A Suspense short story, written for a contest I took part in. Hope Y'all enjoy it!
The snow flings itself at my face, making the sidewalk hard to see.
Trees seem to float toward me out of the whiteness, low-hanging branches snatching viciously at my hat.
I am on my way home, frustrated. That guy at work keeps making advances, and no matter how many times I refuse, next day he’s back, trying to sweet talk his way into my heart.
I kick a lump of icy snow, watching it skitter away and fall into a storm drain.
I can’t wait to get home and snuggle with my dogs, with a cup of peppermint cocoa, and the book I am now carrying in a Barnes & Noble shopping bag at my side. The sale was good- twenty percent off any one item- and the book one I’ve wanted to get for a while. It cost me my dinner for tonight, but oh well. Can’t have everything I suppose.
I turn onto Hollow St., where I live. I stop and lean against the sign. Letters form in my mind: This Sign Placed Here August 21, 1901
It’s 2018 now, so that makes it, oh, one-hundred seventeen years old. Impressive. I pat the rusty metal and continue down the street.
You see, I have a weird ability. I’ve had it for as long as I can remember. I can see the most interesting stats of things I come in contact with. That is why I don’t like the guy at work: one day I accidently bumped into him, and the stat was ‘Number of Previous Girlfriends: 129’. No way I’m becoming number one-hundred thirty.
No one knows about my ability, not even my parents; people would begin to think I was possessed, or something to that effect.
“Hi Mr. Darron!” I call out to my neighbor, who’s shoveling his portion of sidewalk and around the fire hydrant next to it.
“Well good evening Ms. Cathy. How was work today?”
He stops shoveling and moves over so I can get by. I turn and smile, thinking about the knucklehead at work as I say “It was fine. How have you been?”
He coughs into his arm. “Oh, could be better. These old bones aren’t what they used to be.” He smiled his trademark denture-perfect smile. “By the way, I haven’t heard you're dogs all day. Must have got in trouble.” He chuckled. “That’s how Charlie behaves.”
Charlie is his big old Golden Retriever, who occasionally gets into the trash barrels we put on the curb.
I wonder why my dogs haven’t started barking yet; usually they kick up a storm of howling when I get reach the corner, somehow sensing my approach with their keen hearing.
“I better check on them,” I say, “See you tomorrow Mr. Darron.” I give him a peck on the cheek. Age: 92. Wow, old guy. I turn and walk a little further, then turn into my house’s walkway. Well, not my house per se, since I’m renting it, but close enough.
It’s a dinosaur of a house. When I first came to check it out with my parents and leaned against the wall, the stat was ‘Circa 1925’.
Since then, the stat had changed a few times, most recently becoming ‘Contains 4 dogs’.
That meant my four wonderful dogs, whom I adopted from the animal rescue a block away: Tipsy, my three-legged Australian Shepherd and couch-buddy; Shadow, A beautiful, sleek, all-black border collie; Luna, my white poof of a chiwawa; and Gorgan, the biggest of the four, a Burmese Mountain Dog, and my loyal protector despite his one blind eye.
I turn the nob of the door and push it open, expecting them to pounce on me, but nothing happens. I slowly close the door behind me, feeling a little uneasy. I lean back against the door, and a new stat appears: People Killed Here: 327.
A shiver runs down my spine. What does it mean? I pull away, but the stat still burns in my mind.
I look around anxiously. Nothing seems out of place. My bike still leans forlornly against the kitchen wall, waiting for summer; The living room is still in its chaotic sort of order, books piled around and on the couch, interspersed with old newspapers.
I step into the living room quietly, tense, straining to sense anything out of the ordinary. The bathroom door is closed, and so is the one to my bedroom, as I left them, but the frosted sliding door that leads to the backyard is slightly open, letting in a thin ribbon of cold winter air.
I can feel a slight trickle of melted snow running down my neck, and suppress a shiver. I don’t know why I’m approaching the door, all my common sense screams at me to turn and run, but my curiosity trumps it all, propelling me onward.
I reach for the door latch.
