The man scrambled for his phone, silently running over the pooling crimson blood. The man took the device, and as silently as he could and called the police. As he called, someone stalked the house, trying to find the man.
“911, what’s your emergency?” the operator asked.
“Hello? Is anyone listening?!”
“Yes, sir, what’s your emergency?”
“Please, help us!”
“What’s your emergency?” the operator repeated.
“My… my wife, she-she got stabbed!” the man whispered, running towards a closet to hide in. “It-it was an animal!”
“Don’t worry, if you send us your address, we’ll have an ambulance in moments-”
“No!” the man on the other end cut in. “You don’t understand! I n-need the police! There was this woman- she was wearing red and pretended to deliver something- then- then.”
“Hide,” the operator calmly ordered. “The police have been notified. But we need your address.”
“I’m at the Drivekind Apartment, floor nine, room ninety-two. I-I don’t think she- the woman in red found me yet.”
“Keep on the call. We need as much information as possible.”
The man watched through the cracks in the closet as a figure entered the room adjoining. She wore red, both in a natural color and in the crimson blood. As she walked, a knife trailed behind, wet with blood. Oddly, her hair was neatly tied back in a ponytail, unstained with blood.
“Wait,” the man whispered, “I think I recognize her.”
“Who is it?”
Through the closet, the man saw the bloody woman leave the room, searching. She had an odd look in her eyes like she was devoid of any life. It looked different from what the man remembered, whereas before, she was full of joy and happiness when she worked at the restaurant.
The man also remembered that she had been fired for failing to show up for work many times, then claiming it was because of a seemingly supernatural stalker.
Outside, a team of seven entered. The door had been locked, but a simple kick brought down the old, weak, door. The room inside was covered in debris, broken furniture, and blood. To the officers, something that was not human must have rampaged in the apartment.
“Kintain Police Department!” the apparent leader shouted.
“Sir, a trail of blood,” another informed. “And a body.”
Indeed, the body of the caller’s wife lay dead on the bloody carpet, stabbed numerous times. But there was an odd quality to the corpse as if being killed was voluntary. The dead even had a wide smile, as if nothing had happened.
The leader nodded silently, and they began to follow the trail, soon arriving in the room where the man was hiding.
“Thank God!” the man exclaimed, practically leaping out of the closet.
“Put your hands-” one ordered,
“No, this is who called,” interjected the captain of the team. The leader turned towards the man. “Now, what happened?”
“My name is Oscar, Oscar Lilith.”
“Good,” the leader assured. “Where’s the killer?”
Oscar pointed at a door to the other room. The leader nodded in thanks and motioned for three other officers to open the door and enter.
On the other side, the woman in red was revealed. She did not look human. The person was rabid, like a creature, lifting up a solid wooden drawer and tossing it to the side with force, searching for Oscar.
“Put your hands where we can see them!” an officer of the law commanded.
“We will use deadly force!” another added.
Meanwhile, the woman in red gave a deep, guttural growl and shattered a nearby window with a punch.
But before the killer could flee, a single shot fired, injuring what was more animal than human. Her body spasmed as a snarl was heard, and at last, the creature fell to the floor momentarily stunned.
“Get us some paramedics! Now!” ordered another.
Far away, Azalea and Chambers had returned to the Julian Page Investigative Service. To be exact, they were yet again in Page’s office, awaiting new orders.
“I trust the investigations went well?” Page inquired, expecting good news.
“Yes, but I fail to see how an abducted child relates to a stalker,” Paris said.
Azalea mumbled something about bubbles and cows.
“It was information from the algorithm. We trust it- it has never failed.”
“What about the cows?! I want to know about the cows!” Azalea demanded.
“Oh, I paid a friend to tell you a bogus statement as punishment for your antics. Anyway, straight to business,” Julian Page began. “You two need to go back to the city of Kintain. You see, Azalea interviewed a woman named Jessica Io. She’s in jail for murder.”
“What?!” Azalea exclaimed. “She was so nice!”
