth be told, though, his excitement at that thought waned pretty quickly. He instead noticed that the dam, since it had broken, had created two separate reservoirs. The upper one was deeper and, he thought, would make a good spot for fishing, while the lower was wide and shallow. Too shallow for fish right there. But Danny noticed something else in the lower pond.
He saw frogs, turtles, and even a couple of garter snakes. He jumped down, and the snakes slithered away before he could catch them, but the turtle was easy enough to grab. It’s webbed feet clawed at him and actually broke the skin on his arm. Danny took out a dagger that he’d found in one of the barns earlier that year. He carried the six-inch blade with him everywhere, and hid it well from his parents. He stabbed it into the turtle’s neck and then threw it out into the bush. He was careful not to get any of the thick red blood on his clothes, and he wiped off the knife with some grass. He was angry.
How dare that turtle scratch him? He was lord of this land. This was Danny’s spot, and here Danny held dominion over all. Especially over any turtles. There weren’t any other turtles in the pond then. The only animals left were water-skippers, nasty little insects Danny knew better than to try and catch, and a few frogs. He caught one of the frogs and looked at it. It tried to skip away, and that made Danny even more angry. This frog would submit to his will. He would have control over this frog. He would take what he wanted and not think twice.
He held the frog by one leg and watched it writhe, attempting to break free of Danny’s vice-like pinch. It’s mouth moved up and down, as if gasping, and that excited Danny. He felt the endorphin rush as he saw a large pine tree about ten feet away.
Danny threw the frog into the pine tree as hard as he could. He heard a wet-sounding thud as the amphibian’s body hit the rough bark, then dropped to the needle-covered ground. Danny walked over calmly and inspected his work. There was no blood. The frog wasn’t moving anymore. It was just lying on the ground, motionless. Danny picked it up and looked at it. It hung limp between his fingers now. It was a thing. Not alive anymore because Danny had decided he didn’t want it to live. Danny felt a strange twinge inside of him. He knew he should feel regret, but he didn’t. He tried to catch another frog, but he missed it. That didn’t stop him, though.
Later that evening at suppertime, his parents asked what he’d been up to all day. He told them that he rode his bike in the opposite direction of the creek, toward town. He, of course, had a spot out that way, too, so it was a plausible lie. It delighted him to know that he could keep this from them. If they wanted to ignore him until suppertime every night, well then he wouldn’t give them anything real.
Three nights later, though, one of the farm-hands told his dad about finding some dead frogs and a turtle down by the creek (apparently he didn’t mention the ramp upstream). He said it looked like somebody had stabbed the turtle and crushed the frogs. Danny’s dad thought it was local teenagers vandalizing their property. He never suspected Danny for an instant.
That was the first time. After that, Danny discovered fire and made that a part of his routine. He’d catch live grasshoppers, throw them in a small oil pan filled with old motor oil, and set the whole thing on fire while his dad and all of the hands were out working. He watched with glee as their bodies sizzled and crackled. He loved that the oil prevented them from flying away. Again, he had total control, and it thrilled him.
After the farm folded in the turbulent 1980’s economy, Danny’s family moved to Wenatchee, Washington. It wasn’t long after that that his parents divorced. Danny was twelve when it happened. His mother moved in with an abusive alcoholic who loved motorcycles. At first Danny liked his new step-dad, but the first time he saw a bruise on his mother’s face, he stopped going over there.
Instead, he stayed with his dad, who did his best, but had no real connection to Danny because they weren’t biologically related. His dad still worked in agriculture, selling tractors for John Deere, and was gone a lot. By that time, Danny was basically old enough to be on his own. That’s what his dad said, anyway.
Things went smoothly until Danny’s freshman year of high school. Danny was smaller than most of the other boys who’d had growth spurts during the summer, and they picked on him mercilessly. Danny, though, wouldn’t lie down and take it. He fought.
Every time some kid tripped him, or called him a faggot, or sneered at him, Danny would get physical. Sometimes he even pulled weapons. That was what got him expelled, and that was the closest Danny’s ever come to having anyone discover his true nature.
The two or three times Danny had shown his butterfly knife to his potential rivals, they’d clammed up about it for fear that Danny would use it. He did, after all, have a reputation for being excessively violent and ruthless during fights. Because of his size, he’d kick you in the balls with no hesitation, then while you were down, he’d either go straight for your throat or your eyes. If he was on you, he was out to hurt you. And, like an abused pit-bull, he wouldn’t let up until someone much bigger (usually the vice principal) would come along and pull him off.
