On occasion Melissa mentions finding footprints near the house as if someone with bare feet had been creeping around the cabin at night. She mentions them to Earl who then beats the oldest son, while demanding an explanation for this prank. Though the boy confesses to nothing, Earl still pulls out one of his son’s teeth as punishment.
One night Alice Dobbs wakes the whole house with her screams. Her parents run to her. She claims to have seen an inhuman face peering in through the bedroom window. Finding no sign of anything Earl dismisses the event as a nightmare. Still, Alice insists she saw something. He slaps her for back-talking, and orders no one to ever mention the incident again. Melissa continues to keep her doubts to herself.
Earl begins constructing coffins for the family. He feels certain judgment day is at hand, and he wants to be prepared. He cuts off his own finger to demonstrate to the family the impermanence of flesh. In an attempt to drive home the point he grabs the youngest boy and attempts to slice off his finger as well. Melissa tries to stop Earl. He knocks her out, and when she wakes up hours later she finds her son passed out in bed, his hand missing. She decides to flee that night, but something unforeseen occurs.
Alice has developed an actual fever, a fact Melissa tries to hide from Earl. Despite her best efforts, Earl discovers the illness, and drags the sick child into the shed, padlocking her inside. He says a prayer for her, promising that god’s plague will only kill her if she deserves it. So it was the search party found Alice in the shed, boiling hot with fever and half starved.
She didn’t know how long she’d been there. As for her family, well, the townsfolk dismissed her story as a fever dream. It's easy to see why.
She claimed to have seen several gangly, thin people creeping around the house late at night. Alice only managed to catch glimpses peering through the food slot in the shed door. The white people were naked, but some appeared to be wearing necklaces made of sticks and bone. Just thinking of their faces almost makes her pass out. These savage looking people slipped into the cabin, and not long after Alice heard cries of terror, agony, her infant brother wailing, then silence. The white people dashed out of the house carrying, what she presumed to be, the corpses of her family on their shoulders.
Though no one really believes the story most people keep such thoughts to themselves. Some men go out to search the woods, assuming they'll find a deranged Earl Dobbs out there somewhere, but the search proves fruitless. The town then changes focus, deciding to make sure Alice is well taken care of.
For the next several years Alice stays with the Larson family, who used to be close friends of the Dobbs. She seems to be fine, though she has great difficulty sleeping. Or perhaps it should be said she rarely chooses to sleep, preferring instead to keep an eye out her bedroom window for what she refers to as The Bone People. Making matters worse, she claims to catch glimpses of them creeping through the town at night, moving in stealthy almost animalistic ways.
The Larsons do their best to be accommodating without ever really supporting these beliefs. Alice withdraws more and more until one night the whole Larson household is ripped awake by screams and the sound of glass shattering. Mr. Larson runs to Alice’s room. He finds broken glass strewn across the floor. Alice’s bed is empty.
A search party sets out straight away. Hunting the woods by lamplight, they find nothing until the following morning. Around dawn a few searchers decide to follow an old game trail. They discover fresh tracks. Footprints lead them to a sandstone butte, about a half mile from the Dobbs’ cabin. A single bloody print told the searchers to look over the cliff. There they found fourteen year old Alice Dobbs, dead at the bottom of the butte.
Despite the somewhat bland academic way Sara related the account, George found himself glancing around half expecting to catch sight of Alice’s Bone People. Sara turned into the hotel parking lot.
George asked, “So what’s your take on it?”
Sara shrugged, “What’s to take? Earl Dobbs went insane, and killed his family. Alice couldn’t deal with it so she made up something based on a nightmare she had earlier.”
George cocked an eyebrow, “End of story?”
“End of story,” Sara tossed a sidewise glance at him, “What else is there?”
“Why did she kill herself?”
“She was cracked in the head,” sensing a discomfort with her blunt appraisal Sara added, “She lived with an abusive lunatic. It messed her up to the point she detached from reality. People can hallucinate without drugs, I’ve seen it. She got chased off that cliff by her own nightmares. It’s sad, tragic, but it’s not supernatural.”
Climbing out of the car George asked, “So why didn’t Earl kill Alice?”
“He left her to die in that shed,” Sara answered without looking at him. She slung her backpack on. She wanted to go organize her maps for tomorrow then get to bed. Tomorrow would be a long day.
Catching up to her – she always moved faster than he expected – George said, “Did you ever consider maybe her father came back for her? That’s who she was running from?”
“Yeah, but that doesn’t really change much.” Stopping at the front entrance Sara said, “We’ll never really know, and things remain anything but supernatural."
George glanced back at the dark parking lot wondering why he wanted it to be otherwise; why it seemed preferable a tribe of nightmares roamed the Maigre woods. Because, he thought, then something not human committed the atrocity. The world somehow seemed less frightening if monsters existed committing the most horrific acts, as if true evil couldn’t be human.