April 7, 1990
John Richards was walking his dog in the park. It was a gorgeous day out – children were playing on the swing-set, young couples were sitting in the grass talking, and elderly couples were sitting on the park benches, feeding the birds handfuls of breadcrumbs. He smiled in contentment as he listened to the sounds of children laughing.
“Excuse me.” A little voice said. Richards looked down to see a four year old girl – he wouldn’t have known her age if not for his own little one back at home.
She was adorable, to say the least. Her white blonde hair was pulled up into little pigtails that fell to her chin. Big green eyes looked at him from a face that was mostly dominated by chubby cheeks and a little button nose, covered in a light sprinkling of freckles. She wore a pale purple short sleeved dress, with white lace-trimmed socks and black shoes. Not the typical outfit that you would see on a little kid, but he wasn't really an expert in those sorts of things.
“Hello.” John Richards said kindly, bending down so that they were around the same height, as not to frighten her. “What’s your name?”
“My name is River.” She said, almost shyly, as she rocked back and forth on the balls of her feet.
John smiled. “It’s very nice to meet you, River.” He said. “I’m John, and this little beauty is Inara.” He told her, rubbing the head of his old basset hound fondly.
“Where are your parents, River?” Richards asked her then – looking around, he didn’t see anyone who even remotely resembled the tiny creature in front of him.
His heart ached for her as hot, fat tears began to roll down her cheeks, making her rub at them with a chubby little fist.
“I don’t know.” She replied, her voice quiet and miserable, before looking up at him hopefully. “Can you help me to find them?” Her voice was full of that childish innocence - that special kind of naivety that only came from one so young.
Richards smiled at her, standing back up. He ignored the protests that his knees made from the action, instead choosing to hold out a hand for her to take.
“Of course I can.” He said.
She gave him a watery smile as she wrapped her tiny hand around his index finger.
“Where did you last see them?” Richards asked her. River looked around the park for a second, before pointing towards a particular section of the tree line that seemed more forboding than the rest.
The sun wasn’t as bright over there, and if you listened carefully, you would hear…. absolutely nothing. No birds chirping, no crickets singing, nothing. It was as if Mother Nature herself was giving a warning - saying, Stay away. There is danger here.
“Over there.” She said, pointing to a barely visible trail.
“Off we go, then.” John Richards said, as he headed down the trail with River’s hand in his left hand, and Inara’s leash in his right.
No one else in the park even noticed as they left to go down the trail, disappearing into the trees.
Hours later, an old, mud-covered dog came tearing out of the woods and onto the highway, only to be hit by an SUV.
If the driver had bothered to stop and check on the dog, they might have noticed the blood. Not that blood would be unusual, given the circumstances – but the sheer amount of it would hopefully raise some questions.
Or they might have seen the once-shiny tags around the dog’s neck, with her name engraved on them.
Her name was Inara.
It would be weeks before anyone discovered John Richards body, laying in the woods, ripped to shreds by both his killer and the animals that scavenged his body. No one would be able to explain why he had died, what could have possibly caused him to even go into the woods in the first place.
There was a simple explanation for that - because even if anyone had seen the little girl who had led John Richards into the woods, who would ever have connected her to his brutal murder? Besides, the little girl was long gone by then - along with her parents, the ones who had killed Richards in the first place.