Murder By Design

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Chapter 4

August 12, 1993

Breathe in, breathe out. I kept reminding myself.

Three days ago, for my seventh birthday, They had taken me out to play the Game with them for the first time. Normally, I only assisted in winning the Game, but this time, I got to play.

Now it was time for me to finish my turn.

She came up to me, pulling me into a hug.

“Hey kiddo.” She said, running a hand through my hair. “You excited?”

I nodded, smiling up at her. “Can’t wait.” I answered honestly.

But what I couldn’t wait for – even I didn’t know the answer to that.

Because at the moment, I had two options – I could either give in, or get out. I could give in to the darkness that was constantly trying to claw its way out of the recesses of my mind and soul. Or I could keep fighting it - and risk him finding out and killing me. Because I knew that that was what would happen if he even doubted my abilities for a second.

I knew what I was – a psychopath. They had never felt the need to keep that hidden from me. Every textbook ever written on psychology, criminology, and forensic sciences was at my disposal - even dog-eared copies of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot - and I cherished every one. They were my only escape. Weapons training had begun as soon as I was old enough to handle them without killing myself – although that was due to her input. I knew for a fact that he had wanted to start me on weapons as soon as I was toddling around.

“I have a present for you.” She said, bringing me out of my reverie.

Surprisingly, I felt myself grow excited at the prospect of gifts. I knew that that was something that normal children got excited over, but I never really understood them. “Really? What is it?”

She headed into the kitchen, motioning for me to follow her. Once there, she pulled a large rectangular package from on top of the refrigerator and handed it to me.

It was wrapped beautifully, in dark red wrapping paper, tied with a black satin bow, both of which were hastily tossed aside as I frantically unwrapped the gift.

It was a wooden box made from polished chestnut, expertly carved. The sides were plain, but polished enough that I could literally see my reflection in them, while the top was beautifully carved. A small flower border wrapped around the outer edge, and the center featured intricately carved designs, making it look to be a beautifully crafted jewelry box.

In all honesty, the thought disappointed me immensely.

I knew most girls would have loved that – but then again, I have never been most girls.

“Go ahead.” She said, nudging my shoulder. “Open it.”

For once in my life, I decided to trust her, and did as she said.

Now that I look back on those days, I realize just how important that decision was.

It took me a moment to undo the latch on the box, but once I did, my mind was blown.

The inside of the box was lined in red velvet, but that wasn’t the exciting part – that would be what was inside of the box.

Laying perfectly cushioned in the velvet was a dagger, perfectly formed. As I lifted it out, the velvet retained the negative image of the blade.

“It’s beautiful….” I whispered.

It was a gorgeously crafted weapon, to say the least. Twelve inches in total, from the base of the handle to the tip of the blade – four inches of carved ivory for the grip, and eight inches of steel for the actual dagger. The blade in itself was intricate, with a design of lilies etched into the metal. In contrast, the grip was simple – a slim piece of ivory that fit my hand fairly well, although I could tell that it would fit better as my hands got bigger.

“So?” she asked me. “What do you think?”

“I love it.” I said honestly. “It’s perfect.”

She smiled at me, turning my body so that I was facing the direction of the basement. As soon as the door came into view, though, my happiness dissipated, leaving me with nothing but nerves once more.

“Go get ’em, kiddo.” She said, and I grabbed an old shoulder-bag from the closet to hide my new weapon in before going downstairs.


Halfway down, I saw my prey in the Game.

It had taken years for them to fully explain what the Game was, and even now it confused me. Essentially, the Game was like Cops and Robbers, only the police had no idea what was going on.

My turn in our Game began today.

He was around six foot one, with shaggy brown hair. After being tied to a pipe in the basement for the past three days, he was severely weakened, although She had been bringing him minimal amounts of food and water twice a day. Before I was far enough down the stairs for him to see me properly, though, I hid the blade in my bag.

I had been trained for this for my whole life. They had already told me that someday, I would take over for them as the winners of the Game. That was why they were teaching me all of this - so that I would be prepared. That way, I could keep the winning streak going.

