Tears in Pleasantville

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Mystery and Crime  |  House: Booksie Classic
Unsure of why their friend Maria is not at school, Jessica and Sara launch a mission to find her. Encountering danger and strangeness, this is a story of chaos, friendship, and incompetence.

Submitted: November 12, 2019

A A A | A A A

Submitted: November 12, 2019

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TEARS IN PLEASANTVILLE

1

The children were like a herd of zebra, the teachers like cheetahs chasing them to their seats. It was Assembly time at the school, as it was every morning – the majestic 100-odd year-old theatre filled to the brink of collapse with bodies. For Sara, today was yet another in the drifting insignificance of her adolescent life. Walking to her row, bobbing her head with a sigh, she made her way to her ad-hoc seat, delicately stepping past the legs of her classmates. Sitting down on the wooden floor, she squeezed her legs crossed underneath her. Moving to her right she allowed her friend, Jessica, to sit down next to her. Recently, the school had implemented a new program. It was designed to encourage those in older years to interact and in some way inspire those of younger years. This was the second and final week of the year 12’s turn to exercise their apparent adultness to the year 3’s… One result however, was instead of sitting at the far back of the Assembly Hall, on nice cushioned, fold-out seats (where the year 12’s normally sat), they had to bin this smidgen of status, and sit at the front near the stage with the year 3’s, on the suspiciously shiny hard-wooden floor. Most of the older kids were not pleased about this, and Sara and Jessica were a couple of them.

“Jess, honestly… Like honestly.” Sara said, rolling her eyes up and around.

“Sara, I know, I know… Please don’t bring it up.” Jessica said quietly, trying to mask a sigh.

“You know I will.”

“We’ve only got one more week.”

“But it’s soooo long…”

Jessica didn’t reply. Staring forward, her fair face held a vacant expression. Watching the teachers gather on stage, her mind was on auto-pilot; thoughts drifting in and out, when she suddenly blurted: “Why do you always complain? Like all the time, there must be a complaint? And I never ask… Do you ever ask yourself? Why you complain?”

Sara dropped those endearing eyes upon her, before a smile traced across her face. “Sometimes…” she turned to face the stage, attempting to not seem nonplussed by the question. “Well, I am grateful of things, you know. Where we are and stuff.”

“It doesn’t seem like it.”

Sara looked at her fingernails, stretching her out her hand below her. “Jess, I think of complaining as ‘adaptive strategy’.” Jessica, in response, frowned deeply: when in the hell has Sara used the words ‘adaptive’ and ‘strategy’ together? Sara continued: “Like, complaining I feel, is a strategy I employ to get things. You know in biology class when they talk about like, uh, adaptive traits, things animals evolve with to help them… you know… survive…”

“Uh-huh…”

“So, complaining for me is what they would call like… an ‘adaptive trait’.”

“You complain to survive?”

“No silly, I complain to succeed.”

‘Succeed’ floated between the girls for a few strange moments. Jessica’s eyes narrowed; it was not often Sara sounded smart, but there was no way she was dumb. To her, Jessica felt Sara dumbed herself down… Maybe that was another ‘adaptive trait’?

Sara herself, was quite pleased with how this conversation was going, and thus continued once more: “Complaining has its uses Jess and it has got me quite far. People just seem… To do what I want… If I complain.”

Jessica nodded, she wasn’t wrong. “Maybe that’s what I should do more…”

“No, no, it won’t work for you.” Sara whispered almost mournfully.

“Why?”

“Because,” in Sara, there was both pain and satisfaction in what she was about to say. “Because, you’re a follower. You’re a copier. If you complain, people will just find you annoying. They won’t want to satisfy you. I, on the other hand, I’m a leader – people copy me.”

Wiping her face, Jessica tried to conceal the splinter of pain embedded in her side. Wobbling her head, she retorted: “What about Maria then, is she a follower, huh? Or is she a leader like you? There can’t really be two of you in our group… Or at least two successful ones.”

“Maria can be a bitch,” Sara began, investigating her nails again, “But I do love her – “

“I think you follow her a bit.”

“Well,” Sara scoffed, inhaling and chuckling at the same time. “She’s pretty and funny – like real funny - so yeah, I think I do want to be her a bit. And she always gets the hottest dudes, you’d have to admit... At least I’m honest though.”

Jessica didn’t reply for a moment, the word ‘honest’ stuck in her mind like a broken-down carriage on a railway track. She lowered her gaze, aiming it at the heads of the younger kids in the row in front. Blinking a couple of times, she started, suddenly excited: “Hey, where is she anyway? Assembly’s about to start.”

Both thought for a moment, before Sara giggled cheekily. “Maybe…”

Jessica’s face contorted, before releasing. “No, no, no. Don’t be ridiculous Sara. That guy hasn’t… you know… He hasn’t done anything like that in a while.”

“But she fits his category perfectly... She’s 16, and pretty, obviously.”

“Shut up Sara. She’s probably just sick.”

“And who says he hasn’t done anything? It could simply not be on the news...”

“Stop it Sara!”

The senior teachers had all gathered on stage, and the mass mutterings were calming. Whispering back and forth, Jessica repeatedly told Sara to shut up, until a loud ‘sssh’ was heard from the end of their row. Before every assembly, they had to sing the national anthem. The hall fell completely silent, until the headmaster sitting behind the podium stood up from his seat. Hundreds of little feet then clapped on the ground and the school begun to chant as one.

Sara was mumbling alongside Jessica, who was mumbling only slightly louder. Luckily, they were in the middle of the row, meaning the teacher on either side couldn’t make them ‘sing with passion’ as they were supposed to. Sara let her head drop, her eyes investigating nothing in particular; her mind wandering around the feet of the little children before curiosity struck her: surrounding the boy’s feet in front of her, was a growing pool of liquid. Her mind rapidly cycled through all the possibly absurd things it could be – an open drink bottle? A sweating condition? Until the movements of the kids either side of the boy confirmed it. She stepped back slightly, nudging Jessica. “Oh my god Jess, look!”

Jessica replied with her eyes so wide they seemed to be popping out of her skull. She also took a couple of steps back. A teacher pushed her way through the children from the right, motioning to the wet little boy. As he turned to walk down the human corridor, created by the kids surrounding him (who were all looking in horror, not humour, it must be said, even the older kids), Jessica noticed he was still singing loudly, tears streaming down his face. She couldn’t help but think that this wasn’t helping his current inclination for moisture.

Sara, meanwhile, was snorting and scoffing. “Eww,” she whispered. Dipping her head slightly toward the pool, she sniffed. “That’s foul…” She realised, that she had never seen a pool of urine collect uninhibited. The floor’s shininess was due to a protective varnish, thus the liquid did not absorb, like it would on pavement. She was struck by just how much there was – all from this one little boy!

Another teacher made his way through the crowd of small bodies with two towels over his shoulder. Kneeling, he cleaned the up pool with ferocity, using, to Jessica’s horror, bright-white-fancy-hotel towels – why the heck, she thought, didn’t he use some scummy old ones? Seemingly immune to the concept of urine, he then plonked the drenched, now green-yellow towels, back over his shoulder and promptly walked away. The anthem was still lingering on with the girls still mumbling on, until it finally, slowly, collapsed to a finish.

