“You heard about the murders in that town, right?  The one two districts over.”

They talked a lot here, he’d noticed.  Idle gossip for the most part, but it was enough to distract his raw fingers from their intricate task sometimes.  

“Murders?  Are you talking about Carlisle?  Yea, it was all over the news for the better part of a month of two; wasn’t it?  I try not to watch the news because of things like that.  Working in this place is depressing enough on its own.”

Carlisle.  He dipped his head, no longer wanting to hear whatever they had to say, and looked back down to the colorful leather he had been busy weaving around the circle.  The feathers would be next, he decided.  He had to keep making them.  He had to make them so that he could keep it at bay.  It didn’t like to lose, and so it was always waiting after dark, scratching hopefully at his door.  

“…case made him go completely insane!”

“Shame, really.  They say it was a stab wound in the neck with a pen!  I never would have thought that was possible.”

“Oh, that’s right.  His hands were still coated in the blood when they found him.”

Again, his hands paused in their work, his eyes glancing towards the white door.  She was a strong woman, a real wildcat, and it had probably been written somewhere in destiny that the only one to erase her existence, to snatch away his dream, would have to be her.

His lips twitched at the remembrance of an old memory, far removed from his reality, and now smeared in red ink.


In the latest news from the small town of Carlisle, the current string of deaths has now reached a total of twelve.  The police have still not issued a statement other than to warn civilians to remain at home after dark and to keep all doors and window…

Jack finally gave up on his search for the television’s remote and had actually dragged himself the four steps necessary to shut the darned machine off with a grunt.  He stood there for several moments, his hand still resting against the cold box of the obsolete device, blinking back at his own reflection in the dark glass.  He needed a shave, he realized, as he could plainly see the dark stubble along his jaw.  Well, he probably needed an actual bath or shower more.  It was amazing how immune a person could become to their own stench, not that he wasn’t aware of it.  Jackson Connors was just the sort of detective that neglected everything when a case was dropped into his lap.  Everything from hygiene and nutrition to family.

Rubbing his other hand along his chin and feeling the itch of the growing hair, he cursed softly under his breath.  How long had it been since he’d even been home?  

“David, when did we pick up the Jensen case?” he called out to his partner, who was currently busy burying himself behind a stack of files and reports.

“Jensen?  Which was that?  No, wait.  Who is that, again?”  David didn’t even bother looking up from whatever he was reading, completely immersed.

“Jensen, as in Sarah Jensen, the first victim in the string of deaths we’re investigating,” Jack answered.  Their town was small.  Actually, it was near microscopic, which was why a death of any kind was usually a big issue, let alone a string of them.  However, with their size, they didn’t have much of a police force.  Due to this, they often found themselves suffocating beneath an avalanche of work, and with crazy tourists trying to come and visit the scenes of the deaths from other local areas and getting arrested for trespassing on crime scenes, the paperwork was piling up.  

“Oh, right.  Sarah, the Sunday school teacher,” David spoke softly, finally lifting his head to look at a far wall.  “Sweet girl, was dating Bobby Maddox, all set to get hitched to the boy someday, I’d reckon.  Shame they’re both gone now.  Sours the stomach.”  Wiping some sweat from his brow with the back of one hand, he added, “I guess it was finally changed from possible illness to a police investigation on grounds of possible foul play on the tenth of last month.  Yea, it was definitely the tenth that Bobby’s body was found.”

“Tenth,” Jack echoed, closing his eyes and shaking his head.  He’d stopped going home around the twenty-fourth, so it had been nearly a week and a half since he’d slept at home, too busy with the rapidly increasing body count.  Brooklyn was going to light into him the second he was across the threshold for sure.  He could already hear his young wife now.  Brook was a beauty, no doubt there, but she had a raging temper like no other.  And, the best way to rile his feisty Brook was to ignore her.  Well, luckily for him, she could also be understanding, after a session of ranting, and she had always been quick to forgive and unable to hold a grudge.  “How many calls have I gotten from Brook?”