In the spring of that year, though, he flashed his blade at Jeremy Montgomery, a jock all-star that got on Danny’s nerves nearly every day. Jeremy had at least 40 pounds on Danny, so Danny knew he’d have a hard time in a fist-fight, but everyone feared the butterfly knife.
Mrs. Tremble, that bitch of an math teacher (as Danny saw her) saw the glint in the back of the room and screamed. She called the administration and Danny was expelled.
This was before the days of school shootings, so the whole thing was over without a lot of panic or hullabaloo. Danny handed over the knife as instructed, and when he was in the principal’s office, he claimed that Jeremy had been bullying him all year. He told them that he felt afraid, which was why he brought the knife that he happened to find in a ditch on the way to school—just to stop Jeremy from bugging him. He started to cry, and that managed to convince the adults that he was the victim in the whole exchange. Still, the principal said, the school had a zero tolerance weapons policy and Danny would have to be expelled.
Danny’s father was furious. He said he couldn’t deal with Danny’s bullshit and work sixty hours a week to pay off all of his mother’s debts anymore, and that since Danny had to go to a new school anyway, it was going to be a school that would straighten him out, by God!
When he heard that, Danny became furious. He stormed to his room and slammed the door. As he paced his room, he felt that sense of powerlessness that he used to feel when his parents would fight, and he let it build up inside him like a slow-boiling pressure cooker. The plan was to send him to a live-in ranch for troubled boys in Spokane the next week. Danny’s dad had already made the arrangements, and his mom couldn’t do anything about it because she was on probation for drug charges with her new hubby. Danny was being uprooted again, this time tossed aside like the turtle he’d killed a few years earlier, and there was nothing he could do about it.
The next day, when his father went to work. Danny left his house. He didn’t have to sneak out. There were no neighbors to see him, and no cameras anywhere, so he went outside, got on his 21-speed mountain bike, and rode it to Jeremy Montgomery’s house.
He saw that the Montgomery’s were all gone. Jeremy and his siblings were all still in school, and both parents apparently worked. Danny walked around to the back of the house, and saw the Montgomery’s cat come through the pet door. The cat meowed and wandered over to Danny, who scooped the feline up in his arms. He saw the tool shed in the back corner of the yard, and knew exactly what he would do next.
The smoke was darker than he expected as he walked away, still hearing the faint cries of the cat locked inside of the shed. He got on his bike and rode away. When he’d ridden about a mile, he looked back and saw the thick dark smoke (probably from the half-gallon of two-stroke gas/oil mix that was by the stack of snow tires, he thought) and he smiled. He felt something else, too. And he went home to his bedroom to take care of that feeling.
The next week, he was in Spokane at the St. Paul Boys Ranch. He’d been through his orientation and found that the ranch was ran by strict fundamentalist Christians. Danny’s family had never been much for the church, so he always looked down on Christians as adults who still believed in Santa Claus, but now he was living in their world, and he needed to find a whole new way to navigate it.
For the three years he spent at St. Pauls, Danny was reminded of his life on the farm growing up. He’d volunteer for work that would allow him to be on his own. He had to be exceedingly careful, he knew that, but he still found time to satisfy his urges.
When he finally graduated, he hadn’t spoken to either his father or mother in nearly two years. Neither of them attended his graduation ceremony, and he was out-processed from the ranch without much guidance at all. He had to find a job, a place to live, and all that.
He was able to work for a local contractor doing basic labor and after only a month of couch surfing with his fellow employees, he had an apartment of his own. It wasn’t much, but it was a place.
Danny kept to himself outside of work. Now that he was on his own, he was free to indulge, and his first target was that fucking ranch.
The police never could figure it out. Though they knew they had a serial arsonist on their hands, their profile pointed to someone in his mid-forties who was frustrated with a dead-end job and a family. They had no clue they were actually looking for an eighteen-year-old who loved to avenge perceived wrongs by magnitudes and usually with fire. The man and woman who ran the ranch, Bo and Christy McConnell, died of smoke inhalation during that fire. Later that summer, an entire family of four burned to death when a trash-can fire on their back porch spread to the rest of the house. The other fires were structural damage only. In total, two houses, four small businesses, and the St. Paul’s Boys Ranch went up in flames that summer. Danny set all of them, and nobody ever suspected him.
