30 years ago today, my neighbor’s son disappeared.

ghost

30 years ago, my neighbors across the street, Mr. and Mrs. Stein, endured a terrible loss. Their son, Adam, disappeared on Halloween. It was assumed he was kidnapped, as there was a rash of kidnappings in the area at the time. The kidnapper was never found, though. Neither was Adam.

Today’s the 30th anniversary of his disappearance. To the Steins, the wounds are still fresh. They refuse to decorate their yard, despite all the houses on the street going out of their way to be as festive as possible. They don’t give out candy, despite the rest of the houses on the street trying to one-up each other by giving out better loot than their neighbors.

The Steins mourn quietly in their dark house; the television being the only light emanating from their window. Kids are advised by their parents not to knock.

I’ve always felt bad for them. I’ve lived here for 40 years. I remember the frantic search and rescue efforts that swept through our town. Even though I was barely 20 years old and living with my unemployed father while working double shifts to pay our mortgage, I did my part and joined the search. It was the least I could do.

Like all futile searches, it ended after a while. Adam was presumed dead. The Steins grew old and the neighborhood changed around us. New families moved in and old ones either died off or moved out. Aside from me and the Steins, I’d say the average age of the homeowners here is 35. And they all have lots of kids.

A terrible rumor started to spread a couple years ago. I know who started it – an older kid named Chuck Demopoulos. He told his younger brothers and neighborhood friends that Adam’s ghost haunts the woods behind our street. He said Mr. Stein killed him and chopped him up into little bits.

When I learned about the rumor, I was disgusted. The disrespect was so vulgar and uncalled for. I prayed the Steins wouldn’t hear about it, but I’m sure they must have. It was pervasive. I called Chuck’s father and told him what I heard, and I suspect Chuck caught a beating for it. Still, I’m afraid the damage had already been done.

Despite pitying the Steins, I don’t express my sympathy by refusing to decorate my house and yard. I love Halloween. Always have. I like to see parents beaming from the street while their kids nervously ring doorbells and collect piles of candy. The spirit of the season keeps me feeling young, despite being well past my prime and dealing with high blood-pressure.

Being an old timer has its perks sometimes. I have Halloween decorations they don’t sell anymore. Ghoulish stuff like hangman’s nooses – things that are too politically incorrect for stores to sell. I firmly believe Halloween shouldn’t be sanitized. It should be scary and unsettling.

That said, there needs to be an emotional component, too. Not just blood and guts for the sake of blood and guts. There needs to be poignancy. Something that’ll stick with you after you see it.

That’s why Adam helps me decorate.

After Dad died in 1989, I emptied out his safety deposit box. There was an envelope with note a note and a Polaroid photograph. All the note said was, “I caught him snooping around the cellar. I had to teach him a lesson.” The photograph was of fresh cement drying on the basement wall.

In the middle of the night, I went into the cellar and opened the wall. Adam’s body was inside. My instinctive reaction was to call the police, but I was terrified I’d be arrested. They’d never believe the note.

So I sealed the wall. After a while, I stopped thinking about the dead boy in the bowels of my house. Many years later, after talking with Mrs. Stein about Adam on a Halloween afternoon, I knew what I had to do.

I took his remains out of the wall in 2014. He was only a skeleton. I separated the bones, splashed them with fake blood, and incorporated them into my Halloween decorations. At first, I was worried. As the days went by, though, I realized I didn’t need to be concerned. The bones blended in with the rest of my decorations. Just more festive material in a neighborhood chock full of it.

This morning, when I went out to get the paper, Mr. Stein was doing the same. We met in the street and chatted for a while. We talked about the Cowboys game from last night and he mentioned his wife made a spectacular coffee cake that he’d bring me a piece of later. I smiled and told him that would be real nice.

Before we parted ways, Mr. Stein said, “I never told you how much Shannon and I appreciated all the help you gave us back when we lost Adam. We knew how busy you were. It’s been 30 years today, you know. 30 years.”

I felt guilt and sadness wash over me. “I’m sure he’s in a better place,” I told him.

He nodded, and I saw tears in his eyes. “He was a good boy. I know wherever he is, he’s watching over us.”

We hugged briefly, then went back to our respective homes. I walked up the driveway, past the ghosts dangling from my trees by their nooses, and headed up my front steps. I looked at the skull hanging above the doorway. It was pointed at the Stein’s house. Watching.

