Post series: Hey!

Serial Killers: Hey! Part 6

  1. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 5
  6. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 6

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Hey! Part 6

It was Sunday. 

Marcy Houghton had been laid to rest for nearly twenty-four hours. Audrey, meanwhile, hadn’t seen any rest for twice as long.

She sat in the shadows of her apartment, her knees to her chest, arms around herself, hardly feeling her own touch or the couch beneath her. The place was taking on a bit of a musty smell, the air thickening and tickling at the throat. Her pens and pencils still lay scattered on the floor at her corner desk. She hadn’t even thought to pick them up, or any of the other items she’d recently bumped into or jostled from tables in her aimless spurts of wandering. In the kitchen, a bowl of chicken sat on the counter, turning and taking on a rotten smell. Audrey had meant to cook it up the other day. She’d abandoned the effort before she could even get a pan out. Everything else in the kitchen had stayed in its place; Audrey hadn’t been eating enough to disturb much of anything in there.

It was another dreary day outside. Rain was on its way again. But Audrey didn’t think she’d live to hear its patter against her window. 

She’d held off thinking about this for as long as she could, the idea only ever falling upon her mind like a quickly-passing shadow, up until yesterday. But now she let it cast itself in full. There seemed to be no other option. She’d had the opportunity to divulge her secret, to confess and perhaps have some of her guilt relieved. She’d failed at it, and she did not see herself finding the fortitude to go to anyone about it again. She simply could not do it. 

Nor could she continue on like she had this last week: feeling these feelings, seeing what she saw, whether it was “real” or not. She had no answer to that bit—of whether she was being haunted by her conscience or by some other essence. Either way, it was unbearable. The truth she thought she could shoulder had broken the bones of her resolve and brought her low, and she didn’t believe she would ever stand straight again.

So, there was really no other choice at hand. Besides, maybe this way she could get some rest of her own. And that was sounding rather nice. The only question was how to do it.

After some debate, the complex’s roof finally came to her. Six floors high; a hop and a quick fall, and that would surely be enough to do it. 

Audrey sat there for another half hour, feeling like she should be crying, and wondering if she should leave some note; but she was beyond tears now, and her suicide would be statement enough.

She rose on shaky legs and trudged out of her apartment, still in her pajamas. She didn’t bother to shut the door behind her.

She took the stairs up. Nobody else was around to see her, the stairway echoing with her slow and lonesome steps. The door that led out to the roof should have been locked, but everyone in the complex knew how the custodians loved to have a view with their smoke breaks. When she turned its knob it popped right open. 

Marcy Houghton was up there, waiting for her. She stood by a vent, staring right at the door as it swung open, her features expressionless. Her skin had taken on more of a bluish tint, to fit the grave.

Audrey stepped out into the chill of the afternoon, precursory winds kicking up and blowing her hair about. The gravel covering the rooftop crunched under her bare feet, sharp edges digging into her skin. It was no never-mind to her, though. She inched along, keeping her sight to Marcy.

“I’m so sorry,” Audrey said as she passed the girl. 

Marcy said nothing to this. She just slowly turned about, watching Audrey as she neared the edge of the roof. Audrey looked down, a harsh wind nearly toppling her before she could make the leap herself. The hard sidewalk leading up to the complex’s main entrance stretched out directly below.

She turned around, the balls of her feet no more than an inch from the edge. She looked at Marcy one last time. 

“I’m sorry,” she whispered again. And then she leaned back.

Dana Danvers switched her grip on the pot as she stepped through the sliding doors of Holloway Home. She didn’t know much about flowers or their meanings, or what have you, but these had looked awful pretty to her at the store, and she hoped that her sister would like them.

Crocuses, she thought they were called.

She checked in at the front desk, getting in a quick chat with Marta, the receptionist, and then she walked on down to suite 19. The halls of the assisted living home were quiet, as always. Horribly quiet. Dana still hadn’t gotten used to it. The place was incredibly nice, to be assured; it could have easily been confused with a well-off motel, what with its spacious rooms and its welcoming interior. And the care its residents received was top-notch, especially around an area like this, so there were far worse places for Audrey to be. But that damn silence was just too much. Granted, there was only so much noise people here could make, suffering from traumatic brain injuries or dementia, as most were; but still, the place could do with some bit of liveliness. The stillness seemed like resignation to Dana; a compliance to just let the residents be and get them by rather than to bring them back to some greater sense of normalcy.

After the accident (that’s what it had to have been, in Dana’s mind) there’d seemed to be plenty of people who were resigned to let Audrey stay in her sad state. Doctors had said that the damage to her sister’s mind had been too great; that she would never walk or talk again, and there was little hope to anticipate anything more from further therapies or surgeries. “Your sister, as you knew her, is gone,” one physician had bluntly told her. But Dana refused to believe that. Her sister could come back. That’s why she visited Holloway twice a week: to see her, to talk with her, to pull her out of herself, God willing.

Before she could step into suite 19, an orderly caught her attention. “Audrey’s in the Rec Room right now, Ms. Danvers.”

Dana thanked him and headed off for the Rec Room. There may not have been many recreational things that her sister could do, but Dana was glad to know they didn’t leave her tucked away in her room all the time.

She turned into the wide white room and saw her sister to the left, sitting in a wheelchair, across from a TV. 

“Hey, sweetie,” Dana said as she stepped over to her sister. She knelt down beside her and held up the pot of flowers. “How are you today? I thought I’d bring some pretty flowers for my pretty little sis.”

A pang hit Dana’s heart as she said that. Though Audrey had been very beautiful once, she didn’t exactly fit the convention much anymore. Even after the reconstructive surgery, her cranium sported noticeable bumps and dips, and her left eye had sunken down in an off-kilter slant. 

