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Blake Crouch

Confirmation of the murders came by way of two shocking films shot by holidaymakers. The first was initially believed to show a dolphin fishing for salmon - until closer examination revealed a relentless attack on a porpoise. . .The team described the mammals’ injuries as “perhaps the worst example of inter-specific aggression any of us had ever seen. This young female had literally had the life beaten out of her.”

The Daily Telegraph

January 25, 2008

The attack was. . .the first recorded instance of lethal raiding among chimpanzees. Until the attack. . .scientists treated the remarkable violence of humanity as something uniquely ours. Scientists thought that only humans deliberately sought out and killed members of their own species.

Richard Wrangham and Dale Peterson

Demonic Males

* * * * *

THE tattered windsock hangs limp against its pole. Weeds erupt through fissures in the ancient pavement of the runway where she stands, and in the distance, support beams rise from heaps of twisted metal—three hangars, long since toppled upon a half dozen single- and twin-engine airplanes. She watches the Beechcraft that brought her here lift off the ground, props screaming, and climb to clear the pines a quarter mile past the end of the runway. She walks into the field. The midmorning sun blazing down on her bare shoulders. The grass that grazes her sandaled feet still cold with dew. Someone jogs toward her, and beyond them she can see the team already at work, imagines they started the moment the light became worth a damn.

The young man who has come to greet her smiles and tries to take her duffle bag, but she says, “No, I’ve got it, thanks,” and keeps walking, her eyes catching on the colony of white canvas tents standing several football fields away near the northern edge of the forest. Still probably an insufficient distance to avoid the stink when the wind blows out of the south.

“Good flight in?” he asks.

“Little bumpy.”

“It’s so cool to finally meet you. I’ve read all about your work. I’m even using two of your books in my thesis.”

“That’s great. Good luck with it.”

“You know, there’s a few decent bars in town. Maybe we could get together and talk sometime?”

She lifts the strap of her heavy bag, swings it onto the other shoulder, and ducks under the yellow crime scene tape that circumnavigates the pit.

They arrive at the edge.

The young man says, “I’m doing my thesis on—”

“I’m sorry, what’s your name?”


“I don’t mean to be rude, Matt, but could you give me a minute alone here?”

“Oh, sure. Yeah, of course.”

Matt heads off toward the tents, and she lets her bag slide off her shoulder into the grass, estimating the dimensions of the pit at thirty-five meters by twenty meters, and presently attended to by nine people, seemingly oblivious to the flies and the stench, each in their respective worlds, doing what they walk this earth to do. She sits down and watches them work. Nearby, a man with shoulder-length graying hair buries a pickax into a wall of dirt. A young woman—probably another intern—flits from station to station, filling a bucket with backdirt to be added to the mound of gravefill near the southern edge of the pit. Everywhere that human remains have been exposed, red flags stand thrust into the earth. She stops counting them after thirty. The nearest anthropologist appears on the verge of pedestaling a skeletonized body, down to the detail work now—poking chopsticks between ribs to clear out the dirt. Other skeletons lie partially exposed in the upper layers. The remnants of human beings with whom she will become closely acquainted in the weeks to come. Deeper, the dead are more than likely mummified, possibly even fleshed depending on the water content of the grave. Beside the autopsy tent on the other side, tables have been erected in the grass, and at one of them, a woman she recognizes from a previous UN mission is at work reassembling a small skeleton on a black velvet cloth to be photographed.

She realizes she’s crying. Tears are fine, even healthy in this line of work, just never on the clock, never in the grave. If you lose control down there, you might never get it back.

Approaching footsteps snap her out of her reverie. She wipes her face and looks up, sees Sam coming toward her, the bald and scrawny Australian team leader who always wears a tie, especially in the field, his rubber boots swishing through the grass. He plops down beside her, reeking of decomp. Rips off the pair of filthy, elbow-length gloves and tosses them in the grass.

“How many have you taken out so far?” she asks.