Now there was this Tahoe. This fucking guy, with the family he didn’t deserve. After three years of living with ol’ Bo and Christy at the ranch, Danny knew the type. He could feel the welts on the children because he knew that Mark wasn’t the type to “spare the rod.” He could feel Sarah’s repression, and it made him feel the rush. That oppressive dress needed to come off. That stern, God-fearing man needed to become a Danny fearing man. He didn’t think about the kids at all. They were just loose ends to Danny. The man was the obstacle and the woman was the prize. Everything else would burn.
Both vehicles made their way past the Dalles and the scenery began to change from high desert to green trees and mountains. They drove through the Cascades, through the twists and turns of Portland’s freeway system, and then onto State Route 26 toward Seaside and Astoria.
Mark and his family were on their fifth sermon tape. Matthew and Ruth were both asleep in the back seat, and Sarah was working on a knitting project in the passenger seat. The children, she knew, would be forgiven for falling asleep because at least they wouldn’t be fidgeting or requiring discipline. She’d heard Mark say that countless times. The kids, he’d say, were always best when they were sleeping.
She, on the other hand, would not be forgiven for falling asleep, even on a long drive. Pastor Gray was delivering the word of God, and if Mark needed to hear it, then Sarah needed to hear it, too. This sermon was from a couple of years ago. It was right after a mass shooting had taken place. Sarah couldn’t remember which one. They were so hard to keep track of anymore. She did remember, though, that there were a lot of people who seemed distraught that Sunday morning. The pain over what they’d heard on the news was palpable, and everyone was calling for thoughts and prayers, as they do.
Sarah remembered feeling so sorry for the families that had lost loved ones. Children, fathers, mothers, siblings. She imagined what she would do if Matthew or Ruth were taken in such an attack and couldn’t bear thinking about it for more than a moment. Once she tried to bring it up to Mark. He said that she sounded like one of the bleeding-hearted heathens on the liberal news.
Then he told her that the reason those people died is because that was God’s plan for them. It wasn’t ours to know, and it wasn’t worth spending up any sympathy or pity over. God wanted them dead. That was it. He used his Divine hand to arm the gunman, send him on His errand, and do His will. It was part of a larger plan that we couldn’t possibly comprehend, and it was sinful to even question it. After that, he grabbed his “rod,” a hardwood dowel roughly three quarters of an inch in diameter and about two feet long, and he brought it down on her hand. “Deuteronomy 6:16,” he said.
“Ye shall not tempt the Lord your God as ye tempted Him in Messah,” Sarah answered immediately through gritted teeth.
“That’s for doubting God’s will.” Mark said, then he went into the den and picked up his bible.
Sarah couldn’t remember now if that was the same Sunday as this particular sermon or not, but she never spoke out about news events in that house again. And now Pastor Gray was talking about evil, and what its purpose was. Sarah kept her head down and her mouth shut while her hands occupied themselves with the knitting work, lest they be seen as idle.
“And I tell you now that God told us about this evil thousands of years ago. He sent prophets to warn the faithful against the evildoers. His prophet Isaiah said in the first chapter, verse sixteen, ‘Wash you, make you clean;'” Here the pastor paused. Then he said “The Lord said through Isaiah, ‘Put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil.'” Another pause.
“He told us to be vigilant!” the sermon picks up again. “First Peter 5:8 says ‘Be sober, be vigilant! because your adversary the DEVIL!'” Here another long pause, “As a roaring lion, walketh about , seeking whom he may deVOUR!’ Evil is a lion, folks,” the paster continued. “Evil walks amongst all of us. And it lives in side all of us. In the book of Luke, chapter six, verse forty-five, Jesus himself says,’A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh.’ My granny used to have a saying like that.”
Here the congregation chuckled slightly, then Pastor Gray continued, “She used to say, ‘What’s down in the well comes up in the bucket,’ and I believe that’s what Jesus was saying there. We don’t know why God let that man shoot up all those people this week. We just don’t know. But we know we don’t put our Lord to the test, too. See, I think there’s another angle to Granny’s saying, and to Jesus’ parable there.
“I think,” he continued, “that we can also put another of Granny’s great aphorisms over this here bit of theology, and if we do that… if we do that, well, we may not understand God’s plan, but we can at least be comforted in knowing there is a plan. That other saying of Granny’s is the old favorite, ‘What goes around comes around.'”
There was another pause, and Sarah remembered for a moment all of the heads nodding in the sanctuary that day. Then Pastor Gray’s voice brought her back. “Those people… All of them… Everyone that died… The maniac that did it… the survivors… the cops and firemen and paramedics that had to respond… they all needed to be there because God wanted them to go through it. We don’t know why. We don’t get to ask those questions because we’re not privy to the mind of God. He created us in his own image, but we’re still imperfect creatures who can’t possibly understand His ways…”
At this point, Sarah looked up and realized they were nearly there. Mark was slowing the Tahoe to merge onto Highway 101 South toward Cannon Beach. Roughly ten minutes later, they pulled into the campground.
