Charlie Marsh entered his apartment, reviewing the target’s details given by his anonymous employer. Someone put out a hit for the serial killer named Jamie Martin. Charlie gazed at the picture, committing it to memory, a man with dark brown hair, a pale complexion, brown eyes, and a thin body type.
Each victim suffered multiple wounds, including lacerations and stabbings. The bodies had been left bloodless, exsanguinated, but no blood was found at the scene. The most notable and confounding variable was the level of deterioration in the victim’s bodies, as if each had started the decay process days before their death.
Charlie checked his computer, confirming the payment transfer and switched to his files: the last known associates, businesses, and additional contact points. Charlie scanned through Jamie’s electronic records provided by his employer. Jamie’s internet search history included blood-letting and poisons. According to police reports provided by his employer, Jamie lived alone, but his neighbors reported increased paranoia and isolation.
His three victims were Kaiye Karr, a data analyst; Corbin Nixon, a marketing manager; and Skye Mendez, an IT technician. The only known connection was they each worked from home or lived alone at the time of death.
Charlie pulled out a map from his desk, marked each victim’s address, and then located Jamie’s last known locations. He couldn’t figure out a connection. Charlie scoured the internet for details about the victim’s jobs, their hours, and whether or not they worked from home. Kaiye worked from home, and Skye and Corbin were hybrid workers depending on the job.
He lifted their files and explored their home details. Sky and Kaiye lived alone, while Corbin had a roommate named Marley Nolan, who was out of town at the time of the murder. Charlie rechecked the map, scanning through the neighborhoods. Each victim was within a one-mile radius of two abandoned houses.
Charlie returned to his map, marking the two houses. He retrieved his handgun from a lock box, stowing it in a holster, and grabbed his notebook. His first step will be to drive by and steakout each site. He received a text from a hidden number marked “private.”
“Man identified as Jamie spotted on Lake Street.”
Charlie verified lake street as a road near both houses, verifying his hypothesis. He drove to the first location, a large Victorian mansion with an extended front porch and rotted siding. Vines overtook the walls and rested on the roof, covering the weakened exterior wood. The lawn was wild and covered in weeds and saplings. The house was famous for being a popular place for the homeless. Someone once broke in and left the doors unlocked. It was easy to access for Jamie, and no one would second guess him being inside.
Charlie was familiar with the last house on his list, an old farmhouse known for a ghost story. It belonged to a family who disappeared without a trace. Some say they’d seen a man in the window, and townfolk believed it was the spirit of a husband murdered by his wife before she ran. This rumor might make it easy for Jamie to hide in the house. If he were ever spotted, people might assume it was the ghost and would stay away.
Charlie drove back to the first house, parked a few blocks away and waited, watching with binoculars. The sun rose high into the sky, and only a few pedestrians walked by with no sign of anyone inside. He watched the windows and the every-so-often curtain flutter. As the sun dropped toward the horizon, it highlighted the inside of the house. He could see outlines of furniture through the curtains. He watched into the night, and still saw nothing of note. Charlie waited until the morning before going home and getting a few hours of sleep.
By 1:00 in the afternoon, he drove to the Victorian house and continued the same routine—sit a few blocks away and watch from afar. He observed a few pedestrians and come nighttime, a homeless woman peered into the house. She looked into the window and stood for a few seconds, scanning the room. She backed onto the sidewalk and looked around. After another minute, she walked onto the steps, jiggled the doorknob, kicked it, and walked off.
Charlie wrote “locked door, someone inside?” in his notes. He focused on the darkened windows, looking for signs of someone walking into the house. There were no curtains to block his view, but the dark made it difficult to see anything inside. Come morning, he could see the outline of furniture but nothing else. Charlie drove home, slept a few hours, and returned to the second house.
He waited in his car, yawning and sipping from one of a dozen coffee bottles he stored in the vehicle. The overgrown grass fluttered in the wind as the curtains shrouded the inside. At 3:00 pm, the sun again brightened the house’s interior. The waving shadows of the curtains created an illusion of movement. Charlie wrote “a draft, window open?” in his notebook.
He stepped out of his car and walked over to the house. He looked around the neighborhood, pretending to write in his notebook as he moved closer to the Victorian residence. Once at his potential target location, he spotted a partially open window.
He circled the block, returned to his car, and continued watching late into the night. At 12:30, he raised his sweatshirt hood, grabbed his mask, stepped out of his vehicle once more and approached the Victorian house. Alert for anyone watching, he pushed open the window and clambered inside, sliding the mask over his face.
With soft footfalls, he searched the house for any signs of life. The dust-covered furniture seemed undisturbed, and a few moldy dishes in the kitchen sink smelled rancid. Charlie twisted the front doorknob, noticing it was unlatched. He finished his sweep of the first floor, checking under furniture and on shelves for any clues. Once clear, he crept up the stairs.
