Strawbridge led the media over to where the body had been found. “Just want to warn you folks to take a deep breath, before I pull this tarp up,” he said. “There’s some things under here . . . well, I figure they go beyond your usual experience.”

He squatted next to the tarp, taking his time so as to build up tension. Only his guests didn’t look very tense. The pretty Hispanic anchor from Channel Four fanned herself with a folded-up police flyer. She seemed on the verge of yawning. Her cameraman was busy looking for a place to set up his tripod, and the fat slouch from the Yuba City Herald kept glancing at the tight fabric of her pantsuit’s crotch.

Strawbridge cleared his throat. He yanked the tarp away and stepped back. A cloud of flies came boiling up.

Something had been staked to the ground underneath. A coyote, slit from furred throat to asshole, wooden spikes pounded along the edges of its peeled-back skin. Purple, gray, and pink entrails radiated out from the deep slash. Strawbridge’s nostrils pinched at the rotten meat smell rising into the warm California air.

He scanned the media’s faces again, expecting shock, disgust, excitement. The anchorwoman raised a sculpted eyebrow. Her cameraman was still setting up. The slouch squinted at the black rock just behind the coyote’s head and chuckled.

“What the hell’s so funny?” Strawbridge said.

“The writing on that rock.” The slouch gestured at a scrawl of dried blood. “I think it’s supposed to say ‘Hail Satan,’ but it’s spelled H-A-L-E S-A-T-E-N.”

Strawbridge leaned down to check. Yup. He made a mental note to dock the Fahey brothers fifty bucks for the screw-up.

“Deputy, don’t you think the county should be paying more attention to the War on Drugs?” This from the anchorwoman. “There’s controversy whether Satanic cults represent a real threat to youth or not. Some people are saying it’s just fundamentalist Christian hype. Meanwhile, there’s hard evidence that a new drug, this ‘crystal’ methamphetamine, is growing in popularity with . . .”

* * *

Jesus, some people were short-sighted.

Driving back to town in his patrol car, Strawbridge tried to convince himself the press conference wasn’t a complete failure.

Fuck it. If the media didn’t want to go along, they didn’t have to. What was important was his health. The doctor had told him he needed to slow down and this new task force was his opportunity, cults or no cults. Just sit at a desk all day and give the occasional speech about high school kids strung out on the Dungeons and Dragons. People would buy it. And the Fahey brothers could help fabricate any threat he wanted to dream up.

Bring his blood pressure down in no time.

He passed a video rental store he swore hadn’t been there two days ago. Those places were popping up everywhere. Renting out smut, too. He’d caught his daughter Rhonda watching a grainy porno tape last weekend. Not sure how she’d gotten her hands on it. Of course, he’d whacked himself sore watching the tape in his own room, but that was a father’s prerogative.

He made a right turn and noticed the plastic baggie on the seat next to him. Funny. He hadn’t seen it getting into the car. There was an index card stapled at the top. He grabbed the baggie and held it up to the dashboard, so he could keep an eye on the road.

Typed onto the card was a message:


Inside the plastic lay a grayish-black lump about the size of a cigar. He thought it was a turd, at first. Maybe the Fahey brothers having some fun with him. But no, he was pretty sure neither of them could type, and the object had tiny withered veins running down its length. He realized what it was.

Some animal’s penis, severed at the base.

* * *

Around the time Joe Strawbridge was pulling into his house’s carport, the window to seventeen year-old Rhonda Strawbridge’s room opened, and she wriggled out.

She wore a sequined blouse, tight Jordache jeans she had to lie down to slip into, white Candie’s shoes, and enough eyeliner to shame Lita Ford.

She bolted for the street.

After three minutes of hooking her thumb at the Friday evening traffic, a Dodge pick-up with a balding man at the wheel slewed over. He grinned and licked his lips as he opened the door.

“Hop in, sweetness.”

Rhonda brushed aside several empty snuff cans. The driver lurched back onto the road, but his eyes kept sliding sideways.

“Pay attention to your driving,” Rhonda said.

“Where am I taking you, honey?”

“Just a little farther. The mall.”