When they checked in at the welcome shack, the clock in the Tahoe said 3:00 pm on the dot. That made Mark Horton happy. The sky was a bit cloudy, but most of the foliage had dried out from the spring and so Mark hoped they wouldn’t see too much rain and that they’d be able to get a fire going quickly. He paid the Jerry, the old man who ran the campground with his wife Rita, for the week long tent-site rental and for five bundles of firewood, then he god back in the Tahoe and drove to site number nine.
As soon as Mark backed the SUV into the campsite, Sarah and the children set about the business of setting up camp. They’d come to the Willard Family Campground and Resort, just on the other side of the highway from downtown Cannon Beach, for the last four years now. Jerry and Rita expected them and welcomed them each year, as the Horton’s were some of the most polite guests they ever had. With such familiarity, Sarah, Matthew, and Ruth knew exactly what needed to be done in order to set up camp as quickly and efficiently as possible.
It was the work of about twenty minutes to set up the family tents, the awning, and the cooking tables. Once they had everything set up, Mark insisted that they walk into town and do some sightseeing. Even though they’d seen all of the sights in Cannon Beach several times, the family obeyed without question or comment.
Just as they were walking under the highway toward the center of town, Danny pulled into the Willard Family Campground. His T-tops were still down, and he had the AC/DC on his stereo up just a bit loud for Jerry’s taste, but Jerry didn’t say anything about it at first. Danny asked if there was a spot open, and Jerry said that he was in luck.
“We just had a family cancel on us last minute, so number 21 is open. It’s $27 a day for this weekend,” Jerry said.
“Hell of a deal, old timer,” Danny said, smiling. He handed Jerry a $100 bill and said, “That should get me started, I’ll be back in a bit for some firewood.”
Before Jerry could ask for Danny’s information or if he wanted any change, Danny backed out of the entrance to the campground and got back on the highway, speeding toward Seaside. Danny knew that there was a drug store in Seaside and that he could most likely find a tent there. He didn’t know how long he’d be staying, after all, and even if it was just the night, he didn’t want to draw too much attention.
Three hours had passed before Mark was satisfied with the family’s walk around town. They’d all worked up quite an appetite, and now Mark led them to the south end of town, toward Mo’s, a local favorite for deep fried seafood and the best clam chowder in Oregon.
While they ate, watching the sun drift closer to the Pacific horizon, Danny pulled back into the Willard Family Campground. He grabbed two bundles of firewood from Jerry and drove his yellow Stingray around the loop to site 21. He clumsily set up his tent and had it looking somewhat presentable when he saw the Hortons walking back to their campsite.
He had a perfect view of their site across the campground. There were trees in the way, but that helped conceal the fact that he was watching them. He started a campfire, and set a can of Nalley chili over the top of a grate to cook, then he cracked open a beer and took in his view.
At site number 9, Mark was sitting in a camp chair with a book in his hands. His children were quietly roasting marshmallows, and his wife—Oh, his wife, Danny thought, watching from across the campground—looked to be tidying up around the site.
A few minutes later, she opened the back hatch of the Tahoe and pulled out a towel and some clothes. Danny sat up in his chair and took notice.
Sarah said something to Mark, and he nodded without looking up from his book. The children were still playing with their food, and Sarah headed toward the bathhouse with her towel and clothes.
Danny couldn’t believe it. This was perfect. He couldn’t take her just yet, but he could have a little thrill in the meantime.
As soon as she was inside the women’s shower, Danny got up from his fire. He quietly looped around the other side of the campground and made his way toward the bathhouse. As he moved closer, he noticed that he was unnoticed. He’d stripped the Hawaiian shirt off, so now he was just some random dude in dirty jeans and a wife-beater tank top. Nobody even registered his presence as he made his way up the lane.
As he got closer, he could hear hymns he recognized from his days at St. Pauls coming out of a small radio next to Mark. “Oh this just keeps getting better,” Danny muttered to himself. He stood outside the men’s side of the bathhouse for a few minutes until he was sure nobody was around. Then he quickly ducked into the women’s side. He heard one shower stall going, and felt the steamy air as soon as he got inside. He quietly blocked the door with a garbage can and broom that were next to the sink. He tip-toed over to the row of hooks for clothing and saw Sarah’s cotton dress, along with her modest bra and panties hanging next to her towel. He heard her softly singing to herself, and he knew she thought she was alone. He was about to burst.
