This was my last week living at Lake Blackshear, Georgia. My wife Holly had recently had our son, so rather than living out in the boondocks, I went ahead and bought us a cozy home on St. Simon’s Island. We were moving Thursday, and she couldn’t wait. For me though… well, there were some aspects of our house I was gonna miss.

For one thing, having the lake out back was glorious. Shit, I never even owned a boat or went swimming, but waking up to the sight of Blackshear felt exhilarating. A true snapshot of the serene beauty of rural Georgia.

And for living in such a wealthy neighborhood, no one ever bothered us. You see, most of the houses here were vacation homes. During the winter, River Road was basically a ghost town. Not to mention most of these houses had been abandoned since the Recession. I even had my realtor try to dupe me into buying another one, but I wasn’t falling for that shit. Dr. Alan Brooks may have just been a jack-of-all trades/master-of-none at Albany Memorial Hospital, but bad investing wasn’t one of them.

Overall, to say Holly and me were isolated would be an understatement. Lake Blackshear was like a haven for the wealthy and elderly. The closest “city” we had was Warwick which is one of the most notorious speed traps in the southeast. I guess they needed more than Stripling’s sausages to support their local economy.

Of course, there were more reasons for the move than just family and location. My job was getting worse. Much worse. Nothing that I did was wrong, but the stress and drama was getting to me. My co-workers had turned the place into fucking Grey’s Anatomy minus the show’s warm jokes and sentimental side plots. Goddamn, Albany Memorial was a mess. At just forty-six, I’d felt like the last fifteen years of my life I’d aged in dog years. I had to get off this sinking ship and sooner rather than later.

Tomorrow was my last day of work there. My last day to report to our asylum-like emergency room. I was overcome with anticipation for the move. An excitement I hadn’t felt since Holly had our son Michael. I felt rejuvenated. Such was the relief of having the burden that was the hospital lifted off my shoulders.

Yet here I was on my off-day. Up at 6 A.M. like a solder who’d never got over their morning routine. Dressed in my sweats and SuperJew hoodie, I was ready to get back in session with Mother Nature.

I always loved my morning runs. You can call it fun or healthy, but for me, it’s therapeutic. Even on these frigid November mornings, there’s nothing like finishing off a can of Monster before running out into the cold.

Bracing myself for the wind sweeping off the lake like spirits emerging from the water, I looked out a kitchen window. I had maybe an hour until daylight.

Reflective, I realized St. Simon’s would only be fucking colder when I made my mark on their roads next week. But oh well. At least, there’d be people around me. At least, we’d be near a community. And near the beach. And most importantly, Holly would be happy. That’s what mattered most.

Using my phone as a flashlight, I made my way out into the darkness. The cold breeze hit me like bullets fired by an opposing army. But I fought back and took off in a steady jog. Right down my driveway and onto River Road.

The neighborhood was usually dead and today (tonight?) was no different. There wasn’t a car in sight. No lights on in any of the huge houses. With the stars still out, I felt like I was jogging through outer space. A sea of darkness.

Right now, it was just Alan and nature. And the cold. All while Big Country’s “In A Big Country” played through my earbuds.

Soon, my shivering gave way to pumping adrenaline. Heavy breathing. I could even feel sweat in this forty-degree temperature.

The further I got down River Road, the houses began to morph into overgrown undeveloped properties. Properties that’d suffered deteriorating conditions and prices over the last ten years. No one was buying this shit…

I saw the cul-de-sac up ahead. Well, if you wanna call it that. A cul-de-sac as in the developers just said fuck it and abandoned River Road by no longer building the actual road. Like an incomplete section at the top of a skyscraper.

Beyond the dead end was just woods. A burgeoning forest complete with lakefront property that would likely never be settled. Basically, the perfect spot for Holly’s dogs to piss and shit during our afternoon walks. I guess the realtors could always pitch it as a perk. Live on River Road and live adjacent to a park! … More like live next to a fucking jungle.

Thinking it was time for a breather, I strolled up to the end of the cul-de-sac. I paused Billy Joel’s “Big Shot.” Panting like an exasperated dog, I breathed heavy. I could see my air escape my lips in constant bursts. Lowering my phone, I looked off at the woods. The can of Monster had caught up to me. Maybe I could imitate my dogs and go take a piss out in the woods myself…

I took a few steps into the collection of wet tall grass. Then I came to a nervous stop. About twenty feet away, down a dirt path, was a pair of lights. Tail lights that cut through the darkness like torches.

