Dear Daniel Coale,
I hope you have received this because we do not have much time. Something dark will befall this town in ten days. I do not know exactly what it is or how it will happen, but I know for sure that I and everyone in this town are in danger. Make sure you record everything you find out.
It seems that Marcus was being serious after all and it only took his brutal murder to convince me. Still, I have read the letter for the 20th time now and I still cannot make sense of it. It’s still vague in any details that would lead me to uncover this huge secret Marcus knew about. Whatever it is at least I have a starting point, Marcus Serrota. Who killed him? Why did they kill him? And what does it have to do with the letter? I cannot assume the two are connected until I have further evidence.
So far, the police are working with the assumption that the murder was due to theft. Marcus owned one of the largest avocado farms in Green Valley and adding to the strange disappearance of tons of avocados from his farm it only seems logical that that would be the starting point. I went over to Marcus' house to investigate. Most of it was talking to Linda, Marcus' wife about what happened. I did not want to push her too far especially since a cop had probably already done so. I did find out some key things. She saw him in the morning at 9 AM, talking quietly into the phone in the living room. When I asked who she thought it could be, she could not say. After a while, he went out with his pickup truck and returned at 1 PM. She never saw him enter the house however and after a few minutes, she went outside to check on him and saw his body at the foot of the barn door. That's when she called the police. I also rummaged around the garbage for anything I could find and put it into the trunk of my car.
“Thousands worth of Avocados Stolen In Massive Crime Wave,” said the headline on the front-page newspaper. Dozens of farmers had their avocado trees stripped of their fruit in the dead of night. Nobody saw anything and no luck on any trace of the perpetrators or where they were heading with the stolen avocados. I wordlessly sipped my coffee as all of these recent developments hit me. Could Marcus really be a victim of these Avocado thieves? But what about the letter? None of it made any sense.
I had a bad dream last night. I was in Town Square, but it was draped in a fog so thick that I could barely see anything in front of me. It swirled around the plaza and pulsed almost like some pupating larvae. It wrapped around me slowly and finally rose high above the town, darkening as it ascended. A soft raspy voice so inaudible that I had to strain to hear it tickled the back of my neck. “Come,” it said. I awoke with the covers twisted around my sweat-drenched body.
I put in a request at the Coroner’s Office for the autopsy report and while the complete findings will take weeks to complete, the preliminary results are eye-raising, to say the least. The report finds that the cause of death was strangulation. Photos of the body show clear signs of this on his neck and face. However, the report also says that the body was a few days older than when it was found. The report gives no other information on this matter and marks it as something that would be investigated further. Lastly, besides his mouth, nose, and ears, mashed avocado was also found in his rectum and his stomach. The report remarks that the whole Avocado fruit shoved in the victim's mouth was sent for further investigation. The image of the fruit shows the green insides exposed and no seed is visible at the center.
I woke up to a strange tapping noise at the window. I reached for the baseball bat leaning on my drawer and crept towards the curtains. I swiftly opened them and stopped mid-swing. There was nothing there. The noise was hail hitting the window a wet splat every few seconds. I laughed in astonishment. When was the last time it snowed in Green Valley? 50 years?
Breakfast was sunny side eggs, crispy bacon, toast (I ditched the creamy avocado), and a fresh glass of orange juice. There was nothing new in the paper, but the local weather broadcast was reporting a winter storm battering Southern California. As if to make the point even more clear, thunder clapped loudly in the distance and the tapping noise intensified.
I combed through the contents of the garbage I got near Marcus’ house and I very nearly gave up. Garbed in a baggy T-shirt, paint-stained pants, and gloves, I rummaged around in the garbage bag for paper. I figured that Marcus had to throw away something important because why else would he write me a letter instead of sending me an email for instance?
Sure enough, I found a few pieces of paper that corresponded with Marcus' handwritten letter. My blood chilled when I examined one scrap of paper. Scrawled all over it was the word “come” over and over again. If that wasn’t weird enough, I found what appears to be a draft of Marcus’ letter. It was shredded up into pieces, so it took a while to put it together. Even then, all I could make out was “dark ten days” and something new that was written in bold black ink, “BEWARE THE DARKNESS.”