He unzipped his pants quietly and relieved the pressure. Though at the end, he let out a small moan. He recoiled for a moment when Sarah stopped singing, thinking for sure that he’d be discovered, but she started singing again a few moments later. Danny cleaned up and snuck back out of the shower room.
As he made his way back to his own campsite, he felt hungrier than ever. That little escapade was just the appetizer. He couldn’t wait for the main course.
The night fell and soon it was just firelight around the Willard Family Campground. After his voyeurism earlier, Danny occupied himself by alternating his fixation between the fire in front of him and Sarah Horton, knitting quietly by her family’s fire across the campground.
At precisely 10:00 pm, Mark Horton put down his book, turned off his radio, and stood up. At this, Sarah, Matthew and Ruth all did the same. It was time for bed. Mark dumped a shovel full of dirt on the fire and turned out the kerosine lantern they’d brought with them. The children went to their tent and got settled in, while Mark and Sarah did the same.
Twenty minutes later, when he could hear snoring in the adult tent, Danny made his move.
The children’s tent went up first. Danny made sure of that. He also made sure it would go unnoticed for as long as possible by using gasoline and letting the fumes fill the inside of the tent. The children, he knew, would die of asphyxia before they even knew they were burning, so they wouldn’t wake anyone by screaming.
Sarah didn’t know what was happening until she felt the first flames lick her feet. She woke, saw a wall of orange and yellow flame, and she screamed. Mark was on his feet instantly and trying to rip his way out of the burning nylon tent. Both his and Sarah’s sleeping bags were on fire, as they hopped around frantically, trying to escape the inferno. By the time they were out, their tent was nearly gone. They looked over to the other side of their campsite and saw the smoldering embers of the children’s tent, along with the bodies of Matthew and Ruth. Sarah wailed in agony and fell to her knees.
Soon the whole campsite was up and on alert. Everyone wondered what was going on, and at first most people assumed that it was the Horton’s campfire that caused the tent to burn, but Mark swore over and over that he’d extinguished their fire sufficiently. Plus there was the faint smell of gasoline. Sarah was inconsolable. She had stopped wailing but now she was sitting in the back of an ambulance with a blanket on her. She stared straight ahead into the darkness of the night. Her husband sat in another ambulance, staring similarly into the distance, but with a different look in his eyes.
Mark wasn’t grieving. Mark was thinking about evil and what Pastor Gray had said. His adversary the Devil did this. Just as God allowed Satan to steal Job’s wife and children, along with all of his possessions and even his health, it appeared God was allowing the same to happen to him. Mark believed in the Devil. He knew evil existed. He felt it in himself, though he was able to easily explain it away by believing that everyone was just as sinful, and that he was forgiven by the blood of Christ. “This was a work of evil,” Mark thought. And he couldn’t abide evil.
That’s when he saw the yellow Corvette across the campground. Sitting on top of the car, through one of the T-Tops was a thin man with a white tank-top and messy, unkempt hair. He was eating popcorn and watching everything.
Mark stared at this man with rage.
Danny saw Mark staring. He saw the knowing look in the other’s eyes and he understood that the jig was up. He knew this one was risky, and that he’d get caught eventually, but he’d hoped to be able to have some time with that fine grieving woman before this one was over. Alas. Now he had to flee. He looked back at Mark, grinned, and nodded, then he hopped into the driver’s seat of his Stingray, and drove right over the tent he’d erected and out of the campground toward the beach.
Mark jumped up, despite the paramedic’s orders, and ran to his Tahoe. He started the engine and tore out of the campground in pursuit of the yellow Stingray. Behind him, paramedics shouted and waived their arms, and the one police officer who’d responded so far ran to his cruiser and got in.
Danny wasn’t thinking. He was all urge and impulse. He’d just ended two small lives, and if he was lucky, he could kill this bible-thumping fucker before the cops got him.
He tore through downtown Cannon Beach toward the beach itself. He knew he could get there by going between two of the huge hotels on the southern end of town. He floored the ‘Vette and hit a steep bank that separated the street from the beach proper. The car launched over the mound and onto the soft sand, where its rear-wheels quickly buried themselves. Danny hopped out and started running toward the beach. He didn’t have a plan, but he knew they’d be on him soon.
But it wasn’t “they” that caught up with him.