David had an all-knowing smirk playing along the corners of his lips, but he managed to keep it at bay.  He’d been best friends with Jack since elementary school, and he was probably the only person that knew Jack had held a crush for Brook since about the third grade when she knocked him clean out for trying to look beneath her skirt.  Safe to say, it wasn’t until high school when Jack had stock-piled enough courage to ask that fighting vixen out.  From then on, David said Jack had been whipped.  

“Ah, let’s see.  She called several times, called you some colorful names that no woman should know, then lectured me on what a woman can say, which is apparently whatever takes their fancy, and she invited me and Ellie to dinner once all of this is over.  Ya sure that girl isn’t bipolar or something?” David commented, digging around his desk.

“She’s a photographer.  The world isn’t the same to her as it is for us simple folks.  She sees more than we could even imagine,” Jack answered wistfully, already knowing some of the names she might have called him.  She’d been raised among brothers, so it was to be expected that she would be a little rough around the edges.  That was what made her perfect.  She wasn’t demure, and to ask her to hold her tongue was like trying to bathe a cat outside during a hurricane; it wasn’t happening.  

“Aha!” David retrieved a bent sheet of paper with dried coffee splattered across its surface.  “Last time we got a call from wildcat Brooklyn was…  Huh, she hasn’t called for three days?  She must seriously be plotting your death this time.  Well, it was nice knowing ya, bud.  You’re bound to go home and never be seen again.  Probably use you for mulch or something.  How’s she with gardening?”

“Yea, yea.  She’s probably just lost track of time again editing someone’s photos,” Jack said dismissively.  That was probably one of the reasons they worked so well together.  Brook was as obsessively devoted to her career as he was, so they both had moments where everything else seemed to just disappear.  “It might just work out to my advantage this time, too.  Bet she hasn’t noticed me gone these last few days,” he joked, grabbing his phone and keys off of his desk, much more organized than David’s.  “I’ll head out for a few hours.  We’re not making any progress here, so I’m going to grab a quick shower, a clean set of clothes, maybe a proper meal and scolding from Brook, and then, I’ll head back to the scene from yesterday.  Maybe I can canvas the area again.  Someone has to have seen something.”

“Tell Brook hey for me, and don’t get your hopes up on the interviews.  No one ever seems to see or hear anything other than the screaming, if even that,” David sighed.

It was true.  They had no leads, no proof, and no evidence.  The only thing they had were bodies, and those were seriously starting to pile up.  This was literal as their tiny morgue was struggling to keep up with the sudden demand.  The local librarian and school custodian was also their coroner and ran the morgue.  Normally, he worked at the library during the day, cleaned the school two days a week at night, and worked the morgue on the weekends if there was a death in the town, which there seldom was.  The poor man wasn’t prepared for this.  Then, again, who could be prepared for this?  Jack knew he hadn’t been.

When the chief had asked them to come and see Bobby’s corpse at the scene, he had promptly thrown up.  In this work, he’d seen death before.  It was neither common nor new for them, but this manner of death was unexplainable.  Bobby had been a vibrant young man with a promising future in construction.  He was honest and kind, and there wasn’t a single person Jack could think of that would say a negative thing about the young man.  But, there, in that house, Bobby was nowhere to be found.  What Jack found in his place was a poor replica of the man.  His cheeks had looked hollowed around his gaping mouth and widened eyes, trapped in a shattered mosaic of the purest portrayal of abject fear that Jack had ever witnessed.  His hands were stretched out in front of him in a clawing motion, fingers bent and twisted as if trying to grab something or maybe fend it off.  It was the same with all of the others, and unlike what the media suggested, they did at least know the ultimate cause of death.  Asphyxiation and heart failure ultimately ended their lives, but what they didn’t know was why.  Why were people between the ages of eighteen and forty-six all dying the same way?

“I’ll let her know.  Call me if anything new comes up,” Jack called, already waving to the young officer behind the main desk as he made to escape.

“You mean like another body?” David called back.  Despite the words, David wasn’t joking.  He sounded frustrated.  They were all frustrated.  This was their town, and so far, they had proven themselves unable to protect anyone in it.

