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Murder By Design

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She had two goals. One: atone for the deaths of the people that her parents killed - and that she helped to kill. Two: save herself. Both from this life of death and fear, and from her own demons.

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Chapter 1

October 31, 1983

It was a gorgeous day. The sky was cloudless, and even though the trees had turned into shades of brilliant reds, golds, and browns weeks ago, the weather was still plenty warm. Children were out in droves, dressed in costumes and masks, carrying plastic pumpkins and pillowcases and going door-to-door, looking for the perfect street for candy. It was the kind of day that would make most people feel content, happy, even excited for the future. On this particular day, - and how fitting that it was Halloween - all that they should be feeling was dread. Because today was the beginning of what would quickly become known as the reign of one of the most feared serial killers in all of history - even though the general public might never know the whole truth about them.

And they weren’t even born yet.

In fact, they were only an idea.

* * *

They had been waiting for this day for years, it seemed. They had talked about it, even dreamed about it.

Today was the day that they were going to begin the process of designing their baby.

Ever since they had first heard of the concept, they had been intrigued. Imagine it, she had said when she first brought up the notion. Imagine picking out every trait, every characteristic of their child. They could make the perfect baby.

She remembered the excited gleam in his eye as he realized the potential behind the idea. True, it was still just a theory, but they were sure that they would be able to – persuade – the scientist behind the theory to speed up his process so they could get to the testing phase.

They were rather good at things of that nature.

So, having decided to go along with her idea, they sat down and began to plan out every detail of their child.

It would be a female, in order to utilize what he referred to as “womanly wiles”.

Beautiful, of course, in order to lure in even the most cold-hearted of men – or woman, as it may be.

Small, in order for it to be easily underestimated by its opponents.

Strong - deceptively so, considering its small size.

Psychopathic - otherwise all of those pesky ‘morals’ might get in the way of their fun.

It would have to be intelligent, of course, she had stated. Scarily intelligent, in fact. That way, it would be able to aid in both the preparation of their games, and the evasion of those who would try and ruin their fun.

Stealth was also an important factor, he had said. In case it would need to sneak up on a player. She had readily agreed, and had added that to their ever-growing list. Right under that she had written “athletic”.

Fast, and possess good reflexes.

Repressed Emotions – that was the next thing added to the list, in order to make sure that it would never – and they shuddered at the mere thought of this happening – gain a conscience.

After another half hour or so of work, they had completed their list of requirements, and looked it over with pride.

“It will be the perfect player.” He had said, ecstatic. “It will win us the Game for good.”

She smirked, allowing him to press a searing kiss against her lips, before pulling away.

“Now then,” she had said, smiling happily, “Let’s go find us a doctor.”

With that, they left the kitchen of their house, leaving their list sitting on the table. The last item on the list was written twice as large as anything else on it, and circled in bright red pen.

Most important factor, it read. Must be obedient.


November 13, 1983

Dr. David Sherkans was working late one night in his lab when his life ended. He lived for approximately three years after that night, but simply living does not make one alive - it just means that they exist.

His sister-in-law was having a baby shower this weekend at her parents’ house, and he had an appointment with a very well off potential benefactor tonight, so he and his wife had decided that she would take the kids up with her to the shower, while he stayed in town for the meeting.

He was so absorbed in his work that he didn’t even notice the door opening until someone spoke.

“Are you Dr. Sherkans?”

He jumped slightly, startled, before turning around. “Can I help you?”

Standing in the doorway was a younger couple, maybe around their mid-twenties.

The man was tall – maybe around six and a half feet – with close-cropped brown hair and green eyes. He was an intimidating figure, particularly for Sherkans, who had spent most of his life being bullied by boys like this man before he had hit puberty. Then he had grown to be around 6’2, and beefed up a bit, making the bullying problem go away nearly instantaneously.

“Yes, hello.” the man said pleasantly, although there was still something about him that made Sherkans nervous. “I believe we made an appointment?”

“Yes, of course.” Sherkans replied politely. “Please, have a seat, Mr…?” he trailed off, unsure of the other man’s name.