A greater pang hit as the memory of that day came back, swift and terrible. Dana had been there to see it, to witness exactly what had left her poor sister like this. She had just been getting out of her car—the crock pot she’d bought for Audrey in her hands—when she saw her sister falling through the air, smacking and cracking down into the ground of the complex’s entrance. Dana had screamed. The crock pot had shattered as she dropped it, and she’d ran over to the crumpled mass that was her sister, her head split open, red coming out like—

Dana forced herself back into the here and now before the tears could come. She sighed and set the flowers down. “Well, have I got some gossip to tell you.”

Dana went into it, every bit of her life’s stories and happenings that’d taken place since her last visit, saying everything and anything she could think of, hoping that something would spark some sort of reaction from Audrey. After an hour of one sided conversation, though, Dana was out of things to say, and Audrey still hadn’t made a move or a peep. She just sat there, staring across the coffee table in front of her and towards the television, only the faintest glimmer of life in her sad eyes.

“Well, I’d better get going now,” Dana finally said, feeling a little bit defeated as she rose to her feet. “I’ll put these flowers in your room for you.”

She leaned down and kissed her sister on the cheek. “I love you, Audrey.” 

If Dana could have given anything just to hear her sister return the affection, she would have gladly handed it over.

While it was true that there was very little of “Audrey Danvers” left in Audrey Danvers, there was just enough to comprehend her situation—to recognize her surroundings. To see.

And what she saw, day and night, was Marcy Houghton. The little dead girl would sit on the table across from her in the Rec Room by day and stand at her bedside by night. 

She never spoke a word; she just stared at Audrey. And that was more than enough to make Audrey scream for help, over and over again—but only ever in her head.

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.

You can find him at:

http://wintersauthor. azurewebsites.net/Pages/Home

https://m.facebook.com/ patrickwintersauthor/

https://twitter.com/Weird_Winters

Serial Killers: Hey! Part 5

  1. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 5
  6. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 6

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Hey! Part 5

Audrey stood at her window, staring out at the streets.

The morning was dim but her apartment was dimmer, the lights all off, the TV still going ignored, the silence palpable, hovering with the presence of a hanged man before his spectators. She leaned against the wall, her head propped against the pane and the drapes tickling the side of her face. She’d crossed her arms, holding herself tightly. Forcing herself to stay and watch.

She’d awoken half an hour ago and started wandering her apartment in a senseless daze. Truthfully, she didn’t know why she was doing it. She just did. After passing the window for about the dozenth time, she’d glanced out, only to have her eye catch on a group of children at the bus stop half a block away. She could see them stepping about, talking to one another, hitting each other, darting around and playing tag before they were off to school. 

But one of them in particular had held Audrey’s attention. A little girl who stood in a single spot, neither talking nor laughing. She just stood there, facing towards Audrey’s apartment and staring up her way. She wore a little dark dress and her hair was up in pigtails. And although her face was a blur from this far off, Audrey was pretty sure of whom she was, whether it was possible for her to be standing there or not.

So, to try and see if she was just flipping out, Audrey steeled herself, returning the gaze that she felt was focused on her. She waited for the bus to come or for one of the other kids to acknowledge the girl for about five minutes, wondering what would happen then. But the other kids never approached her, and when the bus came, all but her piled on. The bus drove off without her. 

And the little girl never once turned away in all that time. And she still hadn’t when Audrey slid the drapes closed, darkening her apartment all the more.

Two notions had wormed their way into her thoughts the last couple of nights, as she tossed and turned. She still fought to keep the one at bay while she stood there in the dark, giving consideration to the other. Finally, she went over to her computer, the image of that girl outside deciding the matter for her.

She brought up the website for the Danville Gazette, quickly finding out what she wanted to know. She was in luck, such as it was.

She had not missed the visitation for Marcy Houghton. In fact, it was being held the day after tomorrow, and it would be open to the public.

Audrey sat in the Escalde, wondering if she could go through with this. She’d been staring down at her hands for the last few minutes, wringing them repeatedly. Her eyes were misty. Her nausea was getting worse. She kept her lips tight, breaths coming quick and harsh through her nose.

Do it, she told herself. Do it already, you God damn coward.

After another minute of stalling, she heeded her own demand and got out of the car. She cleared a path through the full capacity lot and up to the entrance of the Jenson and Sons Funeral Home, slowing as she approached the doors. She’d dressed in a smart business suit and had put on a heavy layer of makeup, hoping she looked better than she felt. Maybe it wasn’t working, because a couple gave her a somewhat wary look before pulling ahead of her and heading into the building. Or maybe they could just sense the truth of her, of why she was there, the guilt radiating out from her body like a heat wave. 

Did you see who that was? the man would be whispering to the woman right this minute.

Of course, she would say back. That’s Audrey Danvers, Accessory to Child Murder extraordinaire. She helped arrange this sad little soirée.

Ridiculous? Maybe. But still, Audrey felt like she was wearing her heart on her sleeve—a heavy heart, at that—and that someone was bound to pick up on it and point the finger her way. As she stepped into the foyer, she felt like the wolf in sheep’s clothing, stalking into a pasture where she wasn’t welcome.

Music played softly from speakers situated overhead, the sounds of violins mingling with the tinkling of piano keys. The lights seemed to be dimmed, making the scene all the more somber. People dressed in a respectful black stood in clusters all about a large reception area; it took up most of the building, the funeral home’s four viewing rooms branching off to each of the corners. The far right one had a silent line of people waiting to get into the room, no doubt to pay their respects to Marcy Houghton’s family and to say a prayer over the girl’s casket.

Audrey weaved through the crowd, making for the line. She caught snippets of conversations and whispered bits of gossip as she passed the groups of mourners.

“To think that something like this could happen in a town like ours . . .”

“We live in a sad world.”

“Did you hear they confirmed it? That sick fuck did kill those other three.”

