Is it that time already? I thought to myself as I began closing the store. What should I eat for dinner? Perhaps I can get take-out… But this dystopian weather is screaming for me to go straight home. Maybe I can order pizza later… I locked the door and put the keys in my handbag. Oh no! As they landed in the murky puddle by my feet, my ankles began to shiver as the icy droplets that leapt from the pool soaked into my stockings.
As the storm raged on, glacial rain plummeted from the ominous clouds that hovered along the sky. Five minutes before I closed, I had checked the sky and these weren’t as thick; only promising a light shower. As a deep rumble erupted and shook the ground, rattling the tall cement buildings that surrounded me, I knew that rain would be the least of my worries. I hate this weather! I seriously hope I don’t get a black out tonight! A frosted draught sifted around me, and I began to shiver as the temperature dropped. I quickly grabbed the keys and hastily scuttled to my car.
Aww, that poor guy should be inside watching TV or something, out of the storm… I hope that’s where you’re heading now. No one should be out in this! I continued to walk through the alleyway shadowed by the buildings that lined it, and somehow the air around me felt even cooler. Wait a minute… What is that man doing out in this? He doesn’t look like he’s finishing work. In fact… My eyes were drawn to the cloaked outfit that hid his face. He wants to be out in this. Why? I became uptight as my mind began to race. Maybe he’s a rapist, and he’s after me. A wave of adrenaline infected me as I continued to walk, and I felt my hands begin to tremble. N-no. He wouldn’t do that… Would he? I knew that it was a possibility. It was just the two of us walking this way, and he looked like he had the advantage over me. I was wearing red high heels on my feet that matched the lipstick and scarf that I wore; and that, combined with the tight skirt that my blouse was tucked into, made it impossible for me to run. In this storm, my screams would be muffled, too... I slowed my pace, stepping cautiously, since I didn’t want to trip in front of him. If I can just get past him and around the corner… My car isn’t parked too far away.
He stopped walking, and I froze. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. Thu-thump. My overworked heart was pushing faster, trying desperately to escape my chest. Just keep on walking. I took a deep breath and continued forward. It will be okay. As I approached, I faced the ground so that I didn’t accidentally make eye contact. When I was sure I passed him, I looked up to see a matted, black cloak directly in front of me. My instincts were screaming at me; telling me to run now while I still had the chance, but I couldn’t. My legs had turned to jelly, and the best I could do was walk slowly as I shook.
I moved to the left to go around the cloaked man, but he sidestepped and blocked my path. That was an accident. You know, when two people are trying to be polite and move out of the way, but end up going to the same side. Just take another step. I hadn’t convinced myself, but my desire to get as far away from this man as possible propelled me forward. He blocked my passage to the right, and this time I knew it was on purpose. What am I going to do? What am I going to do?!
“W-what do you want?” I asked, trying not to let my voice waver.
As he took another step towards me, I backed away, trying to keep my distance from him. I scanned the area frantically searching for something to defend myself with. C’mon, there’s got to be something I can use! The only thing in this private alleyway was a few small trash cans and a large dumpster; but there was nothing useful or within reach.
The icy rain that coated my skin had turned it numb, and I could no longer feel the droplets trickling down, but I knew the weather wasn’t the only reason I was shaking. The man took another step forward, still silent. I began to swallow desperately, trying to get rid of the choking sensation in my throat; but the more I swallowed, the heavier the tides churned in my stomach; and I began to feel dizzy.
“Somebody help me!” I screamed.
Nobody is going to hear me in this! I’m going to die! Just a metre away from me, I turned around ready to run. Clang! I landed face first on the ground, and quickly sat up; discovering the trash can lid that knocked me over. My heart was racing more than ever and I was too scared to move. The figure finally spoke.
“There’s no need to panic, darling.”
Something about his voice was off but I couldn’t quite figure out what it was. As I looked up and rain blurred my vision, I made out the distinct shape of an outstretched hand. Why is he helping me up? I accepted his fragile hand and started to brush myself off.
“What do you want from me?” I asked, just a fraction calmer.
He can’t be too bad if he helped me up, right? The man lifted his hands to his head and pulled back the hood from his face. W-what’s going on?! I-I must be dreaming! T-This isn’t real! I panicked. I looked back at the hands that helped me up, and then back at his face in shock. He was a skeleton.