“Twenty-nine. Mapping system shows a hundred and fifty, hundred and seventy-five still down in there.”

“What’s the demographic?”

“Men. Women. Children.”

“High-velocity GSWs?”

“Yeah, we’ve collected a ton of .223 Remington casings. But this is another weird one. Same thing we saw in that mass grave in Denver. Maybe you heard about it.”

“I haven’t.”


“Have you determined what was used?”

“In most instances, it’s not a clean break, like a machete or ax strike. These bones are splintered.”

“A chainsaw would do that.”

“Clever girl.”


“So I’m thinking they cut everyone down with AR-15s, and then went through with chainsaws. Making sure no one crawled out.”

The blond hairs on the back of her neck stand erect, a rod of ice descending her spine. The sun burns down out of the bright June sky, more intense for the elevation. Brushstrokes of snow linger above timberline on the distant peaks.

“You okay?” Sam asks.

“Yeah. Just that this is my first mission out west. I’d been working New York City up until now.”

“Look, take the day if you want. Get yourself acclimated. You’ll need your head right for this one.”

“No.” She stands, hoisting the duffle bag out of the grass and engaging that compartment in her brain that functions solely as a cold, indifferent scientist. “Let’s go to work.”

* * * * *

There is no decent place to stand in a massacre.

Leonard Cohen

* * * * *

THE president had just finished addressing the nation, and the anchors and pundits were back on the airwaves, scrambling, as they had been for the last three days, to sort out the chaos.

Dee Colclough lay watching it all on a flatscreen from a ninth-floor hotel room ten minutes from home, a sheet twisted between her legs, the air-conditioning cool against the film of sweat on her skin.

She looked over at Kiernan, said, “Even the anchors look scared.”

Kiernan stubbed out his cigarette and blew a river of smoke at the television.

“I got called up,” he said.

“Your Guard unit?”

“I have to report tomorrow morning.” He lit another one. “What I hear, we’ll just be patrolling neighborhoods.”

“Keeping the peace until it all blows over?”

He glanced at her, head cocked with that boyish smirk she’d fallen for six months ago when he’d deposed her as an adverse expert witness in a medical malpractice case. “Does anything about this make you feel like it’s going to blow over?”

A new banner scrolled across the bottom of the screen—45 dead in a mass shooting at a Southern Baptist church in Columbia, South Carolina.

“Jesus Christ,” Dee said.

Kiernan dragged heavily on his cigarette. “Something’s happening,” he said.

“Obviously. The whole country—”

“That’s not what I mean, love.”

“What are you talking about?”

He didn’t answer right away, just sat there for a while, smoking.

“It’s been coming on now, little by little, for days,” he said finally.

“I don’t understand.”

“I barely do myself.”

Through the cracked window of their hotel room—distant gunshots and sirens.

“This was supposed to be our week,” she said. “You were going to tell Myra. I was—”

“You should go home, be with your family.”

“You’re my family.”

“Your kids at least.”

“What is this, Kiernan?” She could feel an angry knot bulging in her throat. “Are we not in this together? Are you having second thoughts about everything or what?”

“It’s not that.”

“Do you have any concept of what I’ve already sacrificed for you?”

She couldn’t see all of his face in the mirror on the opposite wall, but she could see his eyes. Gaping into nothing. A thousand-yard stare. Somewhere other than this room. He’d gone deep, and she’d sensed it even before this moment, in the way he’d made love to her. Something held back. Something missing.

She climbed out of bed and walked over to her dress where she’d thrown it against the wall two hours ago.

“You don’t feel it?” he asked. “Not at all?”

“I don’t understand what—”

“Forget it.”


“Fucking forget it.”

“What is wrong with you?”


Dee pulled the straps over her shoulders as Kiernan glared at her through the cloud of smoke around his head. He was forty-one years old, with short black hair, and a two-day shadow that reminded her so much of her father.

“Why are you looking at me like that?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“You and I are not the same anymore, Dee.”

