This sequel to Jonathan Coulton’s song “Skullcrusher Mountain” was written for the 2012 Clarion West Write-a-thon. As a “thank you” to my first group of donors, I’ve published it here under a Creative Commons license (details below). If you enjoy the story, please consider making a tax-deductible donation to Clarion West.
Night on Skullcrusher Mountain
By Karen G. Anderson
Deputy Darla Weeks stuck her head into her boss’ office.
“There’s a call about Skullcrusher Mountain, sir,” she said, “The mayor –”
“What’s it this time?” Sheriff Rowen Stone leaned back, his desk chair groaning under his bulk. “Weird noises? Strange flashes of lightning? Wolves howling all night again?”
Stone wiggled his massive hands in the air, threw back his head and mimed howling.
Weeks glanced at the clock on the wall. 10:55 PM. It was Friday night, and in five minutes Stone would be checking out and heading across the county line for his usual beers and bowling. The sheriff didn’t favor last-minute emergencies on Fridays.
She squared her shoulders and continued.
“Sir, the mayor says Doctor Bluescreen has kidnapped his daughter.”
Stone glanced up at the clock, and then down at the red light flashing on his landline. He sighed.
“I’m a patient man,” he muttered, “but this mad scientist fellow is starting to run out of road.”
The sheriff reached across his cluttered desk and lifted the receiver.
“Stone here,” he barked, and fell back in his chair to listen.
“Uh-huh. Heather. She lost her job in Seattle and moved back home?”
“Uh-huh. He told her he was a rock star?”
Stone went from scribbling to doodling.
“Look, Gus, are you telling me that Bluescreen just drove up to your house and she got in his vehicle?”
Stone tossed aside his pen, and rolled his eyes for Weeks’ benefit.
“Oh, it was his assistant.”
Stone listened some more, then cut in:
“Let’s get this straight, Gus: Your 20-year-old kid is out on a date with someone named “Scarface” and now you expect my folks to go get her? Look, it’s only 11. Calm down. Let’s give ‘em ’til midnight.”
Weeks stifled a snort. She was turning to go back to her desk in the squad room when Stone’s chair creaked. Her boss was sitting upright.
“The what?” he yelled. “Oh, crap. We’re on it.”
Stone dropped the phone and grabbed his gun belt.
“The daughter slipped into Bluescreen’s bathroom and texted that he’s going to launch a submarine in Skullcrusher Creek and blow up the mountain,” he told Weeks. “Call out the deputies. Tell everyone to meet me in the parking lot up on Skullcrusher Trail.”
“A submarine?” Weeks repeated.
But her boss was already lumbering out the door and climbing into his truck. When he reached Skullcrusher Trail, two deputies were in the parking lot, along with six good old boys who’d picked up the call on the police band scanner in the local tavern.
“Bluescreen’s some kind of technology billionaire,” a deputy was explaining to one of the civilians. “He bought the whole mountain from the state during the financial crisis.”
“He tunneled right down into the mountain,” one of the good old boys chimed in. “Built himself a secret laboratory. My cousin Donna’s oldest boy worked on the construction crew.”
He paused. “Come to think of it, we haven’t seen the kid in months.”
Stone sighed. The locals were in the habit of blaming everything that went wrong in the community on Doctor Bluescreen, from the catastrophic power surge that shorted out the scoreboard at last year’s homecoming game to the mysterious disappearance of livestock and banana cream pies from the county fair. The sheriff had never given it much credence. What on earth would a software guy want with the 4H Club’s ponies?
From what Stone could tell, the guy loved animals. Hadn’t he donated some huge amount to underwrite the state’s campaign to repopulate the mountain with native wolves? The program must have been going gangbusters, because Stone could see several pairs of eyes in the woods. They didn’t look right to him.
“Do wolves have glowing red eyes?” Stone asked Weeks when she arrived at the trailhead.
“They do around here, sir,” she said.
They turned to survey the deputies, who were busying themselves loading rifles and shotguns.
“What the hell kind of getup is that?” Stone asked one of them.
The man looked down and blushed.
“Deputy Weeks said to wear red s-s-shorts, sir,” he replied.
Stone glared at Weeks, who just shrugged and looked off into the forest.
“Must have misheard me, sir.”
Stone motioned everyone to gather around his truck, where he spread a map across the hood and switched on a flashlight.
“Here’s the plan,” he began.
“Sheriff?” said Red Shorts.
“If this Bluescreen’s really a technology mastermind, he could have surveillance devices planted right here at the trailhead.”
Heads tipped back to look at the towering evergreens, then tipped forward to duck as Stone’s revolver went off. Pinecones, a few small mammals, and two shattered webcams rained down on the parked vehicles.
“Now, where was I?” the sheriff said. “Oh, yeah. The plan: Weeks and I are going to drive on up to this guy’s lair and bang on the front door. Red Shorts, you stay here. Everybody else, set up a perimeter.”
Stone traced a perimeter on the map. There was a general nodding of Stetsons. With a slamming of doors and a gunning of motors the second deputy and the hangers-on departed.
“O.K., let’s get this guy,” Stone said. Weeks climbed into his truck and they headed up the gravel logging road to Bluescreen’s lair.
