By the time he arrived the bodies had already been replaced by chalk outlines.
Much of the gore and viscera had been cleaned by now, but crimson stains still clung to the wooden floor. The worst murder in the history of the city, they said. Seven bodies, four of those children, and so far no traces, no leads. The story of two foster carers and their son, as well as the four children that were in their care had spread rapidly through the city like a shockwave. Soon every news outlet going would report on the Woodward murders, and it was the hottest gossip to leave a person’s lips.
Matthew Stevens crept under the police tape that had been haphazardly left in front of the huge house. He had crept past the single police car stationed outside with ease, and was invisible in the dead black of night. The front door was locked, but out of routine he tried it anyway, before resorting to using his credit card and a bit of luck. The door swung open and hit the wall with force, and he dashed in, closing the door against the cold night. The house was even larger inside, and somehow colder than the black air outside. The metallic smell of blood was over-powering. He walked through the dark hall, only his phone to illuminate his way, and the old floorboards moaned under the strain of his weight. It was in the living room where he found the outlines, and the brick coloured stains on the floor. He breathed heavily, staring at the chalk people, outlines that were way too small.
He walked to the largest one, Alan Woodward he guessed, in the middle of the room, probably the first to go. Whoever perpetrated this probably went for the largest one first, before going for the children, the sick bastard. He crossed the room and saw the outline that went from the floor up to the wall, as the child leaned against it to die. His stomach tightened, and his jaw clenched, the gravity in the room was suddenly ten times the weight. He traced his fingers along the red painted on the wall paper, trying not to imagine what the child looked like, or what they sounded like, what their hopes and dreams for the future were. He lifted his fingers from the claret stains and prepared to stand up, when he heard something behind him.
“That one was mine”.
He twisted and stood, his phone whirling from his hands and clattering on the floor, the last light of illumination was gone, but the last thing he saw was a person at the end of the room. His breathing came out ragged and rushed, and he clambered for his phone, his head full of only instinct, coherent thought and speech could not manifest. Finally his hand curled over the phone and he lifted the light to where the figure had been, but now only shadows reigned. His heart beat like a hammer in his chest, cold sweat began to stream down his forehead. He hastily returned to the hallway, throwing looks behind him, in case something was there, but far as he could tell, he was not followed.
He left the Woodward house in a panic, almost running into the police tape, but managing to avoid breaking it. As he hurried down the street he could see the officer in the car staring him down, but Matthew broke into a run towards his car. He had parked around the corner to avoid suspicion, and with clammy hands tried desperately to find his keys, but dropped them under the car. He cursed and groped until he could feel the cold metal in his fingers, and hastily unlocked the door and pulled himself in. He sat with his hands running through his sweaty hair. His heartbeat continued to explode in his chest. A grin crept along his face, slowly creeping into full on hysteric laughter. He was going mad. Great.
“Why did you leave me?”
The laughter stopped. His eyes were wide and wild. In the mirror there was the girl. The one from before, with floppy blonde hair and big, blue doe-eyes, a look of genuine curiosity on her face. Matthew tried to scream, but his throat was full, he tried to escape but he only ended up pressed against the door, his foot wildly swinging against the girl’s face. Eventually his hand felt the handle and the door lurched open, throwing him onto the cold asphalt below. He scrambled back to his feet, and the girl was still there, his chest heaved from the punishment.
“You..you’re not real”. He wasn’t really talking to her. His hand was pointed outwards in accusation, his face was a pool of sweat. She only stared at him.
“What do you mean?” She asked, as if she genuinely didn’t have a clue. He tried to wipe the sweat off of his face, but his hand was just as moist.
“Who…who are you? Why did you follow me?” His breathing began to slow, and he realised that this was no monster, just a little girl.
“I’m Elaine. What’s your name?” She began to slide on her seat and opened the door, to stand next to him.
“Ma…Matthew…” He was taking control again. “What were you doing in that house? Why did you follow me?” Panic was replaced with steely resolution. The girl looked bashful, and so, so painfully small. She looked around and then turned to Matthew when she had her answer.
“I want you to find the man who killed me.”
Matthew slept through all of his alarms. His head felt several sizes too big, and his mouth tasted like several ash trays. He awoke in his empty flat to find the vodka he had used to medicate his sleep had spilled onto the floor and was greedily consumed by his old carpet. He checked his phone to see his emails, but he couldn’t focus, his eyes crisscrossed over the client’s names and their issues. He managed to crawl out of bed, dressed only in his underwear, and went to the kitchen, opening a window a lighting a cigarette that burned him from within, and made him cough something terrible. He poured a large glass of water and chugged, and it was the sweetest thing he ever tasted.
