WHILE SITTING AT MY campfire, I realized that the mountainous area was there for my exploration. It was my vacation, so it was time to make the most out of it. Looking at my watch, I noticed that it was about eight o'clock in the evening. It would be a good time for me to scout around the area to see what kind of trouble I could stir up. Peering over to my right, I noticed an old man and his dog. He looked like an old hippy who was denying the fact that he was not living in the 60s anymore. His dog looked at me and showed his fangs. The old man looked to be about 6'4 and around 230 lbs. He was smoking a pipe, and he glanced at me and waved.
After searching for my flashlight, I put my old army jacket on and left the campsite. Being in the mountains of northern Colorado can make a feel free from all of the evils of the world. It was a relief to be retired from the LAPD as a detective. This hike was a way of escaping from the murdering and plundering of innocent lives in the ghettos of California. Prior to leaving on this trip, I had done some research of these mountains and all of the history behind them. About twenty-six years ago, an escapee from the local mental hospital had made his way up into these mountains and killed a bunch of people before setting fire to himself. Rumours flew around the town of Ashland that a serial killer was hiding in an old cabin. Ashland Colorado has a modest population of 432 people, and most people tend to really to exaggerate the story, however, since I read the clippings while reading a paper that my Aunt has sent me, it caught my interest. I had worked for over three years without a vacation, my section chief ordered me to take a mandatory retirement since I was two months overdue. Since investigating was in my blood, researching this rumour would be a good way of spending my time since I was starting a new career as a freelance consultant.
By reading an old map that my Aunt had provided for me, the cabin where this alleged killer had been holed up was about ten miles deep in the north side of the mountain. I grabbed my canteen and filled it with some water from the creek nearby. It tasted very cold and refreshing to my parched tongue. I walked over to my car, grabbed my infrared camera, and put the strap around my neck. Something told me to grab my laptop, which had a link to a satellite that would provide me internet access in the mountains. It was time do some hiking up to the cabin that was owned by the forest service. By reading the information on the cabin, I had found out that the park service kept it supplied. One added benefit to the cabin was that it had power and running water, which could be to my advantage. After getting all of the gear that I thought would be necessary for the trip, I tied my boot laces and was walking up the trail that led to the cabin. Since the murders had occurred in 1980s, and it was the year 2006 now, there should be nothing for me to worry about. While walking something told me to take a break and rest for a spell. I sat on an old stump that some couple had carved their initials in and opened my canteen to wet my dry throat. Something told me to pick up a piece of wood and throw it in the creek, however, when I picked it up, something very bizarre happened.
The ground shook and made me fall right over onto it. The piece of wood began to burn red hot, causing my hand to blister. After placing a handkerchief on my hand, I attempted to get up. My mind wanted to get up, but my body was unwilling to cooperate. In the hopes that whatever was happening would cease, I just laid there. I looked over to my right and noticed a young woman slumped over. She looked up at me and pulled herself away from the tree. It appeared that she had impaled herself from her back to her front. Blood dripped from the sharp branch as she walked toward me. I could hear the gurgling of her breathing the closer she got to me and the breaking of the small branches bellowed aloud with every step that she took. I quickly grabbed my flashlight and shined it in her eyes. She had no pupils. All that could be seen were the whites of her eyes. She had an X carved in her skull. She smiled at me as she got closer. With saliva and blood rolling out her mouth, she leaned over and came face to face with me. In a split second, I grabbed her wrist to see if she had a pulse. To my dismay, her body was cold and there was no apparent pulse. She pulled a large knife out of her belt and raised it high in the air. My heart stopped, as I knew that my life would soon end, however, she quickly vanished from my sight.
After getting control of my faculties, I got up and headed up to the mountain. While looking at some of the mile markers, I noticed that the cabin was about two more miles from me. I looked at my watch and noticed that two days had gone by from the day that I left. How could this be? I just left my campsite a few hours ago. Maybe further investigation into this would shed some light. Within three hours, I had made it to the cabin still under the cloak of darkness. It appeared that the cabin was not occupied by anyone, which was good for me. I quickly looked under the floor mat and found the key that opened the door. After grabbing the handle, a loud creak roared from the hinges of the door. It smelled very musty, but the cabin appeared to be clean. I quickly gathered up some wood and started a fire in the fireplace. A kerosene lamp would allow me sufficient light inside of the cabin. I found an old wooden match and lit the lamp. Weirdly, it was three o'clock in the morning and hunger pains plagued my stomach. I opened the fridge to see what could be found. There was some lunchmeat, mayonnaise and some pickles. In haste, I made myself a sandwich, turned my laptop on, and decided to do some research further into the murders. Did the X that was carved on the skull of this strange woman have any meaning in this twenty-six year old case? How could this woman make herself appear to a total stranger? How did I lose two days that appeared to be a couple of hours? These questions needed to be answered before I went any further in these mountains.
