When Earth Whispers (jtb-1)

by Mickey Hunt

During the first seconds of last spring’s devastating earthquake in Lynchville, California, some people believed they had fallen ill, some assumed they had been struck by lightning, some thought trucks had rammed their houses. Those living adjacent to railroad tracks wondered if a train had derailed nearby.
I was praying in my study at the church early Sunday morning. As the furniture jerked back and forth and books tumbled through the air, it occurred to me that the world might be ending and I would die. When the shaking stopped, I picked myself up and limped through the wreckage.
Outdoors, nothing seemed different until I noticed an asphalt-topped plane of our new parking lot like a frozen wave, jutting twenty feet high and sloping sharply below ground level. As I walked closer, I could see deep into the crack. I looked around at the sky. Birds had begun singing again and the sunlight streaming below a cloudbank threw everything into high contrast, shadow and light.
As violent as the earthquake had been, injuries were few and damage isolated. The following day the sky cleared, leaving nothing between us and the brilliant sun but a crystalline pure atmosphere. Each morning, the green eastern hills radiated with an aura of excruciating intensity. I thought my vision was impaired, like when the optometrist dilates your pupils for an exam, only this felt permanent.
Within a week, the trembler had become an inconsequential curiosity for our church members, excepting the anticipated cost of parking lot repair. Life for me returned to normal: that is, until a Mr. Barron made a blind appointment to meet me at my restored study. He was tall, beardless, in his mid-thirties, and a trifle overweight.
“Pastor Taylor, you may have heard of me, Jonathan T. Barron.”
“I don’t guess I have.”
“I’m a paranormal researcher. I investigate the strange. Haunted houses, demonic possession, body snatching, premature burials, cannibalism and vampires, apparitions, ritual sacrifices, floating lights, UFOs. All that.”
“I produce a weekly nationally syndicated show called Strange Days Radio. I have a large following and I’ve been on television and I wrote several books. I live in Lynchville.”
Jonathan T. Barron looked at me with skepticism. “Pastor Taylor, people take this stuff seriously. I usually talk about ordinary legend or folklore, and I’m the first to expose frauds, hoaxes, and plain lies. Much of what I find has natural causes. I’m a debunker more than a believer. But things happen—documented, measured events, macabre and weird incidents defying explanation, that contradict everything we know.”
Barron shook his head. “Most contradictions I see are bad.”
“What do you need from me, Mr. Barron?”
“The earthquake was specific, Pastor Taylor. Seismologists and engineers can’t explain how quake-resistant buildings were leveled and old buildings next door were left untouched. I need the history of your parking lot.”
“A house once stood there,” I said. “We used it for missionaries on furlough. Our church grew, and we needed parking, so we tore it down last year. The house was built early in the last century.”
“Any strange reports?”
“Not that I know of. But I’ve been at this church only for— We took the position when our daughter started college. What are you looking for, exactly?”
Barron sighed and massaged his temples. “I’ve had calls and letters from all around Lynchville, but also from people in your church.”
“Our church? And the nature of the contacts?”
“Narratives of nightmares, squeaking sounds in the dark, cats throwing up, smears of blood left on lawn furniture and window sills. Police are DNA testing the blood.”
“Oh Lord, you’re a sensationalist.”
“You know that I’m not. I want you to help me, Pastor Taylor. May I photograph your parking lot?”
“Take your pictures,” I said. “But that’s all.”
Pastors are often last to learn about problems in their congregations, and so I wouldn’t have been surprised if no one had told me about any freaky occurrences. I put a vague notice in the church bulletin. Of our 700 members, a dozen contacted me. I must say, people weren’t candid, they only wanted the uncanny events to stop. Just one person confessed anything, and it was an abortion she regretted from when she was a college student.
“Tell me if your nightmares don’t stop,” I said.
“There’s more than nightmares. I hear screaming in my dreams and I wake up. I think it’s me screaming, but then I hear a tiny baby crying outside.”
Local television news reported that neighbors in one community began to worry about a particular family—the mother was neglecting her children. When Child Protective Services arrived, they found the three young children malnourished and filthy, the house a pigsty, the woman lying on her bed, numb to the world. One isolated incident like this wouldn’t have been so unusual, but new ghastly discoveries of child neglect emerged every day.
Jonathan Barron stopped by my house one evening, nervous and pale. “All this is connected. People are feeling a curse has descended on Lynchville. I’m totally inundated.”
