Every day, a truck laden with motor parts of every shape and size would rumble throughout the region, delivering the goods to countless garages, body shops and the like. Normally Philly would be the one at the wheel, as he had been for years. There truly wasn’t a more stellar reputation than his in this business, to the point that some clients would refuse to do business with anyone but him.

It goes without saying then, that whenever he went missing the whole circuit knew that something unusual was going on.

Usually Philly never took a day off, but this was different. Today was Friday, which gave him an extra day to plan and prepare for the stakeout that weekend. He still believed that it wasn’t a good idea, and he still wished that Sylvester would simply drop the matter and move on. But Sylvester was resolute; the degree to which the latter became agitated and aggravated upon hearing the slightest hint of doubt in Philly’s voice grew more dire with every passing second.

Time flew past them at an astonishing pace: before long, Saturday night was upon them. It was too late to turn around, too late to change their minds. They were at the clearing, they were ready. A pig carcass with the liver intact had been planted at the foot of Beetlewood, with the gown sitting on top of it and perfume having been poured all over. Philly looked on concernedly as Sylvester put the last pieces in place, glancing at the bizarre altar, then at his distraught companion, then back at the pagan-like installation. But he said nothing. He didn’t want to push Sylvester over whatever edge the latter seemed to be teetering on; the quicker they went through the motions and passed the night without incident, the better.

To the untrained eye, nothing about Sylvester looked particularly out of place. He was a far cry from the trembling paranoid wreck from the past few days, for sure. In spite of the forest being as haunting as ever, he dealt with it quite surprisingly well. Gone was the sense of helplessness and isolation. He had a plan, he was prepared; he was absolutely certain that things would work out. He felt in control, especially now that he understood more about his adversary. He had a visual impression of what it looked like, of what to expect. He was aware of the devious imp’s behavioural patterns. He was wary of its treacherous ways.

Plus, he now had an ally at his side. Indeed, Sylvester had everything in his possession to ensure the good functioning of his operation. He had learned from his failures; he would turn the previous rout into a shining victory.

He looked to the heavens, where Marigold now resided; the thought of her looking down at him was incredibly soothing and comforting. Deep down inside he knew full well that she trusted him to make things right: to find her violator and repay him in kind. As he let the bewitching prospect sink in, the sunlight began seeping into the earth. Blue skies slowly mutated into a twisted swirl of ochre and crimson, which the creeping, star-spangled void swallowed whole as dusk gave way to the dead of night. Sylvester stood over the altar and drank in the sight of the night gown one last time before turning to Philly and putting on his night-vision goggles. His compatriot nodded grimly and did the same; with that, they went off to their perches and sat tight.

They hung precariously in thin air, roughly ten feet above the ground, positioned in separate trees across the clearing from each other. Set up in a deadly, inescapable crossfire, they aimed their piston A.R.s at ground level, zeroed in on the altar. Each had plenty of extra ammunition, their chambers were hot. Both of their index fingers caressed their respective triggers, itching for an end to all this madness.

Sylvester couldn’t wait to let loose a hail of bullets at the object of his rage. Philly however, was hoping that the complete opposite would happen. Yes, he was curious about what he had seen on the camera reel, yes, he was ready for anything and make no mistake, he would be the first one to open fire should the diabolical creature manifest any sort of hostility. But Sylvester’s strained state of mind, despite not having proven itself to be outright maniacal so far, was what concerned him the most. He wasn’t sure how Sylvester would react in the face of the fiend should it materialize, nor was he confident in his ability to keep everyone safe if everything went terribly wrong…

“You feel that?” Philly mumbled on his end of their two-way radio.

Sylvester nodded instinctively but said nothing. He was too focused on monitoring the nefarious cauldron of anxiety and paranoia currently bubbling within. His breathing was hurried, frantic; his pulse was through the roof. He tried to scan the bushes below through the sights of his rifle but was alarmed by the spastic, jerked hand movements that came out as a result. Even with the cool breeze, a cataract of sweat beaded on his forehead; as he wiped it off with his hand, he stretched his fingers out before his eyes and found them to be trembling uncontrollably.