A musky smell hit his nose as something rustled in the room by the second-floor landing. Weapon raised, and Charlie stepped into the room. A dirty, brown-haired man sat drinking on a small couch, staring out the window.
“Turn,” Charlie ordered, keeping his sights on the man’s head.
“Who do you…” the man’s voice slurred. “Oh, shit!” he shouted, raising his hands.
Noting the man’s darker complexion and heavy build, Charlie knew this wasn’t his target.
Charlie rolled his eyes. “Get out,” he ordered. The homeless man lept to his feet and ran out the front door. Charlie finished securing the house, confirming no one else was inside. He exited out of the back door and walked back to his car.
He drove to the farmhouse, parking a block away and strolling over. Charlie checked the windows and doors, but they were all locked. He tried to push past the damaged barn door, but something held it in place. Charlie checked the locks for the front and back doors.
A deadbolt lock barred the front door, but the back had an interior door. Charlie pulled out a card, slipped it into the gap, and pushed open the latch bolt. He stepped into the house and closed the door while watching for movement. He heard a steady scrapping noise, like someone rubbing a stone across the wooden floor above. An empty take-out bag rested on the counter with a random sock hanging off the edge. Its match lay on the floor a few feet away.
He confirmed the first was empty, save for a few articles of clothing. His muscles tensed when a rotting smell struck his nose.
Taking the extra time to move silently, he climbed the stairs and stopped outside the bedroom. Charlie heard a voice mumbling to itself, mixed with an occasional groan of pain followed by an angry whisper. The scraping stopped. Charlie gripped the handle, waiting for the man to make a noise, and burst in with his handgun raised, flinching at a wall of putrid air.
“Turn,” Charlie ordered.
Laying in the corner, the brown-haired man folded into the fetal position, playing with an unknown object. “I said turn.” Charlie barked. The man ignored him, whispering more words to himself, scratching the floor with whatever object he fondled in his hand.
“Kill…” he audibly mumbled, wincing, his face grimacing as he tightened his arms around his torso. He looked at Charlie. “Me—” the man hissed. Charlie fired a single shot into his head.
The hitman holstered the handgun and grabbed his phone, but he stopped upon hearing the slow, woody scrap across the floor next to Jamie. Charlie raised his handgun. Jamie began to rise. His limp head slumped to the side. He grabbed the object, a gun, and pushed his hands to the floor, ready to stand. Aiming, Charlie fired four more shots, one to the head, one to both lungs and one to the heart. All four hit, and the man crumpled to the floor, blood leaking to the ground.
He watched the body for a moment, but it lay still. Once still, he grumbled, shouldering his handgun again, grabbing his phone and switching it to the camera. Charlie crouched next to the body, avoiding the blood, and snapped pictures of the man’s face. He stared at oddly pale skin like bleached leather tightly stretched over a frame. His blank, sunken eyes looked like dry stones staring into nothing. His body transformed from a normal, frail human to a dehydrated corpse. Charlie shrugged it off and turned to leave, stepping over the expanding pool of blood.
He heard a squelch and turned. The blood, now moving on its own, formed a large lump. It shaped into something, but Charlie didn’t wait to find out. He turned to run, but the red, gelatinous mass moved faster. Its pseudopod slithered across the floor, darted past the hitman, and slammed the door shut.
Charlie fired a bullet, which only pierced the living liquid and crashed through the wall. The blood circled him before he could jump around it, feeling his foot covered in the warm, sticky substance. He fired the rest of his magazine at the ooze, aiming a couple of shots at Jamie’s corpse. The thing remained unfazed, wrapping its tendrils around his legs and slithering up his arms.
Charlie pulled his knife and slashed like a wild beast at the blood. Each cut gliding through the shifting red liquid, leaving no visible marks. It reached his arms in under a second, pinning them to his body. He felt it crawl across his neck and engulf his head, the scent of iron filling his nose.
He could still see and hear from his eyes but could no longer feel his muscles or move his arms. The warm sensation turned dead as the gelatinous creature entered and took over his body. Charlie could see the memories of the victims—fragments of their lives as if this thing was a part of them.
One set of memories stood out. Looking through Jamie’s eyes, Charlie saw him put a hit out on himself, Jamie signing the contract under the forceful influence of the bloody ooze. Jamie never killed anyone. It was this thing. It took control of a body, fed on it, then moved on to the next. It wanted to be found. This thing caged its victims in their minds while hunting for a new body.
A deep, guttural voice spoke, and Charlie heard it as if it were his own thoughts.
“No one will miss you.”
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