As soon as he saw me, he seemed to regain some semblance of life. It was obvious why, really. In his eyes, I was an innocent in this Game – another victim, like him. She had used this oversight on his part against him, even going so far as to dress me for the part – as what she pictured a perfectly innocent child would look like. I was dressed in a pink knee-length dress, with soft white lace trimming, white bobby socks, and black patent leather shoes. My hair had been pulled back so that it was half-up and half-down.

As far as I was concerned, the outfit was really only costing me in terms of my range of movement - and my dignity.

“Hey kid.” He said, his voice an urgent whisper, hoarse from disuse. “We gotta get you outta here.” He was struggling to get to his feet as I approached him, but stopped moving once I was standing in front of him.

“What’s your name, sweetheart?” he asked, and I froze.

Sweetheart. That single word caused an intense wave of unrecognizable emotions. I knew what it meant, of course - a term of endearment, or affectionate form of address. But no one had ever called me that before.

“River.” I said absently, my mind racing a mile a minute, trying to process what exactly that one word had caused.

“I’m Lucas.” he said, trying to make his voice sound both urgent and comforting - a hard combination to pull off.

“We’re going to get out of here.” Lucas promised, as his eyes searched the room. “But first, I need you to find something that you can use to cut these ropes, okay?”

I nodded, going along with things. I looked around the basement, pretending to search, before I looked back at my bag, widening my eyes in mock excitement.

“Will this work?” I asked, pulling out the knife that she had given me mere moments earlier.

This time when he looked at me, there was something different in his eyes - confusion, along with a hint of fear.

“Where did you get that?” he asked, and I could just barely detect the tremor in his voice.

I panicked slightly - he was getting suspicious. That wasn’t good.

“Uh…. I found it?” I offered weakly.

“No you didn’t.” he said, his growing horror written all over his face. “You…. You’re… You’re with them, aren’t you?” he accused, his voice growing louder by the second.

I looked towards the stairwell, expecting one of them to be halfway down the stairs, yelling at me to keep him quiet or else. Luckily, they hadn’t decided to come and investigate - not yet, at least. We were alone.

“Listen carefully.” I whispered, but he just continued on with his frantic ramblings.

So I slapped him. Hard.

“Listen up!” I said, a bit more urgently, dropping the ‘scared-little-kid’ look completely as I dug through my bag once more. “Is there anyone that you’d like to leave a message to? Loved ones? Friends or family?”

“What?” he asked, still looking terrified. “What are you talking about?”

“Your last words.” I told him seriously, as I sliced through the ropes around his wrists.

Of course, that was my first mistake.

As soon as he felt the ropes go slack, Lucas grabbed the knife from me with one hand, and pulled me towards him with the other.

I screamed - it was instinctual. Luckily, it was enough to get her to come running down the stairs. She froze for barely even a second when she saw what was happening.

"Let her go." she growled. For the first time that I could recall, I was seeing her mothering instincts in play. Someone was threatening her child, and she was going to fight to keep me safe.

"Not until you let me go." he said, keeping the knife pointed at me. "Just let me leave in peace, and I'll let her go."

Her expression fell, and she looked to be on the verge of tears as she came closer. "Please, just.... don't hurt my baby." she said, and I could tell that he was falling for it. His grip on me loosened just enough for me to pull away, and I ran so that I was behind her.

That was when all hell broke loose.

She went berserk, taking him down in thirty seconds, tops. When she was done, he was on the floor in a heap, crying in pain as blood slowly seeped out of his stomach. She wiped off my new knife on his shirt before handing it back to me.

"Go on then, kiddo." she said, wiping her hand across her brow, smearing her forehead with blood in the process. "Finish him off."

"Yes, ma'am." I said stiffly. I twirled the knife in my hand as I approached him.

His eyes grew wide with fear as I came closer.

"Wait, please..." he begged. "Please, don't..."

But by that time, I had straddled his chest, holding my knife to his throat.

The last thing that Lucas saw was my face as I slit his throat.

Then I used my new blade once more to cut his shirt off of him, before I began to carve into his chest.

B - A - S - T - A - R - D

Once I had finished, I got up off of the corpse that lay on the floor of our latest hideaway. I stood back for a moment and studied my handiwork, before I felt her hand on my shoulder.

"Good job, River." she said, smiling at me. "I'm proud of you." She turned to go back upstairs then, and I just stayed where I was for a minute, before she called for me.

"Come on, River. It's dinnertime."

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