“Gas the bastard. Or bring back the electric chair. Make him feel it.”

“I heard Jade say that Chloe’s been having nightmares. The poor girl. As if losing her sister wasn’t enough . . .”

Audrey took her place in the line and others followed after her. It moved quickly, and Audrey was in the parlor room in no time. She saw Jade and Darren Houghton, Marcy’s parents, up ahead. She recognized them from a photo posted on the Gazette’s website. They stood between little pillars that bore pots of lilacs, a blown-up photo of a smiling Marcy situated behind them.

A little white casket sat in the corner off to their right. It was closed. More pots and wreaths of all sorts of flowers surrounded it. Audrey’s nausea gave a bump in her gut when she noticed one was filled with amaryllises. 

She felt her face go warm as she looked away. Her sight fell on the rows of folding chairs arranged to the far left, set up for when the service started. A few of them were already claimed. An older woman sporting a turned up veil stood beside a corner seat, a young girl beside her, their hands clasped. The girl was shifting her sorrowful sight between the floor at her feet and the casket in the corner, her chin dipping down towards her chest. There had been no picture of her on the Gazette, but Audrey assumed she was Chloe Houghton, Marcy’s slightly older sister.

Audrey looked to her own feet. Her hands kept up their nervous kneading. Her heart grew more restless with each step forward, the line advancing quickly. What in the world was she to say when the time came? And it was coming damn soon, if she didn’t turn and run right this instant. Maybe she should. Maybe this was a bad idea. She shouldn’t be here. She had no right to—

Jade and Darren Houghton stood before her now, waiting on her, each looking beaten down, no matter how straight and proper they tried to stand. Jade gave her a thin smile; it was a tired one, but not without its warmth. “Thank you for coming today,” she said, extending her hand.

Audrey paused, and then accepted it into her own clammy grasp. Now was the time. To say it. To have it out and damn what came next, as long as it was admitted.

I let your daughter die!

“Hello . . .”

I could have helped her! I could have saved her!

“I’m—”

“Audrey Danvers,” Darren Houghton said in a deep voice.

Audrey gawked at him, terrified that they knew who she was.

“Our famous writer,” Jade added with an explanatory nod and a small laugh, apparently at the face Audrey had made. “We’re familiar with your work. Marcy was such a fan of your books. Annie and . . . Fink?”

Her husband gave a little chuckle of his own. “Plink,” he corrected. Then he turned back to Audrey. “We got the box set of them for Marcy’s birthday this year. She had me read them with her come bedtime. She thought they were so funny.”

Audrey felt like she was sinking into the floor, right into a quicksand of guilt. If she didn’t say something now, it would swallow her up.

“Thank you. I’m . . . so glad she liked them. I . . .”

I saw her down there! In his basement! But I didn’t help her!

“I just wanted to say how . . . how very, terribly sorry I am for your loss. And that . . .”

And that it’s all my fault! God, I didn’t realize! I should have done something!

They stared at her, looking patient as she teared up and struggled to get it out.

“And that . . . I hope, with all my heart . . . that justice is found for your little girl.”

Jade tried to smile again, but it broke. She started crying, wiping the back of her hand across her eyes. Words started to come from her lips, but they stumbled into a sob. Darren put his arm around her and pulled her closer, extending his hand out. Audrey hesitated once again, but she shook it.

“Thank you,” he whispered. “Thank you very much for that.”

Audrey stepped away, hearing a moan from Jade over her shoulder. She heaved a sigh and ran the back of her hand over her own eyes, swallowing down a lump. She walked gingerly over to the casket, as others had done, standing by it just long enough to stare at its veneer and whisper a plea of forgiveness inside her head.

She turned back and made to leave the funeral home, but she slowed as she looked towards Chloe Houghton.

Chloe had turned her wetted eyes up to Audrey, looking right at her, and with a dried hint of a tear upon her cheek. But behind her, staring over her right shoulder and towards Audrey, in turn, was a single eye set into an ashen face, the rest of the ghostly visage hidden behind Chloe’s neck. The only other visible part of the apparition was a small pigtail that jutted out from its—her—head.

Audrey went cold as she turned away, rushing out of the funeral home and out to her car.

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.

You can find him at:

http://wintersauthor. azurewebsites.net/Pages/Home

https://m.facebook.com/ patrickwintersauthor/

https://twitter.com/Weird_Winters

 

Serial Killers: Hey! Part 4

  1. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 5
  6. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 6

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Hey! Part 4

Rest evaded Audrey once again. She’d snatched a few winks sometime between 2:00 and 3:00, but after that she was right back up, still feeling like crap. She decided to try a new tactic: getting out her phone and earbuds, listening to music the rest of the night. She was glad that she was able to hone in on the rhythms and the lyrics, keeping her from thinking of other things (for the most part). But she never went back to sleep.

She lugged herself out of bed come 6:45. And though she slurred when she spoke, and her head lolled about through her calls, she put in another full day. Her pitches were bland, straightforward, but at least she could get the basics across, when someone did bother to answer. She suffered more belligerent customers, more tirades about how “they” needed to quit calling them. And it wore on her. After her final call ended (and despite making a sale) she set her palms to her temples and curled her legs up into her chair. She felt like she was on the verge of tears, of screaming her head off. 

It looked like her shoulders were already slumping.

She couldn’t keep up with this, with work. Not with what she was going through—with all she was trying so hard not to think about. Tomorrow was Friday. Her day off. The weekend was upon her, but she had to put in a few hours every Saturday and Sunday. And right now, feeling how she was, that seemed interminable.

If she had to make another call without a good night’s rest to back it up, she was going to snap. She’d not only sell pans to people, she’d be telling where to snuggly store them.

Her aching eyes eventually glanced over to her corner desk. The afternoon light splayed in from her window, falling upon a jar of pens and pencils, sending shadowy fingers along the wall. The sight of it brought the tiniest bit of ease to her, and she started to consider something.