“Are you all right?”
“I’m not sleeping well.”
I told him what little I learned from our church members. “Do you still want me involved? My hands are full with my own work.”
“I’m, I’m not a religious person, and I’m out of my depth here.”
“What’s the cause of these breakdowns?”
“Official rumors say military-grade psychotropic drugs leaked into the Lynchville water supply. More likely it’s someone out there tormenting vulnerable people. Maybe he’s trying to extort them.”
“A psychopath?” I asked.
“Perhaps. And if so, I can deal with him. I need you to help with the victims, if we meet any.”
“We’ll see,” I said, trying to put him off. The truth was I didn’t want to become involved.
But the horrible events escalated, with new tragedies every day. A grey-headed professor stripped off her clothing and cavorted across her campus until university police tackled her. A homeless man discovered a dead newborn baby in a Wal-Mart dumpster. A retired fireman shot his prize show dogs. Then a Lynchville woman axed her children while they were sleeping and bashed herself in the head.
Jonathan called me late one night, agitated, and said he needed to show me some things. “I’ll pick you up at your house,” he said. “Early morning.”
“Jonathan, I can not get away. I have meetings, hospital visits, and—”
“Put them off.”
“I can’t.”
“Damn it, yes you can!” he said with passion. “Our city is sliding into hell and you and I are the only ones who can figure out why. And then maybe we can do something.”
“Okay. Okay. But make it after lunchtime.”
Our first stop was the main branch of the public library. Jonathan led me to the reference section and a single metal cabinet next to a desk and an odd contraption.
He pulled an overstuffed file from his briefcase.
“On a morning of October 1945,” he whispered, “a woman entered a private residence in Lynchville. Four hours later, the woman was found dead in the front yard. She died from massive bleeding after a botched illegal abortion.”
“Yeah. It is. And gruesome. The Lynchburg Citizen said her uterus had been ripped from top to bottom. The coroner reported, ‘portions of the fetus partially extruded from the tear.’”
“Ugh,” I grunted.
Jonathan opened a drawer in the cabinet and withdrew a canister. He removed a roll of wide film and loaded it into the contraption. “This microfiche reader whines like a banshee,” he said.
Nearby library patrons glared as he noisily scrolled down endless newspaper pages, then he said, “This is it. One of the final articles in the series.”
The banner headline said, “RESPECTED PHYSICIAN GUILTY.”
Jonathan continued in a low voice. “The victim was a 23-year-old woman whose husband was a soldier in the Pacific. He hadn’t come home yet after the war. It’s not hard to guess that the father of the baby was not her husband, and she sought relief from a Dr. G.D. Gardner, whose license had been revoked after narcotics convictions. Dr. Gardner was subsequently arrested, and convicted of manslaughter. He spent the rest of his life in prison.”
“The back alley abortionist, a doctor?”
“A good one gone bad.”
“Imagine what the girl’s husband felt when he learned his wife died this way,” I said. “It’s terrible.”
Gardner’s residence, where the girl’s body was found, was on Haywood Road in west Lynchville.”
“Our church is on Haywood.”
Jonathan scrolled down half a page. “Look.”
I leaned forward. “Two stories, brick. That, that’s the house we tore down.” I was stunned. “We should put up a memorial for the poor woman and her baby. Oh my. We paved over where she died.”
“You’d be shocked with how much holy ground is paved over.” Jonathan tapped his file folder. “But we don’t understand all this yet.”
Our next stop was along Henson Road in the Ponderosa Village, the site of a destroyed office building. We parked at the adjacent motel. Nearly the entire block was heaped with rubble. Heavy equipment was loading and hauling away the rock, brick, and mangled lumber. Clattering of bulldozer tracks, engine roar, smoke, and dust filled the air.
“It’s amazing no one was hurt,” I said.
“Here, in the shrubbery.”
A landscaped corner of the lot had not been affected by the quake, nor yet by the cleanup work. Stuck in the ground was a small wooden cross draped with a purple, hand-knotted rosary.
“The abortion center, WomanCare, was on this lot once,” Jonathan said. “It moved when the state tore down the building to widen the road.”
“How did you find this out?”
“One idea leads to another. I allow myself to think what most people unconsciously block from their minds. The present WomanCare was shaken down also.”
“Oh, my dear God.” I was rattled. “These things don’t happen.”
“Yeah, they do. Walls of Jericho?”