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There’s something very wrong with my parrot.

parrot

I have an African grey parrot named Perry. He’s been part of the family for 25 years. I’ve known him my whole life. When my parents were alive, they taught him a bunch of words and phrases and he’d always make us laugh.

Lately, though, he’s been saying things we never taught him. Certainly not things we’d ever say, either. Nancy, my wife, was in the kitchen with her friends the other day when they all heard Perry squawk, “it bathes in tears and reigns beneath our feet.”

They all laughed and wondered what the hell I could’ve been watching on TV for the bird to pick up a phrase like that. They continued their lunch, but ten minutes later, Perry started again:

“It reigns beneath our feet. It reigns beneath our feet. It reigns beneath our feet.”

Then he squawked and screamed and rattled his cage so hard that he almost fell off the table. Nancy checked to see if he was okay, and he chirped and allowed her to stroke his head with her finger. He seemed no worse for wear.

That night, after I’d gotten home and Nancy had told me about Perry’s weirdness, I let him out of his cage to fly around the house. He was always well behaved and never knocked anything off shelves or s**t on things we cared about. He stepped out of the cage and onto the table, but he didn’t take off. He just stood there, looking around.

“Go ahead, Perry,” I coaxed. “Go get some exercise.”

He remained stationary, but he watched me; the pupils wide in his beige eyes.

“You okay buddy?,” I asked. I was concerned for the little guy. He’d always been in great health and never acted weird. This was entirely unlike him.

Perry cocked his head and stared into my eyes. For some reason, I felt a chill run down my spine even before he spoke – almost like I knew he was about to frighten me.

In a deep tone I’d never heard from him in all my years, he uttered, “beneath your feet.”

Something knocked on the floor directly below where I was standing. I jumped about a mile and stepped away from the bird, who hadn’t moved. “Still beneath your feet,” he said.

The knock came again. It was a hundred times louder and so powerful my ankle twisted under me and I fell sideways onto the couch. The floorboards where I’d been standing bulged upward. One had cracked. Nancy came running downstairs asking, “what the hell was that?” I told her to go in the kitchen and call the police – someone was in the cellar.

Nancy and I waited by the door for the police to arrive. They got there quickly. We let them in and they went into the basement. A couple minutes later, they came back up. “No one’s there,” they told us.

“Wait, then what –”

The older cop cut us off. “Can you come look at something with us?”

“Okay,” Nancy said, “but what is it?”

“Just come downstairs.”

We followed the cops into the basement. Neither Nancy nor I go down there very often. I was a little embarrassed by how gross and dusty it was until I saw marks in the dust-covered floor and countertops.

“Are those footprints?,” I asked, more to myself than to anyone around.

“That’s what we thought,” said the younger officer. “But they look pretty weird for footprints.”

We got to the part of the cellar that was under where I’d been standing. The cops aimed their flashlights at the wood above our heads. An indentation was clearly visible. It almost looked like a punch, but the shape wasn’t of any hand we’d ever seen. It looked like it had too many knuckles; too many bones.

“What the hell?” I traced my finger over the indentations. I shivered.

Upstairs, Perry squawked. The floorboards around the indentation began to leak. Liquid dripped into my mouth and I sputtered. It was salty and reminded me of the taste you get after crying for a long time.

“Did something spill upstairs?,” the older cop asked.

“Yeah, maybe the bird knocked something over.”

“Is that him making all that noise?”

I nodded. “He’s been weird all day.”

We headed back upstairs and the cops told us to call if we have any other concerns about someone being in our house. Nancy and I thanked them, and they left.

I stared at the damage to the living room floor. Perry hadn’t knocked anything over, but there was a small puddle on the wood. He’d gone back into his cage and sat in the corner, quietly clucking. I approached the cage. There were little, wet footprints around it. They were his prints. It looked like he might’ve lapped up some of the water that’d been on the floor while we were in the cellar.

“What’s going on, bud? You having a rough day?” I tried not to think about what had happened. There had to be a reason for it. Maybe the wood had warped. The basement’s always been damp and gross. That had to have been it. The wood warped and trapped moisture was dripping out of the fracture point. But then there was Perry.

Perry stared at the bottom of the cage, still clucking. He didn’t look up. I reached out to pet his head, but he struck my finger with his beak. Not hard enough to do any damage, but with enough force to let me know he wanted none of my affection.