“The mall? Why you want to go there? Shit, I know a lot of places more private, maybe you and me have us a little discussion . . .”

“My dad’s a cop.”

The driver let her out three miles down the road, at the parking lot of the Southwick Shopping Mall. He muttered “Cock-tease” before he slammed the door. She pretended not to hear. Giving her hips a triumphant swish, she ambled across the lot and into the air-conditioned, muffled muzak hive of enclosed stores. Her hunting grounds.

She got a pretzel-dog at Orange Julius, not having to pay for it on account the zit-covered manager had a thing for her.

“You doing anything later tonight, Rhonda?”

“You mean, am I doing anyone,” she said, leaning close so he could get a look down her blouse. “I’ll let you know, stud.”

She left him with his tongue hanging. The six Magnum condoms she’d ripped off from her dad seemed to be burning a hole in her purse.

At the Wizard’s Castle she found what she was looking for. Plenty of sweaty, adolescent male bodies, their butts thrust out on prominent display while they cursed, gyrated, and wiggled joysticks. Fucking-A. Why didn’t she come to the arcade more often? Lots of dudes and only a couple chicks, and she was way beyond those skanks.

Nibbling at her dog, she cruised the machines until she saw Alex Listiak, hunched over Tempest. She knew him from school. Big hands and feet. Not looking too bad in his hot pink Izod with the collar turned up. She watched the muscles tense along his arms and wondered how much he was packing. Seven inches? Eight?

Someone touched her shoulder. She recognized the sour smell before she turned to Billy Wate.

“You’re looking lonely, Rhonda. You want to hang with me and Alex?”

Billy had the weirdest eyes she’d ever seen. Too far apart for his narrow face. And his pupils, instead of being round, were sort of flattened in the middle. Scraggly, rust-brown body hair poked out in tufts around the neck of his Armored Saint t-shirt.

“I, ah,” Rhonda took a step back. “I’m not sure. What’re you guys doing?”

“This and that.”

“You know about any parties? I heard there might be something going on at the Tree.”

“Screw that noise.” Alex had finished his game. He slipped a vent brush from his pocket and swept his baby-fine hair with quick strokes. “We got something more exciting planned.”

“More original,” Billy said.

Well, at least one of them was fuckable. And it’d been five days since she’d had any action besides her own fingers.

* * *

Alex’s car turned out to be a big old Delta ’88, roomy enough inside for an orgy. They drove to a nearby subdivision and picked up Alex and Billy’s other friend, a greaser named Choate. He slid into the backseat alongside Rhonda.

She liked him immediately. A little chubby, but that was offset by his smooth brown skin. He’d combed his hair up in gelled spikes.

“Howdy,” Rhonda said.

The car started moving and Billy cranked the stereo. Blackie Lawless’s vocals drowned out Choate’s response. Rhonda leaned close and thrust her lips against his ear. “You want a handjob, baby?”

Choate blushed. She snaked her fingers over his crotch and pressed down. It took some whispered encouragement, but after a minute she felt him stiffen. About five or six inches, she figured. Good enough. She made ready to ease his fly down, but just as she touched the zipper he let out a gasp and his eyes rolled back.

“Motherfuck,” she said.

Choate sank into his seat.

The Delta nosed down residential streets and back alleys, until the pavement grew coarse. Tiny tract houses surrounded by chain-link scrolled past.

Billy switched the music off. “This the right neighborhood, Choate? All these barrios look alike to me.”

“Uh . . .”

“You out of it or something? I said, is this the right place?”

“Yeah. Three houses down, but park across the street.”

The car pulled up to a vacant lot. Rhonda wondered why the fuck everyone had gotten tense all of a sudden. She slid out onto old sidewalk. Alex took her by the hand, led her around to the Delta’s trunk. “Let me show you what this is all about,” he said.

He opened the trunk. Rhonda half-expected a body curled inside, or a dozen kilos of coke. Instead, she saw a ceramic Chihuahua about a foot tall. Its oversized dark eyes stared up at her. Next to the dog lay a plastic flamingo, a windmill, and one of those giant propeller-daisies people tacked to their mailbox.

“Lawn ornaments,” Alex said. “We steal them.”

