EVEN BEFORE THE SUN set the horizon ablaze in orange flame, the conversation in the Wheelen home fell to ash and smoke. Danielle felt like she’d just witnessed a horrifying car wreck, and then discovered that none of the occupants survived. It was hard to believe what her parents were telling her.
“Really? I mean, that’s crazy, Dad!”
“Honey, we’ve been over this more than once. It’s…”
“Awful. That’s what it is!” Amy interrupted her husband. “We can’t know for sure. Right? Can we?”
“Not that I can think of, Hon,” Peter replied. “In fact, I don’t think we need to. Aren’t we all pretty certain what’s happening?”
“But Dad! You’re saying that today, just down the hall from your classrooms, the police conducted an autopsy on a…cow? And they did that because the science lab at the university is large enough—and has the best equipment—to handle this kind of investigation?”
“But what exactly do they think they’re investigating? I don’t get that part.”
“Well, at first, they thought it was a simple cow mutilation. You know, crazy people. Drugs. Nut jobs.”
“But then they found the farmer,” Amy whispered.
“And he…was…also mutilated?” Danielle asked, her voice a bit higher than normal.
“That’s not what Professor Antrim said,” Peter replied. “We found Doc Ant in the hallway, pale and sweating, just outside the lab room. He said that it appeared the farmer died of a heart attack, perhaps caused by fright.”
“I don’t understand why then…why they think swords were involved,” Danielle said, tension swelling her throat. “You lost me,” she murmured, twisting her hands.
“Look, Honey, I don’t know. Your mother and I didn’t actually see”—Peter shifted around on the couch nervously— “see the bodies. But they said they’ve never seen anything like this cow before. Even with a sword, they can’t imagine how these…how…how…”
“It was in sections, Danielle,” her mother continued quietly. “Like it had been dissected. Except with a huge blade, not a scalpel. ‘Intersecting, downward sloping lines, razor sharp,’ Professor Antrim said. Horrible…like it happened all at once.”
Danielle felt nauseous. Anja whimpered quietly at her feet. The dog didn’t like the tension in her home.
“Except,” Peter said, and then paused, eyes closed, for such a long time Danielle wondered if he’d fallen asleep, “except for the door to the farmhouse.” Indeed, her father’s eyes had a sort of dreamy, faraway look. “It was the door—or lack of it—that drew the attention of the police in the first place. Because where the door had been—you know, just a normal front door, vertical rectangle with a knob, lock, deadbolt, hinges and casing around it—it simply wasn’t there. The door was gone. Poof! Just a perfectly round empty hole where it had been, with light from the front room streaming out of it. Like those hobbits have in that story you’ve been reading, Dani, except what it would probably look like with that kind of door swung wide open. And if it wasn’t strange enough that there was this perfect, circular hole where a rectangular door should be, it was the leftover wooden rings, three of them, each just a few inches wider than the original hole, that’s got the police in a twist. Really puzzled! They’re so perplexed as to what could cut through a door, studs—walls, for crying out loud!—not just once, but four times simultaneously…and in a nice perfect circle.” His eyes looked glassy.
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