"Dark Shadows"

Chapter 1
Marks of the Beast

By Gwynn

Hell found me. You may think I'm being rhetorical, but that's only because it hasn't found you yet. Oh, I'm sure you've experienced hell. After all, there are all kinds; the hell of a broken heart, the hell of plodding along day after weary day with the stresses and worries of this world. There's the hell of losing a job, a limb, a life; the hell of abuse, rape, uncertainty... and then there's the real thing. The hell we heard about growing up. Fire, brimstone, an eternity of agony, and the fork-tailed beast himself waiting to gloat over his victory.

You may have scoffed (much as I did) or you may have stood in trembling awe as the preacher announced we were all bound for hell if we didn't repent. Whether you will scoff or tremble, I assure you that neither reaction is sufficient when faced with the hard, cruel reality of the Truth.

I didn't believe. God help me, I didn't WANT to believe. Why should I believe in such a mythical place when I could look around every day and see hell on earth? It waited in the stare of a hungry child; the aftermath of war; the gloating smile of a murderer as he walked away from punishment. Sadism, masochism, brutal and unfeeling evil- these things were real. We could see them. They filled the news the world over to remind us of the monster that lurks within.

But then something happened. I don't know how or why. Either way it no longer matters. Hell is here and it has unleashed something hungry and insatiable. I've been lucky... I've survived. Many others haven't.

It started on a day much like any other; a hot day with the kind of breeze that leaves you sighing with relief. I remember it clearly because it was the last day I saw the sun... the last day I felt a cooling breath of wind. New York was bustling with activity as always. Streets were clogged with traffic and the never-ending stream of people rushing from one place to another. Somewhere a child was being born to replace one of the many others who had passed.... Somewhere lovers were squabbling and murder was being done. It was a day like many others with one exception.

The eclipse was all over the news, in the papers, touted by scientists to be unlike any past phenomena. Why this should be, they never really said though they pondered why seismographs the world over had fallen silent. Whispers were heard that animals were acting peculiar as if the sudden quieting of the earth made them uneasy. And then there was the stilling of the tides that brought no markable dangers. It was almost as if the earth held her breath in silent anticipation. Of what, no one could guess. But we, being such adaptable creatures, took it all in stride and went on with our busy lives.

Those not caught up in the normal hustle and bustle of a New York day stood like sardines, packed shoulder to shoulder, and awaited this magnificent event. Some laughed and joked around enjoying the break from the usual stress. Other people grumbled and grouched as they shoved themselves into better vantage points. Finally, the much awaited event began as the first slivers of the moon reached out to blanket the sun. To hear about an eclipse is quite unremarkable... to see it first hand is a sobering experience. The magnitude and weight of such an abnormal darkness in the middle of the day is enough to make anyone stare in astonishment. I was no exception. Mouth agape, I watched as the sun vanished.

All the pushing and shoving, the laughter and talk, suddenly ceased as glasses or solar viewers were raised. The silence seemed to stretch for an eternity as all eyes turned to the heavens. In awe we watched as the moon slid before the sun in a graceful arc of splendor.

The first trembles were barely felt. A few whispers echoed from the crowd only to quiet again as curious eyes returned to the stratosphere. By then the sun had completely vanished; thin fingers of flame remaining to dance lazily around the edges of the moon. The next trembles echoed up through the earth with enough strength to turn legs to jelly. Fretfully, I looked around as those around me began to fidget and whisper aloud at the strange occurrence of a simultaneous earthquake and eclipse. Others muttered about ill omens and the inconsistencies of Mother Nature. Yet there was no real panic. Being New Yorkers we were used to the grumblings of the ground; the discontentment of the earth we so ruthlessly tried to claim with our pillars of steel and concrete.

Some people prudently moved away from the towering buildings to huddle in the relative safety of the street. Others stared vacantly at the ground as the trembling increased to a tooth jarring shake. Dazed by the abruptness, I stood rooted where I was, heart pounding as the earth, seeking to vent its anger and frustration, began to crack and split. Alarms screeched to life as cars parked in contentment howled their rage at such violent treatment. Buildings woefully moaned as their foundations rocked and pipes, securely placed and carefully maintained ruptured, sending great gouts of flame skyward.

NOW panic began to set in as the first effects of shock wore off. People went scurrying vainly in all directions, their screams bouncing from the buildings to echo loudly. The last hateful bellow of the earth drowned them all out with an ear-splitting crunch that dropped me to my knees. Helplessly, I watched as those who had sought refuge in the street disappeared, the ground below them rupturing in a satisfied belch of flame. Smoke billowed from the perforated earth stealing oxygen from the air and painting the already darkened sky in shadows.

Showers of glass rained down like diamonds and buildings quavered as from the heavens came flaming rock and dirty ice; their steady cadence laying waste where fire had not yet reached. Screams rose anew as the tortured crowd was pelted and burned.

Fearfully, I sought some means of escape, some place I could ride out the devastation, but there was no safe haven in sight. Everywhere I looked cars were exploding, buildings were crumbling, people were running and screaming or trying to beat out flames that sought to feast upon their flesh.

Choked by the suffocating heat and smoke, trapped by my own fear and indecision, I watched as those around me died. Mothers screamed in defiance as children disapeared from sight, ingested by the angry earth or ripped from their arms by the frantic mob. Other people, too stunned or injured to move quickly, were pounded beneath the feet of those too frightened to care. Absolute chaos and disorder reigned as I gropped with the indifference of those around me to offer aid. A woman, covered in bloody tatters, stumbled to the ground beside me and I hastily reached out to help her up. We had barely made it to our feet when the ground buckled. Clutching her hand tightly, I hit the pavement with enough force to knock the wind out of me. When I regained my senses enough to move, I turned to reassure her and stared in horror. A wave of nausea swept over me and the severed limb dropped from nerveless fingers. Yards away, her twisted and mangled body sat in a parody of dark contemplation; empty eyes staring sightlessly at the heavens, head slightly cocked as if hearing their reply. Tears coursed down my cheeks as the reality of such senseless death overwhelmed me. It was the realization it could have been me instead that jerked me to my feet, mind reeling. I needed to move. I needed to run. I needed to hide. Every fiber of my being screamed at me to DO something. Anything. I took a few stumbling steps then faltered to an uncertain stop.

From the decimation there came a new sound, much like a train speeding past, and the darkened sky came alive. From the undulating smoke came creatures unlike any the human imagination could devise. Crowned in gold, with the faces of humanity upon their grotesque bodies and the sharpened teeth of predators, they rose. As they passed before me, I saw their twisted bodies were covered in what appeared to be armor. Stingers, like those of a scorpion, dripped venom that hissed and steamed as it struck the ground. I watched, fascinated and horrified, as they spiraled to the four corners of the earth. As I stared bleakly after them, something more came hurling through the smokey sky. I did not see it clearly, but I caught the tail of its passage and knew what it was. Larger than any of the fiery rocks that now pounded the earth, it streaked away in search of other cities to demolish. In a queer sort of way, I was thankful it had passed over us. Inwardly I mourned at the massacre that would ensue when it crashed.

Tearing my eyes from the fearful sight, I frantically looked about me, again seeking a place to escape the burning rock, the trembling earth, the dying groans that tortured me, and the screams that assailed my ears. It was by chance that my eyes swept over the crater in the street. There they remained. Forgotten were the groaning buildings. Forgotten were the screams, the flames, the dead and dying. Forgotten was the total destruction that reigned about me. For that's when I saw a nightmare beyond human understanding.

I can put no name to the horror that came crawling from the bowels of the earth. There is no name that could encompass it. Beelzebub, Abaddon, Apollyon, Satan, Lucifer... all of these are woefully inadequate. Its body, misshapen and grossly muscular, was black as tar. Pustules formed and broke sending molten rock dripping from limbs to land in hissing globs upon the ground. Wings, segmented and tipped with hooked claws, rose in fiery splendor from the creatures back. Its tail was unlike any picture or description I had ever seen or heard. The tail I saw was a hissing cobra, venomed fangs dripping death as it struck at anything behind the beast. Its face, I know, was a horror to behold but I cannot, even now, describe it. What I remember most clearly are the eyes. Glowing coals of red peered around coldly and absolute slaughter followed in their wake. Whole crowds of people vanished in the blink of an eye as flames rushed to engulf them. Sanity fled and many ran into the flames blindly, their shrieks dying suddenly. I watched in stunned disbelief, the blood chilling in my veins as those eyes sought me. In that moment I caught a glimpse of such evil that all shreds of courage fled. Frozen, I prayed for the first time in my life.

Perhaps the Lord heard me. Then again, it could have been the overwhelming certainty that I would die if I continued standing there. Either way, survival mode kicked in and, with a surge of fear-born strength, I wrenched my frozen feet into action. Screams and howls of pain nipped at my heels as I desperately tried to outrun the glare of those soulless eyes. Falling debris and fire rained down around me as I pushed through the terror-stricken crowd; my feet finding each new crevice and obstacle to send me sprawling to my knees. Face to face with the frozen countenance of the dead, I shuddered. Hands reached for me, tearing and pulling, seeking help, solace, bringing fresh tears as they pleaded for mercy, but I had nothing to offer. "I'm only one man!" I wanted to yell. "I can't help you, I can't save you. I can't even save myself!" But the words refused to come and I simply shoved them away as I scrambled to my feet. I don't know how long I stumbled and ran, forever it seemed, before I saw the stairs that led to the subway. Logically, underground was not the safest of places to be at that moment, but I was no longer thinking logically. All sense had fled with the appearance of the unexplainable.

I flew down the stairs, heedlessly shoving away an old lady who clutched at me with surprising strength, and darted into the men's room. There I locked myself in a stall and waited for the nightmare to end. For surely that's what it was. I told myself that it couldn't last long. Eventually I would awaken and laugh at the absurdities of the human imagination and marvel at how vivid it could be. But the nightmare persisted in all its horrifying details. Screams echoed down endlessly. Clasping my hands over my ears I tried to block them, tried to deny their existence- rocking, rocking, rocking, in an effort to comfort my tortured soul. Yet the shrieks continued. Hour after hour after hour they reverberated against the walls around me to pierce my heart and soul, painting grisly pictures of death and doom. Closing my eyes I tried to will them away but, mockingly, they remained painted against my eyelids. I shook my head in denial and vented my frustration with a scream that went unheard, swallowed by so many others. Inside I ranted and railed against the cruel fate that insisted upon torturing, tears of rage and confusion dripping like blood from my heart. I know I came close to losing my sanity. And though I quiver at the weakness that gripped me, I can't help but think it may have been better had I gone mad.

Others came seeking refuge, and yet others ventured out into the hell that waited above; perhaps seeking a more secure place to hide. Locked within my stall I listened with growing dread and prayed to a God who seemed deaf. Above, buildings collapsed shaking my underground haven and sending large chunks of plaster to the floor around me. The walls buckled and split as the pressure of their burden became too much to bear. Hoping beyond hope those four walls would hold, I crouched, alarmingly certain they would crush me.

Time no longer had any meaning. What matter was it when the world was being rocked to its very foundations? Eventually the screams faded into eerie silence, nagging my soul more deeply than any of the shouted terrors before. It was finally hunger, that most basic of human needs, that drove me from my concealment. With pounding heart and shaking hands I ventured into the devastation that waited.

I had heard the screams, endured their heart wrenching pleas... felt the tremble of buildings as they gave their last weary groans and died... suffered through the heat of the inferno that raged above as it filtered down to steal my breath. But none of it had prepared me for the sight I beheld.

New York as I had known it was gone. No building remained intact. Only burnt and hollowed shells remained of what had been a bustling metropolis. Skyscrapers that had once reached to the heavens, lay in tumbled heaps; mountains of concrete and steel that mocked their lost grandeur. Burned bodies littered the rubble sending their putrid odor through the still, smoky air, causing my stomach to rebel and retch. Ash fell like dirty snow coating everything with bleak and unending gray, thankfully masking the contorted faces of the dead. Fiery rock and ice no longer fell from the sky, but the trail of their passing was visible in the crushed shells of cars and craters that dotted the macadam. Fires, unchecked and uncaring, still raged through it all seeking food to fuel its flames.

Other dazed and confused survivors peered from partially standing buildings, their expressions speaking aloud the turmoil that twisted my heart; driven, I suppose, by the same need that brought me there. Though our eyes sought out one another, no one spoke. I don't guess we could. Even had we been able to, there could be no words to express the emotions that engulfed us all. It was enough just to know that we weren't alone in such a despairing place.

Setting one foot in front of the other, I forced myself to walk away from the haven that had saved me. I tried desperately not to look upon the smoldering bodies of those who had once been so full of life, but my eyes betrayed me by seeking out each new horror. Grief welled in my breast, harsh and unyielding, threatening to give voice to a scream I knew would never end. So many questions that would never be answered... so much pain and needless death, and for what? What the hell was expected of us? What had we done to deserve this? I stared numbly as I passed two children clasped together in death and wanted to rail at the coldness of a God that could punish their innocence.

Stepping around them carefully, I wiped away the tears and hardened my heart. I am not a callous person. I am not careless of the cruelties that confronted me with each glance. It was for the sake of my continued sanity that I closed my heart and banished my tears. The mind can only assimilate so much before it refuses to take anymore. Soul burdened by the empty shell I must become, I made my way back to where it had all begun. Curiosity drove me with morbid fascination to the very brink of the chasm where the demon? the devil? had birthed itself into our world. Flames licked around the edges seeking something more to consume as I peered into the yawning depths.

There was no sign of the monstrosity that had wreaked so much havoc. I hadn't seriously expected to find any. I knew, on some primitive level of consciousness, that it had already moved beyond us. The world is a large place, full of souls to harvest and cities to lay waste. Yet something remained within those darkened depths. I could not see it, but I could feel the overwhelming hate and anger that emanated from it. Voices echoed out, mocking and cruel; Whispers barely heard but promising a painful end. Chills coursed through my body and sent me scurrying away, ghostly laugher clawing its way after me.

The day passed into night with no markable differences; smoke still darkened the sky obscuring all light and mighty trembles still shook the ground beneath our feet. Huddled together, frightened by this new world that greeted us, we few survivors sought a place to grieve and rest. Sleep was scarce as the horrors of what we had endured intruded upon our dreams. Children, shaken beyond all sanity, wailed and clutched at any adult within reach. A few brave souls whispered quietly together, planning the specifics of what needed done to ensure our continued existence. I, sadly to say, was not among them. I did not weep and wail, nor tear at my hair and clothing as others were doing. I did not rush to clasp the crisped husk of a once dear friend, nor did I sit and actively plan for my survival. Instead, I huddled in upon myself and contemplated my lost system of belief.

Logic would have no place in the world that remained to us. The God I had never really believed in, would show no mercy and save us all despite the prayerful pleas to do so. More than half of those who'd survived would sicken and die, leaving the rest of us to revert to the basics of human nature. Only the strong could survive. Only the strong would endure. And I couldn't help but wonder; would I be strong enough? Could I lay aside all logic and rely solely on the most primitive of instincts? Only time would tell.

I lay there in my tiny corner listening to the peals of thunder that wracked the night and the crackle of fire as it tore away the life I had known. The maniacal hiss of flames reminded me again of the mocking whispers and gloating laughter that had floated from the chasm. I tried to imagine what new horror would rip its way from those depths but my mind anxiously shied away from the possibilities. I had already seen more horrors than my mind could endure. Subconciously, I suppose it knew that such contemplation would send me screaming over the brink of sanity. Whether it wished to shy away would eventually make no difference. The time would come. That foul evil would eventually claw its way into our world and when it did, the world would be its playground and we the unlucky pawns it toyed with.

I knew, with my limited scope of biblical prophecies, that there would be more to endure before the breaking of the world was complete. If the destruction we had so recently survived was any indication, the four horsemen of the apocalypse had been ranging across our lives for some time. Peace between nations and peoples had long since crumbled and murder was commonplace. Uncle Sam had upped the prices and taxes upon our homes and food many times over, stripping us of our hard-won wages. Death stalked like hungry lions across the whole of the world claiming the guilty and innocent alike. Now the plagues would ravage humanity, culling out all but the strongest of its surviving members. Blood would run like rivers across what remained of the continents, for evil would beget evil and eventually turn its head to the eradication of all that is good. For a thousand years the horror would remain, and each passing year would bring worse terrors.

I closed my eyes, trying to break away from the wails of grief, the prophesies of a God I saw as cruel and uncaring. I attempted to close my mind to the torments I knew would come. And though sleep finally found me, it was an uneasy rest filled with mocking laughter.


Over time, the other survivors and I scavenged for food and other basic necessities. Planning continues as we go through our days with only the thought and hope of seeing the next. Today marks the thirtieth day since New York passed from existence and took her bustling population with her. Time is no longer calculated and means nothing. Days are counted by the slight lightening of the smoke-filled sky, as the sun has remained hidden. The burning continues so we are forced to find new shelter daily and ash still falls with the silent intent to obliterate all snatches of color and life. What breeze we get is so filled with decay and rot that we no longer turn to greet it with relief. Water is a precious commodity and must be guarded at all times to ensure everyone gets enough. Once it is gone, we will not be able to replenish our supply. Rain, once the life-giving substance we all took for granted, has become a poison that sears the throat and brings disease. Even the many rivers and tributaries offer no solution as the water has turned bitter and red.


The world is ending. Life as we know it is ending. Food is becoming scarce and fresh water has become a new myth. Of the survivors that made it through the initial crush, only a handful remains. Death has become an old friend and it seems that many welcome his embrace. I watch as men and women turn against each other over things that no longer have a place in this dismal world, trinkets of gold and silver that can't even buy a loaf of bread. The children went first, though we tried to save them. Sickness and disease brought about by the sulfurous air and ash claimed some of them. Violence and fear claimed the rest. It is starvation and thirst that will claim those of us who still manage to survive. There is no succor. There is no hope. All we can do is wait. There can be no escape, no true escape, only a false sense of safety. Numbers will not save us. Weapons will not protect us. The devil has been loosed and his minions await his call.

Yes, hell has found me; still it binds me...
and soon it shall find you as well.

Author Notes Borrowed ideas from the book of Revelations are not quoted here word for word. Only their meaning and basic chronological order. PLEASE do not rail at me about plagiarism as I have NOT plagiarized myself in any way. If in doubt, pull out your handy dandy bible and check. Thanks for taking the time to read through my story!

Chapter 2
Do You Believe?

By Gwynn

“So, old man, you wanted to tell me of your adventure,” the tall, dark haired man said, crossing his legs and sitting back in his seat. His appearance was rumpled, his face haggard from the sleep that had been stolen when the old man, banging on his door with torn clothes and ragged breath, awoke him in the middle of the night. When he’d opened the door, the old man had fallen to the ground clutching desperately at the legs of his pajamas and babbling about monsters. With a weary sigh, he’d bid the man come in and rest by the fire, then fixed them both a double scotch. Now, he sat waiting, hoping this man wasn’t as crazy as he looked.

“Yes, yes!” the old man almost shouted, scooting to the edge of his seat and nearly toppling the glass of scotch by his elbow; his face draining of color. “The monsters! Someone has to be told. I saw them, as surely as I see you, I did. Horrible, they were. Ghastly and white like the dead. And they were. The dead, I mean and…”

The tall, dark haired man interrupted by raising his hand for silence. “Whoa, slow down old timer. Let’s start at the beginning. First, your name would be..." 

"Cailon, but my name isn't important! You need to know what I saw... all of it!" he added, his voice rising and breaking in panic.

"Okay, when did you see these monsters?” he asked with a grin that gave voice to his disbelief.

“Yesterday! Tonight! I can’t remember!” Cailon shook his head in bewildered shame, “It’s a haze. But as God is my witness, I never want to see anything like it again!” His eyes widened at the memory of his encounter, his hand shaking perceptibly as he reached over and drained the glass of scotch. Wild eyed, his hair standing on edge as if a student hair dresser had teased it into position, he glanced hastily at the large bay windows across the room.

“They're out there... in the dark and cold.” He shivered as if he could still feel the bitterly cold night and shook his head. “I never would have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own two eyes. You hear tales, you know, of things that go bump in the night, but you shrug them off,” he stared at the dark haired man, willing him to believe. “Things like that just aren’t real. How could they be? But now…” he trailed off with a shrug and the dark haired man leaned closer.

“But now what?” he urged, his face intent as he watched the old timer sink into himself, slowly refilling his glass again. “Go on. Tell me what happened.” Moments passed, ticked off by the large grandfather clock in the hall, before the old man spoke again slow and haltingly, but steadily building pace.

“I just went for a walk. That’s all. I enjoy these cold evenings with the crisp air and wind, the scent of fireplaces smoking away. It’s the smell of winter and it always soothes my nerves. I usually go the same direction, down Main to Timothy Lane then on to Bookers Dock and Smith Hill. But I decided to try a change of scenery.” He smiled wistfully, “The Christmas lights are up, you know, and I wanted to get a look at the ones I hadn’t seen. So, instead of going down Main, I walked up to Illinois Street and took a left onto Bay Bridge. I had passed the street several times when heading to town, but I’d never actually been down it. If I’d just walked straight on down…” Pausing he took another drink of scotch, his hands beginning to shake again.

“After about four turns I got disoriented. I tried to retrace my steps, but I hadn’t been paying that much attention to where I was going, so I didn’t know which roads I’d turned down. I’d been too busy staring at the lights and enjoying the evening. After a time, I finally admitted I was lost and went in search of a gas station or something, anything where I could use a pay phone to call my daughter. I walked and walked and walked, but I never found anything. I don’t know how much time I wasted, searching and hoping, but it was long enough to start a bitter ache in my bones and joints. Soon, the houses I passed no longer looked cheerful or full of Christmas spirit. Instead they looked sick; dilapidated ruins left to whither and bury themselves. I should have stopped and knocked on a door, asked directions or to use a phone, but pride got the better of me,” he laughed bitterly and shook his head, his gray hair waving in the air like a flag of surrender.

“Foolish pride, the down fall of all men. I didn’t want any of those people to think I was an old fool, lost in the cold. I didn’t want to see their eyes shifting in silent pity as if I had no control of my mind. Old I may be, but,” he tapped the side of his head with a shaking finger, “I can still tell you the name of every girl I ever twirled across the dance floor, every kiss I ever stole. I’m sharp as a tack,” he sighed wearily, moving from the edge of the chair to sit back.

“At least I thought I was. I just kept on trudging along through the snow, past the dilapidated houses that stood silent sentry, until I came to a dead end. Well,” he gave a sharp, bitter laugh, “More of a cul-de-sac really, but an end nonetheless. Before me stood a house the likes of which I’d never seen. It towered behind a large fence that stood twice my height, the iron chipped and rusted from years of disuse. The gate, a huge sprawling thing crawling with withering Ivy, hung open. With no other choices in sight, I decided to take my chance there. After all, lights were burning. I could see their soft glow through the dirty haze of windows as I slipped through the gate. That’s when I got a good look at the house. And let me tell you,” he said fervently, “it was an ugly monstrosity. Even in the dark I could tell it was built with black stone. Who builds a black house?” he asked to himself and shook his head again, absently reaching for his glass and bringing it to trembling lips. Realizing the glass was empty, he shrugged and returned it to the little table clutching his hands together instead.