A few minutes later she’d emailed her boss, requesting vacation time, effective this Saturday and carrying on until the Monday after next. She was entitled to it, and although it was rather short notice, she thought she’d get it. She was a model employee (minus the last two days) and she pushed the ailing father story a tad in her message. She felt a little bad using her perfectly healthy father like that, but honestly, she’d done far worse as of late.

If her boss gave the vacation an okay, she’d use it to get straight, to get some relieving work done on her new book and its art. And after a week off, she’d be back in the swing of things. It sounded good. Best of all, it sounded like it could work. But it all hinged on her getting some blessed sleep again.

Audrey decided she wouldn’t leave it to chance. She changed out of her pajamas and headed downstairs, aiming to drive to the nearest Walgreens. Some NightAid would do the trick. She’d taken it plenty times before, and though it sometimes made her a little loopy, it’d never failed to get her to sleep through the worst headaches or the stuffiest colds. Hell, she’d chug it until she had little dragons flying around her head and saw Pavarotti singing in her shower, if only she could catch some Z’s afterwards.

She got into her Escalade and drove off, winding through the suburbs of Danville and heading towards the small-town bustle of Main Street. The streets were quiet, near-barren, the school buses already finished up with their routes for the day and the nine-to-five folks still an hour off from freedom. The sky was starting to get overcast, dull gray clouds drifting across the sun, looking like a spot of rain was on its way.

After a few blocks, the total stillness of everything began to pester Audrey. She reached for the radio and poked the nub, the sound of electric guitars and thumping drums blaring into the car. It made her jump. Sparing a little laugh at herself, she looked back to the radio, making to turn down the volume. But then the chorus of the song struck up; hearing it sent a chill along her hand, staying it along with the rest of her.

It was “Help!” by the Beatles.

Audrey felt as though she slipped out of herself in that moment. She hung there in the car, the loud music becoming muffled to her distant ears and the feel of the wheel just a vague sensation in her clinched hand. She finally snapped back when she saw something appear in her windshield, emerging from her peripherals. She looked back ahead and felt a scream catch in her chest.

Marcy Houghton stood in the street, staring straight at Audrey as the Escalade barreled towards her.

Audrey swore and jammed her foot on the brake, her other hand shooting back to the wheel, the tires beneath her screeching as they ground against the pavement. Her seatbelt constricted along her chest as she lurched forward, the car finally stopping as she waited for a harsh thump to sound out.

It didn’t. Audrey flung back her hair, looking ahead again.

A little girl stood only a couple feet away from the Escalade’s nose, but it wasn’t Marcy Houghton. Not by a long shot. Only her head was visible from over the hood, her face gone pale and slack in dumbfounded amazement.

The little girl blinked and slowly stepped back from the nose of the car as a shrill voice rose up loud and clear, even against the Beatles. “Jenna Marie!” 

Audrey saw an elderly woman shuffling her way into the street from the front yard off to the right. Her features were caught in a mixture of fear and fury. “I told you to never run into the street!” The woman, perhaps the girl’s grandmother, grabbed her by the arm and pulled her up against her hip, leading her quickly away. She glared back at Audrey as they went. “And you need to pay some damned attention!”

Audrey would’ve shouted back a sincere apology, but she couldn’t speak. She could hardly even move. She just sat there for a minute, the Beatles still singing, still pleading. 

What the hell had just happened? The question hammered against her skull as she finally, slowly drove off. 

She could have sworn it had been . . .

She saw her. The pigtails. The dark dress, from the photo on the news. The one she was wearing the day Audrey had . . .

But she hadn’t been smiling, not like in the photo. No. She was just standing there, staring . . .

And it hadn’t seemed like some passing spur of imagination. Sure, she was damn tired, but to actually see . . .

Surely she wasn’t that out of it. But if not that, then . . . ?

Good lord, if she’d braked any later, she would have—

—she would have let another child die.

And with that smack of a realization, Audrey pulled her car over to the curb. She put it in park. She punched the radio off and all was quiet again. It really didn’t help in the least. 

She set her head to the wheel. She cried, choking on apologies that no one heard.

By the time she got back home with her three large bottles of NightAid, Audrey’s boss had emailed her back. He had signed off on her vacation, as she’d expected, and he said he hoped it would be a relaxing one for her. Audrey had just sighed bitterly at that and broken open a bottle of the clear-pink medication, taking a big swig of it. She didn’t give a damn about measuring it out. Then she fell into bed, leaving her street-clothes on. 

She slept. Sort of.

She managed to get in four hours’ worth, which at this point was a victory she would gladly take. But when she woke up to the nighttime, and those thoughts started to creep back in like an evening tide, she ached for more slumber. She took another hit of the NightAid, but it took a bit longer for it to kick in.

And that was the pattern of her weekend, with little else for variety: guzzle and sleep, wake and lament, rinse and repeat. She missed a call from her sister; Dana texted her shortly after, to say she’d be stopping by later in the week to drop off a piece of crockery she’d bought for Audrey at some sale. Harland Poole had tried getting in touch with her, too. Multiple times. He left voicemails that Audrey never bothered to listen to. She wasn’t up for getting her ass kissed by him, or for any of his passive pushing to hurry it up with the new book.

By Monday she was in moderately better spirits—at least, a damn sight better than she had been—and she had caught just enough rest to function somewhat properly. The nights were still a bit rough and long, and the daytime hours became her go-to chance to nap. 

