Detective Frank Ward had been a police officer for seventeen years, and worked homicide for eleven of those. He’d grown up and trained in New York, so he was more used to dealing with scumbags than some of his colleagues who’d been born and raised in Arizona. Hell, the worst they ever saw were the rotting cadavers left in the desert after a border-jump gone wrong. He’d seen some real nasty shit in his time though, properly fucked up stuff, more so recently he had to admit; the latest spate of killings had gotten quite creative at times, torturous to be more accurate. It had been a while since he’d had a good man hunt and, as horrific as these murders had been, he had to admit he was thankful for a little excitement. The moment he’d set eyes on the grisly scene in the train car he knew this killer was different; he’d always had a knack for sniffing out the worst of the worst, always been drawn to cases where the unfathomable had occurred, and the train car murders were exactly that. His mother, God rest her soul, had called it his sixth sense. Unfortunately this knack for detecting trouble hadn’t extended to his personal life; his wife had left him four years ago, saying he was too involved in his work and never had time for her. This may have been the truth, but try living a normal life when every time you close your eyes you see visions of horrific murders or vicious assaults. Try maintaining a libido when all you see is blood and pain. He’d tried to explain this to his wife as she hurriedly packed as many of her things as she could fit in a single suitcase, but things had gone too far, he’d neglected their relationship to beyond the point of retrieval. Since that day Frank had immersed himself even further in his work, using the constant flow of human detritus to distract him from his own pain. His marital home had fallen into disrepair, full of unsolved case files piled head-high and empty take out boxes, very few of the lights in his house worked as he only replaced the bulbs he used; those in his study and bathroom. The windows were grimy, which saved him money on curtains, and his neighbours often complained about his overgrown garden encroaching on their well-tended flower beds and shrubs. Frank didn’t care about any of that though, all he wanted was to rid the world of evil, one scumbag at a time; he’d sacrificed his happiness in pursuit of monsters and he’d be damned if he would let them win now. The previous four years of intense police work since his separation, the pressure to solve every case, an ensuing divorce, and his intense loneliness had taken its toll; wrinkles and crow’s feet infested his face, and he’d stopped bothering with trivial tasks such as shaving, sporting an impressive beard which, along with the curtained hair on his head, was black and dusted with grey. He was a muscular man, he had to be given the kind of perpetrators he dealt with, and had the appearance of a sociopathic lumberjack with his square shoulders, beard, and icy blue stare.
After the train car, he’d been called to the Garden Lodge Motel. Even he wasn’t prepared for what greeted him as he’d opened the door to room 114; blood had covered almost the entire left-hand wall, giving it the impression of shiny, crimson red wrapping paper. The bed was similarly afflicted, and resembled a giant black cherry jelly mould more than a bed. When Frank had touched the sheets the layer of clotted blood had cracked and given way like the coating of a toffee apple, revealing sheets stained a yellow red by the separated products of blood that had soaked into the fabric. The lino in the room was still tacky and also stained red, which became more confluent and wet the closer you got to the bed, so that your footsteps began to squelch as you reached the most horrific part of the scene; piled up next to the bed were the body parts of what had turned out to be two women. A pile was certainly the correct description, given the disorganised arrangement of eviscerated cavities, broken bones and severed organs. Frank hadn’t been able to ascertain how many bodies made up that pile just by looking at it, a couple of arms neatly propped against the side of the bed seemed to belong to the same owner, but aside from that clue there was only exposed muscle, fat and hair mixed in with shining, leathery viscera. He couldn’t make out a single face in the mess, but remembered seeing what he thought was an eye ball, then seeing teeth inside it. Forensics had just about managed to discern two complete adult females, although severely decapitated. In the corner farthest from the human mess, to and from which a bloody trail of footprints could be traced, were deep scratches in the linoleum floor that led to the doorway. The spatters of blood on the surrounding floor had belonged to a third person, a male, and had given Frank a lead to follow; what had been dragged into the corner of that room, a tool chest full of murder weapons? And who did the blood belong to, victim or perp? Questioning the motel attendant had made Frank uneasy, not because of the boy’s freakishly gangly and pock-marked appearance but because his description of the male that had been staying in room 114 seemed to defy logic; according to Elvis Tanner, Frank was hunting a guy so he skinny he could barely stand, with black eyes, deathly white skin, no nose and huge chunks of flesh missing from all over his practically naked body. Something didn’t quite fit, and Frank’s sixth sense was going haywire. He knew how much punishment could be doled out without so much as a bruise, his experience from many interrogations of old, so how could anyone weighing less than 90 pounds exert such torture and mangle a human body? It didn’t add up. This guy, Aaron Stokes according to the motel guest book, had to have had some help, or maybe he wasn’t involved at all. Maybe he was a victim that had escaped when his would-be killer had popped out for a smoke. Things started falling into place when the motel attendant had pointed him in the direction of the old chapel up the road, the direction that Aaron Stokes had last been seen heading. They’d found Aaron alright, what was left of him, and also stumbled across two shallow graves at the back of the church grounds; the bodies were those of Melody and Jemima Stokes, the former had suffered a terrible blow to the head which fractured her skull and caused a brain haemorrhage, the latter had drowned and, given the bruises on her shoulder, forcefully so. Frank had heard on his police radio that a seventh victim, a young girl named Autumn, had been found by his colleagues after her school had reported her missing and commuters on their morning journeys the following day, at the station near the Garden Lodge Motel, had heard muted crying coming from one of the train tunnels. The little girl was severely traumatised, and had been mutilated, but managed to give a description of her kidnapper; it matched exactly the description of Aaron Stokes given by Elvis Tanner.
