The Supernatural Battle for a Small Alaska Town
An Iconoclast Thriller Book One
By Mary Ann Poll
America’s Lady of Supernatural Thrillers
A Corpse On Corpse Mound
Kat gripped a large soup cup of coffee, warming her hands as she watched the late-October sunrise from her porch. The day came up cold and blue, the crystalline sky announcing the dawn. Little by little, she turned to the west, the morning clouds of peach tinged in grey leaving her sight. A view of Cook Inlet replaced the eastern scene.
“Good morning, Tikahtnu,” she breathed her favorite name for the Cook Inlet. “Thank you, Tikahtnu, for sustaining the Denali Indians and the white settlers who joined them here.”
A mist rose over Tikahtnu, cold meeting the heat of a new morning sun. The mountains across the water were purple from the mist but today the volcano stood in its full glory—high, clothed in wisps of light pink clouds.
A gust of cold wind shattered the morning warmth. Kat shivered and tightened her grip on the coffee cup. She inhaled the saltwater-laced air, invigorated by the scent. With one last look at the volcano, she turned, opened the heavy wood front door of her cabin and walked through.
A black blur rose up from behind the red footstool at the end of her couch and pounced.
“Ouch, for heaven’s sake, BC, knock it off.”
Kat jumped back, annoyed, the tranquility of her morning broken by her mischievous, self-absorbed feline.
“I should have left you for dead.”
Tail in air, signaling his mission a complete success, BC sauntered to the small bedroom off the living room and combined kitchen area which made up Kat’s home.
Focus, Kat, focus. She turned to her old blond desk, running a finger along one of its many scratches and nicks, avoiding the stress for a moment longer.
“You need to decide what to do with your life, girl. Enough of living in this small town, writing poems, doing some art, making trinkets for the tourists, and hoping to have enough to live on until the beginning of the next funnel-head invasion.”
Resolving to the task, she thumped her coffee cup down on the desk, splashing a small amount onto a poem in progress. Facing the monitor, she clicked the Internet link and began perusing the many advertisements for online colleges.
A loud rap at the front door brought her out of the Internet fog saturating her brain.
Another knock, more impatient this time, followed by a familiar voice, shouting, “Open up, KittyKat. I know you’re in there. Come out, come out wherever you are!”
Kat pushed back from her desk, bumping her knee on the corner and nearly spilling her coffee. “Ugh!”
She opened the door to Wendy Hareling, her lifelong friend.
“Oh, look, it’s my annoying lifelong friend!”
Wendy breezed past Kat into the cabin.
Kat glared at her while bowing and extending her arm. “Do come in.”
Wendy responded with a bow of mock courtesy. “Don’t mind if I do, Ms. KittyKat.”
“What brings you here so early in the morning?”
“News! Real news!
“There’s been a murder, Kat—a murder in Ravens Cove!” Wendy started yanking on Kat’s arm. “Come on, let’s go see!”
Kat resisted, planting both feet on the worn wood-plank flooring. Dread replaced the irritation she felt moments before. “Who is it?”
“Don’t know; no one knows him.”
Kat relaxed, guilt niggling her gut because she felt relief instead of concern for this stranger.
“Sheriff Andersen is in a real dither. This sleepy old town is jumping for once. Let’s go!”
“Your concern for others is not one of your strong suits. In fact, you should have moved to Hollywood, Winsome. Your drama would be appreciated in Tinsel Town.”
The familiar nickname mocked Wendy as it had for years. Wendy stuck her tongue out at Kat, crossed her arms and plopped on the couch.
“See what I mean? Your drama is wasted in Ravens Cove.”
Wendy rose. “I will forget you said that.”
BC, in the act of settling into a warm Wendy lap, tumbled to the floor, feet first of course. He sat, tail swishing from side to side, considering his plan of attack.
Seeing this, Kat said, “Yes, I believe we should go before you can’t walk.”
Wendy looked at BC and swung her leg to the left right before he pounced.
“Missed, you mean, black thing! Why do you keep this cat, Kat?” Wendy smiled at the double meaning.
“He’s my protector. Can’t you see?”
BC walked over to Kat and twined through her legs, rubbing black hair all over her clean beige pants. She bent and made several swipes at the hairs, imbedding them farther with each attempt.
Wendy sniggered. “Well, maybe if you named him, he’d be a happier animal. BC for black cat. How original is Black Cat anyway?”
“Let’s go, Winsome. Enough criticism of my name choices and your theories of how names affect animal behavior. Sheesh!”
Kat grabbed her coat and headed for the door, which made a satisfying click as she closed it.
The clouds hanging over the Cook Inlet earlier were gone. Kat and Wendy walked out into the late-October sun burning overhead.