Silently, the dark haired man leaned over and refilled the glass, leaving the bottle where he could reach it. Sitting back again, his arms adamantly crossed, he watched the old man carefully. “What did the house look like?” he asked quietly, interested now despite his earlier hesitation. Regardless of his initial disbelief, he had to admit the old timer was a good story teller. With a tired smile he watched the old man unclench his hands and reach again for the glass, take a hefty swig then cradle it for comfort.

“It towered above me like some gruesome harlot, revolting yet inviting, all black and sharp angled. It was four stories tall, each story breaking down smaller and smaller until it came together with a bell tower; on each corner stood horrible gargoyles, smiling down at me with hungry eyes. The trees around the place were all mangled and twisted, their branches bent as if all life had been sucked out of em’ and they were trying to replant themselves. But even the soil looked dead and rotted. There was no grass, even in the dark that was apparent, only large clods of dirt and rock. And I swear, from the point I stepped through the gate, all the usual night sounds ceased like they were holding their breath, waiting for me to decide. I was scared. I have no problem admitting it. Fear keeps us on our toes, but I was determined that I wouldn’t run like some scared animal. It was just a house. Ugly as it was, it was just a house and it was getting later. I needed to get home, to warm my tired old bones. This was the last chance I was gonna get before the cold claimed me. Oh sure, I could have traipsed back through the streets looking for something more inviting, but inviting wasn’t what I needed. So I swallowed my fear and kept walking, telling myself the whole time that the exterior didn’t mean anything; it was just one of those old manors built back in the dark ages. Those were made to be intimidating; kept away unwanted visitors.”

He paused, bringing the scotch to his lips again as if fortifying himself for the rest, then slowly lowered the glass and took a deep breath; his eyes staring into the flames of the hearth. The tall, dark haired man leaned in close, knowing they were finally coming to the telling part of the old man's story.

“So you walked up to the door. What happened then?” he encouraged, one eyebrow raised in question.

Cailon waved a wrinkled hand in the air, “It’ll sound crazy. Even I think it’s crazy, but it’s true,” he added hastily, his eyes intently locking on the others, his tongue snaking out to wet dry lips. “There were these people, at least I thought they were people, a little paler than most but we can’t all sport a year round tan. It was the butler who brought me in but I never got a chance to tell him I needed a phone. This woman walked in, beautiful too, with pearl white skin and blood red lips. I felt my heart start thundering in my chest and my breath caught in my throat. Old I may be, but I can still appreciate a beautiful young woman,” he added with a sardonic grin.

“My eyes locked on hers and it was as if the rest of the world just vanished. Poof!” his hands came up, one still clutching the glass, to emphasize his words, “gone like a cloud of smoke. She walked right up to me and smiled a slow, lustful smile that sent my blood pressure through the roof. I was stunned to the point of speechlessness when she asked my name. Why, I couldn’t get a word past my lips. She laughed as if it was the most natural thing in the world and I felt this tightening in my chest. As her laughter rang in my ears, I could feel the rest of my body going numb, like it was going to sleep while I stood there mesmerized. I knew then, deep inside that something wasn’t quite right but my mind was a fog. There was nothing I could do except stare. That’s when I saw it. Her teeth just weren’t right. These ones,” he said pointing to his two eye teeth, a little sharper than the rest, “were pointed and long.” He waited for the dark haired man's nod of understanding before he continued.

“I know what you’re thinking, but it didn’t dawn on me that what I was seeing wasn’t entirely human. Not yet anyway. Her laughter died away and she turned her big green eyes on me and smiled. ‘Your name?’ she asked again and this time my voice obeyed. As I stuttered it out she reached over to caress my arm then told me hers was Elinda. I told her it was a beautiful name for a beautiful woman and she laughed again. Waving away the butler, she steered me into a sitting room and started asking about my family. I told her my children were grown and my wife, God bless her soul, had passed eight years ago. Why I was telling her these things, I don’t know. It was almost as if I were compelled to answer her questions, to please her any way I could,” frowning, he scratched a bony hand across his chin.

“Like I said, my mind was a fog, things just didn’t make sense and there was no way I could make them make sense. Every thing was spinning around and the next thing I knew she was leaning over me, her ample chest in my face, her fingers running through my hair. She was whispering my name and telling me to just close my eyes, relax, and she could make me feel like a young man again. I was lost, under her spell, but even so, my mind kept screaming at me that something was wrong. My eyes closed to a thin slit, heart pounding away in unwanted anticipation as she leaned closer to kiss my neck…”

Shuddering at the memory, he lifted his hand to rub his neck, his eyes distant, focused on something else, somewhere else. “I knew by then, you see. The part of me that wasn’t held spellbound, the part of me that kept screaming at me to run even though my legs wouldn’t listen, knew what she was. Impossible, unreal, yet there none the less and as real as you and me; undead, unholy… a vampire!” he hissed and turned his haunted eyes on the dark haired man.

“A vampire? A real flesh and blood vampire?” the dark haired man asked incredulously. When the old man nodded vigorously, the tall man burst out laughing. “I’ve heard some whoppers in my time but you, old man, win the grand prize. That is the biggest bunch of nonsense I’ve ever heard!”

“But it’s real, I swear!” Cailon shouted, his voice hovering near panic, as he gained his feet and pointed to the bay windows across the room. “Go look. She’s there. She followed me. I know she did. She’s just waiting for me to come out ‘cause I’m not stupid enough to invite her in.”

“Out there, in the cold, at my window? You out do yourself,” the tall man laughed, “There is no one outside my window because there’s a drop from there into the ravine below. Besides,” he added with a sly grin, “I’ve seen enough vampire movies in my time to know that, were your absurd story real, you wouldn’t be standing here. You’d be dead or writhing away somewhere as you became one of the undead.”

“It’s all true!” the old man grated through clenched teeth, his eyes shooting daggers as the dark haired man grinned.

“If it’s true old timer, how did you escape?” he asked, his eyes narrowed in disbelief.

Shoulders slumped, face grim, Cailon shook his head in defeat, “I don’t know,” he whispered quietly. “One minute she was there, whispering in my ear and bending to give me the kiss of death. The next, I was plowing through the snow screaming my fool head off,” drawing in a sharp breath, he met the dark haired man’s eyes, “You have to believe me. You have to… it’s true. All of it.”

“Perhaps you dreamt it, old man,” he said with a tired shrug, “some dreams can seem real. Just a nightmare, caused from something you ate or an overactive imagination.”

“You think I’ve lost my mind, that this is all some fanciful trick of my imagination?” Cailon asked cocking his head slightly, his eyes peering through the dark haired man, “Then satisfy your curiosity. Answer the question once and for all. All you have to do is cross the room and check. It’s not hard, just a few steps. Go on. Go and check,” he finished with a sly smile.

 “You have been fun, old man, entertaining on an otherwise dull night, but I'm tired. If I go stare out those windows, will you go away? I find that the hilarity of your story has run its course and the night grows later by the minute,” he said unfolding himself from his seat, a smile dancing on his lips.

“Vampires,” he mumbled under his breath with a shake of his head as he crossed the room. Stopping before the bay windows, curtains ignored for the moment, he turned to face the old man, his arms crossing. 

“So, when I draw back these curtains the question of whether vampires exist or not should be answered. Is that about right?” he asked, his smile growing broader as the old man came to hover beside him.

Cailon gave no answer. Instead, he gestured towards the window and nodded his head, his gray hair bobbing.

Turning, the dark haired man grabbed the curtains and laughed, “This is a momentous moment, old timer. We should have a camera and a video man to record our findings. This would make one hell of a story if it were real.”

With a flick of his wrist, he flung the curtains aside and stared into the inky depths of the night. The ravine lay below, quiet and tranquil as the river flowed sluggishly to its end. The trees stood silently, darkened and obscured shadows in the glow of the moon's pale light. Stars twinkled brightly in the night sky, watchers forever doomed to peer at the madness of mankind. A bat's shrill cry rang out as it hunted its prey, but nothing else moved. Nothing peered in through the windows but the light of the moon and stars. Nothing stood below but the ever changing river and the steep banks of the ravine.

The dark haired man pressed his face closer to the glass, the chill of the night reaching out to frost his cheek as he strained to see the far sides of the house.

“Old man, I must admit that even I, a reporter who tells outlandish tales, am growing weary of this one. There is nothing here,” he said waving his hand at the darkened glass and taking a step back. “There is only the same darkened landscape I have been staring at for the past five years. Look if you must. Put your own mind at ease,” he finished, turning to face the old man. Before he completed his turn he was grabbed roughly by the back of the neck and shoved against the unyielding glass, his breath rushing out to fog the window.

“What are you doing!” he shouted, struggling to free himself from the other's unnatural grip. “What madness is this that you would come into my home and treat me in such a manner?” he demanded, his mind whirling in confusion.

“You didn't look close enough,” Cailon whispered in his ear, his lips brushing close like a lover's. “Wipe the fog from the glass. Oh, wait,” he laughed darkly, “silly old man that I am, I forgot. You can’t. Here, allow me,” he reached over the other's shoulder and carefully ran his hand over the fogged surface. “Now hold your breath. We wouldn’t want to fog it again, that would distort your view. Look closely and tell me what you see.”

The dark haired man tried shoving himself away from the window, but to no avail. The old man held him firmly in place. “I’m telling you, there’s nothing out there,” he gritted angrily through his teeth. “Now let me go and get out of my….”

“Shhhh, quiet now,” the old man whispered, a sly smile playing at the corners of his lips. “Just look. What do you see? Remember, look closely.”

“I don’t see anything! Glass, some dark trees, a river, nothing! There is nothing here to see! Now let me go!” he shouted, but the old man only pressed him harder against the cold glass, laughing a deep throaty laugh that turned his blood to ice.

“You are still not looking hard enough. For a reporter, your sense of perception is lacking. Here, I’ll play nice for a moment. I’ll give you enough slack to focus on the window,” Cailon pulling the dark haired man back enough that he could see his reflection. “Now tell me, what do you see?”

The dark haired man shook his head helplessly, his eyes peering into the gloom beyond. There was nothing to see. Nothing! Why was the old man behaving like this? And where had this unnatural strength come from? It was impossible. It was…..

Something brought him away from his musings and he caught himself really focusing on the glass, watching his reflection, twisted and distorted, but there. With a shock he realized that there was no other. His heart sped up, hammering away in his chest, his breath catching in fear.

With a rush of understanding, his pent up breath broke out with one word. “You!” he whisperd as his body went slack.

“Yes, I. Good, am I not? You never suspected, never questioned. Well, not really,” he added quietly, “perhaps the validity of my story, but then, you were supposed to. You humans are so foolish. Why, you even invited me in!” he shook his head, smiling wickedly as the dark haired man fought feebly to free himself of the iron like grasp. “I looked to be an old crazy fool and yet you invited me in. I must thank you, by the way, for such an entertaining night. I haven’t had this much fun on a hunt in ages. Sadly though, the night grows late as you so eloquently put it, and our fun must end. I have played with you long enough. It is time to bid you adieu, but before I go I have one question.”

Cailon leaned in close, his lips brushing against the sensitive part of the other's ear, his breath sighing playfully along the lobe as he spoke, “Now do you believe?” he whispered then sank his teeth into the tender, yielding flesh of his victims neck. The dark haired man drew in breath to scream but no sound issued from his mouth. Within moments he crumpled to the floor, his body a lifeless husk.

Outside, the wind shrieked and moaned as if in sympathy as the old man stepped out into the bitter cold. He took a deep breath of the crisp night air and, smiling to himself, started down the street.











Chapter 3
Justice Or Revenge?

By Gwynn

Author Note:This story actually earned me a 98 on my exam. Hope u enjoy!

My name is Rustin James Shoehorn, Rustyshoe to my friends, and I am 42 years old. This will be my last attempt, my last words to the world. It has been ten years, and you would think by now that someone would have listened to what I had to say, but no one is interested in the story I have to tell.

You see, in here, every one has some reason why they're innocent. If it wasn't the system, it was the lawyers. If it wasn't the lawyers, it had to be the cops. There is always an excuse, but it basically comes down to this: everyone has been framed. And maybe that's true to some extent, since I sit here writing after serving ten years, on the day I am sentenced to die, for a crime I never committed.

So now you'll scoff and say that's not true. Our justice system would never kill an innocent man, but are you so sure? Are you so firmly rooted in the system of justice that you could never allow yourself to believe that they might make a mistake? Well, I'm here to tell you they did, and I'll even tell you how, because I was there. You see, I never said I wasn't guilty to some degree, but I swear it wasn't me who pulled that trigger. Okay, yeah right, you say. That's what every murderer and crook has said since time immemorial. But if you keep on reading, you'll see that it's the truth; At least this time.

Everything had been meticulously planned, drilled over and over. Rehearsed, if you prefer. Premeditated, if you want to get technical. It was supposed to be a quick job, just break in, crack the safe, take the money and run. The family was off in Tahiti somewhere, soaking up the sunshine. At least, that's where they were supposed to be. But true to the old adage, anything that could go wrong, did.

We got there around two a.m. and it was so cold I could see our steamy breath as it wound it's way past our noses. It was mid February and Mother nature was making sure we hadn't forgotten how unrelenting she can be. The moon had taken into its mind to go into hiding for the night and the clouds looked prepared to give us a generous shower. Through the hazy light the house looked as if it had stepped right out of a horror film. Though I knew this was only a trick of the eyes and the combination of the somber lighting, it gave me an involuntary chill. I wish I could have blamed it on the cold seeping slowly through my bones, but the fact is the sight got under my skin. The doors were locked, the lights were out, and the alarm was set. If ever there was a house that looked forlorn and empty, it was this one. Silent as a tomb, my mind screamed at me, giving me another nasty little chill and causing me to rub the goose bumps from my arms. If I had been the superstitious type, I would have taken that as a sign and went on home. Instead, I put it conveniently out of mind and turned my attention back to the house.

The place was monstrous. It consisted of twelve bedrooms, three floors and an attic. Since I had studied the blue prints, I knew the layout pretty well. Johnny was busy trying to turn off the alarm, so I took the time to check the perimeter. Luckily, there were no guard dogs on the property and the only way in was through the gate we had easily scaled. I was content that we had nothing to worry about. No one would be sneaking up on us unawares.

The property itself was large and sprawling with huge oak trees and ferns that had been flown in and
planted. Rows of hedges worked their way around the house and finally ended in a large garden out back, lending itself into the beginnings of a maze. There was a large fountain that spewed its watery contents into the air while large stone lions cocked their heads slightly to stare endlessly at the spectacle. The grounds had to consist of over twenty acres and I couldn't help wondering just how much they spent on gardening to keep the monstrosity free of weeds and pleasing to the eyes.

Content with my survey of the rich and the beautiful, I turned my attention back to the job before me. Johnny was hunched over a small key pad that sort of resembled a miniature computer hacking away and completely oblivious to the fact that I had stepped away for few seconds. At that moment if a typhoon had blown through, he wouldn't have heard or noticed a thing until he was being swept along in its wake. I guess that's why he had asked me to come along. If not for me, there would have been no look out.

Now Johnny, he was a technical genius. If it had a code, he could crack it. If it happened to have a back up wall, he could smash right through it. He was a literal wizard when it came to that stuff. I remember in school he used to laugh and say, " It just comes to me." Well, I guess he was right, because he had the system disarmed in less than a minute.

We slipped in quickly, careful not to make too much noise, and made our way to the third floor office where the safe was located. I removed the large family portrait and depressed the button that would slide back the panel and reveal the safe while Johnny rooted around for the equipment he needed.

I was anxious to get the job done and over with. Not just because I knew what we were doing was
wrong, I was pretty convinced we could get away clean, but because I knew that behind that tiny little dial was over two million dollars. I was ready to see it, to feel it, to smell it. Hell, I wanted to bathe in it! Who wouldn't? That's more money than most people will ever see in their whole lifetime. And
besides, I had a wife and kids who needed that money more than the old geezer did. If you ask me, he never would have missed it with all the dough he had floating around. Besides, people like that have so much money that most of the time they're practically giving it away. They make donations to charities, hospitals and anyone else with a hand out. Shoot, (no pun intended) I figured if he had it to give away I might as well line my pockets too. Anyway, I was ready to get done and on with my life, but when I get anxious, I get nervous. My mind starts looking for things to occupy itself and my hands start feeling all itchy. You know, that feeling of ' just gotta do something'? When you start feeling that itch you can't help but scratch it. So, I guess you could say it was my fault things took a turn for the worse.

Johnny was still rooting around in his bag for some do-dad or other and I was getting fidgety, so I
decided to take a look around. The office was nice, something I would have loved to have. Paneled with
oak and stained to a light brown with bookcases built right into the walls. Nothing too high or too low, just right if you didn't want to use a ladder or have to sit on the floor. But instead of books all of the shelves were covered with antique pieces. I have a love of art, any art really, but I have always been fascinated with the older stuff and when I saw the old ruby broach I couldn't help getting a closer look.

Now, I know what you're thinking, but believe me, stealing it was the farthest thing from my mind.
Granted, robbing a house is stealing, but he had so much cash that it wouldn't hurt him to lose a little of it, and besides, I do have some morals. I wasn't about to shove his beautiful little treasure into my pack. Money can be replaced, other things can't.

Anyway, I was so caught up with the broach that I failed to see the statue that sat beside it at elbow level. When I reached out to pick up the broach, my arm brushed against it and sent it to the floor with a loud crash. Most noises tend to seem loud when everything else is quiet, but you add to that the fact that you're somewhere you shouldn't be, doing something you shouldn't be doing, and the effect is more like a bomb going off.

My heart leapt into my throat like a wild thing seeking escape and I spun around at the same time
Johnny was jumping to his feet with a curse and pulling a gun from beneath his jacket. I was stunned when he whipped around to face the door pointing that thing at chest level. Of course, no one was there since it was me who had made the noise, but at that moment Johnny wasn't paying any attention to me. His eyes were thin slits and he was staring off into the darkness beyond the room as a vagrant drop of sweat wound its way slowly down his brow.

It was a very tense moment that only served to heighten my nervousness. There weren't supposed to be any weapons involved because we had decided we didn't need any. It wasn't like we were looking to kill anyone; we were just hoping to get rich quick. But there he stood, proud as you please, with that thing cocked and ready to use.

I felt myself break out into a cold sweat, tiny rivulets slipping and sliding down my back, and my first thought was that he had been planning on shooting me and taking all of the loot for himself. Fortunately, it didn't work out that way. Unfortunately, that's exactly why I'm sitting here writing and he's free.

It took all the nerve I could muster to ask him what the hell he was doing with a gun. He finally looked at me, taking in the broken statue at my feet, and shrugged. He re-holstered his gun with a grunt and a curse and told me it was none of my damned business and to keep my hands to myself. Obviously, I wasn't about to push it, but I was definitely keeping my eyes open in case I needed to make a quick escape.

When he bent down to retrieve his equipment and put the stethoscope in his ears, I moved a little closer to the door. My way of thinking was if he got any ideas of actually using that thing on me, I'd have a quick way out.

That's when I heard a creaking noise, kind of like the sound an old floor makes when you step
in just the right place. I froze, but Johnny, who was only interested in the click of the lock as it found each number, was completely unaware.

I strained my ears trying to pick out any other sounds that didn't belong there, but the only thing I heard was the ticking of the Grandfather clock in the hallway. Still not satisfied, and pretty sure I had heard that creaking noise, I stepped through the doorway and peered into the darkness, willing my eyes to adjust. It was like trying to see past a forest of trees on the darkest night with no moon to guide you.

It seemed like hours passed as I stood there straining my eyes and ears but the sound never returned. Deciding that maybe I had been mistaken, chalking it up to nerves, I turned and started back into the office. That's when I suddenly felt a rush of air on the back of my head and heard a strange whooshing sound. Knowing instinctively that I had been swung at, I ducked to make myself a smaller target, turned and rushed into the darkness until I collided with, and knocked over, whoever swung at me.

We went down in a tangle of arms and legs, so close in fact that I heard it when the air was crushed from their lungs when we landed. Not giving them the chance to recover, I took a quick jab at what I thought was their stomach and fumbled around until I found an arm to twist. Once I was sure that I had a firm grasp, I got to my feet and jerked them up after me. The person had a small build from the feel of the arm I currently held, but despite that, I knew the swing, clumsy as it was, would have smarted terribly. Careful to keep the arm twisted so they couldn't get away, even with all the twisting and slapping they were doing, I pulled them into the office to get a better look. The only light in the room was the light from the flashlight Johnny was using to see the safe. I just dragged the person in front of it and was surprised to find I had been attacked by the old man's nineteen-year-old daughter, Dinah.

I remembered her face since it was the type that was hard to forget; Slight build, pouty lips, eyes slightly tipped at the ends. When I'd cased the joint, I had taken pictures of all those coming and going from the house for a week. She was the youngest child and had very recently enrolled in college. That was where she was supposed to be, not here taking a swing at me. I kind of felt bad then about punching her and man handling her the way I did, since I was raised up not to hit a woman, but that feeling was short lived because Johnny turned around, no doubt wondering what was blocking his light. When he took in what was going on, his lips compressed to a thin line and his eyes shot daggers at me. All I could do was shrug. It wasn't my fault that she was there.

He asked her what she was doing and if anyone else was in the house. When she didn't answer, he pulled out his gun and stuck it to her temple. When he asked again I felt her body sag, all the fight gone out of her. It turned out that her mother had suffered a stroke earlier in the day and had been rushed to the hospital. Her father was there offering what comfort he could. The only reason that she was there and not at the hospital was because she had been tired from the drive up and decided to come home and get some sleep. Johnny nodded as if satisfied, then told me to tie her up and check out the rest of the house. So, of course, I did.

I tied her hands first and then her feet. Using a smaller strip of rope, I tied the two together so that her hands were resting on her ankles. When I was done I grabbed another flashlight from the bag and made my way through the house. Finding everything empty I headed back to the office. I know I was only gone just a matter of minutes, but when I came through the door the first thing I saw was Dinah slumped over at an odd angle, thin lines of blood running from her hairline down her cheek. I turned to find Johnny shoving the money in one of his bags and demanded to know what he had done to the girl. He just shrugged and said that he'd shut her up. Claimed that she had been going on and on about how we couldn't get away with this, that the cops were on their way, etc. etc.

I asked him if he thought that was possible, if the cops could really be on the way. He shook his
head and sighed, his way of showing me that I should know better by now and told me he had severed the phone connection when he disarmed the alarm.

