A Small Town in Arizona
rating: +17+x

The air was dry, smelling of the unique odor that hot sand and dry flora carried from the long, drawn out hours of daylight in the arid region. The sun would bleach everything that it touched in the small isolated town, where the Arizona local time happened to just be striking seven in the evening for its residents. It was dusk now, the ending of a day for most and the start for others just as the noisy crickets and other such inhabitants came to life. The sky flowed with large strokes of dark orange and scarlet red in small amounts, all accompanied by the smallest of streaking cirrus clouds. A good omen, perhaps.

The sole sheriff of the sparsely inhabited settlement sat comfortably on his porch in a rocking chair, a cold glass of bourbon on the rocks in his hand - a gift from an old friend in law enforcement to enjoy a pleasant view with before he went to sleep. It was a view he had seen thousands of times before, almost memorizing it by now with all the time he had, as the town hadn't really needed a sheriff in quite a while. The only aspect that ever changed about this view were the plants that laid out past the dirt road his house was on. So, as the figure of a limping creature came over the horizon, it immediately caught the sheriff's eye.

It didn't move like any wild dog, it didn't look like one either as it slowly drew closer to the edge of town. It didn't take long before the creaking of the porch's old boards emanated as the sheriff stood up slowly, calmly put down his glass, grabbed the shotgun at his side and quietly strode across the dirt road. With slight puffs of dirt being dragged up as he went, he stopped right before the gravel curb as he merely watched now, gun lowered with a firm grip. Perhaps it was a wild dog or coyote, though if that was the case, he knew the whole pack would come along, so he wondered why this one was alone. It was only until the creature was about a hundred yards away that he started to realize what the animal really was, its limping form outlined in the light from the dying day, three legs strode with their dark shadows.

The sheriff's chest tightened in anticipation as the creature moved closer, he knew exactly what it was now, but it couldn't be right, it wasn't possible for him to conceive it as such. The creature in question was a golden retriever, the most friendly dog of a local family he'd ever met, but this dog didn't leave home with a quarter of their head and their left front leg gone. The missing sections looked like they had been cut off without a single sign of tissue tearing, most of the lower jaw gone with blood-stained bone exposed on the left side. Their tongue hung out the side of the hole with a straight slice cut out of it, while their precious coat of fur was matted with a dark shade of dried blood near the wounds. They were only five feet away before its shaking legs collapsed, a constant and low whine coming from it, before that and everything else then decayed into a absolute silence.

Nothing dared to make a sound at that moment.

It had been less than half an hour since the incident, the sheriff had stood in place for a longer time than he might have thought, before eventually wrapping the animal in a old tarp from the side of his house. Whoever or whatever attacked the dog was in his jurisdiction, being the law of the land in this place and all, but acting as such wasn't something he'd done in a while. This town was too quiet, too peaceful for such occurrences, and besides, he was becoming too old to deal with things like this.

Only after several long minutes of festering thoughts about what might have happened out past the horizon did the sheriff move from his spot, even then only slowly walking down the beaten dirt road as he made his way to the owner's house. Though as he went along the road, he shot a pensive glance towards the southern horizon multiple times, as if expecting for something else to come forth out of the encroaching night.

His boots tapped lightly against the bleached boards of the porch, his pace as casual as one could get after having seen what he had; there was no need to cause a stir by running over in a frenzy as no doubt there were others watching him. Whether it was from their faintly lit front decks or the family room window of their house, this should just look like a friendly encounter, neighbour to neighbour. With his thumbs under his belt, the tension in the air felt as if it could slap him, the faint sound of the old doorbell and the creaking of the door only worsening with the palpable aura of the bleak atmosphere.

He knew the particular family very well, as they were only a block's distance apart. He had come over for dinner many times and even played fetch with the dog on a mild afternoon every so often whenever it wandered over. Though not a mind reader, he was well aware about how they usually composed themselves, so when both the wife and the husband opened the door almost immediately, he knew something was up right then. There was a strong sense of expectation in their eyes from the sheriff, almost as if they knew that he was coming over, or perhaps they were about to be out the door coming to him if he'd arrived a second later. Though after the door was open, it didn't take long for them to freak out as the sheriff spoke. And it wasn't about the dog's death in any way, it was about their daughter who had gone out to get it after it ran off southward, away from the town.

