“Whoever Lesler was, he was a freak.” With a sigh, I laid the documents on the desk and furrowed my brow. Images of severed limbs, screaming children and a grainy image of a swamp were strewn before me, prompting me to take a sip from my whiskey flask. 2012 wasn’t a good year for me, and it would get worse if I didn’t figure this out.
I’m a private investigator who was working on a cold case from the 80’s involving a kid named Abram. According to him, he was attacked by “The Toadman”; a serial killer from the 1890’s (real name Keith Lesler) who was executed in 1952. The Toadman, he said, killed his two friends and then cut off his leg. Normally, people would assume that the kid was crazy, but psychological tests proved otherwise, dumbfounding the department. I had been assigned it because in a few months, the case would be shut for good.
This is because of the statue of limitations. If you don’t know, it’s the timeframe assigned to a crime for how long it can be investigated. There are different reasons for this, but the main one is that over time, evidence fades and people forget. With a double-homicide as abstract as this one, though, they only gave it thirty years.
So, like everything else no one wanted to deal with, the case was shoved into my hands. I’m essentially a garbage disposal to the police force in Montana, being charged with the investigations that were either too gory or too strange. But this paid the bills, and so I try my hardest to solve these, or at least gather enough evidence to convince another P.I. to take it off my hands.
I was alone in Helena, though. There was not a single piece of evidence I could find via documentation or photo that hadn’t already been brought up before; no limb unchecked, and no interview unread. Hell, I’d been working on it for weeks. So I had woken up early on April 6th, checked my watch to make sure it was 6 o’clock, and started packing. Within a few hours, I was in the police station in Millsbe, where the murders happened and where Lesler was caught.
The place has been around for more than a hundred years, and started as a mining town. Over time, though, it grew more towards agriculture, producing greens for the state. It had a very western feel, like some farmer would come walking down the street picking hay from the gravel. After I arrived, I went to the police station, and set up shop.
I was checking over the photos once again when Sherriff Thomas, who had run the Millsbe district precinct for a good 45 years, came in abruptly. “You’re Tyler, right? I wanted to let you know that we have your room set up. It’s in the Green Goose Inn, east end of town; you can’t miss it.” “Thanks,” I replied. “You don’t have to worry about me; I won’t be here for long. Anyway, I understand someone was being assigned to help me?” Tomas’ blank expression didn’t change. “That’s right. His name is Doyle Wheeler. You’ll meet him tomorrow; he’s out of town at the moment.”
Satisfied, I filed away the documents and left the station towards the house belonging to Abram, who was now in his 40s and required medical attention this time of year due to his leg. Knocking on the door, I looked around. It really is amazing how some places never change with the world. The house was very decrepit looking, like it would fall down at any minute due to the breaking wood panels and rusted fixtures. I could see a tire swing and a few fountains in the backyard, but the door was opened before I could look around anymore.
“Hello, can I help you?” Said the man with gray streaks in his dark brown hair. “Yes, are you Abram Linfeld?” His eyes narrowed as he looked at me, one arm leaning on a crutch. “I am. Who are you and what do you want from me?” He already appeared agitated, but I responded with the straightest face I could put on. “My name is Tyler Smith. I’m a detective from Helena investigating a case you were involved with thirty years ago, and I wanted to talk to you about it. May I come in?”
He sighed and let me in. The interior of the house, although more kept up with than the outside, was dusty, like if you were seeing everything through a crusted, grainy lens. Once in the living room, we sat on opposite chairs and he adjusted his prosthetic leg. “Alright, so what do you want to know? I already told the police everything twenty years ago, there’s not much else.”
“Anything, Mr. Linfeld,” I said. “Anything that could help me find out what really happened. Maybe something you haven’t told anyone, or something that slipped your mind… Please, Abram, help me out.” He took a deep breath.
“Do you have any idea how hard it is each night? How hard and terrifying it is to remember that night? I was scared out of my mind there, kid. Having to hide in the grass and watch that thing look for me, with his hideous face and the heads. It was-““Heads?” I interrupted. “What do you mean, ‘heads’? There wasn’t any mention when you gave the story the first time.”
He had a surprised look on his face. “There wasn’t? I could have sworn… Okay, when I saw him, the last thing I noticed were five heads around his belt. Two of them were…” He turned away and I nodded, taking a mental note. “It’s okay, Mr. Linfeld.” “No, it isn’t!” He yelled.
“I saw the heads of my friends on his belt! Don and Angie were the best friends a guy like me could have. And they were killed, like it was nothing! I’ve had to live in confusion ever since that day. I’m… I just can’t continue right now. Please leave, Mr. Smith.” He turned his head away and I left without a word.
Finally, I had some new evidence! I had no idea what it meant, but at least it was something. What exactly could I piece together with the heads? As I entered the Green Goose and checked into my room (It was 9:30 by this point), a thought came into my head. When Lesler killed his victims, the heads were never severed, only the limbs. As I thought more about this, I only became more confused. There was no reason to take Don and Angie’s heads. Sighing, I sat on a velvet barstool in the main room of the tavern.
