Thursday, October 2, 2014

CREEPY (By James Darko)

Genre: Horror

By James Darko

          Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011. Two A.M.
          The sounds of barking dogs and sirens emanating in the distance added to the cacophony on the streets of Burkittsville. Kurt Watson awoke to the sirens, mistaking them for the buzz of his alarm clock.
          Without disturbing Heather, he rolled out from the bed and threw his robe on, cinching the belt around his waist. He put his slippers on and shuffled downstairs to fetch a glass of water from the kitchen.
          Police and ambulance sirens blended together as a convoy of vehicles went speeding down Shade Street. Kurt saw the reflection of the flashing lights in the kitchen windows and the sound of the sirens cut off at the end of the block.
          The Watsons were new to the neighborhood and kept to themselves most of the time. Maryland in general was a new experience for the Watson family, and they had yet to make many friends.
They barely knew the neighbors; they just greeted them when they first arrived and saw them in passing afterwards. Kurt could hardly recall any of their names. But now the commotion had piqued his interest.
It was morbid curiosity that carried him to the front door and down to the end of block, where the red and blue lights still flashed.
The officers cleared a path for the paramedics and held the onlookers at bay. Like Kurt, his fellow neighbors had heard the ruckus and couldn’t wait until morning to learn what the fuss was about.
“What’s going on?” Kurt asked one of the spectators whose name escaped him at the moment.
“I’m not sure,” the spectator said. “This is Elizabeth Hernandez’s place. I hope everything’s ok. She’s got a little boy, Alexandro. And she’s got a teenage daughter, Margarita.”
“Margarita?” Kurt repeated. Clearly he would’ve remembered the name had he been properly introduced to the girl.
The paramedics emerged from the house, wheeling a stretcher. The body had a sheet draped over it, and even though Kurt couldn’t see the child, he could see fresh blood soaking through the sheet.
Several police officers followed the paramedics, dragging a hysterical Elizabeth in handcuffs. Her nightgown was stained with blood that appeared black in the moonlight.
As the ambulance and patrol cars dispersed, so did the crowd as they ambled back their homes, muttering to their loved ones in speculation. Kurt retired to his bedroom again, only to discover that Drew had awakened at some point during his absence and crawled into bed with his mother.
Kurt sighed as he slid back into bed and rested beside Drew, who acted as a barrier between Kurt and Heather.
Kurt and Heather Watson hadn’t been intimate in three months. Every night, Drew would awake from some horrible nightmare and sneak into their room. Sometimes they didn’t even have a chance to drift off to sleep before he was begging them to let him spend the night in their room.
Drew was eight years old and would be nine in two months. Kurt was getting fed up, as he felt his son was too old for this sort of behavior. But Heather was the one who always caved and let him spend the night in their bed.
Kurt tried to fall back to sleep, but his attempts were futile. The mystery of the Hernandez incident would keep him awake until sunrise.
          It was in the papers that morning, a last minute edition. Elizabeth Hernandez had murdered her child, Alexandro, in cold blood. She had yet to confess to the crime, so the paper was using the words “alleged” or “allegedly” in almost every sentence. But the verdict was practically in already. They were going to crucify this woman, guilty or not.
          Kurt wondered what could drive a person to do such a thing. He also wondered what would become of Elizabeth’s daughter, Margarita. That name, it was burned into his brain now. He couldn’t forget it if he tried.
          Heather made eggs and toast for breakfast, which Drew smelled all the way from upstairs, and soon came down to join them at the table. Despite Kurt’s pleas, Heather refused to make bacon. She insisted the eggs had enough cholesterol in them.
          “She used margarine instead of butter again,” Drew whispered to his father. “Yuck.”
          “I heard that, young man,” Heather said. “I’m just looking out for your health. You want to be a handsome, healthy young man, or do you want to look like Ralph Pellegrino?”
          “Nobody will ever be as fat as Ralph Pellegrino,” Drew said in regards to one his classmates. “I could eat all the bacon in the world and not look like that.”
