By Charles M. Kovacs

The details of the story you probably saw on the evening news, read in the papers or on the Internet involving the incidents I am about to relate were nearly wholly untrue; fabrications invented by certain factions to allay political finger-pointing and prevent full-blown public panic. Publicly, officials will categorically deny most elements of this most bizarre story, but that does not make my recording of the events any less true, quite the contrary. As has happened too often in the past, the facts have been suppressed, manipulated or obsfucated. Once more, I will attempt to set the record straight, however impotent the outcome might be. The fact remains that people died -- horribly, needlessly.

You may have heard my name before, I was a newspaperman of some repute (both honorable and ill) during the mid-forties through the mid-eighties. After several years of bare-knuckle brawling on the streets of New York City in my final tour as an investigative reporter (finally procuring my coveted Pulitzer), I semi-retired to Central Florida in 1986, purchasing a small daily called the Lake Obsidian Sentinel, where I serve as Publisher, Senior Editor, Chief Copywriter and Janitor. I do have a receptionist (a corpulent, daytime television-addicted senior citizen named Betty), an ancient printing press, and my indispensable laptop.

Due to certain -- shall we say -- past indiscretions, for this accounting, I must change my name, location and some names of persons close to me in order to protect myself; it seems there are still particular individuals who would take great pleasure in charging and imprisoning me, even at my advanced age. As I have been advised on many occasions in the past, the statute of limitations for a murder warrant -- even a bogus, trumped-up one -- never expires. That said, the following events, as unbelievable as they may seem, are indeed factual.

Item: June 1st of this year, 9:15 a.m., town of North Bay on the northwest bank of Lake Okeechobee, Florida. A Condition Red was sounded at the North Bay Nuclear Research and Development Facility. HazMat and the EPA were both dispatched and a twelve-square mile area around North Bay was cordoned off for nearly a month. The official story from the EPA indicated that it was a ‘test drill’ to determine safety protocol for the facility. HazMat teams were on hand for the entire month of July and classified telephone and Internet records would later reveal that there was constant communication with the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta during this time. Officials from an ‘unspecified government agency’ made their first appearance at 6:15 p.m. on June 1st. Pirated flight records indicate that they were flown in via military transport from Washington, D.C. to Palm Beach International Airport. All records of vehicle rental or lodging have been conveniently lost or destroyed.

Item: June 10th through 25th, North Bay. Numerous incidents of alleged UFO activity were reported to local police, federal authorities, the FAA as well as several assorted and sundry secular UFO-sighting agencies, such as MUFON and others. These were unusual ‘sightings’ in that they seemed to be very small craft, flying in formation accompanied by a high pitched trilling sound. Officials summarily dismissed these sightings, explaining them away as radio-controlled airplanes being flown by a local RC club. A follow-up interview later confirmed no such activity on those dates by the North Bay Radio-Controlled Aircraft Association.

Item: July 1st, 11:45 p.m.. North Bay, on the Bar None G Cattle Farm of 85 year old MacKenzie Gavin. After hearing a loud ruckus outside his barn, Mr. Gavin rushed outside with an ancient side-by-side double-barreled shotgun. He found five of his prize cows dead, one bull near death. There were no predatory tracks near the slain animals and no blood had spilled on the ground. He did find a long, hollow shaft imbedded in one of them, which was later confiscated by authorities along with the cattle carcasses -- none of this evidence has ever been seen again.

Item: July 4th, 6:15 p.m., Cove City Campground on Lake Okeechobee, 10 miles east of North Bay, 25 miles south of Lake Obsidian. The Carlisle Family, hailing from Chicago, Illinois, on their first family vacation in nearly five years, vanished without a trace. Their camping gear was intact, dinner sitting uneaten on their rented Winnebago’s foldout table. Frantically running footprints seemed to disappear near the water’s edge. Six months later, five skeletons found in the shallow water near the camp site were confirmed as belonging to the missing family. Subsequent to the initial disappearance, however, the Campground was closed by authorities, who posted 24 hour guards (in protective gear) to ensure no one entered the area.

Item: July 5th, 8:00 a.m., Cove City. The mayor announced on the local radio station that as a result of a sentinel chicken testing positive for a particularly virulent strain of mosquito-borne St. Louis encephalitis, there would be a mandated sundown curfew in and around Cove City. It was merely a precaution, but one he and the city council felt was a necessary one. By all accounts, you could almost feel the smarm oozing over the airwaves.