“Thank you.” he replied, pulling out a chair for the woman - most likely his wife - before sitting down himself.

“So, you are interested in offering me grant money?” David Sherkans asked, running a hand through his dark brown hair.

The woman laughed then, and his blood ran cold at the sound. It was light and playful, but there was a certain…. darkness…. to it, like the laugh of a possessed girl in a horror film.

“Not exactly.” she said.

Sherkans just looked at them, his blue eyes showing his confusion. “Then why are you here?”

“We have a project for you to undertake.” she told him, leaning forward in her chair. “It requires complete secrecy, which is why we came to you - you do not have a family, so you will not be tempted to share information on this project.”

Sherkans shook his head, smiling apologetically at the woman. “I’m sorry, ma’am, but I’m afraid you are incorrect. I have a family - a wife and two kids.”

This time, it was the man who spoke.

“I’m afraid my wife did not make her meaning clear. What she meant was, if you choose not to assist us with this project, you will no longer have a family.”


August 9, 1986

It had taken longer than they had originally planned, He thought ruefully.

Apparently Dr. Sherkans had not even begun to do any testing concerning his theory when they had first contacted him, and had only just began his research.

That matter had been cleared up quickly, however. The dear doctor had a family.

And, as They had told him when They first contacted him three years ago, he would do as They said if he wanted to keep that family.

So it had taken them three years to get to this point, He thought in excitement. But they had made it. They were finally here.

A hysterical giggle escaped, as he turned onto a now-familiar street, and pulled their Datsun 240z into a parking spot in front of a dilapidated apartment building.

He jumped out of the car and went to open the door for her, earning a smile and a laugh as she stepped gracefully onto the pavement. He held out an arm to her.

“Might I have the pleasure of escorting you inside, Madam?” he asked her, putting on airs.

She threw her head back and laughed, before slipping her arm through his.

“You may, my good sir.” She said.

Anyone who may have noticed the pair would have most likely smiled, filing them away as just another goofy young couple.

Which was, of course, exactly the effect that they desired.

Although, he did have to admit to himself that he was only slightly exaggerating his actions.

After all, he mused, even monsters can fall in love.

Once they were safely inside of the old brownstone, however, the couple’s demeanor changed entirely. They went from being playful and loving to being Cold, Calculating, and Cruel – the Three C’s.

They got into the creaky old elevator - which he speculated had to have been one of the first to ever be installed – and she clung onto his arm tightly. Despite his current frame of mind, he couldn’t help but smile.

She always was afraid of heights. The rickety, cable-might-snap-at-any-moment elevator wasn’t helping her acrophobia at all, either.

When the elevator finally ground to a halt at the top floor, they strolled out into the penthouse suite.

“Doctor, my wife is in labor!” he yelled, announcing their presence. She looked down at her perfectly flat stomach, and raised an eyebrow at his theatrics.

“Really, my love?” she asked, her voice clear and sweet, and just the tiniest bit amused.

“Maybe not.” He amended, caving under his wife’s look. When they had first decided to create their child, she had been adamant that she would not “be carrying around a little menace and ruining her perfectly good figure!” He had readily agreed on that front. Besides, he had added, “carrying it would just slow you down when we play The Game.”

Dr. Sherkans jumped, startled by the loud sound, and hope flashed across his face for a moment before he realized who his visitors were.

“Oh.” He said, his voice portraying just how tired he was. “Hello.”

She glided forward, stopping right in front of the scientist. Staring up at him, with her head tilted to the side slightly and her blonde hair – so blonde that it was nearly white, a genetic anomaly – falling in front of her big blue eyes, making her appear even more deranged than usual.

Sherkans stepped back, still displaying as much fear of the spectre-like woman as he had when they first met.

“Where is it?” she asked him, her soft and melodic voice a stark contrast to the cold, empty look in her eyes. Her voice was calm and steady, and she sounded more like someone asking about the weather than a mother asking about her child. Sherkans couldn’t help but feel saddened by the way she talked about her child - calling the baby an it instead of a she.