“What else? Any other destruction linked to abortion?”
“I have one more lead.”
“You should have told me these things on the phone.”
“It wouldn’t have been compelling,” Jonathan said. “I don’t like being accused of faking evidence. The lady we’re meeting is the former director of WomanCare. Her name is Linnea. She’s willing to talk with you. We’re expected.”
“Then, let’s go. I need to sit down.”
We drove away from the city into a middle-class suburban neighborhood. As we pulled up to a ranch style house, an obese man with no shirt, wearing his long blonde curling hair loose down his back, was mowing the yard.
“Come on in,” he said.
As obese as her husband, Linnea had pretty facial features. We introduced ourselves and she frowned at Jonathan, but when she looked at me, she seemed reassured.
“I quit WomanCare in 2008 when it moved across town,” she said. “I’d been thinking about quitting for a long time. When my own daughter was born, it hit me how we were aborting children who were only younger than she was. So, I took a nursing job at a regular medical clinic.”
“Tell me about the abortion business,” Jonathan said.
“What we did was legal. It was wrong, but it was legal.” She hesitated for a moment. “We did abortions almost up to birth.”
I couldn’t hide my horror.
“I know,” she said. “You’re right. I didn’t actually kill them, the babies, but I was an accomplice.” Her voice failed and she cried into a handkerchief for a while. Then she held out her arms and said, “Look at me. I wear my sins in fat. My husband, too. He was the security guard.”
The husband silently nodded.
“Does WomanCare still do late-term abortions?” Jonathan asked.
“God, no. Not now. They quit when they moved. Only up to 20 weeks.”
“Only?” Jonathan asked.
“Yeah, that’s bad, too, isn’t it?”
“If I may ask,” I said, “what did you do with the bodies, the corpses?”
“We sold what we didn’t send to pathology. They’re used… for different purposes, research and education.”
Jonathan was thinking, his face in concentrated disarray. “You sold them?”
“We shipped some fresh, refrigerated. Individually or in bulk. We kept the others in storage. Someone else handled that part.”
“Oh… What storage?”
“The Xtra Space facility on San Ramon Road. We rented a couple units.”
“That’s it!” Jonathan exclaimed. “Another property wrecked by the earthquake. I looked at it, but it’s locked up tight.”
“I think it went bankrupt,” she said. “I shudder every time I drive by.”
Jonathan seemed to be done, so I said, “May I ask before we leave, have you had any nightmares or unusual experiences lately? Anything odd or creepy?”
“I’ve heard that others have had them. But not me. I used to be severely depressed and went into therapy, but it’s been a few years. Why?”
“Just wondering.”
“I like my own church.” She looked at Jonathan and asked, “Will you talk about us on your radio show? You promised you wouldn’t.”
Jonathan squirmed. Before he could answer, I said, “He won’t unless you give permission.”
“I don’t. You know, my husband and I recently lost 114 pounds between us,” she said and smiled.
Back in the car, Jonathan’s phone rang. He had been ignoring incoming calls throughout the day, but he took this one. Jonathan put the speaker on.
“This is Sergeant Hernandez of the LPD,” the girlish female voice said. “We’ve got DNA results, from the blood samples. You asked me to call you.”
“Sergeant Hernandez,” Jonathan said. “How are you? What did you find?”
The signal seemed to have cut off.
“Are you there? Sergeant Hernandez? Isabel?”
“I’m here.” She cleared her throat. “The state is investigating the lab. We think the samples, or the results, have been tampered with.”
“Why? Was it human blood?”
“The questionable results are, that in many cases, the blood is from an offspring of the homeowners—the complainants.”
“Child abuse.”
“We’ve gone to another lab to follow up, but, Mr. Barron, some of these people don’t have children. They never did.”
“Are they lying, Sergeant?”
“They’re scared out of their minds.”
“Have they received demands for money?”
“Hmm, we’ll look into that,” she said in a softer, almost cheerful tone. “Thanks for the idea.”
After Jonathan disconnected, I said, “She sounds young.”
“Smart and cute, too,” he said and grinned. “I’m trying to talk her into going on a date with me.”
We drove down San Ramon Road. Clouds had rolled in from the west, from the not-too-distant ocean, and daylight already was receding. Vehicles turned on their headlights.
