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Claude O'Shaughnessy examined the bullet-gap in the back of the skull. "Yup, that's a shotgun-hole alright."

He flipped through the dead lady's wallet. It identified her as one Erica Frudd, of Bernalillo County, NM.

"Well, she's a long way from home, whoever she is." He fanned himself with his casefile, as airconditioning did not exist. "Someone better invent airconditioning soon, or I'm gonna kill someone myself."

Still, it did amaze him. Thirty murders in twenty-four hours. & it wasn't even the Cotton-Floating Festival yet.

"Things get weirder & weirder." Claude hoisted the cadaverette up with one hand, sickening sound of her floor-stuck face peeling off her skull. He tossed her corpse in the police-truck, & did not notice as her face-flesh wriggled off into the shadows & slipped away through a crack.

"Oh boy Officer O'Shaughnessy!" said Casey Mayberry. "Did I get here in time to see the body?"

Ever since Casey helped save the town of Hinterlake from brain-fungi O'Shaughnessy had let him be a junior police detective.

"The body's already in the truck, but you can help me tamper with the crime-scene by scrubbing up the blood."

"Oh boy! I love being a cop!"

"Still ... " thought O'Shaughnessy. "Who could have made the murder? ... that crazy Minnie Tacanaugh broad & her army of paramilitary commandos are in Guantanamo Bay being tortured by the CIA as we speak. So who could be behind the murder?

"Wow, it's a girl!" said Casey, clambering into the truck & poking Erica's fly-clustered corpse with a stick.

"Mayberry!" barked Claude. "Don't be a pervert."

"I'm not a perv!" He couldn't help think of how pretty the dead girl looked though.
"Get scrubbing."

Casey saluted. "Right on it, chief!"

"Oh, & do mind the face."

"Face?" Casey looked up from his cleaning of the gore. "What face?"

"Her face was done stuck to the floor ... boy, don't tell me you lost it?"

"I didn't see a face at all!"

O'Shaughnessy shrugged. "Faces go missing sometimes. Nothing we can do about it."

The truck pealed away from the abandoned cotton-mining facility.

"Guess I should mark down one missing face," said Casey, noting it in the casefile.

O'Shaughnessy laughed. "I wouldn't worry about that face of hers. These things have a way of turning up."

Casey thinks back to the corpse in the truck with the crimson chasm in its skull & limbs splayed awkward sticking from her pretty dress.

He gulped. "Maybe I am a pervert ... " He thought. "Still, I wonder who she was ... I bet if I could find a way to bring her back to life, she'd be a real nice person." He tried to imagine what her face would have looked like.

If only he'd searched for something attaching itself to the bottom of the truck, he could have seen her face, now nearly regenerated to its proper form.

"Still," thought O'Shaughnessy, as he drove off towards the orange dusk. "Murder ... it's just as the prophecy foretold."


Elsewhere in the village ...

In an abandoned warehouse by the river, a young man leans against a wall, carapaced in sweat. Gasping, breathing, in the un-airconditioned swelter of a Southern summer heat.

"I think ... we got her ... " He presses his hand against the wound on his chest, heart of the blossoming blood-stain dying red his white suit.

"Butler ... " rasped the shotgun in his hand. "You know what they say: that is not dead which can eternal lie, & with strange aeons, even death may die."

He looked down at the eye, black in scarlet, staring up at him from the strip of flesh burgeoning out of the firearm's barrel.

"Ah, Marlboro Foods." Butler whispered the weapon's name, caressed it with his hand. "You're my only friend. The only one I can trust."

He took the foot-long syringe off the bunson-burner, injected the heated healing drug directly into his neck. His wounds wound themselves shut.

"You can't worry about the ones you've already killed," said Marlboro Foods. "You have to move onto your next target. & this time, she won't stand a chance."

"Yeah ... " Butler kicked back some pills & washed them down with raw Everclear. He looked to the corner of the room. "Not now that we've made our secret weapon."

"SHMEE ... ONN!" growled the thing that looked like two bodies stiched together with black thread, long mouths with fangs jutting out all over where their faces should have been.

"Anti-Witch weapon, Shelly & Melly delux combine: the being known as Shmelly." Butler racked the shells into Marlboro Foods, wound up his springs, popped in a fresh battery. "Tomorrow the next target falls. At dawn will die the witch, Stacey Hougey."

The town of Hinterlake Zone would never be the same.

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