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 . . .
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 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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