“So, are we going to go today?” He spat out his water, and the panic sent him to the floor. There was a girl behind him. He groaned and slapped his head. Fuck. That was no dream, was it?
“E..Elaine?” He looked at her with tired eyes, and she looked at him with a mixture of curiosity and disgust. The cigarette dangled pathetically from his fingers, and he sat on the cold floor in front of a moat of tap water.
“You promised you would help me find him.” Damn, he did as well. Stupid vodka.
“I…what am I supposed to do? Y’know, I’m a writer..not a..not a damn vigilante..” He threw this excuses out, greatly contradicting the bravado he had shown last night. When they returned to the flat, he bought into her story. The librarian with the touchy hands and the cold eyes, his hatred of the Woodward couple. She knew where he was, and Matthew, emboldened by the power of alcohol, gratefully offered to assist her in her quest for justice.
He felt less heroic, sitting in his kitchen with a cigarette between his lips.
“Please. Let me just show you him.”
It was later in the afternoon, and the sun was a bit too bright to not wear sunglasses, especially when you’re as hungover as Matthew was. They sat in the car, with Matthew sipping his iced latte, the pain soon receding. School kids were running and causing general havoc as they watched from there car. Soon the numbers began to dwindle, and then the faculty streamed out, eager to return to their lives.
“There, that’s him.” She pointed at a man, in his late forties/early fifties, with receding hair that had turned grey, and round glasses on his face. He dressed with the grace of an older man, in a button up shirt and waistcoat, and was talking to a young boy as they got into his car.
“Who is he? The school librarian, you said?” He asked without taking his eyes off of the man. Elaine seemed to sink back into the seat, as if she had a corporeal form. Her doe-like eyes had been replaced with shards of steel.
“Yes.” She said quietly, watching the card rive away. “We should follow him.” Matthew said nothing, his heart was in his throat. He obediently started the car and followed them.
The silence was palpable, Elaine’s quiet curiosity was no replaced by a silent dread, an unending hatred. Matthew kept sneaking glances at her, as he tried to remain behind the librarian, but unseen.
“You’re sure this is the man who killed you?” Elaine only nodded. The librarian returned to his home, and the young boy sprang from his car, presumably his son. He watched from afar as the man slowly walked to his door, dropped his keys, and then let them both in, a stark contrast to the youthful boy full of energy. Matthew watched the empty house, and saw a woman stroll past the window, who appeared much younger, still full of beauty and grace, and assumed it was his wife. He gnawed on his nails a bit before returning home. Elaine was silent the whole time.
That night a thunderstorm hit, and he watched and listened to it with a new bottle of vodka. Such a comforting sound, in any other circumstance it could have lulled him to sleep. He hadn’t seen Elaine, but soon he found her balled up in the corner of his room, but he didn’t speak to her. Instead he opened his laptop, and looked into what the news outlets were saying about the Woodward murders. It was strange, but there were no prints, traces or leads. If this librarian had done it, he must have been very skilled. More details had been released since yesterday, and sure enough, there was Elaine’s picture, before and after. One was a black and white scan of a school photo, with her big bright eyes and fallen hair, the other was of the outline leaned against the wall. Police found her with the handle of a knife still sticking out of her throat, as her eyes stared endlessly towards the door without seeing anything.
“Why did he do it?” He stood in the doorway and asked, one hand on the door frame to stop himself from swaying onto the ground, his speech only a little slurred. She did not look round.
“I dunno. He was always watching me, and then one day he started touching me..and stuff. He kept trying to put his mouth on me, but someone would walk in..one day I felt him following me and he tried to grab me and pull me into some bushes, but I scratched him and got away. I tried to tell Dave and Sue about it, but they just shouted at me. Like always..” Dave and Sue Woodward, the neighbourhood’s resident full-time foster carers, and supposed saints of their street, it was hard to believe they would ignore Elaine’s cries for help.
“What do you mean? Why didn’t they help you?” He asked.
“They were really mean. To me anyway. To Christopher they were always nice, he could do what he wanted.” She referred to the teenage son of Dave and Sue. “But anytime I did anything I was punished. Dave hit me sometimes…I think they hated me..I know the others did..Daryl, Missy and Lucy. They were always making fun of me and stealing my stuff, but Sue and Dave didn’t care.. ” She began to sniff, and Matthew hesitated unsure if he should comfort her. How do you even comfort a ghost?
“What happened next? With the librarian?” She sniffed again, wiping her nose with her sleeve.
“Then he…he..he knocked at the door..it was raining..he had a kn-kn-knife…” She broke down completely. He looked at her, and then at the glass of vodka in his hand. He drained it in one gulp.