The last thing I found was by far the most useful. A mostly intact land appraisal document with Serratos information and a company called Delano Farms. This could lead to something.
The storm has not let up at all, it’s gotten worse. The broadcasts herald it as one of the worst storms in recorded history. I cannot shake the feeling of dread slowly inching its way to my mind. The dark grey sky outside my window reminds me of the fog in my dreams. I am probably just imagining things, or my fear is getting the better of me. But how could anyone account for all the strange things that keep happening one after the other? First, Marcus' mysterious death, then the avocados, and now a freak storm never before seen. I just want to go back to bed but every time I close my eyes, I am afraid of going back to that Plaza in the town square. I took out the letter to read it again, but it was no use, I had already memorized it. Maybe a clue was in there somewhere that I missed, or Marcus hid something in between the words. What could he possibly be hinting at? Five days left and I am no closer to understanding what is actually coming.
A revelation. After hours of scouring databases and copious amounts of records I finally have something. Delano Farms, the company on the land appraisal document was a joint venture between Marcus and Wade Massey, a former politician from the Mayor's Office. Wade could very well be the person Marcus was talking to on the phone. He could also have some insight as to what Marcus was like the last few days before his death. It is a stretch of course. They very well could have just been business partners, but this is the best I’ve got. Wade lives in Downing, a place more remote than the town center.
I was too preoccupied with my work to notice that it had stopped snowing. The storm had passed but the damage had been done. The roads were icy and caked with brown snow. The once green foliage now drooped like exhausted men covered in fine powdered snow. The air over the town felt thick and hard to breathe. Worse of all, Green Valley looked like a grey shell of itself, ghostly, haggard, and terrifying in how empty it felt. Driving down the road, there was no sign of a single living thing.
I got out of the truck and approached Wade's front door. He lived in a large three-story house but as I knocked a second time, I suspected that no one was home. The curtains were drawn, and no light peered from behind them. I knocked again with no reply. I trudged along to the back of the house to make sure my trip had not been in vain. I was greeted by a car parked in a hasty manner. Now, where would Wade go without his car in a place like this? Where could he be if not in his house in this kind of weather? And yet there seems to be no one home. Cold and frankly disturbed, I got back in my truck.
Wade is missing. It was in the newspaper today and nobody knows when it actually happened. He could have been missing a few days ago or it could have been yesterday. I happen to think it happened a few days ago. The storm and his rather remote home make it easy for him to vanish without anyone knowing. The only question is, did he run away, was he kidnapped, or was he killed?
I don’t know how to proceed from here and I want to just forget this whole nonsense and chalk it all up to Marcus being mad or some similar thing. I know myself too much to ever give up, however. Curiosity is like a light that draws all unsuspecting insects to its flame. Try as I might, I just know deep in my bones that what Marcus Serrato warned about, although in a vague manner, is real. It presses against the back of my head and the dreams...I have not heard the voice in a while thankfully, but I can just sense a presence everywhere I go. Almost like darkness hovering over everything...
The next step is heading to the property address on the land appraisal document, 7021 Cove Road, a few miles away from the Westwood Forest of all places.
Two more days until something happens in Green Valley according to Marcus. I am no closer to finding out what will happen, who killed him, and now what happened to Wade. It’s all so very frustrating. The trek towards Cove Road was filled with dirt paths, muddy roads, and fallen tree branches. It took hours to get to the site and once I got there, there was nothing there. No sign that anyone had been there much less anything to indicate that anyone was looking to buy the land. Nothing. I cursed out loud. It had to be somewhere around here or maybe I got the address wrong, Was that my mistake or a deliberate misdirection on Marcus and Wade's part? If so, what were they hiding?
There was no use sticking around anymore. It was getting dark out and I did not want to be stuck out here. Too late. As I was turning the corner down a dirt path, my truck got stuck in the mud. Try as I might, I could not get the car to budge and since I was all alone in the middle of nowhere, I could not call for help. I cursed my rotten luck and as the sky changed from crimson red to black, I shivered in the front seat now covered in mud. Every strange sound that echoed in the dark made me flinch and my heart thudded wildly in my chest. I frantically locked myself in the car praying for the morning. That’s when I heard it, the voice. It was much closer and it was the first time I heard it outside of my dreams. It was more terrible now than I could possibly have imagined. It was hoarse, yet raspy in the way that it echoed in my mind. “Come,” it said. I had a strong urge to open the car and stalk out into the night, but I stopped myself. Barely. I covered my ears and rocked back and forth in a ball. I would not sleep again.