Weeds and weed trees grew rampant on the Xtra Space property wherever they found foothold. The buildings had been jumbled up, but the wire mesh fence on the perimeter stood intact. Someone had posted shiny red No Trespassing signs, and the security cameras looked potentially operational. We walked around the site, and downwind we smelled a rank foulness.
“I’m going in for a look,” Jonathan said and began climbing the fence.
“The concertina wire looks mean.”
“It’s loose here. Find something to push this lower strand up.”
I glanced around for a wooden pole or broken tree branch, but there wasn’t anything. Jonathan had by now pulled himself horizontal to the ground and was trying to roll himself over the top, under the razor wire, but the wire caught him in the back. He froze there, grunting in pain. “You got something yet? A pole?”
“Should I go to a hardware store?”
“Yeah, and buy some wire cutters while I wait, stuck up here.” With resignation he said, “Okay. Failed,” and eased off the razor wire. He began to work his legs downward so he could drop, but let loose prematurely and slammed the ground body-first.
“Ummph,” he said and started laughing. “Ohh… My arms just quit.”
“You all right?”
“Let’s see. Nothing hurt but ego.” He struggled to his feet. “Belly abrasions. My back is dripping. Blood, isn’t it?”
He held still while I inspected the wound through the slice in his shirt. “Does it hurt?”
“Not at all. Not now.”
“Hard to see, but your cut is probably half an inch long. Shouldn’t we go to the emergency room?”
“No, no. It’s just a puncture. I’ve got good seat covers. Let’s find out who owns this place.”
As we walked to the car, Jonathan studied his phone. In a minute he said, “Got you, Lanny Gillman,” and entered the address into his GPS.
At Gillman’s wood frame house, a thick tree had uprooted and was lying across the yard, branches blocking the main sidewalk. A decrepit blue van was parked in the gravel driveway that ended at a free-standing garage. When I knocked at the house’s front door, a monstrous beast on the inside barked and tore at the wood with its claws. The door vibrated with his bass voice.
“He’d kill us, if he could,” Jon said.
He rapped several times and the dog’s roar grew more frantic. A cold chill gripped me, and I shivered. As we walked down the steps, the monster dog, black and white, gaunt and muscular, appeared in an open upstairs window and watched us. Not barking, but sniffing the air. Saliva dripped from his mouth.
“I hope he doesn’t jump,” I said.
We approached the garage. The dog now watched from an upstairs window at the side of the house. The garage windows were papered over, but the door at the back was ajar. Jon paused and pulled up an audio recorder that had been hanging around his neck on a lanyard.
“For my show,” he said.
He pushed the door open, and I stepped in behind him. Symphonic music played on a radio (Elgar, I believe), and a man in his sixties wearing a baseball cap was stretching packing tape onto a cardboard tube, the tape making a ratcheting sound as it pulled off the dispenser. His back to us, he was sitting at a work table. I cleared my throat like in the movies. (What a stupid idea.)
He jerked around, screamed like a maniac, and fell off his stool.
“Shit,” he said as he labored, panting, to his feet. “You scared me. Didn’t you see the No Trespassing signs?”
He proceeded to cover and flip sheets of what looked like plastic poster board.
“Mr. Gillman, I’m Jonathan T. Barron of the syndicated show, Strange Days Radio, and this is my investigative partner, Pastor Paul Taylor of Second Presbyterian Church.” He handed Gillman a business card.
“Yeah? I know your show. Nice to meet you, pastor.” His glance shifted around the garage as if checking for anything else to conceal.
“We’re investigating the earthquake,” Jon said.
As Jon told him of our findings, Gillman grew pale. I then noticed the large cardboard box of shipping tubes. There were lots of boxes.
“According to a former director of WomanCare,” Jon said, “units of your self-storage building once housed the bodies of aborted fetuses. Late term babies.”
“Before I bought the place. I don’t know anything.”
“Is that so?” Jon said and flipped over one of the upside-down posters.
“Hands off!” Gillman lunged forward and crushed the poster into a ball. “You guys leave, or I’ll put Panda on you. My dog. You don’t want that. He’s hungry, and expensive to feed.”
I started away and Jon took my arm. Neither of us spoke or moved. Jon was calling his bluff.
“What’s around your neck?” Gilman said. “Are you recording me?”
Gillman strode around to Jon and jerked the recorder hard, breaking the spring clip of the lanyard. He smashed the device onto the floor. It bounced, broke into pieces, and he crushed the largest piece with his heel.
“You destroyed my property.”