The gravel driveway crunched under their shoes as they strode toward the dirt road leading to Kat’s home. Ravens, jet-black against the blue sky, played in the wind, swooping toward earth then reversing the maneuver and streaking upward to meet a friend and dive together in a spontaneous air show.
Main Street buzzed with activity.
“You weren’t wrong about the gossip.”
“When have I ever been wrong about gossip, Kat?”
Kat tapped her lips with a finger. “I can’t remember when you’ve ever been wrong about gossip.”
“It is my job, you know.”
“A great mission, Wendy. To know almost everything going on in this small Southcentral Alaskan town.”
“Someone’s gotta do it!”
“Oh, that can’t be good.” Kat pointed to a pair of identical twins.
Jonathan and Joseph Northan, the 20-something delinquents of Ravens Cove, stood by Jo’s Bakery, heads together, in an animated conversation.
“Afraid they’ll get blamed!”
“Well, don’t know what’s going on, but they should worry after all the trouble they’ve caused.”
“They said he had no skin! They said his eyes were dribbling black and purple stuff!”
“Who’s ‘they’ Ms. Conner?” Kat asked the town’s second most dramatic person. It is obvious this librarian shouldn’t have access to the horror section.
Anita Conner lifted her head, speaking down to Kat. “Those who saw the corpse!” She sniffed—closer to a huff—and turned from Kat.
“All righty then,” Kat glanced at Wendy and rolled her eyes.
“I told you so.”
Sheriff Bart Andersen—whose formal title was Police Chief— lifted his head at the sound of Kat’s voice. He excused himself from the conversation with Mayor Orthell, and beelined it for Kat.
“We aren’t finished here, Chief,” Mayor Orthell said to Bart’s back.
“Your official title is Police Chief!There are no sheriffs in Alaska.”
“There’s one now,” Bart answered.
Mayor Orthell shook his head and walked toward City Hall.
“Why do you antagonize Mayor Orthell that way?” Kat asked Bart. “It’ll get you in trouble someday.”
“Police Chief is too formal. People respond better to Sheriff.”
“If you say so.”
“I do. Anyway, glad you’re here. We need to get to the office, pronto. Phones are going to be ringing off the hook.”
Kat, secretary for the good sheriff of Ravens Cove when the need arose, looked up at Bart. Deep lines creased his rugged, youthful face. Uneasiness rose up from her gut to her heart.
Bart hooked Kat’s elbow in his hand and guided her into the three-room storefront on Main Street—the town’s police station. The rarely occupied jail cell in the back made it—but barely— four rooms.
Turning to face her, he took her shoulders in a gentle but firm grip. “I want you to start locking your door at night. Whoever committed this murder is a real psycho.”
Kat stared, eyes wide, into Bart’s sincere brown ones.
He responded to her silent question, “Amos Thralling found a body at the top of Ravens Ravine this morning. The way the victim met his demise, well, I’ve never seen anything like it.” Bart paused, shook his head. “Not even in the classes I’ve attended on crime scene investigation. This one is going to take some major police work just to find the murder weapon, or weapons. And you know what’s almost as bad?”
“We’re going to have to send the body to Anchorage to find out what killed him. Then all those outsiders from the Alaska State Troopers, and maybe the FBI, are going to find out. They’ll swoop in to take the glory and muddle up my investigation in the process.”
“Okay . . .” Kat answered.
“Anyway, here are my first notes for the report.” He shoved them into Kat’s hand. “Read them and see what you think.
“I know you like to do research on your ole computer. Maybe if you get the time, you could take a look. You might come across something helpful in your technology travels.”
Kat eased into the desk chair and read, “Amos Thralling said he took his usual route to the Cook Inlet when he saw what he thought to be a garbage drop. When he approached, he became aware of a stink he attributed to said garbage. The smell of decaying flesh made him throw up. He got close enough to see the remains of a man. Upon this discovery, Mr. Thralling ‘ran like his pants were on fire,’ his words, directly to the sheriff’s office. Mr. Thralling accompanied me to said location of the body.
“Upon arrival, I observed decayed flesh, yellow in color, seeping into the ground. The eyes of the corpse were black, and rotted, with a blood-consistency liquid of purple/black draining from both eye sockets. The corpse lay face up, absent all its teeth. The mouth remained open, and I observed the tongue to be missing. Distinguishing characteristics still present allowed me to ascertain the gender of the victim. My conclusion is the victim died elsewhere, and the perpetrator or perpetrators used Ravens Cove as a dumping ground.”
Kat looked up at Bart. “Purple and black? Yellow flesh?”
“Yep. Advanced decomp. Though I don’t remember such a decayed state on a corpse where the body is still held together by muscle and tissue. And, you know what else is odd?”
Kat gave Bart a questioning look.
