Serial Killers: Hey! Part 4

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

 

Unholy Trinity: Behemoth, Damsel, An Ocean Not So Deep

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

Behemoth

The ancient creature awoke, casually stirring the ocean floor with the force of an earthquake.

A school of tiger sharks scattered like frightened silverfish as the towering mountain of muscle rose from centuries of slumber to reveal its nightmarish appearance.

Needle-sharp, spear-length teeth lined its lamprey-like mouth.

Eight eyeballs, bobbing slowly on the ends of fleshy stalks, gazed above, while six elephantine tentacles pushed its girth upward.

For a moment, the spiny-backed beast paused mid-climb as if sensing a disturbance above.

It accelerated and continued its ascent to the water’s surface.

The behemoth was about to introduce itself to humanity.

Damsel

Kara stared at her broken image in the cracked mirror.

The scars on her wrists matched the scars on her heart.

Orphaned at birth.

A childhood of drudgery at a nunnery.

An adulthood of depression and dead-end jobs.

Beaten and battered by every man she tried to love.

For comfort, Kara wrapped her hand around the aquamarine gem inside the pendant hanging on a silver chain around her neck.

Her only memento from a forgotten childhood.

Was it a gift from her mother? Her father?

No matter.

She had decided her fate.

Kara drove to the ocean one last time.

An Ocean Not So Deep

Kara stood on the edge of the cliff, naked except for the pendant around her neck.

She closed her eyes and listened to the ocean’s waves like a lullaby, trying to muster the courage to take the final leap.

For once, Kara felt in control of her life.

And death.

Kara noticed the waters roiling beneath her.

Tears streamed down her cheeks as Kara gazed in awe at the colossal creature cresting the water’s surface.

The gem in her pendant glowed a warm, bright blue.

Ecstatic, Kara no longer felt alone as she greeted the behemoth with one word.

“Mother!”

Lionel Ray Green

Lionel Ray Green is a horror and fantasy writer, an award-winning newspaper journalist, and a U.S. Army gulf war veteran living in Alabama. His short stories have appeared in the anthologies Alabama’s Emerging Writers, The Heart of a Devil, Fifty Flashes, How Beer Saved the World 2, Graveyard, Frightening, Tales from the Grave, In Creeps the Night, and 22 More Quick Shivers. His short story “Scarecrow Road” won the WriterWriter 2018 International Halloween Themed Writing Competition All Hallows’ Prose and his short story “A Tale of Two Shards” was third runner-up in the WriterWriter 2018 International Fantasy Competition Phoenix Rising. His work has also appeared in The Poet’s Haven Digest anthology It Was a Dark and Stormy Night, in Issue 1 of Cross+Decay magazine, and in the 2017 issue of From the Depths magazine as well as in Trembling With Fear, an online feature of the Horror Tree website.

You can find him at Lionelraygreen.wordpress.com

Serial Killers: Hey! Part 3

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

 

Unholy Trinity: The Master & Apprentice

Our church worships at the altar of the Unholy Trinity. Its gospels are delivered as a trio of dark drabbles, linked so that Three become One. All hail the power of the Three.

Introduction

I was inspired to write The Master & Apprentice Unholy Trinity when the concept for an entire novel came to me in the form of three core scenes, three tangible moments in time, which would define the arc of the tale, from beginning to end. I have always loved the concept of the dangerous power-play between the Master and Apprentice, and what ills can arise from the unending desire for more. Greed is among one of the greatest evils in our world, and I wanted to show that one bad turn only begets another…

The Defiler

The wind whispered through the trees, stirring the freshly fallen snow. Avathor scented the icy air, his hackles rising. Intruder, his nose told him. Unknown.

He padded through the forest, on edge. Something wasn’t right. He felt it in his bones. Cresting a ridge, he found the source of his unease. Blood stained the snow, and corpses littered the earth. Hovering over them, an ephemeral, shifting spirit.

Malevolence emanated from the poltergeist in tangible waves. Avathor bellowed in rage for his slain kin. The spirit charged, and he was Avathor no more. His eyes glowed.

He was Xandor, the Defiler.

Raise the Dead

With blood and flesh, Xandor had been reborn. Eyes glowing, he said the words within his mind, focusing his intent. With a mighty roar, he unleashed his black power, drawing upon the strength of his host. One by one, the corpses rose, mangled, bloody and hideous. Empty black eyes stared back at him, awaiting his command.

The Defiler’s corrupt soul shivered with dark delight. An army of wight bears. They would serve him well. With a second bellow, he ordered them forward and their long march began.

He may have passed into memory… but his desire for revenge had not.

King of the Ashes

The Red Bell rang three times. Its toll not heard for centuries beyond memory. Archers scurried to the walls of the Black Keep, the last refuge of man. From his obsidian tower the Iron King watched the Army of the Dead approach.

“So it begins,” he said darkly.

His pathetic subjects barricaded themselves into the mountain fortress like rats, the last few brave warriors standing to meet their end. The dead were too many, and the powers of his former master, his mentor, Xandor the Wicked, had grown.

Soon they would be overrun, and the Days of Man would end.

Zoey Xolton

Zoey Xolton is a published Australian speculative fiction author, with a particular penchant for the Dark Fantasy, Paranormal Romance and Horror genres. Her works have appeared in several themed anthologies, with many more due for publication, soon! She is also a proud mother of two, and is fortunate enough to be married to her soul mate. Outside of her family, writing remains her greatest passion. She is especially fond of short form fiction, and is working on releasing her own story collections in future; as well as a series of novelettes and novellas. To find out more, please visit: www.zoeyxolton.com!

Serial Killers: Hey! Part 2

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.

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