"What if she had a cell phone?" I asked skeptically, "She could have called with that."

He just shrugged and told me to start getting everything together. A little concerned that she might have been telling the truth, I set about gathering everything up, but when I cast a quick glance Dinah's way I was a little worried that he might have killed her. A crook I may be, but I am not heartless. The sight of her sitting there with blood on her face tore at my heart. She was, after all, only a child. As I said before, I have children of my own and I couldn't picture such a young life snuffed out.

I walked over and checked her pulse. To my surprise (and my relief) everything was
still strong and steady but she looked as if she were having trouble breathing slumped over the way she
was. So I adjusted her position the best I could and moved her head at a different angle. Johnny caught me lying her down and asked me what the hell I thought I was doing. Weren't we supposed to be getting out of here? Did I think this was some casual outing where I could take my time?

Hesitantly, I moved on, grabbing up two of the bags and waited for Johnny to finish hanging the portrait back over the safe. As I stood there, I couldn't help looking over at the girl again. What were we going to do about her? I didn't want to just leave her trussed up like a pig lying in the middle of the floor. But my silent question was answered when Johnny turned back around. His eyes came to rest on her and a cold glint came into them, but it was his words that turned my blood to ice.

" She's seen our faces. We can't just leave her here to tell the cops or they'll be on us quick as shit."

I knew what he was getting at, and as much as I tried to tell myself he couldn't be serious, I couldn't deny that right then he looked willing to kill any one who got in his way. I couldn't understand, you know? This was a guy I had known most of my life, played ball with in school, partied with in college. In all the years I had known him, I had never seen him act and sound as cold as he did then. The guy I grew up with was funny, laidback, always ready to help out a friend. If you have ever heard that money doesn't change people, you have been seriously lied to.

I pleaded with him to spare her. After all, she was just a kid and she couldn't possibly remember every detail, she hadn't even had time enough to get a good look. I told him if he was really afraid that she could identify us we could load her up and drop her off in the middle of nowhere, miles away from any phone.

If you think that would have been cruel, I can tell you that it would have been much better than what did happen. She might have been lost and alone, cold and hungry, but she would have still been around to graduate. She would have been spared and that's all I cared about. I didn't want any part of killing
somebody, especially a young girl whose only crime was to come home and get some sleep. We were the bad guys here. We were the ones who broke into her house. But Johnny wanted no part of what I was saying. He threw the bag of money at me and drew the gun so fast that it had barely registered before he pulled the trigger.

At first I was shocked. So shocked in fact that I couldn't even move. My feet were like lead weights
pinning me to the floor. Then, like a bucket of cold water being splashed on my head, anger washed
through me with all the powers of hell. I dropped the bags and lunged at Johnny, convincing myself that I could take him down. There was a scuffle that seemed to go on forever, and I even managed to get in a real good punch before the barrel of the gun was jammed in my stomach. Everything went real still and silent except for the sound of our ragged breathing.

I'm not a coward, but at that moment I didn't want to join poor Dinah in death. I let go and stepped back slowly, raising my hands as I did so to let him know it was over as far as I was concerned. Maybe it was over for me, but Johnny had different ideas. He twitched the gun to the side and ordered me to move real slow to the door. I cast a last glance at Dinah then turned and started walking, fearing the whole time that he was going to shoot me in the back.

When I got to the door he told me stop and not to do anything funny. So, I waited as sweat ran down my body and my imagination did double duty to show me all the horrible ways he might kill me. I realized that I had never really known this man I had called friend for so many years and he'd already proven to me that he had no problem with murder. While my mind was working in overtime, Johnny grabbed the bags and walked up behind me. My stomach flipped and my heart lurched when I felt the gun pressed into the small of my back.

" Now, we're going to walk down the hall and go down the stairs real easy like. You're going to keep
your hands where I can see them and you're not going to make any sudden moves. If you do, I'm going to fill you full of lead. Got it?"

I nodded my head slowly to show I understood and started walking when he jabbed me with the gun. We made it out of the house and down the drive where the car was waiting without incident, only to be greeted by the sound of sirens.

True to her word that girl had called the cops. And if it hadn't been her then it had been the sound of the shot being fired that alerted a neighbor, who, in turn, phoned it in. Maybe it was a combination of both. All I know is that Johnny started throwing the bags through the open window and yelling at me to get back while he went around and climbed in the car. I waited until he started the engine, and I was sure he couldn't shoot me, before I made a grab for the door. But Johnny punched the gas and the car lurched away before I even came close. As he sped away, I caught the sound of something bouncing off the tarmac. I had a vague idea of what it might have been, but I was in no position to find out.

By the time I had turned and started to run the cops were over the hill, their bright lights bouncing off of me and clearly showing my form. I still could have made a run for it I guess, but what would have been the point? Instead I just stood still and put my hands over my head as they came to a screeching halt no more than five feet away.

All in all there were four cars total, and as if everyone had counted to three, two cops sprang from each car yelling at me to "freeze" and to lie down on the ground. I did as I was told. I'm not stupid. I'd seen enough cop shows to know they would use me for target practice if I didn't. The whole lot of em'
converged on me like a swarm of angry hornets. I was sat on, cuffed, and roughly shoved into the back of a squad car.

The rest you can pretty much figure out. Johnny had worn gloves, so the only prints ever found were
mine. On the doors, the picture, the safe, and even on poor Dinah. The loud clang I had heard as he rushed off, was the sound of the gun bouncing off of the cement. Though they never found any prints on the gun they had enough circumstantial evidence to sentence me to death. They called it premeditated cold blooded murder and said that anyone who could be so ruthless deserved nothing less.

I tried to tell my story then but no one wanted to hear it. They had their man; the case was closed. Why put any kinks in the system? Everything they needed to convict me, I had unknowingly given. I did manage to tell my lawyer, but he didn't seem too interested. I think he'd already made up his mind that I was guilty as sin, or he was just too busy to be bothered with the details. Besides, I wasn't paying him, the state was. Who better to get him to sit on his hands as if they were tied and stick cotton in his ears? I did try to appeal, but nothing ever came of it.

I'm not going to sit here and try to tell you I'm a great guy. I've done my share of bad things, but I will say that I never, and let me repeat that again just to make sure you really hear it, I have never, ever, killed anyone. That was Johnny.

I wonder what he's up to these days, two million dollars richer? I'm sure he probably bought that yacht he always wanted and made a run for it on the sea. There's a lot of water out there and a single man can disappear forever. I bet he's having the time of his life while I sit here in dread of the needle they'll be sticking in my arm at midnight tonight.

There will be no stays of execution, no claims of new evidence found. When Johnny screwed me, he screwed me good. I guess that was probably his plan all along. I really believe he would have killed me that night if it hadn't been for the cops showing up when they did. Not that it matters. He got me anyway. It just took a little longer for the bullet to reach me.

The point is, I'm about to die for his crime while he soaks up the sun somewhere drinking margaritas. If there really is any justice in this world, then I hope my tale brings about his down fall. I don't know where my words will end up, or who will one day read them, though I'm smart enough not to simply give them to the warden. He'd just throw it away. So, in the name of hope I'm sealing this letter, this tale, as my last will and testament. If I'm lucky, whoever reads it will pass it on to the proper authorities. What they do with it then, I guess I'll never know, but I hope my description will help make the investigation a little easier.

Now you have to remember, the description I'm going to give is based on his appearance ten years ago. There's no telling what he looks like these days with millions to spend, but there are some things you can't change. Like, when he was nine he was mauled by a bull and his right leg had to be replaced with a prosthetic. Ever since then he's walked with a strange gangly limp. He's Latino, and there's no way you can change your nationality, though I hear you can change your sex now. Makes you wonder what this world is coming to. I guess at least I'll be spared that sight, though I'd pay a fortune to sit on the sidelines.

He has light brown skin and dark eyes and hair. Of course, he could be wearing color contacts now and dying his hair. He's 5'11, which you can't change without chopping off your legs, and he weighed about 175 pounds.

He carried himself all puffed up like a mobster, at least that's the term I'd use based on his
stance and attitude. His face was kind of chiseled, pinched you know, as if he was always in a state of
agitation, but he was real personable once you got to know him, real smart too.

His full name is Johnny Tyler Sweet, and he was born on June 3, 1959. There can't be too many
Johnny Tyler Sweets running around with the same date of birth, so that should help narrow down the
search. Then again, I guess its possible that he changed his identity. New drivers license, new social
security card, some dead mans birth certificate. God only knows who he is these days. With loads to spend you can be anybody you choose to be. Talk about irony.

Well, I've told my tale and you're probably wondering why. Right now, the main reason I'm writing is that I want the real truth out there. That's right, the real truth. Not that twisted version they used to convict me. If I have to die, I'll take it like a man, but it will make it easier if I know my story is waiting to be read.

So, now you are the judge and the jury, you who are sitting there reading my words and it is you who must decide. Has justice been served? Or has it only been a mockery. As for my motives? Well, I guess you'll have to decide that too. Has my story been a play for justice? Or a defense for revenge?

Chapter 4
Breathe Again

By Gwynn

I died.

So how can I write this if I am dead, you ask. A ghost cannot hold a pen for it has no substantial weight to bear one. But I say, I am not a ghost, nor any other sort of phantom menace from the netherworld.

I was an apparition of life, moaning and shaking my chains to keep away the unwanted. My touch was cold, my soul embittered by the loss of a life I once knew. I floated in a perpetual state of grief, plagued by ghosts of the past--Insistent ghosts that tormented my every waking moment, their haunting laughter chasing me in my dreams. I prayed for the Lord to free me, to exorcise the demons that tortured me so, but my pleas fell on deaf ears. There was to be no peace, no solace.

For years I wandered in this state; half alive, half dead--until the demons claimed me and killed my soul. I no longer felt love or hope; I was devoid of all emotion. I no longer cried out for the Lord to save me for my faith had been shattered. Thus, I died--never realizing that I was the only one who could banish the phantoms that claimed me as their own. It was I alone who had allowed them to lock me away in their rancid prison.

Have you ever died? Have you ever felt that yawning void of emptiness as your very soul was ripped away? If so, then you understand how I died; you understand the phantom I had become.

I was a child when I died and I did not have the courage or strength to banish the demons that plagued me. I was a woman when I learned that first I had to face them. Only then could I break away from their clutches and lay them to rest. To my horror, I found this was not all that was needed if I was to rejoin the ranks of the living. I had to learn again what it was to love, to hope, to dream. I had to take the shattered pieces of my faith and carefully rebuild them.

In my quest to accomplish this, I learned wisdom. In my battle to live again, I found strength. After spending most of my life to overcome it all, I learned patience. So I say to those who are phantoms living in the void between life and death, break the chains; unlock the prison that binds you for only you hold the key; breathe again the life that surrounds you and know the peace of being free.

Chapter 5
A Heart of Stone

By Gwynn

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

"Shut up, you bitch!" he yells with another punch to the midsection, cutting her words off in a whoosh of breath. Sobbing brokenly, she slides down the wall to cower on the floor. Grabbing a handful of hair, he yanks her back up, then clutches her throat. Squeezing tightly, he leans close enough for her to smell the alcohol on his breath. 

"I told you to shut the fuck up!" Saliva speckles her face as she struggles to pull his hands away. Releasing her hair, he slaps her so hard that her ears start ringing. Wetness rushes down to coat her lips and teeth, and she knows he has busted her nose again. With no other thought than the need to comply, she draws in a ragged breath through the pressure against her throat and nods. With a disgusted grunt, he releases her and she slides again to the floor.

Forcing down the sobs, she cries quietly and raises a shaking hand to check her nose; he hasn't broken it this time. Consumed by fear and pain, she watches as he stomps away. Tears dripping on her lap, she wonders what she did to set him off. It doesn't take much, just smiling the wrong way is enough. How many times is it now? She wonders... how many broken bones? Covering her mouth, she holds back the scream of why? that seeks escape.

His steps echo on the hardwood floor as he approaches again. She lowers her head and closes her eyes when he speaks, his voice a deep, commanding growl.

"Clean yourself up, Diane, you look like shit." Throwing a box of tissue at her, he gives her a look that says he means NOW, and storms away.

With shaking hands, she pulls out several and dabs her bleeding nose. Applying pressure, she leans her head back to rest against the wall. At least this time she didn't beg, didn't plead for him to stop.

What happened to them?, she wonders. Where's the promise to love and cherish, to have and to hold? Swiping angrily at her tears, she gives a bitter laugh inside. Till death do us part... they seemed to have that part down. None of it was real, she thought. She'd known it from the very beginning. Foolishly believing he would change, she'd said "I do" to a man who couldn't care less.

Pulling away the bloody tissue, she wipes away the tears on her cheek, then pushes herself off the floor and stumbles to the bathroom. She checks her face for the red marks that will leave new bruises, noting each one with a wince. Lifting her shirt, she checks her ribs; they're tender, but none seem to be broken. Sighing, she lets the shirt fall into place and turns on the tap. Using a rag, she gently cleans away the blood encrusting her upper lip and leans over the sink to splash cool water on her eyes. Raising her gaze to the mirror once more, water dripping from her chin, she jumps when she sees him standing behind her.

"Oh baby, I'm so sorry," he whispers, slowly walking in and laying his hand on her shoulder. "It's just, sometimes, I get so mad... I can't help it. I don't mean to hurt you."

She stares back through the impartial glass, tensed and uncomfortable with his presence. "I know," she whispers back, knowing any other answer would set him off again. He steps closer and she cringes as his arms encircle her. He rubs his face against her hair and sighs.

"I'm sorry... so sorry, baby. Please, don't hate me. I love you so much..." But I do, she thinks, as he mumbles on, his words now indecipherable, I do hate you.

With a smile, he looks up, meeting her eyes again. "I know, why don't you go sit and rest and I'll make us a nice dinner. That'll be nice, won't it?"

She just stares back and nods her head, not trusting herself to speak. He gives her a quick hug and spins around, crossing the distance to the kitchen; she watches till he's out of sight.

Rinsing out the bloodied rag, she turns off the water and hangs it over the faucet, then stares at her reflection. What have I become?, she silently asks it. Where did I go? The reflection looks back, silently mocking her questions. Rubbing her sore stomach, she turns away from the hollow eyes and shuffles to the living room to sit on the couch. Beyond feeling, she stares into the fireplace at the feeble glow of wood unable to re-ignite, locked in a prison of doubts and confusion, hopelessly trying to glue the pieces of herself back together.


Lost, she looks up to find her husband standing beside the coffee table.

"Didn't you hear me?"

Woodenly, she shakes her head and he rolls his eyes. "I said dinner's ready. Get up off your ass so we can eat."

Slowly, she lifts herself from the couch, grimacing at the soreness of her body, and trails him to the kitchen. She finds her seat and watches as he prepares the plates, humming to himself and casting smiles over his shoulder. Those smiles send a shiver down her back.

Like a kid with the hope of garnering a proud pat, he lays her plate down and grins lopsidedly. Reaching out, she picks up the knife and fork like a robot on auto pilot, and slices into the meat. Blood swirls across the plate and she frowns.

Her husband stretches out a calloused hand and gently rubs her cheek. "I hope you like it, baby."

She sits silently, watching the blood seep across the white ceramic, as he leans down to brush a kiss across the top of her head.

"I did it for you, to show you how sorry I really am. I know how much you like steak," he mumbles into her hair.

Still, she stares at the blood as it seeps its way into her mashed potatoes. It reminds her of the blood she has just cleaned away. The blood he drew when he struck her.

She feels his kiss, feels the tickle of breath on the back of her neck as he pulls away. Slowly, she turns her head and stares into his smiling face... a face she used to find handsome but now repulses her. Slowly, oh so slowly, she returns his smile, then plunges the knife up through his chest, straight into his cold, uncaring heart.

With a look of surprise, he clutches the handle and stumbles backward; his back slamming into the counter, his mouth opening and closing like a hooked fish. Without feeling, she watches as he slides to the floor, wide-eyed and uncomprehending. Bubbles of blood form and burst on his lips, whispers of words that never come.

Silently, she stands and wipes her hands on the napkin beside her plate, then crosses the room to dial 911. Laying the receiver on the counter, she steps past her husband's clutching hand and returns to the living room. Smiling, she stares at the smoldering ashes of the fire and waits for the police to arrive. 



Chapter 6
The Coldest Summer

By Gwynn

Warning: The author has noted that this contains strong language.

I remember that summer like it happened yesterday. I had just turned twelve and it seemed like life couldn't get any better; the world was my playground with many opportunities to enjoy the freedoms of youth. I was just your usual run-of-the-mill kid. I didn't seek out trouble, though it seemed to find me anyway. I hung with a group of guys, some I admired, some I just tolerated for the sake of our friendship. I wasn't a wimp like Gary or a peace keeper like Jordan and I wasn't an ass like Jason or Dave. I suppose I was somewhere in the middle; a bystander that just went along for the ride.

Where one was lurking, you could usually find the rest of us. We were thick as thieves, like brothers who had grown up together. We all lived on the same street, a few houses down from each other; went to school together and got into trouble together.

It was July 23, 1982 when all our lives changed. The day started like all the others and we, unsuspecting of what lay at its end, jumped right on in.


"Get off my lawn!" Mrs. Morrison shouted as we cut through on our way to Carson Drive. It was our usual short cut and she was used to seeing us traipsing across her yard. Instead of hurrying our steps to comply, we snickered behind our hands; making gestures our parents would have skinned us alive for. I couldn't stand her, she was the biggest grouch in the neighborhood. It seemed like she always went out of her way to let us know how awful we were and what a terrible burden we were to our folks. Most of the time we tried to ignore her, especially the parents she called to complain to, but sometimes she just made it damn near impossible to keep our mouths shut.

"Oh shove it, you old hag!" Jason shouted, sending us all scurrying across the street as she came down the drive brandishing her broom. An angry Mrs. Morrison was not someone you wanted to toy with, and none of us wanted to be on the receiving end of that swing.

"Damned crazy old lady," Dave muttered, pushing his dark hair out of his face as we slowed to a walk a safe distance away. We all nodded our agreement at this statement and tried to catch our breath.

"Somebody oughta set her right," Jason added with a smirk and, once again, we all nodded our agreement, not wasting the breath required to speak aloud. Jason was a tall, lanky kid with red hair, pale skin, and a crooked grin. Hot-headed, he was always spoiling for a fight. If he got the notion in his head to really do something about crazy Mrs. Morrison, I knew he'd drag us along. I hoped he didn't. I can't stand her, but I sure wanted to keep my hide in tact.

The heat was almost unbearable, with no hint of a breeze, and temperatures still rising. But the weatherman claimed it was normal, so we took it in stride. It gave us a reason to head down to the river. Wiping away the sweat collecting on my brow, I glanced over my shoulder to make sure Mrs. Morrison wasn't on our heels. Sometimes she gave chase, shouting and waving her hands, the curlers on her head bobbing crazily. This time, however, she simply stood at the end of the drive, broom still in hand in case we were stupid enough to tempt fate. I guess the heat sapped her energy, too, keeping us safe this time.

"Damn," Dave grouched, and I turned my head to look at him. "I'm friggin' baking here. Are we ever gonna get there?" He tugged his shirt away from his chest and fanned himself with the end. Knowing I couldn't have said it better, I gave him a smile.

"Why do you always have to use that word?" Gary grumbled with a sideways glance. Short and boney, all knees and elbows, he didn't really fit in with the group. But then, he didn't really fit in anywhere except the chess club. He was a nerd in the eyes of his peers; a book-worm with a high IQ and glasses. We all kinda saw him as a pansy and used him as the butt of a million different jokes. Still, he was one of us, and we all fought to keep it that way.

"Cause I like it, you numb-skull. Quit being such a pansy, Einstein." He flashed his teeth with a lopsided grin and gave Gary a playful shove.

Gary frowned as he stumbled. "I'm not a pansy, butt wipe. If your ma ever hears you talkin' like that, she's gonna shove a bar of soap down your throat." Straightening his glasses, he curled all his fingers but the middle one and shoved them higher on his nose.

"Nah, she ain't. She don't give a damn what I say." Dave gave him the bird back and punched him on the shoulder as Jordan and I exchanged skeptical looks. I'm pretty sure Gary was right but I wasn't going to be the one that pointed it out.

Dave always talked like he was the toughest guy in the world. If there was trouble, you would usually find he was the one who'd started it. And, even if he hadn't started it, you could still find him right in the thick of it. Truth be told, he was my hero. When life knocked him down, he always came up swinging.

"Really," Gary said, his eyes slit in disbelief, "I bet you ain't got the balls to say it to her face." This, in our eyes, was a challenge and our heads swiveled to take in Dave's reaction.

He just waved a dismissive hand, not rising to the obvious bait. "Like I said, she don't care what I say. Hell," he added with a shrug, "she hears worse from my old man when he's all drunked up."

That was enough to shut Gary up. We all knew how Dave's dad knocked him and his mom around after a few. An awkward silence enveloped us, everyone eyeing everybody else, willing someone to break the tension.

Finally, Jordan pulled out a pack of smokes he'd filched from his dad and offered us one. Order now restored, and feeling decidedly cool and rebellious, we lit up. I never inhaled, but Gary did and went into a sudden coughing fit that turned his face crimson. Bent over double, hands on knees, he struggled to catch his breath. Dave, grinning, walked over and pounded him on the back.

"Damn, Gary, I didn't think you had it in ya," he joked. The rest of us just milled around waiting for Gary to catch his breath, grinning and poking fun as we listened to the echo of Dave's laughter.

When Gary managed to get a lungful of air, he turned around and defiantly stood face to face with Dave. "You're an asshole, you know that?" he gritted, his voice cracking from the strain of coughing.

"Yeah," Dave answered, "you gonna do something about it, pansy?" He shot Gary a look that would have withered a turnip, then gave him a shove. Gary shoved back and Dave's fist came up.

"You tell him, Dave!" Jason shouted, and Jordan gave him a push, telling him to shut up as he did so. Throwing his cigarette down, Jason sullenly stomped it out, then crossed his arms and watched in silence. Jordan always kept a level head in the worst situations, usually calming us down when things got out of hand.

Seeing a chance to implement his level-headedness, and fearing the scuffle that might ensue, I forced my way between Dave and Gary, glaring at one and then the other. "It's too hot for this shit, Dave. We all know you're an ass. Gary, quit inviting trouble." They continued to stare each other down until Dave laughed.

"You better believe it, twerp," Dave said with a grin, slapping me on the shoulder, "you wouldn't want it any other way." Gary just grunted angrily and stepped away straightening his glasses. Jordan flicked his smoke across the street with a sigh and shook his head.

"Matt's right, let's cut the bullshit and get going. I'm ready to cool off." He cut his eyes at Dave then turned his stare on Gary, a silent warning that it'd better be dropped.