Her first thought was: why? But she kept silent. Why did guys obsess over cars? Play video games? Their behavior made no sense. Men were good for two things, her mother had told her. Fucking and bringing home a paycheck. Three, if they knew how to lick pussy.

“That’s really cool,” she said.

“Choate says there’s a house here with a complete Last Supper. All the apostles, Judas, and the Man himself.” Alex peered at the darkened lawns across the street. “Yeah, I think I can see them.”

“They got dogs?” Billy said, shutting the trunk with a quiet click. “I don’t like dogs.”

“They don’t like you,” Alex said.

Choate walked over to them, his steps a little shaky. “No dogs. Not in the yard we want, anyway.”

“You alright?” Alex said.

“I’m fine.” He stole a glance at Rhonda and looked away.

They started across the street. Alex nudged Rhonda’s shoulder, whispered: “What’s that all about?”

“I have no idea.”

* * *

Less than five minutes later they came racing back across the street, whooping, even Rhonda laughing as she lugged a cement Paul painted blue and gold. The statuette was so heavy it took two hands. Alex carried Jesus, Billy some clean-shaven dude no one recognized, and Choate trailed a bunch of Christmas tree lights that had been draped over the whole assembly. Behind them, front porch lights snapped to blazing life and a trio of pit bulls howled bloody murder.

“No dogs my ass,” Billy said, glaring at Choate.

“Those are next door. I don’t know the whole fucking neighborhood.”

“Heads up.” Alex thrust a hand into his pocket, the other cradling Jesus, and tossed his keys to Billy, closest to the Delta. Billy caught them, but dropped his nameless apostle in the process. The statuette shattered. Everyone laughed.

Billy got the passenger door open. Rhonda dived inside, landing on Choate’s lap. The Delta’s big V-8 engine turned over and roared.

“Hold on,” Alex said, and swung the car in a graceless U.

The turn took them close to the yard they’d just finished pilfering. An old woman stood out front, a shawl draped over her bent shoulders, shouting in gutter Spanish. She leveled an antique-looking shotgun with over-under barrels.

“Down!” Rhonda screamed.

The gun boomed. Pellets scraped spider-web gouges along the back windshield, but the glass didn’t shatter. Alex floored it.

Everyone was still laughing.

* * *

“It’s only ten forty-five and I’m not ready to go home yet,” Alex said, finishing with a belch.

“No fucking way,” agreed Billy.

They’d pulled into a back lot off the town’s main strip. The car’s interior smelled of Burger King fries, Billy’s B.O., and alcohol, this last by way of wine coolers Choate had boosted from Vons. The coolers were supposedly for Rhonda’s benefit, but she noticed that didn’t stop the guys from sucking nearly all of it down.

Now’s the time, she thought. Everyone had a buzz going. Inhibitions were loose. She took a long pull from her cooler and licked the glass neck. Choate watched, bug-eyed. She shifted forward, making ready to shrug off her blouse.

“Let’s go to the Martense ranch,” Billy said.

Silence filled the Delta.

“Why the fuck would we want to do that?” Rhonda said.

“Something to do. Something to tell people we did.” Billy looked at Alex in the driver’s seat. “Plus, I’ve already been out there, a little. Done some scouting. The main house has lawn ornaments.”

“The house’s abandoned,” Alex said.

“No it’s not. It’s been fixed up and there’s people in it, though I can’t tell if they’re living there all the time.”

“Who’d want to live in a place like that,” Rhonda said, “after what . . . after what happened?”

“I don’t know.”

“What kind of lawn ornaments?” Alex said.

“I didn’t get too close, but what I saw looked like marble. Those little Cupid statues. And some half-men, half-goats. Things like that.”

“Marble.” Alex pulled at his lip. “Sounds valuable. How big are these statues?”

“Only a couple feet.”

“We’ve never swiped something like that before,” Choate said.

Alex chuckled, but it came out uneasy. “We’ve never hit a haunted ranch.”

The cement Jesus had been wedged between the driver’s and front passenger’s seat, turned so that He could look back at Rhonda and Choate. What little light seeping in from outside cast his face in shadow.

* * *

This had to be her stupidest Friday night yet.

