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July 27, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Note: There is some gore in this pasta. If you believe this will bother you, please skip today’s story.

His hazel eyes skimmed over the words for what he knew had to be the twentieth time. His pupils darted back and forth over the lines, dancing rhythmically as they flowed toward the bottom of the page yet again. Braxton could feel his heartbeat quicken with each successive pass over the words. Small beads of perspiration began to form on his forehead, causing it to glisten under the soft, white light shining down from above his head. He felt a sudden pain in his jaw; he unclenched his teeth, which had tightened without his realizing it, relieving the growing pressure in his jaws. He could feel a low tremble building within his muscles, a product of the fear that was beginning to course through his veins, turning his blood icy.

He inhaled deeply, holding it momentarily before releasing it in a powerful whoosh. He closed his eyes tightly. He stood like that, motionless, for almost a full minute, the only movement coming from his fingers, which ran lightly over the pale white sheet of paper with the typed message. He listened to the low sshhh sound that wafted up to his ears from the paper. Before realizing that he was doing it, Braxton tore the paper in half and crumpled the two pieces into a tiny ball and hurled it across his small living room, where it bounced lightly from the wall and fell behind the tattered couch.

Braxton put his face in his hands, trying to regain his composure. Tears of fear and rage stung the corners of his eyes. He let out a scream, which was muffled by the palms of his hands. He raised his hands and ran his fingers roughly through his dark hair. His mind reeled at the implications contained within those now-crumpled words. Questions clouded his thoughts, prohibiting any course of action from being taken.

Where did this letter come from? Who brought it? How did this person get in and out of his house? And, most importantly, how did this person know the things that they did? Hadn’t he always been careful? He had always planned meticulously; hadn’t he?

Braxton felt his knees tremble slightly as his legs tried to give out. The room tilted to the left as a wave of lightheadedness washed over him, almost sending him to the dirty, yellowed linoleum floor. He reached out blindly, grasping until his fingers found purchase, feeling the smooth, yet slightly bumpy, texture of duct tape. He slid the barstool, well past its best days, towards him, scraping his palm on a torn piece of the vinyl cushion as he did so, and dropped down onto it. Using the first two fingers on each hand, he rubbed his temples softly, trying to focus.

This person obviously knows me, he thought. Somehow they know things that they have no way of knowing. In all the time he had led his double life, carrying out his acts of mischief (to him it was merely mischief. To others it was far more serious), he had never slipped up. He never spoke of his deeds. Under no circumstances did he keep souvenirs or trophies. A single camera, Polaroid or otherwise, was never used. And every single field trip that he took was at least three hours away from his home. He always did the proper reconnaissance beforehand, checking the weather, traffic flow of the town, and the habits of the local civilians. So how could this person possibly know what they do?

Braxton opened his eyes and sat upright as a sudden revelation, what he knew to be nothing but pure truth, dawned on him. The thought came with such ferocity that it almost bowled him over; literally almost knocking him to the floor as he sat up straight.

It’s a hoax, he thought. Someone broke in and left that note because they thought that it would be funny. It just struck a nerve because, by some stroke of luck, the house they chose happened to contain a resident with secrets.

Braxton stood up and began pacing the length of his small house. He nodded thoughtfully as the idea worked itself out within his mind. He slowly convinced himself that this could be the only plausible explanation. The idea that someone might know who he actually was was inconceivable. It was downright ludicrous.

What did the note really say, anyway, his train of thought continued as he stepped out of the shower and began to towel himself off. I know exactly who you are and exactly what you’ve done? Well, that was just too vague for his taste. If anyone really knew anything, they’d say something to prove what they knew. Give an example to authenticate.

Despite his best attempts to reassure himself, Braxton found himself obsessed with the locks, certain that he had forgotten to lock one, leaving him unable to go to bed. He walked through the small, two-bedroom house checking each lock, trying to raise the window afterwards. Once he had made his rounds, he began at the beginning once more, double- and triple-checking the locks.

Stop! he screamed to himself on his fourth pass through the house. This is insane. This type of scared, nervous behavior is the intended result. I won’t succumb to that. Now, it’s time to go to bed. Leave the locks alone.

And, surprisingly enough, he was able to do just that. He curled up in his bed, grasping his pillow in a tight embrace, and drifted almost immediately to sleep. He slept that way until he awoke the next morning, when he was greeted with absolute terror.

The thin band of yellow morning sunlight slowly stretched across the bed from the crack in the curtains as the sun rose. Braxton rolled over, still clutching dearly at his pillow, shifting the light into his eyes. His eyelids fluttered lightly as he gingerly rose from his sleep. He yawned loudly and stretched, groaning as he did so. His back popped audibly, and he chuckled at the thought of his age finally beginning to catch up to him.

“Good morning, Braxton,” a gruff male voice said from behind him.

Braxton flipped over quickly and scrambled away from the intruder. Reaching the edge of his mattress, his hand slipped, sending him toppling backwards. His head made a hollow thonk! as it connected with the floor. A piercing pain tore through his mind, and he could feel a trickle of warmth that he assumed was blood begin to run down the back of his head and neck. He pushed the pain aside, focusing his attention on the sudden unwanted guest.

“Who the hell are you?” he wanted to scream. He wanted to shout at the intruder. To demand answers. He opened his mouth to do just that, but only a small squeak managed to escape his throat. Instead, Braxton did the only thing that his body would allow; he continued backing away, relishing the illusion of safety that the distance managed to bring, until his back hit the wall just three feet away. He stared at the intruder, eyes wide. His breath was harsh and ragged. He inhaled deeply, unable to control himself. A wave of lightheadedness filled him, the quick, panicked breaths threatening to lose consciousness as he hyperventilated.

“Calm down,” the stranger instructed. “You shouldn’t lose consciousness right now. We have some things to discuss, you and I. I would think that it’s in your best interest to pay attention.”

The stranger sat in the old leather chair in the corner of Braxton’s bedroom. He was lounged back comfortably; legs spread wide, elbows resting on the arms of the chair. A sense of utter calmness radiated from him, as though breaking and entering was the most natural act in the world. A pair of smoky grey eyes stared out from behind the black ski mask that he wore. Those eyes were cold, calculating, showing no remorse. Light glinted from the scalpel that he held in his hands as he twitched it absentmindedly.

“Wh… who are you?” Braxton’s voice cracked and quavered, despite his best attempts to keep it level.

“That isn’t important.” The stranger leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees. “You may call me Teacher, for I am here to educate you.”

Braxton’s mind reeled. He fought desperately to understand the situation, but comprehension stayed just beyond his grasp. His face twisted into a look of confusion.

“You have led a horrible life,” the stranger continued, seeing the bewildered look that Braxton wore. “Your education will be one to show you the consequences of such a life; that is why I am your teacher. It has fallen upon me to show you the error of your ways.”

Braxton opened his mouth to protest, to deny the allegations that had been laid at his feet, but immediately closed it, a single sound unuttered, when the stranger raised his hand and shook his head. The gravity in the intruder’s movement said all that he needed to know: there was no bullshitting his way out of this. No quick thinking, followed up with expertly chosen words, would convince this threatening persona that he had broken into the wrong house, chosen the wrong pupil. Instead, Braxton remained silent. What the stranger said next was enough to confirm both his conclusion and his worst fears.

“August 10, 1994,” he began. “You were ten years old. In those days you had an affinity for fire. That night you snuck out of your window, a box of matches that sat on the mantel in hand. You wandered the streets for over an hour before finding the right location. It was a small, wooden house a few blocks from your own. You struck the match, using it to light a pile of dried sticks and leaves that you had placed by the front door.”

Braxton’s eyes continued to grow as he listened to the details of his life being recalled to him. The interloper spoke in a monotone voice, reciting the tale as if he were reading from cue cards.

“When the pile was lit, you rang the doorbell and ran. What you were unaware of was that an elderly woman lived there, all alone. She had taken out her hearing aid before bed, so she didn’t hear the doorbell. It didn’t take long for the old, dried wood to catch fire, quickly setting the house ablaze. The woman died in her bed. She never had a chance.”

The Teacher stood up, staring down at Braxton with reproach. “That was the first person to die at your hands, but it wasn’t the last. Although it was an accident, you found that you had a taste for murder. You craved it. It became an addiction, your own private heroin.”

He began to pace slowly around the room, hands resting behind his back, his empty hand clasped loosely around his wrist. “The time has come to right the wrongs. Now is the time of your redemption.”

“How do you know all this?” The terror rang through clearly in Braxton’s words, teeming behind each syllable.

“I don’t think that really matters; do you? The fact remains that I know. I know each and every detail of your horrid actions. Everything.”

He stopped pacing and stared down at Braxton, his cold eyes studying him calculatedly. Braxton felt as if those eyes saw past his outer appearance. It was almost as if they peered beyond the physical and into the metaphysical, into the nature of his soul. How else would he know such things? Those were things that no one had any way of knowing, or even had any right to know.

The black ski mask shifted, and Braxton knew that the man was smiling beneath that layer of cotton.

“I even know about the man that you planned to kill when you took your vacation from work in two weeks. You planned to do it slowly, to try out torture for a change.” His voice was grave. Braxton knew that the smile he wore beneath the mask was only for show. Perhaps it held back that raw emotion that he could sense lying behind the words, waiting to break forth.

“Jackson Humphries is his name,” he continued. “A middle-aged, mid-level executive at a pharmaceutical company. He’s a lonely man, but a good man. He gives regularly to charity, volunteers at a homeless shelter two weekends a month. You intend to subdue him at his house, keep him in his basement, and slowly torture him until he begs for death.”

Braxton was taken aback. The precision in these accusations was uncanny. It just wasn’t possible. What was going on here? Was this strange person some sort of demon sent to punish him for his deeds? How could he know things that he had only thought of, things that had never been voiced aloud, let alone written?

His eyes shifted upwards. He was just beneath his bedroom window. The bed separated him from the stranger. If he were to act quickly, he could be on his feet and dive through the window before the intruder had time to react. Braxton shifted his weight. His muscles tensed, prepared to move as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

“I don’t think that it would be wise to try and escape.” It was almost as if he had read Braxton’s mind. “To do so would only cause me to chase you. That would anger me. Anger could cause me to skip to the last lesson of your education, the lesson reserved for the possibility that you cannot or will not learn the others. Death.”

He was stuck and he knew it. Braxton decided on an alternate route. Simple denial. He licked his lips. Fear had sucked the moisture from his mouth, leaving only the horrid taste of morning breath in the barren wasteland that was his oral cavity. He took a deep breath. Here goes nothing.

“You’ve got the wrong guy,” he began. He no longer tried to hide the fear that drove his stammering words. Fear was good; it could destroy someone’s resolve. This he knew from experience. In the beginning of his mischief-making career, he had almost allowed several victims to slip through his grasp due to the weakening of his resolve from witnessing their absolute horror. He could only hope that the same was possible in this situation.

“I don’t know why you think I’ve done these things, but you’re mistaken.” He worked up some tears, letting them spill over and slide down his cheeks. He breathed in deep, wet sobs.

The stranger was over the bed in a flash, almost a blur of movement. He pressed the sliver of metal that was his scalpel blade, an eighth of an inch thick and sharpened to a deadly precision, against Braxton’s neck. Braxton didn’t need to see it to know that the blade was just above his carotid artery, the blade digging into his flesh. Only a bit more pressure, probably less than a foot-pound, and the vein would slice open, and he would bleed out in just a matter of minutes.

“Do. Not. Test. Me.,” the stranger commanded through clenched teeth. His face was inches from Braxton’s close enough that he could feel the weak puffs of breath, muffled by the mask. “I am giving you an opportunity to make amends, to rectify the wrongs that you have committed. Try my patience and I will kill you in ways so efficient that your final thoughts will be amazement at my prowess. Do you understand?” He pulled the blade from Braxton’s neck, revealing the thin cut that had been formed in his skin, a solitary bead of blood welling up.

“Yes,” Braxton stammered.

“Very well.” The stranger stood straight. He stared down at his pupil. “Sit on the bed. We’ve wasted enough time. Your lessons must begin now.”

“There are three lessons for you to learn,” the Teacher said once Braxton was situated on the foot of the bed. He stood across the room, leaning against the wall directly opposite Braxton. He had once again resumed the twirling of the scalpel. Whether his intention was to intimidate him, or if it was just a nervous habit, some deep need to keep his hands busy, Braxton knew not.

“Physical, mental, and emotional,” he continued. “Whenever you commit your heinous acts, you inflict pain of tremendous magnitude in these three areas on not only your victims, but their loved ones as well. It is for these reasons that you shall suffer greatly in these three areas. Do you understand what you are being told?”

Braxton nodded his understanding. He stared at the Teacher with a blank expression. Some part of him was still unable to accept that this was really happening. That part screamed that it wasn’t possible, that it was, absolutely had to be, a dream.

“I will not administer these punishments,” the Teacher went on to say. “There is no knowledge to be gained in this. Instead, it will be you who does this. Just as you administered this pain to your many victims. Your tasks will be set before you for you to accomplish on your own. Once these are completed, I will take my leave of you. Permanently. I will return later. Whether it be tonight, tomorrow, or next week, you will not know. You have until the sun sets to complete the tasks I have given you in their entirety.”

He crossed the room in a few quick strides. He leaned down, putting his face directly in front of Braxton’s, his hands resting on his bent knees. The anger in his eyes had dissipated, leaving only the gravity of his message.

“I cannot impress upon you enough the severity of the punishment should you fail to do as I have instructed. There is no escape from this. There is no ‘easy out’. You must follow the instructions to the letter. I will know if you do not. If you fail to do as I have asked, I will be forced to teach you the fourth and final lesson.”

Braxton, although terrified by what the answer would be, had to ask, “What’s the final lesson?”

“The answer should be obvious. Your education will end in the same place that your extracurricular activities did: death.”

Tears began to stream down Braxton’s face in thick rivers. He could feel them plopping gently onto his bare skin as they fell from his cheeks to his bare chest.