The school sat but around the now dried pool of urine, was a donut of kids all trying to inch further and further away from the ‘radiation zone’. The girls had pushed themselves backward from their previous spot, motioning to the children behind to move. The headmaster approached the podium and normally, would not speak until the whole hall was silent. However, he seemed rushed, his arm shakily bending the microphone toward his mouth. Clearing his throat, he stuttered along a series of nondescript words before he bowed, exposing to the school the shiny top of his head, the hair surrounding it looking like dried glue from a hot-glue gun. The girls turned to each-other, frowning – the headmaster was usually stoic; unwavering in his upholding of the ‘school’s values’; a seemingly virtuous individual that at least like to act as if even in the greatest storm, he would stand his ground, unmoved. Thus, this show of ‘weakness’ or a ‘faltering’ as one may interpret it, or the children at least were supposed to interpret it as - was highly unusual. Finally, without raising his head he began, a little too loudly: “I wish… ah… I wish to… Ma-a-ake…” Jessica quickly eyed the other teachers sitting behind the podium and noticed in them concern and shock – one older lady was putting tissues up to her face. “Ah... I wish to… to announce...” The man paused again, the top of his head still facing the crowd. Sara’s eyebrows were reaching high, creasing her forehead. “Sorry... ah… I can’t… I Just can’t… It’s too…” The man then put his arm up to his face, to block – was that tears? Both Jessica and Sara stared at one another, unblinking - what was going on? Broken breaths from the mic arced through the hall; an electrical storm of pain. A woman stood up, and then a man, and then another man; all senior teachers from the seats behind. The woman, her high heels clacking on the stage, made it to the podium first; the other two men looked at each-other distastefully, before inching back to their seats. Turning the headmaster around, she pointed to behind the curtain on the left. He walked off, not looking at the school, seemingly in shame.

“What… what has happened?” Sara whispered.

“I don’t know…” Jessica whispered back.

The woman teacher gripped the podium, etching her frown into the school. She began firmly: “The school has received some terrible news.” She let the statement sit there, like an unflushed toilet. As one, the school inhaled. “One of our students… has been killed.” Time slowed, sinking into the hall. The little faces up front knew something was up, but not exactly what; on the older faces shock and fright was forming, their mouths opening; and the teachers were either shaking and bowing their heads or eyeing their students.

“I ask you to stay calm. Please.” Anxious muttering began to flutter throughout. She motioned with her hands to the teachers on the sides of each row to control the children. “We are not allowed at this time reveal the causes of her, err, the student’s death, but the senior staff, on behalf on the school, extend the utmost gratitude and love for the victim’s family. It was a life taken too early; and no life should be taken like that.” The commotion was rising even still; squeaks and squeals ricocheted around the hall like a slaughter house. The woman raised her voice again: “We have decided, the senior staff, to send the whole school home today. Everybody. Please everyone, listen! This is important. Everybody must go home, no exceptions. Also, nobody can walk home – or take the bus – everyone must get picked up by their parents. If your parents cannot collect you, then the teachers will provide transport… Okay?” Stretching her arm out, she called up the Head Chaplain from behind her. “But before that happens,” she was almost shouting, “We will come together and pray for this student, and her family.”

The Head Chaplain approached and began his piece at the podium, mournfully mumbling something, but Sara and Jessica weren’t bowing their heads. Both were horrified; their eyebrows seemingly losing connection with their forehead’s muscular tension. Jessica was mouthing no and shaking her head. Sara didn’t know what to do, so just put her face in her hands.

Kids and teachers alike started moving under the panic festering in the air; everybody now ignoring the chaplain’s prayer. Jessica began hurriedly, touching her friend on the shoulder: “Sara! Sara! Hey! - Maria cannot be, you know… She cannot be. So, let’s throw this silliness – this silly thinking – away and just find her. Let’s just find her! Let’s call her home, she’s probably just sick – okay?”

“But Jessica,” Sara slowly looked up from her hands, the dams of her eyes close to breaking, “it’s not silliness. She’s not here, and that sick guy’s been killing! And – “

“Sara, let’s go, come-on. We need to go now! I know Maria’s home phone off-by heart. The school phone will be packed, heaps of kids will want to use it, but I know another. There’s a pay phone behind the science block, just outside of the school walls.” Jessica grabbed Sara’s limp body and dragged her up, her head swivelling to find an exit, completing ignoring the urination incident. The hall was now a mosh-pit of hysterical children - and adults that were no less hysterical than the children. Thus, the girls were running and fighting over and around little and big kids, while trying to avoid the teachers. Somehow, after ducking under a teacher (wo)manhandling a younger boy, who was getting aided by an older boy; and dodging a screaming set of little girls running in circles they found a side exit, leading out onto the plaza. Jessica, looking out the glass frame, was about to push the door open when she turned to Sara.

“Hey… Hey!”

Sara was sobbing, tears and snot wiped across her face, her body still half limp.

“HEY!” Jessica shouted, looking at her seriously.

Sara stood upright and nodded her head, sniffing. Coughing, she managed, “okay, okay, yup… I’m good… I’m good.”

“You’ve got to focus, concentrate. Be on my tail, okay. There’s no need to cry because she’s not bloody dead. Pull yourself together Sara and follow me!” Pointing to right behind her feet, Jessica turned and pushed the door open.

 

***

 

Jessica led Sara out the exit, across the plaza, where a marble statue of some founder dude stood next to the tuck shop. She made sure to stick to the sides of buildings, not running out into the centre, as other children were circulating about like chickens destined to be headless. Pushing open a swinging door of an old building, Jessica, holding Sara’s hand behind her, looked either way down a corridor. Nobody was around, so they sprinted right.

As they sped down the corridor, a teacher - fat, bearded and gruff - stood out from a classroom door with a bunch of papers in his hand. “Hey! What are you doing?” He said firmly, the girls halting in front of him. “You two should be going home.”

Jessica didn’t know this teacher well and couldn’t remember his name. Silence absorbed between them, molecules of tension melting into the girls’ skin. The teacher’s eyebrows rose, and Sara, unsure of what to do, tentatively stepped forward and decided to speak: “Hi sir, um, we are getting picked up by my mother very shortly and we’re off there now. We’re just really frightened, you know. And, like… Um…”

The teacher noticed the shock on the girl’s faces and his expression seemed to be softening. But Sara gave Jessica a wild look, and suddenly took off, speeding around the man’s right. Jessica screamed and did the same, except on the left, dodging his outstretched arm. “Oi!” The man shouted. The girls continued running down the corridor, passing classrooms on either side, confused teachers every so often looking out. Though not athletes, the girls were fit and fast enough; the overweight teacher behind no chance in catching them. Before escape was ensured however, they had to wind down an intricate, narrow, old, stairwell – its carpet mangled and uneven, the wood underneath showing through on many of the stairs. Many a student had ‘stacked-it’ down this stairwell. Many a student had broken a bone because they were; A) trying to show off to their dick-head mates; B) clumsy as hell; or C) trying to take it too fast – which the girls were currently doing.

Sara reached the stairs, leaping, quite artfully, down the first few. “Be careful Sara, be careful!” Jessica called out behind.

The girls had to complete about 6 rotations of the wind and were halfway down and rapidly descending, when they heard the heaving breaths of the teacher beginning above. They slowed slightly, knowing their lead on the man was such that, no need was it to go at an extreme pace. About three-quarters down they heard a scream, then a massive smash – similar to that of a truck colliding with a fruit stand – followed by manly whimpering. The girls stopped, Sara turning to look up at Jessica who was right behind her, their faces that of a joke that had gone too far.

Jessica descended another step, before she turned, and both the girls looked up. They could hear the man’s whimpering but couldn’t see him. “Oh no…” Sara whispered, “Oh no…”

“Shit… Shit… Oh my god…” Jessica was clenching her fists and stamping her feet.

Sara took a half step up. “We should go up there Jess and help him. We kinda caused it…”

“No Sara, no.” Jessica shook her head. “We need to get outside the walls and get to the phone to make sure Maria is okay. He’ll be alright.” Moans echoed throughout the staircase; a debilitated ‘help’ bounced down toward them. “The other teachers will come.”