Uneasy, I yanked out my earbuds and turned off my phone’s light. In the rural silence, I heard the steady hum of an engine. What would a fucking car be doing back here…

I looked all around me. I was all alone with nothing but derelict properties for company. But something was odd… it wasn’t even dawn and someone besides the Brooks family was here on River Road.

Clinging to my cell, I approached the car with cautious steps. I could see the vehicle’s headlights were facing to the right. Straight on at the majestic lake.

I was going so slow, the cold had returned with a vengeance. Trembling, I pulled my hoodie in tighter.

Right when I got ten feet away, a ferocious splash startled me.

I stopped and looked down toward the lake. Straining through the darkness, I could see outlines on the ground. Shapes. A man stood by the shoreline. A large flashlight lied on the ground next to him.

Focusing, I watched the tall man cry out as he threw something into the lake.

Another loud splash echoed through the forest. It sounded like the guy was tossing boulders into the water. Only they were too big to be boulders…

Like a factory worker, the man got to work lifting another one of these oblong objects. I saw there was one more left on the shore. A small stack that the man must’ve been working on all morning.

Holding the object, the man stepped closer toward the flashlight.

And then I saw what he was holding. A large white sheet. Ropes tied all around it. Like the man had kidnapped a ghost.

Maybe they were ghosts, I realized in horror. All those stains on the white cloth sure looked dark. Like splashes of red paint…

I felt my face go whiter than those sheets. In the cold, I struggled to keep myself from breaking down into a shivering mess. Covering my mouth, I tried to stifle my chattering teeth.

With ferocity, the man hurled this “bundle” into Lake Blackshear. The splashes sounded louder. And they were always followed by the man’s gruff breathing.

The man let out another cry as he grabbed the final load.

This last one was the smallest. Yet another tied-up white sheet… this one with even more red stains than the others.

To my horror, I saw an unmistakable foot dangling out the bottom of that makeshift bodybag. A small Batman sneaker. Velcro for shoestrings. The shoe of a young child.

I couldn’t be certain, but I thought I saw a substance constantly dripping off the shoe. A dark liquid… as a doctor, I’ve seen that color all off often. That tinge of dark red.

Growling, the man threw this lightest load straight into the lake. As if he were hurling a javelin.

This splash was the weakest yet. And with a sickening sensation in my gut, I knew a child would probably be the lightest of the bunch.

Horrified, I staggered back. I was fucking quiet until I tripped over an object hiding in the grass.

The hard ground greeted the back of my head. I shook off my dazed state. This up close and personal, I saw what I’d tripped over.

A human hand stuck out of the dirt like a morbid plant. The hand was pale and still. Completely dead. But judging by those scratches and cuts on its fingers, I knew it’d still been quite active when it was buried alive.

Ready to leap off the ground, my hands scurried back. Until I felt something sticky. Something wet.

Full of dread, I turned to see an abundance of fresh blood covering the grass like a red rain had fallen.

And like a variety of planted crops, there were more than just hands sticking up out of the ground. There were fingers, feet, even strands of bloodied blonde hair. Bits of flesh and bones were all strewn about in this… this fucking burial ground.

I moved my hand away and felt it hit another lodged object. I was hoping it was a rock. But that was delusional wishful thinking.

Instead, I made eye contact with a brown eyeball buried in the dirt. One that was forever wide open.

I let out a panicked cry. I couldn’t hold my fear any longer. Not when I was this cold and terrified.

A beam of light brighter than the sun hit me.

“Hey!” I heard a nasty Southern accent growl.

Alarmed, I staggered to my feet and turned to see the man in all his frightening glory.

There he was less than fifteen feet away from me. Right next to what I presumed was his vehicle.

The man’s flashlight illuminated his appearance for my eyes to see. He was close to my age. Piercing blue eyes. An executioner’s scowl. A hollow face that could never be mistaken for warm and friendly.

His short curly hair must’ve been messy from his night’s “work.” A trash stache that’d have been hilarious in any other situation was now nothing more than a menacing attribute on this canvas of evil. The man’s undershirt was covered in more red stains than those white sheets.