I looked at my pet with sympathy, wondering if he was just getting old and losing his mind. He remained in the corner, trembling slightly. Something caught my eye. There was red on the cage where he was sitting. I looked closer. It was blood.

“What happened, Perry?,” I asked, and reached inside to pick him up, knowing I was in for a pecking. Before I could grab him, he spoke in that same, chilling voice:

“It will bathe in blood and claim the sky.” He paused, then slowly spoke. “Twenty…. seven… days.”

I picked up my bird to see how badly he was hurt. But before I could assess his wound, I saw what was in the corner where he was sitting. Something entirely unexpected.

Perry, my male, African grey parrot, had been sitting on a bloody, black egg.

It’s been 24 hours since all this started. Perry seems no worse for wear, but he fights whenever we try to pick him up. He does everything he can to remain by the egg. I don’t know what’s happening to him and I have no idea what he means with any of the stuff he’s saying. Whenever he talks now, it’s just “26 days” followed by the word “hours.” The number of hours keeps going down. And I haven’t heard it, but Nancy swears she hears soft knocking coming from the basement each time Perry makes his announcements.

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The Last of the Trick-or-Treaters

trick-or-treat-nyc

Last Halloween at 11:25 pm, the doorbell rang. I’d just gotten into bed. Thinking I could ignore it and go to sleep, I clicked off the TV and pulled the covers up. The doorbell sounded again. And again. And again.

I threw off the covers, put on my bathrobe, and stormed out of the bedroom. If it was a group of kids playing a prank, I told myself, even their parents wouldn’t be able to identify their bodies. I unlocked and opened the front door.

On the doorstep was a young boy wearing a Native American headdress and an ornately-beaded leather vest and pants. He was clutching a bag of candy to his chest. No one else was around.

It was unseasonably cold that night, and without any adults around, I couldn’t let the kid stay out there and freeze. He looked miserable. I held him by his shoulder and guided him inside, then I picked him up and placed him on the couch. I didn’t know what to do. Calling the police seemed like the only safe bet, so I dialed the non-emergency number. While I waited on hold, I heated up some water to make the kid a mug of hot chocolate.

The kid stared at me while I stood in the kitchen. He didn’t say a word. I felt bad for the little guy.

The receptionist at the police station answered and I told her what was going on. She said she hadn’t heard about any missing kids, but as soon as a car was free, one would be sent over. She cautioned it might be a while, though. Apparently Halloween’s a busy time for them over there.

With the water boiled and the instant hot chocolate made, I went over to the kid and sat down next to him on the couch. I placed the mug on the table across from us. After cautioning him that it was hot, I figured I needed to talk to him.

“Nice costume,” I told him. It wasn’t really that nice. Pretty culturally insensitive nowadays. But whatever.

“Thanks,” he replied.

“So, um, did you lose your parents?,” I asked.

The kid shook his head.

“How about your brothers or sisters? Or friends?”

Again, no.

“Want to try the hot chocolate? It’s really good.”

“I don’t like chocolate.”

“Oh, okay.” I picked up the mug and started drinking, wondering if the kid was slow or something. Who doesn’t like chocolate?

We sat in silence for a little while. He kept his eyes on the unpowered television while I did everything in my power to not appear creepy. I never know how to act around kids.

“Did you have a good time trick-or-treating?,” I asked, then realized it was a stupid question. He’d gotten separated from his family or friends, for f**k’s sake. How good could it have been?

The kid, to my surprise, nodded. “I got what I wanted,” he said.

“Oh? And what was that?”

The doorbell rang and I hopped off the couch and answered it. Two officers. I invited them in and they saw the boy on the sofa. They greeted him and asked the same questions I had. He had nothing to say to them, though. In fact, he looked angry – almost like he hated them.

After a few minutes of getting nowhere, the officers said they were going to bring him back to the station. There still hadn’t been any reports of a missing child.

As they were about to leave, there was a call on the police radio. Something about a murder on 113 Chestnut Place. The three of us stood very still for a moment. I live at 115 Chestnut. My neighbors, Paul and Lynn Chesney, had lived there for decades and were the curators at the local museum.

The officers answered the call on their radio said they were nearby. They were told backup would be there shortly.

“Wait here,” the cops ordered, and the kid and I just looked at each other while the two men left the house and headed next door.