“Why are you doing this to me?” His voice was thick and watery.

“Why did you do what you did to the others? You must reform. You must learn the error of your ways. If you do not, you cannot be allowed to continue, to inflict this pain on anyone else. It ends today, one way or the other.”

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out three envelopes. In thick, black ink a number was printed in the center of each. He handed the envelopes to Braxton, who made no move to take them.

“Take them,” he commanded, his voice deep and guttural.

Tears fell with a renewed vigor as Braxton raised a shaking hand to receive the proffered envelopes. He wiped away the thick liquid that was running freely from his nose.

“Sunset tonight,” the Teacher reminded him. “Contacting the police will do nothing more than waste the precious time that you have. The fourth lesson will only be prolonged until they’re no longer protecting you. Like I said before, there is no escape.”

With that, he turned and left the room. His movements were quick and soundless, fluid and graceful.

Braxton sat, motionless, for almost a full minute. His entire body felt numb. Had that really just happened? If it weren’t for the envelopes that he held in his hand and the steady throb in his skull from falling from the bed in his mad scramble away upon awakening, he would be inclined to think that it hadn’t. Without moving his head, he cast his eyes downward in a desultory manner. He stared at the envelopes, seeing them, but still unable to feel them in his hand. Still in a daze, he stood and walked into the kitchen.

Pulling up the battered stool, he sat down at the counter and placed the envelopes on the counter before him. Spreading them out, he looked at each one closely. There was nothing extravagant about them, nothing more than plain, white envelopes. The numbers that had been printed on them were sequential, numbered one through three. He ran his fingers over the face of each envelope, then circled back, picking each one up and feeling it individually. Each of the three seemed to contain a single sheet of paper baring almost no weight whatsoever.

The thought crossed his mind to call the police. He dismissed this quickly, not seeing any way that this wouldn’t bring his favorite pastime to light. They would need an explanation, some reason as to why the psychopath had chosen him as a target. At best, the police would have no evidence, but would watch him carefully from now on. That would mean that he would have to quit. He didn’t think he could. Murder was like a drug, and he was addicted. Yes, he had found his own private heroin, without the use of a needle. Well, sometimes needles were used, but never on himself. He couldn’t help but smile at his own little joke.

He scooped up the envelope embossed with the number one. May as well get this over with. He glanced up at the clock on the stove in the kitchen. It read 8:07. He thought that the sun was setting around eight pm. That gave him about twelve hours to do whatever needed to be done. That should be plenty of time, right? He twirled the envelope in his hands for a moment, hesitating, before finally ripping the end off and sliding out the paper. He unfolded it quickly, his eyes widening as he read the words:


Before their deaths, you, intentionally or not, put each and every one of your victims through a rigorous mental torture. In the time before their deaths, they battled with themselves over several issues: why was this happening to them, what had they done to deserve such a fate, and, most importantly, whether they would live or die.

It is your turn. You know why this ordeal has been set before you. You have even been given the reason that you deserve this fate. Whether you live or die is completely up to you. In essence, your mental task is quite easy, compared to the trials of your victims. It is a challenge of memory. I want to see how much respect you have for your victims. This could possibly take all day, or it could take no more than an hour, to complete, it all depends on you.

Do you remember all of your victims? Or are they nothing more than tools to help you get your next fix, used and then discarded, from both mind and memory? We shall see.

Your eighth victim. Do you remember her? Do you remember where she lived? In that location her husband will be at the library all day. If you can get to him, find who he is, and confess every deed that you inflicted upon his wife to him, you may move on to the next task. He is well aware of your coming and the information that you bring to him. There are no cameras in the library; your identity will be safe, for now.

Braxton put the paper on the counter. He felt a burning in his chest and realized that he had forgotten to breathe. His hands trembled uncontrollably. Was he really meant to confess to the husband of his victim? Very well. If that was how it was to be, then so be it.

The name of his eighth victim jumped to his mind instantly. Tabitha Kinchen. He knew the names, faces, location, and how he disposed of each and every one of his multitude of victims, as unlikely as that may seem. From the moment that he had decided that he enjoyed killing and wished to pursue it further, he knew that he would never take a trophy. That would be reckless. It served as nothing more than the noose that tightened should the authorities ever catch wind of what was happening. No, he would not be so careless. Instead, he trained himself to remember each detail with clarity. Should he ever feel the need to reminisce, which he did frequently, as most do, all he had to do was look within himself to experience that joy and exaltation once more.

Braxton threw on some clothes: a pair of faded jeans and an old tee shirt. He grabbed a second shirt as he walked out of the bedroom. He grabbed his keys from the hook by the door and left his house quickly.

At this early hour, it took only twenty minutes to reach the small town where he had first spotted Tabitha. She was early in his career, before he had established his three hour boundary line, back when he was so naïve as to think that he couldn’t be caught, that he was smarter than the police. He had escaped capture and imprisonment several times before he rethought his plans and strategies, turning him into the efficient, ghost-like killer that he now was.

He parked his vehicle around the block from the library’s entrance. You could never be too careful as to who saw you coming and going. Grabbing the spare shirt, he tucked it into his back pocket snugly. He walked casually around the block and into the library.

He saw Tabitha’s husband almost instantly. He had watched the two together many times before he had ever approached her for the first time: eating dinner, leaving the movies, strolls through the park, once they even forgot to shut the curtains in the room and he watched as they made love (he watched for only a moment. He wasn’t a pervert. He never touched or raped his victims, male or female). Even if he hadn’t previously known who to look for, he would have been the obvious choice. The ten or so years since Braxton had last seen the man had not been kind. His face had a sallow, sunken look. His pale skin was hidden behind his mangy beard. His eyes still appeared to hide the grief of his loss, and darted around the room suspiciously, waiting for the one who would be approaching him. His dark hair was long and unkempt, probably hadn’t been brushed in ages. The clothes he wore were wrinkled and stained. Braxton thought that if he walked closer, he would pick up the aroma of body odor and despair. He tapped his foot rapidly, and constantly wrung his hands together nervously.

Braxton cocked his head to the side as he watched. Was the plan to make him feel guilty? If so, it wasn’t working. He had learned how to turn off his conscious many years ago. Yes, he was barely a teenager when he stomped on his Jiminy Cricket, squashing it out of existence forever.

He looked around until he found the sign that he wanted. He walked up to the anxious fellow. Without breaking stride, he nudged him with his foot as he walked by, grabbing the man’s attention.

“Bathroom. Now.” Braxton told him, and headed towards the bathroom sign that he had spotted. He never stopped to look back. The fool would follow; he was pushed by the unknown, too driven not to.

Braxton swung the door open, satisfied that the bathroom was empty. Never too cautious, he walked down the aisle of stalls, pushing the doors open one at a time. At the end, he turned, watching the door and waiting patiently.

“Lock it,” he told the grief-stricken husband as he entered the bathroom.

The man did as he was told and turned to face Braxton. “I was told that you know what happened to my wife.” His voice was anxious, his words eager for the answers that he had waited almost a decade for.

“Who told you that?” Braxton asked. The odds of this guy knowing were slim, but, hey, it was worth a shot.

He shrugged. “I never met him. He called me and told me that if I wanted answers, I needed to be here all day. That the one with the answers would be meeting me.” The pain in his eyes had faded now. In its place was a desperate need for closure, almost a sense of pleading. “Please tell me if you know.”

“She’s dead,” Braxton said coldly. “Her body is buried five miles north of here, down a small road. Tinkerton Way is the name. On your left will be a field. In that field is a small copse of trees in the northeast corner. She’s buried in the center of those trees.”

The man wore a look of bewilderment. “How could you possibly know that?”

“It’s easy,” Braxton smiled smugly. “I put her there.”

In a flash, the man was across the bathroom. He attacked without warning.

Although he knew he should have been expecting it, Braxton was caught totally off guard. The man’s haggard, weak appearance had been deceptive, and he had been lulled into a false sense of security by it. Perhaps he was only fueled by hate and pain, but Tabitha’s husband’s strength and speed had been well hidden beneath that exhausted exterior.

He crossed the bathroom in a few short strides. Before Braxton knew what was happening, the man had his shirt firmly clenched in one hand, and was swinging fiercely with the balled up fist of his other. Braxton’s vision blurred as his head was jerked to the side from the force of the blows. Bursts of light exploded across his field of vision. Braxton felt unconsciousness closing in, reducing his vision to a tiny prick of light as the darkness consumed him, as a volley of blows landed with concussive force.

Braxton went limp. The assailant released him, allowing him to slump to the floor in a heap. He could feel the heat rising from his battered face. His eye was already beginning to swell, leaving only a small slit open. He could feel his mouth and cheeks expanding as the puffiness began to break forth. Blood flowed freely from his nose and a small rill poured from his burst lips. The taste of copper was strong in his mouth as it filled with blood. He could feel a prominent sting on his cheek. Reaching up with a shaking hand, he felt the slice that had opened just beneath his eye, causing him to wince as he drew his hand away.

Tabitha’s husband, Charles, if he recalled correctly, stared down at the murderer, the one responsible for the rapid decline in his life, the loss of his beloved. Hatred filled his every feature; it teemed behind his eyes, waiting to be unleashed. He backed away from Braxton, never taking his eyes from the injured man on the floor. He looked down, examining his bloodied knuckles, his face twisted in a hateful sneer. He stared at his wounded hand for a few moments, then allowed his eyes to slowly drift back up to Braxton. Braxton felt a new sense of unease as he made eye contact with Charles. The hatred that was contained just behind his eyes was now gone; it had been replaced with something else, something fearsome. It was filled with something that Braxton knew quite well, an emotion that he had become well acquainted with over the years, like an old friend. Those eyes were filled with murder personified.

“Why?” His voice was harsh and ragged, strained through the exertion of his screams, mouthed through gasps of air. “What did she ever do to you?” His eyes were brimming with tears, glistening under the fluorescent lights.

Braxton stared vacantly at him.

“Answer me!” he screamed. His face flushed with rage, turning it a deep maroon. Veins bulged and throbbed beneath his skin. He began to tremble uncontrollably. He lashed out, kicking Braxton with all his might, connecting with his ribs with a hollow sound.

Braxton grunted painfully. He looked up at Charles, the anger that resided within him, always waiting to surface, began its ascent. It longed to be let free; it yearned for it always. “There was no reason,” he said defiantly, spitting his mouthful of blood onto the floor. “I was searching for a victim; she caught my eye. There was nothing more.”

Charles’ eyes widened in disbelief. He was clearly taken aback. His voice was full of incredulity. A bewildered look dawned on his face. He stared out blankly, his eyes empty.

“No reason?” He was talking to himself more than to Braxton, his words distant and almost dreamy. “It was nothing more than ‘wrong place, wrong time’?”

He looked back down at Braxton. “Get up,” he commanded, his voice stern and cold. As Braxton clambered to his feet, he reached around his back, pulling out the kitchen knife that he had concealed in his waistband.

Braxton stood, wobbling uneasily. His eyes widened as they rested on the knife, glinting in the light. He opened his mouth to protest, but closed it before he made the first sound; nothing he said would alter the course of events that were about to transpire.

“I’ve waited for this for almost ten years,” Charles said matter-of-factly. He watched the light flash from the blade as he twirled it in his hands. Without warning, he lunged at Braxton, brandishing the knife before him menacingly.

Braxton jerked sideways in a swift movement. He grabbed Charles’ wrist tightly and pulled. Charles’ eyes went wide in shock at the swiftness of Braxton’s movements. Had he not just been staggering, practically unconscious on his feet?

With a measured, precise movement, Braxton snapped Charles’ wrist back, forcing the hand open. The knife fell from his grip and hit the floor in a clatter. A yelp of pain escaped Charles’ lips. Grabbing Charles by the back of his shirt collar, Braxton slammed his head down on the sink with a loud hollow clink. Blood began to pour instantly from his forehead, rushing out in torrents. He threw Charles to the floor and stood atop him.

“You want to know what happened to your damn wife?” he said. His voice shook with fury, that familiar warmth washing over him, finally released from its confines within Braxton’s mind. He kicked Charles in the ribs with all his might, relishing the sound of pain that wafted up to his ears as he did so.

Braxton turned and picked the knife from the floor. He held it out before him as he turned around. “How about I just show you? You look like you’ve been in so much pain. Like you’ve missed her so very much. What if I help you get to her faster?”

Braxton bent down over Charles, who was still dazed from the blow to the porcelain sink. His eyes struggled to focus, barely remaining conscious. He fingered the tip of the blade idly. Flipping the knife in his hand with the ease of a seasoned chef, he traced it down Charles’ torso, feeling it drag across each of his ribs, bumping slightly. With his free hand, Braxton covered Charles’ mouth as he slid the blade between his ribs. Crimson roses began to bloom on Charles’ shirt as blood escaped from the fresh wound. Charles’ body strained against the pain as the cold steel slid deeper into his body, his cries of agony muffled by the hand covering his mouth. Tears began to flow freely as Braxton drug the knife across his midsection, widening the wound. Braxton’s eyes lit up, the pain in his face forgotten in the ecstasy of the kill.

“I’d love to stay and play,” Braxton said into Charles’ ear. “Really I would, but I’m on a bit of a schedule. Give Tabitha my best when you see her.”

With that, he slid the blade across Charles’ neck and stood. He listened to the gurgling of Charles drowning in his own blood with a pleasure that he couldn’t obtain by any other means. Grabbing Charles’ shirttail, he meticulously wiped away any fingerprints that he may have left on the murder weapon and dropped it into the restroom’s waste basket. He turned and began to wash the blood from his face gingerly, wincing at the tenderness of his swollen, battered face. Grabbing the now-lifeless corpse beneath the arms, he dragged it into the last stall, propped it on the toilet, and swung the door closed. After wiping any traces of blood from the floor and disposing of the blood-soaked paper towels in the trash, he washed his hands, dried himself off, and reached into his back pocket, removing the extra shirt that he had thought to bring from home. He removed his bloodied shirt, placed it in his back pocket, and put on the fresh one.