“Yes, well, people change,” Page offered. “Now, I suspect this to be related to the stalker. According to Azalea’s information, I highly doubt she would’ve transformed into a murderer in just days.”
“Anything else?” Paris asked.
“Don’t let Azalea cause any more destruction. Now, dismissed.”
The two nodded in approval and walked out of the office. As the city of Kintain was near, the two walked to a bus station, which would take them to Kintain.
An hour later, the two stepped out of the old rickety bus and into Kintain central square, a large squarish space with many shops bustling with people. Above, the sky darkened and thunder roared.
“Look,” Paris started, pointing Azalea to a large screen showing the news, which was a headshot of Jessica Io, accompanied with unreadable text, “that’s her, isn’t it.”
“It is...” Azalea muttered. “She looks so different.”
“The eyes, they just seem empty, like… glass.”
“It’s gonna rain soon,” Paris realized. “Azzie, let’s get to the prison- Page managed to get us clearance.”
“Noted...” Azalea half-heartedly murmured, entranced by the picture.
The screen changed to the host, a man named Maxwell Stevenson talking about the murders. This seemed to snap Azalea out of his odd trance. “Ah, right. Prison.”
Azalea protested about being called Azzie but ran after Paris, who was hailing a bright yellow cab. The driver let Paris in, and Azalea soon entered.
“And where are you two lovebirds goin’?” the driver asked.
“Prison, Kintain’s Prison,” Paris told, dispelling any ideas of lovebirds the driver had.
“Got it,” the driver replied, starting the car. “May I inquire why, or are you like FBI agents?”
“Do you mind if I blow bubbles?” Azalea asked.
“Uhm… I guess so? Just… don’t spill any soap on the seat.”
“Brilliant,” Azalea giggled. “We’re investigating Jessica Io.”
“Creepy?” Paris questioned. “How so?”
“Before I got this taxi thing, I worked at that steakhouse Jess was in charge of.”
“Ah, and I suspect something happened,” Paris commented. As she said this, she
gave Azalea a nudge and gave him a demonic look. At once, Azalea put away the bubbles.
“Yeah, she just changed one day. Just completely different, super tired, and all that. She told us she couldn’t sleep, and it just kept happening. A few days ago, before the murder, she cracked and starting screaming about a genderless ’it person’ stalking her. The owner was there, and she was fired.”
“I see,” Azalea understood.
The car came to a stop, and the driver spoke for the last time. “Anyways, you’re here, have a good day.”
Through the dancing windshields, the two saw a towering compound. Watchtowers guarded the prison, omnipotent eyes watching everyone who dared enter.
Azalea and Paris opened the car door and exited. Azalea gazed in wonder, while Paris dragged him to the entrance.
Like some sort of warped safe haven, the prison welcomed the two with a blast of heat. The freezing rain of the outside seemed more like a prison than the building itself.
“And you are?” somebody asked.
Paris looked up, seeing the room, which was a clean lobby. Clean white walls surrounded them, and paintings done by captives gave a false sense of security. In the center of the room, a woman in her fifties stared at the two accusingly. “I’m Paris Chambers, and my friend is Caleb Azalea.”
“Do you have passes? Or else you can’t enter this building.”
“Azzie!” Paris growled, seeing Azalea blowing bubbles while staring at the glass doors. “Stop blowing bubbles and get us our passes!”
Azalea made a show of pulling the passes out of his numerous pockets, but at last, he held up the passes. The woman understood and instructed one of the guards to lead them somewhere.
“Jessica’s been expecting you,” the guard informed.
“What? How?” Azalea asked. “Also, can I draw on the walls?”
“No, you can’t draw on the walls. What sort of investigators are you?!”
“Excuse Azzie, he’s insane,” Paris apologized, giving Azalea a stern look.
“Whenever we brought her food to her solitary cell, she kept saying she needed to see someone named Azalea.”
