Aphelion Issue 275, Volume 26
August 2022
 
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The Bogeyman's Warning

by Benjamin Green


Little Tommy Tucker heard the creak of the closet door, and tried pretending he was asleep. He heard a dirty chuckle, then the voice said, "Nice try, Tommy boy. It isn't going to save you, though. I'm coming for you, and there isn't anything you can do about it."

The voice sent shivers down Tommy's spine. It was a deep, throaty sound, and was totally inhuman. He spent a moment considering his options.

Calling for help was out of the question. His parents and his older brother didn't believe in the bogeyman. His father would tell him it was unmanly, and his brother would teas him to no end about being a baby.

Turning on the lights was out, too. His parents would just yell at him. So Tommy opted for pulling the covers over his head.

"I hope you marinate well in your fear. I'm coming to get you tonight."

Tommy had gotten to spend the night contemplating those sibilantly hissed words. In consequence, he hadn't slept very well. He had to be called by his mother three times before he finally dragged himself out of bed.

What little sleep he had got was twisted by nightmares. He got dressed, and plodded down to the breakfast table. His father was shielded behind his newspaper. His brother looked at him, and sneered.

Tommy sat down, and his mother set some breakfast before him. "Eat up, before your breakfast gets cold."

Eddie, his older brother, asked, "Trying to avoid the thing under the bed all night?" Then he yuk-yukked at his own joke.

His father asked, "How are you doing, slugger?"

Tommy muttered, "I didn't sleep so well."

His father said, "That's good to hear! Keep your chin up, and keep a positive attitude!" Tommy rolled his eyes, and Eddie yuk-yukked again.

Then his mom descended on him, and began fussing over him. Tommy felt a terrible temptation to tell her everything. Just spill his guts. However, he knew from painful experience that his mother didn't want to hear about the bogeyman.

The last time he'd mentioned it to her, she'd slapped his face, and told him she didn't want to hear about the bogeyman. So he never mentioned it again.

As the car pulled in front of his school, his eyes widened. The school building seemed to throb and pulse with malevolent energy. Maybe it was because he hadn't slept all night. He rubbed his eyes, seeing if that made any difference.

His mother said, "Get going. You'll be late to class."

He opened the car door, and got out. When he arrived at class, Miss Donaldson's eyes zeroed in on him above her cat's-eye glasses. He knew right away there was going to be trouble.

She was always scrutinizing her students, as if under a microscope. She always asked a lot of questions about their family, which none of them could fathom.

The word on the playground was that if she didn't like what she heard, she would call The Bad Men. Nobody knew who they were. All they knew was their classmates would disappear when they were called. The rumor was they had all come to bad ends.

She had been watching him since his mother had slapped him. Now, she beckoned him forward. He heard his classmates whispering about him, and his ears burned.

He marched up to the desk, and stood ramrod straight. She leaned forward on her desk, and asked, "How are things at home?"

Tommy blinked in surprise. Her voice was soft and silky. That was so unlike her. Except for the steady look in her Arctic blue eyes, she looked like she could be somebody's mother. After a moment's hesitation, he said, "Oh, fine. Same as always."

A small smile caused the corners of her mouth to twitch. "Are your parents treating you all right?"

He felt himself being frozen in place by those eyes. "I guess so. Why do you ask?"

She began playing with a lock of wavy dark blonde hair. "I'm just interested in the well-being of my students."

He felt hypnotized by those eyes. He was the prey, and she was the snake that was about to eat him. Then her eyes grew heavy-lidded. "Have they done anything to hurt you, like spank or slap you? Maybe touch you where they shouldn't? You can trust me."

Tommy's blood froze. She was looking for an excuse to call The Bad Men! He said, too loudly, "No! Absolutely not!"

Miss Donaldson recoiled, as if slapped. Then the maternal fašade dropped away. Now, she was the Grand Inquisitor. "Are you sure there isn't something you want to tell me?"

He was so scared, he almost wet his pants. He blurted out, "The bogeyman is coming for me!"

She regarded him as if he was an unknown object that had hurled itself onto her desk. However, the dam inside him had broken, and the words came rushing out. "The bogeyman was in my closet, and he said he was coming for me tonight! I've got to get away, or he'll eat-"

Now, Miss Donaldson put on her best-known persona: The Fire-Breathing Dragon. Pointing, she said, "Go sit down, Mr. Tucker! Right this minute! I don't want any more of this foolishness!"