“It’s called buck fever, it’s what you get when you see a big pair of antlers for the first time…”

“I’m not seeing any antlers, Phil,” Sylvester retorted.

“I’m not saying you are. I’m talking about our Ted Bundy: he’s hiding right now but he’s here, he’s lurking around somewhere. That’s what you’re feeling right now: his presence…”

Philly fell silent, leaving Sylvester to panic alone for an excruciatingly long moment. His bulging eyes darted to and fro as a familiar sense of dread and helplessness crept into his mind, devouring whatever confidence or courage he had left. It was almost midnight; once again, the forest was coming alive all around him. The ferns became vile. The trees took on that kind of intimidating and hostile aspect which was only possible in the darkest of nights.

“It’s kind of like the same feeling I used to get on patrol, when Johnny Jihad was about to pop one of us right in the brain bucket… Woah!”

A maelstrom of screeching and flapping wings erupted out of the Beetlewood clearing as dozens of birds, none of which were supposed to be active at night, fled the premises all at once, suggesting that the two hunters were not the only ones to sense the insidious presence creeping about…

Startled and strained, Sylvester’s eyes locked onto the Beetlewood pine. Strange things were happening down there: the tree seemed to quiver and contort, seemingly possessed by a malevolent spirit. Before Sylvester’s crazed eyes, the impenetrable boils of needles and twigs swelled to monstrous proportions, becoming veritable clawed hands that protruded from the trunk. They swiped at the air frantically: hundreds of spindly, hairy hands, sprouting from thorny forearms, swatting at unseen airborne imps…

He heard tortured screams blare out of the multiple-limbed abomination, hellish sounds that turned his blood vessels into frozen canals. Gripped by unspeakable horror he opened his mouth to holler, except nothing but a muted squeak came out. His lungs were collapsing, all that was left in him was a mediocre death rattle. But over the indiscernible madness blasting out of the evergreen, he did barely manage to catch wind of Philly shouting:


The huntsman’s voice was enough to dispel Sylvester’s nightmarish visions. The tree was back to its original self, completely inanimate. But what he now saw through the lens of reality was even more distressing…

For some reason, Philly had descended from his perch and now stood near the altar, looking up at Sylvester’s perch. He had his back turned to some freakish, hunched over apparition, coming straight out of the game cam footage…

The liver-snatcher: it was there! Right there! Behind him!

Sylvester opened his mouth but nothing remotely understandable came out. All that Philly heard was terrified screaming, which did little to alert him to the danger behind him. No, Philly simply stared confusedly at the paralyzed Sylvester, whose trigger hand was now curled up against his chest powerlessly. The latter had completely lost control upon beholding the grainy, lime-smothered sight of the revenant.

Out of nowhere, Philly smiled dumbly and pointed back at the creature, as if it was a personal acquaintance of his…

“Sly, I found her,” the huntsman chuckled into his mouthpiece. “She’s here. I found her…”

Before Sylvester could even begin to grasp this bizarre development in the unfolding situation, the revenant put one of its emaciated, three-fingered paws on Philly shoulder. From underneath the torrents of thick, greasy hair tumbling from its scalp and concealing every inch of its appearance, the creature brandished its other arm: the grotesquely elongated blade appendage that had been used to fell the bear previously.

“Philly, no!” Sylvester somehow found the sanity to blurt out, but to no avail.

The bearded huntsman’s expression soured instantly as the creature stuck its blade arm into his back. For a few terrible seconds, his head jerked up and down. He choked and gagged on his own blood as the liver thief’s instrument scoured his innards for any of the precious organs it so desperately lusted for…

Eventually the creature was satisfied. Both arms retracted under its coat as the fiend fell back to all fours and bolted out of the clearing, leaving Philly to drop to his knees and collapse sideways. It was only then that Sylvester found the strength to untangle himself from his perch and slither back to the forest floor. He was in shock; it was a wonder that he was able to articulate his friend’s name as he yelled it over and over again while rushing to the fallen huntsman’s side.