She shouldn’t have gone with these guys. She should’ve just stayed at Southwick mall, found someone else who could take her out to the Tree. Shit, she could’ve waited for the Orange Julius guy to knock off. At least she’d be getting some action by now, instead of groping in almost total darkness, trying to follow Billy Wates through a maze of oleander. The branches scratched at her face and snagged her clothes.

“Almost there,” Billy whispered. “Up ahead, I can see the clearing.”

About fucking time. She didn’t have a watch on her, but she could’ve sworn all this sneaking through the bushes was taking too long. And she felt funny, too. Kind of light-headed. Couldn’t have been the wine coolers, because she’d had only one.

Alex jostled up alongside and patted her ass. “Exciting, huh?”

“Oh yeah.”

“This isn’t far from where they found the bodies.”

“Really? Wow.” She could care less.

“All thirty-five of them. Wetbacks. Hacked to death with a machete, or something like it. Police fucked up the investigation, but they think the murderer might have been hiding at the ranch.”

“My dad’s a cop, remember? He told me about it.”

“Oh.” Alex leaned forward to push a branch out of her way. “I didn’t mean—I wasn’t trying to say your dad fucked up.”

“My dad is a fuck-up.”

They stepped out into the clearing. A slash of moonlight shone on a circle of neatly trimmed grass. Less than ten feet away, gleaming silver-white, stood a procession of figures Rhonda at first thought were children or midgets. They’d been frozen in different attitudes of dance; heads lifted, hands raised. She realized these must be the statues Billy had told them about.

“Where’s Billy?” Alex said.

“He was in front of us.”

Choate came crashing through the foliage to join them. At one end the clearing opened onto a larger yard, overrun with weeds. Beyond that stood the ranch house proper. From the road, the front of the place had been dark, but several windows glowed along the huge back porch. Squares of orange light. Rhonda saw silhouettes moving there, and caught faint chords of music drifting through the stillness.

“Someone’s home,” Alex said.

Rhonda scanned the shadows in the larger yard. “But where’s Billy?”

“He’s hiding somewhere. Fucking with us. That’s what he does.”

“He’s a weird guy.”


“Those eyes . . .”

“Don’t pick on him, okay? He’s kind of sensitive about his appearance.”

Choate wandered past them. He knelt down to examine the nearest statue, running his hand along a stone limb. He yelped and jumped back.

“What the hell?” Alex said. “What’s the matter with you?”

“That thing moved. I swear it.”

“Now you’re fucking with us,” Alex said.

Choate shook his head.

Rhonda crouched next to the statue. It had the upper body of a horned man with furred legs, tail, and hooves. The stone mouth leered at her. She reached out to touch its face.

A high-pitch squeal tore through the clearing. Squee, squee, squee.

She jerked upright to see Billy Wates come striding towards them. At least she thought it was Billy. He wore some kind of mask that covered his face and shoulders. Still had on the Armored Saint shirt, though. He gripped a sickle-blade in his right hand, flashing moonlight as he walked. His left trailed a leash with a huge, bristly-snouted pig attached.

A black pig. Four-inch tusks curved upwards from its lower jaw.

A boar.

Alex started laughing. “Oh, you’ve fucking outdone yourself. Dude, is that supposed to be scary?”

Billy stopped. He wore a goat mask. It looked like it had real fur. When Billy turned to look at Alex the mask leaned a little to one side. The big glass eyes gleamed.

“Billy–” Alex began.

Billy flicked the leash. The boar snarled; spit dripped down one side of its mouth. Billy loosed the collar. The boar sprang free and charged straight for Alex, grunting squee, squee, squee. Alex turned to run. He smacked into one of the statues. The boar closed with horrifying speed and sunk a tusk into his thigh. Blood jetted out over its bristles. Alex screamed as the boar slashed upwards and opened his stomach.

The disemboweling took seconds. Alex’s slick intestines spilled out from under his pink shirt. Rhonda watched in a daze, until the smell hit. Her feet were already moving, propelling her towards the oleander. She’d lose herself in there. Choate sprinted past.

Alex called after them, pleading. His voice sank and was drowned out by grunts and snuffles.