“I want your life.”
I immediately turned the other way and started running, and forgot I was wearing heels as I hurried along the cracked pathway. The end of one of my heels wedged itself into a hole, and when it snapped off, I fell again. Not now! My heart had begun to rip the flesh from my chest as it prepared its escape. What can I do?! I’m going to die if I can’t think of something! I knew I couldn’t get very far if I started to run, even if I did manage to take my shoes off, but I was so close to the corner; so close to my car; so close to escaping this nightmare. I finally had an idea.
I stood up and staggered with my uneven shoes to the dumpster, and waited. When he was within reach, I shoved the bin into him forcefully and quickly ducked behind it when I thought he wasn’t looking. I couldn’t make it around the corner just yet, but I was hoping he thought that was the direction I had gone when he didn’t see me. The moment he turns that corner, I’m going to take my shoes off and run. I’ll find someone who can help me. It wasn’t the best plan, but it was better than doing nothing. I could hear myself breathing heavily over the thundering rain so I tried to steady it while I prepared myself.
A few seconds passed and I started to get anxious. Perhaps he is still getting up? Ten seconds… Nothing. Twenty seconds. I didn’t hit him that hard; surely he hasn’t passed out. His creamy skeletal face pierced into the back of my mind. He’s a skeleton… How can this be real?
I was getting impatient as the seconds went by. I just wanted to get out of this near-apocalyptic storm, have a shower, order some pizza and enjoy a quiet night at home before working the next day. I cautiously peeked under the bin to see if I could spot the skeletal figure’s cloak, but I saw nothing. After a minute, my anxiety had settled slightly and I was sure he was finally gone, so I stood up slowly. Immediately after, I heard a noise to my left, where I quickly looked; but I soon recognised the sound to be more thunder. I turned to my right to get out from behind the bin, and began to tremble as tears silently leaked from my eyes. Standing just inches from me was the skeletal figure.
“Now, where was I?” he asked with an evil grin. When lightning transformed the blackened night sky into day, a ray of light reflected off a curved metal blade that was attached to a dark wooden pole; and the cloaked skeleton took a step forward.
“T-That scythe… N-no, it can’t be! I’m not ready to die yet!” I began to hyperventilate as I backed away in horror. I felt the solid brick wall behind me, and realised I was trapped in between the bin.
“P-Please! No!” As the cloaked figure took another step closer, I let out a shrill scream that echoed through the night.
“Near the dog park?” Dad asked softly on the phone.
Huh? Dad’s got a case? I put the last half of my sandwich down and stood by the lounge room doorway, trying to eavesdrop on the conversation. The caller told him that someone had been murdered and that the body was found this morning, so an investigation was taking place. Someone at the scene wanted to speak with Dad. I stealthily hurried back to my food once I was satisfied with the information I had gathered, and began thinking about the things I might need if I wanted to check out the area.
“Hayden, where are you?!” he called.
“Just in the kitchen, eating. What’s up, Dad?” I responded innocently.
“I’ve been called out for work. They need me back at a case. I don’t want you snooping around this time. Stay home please and do your homework or something.” He warned.
“Aww, okay...” I replied, disappointed. Binoculars. I’ll need those in case I can’t get close enough with Dad around…
“Good. Now I have to go. I’ll give you a call if I’m going to be late. Bye!” Dad replied as he grabbed his coat and went out the door. What about my phone? Maybe I’ll be able to take a picture for Jesse to see. My best friend had left town to go to his grandfather’s funeral and wouldn’t be back until the next day; and I promised him if something cool happened, I would try to document it.
I heard the gate latch creak one last time, and then the light slam of the car door. I began searching for the items I wanted to bring with me. Once the car was gone I waited another ten minutes before leaving, since Dad got suspicious sometimes, and in the past has hidden his car around the corner, waiting for me. The dog park was just a short walk away, and when I was positive Dad was gone, I began my journey.
When I arrived, I grabbed my phone and took a picture. Police tape lined the edge of the park’s barbecue area, and a small crowd walking their dogs had gathered. Dad’s car was close to the tape and I snuck behind it, to get a closer look at the scene. All I could see was a bush in front of me, so I looked around for a better place to watch. Bingo. There was a thick tree spread out as a fork just a couple of metres into the taped off area. The crowd of people was to the left of me, and the tree to the right. How can I get to the tree without everyone noticing me? It was going to be hard feat to pull off, considering people were just looking everywhere. I need a distraction.