He stood lean and tall. And with that huge flashlight, he resembled an eerie caretaker holding a lantern.

“Get over here, Goddammit!” he barked at me, spit flying out of his mouth.

Nervous, I just stared at him. I was quiet. Dead still. Only the cold air seeping from my heavy breaths let me know I was still alive.

Glowering, the man marched toward me. “C’mere, you son-of-a-bitch!”

Like a gunshot to start a race, his first move was the only signal I’d need. I sprinted off for that dirt path. And thankfully, I avoided all the protruding skulls and hands along the way.

I heard the man give chase.

“Come back, Goddammit!” he yelled, his voice more brutal than a Pit Bull’s growl.

But he couldn’t catch me. Not a chance. I hauled ass down that path. And soon enough, both the man and his cries faded away into the dark wilderness.

Clutching my phone, I stepped foot onto the cul-de-sac. I’d never felt more relieved to be on this junk side of River Road. I glanced back real quick but saw nothing. No sign of the man. I slowed to a steady jog.

As I continued my trek past the overgrown “yards,” I raised my phone to call the police.

But then like a roaring beast, I heard an engine erupt right behind me.

Terrified, I whirled around. The beast’s beaming eyes blinded me. And those two large headlights were careening straight toward me. The tall man had given up on going after me by foot. Now he was hunting me by car.

Picking up speed, I ran as fast as I could. Like a heroic long distance runner. My adrenaline and fear melted all the cold I felt. My breath poured out in front of me like smoke coming from the engine that was my soul.

I could hear the car bellow through the quiet night. And it was only getting closer… like a manic crop duster swooping down upon me. North By Northwest on steroids. Only this was happening in reality. To me. In my own neighborhood.

Like an out-of-control winged monster, the car glided back-and-forth in both lanes. The headlights a crosshairs for the man.

Up ahead, I saw houses. All of them with their lights off.

The closest one was to my left. And through the darkness, I could see the Daniels’s mailbox. At least, I thought that was their name… shit, Daniels or David, whatever the Hell their name was! If anyone else was home in this fucking neighborhood, it was them!

My heavy breathing intensified. My legs felt empty. At this rate, my sweat could freeze to me and I wouldn’t feel it. Nothing but hope and caffeine kept me going.

With gusto, the car snarled and got even closer. I could feel its lights bearing down on me. But right before that monster of a vehicle could pounce, I jumped to the left.

I landed in the Daniels’s/David’s wet front lawn. Not the most graceful move, but hey, I was just thankful I hadn’t landed on any blood or buried hands.

Exhausted, I looked up to see the car make a quick swerve. A maneuver I’d only ever seen in video games, but I’ll be damned if the man didn’t make it look effortless. Before I knew it, those irate headlight eyes zeroed in on me once more. In the cool November night, the vehicle resembled an oversized bat. One with a lust for blood.

“Shit,” I muttered. Time to run.

As I heard the revving engine, I got on my feet and took off for the house’s front door. I moved so fast I didn’t even flinch when I stepped in a huge pile of dogshit. I was used to that anyway…

I could feel the headlights. I could hear the tires snarl. I could hear that motor heading right toward the driveway.

My knees wobbly, I climbed up the porch steps. “Open the door!” I yelled.

With desperate strength, I banged on that front door. My hands like hammers smashing into it. “Open the door! Please!” I begged. “It’s Alan! Open the door!”

I heard nothing. Nothing at all. For that matter, I saw no more light in this staunch darkness.

Nervous, I turned. The car was gone. The son-of-a-bitch never came hurtling down that driveway. I was all alone.

Before my relief got carried away, a chorus of barks scared me back to reality. I looked over at a window and saw two Dobermans scratching at the glass. Their saliva flew all over the window like scattered rain. Their eyes glowering at me with the same vile hatred of the tall man.

I thought maybe my luck had started to change. Maybe the Daniels or whoever they were might still be home after all.

Cautious, I leaned in a little closer toward the window. Then my heart sank further than my hopes.

There wasn’t just dogs in the family’s entryway. Mr. Daniels himself was sprawled out on the floor. A huge bullet in his head. His bloodied gray matter exposed for all the world to see. His blue bathrobe brandished in redness.