They passed a hall, where officers patted them down. Azalea fussed over his various toys being taken up, while Paris just gave the guards her bag. When they were sure no weapons had been brought, they were taken to an interrogation room.
Through the one-sided glass, Azalea and Paris watched Jessica Io sit patiently. Her hair was ragged, grown, and looked more like fur than hair. A large smile was on her face, not in joy, but in an emotion nobody could discern. The iron walls stood menacingly, and the fluorescent lights shined pure and bright.
Yet Jessica was unfazed, apparently unaffected. She just sat, and grinned.
“Don’t listen to whatever she says,” an officer warned. “I’m not supposed to say this, but she has a… a way of making people do what she wants?”
“How so?” Paris asked. “We need to know everything about her.”
“I heard some officers heard her talk and then… shot each other. She also tried to escape by somehow convincing some guards to bring her object.”
“It’s not her,” Azalea claimed, speaking up.
“It is,” the officer argued. “Fingerprints and DNA proves that is Jessica Io.”
“I think I know where the real Jessica Io is,” Azalea countered.
“Caleb, this is no time for games! We’re dealing with someone who turned from a nice manager to a dangerous killer.”
“This isn’t her. I just know it.”
After he said that, Azalea took off, ignoring proven evidence to trust his own mind. Paris sighed, then asked the guard to interrogate Jessica. The guard opened the door, and Paris Chambers entered.
“Aha, aaand who are you?” Jessica cackled. “I wanted Azalea!”
“Call me Chambers. I’m Azalea’s associate.”
“Oh, straight to the point? How different,” snarled the prisoner, spitting at Chambers.
“What happened to you?” Chambers interrogated, a sad tone to her voice. “I read the transcript between you and Azzie. You don’t spit at people- you were calm, confident.”
“Azzie? Is that what you call him? Well, people change.”
“Not this drastic!” Chambers reasoned. “Now tell me what happened!”
“Why?” spat Jessica.
“Or, nobody will believe your story about it.”
“I don’t care about that person. You fools know nothing,” growled the captive, trying to free herself from the iron cuffs.
“Then let me ask you this: Are you Jessica Io?”
“Who says I am? Who says I’m not?”
“Don’t try that. It may work on those officers, but it won’t work on me.”
Jessica snarled, and laughed maniacally, a wide grin on her face. But she wasn’t moving at all as she laughed, not even her sharp, evil, grin. It was as if the sounds of laughter came from somewhere else, around the iron walled room.
“Damn it, pay attention!” Paris growled, rising to her feet. “I will extract your story from you, and I will use any means possible. Now, tell me what happened to you!”
At this, Jessica suddenly broke down, crying. “Please, leave me before it comes back. It-it’s making me do this!”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“Whenever it’s in the room- it-it just makes me follow it. Azalea!”
“What about Azalea?”
“He left you right?” Jessica demanded, her sobs making the words almost unintelligible.
“Just outside, he left. How did you know that?”
“It’s the person- that genderless it! It must be!”
“Alright… I’m confused. I’m going to take a break now.”
Paris returned to the regular world, confused.
“That never happened before,” the officer mentioned. “Why did she respond differently to you?”
“Different?” Paris gasped.
“She usually had that devilish attitude, but that tone at the end… sounded like someone not insane.”
“I’m going to rethink everything,” Paris decided, walking over to a table. In the center of the table was a notepad and some pens. Paris took some and began to write.
Meanwhile, Azalea raced out of the prison, passing the hall and not bothering to collect his items. Somehow, he just had a feeling he knew where Jessica was.
Azalea called a cab and demanded the driver to go to the woods, to Jessica’s house. Somehow, a feeling just lured him to go there, like an angler luring a fish.
In the wet, torrenting rain, Azalea arrived at Jessica’s house. Bravely, the investigator ran to the door and rang the doorbell. Somehow, the police had never even thought of investigating the house.
A teary-eyed Jessica opened the door.
“I knew you’d be here!” Azalea blurted.
“I knew you’d find me here,” Jessica replied, “this was the only place I could go.”