Sara exhaled, and screaming internally she started to sob again. Jessica grabbed her arm and slowly took her down the last few stairs. The lights of the staircase hadn’t been turned on yet and no windows were this far down. As the girls reached the bottom, darkness engulfed them.

“Where’s the door?” Jessica whispered rhetorically. The girls fumbled around in the dark, the only sound Sara’s sobs, the man’s moans, and the girls’ quiet footfall, until Jessica’s hand touched rattling cold metal. As she turned the door knob and she and Sara walked out, brightness; the glorious brightness of day hit them like God’s gaze breaking through the gates to hell. Their hands went up to cover their eyes. “Jesus, its bright,” Jessica said.

 

***

 

“Okay, it’s just over here.” Jessica pointed to a spot on the wall.

The girls had made their way across the ‘sacred’ grass field that no-one was ever allowed on, through the music and art blocks, until finally going around the science block and were about to jump over the wall (the whole time maintaining a high-level of ‘sneak’, their calves tensed as they were on their tip-toes, with Jessica constantly raising her finger up to her pursed lips in reaction to Sara’s sobs – which to be fair had died away considerably).

The pay phone was on the other side. The wall was made up of large stones melded together with harsh concrete. It was not very high, an average of 6 foot; but though the stones had been shaved down and blunted once, maybe 50 years ago, to scale this construction was painful. Hands, knees and bodies would dig into the rocky sharpness, blood often drawn – it was a hassle.

“For fucking fuck’s sake.” Sara whinged.

Jessica, to Sara’s right, raised her eyebrows – Sara never swore. Apparently, Sara thought of swearing as being ‘for the uncivilized’ - she was quite skilful in her ability to walk the plank between wealthy socialite and drug-addicted hoe, Jessica regularly noted.

“Argh” Sara continued, only barely managing to get a foothold. Meanwhile Jessica had reached the top and was offering her a hand. “No, let me do it goddammit.” She scowled.

Sara, not so elegantly, managed to reach the top; and both the girls carefully leapt down the other side. The phone box stood right in front of them, a dull blue, paint stripped in little sections around the edges and corners. Cars passed, a truck honked; this was a main road – a little girl had been run over here not so long ago; but a zebra crossing, or lights could not be installed because it would create even more stoppages. So, the local council was deciding its next plan of action – most probably a thinning of the school’s territory, widening of the lanes and finally a bridge.

“Okay, I’ve got a couple of coins I think, in my bag. Do you have any?”

“Um maybe, let me check.” Sara replied, pulling her bag off her shoulder.

The girls managed to collect a few coins; enough for a couple of calls. They entered the box, and Jessica picked up the phone. “Do you want to do it?” As soon as she said this, she knew it sounded silly. “Don’t worry.”

Dialling the number, Jessica stood with Sara right behind her. They were as anxious as any could be. Their bodies were vacillating with fear; their hands trembling; their spines shivering. Jessica gave Sara a sharp look, indicating that it had started ringing. She gnawed at her nails, and Sara put her hands on the glass. Jessica turned around repeatedly, wrapping the phone cord around her and whispering ‘come-on Maria’ over and over. After what seemed far too long, Sara noticed in Jessica’s eyes, panic of the kind she hadn’t seen before – Maria mustn’t have answered! But like waves crashing on the beach, the panic retreated, Jessica slamming the phone back on the receiver. “Its fine, its fine, she’s probably in bed, being lazy and can’t be bothered coming to the phone.”

“But Jess – “

“No Sara it’s fine.”

“Jess!”

“Sara!” Jessica shouted over her, the yelp reverberating inside the little glass box. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she added regretfully, “we need to calm down. Please, we must think, you know, smartly – and be calm…” Jessica paused, her pained face looking down momentarily before back at Sara, who was squealing like a baby rodent. “You’ve got that taxi card, you’re mum gave you?”

Sara nodded.

“Okay, good - we have a decision to make then. We have enough money for one call – one call only: so, do we call Maria again? or do we call a cab and go to her house and find out for certain? - which most likely will be that silly little Maria is at home faking sick like she always does.”

Raising her hands, Sara shook her head, unsure.

“Mm, I think… Argh, I don’t know…” Jessica said, breathing through her teeth.

Sara sniffed long and deep, wiping her eyes thoroughly. “We… If we…” She began timidly, “if we call, again that is, and Maria is sleeping or being lazy in her room – or, or…” Sara held back some squeals, and Jessica finally showed her some comfort, embracing her tightly. “Or,” she continued over Jessica’s shoulder, “if she is dead, we won’t know by calling her… So… So… we should call a cab, go to her house, and find out for sure.”

Jessica quite liked being this close to Sara; their bodies interlocked. It had something poetic about it – natural, like it was always supposed to be this way. Probably she should release her, but Jessica held on, whispering in Sara’s ear: “That’s a good idea Sara, let’s do that… Let’s do that.” And she held on for minutes longer until it was Sara who initiated their parting.

“Do you know the number?” Sara asked.

“Yep – it’s that easy one, remember? Off the ads – 69, 69, 69…” Jessica hummed.

“You’re not serious?” A smile formed on Sara’s face.

“No, I am,” a smirk was forming on Jessica’s too, “it’s ridiculous. They use it as a silly publicity thing; and it works I guess.”

“How do you know?”

“Because everyone knows that taxi company – it’s like the most popular, for sure.” Jessica replied, dialling in the new number.

“Hmm – I wonder what came first: the silly number and advertising; or the company…” Sara pondered, waiting for Jessica finalise their cab. “Like did some random guys come up with the advert and think: ‘hey, we could make a great taxi company out of this’; or did the taxi company need an ad…”

 

***

 

Sun danced through the kitchen window, illuminating Maria’s soft figure. All she had on beside her underwear, was a T-shirt, her shoulders like tiny hills, graced by a gorgeous morning spring, sparkling in the distance. She was standing above the kitchen bench; milk, ice, apple juice, orange juice, and frozen berries all sitting below her – little slaves submitting to their master…

Getting off school today had been far too easy. All Maria needed to do was moan ‘mum’ in a certain tone, and she knew the drill. Maria wondered a few things, and quite often too, since she faked sick a lot: A) whether her mum actually believed her; B) whether her mum actually cared about her daughter’s health; and C) whether it was simply easier for her mum to say ‘yes’, rather than get into a fight, which invariably Maria would win.

In the old days, when Maria would put a lot of effort into faking sick (she had to because her Dad was around, and he never took any shit), she reasoned that her mother probably believed her. Maria recalled an occasion when she was about 10: At 5AM, she woke before her parents, snuck down stairs and opened some leftovers from the night before. She took a big spoonful of some macaroni, chewed it all up, her teeth grinding it all around, then instead of swallowing this wonderful meal her mother cooked, she spat it onto the toilet bowl – and didn’t flush it, before getting back in bed. When her parents woke, an hour later, they found in the toilet what appeared to be vomit. Vomit containing the meal from last night! Maria’s father stormed into her room, screaming at her for being a ‘filthy little human’; and her mother entered shaking her head, disappointed, this one event seeming to age her by 10 years. Maria’s excuse was that she was so light-headed and confused that she had forgotten. In the end, all the anger created which existed only briefly as her parents had to go to work, was worth it - she got to stay home from school and do any activity she desired. Maria was quite proud of the depth of her deception - her mother must have believed it. How times have changed. Now, her efforts are pathetic, even she admits. So limp and lazy they are; so whiny and infant-like; she simply lies there like a homeless drunk man whinging than he’s run out of cigarettes. Maria is almost embarrassed to fake sick… Almost: it is still worth it, she believes, to stay home – she wouldn’t get to drink a delicious berry smoothie at 9AM while her dumb friends are at school!

