A foul stench drifted through the air. An unsettling reminder that the girl’s remains still hung in his closet. John would have to dispose of the body soon. It wasn’t that he feared being caught. He lived on the outskirts of Hanford’s city limits – practically in the middle of nowhere. It was simply the smell had begun to bother him.
Just days ago she had smelled of fresh earth and wildflowers. Now only death and decay wafted from the teen’s remains. He recalled the moment when he first saw her, vibrant, full of life, wild under the starry night sky by the lake at Hidden Valley Park.
The light of the full moon pierced through the darkness like a noonday sun bathing the entire town in a soft glow. Her pale skin shimmered as she weaved through a labyrinth of weeping willows along the lake’s edge. A cool evening breeze heavy with the scent of fallen leaves ran like fingers through her silky hair as she laid a blanket over a damp patch of grass.
Removing her sandals she allowed the icy water to lap playfully against her toes. Absently she gazed over the lake taking in slow deep breaths. She gathered the anxieties of her soul with each mindful inhale, and set them loose into the hands of mother nature on the out breath. She was cleansing herself of the day’s troubles; preparing herself to commune with the spirits.
From the shadows within a small copse of trees, on the opposite side of the lake, John glimpsed the girl. He was taken aback by her beauty, by the serenity which flowed from her like a holy aura defying the darkness. He pulled the knife away from his trembling wrist and stared in awe.
Strange and swirling sigils of freshly applied mud caked and crusted along his naked form. A network of scars converged across his face and arms to form road maps to a not so distant past filled with failure and regret.
The earth beneath his hands and knees was cold and drawing gooseflesh along his skin. In a wide eyed state of hyper awareness he watched the girl with the curiosity of a wild animal stumbling across prey.
From a knit handbag the girl withdrew a wooden board and a triangular object. She set the board on the blanked before her and placed the triangular object atop the board. He couldn’t make out her words, but the cadence of her voice rose and fell on the breeze as if she were having a conversation. With a light touch, she appeared to move the triangular object across the board in strange patterns.
“John.” a voice cooed in his head.
“Shut up! Sh-shut up.” He whispered fiercely.
“John.” The voice continued. “They speak to her. Revealing our secrets. Telling her of your dreadful deeds, John. She knows, John. She threatens to expose you.”
“W-who speaks to her?”
“The spirits, John. Those restless dead. They demand justice, John.”
“You lie! She’s just a kid!”
“A ‘kid’ with a gift, John. She’ll have to be silenced, John.”
“No! I-I-I won’t do it! She’s just a child!”
“Fine, John. Fine. I’ll do it.”
“No! Please don’t make me do this! Not again, please!”
“Too late, John. Goodnight, John.”
John squeezed his eyes shut and shook his head in violent protest. When he opened his eyes he found himself standing in the basement of his home. He had cleaned up and wore a suit and tie with a protective leather apron.
Before him lay the girl. Nude and bound to a surgical table, her torso opened from collar bone to pelvis. Tubes and IVs entered vital access points throughout her body. He watched the rapid convulsions of her heart; the inflation and deflation of two healthy pink lungs.
Her eyelids had been removed and her head strapped against the table forcing her to stare at the mirror overhead reflecting her ruined form. Duct tape covered her mouth, though she could not scream even if she had desired. Her body was paralyzed. She could feel everything happening to her, but was helpless to resist.
“God, no! Please! She just a child.” John pleaded.
“John. She’s here. Opened up. You must finish. There is no going back now, John.” The voice said.
John leaned in and whispered in the girl’s ear. “My god, I’m so sorry. It will be over soon sweetie. It will all be over soon.”
“Don’t lie to her, John.” The voice said. “We’re in for a long night.”
“No! Please! God! Fuck you! She isn’t like the others! She’s a child! I won’t do it! I’m ending this now!”
“You will not!”
“I will! She doesn’t deserve to suffer, you son of a bitch!”
“You’re weak, John. Terribly, terribly, weak. Have it your way, then.”
John reached for a knife, took a deep breath, and closed his eyes. When he opened his eyes he stood with the girl’s still beating heart in his hands. He was covered in blood. On a metal shelf beside him lay the rest of the girls internal organs beside neatly folded strips of flesh. Her fingers and toes had been arranged in order along with her teeth, eyes, and tongue. The child’s face had been perfectly cut and lifted from her head. It looked like a grotesque Halloween mask stretched out and placed on display.
The beating heart hit the floor with a wet smack as John leapt back. He watched the beating slow to a stop. He then lifted his eyes to the broken body which had once been a little girl. His stomach swirled and leapt in protest. He vomited on the tarp beneath the surgical table.
Stomach acid and partially digested food intermingled with blood. He vomited again at the sight.
For several hours he sat in a dark corner of the basement weeping. Shaking, convulsing, he slammed the back of his head against the cinder block wall until blood flowed down his neck and shoulders.
“Disgusting pathetic worm.” The voice mocked. “Clean this up already!”
“Fuck you! Fuck you! Why? Why her?”
“I already told you, John. She knew our secrets.”
“She was just a child!”
“Come off it, John! My work, ahem, our work, cannot be exposed. I saved your woefully worthless life! You should thank me, John. I did what you could not.”
John reached into the closet and lifted the duffel bag containing the girl’s remains from the meat hook suspended from an overhead shelf.
“Finally going to dispose of that thing, John?” The voice said.
“Yeah.” John said.
“Good. It stinks. And I’m tired of listening to its soul moan about.”
“Just burn it like the others. I’ve had my fill. I need to rest.”
“Do you understand, John? Can you do this? Or do I need to do it for you?”
“Good. We’ll hunt again soon, John. Find someone worthy of death. It’ll cheer you right up.”
The voice faded as it always had a few days after a kill. It claimed to feed on the bodies, and the satiation of its hunger led to days of peace as it would rest and John’s mind would become his own again.
He waited a few hours to be sure the voice was gone before writing his name and address across the bag in bold black ink.
“No.” He said. “It won’t cheer me up.”
He stepped out into the night air, got in his car, and drove to the police station. When he arrived, he tossed the bag on the steps of the station and sped off towards the highway.