          “But you won’t,” his mother assured him. “Not as long as I’m around.”
          “So, champ,” Kurt said to his son. “You decided to sleep in our bed again last night. Now I thought we talked about this? They’re just nightmares, pal. They can’t hurt you. And you’re getting too old to be sleeping with your mommy and daddy, don’t you agree?”
          “Dad, they’re not just nightmares,” Drew said so vehemently his mother shivered slightly at his words. “I saw something in the corner of my room one night. I swear.”
          “Sure you did,” Kurt said, rolling his eyes.
          “Why won’t you guys believe me?” Drew said, almost sulking.
          “If I believed in ghosts or goblins or fairies, maybe I’d be inclined to trust you,” Kurt said. “But your mom and I are grownups. We’re smart enough to know it’s all just in your head. It’s what happens when we let you stay up late and watch horror movies every Halloween, which you won’t be doing again this year, by the way.”
          “Oh, come on, dad!” Drew exclaimed.
          “Sorry, champ,” Kurt said. “But I’m a man of my word. If I say no horror movies, it means no horror movies. But I’ll tell you what, if you can sleep in your own bedroom for the next six months and prove to me you can handle it, maybe I’ll change my mind.”
          “Deal,” Drew said. “Besides, I didn’t have any bad dreams last night. I just woke up because of all the noise outside and got scared. What was going on last night?”
          “Nothing major,” Kurt said, flipping the newspaper over so Drew wouldn’t see the headlines. He didn’t want to traumatize the boy with details of what happened to young Alexandro. It was bad enough that Drew might hear about what happened from his classmates at school. But Kurt thought maybe it was better if he heard it from them.
Kurt never mastered the ability of breaking bad news to people. But today’s kids were different. They seemed to understand each other and bond in ways Kurt could never understand. Maybe if he heard it from his friends instead of his father, the awful news would be easier to digest.
The Watson’s were still new to the neighborhood, and Kurt wasn’t a man who took any chances. So after breakfast, he walked Drew to the bus stop to ensure his son got on board safely.
As Drew’s school bus rolled down the street, Kurt encountered the same spectator who had told him of the Hernandez family the night before. He was a tall, abnormally skinny man, wearing aviator sunglasses. His yellow, nicotine stained teeth were something Kurt had not noticed the night before. But his poor hygiene was more than visible in the daylight.
“What are you doing out here?” Kurt asked.
“Just making sure my daughter got on the bus,” the man said. “After last night, you can’t be too careful.” The man walked over to properly introduce himself, extending his hand for Kurt to shake. “Hector Cardona.”
“Kurt Watson,” he said, accepting the man’s grimy hand. The handshake lasted all of three seconds, but to Kurt, it felt like an eternity. “Did you hear any news about last night?”
“Just what I read in the paper,” Hector said. “Elizabeth Hernandez is in custody. They suspect her of murdering Alexandro. I’m not sure if her daughter made any statements to the police. They didn’t mention anything in the paper.”
“What’s the story with the father?” Kurt inquired. “I mean, is the guy out of the picture? Were they divorced?”
“Deceased,” Hector said. “I think it was a brain aneurism, but if you’re a reporter, don’t quote me on that. She’s been raising those kids by herself for years now. At least she was.”
“I’m not a reporter,” Kurt said. “I’m a proofreader. I work for Coffin Rock Publishing. I’m just curious about what happened last night.”
“Well, that makes two of us.”
“Something like this doesn’t happen every day.”
“You’d be wrong about that,” Hector said. “Thirty-five minutes from here is a town called Woodsboro. About three or four months ago, this woman, Joan Fowler, was taken into custody under suspicion of murder. The victim was her son, Wayne.”
“You don’t say,” Kurt said, taken aback by this startling new revelation.
“I should probably get to work,” Hector said without inflection. “The grass isn’t going to cut itself.”