Maria doesn’t know if her mother truly cares anyway. She seems to be drifting further and further away from reality like a boat without an anchor floating off into the horizon. Ever since her father left. Her father was a bit of a dick, if we’re being honest. He never, ever came to Maria’s netball games. Never. And that was all Maria wanted of him. To. Watch. Her. Play. Netball. She didn’t even like netball; she was simply good at it. Tall and athletic, she was lithe and light on her feet – a goal shoot. So good, she became, Maria made the local domestic team, competing in nationals. She was not too far off making the national team itself! But her big-time corporate Daddy never came to watch. “You’ve got a Daddy complex Maria.” “Where’s your Dad? Oh – he fucked off…” “What’s the fourth letter in the alphabet? D. What does D stand for? Divorce…” Maria constantly heard this rubbish at school, however, to her credit, never was shaken up by it. If anything, she’s glad he’s gone. He was a ‘tumbling, tumbling knob cheese’, she often said.

All the ingredients were in the blender, and Maria clicked the ‘whizz’ button. She shook her head, vanquishing these regurgitated thoughts, and wondered what the day had in store for her…

Crafts. Maria liked crafts. She liked making things with her hands. Little folded bits of paper; skirts; sowing anything; beanies (or hats); scarfs; socks (though she hates how itchy they can get) - heaps of things really. She also liked to draw; often she would do what she called ‘comparison portraits for the fire’. Setting up a mirror in front of her, Maria would first sketch a self-portrait in pencil – as detailed and as accurate as she could make it (the realism was quite terrific) – then, once she was not happy with it but had to move on for sanity’s sake, she begun an ‘abstract comparison’ – a dancing, minimalistic version of her personality that day, done in black ink. Then, with them sitting side by side, she would scrunch them up into little balls, take them outside, and light them on fire...

So possibly, she may do some crafts, or some drawing, or both. What else could she do: go for a run? Although she did hate running itself, how fucking un-entertaining the repetitive footfall was, and how silly she thought she looked, Maria was quite obsessed with maintaining her figure. Always complaining that she had poor metabolism (which was not true); and disgusted at the sight of anyone even slightly chub, she needed to keep her rock-hard flat stomach intact. Thus, she would run far and wide, even with all the apparent annoyances running brings - up hills, in the city, across fields, through woods, when she was supposedly sick…

The berry smoothie was done. Maria jumped around and poured its redly goodness it into a massive glass, dangerously close to the top. Not bothering to clean the blender, she escaped to her room, getting into bed and organising herself. Before she did any ‘activities’ she was going to read. On her bed-side table to her right, was a stack of books. She had about 7 or 8 she would bounce between at any given time. To stay with a book was like an exhausting hike for Maria; perhaps the first 100 pages were wonderful, but after that quite simply, she got bored. So, she would pick up another, reading that for a while, and then another, etc. She would return to the discarded books, this being why she left them on her bedside table; occasionally though, a certain book would come along, usually fiction, that was as they say ‘un-put-down-able’, but that was very rare. Maria could only think of two books in the past couple of years that were in this category: ‘The Picture of Dorian Grey’ – fiction; and ‘Into Thin Air’ – non-fiction but it read like fiction.

Maria gazed at the stack of artfully dishevelled books, wondering what lucky chum was going to garner her attention. “Hmm”, Maria’s eyes narrowing as they tracked down the titles. “Aha!” she exclaimed. To collect the book, she needed to pass the smoothie from her right hand to her left, so she could reach with the right. Focussed intently on the book, she swapped the glass and realised she had got into bed a little too far to the middle, so needed to stretch a lot more than was pleasant – she thought she might fart. As she extended her arm, her ribcage ripping apart, the smoothie now had decided it seemed, to not want to be drunk – the gathering perspiration cheekily lubricating the connection between Maria’s soft hand and the outside of the glass. It slipped and fell, in slow motion. As Maria’s right fingers were clasping the torn spine of the book, she turned in horror, watching the smoothie fall, the thick redness dislocating from the inner glass sanctum, it now falling on its own terms. ‘Finally, I am free!’ it seemed to be saying. And boom, splat, pick your comic relief word. The red, gorgeous gooeyness, that was so delightful and succulent before had turned into a hideous sith lightsabre red, splattered all over her bed!

“FUUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKK!” Maria screamed. “FUUUUUUUCCCCCCKKKKSSSSSAAAAAAKKKKKKEEEEE!”

Putting her head in her hands, she recited all the potty words she knew, before lazily surveying the scene in front of her. “What a cunt,” she said, letting her head smash against the wooden bed frame. For some time, she sat there, with what looked like a pool of gross innards on her lap, and a big bump forming on the back of her head.

“Argh.” Maria knew she needed to sort this out, somehow. Even if it were only putting the sheets in the washing machine, she couldn’t just leave this mess here. But first she was going to wash away the insectoid stress that was crawling all over her skin. A very long shower was in order. This was necessary for her mental health.

 

***

 

Sara and Jessica had been collected about 5 minutes ago by a nice Indian taxi driver-man. The silence was destroying Jessica’s insides, so she was going to ask him about cricket as an act of politeness, when Sara brought up the serial murderer.

“I’m so afraid,” Sara said, “everything just falls into place, Mrs. What’s-her-face saying ‘her’ -remember? And Maria obviously not being at assembly. The guy operating in Maria’s suburb – you know he’s taken girls from suburbs like that… And she being in the perfect category…”

“Don’t say that.”

“What?”

“’The perfect category.’”

“Why?”

“It implies, like all types of things. In my brain, when you say that, I think,” Jessica’s eyes, staring out the window, began to fill with tears. “I think of terrible things Sara. I think of… I think of her getting… getting raped.” Inhaling deeply, she continued: “But it’s like you know, so irrational… Because it is so unlikely. So, please, Sara, just stop.”

“Okay, okay Jess, I’m sorry. What’s up with that man anyway? What a sick guy. I don’t know how people like that can exist.”

Sniffing up her sadness, Jessica focussed her thoughts. “Well, I guess like, there is such variation in people you know. There are really nice people, and really, um… gross people. There are pretty people,” as Jessica said this, Sara began nodding. “And there are ugly people.” Then she stopped. “Like there is such variation, so occasionally someone is going to come around that is – to put it bluntly – fucked in the head. Like properly.”

“Yeah…” Sara softly said, herself staring out the right-hand window; suburbia passing them by. “But when I think of him, I realise that we don’t know what could have happened to him, you know? Like, Jess,” she turned to Jessica, concerned, “what if he got abused as a boy? What if he has like, a mental condition? What if both? What if he’s got drug and alcohol problems?”

Jessica nodded, still staring out her window. “This is the variation. People by default aren’t evil, you know, or sick, or fucked up – unless they are psychopaths – which I guess this guy could be. But a series of ah… variables could be at work; things could have happened to him, unfortunate things of the kind you talk about, that could have made this guy who he is. Turned him down a very dark path – “

“It’s like my brother Jimbob man.” The taxi driver suddenly interjected, the girls jumping. “He’s got a disorder man, some anti-social bullshit, maybe autistic I don’t know, and he like - he is a dick man. Like actual dick man.”

“He’s your brother?” Jessica asked, slightly taken aback.

“No, no, not my actual brother. My brother in law man. Like my wife’s brother. Such a dick man but we have to be nice to him because he doesn’t know better, you know? And he’s not actually a dick, he just, you know, doesn’t know? He just like, can’t help but not be honest – its fucking weird man.”