“Don’t worry, it’s okay,” I promised the boy. He looked flat. Unaffected. Then he turned and looked straight at me.

“Bring this to the MTIC. It all belongs to them.” He handed me his bag. I was extremely confused for a second, wondering why the local Mohegan tribe would want Halloween candy. I opened the bag and gasped.

A bloody, stone knife sat atop a pile of beautiful, beaded vestments, ornate carvings, and other, old-looking artifacts.

“Your neighbors have been keeping these from us. We tried to get them back, but they just laughed and mocked our efforts. But they’re too important to give up – especially after we’ve been forced to give up so much.”

I stood like an idiot, holding the bag as sirens approached and the commotion outside grew.

“Give it to them,” the kid shouted with a deep, adult voice that was entirely out of place coming from his small body. And with that, he vanished. The headdress and pants and vest dropped in a pile on the rug. I spent a good 45 minutes convincing myself I hadn’t gone nuts.

Hours later, an officer came back for the boy. “What happened over there?,” I asked the cop. I already knew, but I needed confirmation.

“Looks like the couple got killed in a robbery attempt,” he told me. “Their daughter came home from a Halloween party and found them with their throats cut. I’m sorry.”

I let out a long sigh and nodded.

“Where’s the kid?,” the officer asked.

I had an answer ready. “There was a family going door to door with a picture of him. I guess he’d run away. But he’s back with them now.”

The cop shook his head. “And they didn’t even call us? Christ.” He paused. “Well, okay. Goodnight. I’m sorry about your neighbors – we’ll have officers in the area until whoever did it is found.”

I thanked him and closed the door. It was almost 5:00 am. It was too late to go to bed; I had work in a couple hours. So I sat down at my computer, and with the kid’s bag on the desk next to me, I mapped out directions for my drive to the MTIC.

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Jill-O-Lanterns

jack-o-lantern-face-1423845693414

In 1987, a plastic surgeon named Harris Wilhelm Tristemon killed his wife, Jill Texana-Tristemon. Harris was never caught, but it was widely assumed it had to have been him. Only Harris had such expertise. Only Harris had such meticulous attention to detail. Only Harris had such devastating psychopathy.

I know.

I’m his brother.

I shared with the investigators every incident I remembered from our childhood and adolescence: All the animals Harris had killed. All the classmates he had assaulted. Every punch, every slap, every grope. By late 1989, the investigation had yielded nothing. Harris was gone.

Last month, in the small town of Zermatt, Switzerland, an American expatriate named Jill Pepo was found murdered. While Zermatt is small, crime is not alien to them. Neither is murder, although it is exceedingly rare. That said, the circumstances surrounding Pepo’s murder were hideous enough for officials to demand silence during the investigation. There was concern the growing immigrant population would be blamed. Despite the lockdown, some details leaked. I found them online.

Three weeks ago, a Canadian businesswoman, Jill Moschata, was found dead in her hotel room in Düsseldorf. Again, the hideous details were kept bottled up to avoid sparking a xenophobic panic. Again, those details were leaked.

Again, I found them online. That time, I wasn’t the only one.

A few true-crime aficionados had noticed the similarities between the Zermatt and Düsseldorf murders, and one old-timer made the connection between them and the killing of my sister-in-law. The fact the victims were all named Jill was not overlooked.

Once Jill Cucurbita, a Mexican national in upstate New York, was found murdered, all the cases were officially connected. International investigators descended on all the crime scenes. They were looking for evidence to connect my missing brother to the crimes. All they could find were the same wounds. The same cuts. The same disfigurations.

According to an ICPO and CIA estimation, 11,225 people could have made the same travel arrangements to put them at the scenes of the crimes in Zermatt, Düsseldorf, and New York. That number ballooned to unknown hundreds of thousands if the suspect drove, rather than flew, from Switzerland to Germany. This all meant they had no suspect. No one aside from Harris, who everyone assumed had changed his identity decades ago.

Last Friday, I received a piece of mail containing 13 photographs. There were three from each murder scene. They detailed the incomprehensible brutality of the Jill-killer’s process. The skinning. The scooping. The carving. The candle burning inside empty, grinning skulls.

The 13th photograph was of my daughter, who’d been named in memory of my beloved sister-in-law. It was a very recent picture, which appeared to have been taken when she was playing in the backyard. Our fenced-in backyard.