Come Tuesday, she was finally intent on getting some writing and drawing done, or whichever she could manage. Her hand was a little shaky, and her thoughts still dove in and out of order—maybe from all that medication she’d consumed, maybe from her still-troubled sleep—but she forced herself to get a go on her new project. She tried to get some character profiles down first. Figuring out their intricacies before she wrote their story. It ended up consuming the whole day, minus a few choice breaks to the bathroom or to stare at the walls in encroaching defeat. A few good tidbits came to her, but for the most part it was just uninspired drivel. The same warmed-over crap she’d seen in countless kid’s books. For every idea she halfway liked there were five she tossed out, scratching her pen across her notepad in frustration.

Eventually, she decided that a bit of unconsciousness sounded better than toiling at something that just wouldn’t come. She took another hit and lay down. It took a couple grueling hours, but she eventually dozed off.

When she woke up (for good, that was) it was Wednesday afternoon, and she thought she’d give some sketching a shot. If her character’s personalities wouldn’t come to her, maybe their likenesses, at least, would. She’d set herself at her corner desk and got to it. She drew and colored in what started at a slow, deliberate pace, getting a feel for what she pictured in her mind—but as the hours passed, it switched into a furious flurry of paper and frantic curses. There was a blockade between her thoughts and her hand, the lines she drew growing more and more crooked, her shading just sloppy, every little thing she put to paper looking like a half-rate grade schooler’s doodles. Half a notebook’s worth of paper ended up crumpled or torn, tossed into her wastebasket or left on her table to clutter. Some bore the soggy marks of tears, which Audrey hadn’t even been aware of shedding—not until she was just putting down erratic swoops and zig-zags, with no meaning to them beyond loosing her angst. 

Her worn pencil eventually snapped in her hand, her grip a vice. She’d been clenching it between throbbing fingers. She cradled her arm and stared at her fingers awhile, as though recognizing them for the first time, their skin now red and angry. Another break quickly followed, one that was felt only in Audrey’s mind; she pushed herself away from her desk, pens rattling and falling to the floor.

She went for the NightAid, finishing off the second bottle. She threw herself into bed and screamed into the mattress.

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.

You can find him at:

http://wintersauthor. azurewebsites.net/Pages/Home

https://m.facebook.com/ patrickwintersauthor/

https://twitter.com/Weird_Winters

 

Serial Killers: Hey! Part 3

  1. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 5
  6. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 6

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Hey! Part 3

Audrey spent the rest of the day ambling around the apartment, lost in her own home. She quit working, and she didn’t really care about whatever consequences would come with that. She had other things on her mind. Like the fact that she’d let a child die. Funny, how a thing like that made it hard to put on a happy air, and all to sell a fucking pan to somebody.

She traversed from her work-desk to the kitchen, to the bathroom and to her bedroom, then back again, over and over, changing spots almost every ten minutes. Her body needed to move, as if it could get her out of the dark sludge her mind was stuck in. But no amount of pacing could free her from that muck of guilt and dread that heaped itself onto her more and more, as the day wound down.

She had tried to conjure up other explanations and scapegoats, but they’d flitted away as quickly as they came. Maybe she was dreaming this all, or at least everything about this morning. Maybe the report was wrong, overblown, some kind of horrible hoax. Maybe she was just crazy, locked up in an asylum and on a heavy sedative, to calm the woman who’d gone round the bend after selling one too many pots to too many faceless voices. 

No, no, and no.

This was real. It was happening. She was just adrift in the sea of a terrible failing, looking for the proverbial lifesaver to keep her afloat.

Lifesaver. Now that was an ironic term for her to consider.

Once she came to accept that there was no way out from this, the next thought to plague her was: “What now?” What the hell was a person to do in a situation like this? She supposed the right thing to do would be to come forward with what she’d seen, to go to authorities, to testify at whatever court case was bound to ensue. But . . .

But what good would that do? Though she loathed herself to think it, Marcy Houghton was dead; nothing would change that, so what would come of her admitting to seeing Marcy that day? And it was Marcy now, not “the girl”—Audrey could no longer put the name aside. It would not be denied. Just like it was now Martin Cheswick, Child Killer—not that nice old man with the flowers.

The news report had said there was “incontrovertible proof” that Cheswick had taken and killed poor Marcy. By the sound of it, he’d been caught red-handed. There was no way out of it for him. And that part of Audrey that dealt in stories filled in the gaps of the report, thinking back to that basement, hardly daring to imagine what Cheswick did to Marcy (or left of her) down there, before he could bury the evidence. And that led Audrey to fill in more gaps. The news had said Cheswick buried other pieces of evidence from other abductions. But buried where?

Lovely flowers and freshly turned dirt had flashed into Audrey’s mind. Times when she had seen Cheswick tending his garden with her own eyes.  Had she ever seen him put anything other than soil and flowers into the areas he was digging up? Any bags or bundles of cloth at his knees? She didn’t think so; or maybe she just wouldn’t allow herself to remember if she had. 

Questions about what “pieces of evidence” implied threatened to follow this line of thought, but she beat them back, already sickened enough by the revelations of the morning. Besides, the matter of what came next still needed addressing.

The internal debate went back and forth for hours, her conscience trying to waylay her selfishness, but Audrey knew she’d already decided on the matter long before then. She would stay quiet. She would not go forward. Easier said than done, but it would have to be done, and whatever came with that would be on her shoulders. And she thought she could bear it—at least, she hoped she could—if she had to. After all, had her response been that surprising? She was expecting an important call when it had all happened. She had been preoccupied. Distracted. Unsuspecting. Who wouldn’t overlook the truth of the matter as easily as she had? That didn’t make it right, but it surely made it understandable, at the very least. Surely. Besides, she still had a life ahead of her, and a promising one at that. That’d go down the drain if she admitted to what she witnessed. She could see the headlines now: CHILDREN’S WRITER COULD HAVE PREVENTED CHILD’S DEATH. The irony of it wouldn’t go unnoticed by the public.

Cheswick would pay for what he did. That was what it all boiled down to, right? Justice would be served. There seemed no doubt about that. And whatever Audrey knew would stay with her.