He walked briskly to the car, careful to watch his pace lest he should attract attention. The body would be discovered soon enough; he didn’t want to give anyone a reason to remember him at all. The bruised face that he now wore was bad enough.

Son of a bitch, he thought as he pulled away from the curb and merged into traffic. I was supposed to die here. That bastard that broke into my house set me up to be killed! It was just as well that it had happened; now he knew how the game was to be played. The rules weren’t as he thought them to be. As he thought back, he realized that the Teacher hadn’t mentioned any rules. It was his own assumption that there had been any, and that assumption had nearly killed him. This new knowledge may not change anything, he was at an obvious disadvantage, but now he knew to watch himself more closely.

Braxton was still fuming when he pulled into the driveway. He stormed into the house and went directly to the counter. He picked up the next envelope, the second of his three tasks. He ripped the end of the envelope away madly and slid out the paper, unfolding it.


You have managed to complete and survive the first challenge. You are proving to be a formidable adversary. There may be hope for you yet. Do not boast; the game is still in its adolescence. You still have two lessons awaiting you.

Throughout the course of your murderous career, you have inflicted an incalculable amount of pain to your victims. To finish this task, the pain that you inflict must be upon yourself. You may have noticed the scale that I have placed on your table while you were out.

Braxton turned and looked at the table. A feeling of apprehension built within him instantly as he saw the scale and found that the Teacher was indeed speaking the truth. He dreaded the lesson that lay before him. His eyes returned to the paper in his hands.

On one side of the scale is a one pound weight, the other is empty, as you have no doubt seen. Your task is to balance the scales. Should you desire to keep your miserable excuse for a life, I expect a pound of flesh placed in the scale to counterweight the lead weight and balance the scales.

The choice is yours.

Braxton sat frozen, reading and rereading the second letter. Did the stranger seriously expect him to do such a thing? He crumpled the paper into a tight ball and dropped it onto the counter. He glanced at the stove; it was now just after ten o’clock. Less than ten hours left. He slammed his fist on the countertop in frustration and let out a pained yell. How had things come to this? How did this complete stranger know so much about him to put him in such a position?

Braxton walked to the table and examined the scale. There was nothing spectacular about it; silver, plain, devoid of any ornamentation or engravings. They reminded him of the scales held by Lady Justice on the walls of every courthouse in America. Yet, despite their plain, simple appearance, they held within them the power to induce dread and malice, both of which Braxton felt as he stared dumbly at the magnificent artifact that held such a significance in his life at this moment. Dread due to the inevitable pain that was sure to follow, as soon as he managed to work up the nerve; malice for the so-called Teacher who had placed him in such a position.

Braxton’s eyes narrowed as he focused on the small, lead weight on the left side of the scale, a nondescript square with the number one carved into the side. It wasn’t the weight that caught his attention, but the small, white triangles that protruded from beneath. He took hold of the objects, the corners of some paper clippings, and pulled them out, looking them over.

They were articles that had been printed from the internet. No, articles wasn’t the right word. Obituaries: that was what they were. He thumbed through the papers, eyes skimming over the words. Each person had died a sudden and mysterious death, but, strangely enough, foul play hadn’t been considered in the cause of death. That would mean that the Teacher was either a terrific liar, or, even worse, he was a superb killer. Braxton laid the five slips of paper on the table in front of the scales, spreading them out evenly before him. He stared at them, bewildered. He didn’t know what to make of them. Were they meant to be warnings to do as he had been told, a clever ruse intended to push him further along this twisted game? Undoubtedly, the Teacher knew that he would be apprehensive with this lesson, more willing to risk himself rather than inflict the torturous pain that was intended.

“No,” he said to himself, pushing the obituaries away roughly. “I won’t do it.”

As if on cue, the telephone rang. The sudden chirping sound was a cacophony in the still air of the silent house. Braxton started, a small yelp escaping from his throat. He stared at the phone speculatively as the ringing continued, echoing through the rooms. After several moments, he reached out tentatively, his hand shaking slightly, and grabbed the handset.

“You wouldn’t be thinking about crying off, would you?” a gruff voice asked before Braxton could speak. “I would highly discourage such a course of action.”

Braxton couldn’t speak. Try as he might, his mouth wouldn’t form the words, leaving him silent. Instead, he stared silently at the scales on the table as he listened to the Teacher speak, his words cutting into Braxton’s psyche like a straight razor.

“Did you not receive the articles that I left for you? There’s no use denying it; I know that you did.” The Teacher chuckled maliciously. “I suppose that you have reached the conclusion that I had nothing to do with the demise of the subjects of the articles. That it’s nothing more than a clever trick to goad you into playing along, furthering your education. I can assure you that this is not the case.”

Braxton was finally able to find his voice. “That’s exactly what I think, you son of a bitch.”

An exasperated sigh travelled across the miles through the telephone wires and escaped through the speaker. “Such vile language is really not necessary.”

Braxton pulled the phone from his ear and stared at it incredulously. Was this guy serious? “You set me up to be killed!” he screamed into the receiver. He could feel his temper rising uncontrollably. At that moment, there was nothing that he’d rather do more than get his hands on this self-proclaimed Teacher. He had been caught off guard on their first meeting; it wouldn’t happen again.

The Teacher ignored this remark, instead continuing with his train of thought. “Let me ask you this; when you consider all that I know, the great lengths that I had gone through to enlighten you and change you, do you doubt?”

Braxton considered these words in silence. He wished that he could disregard the words, but deep within himself, he knew it to be true. If he wanted to survive this ordeal, he had no choice but to follow the Teacher’s directives. If he was going to live, he was going to have to suffer. While he came to this conclusion, he failed to notice that he was now alone on the line; the Teacher had left him to draw his own conclusions and decide his own fate.

The images flashed across the mirror in a blur as Braxton opened the medicine cabinet. He had made his decision. As much as he despised the thought, the Teacher was at an obvious advantage. He seemed to know everything about him, while Braxton knew nothing of the Teacher. This being the case, he had no choice but to endure the two lessons still set before him.

He rummaged through the medicine cabinet, pulling out various bottles of pain killers and setting them beside the sink. The Teacher had set the task before him, this twisted game for his amusement, but he had said nothing to the effect of Braxton not dulling his pain. And he intended to do just that. He knew he had to be careful. He still had another task beyond this one, a third envelope yet to be opened; he needed to remain in full control of his faculties.

Braxton poured out five of the strongest pain pills that he could find into his open palm. After eyeing the pills for a moment, he reconsidered, and poured five more into his hand to join the others. He shifted the small, white ovals around in his palm with his finger, hesitant to take them. To do so would be the first step in a chain of events that led to his own agony. On the other hand, he knew that he was wasting valuable time.

To hell with it, he thought and popped all ten pills into his mouth at once. He chewed them up, grimacing at the chalky, bitter taste that filled his mouth. He grabbed the bottle of vodka that he had set next to the sink and put the rim to his lips. Tilting the bottle up, he gulped down the alcohol, relishing the slow burn that replaced the taste of the bitter paste in his mouth. He gulped loudly, watching the bubbles rise in the clear liquid, loud glugging noises sounding out with each gulp. He pulled the bottle from his mouth, gasping for breath and fighting the urge to vomit.

Braxton flexed his grip on the knife that he held in his hands. The pills and alcohol had taken effect, blurring his vision and numbing his senses. Had he not seen the handle of the knife firmly within his grasp, he wouldn’t even have known that he was holding it. He swayed slightly on his feet as he stared at the scales on the table.

One pound. That’s what the note said. He could do this. He felt that he had sufficiently worked up the nerve to cut himself, and his body was almost entirely numb. Time was ticking away, one second at a time, bringing him ever closer to that dreaded deadline and the consequence that was promised after. So why was he just standing? Why wasn’t he getting down to the horrific act before he started to sober up and feeling began to return?

He had drunk too much. He knew it. He had wanted to dull his senses, and, in that, he had been successful. But he had forgotten to take into consideration the common side-effect of alcohol. It had entirely slipped his mind in his panic. Until now.

Alcohol thinned the blood. That was why it gave the illusion of warmth when swallowed on a cold day. If he were to begin carving himself up right now, bleeding to death was a very real possibility. The last thing he wanted was to exsanguinate. Suppose his plan hadn’t worked as well as he’d intended. What if he were to lose consciousness, the pain too unbearable, before he could tend to the wounds? Why, he would never reawaken. Instead, he would be found later on, probably once his rotting carcass had begun to smell, its putrid stench of decay finally reaching the neighbors. The police would find his bloated, fly-infested corpse lying in his dining room in a large pool of dried, tacky, congealed blood.

What choice did he have but to risk it? One o’clock was quickly approaching. He had watched the time whittle away as he attempted to inebriate himself and build the courage to do what had to be done. If he were to reconsider this course of action, he would have to spend hours waiting for himself to sober up. The day would be almost complete, and his life with it. No, he had made his decision; now he had to live with the repercussions. Hell, if he died, at least he did so with the knowledge that the Teacher hadn’t been the one to kill him, at least not directly.

He pulled his shirt over his head and sat it on the table, firm in his resolve. With his free hand, he grabbed the skin at his side, pulling it away from his body. He took a second to muse at this; he had been trying to rid himself of his love handles since he had started to gain them at age twenty-five. Now he finally was. He shuddered at the thought. Before he could begin to falter, he plunged the knife into his skin, trying to best to stay as close to his ribs as possible.

Although deadened, his nerve endings screamed as the steel pierced its way through them, severing them, and out of the other side of the grasped flesh. Braxton let loose an agonized wail. His teeth clenched together tightly, his jaw throbbing, slowly building to a steady ache. He felt his knees try to buckle, and remained standing by a mixture of stubbornness and sheer force of will. The thinned blood began to pour freely from the wounds, obscuring his view of the pained area. It poured down his side in torrents, soaking his jeans, spreading the warmth across his body, and began to pool at his feet, spreading in crimson waves, staining the cracked linoleum floor. He began the sawing motion, feeling his skin tearing as the teeth of the steak knife tore his flesh free from his body. Tears streamed down his face profusely. Braxton bit his bottom lip so hard against the pain that the metallic taste of blood filled his mouth. Lightheadedness washed over him like a tidal wave as unconsciousness sought to take hold. Blackness began to seep into his field of vision, narrowing his sight to a small pinprick of light. He fought back against his body’s natural defenses against such agony. The pain was unbearable, nausea building within him until he vomited. The remains of the vodka and stomach bile splattered down his chin and chest, finally landing on the floor where it mixed with the blood like some new-age piece of art. He felt warmth spread across his groin as his bladder released, but he pushed on, continuing the ragged plastic surgery, his own do-it-yourself liposuction.

His hand shook uncontrollably as he raised it to the scale. Blood dripped freely in small rills from his stained fingers. Braxton had gone white, his skin paled from loss of blood. His breathing was sharp and ragged. Sweat poured down his face, mixing with the rivulets of tears that still streamed from his bloodshot eyes. He uncurled his trembling fingers, dropping the hunk of flesh into the scale.

Braxton waited impatiently while the scale teetered back and forth. He grabbed his shirt from the table and held it to the large patch of exposed muscle and ribs. Blood poured freely from the wound, soaking his shirt quickly. His body cried out in horror at the torture it had endured. He felt his strength leaving him. If he didn’t stop the flow of blood, and soon, he was going to die. But first, the scale.

Braxton blinked rapidly at the scale, his eyes refusing to focus. Relief surged through his body as he noticed the tray that held what had been his side moments ago was resting just a bit lower than the side with the weight. A small sense of elation manifested itself within him. It was a small victory, one that could cause his demise in the end, but it was a victory nonetheless.

He pushed the feeling aside, focusing on his dire situation. He had to tend to his side, and soon. Even if he managed to not bleed to death, he still had infection to worry about. That could wait, he chided himself. First, the bleeding.

Braxton staggered to the bathroom, dragging his body along the wall for support. A large swath of blood trailed behind him on the walls, dripping down in small rills like a scene from a horror movie. He could hear small patters as blood dripped from his body and splashed on the floor. In the bathroom, he pressed a towel tightly to his side and wrapping it tightly around his midsection, stringing it around his body and tying it to keep it in place. He winced, groaning in torment as the coarse fibers of the towel dug into his wound. He stared down at the makeshift bandage. Small roses of blood began to bloom, then stopped suddenly.

Satisfied that the injury was sufficiently tended to for the moment, Braxton made his way back into the kitchen. He sat at the counter, head still spinning, and grabbed the last envelope. His fingers left crimson smudges on the crisp, white envelope. With a deep breath and a sustained effort from his numb, clumsy fingers, he ripped the envelope open. His eyes fought to focus, trying to make some sense of the blurred, jumbled letters on the page.


To be reading this means that you have endured much pain and suffering. Have you learned from the lessons that I have been trying to impart upon you? Have you taken to heart all that I’ve tried to impress upon you? I hope you have. I truly do. I commend you for making it this far. You are a far better pupil than any of my previous students. Your resolve is to be admired. Should you have chosen to put that determination to better use, no one would have been able to hinder your progress. Alas, you squandered your life through your misdeeds. The time has come for your final task.

Over the years, your actions have made you an emotional terrorist to your victims and their families. Fear. Despair. Terror. Hope. Your deeds have caused the multitudes that you have touched to experience these emotions plus scores of others. Now it is your turn. It is you who will feel the despair and hopelessness that you have been so quick to impart upon others throughout the years.

You must turn yourself in to the police. Do this immediately and completely. Confess to every death, every act of violence. You will spend your remaining years in prison, but your conscious will be clear. I implore you to consider this course of action and see that it is the right thing to do, not only because your life depends on it, but because it is truly right.

Make no mistake, you have no true choice in this matter. To go against these words is to sign your death warrant. Tucked away behind bars is the only place where you will ever truly be safe.