I ran a search in the National CIC database to see what could be found about the murders that occurred twenty-six years ago. Was that killer ever brought to justice? Did any more killings happen years after the alleged crimes were committed? After the internet link opened, there was an article about some killings that occurred in Ashland Colorado. This meant that I had hit the nail on the head. Who was this killer? Was he really an escapee from the local mental hospital? It appeared that James Calter, the escapee from Ashland State Hospital was never found. The total amount of killings matched that of the alphabet, which appeared to be a little bizarre to me. After 1980, no further murders had occurred. After six months of searching for James Calter, the case went cold. Could James be lurking around in the mountains of Colorado? Why did he only kill twenty-six people? By reading further in the article, it was rumoured that people had seen Mr. Calter in the town of Ashland. However, by appearance of the article, it was pure speculation and there was little or no truth in the words written about him. Something told me that James Calter did not burn up. The amount of killings could mean that he had found a way to gain eternal life. However, something also told me that even though twenty-six years had gone by, and that the killings would start up again. I also felt in my gut that every twenty-six years, James Calter had to kill again to maintain his immortal status. Working on some of the cases as detective, I realized that I had to get in the mind of this killer. I decided to link to the local library of Ashland Colorado and see what could be found on the history of this small town. To my surprise, a very interesting fact popped up on the screen of my laptop. In 1994, the FBI was researching a case that involved a band of alleged witches. The FBI found that groups of people were meeting to practice their craft. On this land stood a cabin and a barn, it was rumoured that they were sacrificing animals. The FBI shut them down and jailed most of the members, however, the case was never really solved, and it appeared that a couple members of the Ashland Community became very wealthy. It was my job to see if this was linked to James Calter.
It was time for me to look at the barn. I locked my laptop, grabbed my flashlight and my pistol and headed to the barn. This time, I also picked up my camera, which had a telephoto infrared lens. If I was to find any proof, I could obtain it by getting some pictures of whatever I found. Eerily, everything became deathly quiet the closer I got to the barn door. The only thing that could be heard, were my feet crushing pine needles that fell to the ground from the trees nearby. Before I opened the door, something told me to take a picture of the front of the barn. In haste, I took the cap of my camera lens and pointed it toward the roof the barn. The infrared lens focused on something very bizarre. It had the power to show dried blood that has been washed off. The blood could be that of a human or animal. With my eyes focused on the lens, I noticed a huge X marked in blood with a circle around it. On each side of it, I noticed two figures. They appeared to be pointing toward the X with their index finger. One of the women appeared to be dressed very scantly and the other woman was dressed in clothes of a Quaker or Puritan. The scantily dressed woman's eyes glowed bright orange and the other women's eyes were glowing with a blinding white light. I quickly captured the picture to have proof of my investigation. Since the camera was digital, transferring the files to my laptop would be very easy. The time came for me to see what this barn was hiding. The more I investigated this case, the more it told me that James Calter was related to this unknown X factor. Something also told me that I needed to get inside the mind of this strange man. What made him tick? Was he stable enough mentally to obtain eternal life? Could this be the key to unlocking this mystery to the X Factor? Is there anyone else that is linked to the resource of eternal life? With my heart pounding, I opened the door to the barn and out came a black cat howling as it jumped into the air. This made me jump and fall on my backside. I got up and noticed that the cat's eyes glowed with a fire red color as it made eye contact with me. The cat vanished into the mysteries of the night as I got up. Right before getting inside of the doorway, I stubbed my toe on a lock that was attached to a wooden door. This place had a cellar, which also opened some opportunities to put an end to this case. Should I go into the barn first or shall I go into the cellar?
The cellar appeared to be the first place that should be checked. Looking around, I found a rock to break the old rusty lock. After pounding for a few minutes, it finally broke loose. I took the flashlight and shined it down in the entrance after opening the door. The musty smell almost knocked me over. I made my way down the steps. By appearance, the cellar was clean, however, after looking closer; I noticed that there were herbs and spices that could be used by people practicing witchcraft. After looking around, I noticed a book, which caught my interest. I found a light switch that would be a tremendous help in reading this book. The light came on with a very faint but acceptable glow in the darkened room. Finding an old chair I sat down to read. As my hand touched the cover of this strange book, my body froze. It became quiet as death in the room. Cold air blew on the dirt floor cellar, making the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. I could hear shallow breath sounds coming out of my chest. What was going to happen next? Was it the end of my life, as I knew it?