Before I could order my dinner, a man to my right turned his head to me and said in a slurred, but careful tone. “Hey, uh, you’re the Detective, right? The one on that, uh, Toad Dude case.” I rolled my eyes and ordered a mushroom swiss burger and fries, with a can of pop. “Yeah, that’s me. What do you want?” He chuckled a little too hard and patted my back. “I’m your partner, buddy! Doyle Timothy Wheeler, 25, and six years on the force as a patrol officer. I’m moving up with you, baby!” He howled and fell backwards, but caught himself.
As I took a bite of my sandwich, I looked him over a bit. He seemed like an average guy, about six feet tall and lean. I noted a distinct Latino coloration in him, brown eyes and black hair cut short. He was dressed in a winter coat and seemed to not really be aware of his surroundings, which I attributed to his apparent drunkenness. After finishing my meal, he seemed to have sobered up a bit, so I pulled him aside.
“Listen, Wheeler: I can’t have you act like this when we’re investigating, okay? This is a big deal, and I want it done as smoothly as possible. Got it?” He smiled wide. “Don’t worry, Tyler. This was just a celebration! After this, I’m gonna be promoted, and can move out of this place without being broke afterwards.” I was taken aback. This guy was a cop just so he could afford to move! He apparently didn’t care for actually protecting people.
“Well, whatever, Tyler. You should hit the hay. It’s already 11 o’ clock and we’ve got a big day tomorrow!” He put emphasis on those last three words. I know I was being really analytical, but by that point, I was absorbing all the knowledge I could.
He was right though, and I headed to my room. I laid in my bed and quickly drifted to sleep, hoping to be able to find out more the next day. I had the most vivid dreams, though. Shadows were dancing in a dark cavern and I felt like I was sinking, not being able to control my actions. I awoke with a cold sweat as I suffocated in my dreams and quickly got dressed. Wheeler was already by the patrol car when I walked outside.
If there was anything Doyle could do, he could drive. No bump hit, no turn too sharp, the kid was a marvel. I almost didn’t want to distract him with my questioning, but my curiosity got the better of me.
“Where’d you learn to drive, some sort of academy?” He laughed. Not the slurred chuckle of last night, but a hearty and jovial laugh. “I taught myself after my dad died ten years ago. I guess I’m just naturally better than some people.” Wanting to actually get back in touch with the case, I changed the subject
“What do you know about The Toadman, exactly?” He grew silent for a bit, then answered. “Tyler, when you grow up in a town with a legend like that, there isn’t much you don’t know. Basically, Lesler was a psycho growing up. He stayed with his dad in the swamp all the time, never went to school, and all that garbage mom’s tell their kids. When he was fifteen, he kidnapped Dianne Fletcher. Sweet girl, from what I’ve heard. Gutted her in 1911. You know the rest.”
Taking in this new information, we stopped in the field where Abram was found after the incident. It was a large circular patch of tall grass, with an entrance to the swamp on the north end. After several hours of searching, however, he didn’t find anything aside from rotting wood. At this point, I was a little down. I mean, I had some new information, sure, but nothing that could help me understand what happened thirty years ago. A bit desperate to not waste today, I asked Wheeler something that bugged me when we were in the car.
“You said he stayed with his dad all the time, right? What exactly did his dad do for a living?” He looked at me, confused. “His dad? I think he was a miner, back when this dump produced coal.” With no other leads at the moment, I motioned for him to get back in the car and in an hour, we were at the entrance to the Millsbe Coal Mine, abandoned for ninety years.
Wheeler seemed anxious. Why this was, I didn’t know, but he was silent as we climbed the steps to the Foreman’s Building. As I expected, inside the manila room were files of workers dating back to 1860. After sifting through them, I found the profile of Martin Samuel Lesler, and sat down to read it aloud.
“Known to be rowdy in the mines and seems claustrophobic. In one incident, Martin was found choking himself in the dark end of the shaft, mumbling about evil spirits. He has one son named Keith, who occasionally comes with him. What kind of sick guy was he?” I stood and put the file back in its cabinet. “At least we know more about his chil-“I heard a large banging sound, felt a sharp pain in the back of my head, and everything went numb.
Sometime later (I’m told seven hours, making this take place around 1 o’ clock.) I awoke to the smell of petrol. Looking around, I quickly realized I was inside the mine and panicked. I tried getting up, but to no avail, as I was tied to a wooden chair. Taking deep, calming breaths, I called out “Hello?! Doyle?! Where are you?” And listened. From the echo, I guessed I was in the deep part of the mine, which didn’t help my paranoia and fear. Suddenly, I heard footsteps from behind me, and froze as a familiar voice pierced my ears.