“Right this way.” he said, motioning for them to follow him.

The doctor led them over to a large plastic container. There were two holes cut into the box, and several wires cut through each hole, connecting the medical equipment to the child inside.

As they stood there looking down at the little girl, Dr. Sherkans was able to fully realize just how unnatural they were. He remembered with perfect clarity how he had felt when he saw his children for the first time – both for his son, who was seven now, and for his daughter, who was nine. He had cried (manly) tears of joy, amazed that he had helped to create something so perfect.

But they were the complete opposite.

There were no happy tears being shed, no hugging, shouts of joy, or awed murmurs.

Instead, they wore blank faces. Yes, there was a happy gleam in their eyes, but it was one of manipulative success instead of wonder.

She was the first to speak. “May I hold it?” She asked, and the doctor grimaced internally. She couldn’t even call her own daughter “her,” instead choosing to refer to the little girl as an “it.”

Although, he was surprised that she had even asked at all.

“Of course.” Sherkans responded, opening the incubator up and carefully pulling out the girl. He held her for a moment, trying to give her at least one more moment of comfort before sending her off for a lifetime of hurt. He had been trying to give her at least some semblance of love and care as much as possible as she developed – by playing a recording of his heartbeat, talking to her, and – once she was old enough to be safely removed from the incubation unit for any period of time – just holding her for as long as he could.

After a moment or two, though, he reluctantly handed her over. She handled her daughter roughly for a second – letting her legs dangle, her head barely supported – until the little one began to cry softly.

Then, it was as if a switch had been flipped in her brain. She shifted, so that she was now holding her correctly, and rocked the baby slightly. Sherkans couldn’t believe his eyes. He had seen this woman threaten his children without even batting an eye, and here she was, actually caring for her own.

He watched this for a moment, before breaking the silence. He knew that he was most liking pushing his luck by asking any questions at all, but he couldn’t help himself. He had to know at least this one detail about this child that he – with the genetic contribution of the couple standing in front of him – had created.

“What is her name?” he asked hesitantly, flinching when the man glared at him.

She answered him, though.

“River Mara.” She said, and the doctor raised an eyebrow in surprise.

“Unusual name.” he commented, watching as she began to sway softly, humming under her breath as she rocked the child. He noticed that the slow, melodic humming combined with her movements made her seem almost ethereal, as well as – if it was even possible – even more insane.

“Not really.” The man responded, watching her with a troubled look, although Sherkans wasn’t sure why. “Mara means ‘bitter death,’ or just ‘bitter’ in Hebrew.”

“And River?”

He smirked, gesturing towards her. “That part was all her idea. ‘There are some Rivers that shouldn’t be crossed,’ she tells me.” He laughed. “Isn’t that brilliant?”

They watched her bond with the child for a few minutes more, before he got bored.

“Time to go, my dear.” He said.

She nodded dutifully, and began to move towards the elevator doors.

“Hang on a second!” Sherkans protested, realizing what was happening. “You promised me that I could go back to my family once this was over, once I did what you asked!” He shouted, beginning to panic slightly.

She stopped, and looked at Sherkans with – he wasn’t really sure what to call the hints of emotion being displayed, but thought it could be best described as anticipation.

“He is right, my dear.” She said, placing the one-month-old River on the cold stone laboratory floor. “We did promise.”

He nodded, looking put-out. “You will have to do the honours, my sweet.” He said. “ I left my… supplies… at home.”

Sherkans shivered as she giggled. Normally, he would have identified the sound with his daughter and son when he tickled them, but this was different.

Her laughter was carefree and melodic, just like his childrens’. However, there was something else there – a hint of hysteria and madness.

Essentially, her laugh was foreboding, and promised danger whenever it was heard.

A feeling of dread began to seep into his bones as soon as he heard that laugh, and only continued to grow as she moved closer.