Braxton allowed the paper to slip from his grasp and watched as it wafted to the ground, his eyes drawn to the drying blood on the sheet. He dropped his head into his hands. What was he to do? If he did as he was instructed, he would die in prison. If he didn’t, he would either be slaughtered by the Teacher, or spend his life running, constantly looking over his shoulder. He had the distinct impression that he wouldn’t be running for long. The Teacher knew things that he had no way of knowing; Braxton didn’t trust that he wouldn’t seek him out in time. He had no choice. If he wanted to live, there was only one option.

Braxton stood on the sidewalk, staring up at the police station, trying to work up the nerve to enter. As he stood there, blood pooling at his feet, the steady throb in his side escalating to a searing pain as the pills and alcohol worked their way out of his system, he thought about the course his life had taken, the decisions and actions that had led him to this point. The first death at his hands had been an accident, of that he was certain. Until he realized how easily he could get away with it, not to mention the rush of pure adrenaline that came from taking a life, from playing God, he had never even considered murder as a hobby. Once he had taken that first life, it had become an addiction.

He had never had a twinge of guilt in all these years. He never stopped to consider the pain and anguish that he caused others. Did he regret what he did now? He wasn’t sure. Maybe he did. Then again, maybe it was just that he didn’t want to die or go to prison. Either way, the Teacher had made his point. He had gotten what he intended; Braxton was no longer in the business of murder. He had retired. He only wished that he had decided to do so earlier.

With a deep breath, Braxton walked into the police station, his haggard, weakened body fighting to stay upright. As he entered, he failed to notice the man standing to the left of the entrance, staring intently at him with a pair of smoky eyes. He was smiling contentedly at a soul that had been touched and reformed. The Teacher pulled a photograph from his pocket and stared down at it. The subject of the photograph was his next pupil, a young woman who he thought could still be saved. He tucked the photo back into his pocket and began to walk down the sidewalk, off to prepare his lessons for his next student.

Credit: William Davis

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The Model

July 14, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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What if I told you I could still feel your mouth on mine? I can still feel the delicate throb of over-used lips. What if I told you I could still taste you? I can still swallow the minty cigarette spit.
I don’t think you’d believe me. Honey, there is a lot more than land between us now.
It wasn’t that long ago that you were lying beside me in bed sharing a Marlboro. We shared a lot more than a cigarette that night. Remember? And I miss you now, tonight, because I can’t touch a memory.
You lit me up. Wrapped in bed sheets, you’d paint me. It felt like I was being studied by an unreckoned force, captivating like I was in a movie. It was fabulous. I got such a rush from watching your magnetic eyes watch me. It was poetry when the paintbrushes flew. It would have almost been a cliché if it hadn’t felt so real. The paint thinner made me dizzy and I paled in your brilliance. I soon became your biggest fanatic. But I was too old for you. It wasn’t the math that was the problem. It was the life. But we were careless and thoughtlessly teased the seams anyway.
You can’t blur broken lines. I know you well enough to know you honestly believe what you’ve done isn’t wrong. I know you well enough to know how you turn a back-handed compliment to gold. You are a brilliant bastard, and I created a why each night just to show up at your door. I was a stupid fool to come knocking. But you were so clever with your bony hands. You’d hand me a tea cup, and then anything you said next was, well, static.
We would have these amazing conversations. I was thrilled to be privy to your darkest thoughts. I thought I was the only one to whom you bled that deep. I thought I was the special one out of the many girls who have crossed your threshold. No, it was all part of the seduction. God, you’d mastered it all. Lying really was your best attribute.
How was I supposed to know this is not where you sleep every night? Thinking on it now, it is actually funny that I really believed you didn’t own a phone because of some philosophical babble. I was that stupid that I ignored the bloated white ring on your finger even though it hung around when we were together like a dead fish.
Just think of it. While I was tucked away for the night in your arms, your wife was tucking in your baby. Maybe even with a lullaby. We, however, had rocked in different motions. You bastard.
I found out at the flea market. I’m sure you were off on another creative tangent while I was plodding through the street looking for the perfect tomato. I was going to make my special sauce for you. That recipe has been in my family forever. You didn’t deserve that tomato.
Everything went black around me when my eyes made contact with yours. What will you tell your son if he asks about me tonight at dinner?
It took a minute, but I recognized her from the portraits you’d painted of “a friend.” My body flushed when she told me her name was Catherine. And this was her son, Lucas. He’s three. He was born right about the time you met me. Of course, she was beautiful. She didn’t know about me. While I was flushing, she was fading as the realization slammed into her with such force she stepped back, and I thought she would pass out when I described your tattoo with such accurate detail a blind man could have pictured it. I wish I could say I am sorry for hurting your wife. Any of your conquests could have done it easily, but it was me.
I don’t let things lie; I don’t let you lie. It wasn’t her you were untrue to. It was me. It was me, you fool. She was really that oblivious, but she too recognized me. I am almost sorry that she believed I was only your model. And I was, until you kissed me.
I remember that first kiss so vividly my knees tingled, among other things. You really were quite debonair. I don’t think you paid me my sitting fee that day or any day after for that matter. As far as I am concerned, you owe me much more than money.
I wonder what she said to you that night when you skulked in for dinner. I wonder how you rationalized her “ridiculous” suspicions. Did she cry?
I made her cry.
Were you twisted enough to hang paintings of me in your room? Did you look at me most nights?
There wasn’t a night I didn’t dream about you.
I will never forget the look on your face when I confronted you. It went way beyond getting caught with your hand in the cookie jar. Then bizarrely enough, rising up from God knows where, you let loose a horrendous laugh. You belittled me and berated me, telling me I should have known.
And you were right, I should have known.
I was frozen for a moment. Then I started obsessing about your wife again. Did you laugh at her? Did she coddle you and tell you that everything would be okay? Does she kiss with her eyes open?
I asked you if she was as good as me, and I was twisted and flattered when you said, “You’re the best baby.” What a stock line. Underneath it all, you were always generic.
I was never your baby. I’ve been past bottles and diapers for years. Not you though. You were inundated with bottles and baby at home. Is that why you placed that ad in the paper?
Then everything became so clear to me.
I don’t believe I was intentional. I think with you, it is never intentional.
I think I’ll say at your funeral, “He never intended any of this,” you and I know that won’t absolve you of your faults.
What bothers me most in this hell you’ve created is that I am still not sure you loved me. I mean, really loved me. I suppose now, it is not really worth bringing up. Up until Catherine, my memories are of a man full of life and love and me.
My insecurities didn’t set in until I came face to face with your Catherine. Then suddenly I became the stray cat hanging around, starving, outside your door. I can’t believe you told me it wasn’t true, that it wasn’t like that. I don’t buy it, not completely. I just don’t know what to believe anymore.
I believed the look on your face when I punched you full force in the gut. You did more than double over. I bet your knees would still be bruised.
Oh, it was delicious, me standing there amid the canvases and sheets and you lying on the floor like a child.
I know your son won’t grow up like you. I know your wife will never completely trust another man again. Not after you.
We are all left half-empty after you.
I wonder what pained you more that night, when I shred your canvases or when I shred you?
Everything will be okay now. I felt an incredible sense of clarity as I doused the mattresses and the walls with paint thinner.
Nothing was louder than my lit Zippo dropping to the ground.
I studied you as you tried to wriggle free of those ropes. You were a mess of blood and sweat, and I still could’ve kissed you.
Yes, I am devastated. Devastated you didn’t love me half as much as I deserve.
You’re last words echoed in my head begging me, “What about my son?”
No worries. I thought we had covered that already. It is like I said before, he will never grow up in your likeness.
Never mind this anymore. I am tired of all this chatter. It is time for me to clean up this mess you’ve made so I can move on.
Burning the bed has so much irony. I wonder if you would see it the same way if your skin weren’t sliding off your bones.
I wonder if you’re sorry.
What saddens me in all of this is that you won’t see how beautiful I will be standing at your casket, how serene. I will hold white lilies and wear a big hat. I will look up at your broken wife and helpless son with a sigh. And I will know the only one out of all of us at peace is me.
If I am asked to speak I will say, “Even in death, you’ve set me free.”

Credit: Samantha Kreger Shultz

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June 22, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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It’s true what they say – that when a person goes blind their other senses heighten in order to compensate. Knowing that, and thinking back on everything that happened to me, I still can’t come to a rational conclusion of how these events unfolded around me without my knowledge. Granted, I couldn’t actually see any of it happening, but I never suspected anything of this magnitude when judging solely on the minor oddities that I had experienced.

Sure, every once in a while I would hear noises, but my house was old and seemed to have a mind of its own. All of its pops and creaks had become just as familiar to me as navigating its interior without the benefit of sight. Even when things began to turn more bizarre, I always found a way to rationalize them away. Looking back, I ask myself, “How could I have been so…well, for lack of a better word, blind?”

My mother had tried to convince me not to move into the house alone. “Sarah, a young blind woman shouldn’t be living all by herself,” she’d said. But I wanted to – needed to. I needed to prove to myself that I was strong enough to do it. Besides that, as a twenty four year old, I didn’t want to live with my parents forever. And I sure didn’t want to wait around for a nice man to marry and move in with. That may never happen.

Having lost my sight at an early age due to a freak accident with industrial strength cleaning chemicals, I knew all too well the nuances of learning to create a mental map of my surroundings.

When I first moved into the old house I used my cane exclusively. I waved it back and forth in front of me with every step I took. I knew roughly where all of the furniture was since I was the one that directed the movers on where to put everything. I employed the cane for nearly a week, using its tip to develop a mental image of the layout. The learning process was slow and clumsy at first, but I eventually got to the point that I was able to shed my cane after several days and began walking cautiously with my arms extended. I progressed further and became familiar enough with the territory that by the end of the first month I was able to walk freely without the use of my cane, or arms or any other aid.

I became quite adept at moving throughout the house freely. Not only that, but the house was located in a somewhat urban area which made it convenient to walk to any place I had the need. The grocery was only three blocks away. There was a department store across the street from that, and a bank and coffee shop just a bit further on. I got used to listening to the flow of traffic and timing the lights in my head so I would know when the “Walk” and “Don’t Walk” signals were lit. Occasionally a kind stranger would offer to take my hand and lead me across. I would thank them and we would part ways once we were safely on the next sidewalk.

In those days I was working from home making phone calls to patients that had recently been discharged from the hospital. In essence, I was being paid by the hospital to administer surveys that were then used to improve their services. The hospital was kind enough to provide me with a laptop computer that contained several different voice-command software applications. I spent my days transcribing the recorded phone calls by speaking the customers’ answers into a microphone, and having the data fields automatically populate accordingly in the program.

The first odd event that I remember was on one particular day when I got up from my work desk for a lunch break. As I was headed into the kitchen, I kicked an object in the middle of the living room floor. I heard it slide a short distance on the carpet. I knew that I hadn’t left anything in the way of my path as I had just been through there not even an hour ago, and there was nothing on the floor.

I knelt down and patted around until I located the object. A book. By feeling its Braille title I recognized it as a book on national parks that I kept on my coffee table, some five feet away. I didn’t remember knocking the book off of the table. I stood there perplexed. The longer I thought about it though, the less frightening it became to me. I convinced myself that I must have simply forgotten about knocking the book to the floor, and I must have stepped over it or next to it during my other passes through the room. I returned the book to its place on the table and went about making my lunch.

That night, while lying in bed, I heard a sound that came from the kitchen. It was almost entirely masked by the usual sounds of the pops and creaks from the house settling, but I definitely heard it – faint as it was. It was a very light humming noise. So light, in fact, that an average person without enhanced hearing may not have heard it at all from this distance. I slowly got out of bed, listening intently, the sound increasing as I made my way down the hallway and through the living room.

As soon as I passed through the threshold into the kitchen I knew what the sound was. It was the compressor motor on the refrigerator, and it was substantially louder than usual. I approached the appliance and found that its door was standing wide open. I eased it shut and the hum returned to a normal volume.

“What on earth? Did I leave this open?” I questioned myself in a whisper. Maybe it didn’t close all the way the last time I swung it shut, I thought. I returned to bed, but had trouble finding sleep. My mind wandered and questioned how I could have overlooked the fallen book and the open fridge door when they’d first happened.

The next morning, I decided to go have breakfast at Espresso Express, the little coffee shop up the road. They served excellent coffee, and you could also get a ham & cheese croissant melt that was to die for. That alone was worth the effort of showering, dressing, and leaving the safety of the house to be plunged into a buzz of whizzing traffic, honking horns, and people clamoring on the sidewalks.

On that morning a gentle stranger helped guide me across the intersection just ahead of the coffee shop. I said, “Thank you!” as they released my arm, but there was no response. He or she was lost in the shuffle of people on cell phones, their conversations momentarily audible to me as they passed in front of and behind me. The tinny sound of a bicycle bell alarmed me, and I felt the breeze left behind when the rider whipped past. I entered the coffee shop to a much more serene environment and enjoyed my favorite breakfast at a seat near the plate glass window, bathed in the sunlight that washed in on me.

That afternoon I took a break from making phone calls to use the bathroom. As I was seated on the toilet, I heard something next to me. It was as if something had brushed against the sink – an ever so subtle sound. My heart rate rose and my brow furrowed as I strained to listen closer. All I could hear was my pulse throbbing in my ears. Suddenly a wall clock in the living room chimed four ‘o clock, startling me to the point that I jumped slightly while still seated there. I regained my composure, washed up and returned to the computer to transcribe the data from my phone surveys.

I closed the laptop and went to make dinner at 6:30. Over the years, I had learned to be extra careful when dealing with the hot oven and burners. Once I had accidentally set a plastic plate directly onto a burner that was still hot, resulting in a cloud of noxious fumes that lasted for days – long after I’d finished cleaning up the mess. I was lucky that it had burned itself out and the damage wasn’t any worse. After that close call, I bought a small fire extinguisher to keep on the countertop next to the oven.