They said that it wasn't out of character for her to sometimes take a while, that this was nowhere near her first time, that she was probably just staring at the clouds. They continued to say these things with different wordings repeatedly like freaked out parents would, as if trying to convince themselves. Through their thought process they drove on, almost manically as it quickly broke down as fast as it tried to start in a endless circle, seeming like they might asphyxiate from how fast they were talking. The sheriff might think of them as irresponsible parents if it weren't for their familiarity. His gut knew that this wasn't their fault, that there was something unholy happening around here.

The sheriff eventually rested his hand on the father's shoulder, wishing he had better words, better circumstances for the both of them, though the dark reality of it was much more grim than he originally thought. Hushed words of reassurance and a promise that they would form a search party immediately were given, as best as could be done at least. This only helped their outlook by a minuscule amount, with the sheriff's soft spoken nature doing little to help.

The internal sigh of relief that came as they didn't ask to see the dog's body helped the sheriff's overall outside composure. If they were to figure out how it had truly been killed, there would be absolutely no possible way to calculate the severity of their reaction. Even then, the incident still rooted itself in the sheriff's own mind while he spoke. There was nothing natural about it, it looked artificial in every way possible and the idea of it having been the supernatural or some crazed, yet medically certified serial killer didn't help in the slightest. All these cryptic ideas only helped to propagate one question in his collective thoughts. The question of what was going to happen when they went out there.

It only took twenty minutes to round up a party of nine people from the town, but now if any of the residents weren't paying attention early, they were now. Mothers pulled their children away for a early bedtime as their father just had to help the kind sheriff with something for the night. This is what they told them as the party soon congregated at the town square. Some held varmint rifles and shotguns with others toting flashlights and lanterns, though the entire group was wary as rumors already spread about the child's disappearance. Though in the end, not a single word related to such subject was spoken out of a fear of it becoming true. The atmosphere was heavy before they departed, the wind carrying a slight ferrous smell northward, ebbing past the buildings to spread along the entire place.

All eyes were pointed south into the endless flat terrain ahead of them, the time soon approaching twilight with the waning moon seeming brighter than ever, the northern star Polaris seeming to overflow with its light as well. The quiet march of the party immediately gave way to a deep feeling of apprehension about the entire situation, there was no use spreading out or investigating anything as all could be seen for miles around them, there was no yelling or screaming besides the party's own.

It was only until someone had yelled the child's name only for the sound to decay into nothing across the flat ground that they realized, there was not a single cricket, not a single hoot or howl from any nocturnal animal in the valley. The only definite sounds was a monotone howl of the winds coming from where they were going which moved the thin wispy leaves of desert plants to create quiet natural wind chimes, all while the iron-like smell became more noticeable.

Time passed slowly from that realization of the silence, their attention pulled away from where they were going to merely listen before they realized something strange. The horizon almost seemed to have become higher than it was before, a dead stump they were using as a guidance point now completely out of sight as confirmation. The sheriff wasn't one to lose such details so quickly, while the others were all knowledgeable as well, so one of them reasoned that it was possibly just gases being released from the cracked soil. It wasn't the best explanation nor was it right in the end, but it was the delusion of such that kept them from mass paranoia.

Now, they were seeing abnormally large cracks in the ground when they started to walk on a gradual incline. While ground was known to be dry around here, it had never made such cracks as this, ones that could possibly catch a wrongfully placed shoe inside of them. The metallic aroma lingered in this area, barely moving aside for the party as they slowly climbed the cracked hill with a weary advance. It didn't take long to see a definite top to the incline up ahead the party's current position. It was safe to say that everyone had a drastic idea in their mind for what was on the other side of the top, some were extreme, some were minimal, but same or different, the reality of what they saw before them was too much for all of them.

The edge itself sat roughly three yards high with the steep hill down it being absolutely flat, after that the terrain past their position seemed like it had all lowered itself from its original position but none of it was flat nor similar in the slightest manner, it was absolute chaos. The ground was shattered and abnormally segmented, parts of it rose up at random with perfectly flat sides, precise cubic shaped pits and areas that bulged downwards into small ravines and upwards into hills like tectonic plates had met and crashed into each other. Though as they took this in, they hadn't been there for more than a minute before a scream that one might associate with a banshee emanated from the bottom of the steep hill.

As all faced the origin of the blood-curdling scream, their faces went white and cold as they realized that the voice was someone they knew, which was that of the pastor. But he was right next to the sheriff, the most terrified of all of them as they heard it - his skin resembling the lightness of the moon itself. The screaming was barely recognizable as human as it progressed, anyone could tell that the source of it was letting out a painful sound of death, ripping their vocal cords as their last act in a demonstration of the fatal pain they were experiencing.

