Chapter 1: Joyce
3rd October 2013
The sky is dark. Is it night or evening? I wonder.
Faint voices: “Joyce! Joyce!”
The voices echo through the dense forest. I drag my body towards them.
I pant. My body has already started to give up. I take in a deep breath and use my loudest voice.
The voices are clearer now, “JOYCE!!”
5th July 2017
“I’m alright, mum. But I won’t be if I’m late for work.”
“Make sure to call me once you reach the lab, okay?” mum said in her calmest tone, but I could feel the tension from the other end of the call.
It has become a ritual for me to report to her every time I go out and come back to my apartment. Crazy, I know, especially since I am now 29 years old. Not all 29-year-old women report everything to their mothers.
But then again, not all 29-year-old women are kidnapped for seven months.
The following day, 11:27 a.m.
Rays of sunlight peeked in through the gap between the leaves of the trees. Within the forest walls, it was more chilly.
*Echoes of chirping birds*
I walked past the yellow tape that screamed, “Caution - Do Not Enter.” It was eerie to see the way a beam of sunlight highlighted the crime scene.
There wasn’t a single drop of blood. Only a neatly slaughtered head detached from its body with its face destroyed using something heavy -a big rock I assume - lying beneath the pile of dry leaves.
“The weapon must have have been similar to a kitchen knife - but much bigger and sharper, “I muse.
“And why is that?” Officer Byles asks.
Officer Byles - Nathan Byles outside of work- also happens to be my high school friend.
I point at the victim’s neck.
“He has been slaughtered in one go. Look at how clean the cut is,” I explain.
“Chief! We found an arm detached from its body at the edge of the forest”, another officer called to Officer Byles.
Back at the forensic lab:
“Did you find anything, Joyce?” Officer Byles asked as soon as he entered the lab with his team members.
“The arm does not belong to the victim whose head we found in the middle of the forest, “I say. “But our second victim’s arm is detached from his body using the same weapon that has been used to behead our first victim.”
“The killer is the same person in both cases, and we have more than one victim,” concludes Samuel, one of Byles’ team members.
His eyes are fixed on his master as his master whispers into his ear.
Dressed in a black robe, the master hid his face under a black hood.
The disciple nods and bows to his master with utmost respect before leaving.
“Joyce, let’s grab a drink after work?” Byles offered.
“Sure, Nathan, but promise me we won’t talk about work. Every time we drink, you bring up all the cases.”
Evening. 8:03 p.m.
“How’s Nancy?” I ask.
“She’s in her second trimester, so I thought it’d be better to send her to her parents. She needs to be taken care of during this period, and I am barely home. I do visit her on the weekends, though. God knows what’s happening, but she seems to get prettier every time I see her,” he ends with a slight smile on his face - looking at his thumb as he fiddles with his drink.
I can’t help but smile at him. The way he talks about Nancy, it’s precious.
“Take me along next weekend,” I say sincerely. Nathan nods a yes.
“Hey, do you still have insomnia?” he asks suddenly.
“Did Mom ask you to check on me? Again?”
“Nancy asked me the same thing a few days ago. It can’t be a coincidence,” I say.
“Okay fine. Your mom asked me to check on you, and I’m worried about you as well. You don’t really talk about what’s going on in your life. I am not pretending to know what you must have been through when you were missing for seven months, but this type of incident could really traumatize people. I’m glad you were back to how you use to be within a few months, but I am worried that you didn’t give yourself enough time to recover fully.”
“Nathan? Do you think I’m lying about being okay? I’m strong enough to handle this on my own. I’m fine,” I say defensively.
“Is that why you asked me out on a drink?” I interrupt Nathan, “To convince me to go and see a psychiatrist? You know what? I don’t feel okay at times because you all convince me that I’m not okay!”
“Fine, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” he says instantly, his hands above his head.
I nod, accepting his apology.
“I wanted to set you up with Angel. That’s the main reason for tonight’s drink”, he says as he sips on his beer.
“Angel? Your team member?” I ask half in disbelief and half blushing.
“Is that a yes or no?”
“OH MY GOD. It’s a YES,” I say, trying to sound as dramatic as possible.
It’s high time to move on from Nathan. You can’t like your best friend. You can’t like your best friend’s husband. Nathan and Nancy are my best friends. If it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t have had the courage to live a normal life. Not with what I have been keeping from this world.
Nathan’s phone rang, interrupting my thoughts.
“Okay. I’ll be there shortly,” Nathan replies to the call.
“What happened?” I ask.
“They found the bodies...”
“Of our victims?”
“Probably, but there are more than two bodies. They found six bodies and all without heads and arms. Each body has a bellflower on its chest.”
I grab my coat and follow Nathan to his car.
It’s going to be a long night.
My team and I check the bodies in the lab. We manage to get fingerprints from the damaged arm of the second victim.
3: 30 a.m.
“Joyce, did you find something?” Nathan asks.
I was so preoccupied that Nathan had to pat on my shoulder to get my attention.
I hand Nathan a file.
“Our second victim’s fingerprints had a match in the criminal record. All of the bodies we found are missing parts of their livers and carvings of flesh from various parts of the body. The missing pieces are useless in terms of organ trafficking. I’m guessing that the killer finds enjoyment in mutilating the bodies this way and perhaps keeping souvenirs for themselves or, this is a little bit out there, the killer is feeding on the victims.”
“But your face says I’m missing something,” Nathan says.
I look at him, sweating.
“He was there. The second victim”.
“When I was kidnapped. 4years ago. He was there. He worked for the one who kidnapped us. He is watching me,” I say. “He deliberately left the fingerprints of the second victim so that I could find it. He wants me to know that he is back.”
“Who’s watching you?” Nathan asked, half denying the answer in his head and half fearing I’d be scared.
“Campanula Cannibal is back,” I whisper.