On this particular night, I made my dinner without any risk of fire. However, the undertaking wasn’t completely without incident. As I proceeded to make dinner I discovered that the canned goods I needed for the recipe were missing from the cupboard. I have always kept my canned goods in very specific places on the shelves so that I would always know what was what without the benefit of being able to see the labels. I don’t remember using up the items I needed that night, but apparently I already had. So, I opted to make a casserole instead.

I sat at the dinner table enjoying the simple meal I had made. The television was playing in the background, filling me in on all of the day’s news headlines. I finished the first portion on my plate and reached to dip into the casserole dish once more. I scraped the inside of the dish, the sounds of metal on ceramic echoing throughout the kitchen. It was empty.

“I can’t believe it! I couldn’t have already eaten it all!” I said incredulously. I had thought for sure that I’d prepared a bigger portion than that, and I didn’t remember emptying the dish fully onto my plate. Thoughts ran through my head in an attempt to reason out the matter: Had it baked up to be less than I’d anticipated? Had I spilled some on the table while dishing it onto my plate?

In search of the missing food, I placed the palm of my hand on the tabletop and moved it steadily over the area within my reach. As I was doing so there was a distinct movement in front of me. I gasped and my heart rate immediately quickened. I felt the blood pulsing through my neck. This sound was not as subtle as the others I’d been hearing. It was obvious – a sudden motion of something moving across from me. I continued listening, but all I could hear was the much-too-chipper weather man on TV giving the forecast.

Suddenly I was overwhelmed with a feeling that I was no longer alone at the kitchen table. “Is someone there?” I called out, hoping there was no reply.


I felt a shift in the air pressure as if something moved behind me followed by the creak of a floorboard. I froze. Something brushed against the back of my hair, gentle as a feather. I recoiled and let out a squeal.

I shot up out of my chair, made my way to the corner of the kitchen and turned to face the interior of the room. “Who’s there?” I demanded. No answer. By this time I was breathing heavily, practically hyperventilating. My chest and throat radiated heat as my heart raced inside, giving me the sensation of acute indigestion. I thought I might vomit.

I slowly made my way to the doorway leading into the living room. I stood there for what seemed like an eternity listening for something, anything that would explain the circumstance. Eventually I moved on and worked my way into the hallway bathroom. I locked the door behind me.

It took over an hour and a half for me to calm down. While in the locked bathroom, I wrestled with my thoughts. I reasoned with myself. I didn’t want to admit that my mother was right, but maybe I shouldn’t be living alone. It appeared to be taking its toll on me. On the other hand, all of these things could be logically explained, I told myself. If I wasn’t blind, I’d have seen whatever it was that caused the noises and it would be so obvious. I’d laugh about how ridiculous it was to be scared of it, I’m sure. At least that’s what I tried to convince myself.

What finally brought me out of the bathroom was the ringing of the telephone. I admit it startled me at first, but only because it had been so quiet for the last two hours. I cautiously opened the door and entered the hallway. My phone was in the living room. I approached it quickly and answered.


“Hey Sarah, it’s Jill.”

Thank God, it was just my friend Jill. “Hi Jill, how’s it going?”

“Oh, I’m doing good. I saw you at Espresso Express today,” she said in a playful tone, which I didn’t understand initially.

“You did?”

“Mmm hmm. I saw you in the window when I walked by on the sidewalk.” Still in a playful tone.

“Well, why didn’t you come in and say, ‘hi’?” I asked.

“I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“Disturb me? Why would you be disturbing me?”

“Because, silly, I assumed you were on a date. Who’s the lucky guy that was sitting with you?”

My mouth slacked open. I couldn’t breathe. I couldn’t form words.

“Sarah?” Jill asked, “Are you okay?”

I dropped the phone. I could still hear Jill’s muffled voice even though the speaker was face down on the carpet. I frantically made my way around the house, arms flailing in front of me.

“Who are you?” I yelled into the house. “What do you want?”

I was terrified, but also angry. I felt violated. I didn’t necessarily want to encounter whatever it was, but I couldn’t go on hiding in my own house any longer. I spent hours searching every square inch of the property and found nothing. I finally went to bed after I was able to calm down, but I did not fall asleep until the wee hours of the morning.

A light rustling sound woke me not long after I fell asleep, still in the dark hours of early morning. I wasn’t sure at first if it was real or if I had dreamed the noise. As I was about to get up, I noticed that the sheets next to me were pulled back. I stretched out my right arm into the empty space beside me. It felt warm as if someone had been lying there with me. The events of the previous day flooded back into my memory. My sightless eyes welled up with tears as I began to question my own sanity. Frustrated, I bolted up and out of the bed. I threw on some old clothes and headed toward the front door with the intention of fleeing the house, unsure exactly where I was going to go – maybe Jill’s place. She lived fairly close.

I wanted to take my cane with me as I always did whenever I went outdoors. I searched the house frantically, unable to remember where I’d left it. I almost always left it propped against the wall by the front door, but it wasn’t there. I made my way along all of the perimeter walls, feeling desperately for the cane.

When I neared the kitchen I still had not found my walking aid, but I made a discovery of a much more startling nature – a barely detectable vertical crevice in the wall I had not known about previously. I used all my fingers to follow the crease up the wall, across the top, and down the other side. It was a doorway designed to fit perfectly flush within the wall. I leaned my weight inward against the panel and felt a slight give on its right side. I worked my fingers into the crevice on that side the best I could, eventually prying the panel free. It swung open to the left. I gasped in shock and my pulse quickened. A hidden room right in the center of my house.

How I wish that I would have had sight at that moment. I faced a completely unexplored territory inside my own house with the possibility that someone else was in there with me.

I entered slowly, arms extended. “Is someone in here?” I whispered, afraid to ask the question. There was no response. I stepped forward. To my right I discovered a flat surface – a tabletop. I ran my hands along its surface. On top of the table I was able to make out several unopened cans of food. No doubt these were the missing canned goods I’d been looking for. The table also contained silverware and a can opener that disappeared weeks ago.

My heart rate increased even more and my palms began to sweat. I worked my way forward until I came to a wall that I knew bordered the living room. I found a hole the size of a quarter at eye level. Sweat began to form on my brow as well. I found another similar hole on the next adjacent wall. This wall bordered the bathroom. Tears started to well up in my eyes. I was able to find two more holes on the two remaining walls bordering the kitchen and the bedroom.

I dropped to my knees in absolute horror and disbelief. How long had this person been watching me? How could I have not known? My hands were on the floor in front of me and I felt something soft. I investigated further with my fingertips. It was some sort of comforter or sleeping bag. At one end was a fluffy pillow.

At this point not only was I terrified beyond description, I was also furious. How dare someone spy on me covertly from within my own walls! I knew I had to run out of the house and get to safety immediately, with or without my cane. I decided I would go to Jill’s house and we’d call the police from there.

I made my way to where I remembered the hidden door to be, my arms sweeping the area ahead of me in a panic. Instead of the open door, my hands found the warm torso of a human, a male, standing silently in the doorway. He grabbed both my arms and pulled me out of the hidden room and into the house.

We struggled in the kitchen. I kicked at him and screamed as loud as I could into his ears. I was able to get one arm free and I used it to grasp for the fire extinguisher that I knew would be by the oven. He attempted to pull me away, but my fingers reached its nozzle. I swung it at him, feeling the metal cylinder connect with the back of his skull. He released my other arm and I pulled the trigger in his direction, enveloping him in a cloud of white foam.

I ran into the utility room off of the kitchen where I knew my only advantage existed – the fuse box. I found the box and tripped every lever I could find, eliminating all power from the house. If this perverted psycho wanted to kill me, he’d have to do it on an equal playing field – in the dark.

The intruder had not followed me into the utility room. The fire extinguisher must have dazed him. I remembered the toolbox I kept in that room, and I quickly retrieved the longest screwdriver I could find. I stood in the corner and listened carefully. If he was still conscious, he would not be able to move around in the pitch darkness without creating a noise. I would surely detect his movements.

I held the screwdriver against my chest, gripping its handle tightly with both hands. I felt my wildly beating heart against the side of my fist. After an eternity, I moved forward a bit. I may have knocked him out, or even killed him. I had to make sure.

I left the utility room and entered the kitchen. There was still no sound from anywhere in the house. I passed into the living room and headed toward the front door. Halfway through the room I could feel his presence. Something in the air around me had shifted. Without warning there was breath on the back of my neck followed by a deep whisper directly in my ear, “The showers were my favorite.”

I screamed and swung around, stabbing the screwdriver into empty air. I ran for the door. It was merely a few feet away, but I couldn’t reach it due to the resistance I met when the voyeuristic brute’s arms wrapped around my waist. He wrestled me to the floor and straddled me. I tightened my grip on the tool and plunged it as hard as I could into his side.

I shudder to think about it when I recount the feeling of the steel shaft separating two of his ribs. It was horrid, and I was only able to stomach it knowing that if I hadn’t acted, my life would have ended then.

The man winced in pain and let out a deep, growling grunt. He fell backward and rolled off of me. I turned over onto my chest and pushed up off of the floor, then crawled over to the couch and used it to get back onto my feet. I still held the screwdriver, a warm trickle of blood seeping onto my knuckle.

I could tell that the intruder was writhing around on the floor near the doorway. I would have to exit through the back door. From the opposite end of the living room, I entered the sun room where the door was located. I wasn’t as familiar with this entry point, causing me to fumble around with the deadbolt and screen door locks for longer than I would have liked.

I knew there were concrete stairs there leading to a flat patio. How many steps? Four? Five? I couldn’t remember. I proceeded slowly. The last thing I needed was to fall and twist my ankle. After navigating the steps, I came to the end of the patio, which emptied into a narrow alleyway between the shotgun-style houses behind mine.

My steps were slow and cautious. My hands told me there was a brick wall to my right, and a brick wall about five feet to my left. The sides of the two houses. I was entering unfamiliar territory without the benefit of my cane. My breathing was frantic and the tears continued to fill my useless eyes. I kicked something and nearly fell over. It felt plastic – a child’s toy maybe. I was moving much too fast compared to my level of comfort with the surroundings. But I had no choice as footsteps were approaching behind me.

I picked up the pace, waving the screwdriver out in front to buffer my impending collision with any obstacles. Ten more feet of forward progress and the screwdriver alerted me, with metallic clanging, to the presence of a chain link fence connecting the two houses.

I stopped and cried out, my voice breaking up through my tears, “No.” I turned around, my back to the fence. I began swinging the screwdriver violently.

“Leave me alone!” I screamed.

More hyperventilating.

More tears.

The man approached slowly, and then stopped just a few feet away from me. I got the feeling he could see what he was doing. Either there was an electric light in this alley or the dawn had already crested enough that ample ambient light was available. I didn’t know which one was the case because I had no idea what time it was.

Knowing I was about to die, I just wanted answers. “How long?” I managed to ask. “How long have you been in there?” My voice was angrier than I’d expected.

“Since before you lived there,” he replied calmly, his voice deep. “I got lucky with you – a blind girl. With the others I couldn’t come out in the open when they were home. I couldn’t sit and eat their dinner with them. I couldn’t stand over them while they worked at their computers. I couldn’t go to the coffee shop with them.” There was a pause as he moved even closer. “I couldn’t stand next to them in the bathroom.”

I cried uncontrollably in a whirlwind of emotions. I had never before felt so violated, so angry, and so terrified all at the same time. There was sudden movement again in front of me.

“Don’t touch me!” I demanded as I held up the screwdriver. I don’t know exactly how it happened. I don’t know if he didn’t see the tool or just didn’t care, knowing that he was caught. But as he lunged forward, he managed to impale himself on the screwdriver and pin me up against the fence. My hands were still gripping the handle, but it was so deep inside him that his shirt was touching my fist.

His breathing became gurgled, and his last words to me were, “I couldn’t snuggle next to them in bed either.”

We collapsed together as one unit. The fence tore at my back as we slid down onto the ground. His dead weight nearly crushed me, but I managed to push him off and crawl away. I crawled all the way back to my house, in through the back door and into the living room to my phone. I sobbed hysterically as I keyed in the digits 9-1-1 and fell to the floor.

Credit: moonlit_cove

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At the roots of the roses

June 1, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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When I was young, I was told my mother committed suicide by jumping from a bridge. Her body wasn’t found, as the river she landed in led to the sea and many bodies of the people that went missing in it weren’t ever recovered.
My mental health was understandably not the best, as I was only seventeen and even though I wasn’t the perfect child and would often have fallouts with my mother, I loved her despite my recklessness. Looking back I understand that she had a few demons, but no one could really have thought it would lead her to do something like that.
Since I was a child I’ve had a love for flowers, and especially roses, which was what helped me get back to a normal life again. A few miles from the city we lived in was a farm that grew roses. I dropped out of college to take a job working with producing and selling the roses that grew there. The place was quite the only thing the city had to brag about, as it was often said to have some of the best roses in the state. I for one absolutely adored them. There were huge fields with only roses for hundreds of meters, and most of them had a wonderful pink colour. The farm grew different colours, red and yellow as well as pink, but I liked the pink ones most and they were also the ones that sold the most.
Anyhow, I want to describe my first day working there. I’d applied to the job with the help of my psychologist, who had gone out of her ways to help me on the way to happiness. I still appreciate her efforts greatly. We were both so glad when the company got back to me and agreeing to give me the job. I took my bike and cycled out there as fast as I could, and I remember how tired my legs felt. I got there early which seemed to be appreciated by my new boss. He smiled at me and for the first time in months I felt all warm and fuzzy inside, which was a great contrast to the emptiness that had resided within me previously. I was so happy about getting to work there I barely even noticed that he touched the pendant of my necklace that I’d been wearing. My mother had made matching pendants for us when I was a kid, and since she’d gone I had been wearing mine all the time. I didn’t even take it off when I slept or bathed. The necklace felt like the only thing left of my mother that I owned. My mother’s necklace had gone with her; otherwise I’m sure I would’ve been wearing hers instead. I was a bit taken aback by his course of action, yet I tried not to think about it too much, and I soon forgot about it. My co-workers were all nice, and I soon made friends with a guy named Nick. He was 25 and had worked on the farm since he was 23, mostly because it paid the rent. He used to be quite the comedian and his dream was to become a chef and own a restaurant. When I asked him why he didn’t choose to apply to a job in a restaurant or café downtown, he would shrug it off. I stopped asking him as the question clearly made him uncomfortable.