They found a knife in her throat.
He found himself walking in the rain. It wasn’t a downpour, but it was constant, and his hair clung to his face. His eyes were forward, and his teeth were gritted together, harsh breaths escaped in misty bursts. His vision was blurred, but he knew the way. His walk was swaying, but the effects of the vodka were receding slightly. It was almost midnight, and the streets were empty. Occasionally a car would past and blind him momentarily, but carry on it’s own way. His mind was a spiral of thought, mostly of steely determination. He had pretty much forgotten about all of the work he was behind. That was the reason he had gone into the house in the first place, to write an article on it for an online outlet, and he should really have done that by now, a small voice echoed in the back of his head, but as he got closer, it got quieter and quieter.
He was outside the house. He lit a cigarette, and it quickly got damp from the rain. He smoked it until the very end, and angrily let the smoke escape. He stood there, staring at the dark house, wondering just what the fuck was he even doing here? Come on Matthew, it’s time to go back. There’s nothing you can do. He turned his head towards home, when a light turned on, and he saw the Librarian ambling through his living room, before closing the curtains.
No. He needed to find a way to bring this sick bastard to justice. He was here, it was now or never.
The Librarian was in the kitchen making himself a sandwich for tomorrow, when he heard the back door open and slam. He whirled around in confusion, when he came face to face with a man, soaking through from the rain, with cold, murderous eyes. The librarian through up his hands, paralysed with fear. Why didn’t he lock that before he made the damn sandwich? Matthew strode towards him and grabbed the middle aged man by his jumper, almost lifting him off his feet, forcing him back to the cupboard, knocking the air out of his lungs. The Librarian began to plead and call to him, but Matthew didn’t hear it. His eyes began to bore holes into the Librarian’s soul.
“Why?” He asked, almost a whisper. “Why Elaine? Why her family?” He asked through clenched teeth,
“E-Elaine? The Woodward’s g-g-girl? Please, I didn’t-” Matthew threw him back against the cupboards again.
“Don’t. Don’t fucking lie to me. I know what you did to her. But her family too..those other kids..” He couldn’t finish the sentence, the disgust too palpable in his teeth. The librarian’s breath hastened.
“Please..I didn’t! Elaine was..she..I never meant to hurt her..I know, what i did was..wr-wrong, but she was just so..so..” He began to snivel and sob. Matthew looked at him with abject disgust and dropped him, letting the man hit the floor in a pathetic pile. “Please..” He whimpered. Matthew stared at him.
“Confess. Let me hear you say it, and I’ll call the police now.” His voice was pure ice, transparent, hard and unfathomably cold.
“But I didn’t..I didn’t do that! Please! i promise you!” Matthew barely felt the contact of his fist and the librarian’s skull. His body was numb. He grabbed the man again, his fist reaching into the air.
“Please! No!” His fist collided with him, again and again. He really wished he would stop saying that. Soon he stopped, his fist splattered with blood, when the Librarian began to hiss. His face was a bloody mess. Matthew realised that hiss was laughter. He began to cackle, like a madman.
“You..you’re fucked now..I didn’t kill that little bitch or those idiot parents of hers..” The laughter was louder now. Matthew could no longer see. A flash of white, burning hot, shot up his spine. He lifted his leg, and his shoe collided with the Librarian’s skull. When the flash dissipated, he found himself standing on bloody pulp, that oozed onto the kitchen floor, and past a pair of broken spectacles. Upstairs, he heard movement. Matthew rushed out of the door.
He sprinted home, all three miles of it. He slammed the door open, but Elaine wasn’t there. He collapsed onto the floor, vomiting escaping his crooked smile. The police found him the next day, following his boot prints and a trail of blood. He confessed to it instantly, but he realised he was also being tried for the Woodwards. In his shock he barely heard that the only evidence found was traces of his fingerprints that were now on file. He had no chance. All this for a fucking news article.
He was alone in his cell, wishing more than anything that he had another bottle of vodka. Someone was at his cell. It was Elaine.
“Thank you Matthew, you got the only one I couldn’t get.” She leaned through the bars, a bright smile scarred across her face. He stared at the floor, trying desperately not to hear her. But then it clicked, and he lifted his gaze.
“Wait..what do you mean..the one..you..couldn’t get..?” Her eyes widened, and she giggled. Continuously. Soon it was a full on roar of laughter. It was polluting, suffocating. It swept into the cell like a swarm of vermin, biting and cutting. His head was squeezed by his own vice like grip. He screamed.
Prompts used: ghost/massacre/stalker
For more on the challenge, click here!