The door slides open with a bang. I jump backwards, crashing into something. Next I know, I’m sitting in a pile of wood splinters and paper, adrenalin pumping through my system so fast I can barely breathe.
I realize it’s my landlady’s daughter. I break into relieved sobbing, my head sinking to my knees.
A tongue rakes across my forehead, and as I sit up four tongues and buckets worth of saliva attack me. I am starting to feel weak as the adrenaline subsides. I just stay where I am on the floor, taking deep breaths between dog licks.
A hand touches my shoulder and I look up into Silva’s face. Her eyes are wide with surprise, and her voice full of concern. “Are you alright Cathy? I’m so sorry for scaring you like that but I heard you're dogs getting rambunctious and I figured I’d take them out so you wouldn’t have a mess to clean up when you got home and I’m so sorry I scared you-”
“It’s fine, Silva,” I say, interrupting her tumble of words, “I’ll be fine. Thank you for taking them out.” I smile weakly and scratch Shadow, who’s licking my face, behind the ears, and slowly pull myself up. I walk over to the couch and drop onto it, and Tipsy hops up and lays her head across my lap, looking up at me with her beautiful blue eyes.
Silva stands nearby, shifting awkwardly. I move a pile of books of the cushion beside me and pat it. “Come, sit.” It comes out like a command I would give my dogs, but she luckily doesn’t notice and takes a seat.
I’m starting to regain my composure and grab a newspaper from the arm of the couch to wipe the dog slobber from my face. After I do so, I take some more deep breaths. The couch has its own statistic: Number of Owners: 327
Could it be related? No, it couldn’t be. Just a sick coincidence, surely.
I decide to question Silva and see if she knows the history of the place.
“So, Silva, when did you and your mom get this place?”
Her face lit up. It must be something they are proud of. “After my Daddy left, my mom looked for a place we could live and where she could still work. She found this house for sale by the original landlord.”
“Why was he selling?”
“Oh, he said his tenants kept leaving without warning and without paying the rent they owed. He was sick of it. Said it happened to the guy before him too.” She frowned. “You won’t do that to us, will you Cathy?”
This is unsettling. Why would so many tenants just up and leave? It didn’t seem to be the owners, since it happened to more than one, and I certainly wouldn’t do that to Silva and her mother. “No,” I replied, “No, I won’t ever do that to you.”
“Promise?” Silva said, eyes full of hope.
“I promise.” I smile and hug her. “It’s getting late. You better be getting back up there before you're mom starts to wonder where you are.”
“Okay,” she says, jumping up, her mood considerably brightened. On her way out (they have a outside staircase to the upper floor where they live), she pats each of my dogs on the head. They wag their tails happily and escort her as far as the sliding door. I get up and close the door after her, then turn to the mess on the floor where I had made my drastic landing. Now that I think about it, it was silly getting all worked up over a statistic.
I shoo the dogs out of the way and begin picking up the pieces of the broken end table and the old newspapers.
Hello, what’s this? I pick up a newspaper I don’t remember seeing before. It’s dated January 17, 1944. The headline reads ‘MAN FOUND DEAD IN CEMETERY’. I snort with laughter at the thought. As I read, though, my humorous mood fades.
“Man found in fresh shallow grave. Cause of death has been determined to be strangulation with some unknown type of strap. The male victim is Marcus Meson, resident of 13 Hollow St., Utica. He is approximately 23 years of age, 6’, and was, according to autopsy, in perfect health. Anyone who may have seen anything, or have any information concerning the victim is advised to call the number below:”
I glance at the number, then slowly fold up the paper.
Does it have any connection? This is 13 Hollow St. Surely one murderer couldn’t be active that long… could he?
I toss the old yellowed paper onto the couch, and my dogs follow me into the kitchen, their nails clacking on the tiled floor. I dump the pieces of table into the trashcan, then go to the counter and pull a few dogs treats from a jar. Tipsy, Shadow, Luna and Gorgan wag their tails excitedly. I toss one treat at a time into the air, and all but Gorgan (who doesn’t have great depth perception because of the blind eye) catches them. The one I toss to Gorgan bounces off his nose, and he licks it up before Luna can snatch it off the floor.