Sara and Jessica were nodding slowly, grateful that their minds had been taken, at least momentarily, off Maria.

“This one time,” the taxi driver continued, turning the wheel left and grinning, “this one time, we were at this big family dinner, heaps of people you know, and we have this auntie – again man, it’s her auntie, not me, and she – this is me being honest now – is a complete bitch. She is a fucking cow man. Everybody, behind her back just on and on says: ‘big lazy cow, so mean and unkind.’” He raised his hand, indicating speech marks. “Anyway, nobody tells her to her face you know, but this guy, my brother Jimbob man, doesn’t understand gossip you know, so this one time at this dinner, she’s you know, doing her usual bitch-cow thing and he’s sitting next to her at the table. And you can like tell that he’s actually been trying to hold it in. He’s been staring at her, then at his food like ‘fuck this!’ – it was actually funny, it looked like he was trying to hold in a massive shit man. And then finally, halfway through eating, he just has enough, and like, it’s weird, because he only quietly lays into her. Like he had just waited for a pause in the conversation, and then quietly says when everybody is listening…” The driver pauses for a moment, before putting on a strange deep accent. “He says: ‘stop being mean auntie, stop putting people down. You are constantly putting people down, dragging people down.’ Then he says: ‘and it is only because you made nothing of your life. You’re fat, made some fuckwit kids, have no fucking job and you’re bitter. You’re just bitter. So, you have to bring everybody down to your level. Auntie you are a big, big, literally big’ – like he’s smart you know – ‘Auntie you are a big, big, literally big animal. Like a bear that eats its own young. An alcoholic bear. So, fuck off.” The taxi driver finished, laughing hysterically and shaking his head. “Oh man, he is a dick – and has been a dick to me – but sometimes he is so funny.”

The girls didn’t reply immediately, only looked at each other in surprise. After a few seconds Sara asked, her tone the lightest it had been for some time: “So you have an undesirable Auntie and I guess brother on your wife’s side? Maybe you made the wrong decision in marrying your wife…” Her smile was wide, indicating as best she can the intention of humour.

The driver looked into the rear-view mirror, his eyes flashing with fire underneath some hairy eyebrows. But in her face, he noticed the joke. “Ah, yeah.” He said, grinning. “Her family man, jeez. It is not only them two, trust me. Holy hell man. Crazy people. To be fair it is like only my wife and Jimbob man that are normal – well he’s not, you know. But in his head, how he thinks – he’s just not political man. You know. Everybody has their opinions man and has-to share them like: ‘a la-la la-la I think this, I think that’ – like shut up man, no-one cares. So boring. You know girls, I like you. Seem to know the world, like already man. And only kids. Everything is more complicated than it seems – but you guys are going to do well.

“Hey: where exactly is your address? Because I don’t know exactly, just the street.” He was investigating out the windscreen, his neck dipping down into an awkward ‘u’ shape. “Wow this is nice area man. Would like to live here – “

“It’s just down here – on the right.” Jessica pointed, leaning forward. “74.”

“Okay, ah: 86, 84… 76 and here we go man, 74.”

“Yup, the big one with the lawn.”

“Wow this is nice house – very big.”

The girls hopped out of the cab, Sara paying with her mother’s taxi card (it was loaded with – to the girls - a seemingly infinite amount of money, and Sara regularly made the most of it). They thanked the driver repeatedly before exhaling; attempting to conjure some form of relaxation, before the inevitable rise of the heart rate again. The taxi sped off, the driver waving with a massive grin out the window, and they turned to stand before an exalted property – a wooden multi-storied villa; with countless rooms; painted white; a large, iron cast gate (that was not going to be simple getting over); a wonderful lush lawn that extended from the gate and the road, to the house and either side of the driveway around either side of the house itself; and finally, down below to the right, was the covered pool and tennis court. The girls looked each-other, steely retaining their determination.

 

***

 

“Shitting hell.” Sara swore. “Why don’t we just push the thing button, the speaker button. That gate is so high.” The black, cast iron gate wasn’t much higher than the school wall, but it had sharp barbs atop each of its poles.

“Yeah...” Jessica half-agreed, wondering how they were going to get over this demonic looking thing. She didn’t want to press the intercom, as she wanted them to stay incognito. Their actions today had not been conspicuous or highly virtuous, she knew, and didn’t like the idea of now promoting their visibility – however little it was. “Sara, I just… err… don’t think it’s a good idea. Let’s just try to climb it.”

Sara grunted, waiting for Jessica to make the first move. “After you then, show me how.”

Jessica shook her head and placed her hands around the poles, trying to garner some grip. They kept slipping, until finally, with her elbows squeezing in-between the gaps in the poles she managed to pull herself up slightly, but her legs and feet had no place to go. “Help with my legs Sara, push them.”

Sara hesitated for a moment, before getting down on her knees and putting her hands under the soles of Jessica’s grubby shoes.

“Push hard and hold firmer.”

And Sara did so, Jessica scaling higher, with Sara herself rising from her knees. Jessica was at the top now, trying to find a way to deal with the spikes. “Argh, dammit, these a sharp.” She released one of her hands, but then Sara’s hand slipped below one of Jessica’s feet, who at once lost all grip and tumbled atop of Sara.

“Argh fucking hell Jess!” She screamed.

“Ow, ow.” Jessica moaned in reply.

They slowly untangled themselves – Jessica especially slow, before Sara looked at her unimpressed while wiping off some stones.

“Hey, you slipped while holding me!” Jessica said. “That’s why I fell!”

“Yeah it was an accident, but it was dumb idea anyway Jess, how was I gona get up there?”

Jessica fumed, her nostrils streams of vigorous warm air. Breathing deeply, she knew they needed to chill, and focus on what to do next.

“Hmph, let’s just push the intercom – she might be home!”

Jessica wobbled her head in reply, her neck tensed. “Mm… it’s just…”

“Just what? Huh?” Sara said, ignoring her and pressing the intercom. “Maria, Maria, are you there? It’s Sara and Jess. Maria…” Releasing the button, she looked around nervously. The girls waited, a couple of minutes passing.

Jessica then pushed the button, agitated: “Maria, stop screwing with us. We know you’re sick. Answer and open the bloody gate.”. Nothing. Jessica was vibrating more and more vigorously now, her face becoming fiery. “OPEN THE FUCKING GATE MARIA GODDAMMIT!”

 

***

 

“Dah-d-dah-d-dah…” Maria loved showers. She had run through the house – the shower was on the other side, a long way from her room - the mini-run already relieving some of the stress of the spillage. But as she had taken off her clothes, waiting for the shower to warm up, she heard something odd. A sound suffocated under the stream of splashing water. It was like that of an airplane humming at 30,000 feet; the pilot talking over the intercom. She wondered what it could be, and whether she was going insane. Then she realised that could it be someone calling her house, from the intercom outside. Already she had ignored a couple of phone calls – never did she answer it at this time. Maria swore that at least – at least – eighty percent of calls at this time were telemarketers from other countries… “Fucking telemarketers,” her Dad used to say, “Maria, don’t answer the phone in the morning. Okay? It will be some good-for-nothing shit bag trying to manipulate you. Just don’t answer the phone.” So, she didn’t. Her Dad seemed to be right about something. And she was too lazy anyway.

The sound had gone off again, this time it was louder: someone was definitely outside at the intercom. “How rude.” She had said to herself. “I’m trying to wash myself; clean my poor little body, and someone decides they want to say hello? Sorry peoples, but this – this is more important; I, me, I – am more important.”