“Yeah,” Kurt mumbled, trying to pull himself back into the world. “I should probably get busy too. I’ve got a lot of new material to read today. Good talking to you, Hector.”
          Dusty had taken to hanging out in front of Drew’s bedroom door. Every day he’d park himself in the hall outside of Drew’s bedroom and lay on his belly for hours.
          If Heather tried to step over him and cross the threshold into her son’s bedroom, Dusty would look up, show his teeth, and growl until she stepped away.
          Dusty was a golden retriever that Kurt had bought from a professional breeder. Heather wanted to go to the animal shelter, but Kurt didn’t want, in his words, “A second-hand dog.” He wanted a dog he could train and raise as his own.
          Kurt had raised him and trained him, but apparently not well enough, Heather thought. She mentioned Dusty’s behavior to Kurt in passing and he decided to approach Dusty in the hall one day, producing similar results.
          As soon as he kneeled down to run his hand over Dusty’s glossy coat, he showed his teeth and growled. In fact, anytime that Kurt or Heather stepped into the hall, Dusty would bark or growl.
          Dusty wasn’t old enough to be suffering from any form of memory loss. He still had plenty of good years left in him. But this newfound attitude was both perplexing and unsettling to say the least.
          Their son loved Dusty, and Dusty loved Drew. But Dusty had always remained loyal to Kurt. It didn’t make sense to Kurt that Dusty would be so overprotective of Drew’s room or his belongings.
          “Maybe the dog’s just going through something we can’t understand,” Kurt said. “I’ll take him to the vet if this keeps up.”
          “I want you to take him to a vet tomorrow,” Heather pleaded. “He’s really scaring me.”
          “Heather, the move really set us back a lot. A trip to the vet is expensive and we can’t afford to waste money, especially when we don’t know if anything is wrong with the dog.”
          “Something is wrong,” Heather said. “Call it women’s intuition. Call it whatever you’d like. But I can sense it.”
          “Maybe the dog senses it too,” Kurt suggested. “Maybe that’s why he’s acting so strange. You know how Drew is always saying he saw something in his room one night? Maybe Dusty is just trying to protect us by keeping us away.” His statements oozed with sarcasm.
          “Now you’re just being ridiculous,” Heather said.
          “I’ll tell you what you need,” Kurt said. “You need something to keep you busy. Why don’t you start writing again? You’re a reporter and there was a murder in our neighborhood. That’s a story just waiting for someone like you to tackle it.”
          “I’m an unemployed reporter since you decided to drag us all the way to Maryland,” Heather groaned.
          “I’m sorry, Heather. But it was a great opportunity. My editing job in Kansas was going nowhere and Coffin Rock Publishing offered me good money to be their main proofreader. I couldn’t turn it down. And you can always find another job with another paper. Just because we’re in Maryland, doesn’t mean there isn’t news to report. I even have an exclusive for you.”
          “What are you talking about?”
          “I’ve been chatting with one of the neighbors,” Kurt told her. “Hector Cardona. He knew the Hernandez family. That’s not all though. Hector told me there was a similar murder that occurred in Woodsboro just a few months ago. The victim’s name was Wayne Fowler. His mother, Joan Fowler, was arrested for his murder. So there’s something to go on.”
          “Woodsboro is a thirty minute ride from here,” Heather said, considering the drive.
          “Oh, by the way, the lady down the block had another kid,” Kurt added. “A teenage daughter named Margarita. The papers never said what happened to her. And I never saw her come out of the house last night when the cops removed Ms. Hernandez and her son’s body.”
          Friday, May 27th, 2011. 3:05 P.M.
          Heather was waiting at the bus stop when Drew got dropped off. The previous night had been the first time in about two months that Drew made an effort to sleep in his own room.
          Kurt was convinced he’d never make it through the night, but when they checked up on him in the morning, he was still sleeping comfortably.
          “I’ll be damned,” Kurt had said. “Maybe he’s finally over that little spell.”