Gary shrugged angrily and started walking. Dave gave us all an innocent, hurt look that didn't fool anyone, then swaggered on. The heat sapped the energy required to talk, so we trudged the rest of the way in weary silence.

It was mid-afternoon when we made it to the river. With a whoop we tossed our shoes and jumped in, relishing the much needed break from the heat. We laughed and dunked each other, shouting out insults and challenges until the sun began to set. It was with great reluctance that we donned our shoes and started the two mile trek home. It would be dark by the time we got there and we all knew we'd be in a heap of trouble when we arrived. It didn't bother us too much though; we always seemed to be in trouble for one thing or another.

Dave and Jason exchanged scathing remarks as we walked along, the sun setting as they fought to see who could outdo the other; our wet clothes hugging our bodies like a second skin. Gary, Jordan, and I just grinned as we kept a silent tally. We knew Dave was likely to win because he never seemed to run out of obscene things to say.

The sky had gone completely dark and the first stars were peeking out as we turned the corner to our block. With a shock, we all stopped and stared. The street was crawling with cop cars, their red and blue lights bouncing through the night, carving peculiar shadows in their wake.

"What the fuck?" Dave mumbled, and then broke into a run when he realized they were flashing in front of his house. We followed hot on his heels, confused yet morbidly curious, the lights beckoning us on.

Dave beat us by a large margin, and shouting angrily, rushed onto the porch only to be intercepted by two large cops. Each officer grabbed an arm, murmuring words we couldn't make out while dragging him off the porch. He struggled to break free, but they were holding him too tightly. He was led to a police car and shoved in the back. One cop stood outside to keep him from dashing through the open door, talking quietly, as the other walked into the house.

Paralyzed, the rest of us watched as the other cop brought Dave's dad out in handcuffs and pushed him into another waiting car. Unsure of what was going on, we tried to inch our way to where Dave was, but more officers blocked our way and told us to go home. Determined to be there for our friend, and resenting the cop's cold attitude, we simply walked a few yards away and waited. We fidgeted around, passing the time by trying to figure out what was happening. The arrival of an ambulance cut off all words, its lights silently bathing the houses as it parked alongside the police cars.

By this time, a crowd had gathered and we listened to their whispers as they all pondered what was going on. I was becoming afraid to even consider what might have happened and it was apparent the other guys didn't want to either. With pale faces, we looked around us, invariably returning to stare at each other in confusion. Why was Dave in a police car and why did they need an ambulance? Knowing Dave, there were a million things he could get into, tons of trouble he could cause, but none of it required an ambulance or this many cops to scare the bejeezers out of a kid.

There was a sudden gasp from the crowd as a gurney emerged from the house bearing a shrouded heap. With a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach, I watched as it was loaded. A man in a white coat climbed in the back and the other medics climbed in the ambulance and drove it away; the police car holding Dave's dad following behind.

Jason and I exchanged a knowing look as Jordan started walking towards the police cars. He was immediately stopped again, but this time he didn't let them push him away. He stood talking to the officers for a long while, then waved us over. I don't know what he said, but I was glad to have the chance to speak with Dave. Gary hung back as we made our way across the street, perhaps too terrified to face what it all really meant.

Dave looked at us all in wide-eyed confusion as we approached, then broke down into sobs. Dave was a guy's guy, not normally prone to showing any sort of emotion besides anger. This display left us feeling uncertain and inadequate. No one knew what to say. Instead, we silently patted him on the shoulder, mumbling encouraging words I'm sure he never heard. The night was alive with murmurs and shouts as the crowd milled around trying to get information. The cops plowed their way through the throng asking questions. Others just mumbled to each other about the tragedy of it all.

After a while, Dave dried his tears and looked at each one of us. "Why?" he asked, "it's not supposed to be like this." Running fingers through his hair, he gave a bitter laugh, "I don't understand, you know. He always knocked her around, but this..." he trailed off, his eyes becoming distant. "I should have been here. If I'd only been here I coulda kept her safe. I coulda stopped him," he gritted angrily through his teeth. Part of me wanted to point out that a thirteen-year-old kid wouldn't have stood a chance at stopping any of it and probably would have been killed as well, but I couldn't; this was all he had to hang onto right now. His anger was the weapon with which he faced the world; the thing that kept him going when life laid him flat.

It wasn't much longer before the officer by the car door told us we had to go home now. Offering more encouraging words, we backed off as Dave stared at us bleakly. His door was slammed closed and the officer climbed in. We watched as he drove Dave away, then quietly wandered home, none of us speaking to the other, lost in our own bewildered thoughts.

It was plastered all over the front page the next day. Dave's dad, one Franklin Darow, had shot his wife, Barbra Darow, in a fit of jealous rage. They stated that the police in the county had been aware of the domestic violence that had erupted over the years and were not surprised by the awful outcome. One even went so far as to say that, had she pressed charges on one of the many occasions she landed in the hospital, she would be alive today. The Darows had a son, it went on to say, one David Darow, age thirteen, who was now being held by the state until family was contacted to pick him up. There were other things written, but I was too sickened to read more.

The boys and I met later that day in the park, solemn and withdrawn. We hardly talked... there was nothing really left to say. First, one of us drifted away, then another, and another, until I was eventually left by myself.

It was only a matter of days before Dave's aunt and uncle flew in from Ohio to collect him and take him beyond our reach. After that, we all just went our separate ways. We'd see each other on the street or in school, give a wave or a smile, but we never talked again. I guess none of us had the heart to face the lack of Dave's presence. We were all wrapped up in our own grief I suppose, but there was more to it than that. Dave had been the glue that kept us all together, his rough and tough attitude being the mask that hid the kind boy we all knew was under it. His banter had made us laugh, cocky as it often was. His smile drew us in and made us feel important, like we had a secret no one would ever share. Despite his picking, he had given Gary a place to belong, a place where he could be himself. Jason had needed Dave's tough exterior to keep him in line and give him someone to vent on, instead of being a bully. Jordan had needed him in order to balance his laid back nature. And me? I had needed him to give me hope that, no matter what life throws at you, you could always find a way to fight back.


I look back on those days, the ones where we stood together, joined in our hopes for the future and the belief that youth would last forever. I think back and smile, though it's a bittersweet smile of regret and longing, of friends loved and lost. During that summer I learned the true meaning of death and the innocence it strips away. That summer, though hot as hell, was the coldest one I've ever experienced.

Chapter 7
The Good, The Mad, and The Trusting

By Gwynn

Dear Diary,

Today has been an exhilarating, depressing and confusing day, though not necessarily in that order. You see, today I lost my mother. Now, I don't mean lost as in she wandered off into the great blue yonder never to be heard from again (though in a funny way that does apply), but lost as in gone from this world, kaput, audios, sayonara...deceased.


I cried a lot today, but not for the reasons you are expecting. Don't get me wrong. Mother was as mad as the
Queen of Hearts in Alice's Wonderland, but she was my mother. Mad or not, I loved her because of that. No, it was guilt that brought about these tears, not the expected grief of a daughter crying for her dead mother.

Perhaps I was wrong to maintain the distance between us. Perhaps all she needed was a little push in the right direction. Maybe if I had been a better child or better able to see past all of her numerous mistakes. Maybe if I hadn't let her madness stand in the way and tried just a little harder to be forgiving...alas, I could not. And In any case, it's too late for second-guessing.

I must remind you that things weren't always so bad. There are a few good memories buried in this brain of mine, but not nearly enough to circumvent all the horrors that reside there too. Like this one time, I couldn't have been more than five or so, mother stood before me carefully gluing cotton balls to my face so I could look like the fabled Santa Clause. I remember her fingers, so gentle, applying each cotton ball with the smooth precision of a woman long learned in her task. I even remember how she smelled that day, standing so close. Like soap and shampoo, with just a touch of Lady Stetson hanging over it all. Her eyes
danced as she went about her work and her lips drew up into a beautiful smile when she turned me around to gauge the reflection in the mirror. Our smiles met and became giggles that transformed into outright laughter.

That's one of the best memories I have but, if I were to be completly fair, there is one more that comes to mind as I write. Third grade. Do you remember Diary? There was that bug-eyed girl Bianca, and she was my mortal enemy for some unknown reason. It was recess and we had all lined up to go outside. The teacher was
just stepping to the front of the line, when that girl whirled around (calling me an obscene name that I will not repeat in these pages) and slapped me hard across the face. Boy was that a day! I remember seeing red and laying into her with all the might and strength afforded my tiny 9 year old body. The principle suspended me from school for three days and called mother. I was so scared!

She picked me up and we sat there in the car, separate in our thoughts yet together in such a confining space, wrapped in our mutual silence; she not having anything to say yet, I suppose, and me too busy envisioning all the million kinds of trouble I would be in when we made it home. I became accustomed to the silence;
in fact I relished it, convincing myself that as long as no one spoke, the situation would fade as suddenly as mist. When she broke the silence I almost learned how to fly.

"Who started the fight?" she asked casually, her eyes glued to the road ahead. Over coming my
sudden urge to grow wings and take flight, I managed to mumble that Bianca did then froze, unsure whether she would believe me or not. I wasn't a troublesome kid when it came to playing nice.
As a matter of fact, I was quite content to be left alone so I could quietly
contemplate whatever managed to catch my fancy. Mother knew I didn't go around
starting fights, but the truth of it was that her moods changed so rapidly, I
could never be sure how she would take anything.

"Who won?"

Again she asked as casually as if nothing had occurred. I found a suddenly annoying lump in my throat and was forced to fight it down while squeaking out that I did and hoping, with all my might hoping, I didn't look like
a rabbit caught in a trap. By this time my anxiety level had nearly reached its max and I knew I wouldn't be able handle many more of her casually cloaked questions. It was then, however, that she did the most unexpected thing.


She smiled.

A smile in itself can mean many things, but with this one my anxiety level soared through the roof before I could manage to claw it back under control. That smile could have only meant one of two things: I was in more trouble than I ever imagined possible and should probably start thinking about a will or, I had been forgiven
an unpardonable sin. I sat waiting in an agony of self recimination and fear for what seemed an eternity, casting small glances her way, hoping to catch some glimps of what my fate might be.

Finally, her smile broadened as we rolled to a halt under a stoplight and she turned to look at me. "So, she started it and you finished it. Good job, kid. Want some ice cream?"

I was stunned to say the least, but all of the anxiety that had begun to reach critical mass in my head dissipated. We had our ice cream, then stayed up late replaying the events of the fight. Needless to say, that was the second best day of my life.

If there are more, sadly, too many bad memories crowd in for me to remember. Well, you know
the stories. I hardly need remind you of them. All the horrible, violent, bloody stories; all the humiliation openly shared with her friends so that I, of all people, would appear to be the crazy one! All the fake smiles and hollow words that she used to cow me into being more compliant to her delusional wishes; all the false exclamations of love and empty embraces. Oh, how I could go on and on, filling your pages with all the
pathetic tricks she played, all the cruelty she dished out! Ahhh, but for once Diary, it is not my story I tell. It is hers'. I will not cheapen it with heavy-handed words of days best forgot.

Anyway, last night, or early this morning actually, it all came to an end. I was having one of my bad dreams. You know, the ones where she's chasing me and no matter where I turn, she's always there waiting; her eyes looking through me in that hollow accusing fashion, her hands on her hips, her chin thrust in the air as if
daring me to try and hide. I jerked awake, breath rattling harshly in the darkness like whispers of some long dead ghost foretelling doom and destruction, my body bathed in sweat and just knew, knew it all had to end if I didn't want to end up as a blubbering adolescent locked away in a padded room.

Silently, I crept from my room and padded down the hall, the soft swish-scratch of my bare feet on the carpet my only betraying sound. I stopped outside her door and pressed my ear against the cold, hard wood, straining to hear the soft snores that would ensure she still slept, unaware of my decision. Once satisfied that my waking had not disturbed her slumber, I crept back down the hall to the stairs beyond. Though the house is old, no squeak of floorboards betrayed me as I descended. Mother has always had a thing about
squeaky floors and if she ever happened to step anywhere that gave off that faint, irritating noise, she
immediately had someone out to replace that section of the flooring.

I proceeded to the kitchen and approached the drawer that held the spatulas and other cooking utensiles. I pulled it open and reached inside, searching for a knife large enough to suit my purpose. Closing my hand upon a hard, unyeilding handle, I drew it out and held it up.

Moonlight streamed in through the slightly parted curtains and bounced off of theblade sending it's cold reflection into my eyes. I blinked and stood there a moment, knife in hand, mesmerized by the
glinting surface and wondered if I was doing the right thing. Could there be another way to put an end to her madness? Could I just put a scare into her and make her see reason? But no, I knew that would never do. The hint would not be taken. She would simply take her anger out on me again, the whole while staring
at me with those hollow, accusing eyes as if all things were my fault. No.
It must end.


I closed the drawer and stepped out of the kitchen, the knife clutched firmly against my chest as if my
subconscious knew it would bring long awaited comfort. I glided up the stairs and back down the hall to mothers room, once again stopping to listen for her soft snores. They floated softly through the door like phantoms seeking escape.

Reassured, I opened the door, only a crack, until I could make out her sleeping form beneath the covers. I watched the steady rise and fall of her rhythmic breathing for what seemed like hours. When I was
absolutely sure that she slept, I pushed the door open all the way and stepped in. I quietly walked over to where she lay and looked down at her. She seemed so peaceful laying there, her hair spread out like a silken fan around her pretty face, all the angry creases that usually dotted her faced ironed out in sleep, her skin now as smooth as my own.

Pity welled up in my breast as I stood there gazing down at her. It was a shame that God had
seen fit to mar such beauty with madness. And at what cost! What right did I have to condemn her for something she could control no more than I could the wind? These thoughts churned through my mind and I actually turned to leave, but something tugged me back. Something calming and sweet. I decided to stay a
while longer and bask in the peace she had found in sleep, and so I crouched closer until we were almost nose-to nose, our breath mingling together. It was the closest we had been in years. I could almost see her hand reaching out to gently caress my cheek, a smile on her beautiful face and love shinning in her eyes.

That was all I have ever really wanted Diary, just to see pride and love in her eyes instead
of that accusing glare, to feel warmth in her touch instead of pain and to know that she loved me instead of blaming me for all the wrongs in her life. I wanted her to see me as the child she had born and nurtured, flesh of her flesh, blood of her blood, instead of condemning me as if I were a demon fleshed from her womb and sent to plague her.

Bent there, nose-to-nose, a sudden urge to hug her overwhelmed me and I unclenched my arms and wrapped them around her, careful not to nick her with the blade I still held, and squeezed gently. I closed my eyes, savoring the feel of her in my arms, and for a wonderful moment all was right with the world. She was my mother, and folded in each others' arms we were able to deny the madness that had crept between us.

I felt like a bird set free after years of imprisonment, my heart soaring with joy, my mind blissfully free of horror for the first time since I could remember. There is nothing in this life that could have equaled that moment in time, and I relished it like a dying man relishes his last few gulps of air. Oh, if you could have only seen us! I tell you it would have been a masterful scene if set to canvas by Norman Rockwell.


We were beautiful in our radiant embrace, whole and at peace. Life, at that moment, was everything I had
ever hoped it could be. I wanted nothing more than to stay that way forever but, sadly, nothing ever remains as we would have it. Our dreams, so grand in their promise, become nothing more than burnt ash
carried away on the breeze and our hopes, nothing more than sand scattered by the restless sea of time. Love, peace, and tranquility are all lies we reach so far to attain only to find that they, along with our hopes and dreams, slide through our fingers, leaving us standing there with empty hearts and hands, the loss so palpable that we feel it the rest of our days. I wish we could have remained like that, solid in our bond, whole in our love. I wish we could have had the chance to repair what had been broken so long. I wish a lot of things
Diary, but in this, as with all others, wishing is mere illusion.

Mother stirred in my embrace and I turned my head to greet her with a smile, but when my eyes lit on hers, I found confusion instead of love. For a moment I was disoriented, lost between the feelings I had just savored and the look in her eyes. With my meaning so wrongly interpreted, I hastened to explain and quickly
withdrew my arms. When I did, her eyes fell to the knife still nestled securely in my hand, and flew wide in astonishment before turning on me in anger.

"What do you think you're doing?" she demanded, and I knew with those few words that my dreams were to remain unrealized, my hopes dashed. She would never understand that I had set out to free her of her madness. She would never understand the pity that had gripped my heart and stayed my hand. She
would never understand the love that had welled inside me at our short embrace. Her eyes, glaring angry defiance, shattered my soul. Swallowing my disappointment, I clutched the knife with both hands.

"I'm so sorry mother," I whispered, and she must have heard the sincerity in my voice because her eyes, a moment ago filled with anger, widened in surprise and confusion as the blade plunged through her chest.
For a moment the look of surprise stayed upon her face, but slowly her features softened to ones more accustomed to pity. I realized then that she pitied me for the pain I was feeling at having to be the one to bare the task of ending her madness.It was now my turn to be shocked as I wrestled to fight down my tears. To think, this woman who had hated me, and mistreated me, for so very long, pitied my pain!

I broke down and cried, my heart thudding painfully in my ribs, as her small, white hands found mine and pressed them tighter around the knife hilt. I suddenly understood what she wanted me to do; I just wasn't sure that I could. I looked up at her pleadingly. Surely, surely she couldn't want me to suffer the pain of
that again! But her eyes found mine and her grip tightened as she struggled to raise the blade, unshed tears of hope and understanding shinning in her eyes when she tried to voice her request but failed. Choking back the traitorous sobs that escaped, I nodded my understanding and wrenched the knife from her torn chest only to bring it down again, and again, and again, until finally, the light in her eyes died, her spirit flown. Now her
tortured soul was freed of the madness that had held her in thrall for so long.

A sadness greater than any I had ever known crept upon me then. The knife tumbled from my
trembling fingers, leaving a bloody trail upon the carpet as it bounced beneath the bed, and I clutched her closely to my chest. I held her and rocked her, crying out my grief and guilt at our loss, condemning the God who could bring such beauty into the world only to twist it into something so cruel. 

I sat there holding her and crying, my mind wandering of its own accord along the path of possibilites that never were. We could have been so happy had she not been cursed from the beginning; if she had not thought that I was the reason she had to endure the pain of her delusions. What peace we could have found if, for just a moment, she had been able to lay her burden aside and see me for the loving child I was! Then we could have laughed at all the painful memories and started anew, living life happily from then on.

We stayed that way, her wrapped in my arms like I was the loving mother comforting her tortured soul, until the first blushes of the new day snaked their fingers through the window. I glanced down at mother's peaceful face and wiped away my tears; She would not have understood my grief. I slowly rose, laying her head gently
back upon the pillow, fanning her hair around her face once again like a shinning golden halo. My eyes traveled to her ruined chest and I cringed with the realization that she was covered in blood. Mother was also a stickler for cleanliness and in no way would not have approved of the mess she was. So, I fetched a bowl of warm, scented water and set about cleaning her up as lovingly as possible. I removed her soiled gown and gently bathed her wounds until no more blood stained her skin. I dressed her in a crisp, clean gown
and sat her in the chair beside the bed then set about changing her sheets. When all was done according to her standards, I lay her back on the bed, her arms crossed upon her chest. She lay there looking so peaceful and content that, despite my guilt things could not have been different, I smiled. I believe, Diary, that she would have been proud of me for the first time in her life.

Only after I was sure that she had been properly seen to, did I address the mess I was. I removed my soiled clothing and, naked, set them ablaze in the fireplace along with hers. I did this not out of some deep, dark desire to go undetected in the part I had played in her final rest, but as a means to finally and fully close that painful chapter of my life. I did not fear persecution. Why should I? No court in the world would find me guilty of a crime. I released her, and any who knew of her madness can testify to such.

When the clothing had burned down to ashes, I quickly showered, taking care to wash the blood from my skin and from beneath my fingernails, before stepping out to dress in something clean. Only then did I allow myself to go back and check on mother.

The night had been extremely long and tiring in more ways than one, and as I stood there, gazing at her peaceful face, weariness over came me. I climbed in bed beside her, nestling my head between her shoulder and neck, relishing the familiar scent of her, and drifted into an easy sleep. It was the first time I have not been plagued by nightmares.

When I awoke, evening had slipped in like a silent invader. I propped myself up on one elbow and peered at mother's face, assuring myself that my actions had not been a dream, then kissed her cheek and slid from the bed.

So, now you find me here relaying to you all the events that have transpired since last I wrote. Mother is at peace for the first time in her life, her madness ended and my soul freed of her burdening accusations. From this day on, all will know the truth behind her strange and twisted tales; the whispers will stop and the
voices in my head will cease to nag me. People will no longer look away from me with unease, pretending I am some heartless wretch unworthy of their respect and love. Instead, they will look upon me with awe. They will remark upon the strength and courage it must have taken to set her free, the determination and will to fulfill her unspoken request. When I pass they will all say, "There she is, that poor, sweet girl. Can you imagine what it must have been like? All of those years, day in and day out, to bear the brunt of such cold, cruel madness?"

Now I can hold my head high, Diary. I will no longer be forced to live within the shadows of fear and pain. I will no longer be cast aside, unwanted and untrusted, misunderstood and unloved. What joy there is in knowing, that for once, things will be alright! 


Once again, Diary, you have proven to be a wonderful listener, the balm for my grieving soul, and I
thank you with all of my heart. But sadly, my eyes droop so that I can scarcely keep them open and I find that I am still weary from the nights
many deeds. So, for now I must take my leave of you. But you can rest
assured that in the many days to come, your pages will be filled with more
pleasant memories than those that preceded this last entry.

Until I write
again, I will remain, as always, your trusting and faithful friend.

Chapter 8
In a Minute, Innocence is Lost

By Gwynn

Author Note:This is not for the feint of heart. If you cannot handle reading about abuse...move on.

“Daddy loves you,” he whispers, his hand on my cheek, thumb caressing my brow.

“You’re daddy’s precious little girl.” He smiles and the caressing hand moves to run through my hair. “So sweet,” he sighs. His breath, smelling like the beer he has been drinking, brushes across my face.

I give him a nervous smile as tears come to my eyes. I fight to hold them back. Daddy doesn’t like it when I cry. I want so much to be daddy’s precious little girl- but I know I’m not precious anymore. 

He leans closer, his smelly breath now choking me. “You love your daddy, don’t you?” he asks, but it is more than a question. And I do. I do love my daddy. My daddy is my world. I don’t know what I would do if he ever went away or died. Numbly, I nod my head. Yes, daddy, I love you, I think, as a stray tear runs down my cheek.

“That’s good, precious, ‘cause Daddy loves you so very much.” His hand moves from my hair and he straightens to take off his shirt. Laying it on the end of the bed, he sits beside me and tries to take my hand. I pull the covers up and clutch them tightly beneath my chin. Daddy smiles a smile that doesn’t touch his eyes.

“Don’t be a bad girl. Daddy doesn’t like it when you’re a bad girl.”