All the pictures were given to the CIA, and we’ve had round-the-clock surveillance of our home ever since. The police presence has done little to allay the fear my wife and I are experiencing. Jill, despite being only four, knows something bad is going on. Something involving her. We can’t tell her, though. We can’t even hint.

Still, it’s hard to keep it a secret from our daughter. She sees the police officers outside. She sees the expressions of anxiety on her parents’ faces. Worst of all, it was she who found the jack-o-lantern that appeared on our kitchen table in the middle of the night. One that was carved with artistic, surgical precision, to look exactly like her.

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Elf on the Shelf

elf

Grandma would always warn me that the elf on the shelf was watching to make sure I wasn’t bad. Growing up, even when it was nowhere near Christmas, the elf would observe me. The elf would judge me.

With my brother and cousins around all the time, it wasn’t easy to be good. But I tried. I tried really hard. When I’d make a mistake and be mean to one of them, I felt the elf staring at me. It would remember that moment. I’d picture it waiting until I was in bed, then running and tattling to Santa. No matter how much I screamed and sobbed to it, the elf wouldn’t answer. It would just watch and wait for me to do something bad again. It knew me too well.

On the fourth of July, I burned Marisa with a sparkler. I didn’t do it on purpose. I mean, I meant to burn Marisa, but I didn’t want to hurt her. I just wanted to see what would happen. Unfortunately, she got hurt pretty bad. Grandma had to take her to the hospital, but not before she got out the belt and whipped me until I couldn’t sit down.

After Marisa’s mom came over to give me a beating of her own, I was left watching Neil, my little brother. Grandma was still at the hospital. Neil watched TV while I tried to walk off the pain from the beatings. Before Dad died, that’s what he’d tell me to do. “Walk it off, you little f****t.”

I walked a lot.

When I got to the living room, the elf was watching me. It knew. Its wooden mouth was open, almost like it was screaming accusations.

“You’re a bad kid.”

“No one likes you.”

“Santa thinks you’re terrible.”

“You’ll be a bad man when you grow up.”

It didn’t actually speak, of course, but it was obvious that’s what it meant. It was the same stuff Grandma said to me, day in, day out. And somehow, I always made sure to live up to it. Try as I might, I couldn’t be good. At the age of eight, I was already certain I was rotten to the core.

Months went by and my best efforts yielded punishment. If I wasn’t accidentally knocking over a vase in the kitchen, I was tracking mud into the hallway. It invariably ended with my pants around my ankles and my grandfather’s old leather belt smashing into me as I tried not to scream. Screaming would only make the beatings last longer.

When it was finally over and I inched my jeans and underwear back up, I told myself I’d be better; that I’d be a good kid from here on out. And for a while – for the entire month of November and into December – I was.

Grandma, Neil, and I went to get our Christmas tree on December 4th. We came home and decorated it while cookies baked in the oven. I remember Grandma lifting me with her strong, solid arms so I could put the star on top. The star had been her daughter’s. My mother’s. It was one of the only things left that had belonged to her.

On December 5th, after Neil and I had gotten home from school, we were playing around. Like all brothers, we played rough. With him being six and me being eight, I was quite a bit bigger. When we were wrestling and I was spinning him by his arm, I made a mistake. I let him go and send him right into the Christmas tree. It fell onto the hardwood floor. Ornaments broke. Lights went out.

The star shattered.

In an instant, I was panicking. I knew Neil would tell Grandma. I knew the elf in the other room would learn what I’d done. I’d been good for so long that I’d started hoping I might get Christmas presents. After this, though; after breaking the one thing Grandma had left after her daughter was killed by Dad, I’d be doomed. Grandma would beat me senseless. The elf would tell Santa. I’d get nothing. And Neil would taunt me with his presents.

Something sparked inside me. What if the elf hadn’t seen what happened? What if Neil didn’t tell Grandma?

I was very busy for about an hour. By the time I was done, Grandma would be back from work any minute. I knew I might not fool her, but I’d fool the elf. That was most important; it was he who talked to Santa. Not Grandma.

I wore Neil’s face into the living room and looked at the elf on the shelf. He stared back with his black, judgmental eyes.