          When Heather walked Drew back inside and helped him with his books and knapsack, she felt compelled to ask about the sudden change. But instead she decided to start off by praising him, hoping to initiate conversation naturally without having to question her son’s actions.
          “Your father and I are very proud of you for last night,” Heather told him. “We knew you could do it.”
          “Thanks, mom,” Drew replied. “It’s no big deal. I feel much safer sleeping in my room now that the ghost has moved on.”
          “Uh huh,” Heather said, seeing that Drew hadn’t quite conquered his overactive imagination. “And where did it go?”
          “It’s in your room now,” Drew said. “I saw it the other night, standing over daddy while he was sleeping.”
          Heather couldn’t tell if Drew was trying to have a laugh at her expense or if his imagination had truly gotten the better of him. So she bit.
          “Really?” Heather said, trying to play along. “So this ghost, what exactly does he look like, Drew?”
          “Oh, he doesn’t have a face,” her son replied casually. “But he’s really tall. And he wears a red suit. Red as the color of blood or ketchup. Even his shoes are red, mommy.”
          Drew certainly did have quite the imagination, Heather thought. “Ok,” she said. “Enough goofing around. Time to do your homework. You should be finished by the time dinner’s ready.”
          Kurt was working in his office when Heather passed by. She stood in the doorway, not uttering a word until Kurt looked up from his desk.
          “Everything all right?” Kurt asked.
          “Yes, it’s just…never mind.”
          Heather decided it best if she kept what Drew had just shared to herself. If she so much as hinted that she believed a word her son had told her, Kurt would laugh her out of his office.
          She walked down the hall, towards the master bedroom where Dusty was splayed out in front of the door. As she approached, the dog raised its head, showed its teeth, and growled at a low pitch.
          “This is starting to get weird,” Heather muttered.
          Saturday, May 28th, 2011. 10:33 A.M.
          Drew was happily watching Saturday morning cartoons in the living room while Heather sat at the kitchen table, making phone call after phone call. With Elizabeth Hernandez’s trial a month away, Heather had taken Kurt’s suggestion and decided to write the article that beckoned her talents.
Two murders in a three month period with the victims mothers being accused in both cases. Something about that didn’t sit right with Heather. So she decided to dig a little deeper.
          But the citizens of Woodsboro weren’t very receptive to her inquiries. And all attempts to locate Margarita Hernandez were fruitless.
          So Heather decided to improvise. She still had her press badge from her time at the Kansas City Press. And a quick search of the internet helped reveal what prison Joan Fowler currently resided in.
          She phoned the prison and tried to arrange a face-to-face interview with Ms. Fowler. Instead, they granted her interview by telephone if Heather agreed to foot the bill for the call.
          Seeing as it was her only option, Heather accepted. She figured a phone interview might even be better. Arrangements for a face-to-face interview could take weeks.
          She waited on hold for fifteen minutes while they collected Joan Fowler and brought her to the phone.
          “For the last time, I didn’t kill my boy,” Joan said adamantly. “I’ve got nothing else to say to you people.”
          “I believe you,” Heather said.
          “Oh, thank God,” Joan sighed. “I knew one day some honest soul would come to tell my side of the story.”
          “That’s not entirely why I’m contacting you,” Heather said. “There’s been another murder. A young boy named Alexandro Hernandez. He lived on my block with his mother and sister. His mother is currently awaiting trial.”
          “The murder, did it occur at night?” Joan asked.
          “Yes,” Heather confirmed. “Around two in the morning. My husband saw them take Elizabeth Hernandez away in handcuffs. She was crying hysterically. And her daughter hasn’t been seen since.”
          “Have you spoken to the mother?” Joan asked.
          “Not yet,” Heather said. “I’m still waiting for the police to get back to me.”
          “You might never get the chance,” Joan said. “They won’t believe a word of her story. They’ll say she’s crazy like me. Hell, even my own lawyer didn’t believe me. He said my story would work for the insanity defense though.”
