Serial killers generally follow a pattern - Some for more convincing reasons than others. Sometimes it's for the sake of pride, or perhaps for notoriety, for some bizarre sense of recognition. In some cases, however, in some very, very rare cases, the killer hides within their own pattern, woven so intricately that they remain near invisible at its very centre.
It was a Tuesday. I can't remember very much about those dark weeks, but I shall always remember that it all began on a Tuesday. It's funny - Most days I can't even remember to bring a set of keys out with me when I leave the house, but memory is like that. Mundane, everyday activities seem to slip through the cracks, while traumatic events tend to stick, mucus-like, to some interior recess of our mind. Perhaps it's survival instinct. I prefer to think it's so that we don't make the same mistakes twice.
Unfortunately, in my case, I was only favoured one chance before disaster. I made the wrong decision, that's all. One wrong decision.
My dog Harley was a Red Setter, show standard. I would walk him every morning before going to work. We would always take the same path, through the forest, and Harley seemed content enough with that. He wasn't a particularly bright animal, probably too interbred for any form of sentience, and every walk down that same path appeared to be a whole new adventure for Harley.
It started the way it always does, with one small variation, a fork in the road that seemed innocuous enough, benign enough to not even warrant a mention if it were not for its consequences.
You see, I could never be as satisfied as Harley seemed to be with routine. This Tuesday morning, I decided to take a different route through the forest. A defined path through the undergrowth, but different, nonetheless. Harley didn't seem to care. I could have probably walked that dumb mutt into the path of an oncoming juggernaut and he would just stand there, tongue lolling, a glazed look in his eye.
I remember pitying him at the time, but now, I envy him. Stupid dog. Around a half hour into our stroll, something out of the ordinary caught my eye. As I turned to get a better view, I saw that it was a structure similar in shape and size to an ordinary garden shed, decrepit, smothered in graffiti, standing in all its ramshackle weariness around twenty or thirty feet apart from the path I was walking on. I had never noticed it before, but that came as no surprise, accustomed as I was to my usual wandering trail.
Harley showed no interest, sniffing distractedly at a nearby tree trunk where, no doubt, some canine Oscar Wilde had left his fascinating mark minutes before.
I, on the other hand, couldn't help but be intrigued. It was overgrown, shrouded in ivy and half hidden by the low hanging trees, and looked as if it hadn't been opened in years. Perhaps it's an old maintenance shed, I thought, used decades ago for the forest's upkeep? I resisted as Harley finished his rebuttal to Mr Wilde against the tree trunk and strained upon his lead to continue onwards.
"Come, Harley" I muttered, and led him towards the shack.
It took only a minute to reach the building, if such a sorry wooden construct could be classed as a "building," and up close I could see that there was a lock across the door. Damn, I inwardly cursed, already half thinking of the exciting lost treasure or skeletal Mafia boss remains that might have resided within. Before walking away in defeat, I decided to turn back and try the lock anyway. Fool that I am.
I pulled on the lock. It opened. I entered the door.
I bet you're expecting that there was something super spooky and interesting inside that shed, huh? Well, too bad for you - And too bad for me, too. There was nothing. Just some mummified spiders and an old shovel. It appeared that every single horror movie I had ever watched was just plain misleading. What a let-down. I returned home with Harley, disappointed, and soon leaving again for another day of work.
Nothing spooky happened at work either, which was disheartening, if somewhat predictable. I worked in a call centre. The weirdest thing that ever happened to anyone there is if they actually managed to sell something.
Upon returning home I discovered nothing stranger than Harley standing proudly over a puddle of his own urine, which, depressingly, was not an unusual occurrence.
I cleaned this up, cooked some dinner (After washing my hands, before you get any ideas.), ate silently, and alone. Before long I decided that it was time to put this day out of its misery.
I fell asleep staring up at my ceiling, the uneven paint job that my landlord wouldn't allow me to correct.
The damp stain. The floor above, which I couldn't see, but knew was there.
Sleep was a blink, as it often was, but, to my eternal surprise, and current regret, my awakening was no so routine, nor so peaceful.
My foggy mind jarred into action, telling me to turn over, that it was too cold. I rolled onto my side, noticing briefly that I was not in my bed.
I was not in my bed
It took my brain a few seconds to process this fact.
I jumped up, heart pounding, eyes wide open now and searching for some familiar sight amongst the suffocating darkness all around me. Seeing nothing, I instead reached out looking for anything to hold onto.