* * *

How long had she been running?

Branches grabbed at her. Precious slivers of silver light filtered through the leaves. She heard Choate blunder and curse in Spanish somewhere nearby.

But this was taking too long. She should’ve worked her way out and reached the road by now. The oleanders were only a screening hedge, not a labyrinth.

“Rhonda?” Choate’s voice.

“Where are you?”

“Over here.” Bushes rattled to her left.

She pushed through and found him in a narrow open space, hands on knees, gasping for breath. “Alex–” he said, and broke off. She embraced him. When she shut her eyes she saw the boar’s tusk tearing into Alex’s stomach, so she opened them again.

“We just ran,” he said.

“I know.”

“Just left him there.”

“Keep your voice down.”

“Fuck it.” Choate reached into his pocket and came out with a folding knife. He locked the blade in place. Only a couple inches of chromed steel, but it was something. Rhonda wished to God she had one of her dad’s guns.

“I’m going back there,” Choate said.

“Don’t be stupid.”

A rustle close by. Rhonda strained her ears. Footsteps? She’d crap her pants if that boar started squealing again. Choate slid an arm over her shoulder and held the knife out in front of them.

The sickle-blade exploded from the wall of foliage behind, a steel crescent. It slashed down and took off Choate’s right arm at the elbow. He didn’t scream. His mouth opened and closed while his forearm, hand still clutching the knife, flopped on the dirt. Hot blood sprayed from the stump, dousing Rhonda’s jeans in copper-stench.

Billy Wates stepped out of the bushes.

Rhonda’s mind had shut off, but her body reacted. She crouched to scoop the knife from Choate’s nerveless fingers. Her legs bent and flexed. The leap sent her crashing through a gap between branches. She landed, shoulders scratched, somehow still holding the knife. And again, she ran.

The road. She had to be close by now.

Another gap in the branches ahead. A patch of night sky showing through. Yes. She threw herself forward—

—and broke through into the circular clearing.

The marble statuettes waited. Light streamed through the windows of the back porch, brighter this time. The music more distinct. Harps and flutes, it sounded like.

Alex lay sprawled a few feet away. The black boar nuzzled at his intestines, chewing and smacking. It lifted its gore-soaked face to regard her. The pig-eyes seemed calm, almost human.


Hands seized her wrists. She whirled and saw the goat’s mask, blotting out the moon. Billy’s hot breath grated her neck. She tried to wrench the knife around and stab him, but he tore it free. Struck her face. She hit the ground. He pinned her arms with his knees, grunting like an animal. He used the knife to cut her blouse away. Sweat dripped from under the mask onto her bare skin. He grabbed her throat and slashed the Jordache jeans it’d taken her so long to wriggle into. The denim came off in shreds. He tore her panties free with a shaking hand. There was nothing between her and the night, only her shoes.

He pressed the knife up against her neck. She knew what was coming next.

A shadow passed over both of them. “Hold, William.”

The voice was an old man’s, almost feeble. But Billy froze.

The newcomer shoved him aside.

He wore an identical goat’s mask and nothing else. Clumps of grayish-white hair clung to his chest and scrawny arms. He stooped between Rhonda’s legs. She saw—oh Christ, the man was hung. Thick as a length of kielbasa.

“See how she gapes,” the old man said. “Her friends have been killed, she has witnessed it, but those same eyes light with carnal interest. This is no virgin you’ve brought us, William.”

At the mention of us, Rhonda became aware of silhouettes crowding the entrance to the clearing.

“She’s Joe Strawbridge’s daughter,” Billy said.

“The man appointed to hunt us down. How fitting.”

“You kill me,” Rhonda said, finding her voice, “you touch me, and he’ll get you. I swear.”

The old man chuckled. “Oh, I’ll touch you alright. William, hold her fast.”

Billy re-tightened his grip. The old man laid his leather-hard hands against her stomach. A weird tingle, like static shock, spiraled out from the contact. The old man threw his head back. Harsh syllables seemed to force their way up his throat and out his mouth, almost like he was speaking in tongues. But there was a pattern to his gibberish, a chant.