          “And what exactly is your story, Ms. Fowler?”
          “Wayne’s father died of a sudden heart attack at age thirty-two. I raised Wayne on my own from age four to age eleven. And I think I did a pretty damn good job considering I did it all on my own. But when Wayne turned ten, I noticed changes in his behavior. He started sleeping on the couch or in the guest bedroom instead of his own room. Sometimes he wouldn’t sleep at all. He’d just stay up all night watching cartoons. His grades started to slip and he got booted from art class after they saw what he had drawn for his assignment.
          The principal wanted me to have Wayne examined by a professional. They sensed something wasn’t right with him, and so did I. But they were looking for the easiest explanation. A psychological impairment. I knew there was something bigger going on. So I asked Wayne after school one day.”
          “And what did he say?” Heather asked.
          “He told me about The Reaper,” Joan said. “That’s what he called it. Claimed it was a ghost or a spirit of some kind that haunted his room every night. So I asked him what the thing looked like. And that’s when he told me it didn’t have a face. I mean, I couldn’t even believe my ears; a faceless ghost. It was preposterous. But the more changes I spotted in his behavior, the more I started to believe.
          Then the night came when I heard the screams. I rushed to Wayne’s room, but it was already too late. The Reaper had finally claimed him. There was blood everywhere, and when I tried to slow the bleeding of his wounds, it got all over my clothes. That’s why the cops suspected me. They had my prints, they had me covered in blood, they had no evidence to indicate a break-in. They found no other prints at the scene. And they never found a murder weapon, either.
          They never believed a word I said. But I saw it with my own two eyes. He was maybe seven feet tall, wearing a red suit. And he was hovering over my son’s bed. And his face…it was just…gone.”
          “Ms. Fowler, what if I told you my son has seen this same entity you’ve described?”
          “I would tell you to run. Abandon your home and all your possessions and never look back, Mrs. Watson.”
          Five P.M.
          Heather’s worst fears came to life when she told her husband of her conversation with Joan Fowler and he laughed in her face. A faceless ghost in a red suit. It was all a big joke to Kurt.
          He refused to establish the connection between the murders and their son’s erratic behavior. Kurt didn’t even flinch when she told him that Drew claimed The Reaper was hovering over him in his sleep one night.
          “I dig the name though,” Kurt said. “The Reaper. Sounds like a comic book character. You know, I think you may be onto something big here.”
          Heather, unscathed by his cynical jabs, went back to work. She called every source, every former colleague, and every editor she could think of until someone was able to point her in the direction of Margarita Hernandez.
          That someone was Darren Douglas, an ex-flame and her former boss at the Kansas City Press.
          Darren was a pompous prick who viewed himself as the definition of perfection. If he was the definition of perfection, nobody would ever aspire to be perfect, Heather thought.
          Darren agreed to share the information he had on Margarita for free, if Heather was willing to discuss it over lunch. Heather agreed, but made it clear she wasn’t leaving Maryland.
          “I’ll be there tomorrow,” Darren told her. “Meet you around three o’clock."
          Sunday, May 29th, 2011.
          Heather didn’t sleep that night. Joan’s words haunted her and she had visions every time she shut her eyes. She could see the faceless demon in the red suit, and it wasn’t a pretty visualization.
          She spent the night restless, debating its origin, its existence. She wondered if she should seek professional help for her son. She was wondering if she needed a little professional help of her own.
          Darren Douglas met her in a small café outside of Burkittsville at three in the afternoon. She showed up wearing sunglasses to conceal her sleep deprived eyes.
          As Heather assumed, Darren had ulterior motives for wanting to meet for lunch. But she overlooked his arrogance and his lame pickup lines. She saw it as the price to be paid for the information he was supplying. And for the information he had, she could deal with his cockiness and his brash attempts at hitting on a married woman.
          But in the end, Heather intended to remain faithful to the man she loved. That still didn’t stop Douglas from pining over her. But it did give her a distinct advantage.