“I’m sorry I knocked over the tree and broke the ornament,” I said, doing my best impression of Neil’s high voice. I thought about his body cooling on the kitchen floor and his blood making a mess everywhere. Maybe Grandma would believe he fell on a knife if I cried hard enough.

Under the mask of my brother’s skin, I peered at the elf through the eye holes. The skin tasted awful, but I had to breathe through my mouth because the nose holes line up right. I wondered if the elf believed me.

“I’m sorry, elf,” I squeaked again. I heard the garage door rising and a car pulling inside. Grandma was home. I felt a new rush of panic. I glared through the cold mask at the arbiter of my Christmas fortune. The door connecting the garage to the kitchen opened and I heard my grandmother’s shrill, hysterical shriek.

“Elf,” I whispered, as tears mixed with my brother’s blood and cascaded down my face.

The elf on the shelf turned its head 360 degrees as its mouth opened and closed. When it faced me again, it spoke: “You’ve been very bad, Neil.”

I fell to my knees in fervid, incomprehensible relief. Some part of me heard Grandma still screaming, somehow even louder when she came into the room and saw me. Again, the elf spoke, “You’ve been terrible Neil.”

Grandma whirled around and looked at the elf, but then shook her head back and forth like she was trying to get ahold of herself. I stood up. Not wanting to ruin the illusion for the elf, I held the mask to my face until I left the room and sat down in the kitchen. Grandma didn’t try to hit me. She didn’t touch me at all. I piled the skin back on Neil’s head and told Grandma he fell. She didn’t answer.

It didn’t matter, though.

20 days later, in my own, warm room at the hospital, I got some very nice Christmas presents. The doctors and nurses were so kind and gentle with me. One even hugged me after I’d opened my gifts. The gifts weren’t exactly what I’d hoped for, but they were better than nothing. So much better. I giggled to myself as we hugged. When the nurse asked what I was laughing at, I lied and told her I remembered a funny joke. She smiled, and I was surprised to see a tear running down her cheek. I didn’t think much of it, though. All that mattered was I’d won. I’d finally fooled the elf on the shelf.

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Daycare Massacre

crime

This is going to get swept under the rug because of the Hurricane Matthew coverage. Even if it isn’t, whatever’s mentioned in the news will be sanitized for public consumption. People aren’t supposed to hear about this kind of thing – especially when you consider how frightened they are already.

There’s a daycare in Charleston, SC. It’s in an awful neighborhood. I was patrolling the area before dawn this morning when the owner ran out in the street and flagged me down. She was covered in blood. I got out of the car and called for backup. Officers Fitzgerald and Ndoma were a block away and got there a minute later. Ndoma stayed with the inconsolable, trembling owner while Fitz and I drew our weapons and entered the building.

There were six children inside. Unclothed. Dead.

I called for paramedics and a supervisor. Amid the chaos of hurricane preparations, by the time they’d arrived, Fitz and I had cleared the small building. If the owner of the daycare hadn’t killed the kids, whoever had was gone.

The news media, who would’ve been all over something like this, hadn’t even noticed our radio chatter. They were too busy reporting on the storm. To be honest, I couldn’t have been more relieved. The city didn’t need to know about this yet.

The daycare owner still hasn’t said a word. We have her in custody and it’s obvious she needs a psychiatric evaluation, but that’s off the table until at least tomorrow. We pulled the records of the children from the daycare files and are beginning to notify parents. The last two of the six bodies are being examined as I write this.

The hospital is being prepared for an influx of storm-related injuries, so the deceased were brought directly to the city coroner. The examinations are cursory and unofficial. I know the main guy down there. My father was the best man at his wedding. Whenever I wanted to know something about a case that was above my paygrade, he’d usually fill me in. Today was no different. I know what I saw, but were a lot of unanswered questions.

When Fitz and I entered the building and saw the victims, we knew the cause of death right away. The wounds were gaping and obvious. In fact, I don’t think I’ve blinked today without seeing them in that split second of darkness. To me, it was clear the owner couldn’t have done it. She’s 5’1”, and if you told me she was 90 pounds, I’d be surprised. Her mouth’s small, too. Yes, that’s relevant.  

Here’s the thing: at first glance, I assumed the kids had to have been killed by some kind of animal. The bites which prompted the massive blood loss must’ve come from something with large, powerful jaws. After we cleared the building, though, and Fitz was outside with Ndoma trying to get the owner to say what happened, I took a closer look at the wounds. They were too uniform. Too precise.