Maria was now singing terribly under the magnificent stream of water – god did she love this shower. She had been in many different showers, but her one was easily the best. Maria noted that most showers, failed in one or both of two key attributes: the stream was not powerful enough, and/or not wide enough. Her shower however, rather than fail, succeeded in the highest order. She could stand underneath it, and be covered by water, beyond the outer periphery of her shoulders – she didn’t need to move! It wasn’t because she was skinny, even a moderately fat person could be completely covered. And as it was so powerful; it was like washing dishes under an extremely powerful tap – the food would disperse rapidly without one barely having to do anything. She imagined it as an epic buy-spray-killer, destroying all her insectoid stress. This, she told herself, was what excellence was. Her aspirations in life were going to be emulating this shower – this is the exemplar of excellence; simply, although not that simply she knew, understand the processes that went into making this shower amazing; so, she could do it in another field! “So much one can learn from anything,” Maria smiled to herself.

Maria kept entertaining herself with her own thoughts underneath the shower. Meanwhile, two girls were struggling through a gap in a fence on the other side of the property.

“Ow, ow.” Sara whined, a branch barely stabbing her arm.

“Sssh Sara, just in case.”

“In case of what?”

“You know, come-on: the man…”

“Ohhh…”

Jessica had remembered one night about a year ago, when Maria had a party, and the cops came – so they had to sneak out. Maria had showed them a place where on the left-hand side when looking from the road, in-between her house and the neighbours, where a large wire fence that surrounded the property, was cut. Somebody a few years back had broken in and the fence was never fixed. The girls had hopped through the small hole and were now weaving their way through a couple of tame rows of bushes, before they made it to the lawn. The plan was to sneak around the back of the house – to where Maria’s room was – and spy in her window.

“Okay Sara when we make it to the lawn, keep low, don’t stand. And we’ll real quickly go round. And don’t speak.” Jessica said, crouched to the left of a small flax bush that met the lawn.

Sara didn’t say anything as she slowly moved between two bushes behind Jessica. Breathing voraciously, her body was shaking, her eyes filled with fear.

“Hey,” Jessica whispered, turning. “It’s okay, come here.” She embraced Sara once again. “It’s okay, it’s okay.”

Sara began sobbing, her tears falling onto Jessica’s shoulder. “I’m just so worried – I’ve never been this worried in my life Jess… Oh my… What if…? What if…?”

“It’s okay to be worried Sara. It’s okay to be afraid. People in this world don’t like admitting that their afraid or sad or worried, but it’s okay. Anyone who has ever done anything of worth, has been afraid.”

“Are you afraid?”

“Yes, I’m really scared Sara. Like really scared – but it’s going to be okay, because Maria is going to be sitting in bed, probably reading knowing her. She loves to read, humph: I don’t know why.”

Sara chuckled.

“Don’t you think?” Jessica continued. “I don’t mind reading… It’s just I like watching and listening to stuff better. Maybe I’ll like it when I’m a bit older.”

“Mm…” Sara quietly agreed and girls slowly parted, Jessica holding her firmly on the shoulders.

“Are you okay? Well – better?”

Sara nodded, sniffing and wiping her face – like she had done so often today. One must wonder how much salt water can be released in one day.

“Okay good. Then when you’re ready, follow me.”

Sara nodded again, before smiling – a ray of sun on a stormy day. “Maria has caused us so much grief today Jess, and she is going to pay when I get my hands on her.”

Jessica smiled in concert. “Me too Sara, me too. Okay let’s go.”

And the girls sped across the lovely lawn, their shoes sinking into the lush green. Apparently, Maria said, the lawn every week, was maintained by a fleet of grounds people. Her dad had been obsessed with lawns; and needed theirs to be like a professional football pitch – even though he was barely ever home. When he left, her mother had grown to enjoy the lawn, often going for pleasant walks around the property, and thus continued his legacy.

Around the house they went, keeping close to the outer walls. They crept along the far side, every so often dodging pot plants and other contained pieces of nature.

“Okay it’s just up here.” Jessica whispered, pointing up to the right at a large window, her back against the wall. “We’re going to have to help one of us up, we’re not tall enough.”

“Here, lift me.” Sara said, confidently striding around Jessica. The ground slowly tailed off to the right as you look at the house, so the bottom floor was a decent two metres from the grass this far across.

Sara stood below the window, on a small outer rim of concrete. Jessica walked behind her and stooped down. Wrapping her arms strongly around Sara’s bare legs, she lifted slowly, making sure she had Sara under control.

“Okay,” Sara whispered. “Higher, higher, keep going…”

And Jessica kept going, lifting higher until Sara was about two feet off the ground.

“Okay I can almost see.” And Sara, with her hands gripping the outer window frame, pulling her body straight, so she was as tall as possible, looked inside Maria’s room.

Her deafening scream echoed throughout the property. It reverberated inside pots, hissed in the grass; and vibrated in-between the leaves of trees. Something so clear; something so well understood was experienced by this miniature slice of nature. Death had befallen a creature of this land; and every crawling critter, to every cheeky rodent, knew what that scream meant.

 

 

 

 

2

“Did you see the game on Saturday?” Jeff was twiddling his pen, his sunken eyes suggestive of a few too many cold ones on the weekend.

“What game?” Tyler replied, head down.

“What do you mean: what game?” Jeff probably had never shaken his head that fast before in his life.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about mate. You know, I don’t watch rugby.”

“What? You’re telling me… Wait: you’re telling me that you don’t… watch rugby? Are you fucking kidding me mate?”

Tyler shook his head slightly, trying to focus on his pen strokes. “Argh,” he said under his breath, he’d misspelt ‘incarceration’ spelling it ‘incaration’. “It’s not that I don’t like rugby, I just would prefer to be doing other things.”

“Like what then, huh?” Jeff reclined on his swivel chair, his gut showing through a small gap in his half-tucked shirt. His desk was connected to Tyler’s. They were partners.

“Err, like hanging out with friends.”

“You can do that while watching the game.”

“Yeah but they don’t like rugby.”

“You hang out with people who don’t like rugby?”

“Yeah, it’s sad isn’t it.”

“I notice that, I notice that: it’s sarcasm. You think I’m dumb don’t you.”

Tyler frowned without looking up. “I barely know you mate; how can I think you’re dumb?”

The investigative department was small and separate from the main station. A cluttered office sandwiched between a home appliance giant (above) and a hunting and fishing chain (below). The air was stingy, and not from a lack of open windows. Sweating, it seemed, was a natural state for the burly men and overweight women in here. It smelt like the armpit of an obese man trundling down a hill.

Jeff hadn’t replied, he was still slowly swivelling on his chair, but was now doodling on his hand. “You know in America they don’t have sarcasm.”

Tyler took a moment to reply. He blinked a couple of times, then widened his eyes. “They probably do mate – it’s just rare.”

“Well they’re always like – here this is how I see it,” Jeff craned his neck, looking thoughtfully at the ceiling. “If they are sarcastic, they have to make it super bloody obvious that they are being sarcastic. Like fuck mate, we get it, it’s a joke. But you know, with our humour, we can say things and by the nature of the words said – the words themselves – you can like, you know, figure out that it is sarcasm – or not! Like sometimes that’s the point you know. Get somebody that’s gullible to believe you for a period of time, and then you go: ‘aha! Got ya mother-fucker.’” Jeff was pointing his finger like a gun out into the office, his body bent to one side. He then looked to see if Tyler was listening. “You know what I mean?”

“I know what you mean.”

Jeff nodded, he was on a roll now. He then started to shake his head, narrowing eyes accenting a wild grin. “These fucking Americans aye, always crying about their feelings. It’s either that, or the other ones are just super into god.”