In a dark corner of the cellar, I could see out of the corner of my eye a figure that remained in the darkness in order to remain hidden. With my hand shaking, I picked up the flashlight and shined it toward the shadow. A tall woman came out of the shadows with a bible. She made her way towards me with the bible in her hand. The closer she came to me, the louder her voice became, however, a black shadow muted her voice and shoved a large sword in her stomach. Her intestines fell through her hand and she ran toward me. When she was within two feet of me, she fell to the ground and expired. She died with her eyes open. Looking closely, I could see that an X had been carved into her forehead. The mysterious shadow put his hands on the lifeless body and then the shadow and the body vanished. The hold on my body suddenly lifted and I was able to open the book to read it. Was this a warning for me not to go any further in the case? On the other hand, was it a cry for help? While thumbing through the book, I noticed writing that appeared to be in an old dialect that was used by witches during the Salem Witch Trials in the 1600s. Before going into the barn, it was time to take the book and get it translated to shed some light. I wanted to accumulate as much information on this case as I could. With this information, the police department and I could finally close the book on James Calter. With the book in hand, I walked out of the cellar and back to the cabin to grab my gear and head back to my campsite. It was also time to visit my Aunt, whom I had not seen in ten years. A family member could prove to be very useful while working this case. Daylight came and I was far from the cabin. Before leaving the cabin, I made sure everything appeared as if I was never there.
All of these bizarre things brought up a strong desire to solve this case. It was time to stop this cycle that happens every twenty-six years. It was time to bring justice to all of the lives that were lost because of this case. I also figured that it was going to take some help with someone that had experience with black magic. My relationship was somewhat estranged from my Aunt. In this situation, I could really use her skills since she has practiced witchcraft her entire life. This case would be right up her alley. The majority of my family made her an outcast because of her interest in the craft. I was the only member of my family that found her fascinating and had wanted to idolize her, however, my parents had put a stop to that and moved away to Los Angeles. It was my hope that my Aunt would be happy to see me. Before doing that, it was time to study the title of the book. From the little exposure that I had with my Aunt, I was able to translate the ancient dialect to say, The Element of X. What was the element of X? What part of the curse or magic spell gave people eternal life? Where did the curse originate? Could the curse be lifted and in return save many lives? A sneaking suspicion told me that the old man was involved. The library in town that originated in the early 1700's has books that would allow me to study up on this issue. Dragging my stuff with me, I quickly made my way back to my campsite, however, I knew that returning to the barn and cabin would be a way to close the door to this mystery.
Within forty minutes, with sweat rolling off my brow I walked in the site. The old man was still sitting with his dog and smoking a very sweet smelling pipe tobacco. Looking closely, I noticed that his brand of smoking tobacco was Swamp Dog Red. By working in law enforcement for the years, I realized that that brand of tobacco was smoked by many veterans from the Vietnam War. Could he be a retired or disabled veteran? This would rule him out as a suspect in this case or would it? I also noticed that he had a scar above his right eye. He looked to be a man of large stature; however, a hunch told me that he was somehow involved in this case.
After closing up my campsite, I warmed up my rental car and headed into town. Driving for a good hour, I finally found a Motel 6 in Ashland, which would fit into my budget. After checking into the room, I brewed a pot of coffee and turned on my laptop. I checked to make sure that my Aunt still lived in Ashland. According to the online phonebook, she did, and appeared to be single. I also checked the local city link and noticed that Ashland's population had ballooned up to 10,000 people. In the time that I had stayed with my Aunt years ago, the population was around 432 people. This showed me that the Ashland had a lot to offer a person touring the city. Looking further, I noticed that the library was still standing and that it had been declared a national landmark, which meant that no one was allowed to tear it down. After being up all night, it was time to get a little shuteye. I pulled out my pistol and placed it under my pillow. Somehow, in the back of my mind, something told me that sleep was far away. Judging by what I had been exposed to, this case was bizarre and was going to consume a lot of my attention. However, it was my hope that I could pull from some of the resources of Ashland to assist in its closure. Thinking about the ocean and listening to soothing music, sleep finally came to me. It was 9:00am in the morning, so the day was still young and after a couple of hours of rest, time could be used to my advantage.
* * * *
TWO O'CLOCK THAT AFTERNOON, someone knocked on my motel room door and woke me up. Who was disturbing me? No one really knew that I was here. To my surprise, it was the old man and his dog. What does he want with me? I wondered, putting on my robe and opening the door.
"What can I do for you sir?" I asked.
"My gut was telling me that you are working on the X case. Judging by how you looked at me prior, you were trying to figure out if I was a suspect in this old case. If you are wondering who I am; I figured it was time to tell you. My name is Harold Otterman. I just retired from the Ashland Police Department as one of their detectives. If you are wondering, I worked as the lead detective on the X case." Harold informed me.