Item: July 23rd, 7:45 p.m., Cove City, again. Lester and Chester Boggs, a twin brother fishing tag team, along with friend Jim Everette, were braving the early evening humidity and violating curfew, as they tried their luck with the large mouth bass inhabiting the big lake. They had no idea just how unlucky their evening would be.

Lester swatted the back of his neck. "Damn, Ches, hand me some of that Off, and a Busch."

Chester regarded his twin mock seriously. "Just don’t drink the Off and rub beer all over yourself like last time . . . " He and Jim Everette laughed raucously.

Lester attempted giving the pair the finger, promptly dropping his rod and reel clattering to the small bass boat’s fish gut-strewn deck. Accompanied by a string of misused expletives, Lester bent over to retrieve his fishing equipment. Chester’s eyes widened and Jim screamed (in a very manly fashion, he would later claim).

Hovering tentatively above Lester’s back in the dark was an obscured, rapidly vibrating form, strikingly obvious due to the fact that, even shrouded in the blackness, it appeared to be half-again larger than Jim’s ham-sized head. A thick, viscous clear fluid dripped onto Lester’s torn, soiled T-shirt.

"Whut?" Lester started, then observed the pure terror on his brother’s and friend’s faces.

Chester Boggs reflexively pulled his chromed Smith & Wesson .357 Magnum from its worn leather holster and aimed at his brother’s back. Jim Everette got up to run and fell overboard into the black Okeechobee waters. (It was his claim that he fell; my suspicion is that he purposely jumped. In either case, the action doubtless saved his life.)

"NO!" Lester shrieked, thinking his brother was preparing to kill him. He would’ve been much better off. Something abruptly speared Lester through the back, piercing layers of skin, fat, muscle and sinew until finally impaling his rampaging heart.

What actually happened from that point is unclear. The ‘official’ autopsy reports contend that Chester and Lester Boggs both died almost simultaneously from massive coronary thrombosis, unrelated to the hazards normally related to nocturnal fishing activity. Jim Everette, after several beers and Jack Daniels’ shooters courtesy of the Lake Obsidian Tavern, related a quite different, quiet terrifying story.

The big gun fell to the deck, thumb-cocked, and discharged, briefly and indistinctly illuminating the dark form hovering directly over Lester’s heart. Accompanied by a shrill humming that sounded like small aircraft landing, Chester was abruptly enveloped by a dozen or more of the black shadows, waving his arms and screaming frightfully. Mr. Everette swore he could hear loud slurping sounds coming from the boat. "Sounded like a buncha teenagers down to the Seven-Eleven sucking down Slurpees." Jim Everette said he treaded water for more than two hours, daring only to take a quick breath through his nose every several moments, for fear of being the "Black Death’s" next victim. Finally, assuring himself that they had left, he fearfully dog-paddled toward the drifting boat.

An arm dangled over the side, the middle finger dipping into the dark waters. The skin was wrinkled, pruned as if it had been under water for an extended period of time. Everette once saw an unfortunate fisherman, what the Coasties called a ‘floater’, who had been retrieved after a week in the big lake, and the mottled, ruined skin looked similar.

He finally mustered enough courage to hoist himself above eye level to the railing, straining to listen for the high-pitched, menacing droning that had been the harbinger of doom for his twin friends. He said he screamed aloud (again) when he saw what had happened to the Boggs Brothers. I imagine he actually urinated on and quite probably defecated himself.

Both brothers appeared desiccated, as if all fluids had been drawn from their bodies. There were large, oozing puncture marks surrounded by virulent red welts. Worst of all, Lester Boggs was actually still alive. "Heeeeeellllp meeeeeee . . . " he croaked. There would be no helping Lester. Before Jim Everette’s eyes, both brothers’ shriveled flesh turned a violent, mottled purple and black, and then – by his account – began to melt bloodily from their bones, falling to the boat deck in a series of wet, greasy splats. Still staring at him, Lester’s pleading eyes deteriorated into something that resembled curdled milk, and dribbled down the exposed cheekbones. Ultimately, nothing remained except two skeletons, and a boat sloshing liquified, lifeless junk. Everette said he blanked out after that and knew nothing until he woke up in the hospital the next day.