This time Tyler didn’t reply, he was focussing on some paperwork for his first case in this Police Department. A man had been terrorising their small city; kidnapping teenage girls, raping them and leaving the bodies hung up upside down on power lines, on rugby posts or mangled up in skip bins... His crime scenes were immaculate, and no trace of DNA could be found…

What Tyler had on his hands was fascinating: an extremely warped, yet intelligent, conscientious even – personality. It was odd. Usually, in Tyler’s experience, those that harmed teenage girls, had an extremely tough and hideous upbringing, often abused themselves, and were especially slack in covering their tracks. They were almost easy to find, many of them being career criminals. But this man, had evaded them for about a month now – only a few days longer than Tyler had made his move down South, and not only the inspector and the mayor, but the prime minister, had come calling.

 “Tyler…” Jeff began again, his face scrunched up. “That name… It sounds American.”

“It is.”

Jeff raised his eyebrows - had he made a mistake? “But you don’t have an American accent.”

“I moved here when I was three.”

Jeff nervously forced a chuckle. “It’s not that I don’t like Americans… You know… It’s just I don’t know any. So, everything I get is off the movies. I’m sure your folks are good sorts.”

“They’re dead.”

The office mutterings slowed, the phone call beeps warped into one strange electronic soundwave. The smell of sweat, of bodily slime, was zapped to non-existence… Jeff didn’t know what to do; he was gasping for air and couldn’t exhale. It was as if he had been drowning, and surfaced, but the breaths he was taking were not providing him with oxygen. Finally, after coughing nastily, he looked worriedly at Tyler, who’s expression hadn’t changed - that cold, strange focus was still piercing the desk below him. Jeff shook his head: he was going to have to swallow this one. “Ah-um… I’m Sorry- “

“Got ya.” Tyler said, not bothering to look up.

First, he had shaken his head faster than he had done before, now he was frowning deeper than he had done before, Jeff’s hairy scatter-shot eyebrows so low they were blocking his vision! He was so confused – too confused to be relieved. Thinking he had just insulted his new partner – who, if he were honest, was a bit of an oddball – to now being dragged under a bus by his humour. The man who had yet to this moment, ever made a joke! Gosh, the surprises life gives you. He was still formulating a reply when Janus prodded him on the shoulder.

“Woah, calm down hotshot.”

“Jeez, Janus. What is it?”

“Think I’ve got another one for you.”

Tyler rose like a meerkat.

“Uhm,” she continued, slightly uneased by Tyler’s sudden movement, “a call routed from the emergency call centre. Looks like a murder – young girl, 16, blood everywhere… Same deal as usual, similar to that one on Saturday. I told Sarge you guys might want first dibs on this, since it could be yours, but he has still called a rapid response team.”

“Where is it?” Tyler asked firmly.

“It’s in Pleasantville. The nice part, not its disabled younger brother.”

Tyler looked fiercely at Jeff as he stood up, collecting his jacket from behind his chair. Jeff sighed, lackadaisically getting up from his seat.

“Details?” Tyler asked.

“Hmm, young girl, called up in a state. Said her friend was murdered in her room. There’s blood everywhere as I said. No sign of perpetrator, no sign of anyone in fact, but blood looks recent – possible 10, 15 minutes – it didn’t look dry the girl said. And ah, here’s the address, I wrote it down. Armed defenders will be on their way and will arrive approximately 5 minutes after you if you go now.”

 “Let’s go.” Tyler said, walking briskly off toward the elevator.

Jeff still getting his bearings, frowned, thanked Janus, and waddled off after Tyler.

 

***

 

“Get the pistols out of the back.” Tyler ordered. He was not detective sergeant yet, but always assumed control. Jeff didn’t like this, but to his credit, realised the skill and dedication Tyler had in his work, so usually just obeyed – at least when it was serious.

“What about the shotgun?” Jeff shouted as he opened the boot.

“Nah.” Tyler replied as he sat in the passenger seat.

“Okay,” Jeff puffed, squeezing in the driver’s seat and passing Tyler his weapon, who was staring vacantly out the windscreen.

“Take St Andrews, you’ll skip the lights.”

Jeff frowned as he started their car. “I fucking know mate. I grew up here for god’s sake. You’ve been here a month.”

Tyler didn’t reply and Jeff backed out, exiting the car park rapidly. Putting on the lights, he maneuvered through a couple of fairly empty intersections, before turning out onto a highway. “Here we fucking go boy… Another one.” Jeff fancied himself as a driver, and always would try claim ‘emergency driver status’ with whoever he was partnered up with. Occasionally, however, his risk-taking would result in vehicular collisions… Luckily so far, on two fronts, his collisions were; 1) minor (at least without serious injury); and 2) almost always not in the work vehicle (he was quite proud of his ability to not crash the work car).

“Move outta the way, motherfucker, wooo!” Jeff screamed as he dodged ‘slow-pokes’ as he called them. “Bloody slow-pokes mate, honestly.” Grinning he turned to Tyler who was… sleeping? He was breathing in through his nose, but his neck appeared to be flexed, thus his head was not moving around. Jeff shook his head. “Fucking weirdo” he said, under his breath.

Tyler was meditating, trying to keep his heart rate low, or at least consistent. Always, with whatever he was doing, be it focussing on something mundane like paperwork, to being in a shootout, he wanted to perform at his highest possible level. He knew, various activities, threw curveballs at the mind, and thus it was the mind in most instances, that caused mistakes. If he could keep his heart-rate level, then his decision-making under dire circumstances, would less be effected by emotion, or automated function. He thought of it as ‘engaging his decisions’; rather than ‘lazily reacting’, in reference to his brain. For some individuals a lack of physical fitness could be a problem; but the only physical problem Tyler had, was that he struggled to sleep. This physical harm would cause mental harm, a slowness or a jumpiness, and both in mundane or excitable situations could be a major influence in failure. Last night was not a lengthy sleep for Tyler, a couple of hours, if that. And while used to not sleeping well, he understood how a lack of sleep can alter one’s state negatively. Right now, in a potential mortal situation, he needed to be calm – procedural, as his instinctive actions could cause fatalities.

 

***

 

The girls had sprinted back through the hole in the wire fence, and up the road, where conveniently there was another pay phone. Sara herself painfully – but amazingly to Jessica – had made the emergency call. They had been told to get to a safe place, and because Sara currently appeared to be paralyzed from the head-down, Jessica had carried her back down the road, to the hole in the fence. Sara was now crying, wrapped up in the foetal position, Jessica beside her looking searchingly through the fence, into the large double glass sliding doors of Maria’s property. Finally, with some time to think, something didn’t sit right with her. It was not that she didn’t believe Sara; Sara obviously saw something, to her, horrific, and the resulting scream seemed to prove it. But the whole concept of Maria stolen from her house by a serial rapist and murderer, was dumbfoundingly bonkers. How could Maria, the most polarising, popular, beautiful, intelligent, to-be head girl but knowing her will refuse it, be killed in such a hideous and ridiculously unlikely fashion as this? While Jessica and Sara were outside only minutes after? And if it happened this morning, an hour ago at least, shouldn’t all the blood be dry – Sara told her it was still wet. Events didn’t fit in sequence on the time track. The girls found out about the murder 30 minutes ago; that means the teachers must have found out at least 30 minutes before that – shouldn’t the blood be dry…? And staring inside the gloriously illuminated house she realised something… Where the hell are the policemen? Isn’t this a crime scene? If the teachers already knew, then there must be people here, like forensic specialists, people moping about…

“Sara, Sara!” Jessica said, turning around and shaking her body.

“What?” She whinged, an absolute mess.

“Maria cannot be dead.” And she proceeded to explain to Sara what she had just been contemplating, Sara at first basically ignoring her, but then slowly rising, her tears drying on her red-stained cheeks.