“It’ll all work out,” she eventually said aloud, looking out at the darkened evening beyond her living room window. She hadn’t realized until now that she’d managed to keep herself rooted to the couch for a good hour. Maybe that was a good sign. Maybe this wouldn’t drive her over the edge. Maybe she could cope.

“It’ll all work out.”

Audrey didn’t sleep well that night. Her body was weary from pacing, and her mind was weary with reconciliations, but she could not manage to give into slumber. She lay there, rolling over like a sea, again and again, trying to ease herself. It didn’t take.

Her thoughts wandered in the dark. She wondered about what to get her sister, Dana, for her birthday. That was just next month, and she still didn’t know whether to get her a certificate to the spa or maybe draw up something special for her, or maybe something else entirely. But then thoughts of presents led her to imagine what Marcy Houghton had got for her seventh birthday, and what her party had been like. And then a scolding whisper in her head reminded her that Marcy would never get an eighth birthday.

She thought about what excuse to give her boss, to explain away her sudden absence that day. A vague family emergency seemed like a good bet—and then she wondered what Marcy Houghton’s family was going through now, the pain they must be feeling, the utter hell that came with the loss of a child. Then she’d tried her best to think on something else.

She’d considered getting up and watching TV, but she couldn’t bring herself to do it. There wouldn’t be any news on by that time, but she could just picture a news-break popping up anyway, no matter what channel she tried turning it to.

By 4:00 in the morning, it had finally reached a point where she was forcing herself to stare at the lines in her linen, focusing on the rise and fall of her sheets, and (hopefully) nothing else. It worked, for a while. But as she took in the smooth white curve of her pillow, she started to think about what kind of fabric was used to line your average coffin, and of what use it was to give a dead person a pillow when they were finally laid into the darkness of the earth.

She’d grabbed her pillows and threw them to the floor after that, burying her face in the crooks of her arms until her alarm came calling. 

For the first time in a long while, she’d actually welcomed the noise. It meant she could work—that she could actually distract herself with something. Of course, that didn’t turn out to be true, but she was grasping at the proverbial straws by then.

She’d started off by calling her boss and apologizing, saying that her father had a minor heart scare the previous morning which had begged her presence. Maybe it was the tired shake in her voice that helped to sell it, because her boss didn’t give her any trouble over the matter.

The day’s work was pretty much a bust. From 7:00 to 3:00, she’d made a hundred or so calls, about half of which went unanswered; the other half just proved to be irritating, and occasionally, downright maddening. Hearing the creaky voices of old retired ladies repeatedly asking if there was a buy one, get one free option like so many other infomercials promoted; listening to others badger her for calling them and blowing up their phones all the time; trying to comprehend what others—who were interested in ordering, but who could barely speak English—were saying. In her sleepless state, it’d all been too much for her, and by the time she clocked out, she was more than ready to try and give sleep another shot.

She took a quick shower to see if that would relax her and then she crawled into bed. She left her pillows on the floor.

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.

You can find him at:

http://wintersauthor. azurewebsites.net/Pages/Home

https://m.facebook.com/ patrickwintersauthor/

https://twitter.com/Weird_Winters

 

Serial Killers: Hey! Part 2

  1. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 5
  6. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 6

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Hey! Part 2

The following Tuesday was an average day—at least, at the onset.

Like always, Audrey went into lamentation the moment her alarm went off, that damnable beeping pulling her out of a sunny vacation on the Florida coastline. She buried her head deeper into her pillow, blocking out the racket, as she blindly sought out the clock that read 6:45. It was 6:47 when she finally forced herself out of bed, reassuring herself with an old joke: at least she was already dressed for work. The great thing about working from home was that a Mayday Parade t-shirt and pajama shorts made for a suitable dress code.

After taking care of some business in the bathroom and making herself a cup of coffee, she started in on the real business, turning her computer on at its station in her living room. The other desk in the corner of the room—the one that boar her paints and pens, where she toiled to make magic happen—begged for her attention, but she couldn’t give it any quite yet. Now that the contract for book one of her newest series had been signed and sent back to Shyne Press, she had been dying to do some sketching and draw-ups of her characters, getting a feel for how to best put the people, creatures, and plot points that were darting through her mind onto paper. “We will of course be glad to consider a deal for further entries in the future,” Ms. Downing had told her towards the end of their call, but by that point Audrey had just been giddy to get anywhere with them at all. It had made the future look bright; but it’d also made getting through the work week a bit more tiresome than usual. Her more freeing work would have to wait until tonight, at least. Until then, the phone awaited her.

Once her computer booted up, she’d signed into her work-site and the needed apps, bringing up the checklist of phone numbers and prospective clients for the day. She’d gotten right into it, calling people and putting on her cheeriest voice as she let loose her spiel, promoting the latest, greatest, non-stick cookware ever known this side of the century. Or so the marketing team for Century Cookery had wanted it told.

She’d made eight calls by 7:30—six going straight to voicemail, the other two answered, but ultimately busts. She eventually turned her television on to the local morning news, more so to have a bit of soothing background noise than to watch the broadcast. She caught bits, though: Cheryl Sterling talking about the weather (that woman would tell you to take a jacket in a drought, “just in case”) and Joe Morton talking about last night’s football game with his usual alpha bravado.

When 8:00 came, Audrey took a break, pulling her headset off and taking a sip of cold coffee. She was about to get up and go to the bathroom when the television caught her eye. Amanda Watson and Dan Karls were in their studio, both looking grave as a red banner sprung up below them. 

It read: MISSING CHILD FOUND DEAD IN DANVERS.

“And now for some shocking breaking news,” Amanda Watson was saying. “Reports indicate that a Danville resident has made a confession to authorities regarding his abduction and murder of four local children.”

