I got out of the car and paused, one hand on the door handle, the other on my Maglite. David had removed the dome light after we’d parked, the better to sneak up on dipshit ghost hunters, so it stayed dark, no light to mess up my night vision. Not that I was using my eyes to check my surroundings.
I took a quick sniff, picked up nothing to be concerned about, and gently shut the door. I heard the squish of David’s footsteps–it had rained a couple of days ago, and the dirt road was still soft–and then his voice: “Someone here?”
“No, just answering nature’s call.” I slid the flashlight from my gun belt. We were trying to be stealthy, but it was what scientists called “dark as shit” out there, and I did not want to stumble and trip on my way to the bathroom.
David said, “Nature’s call, you mean like howling or–” and I pointed the flashlight at him and clicked it on. He winced, put an arm up to cover his eyes like Bela Lugosi in Dracula, and hissed dramatically.
“No, smart guy, I have to use the bathroom.”
“Ow, okay, have fun.”
I dropped the light from his face and swept it over the field on my right. The grasses and weeds were waist-high in places, offering a modicum of privacy. David squelched his way back to the car, and I stepped off the road. The footing was better, thanks to the turf, but it was uneven. I hadn’t planned to go very far, but I was also curious where the metal pipe was that supposedly marked the site of the Sanger house.
Finally, though, my bladder told me to stop, so I did. I turned around and switched off the flashlight. The patrol car was a vague shape. I dropped trou, an experience made easier by being allowed to wear what the Sheriff’s Office called the “casual work uniform”: black BDU pants, black T-shirt with Sheriff screen-printed on the back in reflective gray lettering and gray patches (badge on the left, my last name on the right) stitched on the chest, no heavy-ass duty belt required. I carried the gun, flashlight, and a number of flex cuffs in holsters and pouches on a lightweight belt.
And damn, it was cold. I squatted, hoping I wasn’t peeing on the ghost of the Sangers’ rug or something. When I finished, I pulled up my pants as I stood, and somehow managed to lose my balance. I fell to the right, landing on my shoulder. Something gray flashed in front of my eyes, and I blinked, realized that I had come a few inches shy of getting a metal pipe embedded in my cheek.
Metal pipe —
I sat up, the ground cold and damp under my half-bare ass, my shoulder throbbing. I reached out and touched the pipe with my fingertips, surprised by its solidity. It was maybe a foot high, six or so inches in diameter. I had no idea what it once had been, if it had served a function in the house or if it was just a marker.
I stood up, successfully this time, and buckled my belt. Everything had stayed attached to it. Just needed my light, and then I was going to head back to the car, not tell David about the pipe because then he’d want to see it, and crank the heater and hopefully avoid hypothermia.
I took a step back, and the heel of my tactical boot fetched up against something. I lost my balance again (and really, twice in one night is not my personal best), and tottered backwards. I put a hand behind me to break my fall, and my palm slammed against the ground sooner than expected. I sat down, hard. The ground was not, I realized as I cradled my now-broken wrist to my chest, the ground.
I made a face, and it wasn’t from the crackling and twitching of my wrist mending. It was from the realization that I was sitting on a wooden step, that the hard something pressing into the small of my back was the edge of a porch, that it was past midnight on Halloween and I was sitting on the steps of the now-real Sanger house.
“Nope,” I muttered into the dark. “I am not doing this. Nope.”