“Yea, something like that,” Jack whispered, not knowing or caring if David could hear him.  Right now, he just wanted to see Brook, to hear her chiding tone as she told him he could do this if he would only think clearer.  She wasn’t a detective or an officer of any kind, but she had such a level-headed way of analyzing things that he depended on that calm just as much as he was dependent on her keeping him in check with her anger, or nagging as he had bravely ventured only once.  

The door was unlocked, meaning Brook was home.  No matter how much he’d begged over the years, she never remembered to keep it locked when she was at home.  She claimed it was too much of a hassle to deal with, and that if someone wanted in bad enough, no number of bolts and locks would keep them out.  Besides, she’d claimed on many occasions, Sweetie, the ironically named Rottweiler, was always at her side.  They would definitely have to deal with the 90 pound bundle of solid muscle and teeth before they could get to Brook.  Hell, the dog barely let Jack near Brook somedays, territorial and overprotective mutt.  

“Brook, I’m home!” he shouted into the house before shutting the door behind him.  He’d surprised Brook only once in their time living together, and that had nearly earned him a pen in the gut for his efforts.  Yea, Brook was probably better equipped to defend herself than Jack, himself, was.  That thought brought a smile to his face.  Everything about their life together made him happy, even their fights.  She was probably the only bright spot in his dark life during times such as now.  “David told me you invited him and Ellie to dinner one night.  I was thinking we could…”  

Sweetie was a champion when it came to sleeping.  To see her lying on her side in the hallway shouldn’t have alarmed him.  Dogs slept.  It was actually normal, and at first, Jack had thought the dog was taking a midday nap as usual.  However, Sweetie wasn’t prone to sleeping with her eyes open, especially not in the same way that Bobby’s eyes had been open.

“Brook,” he whispered.  “Brook!  Brooklyn!” he shouted.

His chest was on fire, and every breath felt like it was fighting to come out.  It hurt; everything hurt in that moment of blind panic.  His stampeding steps sounded deafening against the silence of their home, which he should have notice earlier.  Brooklyn was a woman full of life, and every waking moment had to be filled with activity or noise.  Music was always playing in their house, or Brook would be singing off-key to whatever song was currently stuck in her head.  Even when she slept, she was prone to holding conversations with the ceiling.  With her living there, the house was never quiet, but now, the only sound was the panicked laboring of his breaths and the heavy falls of his feet.  Silence, he found, was terrifying.

“Brook!” he shouted one last time, stopping just inside of the study he’d added onto the house for her photography business.  “Brook.”  Her name was fast becoming a mantra for him as the world seemed to try and tilt just out of his grasp.  

She was there, in the padded chair she loved so much.  The laptop was open in front of her, but the screen had gone black, reflecting her image back to him.  It sent a chill through him, chasing away the remnants of the warmth he normally received when he came home to her.

Slowly, her eyes ticked across the screen until he was certain she was staring at his reflection from behind her.  Her mouth was parted slightly, and he could tell she was shaking.  However, she was alive.  

“Brook,” he said again, advancing into the room and towards her.  “I’m here.  It’s okay,” he tried, but his own voice broke around a sob.  Why was he trying so hard not to cry?  She was alive.  She was okay.  Wasn’t she?

He was nearly to her.  Just another step and he could wrap his arms around her.  He could hold her and tell her it was going to be okay.  He wanted so badly for it to be okay.

The scream that pierced the air around them was inhuman, and Jack’s ears were still ringing from the volume when he landed on the hard floor with Brook atop him.  It took a moment for his shock to let him register three things.

First, he was finally crying.  Second, the newly blossoming ache in his shoulder was from a red pen that Brook had jabbed into him, barely missing his throat, and third, Brook was talking to him.

“Oh, Jackie!  I didn’t.  No, I did.  Bad.  The dream.  Killed by those.  The dream is bad.  Bad dreams, Jackie!  Stop, don’t let.  The dreams.  Bad.”  Her words were robotic and nearly monosyllabic, a stark contrast to the usually rushed pattern of excitement Brook was known for.

“Brook,” he cried as she ripped the pen from his body and brought it over her head.  He would never forget the tears sliding endlessly down her smooth cheeks.