“You’re trespassing. I’m going for Panda.”
“I’m calling the police.”
“Oh, that’s better. Saves me a mess.”
Jon called 911, reported an assault and gave the address. Then he looked at Gilman and said, “We’ll wait.”
Gillman waited a few seconds and then began picking up and straightening his garage. I stepped outside, ready to wait a tedious half-hour, or more. Above me, patches of brilliant stars seemed to race through contorted clouds. I didn’t remember the stars ever being so painfully bright.
Headlights in my face stole away my vision. The police, and so soon. A female officer climbed from the black Dodge Charger.
“Over here,” I called and went in to tell Jon.
Through the open door we heard the dog roaring. The officer tapped the door with a knuckle and entered. “What’s the problem?”
Strangely, Jon was smiling.
Both talking at once, Gillman explained how we were trespassing, and Jon explained how Gillman broke his recorder.
The officer, capturing the gist, interrupted. “Okay gentlemen, here’s the deal. You can go down to the magistrate’s office tomorrow morning and fill out warrants for each other’s arrest, or you can—”
“Work it out,” I said.
“He’s trespassing and was recording me illegally,” Gillman said.
“Doesn’t matter,” the officer said. “It’s a criminal offense to break someone’s property.”
“Is that right?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Yep, yep.” Gillman sighed. “Jonathan T. Barron?”
“That’s me.”
“Okay. We’ll work it out.”
“All right,” the officer said. “Sir, do you mind if I talk with these two visitors privately for a moment?”
“Suit yourself.”
We walked outside away from the garage. “What’s going on, Jonathan?” she whispered. “I’m just off my shift. Look, anyone else would haul your butts in for trespassing. What happened to your back?”
Of course, I thought. Sergeant Hernandez.
“This guy’s up to his neck in the earthquake deal,” Jon said. “No time to tell you more.”
She shook her head. “It’s crazy. You need to involve the police.”
“Soon. I promise.”
“You’re in my debt.”
“I am,” Jon said with exaggerated sincerity. “Let me buy you a steak dinner, Isabel. This weekend. After my show.”
She smiled, and Jonathan was right. She was cute.
“You’re a sneaky devil,” she said. “How did you get mixed up with this guy?” she said to me. She began walking back to her cruiser, or, I should say, personal car. “I’ll answer you tomorrow, Jonathan, when I’m not tired.” The beast Panda resumed roaring from the upstairs window and she glared at it coldly. “Someone should shoot that animal.”
When we re-entered the garage, Gillman had his back turned again and jumped out of his skin, again.
“Oh, it’s you,” he said after he recovered. “Yep, yep. Work it out. The Xtra Space once kept late term fetuses? Still does. Early ones, too. At least last time I checked before the earthquake. I’m afraid to go inside there now.”
“All those bodies in a damaged building?” I said. “Do you realize what a health hazard this is?”
“Yeah, with the electricity off and the freezers thawing. Containers all broken to hell. No insurance. Oh yeah. I couldn’t face it. Couldn’t face the attention.”
“We need to call the Health Department,” I said.
“Closed,” Gillman said. “It’s after hours.”
“Then call 911, again.”
Mr. Gillman scooted onto his stool, propped his elbows on the table, and rested his chin between his hands. “I’ll probably be arrested,” he said weakly. “Unless I can clean the mess up first.”
“Wait,” Jon said as I pulled out my phone. “Let’s look before they seal the building. Before any clues are beyond our reach. Will you let us in? Now?”
“If Pastor Taylor prays first,” he said mockingly.
“Good idea,” Jon said. “By the way, what have you got going here?”
“You want to know? I suppose a picture isn’t as bad as reality.” He turned over a sheet of poster board.
I’d never seen anything so nasty before. It was a 2-foot-by-3 foot image of an aborted baby. I felt like throwing up.
“I sell them,” he said. “I take photos and make posters. My pictures are famous.”
“How perverse,” Jon said.
“Me, perverse? Anti-abortion fanatics parade them in front of the clinics. Children see them. That’s what’s perverse.”
“Aren’t you anti-abortion?”
“Not particularly. I’m pro-choice. But you can’t help feeling something.”
“Do you make much money?”
“Not anymore. I tried selling bodies at first, after I bought the place cheap and found them inside.”
“Disgusting,” I said. “It’s strange that law enforcement never investigated you.”
“Let’s all leave now, please.” Jon said.