As though there was a god up above tuning in on me, my need was answered. Just to the left of the crowd, another police vehicle had arrived, and out came several officers with dogs. In the few moments of chaos where the onlookers struggled to control their excited canines, I made my move. I reached the tree undetected, and wedged myself discretely in between the fork of the tree. Its flowing leaves covered my body, but I could still see through the gaps.
The first thing I saw was Dad speaking to his friend, Tim. He was a coroner, so I assumed he was explaining the most likely cause of death while evidence was being collected. His predictions had always been just about spot on, and I wondered what he thought had happened. Studying their entrapped faces in the detailed discussion, I figured this case was more interesting than most.
I found the female body just a few metres away, but couldn’t see any damage from my position. I quickly took another photo before putting my phone away and grabbing my binoculars. Maybe I’ll see some bruising or cuts with these… What I saw was not what I expected to see. She’s… peaceful? Bodies never look at peace if they were lying around in the street. That can’t be right… I continued my search, but the only damage I could see was that the heel had broken from one of her high heel shoes. She ran away from something… But if she was running, why doesn’t she look scared?
I stared off in front of me and saw the dingy alleyway nearby. It wasn’t difficult to imagine her sprinting from there. Just seconds after I had that thought, a bystander proclaimed loudly that they saw the end of a heel in that same alleyway. Before the curious crowd could disrupt the scene, an officer ran over and began to administer tape to the area, blocking off public access.
When I had gathered enough information and pictures to show my friend at school the next day, I decided to go home. The majority of the public had dispersed to allow the police dogs to concentrate, but before I left my position in the tree, I still felt the need to look around just in case any officers were nearby. They all seemed to be concentrating on the scene, so I slipped past.
I made it behind Dad’s car again, and my heart began to race when I felt a pair of eyes piercing into me. Oh no… Dad caught me, didn’t he? I looked around and saw that Dad was still speaking with Tim, and became confused, as I still felt the eyes on me. Who is it, then? After a more thorough search, I saw the hooded figure staring at me; darkened by the shadows of the setting sun. Even as I stared back, the person kept watching; making me nervous. I decided to head home, hoping the person wouldn’t follow; and felt the intimidating figure targeting me until I was out of sight.
“It was creepy, man.” I said to my best friend at school the next day. “He wouldn’t take his eyes off me like I was next on his hit list or something!”
“Maybe he recognised you. How do you know it was a guy, anyway? Maybe it was a chick that was into you.” How typical of Jesse; always trying to romanticise everything.
“I should have seen that comment coming,” I laughed, “but even if it was a chick that was into me, I don’t think staring at me from a distance in the shadows is a great way to show it. I hope I don’t run into her again. She gave me the creeps.”
As I walked across the schoolyard to get to my first class of the day when the bell rang, I quickly turned behind me when I felt a pair of eyes boring into me. This time when I glanced around I didn’t see anything. Forget it. You’re just being paranoid. It probably is just some girl. I tried to shrug off the anxiety but it wouldn’t go. It wasn’t until the end of the day when I saw Jesse waiting at the school gate that the nagging paranoia left me, and my thoughts began to fill with the potential plans of our weekend together.
“Hey, you wanna go to where that woman was found?” Jesse asked.
“There probably won’t be anything to see. It’s probably all cleaned up by now. Either that, or we’ll get told to leave. The only reason I got those pictures is because I was hiding in a tree. I would have been dead if someone caught me!” I replied.
“I know that, but it would still be cool to go there. Hey, maybe we will find the chick that was staring at you and we can find out who she is!” he said enthusiastically. He seemed quite excited to see the crime scene area and I didn’t want to let him down, so that’s where we went.
When we arrived, the dog park was just as it should be, with no evidence of a crime ever taking place.
“See? I told you it would be all cleaned up.” I said. I looked at Jesse and saw that he looked a bit disappointed, so I playfully pushed him.
“You thought there’d be a body here, didn’t you?” I teased. He laughed and pushed me back.
“Hopefully Dad has another crime scene this weekend that we can investigate,” I said, “and maybe you can see a body for real instead of just pictures.” That seemed to brighten his spirit and we sat at the park for a while, discussing the idea.
As the sun washed away and filled the sky with its dying colours that stained the white clouds with oranges and pinks, dark blues infected with twinkling spots crept into view. Besides Jesse and I, the street was empty. As he discussed a new video game he had been playing, a loud crash and scream not too far away interrupted the conversation.
“Shh...” I said as I halted him. “Did you hear that?”
“You didn’t hear the crash and scream just then? I think at best someone is getting robbed.” I said urgently.
“Well we can’t just intrude. Maybe we should call your dad.” Jesse reasoned. “At least he will know wh- Hayden! Where are you going?! Wait for me!”
I had run off, drawn to the scream; and as my feet pounded across the silent road, the only thing on my mind was reaching the woman. Another agonising scream pushed me forward, and as I got closer, it was no longer adrenaline propelling me ahead; but a mysterious force. I kept running, ignoring the ache in my legs and the rapid pummelling of my heart. Why am I the only person trying to help this woman?
The screams ceased and I continued along. I found the middle-aged woman staggering by a dimly lit lamp post clutching her neck. Her pastel pink dress was stained by the blood that had leaked form her wound.
“W-What happened?!” I asked as I ran over, trying to figure out what to do as I became overwhelmed with panic.
“S-s-s-stabbed.” she stammered.
Blood leaked from the gaps of her trembling hands, and she let them slip. The crimson liquid that had piled up rushed through the severed skin, and with each beat her heart pumped, more blood leaked from the wound, splashing onto my clothes too. She’s going to die… I wanted to save her, but it looked like she was losing too much blood.
The trembling woman collapsed by the lamp and began to choke. Did the knife sever her airway? The wound was a deep trench that had flipped some of the torn skin inside out and I figured it was possible that blood had gotten into her airway. As she struggled for breaths, gagging as she inhaled deeply, her desperate eyes locked onto mine, pleading with me to end her suffering. As an icy chill flowed through the darkening sky, my instincts told me what I needed to do.
“E-Everything is going to be okay,” I said as I gently held her head. “Close your eyes and think about your favourite memories so you aren’t focussing on the pain.”
She did so and I shut my own eyes, trying to hold back some tears that were threatening to leak. Grateful for the strength I had built up from soccer, I gained a more solid grip on her head and violently twisted it; immediately hearing the crack as the fragile bones in her spine began to break. When she went limp, I knew she was dead. I sat in shock, staring at her lifeless body. I just… killed her…
Jesse arrived just a moment after, gasping for breath as droplets of sweat coated his messy dark brown hair. He wasn’t a heavy person, but running had never been his forte. Still struggling for air, he asked me what happened, but I didn’t comprehend his words; I couldn’t. My mind had gone numb as I stared blankly at the woman. When he began to shake me vigorously after I ignored the finger clicks in my face, I saw the fear that filled his eyes. W-What have I done?! I couldn’t hold back the tears that leaked from my face and looked away from him as I began to cry.
“We should go.” Jesse said as he gently tapped me on the shoulder. “It’s getting late and your dad will be expecting us home soon.”
I got the impression that the concern in his voice wasn’t just because he didn’t want to be caught with a body, but I didn’t question it. Instead, I shakily stood up and we made our way back to my place.
As our distance increased from the woman, the fresh air that filled my lungs settled my beating heart, and my trembling ceased. I put the problem in the back of my mind, and began to discuss video games again with Jesse. He understood that I wasn’t ready to talk about what happened, and went along with the topic. When we reached the front of my house, I sighed in relief when I saw that Dad wasn’t home. I didn’t know how I was going to explain what happened if he saw my blood-covered shirt.
On the kitchen table was some cash and a note underneath a coffee mug. ‘I had to go back to work and it sounds like I’m going to be there at least until tomorrow morning. Here’s some money for you two to order pizza. Have a nice night. Love, Dad.’
“I’m sorry for running off earlier.” I said quietly to Jesse when we were settling down for the night.
“You really had me worried when you did. I thought you were going to get killed.”
“I don’t know what got over me. It’s like I was being forced towards the danger. Like I had to be there or something. But when I got there, there was no danger…” I paused as I thought about the scene, “J-Just the woman.”
“You never told me what happened there. Do you want to talk about it yet or do you need some time?” Jesse asked softly. My mind ran through the moment I snapped her neck.
“I-I… killed her.” I said quietly with silent tears sliding down my face.
“W-what?” He stammered, “You killed her?!”
“She was in so much pain; and her eyes were begging for death, Jesse.” I got up to turn the light off after raising my voice. “I shouldn’t have done it but I-I… I didn’t want her to suffer anymore.”
Jesse didn’t say another word, and I settled into bed letting my guilt consume me. I killed a woman… I’m a murderer… How can Jesse be okay sleeping in the same room as me? Before I drifted off into a dreamless sleep, I managed to convince myself that I had only euthanized her; which wasn’t all that bad since she going to die anyway, and I stopped her pain.
The next morning while we ate our breakfast in silence, Dad staggered home with exhausted eyes and left us to do our own thing while he slept.
“You haven’t said a word to me.” I said to Jesse. He didn’t respond for a few seconds.
“Yeah, I’m just thinking...”
“Do you want to go home?” I offered. He shook his head and turned to me, staring intensely with his light brown eyes.
“Hayden, I saw the hooded figure. Clearly. I-it wasn’t a chick... Heck, it wasn’t even a man. After I found you I thought we were being watched, but I couldn’t see anything at first. Then I looked up and there was this cloaked figure standing underneath the next lamp post alone, and it wasn’t human. I-it looked like, like a skeleton. I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me, but I just have this feeling that it was real.” He studied me anxiously as he waited for my response, but I didn’t know what to say.
“I know this may sound crazy, but you don’t think it’s the Grim Reaper, do you?” he asked.
“You do realise that book you’ve been reading on the supernatural is fiction, don’t you? Surely there isn’t really such thing as the Grim Reaper.”
“You never know. People have claimed to have seen him on their death bed. He’s supposed to be the one to decide when someone dies.” Jesse looked at me trying to justify his case. “So, what if he was supposed to kill that woman because it was her time and you just got there first?”
“Okay, fair point. Let’s say he does exist… Why was he only watching us and not doing anything? And if he is the figure I saw at the dog park, why did he only focus on me? If he killed that woman, why did he return to the scene; doesn’t he have more work to do?” Jesse couldn’t figure out an answer.
“What are we going to do? I mean, you still have to deal with the bloodied clothes you hid in your room, and there could be evidence that we were there. I’m not really sure how to react with what you did, but I don’t want you to get in trouble, either.” After I put my bloodied clothes in the wash and checked my shoes to make sure they were clean, we decided to revisit the area.
“T-this is definitely where it happened! I recognise the area.” I said.
“Where’s the body? And the blood? I don’t think the police would be done yet if they had found the body, would they?” Jesse asked.
“Who knows? Maybe that’s what Dad was working on all night...”
“There was no one here last night.” Jesse and I jumped at the raspy voice that came from behind us.
I turned around to see a greying man with a beer gut wearing a stained singlet that looked like it hadn’t been taken off for months. A large wart had grown on his nose, and a single black hair extended from its centre. The smoky scent of cigarette chemicals wafted through our noses, and I imagined his teeth were tainted a dark yellow, with the occasional black stain.
“There was nothing here?”
“I never said that; I just said that there was no one here last night. There wasn’t any one here all day, and that’s the way I like it. You get my drift?” I glanced at Jesse. This man is creepy…
“Are you totally positive? You didn’t hear anything unusual in the neighbourhood?” Jesse asked.
“What are you; the police? I told you there was no one here at all yesterday. Now you best be on your way before something does happen.”
“Thank you for your time.” I said as we walked away. It wasn’t until we were a fair distance from the man that we spoke again.
“That was really weird. Something is definitely going on over there.” Jesse said.
“You’ve got that right! I say we avoid that area, because I don’t want to get involved in whatever mess is there.”
“Sounds like a plan.”
The weekend passed and I heard no news about the woman I killed. Is the media trying to cover it up so the town doesn’t get unnecessarily concerned about a potential serial killer? The weird man nagged at my brain. First he claimed there was no one there that night and hinted that something may have happened during the day, but then he said outright that there was no one there all day. What is he trying to hide?
“Psst! Hayden!” someone whispered as they clicked at my face.
I jumped from the unexpected sound, and murmured laughter rippled throughout the room. I saw that it was Jesse who got my attention, and the rest of the class continued to stare. Oh no, I thought as the teacher strode towards me, detention again… I internally groaned when I read on my slip that it was after school.
After the last bell of the day echoed throughout the school grounds, I began to walk home, having forgotten about being in trouble. Walking through the hallway I began to feel uneasy, as though I was being watched. I froze. No. It couldn’t be… The pounding of my heart began to increase and I became alert, scanning the area. I couldn’t see anyone in front of me so I turned to see if I was being watched from behind. Just a few metres away from me was a dark figure lurking in the shadows. Blood drained from my face and I began to shake. Why am I being followed? Is it the old man, or that hooded figure; the Grim Reaper?
The deep voice stating my name sent shivers down my spine, and I jumped, not sure who I’d expect to find when I turned behind me. My heart was pounding on overdrive and I could feel it trying to break through my chest. When I looked at the man behind me, I relaxed a little since it was only my teacher.
“Yes, sir?” I asked, my voice wavering slightly.
“You haven’t forgotten about detention, have you?” Shit.
“Of course not. I was just on my way over.”
I glanced back to the figure I saw just a moment before, and realised that what I had seen was not a figure, but in fact just some cleaning equipment. I’m too paranoid, I thought to myself. But not without good reason.
I thought my anxiety would have eased by the time I reached the detention room, but I was still shaky, and my heart continued to pump rapidly. I chose a seat towards the back of the room so that I had more privacy. However, despite the fact that no one joined me in the back row, I couldn’t shake the feeling that someone was by my side. It’s probably nothing. Just concentrate on your homework and everything will go back to normal.
Even though I knew I shouldn’t, I couldn’t resist a glance out the window. Are my eyes playing tricks on me? … No, they are not. That is definitely the hooded figure. I checked the time and was surprised to see that detention was nearly over. The supervising teacher dismissed us a few minutes early, and I hurried out the room. Curiosity had gotten the better of me, and even though I was scared, I had to know who it was; and I had to find out what Jesse saw the other day. This mysterious figure… It’s got to be the same person.
I cautiously made my way to the front lawn of the school where I last saw the hooded figure, and found the area deserted. Where did you go? There is no way you could have disappeared from the area in this short amount of time! I was right, my stalker hadn’t disappeared; he was just across the road, lurking in the shadows. Is he… waiting for me?
As though on cue, the figure in the shadows looked directly at me. A wave of nausea consumed me as my stomach dropped, and I imagined my already pale body turning into a sheet of white as beads of sweat slowly crept through my pores. I shouldn’t go on. But as the being began to walk away, curiosity got the better of me, and I followed. It wasn’t a rational decision, but an instinctual pull that dragged me along.
Usually I turned left out the gate before following the road, but this time I was lured right. As I paced along the worn dirt path, I kept my eyes locked on the silent figure. After a few blocks, the cloaked body had disappeared. I still continued forward, and when I reached the middle of the next block, I noticed a discrete pathway covered in bushes. Oh yeah, that leads to a lake. I wonder if that’s where I need to go. Once I reached the beginning of the path, the temperature around me dropped and goosebumps appeared on my skin. I continued forward when I saw my target. Where am I being taken? The dirt path lined with bushes was silent, as though no one ever ventured through it; and I couldn’t help but imagine how this was the perfect area to perform black market activities. Is that what’s happening now? Am I being lured to my death?
The path forked, and the figure changed to the right. Just a few metres ahead was a clearing, and I was lead to a small community of replicated houses that lined the crescent. Why are we at the retirement village? I was lead to the second brick house along the street, and I stood at the bottom of the driveway, hypertensive. I knew that something was about to happen, but I didn’t know what. The person let themselves in and my legs dragged me along. Being on high alert, I studied the cosy area. It was suited for just one person to live comfortably, and the tenant didn’t seem particularly keen on decorations.
Although I felt that I would be safe, I did not feel at ease. I heard light wheezing and cautiously followed the cloaked figure to a bedroom where a frail, white-haired man was sleeping. Unclear on what I was expected to do, I just stood in the room watching as the figure walked over to the man. Why are we intruding on this old man? As he choked on the air he inhaled, letting out another wheezing noise, I took a closer look at him. His entire body was coated in a heavy sweat that stained his pyjamas and sheets, and his skin had a pale tinge. Does he have a fever?