          Darren Douglas was like putty in her hands. All she had to do was give a subtle wink and he’d grant any request she had. And what she requested right then and there was information on Margarita Hernandez’s whereabouts.
          “She’s in a looney bin,” Darren informed her. “About fifteen miles from here. She went bonkers after she saw her brother get it.”
          “Wait, Margarita witnessed the murder?” Heather asked.
          “Yes, but she ain’t talking,” Darren said.
          “We’ll see about that,” Heather said.
          South Oaks Mental Facility was fifteen miles west from the café. She drove there straight from lunch. She hadn’t even bothered to eat. Operating on the no food and no sleep, she was determined to get to the bottom of this.
She made it past the gates without showing her press badge. She smartened up this time and claimed to be a distant relative of Margarita’s.
          Her black hair, dark complexion, and the fact that she was fluent in Spanish helped her pull it off. They asked for ID as Heather anticipated. She had also prepared for this with Darren’s help, as he had used his connections to secure a fake ID for her.
          For the next hour, her name was Maria Sanchez. It was a New Jersey license and the picture hardly looked anything like her, but it did the trick.
          Margarita was confined to a padded cell with restraints. They allowed Heather to go in by herself and told her to shout if she needed assistance. With Margarita wrapped up tightly in a straightjacket, she didn’t see what harm the girl could do. But the doctor’s seemed certain she was capable of anything.
          “You’re not my aunt,” Margarita said, sitting at the edge of her bed, her head tilting as if she was examining Heather like one would view a rare work of art in a museum.
          “I’m a reporter,” Heather said. “My real name is Heather Watson. And I’m here to tell your story.”
          “If I told you, you’d think I’m crazy. Believe me, ma’am, there’s a reason I’m in here. I don’t even know what really happened. I know what I saw. I just don’t know if I can believe it.”
          “What did you see?”
          “I can’t,” Margarita shook her head rapidly. “I can’t relive it.”
          “Please,” Heather begged. “My son’s life may be at stake here. There was a similar incident that occurred months ago. A boy named Wayne Fowler was allegedly murdered by his mother, Joan. I spoke to Joan. She described things that my son is seeing. I need to know if your brother saw them too.”
          What kind of things?” Margarita asked. “Like a man with no face and a crimson red suit?”
          “Yes,” Heather mumbled. “That would be the thing I’m referring to.”
          “I saw it myself the night Alexandro died,” Margarita confessed. “It was standing over his bed. It…it didn’t even have a weapon. It used its hands. My mother tried to save my brother’s life. And now she’s on trial for her own. But I can’t tell my story to the courts. They’ll never believe me or her.”
          “What can I do?” Heather asked. “What can I do to protect my son?”
          “Fight,” Margarita told her. “Fight with everything you have. Don’t let it take him.”
          “You saw Darren Douglas today,” Kurt said as Heather walked through the front door around six-thirty.
          “How did you know?”
          “He left a message on the answering machine while you were gone.”
          “I can explain.”
          “Don’t worry, he explained all about your lunch in the message he left. And I can’t believe you went to see Margarita Hernandez. That poor girl has been through enough already. You’re cracking up, Heather. Maybe it’s my fault. Maybe I pushed this idea on you. But it’s gone far enough.”
          “I’m trying to help our son,” Heather insisted.
          “No, you’re trying to prove a bunch of wild theories that don’t exist. And our son happens to be an innocent victim in all of this. Heather, I’ve gone through this with you before. You get so wrapped up in these stories you lose touch with reality. I can’t go through it again. I packed my things. I think some space will do us some good.”
          “So that’s it? Just pack up and run away when things get too tough for Kurt Watson to handle? Fine. You know what? I’m better off without you. But Drew is staying with me.”
          “If you say so,” Kurt said. “But my son won’t be staying with you forever. Not if I have anything to say about it.” Kurt stormed out of the living room to gather his things, and in minutes he was gone.