Audrey froze as an image filled the screen. It was a mugshot, showing a rather glum-looking gentleman with an unkempt mop of hair and a gray wall to his back. And though his cheerful smile was gone, she recognized the man’s thick mustache in an instant. It was the sweet old man who lived at 1123 Hogarth—the house with the lovely flowers.

“Yesterday afternoon, police took 61 year old Martin Cheswick into custody following an investigation into the disappearance of one Marcy Houghton, which turned up evidence of Cheswick’s involvement. After arriving at Cheswick’s home, a search of his property turned up what officials have said is “incontrovertible proof” of the charges brought against Cheswick, though the Danville Police Department has yet to elaborate further on this.”

Footage of a crime scene came next, police officers and people in detective’s suits cordoning off 1123 with police tape, the investigators milling about, walking in and out of the household’s opened front door. There were closer shots of the officers interspersed with wide shots of the home, the flower beds bright and swaying lightly in a mid-day glow.

Then another photo came onto the screen, and Audrey went from being frozen to feeling utterly numb, sensation falling away into a void of disbelief. The face of a young African-American girl smiled out at her from what must have been a family photograph—her hair done up in dreadfully familiar pigtails.

“Seven year old Marcy Houghton had been reported missing by her parents two and a half weeks ago. She was last seen attending St. Catherine’s school on Tuesday the fifth. Authorities have yet to reveal what in the ensuing investigation led them to Cheswick. She has now, sadly, been confirmed as deceased.”

The same footage of Cheswick’s home began to replay as Amanda Watson continued on.

“Sources say that Cheswick had buried further evidence from three other child abductions on his property. Police are currently preparing to conduct an excavation of the area to determine the validity of his confession and to establish the identities of the other alleged victims.”

“Terrible news,” Dan Karls said as the feed cut back to the two reporters. “Just terrible. We will of course be following up on that story with further developments. But for now, our hearts go out to the Houghton family at this time of loss. We’ll be right ba—”

Audrey reached for the remote, fumbling with it before turning the TV off. It slipped right back out of her grasp as the screen winked out, smacking across her desktop. She ran her hand through her hair, as though to hide its subtle shake within her strands. She leaned back in her chair. Her mind went blank for a time, reconciling what couldn’t be true with what she’d just seen to be true, her eyes focused on the veneer of her desk.

She’d been mistaken. That was the first lie she told herself, the one that got her right back into her work, without taking that intended bathroom break. The man she’d seen on TV wasn’t the sweet old man from 1123 Hogarth. She’d just associated one for another, and when she saw the house, she naturally thought it was 1123. But it hadn’t been; it had just been a similar house. Yes, of course. Silly her.

But the flowers—those exact flowers. Those kept coming back to mind. And the girl . . .

When that reasoning started to crumble, she started to wonder if she’d just dreamt up the whole run from Saturday. That of course made no sense; she’d taken her big call with Shyne Press that morning, and that was no dream. Still, her mind found a way to make that fit, at least for a bit. Sure, she’d gone on the run. Yes, she’d gone down Hogarth. But stopping there at 1123, seeing the girl? A snippet of a dream from some time ago, merging with reality. Or another occasion blending with this more recent one. Either way, she’d misremembered. Sure, that sounded a little out there, but better to be a little out there than know that she’d . . .

Again, Audrey rejected this. The explanation was too thin. That, and her memory wanted to bring something up, something she wouldn’t let in at first, but which scratched at her brain like a fingernail beyond a door, itching to get through. 

It was the girl. How she had looked at her that day, through the window. Audrey had taken her twisted-up face to be a look of anger. But maybe desperation had been more like it. And what she’d yelled as she smacked at the glass. “Hey.” It had been muffled, indistinct. And Audrey hadn’t been paying much attention. Maybe she’d mixed it up. Maybe it wasn’t “hey,” but . . . 

“Help!”

A feeling of nausea came with the word; it made Audrey cut a call off mid-ring. She stood up, her head feeling horribly light as she went to the bathroom. She sank down to the cool tile around the toilet, nestling herself against the bathtub as she hung her head over the porcelain mouth.

By 8:30, what little coffee that remained in her stomach was coming out.

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.

You can find him at:

http://wintersauthor. azurewebsites.net/Pages/Home

https://m.facebook.com/ patrickwintersauthor/

https://twitter.com/Weird_Winters

Serial Killers: Hey! Part 1

  1. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 1
  2. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 2
  3. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 3
  4. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 4
  5. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 5
  6. Serial Killers: Hey! Part 6

Serial Killers are part of our Trembling With Fear line and are serialized stories which we’ll be publishing on an ongoing basis.

Hey! Part 1

It’ll go great, Audrey Danvers kept thinking. It’ll go great. You’ll be great. You’ve got this.

Her pep talk must have been working, because she was picking up speed, her body as determined to get in a good jog as her mind was to nail this call. It had done wonders already, burning off all that excess adrenaline and giving those nerves something else to gnaw on. And those nerves had been pulling overtime as of late. A veritable deal of a lifetime might be hinging on this one call, the pitch which she’d been rehearsing again and again for the past two weeks.

“Fame and fortune lie ahead of you, my dear.” That’s what her agent, Harland Poole, had said just last week when he called her with the good news. “You’re about to be a big fish in one hell of a pond.”

Audrey wasn’t as certain about that as Harland had sounded, but she sure dared to hope. Those hopes carried her on and up the slope of Tiding Street, the burn in her calves invigorating. Someone in a Sedan honked and waved at her as they drove past; she waved back, even though she had no clue who it had been. There seemed to be a lot of familiar strangers in Danville these days, plenty of happy faces smiling at the once noteless woman who’d since become a town celebrity, of sorts.