What I mean by that is the children were all bitten in the same spot. Everything between their legs, from navel to lower back, was gone. There were smudges on their thighs. Something white. It was more obvious on the darker-skinned victims, but nonetheless present on all of them. I was about to examine the fibers I saw sticking to the wounds, but I was interrupted by the paramedics and the coroner’s office. They needed to do their thing, so I left them to it.

I’ve spent the whole morning at my desk, filling out reports, and writing this account to help clear my mind. About an hour ago, I called my contact at the coroner’s office. He told me, like I mentioned above, that they’d looked over four of the six. It was, certainly, the bites which had killed them. They bled out in a matter of seconds.

I asked him what he thought could have done it, and he paused. To me, that meant he still didn’t know for sure. After a few seconds of silence, I asked about the fibers I’d seen.

“Red hairs,” he told me. “Wiry, red hairs. John thought they could’ve been from a chimpanzee, since they’ve been known to attack the genital area, but they usually do damage to other places too.”

“What about the white stuff?,” I asked.

“We’re not sure yet. The lab will have to do an analysis after the storm, but from what everyone over here can determine, it’s some kind of makeup.”

I thanked him and was about to hang up, but he told me to hold on.

“There’s one more thing. Something we found stuffed up around what was left of the caucasian boy’s bladder.”

I shuddered, but told him to continue.

“Well, it’s foam. When we pulled it out, it was just kind of a blobby thing. But then John washed it off.”

My friend trailed off and I heard him sighing deeply into the phone’s receiver. I gave him a second, but urged him on. He sighed again.

“Max, it was one of those red foam noses. The same ones clowns wear.”

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My Wife, the Artist

pumpkins

Jen and I love Halloween. We go all-out when decorating our house and yard. The neighborhood kids love to see what we put up every year and even their parents are impressed by the scale and sophistication of the decorations we use. We don’t just give out candy, we invite the trick-or-treaters into our home to see our setup. Pumpkins, spiders, skeletons, ghosts – you name it, we’ve got it. Our local newspaper even did a feature on us last year. “A Safe and Spooky Spot for Local Kids.” It wasn’t much more than a fluff piece, but it felt good to have our work celebrated.

A project Jen’s been working on over the last fifteen or so years is her “Halloween Town of Horrors.” It’s the centerpiece of our trick-or-treat trip around the house. The town takes up our whole dining room table and it’s a darker take on those big Christmas villages people like put out in December. The architecture is very Tim Burton-esque; lots of strange looking buildings, exaggerated colors, and blood splatters, while the townsfolk lurk in the shadows like little purple zombies and space aliens. As the years have gone by, Jen’s taken her Halloween town from a couple small buildings to the sprawling, populous nightmare-scape it is today.

This year, Halloween came and went. We had a blast. Jen’s Halloween town was a huge hit. Even adults from around the neighborhood came over to take a look. Jen loved the attention; she wanted to be an artist growing up, but, sadly, it wouldn’t pay the bills. As we cleaned the house, Jen picked up one of the townsfolk dolls. Its clothing had a little tear that needed to be fixed. Sighing good-naturedly, she gathered the rest of them into their box. I love those dolls; their aesthetic works beautifully with the town Jen puts them in. They range in size from a raisin to a lemon; some have distinguishable features, others don’t. It takes a while for her to make each one – between 2 and 5 months – but her effort always yields a product that’s perfect for Halloween. Until she can carry one to term, we both agree they shouldn’t go to waste.

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The Empty Cribs on Hawthorn Lane

pacifier

The bloody pacifier I found hanging from my tree belonged to Alyssa Harris, who went missing from her crib two nights ago. I figured it had to have been Alyssa’s when I saw it, but while I waited for the police to arrive, I realized it could’ve belonged to Matthew Roman. Or Muhammad Ahad. Or maybe even Hailey Davis. Over the last four years, they’d all vanished.

Hawthorn Lane developed quite a bit of notoriety in 2015 after Matthew and Muhammad disappeared on the same night. The Romans and the Ahads lived four houses apart, and as far as the detectives were able to tell, the children were abducted within minutes of each other. Both houses were securely locked and there was no sign of a forced entry.

As far as I’m concerned, though, the notoriety and brief rush of attention from the national news wouldn’t have happened if their disappearance hadn’t been on the anniversary of the 2012 abduction of Hailey Davis.

