Sunny Falls used to be a good place to live.
It was the idyllic small town. A place where everybody knew your name. Where you didn’t need to lock your doors at night. Where all of the stores were run by mom and pop and had been for generations. Where Phil at the hardware store would be waiting for you with the exact part you needed to fix your sink because he had heard from Mabel who had heard from Barbara at church who had overheard your wife at the grocery store complaining about the broken faucet.
Not that it was perfect, mind you. Living in a small town where everyone knows your business can be a bit of a pain sometimes. Poor Prescott girl who got herself in a bit of trouble in high school was chided and gossiped about mercilessly by the Old Bittie Brigade that loved to cackle about kids these days havin’ no morals. As if they weren’t just as “bad”. I still remember catching Agnes Miller doing something with Jim Teller behind the basketball bleachers that would make old Agnes chatter like an overcaffinated hen.
Still, it was a good place to live. A good town.
I grew up here. Name’s Martin Campbell. I spent the first twenty years of my misguided youth raising hell and getting in trouble with Sheriff Parker. In hindsight, he was a good man. Treated me a shit ton better than I deserved. Aw, I was a little punk. Fuck authority and all that shit. I wanted to travel the land and write the stories of my generation. You know… stupid shit. Broke mama’s heart for a while.
But eventually, Parker helped me come around. He decided that I was spending so much time at the station that I might as well work there. Made me clean the floors; take out the trash and all that. And a few months later, I somehow found myself wearing my own badge as town deputy. Last twenty years, I’ve been the sheriff. It’s not an easy job, but the worst crimes I deal with are the drug related ones. Dealing, stealing to support a habit, that sort of thing. I try my best to help them. Hell, I know where some of them are coming from. Figure they just need someone to take an interest in them like Sheriff Parker did for me.
But the violent crime, that shit happens elsewhere. Fact of the matter, Sunny Falls hasn’t seen a violent death since 1919, when Kit Marshall and the Bell twins had the unfortunate luck of trying to rob the Western Union depot while the sheriff and his deputy were present.
Not sure when the change happened. I think it was around the Harvest Festival in September. We had just gotten our latest touch of modernity, a cell tower, put on the local mountain. Coverage before had been spotty and the young people had been talking about the new tower for months. They were excited to finally join the outside world. The rest of us? Maybe not so excited. I still have a VCR. Still rent my movies from Jenny at the Video Rental place though most of them are DVDs now, even a few of those Blu-Rays.
You can’t hold off progress forever, I guess.
But I noticed it first at the Harvest Festival. Mary Murphy, the School Librarian, started acting… strange.
“Do you feel that, Martin?”
“It’s cold here. Unnaturally cold.”
“It’s sixty-eight, Mary. Did you need to borrow my coat?”
“Not that kind of cold. Cold like… there’s something here. Something watching us. Something unnatural. Ghosts… demons… something here and it’s angry…”
“I don’t feel anything like that, Mary, but if you’re worried about it, best have Pastor Ron pray over the fairgrounds again.”
She looked at me queerly and finally nodded, “Yeah… yeah… maybe you’re right. Get God on our side.”
Well, she wandered off to find Pastor Ron, I reckon and I thought that might be the end of it. But Pastor Ron called. Mary had missed church and work and no one had heard from her for a few days, so he asked me to swing by and see if she was okay.
I knocked on her door. “Miss Murphy? You alright?”
I didn’t get a response right away, so I knocked and yelled louder. I was about to break the door down, when I heard her fiddling with the deadbolt.
“Sheriff! Thank God you’re here.”
“Mary, folks are concerned about you. Are you doing alright?”
“I am now,” she said. “Found a way to keep them out.”
“Keep who out?”
“The spirits,” she said.
“I know you don’t believe me, but they’re out there. They were in here too, but I found a way to get rid of ‘em.”
“Miss Murphy, do you mind if we chat inside.”
“No… no, I’m afraid I can’t allow that, Martin. I just got the place clean. Some of them might sneak back in with you.”
“Mary, I can assure you that I am currently spirit free.”
“I can’t take that chance. Haven’t been able to sleep since the Harvest Festival, Martin. Finally got a few hours of rest. Just need a few more.”
“Mary, maybe you need some help. Could I take you to Dr. Ford at the county hospital?”
“I ain’t sick and I don’t need a doctor, Martin. If anything, you should get Pastor Ron and see if he can clear the town of these demons.”
“Alright, Mary… look, if you do need anything, give me a call.”
“Thank you, Martin, but I think I’ll be fine now. So long as I stay inside.”
Well, when I got back to the station, I called Judge Peterson at the county court house and tried to get a hold order on Mary. But not having any direct evidence that she posed a danger to herself or others, he denied it.
“Folks are weird, Martin,” he said.
“She thinks demons are everywhere, Kyle.”
“And if I started putting everyone in the mental hospital who thought demons were fluttering about, I’d have to empty out our entire Pentecostal congregation. Just have the neighbors keep an eye on her. “
So I did. I asked her neighbors, the Andersons and the Washingtons to keep an eye on the property and Mary and to call me should any obvious signs of neglect appear. I didn’t think that would be the end of it, not any more. But I didn’t figure it would get as bad as it did. I got the phone call a couple days later at 3 in the morning.
“Mary? What’s going on?”
“They’re here, Martin! They’re here!”
“Who’s there, Mary?”
“The spirits, Martin. They want me. They want all of us. And they’re here!”
“Calm down, Mary.”
“It’s all my fault. I let the Anderson boy in to take out the trash and clean the litter boxes and now they’re back!”
“Calm down. Take a deep-“
“I can’t calm down, Martin! That’s how they get you… when you’re relaxed… when you’re unawares… when you sleep, they’ll get you. Martin. Help me! Please! Bring Pastor Ron! I can’t hold on much longer.”
She was dead when I reached her. She had cut her throat with a kitchen knife in the bathroom. Won’t mention what she did to her cats. Her diary was mostly scribbles the last few days. Before that, more talk of feeling cold and spirits watching her. Following her around. That sort of thing. Seemed unfortunate, but I chalked it up to something going wrong in her head. Lots of people have personal demons that go untreated and I ain’t talking about the supernatural kind.
I figured the town would gossip about poor Mary for a few weeks, the school would put up a plaque or rename the library for her, and life would go on as usual.
But it turned out that Mary Murphy was just the first person to go weird.