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My name is Detective Howie Lucio McFarlane. I work as a freelance investigator for those who are willing to pay. Trust me when I say there are always people willing to pay me to track down their long lost cousins or missing children. About a month ago, however, I was approached by a man who didn't seek me out for either of the aforementioned reasons, but to hunt down the person who had taken his wife from him. Events that followed are probably related to the biggest failure in my career to date, but out of sheer idiocy I have decided to recount them here and now for personal reasons. Maybe one day I'll be able to show this to my wife and finally explain why it is I started locking the doors and windows ritualistically each night before bed.
That introduction aside, I was packing up to head out for lunch from my office when the man approached me. By approached, I mean he forced his way into my office and demanded to see me before I left. Seeing the large wad of cash he pulled from his pocket, I promptly decided that whatever it is he wanted was definitely worth my time. I rehung my faded brown trench coat on the rack in the corner of the room behind my desk and took a seat in my chair, motioning for him to do the same in one of the two positioned in front of me.
The man's features relaxed as the stress of possibly not catching me on time melted away and he dumped himself into the barely plush fabric of my cheap office seating. I recall looking him over once; he didn't seem to come from money at the time. His clothes were wrinkled from some sort of physical activity; from which the sweat around his armpits was still drying. He was in need of a shave badly, and dark circles hung under his swollen eyes; one far more enlarged and appearing to blacken. "Rough night?" I smiled at him.
"You could say that again," he mumbled. He gave me a short recount of his night's events: the drinking, the argument, the bar fight. His summary explained quite a bit of why he was so disheveled, but I didn't get the answer as for why he hadn't been sleeping until he moved on to why he was there. His name was Scott Lawson, a tax accountant from a state away who'd researched me online and decided I was the best candidate for what he needed. "I need you to," he struggled with tears as he spoke, "find someone for me." I was used to this reaction from people at this point. I nodded my head in false sympathy and bade him to continue.
The explanation he wove was the tale that follows.
A few years back he met a girl named Lindsey Voss and over time became smitten with her. They married about a year later and had been living their happily ever after until her untimely death a few weeks prior to our meeting. The cops had determined it was a murder, but the now widowed husband was sure that they weren't doing all they could to solve the case, which is where he wanted me to come in and save the day. The pay was good so I bid the blonde a good day and put in a call with his county's police department in an attempt to get my hands on the files involved in that case.
Obtaining what I needed proved easier than I expected. Apparently the force was busy with a large drug bust and was more than happy to have eager eyes working on it so they could save man power. The file arrived a few days later after going through the proper routes, and soon enough I held copies of the documents and pictures taken at the scene in my hands. The images I saved for last, deciding to read the Coroner's cause of death first. It was simply stated as: hemorrhaging due to blunt force trauma inflicted by the femur of an old man found at the crime site. The rest of the file was full of basic information on the girl such as her name, age, weight, blood type, and other such trivial things that didn't catch my eye. I skimmed over it and moved on to the pictures as I popped a piece of gum into my mouth in boredom. This would be my first real look at the case as the sob stricken testimony of the husband was biased at best.
The pictures of the autopsy were normal, but the photos taken at the crime scene were what caught my eye. The young and beautiful Lindsey Lawson was folded around a wooden wheel of some sort, her hands and legs tied together on one side and her body stripped naked on the other. The back of her midsection and thighs were littered with deep bruises showing where the blood had gathered within her due to gravity. The femur had been left next to her body as a present from her murderer. What specifically I found interesting about these photos was the wheel to which she was tied.
The wooden wheel looked hand crafted, as if the maker had a lack of tools to work with. Bits of splinter were poking out here and there with the pegs broken in several places from being hit a bit too hard, along one side three wooden spikes poked out from the wheel, one on either side of her arms and the other behind her head. I'd never seen a construction like that before. It was a real "wheel turner". I decided to try Google, the "answerer" of all my most important questions. What I found was unsettling, more unsettling than knowing forensics had discovered that the femur used to murder Lindsey belonged to her great grandfather.
There was such thing in existence around the middle ages as a breaking wheel, or a Catherine's wheel. The difference being that a Catherine's wheel had blades or spikes along the outside edge, much like half of the wheel found at the crime scene. They were commonly used for torture way back when, and the idea of some sick bastard playing out dungeons and dragons fantasies on unsuspecting people chilled me a bit. This wasn't my usual kind of case, and just looking at the autopsy photos had been enough to make my insides churn lightly.
I was exasperated, a woman beaten to death with the bone of her ancestor in the name of medieval torture. I let out a shaky sigh before I had an epiphany. A memory pushed to the back of my mind due to irrelevance to my life at the time. I remembered reading in the papers about a week before Lindsey's death of another corpse found killed on a wheel. However, I had to look for the article once more to learn that individual had been chained to a wall and beaten into the spikes with a metal pipe instead. I turned back to Google and put in the generics the two murders shared. I was surprised by what I discovered.