Azalea stepped in. Jessica, who wore red, same clothes as when they first met, led him to the kitchen table. Azalea sat, while the other set about making tea.
Tea was soon finished, a minty green tea.
“Now, what happened? What of the murders?” Azalea asked. “And who’s at the prison. Is it that it?”
“I-I don’t know,” revealed the woman in red. “A few days ago, I found myself watching television when- when the screen just changed.”
“Changed into it. The person, I-don’t-know. Then it just stared at me, and we were locked like that for what seemed to be hours. When I snapped out of it, it wasn’t on the screen. It was standing in front of me, a-and it was me. A perfect replica. I can’t explain it, Azzie.”
Azalea knew something was wrong. But everything felt perfect, and he just knew the woman in red was telling the truth. So he shrugged off the odd feeling. “What happened next?”
“I ran out of my apartment and back to this house. When I got here, I just passed out. I can’t explain it, I just felt really tired, and then I woke up at the steak house, where my boss was firing me.”
“And you don’t have any idea what happened?”
“No… I just don’t. They said I was shouting and throwing chairs at people- then- I was yelling about a genderless stalker- basically what I told you!”
Back at the prison, the other Jessica screamed, a scream that sounded like extreme pain was being dealt. Paris arose from her seat and rushed to the glass.
“What’s happening?!” Paris demanded.
“No idea,” the officer replied, staring at her phone, playing a game. “She just started screaming. Probably back to insane murder lady.”
Jessica had knocked her seat away from her and was now standing up, squirming and trying to pull the cuffs away from the iron table. She kept screaming, fear in her eyes as she stared at something unseen. The guard did not bother to respond, even after the sight.
But the noise of metal twisting and being ripped off the table was heard, and both the officer and Paris watched as Jessica managed to rip the cuffs from the table with herculean strength.
The lights flickered as Jessica backed away from an unseen figure.
“Get me in there!” Paris demanded. “Now!”
The officer scrambled to action, trying to unlock the locked door. But even as the officer scanned her I.D tag, the door didn’t unlock, staying locked the entire time.
Paris watched as someone, no, something appeared in the interrogation room. “Oh my god...”
An exact replica of Jessica had appeared opposite the Jessica they had interrogated. There was no sign as to how this new person had appeared. One second it was just dead air, and now it wasn’t. This new woman had a large knife in hand, one already covered in blood.
Jessica screamed as the other charged, and stabbed.
At last, the door opened, and indeed, Jessica was dead. Her killer was nowhere to be seen.
Without warning, Paris’ phone rang a sharp trill in the dead silence of the aftermath. It was Azalea, and Paris picked up, planning to notify him of what had just transpired.
“Paris, you won’t believe this!” Azalea cheerfully exclaimed, “I found the real-”
“No, Azalea, no!” Paris cut in, knowing exactly what Azalea would say.
“Huh? Why? We can prove she’s innocent!”
“Azalea,” Paris began, heart pounding in fear and sweat dripping, “whoever you’re with, it’s not Jessica.”
“It is! She told me what really hap-”
“Jessica is dead.”
“But… she’s alive...”
“Azalea, where are you?”
“At her house, the one in the woods… Oh...”
“I’m going to get the police there. Don’t get hurt.”
Azalea heard the phone turn off. He tucked it away and turned from staring out of a window to face Jessica. He no longer felt calm.
“So? Who called?”
“Just some telemarketers,” Azalea lied, “you know how they are.”
“Good. I wouldn’t want you to tell anyone I’m here.”
And now Azalea knew. Even though it, whatever it was, had the appearance of Jessica, the spell had been broken. Azalea could see the truth, seeing that whenever this person spoke, it’s mouth didn’t move. Before, the illusion made it seem human, but now, it was as if the person was a puppet, sown together with illusion and influence.
This did not seem like Jessica anymore. Not even the clothes were right, not even any of her features. It looked genderless, not-human.
And behind this mask, Azalea saw the truth.
He knew who it was.