buckets. He carried them to the barn, passing the pig pen that jutted out from one side. A half dozen fat pigs noisily scrounging about in the mud became more excited as he went by.

As he opened the barn door the aroma of dry hay wafted out. Pigeons on the rafters fluttered their wings and cooed frantically. Carrying the buckets to a large metal tub he sat them down in the hay, then took a large metal scooper hanging from a hook on a support beam. He dipped the scooper into the gray lumpy slop in the tub and poured the slop into a black bucket until it was filled, and then he filled another one. Going back outside to the pig pen, he threw the buckets of slop into a trough. As the pigs eagerly devoured the slop, he thought, Good for pigs and groundhogs alike.

The aromas of frying bacon and hot biscuits filled his nostrils as he opened the back door and walked into the kitchen. He took off his coat and hung it on a peg by the door, and then sat down at the table. The radio on top of the refrigerator was blaring.

“Do you have to have the radio up so loud?" he said to his wife who was scrambling eggs in a black iron skillet.

“I was listening to the news," she said. “Another person has gone missing."

“Is that so?" he said.

“Yes, a waitress who works at Jack's Feedbag left work around nine p m last night and never made it home," she said. “Her name is Julie Strauss. That makes twelve people in the past two years."

Thirteen, counting the hitchhiker I captured last night, he thought.

She scooped the eggs from the pan and put them on a plate. “Staying home is the only way to be safe," she said.

Except for the groundhog I captured while she was asleep on her sofa, and her children were playing in another room, he mused.

* * *

A hot breeze carried the scent of earth and vegetation that had cooked in the heat during the day. Eight men, including Lester, stood around the carcass of a cow lying in the dirt on the border of Ben Liggins' hay fields and the woods. Its side and neck had been torn open and its entrails were missing. Fresh blood stained the ground around it.

Dick Noble prodded the carcass with the muzzle of his rifle. “This has been happening to most of the farms around here," he said.

“There's something in those woods that's a menace to all of us," Todd Maybury said. “The sooner we kill whatever it is, the better.”

Lyle Carson raised his battery operated lantern above his head, expanding the range of light cast around them. “We have three lanterns and five rifles. I say we go in now."

“We don't know what we're dealing with," Ben said, “so we need to be extra careful."

Lester turned a knob on the lantern he was holding, increasing its luminosity. He held it up at eye level as he followed the others into the woods. Twigs and dried leaves snapped and crunched under his boots. The men spread out, walking toward the river that cut through the woods. Lester looked up at the moonless night sky, then at the woods beyond the light cast by the lanterns, and thought, It's almost as dark as a groundhog's hole.

A half hour into the woods, a rifle shot rang out at a distance from Lester. Then there was a scream.

Lester and the others ran toward the origin of the scream.

Ben was lying in a pile of leaves. His throat had been ripped out.

* * *

With the truck windows down, the air rushed in, filling the cab with the aromas of dry earth and corn. Lester tightly grasped the steering wheel as the truck bounced on the dirt path between the rows of corn stalks. In his rear

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