It was eventually the sheriff who hesitantly walked to the side of the edge first, the placement of his feet hard as he could feel a lack of balance within himself, almost hoping the ground wasn't stable enough to let him see it. Everyone silently watched him peer over, and it was within mere seconds that his dread turned into absolute hysteria as over the edge lie the pastor, but not their pastor.

This pastor's mouth was wide open with his muscles cramped from shock, making a series of pained expressions rapidly. His eyes wide open staring straight into the sky as nothing more came out of his mouth now but a mere series of sounds that were his failed attempts at further breathing, his skin becoming a dark shade of blue in the moonlight. A massive amount of blood spewed from his legs and a puddle surrounded him while spreading through the soil's cracks, the legs appearing to be cut clear off at the bottom of the femur, just like the dog.

The whole group had come to the sheriff's side as he stood there without a word, it was the worse case scenario possible, his body could physically feel this fear in the form of adrenaline and pressure in his chest. A pseudo-sixth sense screeched at him there was no reason on earth any of them should be here, this was all was against all the laws of nature.

Meanwhile, the living pastor merely stayed several feet away from the edge with his hands covering his ears, the expression of his eyes could only be described to look like that of someone who had just lost their faith within seconds, tears of terror running down his face. Before anyone could try to console him, he was running full tilt towards the town without a care for anyone who called out to him, the beam of his flashlight moving up and down rapidly as he pumped his arms.

It only got worse from here, slowly but surely, houses started to suddenly materialize whether they embedded themselves in the ground or shattered from being dropped out of the thin air, the party watching in a continuous shock as it all unfolded before them. But it wasn't the structures alone that made the party frozen where they had planted their feet, it was the people.

With each materialized house, people they had known their whole lives or even themselves were appearing at random, being plunked from where they previously resided in a instant. Some choked to death as dirt filled their body cavities when their houses came in partially into the ground. Some snapped their neck and spine as they fell head first from three stories high. Some came cut in half or nothing but a lone pair of legs.

The smell of blood almost came over them as a shockwave with the corrupted town taking shape. The macabre scene fueled the reaction of morbid curiosity in all of the group as they struggled to comprehend seeing their own decapitated head or their loved one being bisected, unaware to the passing of time in their stupor. The aroma of it all penetrating their nostrils with the olfactory evidence of chaotic death and suffering.

It was the sheriff that started to run last, but he quickly caught up with the others initiative as his heart thumped against his chest, his feet barely able to keep up with his pace down the inclined hill. It was everyone for themselves now as screams and shrieks came from behind them like a portal had been opened for the souls of the damned, though a small percent of them now came from the search party members. They screamed of how screwed they were and about the things they had witnessed, everything else falling into a category somewhere between those two points. None of it made sense because the rabble that came out of their mouths only made them more determined to run faster from the horrors due to their own convictions.

The sheriff himself ran with his heart almost pushing itself to the limit, his throat felt like a rusted gutter filled with wadded leaves with how dry it was, his own saliva thick enough now to almost choke him as he gasped for oxygen. He kept up with the others, the topsoil making loud cracking sounds as the heavy footfalls came in rapid succession, but while they ran, no one dared to look anywhere but in front of themselves.

Everything seemed the same as the true town came into view, with all possible lights on now on as the pastor had arrived before them and warned everyone. The terrain was as flat as ever, a sight that some couldn't possibly love enough, though at the same time, a series of tire tracks seemed to suddenly start out of nowhere as they ran by it. It might have followed them home, but it was of little concern until they all arrived between the sheriff's and parent's house, where they found what had made the tracks.

In front of the sheriff's house was parked an identical police cruiser like his next to his own. Though exhausted and dehydrated, he walked towards the front of house without hesitation, the top of heads and nothing more visible with the cars in the way. And so, there was only five feet between them when the sheriff came around the car and met his alternate self.

The both of them stared numbly at each other as they were both still recovering from everything that happened, the others in the party stumbled over with all of them in a similar state of disbelief as they saw the scene. A awkward silence took a hold of everyone before the exhausted sheriff noticed the two prepubescent girls in wool blankets on the porch, their mother tending to them as the father walked up with haste as he noticed at the very same time.

A quiet sigh of relief came from the sheriff as the other one did the same, though they did so for different reasons. They both looked back to the horizon without a word, wondering why this had all happened, wondering about the deaths of all those from the other world's town, but most of all wondering how meeting his alternate self was far from the most shocking thing of the night.

The air was dry, smelling of the unique odor that hot sand and dry flora carried from the long, drawn out hours of daylight in the arid region as a light metallic scent came from somewhere beyond the horizon.

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