I whistle as I put the water on to boil, then move over to the cupboard and pull out a packet of peppermint hot cocoa and my favorite mug, the one with an owl painted on the ceramic.
I empty the packet into the mug, then wander into the living room. My new book is still in its bag by the door. I must have dropped it after the stat scare. Maybe it can take my mind off ancient murderers and dead people in cemeteries.
I bend down and pick it up, then push the door closed. I walk back to the couch and plop down, pulling the book out of the bag. The title is ‘How to Get Away with Murder’ by Marlin Darrow.
I sigh. Of course. Well, better than nothing I suppose.
I turn to the first chapter as Tipsy jumps up onto the couch and lies across me, Luna jumps onto the back of the couch, and Gorgan and Shadow curl up around my feet.
I am quickly absorbed in the story. A man at a young age kills a man, and is trying to figure out what to do to cover his tracks.
I’m startled out of the story by a bark. Looking up, I see Gorgan standing, wagging his tail, and Tipsy jumps down.
I nearly jump out of my skin as I see someone standing a few feet away. It’s Mr. Darron.
“Pardon me, miss Cathy. I just came to inform you that I shoveled your section of sidewalk. The door was unlocked.”
“Oh,” I say, unable to think of anything more intelligent. “Oh, thank you.”
“Ah, ‘How to Get Away with Murder’. A good book, that is.” He nods approvingly, smiling that trademark smile as he strokes Gorgan’s head absent-mindedly.
I come to my senses. Why not invite him for hot cocoa? “Would you like to stay for some hot cocoa? I ask, starting up from the couch.
“No, no,” he says, waving me back down. I sink back down.
“I didn’t realize you were such a bookish person,” He says admiringly, flicking his gaze over the books on the shelves. “Any special favorite?”
“Actually, yes,” I say, and I get up and move to a shelf. I pull out a beautiful hardcover, gold-edged edition of ‘The Princess Bride’ and hand it to him. His eyes widen, and I feel just a little proud. This edition took a lot of saving up for.
“Beautiful,” he murmurs, carefully thumbing through the pages. He hands it back, though grudgingly, and notices something on the shelf. “What book is that one?” he asks. I turn and look where he’s pointing. A red leather covered book, a nice edition of Mark Twain’s ‘Huckleberry Finn’ leans across the gap left by ‘The Princess Bride’. I straighten it as I replace the other one. As I pull Huck Finn out, I notice something brushing my throat. I look down, and see a strap across it. It goes tight. I gasp for air. What’s going on? I wrench around, struggling to breathe. Mr. Darron smiles. He’s holding the two ends of the strap. Coming to a sickening realization, I punch him, but the blow doesn’t seem to faze him. The strap tightens, and now I am struggling to draw any air at all. I kick, and punch, but I’m starting to weaken. I grab his wrists, trying to pry his hands away.
Why hasn’t Gorgan or any of the others attacked him?
“You see,” he says, the words strangely echoing, “I love books. I read aloud to these dogs, when I owned them. I gave them to the animal shelter ‘because I was old, and could afford to keep only one’. They won’t save you. No one will. Just like my hundreds of victims before you. Oh, and that book you're reading? I didn’t tell you I wrote it, did I? Under a pseudonym, of course. It reminds me of a quote I love: ‘We write to tell the truth we wish we could say out loud.’”
Stars begin to blur my vision. “How?” I manage to force out, numb from the unrealness of what’s happening. “How have you…”
“Stayed this strong? His perfect smile floats in front of me. “When I was eighteen, I discovered the secret of Jack the Ripper: How to fuel oneself from other’s lifespans. You, my dear, will fuel me for another year or two. It’s nothing against you personally, mind you. Just a ritual of sorts.”
The strap digs deeper into my throat, and now I can’t breathe at all.
The kettle whistles, the dogs whine.
Darron chuckles softly. My knees fail.
I feel like I’m floating away on a cloud.
Strange, I think, a fog slipping through my mind, how the pain disappears when you're dying.
A new stat appears as I slip into blackness:
Number of victims: