Title: The Gift of Illusion
Author: Richard Brown
Paperback: 258 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (May 16, 2011)
Something wicked has returned to Elmwood, and it longs to continue the study it began over a century ago. It's looking for volunteers, but few seem worthy of the gift. Isaac Winters might be the one. He's a detective with a damaged past, and something to prove. Still haunted by his wife's murder sixteen years earlier, Isaac has thought more and more about turning in his badge. Over the years, he's seen the worst mankind has to offer. Until now. A strange fire has consumed the life of a young girl. But she won't be the last. There are no witnesses and no evidence except a small stone figurine, a gateway to the past. Accompanied by a partner with questionable experience, Isaac must discover and defeat this faceless villain before it takes from him the greatest reminder of his dead wife. Their daughter.
Excerpt from The Gift of Illusion
What was the worst day of your life?
You're not alone. The average life can span over twenty-six thousand days, give or take, thus for most of us narrowing down one particular day as the absolute worst could be an exercise in the impossible.
Isaac Winters had an answer. No problem.
January 17th, 1995 was the day, the worst.
Isaac had stayed up late to finish another round of paperwork due the next morning. While his wife and daughter slept upstairs, the thirty-year-old police officer sat within a small office on the first floor, slouched over a stack of forms, barely able to remain productive. As he struggled to keep his attention on the documents, scribbling a note here, jotting a name there, Isaac drifted away. His head hit the thick stack of paper with a thump and then quickly sprung back up. He leaned back in the black swivel chair and flexed open his eyelids until the back of his head throbbed. The pain felt like his brains were being sucked out of his skull through a straw. He massaged his temples in a slow, clockwise motion. The comfort of his bed waiting above had summoned him, and after a long, difficult fight, he finally surrendered.
Isaac headed upstairs. First, he checked on his nine-month-old daughter, Amy, and then tiptoed into his bedroom, careful not to wake his wife. Linda Winters slept on her right side with her hands snuggled between her cheek and pillow. She was wearing a white silk nightgown Isaac had given her the previous night.
“Do you like it?” he had asked, after she had torn off the red bow and beheaded the gift box.
Linda had smiled and then said exactly what he had hoped she would say.
Then they’d made love for the last time.
Before lying down, Isaac peered out a small window above his nightstand. A large, naked oak tree on the side of the house shook and parted with a few small branches. The wind had picked up over the last hour and showed no sign of calming any time soon. A distant thunder hummed as a sudden flash of lightning brightened the room.
The storm was approaching fast, and soon Isaac would be kneeling in the middle of it. But it wasn’t until he leaned back and closed his eyes that he heard the shatter of glass, followed by the baby crying.
A sudden unease swept through him and rushed outward to his appendages like a legion of tunneling worms. His fingers and toes itched as the worms struck his skin like a collection of jabbing needles. The temperature in the room seemed to drop by innumerable degrees, spawning a crawl of small bumps across his body.
He sat up. Still. Hesitant.
Why the hesitation?
It wasn’t a familiar feeling, not for him, not in his line of work. It wasn’t accepted. The ability to think fast and act sharp was crucial for anyone in law enforcement. Still he hesitated, if for not more than a few seconds, while the cold sweat gathering on his brow thickened.
He hurried out of bed and removed a loaded nine millimeter from the bedside drawer. Then he woke his wife and told her to lock the bedroom door, call 911, and stay quiet until he returned. Linda didn’t bother to ask why; the gun in her husband’s hand was all the answer she needed. She did as he ordered and locked the door after he left the bedroom.
The baby’s cries increased.
Isaac inched through the dark upstairs hall, holding the gun out in front of him with his right index finger cradling the trigger. As he came to the staircase on the left, he pressed his back against the inner wall and sidestepped the remaining distance. Then he rolled from behind the corner and pointed the black firearm down the length of stairs.
With the stairs behind him, he opened the door to Amy’s room and hurried over to the crib. She appeared to be fine, like him, she had just woken suddenly. He twisted the knob on the mobile suspended over the crib then listened as Brahms Lullaby chimed and the small stuffed giraffe, elephant, and tiger slowly revolved counterclockwise.
Lay thee down now and rest, may thy slumber be blessed.
He turned the small screw lock from inside the door before shutting it. Then he walked back to the center of the hall and crept down the old wooden staircase. A subtle peeling sound, like tape being removed very slowly, came with each lift of his bare feet from the hardwood. When he reached the second stair from the bottom, he saw a giant shadow dance across the opposing wall of the living room. The shadow stopped for a brief moment and then smoothed into the darkness.
His hands were now sweating and the gun felt slick and heavy. He turned left from the bottom step and saw the broken window in the dining room up ahead. Many large fragments of glass lay on the dark brown carpet beneath the windowsill. The white curtains over the window shuddered with the force of the gusting wind. Outside, lightning struck, and a heavy rain began battering against the roof.
As he stepped past the stairs, his eyes still focused on the broken window, Isaac heard a slight click sound come from the left of him. He knew the sound. It was the sound of a hammer being cocked back, a cylinder rotating.
He twisted to his left and pointed the 9mm into the dark crawl space behind the stairs. He didn’t move or blink, nor did he breathe. His index finger quivered on the cold, oily trigger of the gun.
What are you waiting for?
Before he could act, a brilliant flash of light robbed his sight, and an enormous wave of pressure (like the force of two storms colliding) pulsated through his body. Falling backward, he heard nothing, not rain, nor thunder, just silence—peaceful and undisturbed.
Upon hitting the floor, a sharp pain clambered up the ladder of Isaac’s
spine to his left shoulder. Without thought, he sealed a hand over the broken skin. Seconds later, two large boots walked into his sight, and when he looked up, he saw the .38 caliber revolver pointed at his head. Lying on his back, Isaac could see directly up the silver barrel; it seemed a mile wide and many oceans deep.
Apparently satisfied, the intruder pulled the revolver away and turned toward the staircase. On the stairs, his soppy boots thumped and whined against the wood.
Isaac got to his feet, saw the black pistol lying on the floor a few feet behind him, and staggered over to pick it up. Then he walked to the staircase, leaned on the handrail, and applied more pressure to his left shoulder. At the top of the stairs, the dark intruder looked both directions down the hall, and then turned right.
He’s heading for my bedroom, for Linda!
Isaac hobbled up the stairs, gripping the wooden handrail. From above, he could hear banging on the bedroom door and his wife desperately crying out.
Isaac! Isaac! Help!
Hearing her scream only made him try harder to push his bleeding body up the stairs.
When he finally reached the upstairs hall, the banging had stopped, along with Linda’s cries. All he could hear now was the final verse of Brahms Lullaby concluding.
Guardian angels are near, so sleep on, with no fear.
The bedroom door was wide open, the broken handle hanging loosely from the wooden frame. Muffled sounds escaped from the room.
He was almost upon the open doorway when he heard the bedsprings quake, followed by the terrifying shriek of his wife. The scream felt like it had been amplified two hundred times before it reached Isaac’s ears. Then the gun went off.
But it wasn’t his.
Isaac trembled as the gun fired one, two, three, four times, and with each shot, he felt the wound within his chest ache and wrench as though a hand was burrowing inside the round, bloody hole one stiff finger at a time. Once inside, the hand formed a fist around his heart, and squeezed.
Amy began crying again from down the hall. The lullaby had finished on an off note, overpowered by the passionate swell of gunfire.
When the intruder came through the broken door, his face spotted with blood, Isaac was waiting for him. “Drop the gun!” he yelled.
The intruder was noticeably startled by Isaac’s presence in the hall. He had expected Isaac to be dead. He had the .38 caliber revolver lowered at his side, one bullet left in the cylinder.
"I said drop it!”
"I can't. I still have work to do."
Isaac clutched the 9mm tighter and took a deep breath. Tears ran down his face, though he didn’t even realize it. “What have you done?”
“I think you know,” said the intruder. His voice was flat and emotionless. “Don’t you?”
Isaac drew in another deep breath. “Why?”
“You ruined my life. Now I've ruined yours."
In the background, nine-month-old Amy continued to cry and cry. She wanted her mother.
The intruder sneered. "Only one thing left to do."
Isaac agreed. He pulled the trigger and fired a bullet into the chest of his wife’s murderer. Then he fired two more. The blaring sound reverberated across the upstairs hall.
The gunman staggered and then fell backward to the hardwood floor, convulsing violently, blood draining from the multiple holes in his chest.
Once he was sure the intruder was dead, Isaac began limping toward the bedroom, smearing blood against the wall as he extended his left hand outward for support. He dropped the pistol in the doorway and looked over at his wife’s body sprawled across the bed. Linda’s arms lay against the headboard, elbows bent, palms up. Her right leg dangled halfway off the bed and her head faced the small square window.
Isaac carefully stepped over the broken door and closer to his wife. He grabbed her hand and touched her cheek, trying not to look at the expanding red holes in her white nightgown. Linda’s green eyes stared toward the window, vacuous and inactive. Her mouth hung open, poised for a scream that would never surface. Somewhere in his mind, deep within some nightmare of contemptuous, eternal memory, Isaac could still hear her final scream echo, and the deafening blast of emptying shells.
He knelt next to his dead wife, bowed his face in the messed sheets, and wept. Without looking up, he reached for Linda’s hand, still warm, and squeezed it in his own. Minutes later, he heard the droning of police sirens over the thundering rain. He slowly sat up, released his hand from his dead wife’s, and whispered, “I’m so sorry, honey.”
He left the bedroom, stepped over the fractured man lying in a blood puddle in the hall, and hobbled down the stairs. He thought of going back up and getting his daughter, who was now fast asleep, but he lacked the strength needed to break down the locked door. He was closer to death than he realized, yet not as close as he would have preferred.
He fell to his knees in the middle of the front yard with his hand still pressed tight against his heart. A punishing rain drummed down on him, cleansed the blood and tears, but the pain remained. The bullet buried in his chest—he hardly felt it. The true source of pain lay far beyond the physical, eating away at his conscience.
How could I let this happen? How?
Three police cruisers pulled up at the side of the house. One officer hurried over to him and asked, “What happened?”
At first, Isaac couldn’t speak. Then he began sobbing. “Linda. Oh God! Linda.”
Lori Ackerman heard her mother calling her name.
She chose not to answer.
It didn’t make her proud. Disobeying her mother was not something she wanted to do, but she had no other choice. She couldn’t take it anymore. The constant teasing and taunting by her schoolmates became harder by the day, and the ride on bus number 254 every morning and afternoon was by far the worst. Sometimes she wished she could just disappear.
While her mother stormed up the stairs angry as all hell, Lori tried to think of an excuse—one better than all the others. She could fake a cough, say her tummy hurts, but mom wouldn’t believe it. She never did.
What else was there? The truth?
Carol entered her daughter’s room with all the force of a tornado.
“What are you doing?” she asked.
Lori stood in the corner of the bedroom looking out the window, watching bus number 254 slowly accelerate down Maria Avenue. A thick fog of gray exhaust expired from the tailpipe as the bus rolled along the street, further away. She could see faces through the plastic windows. Some were faces she knew, some were faces she had dealt with, or could deal with, and some were faces that dealt with her. None of them mattered though, not anymore. Poof! Just like the wind, gone.
“What’s your problem?” her mother continued. “I’m really tired of this.”
“I don’t wanna go to school,” Lori said, not turning from the window. Her eyes were still fixed on the road, the now empty road, and the last breath of exhaust drifting upward from where the bus had passed.
Carol stepped further into the room. “I don’t remember giving you a choice.”
Lori could feel the tears swelling in her eyes again. “You don’t understand,” she said, her voice cracking, the words muffled by her sobs.
“There’s nothing to understand, Lori.”
Lori turned from the window. She was slightly pudgy for an eleven-year-old (an ugly fat ass as the school kids would say), though she had quite a cute round face and long blond hair with glowing strands of natural orange.
“You’re not there. I am!” she yelled. “You don’t go to school. You don’t get told everyday of your life how stupid you are, or how ugly you are. You have friends.”
“You have friends, too. What happened to Jennifer Wells?”
“Jennifer doesn’t like me anymore,” Lori said. “She started hanging out with these other kids and now she doesn’t have any time for me. Last Wednesday on the bus she said she couldn’t be my friend anymore.”
“I’ll have a talk with her mother.”
“No!” Lori screamed. “Don’t embarrass me, mom. I don’t care. If she doesn’t like me then I don’t like her either.”
“Well, I don’t know what you want me to do.”
Lori dropped to her knees and clasped her hands together.
“Mom, please! Just this once, I promise. Please don’t make me go to school.”
She looked up at her mother and waited for a response. She feared the worst and felt it coming. What else could she do? She told the truth, wasn’t that enough?
Carol stepped closer and stared down into her daughter’s eyes. The tears had ceased but the aftermath of the storm left big red circles around Lori’s eyes and streaks of dried tears plunging down her chubby cheeks.
“I’m sorry, Lori,” she said. “But you have to go to school.”
Lori fell to the floor and shielded her face with her hands.
“Now hurry and grab your book bag and meet me down at the car.”
Lori crept out the front door and walked down the steps toward the blue Ford Escort with all the energy of a corpse. Her book bag dragged her down with the weight of a half dozen textbooks and folders. She glanced up from the cement walkway and saw her mother sitting in the driver’s seat looking back at her. When she got into the car, she threw her book bag down on the floor and slammed the car door shut. It was the first time she had ever done that; her mother didn’t seem to notice though, or had pretended to not.
Carol started up the car and backed out of the driveway on to Maria Avenue.
It took anywhere from five to ten minutes by car to get to the school, depending on the traffic. The Ackerman’s lived on the corner of Maria and Mockingbird. If you turned left on Maria Avenue and followed it down you would shortly run into a four-way intersection where Maria meets Fairway Blvd. If you continued down Maria past the light, you would eventually end up in the boonies, lots and lots of nothing but deserted land—fields and forests. If you turned right on Fairway, you would pass right through the center of town. The used car lot where Lori’s father worked six days a week, Monday thru Saturday, sat right on the edge of town next to a mechanics shop, and given the record of Frank’s Economy Cars, the relationship was quite convenient. If some customer came in bitching about the transmission falling out of the car you sold them last week, you’d know right where to point them.
What did you expect for a grand, lady? A Mercedes? Sorry, but as the old saying goes, you get what you pay for, and you paid for that piece of shit.
The Escort rolled up to a red light. Lori looked out the passenger window at a small park on the corner of Maria Avenue. She enjoyed going there and getting lost in her dreams, though she didn’t get to go often, her mother was usually too busy to take her and would never approve of Lori going by herself, not with the park so close to a major road. Still, seeing the park always brought a smile to her face.
The public library was four blocks down on the right. Carol volunteered a few days a week. She sponsored special events like book readings for children or guest speakers that kept her busy planning. Last Friday, the
Mayor came and talked to a group of first graders about the importance of reading. They seemed lost, but at least he read a book to them. Elmwood Middle School, for grades fifth - eighth, was just a few blocks past the library. Lori was halfway through the fifth grade.
When they reached the school, Carol drove around the circled lot in front of the main office and pulled up behind a row of SUV’s parked at the curb. She put the car in park and picked up her purse from between the seats.
“What are you doing?”
“You need lunch money, don’t you?”
“Okay then,” Carol said, handing her daughter a couple of balled up dollar bills. “Now you’d better go. You're already late.”
“Are you gonna pick me up from school?”
Carol sighed. “We’re not going to make a habit of this, okay? I gave you a ride to school. You can ride the bus home.”
Lori beat her fists down on her knees in frustration, bowed her head, and then quickly perked up as an idea came awake inside her. “Hey, what about Dad?”
“He’ll probably have to work late.”
“Mom,” Lori whined, as the idea went back to sleep.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to take the bus home. I’ll be at the library for most of the afternoon, so Mrs. Mills will watch you next door. ”
“Fine,” Lori pouted.
She opened the car door, jumped out, slung her book bag over her shoulder, and, for the second time, slammed the door shut.
When the final bell rang, it was like music to her ears.
Three o’clock finally came.
Even though it was a relatively good day in comparison to recent ones, the hardest part was still to come. She still had to survive the fifteen-minute bus ride home on number 254, and nasty Tommy Williams.
Lori had managed to stay away from Jennifer Wells all day in class, and even though Jennifer rode the same bus, Lori did not expect any trouble from her. Jennifer didn’t hate her after all; she just didn’t want to be friends anymore. But Tommy Williams was a different case all together.
Tommy was a typical bully, tall and overweight for his age, with small eyes and tubby, flushed cheeks. He was a walking wall with an obscene mouth; no word or combination of words was off limits. He would say whatever whenever to whomever, and while most of the other kids didn’t like Tommy either, Lori had to hate him the most. Occasionally, he would sneak up behind her on the bus and plant fresh boogers in her hair. He was a gardener of the gross. Though, thankfully, this came as a rare occurrence, as the urge to eat the crusty nose candy was usually much stronger than the urge to share. Needless to say, these actions and numerous others didn’t win him many friends, but Tommy didn’t care what any of the other kids thought of him anyway, his only goal was to beat up on the smaller kids. He especially liked to pick on girls, and Lori was probably his favorite.
Lori walked down the hall toward the bus loop with her books upon her back and a large sheet of tan construction paper in her hands. Today, Mrs. Lawson (her fifth grade art teacher) had the class working with acrylic paints. Lori painted a portrait of her family gathered together at the park with their arms around each other, smiling. She put a big yellow sun in the background beyond a few skinny green trees. Her teacher thought she had done an exceptional job. Lori was proud, too, and couldn’t wait to show her mom and dad.
When she reached the bus loop, Lori headed down the sidewalk reading the large white numbers on the side of each bus looking for number 254. About six buses were lined up in a row. Number 254 was fourth in line.
Mr. Davis drove number 254. This was his first year and the kids (all twenty-five of them) made him feel at home real quick. He was a single man, only twenty-nine years old, and wasn’t used to being around large numbers of children. He tried for the most part to ignore the rats and just pay attention to the road, but that could be difficult sometimes, especially with devils like Tommy Williams running up and down the aisle cursing and throwing things at the other kids, at him.
Lori stepped on to the bus and rounded the corner. Six kids were already on when she sat down, including Jennifer Wells, who was talking with the popular kids that in just days had become Lori’s replacements. It made her sad to think that their friendship was over. They had been best friends since they were five. They used to play all the time at the park when her mom would take them. Never again. Image has a hunger for tearing people apart, and makes no apologies for its ruthless appetite.
Speaking of appetite, here comes Tommy Williams.
Lori grasped her portrait tighter and held it down between her knees. Mr. Davis pulled on the lever and opened the bus door. Tommy climbed on and ran to the back of the bus, passing Lori along the way, and sat down next to Peepee.
Peepee was Tommy’s best friend, but everyone always said that Peepee only hung around Tommy because he was afraid of being beaten up. Peepee would never admit to this, for obvious reasons (like not wanting his teeth knocked into the back of his throat), but it was what everyone thought.
Joseph Milburn was actually his real name, a fine, respectable name, but Peepee quickly became his nickname after the first chain of uncontrollable bladder incidents two Christmas’s past. Jolly with joy, was Jerry, the seventy-two-year-old school janitor ever busy during that holiday season.
Peepee was short and skinny, smaller than the average twelve-year-old. His freckled face and dressy clothes made him an ideal target, a born nerd. Tommy only took to Peepee after he realized he could get something out of the relationship. If Tommy wanted to play a prank on somebody, he would almost always get Peepee to do the dirty work.
Peepee, I dare ya to lift Molly’s dress. I dare ya to spit in Davies mashed potatoes. I dare ya to piss under the table. Come on. What are you afraid of, shithead?
Janitor Jerry, bring a mop to the cafeteria, and no stalling, old man.
Bus number 254 pulled out of the school parking lot and turned left on Fairway Blvd. Lori had escaped riding the bus to school, but the ride home
was always the worst. On the ride up only one stop lay between her house and the school, but on the way home the bus would take the opposite route, leaving seven stops ahead of hers. Unfortunately, Tommy’s was the ninth.
The bus approached the first stop. Six kids got off.
Lori couldn’t help but think that as the bus slowly cleared of kids, she would be more likely to be noticed by Tommy.
With the second and third stops now in the past, the atmosphere on the bus shifted. Twelve kids had exited into the bowels of homework leaving the bus half full and half quiet, and even though Tommy was still loud and seemingly unaware, Lori slouched down in her seat just a little more.
The ride home was halfway over. The next two stops would dispose of another four kids leaving just nine remaining for the last four stops. Among those nine: Jennifer Wells, Peepee, and Tommy Williams.
When the bus reached number six, Lori felt her heart take cover in her stomach. Number six was, of course, Peepee's stop, which meant the end of Tommy’s preoccupation and the beginning of boredom, and Tommy didn’t like to be bored. With Peepee gone, and the bus now quiet, God only knows what Tommy could be up to. Lori wasn’t about to turn her back to check though, she had gone unnoticed this long, no point in ruining it by doing something stupid so late in the game.
Fate would have it another way.
Just seconds after the bus pulled away from stop six, Lori heard scuffling in the seat behind her. She hadn’t dared to look back but assumed the seat was empty for some time now. Her fear of Tommy had become so acute she could almost smell him.
Was that his breath upon her neck?
The very thought made her skin crawl. Perhaps it was all just her imagination getting the best of her.
Sure, just her imagination.
Lori tried to take a deep breath, but before she could completely expel the air from her lungs, someone tugged on her hair from behind. She jerked her head up and turned around. Tommy laughed and pointed his fat finger in her face.
“Leave me alone, Tommy.”
A crowd began to gather around wondering what was so funny. Mr. Davis looked in the rear view mirror and shook his head.
“What’s the matter?” Tommy asked. “You didn’t think that was funny?”
“No, now leave me alone!”
Lori turned back around.
The bus came to a stop at number seven and much of the crowd dismantled. Jennifer Wells also left and gave a short glance back at Lori through the bus window before disappearing into her house.
Lori tried desperately to ignore Tommy who was now flicking her ear lobes and slapping the back of her head. Her stop was next, and she counted the seconds.
Tommy sat up, done with the flick and slap fest, and peered over her shoulder. “Hey, what’s that?” he asked, pointing at the painting Lori had made in class.
“None of your business.”
“C’mon, lemme see it.”
“No, Tommy,” Lori said, tightening her grasp on the portrait.
The bus turned on to Maria Avenue.
“Fine,” Tommy yelled. “I’ll just take it then!”
As the words left his mouth, the paper left Lori’s hands. Well, all of it but a tiny scrap from the corner. Now only half of the bright yellow sun lay between her fingertips.
Lori turned around and screamed, “Give it back, Tommy! Give it back!”
Tommy waved the painting around in the air, out of her reach.
“Awe, what do we have here?” he remarked in a childish voice. “Is that your Mommy and Daddy?”
Lori continued to scream at him, but it wasn’t doing any good.
“Oh, and look,” he continued, pointing to the picture Lori drew of herself. “Is that the family pet?”
“Please, Tommy,” she begged. “Give it back!”
The bus slowed down at the corner of Maria and Mockingbird. Stop number eight had finally come.
“Okay,” Tommy said. “I’ll give it back.” The fat kid ripped the construction paper into five pieces and threw it in her face.
Lori rushed to pick up the pieces that fell on the seat. Although she tried to fight them off, the tears came.
“Oh, what’s wrong?” Tommy asked, laughing. “Got something in your eye?”
“Shut up!” Lori screamed.
She grabbed her book bag and ran off the bus with a stream of tears running down her face and the last remains of her family portrait folded in her trembling hands. The last thing she heard before the door of the bus closed was Tommy’s laughter; it stayed with her even after the bus was long out of sight.
She stood on the sidewalk at the corner of Maria and Mockingbird and stared at her house. The driveway was empty. Her mom and dad weren’t home yet.
She wiped the tears from her eyes with her shirtsleeve and flipped through the torn pieces of her painting. How could something she had worked so hard to create be destroyed so easily? Her mom and dad would never get to see what she had made. No reason to be proud. Sure, she could tape it up and still give it to them, but the feeling wouldn’t be the same. Something died with that painting, something irreplaceable.
The sky darkened.
A sprinkle of rain fell.
Lori dropped the torn pieces of construction paper on the sidewalk and walked down Maria Avenue toward Fairway. Along the way she thought about how mad her parents would be if they knew where she was going. On the days her mother volunteered at the library, Lori would stay with Mrs. Mills next door until her mother came home.
Not this time, Lori thought.
She didn’t care anymore about the consequences. Any punishment her parents could dish out would never make her feel sorry for it.
By the time she reached the small park at the corner of Fairway, the light rain had stopped completely, or had perhaps decided not to follow her down the street. Florida could be like that sometimes, raining on your neighbor’s lawn but not yours. It was one of the strangest things to witness if you happened to be around at just the right moment.
The traffic was heavy down Fairway. Rush hour approached as hundreds of eager people retreated from their job life back to their home life. This was the time of day that was the most dangerous to play near the road. Lori knew her parents would be furious if they caught her, and in an odd way, it made her smile. Negative attention is better than no attention after all, and she had been getting a lot of the latter lately.
The park was a half-acre in size, though most of the land was just thin flat grass. There was, however, a small slide, two cement barrels, a set of monkey bars, and every young girl’s favorite, a swing set.
Lori sat down on the only usable swing. The other swing had been wrapped over the top bar numerous times and dangled from a single chain like a dead man hanging from a noose, rocking back and forth. The neighborhood boys had obviously manhandled the swing. Young boys always seemed to have a unique fascination with destroying things. It didn’t matter what, whatever was in sight, and if nothing were around, they would usually turn on each other.
She swung back and forth on the swing and watched the cars idle by on the road honking their horns at each other, letting out some of the balled up frustration from another lousy day at work. It felt good to run away from her troubles and let the wind fly wildly through her hair.
After a few minutes, she built up enough speed and height to attempt her first jump. Her mother would never let her jump, she said it was too dangerous, and oftentimes told a story of some kid who used to live in the area that had supposedly died years ago from jumping off a swing. Poor boy had broken his neck, the story went, or cracked his skull, or something of the sort. The story changed slightly with each telling, reworded, much like a preacher might inscribe new meaning into the Bible to better convert a new age of skeptics. She often wondered if there was a book, or volume of books, all parents were required to read filled with these little horror stories; stories likely compiled by many scared parents in an effort to scare other parents from allowing their kids to be kids. If so, the scare tactics weren’t working, not at all, and Lori would sneak a jump in when her mother’s back was turned.
See, mom, I’ve never broken my neck. I’ve never cracked my skull. I’ve never even broken a bone, so there! I’m not going to die either—nope, no way I say. I’m going to live forever and ever and ever.
Two conditions made for a successful jump: length and landing. Length was most important though, the farther the jump the better. No honest judge ever deducted points for a twelve-foot fall on your ass. In fact, falling could be fun sometimes, all the other kids had a good laugh, and except for the unfortunate scrape here and there, you would most likely be laughing too.
Lori swung a few more times for good measure then pulled back on the
chains and leapt off the swing. When she landed, her feet slid into the sand causing her to lose her balance and fall backwards. She laughed, stood up, and brushed the sand off her jeans.
If only mom could have been here to see it.
She walked back over to the swing, counting the steps along the way. She had jumped about eight feet off the swing, not bad, one of her better jumps, especially considering she had almost landed on her feet.
Now it was time for a second jump, time to achieve her best jump ever.
Over an hour had passed since Lori stepped off the bus. She knew it was probably about time to head back, her mother would be finishing up at the library, but there was just enough time left for one final jump.
For this jump, she spent extra energy building up plenty of height and speed, and by the time she let go of the chains, she was already out of control.
In the mid air plunge, her body drifted forward and to the right causing her to land face first in the grass at the edge of the swing set. A rush of pain hit her all at once, but surprisingly, her head didn’t hurt. She had managed to block most of the impact with her hands, but her right knee hurt a little.
She turned over and sat up to look at her knee. There was a ragged cut in her jeans about an inch long on the top of the kneecap. A little blood began to trickle through. Then she cried like every young kid does when they find out they’re bleeding.
Lori stood up and looked around the ground searching for what had cut her. A gray object stuck out of the sand near the edge of the grass. She picked it up and wiped away the yellow specs from the cracks.
The object looked like a miniature statue, a figure of someone carved out of dark stone about three inches tall. A large cloak draped over the body from the head to what was left of the feet. The hidden figure's arms were perched out in front of it with its palms facing upward, as though it were carrying something invisible.
Once she had all the sand brushed away, Lori had stopped crying completely. She forgot about her knee and the pain and gazed madly at the odd figure lying in her hands. Her eyes were transfixed upon it. One could easily begin to believe she, too, had turned to stone. From somewhere far off in the distance, she heard a voice. A voice she thought she recognized, screaming her name, begging her to come back home.
“Lori!” Carol yelled. “Answer me! What is the matter with you? You know you’re not allowed to go to the park alone!”
She stopped yelling for a moment and just stared in bewilderment at her daughter. For a brief second, she could see right through her, as though Lori had disappeared.
When she blinked her eyes, her daughter returned.
Lori couldn’t feel her mother pulling her to the car, or her legs dragging loosely upon the ground. She could see everything around her, the grass at her feet, the cars at the light, the rainbow in the sky, but felt as though she were just a visitor in someone else’s body.
Carol opened the passenger door for Lori and then headed around to start the car. The time for yelling was over. Her normally perfect little girl’s recent actions had her at a loss for words. She turned into the driveway and parked the car, leaving just enough room so James could squeeze by into the garage. She didn’t have to tell her daughter to go to her room, Lori went on her own.
Carol walked down to the mailbox at the corner of the driveway and shuffled through an array of junk mail and bills. When finished, she closed the mailbox and headed inside the house. She placed the mail on the kitchen counter and walked over to the phone on the wall. She dialed the number to the used car lot where her husband, James, was working. The clock on the microwave said it was almost 5:00 p.m.
“Economy Cars. Don speaking.”
“Hi, Don. Is my husband around?”
“I’ll go check. Hold on.”
Fifteen seconds later.
“Ugh, Carol, he’s with a customer right now. Is it an emergency?”
“Not really. But can you tell him to call me when he gets a chance?”
“I sure can.”
“Okay, thanks Don.”
An hour passed before the phone finally rang.
“When do you think you’re gonna get home?” she asked, disgusted. “I need to get dinner ready.”
“I know,” James said. “But it’s really busy right now and we’re kind of short on help tonight.”
“What do you mean short on help?”
“I mean it’s just me and two other salesmen working the lot, and one of them is new. I’m in the middle of training him right now.”
“Are you telling me that idiot Frank didn’t schedule a full load for the sale?”
“Yeah, that’s what I’m telling you.”
“I can’t believe that.”
There was a brief pause on the other end of the line.
“Honey, what’s wrong?”
“It’s Lori. She’s been acting up. I don’t know what her problem is.”
“What did she do?”
“I’ll explain when you get home.”
“I’ll try and get out of here as fast as I can. But I can’t promise
“Then I’ll see you when I get home.”
Carol hung up the phone and walked into the living room. She glanced up the stairs at Lori’s bedroom and wondered what could be going on with her daughter. What happened to the polite girl who made good grades in school, the girl who couldn’t go to sleep at night without being tucked in first?
James Ackerman arrived home from work over two hours after his conversation with his wife. Carol sat on the living room sofa reading a new rousing romance novel when he emerged from the front door.
“Sorry, honey, but you know how these things go,” he said, hurrying into the kitchen.
Carol kept her face buried in the thin paperback and acted like she hadn’t noticed her husband’s sudden arrival.
“I guess I’m a little late for dinner, huh?” He waited for a response from his wife. Hearing none, he headed into the living room. “Honey.”
“A little,” Carol said, not shifting her eyes from the romance. “Actually, there was no dinner.”
“What do you mean? Didn’t you cook tonight?”
Carol finally set the book down and looked up at her husband leaning one arm against the crook of the kitchen doorway.
“What’s the point? My husband wasn’t around to eat and my daughter decided to go without food tonight.”
“Okay, what’s wrong with Lori?”
Carol left the sofa and walked toward James. “I don’t know. But she’s been acting pretty strange lately.”
“Does this have something to do with school?”
“Well, let’s see. For starters, I had to drive her to school today.”
James walked back into the kitchen and opened up the refrigerator.
“Why? What’s wrong with the bus?” he asked, pouring a glass of iced tea.
“Nothing as far as I know. This morning she purposely took forever getting ready so that she would miss the bus.”
James squinted as he sucked back some very sweet tea.
“She's having problems with her friends.”
“That's what she said. She cried, James. She got down on her knees and cried. She begged me not to make her go.”
James shrugged his shoulders and stepped out of the kitchen. “Well, she’s cried before when she didn’t get her way.”
“I’ve never seen her cry like this. Something’s wrong with her."
James sat down on the couch. “I'll have a talk with her tomorrow."
“Well, there's something else," Carol continued. "On the way home I caught her at the corner of Fairway at the park.”
“She was at the park by herself? Where was Mrs. Mills?”
“I don’t think Lori ever went next door. I haven’t talked to Brenda yet about it either. But the fact that she was at the park by herself isn’t what’s worrying me. It’s the way she acted when I found her. She never said a word, even though it felt like she wanted to. Do you understand?”
James shook his head. "No."
“You should have seen her. Her face was pale white. Her eyes were so glossy you would have thought they’d turned to glass. At one point, I stopped yelling and just stared at her. And she just stared back, with her mouth open, like she didn’t remember who I was.”
Carol lay in bed with her eyes open. She turned and looked over at the illuminated alarm clock sitting on the nightstand.
It was almost midnight.
For at least an hour, she tried to clear her thoughts, tried not to worry about her daughter. But right as she would fall asleep, a horrible vision would pop into her head—visions of disease, some even of death. Afterward, her heart would race, her lungs would tighten, and her eyes would be open again.
Fifteen minutes had passed before Carol finally decided to close her eyes again, and that’s when she heard the footsteps in the hallway.
She sat up in bed and listened.
The footsteps moved closer.
The hallway light now shined from underneath the door.
Carol looked over at James sleeping soundly beside her and wondered whether to wake him, but before she could finish pondering, the bedroom door cracked open and her daughter emerged in the light.
“Lori,” Carol whispered. “What are you still doing up? You should be in bed.”
“I can’t get to sleep,” Lori said softly.
“Is there anything I can do?”
“Can you come tuck me in?”
“Oh, sure, honey,” she said, swinging her legs off the bed. It had been weeks since she had last tucked her daughter in. She missed it.
James woke, rolled over, and asked: “Where are you going?”
“I’ll be right back.”
Lori was already lying in her bed when her mother entered the room. Carol walked over to the bed and grabbed the sheets to pull over her daughter.
“I’m glad you decided to talk to me,” she said. “I was getting worried about you.”
“Don’t worry, Mommy. I’m fine.”
“That’s good to hear. Would you like a kiss, too?”
Carol smiled and leaned over to kiss her daughter.
Not seconds after her mother left the room, Lori started to feel different.
Every nerve in her body tingled in an uncontrollable dance. Her hands shook incessantly like branches on a tree with the coming of a violent storm. She could feel her heart pounding inside her chest. The room became piping hot and within a matter of seconds sweat gleamed atop her body.
She jumped out of bed and opened a window. The sixty-five degree temperature outside did little to cool her and her skin acted as a repellent to the wind. She collapsed back on the bed and gasped for air. Her bed sheets became saturated with sweat as the room temperature continued to rise. Her whole body shook, every muscle vibrating back and forth like an anarchic guitar string.
Heat rushed to the surface of her body.
Skin blistered, popped.
Her bladder released some of the building pressure and a puddle of urine soiled the white sheets between her thighs.
She could no longer hear the breeze rustling through the curtains. All she could hear was her heart pounding faster and faster and louder and louder inside her chest.
Until the darkness overwhelmed her, and silence everlasting
Elmwood Police Department.
“Winters,” called Police Chief Donald Stevens from across the building.
Isaac grabbed a cup of coffee and made his way to the other end of the precinct. Stevens sat down behind his desk as Isaac arrived at the doorway.
“Take a seat,” said the husky black man with a thick, boisterous mustache.
Isaac sat down in a red leather chair at the other end of the desk and watched the chief gnaw at the eraser end of a pencil, scanning a manila folder.
Stevens slid the folder across the desk. “I have something I want you to see.”
Inside the folder were a half a dozen black and white photographs. Isaac perused the photos and then looked up at his superior. “Okay. What's the deal?”
“The deal?” the chief repeated. “Doesn’t this look strange to you?”
Isaac flipped through the photos again. He couldn’t tell if anything was strange or not, most of the photos were almost entirely blackened and seemed a touch out of focus.
Stevens slid another photo across the desk. It was of a young girl, perhaps ten or eleven years old. A school photo. "This is Lori Ackerman. In those photos is what's left of her."
“That black smudge is a little girl?”
"She burned to death. That's horrible."
“Notice the outside edges of the bed are still in pretty good shape and almost nothing else in the room was even mildly damaged.”
Isaac couldn’t believe his eyes. If Stevens was correct, all that remained of the little girl was just ashes on a bed. How does the famous nursery rhyme go again: ashes, ashes, we all fall down?
“Is that a foot draping off the bed?”
Stevens leaned over the desk and glanced at the bottom of the present photo. “Yes,” he said, then reclined back in his chair.
Isaac rubbed at the two-day stubble on his chin and shook his head with an uncommon case of disbelief.
“Let me ask you something.”
“Shoot,” said Isaac.
“What kind of fire could do something like this?” The chief raised his eyebrows with a half excited, half suspicious look on his face.
Isaac didn’t answer. He had no idea.
“A controlled one, perhaps?”
Isaac finally looked up from the photos. “No accident, huh?”
“Maybe. Maybe not,” Stevens said, scratching at the roof of his forehead. “All I know is what I see in those photos. And it looks pretty damn hard to believe.”
“Well, yeah,” Isaac said, trying not to seem too surprised, if there were such a feeling. After twenty years in law enforcement and numerous investigations little surprised him anymore. This morning, however, these strange photos, reminded him of the old days. Days better left forgotten.
“So far any reasonable source from which the fire could’ve evolved hasn’t been found, and I find that even harder to believe.”
Isaac set the photographs down on the desk and took a small sip of coffee.
“Who’s covering the investigation?”
Stevens smiled, his black mustache widened. “You are,” he said, pointing his finger across the desk.
Isaac sighed. This was not what he wanted. Today he had planned a busy schedule of sitting around and pretending he was on vacation, like usual.
“Take the folder with you. I want you to start right away, you know, while the dust is still fresh.”
“Yeah, the parents are staying at the Goodnight motel off Fairway. Do what you do best. You never know.”
As Isaac was leaving the office, Stevens yelled, “Oh, and take Simmons with you.”
Isaac didn’t care much for the idea of toting all two hundred and fifty sweating pounds of Daniel Simmons around with him, while being constantly bombarded with every goddamn obnoxious question Simmons could think to ask. He had no idea how Simmons became a detective, but he hadn’t been one for long. One day, like the pesky itch at the bottom of your foot that only comes after you’ve put on your shoe, the fat man just
appeared. At first nobody questioned Simmons’s ability as an investigator, it was only after they worked with him a couple of times that something started to smell fishy, and it wasn’t just the white undershirt slapped over his back.
Daniel Simmons was forty-two years old, only four years younger than Isaac, and yet seemed to have no experience in the field. He knew nothing of how to search for clues or properly contain evidence, which was mighty peculiar since he carried the same badge as the most decorated men on the force.
All of this was a big deal to most, but Isaac really didn’t care. Big deal if Simmons didn’t know the first damn thing about being a detective. Ever since Linda’s death, Isaac cared less and less about doing the noble work, about being the world's shit pickeruper. The only problem Isaac had with Simmons was the excessive diarrhea from his mouth.
“So what are we doing?” Simmons asked from the passenger seat of the black Dodge Charger.
“We’re going to 2420 Maria Avenue.”
Simmons wiped a hand down his dark brown mustache then glanced over at Isaac. A puzzled grin rose on his face. “Well, I know, but—”
“Look, I know what you mean. And I don’t know exactly what we’re doing either. I’m in the dark as much as you. I guess we’ll both find out when we get there. Did you see the photographs?”
“Photographs?” Simmons repeated with the half assed, puzzled grin on his face. The grin was a Simmons trademark, one hundred percent his own.
“You didn’t see them?” Isaac asked again, glancing over at Simmons.
The heavy man still wore the ridiculous Muppet grin.
“No. I guess I’m a little more in the dark.”
“Well, you can’t tell much from the photos anyway.”
“I'd still like to see them.”
What made the photos horrifying was not what you saw, but what you didn’t see, and in this case, what you didn’t see was the young girl’s body. The ash leftover of eleven-year-old Lori Ackerman rested inside a large hole where the fire had burned through the mattress. A space about six inches around the bed appeared untouched, still white, and other than the half melted lampshade from the nightstand, everything else looked fine, at least in the photographs.
“They’re in the back seat in the folder.”
Simmons reached back and snagged the folder between his middle and index finger. Then he removed the six black and white photographs and sorted through them.
“Damn,” he said almost immediately. “Is that a foot?”
“Yeah, that’s a foot.” Isaac didn’t even have to look. Yes, he remembered a foot, just one. The right foot he had thought.
He watched Simmons flip through and examine each of the photos. He wondered if the look of disbelief on Simmons’s face was the same look he had given Chief Stevens back at the precinct.
“A fire happened.”
“Last night. About midnight, I think. Those photos were taken very early this morning.”
“Who was it? In the photos, I mean,” said Simmons, sliding the photos back into the folder.
“An eleven-year-old girl.”
“Really?” said Simmons, genuinely surprised. He tossed the folder into the back seat. “A little girl? That’s horrible.”
"That's what I said."
“Did anyone else get hurt or killed?”
“No, just the girl as far as I know.”
“How did the fire start?”
“Don’t know. That’s what we’re supposed to find out. Stevens thinks the parents may have had something to do with it. Or so he led on.”
“Why would someone do that to their child?”
“I don’t know. But it seems to happen more and more."
Isaac turned left on Fairway Boulevard. Both detectives sat quietly for a moment and watched a fire truck scream by with sirens blazing on the opposite side of the road.
“Have you talked to the parents yet?”
“No,” said Isaac. “But they were notified that we would like to speak with them.”
“Are they staying at the house?”
“They’re not allowed. I believe they’re staying at a motel not too far from here. Later we’ll stroll on down there and say hello.”
Isaac pulled the black Charger up to the Ackerman house on the side of Maria Avenue behind a row of police cars. Hordes of local television news vans were parked on the opposite side of the street. “I guess they found a story,” he said, glancing over at the reporters.
A few of the reporters bustled toward the car clutching microphones and followed by cameramen.
“What should we say?” Simmons asked.
“Nothing. Don’t say a word to any idiot with a camera.”
The two detectives sprung from the car and headed toward the front door of the Ackerman house. The black, burly cameras followed closely on their heels.
“Detectives, do you have any information on how the fire was started?” A female reporter asked. She was a fairly attractive brunette, maybe in her mid-thirties, dressed in one of those bright colored, sharply trimmed women’s suits that have become all too trendy these days.
Neither of the detectives responded and continued up the cement walkway.
“Do you know if any negligence on the part of the girl’s parents had anything to do with her death?” A different reporter asked, this one a man.
What do you think we’re here to find out?
Isaac opened the door and allowed Simmons to go in ahead of him, then turned toward the crowd of reporters gathered in the front lawn.
“There will be no comment at this time,” he said, trying to project his voice over the crowd. “Now back up. I don’t want to see anyone without a badge within fifteen feet of the house.”
He turned to go inside when the pretty brunette spoke again.
“How long will it be before an autopsy is performed on the young girl’s
Autopsy? Sorry, but not even the most prestigious pathologist could perform an autopsy under these circumstances.
Isaac turned back around and stared the brunette reporter right in her bright, anxious eyes. “I said no comment at this time. How hard is that to understand?”
From the first step inside the house, Isaac could smell a strange odor unlike anything he had ever smelled before, and he’d been witness to many awkward scents over the years with the Elmwood P.D. The scent was fresh, almost sweet, and it crawled all over his skin.
A half dozen policemen roamed about the house, going upstairs, back down, and then back up again like working ants revolving in a steady circle. Simmons chatted with one of the blue and white uniformed officers in the kitchen. Isaac headed over, but before he could take two steps from the front door, another policeman snuck up from behind him.
“Sir,” said the officer. “I’m assuming you’re Detective Winters.”
Isaac turned around and faced the policeman; a young kid, maybe twenty-five, probably new to the force. He had a big black cowboy hat on his head.
“We’ve been waiting for you. Would you like me to lead you upstairs?”
Isaac glanced up the staircase and saw the open doorway with the yellow police ribbon around it. “No, I think I can find my way.”
He walked past the officer then turned back at the foot of the stairs.
“Hey, what’s your name?”
“Deputy Christopher Howers.”
Isaac nodded. “Nice to meet you.”
The officer nodded back.
Isaac peeled back the yellow police tape and stepped underneath. Simmons followed behind. The sweet scent Isaac had first smelled when he entered the house had grown tenfold. He could feel it tickling at the back of his throat, making him want to sneeze, or cough up his lungs, whichever would make the tingling sensation go away quickest.
He stood in the doorway of the room and peered over at what used to be a little girl and her bed. The scene looked far worse than the pictures could have ever shown. As he inched closer to the bed, he noticed the foot, hanging lonesome, about to fall into the black hole in the mattress. When he looked into the hole, he saw the other foot, the left one, smothered amongst the black ash.
“There’s number two.”
Isaac walked around the side of the bed and began examining the surrounding objects in the room. Simmons couldn’t take his eyes off the ash and the lonesome feet. His eyes told the tale of a man who knew he was way out of his league. In his short time as a detective, he had never come across anything even remotely as horrifying as this. The worst he had seen was a man killed from multiple gunshot wounds in the chest, nothing in comparison to this dread.
“Honestly,” Simmons said, not letting his eyes drift from the bed of ash. “Have you ever seen anything like this before?”
Isaac looked over. “Well." He paused to let his mind wander off,
searching through hell’s database. “No,” he finally said, shaking his head. “Not like this.” He turned toward the open window and looked outside at the house next door. “I wonder,” he said, running his hand across the windowsill. “I wonder if this window was open all night. And if not, when was it opened, and who opened it?”
“You think somebody could have come in through the window?” Simmons asked.
Isaac thought to himself, random, jumbled thoughts that led nowhere, and finally said: “We need to talk to the neighbors.”
He turned from the window and leaned down next to the bed. If he sneezed now the ashes would scatter all over the room, and his face. He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a latex glove. Then he snapped the glove on his hand and touched a small pile of the ash with his index finger. The black ash collapsed smoothly from within and ran down the sides of the hill. He picked up some of the ash and ran it through his fingers.
“The ash is really fine.”
Isaac picked up another hand full and repeated the process. “You see how easily it breaks apart.”
“The particles are very fine and compact. Not like your average fire where the ash tends to be clumpy.”
“What does that mean?”
Isaac stood up. “Just means this isn’t your average fire. But I guess we already knew that, right?” He pressed his hand against the wall next to the open window, a grimy soot slide between his fingers. He removed a line of the grease with his index finger. “Care to write your name in it?”
The detectives circled the room looking closely for anything else that looked unusual. They both turned back to the bed, if by instinct.
“I don’t see how a fire could burn so steadily in one place for a long enough time to char through bones. How could any fire do this kind of damage in such little time?”
“You don’t believe it’s possible?” Simmons asked.
“With a little help, anything’s possible.”
“Maybe. But we won’t know until we talk to them.”
Isaac ran his hand across the top of the dresser, and then searched the floor around it.
“Wait a minute.”
“What is it?”
Isaac peered down the crack behind the dresser, scanning the two-inch floor space separating the back of the dresser from the wall. Nothing but a little ash lay there, probably scattered by the wind from the open window. “Something’s missing.”
“I don’t know.” He pulled open each of the four drawers and rummaged through them. “Can you do me a favor?”
“Go out to the car and bring me the photos. I need to see something.”
Simmons carefully butted through the mass of media, ignoring any
questions on his way to the car. He opened the passenger door and snatched the manila folder lying on the back seat.
Upstairs, Isaac stood at the side of the small bed, examined the fine gray ash below, and tried hard to shake the intoxicating perfume from his senses.
A small portion of the ash (not more than two or three spoonfuls) was already in the hands of forensics for analysis and would be placed under a number of tests, the most effective test being Gas Chromatography, which could detect even small amounts of accelerants present in the ash. First the sample would be heated in a glass vial to vaporize any accelerants. A special syringe is then used to extract a small sum of air from the vial. The air is then injected into the gas chromatograph, and by comparing that graph to the graph of known substances, such as gasoline, paraffin, or fuel oil, the examiner could determine which accelerant may be attributed to the fire. These sorts of tests could go a long way in discovering whether the fire was accidental or intentional, thus making Isaac’s job of finger pointing a little easier.
As Simmons charged back up the stairs with the manila folder, Isaac’s cell rang. He removed it from his belt and glanced down at the incoming number. It was Chief Stevens.
Simmons ducked under the police tape and stormed into the room with folder in hand. “I got the photos,” he said, holding the folder out in front of him.
Isaac had his phone up to his ear, listening.
Simmons opened up the folder and looked through the photos again, searching for any minor differences in the room. He found none. Everything looked the same as in the photographs.
“We’ll head right over,” said Isaac, and hung up the phone.
He snatched the manila folder from Simmons and flipped through the photos until he came to the one he had been searching for. In this particular photograph, most of the horror was not apparent, but what it did show was a clear view of the windowsill and the dresser.
Simmons stepped closer as Isaac pointed to a small object lying on top of the dresser.
“What in the hell is that?”
Simmons narrowed his eyes. “It looks like some kind of small figurine.”
Isaac turned and pointed at the dresser. “How come it’s not here now?”
Simmons was amazed that Isaac could remember something that small was missing from the room, so small he had overlooked it just moments before.
“Maybe somebody moved it.”
Simmons said nothing.
“Well, it’s probably not important anyway. We’ve got to go. There’s been an incident.”
Simmons raised his eyebrows. “An incident?”
“Yeah, with the parents,” said Isaac, placing the photographs back into the folder. “At the motel.”
Richard is not a vampire, yet.
While he awaits immortality, Richard spends much of his time banging his head on the keyboard trying to make sentences out of words.
Since the age of ten, he's written dozens of short stories, over a hundred poems, and two novels, the first -- The Gift of Illusion -- was released May, 17 2011.
An e-copy of the book to one of my followers
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