Without even realizing that he was doing so, Dr. David Sherkans began to slowly back up, trying to get away from the tiny woman who was currently walking ever closer. Before this whole ordeal had started, if someone had suggested that he would have ever been terrified of a little slip of a woman who stood at 5’7, and probably weighed in at one hundred and twenty pounds soaking wet, he would have laughed.

But now that he was faced with that scenario….

He decided – in the thirty seconds that it took for her to get to him – that the most terrifying thing about her was her eyes.

If you saw her at that precise moment, you would not have been able to see her eyes from any angle other than the one that he was standing at. And if you didn’t see her eyes, she would appear to be ethereal. She stalked towards him, like an animal, but moved so gracefully that she looked like she was dancing. Her hair hung to just above her shoulders, and barely moved as she walked. She stepped so lightly that her feet didn’t make a sound.

But he could see her eyes, and what he saw terrified him. He had never seen anything like it in person, but the best example that he could think of to compare it to was a lion in one of those documentary films that his wife sometimes convinced him to watch - the predator about to catch its prey.

Her eyes were brilliant – big and blue. But it is said that the eyes are the windows to the soul. And if that was the truth, then her soul was irrevocably damaged. Her eyes had a shattered quality, as if she had stared into the abyss for far too long. The evidence of her madness was literally staring him in the face.

It took him maybe ten seconds in total to think of all of this, and by the time he was done, she was standing right in front of him.

Sherkans started to back away, but before he made it more than a few steps she was on him.

In a normal situation, the reasonably fit Dr. Sherkans would have no trouble with defending himself against this tiny woman. Unfortunately for him, his fear was clouding his brain, making it nearly impossible to think straight. By the time that he even considered shielding himself from an attack, she was too close for him to be able to put anything between them without her reacting.

A single strike to the carotid artery was all it took for the doctor to crumple, unable to breathe. He was practically paralyzed as he lay there, yet fully conscious - essentially forced to watch his death coming at him in the form of a cute little blonde.

“Please…” he began, struggling futilely underneath her. “You promised…. You promised that you would bring me back to my family….”

She just smiled down at him sweetly before saying the words that made him glad that she was sending him to his death:

“That’s what I am doing.”

After that, the only thing that his brain would process was pure panic as she carefully leaned over, held his eyelids open with her fingertips and positioned the thermometer.

“Now just hold still.” She whispered. “This won’t hurt a bit.”

Then it was agony. Starting at his eye where she was inserting the tip of the thermometer into his cornea ever so slowly. He began screaming almost instantly, so loudly that it nearly drowned out every other sound. But if he hadn’t been screaming, he would have been able to hear her insane laughter as she slowly tortured him.

Out of the corner of his good eye, Sherkans saw the man standing there, admiring her as she killed him.

Then the pressure eased. She was no longer shoving the thermometer into his eye – instead, she was just sitting there, staring at him in awe.

“Perfect.” She breathed out, and carefully reached into her pocket, pulling out a rusty switchblade, flicking it open reverently before quickly slicing it across the good doctor’s throat.

Without a second glance, they collected their things and left, leaving behind the gurgled cries of a dying man.

As Dr. David Sherkans took his last breaths, he thought back, and he couldn’t help but think that he had done the right thing.

When they had first “contacted” him, they had given him the plans for what they wanted their child to be like, down to the very last detail. However, they had given him their demands and the promise that if he did not comply, his family would suffer for it, before leaving him alone with his work.

That had been their mistake.

Because no matter how worried he would get over his family’s fate, he could not condemn the world – or an innocent child.

So he left something out of their “perfect little psychopath”:

He gave her the beautiful face, deadly intelligence, and formidable athletic skills that were demanded.

He gave her the lack of empathy that they required – although not on the level that they wanted. Her ability to empathize with others would only be slightly impaired.

He even gave her the skills that would be needed to evade the police, at least as much as he could while working on a genetic level. Foresight, planning and deductive reasoning, and organization were on the top of the list.

However, he left out one very important detail:

The desire to kill.

And so, as Dr. David Sherkans died alone in his lab, he gave River Mara the best chance that he could, although this wouldn’t be realized for years to come.

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