“Sorry, Tyler. But you’re REALLY unlucky, ya know? Getting a case like this, at this time… Almost like its fate.” He chuckled and came into view, soot staining his cheeks and clothes as he sat in a chair in front of mine. “Doyle, what…? “ A sharp smack to the head. “Shh. It’s story time! I think that it’s about time that you learned the full story about Lesler and that whiny bitch, Abram.” He had a different air about him now, a very violent aura. I stayed silent, but was trying to figure out a way to free myself.
“You see, a long, long time ago, there was a tribe of natives that lived in these parts. Now, they have this silly little legend about ‘Shadowbeast’, and this is where we begin our history lesson, Smithy boy!” I was sweating hard from both the heat and shock. How did he know this stuff?! “The story goes that the Shadowbeast came from the heavens and brought havoc and chaos to the land, demanding offerings of shiny stones and tools. Killed three kids, the fable goes; ripped off the tyke’s arms and legs! Starting to sound familiar?”
My eyes widened with shock. “Lesler was… He was following the story!?” Another smack, harder this time. “No, stupid! I guess you’re one of those guys who don’t have an open mind. The Shadowbeast, as it happened, was sealed in a great cavern of black stone, never to be able to kill again. But, it is said, the beast can place impure thoughts into the mind, can manipulate the weak minded. You see now?” At this point I was petrified. I’m not one to believe in the supernatural, but this was insane. I had a plan though, and figured that this was a good time to try it.
“The… The weak minded? Must be why you’re acting like this.” I laughed as his eyes narrowed with anger, but he stayed silent. “I mean, it sounds like this beast thing manipulated the Lesler’s. Why are you a part of this?” His eyes darted away and he spoke softly. “Have you ever lost someone so dear to you, that you’d do anything to get them back? That was my dad. He was inspecting this place, so it could be reopened as a tourist attraction. He brought me with him, and… He fell in. One moment he was fine, the next, he froze and fell straight in.”
“I was devastated. I took the lift down to his… his mangled body, to see if he was alive. He wasn’t. He wasn’t, and I cried so hard over him, I can’t remember how long it was. What I remember though, was the voice. It said that he could be brought back. It said it would make everything better. It… It was the beast, Tyler. It was the beast!” He stood, tossing his chair away and screaming in my face like an animal. “I listened to it! And you know what? What he told me to do felt GOOD when I did it. I stole, I attacked, everything it said! And when you came, it said to bring you here, to lure you here. THAT’S why I’m doing this.”
Finally, I got a hand free from the ropes and punched his jaw as hard as I could, knocking him out cold, blood pooling around his mouth with teeth bits on the rock. I stood and apologized to him, feeling slight remorse for his cause. As I started walking towards the lift, though, I heard something. It was like a whisper, a low, soft cacophony within my head. It said, right to my subconscious: Let go, Tyler. Let go and let ME go. LET ME GO, LET ME GO, LET ME GO TYLER NOW.
I gripped my head, feeling as though my very brain would split in an explosion of gray bits across the dark walls. It was maddening wail that rocked my very soul. Against my own will, I turned back towards Doyle’s body.
But his body wasn’t there. What stood in its place was worse, however. Standing at a full six feet was him. Keith Lesler, the Toadman, with the heads of 6 on his belt: Don, Angie, three I didn’t recognize, and Doyle’s. He put a burnt, rotted finger to his lips, and then to his ear. The voice returned to me.
Impressed? Confused? It’s simple, Tyler. When this sack of meat was executed, I said I would bring him back every thirty years. But this means to bring back a life, I must take one that is weakened. That brown boy, Don, killed the girl when I controlled and transformed him, and the other three are the ones I took care of myself a thousand years ago. Now you’re going to free me, or else my faithful servant will take your head. Walk deeper.
I did without thinking. I can’t quite remember what was going through my mind, but I know that I couldn’t resist the beast. It manipulated me, like Doyle. It was like I was a puppet, and it was the worst feeling in my life. I knew that Lesler was behind me, watching me with axe in hand as we descended to the deepest area of the mine, stopping before what seemed to be a great wheel of black stone. Lesler and I grabbed what we could and pushed, slowly turning it to reveal a bright light that mystifies me still.
Immediately, I was filled with a deep cold that chilled my spirit. I had found out what happened, but now… Now there is so much more that will. The Shadowbeast is free. It’s free and it’s my fault. I’m so sorry. I tried everything I could to close it, but it was too late and now It’s out there, doing whatever it wants to. As soon as I regained control of myself and saw that Lesler was gone, and Doyle’s body wasn’t in his place. I quickly got out of the mines, and left Millsbe without a word.
I didn’t care about Abram, or Doyle, or anyone at that point, I just wanted to get as far away as I could from that mine. I could still hear his voice in the back of my mind, however, tugging at me to return. I shut him out, stopped at my apartment, and walked in, immediately kneeling over and vomiting.
My name is Tyler Smith. I’m a detective in the Helena Police Department. I’ve worked there for a good thirty years of my life. I’ve investigated over one hundred cases and brought countless criminals to justice. And I’ve doomed the world.
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Written by Wolfenmaus