Staring at Jessica, Sara’s eyes wide, accepting through sheer optimism, the logic Jessica was bestowing upon her, she asked: “Well, what about all that blood then?”

“I don’t know, maybe it was a spillage of some-sort. Like are you sure that was blood?”

“Well…”

“Have you ever seen a lot of blood before?”

“No, but it looked - “

“Sara, it could easily be not blood! I don’t think Maria is dead!” Jessica excitedly shook Sara, who frowned.

“Well Jess, where is she then?”

Jessica was going to reply, but she noticed Sara’s eyes widening in response to something behind her. Jessica quickly turned and to her own amazement, could not believe, even with all her logic, what she was seeing: Maria was on one knee in the middle of the lounge, with shorts and a T-shirt on, her whole head wrapped in a towel-bun, putting those ‘bloody sheets’ in a bucket that must have fallen out. She packed them all in tightly and waltzed off.

The girls looked at each-other, their mouths so wide one could stuff a watermelon inside. And then Sara exploded. Like when one puts their thumb over the end of shooting hose, tears were spraying everywhere… But Jessica didn’t care! Jumping all over her, she hugged her, and kissed her cheeks, raking her hair with her hands in every which way. “Maria isn’t dead!” She shouted, and then she broke into tears as well! And for what felt like an hour the girls lay, bodies intertwined sobbing and giggling simultaneously, but it was only for 30 seconds.

Then Sara shouted: “let’s go get her!” And began to move, standing up, but Jessica held her hand, pulling her back down.

“Do you hear that?” A faint blearing was caught in the wind. “The cops are coming! Let’s just wait and then we can go in and say sorry, we’ve made a mistake. They told us to wait in a safe place remember? We should probably do that.”

“Mm,” Sara once again had a worried look, “but isn’t it dangerous for Maria? Because the cops, you know, are trying to find a murderer…”

“Yeah but it will be even more dangerous if we go in there. And the cops know what they’re doing, come-on, Sara sit down, and we’ll watch from here. It’ll be okay.”

Sara sat down next to Jessica, both peering apprehensively through the fence. Maria walked back across the house, in her spectre-like, utterly at ease way. The blearing rapidly got louder; the electronic moan becoming more and more articulated. And then they saw it: a black undercover police-car, speeding recklessly up Maria’s long street. Screeching to a stop slightly down from the driveway entrance – about 50 metres diagonally right from where the girls were – two men in suits hoped out, both drawing pistols.

“Oh my god.” The girls said simultaneously.

 

***

 

Jeff and Tyler had scurried up the road, not running, not walking, but an odd in-between, keeping the sound of footfall to a minimum. Looking searchingly around, they had made their way up the driveway, toward the gate. In an instance like a possible murder, procedure was that one should in most cases, except in the extreme, wait for their back-up – in this case the Armed Defenders. But Jeff and Tyler would be lying, if they said they didn’t want to snag this one on their own – they had reason to be passionate; their man escaping them on countless occasions, it was getting embarrassing… Almost any excuse could be manufactured, for them entering.

“Hmm.” Jeff was eyeing the property, through the large cast iron gate, then he investigated the gate itself. “No sign of breakage.”

Tyler was peering in beside him, his eyes like that of an eagle searching for prey on the valley floor.

“Wait a second. It’s open…” Jeff said, frowning, as he unclipped the latch on the gate. “Strange… there could have been a lock on here – but to be fair, it looked locked. You can barely see the latch…”

Tyler simply nodded, and he walked through as Jeff pulled it open.

Fifty metres away, under the cover of some bushes, two girls looked at each-other in astonishment and shook their heads.

The men had their guns raised and were slowly walking up the driveway on the other-side of the gate. “Property looks clear, from here at least.”

“Yeah, but it’s oddly quiet.” Tyler finally had said something, he was getting nervous. “I don’t like this…”

Jeff who was now in front, quickly turned, investigating Tyler’s expression. Never had Tyler shown any form of panic or worry. However, never had they been in a situation like this. All the recent killings had been discovered at least a day after the fact, unlike today. They hadn’t the possibility yet of the killer being near the crime-scene. “Yes, it’s strange.” Jeff said, trying to cool himself.

“Let’s be sure.” Tyler said. “I’ll go left.” And the men quickly cleared either side of the property, meeting up on the far-side, right below a big glass window two metres from the ground.

“I passed a side door up some stairs. Above where the it leads to the pool.” Jeff said, puffing. “We should go in there.”

Tyler simply nodded, motioning for Jeff to lead.

Following Jeff, Tyler felt like his heart would tear a fiery hole through his chest. He was trying his damnedest to slow its rate, but it couldn’t be done! They reached the stairs, after passing some low-lying bushes and keeping near to the wall of the house. Still no sign of movement, or anyone.

Jeff walked up the stairs. As he reached the top, he retreated under the canopy, allowing Tyler to look in the door first.

Spying in the glass, all Tyler could see was a white corridor, the end of which opened out to what looked a large room. The sun cascaded in through this exit, rays angling up and down the right side of the corridor.

“No sign of stress.” Tyler said quietly, investigating the door handle, which he turned and pulled slowly open – the men simply looking at each-other.

Tyler, his weapon raised, his arm locked, allowing for a perfect presentation of how to aim, slowly entered, his steps so quiet, a delicate hush. Jeff followed, who lacked both presentation of aiming, and lightness of feet.

Tyler felt like he had The Alien within him; his inner workings were throbbing, he was going to explode. By his temples was a dull pain, that was getting worse, like he been smacked on the head either side with baseball clubs. He rapidly blinked to shake the sudden dysphoria.

Jeff behind was vibrating, continuously recycling the thought that they shouldn’t have entered. How eerie this place was; it seemed like a haunted hotel, something weird was at work here, a beast or spirit from another land… Never did he have such strange reactions… Jeff shook his head. ‘Focus, focus’ he tried to tell himself.

Creeping down the corridor the men went, their guns slowly opening half-open doors to toilets and empty rooms. As they reached the end of the corridor, the walls opened into an expansive lounge, full of whites and creams, with the odd red pillow dotted around. Huge glass sliding doors, graced the opposite wall, light streaming in. And on the other-side was the lush, green lawn.

Tyler then heard a whining; a machine of some sort, and he stopped. Turning to Jeff, he put his finger up to his mouth, before motioning with his head that there was somebody possibly over to the left. It seemed to be coming from the other side of the kitchen, behind a closed door. The men crept toward the sound. Tyler then stopped, his gaze flickering over all the objects in the large room for any sign of movement.

Meanwhile Jeff quietly, even for him, stalked through the kitchen, eyes focussed on the closed door. As he got close, he started to hear to some sounds – a blearing in the distance, and – was that a helicopter? A quiet relief invigorated and vacillated ever so politely throughout his body; it was the culmination of knowing back-up was coming and realising that on the other-side of this door, was simply a washing machine. Before opening it to make sure, he said loudly: “It’s just a washing machine mate!”

Tyler, who was now in the centre of lounge, turned sharply toward Jeff, when to his right, about 10 feet away, a door opened.

“Dah-d-dah-d-dah!”

Tyler turned swiftly and shot. He then shot again. His keen expression rapidly melted like acid. His shot at the sound, was not a shot at a hideous serial murder and rapist, but a young, pretty girl. He could her see her in face, not shock, or horror, but a severe questioning: “Why? Why?” As she dropped to her knees, her eyes were still lasered on Tyler’s. Blood began to pour out from her two wounds, one to the right of her heart and the other in her gut, but still she stared at Tyler. Finally, her eyelids drooped over her brilliant green eyes, and before she hit the ground, she was dead.


© Copyright 2020 JD'. All rights reserved.

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