Frank now stood on the cobblestone path connecting the churchyard with the country road off of which it sat, staring up through the branches that hung over the road into the night; the sky was cloudy, and he couldn’t make out any stars. There was a chill in the air, and he was glad that he was wearing his long, grey wool overcoat. The thing came down to his knees and, with his broad frame, made him look like the most uninteresting Rubik’s cube ever produced, but it was one hell of a warm coat. He brought a cigarette to his whiskered lips and inhaled deeply, the smoke briefly obscuring his view of the already bleak sky as he exhaled. The lights from the squad cars flashed blue and red across his face, producing a light show of sorts in the smoke of another drag on his cigarette. He could hear the local officers bustling behind him, cordoning off the area with police tape, taking photographs and combing the area for evidence. Frank finished his cigarette, dropped the butt into the now dewy grass and stepped on it. His shiny black shoes had been soiled by the dirt he strode through down by the stream.
I’ll have to get those cleaned now, dammit.
He cursed as the thought crossed through his mind, he didn’t mind the cost or the inconvenience but it would mean less time for him to be working. He spun on his heels and made slowly back up toward the church, a grimace hidden deep within his beard. Torches swayed in the darkness as officers scanned for clues, and the relentless red-blue oscillation continued behind him, but otherwise the area was dark now. Frank could make out some of the lighter gravestones in the gloom, but had to watch his footing as he approached the church to make sure he didn’t trip. He reached the large wooden door to the sanctuary without incident or embarrassment, cast one final eye over the officers and, once satisfied that they were doing their job effectively, pushed into the stone chapel. He didn’t know why he’d come into the building, after all it was long deserted and forensics had cleared the area of any evidence of wrongdoing, but something inside him made him want to investigate further.
The church was small, housing only six rows of pews each about eight feet in length. The wood of the pews was dusty and cracked, and the seats were warped and bowed. They were arranged facing a dreary pulpit, equally dusty with spider’s webs hanging loosely from the etched cross in the front of the wood, which was set into a recess in the stone so small that any overweight priest would not have snuck in behind it. Frank stood in the doorway, surveying the interior; apart from the wooden furniture, which left virtually no space to walk the perimeter of the room, there was nothing to see, no candles, no effigies hanging on the wall. A thick layer of dust had gathered on every flat surface, including the stone floor. Frank had disturbed this layer when he’d opened the door, and the particles he inhaled made him cough hoarsely. He edged around the right side of the pews, curious as to whether his ample frame would fit behind the lectern, and spotted the edge of a chair peering out from behind it; he leant forward and saw that a green leather chair was tucked into the recess abutting the lectern so closely that there was no room for someone to actually sit in it. Frank traced drag marks in the dust on the floor back towards himself and up to the doorway, he shuddered as he remembered the scratches in the floor at the motel. There was no dust on the chair; it had obviously been brought here recently. Frank’s eyes darted around the inside of the chapel, remembering his theory that Aaron Stokes may have had an accomplice, but he was alone. There was a bible lying on one of the seats in the second row from the back; he could just make out the red leather of the binding under its dusty blanket, the cover was curled and warped, and the pages had yellowed and were torn. It looked a bit like a puppet’s mouth full of razor sharp teeth, and the way the front cover bent upwards at its edges gave it the appearance of a sinister grin. A sudden breeze disturbed the film of grime, swirling it up in a mini tornado, and rifled the edges of the pages, making them quiver. Frank followed the tiny dust storm upwards with his eyes as it ascended toward the ceiling; the roof of the chapel was a pyramid of rotting wooden beams build in to the stone roof. The gnarled angles of the beams cast uneven shadows throughout the eaves, but one shadow stood out, seemed darker than the rest. It rested up in the farthest point from the floor and was only the size of a coin, a pinprick in the masonry from where Frank was standing but the intensity of the blackness of this shadow drew his attention and filled him with fear. He stood for a moment, staring at this tiny but frightening void, expecting it to move, perhaps attack him, but it didn’t. As he watched expectantly a thought entered his head;
Come on now, living shadows? Whatever next? Just go back outside and leave this place alone, you’ve got a job to do.
He made for the door, wondering why the voice in his head had sounded like his mother.
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