I could even see where his own dogs had gotten to him. Chunks of Mr. Daniels’s head had been ripped out by the Dobermans’ hungry fangs. His pool of blood a grisly substitute for their empty water bowls.

I couldn’t help but wonder where the rest of his family was? But honestly, I didn’t wanna know. Not now… and I sure as Hell wasn’t gonna tangle with those mutts to find out.

As the dogs kept snarling, I stumbled off the porch. My steps weary and weak. I’d felt like I completed a marathon. And in many respects, I had. Only I wasn’t competing for money or glory. I was competing for my life.

Wiping sweat off my brow, I scraped the dogshit off on the final porch step. Then I stopped on the front lawn. I could still hear the Goddamn Dobermans through the serene silence.

I looked up at the sky. Dawn was upon us. Soon, the sunlight would shatter through this cold November night.

Tired, I lifted my phone. At this point, my cell really did feel frozen to my flesh.

I began mashing 911 when I felt a quick whiz zoom right past me. I stopped, confused. Another gush of wind brushed by my ear. Like the force you feel when someone just misses punching you. Only this was much more dangerous… these were bullets.

Frightened, I turned. And off in the distance, I could see the outline of the car parked in another yard. The headlights were off, and the man stood right outside the door on the driver’s side. Total stealth mode.

To my horror, I realized he wasn’t pointing a flashlight at me either.

Another shot rang out, and this one did signal a race.

I took off like a frightened juvenile delinquent. Through all my neighbors’ yards. I didn’t care since most of these assholes weren’t home anyway. They never were. Then it dawned on me that some of them were probably dead… just like Mr. Daniels.

All around me, the bullets just missed. Like I was the world’s most evasive target. Thank God, this asshole wasn’t a great shot…

Behind me, I heard the car’s engine roar to life. The tires screeched into hyperdrive.

I got closer and closer to my house. Stumbling through all the shrubs and bushes, I could see it up ahead like a gorgeous mirage. My wife’s most hated place had become my dream destination.

Another bullet made me duck. But I kept going. I’d gone out-of-breath at this point. All the exhaustion made me hot in the chilly weather. Sweat drenched my clothes like I’d run through a rainstorm.

Powering through, I continued on the journey through this seemingly-abandoned rich neighborhood. The houses may as well have been decoys. I didn’t see a single light on, much less any of my “neighbors” out and about.

I noticed the headlights grow brighter behind me. I knew the car was just a few feet away.

A violent honk made me jump. And right when I sensed the car aligning with me, I leaped down into my neighbor’s ugly bushes.

Above me, I saw a bullet blast a tree limb off one of my neighbor’s oaks. Like a broken statue, the branch landed right by me, smashing into several pieces.

I laid there on my chest for what seemed an eternity. I covered my mouth to suppress my exhaustive breaths. For several intense seconds, I just stayed right there. But I never heard those tires skirting to come back. I saw no gleaming headlights. There was nothing.

I dialed 911. Something I should’ve done a longass time ago. That poor operator got an earful. I know I must’ve sounded like a delusional methhead. But the message was pretty fucking clear: SEND SOMEBODY TO RIVER ROAD, GODDAMMIT! SOMEBODY’S SHOOTING AT ME!

Cautious, I stood up. No one was around. Even the car was gone. Still paranoid, I ran into my yard.

Like I’d reached a finish line, I leaned against my garage wall. The garden hose alleviated my depleted energy. With this break from the battle, I finally had the time to brush all the dirt and debris off my clothes.

Faint sunshine was out by the time a cop car pulled in. Relieved, I staggered up to the vehicle. The cool wind made me pull my hoodie in a little closer.

I felt a wave of comfort just seeing the siren sitting on top of the car. Even more relief when I saw a logo I never thought I’d be overjoyed to see: Warwick Police Department.

Like a beaming schoolboy, I waved at the officer sitting inside.

As the car got closer, I noticed how large the headlights were. How loud its engine was.

The tires came to a screeching stop.

Unease struck me. In the daylight, what I saw before me was a regular squad car. But at night… this car was no different than the beast that had been hunting me down since 6 A.M.

Dread smashed into me with the ferocity of those missed bullets.

The door on the driver’s side swung open. And out stepped a tall, skinny man. No longer in his blood-stained undershirt but an ironed police uniform.

His blue-eyed glare was unmistakable. As was that fucking trash stache.