Audrey’s dash of notoriety had come with a line of books that Page Turner, Inc. had released across the last two years, written and illustrated entirely by her. They’d been a small press, but welcoming to new talent, and Audrey had been utterly new when she’d submitted her work to them. Up until then, she’d hardly ever shared her writing and her art with anyone, save for the odd friend and select family members (those who hadn’t called her B.A.s in Art History and English Literature wasted efforts). But she’d decided to take a risk and submit her first attempt at a children’s book. And the risk had paid off big time, sparking sequels. All in all, her five Annie and Plink books had managed to take in a good number of sales. Not enough to quit her day job in telemarketing, but damn good pay for a budding writer and illustrator.

By the series’ end, and in light of its success, The New York Times had taken notice of her work, publishing a small retrospective review of the whole series. The author of the article had concluded that Audrey was “a rising star; a star that would surely guide readers back her way with her future endeavors.” Big dreams and dollar signs had filled Audrey’s head after that, and she’d set to conceiving a new book, or a new series, or anything to build off her momentum. By that time she’d been able to afford Harland Poole’s representation, and when she’d felt like she’d finally snagged a worthwhile idea, she took it to him, and he went fishing for prospective publishers. Shyne Press had been the quickest to take a nibble. 

“They’ll be the new Scholastic within the decade,” Harland had told her. He’d also projected that with this new series idea—and with her name recognition and Shyne’s backing—she could make an easy ten thousand dollars in a deal with them. Not including royalties. After that juicy tidbit, she’d instantly sought out a meeting with the publishers and a chance to pitch her concept. And she’d finally got that chance. Now if only they’d call her, before she ran herself ragged.

She hung a left on Hogarth, setting a tingly hand up to her ear and fiddling with her Bluetooth. She slipped her phone out of her shorts and checked the time. 11:54. They’d be calling any minute now. She could picture them: a dozen suited people in a New York office/dungeon, each of them wearing executioner’s hoods and crowded around a huge table, the burliest of which had an axe at the ready, set to bring it crashing down on their phone the moment she said a wrong word, the judgment passed and the sentence seen to, her aspirations sent screaming down to Hades . . .

She forced herself to slow down, easing into a walk and then coming to a stop in front of 1123, the brick Minimal Traditional home with the rows of lovely flowers in the front yard, and which stretched down and along the sides of the household. Amaryllises, dahlias, crocuses—Audrey had admired the vibrant beds plenty of times on other, less worrisome runs about the area. She’d even complimented the nice old fellow who lived there, catching him a few times as he knelt in his yard and tended his garden. He’d always beamed at her praise, his thick mustache dancing like a fuzzy worm. “Thank you!” he’d say in a wooly voice. “Thank you most kindly!”

Her phone started to vibrate in her pocket. Oh god, here we go.

She pulled her phone out again, saw the call coming in, and accepted it. She switched it over to her Bluetooth. There was a beep in her ear and then the low hiss of a quieted room on the other end of the line.

“Hello, Audrey Danvers speaking.”

  “Hello, Ms. Danvers,” a woman’s voice spoke up, cheerful but still plenty officious. “This is Carol Downing, Vice-President of Shyne Press. How are you today?”

“Just fine,” Audrey lied. “Thank you for asking. And how are you?”

“Likewise, Ms. Danvers. I’m here with a few others that’ll be listening in on our call today.” She handed it over to a half dozen others who started introducing themselves and giving their titles. Audrey paced along the sidewalk, trying to put names to memory and feeling her heart thumping with every one of their words. Finally, Ms. Downing took over again. “We’ve been looking forward to speaking with you very much, Ms. Danvers.”

Audrey took that as a good sign, giving a smile to the curb of the street. “And I’ve been looking forward to sharing my ideas with you. Thank you for this opportunity, by the way. It means a great deal to be recognized by your press like this.”

“No thanks necessary, Ms. Danvers. It’s our job to find talent, and we’re glad to have found you. Now, what do you have on that creative mind of yours that you’d care to share with us?”

Audrey went blank for a moment. She’d expected a little more chit-chat or get-to-know-you introductions; they wanted her to get right to it. Maybe they weren’t that hopeful for her pitch, after all . . .

“Uhm, yes, thank you. Well, I’ve been brainstorming a great deal lately, and I believe I’ve come up with something that your press might find to their tastes. It’s—”

Audrey gave a jump when she heard a smack from behind her and a loud, somewhat muffled voice hollering: “Hey!”

Audrey spun about and looked back towards 1123. Her eyes gravitated towards the dusty glass of a basement window set into the house’s brick foundation. A little African-American girl with pig-tails was on the other side of it and looking out at Audrey, her face knotted up in what looked like anger. She gave the glass another smack with her fist, rattling it, and shouted another ferocious “Hey!”

Audrey turned her mouth up in a little sneer. Brat.

“Ms. Danvers?” Ms. Downing was asking. “Is everything all right?”

“Yes, sorry! Just got distracted for a moment.” Audrey turned away, walking along and down the street, away from 1123 and the shouting girl. “Where was I? Oh, yes, of course! I believe I have a new series in mind. Five books in total is how I imagine it, at least. Maybe even more.”

Audrey spared a quick glance back to 1123, but the little girl was gone from the window. She kept on walking, reaching the curb that met Mott’s Way and crossing over to the next block. She picked up her stride (literally and figuratively) as she got into her pitch, a bit of confidence returning as she eased on back into her rehearsed presentation.

“The basic plot would be about a young boy who discovers his family is from a long line of monster-hunters . . .”

Patrick Winters

Patrick Winters is a graduate of Illinois College in Jacksonville, IL, where he earned a degree in English Literature and Creative Writing. He has been published in the likes of Sanitarium Magazine, The Sirens Call, Trysts of Fate, and other such titles.

You can find him at:

http://wintersauthor. azurewebsites.net/Pages/Home

https://m.facebook.com/ patrickwintersauthor/

https://twitter.com/Weird_Winters