After some time I learned that my boss was not the owner of the company, it was a lady named Alexandra. She looked much younger than she was, and the rose farm had been in her family since the early 20th century. Nick told me everything he knew – it was Alexandra’s great grandfather that had started the business, and whatever he’d done to make the roses so perfect was a secret he’d guarded with his life. That was exactly what his children and grandchildren had done after him, as they all kept their mouths tightly shut about the issue.
Alexandra was a very beautiful woman; she had pale skin and icy blue eyes. Her brown hair was always in a tight bun, and every time any of us workers met with her she would wear dark clothing. Everything about her gave a sense of respect, and we were all nervous when she came to observe our work. Nick and I were both sure that Alexandra and our boss, Mr Verne, were in a relationship because they seemed to be so close. Nowadays I really couldn’t care less. I’m just happy that they’re both dead.

It was in the early summer that things… where the truth was uncovered. The truth that had been hidden in the ground for generations, and that had kept getting fed more and more.
Not many people think about it, but roses often get entangled with each other out on the fields and it’s not always easy to notice because the fields are so large. My co-workers and I had gone out to check to be sure this hadn’t happened so that when we harvested the roses, we wouldn’t have to throw any of them away because they’d grown all over each other.
I was walking in a pretty slow pace, my eyes moving around as I looked over the roses. They had just started blooming ´and their scent was heavy and completely surrounded me. Nick was further away; I could only see him as a figure in the distance to my right. The sun had started moving toward the horizon, and I wanted to try and get back before it got dark. It was significantly colder, and I shivered in my work clothes. When I think back, I can’t remember hearing any other sounds than my own footsteps and breathing, which was a bit unnerving. A bit further away I suddenly spotted a big bushy mess of entangled stems, leaves and flowers. I hurried my pace up a bit and got some of the tools I’d brought with me out.
The thorns were sharp and hurt a bit even through the gloves I had on my hands, yet I started cutting the stems as I’d grown to be quite good at. I was careful not to harm the roses or the stems that led to the flowers. I had gotten through about half of the bush when I spotted something odd in the ground. Close to where I had my knee, something white was sticking up through the ground. Only a small bit of it was visible, but big enough to notice. It didn’t look like a rock, and my curiosity got the better of me. I put my tools down and backed up a little so that I could start digging the thing up. I put my fingers in the ground as close to it as I could, and began to shove the earth to the sides. The object was a bit rounded, and as soon as I could I started to pull it out of the ground. I eventually pulled it out and was completely dumbfounded. I didn’t realised what it was at first, but when I understood I felt sick. I had pulled a big bone out of the earth. I immediately signalled Nick and begged him to come over to my location. It felt like ages until he came, and I showed him the bone.
“It’s probably from an animal”, he said. I wasn’t convinced. So we started digging more, and it soon became apparent to us that it wasn’t just any kind of animal. Nick pulled out a human skull. As soon as he saw what it was, he immediately dropped it with fear in his eyes. I felt tears welling up in mine, and I watched as Nick started to rip the roses out, pulling the roots out as well. Out of the ground came many other bones. They were of different sizes and colours, and Nick hastily moved out to pull even more of the plants, from different locations around us, out. We found bones in most of the places. Terrified, we hurried back. I was behind Nick and I struggled to keep the pace. The landscape around us was bathed in the light of the sunset. The roses were in every direction and I feared to even look at the ground. Because of that I nearly tripped many times. I was terrified of getting left behind, and I was sure I would if I didn’t keep up.
When we came back we called the police and I tried to describe the situation. I was panicking, and Nick had to take over. After that we alerted all our co-workers, and we tried to find Alexandra and Mr Verne, but they weren’t in their offices. When the police showed up we were taken back into the city for questioning as the police searched for Alexandra and her accomplice.
Later that night we were informed that they had become the prime suspects of huge amounts of murders. It wasn’t exactly that way, because after confessing Alexandra also told police how the murders and placements of the bodies dated back decades. Her great grandfather had started the business; his idea had been to give the flowers the bodies of hundreds of people, and many years later she had sworn to keep it going. The farm had been his life, she said. Her pretty words hadn’t helped her or Mr Verne from the death sentence however. Their executions were two of the quickest in America back then, it took only about a year and a half before they were condemned with lethal injection. Alexandra’s last meal was a glass of water with a pink rose from her own farm floating on top. Mr Verne was much less dramatic than the mastermind.

But what keeps me up at night the most isn’t any of this, or how my old friend, Nick, looks nowadays. Not the torn man he has become. No, the thought that scares me, the fact that is my worst fear, is what the police gave me after they closed the case.

It was a necklace with a hand-made pendant, the exact same as the one I had around my neck. A pendant I’d seen so many times before.

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Car Crash

May 31, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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Car Crash

I was once friends with this girl called Megan. She was a little strange. People said she was weird but I liked her. After a while, once she got to know me better, she started to open up to me. Megan didn’t learn to drive for a very long time after everyone else. She was always very hesitant to even get into a car. It wasn’t until quite a while later into our friendship that she explained to me the reason behind this. But when she did I fully understood. When Megan was ten years old, there was this terrible storm. Her father was on his way home from work and his car broke down. He wasn’t very far from their house so he rang home and Megan’s mother decided to take her own car and go out and collect him. This left Megan at home to look after her little sister, Suzy. Megan couldn’t believe her eyes only 20 minute later when she saw the flaming wreck of her mother’s car on a news bullet-in. The storm had gotten much worse and her mother had lost control, leaving Megan and Suzy orphans.

Their aunt Tessa took them in after that, and it was ten years later on a night much like that one that had claimed her parents that she found herself reluctantly driving her younger sister home. She was driving around a bend when she saw that a tree had fallen across the road. She braked immediately but it was too late. After the initial impact and several barrel rolls, Megan was drifting in and out of consciousness and she looked to see if her sister was ok. She wasn’t in the seat next to her. She looked around and was just in time to see two dark figures leading her sister away from the wreck. She could only feel vaguely confused and then she passed out again. When she woke up next she was in a hospital bed. She asked about her sister, and the doctor sat down and explained that Suzy had died immediately on impact. For years, Megan became obsessed with the idea that it was her parents’ spirits that she had seen on that night, leading her sister away into the afterlife. In her grief, what she had seen weighed heavily on her mind, driving her further and further away from sanity over time.

It was three years later on the night that her sister had dies that there was another storm and Megan was beside herself with the memories. She drove out into storm with no destination in mind. She just drove for hours and hours until eventually she grew tired and her eyes grew heavy and she started to doze. The car drifted off the road and she crashed through the dense trees on the roadside. She lost consciousness briefly and when she came round she realised that she had bumped her head but she was ok. She started to cry, having realised she wouldn’t be seeing her parents that night after all. But then she saw a flicker in the rear view mirror over her head. She turned to see two dark figures walking towards her, and for a brief moment she was filled with hope and with happiness. But that moment was shattered when the tail light of her car illuminated the faces of the two figures. It wasn’t her parents. It wasn’t even human. They both had grotesque faces, long sharp teeth, coming out of jagged lips and faintly glowing eyes. Megan screamed out in terror and the creatures froze. She didn’t hesitate. She wrenched the twisted car door open and she ran. She kept running, she didn’t stop. She didn’t look back until she came to a house. She was soaking wet and delirious, and exhausted. Nobody ever believed Megan when she told them what she had seen. They all told her it was just a result of the bump on the head. But Megan believes it, and I believe it. And if you had heard her speak about that night the way she did to me, you would believe it too.

Credit: The Cold Chills YouTube Team

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Case File: Smiler Man

May 18, 2016 at 12:00 AM
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I was sitting on some particularly comfortable hallway chairs in this very bare waiting room. The only thing that occupied the room beside me was this clearly fake plant. I had been asked to wait while this particularly clean yet short and stocky man prepared a room for us. After a relatively long wait time the official, who had the appearance of Barney Rubble, came to lead me to where I was going to be spending the next couple hours or so. I followed the cartoon double down a long hallway riddled with doors adorned various official’s names. It was my first time being invited to such a fancy government building with such bland attributes.

He opened a door to a rather comfortable looking room. He had me sit on one of the colder looking chairs on one side of the table. It looked like a generic interrogation room minus the one-sided mirror. I planted myself down completely uninterested in reliving the events that brought me here in the first place.

“Thank you for joining me Detective Buchanan.” Soon enough he sat himself down just across from me whilst placing down a recording device.

“I wasn’t one with much of a choice after such an elaborate invitation.” He was parked outside the hospital I was discharged from and informed me I needed to be at a certain address at a certain time for ‘debriefing’.

“Enough with the sarcasm Detective, I would like you to speak clearly and in great detail about every event of your case.” From the rumble of his serious tone, I decided it was probably against my best interest to continue with my attitude.

“To be honest, this was probably one of the wildest cases I was ever on. Granted, I went in with all my digits, then came out missing one with a severe need for a therapist.” I exhaled, relaxing back into the cold office chair that was provided for me. The man sitting across from me leaned in ready to listen.

“Start wherever is most convenient.”


“Good morning, Jarred.” I waved to my entirely too blonde partner. “Did you lose a bet or something?”

“My son went blonde and got bullied, so I decided to dye my hair, too.” He laughed.

“Fair enough.” I shrugged, “So what’s on today’s agenda?”

“New case. There’s been a disturbance downtown in the apartments by Main and 59th. Get on it.” The short, and slightly pudgy, chief of our office informed us.

“I call shotgun.” I chuckled slightly tossing my keys to my partner.

“Dagnabbit.” He frowned as he followed me out the door and to my car.

It didn’t take us long before we arrived at the crime scene. Upon arrival, we parked nearby and did our usual greetings to the cops who were posted at the scene. They filled us in on what they knew and we went on our way inside. When we entered the apartment it was pretty apparent there was a struggle, no signs of forced entry, however. Whoever came in here was let in opposed to breaking in. There were small puddles of blood across the living room and partially down the hall. As we moved farther down the hall the blood increased in volume. The trail lead to the bathroom and the source of its embodiment. Across the floor laid a relatively aged man in a pool of his own cooled and clotted crimson life. The majority of his body was still in tacked however there were parts of him that were forcefully removed; typical sick psychopath work in my eyes.

“Our victim is 43-year-old Kevin Harper. He is a clearly single man given the conduct of the apartment in addition to the lack of feminine products or a roommate. It was a co-worker that called when he didn’t show up for work. He has been dead for approximately seventy-four hours. Someone tried cleaning him up a bit but stopped midway.” A relatively young looking black man informed us before pulling Jarred off to the side.

Jarred stepped aside to talk to medical examiner better known as Arthur Davis. He had a grim look on his face as he looked back at me, I had a funny feeling I wasn’t going to like this case. He wandered over with half a smile and a lowered voice.

“So, Artie here informed me that the body parts were not severed by any normal means.” He sighed slightly.

“I hope you’re not implying what I think you are.” I felt my stomach churn ever so slightly.

“It also looks like we have pieces unaccounted for. Hank my friend,” He placed a hand on my shoulder. “We can talk to the chief about giving this case up…”

“It’s a cannibal case isn’t it.” I felt the churn worsen and my gut tightens up. He only nodded in response as I held back the urge to retch. After I composed myself I looked him right in the eyes.

“I’d rather not be a laughing stock, besides, the best way to face your fears is by beating it.” I shrugged off his hand.

“Yeah but fears and vomit inducing topics are totally different.” He laughed. I was always thankful of Jarred, he’s had my back since I was first transferred over to the precinct.

“My issues aside, any news on evidence left behind?” I veered away from the body to look at some of the broken furniture just outside the bathroom.

“We have some hair and a strange set of fingerprints but we won’t know anything until we get this to the lab,” Artie smiled waving his hand slightly.

“Thanks, Artie.” My partner interjected before I was able to retort with a smartass remark.

While we waited for the lab results, my partner and I decided it would be a good idea to look more into Mr. Harper. Jarred when to go talk to his coworker while I made a request in with a friend in the precinct. She did some digging for me but came up with virtually nothing. He had an ex-wife and a son who moved to the west coast five years back and had kept a steady office job since the divorce. By the time my partner came back I really had nothing to help lead us anywhere, he regrettably had the same issue.

A few days into the investigation we heard back from the lab only identifying the victims prints, hair, and blood. There was one other set of prints but those were nowhere in our system.

Flustered with my draw to nowhere, I decided to hit the bar with Jarred and a few other coworkers. I proceeded to drink the cases troubles away with some hearty laughter and strong beer. We enjoyed ourselves for a few hours before I got a call from Daphnie wondering where I was at. I laughed into the phone and assured I was on my way. I called a taxi not too long after and made my way home.


“Alcohol is the most commonly used depressant these days.” The agent scoffed.

“Hey, I am not getting any younger. One or two nights out with the guys is all good in my defense. I try not to make a habit out of it. Saw a guy once, drunk himself right into the unemployment line.” I crossed my arms.

“I suppose Daphnie wouldn’t let you do anything like that, now would she?”

I felt myself fall into a bit of a guilt trip, “Yeah, my daughter acts like a parent half the time.”

“She sounds like she has a head on her shoulders, now onward Mr. Buchanan.”

“Just when I thought we were opening up to each other you put that wall right back up. So hurtful Special Agent, so hurtful.” I took a deep breath.

“I was two weeks into that dead end when I got a call that there was another attack much like the one from the first scene. I had hopped into my car first thing and went straight over to the hospital.”


I entered the hospital bumping into a rather pretty fair skinned nurse on my way to the elevator. She looked tired and worried despite her nice soft glow. Just as I was going to ask if she was alright, she scurried off murmuring something about an appointment. I shrugged off the opportunity and stepped into the small metal box. I pressed the fifth floor and up I went.