Mark saw Danny jump the Stingray and he threw the Tahoe into four-wheel-drive. He stomped on the gas and jumped the mound in the same spot, nearly landing on top of Danny’s Corvette. Instead, though, his right front tire scuffed the tail end of the sports car and the rest of the Tahoe bounced about a few times before gaining a little traction. Soon, however, it too was buried in loose sand, and Mark leapt out. He ran as fast as he could toward this devil who’d killed his children. This evil thing that dared to take away his possessions would meet its end at Mark’s hand, of that much he was sure. This adversary of both Mark’s and of God’s would face the wrath of both tonight.
When he caught up to Danny, Mark tackled him. The two rolled into the rising tide, and Mark ended up on top of Danny. Mark began to rain down punches on Danny’s face, but Danny just laughed as the skin broke and the bruises swelled. Then he reached up and grabbed the back of Mark’s head. He lunged forward and head-butted Mark with all of his might. Mark lost his balance and fell to his side. Danny got up and kicked him in the balls. “HA HA!!!” Danny screamed, hysterically. “Where’s your God now, motherfucker!!! I just killed your fucking kids! I AM YOUR GOD! And you know what I’m gonna do next? Do ya? Huh?”
Mark coughed and tried to get to his knees but Danny kicked him hard in the ribs and he collapsed again. Then Danny got on Mark’s back and started to force his head into the wet sand. “I’m gonna go back to that campground, find your wife, and make her mine before I kill her too.” Mark spat out sand and looked around for anything that could help him. The moon was full and the beach was relatively well lit. He saw a piece of driftwood and grabbed for it. His fingers got just enough purchase and he used all of his strength to roll, swinging the makeshift club up wildly. It caught Danny in the side and he fell off.
Mark went in for the kill. He bashed Danny on the left temple with the club and reset for another swing when he noticed the seagull carcass being washed up by the waves. It was not much other than a few feathers and the skeleton, but Mark saw it as a sign from God.
Mark knew that God gave his flock dominion over all of the lesser creatures of this world. Seagulls were scavengers. Unclean, and not worthy of the glory of God. He’d killed that seagull so long ago, and now another had come back to remind him that he was a killer. God made him a killer, and God gave him dominion. He brought the club down again, but Danny dodged out of the way. He bucked Mark off of him, and threw sand in Mark’s face, then he lunged forward, driving his knees onto Mark’s chest. The driftwood club flung out into the waves and Mark was pinned down.
Danny grabbed Mark’s throat and began to squeeze for all he was worth. Mark struggled, swinging wildly for anything that could help him, but he found nothing. He reached up and tried to go for Danny’s eyes with thumbs, but Danny didn’t make it easy on him. Danny’s eyes raged with murder and when he turned his head to avoid one of Mark’s thumb gouges, he saw the skeleton of the gull.
Danny suddenly released his grip on Mark’s throat and dropped his left elbow down on Mark’s chin. He heard Mark’s jaw dislocate as he reached for the dead gull with his right hand. That beak was sharp, Danny knew, and it was just what he needed. He moved his knees from Mark’s chest to his shoulders, spreading them to pin Mark’s arms in place. Then he took the gull’s beak and he stabbed it into Mark’s carotid artery. He yanked the beak out and blood began to spurt violently from the puncture wound. Mark looked up, astounded as he saw the blood spattered beak in front of his eyes. It was the last thing he saw before he died.
For Mark, the lights went out, and Danny was just about to get up and see if he hadn’t actually gotten way with this mess after all. He was so focused on the fight that he didn’t notice any sirens. He turned around just in time to see Sarah standing behind him, that same cotton dress flowing in the ocean wind. “How beautiful,” he thought, “Now she can be mine…”
The driftwood club hit the right side of his head, this time, and he fell limp immediately. Sarah dropped the club and fell to her knees. She wailed and sobbed. Danny heard it faintly as his consciousness began to fade. His eyes were open and he could see the waves coming in and out for a few moments before the light faded for him. Then, just before he drew his last breath, he saw what he thought was a sea turtle shell in one of the waves.
In a matter of moments the beach was filled with police, paramedics, and news crews. Sarah was still sobbing when they arrived.
Later, she would tell the police and the reporters that she had no idea how the post-mortem wounds on her husband showed up. The coroner’s report said that it looked like Mr. Horton’s head was caved in with a piece of driftwood or other blunt object after he bled out. She guessed, she told them, that Danny had done it before she got to him. The police, however, never found a piece of driftwood in the vicinity of the struggle. The ocean, Sarah thought, is very good at keeping secrets.