To my right, I managed to grab onto something. It was long, metal, heavy. I bought it inches away from my face in a panicked attempt to identify this mystery object.
It was a shovel.
I clambered to my feet and shakily, hurriedly, felt around me, blindly grasping for some kind of wall or door. This must be a nightmare, my mind rationalized, I can't really be where I think I am. Maybe sleepwalking? No, I had never sleepwalked before in my life. This had to be real. It felt all too real. The splintery wooden floor underneath my bare feet, the unnatural stillness outside, that bloody shovel still grasped in my sweaty hand.
Finally finding what felt like a door, I flung it open and fell, face first, onto the forest floor. Trembling and crying, I dropped the shovel on the ground and ran instinctively towards home.
I must have ran for twenty minutes or more, but in my adrenaline fuelled state, it felt like seconds, and I barely felt the cold wind that must have whipped against my body, poorly protected in just a pair of flimsy pajamas.
When I got back I slammed the door behind me, turned on every single light in my apartment, and sat breathlessly down at the kitchen table. I checked my watch, barely illuminated in the lamplight. It read 03:45. I sat in a shocked silence for the rest of the early morning, until the sun came up, trying to understand what had happened. I tried to convinced myself that it had all been a dream after all, but every time I did, I would look down and see the dirt and leaves still stuck to my front from where I fell.
Thus began the pattern.
The next few days were a blur of sadness and confusion. I wasn't sure what it was about the shack in the forest that stirred me so deeply, but ever since that night, I just wasn't the same. I walked, slept, ate, walked, in a mental fog, unable to concentrate on anything apart from what happened in those woods. The experience did not repeat itself, but this only added to my paranoia.
Did it really happen, or was I just going insane? I replayed the events over and over in my head, and whenever I actually managed to snatch some rest, I was plagued by horrific nightmares – Not about the shack, not about anything, really, just a gaping, sucking darkness from which the only escape was to stay awake. It took only a couple of days for this punishment to take it's toll on me, so much so that I lost my job. Apparently, I just wasn't performing up to standard any more.
I was tempted to grab my manager by his dumb novelty neck tie and ask exactly what high level of quality he expected from a cold caller? I called people, they spat out abuse, they hung up.
I call someone else. Hardly rocket science. In reality I just picked up my bag and walked out. Didn't even bother clearing out my desk. Nothing worth keeping in there anyway.
On the morning of my third day of unemployment, I was already well in to my new daily routine – Wake up, change into fresh underwear, tie hair back, sit on sofa and stay there until something begins to chafe. Harley was nuzzled next to me. He had been extremely clingy since I lost my job, wouldn't leave me alone. I gave him a scratch on the head and picked up the remote.
“Although it could be debated that-”
“-Get a free bonus brush with every-”
“-Found tied and bound inside a locked room-”
I stopped on the news. It was showing a report about some grisly murder. A young woman, apparently, found throttled to death in her bedroom. Same age as me. A brief spasm of guilt shot down my spine as I realised I felt slightly triumphant over this poor unfortunate girl. I may have no job, no boyfriend, no money, but at least I was alive. Haha. Too bad for you, friend.
As I was about to flick the channel to something less guilt inducing, the incredibly white-toothed reporter said something that piqued my interest.
“The victim, who has as of yet not been named, was found in a completely locked room with no apparent means of entry. However, the police are convinced that this is a murder not a suicide. It's a truly fascinating case.”
The shot switched to the newsroom. The anchor began to speak to the reporter through her headset.
“Christine, can you tell us yet when this atrocity occurred?”
“Yes, that information has just been released” Christine replied, as the camera changed back yet again. “The incident is believed to have taken place between the times of midnight and three A.M. early last Tuesday morning.”
My stomach gave a nauseous lurch. Those times were familiar. Too familiar.
Three hours, between the times of 00.00 A.M. and 03.00 A.M.
The exact times that I must have been missing from my bed.
I began to feel sick, sick to my stomach, and started to sweat profusely. I was being ridiculous. I repeated this to myself, quietly, and hugged Harley closer. Poor guy didn't know what to do, I was squeezing him so hard. There was no reason to suspect that I had anything to do with that woman's death. Still, the groping fear continued onwards throughout my body, muscles tensing, feet frozen to the floor. She lived near me. Near enough to get there and back to the shack in three hours, with time to spare.
Hell, she even looked like me. Who else could do such a thing?