The murder from my town for which I had been looking for wasn't on the first page of the new results, and as I scrolled I counted two more news stories of similar deaths. Each death involving a wheel though all having died in somewhat different ways. It seemed too good to be true at the time, that no one else had made this sort of connection, but then again, the more I dug the more I found out why.
The papers and news had done their jobs in each city, that much was sure, but just as I had glanced over the article on the murder in my local neighborhood I found that many people had not done the same. There were plenty of conspiracies floating about the web. I frowned, conspiracies based on evidence (and likely true in this case) were still conspiracies and unlikely to attract the attention of the police. Unfortunately for the families involved, the answer they seemed to keep getting was to be patient. Each of the murders happened in a place where the police forces were being pulled in as many directions as a dog walker on a week day. Mostly drugs, but there were a few where robberies and other such things were taking center stage. It was possible that they simply hadn't been able to give the cases the attention that was needed. I decided then that I would call and request the files to any similar murder reports I came across. I received most of the ones for which I asked, and word got around from task force to task force that I was on the hunt. Due to the police grapevine the resistance I met dropped considerably and it would later lead me to seeing my first dead body in the flesh.
At first, I assumed the killer picked these locations based on these crime rates as an attempt to help cover their tracks. I was wrong, very wrong. Over the course of the next two weeks I read and reread the case files, matching bits and pieces of this and that between the murders. Before long, I was certain that we were dealing with a serial killer and presented my findings to the offices that from which I received the files. The other detectives went over my work, and within a few days, most of them were on board. DNA evidence found at a few of the crime scenes got pushed to priority and soon we knew who our serial murderer was.
As it turned out, we found her DNA to be a match from a willfully given sample back when a neighbor of theirs was accusing the girl for the disappearance of their German Shepherd. We know now that they were right, as the owners of the property gave us permission to dig up that back yard where several animal corpses of varying sizes and decay rates were found. Rachel Margret Downs graduated high school a week before her disappearance from her meager home. Over the time that she lived with her parents she apparently caused them some extreme paranoia on top of obvious trickery to make her parents believe she had some form of higher powers.
I was allowed to sit in behind the two way mirror as an officer interrogated Mrs. Downs. She told a vast ghost story about a woman who could see the dead committing suicide and possessing her daughter. I felt a wave of anguish. Obviously this lady was crazy, and that crazy ran in the family, meaning that an insanity plea was in our near future when we caught the girl. It pained me to know that she'd get off on a lighter sentence due to it, but justice was justice and I had taken a personal interest in this case.
My wife, on the other hand, had taken up complaining about my habit of reading the case files at dinner. It was starting to irk her to levels anew but she just didn't understand how invested I was; how invested I still am. Because of my work we were hops and leaps closer to catching this son of a bitch who was going to murder god knows how many more people while she was still out there. My thoughts were constantly circling around he case, trying to look in every nook for some key detail I had missed.
News stations started broadcasting the story and people were put on high alert. Search team after search team scoured the areas where she'd reportedly been seen. Every time they came back empty handed or having just found a camp site of hers.
I was called in to work with some investigators at the station where I got Lindsey's file when I was presented with a connection I hadn't seen coming, though it was right in front of my face. Every victim of the Wheel Running Murderer, or so the news had taken to naming her, had been the direct offspring of people who lived in a small town named Haugsdale about twenty miles from Spearfish, South Dakota, in 1920. Which just so happened to be the year Rachel's Great Grandmother had committed suicide.
When I went home that evening, my mind recounted the tale Mrs. Downs had told. Apparently, according to her mother, the woman had been able to converse with the dead and accused the mayor of murdering a woman. A few days later, she was mugged by a group of men who removed her eyes and were never caught. The woman became bed ridden with depression and an unwillingness to adapt that cause her husband to hate her. In an attempt to brighten the situation, he had two glass eyes made to match her original ones and forced them into her empty sockets when she refused them. A few days later, she killed herself by slitting her own throat and her daughter was the first one to find her body.
Apparently, the family managed to collect the knife and eyes from the police department way back when, buried one with the husband, and kept both the knife and other eye in a box in the attic before they awoke to Rachel's screams. They had ventured into that same storage area to find their daughter had taken them both, ripped out her right eye, and put her Great Grandmother's glass eye in its place.
The picture was becoming clearer with every step we took, and as far as I was concerned little miss "Alice in Wonderland" was going to go away for a long, long time.
A few days later, I was invited to come to a recently discovered crime scene left behind by that same little miss. The crime scene was in the midst of some forest not too far from the town where her Great Grandmother had lived. On the way there, I was briefed on how all the graves around that area had recently been dug up and desecrated, aside for one from which the femur that killed Lindsey Lawson had been taken. It turned out that man had been the mayor of the town that the deceased old lady had accused of murder.
By this point, I had adjusted to looking at the photographs of dead bodies that had unsettled me when the case first began. I was in no way ready for the horror that awaited me in the forest. Beyond the police tape, the shuffling bodies, and camera flashes, there laid a river. It was shallow, about knee deep, but that was apparently all our mischievous Rachel had needed to do her deed. I arrived with the medical researchers, and was one of the first to know the assumed cause of death for the unfortunate teenager that they'd found.