Hailey’s case was special, if it could be called such a thing. That’s because on October 1st, 2013, exactly a year after she went missing, pieces of her were found stuffed in the mailboxes of every family on the street who had, or were expecting, children. A swarm of investigators, both local and federal, descended on our quiet, suburban lane, and worked around the clock for months before admitting defeat. There was no evidence.

No fingerprints. No hairs. No mysterious DNA.

When the media came to town in 2015 after Matthew and Muhammad went missing, the rumors started. Rumors and threats. People from all over the country decided to get involved. They felt it was their duty. They began sending harassing letters and making threatening phone calls to the single adults who lived on Hawthorn Lane. These were people who’d lived here for years; people who had grieved alongside the parents and families who’d lost their children. But that didn’t matter to the crazies, who’d been thoroughly brainwashed by cable news into believing the abductor had to be someone from the neighborhood.

In December of 2015, a Georgia man named Alvin Stovall drove 300 miles up the coast, parked in front of Jose Partida’s house, and shot him to death when he came home from work. Alvin was certain Jose was the murderer of Hailey Davis and the abductor of Matthew Roman and Muhammad Ahad. He’d heard from a cable news anchor that Jose had a criminal record. That, as well as Jose’s name, was all Alvin needed to justify his action.

What the anchor had neglected to mention was Jose’s record was from 1977. And it was for nothing worse than being a passenger in a stolen car. Jose did his three months, got out on his 22nd birthday, and had been a model citizen ever since. He was my friend.

After Jose’s murder, the local police were ordered to keep a tight lid on any information pertaining to the disappearances. When Alyssa Harris was reported missing two days ago, it was printed on page four of the local newspaper. So far, there hadn’t been anyone from the major media outlets poking around. I know it’s only a matter of time, though. Yesterday morning, someone who looked like a reporter was tailing the police cars when they came to investigate the bloody pacifier. For the rest of the day, my phone rang and rang. When I answered, whoever was on the other line just hung up.

That alone was enough to make me worried. My name is Luis Goncalves. I’ve been on Hawthorn Lane for 40 years. I’ve lived by myself since Robert passed away in 1999. Jose Partida was my next-door neighbor. While I appreciate the efforts of our law enforcement officials, they weren’t able to stop Alvin Stovall from murdering my friend. They aren’t able to stop whoever is taking the neighborhood children. I’ve resorted to keeping my pistol holstered to my side all day, every day; even in my house.

I know that may sound paranoid, but look at it from my perspective. Someone is abducting and killing children on my street. An innocent man was gunned down because the news media has convinced a large group of people that Latinos are dangerous criminals. And yesterday morning, hanging from a small branch on a tree in my front yard, was a pacifier dripping with a child’s blood. I can’t take my chances.

All that said, there’s one more thing. I’m reluctant to talk about it, because it’s something I saw when I was experiencing a dizzy spell from my blood pressure medication. I’d blacked out from the medication before, so this could’ve been nothing but a hallucination. Still, these days, with everything that’s going on, I think it bears mentioning.

I was washing up after a midnight snack. The sink is in front of a large picture window that overlooks the front yard. Since it was dark out, I couldn’t see anything but the reflection of myself and the kitchen behind me. I was already feeling dizzy from my medication, but it wasn’t severe enough for me to have to sit, so I kept cleaning.

As I washed the last dish, the overhead light blew. The kitchen went dark. It took a moment for my eyes to acclimate, but I could now see the neighborhood outside. And there was something across the street, opening the Richter family’s mailbox.

A wave of dizziness went through me and I gripped the edge of the counter to steady myself, but I’m certain, despite what I’m about to write, what I saw was really there. It was a pale, nude man with freakishly long legs and even longer arms that protruded from his hips, rather than his shoulders. Despite him being bent down, it was obvious he was tall enough to peer through a second-story window.

He paused with the mailbox half open, then abruptly stepped away and turned around. In two, long strides, he crossed the street into my yard. He gazed through my kitchen window with massive, gray eyes. I stared back. A toothless mouth opened, stretching wide enough to fit a basketball. I reached for my pistol. Through the glass, I heard the sound of infants screaming from deep inside his throat. His mouth shut, then twisted into a grin. Then his long, spindly legs carried him away, down the street, and into the woods.

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