“How could a photograph of a legal procedure be illegal?” Gillman said. “This isn’t pornography. People don’t feel like killing someone when they see a corpse… I never did. On the other hand…”
“Just, just shut up,” Jon said.
“Yep, yep… Give me a second.”
Gillman rummaged in a corner and lifted a heavy box. “Fresh back-up batteries for the security cams. The old ones are expired, I’m sure. It’s late for changing them, isn’t it? Hey, will I be on your radio program?”
“I’ll need to be paid.”
Jon shrugged a shoulder. “How did I know it already? That’s bizarre.”
“Hey, don’t disrespect me. I’ve got nice pictures, too. A whole photo album of babies saved because of my posters. Customers send them.”
Gillman drove in his van by himself. When we arrived, he unlocked the gate and let us inside. Nearby streetlights painted the scene with an ominous orange-grey glow.
Knowing what we smelled made the stench worse.
Gillman unlocked the nearest unit, and as he pulled the door open, it scraped the concrete floor. We peered in without entering. Faint light eked in through the partly collapsed ceiling. The smell of formaldehyde nearly knocked me over. What Jonathan’s flashlight revealed looked like the shower room floor of a Nazi death camp, except the naked dead people here were tiny, not fully formed, and mixed with shattered glass. I stepped backwards and retched. Jon was taking flash pictures. Gillman walked away saying he’d reactivate the security cameras.
Standing near the next unit Jon suddenly bellowed, “Gillman, come here please! Gillman!”
“Give me a damn minute,” he yelled from the door at the office end of the facility.
I went to see what had gotten Jon’s attention. He was staring at smears of partly dried blood on the pavement near a tear in the wall. The smears formed trails going in different directions.
“Crap,” Gillman said when he ran up. “An animal’s been in here. A raccoon or coyote. This is a reefer unit.”
“No footprints,” Jon said. “Open it up.”
“Not without a gas mask.”
“Give me the key,” Jon said.
I made sure I was upwind. Jon inserted the key, but the lock was jammed. Gillman trotted toward the office and returned holding a tiny tube with a nozzle from which he squirted into the key hole. “Graphite powder,” he said and backed up to where I was. The key turned and Jon opened the door. The odor of freezer burn and rotted flesh, even worse than before, seeped toward us. I covered my mouth and nose and backed away further. Jon said nothing as he disappeared inside, and when he walked over to us a minute later, his face looked pale and wet, like a clammy cadaver.
“I’ve been in battle in Afghanistan,” he said, “and I’ve never seen what’s in there. It’s indescribable. There was a severed foot… I don’t think an animal has been inside, not a hungry one. Nothing’s been eaten. Okay, Gillman, should I call the police again or will you?”
“I will,” Gillman grumbled.
Jon took photographs of everything. When the police arrived, they sent us to the sidewalk, and what flew from their mouths when they looked inside cannot be repeated on radio, as Jon said. A Hazmat team arrived soon afterwards. I finally called my wife and told her what we’d been doing, and I apologized for not calling before.
Print and broadcast media showed up and Gillman edged into his van and slunk away. Police told the reporters nothing.
But Jonathan is a pro and gave a number of interviews, saying: “My weekly syndicated show, Strange Days Radio, is named after a song by the classic rock band, the Doors. The real story of these dead babies is suggested in its lyrics. ‘Strange days have found us. Strange days have tracked us down.’ You won’t believe what I’ve uncovered, and I’ll reveal it all on my show tomorrow evening.”
Jon took me home. We didn’t have a lot to say during the drive. As we neared my house, he accepted a phone call and it was Gillman who said, “What happened after I left?”
“Not much, I expect the police will see you again in the morning.” Jon hung up and said to me, “I didn’t mention this before, but when I was with the thawed-out bodies, I felt they were watching me with malice. I’ve felt this before on investigations, but never so intense, so bitter. I can handle blood and decay, but that? It got to me.”
“We both need sleep, and food.”
“You’re probably right.”
We pulled up to my house. Jon stared out the windshield and I opened the door.
“Wait a second!” he said. “Is it possible Gillman has been sneaking around Lynchville and tormenting the mothers? He knew who they were. The bodies were labeled, some of them. He might have another demented money-making enterprise in play.”
I scoffed at my own cynicism. “That would explain the blood and the noises.”