I won’t be a bad girl, I want to tell him, but the words stick in my throat and more tears begin to fall. I can’t stop them; it hurts too much.

“Now, don’t cry,” he says wiping away my tears. “Daddy just wants to show you how much he loves you.”

Sniffling, I try to make them stop, but they refuse to go. Daddy’s face turns angry and I know I’m being bad again.

“I’m sorry, Daddy,” I whisper, “I’ll be good. I promise.” The anger leaves daddy’s face and he smiles.

“I know you will, sweetheart.” He leans close again and I try not to move away as he kisses my forehead, my chin, my nose. “I love your cute little nose,” he says, and tugs at the blanket I hold so tight. No, daddy, no- please, daddy, don’t…I plead inside, but he doesn’t hear me. He tugs harder and the blanket slips from my fingers. My hands, now empty, clutch my nightgown instead. This one’s my favorite, with Rainbow Bright and her pretty pony; it’s daddy’s favorite, too. He says it makes me look like an angel. I like that. Angels can’t do anything wrong.

Daddy’s hand starts to shake as he tickles my tummy. Scared as I am, I giggle. My tummy is my most ticklish spot.

“See there,” he says, tickling my tummy again. “Daddy just wants to play.” But then daddy’s hand moves down, finding my special place. “Does this tickle?” he whispers and I go cold; so very cold.

Inside I am screaming, but daddy doesn’t hear me. I wish mommy would come, but she’s asleep and I can’t call for her. That would make daddy really angry. Instead, I go away. I pretend I am riding with Rainbow Bright. We cross the rainbow bridge and pick up our adventure where it ended last night.

Author Notes I did not offer, so please don't ask. Think of it as a story and leave it at that.

Chapter 9
The Battle Fought

By Gwynn

I write, Lord, for I have no more strength to pray to one who insists on always closing his ears. I write for my own bearing, as your eyes shall never grace these pages. I know this, though for the life of me, I shall never understand. Who shall explain it to me? For try as I might, I cannot explain it to myself, and your voice has never reached my ears with the answer. I fear that it never shall.

I sit here today... broken... ashamed... lost... and I wonder where you are. I have heard it said, that you never test a person more than they can endure. Yet, many times over you have tested me to the breaking point. When I was a child, small and helpless, you allowed others to use me, to abuse me, to take away my innocence. As a teenager, you stood by as I was beaten to bloodiness at the hands of those who were supposed to love me. As a young woman, never did you step in when the last of my hope filled illusions were stripped away in a darkened alley... Nor when I was raped again so brutally. You watched from above as I birthed and lost the children of such shameful unions, and suffered the bitter tears of pain and regret. You did not give me a shoulder, or offer a hand to guide the way. I was left feeling cast aside, as I do once again.

For, once again, I have been so cruelly used... taken against my will. Made to suffer the shame and anger, doubt and fears, that I so foolishly believed were behind me. Do you see me Lord, from your lofty height? Do you see the way my hands betray me and shake? The tears that course down my cheeks so bitterly? Do you see the fear in my heart when others reach out to comfort me? The way I jump when they try to hold me? Is this to be my lot in life? Is this the plan you so knowingly laid out for me? Why? Are not children innocent? Are you not supposed to protect them, shelter them? So why is it that you did not protect and shelter me? I served you, I worshiped you, I did your ever demanding will. Even as I grew older, still I stood by you, still I never allowed my heart to turn bitter. I turned the other cheek, I did no harm to those who had harmed me. I burned inside with all that I suffered; the molestations, the rapes, the devastating beatings and the loss of my children. I endured that suffering in solitude, never once swerving from the belief that all must have been for a reason. So WHY have you forsaken me?

I cannot bear to close my eyes... the visions in my head haunt me and taunt me with their cruelty. Nights are long, as I fear to dream, to see again the atrocities I have been made to suffer. I yearn to curse you for your indifference with each passing day... to ask of you who is better. You? Or is it, in fact, the Devil? Who see's me with more favor? Who would really protect me? Guide me? Stand beside me? I know such thoughts are blasphemous, and yet, I cannot deny their reality. It is you who have fostered such thoughts, you who have left me to founder and drown time and again. You have the power to make it better... you have the power to heal the wounds and punish those who have done so wrongly. But you do not. You sit upon your lofty throne and look down with indifference. I am the one left to fight the battles, to struggle through each passing day and hope that, somehow, I will find the strength and courage to face the next.

I have been forced to fight each day to continue living... to not give in and cast away my life just that I might have some peace. But do I not deserve that peace? Have I not earned it? Can I not have one smile, one thought, one hope that is not forced into being? When, Lord, does it become my turn to know happiness? I see it around me daily, the smiles of children as they play and dream... the love of two people shared without reservation and fear. I cannot love so openly or freely. I cannot smile with such innocent abandon, nor dream with such hope. All has been taken from me and I have become hollow and scarred. The last vestiges of who I am and what I believed, have now been stripped from me. I am as a grand house, so beautiful standing upon the hill, built and chiseled into being by the labor of others. I was once majestic and proud, a beauty to behold. But all have left me now, and I stand alone and empty; worn by the weather and storms that have plagued me through the years. There are no grand pictures left to grace my walls and tell their stories... no furniture remains to welcome and offer rest to those who might chance upon me. I am but a shell of what I once was. The halls of my mind ring with the echoes of what was and shall never be again. And I wonder, Lord... will ever I be restored? Or have you so forgotten me that I shall crumble, becoming nothing more than ash carried on the breeze of others? A whisper of what was that will never be heard in its entirety?

Where are you now? Why, when I need you, do you leave me to stand alone? Are you not the all knowing, all powerful? Or is this a game, a bet, as once you played against Jobb? Have I not yet passed? What more must I endure? Why is it that you test me so?

Once I believed that there had to be a reason; That perhaps I was meant for some great purpose that required such suffering. But alas, it has not been. For 29 years I have struggled in vain, holding to those foolish beliefs, growing old before my time. For 29 years I have fought valiantly only to find, in the end, that I shall never be the victor.

What am I to do with all of this anger and bitterness? And what of these wrenching tears that run as rivers, endless and insatiable? Or these fears that eat at my soul and consume my spirit? And the doubts! O' the doubts that rip at my mind and twist my heart, taking from me all sense of worth! How, Lord, am I to continue the fight when these things have taken the strength I need, taken the courage I must have? How am I to continue to fight, when all is so hopeless?

I have no more strength! I have no more courage! I am not a rock that I might weather each storm and still stand whole! I have tried... yet each cruelty has chipped away at me and, piece by piece, I have crumbled. I am now nothing more than another grain of sand at the mercy of the winds, bound to wherever they may take me; hapless, hopeless, thrown around with no real bearing or purpose. And I want to scream! I want to yell at the world! I want an answer, a reason! I want to know why you have forsaken me! Why you have allowed the world to treat me so cruelly! Do you sit above and bask in my misery? Laugh at my struggle? Is it all such great entertainment, that you hesitate to see its end?

So many questions, so much left to wander the barren halls of my mind and echo, echo, echo through the emptiness of my heart. I shall know no peace in this lifetime and I shall find no answers. The fight is over and you have won... my soul is bitter as wormwood, my heart as hard and cold as steel. What remains of my spirit is now imprisoned within the cold iron of what could have been, the locks forever sealed, the key lost. Laughter, that once abounded within me, has been silenced for all of eternity. All that remain are the ghostly fragments that once reached my ears. The illusion of love has been shattered and I accept that I shall never know it's touch as others have. I shall never share its warmth or bask in its glorious wholeness. My hope, a fragile flame that burned weakly in the darkness, has been extinguished. Never again shall I follow its light or pray that it might lead me to brighter days. Even my dreams, Lord, still so young and full of promise, you have taken from me. Nothing remains but this closed and hollow shell. This house, this body, once so full of life, is now empty... cursed to hear forever the echoes of what was, has been and could never possibly be. The ghosts of these will forever shake their chains at any who dare approach... a warning to all, that to enter, would be a horror beyond imagining and a reminder to me, the sole prisoner, that I shall forever stand alone.

Author Notes Please do not hesitate to comment. Fiction or non, I would like to hear what you have to say. Granted, the subject is hard to read but, as a writer, I would do no justice to the art I love if I were not willing to cover all grounds of life, love, loss, and sorrow. If any find this too hard to read, I aplologize.

Chapter 10

By Gwynn

The door was closed. At least, I thought it was closed. They say you can bury the past so far in the well of your mind that the door can stay closed and locked forever. Perhaps that’s true. But sometimes… sometimes a key can surface that you never realize existed and those doors are thrown open to the light of day and suddenly you find yourself face to face with monsters you thought long gone. There was a time I knew the world was cloaked in shadows and nightmares. There was a time when I knew sanity stood on the brink of extinction and, in the interest of self preservation, conveniently buried it all without knowing the consequences of that action.

The imagination sometimes makes demands the rest of the mind resists, demands it must resist in order to stay whole. But one night my imagination held sway and mixed nightmare with fact. Jenny stood beside me and pointed as she whispered that I must see… that I must remember… while I screwed my eyes closed as tightly as I could. Somewhere in the foggy recesses of my mind I could hear the child I had once been yelling, “You will lose everything if you look back!” mingled with the blare of horns and the screech of tires locked fruitlessly in an effort to stop. I could feel the hot breath of death brushing along the back of my neck as a shadowy figure strode from the darkness behind my closed lids. It raised its ghostly arm and a diamond glint of light reflected through the shadows. Beside me, Jenny screamed.

I jerked awake into suffocating darkness. The sheet beneath me was cold and greasy with sweat. My heart thundered and I fought to bring moisture to a mouth that felt stuffed with cotton. The consuming dread that had followed me to wakefulness slowly began to fade and I found that I could breathe. After repeating to myself that it was only a dream for around the fortieth time, I turned over the pillow and shifted to a dry place on the bed. But that was the key, you see. The one that began to unlock the prison bars I had placed so carelessly over the memories.

I was nine years old when my sister was murdered. I can still remember her blond hair flying in the breeze and the self satisfied way she smiled as she rushed out the door to visit a friend. Jenny was fourteen and capable of looking after herself but something materialized that day, something I felt deep inside. At nine years old you don’t really understand premonition let alone how to pronounce it. But looking back I know that’s what it was.

As she flew out the door time seemed to slow on its axis… the sunlight caught the gold in her hair and reflected like diamonds; her smile frozen forever in my mind. During this freeze frame I knew I would never see her look as vibrant and alive as I did at that moment. Fear clutched my heart and in the next instant she was gone. I don’t know what possessed me to follow her and I don’t remember going out the door, but I remember watching her cross beneath the over pass and enter the shadowy realms beyond. I watched the light blue of her skirt fade into the maw of darkness and knew. Inch by slow inch she faded from sight and my heart, keeping time with the tempo, thundered in my ears. No matter how desperately I begged my feet to move, they stayed stubbornly glued to the sidewalk as a darker shadow peeled its way from the depths and reached for Jenny. Her pain filled scream was the fire that finally propelled me forward.

Even now I don’t really know what I thought I was going to accomplish. The boogey man was real and he was here, waiting, watching, and there was no way a nine year old was going to stop him. But my reaction was purely instinctual. In a haze I stepped off the sidewalk and into the street. Somewhere in the recesses of my mind I registered the blaring of horns and the screech of tires, but Jenny’s scream was all that filled my ears. Of their own volition my feet continued forward; what happened next seemed to stretch on forever. The darker shadow stepped into the light and I was greeted with the sight of a middle aged man, fortyish maybe, with short cropped hair and a blue eyed stare that stopped me mid-stride. About the time things began to really register, my foot hit ground and I stepped into an eternity of pain.

The car that struck me shattered the bones in my left leg, hip and shoulder, but I don’t remember the impact. The pain I felt was associated only with the blue eyed man and the fading of Jenny’s scream. I died in that moment, but I wasn’t to know that until a few years later. They say death takes you to the doorstep of sublime light and love, the sense that all earthly concerns have ceased to exist and eternal peace waits. Maybe my mind was still too wrapped around earthly concerns to experience this phenomenon. I never saw the light and I never felt the enveloping peace. What I saw over and over again was the diamond shine of Jenny’s hair as the sunlight played along its strands and blue eyes watching me in the distance before I finally found oblivion.

 I woke to a nightmare; every moment for nearly a month was filled with so much pain that my mind refused to endure it. I caught slight glimpses of bleary eyes and horrified stares between moments of lucidity. Even as my mind shied from the pain I was still aware of the all consuming throb that permeated my dreams. I was also aware of Jenny standing beside me. Some part of me found a strange comfort in her presence though a deeper part of me cringed at the sight. She was still the beautiful girl I had always loved and admired, but the beauty I remembered was marred by a ghastly scar on her throat and the hollow accusation in her eyes.

Over time the pain became more bearable and my mind returned to full consciousness. Months of physical therapy and mental exhaustion followed. I could tell you how hard it was to take those first few steps. I could describe the pride shining from my mother’s eyes and the emptiness reflected in my father’s as I slowly progressed to a walker, a cane, and then the freedom of my own two feet. I could describe the agony that each step brought and the fear it would never end, but unless you have been there it would amount to meaningless words. I will tell you instead that Jenny took each trembling step with me.

For nearly two years she walked beside me, slept beside me, ate beside me, and watched the dissolution of the life we had once known. Logically, I knew she wasn’t really there. But you can’t tell a hungry ghost that it doesn’t exist. She wanted something from me, or needed it. She just didn’t understand that I couldn’t provide whatever it was. I was too busy trying to glue the pieces of my life into some semblance of sanity.

When Jenny died, something in my father died as well. When the police never found her murderer, he was consumed by guilt. Guilt led to a sense of helplessness that he tried to drown in booze while I struggled to reclaim my right to walk. Jenny’s death hurt my mother as well but rather than allow it to destroy her, she turned Jenny’s room into a shrine (where she often sat for hours and cried) and focused all of her attention on her one remaining child. While my dad slipped farther and farther away from us, my mother became a rock, a pillar of strength that helped me through my own pain and grief.

We lived in a small suburban town; population of no more than six hundred souls. My sister’s murder managed to catch the attention of the media for all of three days before another child murder took over the screen. Five days after that, we were presented with three female faces as the media tried to figure out what was happening to our small town. During the beginning of all this, I was questioned to the point that I literally saw the words floating through my dreams. The questions, however, were meaningless as I had no answers. The stranger in the dark with the killer blue eyes had faded to nothingness in my head. He belonged only in my nightmares and even then he was simply a vague silhouette that taunted me with my own failure. He was remembered only in the moments of half wakefulness when I lunged from the sweat soaked bed sheets, a scream locked in my throat, back into the cold reality of day.  

The murders continued for three weeks. Nine girls ranging in age from eleven to fifteen were found nude, all in remote places, throats slit, arms placed across their chests as if they simply rested in repose.  Jenny was the only one that did not receive this treatment. I can only assume that my hasty dash through traffic and the ensuing madness saved her that final affront.

When I turned eleven, Jenny began to fade. Occasionally I would see her watching me from a seat on the bus, from the glass of a store front window, or by the side of my bed when I awakened from the horror of blue eyes closing in on me. But she became more and more transparent and eventually she was no longer there. I hoped she had finally found some semblance of peace and moved beyond the sorrow that existed on this plain. That same year my father took a short drive down a long road. Never mind that his days and nights were spent with a bottle. Never mind that he and mom spent the majority of their time together in shouting matches that always ended with my mother in tears and slamming doors as he stormed out. After all we had survived I felt he owed us a little more than that.

Mom sort of caved in on herself after that. I spent a lot of time running errands, hiding in dark places, and generally trying to avoid home. I met a gang of guys that introduced me to the wonders of drugs and the freedom from pain a high could bring. I guess you could say I fell apart too. In two years I had lost half of my family and what was left couldn’t be qualified as family. For a while I suffered from severe anxiety, spells of time I was sure someone was right around the corner ready to introduce me to the great beyond that Jenny had finally found. I would catch myself whispering to no one, wandering streets I didn’t even know. Sometimes I would come out of the zone to find blood on my clothes or hands with no idea of what had happened or how it had gotten there. Then I overdosed.

I spent a week in a comatose state before reviving to a world blissfully free of memories. Part of me wants to sit here and spin some yarn about drugs damaging my brain. And while that is probably true to some extent, I think it simply boiled down to survival; I had run as far as I could and it hadn’t been far enough. My eleven year old brain just decided it couldn’t take any more and buried everything in the deepest recesses it could find, barred the doors then threw away the key. Jenny still visited my dreams occasionally, but the nightmares didn’t return.

Somehow, I made it through withdrawals. Somehow I made it through adolescence, though I never knew the pleasure of belonging with the “in” crowd. Somehow I survived my mother’s withdrawal from reality and her slow spiral into oblivion. Somehow I managed to grow into a man and make my clumsy way through life. Then the murders started again and the prison door was flung off its hinges.

I came home from work, grabbed a can of soda, and turned on the TV in an effort to unwind and forget the troubles of the day. Sara Brightly filled the screen as CNBS followed the local weather. This was followed by a commercial for a McDonalds Big Mac, an affordable life insurance plan and United Airlines; Take a vacation to Jamaica for less than $1000.00! And then Sara was back, a crease between her brows, her lips compressed in a tiny line, voices in the background mumbling like a swarm of angry bees. Her eyes pointed at the camera and her lips parted, but what came out jolted me to the core of my being. Two girls, ages roughly between 12 and 14, had been discovered in a ditch under the west side underpass. Both girls were stripped, arms crossed over their chests as if embracing themselves. According to the witness who had found the bodies, it appeared as if their throats had been cut. Police were on the scene and CNBS would follow the story each step of the way so that we would have up to the minute coverage.

I had been resting comfortably against the mantel when I turned on the TV. Somewhere around the middle of the broadcast my knees buckled and deposited me on the floor. Soda forgotten, work forgotten, I watched in numb astonishment as vague recollections began to form behind my eyes. They were smoky yet, still only half formed ghosts that wandered across the frozen frame of my mind, but they beckoned to me and cried for recognition. Unable to face their presence, I snapped off the TV, walked into the kitchen and retrieved the bottle of Vodka I swore I would never touch. Four drinks later, my mind no more than fuzzy dice whipping in the breeze, I made my way to bed and what I hoped was escape. But a door in my mind had clicked open and let in a flood of memories I had long denied as nothing more than fragmentary nightmares glimpsed through a film of dread. Once I had started remembering I couldn’t stop. Nightmare became reality.

Jenny stood beside me again pointing as she whispered that I must see… that I must remember… while I screwed my eyes closed as tightly as I could. Somewhere in the foggy recesses of my mind I can hear the child I had once been yelling, “You will lose everything if you look back!” mingled with the blare of horns and the screech of tires locked fruitlessly in an effort to stop. I can feel again the hot breath of death brushing along the back of my neck as a shadowy figure strides from the darkness behind my closed lids; watch again as it raises its ghostly arm. See the diamond glint of light reflected through the shadows. Beside me, Jenny screams. Memory steps in and I feel my feet moving, propelling me to a conclusion I know must come but dare to face. Can I turn around? Can I look back? Will I be destroyed? Or is it that I will see the missing unifying section of the puzzle, the secret I have hidden with god like terror from even myself? This whispers through my mind, underlying the horns and screeching tires, Jenny’s scream and my younger self. I feel the breeze against my face, a sigh of surrender that echoes to the bottom of my soul, and slowly my eyes begin to open.

Before me I see myself lying in a hospital bed. I see the body cast that envelops me and the tubes running from my body like worms. And in the way of dreams, I see myself beside myself in the same room, 2 years older without the cast but the same tubes squirming around my body. Unsure of where the knowledge comes from, I am aware that it is the continuous pain medication I was given at nine that saved me from death two years later when I overdosed. With this accepted knowledge, the scene shifts and I see myself once more in a bed, this time in my own childhood room. I watch as I toss and turn, mumbling in terror from a nightmare I cannot remember. Jenny stands beside me, her pale face solemn yet anxious as I literally lunge from the bed in an attempt to escape the shadowy figure that so obviously torments my dreams. I watch as the child self collapses to the floor and begins to cry, “No, no, no” swelling from a throat closed with grief. Jenny reaches out to stroke my head as I lie on the floor and the dream version of me begins to quiet. Then she turns her eyes on the real me, the me seeing everything through this dreamlike trance, and whispers, “remember”.

In a haze I watch as my mother crumples to the floor, her face bathed in tears. I catch a glimpse of my father’s face, angry yet devoid of any deeper emotion that would reflect his inner conflict and turmoil. I watch as he glares at me then storms from the room. Then I am whisked away again and I find myself standing in the street, nine years old, one foot poised in the air as I stare across the way at a shadow. Before the other foot can fall, I am again shifted to another time, another place. I see my father again, but this time I am only four years old. I see my sister, beautiful even then at only nine years old and I watch as my father reaches out to hug her. I feel a tightening in my chest, a twinge of regret that he never once held me so close, until I see that Jenny is trying to push him away, that her face is full of fear and she is crying. Anger replaces the regret and I betray my presence with a half strangled sound. Jenny and I may not always get along, but she is my sister and I love her. Even daddy doesn’t have the right to hurt my Jenny! I ball my little fists, prepared to fight a mountain if I have to, when again I find myself mid stride in the middle of the road, eyes full of tears but glued to the shadowy figure only now emerging into the light. I can hear a small voice yelling, “You will lose everything if you look back!” mingled with the blare of horns and the screech of tires. “Can I look back? Will I be destroyed?” Jenny takes my hand and whispers beside me, “remember…” Time slows to a crawl; the honking horns, the screeching tires all fade into a silence so profound that I can hear the beating of my own heart. And in the silence, memory returns:

The darker shadow stepped into the light and I was greeted with the sight of a middle aged man, fortyish maybe, with short cropped hair and a blue eyed stare that stopped me mid-stride. Inside I feel something break away, and the part of me that knows this is only a memory realizes it was the child yelling before, the child I lost. Those eyes see me, they pin me, and recognition dawns in their depths. Another flash of memory intercedes within the heartbeat of time it takes for me to register whose face I am seeing.  I see my sister, beautiful at only nine years old and I watch as my father reaches out to hug her. I see the tears on her face and they overlay an older face, a face grown by 5 years, as she tells him that he will never touch her again. Fast forward and I see again the self satisfied way she smiled as she rushed out the door to visit a friend; the smile that will forever remain frozen in my mind. And then it all fades and my heart beats again. I see my father’s face as recognition dawns in his blue eyes and my foot hits the ground.