They'd dragged the body out of the river by the time we walked up, and I had to stop and catch my breath so I didn't forsake possible evidence with my own stomach bile. The thing about corpses left in water is that they bloat, and when they bloat, everything goes down hill. The stench was so overwhelming that I was supplied with a small towel to cover my face and allow me to get closer to the remains. What was left hardly looked like a person to me.
Every inch was swollen and pale, bits here and there darkened by the still blood that no longer coursed through her veins. Like a few other victims, this one was fully clothed, which saved me from quite a few nightmares. As the medical team gathered around, I peered over the shoulder of one of them in an attempt to get a look at the girl's face. However, it was covered by a thick, soaking wet burlap sack that appeared to be tied tightly around the water-swollen neck of the body. The field medics cut carefully at the bag, not wanting to rupture the skin underneath, for it would burst if cut. When they removed it, we were greeted by two bulging, wide spread eyes.
I had to back away at that point. It was all just a little too real for me. Obviously, the cause of death ended up being drowning. Apparently, Rachel had covered her head and rolled her downstream till she died and then left her there. It still sounds like an awful way to go to me.
I walked away from the crime scene and into the deeper section of the forest. I don't know how far I walked, but I remember that the shadows grew long around me as the sound of people faded.
I feel the need to reiterate at this point that I have never been one for the supernatural. I never believed in ghosts or goblins or even the tooth fairy, but I can honestly say that what happened next changed my mind. Whether or not it's true or I'm slowly going insane is still up for debate.
As I walked, a pair of black boots registered in my peripheral vision, then tan pants, then a black leather jacket, and finally the face of none other than Rachel Downs. I panicked as she smiled at me, not innocently and yet not malevolently at the same time. I wasn't unarmed, far from it with my M1911A1 stashed safely at my hip, but I also wasn't an infiltrator or skilled in arresting criminals. My breath caught in my throat as my hand went to the gun, calculating how long it would take the others to reach me. She took a step forward and paused as I drew my weapon, pointing the slightly shaking barrel at her, "Stop where you are."
She raised her hands, palms open, but the smirk didn't leave her face. She asked me if I was the one who had put it all together and only paused when I didn't respond. "My job is complete anyway, each and every one of those criminals is gone. They paid for their actions through blood just as Great Grandmother Victoria wanted," my look of disbelief prompted her to continue. "I'm sure my mother told you everything. About the town, the murder, Victoria, how she raised me as her puppet. But she didn't intend for me to ever 'back talk', didn't think I was smart enough to realize that if I cut my physical senses," she reached to her right eye and removed the prosthetic, "my psychic abilities would grow strong enough to block her out."
The person in front of me truly believed what they were saying, that much was apparent, and I was too caught up in watching her every move for hostility to bother asking her to stop. In my opinion the more distracted she was the better. "I suppose you've wondered about Catherine as well, the wheel I've come to be known for killing with. Lots of speculation going around about that one but the answer is very simple. Torture is the least of what they deserved. Besides, having someone's life in your hands is a orgasmic feeling, isn't it detective?" She placed her hands in her pockets idly. "Well, I've got things to do and I'd rather die than sit in jail with no one for company but the deceased for the rest of my natural life," her expression turned dark as she drew something from her pocket, "So go ahead detective, SHOOT!"
I trembled from head to toe as I flicked off the safety. It wasn’t her of whom I was truly scared, however, but who (or what) was standing behind her. At first, it had registered as a mass of darkness, forming as she spoke, but the more I focused on the mass... the more it took form. The color shifted from black to a pale cream as it began to hover above her. The hands and neck were soaked in brown liquid that still dripped from a large gash in her throat, but despite this, she was moving. Her empty eye sockets trained on me, the flesh inside a slightly pink mess. She slowly opened her mouth, flesh ripping through stitches to reveal a dark cavern within.
Before I knew it I had unloaded my clip into the mass. One of the bullets grazed Rachel's right arm but it wasn't enough to fatally wound her. In shock I looked to my gun to see why it had stopped and before I knew it I was backed into a tree with a knife being pulled out of my left shoulder. I don't quite recall what happened after that. My head just... stopped. My own defense mechanisms caused me to black out, and when I came to, I was being loaded into an ambulance and rushed off to the nearest hospital. My colleagues assumed that I simply came face to face with her and was bested, but something bigger is going on here. Something that I can't explain to the police because they'll think I'm crazy.
I promptly pulled out after that. I gave Scott his money back, went home to my wife. I was going to get as far away from what happened as I could. Forget what I saw, knowing no one will ever believe me. Except there is no running from what I saw that night. I've been religiously locking all the doors and windows before bed for weeks now, but when I woke up this morning I found a sheet of paper on my bedside table, the gun taken from the drawer used as a paperweight to get my attention.
It's simple, a letter meant for me.
"You sleep like a log, Howie."
Credited to KingdomWielders