I awoke in my car shivering, my shirt drenched in sweat. Stomach growling, I started the car and slowly pressed on the gas. I moved the steering wheel right to left and within a matter of minutes, the car was free. I cried out in delight. Luckily, I brought a gas tank with me to fill the car in case of an emergency.
I took a steaming hot shower when I got home, changing out of the muddy clothes, and putting them in the laundry. My head was throbbing slightly but besides that, I felt a lot better. I made breakfast, fluffy buttermilk pancakes, scrambled eggs, sausage, and a cup of black coffee. “Avocado Murderers Found.” the headline read. The police had arrested 8 individuals. 2 were thought to be involved in the murder of Marcus and ransacking his avocado stores. The remaining 6 were connected to the mass avocado theft incident. Investigators believe that they were all a part of a gang or connected to criminal elements that sell avocados on the black market.
It was probable but it was hard to fathom that 8 individuals could pull all of what they were accused of in a matter of days. It seemed too good to be true.
I got my brown chore jacket and made my way to Green Valley Memorial Library to do some research. I spent the whole day trying to find the exact location of the plot of land and I finally know where it is. For whatever reason Marcus and Wade were trying to hide the location but I finally found an alternate address. Even better, I have coordinates, (33.03744406262067, -116.61603944073998)
A power outage happened the moment I headed out of the library. Darkness hung over the town like a thick blanket. My phone illuminated a few feet in front of me. Even then, the darkness was closing in, slowly choking the light out. I started running, strange voices whispering in every direction. It got louder and louder until I could bear it no longer. I fell to the floor, plunging into a never-ending abyss of darkness.
I awoke in my bed, not knowing where I was for a second. Any details of the previous night are a blur. A slight prick in my pants made me reach into my pockets. I pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. In a very rough hand were the coordinates to the Westwood Forest. With a start, it dawned on me that today was the tenth day. I hurriedly got dressed and raced out the front door.
I drove for a few hours before I made it to the edge of the forest. It was eerily quiet and the tall pine trees loomed threateningly in the distance. The GPS device told me that I was getting closer, but I could also sense it. Every inch of my body was screaming at me to turn back. I breathed out a shaky breath and plunged into the forest. The trees overhead blocked the sun and shadows danced all around me. Branches snapped under my foot echoing loudly throughout the forest. The sense of foreboding was getting stronger the closer I got. I finally came to a sunlit clearing that temporarily blinded me. As my eyes adjusted, I saw something slumped against a tree. As I approached, the contours of a human body became clearer to me. I turned the body over and to my horror, it was Wade in a similar condition to Marcus. He was unnaturally pale with green gunk in his nose and ears and an avocado shoved into his mouth. I gingerly worked it out from his teeth and opened it to find no seed. I glanced up to see a shack a few feet away from the body. He was probably headed in that direction.
Every step I took was slow and raw fear churned in my gut. My mouth was suddenly dry, and my pores opened up like flood gates, sweat oozing out of them faster than a river of blood. Goosebumps played on my skin and even though it was warm outside, cold breath escaped from my mouth. I shakily opened the shack door. Pitch-black darkness pulsed inside. “Come,” the voice boomed in my head like a mountain. I stepped forward and before I was a space so vast that it did not seem to possibly fit into the shack. Round bulbous objects languished in every inch of the space. The stench of rotting avocados filled my nose and in the center of the room was a pit. I did not know how deep it was, nor could I see far into it, but a presence emanated from it ancient beyond measure. It was irresistible, impossible to fathom and in its presence, I felt worthless. The only real thing in Green Valley was the pit and it fed on the town. I stepped towards the ledge and plunged forward.
I woke up with a searing headache. I took some ibuprofen over breakfast as I sliced open an avocado. Curiously, it had no seed at the center. It must be a deformed fruit or something like that. The first entry is always the hardest.