I jerked awake before enduring again the jarring agony that accompanied me into oblivion when I was nine, and slowly released the pent up breath trapped in my lungs; the breath that would have given life to a wail of grief. Jenny had been waiting for years… years… for me to finally set her free. But she had never really been trapped here, not my Jenny. I had simply trapped her memory in my mind, locked within the shell of grief, fear and uncertainty that I built around myself until my father finally left. I had known from the beginning who her killer was, had known somewhere deep inside that he had continued to kill her, over and over again with each new murder, but had lived in denial as my only means of sanity.  Tears threatened to overcome me as the shame of my actions made its full burden felt. I could have stopped the murders back then. I could have prevented another girl from being killed had I only had the courage to face the nightmare that looked me in the eyes every night.

I made a decision at that moment. A decision that allowed me to carry my portion of the shame and guilt but also gave me the strength to ensure the real burden would be carried by its rightful owner. I struggled from the enveloping sheets that clung to me and switched on the bedside lamp. In the moment that realization had struck home, in the moment I made my decision, I was aware of only one thing. My father had returned and he had brought his twisted nightmare back into my world. This time, I would not cower in my grief. This time I would not bury the sight of his face. This time I would stop him.

I clambered from the bed and rushed downstairs to my desk. There I put every detail of the day Jenny died in a letter including all I had seen and recounted the murders of the other 8 girls. I did not put my name to the letter, and I wrote it as if I had been an observer who witnessed the tragedy all those years ago, but in every other detail I told the truth. I explained I had been under duress all those years ago but in light of the new murders that carried so much similarity, I felt I had to come forward. I described my father as I remembered him that day and trusted law enforcement had the know how to reconstruct what he would look like now. I remarked upon the previous time frame between murders, dredging from the depths of my pain riddled recollection how many days had passed between each one. To ensure I got this information correct, I researched by internet and listed the exact days of each found body and the time of death as estimated by the coroners. When I was satisfied with the information, I checked the phone book for the street address of the police station, addressed the envelope, stamped it and immediately placed it in the mailbox. Then I wished Jenny a peaceful rest and lost myself in sleep.

I wish I could say the murders stopped right after that. I wish I could say the police went right out and caught my father. But these would be lies. Three weeks passed, four more girls were murdered, and my little town turned into a media circus. My letter made the rounds along with other witness accounts, but it wasn’t the proof that wrapped up the case. In the end, he simply slipped. The fifth girl, Mary Higgins, got away. He had picked her up outside a Denny’s as she was walking home, promising to drop her off safe and sound at her front door. She didn’t see her front door for another three days. Instead, she spent 48 hours locked in the basement of an old abandoned farm shed. She was beaten, raped, and eventually left in her own filth while my father went to get a knife for the close up work. According to Mary, the ropes that bound her wrists had loosened during her struggle and as he left the shed, she had the presence of mind to work her hands out and quickly untie the rope around her ankles. Inside the shed were several old rusted shovels, hoes, and even the broken tongs of a pitchfork. Knowing she had only a short time before he returned, Mary grabbed one of the hoes and hid in the shadows beside the shed door. When my father entered, she slammed the hoe into his stomach. After he hit the ground, she planted it against his head not just once, but twice for good measure. It turned out that Mary was less than a mile from town. Despite protests from several people who helped her struggle through town, she demanded to be taken straight to the police station. There she raised such a ruckus that she was given medical attention in a bumpy cruiser as she directed the officers back to the farm shed.
They found my father still soaking up the dust on the ground.

Author Notes Hello again! I apologize to all of my readers for the year long absence but I assure you all that I will be adding more work soon! Thanks for reading and I look forward to catching up with all of you :-)

Chapter 11
Absolutely Nothing

By Gwynn

I wanted to write a story today and, after a little pep talk, assured myself I could. So, gathering up my notebook, a pen, and a few index cards, I went in search of a quiet place to think.

In my mind I reviewed all the work I'd ever done and tried to come up with something new. Have you any idea how hard that is to do; to come up with something that has never been done before? After about thirty minutes, the pages still woefully blank, I decided that maybe I needed a break.

Since my mind seemed to be in overload, and my hand stubbornly refused to write, I figured maybe a walk would help clear away the cobwebs. I threw on a pair of shorts, pulled on an old, battered tank top, laced up my tennies, and stepped out the door. I was nearly blown over by the intense heat. It was so hot I could see waves rising from the pavement.

Determined I would persevere, I made it about a block before deciding I had made the wrong decision. After all, heatstroke does NOT induce sudden inspiration. Wiping away the sweat that was running down my forehead, I trudged my weary way back to the house. Once there, I proceeded to flop myself down on the couch to cool off. Within minutes, I was out cold.

Hours later I woke up and cursed my laziness. Here I was, sleeping the day away, when I should have been writing! Shrugging off the haze that now enveloped me, I again gathered up pen and paper. An hour later I was angrily tapping my pen against the still blank pages. With a huff of frustration, I tossed them down and decided to grab a bite to eat. Maybe my brain just needed some sustenance to kick it into gear. Before I ever made it to the kitchen my sister called and proceeded to tell me all her recent problems. Twirling my finger in the air, psychically willing her to shut up, I glanced out the window and ground my teeth; lightening was dancing its way across the clouds, just waiting to unleash its fury.

Just friggen great! How was I supposed to think with her jabbering away in my ear and thunder booming in the distance? This put me way past frustration and anger. I was reaching the boiling point when my sister finally ran out of steam. Extricating myself from the phone and reattaching my ear, I glared angrily at the window as if this could make the storm go away; silently grouching at the rudeness of Mother Nature.

I gobbled down a sandwich and, with a sigh, forced myself to take up pen and paper once again. I stared at the page willing something, anything, to appear- but it was no use. I just couldn't think of anything that hadn't been done before. I was about to throw it all across the room when inspiration struck. Why not write a story about absolutely nothing at all? WOW, I thought, what a novel idea!

Hand complying for the first time today, I began to scratch out what I wanted to say. It was as if the words miraculously dropped from my mind onto the pages; in moments I was done.

Congratulating myself, I rushed to the computer, hit the favorites tab on explorer, and logged into FanStory. Typing away madly, I laughed at my brilliance. I chose my title, wrote my description, checked the box, and hit save. Now, sitting here, story posted, I stare at the computer screen waiting for you to read and review. I constantly hit the home button to check for new comments, willing a response and the little stars that brighten my day. :-D

Author Notes Hello fellow Fanstorians! I was out for a laugh and I hope you all got one; it's a great way to start the day. Besides, I figure we all go through the same hard time coming up with ideas! I look forward to seeing you all around ;-) TTFN-

Chapter 12

By Gwynn

Author Note:The Spelling in this piece goes downhill around the middle, but it is used on purpose.

I'm not even sure what day it is anymore. I do remember my name, but at this point it is more a curse than anything else and you don't need it in any case. You see, my mind is slipping and I now find it hard to remember how to do simple things, like brush my teeth. My hands are shaking as I type this and my feet and legs have fallen numb. It won't be long now, I know, but someone has to leave a record. Someone has to let the world know what we did, and why.

It started with Mr. MacNamara. Well, technically, I guess I should say that our awareness of the situation started with Mr. MacNamara. He flew over from Asia for a business meeting in New York. Reports say that he was flushed and fevered when he entered the crowded building of Kravitz and Bane, Attorney's at Law. Later, associates recalled that he was swaying and unsteady on his feet by the close of the meeting. Rather than catch a return flight home, Mr. MacNamara checked into the Lafayette Hotel to rest and recover.

The next day at check out time the desk clerk rang his room. After several attempts with no answer, the manager went up to see if Mr. MacNamara would be their guest for one more night and, if not, would be so kind as to check out. No one answered the repeated pounding on the door and security was summoned. They found the chain drawn from the inside and were left with no other choice than to break in the door. Suprisingly, the chain gave easily, yet the door refused to budge more than a foot. Squeezing through the crack, Mr. O'Connell (the Hotel manager) discovered Mr. MacNamara face down on the floor, his fingers splayed clawlike across the carpet as if he had tried to dig his way out of the room. In shock, and horror, Mr. O'Connell then called the police.

The room was taped off and the coroner summoned. When they were sure there was no evidence of foul play, they slowly turned Mr. MacNamara over. His face was swollen and mottled with varied colors of blue, purple and crimson and his eyes, blood shot and bleeding, protruded from his face. He appeared to have a rash over his entire body but this was ruled out as cause of death. Instead, after closer observation, they ruled it death due to respitory failure. Case closed. The hotel cleaned up and the mundane affairs of life went on.

Over the next several months, a flu like virus swept through both establishments and gradually spread into the general populace. Baffled by the varying symptoms, doctors tagged the epidemic as a new flu strain and administered the standard vaccine. However, the vaccine did little to curb the virus and an alarming amount of people began to die. Panic swelled and The Centers For Disease Control were called in. They ran the standard volley of tests and what they found was horrifying. The virus did indeed contain a toxic strain of the flu, but it also contained a chemically altered mix of several deadly diseases.

We all have lived in fear of chemical and biological warfare but, truthfully, every nation on this earth has dabbled in it. We have told ourselves that we must always remain one up on the competition, but I don't think that any of us ever believed that the other would really threaten the world wide population. At least, I never did. I try to tell myself that the release of this disease was an accident. You would have to be utterly and completely insane to willingly, and knowingly, kill the whole world, right? But then, I have no room to talk. I suppose, in the end, it is really no worse than what we did.

This 'super flu' became known as the Blue Death due to the way the many diseases attacked and killed their victims. But in order for you to understand the severe impact of the Blue Death on the human immune system, I feel a quick rundown of all the diseases and their symptoms may be relevant.

First, and foremost, is the influenza virus, commonly known as the flu, that exhibits the unique ability of mutating itself and negating any immunity we may develop. Because of the inclusion of this virus to the deadly mix, it mutates itself and the victim walks around believing they have a severe case of the flu they can't shake before the other symptoms set in. Next is Typhoid Fever, known more or less as Samonella poisoning. These symptoms include, but are not limited to, chills, high fever, headache, persistent cough, vomiting and diarrhea. Much like the flu, but on a grander scale. Then we have the Yellow Fever, transmitted usually by a semidomestic species of mosquito, with such symptoms as headache, fever and back pain. Also included in this deadly mix were the diseases known as scarlet Fever and Septicemic Plague. Scarlet Fever has such symptoms as headache, sore throat, chills, fever and rash, while Septicemic Plague (known as the Black Death) produces a high fever and turns the body blue and purple, leading to eventual death by respitory failure.

Now, tie all of this together and what we faced was this:

A victim contracts the flu virus causing a weakening of the immune system, with prolonged cough, labored breathing, and a persistent low grade fever. After the immune system has weakened enough, the victims limbs begin to go numb, starting with the feet and spreading through the body. Over time, approximately two weeks, the mind begins to slip and the thinking process deteriorates because the nerves in the brain are systematically shutting down due to the persistent fluxuation of high grade fevers. Motor skills decrease, sight becomes minimal, and the body sweats constantly, eventually dehydrating. The victim suffers from severe shakes and dizzy spells often accompanied by bouts of diarrhea and vomiting before a red, weeping rash spreads across their body. Immediately following this, the lungs begin to fill with a thick mucus, tightening and complicating breathing before bringing on eventual respitory failure and death.

JESUS! I just read over what I wrote. Is this what awaits me? This.... This horror? How long now, I wonder? Minutes? Hours? Certainly not days, already my legs are numb and my hands won't quit shaking. I'm having trouble breathing and my thoughts...well...slowly, but surely, they are falling apart. You know, I watched them die. I heard their screams. Will I scream at the end? And if I do, who will be there to hear me besides....

No, not yet. I can't. You have to know the rest. You have to understand (if there are any 'you' left). You have to see that we only had the best of intentions.

After the CDC determined the many variables of the super flu, it was time to develop a cure. All of the top scientists on chemical and biological warfare were flown in. That's where I came in. The military stepped in, keeping their eyes peeled and peeking over shoulders to ensure a semblance of calm. There was a meeting of all the top scientific minds and military intelligence to determine our next few steps. The Blue Death had now become a world wide epidemic, people were running around looting and killing, swearing that the end of days was here. The military established a quarantine, curfews were enforced, violently if the need arose, and people were told to remain in their homes. After this simple but prolonged procedure, we were free to begin work on the cure. After about six months of round the clock work, which is an astonishingly quick amount of time, we finally had something. At least, we thought we did. Our idea was based on the regular flu vaccine, which basically contains a diluted strain of whatever flu virus happens to be going around. We called our vaccine DORA-MAX6.

We ran our first initial tests on lab mice. Taking tainted blood from those infected, we injected it into the healthy animals and measured the spread of the disease. Then we administered DORA-MAX6. When these tests proved successful, we moved up to larger animals, animals more closely related to the immunity structure of a human being. Within 2-4 weeks, our chimps started showing symptoms. Slight at first, but gradually worsening. DORA-MAX6 was administered and we monitored the results. For a while some of them continued to go downhill (we lost about 3 out of every 10 given the vaccine, but this was only to be expected). Vitals fell to dangerous levels and we were about to admit failure when, suddenly, the chimps began to get better. A rush went through the scientific community gathered and we all waited in hushed anticipation. Within one week, most of our chimps were healthy and showed no adverse side effects.

A miracle! That was the general outcry, but O' if we had only known! What miracle has not come before some great fall? Even the birth of our Lord and Savior was followed by utter grief. Oh, we pounded ourselves on the back, congratulating each and all over our brilliance. We expounded on the general greatness of science and its many accomplishments. What fools! What great and grievous fools! But I ask you, how could we have known? It was like nothing anyone could have ever imagined, not in the real and physical world anyway, and we...

I'm doing it again, aren't I? I'm sorry. My heart is thundering and my mind is falling apart. I find it hard now to grasp one subject and run with it. It's a bit like trying to put together a puzzle. I can see the picture I'm supposed to make, but I can't seem to find all the pieces without a lot of careful sifting. So, in case I keep veering of track, please bare with me. We will get there. You may not believe it when we do, but...

We burned the contaminated corpses of the animals that didn't survive our testing and, due to the alarming rate that people were dying of the Blue Death, began to administer DORA-MAX6 to the populace. Usually when a new drug or vaccine is discovered, it spends years being tested for long term effects before it is ever allowed to be used. We didn't have that luxury. For every 5 people who contracted the virus, 3 were dying. If we had spent the years required to test the vaccine, most of the human race would have long since expired. Of course, if we had taken the time, I wouldn't be writing this.

For a while we were doing okay. Nearly all of those given the vaccine began to get better. We still lost a few, but on the whole, the results were astronomical. Once a person had been cured, and it was determined that they were not a carrier, they were cleared by the medical staff and moved to one of the cleared zones. The military did its job by keeping those who were still ill quarantined, but they also did occasional patrols of the cleared sectors. It was on one such patrol that they spotted a young man stumbling through the street, clothing torn and his body severely battered. Blood trailed down his face and throat and his eyes appeared to have burst in their sockets.

In obvious concern, they drove up beside him and two of the MP's exited the vehicle. One of them reached out and took the young man's arm in an attempt to steer him to the jeep and rush him to the nearest medical facility. When he did, however, skin sloughed from the young man's arm and hung down in dirty folds. The other MP, seeing his partners disgust, stepped up to lend a hand. He never made it. The young man, bloody and battered, took a hold of the MP with a grip that was surprisingly strong and ripped out his throat.

Now, I know what you're thinking, I thought that too. But when the young man ripped out his throat, he didn't use his hands. He used his teeth.

The MP remaining in the jeep, one Sergeant Vaughn, drew his revolver and shot the young man through the heart. He did not hit the ground, instead he turned in a slow, shambling way and started for the jeep. In fear, and revulsion, Sergeant Vaughn fired repeatedly until, finally, the young man collapsed in a heep of torn and bloody flesh. Once they had recovered from the shock of the strange and unexpected episode, the two remaining MP's loaded up their fallen comrade, covered the remains of the young man, and russhed them both to the nearest miltary establishmant.

When the medical scintists at the miltary base were finished with their examenation of the dearly departed, they deecidid they had a reel live walking corpse. Of corse, it was no longer living, but that iz beyond the point. It wuz dead flesh that had been reanimated. The next question wuz how.

Hundredz of tests were run and it wuz determind the yong man had contracted the virus after beeing vacinated and sent home. This we could unerstand. Lots get vacinated for the flue only to find that they have gotten it anyway. The strange thing wuz how DORA-MAX6 had worked through his system after death. Some how the vacine mutated when it mixed with the toxins of his rotting flesh and began to animate the dead cells.

I can't reemember the dates anymore, cause my mind is growing fogee, but a while back there wuz this movie, 'Nite of the Living Dead' which iz pretty xplanitory. Dead people deecidid they were goin to get up and walk around. Far fetched, rite? Just someones strange nitemare brought to life of the big screen. Imagenation maybee, but because of us, it became reality.

From the point of this discovry, life turned upside down. Moor and moor of these animate corpses surfaced and we became hunted. I no it sounds crazy. Hell, I'm livin it and it still sounds crazy, but they're here, hiding in the shadows, stumbling down the street in thy're blind hungur. I can hear them sometimes, moaning and gurgling in that strange mindles language they use. They'll find me soon. Hiden or not, they'll smell my blood or whatever it iz they want. Hopefuly, i'll be dead by then. It can't be much longer. The numbnes has spread and i can't feel most of my body, my hans are shaking uncontrolbly and my lungs don't want to work rite. I can see the purple on my hans and i'm having to fight for evry word i type.

O yeah, the miltary pulled out. At first they tryd to cleen up the mess, but the task wuz to much. The viris spread to far and we were lef on r own. I think they stared death in the face and deecidid to hide. i meen, how long can thees things live if they don have food? the miltary has lots of placez with provisons to servive. They can sta hid till the dead reely do di. Us? we're jus casultys. why wasse the space. o'l unkle sam, wat a fello. wat wuz theyr moto... somthin bout...

hole on....

theyr heer. o god they no i'm heer. theyr so many. i cant go lik this. if ur aliv an ur reedin reemember. reemember us all. we tryd. reely. i swer wee dint no. pleez beelive me....

i goto go. cant di lik this. not at thyr hans. if i do... if i do, i'll bee juss lik them....

Author Notes Sorry if the spelling throws you. I couldn't really think of any other way to show the loss of motor function since this has to be typed. If it had been on paper, I could have shown the shaking of his hands, the loss of sight as he strove to see what he was writing. All easily done with a slight scribble of the pencil. This way, however, you are left with few advantages than to do what you can and hope the reader catches the desperation and deterioration of the character as they read. I hope, besides that one quirk, that you enjoyed the story.

Chapter 13
A Twist In The Road

By Gwynn

Author Note:Been a while.... but I'm back

"The night grows cold, my dear," old Roy Hummings said to his wife, Sarah, while he slowly removed his coat, "and the wind is pickin' up, blowin' some dark clouds in. I believe we may be in for one humdinger of a storm." He took off his red knitted cap, releasing his unruly gray hair, and hung it carefully beside his coat.

"Humph," Sarah muttered lightly. Turning, she walked back to the kitchen to check on her stew. "I suppose that means you didn't mend that old broken fence like I asked you to?" With her spoon in hand, she turned to face her husband as he took his usual seat at the table.

"All done my dear." He smiled at her, knowing the usual barrage of questions were on the way.

"Did you tend to the chickens?"

"They're cooped up for the night."

"Feed the pigs?"

"Slopped and satisfied."

"What about the cows?"

"Fresh hay and fresh feed."

Sarah's left eyebrow raised in an arch, giving her a decidedly comic expression since it didn't fit her kindly face, and her green eyes sparked when Roy's smile became a laugh.

"Really, my dear, everything has been taken care of. Ya worry too much."

She harrumphed again as she walked back to the stove and ladled out a big bowl of stew, then placed it on the table before him. "I would rather worry early then wait until it's too late to do anything about it." She stated firmly, placing her hands on her hips and daring him to say otherwise. But after forty-two years of marriage, he knew better than to court danger and simply dug into his dinner. Sarah nodded her head, her point made, then ladled out a bowl of stew for herself and joined him at the table.

A few minutes later the sky above opened up like a broken dam. The sound on the roof was like that of a hundred horses desperately seeking escape. Sarah and Roy looked up at each other in surprise at the ferociousness of the storm, but then Roy smiled and shrugged his shoulders. Sarah's anxious expression softened, but only a little.

"You don't suppose there might come a twister do you?" She asked pensively.

"I don't reckon so," he answered and gently patted her hand, "but if one does come a callin', we'll be safe enough in the..."


Roy's words were cut off by the sudden noise and Sarah quickly clutched his hand, a look of alarm on her face. They sat there silently for a minute or so, Sarah staring anxiously at the roof, before it sounded again.


Sarah's alarmed expression turned into a scowl. "Well, I declare! What sane person goes about visitin' in a storm like this?"

Roy looked at his wife and just shook his head as he rose from the table to answer the door, Sarah close behind. He pulled back the curtain to reveal a tall young man with dark brown hair, made darker by the rain, and large, brown eyes. He clutched an old beaten suitcase in one hand that looked as if it had seen better years. Releasing the curtain to rustle faintly as it fell back into place, Roy slowly opened the door. The young man looked up with a wan smile on his face.

"I'm sorry to bother you folks, but you see, my car broke down on the road about three miles back, that was before the rain started, and I thought I'd walk into town. But now I'm a bit lost I think, and well, the storm came on so suddenly..." he held out his hands, his small suitcase dangling from the right one as water poured down in torrents from the sky to wash over him, "and I was hoping that you folks might be kind enough to give me some shelter until the storm passed."

Sarah, who had been cautiously peeking out from behind Roy's broad back, pushed him out of the way and practically dragged the young man through the door. "Well of course we can. Don't you fret none, we'll have you fixed up in a jiffy." She continued to drag him down the hall and into the kitchen, her voice trailing back behind her, "First, we need to get you out of these wet clothes before you catch your death. Roy!" She hollered, "Quit your dawdlin' and shut that door before all the heat runs out. And get this boy some dry clothes!"

Shaking his head, Roy closed the door against the cold and rain. Sarah was fussing around like a mother hen as he passed through the kitchen and down the hall in search of dry clothes. When he returned, he found her plying the boy with towels and hot stew, mumbling to herself about the flu and pneumonia. When she looked up and found Roy standing in the doorway, she gently pulled the young man up from the chair.

"All right, up with you now. You just follow ol' Roy there, and he'll show you where you can change and freshen up a bit."

The stranger smiled, mumbling a quiet thank you, then followed Roy from the kitchen into a spacious living room. One wall was covered entirely by windows that no doubt let the sunshine in year round. If not for the rain, he was sure the room would be bathed with the warm colors of sunset. The rest of the room was done in a light almond finish that set off the darker colors of the furniture. On the back of the sofa, and the two cherry colored rocking chairs, lay crochet blankets of warm peaches and beige. It was a cozy room.

Finally, stopping beside a small room off of the hall, Roy reached in and flicked on the light. He handed the stranger the small bundle of clothes then stepped back. "Yer about the same height I'd guess, but I'm a little more round than you." Smiling, he patted his large belly, "They might be a little big on ya, but I reckon they'll do till yer own clothes have had a chance ta dry a bit. Come on in and join us when yer all ready, and we'll finish warmin' yer insides as well." He finished with a smile and walked away.