Of course, none of Mr. Everette’s terrifying story can be corroborated, since what little remained of the Boggs Brothers was ‘accidentally’ cremated courtesy of the Okeechobee County Coroner’s Office, and all tissue and blood samples were conveniently misplaced or destroyed.

I came into it a few days after the Boggs Brothers incident. I wheeled my tired ‘65 Mustang into the parking space marked ‘Editor’ in the small, dilapidated strip mall just outside Lake Obsidian, which housed my paper, the Sentinel. My employee, receptionist Betty, was sitting just where I had left her the day before, transfixed before the image of Jerry Springer refereeing a family of inbreds. A randomly tossed bonbon ricocheted from her mouth and bounced across the floor, but she kept chewing anyway.

"Hello, Betty, my dear. Lovely as ever," I beamed, "Any messages?"

Without looking up, she replied, "You’re kidding, right?"

I gave her my most winning smile. "On both counts, love." She re immersed herself in the televised madness as I threw my jacket and hat in the general vicinity of the coat rack, and sat at my alleged desk. Firing up my trusty IBM laptop, I hammered out a quick editorial about the town’s most recent ridiculous initiative to purchase ten thousand acres of worthless swamp land just east of town. I had just mustered the appropriate amount of venomous sarcasm when the phone rang.

"Sheriff," Betty announced. Thankfully, a Metamucil commercial had been extolling the numerous virtues of fiber when the phone made its plaintive cry.

Sheriff John Glenn Sharkey and I had a relationship that was long and bloody, and yet he was one of the rare few I have ever called friend. Sharkey had been a Navy SEAL, trained in death, blood and destruction. Burned out over the years, he elected to move to the quiet village of Lake Obsidian with his family and run for county sheriff. A decorated veteran, he won hands down. As it happened, however, he would see more death and horror in this small town than he could have ever imagined.

"Yeah, Shark?" I queried without preamble.

"Mr. Kovacs, I need you." The voice was terse, much too formal for the man I had gone through so much with. Not to mention all the horror stories over beers at the Lake Obsidian Tavern.

"But of course, Mr. Bell." There was a pleading silence from the other end.

"You got someone sitting on your lap, Shark?"

"My office?" He exhaled, exasperated. "Please?" This couldn’t be good.

"Okay, Glenn. I’m on my way."

The last time Glenn Sharkey had been this laconic -- and at the same time, terrified -- we both were nearly killed. I headed to his office, posthaste.

They were all gathered in Sharkey’s cramped, private office. The Mayor, Harlan Orison, was there. The Assistant County Coroner, Dr. Lucy McEvoy, known not so affectionately as ‘Lucretia McEvil’, was also there, holding forth with her inimitable cool irritability. She was clearly annoyed at my arrival.

"Sharkey," she practically screamed. "You didn’t tell me that – that parasite was going to be here!"

"Why, thank you, Lucretia," I countered. "Autopsied anybody alive today?"

She shot me a smouldering glare. "Not yet."

I gulped in spite of myself.

Sharkey rolled his eyes. He’d seen this act before. "Dr. McEvoy, please. You know I value Charles’ input. I think in your heart of hearts, you do too."

"Heart? Yeah, right." I murmured.

"Listen, you little – " had she not been a quite lovely shade of dark mocha, her face would’ve flushed scarlet.

Sharkey really looked bad. His eyes were sunken, his hair shot almost completely gray. He almost looked as old as me. Almost.

"Please," he pleaded. I nearly felt sorry for him. "Charles, what do you make of this?" He handed me an eight by ten glossy, the stock in trade crime scene photo.

In the bottom of a fishing boat, the skeletal remains of the Boggs Brothers floated in the gelatinous soup that used to be their bodies. Nonplused, I tossed the grotesque image back on his desk.

"Looks like a fishing trip gone bad to me. Maybe should’ve brought along some sandwiches or Twinkies or something."

Dr. McEvoy snorted. Mayor Harlan looked as though he might swallow his tongue. Sharkey was used to me, though. "What could do this?"

I retrieved the photo. "How long?"

"They went out on the lake Friday night. Found them Saturday afternoon."

"Well, Sharkey, you know the critters out in the swamp . . . "

Finally, Dr. McEvoy spoke up, albeit quietly, sans her usual bluster. "No. Nothing I’ve ever seen could do this. Nothing in nature, at least."