          Drew was playing videogames in his room and hadn’t overheard their argument. So she figured it best if she didn’t tell him anything. If he asked, she’d simply say his dad had business to attend to. Maybe he had some loose ends to tie up back in Kansas.
          Kurt was a sensible man. Heather knew he’d return eventually. It was just a question of when. In the meantime, she had to keep a watchful eye over Drew on her own. She wasn’t going to let the boy out of her sight.
          “Mommy, are you mad at daddy?” Drew asked innocently as Heather tucked him in at nine o’clock on the dot.
          “Not at all,” his mom assured him. Daddy’s mad at me, Heather thought. But he’s bound to get over it. “Are you sure you don’t want to sleep in my room tonight?”
          “No, I feel fine here,” Drew told her.
          “All right, well I’ll be just down the hall if you need me. Don’t be afraid to call me if you need anything. Goodnight Drew.”
          “Goodnight mommy,” he said, rolling onto his side and curling up with his blanket.
          She left his door wide open and stood out in the hallway, checked her wristwatch. It was just after nine o’clock when she heard a knock at the door.
          She wasn’t expecting anybody at this hour and she didn’t want to leave Drew’s side, but it could be Kurt. He had the keys to the house, but she thought maybe he had misplaced him. Or it could be the police, there to ask some follow-up questions on the Hernandez incident. The cops had questioned them a day after the murder to see what the Watson’s knew of the Hernandez family, but they didn’t have much to share.
          She ascended the beige carpeted staircase and walked to the front door. She opened it just a crack to peek outside. On their front porch stood a tall man with aviator sunglasses. From the porch lights, she could see the man’s teeth were stained with nicotine. And his white cotton shirt was stained red with blood.
          “Please,” Hector said, his lip quivering, hands trembling. “You must get out. It got my daughter. It’s going to get your son too. I would’ve told your husband, but I knew he’d never believe me. But you, you believe. I can see it in your eyes. Please, get out while you still can!”
          “Calm down, sir,” Heather said, slowly pushing the door shut. “I’m going to call the police for you. Everything is going to be ok. I promise. Just wait right where you are.”
          “No!” Hector screamed. “No police!”
          He tried to force his way inside, but Heather managed to slam the door on his hand, and when he recoiled in pain, she got the door closed and snapped the lock shut.
          “Mommy!” Drew cried from upstairs. “Mommy, help me! Help!” Dusty had scampered across the hall and started barking ferociously. His barks turned to yelps, then dissolved to silence after Heather heard a thump on the ceiling.
          She flew up the stairs and found Dusty sprawled out in the hall, outside of Drew’s bedroom. The dog didn’t appear to be breathing.
          Heather felt sick, but she moved past the dog as her son’s life hanged in the balance. As she reached the doorway, her stunned, unblinking eyes gazed up at a tall, slender man in a crimson red suit hovering over Drew’s bed. Atop his lean shoulders was a faceless, anamorphic flesh-head.
          Heather sat in the back of a police cruiser beside Hector Cardona while the cops spoke to several of the neighbors, all of whom had called the police to voice their concerns over the screams they had heard.
          Heather tried to pull her wrists apart, but the cuffs wouldn’t allow them to stretch more than a few inches.
          The cops had confiscated Hector’s aviator sunglasses and Heather could now understand why he sported them. His left eye had been gouged out some time ago and the damage to the socket was irreversible.
          “I’m so sorry,” Hector muttered. “I should’ve warned your husband. I should’ve warned you.”
          “You knew about this thing all along?”
          “A dark memory from my childhood. I was lucky. I survived its attack. I can’t say the same for my little girl. They’ll never believe us, you know?”
          “I know,” Heather murmured. She knew the cops, the judge, and the jury could never believe such a tale. She even doubted that Kurt would side with her on this one.
          But that wasn’t going to stop her from telling the tale.
          The tale of The Reaper.

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