Billy whispered in her ear. “You think he’s praying to the Devil, don’t you? He’s not. Not the one you’re thinking of, anyway. You’re about to be taken by the Black Goat of the Woods. The glorious Shub Ni–”

“Don’t say His name,” barked the old man, switching from his weird litany to English. “Not until the climax.”

God help her, Rhonda felt her body respond.

* * *

She understood she was being violated, and not just on a physical level.

The old man groaned and jerked and surged against her. That was one thing. That was familiar. But with his touch came a presence. A feeling of vastness, of ancient corruption. It backed each powerful thrust. Her eyes half-lidded, Rhonda thought she glimpsed a piece of shadow forming over the old man’s hairy back. Shadow sucking in all moonlight, darker than the night sky overhead.

But . . .

She sensed another presence growing inside her.

Something just as vast, and old, and utterly empty. A void.

The old man seemed to sense it, too. He arched his back and pounded harder. Tried to fill the chasm splitting inside her. She responded by wrapping her legs around him.

She took.

They were both vessels, she understood. Puppets locked in some eternal conflict. But her body was young and supple. She could take it. Take everything that wrinkled old man could give.

“More,” she said.

The man gasped. He tore his mask off in a spray of sweat. He had the ordinary face of a banker or schoolteacher, distorted by effort. “What kind of girl are you?”

“She’s the school slut,” Billy said.

“She’s more than that. I sense—Sheela na Gig, that blind force, tearing at her vulva . . . she consumes me. William, get her off of me.”

Rhonda tightened her legs like a python. She thrust against him now. His face flushed crimson and he whimpered like he’d been shot. He clawed at his bare chest.

She felt him go limp inside her.

The pathetic bastard. She kicked him away. He slumped to the grass and didn’t get up. Rage coursed through her now. Rage and hunger. There had been no climax. She was left un-satiated.

“None of you have any stamina,” she said, her voice coming out as a bass growl.

Billy had already let go. He backed away as she sprang to her feet. The cultists at the head of the clearing were milling around, panicked, arguing about what to do.

“Get back,” Billy shouted. “She’s got a rider.”

Rhonda thrust a finger at him. “You. You think you’re man enough to finish what your boss started?”

“N-no,” Billy said.

He’d dropped his sickle. Rhonda grabbed it up. As soon as her fingers touched the hardwood shaft she knew what had to be done.

* * *

Her father found her in the ash-colored dawn.

He’d looked mad enough to hit her, when he first came stalking through the bushes. His face was drawn with worry. But then he saw her squatting in the middle of the clearing. She knew how she looked: naked, her hair matted with other people’s blood.

Then he saw the bodies.

To his credit, he didn’t throw up. He unbuttoned his uniform shirt and walked straight for her, averting his eyes from the dismembered limbs. Flies were already starting to swarm. He draped the shirt over her. Rhonda tried to think of some explanation as he bawled hot tears into her shoulder.

“I drove around all night looking for you,” he said. “There’d been shots fired in the barrio district. I talked to an old woman who gave me your description, and the Delta’s. I figured you were up to no good.”

“I’m alright, daddy.”

“I saw the car parked a quarter mile from here. Hard to miss. Just pulled over on the side of the road.”

She patted his back.

“What the hell happened? Can you tell me? It’s like the massacre from before.”

“I’m the only one left.”

“Jesus, people cut to fucking shreds. Was this some kind of party?”

“It’s a cult. A devil’s cult.”

Joe Strawbridge took a shuddering breath. “I’ll be damned. This shit’s for real.”

Rhonda had to drive her head into the crook of his neck, bite her already bloodied lip, to keep from laughing.

Mr. Elliott is a six-time crimedog from Tucson, Arizona. Recent stories have appeared or are slated to appear in Beat to a Pulp, Thuglit (the final issue), All Due Respect, and Yellow Mama. Also, he's got a piece called "Studio Dick" in the hot print anthology, Beat to a Pulp: Round One. Many thanks are due Jimmy "The Prose Doctor" Callaway for his help with this story.

"Harvest of Horns" © Garnett Elliot • Photo by Shannon Lark • PLOTS with GUNS © Anthony Neil Smith