I almost smiled. They were all absolutely, quietly terrified. One of the few luxuries of living as long as I have and witnessing the unimaginable horrors I have witnessed is that practically nothing scares you.

"Serial killer, then? This state is a magnet for nut cases." I handed that one to Lucretia on a silver platter, but she didn’t bite.

"Maybe," Sharkey said doubtfully. "Maybe. Charles, this happened near Cove City. We discovered a similar skeleton just outside Lake Obsidian this morning. There have been several other unconfirmed unexplained deaths in the area."

I looked at their frightened, hopeful faces. Harlan’s face was hovering around pale green, McEvoy was pensive, and Sharkey looked like he had just been given a suicide mission. I shrugged, headed for the door.

"I’ll see what’s out on the loose."

"Kovacs . . . " It was Sharkey.

I inclined my head in his direction at the door. He was looking at me as though he might never see me again – which, at my age, is always a possibility. "Charles, be careful."

I saluted slovenly, mock cavalierly. "Of course, mother!"

First stop, the outskirts of town and the modestly splendid dwelling of one Professor Erich Von Ehrlich. Von Ehrlich was the antithesis of this broken-down old reporter, although he was roughly my age. He had a mane of thick silver hair and a neatly cropped van dyke. He also dressed like the millionaire he was, twelve hundred dollar three-piece black suit, felt fedora with the brim snapped rakishly over his right eye. Von Ehrlich had been the lead tenured professor of psychology at the prestigious University of Austria at Vienna in the mid-1960's until his wife had been found inexplicably murdered in their home. Naturally, he was the prime suspect initially, finally exonerated after weeks of investigation determined that the time of death concurred with the Professor’s appearance at a psychiatric conference at the university. Von Ehrlich developed a strong interest in the paranormal at that point, focusing his efforts – and his inherited millions – on the investigation into what he believed to be the supernatural demise of his beloved wife. He kept a picture of her – her corpse in quiet, forever repose to be precise – on his desk. Charming.

"Good to see you again, Charles," Von Ehrlich said in his thick Austrian accent. "Please come in."

His deaf mute assistant, a huge, muscle-bound Swede named Sven brought tea. "Thanks for seeing me on short notice, Professor."

Von Ehrlich spread his arms in welcome. "You are always welcome here, my friend." He sipped his tea. "This is regarding the deaths?"

I slipped a little bourbon from a flask into my tea. "Yeah. Got anything?"

He studied his tented fingertips. "As bizarre as these deaths are, Charles, it is my educated guess that they are not supernatural at all. The hand of man is definitely at work here." He smiled. "Technology rearing its ugly head once more, I should think. A starting place for you might well be the North Bay Nuclear Research and Development Facilty.  I believe they were having some 'problems' there just before the deaths started."

I was scribbling furiously. "Gotcha. You’re not interested in this at all?"

Von Ehrlich exhaled tiredly and adjusted his vest. "Only casually, Charles. I have other concerns at this time." He glanced furtively around the room as if someone – something – unseen were listening to us.

Sounded like a can of worms I was reluctant to open, so I thanked the good professor and showed myself out, under the watchful eye of the silent sentinel named Sven.

Next stop, a thirty-five-mile trip north and an old friend of mine from Chicago. One who was intimately knowledgeable about the reared ugly head of technology as well as gruesome deaths.

Gordon Spangler had been a morgue attendant for many years for the Cook County Coroner’s Office. He had the great fortune of winning the Illinois lottery several years ago, only to nearly kill himself with the first purchase from the proceeds of his winnings. Gordy smashed his new Corvette convertible into a retaining wall on the Adelei Stevenson Parkway and wound up a paraplegic. He immediately retired to Central Florida, building a huge estate, complete with an Olympic-sized swimming pool that always seemed to have a plethora of bikini-clad young ladies in attendance.

"Charles, you old cadaver," Gordy said in his high-pitched voice, "great to see ya!"

"How’s it goin’, Gordy?"

"Ah, you know, I’ve got my work with the Paralysis Foundation. And there’s always the Spangler Bikini team . . . "

"Yes. Yes, quite impressive, indeed," I said, trying in vain not to stare at a very buxom young lady in three tiny swatches of gauzy cloth held together by dental floss, who was bringing me an ice cold beer. "Er, why thank you dear." She smiled, nearly blinding me.

"Charles . . . ?"

"Wha – ?"