The classroom erupted into raucous laughter. Tommy's face flushed crimson. A couple classmates gave him a quick flash of sympathy, before turning away.

In a sudden flash, he realized he was doomed. His parents wouldn't help him. His older brother wouldn't help him. Even his teacher had turned her back on him. He was a marked man.

That evening, a dark cloud seemed to hang over Charlie. Dinner was an unending misery. His mother scolded, "You need to eat your dinner, young man!"

Dad said from behind his newspaper, "Eat up slugger, if you want to grow up big and strong like me."

Acid laughter burned at the back of his throat. He refused to give in to it, though. Grow up big and strong like him, indeed! According to the bogeyman, he wouldn't live to see the dawn.

His brother seemed to take a perverse pleasure in his misery. Tommy could only push the tuna noodle casserole around his plate. The thought of food nauseated him.

His mother grabbed him by the shoulder. "I worked long and hard to prepare that dinner for you! So you better eat it!"

He forked up a mouthful, in obedience to his mother's dictate. When he tried to swallow though, he gagged, and almost choked. He spat it back out into a napkin. "I can't. I don't feel good."

His mother felt his forehead, her manner becoming brisk. "Go to your room and lie down if you don't feel good." He had been dismissed.

His brother asked, sotto voce, "What's the matter? Afraid of the bogeyman?" Then he sniggered.

Tommy waited for ether of his parents to scold him, but neither one did. He had to face the grim choice of whether to brush his teeth or not. He decided that since he was going to die tonight, it would just be a wasted effort.

He crawled into bed, and waited for the end. The seconds and minutes seemed to last eons. Time lost all meaning for him. Reality fractured into a twisted nightmarescape.

Then something thrust him back into wakefulness. It took Tommy a minute to orient himself. He heard the reassuring soft snores of his older brother in the other bed.

The door to the closet was open a crack. Had it been when he went to bed. He racked his brains, trying to remember.

A fishbelly white hand reached around the edge. The fingers were long and bony, each one ending in a claw. The deep, growling voice crooned, "Wake up, my young and tender baby."

He felt a scream building up in the back of his throat. He felt by turns hot and cold. Then his bladder let go. The bogeyman had come for him!

The door flew open, and the bogeyman grinned, revealing a mouthful of razor-sharp canines. He looked like an agglutination of a thousand nightmare images.

The arms were long and spindly, the hands seeming oversized for them. His wrinkled, brown-leather head seemed oversized for his body, giving him a hunchbacked look. The torso was thick and heavyset, supported by two goat legs.

The bogeyman stepped out into the moonlight, throwing his features into stark relief. His long black hair fell over his shoulders, but did not extend beyond his simianesque shelf of brow. That gave his dark, hooded eyes an even more sinister appearance.

His nose was long and hooked, but the mouth by contrast was little more than a slash in the face. Salivary ropes began dripping out as he said, "Yes, yes. Marinate in your own fear. I like it that way, I do."

Tommy noticed his older brother's snoring had stopped, and the blankets were inching up to cover his mouth. He surmised that his older brother was afraid too.

He turned to face the bogeyman as the hand clamped around his neck. The fingers flexed, then began applying pressure. His breath came in choking gasps, then became labored. His lungs began to burn with oxygen starvation.

Panic overtook him. He began flailing with his arms, clawing at the bogeyman's arm. It proved to be a futile gesture. Though it was thin, it was strong as steel.

The reality of his imminent death hit him like a sledgehammer. He began to cry. "Why me," he managed to choke out.

The bogeyman grinned. "Sorry, kid. You were born under a bad sign."

He pointed to Tommy's brother. It was than that he realized his older brother wasn't hiding his fear. He was hiding a smile. Tommy heard him giggle, and saw him wave. "Buh-bye, buh-bye. Don't forget to write." Then he giggled again.

The bogeyman said, "See? Nobody cares about you."

Tommy surrendered to him. The bogeyman's fingers closed off his air passage. The burning in his lungs grew worse, as they began choking on the excess carbon dioxide. He heard the sounds of bones breaking, and blood vessels rupturing.

His consciousness began flickering out. Then a voice said in his head, Come to me.