“Did I do something or—”

“I’m not talking about our relationship. It’s deeper. It’s. . .so much more profound than that.”

“You’re not making sense.”

She was standing by the window. The air coming in was cool and it smelled of the city and the desert that surrounded it. A pair of gunshots drew her attention, and when she looked through the glass she saw grids of darkness overspreading the city.

Dee glanced back at Kiernan, and she’d just opened her mouth to say something, when the lights and the television in their room cut out.

She froze.

Her heart accelerating.

Couldn’t see anything but the flare and fade of Kiernan’s tobacco ember.

Heard him exhale in the dark, and then his voice, all the more terrifying for its evenness.

“You need to get away from me right now,” he said.

“What are you talking about?”

“There’s this part of me, Dee, getting stronger every time I breathe in, that wants to hurt you.”


She heard the covers rip back. The sound of Kiernan rushing across the carpet.

He stopped inches from her.

She smelled the tobacco on his breath, and when she palmed his chest, felt his body shaking.

“What’s happening to you?”

“I don’t know, but I can’t stop it, Dee. Please remember that I love you.”

He put his hands on her bare shoulders, and she thought he was going to kiss her, but then she was flying through darkness across the room.

She crashed into the entertainment center, stunned, her shoulder throbbing from the impact.

Kiernan shouted, “Now get the f*ck out while you still can.”

* * * * *

JACK Colclough moved down the hallway, past the kids’ bedrooms, and into the kitchen, where four candles on the granite countertop and two more on the breakfast table made this the brightest room in the house. Dee stood in shadow at the sink, filling another milk jug with water from the tap. The cabinets surrounding her thrown open and vacated, the stovetop cluttered with cans of food that hadn’t seen the light of day in years.

“I can’t find the roadmap,” Jack said.

“You looked under the bed?”


“Last place I saw it.”

Jack set the flashlight on the counter and stared at his fourteen-year-old daughter, pouting at the breakfast table, her purple-streaked blond hair twirled around her finger.

“Got your clothes together yet?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Go, Naomi, right now, and help Cole pack, too. I think your brother got distracted.”

“We aren’t really leaving, are we?”

“Get going.”

Naomi pushed back from the table, her chair shrieking against the hardwood floor, and stormed out of the kitchen down the hallway.

“Hey,” he shouted after her.

“Cut her a break,” Dee said. “She’s terrified.”

Jack stood beside his wife.

The night beyond the windowglass was moonless and unmarred by even the faintest pinpricks of light. The city’s second night without power.

“This is the last jug,” Dee said. “Makes eight gallons.”

“That isn’t going to last us very long.”

From the battery-powered radio on the windowsill above the sink, an old woman’s voice replaced the static that had dominated the airwaves for the last six hours. Jack reached over, turned up the volume.

They listened as she read another name, another address over the radio.

Jack said, “They’ve lost their fu**ing minds.”

Dee turned off the tap, screwed a cap onto the final jug. “You think anyone’s actually acting on that?”

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t want to leave.”

“I’ll take these jugs out to the car. Go make sure the kids are getting packed.”

Jack hit the light switch out of habit, but when he opened the door, the garage remained dark. He shined the flashlight on the four steps that dropped out of the utility room. The smooth concrete was cold through his socks. He popped the hatch to the cargo area, illumination flooding out of the overhead dome lights into the two-car garage. He set the first jug of water in the back of the Land Rover Discovery. Their backpacks and camping equipment hung from hooks over the chest freezer, and he lifted them down off the wall. Pristine, unblemished by even a speck of trail dust. Four never-slept-in sleeping bags dangled from the ceiling in mesh sacks. He dragged a workbench over from the red Craftsman tool drawer and climbed up to take them down. Dee had been begging for a family camping trip ever since he’d purchased three thousand dollars’ worth of backpacking gear, and he’d fully intended for their family to spend every other weekend in the mountains or the desert. But two years had passed, and life had happened, priorities changed. The gas stove and water filter hadn’t even been liberated from their packaging, which still bore price tags.

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