Confident, he slammed the door right behind him. A smirk appeared on his face. “What seems to be the problem?” he quipped.

Frozen in horror, I watched him approach me. “I think one of my neighbors is hurt,” I said in an uneasy tone.

The cop stopped right in front of me. “Oh.” His hand grabbed his holster. “Is that so?”

“Yeah.” Trembling, I pointed down the road. Toward the Daniels’s house. “It’s the brick house right down there.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw the cop undo his holster.

“I think he needs an ambulance,” I went on, doing my best to feign naive calmness. I’m a terrible actor…

The man gripped his firearm. “We’ll take care of it,” he told me with cold detachment.

“Hey, Tom!” a voice interrupted our staredown.

Both of us turned to see an older cop step out of the passenger’s seat and lean against the door. He was pot-bellied with a weathered face. Definitely the elder of the partners.

“Let’s go check it out,” the older cop said. His commanding eyes looked over at me. “We’ll let you know if we find anything.”

I lost my voice for a moment. Both from nerves and the cold. “Than you,” I finally forced out.

I felt “Tom”‘s dagger of blue eyes stay on me. But I avoided eye contact. Even if I noticed his hand kept staying on that gun.

The older cop tapped on the door. “Come on, Tom! Let’s go!”

But Tom wasn’t ready to leave.

Finally, I turned and looked into his angry eyes. He was studying me like a scientist. Like he wanted to remember me for later.

I held my ground. But not in very convincing fashion. This fucker was well over six feet tall. And oh yeah, he was a cop. With a fucking gun.

Agitated, the older cop got between us. Literally. “Goddammit, Tom!” he grumbled.

Using all his might, the veteran policeman forced his partner back toward the car.

I couldn’t hear much of their ensuing conversation. They kept whispering. And most of their chat featured the two of them flashing glances at me.

“We’ll do it later,” I thought I heard the older cop reassure Tom.

Awkward, I took a few steps back. I can’t say I felt too safe out here in the cold.

The older guy shoved Tom back into the driver’s seat. “Alright, let’s go!” he hurled at the young cop.

Right before he got into the passenger’s seat, the older man faced me. A stoic expression on his haggard face. “You’ll hear from us later,” he said. Not in obligatory-bullshit fashion either… this man was promising it.

Before I could even say anything, the two men were back in the squad car.

Through the windshield, I could see them arguing. I could see them turn their glares on me from time to time. And I knew they didn’t care I saw them either.

After what felt like a tense decade, the cop car finally backed out my driveway and drove off toward Mr. Daniel’s house.

All I knew was I wasn’t sticking around. Panicking more than a cornered crook, I burst inside the house. I told Holly everything. With the aid of coffee, I tried to stay calm and focused. We’re getting the fuck out of here! I stated.

We packed up our main shit and left the house in less than an hour. Before the Warwick Police Department could ever give me a neighborhood update.

I took us to my brother’s house in Moultrie. At Holly’s insistence, I had a moving van go get most of the rest of our other stuff. We were going to St. Simon’s Island earlier than expected. But I knew it was worth it. Honestly, I think we had to.

Of course, I never what happened to Mr. Daniels. Just like I never knew what happened to that burial ground out on River Road either.

Less than a month later, I had my brother-in-law go out to our old home and check on it. He made his living as a horror writer… well, if you wanna call it “making a living.” I think he just writes all day and posts on forums like this.

Anyway, not to my surprise, he told us our old house had been ransacked. The windows shattered, the front door busted in. He sounded more scared and surprised then I was. I was just relieved me, Holly, and Michael were nowhere near that place when Tom and his partner decided to come back…

I told Holly’s brother not to worry about it. The realtors can handle that shit. I’m far away from that house now. Far away from that community.

Sure, St. Simon’s Island is fucking cold for those morning jogs. But at least, I can still go running without fearing for my life. And this community is so vibrant and friendly! I suppose the rural seclusion was nice when I was younger and more adventurous… but when you raise a family, man, you just want safety. All I know is Holly’s happy now. Her and Michael both.

By the way, if anyone’s interested, our old house is still on the market. At an extreme discount, I might add. I’m basically giving it away at this point. The house is still a pretty place too. In a really pretty neighborhood. And from what I’ve seen, River Road also has quite the local police patrol.