The stranger stepped slowly into the room and closed the door. It was a small room, uncluttered and painted a pale shade of blue that matched the patchwork quilt adorning the bed.

Walking over to the bed, he lay down the bundle of clothes and quickly began to undress. Unsure of where to place his wet clothes, he looked around until he spotted a small dresser covered with pictures. He carefully laid them on the corner and took a moment to look at each picture. They all portrayed a little boy ranging in age from about one to twelve. He was a cute kid with wild blonde hair, bright blue eyes and dimples on both sides of his wide smile.

He supposed this must be the old couple's son and that this had been his childhood room. Strangely though, it showed no sign of his teenage years and the changes they are so adamant to make to their surroundings.

With a sudden sense of sadness at what he felt might have happened, he quickly finished changing. Grabbing up his wet clothes and suitcase, he headed back to the kitchen, admiring again the cozy rooms he walked through.

Roy and Sarah were seated at the table when he walked in, but Sarah quickly jumped to her feet, unburdened him of his wet clothes, and started hanging them by the stove to dry. Roy smiled and motioned him to take a seat in front a steaming bowl of stew, which he did gladly. Laying down his battered case, he hefted the much lighter spoon.

"Well, now that yer all dry, I s'pose it's time for proper introductions. As you've gathered I'm sure, my name is Roy. And that firecracker over there," he said winking to his guest, "is my wife, Sarah. She might look plump and sweet, but don't let that fool ya. I don't call her a firecracker for nothin..."

"A firecracker indeed!" She muttered turning to point her finger at her husband. "I wouldn't have to be, you old bag of bones, if you weren't always looking for a way to get out a yer chores."

"See what I mean?" Roy asked good-naturedly. "Still, she's got a point I guess. If it weren't for me, she'd probably be bored outta her mind."

"Now you..." she said shaking her finger, "you're gonna scare the young man away. I declare!" but there was a merry twinkle in her eyes as she took a seat beside him. "Anyway, I'm Sarah and that's Roy. You are?"

"My name?" he asked as he put down his spoon and wiped his mouth. Buying himself a few minutes to think, he cleared his throat, "John Caragie, ma'am, but my friends call me Jim."

"Well Jim, what brings ya to these godforsaken parts?"

"Now Roy, mind your manners. Can't you see the young man is tryin' to eat?"

"That's all right, ma'am, I'm near to busting. Thank you, it was very delicious and filling." He said smiling. "As to why I'm here? I was just simply seeing the sights. I've always heard it was beautiful country out here, and I was hoping to find a nice, small town to settle down in. In the country it's always so peaceful and quiet and the air is so sweet. Not at all like where I grew up in the city."

"Ahhh, a city boy! I thought so when I seen those clothes ya were a wearin'. What city, if ya don't mind me askin'?"

"Oh, uhm, Atlanta." Stuttered Jim uncertainly.

"Hey Sarah, 'member when we went through there? Boy, that place was crazy, cars and people everywhere. It was like a jungle! I swear, we musta sat in the same place on the road for two hours or more while people honked and cursed each other. They were the unfriendliest people. I don't see how they ever got anywhere." Roy crinkled his nose in distaste. "Why anyone would ever wanna live in the city, I'll never understand." Sarah nodded in agreement and they both looked at Jim.

"Well, the city's not for everyone, I'll grant you, but it's not a bad place to live and work. I have to agree though; the country life seems the best way to go. Look at you two. You live in a beautiful old farmhouse, clean fresh air to breath every day, with no one else around for miles. Yep," he said with a smile, "that's the way a man ought to live. Quiet and peaceful like."

Sarah's smile faded and she looked down at her hands. Giving a small sigh she rose from the table, clearing the bowls of stew and gingerly laying them in the sink.

Jim watched, somewhat confused by the change in her demeanor. "I'm sorry, ma'am, if I have offended you in some way. I assure you that I had no intention of doing so. You have shown me so much kindness by taking me into your home and sharing your table and warmth with me. It pains me greatly to think I may have upset you. Please, except my apologies. I meant no discourtesy."

Roy stared at his wife's back for a few moments before turning back to the young man. "Rest easy, ye've not offended, though your wistful words have struck a tender chord. You see, unfortunately, we're losin' our farm. We're just too old to keep up with everything alone, what with the planting and harvesting and all, and we don't have the money we used ta in order ta hire help." He looked at his wife then shook his head sadly. "It'll be hard to let it go since it's been our home for more 'n thirty years, a place where we have lived and loved and lost. Every room, every corner, holds a memory, has a story to tell. It's a shame, but the bank has given us only ninety days to get the place back up to par so's they can sell it to cover our loans."

Jim looked from first Roy to Sarah and then back, unsure of what to say and not really sure he could say anything that would sound right anyway. The room grew morose and quiet for a few awkward moments until Roy smiled and tried to break the tension.

"Well, aren't we a sorry little group? Here we have company and I've managed to bring us all down. I think that's all the gloom and doom we need fer one night. After all, the future's never certain and anyway, it's still miles from now. So, let's think of better, brighter things."

Jim still looked a little lost and confused and Sarah still stood at the sink, her head down and her hands in the water. Ray shook his head and tried to think up a better topic of conversation.

"What do ya do in Atlanta?" he finally asked, "Are ya a business man?"

Jim, looking even more confused and caught slightly off balance, said, "I'm sorry. What did you say?"

"What line a work ya in?"

"Work? Uhm, not really any line of work." He answered, shaken and not really wanting to get into that line of questioning since he had no true answers to give.

"Ya don't work? A strapping young lad like yerself? Well, what do ya do with yerself then?"

Jim cast a quick glance at his suitcase and shrugged. "Build things?"


"Yeah, with wood you know." He added, quickly recovering and warming to the lie. "Nothing real good though, just a few tables and chairs and stuff."

"Ya hear that?" Roy declared loudly in order to catch his wife's attention, "He's just like our boy was." Smiling, he turned back to Jim and explained. "Ya never could tear him away from a piece of wood. Startin' out real early he could see the beauty in any piece. Then he'd work and work until it was just the way he envisioned, so's the rest of the world could see it too. There wasn't a day went by that ya couldn't find him holed up in the shed tinkerin' with some new thing."

Sarah, finished with the dishes, wandered back to the table, a small smile on her face. "Yes, he was a fine carpenter and builder. All self taught, mind you. Neither Roy or I have that kind of talent." She took her seat and looked at Jim, "Those two rockin' chairs in the front room? Those are his work. Finished em' right before he took ill and presented them to us for Christmas. We were so proud that we put them in the front room so's we could show em' off to every one that come by. Those chairs were his finest works, if you ask me. Pity God didn't see fit to let him stay a while longer. Why, I bet he would have become a house hold name."

Roy caught the bewildered expression on Jims face and smiled. "Boy, ya look as if the cat got yer tongue."

Recovering somewhat, Jim managed to stutter, "I'm...well...sir, forgive me, but I don't quite know what to say. I'm sorry. For your loss, I mean." He finished, thinking back to the photos that lined the dresser in the little room. That's why there were no changes to the room. Why the little boy in the pictures was caught forever in time and space at the age of twelve.

"Don't be." Roy shrugged, "It's been years ago now. So many, in fact, that I don't care to count them. Our boy was smart and one of the kindest people ya coulda ever met. Sadly, his body grew weak and tired. After turnin' eleven, he died of the wasting disease. I guess that was a blessin' since he was always in pain. At least he's in a better place now, pain free and happy. We're just glad God gave us the time he did and the chance ta know someone as special as our boy was."

Sarah nodded her head and gently took the young mans hand, "God gives us lots of things and sometimes he takes them back. But regardless of whether we have them for a long time or a short time, they each enrich our lives and teach us something. There are some gifts we may never understand, and others that can break our hearts, but there is always a reason they were given. It's always hard to lose someone we love, but it's only after they've gone that we fully see the gift that they were. That's when every memory becomes a present, and every smile a treasure."

He sat there bemused for a moment then smiled as well. "Yes, you're right of course, though I've never thought of it that way before."

She gently squeezed his hand then released it. "So, what have you built?"

"Well," he shrugged, "nothing quite as fancy as those rocking chairs, but I have built bird houses and a few pieces of furniture. Though, even those things weren't well built. I do try, but I don't believe I was meant to be a worker of wood."

"Everythin' takes practice," Roy interjected, "that's how we learn. A mistake here, a mistake there, but eventually we find our way through. After a while we find pride in our work by knowing that we have given the best we can. Tried my hand at it a few times but, well, these hands were made for farmin' and don't seem to do well at much more."

Sarah eyed him askance, a small smile playing at the corners of her lips. "Not much good at that either unless I keep at him all the time. Why, I believe he'd sit out on the porch all day and just watch the clouds go by if I didn't keep him busy."

Roy winked at his guest, "That old woman's gonna be the death of me, you mark my words. Ain't happy unless she's a pesterin' me 'bout something or other."

"Old woman? Well, I'll have you know that I can do anything you can do with one hand tied behind my back. And I'll remind you that I'm younger than you are old man."

Roy smiled at Jim who was watching in amusement as the two good-naturedly poked fun at each other. "Sadly, it's true. She's got more spunk than any other woman half her age, but I'll tell ya, she's the reason I'm so much older. I swear we were the same age when we married. It just wears a man out tryin' to keep up."

"Oh hogwash!" Sarah said, playfully slapping her husband's arm, "It's me who's goin' old and gray having to keep you on your toes." They smiled at each other. It was during that moment of silence that Jim noted the relentless pounding of the rain had ceased. He looked down at his watch and was surprised to see how late it had become.

"I think the rain has stopped, and though I have really enjoyed your company and am very grateful for the warm meal, I suppose I should be on my way. I have taken up most of your evening." He reached down to pick up his suitcase and began to stand but Sarah was already on her feet.

"I'll hear nothing of the sort! It's late and your clothes are still wet. I'll not send you back out into the cold with wet clothes so you can catch your death." She looked at him sternly, "You can stay here tonight and in the mornin' Roy can drive you to your car and have a look at it. Once you've had some breakfast, anyway."

He'd only known the old couple a matter of hours, but he already knew it would be useless to argue. It would be nice to stay and sleep in a warm bed, though he knew he would be gone long before breakfast. He didn't tell them this, of course. Instead he smiled and said, "Well then, I thank you once more for your hospitality and tell you it would be an honor to share your home for the night."

Sarah beamed at him then looked at Roy. "You can show our guest to Jason's old room and get him settled in for the night."

"You can be sure she'll ply ya with everything in the cupboard come mornin', but if you're willin' ta take the chance, I'll not be tryin' to talk you out of it." Roy chuckled as he rose from the table. "Just don't ever say I didn't warn ya."

Jim laid his suitcase on the table and, after a moments' hesitation, he walked over to Sarah and took her hands in his own. "Ma'am, I just want to say that it's been a real pleasure to share your company." Sarah's old face lit up and a light blush stained her cheeks. "You and your husband are good people, taking in a stranger and making him feel welcome in your home. Not many people these days would show such kindness to someone they don't know, especially when they're facing hard times themselves. I just want to say that I'm grateful, not only for the kindness you've shown me, but for the new understanding of what life really has to offer." He smiled then squeezed her hands gently. Letting go, he turned to pick up his suitcase.

Roy and his wife looked at each other, both a little confused by the young mans words, but also deeply touched. Roy walked over to where Jim stood and slapped him on the back.

"Son, I'd say ya just made a friend fer life."

Jim looked at the old man and smiled. It had been so very long since he'd been this happy and felt as if he might belong somewhere. In all of his twenty-four years, life had never smiled down on him. He'd always found himself at the short end of the stick, and by being there he had often acted rashly, striking out in anger because he didn't know what else to do. Strangely enough, that's how he had ended up here. But in such a short time, a matter of hours really, he'd had a chance to see the other side. The one that wasn't hard or cruel. The one he'd always wanted to believe existed but could never find. He was relieved and happy to say the least, the rest was still a bundle of confusion, but looking into the old mans eyes and seeing the love and strength that lurked there, he decided that this was the kind of man he wanted to be.

"Well sir, I could think of no better person to call friend." They both looked over their shoulder to find Sarah hastily wiping a tear from her cheek.

"Alright then, off with ya. Go on and get a good nights sleep." She said and waved her hand in a shooing motion before turning to push the chairs back under the table.

Roy nodded his head and started out of the kitchen, but Jim stood where he was for just a moment more. He wanted to paint this picture in his mind, the plump Sarah in her apron, her hair loosely done in a bun, wisps of it lying around her face like a frame. He smiled again as he followed Roy through the living room and back to the room he had used to change in earlier.

"Okay then," Roy started, pointing down the hall, "there's a bathroom two doors down on the right if ya'd like ta take a shower or anything. As long as ye'r here, think of this as yer home and make yerself comfortable. Get yerself a good nights sleep, and in the mornin' we'll see what we can do about yer car. There's no rush mind ya, if we can't get it goin' ye'r welcome to stay as long as you need. We don't get much company 'round here, Sarah and me, and we've enjoyed havin' ya." He smiled and patted the young man on the shoulder, "Alright, well, good night then, and we'll see ya in the mornin'."

"Good night sir, and thank you again for your hospitality. It means a lot."

With a parting smile, Roy nodded and shuffled off down the hall leaving Jim alone with his thoughts. He gently closed the bedroom door and strode across the room. Laying down his suitcase, he dropped himself heavily on the bed and lay back staring at the ceiling, listening to the sounds in the kitchen as Sarah went about straightening up.

He knew he wouldn't stay, but he allowed himself a moment to reflect on what it might be like if he could. He even tried to imagine what his life would have turned out like if he'd grown up in a home like this one, instead of being shipped about from one place to another only to find that, sadly, he belonged nowhere. His life had been filled with sadness from the earliest point he could remember. He had taken this to mean that it must always be so. But these people, their lives filled with loss, faced each day with a smile. By stumbling into their lives, they had taught him one very important lesson; happiness isn't something you can find, regardless of how long or hard you may look. It is something that lives within yourself if you only have the courage to reach in and take hold of it.

All of this time he had been seeking out ways to make himself feel better, always hoping to fill the emptiness he felt inside, foolishly believing that by doing so he could find happiness. But all he'd managed to do was fall into first one pit and then another with the decisions he made. Strange to find that the answer had been right in front of his face the whole time.

He looked over at the rugged case sitting in the corner that he had been carrying around for days now. It wasn't much to look at really, small and tattered, the cloth peeling away from it in places, but inside it held everything he owned. His life in a nutshell, hard fought and hard won. Yes, he had fought his battles and won his prize. But what had it cost him? He couldn't share his victory. He couldn't shout it to the stars. It was a hollow thing, at best, and brought him no pride. Had he really thought he could cheat others to find happiness for himself? He sighed and closed his eyes; the truth was just too shameful.

After a while the noises in the kitchen finally faded away, and he knew the old couple had turned in for the evening. It was time for him to slip away. He sat up slowly and ran his fingers through his hair, his eyes straying once again to the case in the corner, but this time instead of regret, a small smile lit his face. He knew exactly how to thank these people who had unwittingly changed his life. Getting up quickly, he grabbed the suitcase and laid it on the bed. Undoing the snaps, he reached inside and withdrew a small bundle, carefully concealing it in his shirt. Then he took out a piece of paper and a pencil and re-closed the case. Jotting a quick note, he set it on the dresser. Leaving the battered case where it now sat, he walked to the door, gently opening it and looking down the hall. Every light was out and he could hear soft snoring from the room across the way. Satisfied that all was clear, he stepped into the hallway. With one last peek, and a silent farewell to the past he had hauled around, he closed the door softly behind him and made his way quickly to the kitchen. He grabbed up his clothes, which were finally dry, and hastened to the back door. He looked around once more, a big smile on his face, before undoing the lock and stepping out into the cold, wet night.

Roy was the first one up as Mother Nature painted a rainbow of colors across the sky, and set out to the barn to do his morning chores. He milked the cows, roused the chickens and collected the eggs. when he was done, he headed back to the house to supply Sarah with his morning acquisitions so she could prepare breakfast.

He sat around the kitchen while she moved about busily; humming to herself and occasionally throwing out a list of things he needed to see to that morning. When breakfast was almost ready, she turned to face him.

"I believe that our guest is already up and about since his clothes have been collected. Why don't you go tell him that it's time to eat?"

Roy nodded his head and shuffled out of the kitchen. He knocked lightly on the door and waited for an answer. When none came he knocked again. "Jim? Grubs on. Might wanna' come and get it while the gettin's good." When Jim still didn't answer, he shrugged and made his way back to the kitchen where Sarah was laying the food out on the table.

"I reckon' he went back ta sleep, he never answered." Roy said reclaiming his seat and piling biscuits and eggs on his plate. "He'll come out when he's ready to eat. Those city folk just ain't used ta gettin' up with the sun."

Sarah looked through the kitchen door and down the hall as if she could spy him through the walls. Shrugging her shoulders, she undid her apron and lay it neatly across the back of her chair and joined Roy at the table.

When breakfast was over, Sarah set about cleaning the kitchen and Roy headed back out the door to see to the repairs that she had lined out for him. About four hours later, as he was attempting to re-screen the chicken coop, Sarah came yelling through the back door, waving her arms around frantically. Frightened at her behavior, Roy dropped the hammer and ran across the yard as fast as his old bones would allow, while she babbled on breathlessly about something he couldn't understand. Finally, he raised his hands.

"Slow down woman! I can't catch more 'n a word in ten the way ye'r a goin' on!"

Her face was flushed a light crimson and his heart jumped in his throat. A little concerned, he gently took her elbow and tried to steer her onto the porch. "Here, let's just go set down a spell. Ye'r all outta breath and yer face is red."

"No, no, no!" she said hastily, slapping his hand away. "It ain't me, I'm fine."


"Well, yes. I mean, no. Blast it all, I don't know!" she said gruffly, "He ain't even here!"

"Okay, alright." He said slowly waving his hand, "Let's just calm down. Take a breath and tell me what's goin' on."

She stood there for a minute shaking her head then looked up to meet his eyes. "I can't tell you. I don't even believe it, and even if I did, there ain't any words. This is something you'll just have to come see for yourself." With that she turned and walked back into the house. More than a little confused, he followed her through the door and down the hall to Jason's old room. The door stood open and he could see that the bed was made, if somewhat askew, and Jim's battered suitcase lay on top.

"If he ain't here, why's his trunk still here?"

"Don't ask me. Just go in and open it, Roy."

He looked at his wife and, throwing up his hands in surrender, he walked into the room and stood in front of the case. "Ya know, it ain't right to be goin' through someone else's personal belongin's." He added crossly, looking over his shoulder.

"Are you gonna stand there all day yappin' at me? Just open it. He ain't gonna mind. Trust me."

Sighing and rolling his eyes in frustration, he popped first one latch and then the other, slowly opening the case. His breath caught in his throat and he gingerly stretched out a hand. Quickly yanking it back again, he spun around. "How... Why?" he managed to stutter before his lips fell numb.

"I don't know the how, but that note on the table there explains the why." She answered, walking in to stand beside him. She reached out, gently picking up the letter as if it were a sacred object, then quietly began to read:

"You have lived, you have loved, though mostly, you have lost. But despite your losses you have continued to give, and this night you have given more, to me, a stranger, than you will ever know. For your gift, and your kindness, I give my thanks and humbly give back to you."

Her hands shook as she finished reading and looked up at her husband, "He didn't sign it, but on the bottom he wrote somethin' else." Slowly she handed the paper to Roy, who took it with hands shaking almost as bad as hers.

He looked down at the paper, scarcely daring to breath, then at the suitcase lying so innocently on the bed, before finally looking back at his wife who was dabbing her eyes and shaking her head.

"Did I read it right? Am I seein' things? Tell me, what do you see?" she asked.

He took a deep breath, steadying his heart and mind, "Two million."

Author Notes This was posted and reviewed for errors. I have fixed the errors and am posting it again. Thank you for reading!

Chapter 14
Cradle Of Darkness

By Gwynn

The night was calm, quiet; Still, as if the earth were holding its breath in silent anticipation of the events to come. The moon, shadowed behind a dark veil of clouds, cast an eerie, distorted light to the unnatural stillness. Not even the wind, usually playful in its exuberance, dared to break the silence with the careless rustle of a leaf, nor did any unseen creature break the quiet; All stood hushed, paused in their nightly pursuits, sensing perhaps, that even the most cautious step might give voice to their presence.

Something much more disquieting than the darkened night lurked in the forest, its wavering steps lending a menacing quality to the otherwise unbroken silence. The slight crackle of its movement over branches and leaves echoed through the balance, like ripples on a pond, quiet still, yet loud enough to be heard by those with an ear bent on listening. And crouched behind the darkened shrub of the forest, Alison listened; Breath held, heart pounding maddeningly in her ears, she strained to catch each faltering step.

He was close. So close she fancied she could feel the evil intent of his heart and mind wrapping around her with suffocating insistence. Cloaked in the darkness, and concealed by the forest shrub, she prayed that he would wander past. Because if he found her.... O' God, if he found her.... The carnage that bloomed in her mind nearly caused her to cry out.

After all this time, she couldn't figure out how he'd tracked her here. She thought she'd been careful. After the trial, she'd changed her name and moved over three thousand miles away. She'd dyed her dark hair blond, changed her style of dress, even gone so far as to add twenty pounds to her figure. Hell, when she looked in the mirror every morning, she hardly recognized herself! She hadn't filed for any credit cards or opened any bank accounts. Everything she bought, she paid for with cash. That way, there would be no paper trail. So how? How in God's name had he tracked her?

Questions echoed through her mind, but she knew that such questions no longer mattered. They would shed no light nor bring any comfort even if she knew the answers. She was the hunted, and the hunter was bearing down on her with each passing second, his raspy breath rattling through the night like some long dead Shaman's bag of bones.

The crackle of a nearby branch sent ripples up her spin. He was so close now that she could have reached out and grabbed him had she dared. Pictures of herself springing from the cover of darkness and hurling him to the ground played through her mind, but she wouldn't. Oh no. She didn't dare.

She could hear him sniffing the air and she thanked all that was holy that she hadn't showered yet, or sprayed on any perfume. If she had....

Holding her breath once more, she waited for him to turn and find her. It felt like hours passed and her lungs began to burn for want of air, blood pounded through her head with the steady whump-whump- whump of a helicopter's blades.

Finally she heard the crunch of leaves as he moved on, his dark silhouette fading as it was swallowed by darker shadows. Slowly, she released her breath and drew in a lung full of sweet air; The whump-whump-whump pounding through her head fading away, leaving behind a sharp pounding behind her eyes.

