When Gristoe arrived at the lab he found it locked up with yellow hazard tape everywhere.

“What happened?” he said. “Let me guess: that fool Mariana Brinson thought so much her brain fell out.”

“Yup,” said one of the responding officers.

“I knew it,” said Gristoe.”The problems of a zombie physicist.”

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Dear Inspector,

It’s always a murdering psychopath, isn’t it? Really, if serial killers were as prevalent in real life as they are on the TV, we’d all be dead by now. And, honestly, who would need to do it in this day and age? The sort of twisted psychopaths who one slashed their way through the 70s can now satisfy their every urge growing fat on a sofa with an internet connection. Add to that the investigative tools now at peoples’ disposal and…well, I won’t say it’s impossible, but psychopathy certainly seems to lose its appeal.

The challenge then becomes what outlet is there for a violent and amoral person such as myself to cultivate a smug sense of superiority, especially when matching wits with investigators who, lacking the wits of Holmes, nevertheless have the university of Moriarty behind them. Ten, twenty years ago, I would have been a serial killer. Now, I’m a freelance web developer (more or less). It’s not enough to run rings around police with cars that barely have wi-fi.

No, I have laid in a much more cunning game for you and yours. And I’ve even designed it to get easier for you as things go on, in case I am too subtle. But the motivator here isn’t just death, though there will be plenty of that to go around if you bide your time.

Oh, and don’t try to cheat by using the internet. I’ve seen to that.

Sincerely yours,

Serpentarius

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1848 was not long after the official inception of Southern Michigan University and the incorporation of Hopewell as the country seat of Muskogee County. Mayor Jacob Rayman was embroiled in scandal and eventually hung for the death of his wife, who disappeared during a picnic that spring. Rayman insisted that the last he’d seen of his wife was when she followed a black butterfly into an old farmhouse.

In 1888, Gerald Compton, a philosophy student at Southern Michigan University, didn’t return from an outing. A thorough search by the Hopewell Police Department and the Muskogee County Sheriff only uncovered Compton’s sketchbook. It was found in a disused silo and was full of nature sketches, apparently from life, of a black butterfly.

1938 saw a new society club appeared in the pages of the Hopewell High School yearbook. There were several photographs of the four young women in the club, frolicking and smiling. The yearbook was published in May; none of the participants were seen again after June of that year. The name of the organization was the Black Butterfly Club.

The 1978 underground musical scene in and around Southern Michigan University included a duo that lit up crowds at small venues. They has just pressed their debut LP when they vanished after a concert near the edge of town. A thorough search turned up only a pre-release copy of the album, signed by both members of Black Butterfly.

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Dear Sir or Madam,

We are pleased to inform you that your skills and pedantry in spelling, grammar, usage, and diction have led to your selection as a student in Roget’s School of Wordcraft and Spelling. You will find a list of neccessary books and equipment below.

Period begins on September 1st. Please indicate your acceptance no later than July 31, in writing.

Yours sincerely,
J. Interrobang Guillemet IV
Order of Mirriam-Webster, First Class
Grand Scriblerian
Solidus, Oxford Association of Punctuation
Head, American Vowel Association

REQUIRED EQUIPMENT
One (1) set, period attire.
Five (5) boxes, 12ga. No. 2 commas.
One (1) box, Obelus’s Signature Punctuation Mix.
One (1) box, Fleuron Brand General Typography Symbols.
McGuffey’s Eclectic Primer (1st ed.) by William Holmes McGuffey.
American Dictionary of the English Language (1828 ed.) by Noah Webster.
Roget’s Thesaurus (1st ed.) by Peter Mark Roget.
The Elements of Style (Harcourt ed., 1920) by William Strunk, Jr.
The Oxford English Dictionary (1928 ed.) edited by James Murray, Henry Bradley, et al.

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“See, I told you it’s not real,” said Marie. “Come on, let’s go home. We’ll get it if we’re late, you know.”

“But…I saw it!” cried Caleb. “I did, really!”

His sister huffed and shifted her schoolbooks from one hand to the other. “You’re just a little kid, Caleb,” she said. “When you’re eleven like me you’ll see why this is so dumb.”

“This isn’t like the time I saw the ship in a puddle,” Caleb cried indiginatly. “I’m not seven anymore, Marie! I know what’s real.”

“Uh huh. You keep telling yourself that, Caleb,” Marie said. She turned around. “I’m going home, and you’re following me even if I have to…drag…”

She stopped. “What is it?” Caleb said.

“Look over there,” Marie said softly.

Behind them, the trees of the wood gradually spread out until the burst forth in a clearing covered with a carpet of autumn. In the midst, with a few stray leaves clinging to it, was a great stone hand, palm out but facing away.

“It’s the Hand of the Forest,” Calbe said. “Jusst like I told you. Do you think it’ll grant our wishes?”

“I don’t know,” Maries said softly. “I don’t know.”

“Let’s find out.” Caleb was a quarter of the way to the hand before his sister could even cry out.

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On campus, the Democrat-Tribune spoke to Southern Michigan University students about the evolving challenges that they are facing.

“It’s really rough,” said Maxwell Evins, a sophomore physical therapy major. “I’ve been trying to evolve webbed fingers to increase my swimming time, but I’m just not getting where I need to be, even with protein shakes.”

“Yeah, we’re facing a lot of evolving challenges,” agreed Shanika Washington, a junior majoring in nursing. “I’v ebeen evolving a tail that I can use for better balance with a break-off tip for eluding predators. But it’s just not going well! Look, it’s barely a nub, and I’m not even sure which muscle to flex to make it wiggle!”

“I think the challenges are overblown,” said Brayden Cullinsworth, 5th-year super-senior. “I evolved fleshy wings for streaking through the night sky months ago without any problems, and I’m in the midst of evolving razor-sharp fangs to feed on the blood of the weak.” Asked how he managed to evolve so quickly, Cullinsworth credited the use of his parents’ Gene-Splicer-O-Matic and suggested that other students should make use of their own families’ interest payments to purchase one.

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They called it Wolf Creek because it was haunted by packs of unusually aggressive wolves.

Once every half-century or so, someone would try to settle there. The Eden Party of 1888 was the last and perhaps most famous. Twelve families and livestock set out for Wolf Creek, and they appeared at market in Grant’s Crossing the following fall.

The settlers complained of constant wolf attacks, and made large purchases of poison and ammunition in attempts to defend their livestock. Records in Grant’s Crossing show the purchases continuing through 1889 but tapering off through 1890. A census-taker visiting in 1890 found eight families, and later remarked that the grounds had been positively haunted with wolves, with the settlers treating them with a mixture of hysterical fear and reverence.

The last record of anyone from Wolf Creek appearing at market was in 1893, and a surveyor passing through in March 1894 found the settlers’ buildings deserted. Curiously, there was no graveyard or gravesites ever discovered.

Decades later, in the 1920s, the Department of the Interior began a study of the wolves there, some of the last survivors of their kind in the continental USA. They reported that the packs were unusually large and aggressive, and that there appeared to be twelve major wolf conglomorations spread across the territory.

Wolf Creek remains unoccupied to this day.

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