"Come on in, you're dead on with your assumption. I am a retired detective from L.A.P.D. and on vacation; however, I have stumbled onto this case. It appears very bizarre and linked to black magic. I found a book in the cellar up on the mountain. It appears to be written in an ancient dialect. From by my little exposure to the craft with my Aunt here in town, I was able to translate the title of the book. "It's titled, 'The Element of X'." Where are my manners? My name is Mike Smith. If you can lend a hand on this case, it would be great."
"The chief of police shut this case down and shelved it very rapidly. My gut told me that James Calter is the one that killed and marked the victims with an X on their forehead. Proving that was another story. In the time that I investigated this case, I could not find any concrete evidence nor could I ever find Mr. Calter. I am very glad that you were able to find the book. It might shed some light on this case. It is my hope that you will be willing to work with me. I do have some friends on the force that can lend a hand to us if we need it. That's of course, if you want my help." Harold offered.
"I usually work alone on my cases. The intensity of this case and my inability to prove anything requires help from somebody. The help could be beneficial in the closure of this case. It's my goal to close the book and finally locate James Calter and put him behind bars."
"What do you need to know about the curse?" Harold asked
"It's my hypothesis that twenty-six murders must occur every twenty-six years. The curse allows anyone immortality as long as they follow the guidelines of the book. It also appears to me that every one of the victims have an X carved on their forehead. Since the murders occurred in 1980, my gut tells me that there will be more murders soon on the horizon."
"This is almost uncanny, my guess is right in line with yours. It's my opinion that the murders are going to occur on Hollow's Eve; which is the time of the year that a lot of people practice the craft at its height." He concurred.
"In other words, you are telling me it's going to occur on Halloween."
"You're right on the money sir." Harold agreed.
"My Aunt has practiced witchcraft for many years. She has been treated as an outcast by my family because of it. It is my opinion that she will be able to translate most of this ancient dialect. That is only if she is not involved with it. You and I are going to have to approach her cautiously on this case."
"The strange thing this about this town, is that there are a lot of people that do practice the craft. Do you want to know why?" Harold asked.
"During the earlier days there were a lot people that fled to Ashland to avoid being killed. So to put in small terms, the practice of black magic was carried to the western part of the United States.
"I guess that you've done your homework." Harold said
"You are forgetting that I used to live with my Aunt in my younger days here in Ashland. That was before my parents found out that she practiced black magic. Being fascinated with it, I did a lot of research and found out that many of our prominent city officials also practiced the craft. This is a little scary since we may have to rely upon them for closing this case. However, I have an old retired friend of mine who used to work for the F.B.I. that might be able to convince the bureau to reinstate our police powers federally, which would allow us to remove the local police department out of the picture, which would be a safety precaution until we can rule them out."
"It sounds like you have the resolution of this case all planned out. I attempted to get help from the local police but found out that they were in a big hurry to shelf the case. They didn't do anything about it."
"What do you think the chances are that the police chief is in thick with this secret cult?" I asked
"The chances are very high that they are involved. How can I help you in this case?" Harold asked
"I need to get access to the files that have been locked out of the local police database. I made an attempt to look at them online; however, they were encrypted, which blocked any access to them." I told him.
"I have some good news for you. Just to be on the safe side the first time, I kept copies of the girls that were murdered. Every file had their birthdates, time of death, cause of death and a D.N.A. profile. My police chief in the back of his mind knew that I was keeping files. He attempted to snoop around my desk at work and used secret warrants to search my house. However, I played it safe. I have a hidden office under the floorboards of my kitchen. To allow access, I have to scan my eyeball to open the industrial five feet thick trap door. All of these years, I knew that someone would have the desire to solve the case. My lab is yours, if it will help in ending this case." Harold offered. "I think that the best move for you is to get a hold of your friend at the bureau and convince him to come down here and help us in this case."
"I was going to snoop at the local library to see if I could find out any more information about the case."
"There is some bad news. Any books that are on the subject have been removed. However, I ordered all of the reference material from a bookstore out of town. I have all of the books hidden in my lab." He informed me.
"It sounds like you being cautious in the past with your cases are definitely going to pay off now."
"In the back of my mind, I knew that it would pay off someday."
"I do have one thing to ask you Harold."
"What would that be?" He asked
"Judging by how you are wearing a tie dye sweatshirt and have long hair and a beard; you looked like someone that is trying to deny that he or she is not in 60s anymore." I commented.
"Stop giving me shit about it. I will show you a picture of me around ten years ago. I was a closet hippy, however, when I retired it was time to come out of the closet and display the personality that was hidden for many years."
"That makes sense to me. If I was poking fun at you and if I offended you, I do apologize."
"Don't worry about it my friend. Let's go up to my house and allow you access to my lab." He suggested.
"That sounds like a winner to me. We are also going to have to investigate my Aunt and her involvement with this case." I said
"Don't worry you will be able to find that out from our lab." Harold assured me.