“It’s a theory,” Jon said. “Conscience-tortured people receiving letters from zombie babies demanding inheritance money or else the curse will never end. He doesn’t look capable of that kind of depravity, but they never do. He could be an agent for someone else.”
“His damned demon dog?”
Jon half laughed. “You astonish me, pastor.”
“If Gillman’s in any way responsible for this, we’ve stopped him. We’ve found our solution.”
“Let’s talk more tomorrow.”
That night my wife disconnected our phones so I wouldn’t be disturbed. I sealed my clothes in a trash bag and showered. As I told my wife about the day, sparing her the worst, I managed to eat a little vegetable soup. She said our children invited us to a week with them in Hawaii in February for our anniversary. I sighed with pleasure, looking forward to resurrecting my surfing skills and riding the surging blue waves again, as I had in my youth. I closed my eyes and imagined feeling the breeze on my skin. It felt good being home, warm and clean with my wife giving me a shoulder massage. That and a glass of sherry put me down for the night. The next thing I knew, my wife was shaking me in bed, and someone was banging on the front door and shouting.
I threw on a jacket.
It was Jonathan.
“You’ve got to come now,” he said hoarsely. “Gillman called, he left a message screaming, ‘They’re murdering me! They’re murdering me!’”
“Did you call 911?”
“Busy signal.”
My wife brought pants, shoes and socks, and a shirt in an armload. I ran out barefoot and jumped into Jon’s car. A murky reluctant day was breaking. A man crawled on hands and knees in the yard across the street. Jon jammed his car into gear and accelerated, the car issuing a guttural snarl.
“Shouldn’t we help?” I said.
“I stopped for a guy just like him. It’s like he was on LSD. We got to check on Gillman.”
“What do you think happened?”
“His targets caught him. His victims. I don’t know.”
We didn’t get far when my wife called me.
“Honey,” she said, “I didn’t sleep last night. I stayed in the guest bedroom and read. I kept hearing shrieking and banging around the neighborhood, and alarms. Ambulance and police sirens. The power flicked off and on and dogs were barking non-stop. I wanted to wake you, but you needed your sleep.”
“You should have woken me. Did anyone call?”
“I disconnected the phones, remember? Check your voicemail.”
“Ah. Thanks, dear. When I get time.”
As we drove through neighborhoods, onto a highway, and along commercial strips, we saw people lying beside the road. And people running crazily. Wrecked cars. Fires blazing like a citywide riot was in progress. Broken windows everywhere. The lights at intersections weren’t working. We drew near to Gillman’s house. I called 911, again. Still busy.
Suddenly, Jon skidded to a stop. “This is like ancient Egypt, during the Passover.”
“You said you weren’t a believer.”
“I believe in the existence of evil. It’s ultimate good that I doubt.”
Jon then made a U-turn and said, “I think Gillman called from his Xtra Space.”
We parked half up the sidewalk at the self-storage facility. The gate was unlocked. Lanny Gillman was lying on the ground and gripping a bolt cutter in one hand. The door to every one of the storage units stood wide open.
Jon checked his vitals. “He’s dead, poor wretch.”
“Oh my. Why was he here?”
“Probably collecting food for Panda.”
“Nooo,” I groaned.
Jon took his camera and began filming. “You’re viewing the remains of the owner of this facility,” he narrated. “I don’t see any lethal injuries, but his skin and clothing are dusty and scuffed, as if he thrashed in agony, and this… is one of the rooms where the bodies are kept. The earthquake— Oh my gosh. They’re gone. They’re all gone.”
He paused, lowered and turned off the camera, and said,” I can’t do this. I’d be as bad as Gillman.”
We looked everywhere, and nothing remained of all the dead babies we had seen, not even a smell. And possibly all the units had contained bodies, not only the two we saw earlier. The place was vacant and pristine clean. Blood smears no longer stained the pavement.
“The security camera,” Jon said, and trotted to the office. The door wouldn’t open, but he beat a window in with a chunk of concrete debris. He gingerly climbed inside and emerged from the door with a blanket under his arm. “I’ve got the video! Let’s go.”
“Where to?”
“My studio.” He extended his hand, palm up. “Cool. It’s starting to rain. What a relief.”
“911 is ringing, finally,” I said. “Police, please… We found a body… Xtra Space on Ramon… An adult… Okay.” I looked at Jon. “They’ll pick him up later.”
“Panda is dead in the office.” He covered Gillman with the blanket.