When she could no longer hear his steps, she eased her head over the brush. Squinting, she peered through the darkness, her body tensed to spring back at the first sign of him. All she could make out were the darker shadows of the trees that surrounded her. A desperate urge to flee descended on her and it took all the willpower she possessed to crouch there till the count of fifty.

Common sense screamed at her that he was in front of her so she should go the other way, but reasoning argued that if she did that, he could sneak up from behind, catching her unawares. Scared and confused, she threw logic and common sense to the winds, striking out down the middle.

Despite her best efforts, walking silently just wasn't an option. Ankle-deep leaves of Oak, Maple, Locust and Dogwood crackled with each step. Every few yards she paused her crunching to listen. After the space of ten heartbeats, she moved again, changing her pattern. She walked in short erratic bursts, altering the length and timing of her strides, hoping that the rustle of her movement might mock the natural steps of a woodland creature.

Time really held no meaning for her now, and though she kept her ears alert for any intruding noise, her mind began to wander. She yearned for the safety of her log cabin, but knew as well that she would never return there. Not even to call for help. He would only follow.

She shook her head. It had taken her nearly two years of running to obtain that fragile peace. How shocking to find it had been an illusion. With one phone call, and the whisper of her name, all she had worked for had come crashing down.

Her mind insisted on flashing back to that horrifying day in court as absently as the unconscious fingers of a child fretfully picking at an unhealed scab. She heard again the verdict of not guilty. She saw again the sly smile flashed at her from across the room. How could they have come back with a verdict of not guilty, she asked herself again. The case had seemed solid enough to her. They'd had the evidence of the past murders and the testimony of how he had kept her bound and gagged for three days. If she hadn't been lucky enough to escape, they would have found her the same way they had found the others; Body bruised and broken, wrists raw from the continued bondage as he mutilated her body and broke her mind.

Ahhh, bitter irony! She had supplied the police with a detailed description and led them back to the warehouse where she was kept. Forensics had gone to work and within three weeks they'd caught him. His name was Anthony Preto, a rich and well respected businessman with a wife and three kids. She should have known then that he would serve no time. Still, she had clung to the foolish belief that justice would prevail. But money causes people to forget, to turn their heads. Evidence disappeared and testimonies changed. She had been a little fish in a tank of sharks.

Anthony had walked away amidst a sea of handshakes and she had run for her life, never able to settle in one place for long. Finally, she had slowed down. For six months she had enjoyed the peace and freedom of her cabin and the surrounding woods. And now? She smiled ruefully, now she was being forced to run again.

Twice more Alison halted her progress to listen, but detected no sounds. She stood still, counting to fifty as the unnatural silence bore down on her. No leaves rustled overhead. No night birds chattered in the trees. Frogs, asleep with the cold, kept their own counsel. And no sound from the predator that stalked her relentlessly.

Emboldened by the absolute quiet and the sense that she had escaped once again, Alison quickened her pace, paying no heed to the sounds of her passing. She carried on in this fashion for several minutes until a crash of sound, loud and intrusive, brought her up short. Slowly, she slid behind the trunk of a large pine tree.

Fear accelerated; Alison could feel it grip her heart, upping the beats and pounding away in her throat. Closing her eyes, she forced herself to stand still, her ears straining to catch the slightest noise. This close on a windless night, sound should have carried as surely as it would underwater. If he were there, she should have heard the scraping of his boots or the soft swish of fabric from his clothes. She heard nothing.

It was just some animal, she chided herself, then took a step away from the tree. It was then that she heard the shuffle of feet. In fear, she pressed her back against the sturdy pine. That's when it dawned on her... The sound had come from beside her, not behind. Her hasty movement as she tried to inch her way around the tree, was greeted by another rustle of dry leaves and the click of a flashlight.

"Peek-a-boo, I see you." Anthony laughed softly, turning her insides to jelly. The flashlights beam danced lustfully as he started towards her, and with each of his steps her heartbeat quickened. A cold sweat broke out on her body despite the chill of the night air. Her fear coalesced into a living, breathing monster that threatened to hand her over, but as he reached out to grab her, fear turned to anger.

Alison sprang with a yell. Putting all of her weight into it, she shoved with a force she never dreamed she had. Light spun madly through the tress as the flashlight arced through the air and Anthony gave a shout of surprise as he collided with the ground.

Paying him no heed, cloaked in the chaos, Alison fled into the blackness of the woods. Bat-blind from the glare of the flashlight, she stumbled and fell in a parody of countless film heroines destined to be run down by the villain. Hastily finding her feet, she ran on. Then, with a yell reminiscent of the baying of the hounds of hell, Anthony came after her.

For a nightmare's eternity, Alison ran, fell, stumbled, noted without feeling the banging of her knees and elbows, the rip of thorny branches across her face and forearms as she bashed her way through foliage that felt sentient; Closing around her trying to trap her and hold her in a darkness so complete she felt choked by it. Yet, bit-by-bit her night vision returned, and with it a smattering of hope. The hound from hell was still baying on her heels, the pitch of his voice rising in the excitement of the chase. He hadn't seen her yet, thank God, but he had surely been following the racket she had made.

Forcing down the panicked need for flight, Alison made herself stop. She believed that the crash of boot's and Anthony's guttural yells, would cover small sounds of movement and, quick as a fox, she dove for the ground. Crushing herself into the scratchy embrace of a dying shrub, she pulled pine needles and leaves over her as best she could. Curled in a ball, elbows touching knees, shoulders hunched, she waited.

For half a minute, the crashing came on: the beam of the flashlight jabbing through the trunks and the creepers. Lying as she was, coiled under a bush and covered imperfectly with leaves, she felt as exposed as if she stood naked on an empty stage. She steadied her breathing as the advancing light slowed, then stopped. After a moment, the light switched off. A wave of disorientation swept over her as the beacon pinpointing her pursuer vanished.

She thought to scramble free of the bushes, but knew she'd never make it. Instead, she waited in stillness. With a jarring suddenness she couldn't comprehend, she was grabbed by the front of her shirt and hauled to her feet. Fear gripped her so hard she nearly fainted, but quick on its heels came the instinct of survival. Wildly she swung her fists, desperately hoping to connect with something vital. Instead, something hard and unyielding connected with the side of her head. Her knees buckled and she tumbled to the ground.

In a fog she felt her hands tugged together and tied. A light mist began to cover her face and she barely registered that it was raining before she lost consciousness. For a while she drifted along on its currents, until a sharp, biting pain in her arms brought her around. It was then that she realized Anthony was dragging her along in his wake. Unawares, she must have made some betraying sound because she was suddenly dropped, with a bone-jarring thud, to the ground.

"Stand up," Anthony growled, and she sensed, rather than saw, him leering down at her, but in fear she lay absolutely still. She toyed with the idea of playing possum, making him carry her to whatever dense thicket he had in mind for dumping purposes, but he reached down and shook her with the violence of a terrier with a rat.

"Stand up!" he urged her again, "I am not playing with you much longer." This accompanied by the snick of releasing metal she knew instinctively to be the cocking of a pistol. Her insides turned to water and she was overcome by a dizzying wave of helplessness.

"No. No, please, don't kill me." she whimpered, "What ever you want, just please, please, don't shoot."

It took a couple of tries, her head swimming with the sudden motion, her body weak with fear, but Alison managed to get her feet beneath her. Her legs felt rubbery at first and she didn't know if they would support her weight, but grudgingly they complied. Once her purchase on the vertical was intact, she felt the smooth, cold barrel of the gun against her head. A low moan escaped her mouth and she scrunched her eyes closed. Her throat suddenly felt swollen shut and her mind insisted on showing her the gruesome details of her dead body, convoluted curls of her brain spotting the leaves, her life's blood draining away. Tears spilt down her cheeks and she tried not to grovel or beg, determined that if she must die now, she would do so with some dignity. But her voice once again betrayed her.

"Don't shoot," she whispered harshly, "Please, don't shoot me."

"Show me your hands." Anthony rasped, the gun pressed so hard against her skull that she could barely manage to keep her head up. With another whimper she could not contain, she raised her hands.

"To your shoulders," he added, his voice taking on the frustrated edge of someone dealing with a simpleton unable to follow the easiest of instructions.

Reluctantly, she did as told and in a movement as quick as it was violent, he grasped the back of her collar and her tied hands, then yanked down until if felt like he was ripping her arms from their sockets.

"Now we walk." Giving her arms a nasty tug, he shoved her forward.

Time passed slowly as they trudged on, her in the front, him behind, and the pistol always in the middle to urge her on if she slowed. Eventually the path grew steep, the dirt trail augmented by sections of four-by-four timbers set flush to provide steps.

Alison had never known this path was here, nor these stairs slick with rain and melting ice, but the sight of them gave her the glimmer of an idea. She was not brave, not by any stretch of the imagination, but she had no wish to die by his hand, trussed like a pig led to the slaughtering block squealing in fear. So far she had cried and begged, giving him the satisfaction of her fear, lending to the gruesome perversion of what he sought. She was appalled at her weakness, at her lack of courage, but it wasn't too late to fight back. Not as long as she still drew breath. Her life was her own, and this creepy, sadistic bastard wasn't going to take it from her without a fight.

Grunting, his breath coming hard from exertion and tension, Anthony pushed her up the steps. Several times he slipped, jerking Alison one way or the other as he used her as an anchor to regain his balance. It wasn't long before she could see the level top of the hill. Everything was black, yet she could see after a fashion; enough to discern earth from sky. If she was going to do anything, now was the time. She had a feeling that the top would see the end of her. The plan swirling around in her head wasn't much, and depended too much on nature and Anthony's own reaction, but nothing else came floating from the murky depths of her mind.

Swallowing her fear of the gun hanging between them, she allowed her foot to slip and went down heavily on one knee. The pain was intense as it bloomed and spread up her leg, traveling to her thighs, and she couldn't contain the yelp of pain that jumped from her throat.

At first, she wasn't sure if he was going to pull her to her feet or wait until she found them on her own. She was about to give up hope when he finally bent down and started tugging on her tied hands. With an animal yell of rage, she hurled herself backward with all of her might. Hoping Anthony's momentum and weight would work for her, she jammed the fists he still held at shoulder level into his face. He gave way in an avalanche of curses and flesh. Instinctively flinging his arms wide to recover his balance, he moved the pistol away from her back.

Falling seemed to take forever. Alison pushed off as she kicked away from the hillside, driving back into his gut. She was aware of the small bones in her neck crackling when she slammed her head back, smashing the hard part of her cranium into his face. Then they floated downward; icy rain in her face, universal nothingness filling her eyes. It was then, as she fell with him, that she heard the shot as his trigger finger convulsed and fired a round into the night. She expected to feel the hot, fiery sting as the bullet tore through her tender flesh, but instead she felt the thud as they hit the ground. She smashed down, unbruised, onto his great soft belly.

Time abandoned its petty pace as the instinct for survival kicked in and a sudden bone jarring desire to live took over. Screaming, spitting, hissing, Alison wrenched her body to the side and rolled off, kicking back to inflict what damage she could to his knees. Then, straightening her limbs, she began to roll like a log, her momentum carrying her down the rest of the gentle slope. Dizzy, but unhurt, she came to a stop several yards from the foot of the hill. On elbows and knees she crawled another ten or fifteen feet, stopping only then to listen.

The night held its breath. At first she could only hear the pounding of her heart and the rush of blood past her eardrums. Forcing herself to breath deeply, regularly, she calmed the pounding of her heart and listened again. The only sound she could make out was the steady pounding of the cold rain as it struck the ground.

Kneeling there, knees in the mud and muck, she finally became aware of how terribly cold she was. With the help of the cold and her over stressed nerves, she was gripped by a severe case of shivers. How long she knelt there, teeth chattering in the cold rain, she couldn't say, but when Anthony made no move to come after her, she pulled her arms around and set to work on the rope. After a while of tugging and chewing with her teeth, she was finally free.

Rubbing her chafed wrists, she rose shakily to her feet and stood still for a moment, allowing the dizziness to pass and enjoying being free and alive. Then, with another calming breath and wavering steps, Alison approached the spot where Anthon lay motionless. Five feet away she stopped, uncertain whether it was wise to move any closer. Fear of her encounter gripped her and she wondered if he could be playing possum, just lying in wait until she was stepped close enough for him to renew his attack. Biting down on her fear, and stilling her chattering teeth, she inched closer. It might very well be that he was playing possum, but if she didn't check, she would never be sure.

The urge to just turn and run away kept creeping up on her, but she forced herself to cover the remaining distance in what seemed like an excruciatingly slow crawl. When she was close enough to see his eyes shinning in the faint light, she stopped again. Waiting, she watched to see if he would blink, if his chest would rise as he took a breath, but his eyes never wavered and his chest never rose. Inching still closer, she stared down at his slack face.

What the hell, she thought, just check and get it over with!

Falling to her knees, mud splashing up to splatter her with another generous round of muck, she gingerly stretched out her hand and took hold of his wrist.

His hand spasmed, his fingers curling inward, and she screamed as she fell back. She kicked and shoved, scooting away, her heart thundering in her chest, her breath harsh and ragged. She bumped into something hard and cold and another scream split the night before she realized it was the pistol he had been carrying. Fumbling in her fear, she scooped it up, along with a generous handful of mud, and struggled to her feet. Not waiting until fear could paralyze her, she rushed across the distance separating them, pulling the trigger with every step she took. She continued to pull the trigger even when the dry snap of the empty chambers echoed through the night.

When sense returned, she let the gun tumble to the ground, hands shaking and her vision blurred by tears. Hastily swiping a hand across her face and leaving a smear of mud across her cheek, she stared down at the man who had tormented her for two long years. He was dead, there was no doubt about that now, and as she stared down at him, she couldn't help but think he wasn't much at all. He was human after all, killed not by a silver bullet or a stake through the heart, but a plain old .22.

With an odd little nod to herself of affirmation, she turned away. She was cold and tired and dirty, not to mention lost, but she was alive, she was free.

Chapter 15
Confessions of a Serial Murderer

By Gwynn

Warning: The author has noted that this contains the highest level of violence.

They don't know me, these people that drift through the contours of my everyday life. They think they do, but the facade they see is a carefully crafted mask designed with the sole purpose of ensuring they will never know who I am; never know what drives me.

I live in a beautiful two-story house with my wife of 11 years and 3 children. Two boys and one little girl. I'm a successful businessman and coach my sons little league team. I go out drinking with my "buddies" every other Friday night and take my wife on an elaborate date at least once a month. To the world, I am the average Joe - the standard by which people measure success. If someone was to point me out to anyone I know and say, "he's a murderer", no one would believe it. If they were to call me a serial killer even my priest would scoff. I'm that good. An actor that has far surpassed the average role of "human" in the eyes of society.

I wasn't always held up as the ideal. I had my rocky starts and stops as a child. Gangly and awkward, I made my mistakes. But, lucky for me, childhood errors are often overlooked by the adults around them who are often too busy or uninterested to really look deep enough. I had no friends and had no real desire to have them. I was content to be left to my own devices. I wasn't an A student, but then, I wasn't a failure either. I could read, write and do arithmetic as well as anyone but didn't excel at anything. I didn't stand out in a good way or a bad way. All of which suited me just fine. I had better things to do with my time.

My parents were divorced. Both alcoholics and neither one caring one way or the other what I did, when I did it, or if I was even breathing. If I got in the way, they moved me with a slap or a punch or a well-aimed kick. I didn't expect hugs or birthday parties. I didn't expect anything from them other than the sublime indifference they had always shown. I could sit here and spin a yarn about how their cruelty influenced what I later became. But truth to tell, I don't see that it matters. It was what it was. I became who I am, and I don't give one single damn about what they were or who they were supposed to be to me. They were just pieces on the board... immovable objects to be worked around.

If memory is supposed to be the book of our lives, my pages seem to be woefully blank when I try to find a single point that blatantly stands out as the "beginning" of who I am. Perhaps it's that way for everyone. I wouldn't know. People are a mystery to me. I don't understand why they do what they do. All the feelings that drive them simply have no place in my makeup. What drives me is need. Hunger. An overwhelming desire that screams in my blood and pounds in my chest until it's fulfilled.

When the hunger comes, all else fades. I become a passenger behind my own eyes; propelled towards an outcome that brings sweet release. It never lasts long. Release is quickly followed by a profound sense of emptiness that demands to be filled. The need builds again; the hunger driving me to find another, and another, with no real fulfillment to be found.

My first victim was not an animal. I've read how budding serial killers are often cruel to animals, killing them or maiming them for sport. I never saw the attraction to that. They don't feel. Watching the light leave their eyes isn't like watching the soul of your victim whither and die as they take their last breath; a breath you can deny them or grant them depending upon how long you want to savor the event. No, my first victim was a girl who lived about three blocks from me. I was 13 and she was 7. I had no feeling for her one way or the other. She just happened to be where she was when she was, and I was driven to see what killing her would feel like. I knew I wanted to the moment I saw her by the river. Needed to. I knew exactly how I was going to do it the very moment I saw her squatting down to pick up a pebble to toss in the water. It was like a movie that played out behind my eyes before I ever laid a hand on her.

I've also heard how adrenaline kicks in, and the urge is so overwhelming that the killer might shake, sweat, or even be so consumed in their need that haste makes them clumsy. I never felt a thing except the certainty I would succeed. It was easy. As simple and easy as her movement to toss in a pebble. I watched as she squatted down then simply stepped next to her, grabbed her by the back of the neck, and shoved her face into the water. She thrashed and splashed in her desperate bid to escape my grasp, but she was so tiny, and, at that moment, I was like Hercules - granted a strength far beyond my meager 13-year-old body.

I can't say there was any joy in what I was doing. I didn't feel happy. I didn't feel some surge of overwhelming desire to take her as she died. To be honest, I can't say I felt anything at all. Just the need to know what it would feel like as she went limp. When she finally did, I felt deflated, robbed. I'm not sure exactly what I expected to happen, but I know that her going limp wasn't enough.

I didn't know how long it takes a person to drown, but I was reasonably certain she wasn't dead yet. I flipped her over and straddled her legs. When her eyes didn't flutter and she didn't cough or gasp, I slapped her. Nothing happened. I slapped her again. This time she choked and vomited creek water. Had I any feelings, I might have been repulsed by the vomiting. As it was, it just struck me as a curiosity. Something to be remembered. Her eyes fluttered open and even though she saw me straddling her, there wasn't any fear in them. That was fine. I wasn't after fear. Her fear would serve no purpose.

It took a few moments for her to come fully back to herself and I took those few moments to decide exactly what it was I wanted from this situation. I could have just drowned her completely. Hell, I could have grabbed up one of the larger stones and just smashed her head in. Both would have resulted in the same end. But neither held any real appeal for me. Neither action was quite enough to fill the need that was driving me. And what was that anyway? What was it that I really needed? I stared down at her confused face as she coughed and decided I wanted to watch it fade away. Needed to see the life in her eyes go out; see if the soul could be seen as it escaped the captive form of her body.

I wrapped my hands around her throat and started to squeeze. Her confusion made it easy. By the time she realized what I was doing, I had a firm grip. She grabbed my hands and tried to pry them free, her eyes wide and showing the fear she felt. When prying made no difference, she attempted to buck me off by thrashing her back up from the ground. Of course, I held firm and simply tightened my grip. She pried and thrashed, gurgled her choked off screams, and I simply held on watching as her eyes went from wide confused terror to blank empty pools of color. When the thrashing finally stopped, still I held on, watching her face, her eyes, looking for any sign her soul was still there or seeking its final escape. I saw no fleeing soul. Just the greenish glint of her glassy eyes staring endlessly at the branches overhead.

Despite the lack of fleeing soul, I was convinced there had to be one. I had just missed the critical moment somehow. While my parents' indifference left me to my own devices for the most part, they were very stringent about our social and moral responsibility to God. Every Sunday I sat as expected and listened to the preacher go on and on about the soul and how God claimed them once we died. While I wasn't convinced my parents had souls at all, I had been reasonably certain this girl, still innocent in the pearl of her youth and untouched by base desires, would have a soul God could claim when she died. That I missed the claiming was of no consequence. It just meant I had been wrong about this particular girl. She obviously wasn't as pure as I thought. I would simply have to find someone else. Thus began the endless search. The need to know. To see.

I have learned since then how to cover my tracks. It isn't exactly because I care whether I am discovered, or that I fear any sort of judicial retribution for what I do. It would simply be an inconvenience I would rather avoid. I left my first victim lying there beside the creek where she was discovered in less than 24 hours. We weren't known to socialize, and no one had any reason to suspect I had killed her. Evidence was scarce since it all occurred there in the water and rocky embankment. Still, I understood that future endeavors to seek the truth and fill the need driving me must be more circumspect. Bodies laying around cause undue questions and scrutiny. Better to avoid all of it if possible.

I didn't kill again until I was 15. I couldn't tell you why except to say the need just wasn't as strong yet. My next victim was a boy who sang in the choir at our church. He had what everyone called an angelic voice and most claimed he must be beloved by God for it. I choked him to death too. While the need was satisfied, the question remained. Despite the claims he must be beloved of God, no soul escaped his body after death. I did not leave him lying around as I had my first victim. I buried him deep in the woods.

Some victims I buried, others I dismembered simply to make hiding them easier. Some I burned but I learned rather quickly it is hard to burn a human body to the point it can't be identified. After the third burning and the close call failure to demolish identity brought, I stuck with dismemberment and burial- either by earth or water. I now have 18 victims and not one of them ever answered the driving question.

I have never enjoyed killing for killings sake. I don't enjoy torture. I don't intentionally set out to cause fear or pain. I don't feel a need to control another person or force them to my will. Death doesn't give me sexual pleasure or release. The need that drives me, the hunger that can never seem to be slaked, is wrapped fully in the overwhelming desire to understand that which is missing. I know it is missing even if I don't know what it is. While I may be indifferent and unable to understand the feelings and emotions that swirl around others, I am not blind to them. I see them. I know they are missing in myself. I'm not sure I care they are missing. It all seems terribly convoluted and unnecessarily complicated. But the need, the driving hunger and desire that drives me, won't let me rest. I may go a year, two years, before I happen to run across a person that sparks the desire into full blown flame. The longest was 4 years. But it never rests entirely.

There may come a time when someone figures out who I really am and what I have done, though I doubt it. I wear my mask well and play my part to perfection. While the impulse that grabs me when I see the person who sparks my desire to flame is sometimes overwhelming, I am patient. I can control the impulse to grab them right then and see if a soul really resides behind their perfect facade. Not for long perhaps, but long enough to be careful. Long enough to be sure they don't see me coming.

Author Notes The majority of serial killers are not reclusive, social misfits who live alone. They are not monsters and may not appear strange. Many serial killers hide in plain sight within their communities. Serial murderers often have families and homes, are gainfully employed, and appear to be normal members of the community. Because many serial murderers can blend in so effortlessly, they are oftentimes overlooked.

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