I entered the hall seeing a cop stationed outside the room where the victim was staying. I saw a fairly old male, clearly he still had some spring in his step but I couldn’t see him keeping up with the cop next to him. His hair was thinned and grey in between his dim brown locks. His skin wrinkled with years of disgust and stress. His body was short, squashed even, but had a good amount of pudge clearly from his lack of interest in fitness. His bandaged hand twitched slightly as it rested on his bed sheets. Some of the blood still seeped from the bandages wrapping his arm and from a patch on his face.

I stood in front of my bed and watched as his gaze met mine.

“Good afternoon.”

“Ain’t nothing good ’bout this afternoon.” He hissed back.

“Poor opener.” I chuckled dryly, “My name is Hank Buchanan, I am the detective in charge of finding the person who did this to you.”

“Now’s the part where you ask them questions….well, get to it.” He prodded.

“So I was informed you were assaulted by a rather suspicious party?” I opened my notebook readily to take some quick notes. This was the first solid lead I managed to get my hands on in quite some time so I wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.

“He was a freak! A freak I tell you!” he stammered violently between breaths.

“Sir I need you calm down, please. I want to know what he looked like.”

“H-he had six fingers on each hand.” He lifted his hands as he spoke, “His skin was mixed with these dark brown and white patches all over like a cow. H-he was skinny, unnaturally so…” The man placed his hands back on the bed sheets.

“Anything else? Eye colour? Hair? Any other markings?”

His eyes darted up at me filled with anger I was all too familiar with. “His f-face.”

“Something about his face?”

“Long stitching, it outlined the break between the black skin and white skin on his face. There was just enough space on his forehead to see that it wasn’t a full circle b-but more of a…a smile if you will. Not an expression as much as an outline.”

I saw his gaze lower and the feeling of uneasiness rise. I moved on to asking about the place where he was attacked and if anyone else was there when it happened. He refused to speak to me any further in regards to the man, I at least had something to go on. I gave a call to my partner back at the office and informed him to start a local search for blotchy men with six fingers. At first, he laughed at me, honestly getting a call like that I probably would have done the same thing. After I repeated it a bit more sternly he stopped laughing. We hung up shortly after so I could pick my daughter up from cheerleading practice.

It wasn’t until morning the next day when Jarred got a chance to sit down with me to inform me I hit yet another dead end. There was only one person ever registered with a sixth finger and he went missing twenty-six years ago. He had no known relatives and lived in a foster home that had burned down just a couple years after he went missing. All of the records for the home were gone several bodies were discovered in the building. It was a cold arson case with no known survivors. Honestly, at that point, I needed a miracle.

A few days after I hit my dead end I decided to call it a night. I had spent the last seventy something hours of my life trying to come up with a way to track this cannibal with no luck. I figured a good night’s sleep and a meal with the kids would be a good little break. I managed to beat them both home to bake some chicken and make some steamed vegetables. It was cute the two of them looked so surprised to see me. The little one, Abby, came and gave me a hug when she saw me in the kitchen. I couldn’t help but laugh. Being in my field and them not having their mother makes family dinners hard sometimes.

It wasn’t long before we got a chance to sit down and eat together. My eldest , Daph, often asked me about work. She has shown an interest in getting into my kind of field, so sometimes I tell her what’s going on. She was like my at home helper.

“So what are you working on this time?” She scooped some of her greens onto her fork and ate them.

“I have an interesting case, it isn’t very appropriate for little ears like Abby, so I am not going into detail.” I pointed my fork at her, Abbigale was in the seventh grade so I wasn’t too comfortable with her learning about the dead bodies I deal with.

“Ugh, can you censor it or something! I haven’t seen you in like forever.” She protested pushing some of the food around on her plate.

I gave a deep sigh, “Okay, I can censor it a little. There is a bad guy kidnapping people and then poof they all disappear forever. There was one guy who he left behind and the guy managed to explain the culprit to me but…” I scratched my head.

“You hit a dead end. “ She finished for me.

“Daddy why do people steal other people?” Abby asked, taking a good bite of her chicken.

“If I only knew kiddo, maybe it would help me stop them.” I laughed.

“Sound’s like the guy’s done.” Daphnie shoved another forkful into her mouth.

I paused for a moment and looked at her, she stared at me like I didn’t catch on. For a second, I was confused but that had me thinking. If he had done such a good job with his other victims, having countless times to practice, why did that one man get away? He didn’t look very strong nor did he have any signs of fighting back. It was as if the man that had been kidnapping and attacking people wanted to get caught. But why?

“I wouldn’t know why though, people are crazy. Emotions are crazy. My English teacher told me life is unpredictable and people can go from wanting one thing to another on the turn of a dime.” She shrugged while picking up her glass of water to have a nice long drink.

“Maybe he was sorry for what he did.” Abby added, “I know I would be sorry if I hurt someone.”

Abby was so cute. If all of the criminals in the world acted like her, I think I’d be out of a job. Adorable seventh graders aside, Daphnie really had me thinking. After we had finished eating dinner I cleaned the dishes and tucked my girls into bed. Once I was sure they were asleep I took out my work and set up in the living room. I had brewed a nice cup of coffee and re-reviewed everything I had come across thus far.

Just about all the victims were near the same age. The most that had ever been left behind from the victims were fingers, toes, ears; basically the small parts. Some were cleanly taken off, others were not so lucky. They were all taken in the same five block radius not too far away from the hospital. The only known surviving victim described a man that had been missing for twenty-six years. During all that time there is a possibility that this was not his starting point, and that he presumably had some help. Most likely from someone that knew how to clean up a mess. Everything before hand only left a trail and a hint that the victim was even taken. This last victim threw everything off, not only was he intact ,for the most part, but he was left at the scene. Unfortunately, unless the victim recovers some other memory or a new lead falls out of the sky, I can’t move onto any set of individuals in the hospital.

I groaned leaning back on my couch. The only thing I could really do after this was give Johan Kingston a call and see if he’d be willing to help out any more. Until then I packed up my case and went to bed. I decided it would be a good idea to visit my friend Dr. Peter Totschlag, being a forensic psychologist, he may be able to give me a hand.

During my lunch, I gave him a call to see if he was free. To my surprise. he was and he happily agreed to give me a hand on the case. I met with him at his office after I picked us up come 6 from this cubbyhole joint he fancied.

“Oh, a case, and you actually brought me food? You must be stuck.” he laughed brushing some of his stray brown hair from his forehead.

“Drastic times call for drastic measures, Pete.” I pulled up a seat and handed him his food, as we ate, I managed to fill him in on everything and show him a few images from the crime scenes. Then I told him about the last scene and victim.

“Yeah, that is totally weird.” he slurped up the last of his soda, “Doesn’t sound like the other stuff at all.”

“You wouldn’t believe who got me to look at it this way.” I chuckled.

“Daphnie will be a great detective one day.” He looked at me and pushed some of the photos around. “I have ordered it from cleanest to messiest. Take a look at each of the scenes. Here, all the way on the left, it’s got the tightest job while the far right shows clearly there was no second person.”

“So there were two at the scene.”

“Yes and no. Some of them show there were both, others only one. You said some pieces were prettier than others right?”

I nodded.

“Those were the ones that had two people physically working. As time went on, it does give off the feeling that they were getting tired of doing it.” He picked up the photos of the last scene, “It shows that the killer may have been reluctant to let his assistant help. There could have been a concern that arose or even the killer was just done with her. ”


“Yup, no older male killer would be this caring about another man. Due to the type of crimes and the nature of this killer, there would be a female party or a younger male, I lean toward a female because of this idea of a romantic bridge the killer can construct. He clearly shows some level of acknowledgement of her and as time went on it kinda looks like he gave a damn.”

“Any suggestions of the line of work?”

He let out a rough laugh, “After all this talk of cleanliness you are really going to ask that?”

“I have an idea where she may work, to be honest.”

“Oh?” he leaned back in his chair. “Were you leaning toward hospital?”

“Bingo. All of the abductions were ten minutes from the hospital, if anyone would have the time to step away and come back from a break it would be someone from there.”

“It does make sense I would sug-” My phone cut him off with a loud ring.

“Sorry.” I picked it up and to my surprise, it looked like Jarred was giving me a call, “It’s my partner, one moment.”

I removed myself from the room, he was calling to let me know that the victim had returned to the station and wanted to speak to me. I quickly rushed inside to pick up my file and gave Pete a farewell and whisked myself back to the station. By the time I got back to the station, Johan was already waiting with my partner. Once he had spotted me, he stood using a cane probably provided by the hospital. He grabbed ahold of my arm shaking slightly.

“I heard her Detective.”

“Heard who?” I questioned sitting him down in his chair.

“The woman.” He stammered.

“Mr. Kingston, I am going to have to ask you to articulate what you are saying. I do not want to play the pronoun game with you.” I spoke firmly.

“When I was in the hospital I heard a voice, it was a woman’s voice it sounded like the one I heard before I was attacked by that monster.”

“And she was in the area you were staying at? Did you get any glimpse of her face?”

He shook his head.

“If I could get you somewhere where you could hear her voice, do you think you could point her out?”

“I believe I could.”

I gave a small smile, “Jarred get our warrant.”

It took some time but we managed to get all the women who worked on the floor where Johan was staying. A couple dozen nurses, a few doctors, and one janitor later, we had our line up ready to go.Mr. Kingston was more than happy to sit in, though, there was a mix of fear and rage on his face. I double checked with him to make sure he wanted to do this. He only looked at me for a moment and asked when we could begin. We set up each group accordingly as well as numbered each woman so we could keep track of everyone he thought was the voice from before. After two or three hours, we managed to bring it down to one line of six women. Jarred took care of most of the paperwork while a few other officers dealt with witness statements and escorting the previous ladies out.

“Do you want to take a break, Johan?” I questioned leaning towards the glass to examine the line of women.

“I will take a break once I point out who it was.” He poked back, I gave a small smirk.

We went through the routine one last time and he was able to narrow it down to two women. One was a nurse by the name of Mabelyn Peterson; the other, a janitor named Margaret Coleman. Both women had a very close speech pattern and vocal tones so I could see why he couldn’t point one out over the other. I thanked both him and the ladies for their time, and sent them on their way so we could begin our investigation on the women.

I returned to the office with the new information and sifted through all the clues again… not that there were many to go through. Both women worked at the hospital. While it was likely that the nurse had the medical expertise, that didn’t necessarily rule out the janitor. I must have gone over the evidence four or five times, and each time, I hit the same dead end. I had to get a warrant for the ladies’ records. In the meantime, I figured it wouldn’t hurt to call them in for an interrogation.

I filed for the search warrant and found Jarred. “Looks like we’re going fishing,” I said.

“Catch and release?” Jarred asked, eyes wide with excitement. He enjoyed interrogating suspects.

“Catch and release… for now,” I replied. “All the evidence adds up to these two suspects, but we need something more conclusive.”

“You did remember to let the Chief know, right?”

“As far as you know,” I told him. “Hey, you’re the interrogator this time, you have no reason to look a gift-horse in the mouth.”

Jarred decided to shut his trap after that…

A few hours later, I stood behind the two-way glass, watching Jarred play with Margaret. I could see that he went with the “We Know All” technique of interrogation. The tactic wasn’t doing any good, though; either she was really good at playing dumb, or she really didn’t know what was going on. I considered going in to interrogate Mabelyn, but there were a few problems. For starters, her record was squeaky clean; nothing I could use to intimidate her. That meant we had almost no tactic to use, and going in with a bunch of questions can always be misconstrued by the defense as coercing a confession… which means the case gets thrown out. I’ve always been a little hesitant during interrogations; that’s why I usually let Jarred handle it. In the meantime, however, I did peek in on Mabelyn through the glass, and something about her… it just got to me. She had this peaceful, serene look on her face, as if she didn’t have a care in the world… which was weird, considering that she was sitting in an interrogation room. Even people who are completely innocent will show some level of apprehension. Not one look of nervousness betrayed her features. She was just not right. I mentally scolded myself for letting my biases get in the way.

Jarred came out of the interrogation room. “If we didn’t have so much evidence against her, I’d say she was completely innocent,” he replied, with a puzzled look on his face. “I still have to question the nurse, but that’s just a formality right now. If I was the janitor, I’d plead insanity.”

As he walked away perusing the folder, I went to see the Chief about the status of those warrants, though I probably should have told him about this whole ordeal sooner. I knew he was going to ream me a new one yet again.

As soon as I set foot into the Chief’s office, I knew my partner had ratted me out. “We’ll talk about your lack of communication skills later,” he said, clearly annoyed, but used to me keeping him out of the loop.

“Yeah, well… speaking of communication,” I awkwardly transitioned, “Got any word on those warrants?”

Chief shook his head. “You know how the judge is about warrants,” he replied. “If I had known what you did behind my back, for the fiftieth time, I would’ve told you to hold off, or do more legwork, or something.”

“Great,” I murmured. “Best news on this case, yet.”

As I left the office, I heard Chief yell out, “Next time, be sure you keep me in the damned loop!”

Any investigator, regardless of organization or position, will tell you that busywork is the worst. It’s that stuff you do between hitting a brick wall in a case, and finding that one clue that ties it all together; that’s what I got stuck doing. I grabbed some coffee and went back to my desk. I worked on the board where we laid out all the different clues and tried to tie them together. I went back to my desk and listened to the recordings. I looked back through all of the evidence we gathered – even the stuff we originally thought was useless to the case- and got more coffee. All the evidence still said Margaret was the perp, but Mabelyn’s interview and her attitude before the interrogation, were so…off. In such an investigation, it’s always been my experience that innocent people don’t act so nervous, or so calm; only guilty people hit either of those extremes. Fidgeting, losing eye-contact, stuttering, problems working through timelines… on the other hand, staying completely still, glaring, a stone-faced expression, speech that sounds rehearsed, timelines that fit together too well… each extreme indicates something different, and you can just guess which extreme fits Mabelyn’s performance. Worst of all, there were the subtle cues, the microexpressions, which seemed to show that she had a feeling of serendipity; almost like you’d see in a woman who was covering for someone she loved. Going back through Johan’s story, it was clear that this was a two-person team. It made sense… but then again, the evidence was completely against it. It was like a criminologist had gone through the evidence, and Mabelyn’s record, and sterilized both.