“I blame myself for this,” Stone said. “Kept telling myself he was just one of those rich technology guys from Seattle who made a bad real estate investment. Thought he’d figure it out and go back where he came from.”
“Is he crazy?” Weeks asked.
“Got to be, to live up on Skullcrusher Mountain,” the sheriff said. “You know how that place got its name? Pioneers claimed that trolls with clubs came down and smashed the skulls of gold miners who panned Skullcrusher Creek. When the folks from Wenatchee tried putting a logging operation up there in the ’20s, something on the mountain kept destroying their camps. The railroad company got the message. They ran their tracks a good 40 miles to the south.”
“Sounds like Skullcrusher Mountain has a way of taking care of itself,” Weeks observed.
Her boss nodded. “Oh yeah. You could say that.”
The steep logging road leveled off, depositing them in front of a garish faux-medieval castle. The paved courtyard was empty except for a black Tesla roadster plugged into a charging station.
“Must have given his henchman the night off,” Stone said.
Above them, thunder cracked and lightning bolts danced around the castle’s highest turrets. Up on the ramparts, a hunched figure could be seen limping nervously back and forth. The massive front doors of the castle swung open with much theatrical creaking to reveal darkness within.
“This fellow sure pulls out the stops for company,” Stone observed. He fished a plastic bag from the glove compartment, rolled down the window and scattered the contents of the bag to the slavering wolves that encircled the truck.
“That’ll buy us some time,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Weeks, gun drawn, climbed out of the truck, tiptoed past the wolves, and took up a position in the doorway while Stone strode into the lair. The burly sheriff followed a trail of blood-red carpeting down a long, high-ceilinged hallway decorated with flickering lanterns, massive coats of arms, and medieval weaponry.
He stopped to heft a spiked morningstar, and raised an eyebrow.
“Nice workmanship,” he muttered.
When Stone reached the cavernous greatroom at the end of the hall, he found a skimpy young blonde in a skimpy dress sobbing on the sofa. She looked up and silently mouthed “Like, omigawd, help!”
Behind her stood Bluescreen, clad in jeans, high top sneakers, and a white lab coat. He’d struck a pose beneath a matching pair of what looked like stuffed monkeys — if monkeys had manes, hooves and very large front teeth. Stone realized he’d have some answers for the 4H Club. If he survived this encounter.
“Ah, Sheriff Stone!” the mad scientist crowed. “Please drop that gun or I’ll be forced to vaporize the mountain prematurely.”
Stone leaned down and placed his gun on the coffee table, beside an untouched cocktail, a tangle of rope, and The Beginners Guide to Japanese Bondage.
“You’re just in time, Sheriff,” Bluescreen was saying. “Heather and I are about to depart for a memorable cruise.”
There was a whimper from the young woman on the coach.
“Sorry there’s not more room in the submarine,” Bluescreen said, his wet lips assuming the shape of a grin. “But please make yourself at home in my lair, Sheriff. Step out on the balcony in a few minutes and you’ll enjoy a superb, if brief, view of my latest experiment.”
The mad scientist cackled, rubbed his hands together, and launched into what Stone immediately recognized as the Evil Villain speech. In his long career in law enforcement he’d heard the speech from blackmailers, murderers, land developers, and politicians. Stone was a connoisseur of the traditional version of the speech, which involved elaborate mustache twirling, but the mad-scientist rendition wasn’t too bad. Either Bluescreen had been practicing, or he was a natural.
It had been a while, but Stone quickly remembered the script. He waited patiently until Bluescreen, pacing back and forth in front of the French doors, was well into paragraph three — the part with the explanation of how much smarter he was than everyone else.
Funny how that point always distracts them, Stone thought, as he whipped out the morningstar he’d taken off the wall in the hallway and whacked Bluescreen over the head. Heather emitted an appreciative yelp. He dragged the scientist’s limp body out the French doors and onto the balcony, where he tossed it over the parapet.
Howls rose from the courtyard, followed by the sounds of enthusiastic chewing. Seconds later they could hear someone limping, rather quickly, down the castle staircase and out the front door.
The sheriff sighed and shook his head. He carefully closed the French doors and collected Heather from the couch, where she was busily texting.
“That was one creepy dude,” she declared without taking her eyes off her phone. She shouldered her enormous designer handbag and followed Stone into the hall.
They emerged from the castle to find Weeks, revolver in hand, watching the Tesla Roadster tear out of the courtyard. A hunched figure was at the wheel.
“I gave Scarface a head start,” Weeks said as she holstered her gun. “Once he’s out of our jurisdiction, I’ll radio the Washington State Patrol about his outstanding abduction warrants.”
“Good call,” Stone said. “Let those guys handle the paperwork.”
With Heather tucked between them in the truck, still texting, the law officers headed back down the mountain. A red-eyed wolf, the first to finish dinner, looked up as they drove by and howled an indignant farewell.
“You know, that lair of his isn’t near as sturdy as you might expect,” Stone observed as they jounced along. “Wouldn’t be at all surprised if it blew up — I mean, blew over — in the next big storm. It does get awful rough up on Skullcrusher Mountain.”
“You ought to know, sir,” Weeks said.
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Night on Skullcrusher Mountain by Karen G. Anderson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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