I finally unstuck myself long enough to make a cup of tea, a distinctly British attempt at calming down. Minutes later the panic began to subside, to be replaced by an almost giddy sense of relief. I was being pathetic. How could I, a short, sleight female, break into a sealed room and strangle a perfectly healthy person, a person who was probably larger than me?
From that moment onwards, I resolved to put all of the strangeness behind me. To forget.
I also started locking my bedroom door at night. To keep the darkness out, or to keep it in, I could never quite decide.
Every week the same pattern.
Reach to your right, find a shovel.
Get up, walk to the left, find the door. Escape.
Go home, turn on the TV, watch in horrified, gut wrenching silence as another body bag is carried out of a formarly locked bedroom. Suppress the vomit that rises in your throat.
Once you took the shovel home with you. Saw the sticky blood on the pointed spade, felt it too, and waited in numb sillness for the inevitable news report stating that this time the victim was killed with a blow to the head. You hated to be right.
For months on end, I would not leave my apartment, except unconsciously, on these traumatic midnight voyages I seemed so unbearably keen on. I had to leave once to buy Harley more food. I couldn't bear to let him starve. It seemed funny back then. I'm a serial murderer and I couldn't even bear to let one mentally deficient dog go hungry for a while. Funny, in a way, but also not funny at all, not one bit.
When I got to the corner shop, the cashier looked at me strangely. God knows why, I hadn't looked in a mirror for so long, too long, for all I know I might have had a full beard and sideburns. I returned the curious gaze of the shop keeper with a resentful stare as I paid for Harley's kibble. I could still feel his eyes burning into my back as I left.
I wasn't done.
After the corner shop, I walked to the hardware store, twenty minutes away from my place. The furthest away I had been since that Tuesday. Apart from you-know-where. In the store I picked up a basket and filled it: Gaffa tape, wooden boards, hammer, nails, rope.
“Planning some home improvement?” The shop girl asked cheerily as I checked out.
“It's definitely going to be an improvement.” For the first time in a month, I smiled back.
The next day I spent in my bedroom, morning, noon and night. I boarded up the small window, the one I used to look out of and thank the Lord that I had finally left home. Boarded up the door, and locked it, from the inside, hoping that my sleep self wouldn't be intelligent enough to remember the combination I had carelessly chosen moments ago. I didn't have much faith in this idea alone, though, which is why I used the rope.
As the darkness rolled down outside my boarded window, I carefully and deliberately tied my bare feet to the bedposts. Then tied my left wrist to the headboard. Tight. My right hand would stay free. I didn't exactly have someone else to help me out, so this would have to be good enough. I would not escape the room that night.
I laid in opaque darkness, listening to the rhythmic ticking of the clock next to my bedside. The alarm wasn't set for tomorrow morning. Maybe I would never leave again here agin. It was quiet. Peaceful. Safe. Away from the world. Away from the knowledge.
The punishment does fit the crime, after all.
I hoped that a neighbour would take care of Harley.
“Don't worry. They will.”
A deep, growling voice echoed, unnaturally loud, from the darkness around me. From every corner of the room. Realisation, cold and hard as a stone, dropped down into my chest.
I made one mistake.
That's all. One mistake.
The shovel, the hated shovel, rushes silvery bright out of the imposing shadows and slams down without hesitation onto my face. Once. Twice. Three times. The pain is unbearable. I hear my nose crack, feel hot blood trickling down my cheeks. I try to scream by my jaw isn't working, that's broken too, I suppose, and all I can emit is a shocked and desperate gurgle.
“Thank you for making my job easy for me.” The disembodied voice chuckled.
The shovel came down, hard, one last time.
Christine carefully adjusts her blonde bouffant of hair one more time before the cameraman gives her the signal that she's expected on air in five.
She glances at the apartment block behind her, a cracked slab of grey concrete, a monolith of absurdity, looking like it was dropped from the skies during some great celestial Jenga match. Christine also looked at the departing ambulance, but tried not to think too hard about it.
“You're on, Christine.” Turning quickly, her professional sheen springs back in a second.
“Thank you, Jeremy. I'm here outside the apartment building of the latest victim of what the police now believe to be a particularly dangerous serial killer. Yet again, the victim was found inside a locked, boarded room, and the officer in charge of this investigation has released a statement claiming that they are still in the dark about how exactly the killer manages to access his victim's rooms.
The only solid lead they have so far is the pattern of killing. The pattern of victims moves consistently, targeting only women under the age of thirty, living in areas adjacent to Redwood Forest...”