We still had nothing clear enough to hold either of them. At least I could take my suspicions to the Chief and explain to him why I was against what the evidence had to say. First, however, I had to get a more authoritative voice on the subject, and I knew just who to consult…
Harrison was a friend of mine since college. He had been my Criminology professor, before the F.B.I. decided to call him up, and I joined the local P.D. He worked for the Behavioral Analysis Unit in Quantico, profiling psychos for a living. These days, he’s a child psychologist. I hadn’t seen him in forever – between work and family, I had zero time – but this was as good of a time as any.

I pulled up to his house/office, located just five minutes from the police station, with my notes at the ready. It was a beautiful, old Victorian; must have cost him a fortune, especially in the Historic District. I buzzed the intercom at his door and looked at the camera. “Come on, Harry,” I murmured.

“So impatient,” Harrison’s voice spoke from the intercom. “You’re lucky I’m not busy with a client.”

The door buzzed. I took that as my cue to walk in.

Harrison had an affinity for taxidermy and masks. I knew he wouldn’t have any of those decorations in his office, considering his clientele, but I wasn’t surprised to see a few tastefully mounted heads in the parlor, and several masks lining the hallway going upstairs. Many were colorful and garish, ranging from kabuki masks to a few cheap masks he had gotten from his Mardi-Gras vacation, but there were a couple that stood out. These were old, wooden masks, which looked like the kind they featured in old movies about Voodoo and zombies.

Harrison met me at the door to his office. “Admiring the decor?” he asked, with a slight smirk on his face. He seemed to have aged pretty well, for a man in his fifties. The grey streaks in his hair made him look distinguished, and he had just a few lightly-etched smile lines on his face. I patted him on the shoulder as I shook his hand. “Particularly those Voodoo masks,” I replied. “Think you have the time to help with a particularly tough case?”

Harrison’s face suddenly hardened. “I had hoped we could converse under more pleasant circumstances,” he said, in that passive-aggressive way of his. He had quit the B.A.U. during a case involving the ritual murder and cannibalization of ten young children. That was five years ago, and the look in his eyes still screamed that he wished he’d gotten that one profile right. In spite of all the other profiles he had gotten almost perfect, that one case both ended his career busting the worst criminals in America, and took a piece of his soul.

“Harry, you know I wouldn’t bother you with this unless it was important,” I tried to reassure him. “You’re the most experienced person I know when it comes to this sort of case. I’d hate to sound like this is some kind of story or something, but lives are, literally, on the line.”

Harrison rolled his eyes at my choice of words. “Alright,” he conceded, “Let’s have a look…”

A few minutes later, Harrison and I were both pouring over my notes. He shook his head. “My professional opinion?” He said. “I think this Mabelyn Petersen is your accomplice. She’s smart, dedicated, and shows signs of sociopathy.”

“So, why does she work for somebody else?” I asked. “I thought psychopaths were-”

“Times have changed, Hank,” Harrison replied, cutting me off. “Take a look at the newest issue of ‘Psychology Today’, and you’ll see that there is a technical difference between psychopathy and sociopathy. For one thing, psychopathy is generally believed to be hereditary, due to an underdevelopment of loci of the brain that control emotional and ethical development; sociopaths are made by a variety of childhood trauma. Furthermore, while psychopaths are meticulous in their actions, and detached from emotional states, sociopaths can form emotional attachments, even going to obsessive extremes; the only thing that doesn’t fit is, sociopaths are generally disorganized and erratic while psychopaths are accurate and detail-oriented.”

“So, what are you saying?” I asked. “Is she a sociopath, or not?”

“I believe she has formed an emotional attachment to a sociopath,” Harrison deduced, putting down the notes and moving towards the window. “She, herself, is not a sociopath; she’s found a way to rationalize her role as the sociopath’s accomplice. He may have manipulated her into falling in love with him, which would cause a strong emotional attachment so strong, she might be willing to do whatever it takes to make him happy.”

“Why a cannibal, though?” I asked.

Harrison stroked his clean-shaven chin. “I’m reminded of a case that, believe it or not, was featured on ‘Maury’,” he said. “There were two young boys who were severely abused and neglected by their parents. They had been forced into a diet of dog food to survive. A couple of years later, the Department of Children and Families took the boys out of the home, but for an entire month, they had to be slowly weaned off of the dog food and reconditioned to eat a normal diet. Their systems had become so accustomed to dog food, it was impossible for them to stomach too much of a typical human diet at any one time. It caused them to vomit whatever they ate.”

Looking back, it seems like an oddly specific thing to say, but at the time, I thought nothing of it. I did, however, take Harrison’s statement back with me. Chief would have a lot to complain about, but it would be worth it…

I decided to look in on the interrogation of Mabelyn again. This time, I could see that my smooth-talking partner was really laying on the charm. This was another technique in which you make a personal connection to the suspect. Make them like you, make them trust you, make them identify with you, and they might just be talked into opening up more; maybe, even relying on you to save them, which, of course, requires that you tell them the truth about everything. The only problem was, Mabelyn was really good at playing dumb… or maybe, she really was that dumb. Then again, how would a nurse, with all that medical training, be stupid?

Chief called me into the office shortly after I returned from taking a glance at Margaret in the interrogation room. Just outside his office there were two cleanly dressed men, they had the aura of ‘I’m higher up so back the fuck off’. He sat me down and gave out a rough sigh.

“Hank, I know you saw the two men outside.” He waved his hand in their direction, “I’ve been informed the kidnapping case we have you on will be given to those two.”

“Wait…wait, what? Why now? I am so close to finding this guy!” I protested. He gave another sigh as he picked up his coffee.

“I am not doing this because I want to Hank, they came to me about what you are working on. I was just picked to let you know. Please leave all your information with them and take the night off, you look like you haven’t slept in ages.” He took a sip of his coffee.

“I will have a new assignment on your desk when you come in tomorrow.”

Angrily, I stood and left his office. I walked over to my desk and packed everything into a manila folder for the two fantastic parties taking the case I’d been slaving over. Once everything was packed away, I happily handed over my work and left to go find some drive-through on the way home.

I sat in my car completely flustered with the case being taken from me. I had been so close to finally getting to the light at the end of the tunnel, then BAM, a cave in. I sighed deeply before taking a bite of a burrito I picked up to suffice as my dinner. I know Abby would get mad but I stayed out a little later to cool off. I had a sick feeling the killer would try to go after someone tonight so I had to at least listen for anything that could remotely fit the M.O. About mid-burrito, I overheard the radio call out a disturbance call for one of the houses in the neighborhood I was close to. I picked up my walkie and confirmed I’d go check it out since I wasn’t too far off. I set my food back in the bag and drove off to the address, just because my case was taken doesn’t mean I wasn’t going to give it one more go. It wasn’t until I stopped outside I noticed it was the nurse’s house. Her car was still in the driveway running but all the lights in the front of the house were off. I stopped my car and made my way to the door. I lightly grabbed the knob to test if it was open or not; once I confirmed it was unlocked I slowly opened the door.

I made my way into the house firearm drawn. I stopped dead in my tracks spotting the vitiligo cannibal eating in the dining room. Blood dripped onto the floor from the nurses freshly mangled body. With a short gag, he stopped what he was doing. His head turned to me part of her flesh being sucked into his mouth. My gun was drawn and aimed right at him. To be honest I was shaking for a moment, as I watched him chew I felt myself become queasy. Right before me was the nurse I had spoken to not more than four hours before, gutted on her own kitchen table.

“I think you forgot to say ‘freeze’ good sir.” A quick gulp and he had emptied his mouth and smiled, “You look positively green would you like a bucket?”

His voice was deep and crisply filled with joy to see me. He straightened himself out patting out the bloodied apron. “Pardon my table manners.” Laughter soon followed as his head and eyes scanned the room. My gun was still pointed at him. I was able to keep myself from throwing up for the second time in the last few minutes.


I groaned a bit changing positions in the chair I was sitting on. The suited man across from me looked displeased with my sudden pauses and verbal complaints regarding my seating arrangement. Honestly I was just stalling, I don’t know if he saw it, but I was particularly uneasy about the next part.

“A homicide detective with a weak stomach? That’s a bit ironic, now isn’t it.” He looked amused for a moment while I frowned.

“I can handle anything else, but the idea of a person eating another person gets me a little sick okay.” I grumbled in response.

“Continue Detective.” He urged.

“I am, I am. These chairs are not very guest friendly, now are they.” I kept moving about my seat.


“Okay…Basically, he asked me to listen to his story.” I exhaled. “He took a seat on a really comfortable, cushioned chair, and asked if I could listen to his story before I arrested him.”

“And you did that?” He spoke in disbelief and partial annoyance.

“I was stalling for backup on the verge of throwing up my snack. Now can I continue? Or are you going to pull up a nice seat and ask more questions?” I may or may not have growled at him just a bit with my side comment.

“What did he say to you?”



He sat back next to the body, my gun still pointed right at him. I only nodded in response to his question. He threw me an eerie smile, pulling at some of the stitching at the corners of his mouth.

“I was twelve….or somewhere around that age. Honestly, with the place where I was stuck at, I lost most of what little memories of my childhood I had. I was a foster kid. No mom, no dad just a bunch of other kids. It’s vague but I do remember a level of acceptance from all of them.” He stared at the ground while he pushed himself onto his feet as if he were dazed, lost in his own thoughts. “Then I was taken.”

“You’re missing person poster is still sitting on my desk. Who took you?”

“No clue, all I know is that his name is…or rather was..Jack.” His gaze connected with mine. “I took his name shortly after eating him.”

“S…so you ate the man who kidnapped you? At twelve?”

“Don’t misunderstand, I was not twelve when I ate the man that ruined me. Have you ever had everything you know, everyone you see, just…disappear? It makes you lonely. It drives you crazy. Now on top of that, you add on being trapped in a basement with a man named ‘Jack’ force feeding you humans after days and days of starvation. What do you think that does to a child? The torture of a man pinching and clamping the skin on your face until there’s nothing but a flap of skin much like when you become overweight and the rest of you hangs there once the fat is gone. I remember him taking the scissors out one day, he sharpened them and grabbed at the flap. He started on my forehead and cut his way down to the corners of my mouth. There was nothing to numb that pain but after what he would put me through, I don’t think I ever remember screaming. I just remember the blood and stitching he did to make my face whole again. He stretched out this white part here, it’s so tight over my nose and eyes.”

He lightly touched the center of his face then drug his fingers down to touch some of the stitching he had on his top lip. “He called me ‘Smiler’ from that day on. I don’t even know why he did it to me but hey, life’s a bitch now isn’t it.”

“And her?” I moved my head slightly directing it at the ever cooling body on the table.

“Ah yes…the Peach, she was a rather nice partner. I met her after trying to move back into society. As you can see.” he opened his arms wide as if he were showing himself off to me “I am not exactly appealing to society these days. So, I decided to just go back to the way that man made me; a monstrosity. She, however, thought she could reverse what he did to me. I told her it was a terrible idea to let a cannibal in the house.”

“How’d she persuade you…not to do what you just did to her sooner?”

“She promised me a good meal and a place to stay, come now you know the only way to a man’s heart is his stomach. In my particular case, I go through the chest cavity.” He laughed a little, “To tell you the truth, she reminded me of someone I once knew, but I came to realize I was living a make believe life. You just conveniently got to me today.”


“I was honestly rather engaged with his story…so much so that I hadn’t really realized he was getting closer until he had enough range to knock my gun out of my hand. Then we got into a good fight for a couple moment. He bit off my finger when we both landed on the floor.” I lifted my hand showing him my sudden love for the number nine. “After that, I managed to grab my gun and caught him right between the eyes.”

There was silence between us, as if he was expecting me to say more.

“Is that all detective?”

“Yes, sir.” I nodded leaning onto the table to give my back a break from the chair. “Is there supposed to be anything else?”

“I suppose not.” He sighed leaning forward for the device. Click. The recorder was turned off. He overlapped his fingers between his knuckles and rested them on the table between us. There was an awkward silence left between us before I cleared my throat.

“So Agent…?”

“Special Agent Jackson.”

“So Agent Jack, why take such an interest in this case anyway? It was just another twisted man gone off his rocker.” I lightly patted the table. The man across from me removed the sunglasses shielding his eyes and stared at me.

“Detective Buchanan, I would heavily advise you to forget any of this ever happened.”

“Huh?” that caught me off guard, I spent months putting that case together just to get it taken then told to pretend it didn’t happen.

“You have two daughters at home correct?”

“Yes sir, I do.”

“Abbigale and Daphnie wouldn’t want to live their lives without their parent.” He replaced the glasses on his face and stood to open the door for me. “Have a good afternoon Detective.”

I gathered myself and made my way out of the room, back down the hall I went, and out the front doors. I took a few steps down the front marble stairs and pulled out a cigarette and a lighter from my jacket pockets. I stared back at the building as I lit it then went on my merry way. It was at that moment, that what that Smiler guy told me about made complete sense.


“This is the part of my tale that you keep to yourself, Hank. This type of information could endanger you and anyone else you hold dear.” Smiler sat right on top of me lifting the gun, placing it in my good hand and putting the barrel between his eyes.

“What is it?” I stammered, the pulsing of my missing finger ringing with pain.

“I want you to describe me as a terrible and twisted man, throw smiles and taunting. I shed no tears in front of you and Peach’s face must be riddled with fear. They will find out and want to know everything you know about me, please lie to them with every fiber in your body. I…I was not random. I was not alone. They wore suits. They broke us and they are making more.”

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