“Sly… Ss-ss…” gurgled a barely conscious Philly. “I… I saw her…”

“What? What happened, damn you!” Sly half-whimpered and half-shouted.

“Mm-mm-my mom… I swear it was her… that… that thing… it looked like my mom…”

“Oh God…”

Blood pooled underneath Philly at an alarming rate as he struggled stalwartly to keep his eyes open and prevent them from rolling underneath their eyelids. But for all this Goliath’s heroic efforts, he couldn’t keep his lips from turning blue or the rest of his body from shutting down…

“Sly!” Philly gasped as he reached up and grabbed Sylvester by the collar. “She… she took it… my… don’t… don’t let her take it…”

With that the huntsman breathed his last. Sylvester abruptly fell silent; he felt utterly gutted, there was nothing left inside. It was all so surreal, he couldn’t believe what was happening…

Was this really Phil in front of him? Surely the pine tree’s multiple armed form hadn’t been real; how then could he be certain that any of this was actually happening? He looked around him, questioning every detail about what his own senses were reporting. Had he really heard the birds exploding out of their nests? Did he really see the liver thief creeping up behind Philly? Was Philly even here?

Was the scent of lavender actually contaminating his nostrils at the moment? Or was it a sick trick of the mind? For some godforsaken reason the latter became extremely important: was there or was there not the smell of lavender hanging in the air? Streaming in around the sides of his face, coursing over his cheeks…

Sneaking up behind him.

His animal instincts kicked in, taking precedence over his exhausted, utterly annihilated mind. His rifle was still strung to his bungee sling, it had never left his side: swift as lightning, he grabbed ahold of the weapon’s grip, whipped around and pulled the trigger before he even knew where the device was pointing.

As the first few shots rang out, time crawled to a halt before his bulging eyes. The liver thief was right there in front of him, looming over its kneeling prey with absolute decisiveness. It was a terrifying sight to behold: a chameleon-like monster, seemingly caught in the middle of shape-shifting.

From the chest upward, it had taken on the shape of Marigold as Sylvester last saw her: a petite young woman, the prettiest he had ever seen, dressed in her favourite night gown. There was that heart-melting smile and those blue eyes that pierced Sylvester’s soul. She also had her hat on for some reason; Sylvester wasn’t really sure why. This dissonance seemed to hinder the creature’s transformation in particular, as it struggled to shed the rest of its actual appearance like snakeskin.

The lower half of the creature looked identical to the dirty, wool-cloaked mess from the camera footage: its legs were bare, displaying gnarled, bark-like skin and deformed feet with toes like the roots of a willow tree. Although the sleeves of its cloak hid the lesser appendage, what did stick out of the right side was the elongated blade device which it had used on the bear and, more recently, on Philly. He got a clearer look at the blade as the creature lifted it above its head, revealing something unlike anything Sylvester had ever seen: shaped much like a tree branch, the formation appeared to have taken the place of its right hand index finger and looked like it was composed of a strange, obsidian-like material. Being thickest near the hand, it became sharper and thinner until it reached the extremity of its needly tip.

Sylvester couldn’t help but stare at the formidable blade, raised up in preparation for the final strike. Surely, he thought, this was the end of him…

Except that a flurry of sparks burst out of the creature’s hand. Sylvester could only assume that one of his bullets had hit the mark as the sordid attacker withdrew immediately, shrieking in pain and shock. As the creature retreated into the darkness of the nearby bushes, Sylvester suddenly found himself sitting alone next to his inert friend.

Something glimmered in a patch of moss on the forest floor beside him. He reached out and grasped the object: it was an obsidian splinter, broken off of the liver fiend’s finger…

He had no strength left to get up and leave. So he contented himself with sitting in place for the remainder of the night, rocking back and forth mindlessly while staring blankly at the piece of flint he nursed in his hands. He wondered how such a material could grow on a living being, how such malice could come out of his cherished woodlands.

There was nothing else he could do except hold on to the precious fragment: the only tangible trace of the liver snatcher he would ever have.

Stay tuned next time, for the GRAND SEASON FINALE…