“He lay on Corpse Mound, at the opening to the ravine. I mean laid out just like the outline on the mound. Some sicko!” Bart shook his head in disgust. “So, lock your doors and windows, young lady! Not a suggestion—an order.”
Kat’s indignant eyes fired invisible arrows into Bart’s.
“I pray this dirtbag has crawled back into whatever hole he came out of. If not …” Bart’s voice trailed off in thought. If something happened to Kat, I’d never forgive himself.
Kat stopped listening at “an order.” Her thoughts turned to the legend handed down for centuries. She battled with herself about bringing up the story. She decided, took a deep breath and readied herself for the backlash to come.
“The legend of Corpse Mound has an eerie similarity to this.”
“I can’t see how a legend started in the 1700s is at all relevant here. I need information with a smidge more pertinence. This is no time for tales of goblins, witches, and dark things.”
“You know there’s more to it than goblins and witches.” Kat locked eyes with Bart, daring him to defy her.
Bart snorted. “Right—and pigs fly!”
“What do pigs have to do with anything?”
“If you’re questioning this death as supernatural, then for sure this is going to stir up the old tale about the ravine.”
“What if it isn’t just an old tale?”
“Stop. You are one of the most logical people I know, until it comes to this subject. Stop!”
“I’m just saying our ancestors’ stories say these types of murders have happened again and again over the centuries and…”
“Stop! Those are legends, not fact. There is no black evil in the ravine! Those are scary stories parents use to keep their kids from going to dangerous places. No more! Now let’s look for a flesh and blood suspect, shall we?”
Chastised and embarrassed, Kat turned and began typing.
The tarnished brass bell above the glass entry door clanged.
A disheveled, white-haired stranger stepped in.
“Can I help you?”
“Hope so. I’m new in town and need directions to the church.”
“Well, there are two here. The oldest and most popular is the Congregational Alliance run by the Right Reverend Martin Plotno at the corner of Main and Willow.”
The man grimaced, quick to replace it with a warm smile.
Kat dismissed the pained look as her imagination.
“No, ma’am, not the one at Main and Willow. Is there another?”
“There is a newer one. It’s not as popular—a more fundamental church. Lots of fire and brimstone, and teaching from the Bible. The pastor, Paul Lucas, is a nice enough sort. By the way, what’s your name?”
Maybe you are looking for a church in hopes of guilt-relief and forgiveness for leaving a decaying, stinky corpse in Ravens Cove before you go on the run, Kat thought.
“Josiah Williams.” He gave a quick, short bow. He clutched a black-
brimmed hat in his hands and held it at his waist.
“Well, Mr. Williams …”
“Josiah, please. He bowed again, raised his head, and looked into her eyes. “I can feel we are going to be friends.”
Alarm rose in Kat’s gut. The last time she felt this way, the stray cat, dubbed BC, had just bitten her arm while she was trying to dress his open wounds.
“Well, Mr. Williams, if you are interested in the new church, it sits on Birch, just off Main. Take Main south until you get to Birch. Turn right. Birch takes you out of town. It’s a long, uphill walk. Just keep going, and you’ll run into the church before you reach the wetlands.”
“Thank you, Katrina Agnes Tovslosky. Pastor Lucas’s church is the one I seek.”
“Wait! How do you know my name?”
The clang of the bell answered her.
“Rethinking locking my doors and windows,” Kat murmured. “Look at the time!”
The clock read eleven or Zero eleven hundred, as Bart, the twenty-four-hour-clock-is-the-only-correct-time advocate would say.
Kat placed both hands over the keyboard and started typing.
“Hey KittyKat, thought I’d find you here,” Wendy shouted in her ear.
Kat jumped, banging her knee hard against the desktop. “Ouch! Dang it Wendy!”
Wendy floated in front of Kat, placing her elbows on top of the computer monitor, ignoring Kat’s obvious irritation.
“How’s about lunch, girlfriend?”
“Busy here.” Kat’s eyes never left the report as she continued to type.
Wendy bent her head, to look at the computer screen upside down, long, copper curls cascading onto Kat’s fingers and keyboard.
Kat grabbed a handful of the red-brown locks and pulled.
“Owwww.” Wendy jumped back, frowned. She again put her elbows on top of the monitor.
“Come on; you know Jo’s will be buzzing with the latest gossip!”
Kat raised her head and smiled up at Wendy. “If you’re going to Jo’s, I could use a big cup of coffee.”
“Me too,” Bart yelled from his office.
Wendy and Kat broke into simultaneous laughs.
“Fine, Bartster,” Wendy yelled back, “but I expect to be reimbursed!”
“Right after you reimburse me for last week’s lunch.”
Wendy’s lower lip came out in a false pout. She turned and sailed out the door.
“Doubt we’ll see that cup of coffee,” Kat yelled.