“Shouldn’t we stay until the police arrive?”
As Jon drove me home, the rain poured down hard. The fires we had seen earlier extinguished. By then no one was wandering witless in the streets anymore.
It turned into a marvelous day, considering the terror the city had endured during the night. A big storm had blown in from the Pacific, and rain descended all day, not so much as to cause landslides, but enough to calm everyone. The high contrast and brilliance of light I first noticed when the earthquake struck had been subdued by mist and clouds.
We activated our church networks and invited everyone to come talk and pray. We organized teams to check on neighbors. Despite the difficulty of travel, our building was packed by noon. People brought food and stayed all day, and the young people brought sleeping bags and pads so they could camp on the floor overnight.
Late that evening, Jonathan and I did his radio program, live.
Jonathan said as an introduction, “Believe me, of all the psychic, supernatural stories I’ve investigated in my career, this is the most incredible, the most horrifying, and the most personal for you, the listener. And I’ve got documentation, the evidence, here in my hands. I could post video on my website, though you’d say I faked it. I have pictures. But, I can’t show you what I’ve seen. If you Lynchville listeners haven’t been visited by horrible phenomena since our earthquake, then you’re fine. You’re more than fine.
“If you have been visited, then you know what I’m talking about. Most of you out there are not in my town of Lynchville, but you’ve read or heard accounts or seen something on television. If you ever have trusted me, then don’t trust the news people or the government. They ignore facts, explain everything else away, and mislead you—they can’t help themselves, it’s self-deception. Self-protection. We’re going to take calls for the remainder of the show, but first I want to introduce my co-host, Dr. Paul Taylor, senior pastor of Second Presbyterian Church of Lynchville. Dr. Taylor has been at my side during this whole ordeal.”
“Thank you, Jonathan,” I said. “I have only a few remarks, and then I’d be happy to take questions. You may expect me to emphasize sin, repentance, natural retribution (that is, you reap what you sow) and forgiveness, and I’m sorry if I disappoint you here. Those subjects are essential, but there are other times to hear the Gospel of Redemption. You can visit our church website to hear some of my past sermons.
“It’s no secret that Jonathan and I discovered a storage facility containing the remains of aborted children. Thousands of them. Their parents came to Lynchville from around the U.S. It’s also no secret that Jonathan and I are suspected of removing those remains and burying them in violation of state laws. In a few days, we’ll be holding a memorial service for those dead children at our church. We’ll also join in healing prayer for their parents, whoever they may be. We’ll broadcast the service on streaming video. Everyone is welcome to attend or watch.
“Like many Christians, I believe that children who die before they’re born, who die either naturally or unnaturally, and newborns and infants, those innocent children are in Heaven with a loving Creator. Jesus said, ‘Let the children come to me, let no one hinder them.’ That’s all I have for now.”
“Thanks, Dr. Taylor,” Jonathan said. “We’ll take your calls when we return from these messages…”
The radio broadcast was six months ago. Jon’s show and its rebroadcasts and podcasts broke all records, and for a season, his was the most listened-to program of its type. Since then Jon proved to be right in saying that the media and the government misled everyone, and he was wrong that anyone was “fine.” No one is fine.
Jon felt inadequate to the reality he had uncovered and wanted a new direction, and as I suggested to him, he’s considering applying to seminary to study Church History.
I don’t want to tell you, reader, what we witnessed on those videos from the Xtra Space Storage Facility, because you won’t believe me, and the more I press the point, the more you’d call me a fraud. Or, you’d laugh it off like you would a campy horror movie, one with the title, “Vengeance of the Bloody Fetuses.” It’s okay if you think I’m lying, or that I’m deluded, because what we saw does not align with anything we know is possible. But I will tell you what we saw, anyway. I’ll tell you for the same reason we now share this entire story in print. Because, despite the staggering events of Lynchville, and, it appears now, in more distant places, after these few months the country has gone back to normal. That is what’s scary.
Here is what we saw: The images are not clear and the lighting was bad. The recording shifted from camera to camera… Lonnie Gillman arrived. He opened the doors, slapped at his legs, and fell. Then we noticed what looked like human fetuses of different sizes—lumps of flesh, really—dragging themselves and squirming along the ground, along the pavement. Some of the earlier ones were… they were flowing along in liquid—we guessed because of a glistening movement. We watched tortured hours of them crawling, creeping, rippling away until they all were gone.

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