Mystery and Crime Fiction posted February 27, 2010 Chapters:  ...8 9 -10- 11... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
You will lose everything if you look back

A chapter in the book Dark Shadows


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.

This Sentence Starts The Story contest entry


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 :-)
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