His vision had shrunk down to tunnel vision. The bogeyman's eyes captured his eyes. They started growing, until they formed a single unit. The pupil quivered, and he felt drawn to it. However, he was unable to move toward it.

Then, with a wet tearing sound, he took off, as if shot out of a slingshot. He flew in the pupil, and found himself flying down a long gray stone tunnel.

For some reason, he found himself both repelled and drawn in. He had no feeling of movement, but he sensed that he was moving down the tunnel faster and faster. It got darker and darker as he moved further and further from the light.

As he moved from light to darkness, he became aware of a low moaning sound. As he continued hurtling through the darkness, the moaning continued to rise in volume. He was starting to grow frantic, when he saw a flash of light.

For some reason, Tommy found himself drawn to the light. Even the rising cry of voices couldn't dissuade him. It started as a flashing glow, then quickly grew to a glowing point.

It was a reddish-orange light that filled him with a helpless loathing. The word deadlights flashed across his consciousness, like a comet.

Then it was driven away by a dawning horror as the light revealed the gray stones again. The moaning scream had resolved into the babble of children's voices crying out in terror. Faces twisted into masks of horror and terror pressed themselves in the elastic walls, before disappearing again.

Up ahead was that two-dimensional rectangle of that reddish-orange light. It rippled and waved, sounds of growls, laughs, and cries coming out of it.

Tommy tried to slow or stop himself, throwing himself into a last-ditch burst of resistance. Alas, he was unable to do anything to hinder what was happening.

The light reached out for him, and the faces cried out in terror. Then a thunderous voice said, "Don't fight it Tommy! Embrace our destiny!"

The voice was all around him, and commanded obedience. He felt the last of his resistance melting away. He closed his eyes, and managed one long scream before he was consumed by the deadlights.

####

Dawn was starting to break by the time the detectives finished questioning the Tucker family. Charlie Tucker was in tears. The parents stared off into the distance, identical stony expressions on their faces. Hostility radiated off them in waves.

Something about this case caused the hackles on the back of Detective Longman's neck to rise. He couldn't put his finger on it, but something about this case bothered him.

He watched the evidence technicians bag the rope and tape Charlie had been bound with, the bloody sheets, and taking pictures of the broken window.

He sighed. "Let's review this, to make sure I got this."

Charlie let out a loud sniff. The parents glowered at him. Detective Longman's thoughts turned toward the roll of Rolaids in his blazer pocket. "You say it was a masked man that took your brother?"

The father glowered. "He's been through this a half dozen times already."

Detective Longman felt the stomach acid in his stomach start to roil. "I'm sorry sir. We must make sure we have the facts straight."

Charlie sniffled again. "That's all right, sir. You're just doing your job.

Detective Longman nodded, and flipped open his notebook. "So you didn't get a good look at your attacker?"

Charlie shook his head. "No, sir. He was wearing a ski mask and dark clothes. I heard him breaking the window, and pretended that I was asleep. He grabbed me by my pajamas, and began hitting me. Then he slammed me against the wall, and I blacked out.

"When I came to, I was tied up, and my mouth was taped. The man held a bloody knife to my throat, and told me to forget about this, or he would come back for me."

Detective Longman flipped his notebook closed, his face impassive. There was something wrong with this situation. It was true that the kid had gone a couple rounds with Mike Tyson.

He looked at the father. "Did you happen to see the attacker, Mr. Tucker?"

He thought he saw a flash if far from the kid. Then the father said, "I caught a brief glimpse of a large, heavyset man with a black mask, black turtleneck, and black jeans. I didn't get a very good look, because he was vaulting out the window."

Detective Longman frowned. "Didn't you confront the intruder?"

The father frowned. "Would you have done that?"

Yes! Rip the bastard to pieces with my bare hands, Detective Longman thought. Especially if he threatened Jeannie and the kids. Instead, his mask of inscrutability dropped back into place. "No, you did the prudent thing, Mr. Tucker."

He nodded, then continued, I was awakened by the wife, who told me somebody was in the house. I groped until I found a baseball bat in the closet. So armed, I set out to find the intruder. I arrived in the boys's room, just in to me to see him go out the window."

Detective Longman saw his partner taping up the door with crime scene tape. "Well, thank you for all your help. We'll let you know if we get any new information."

He looked toward the house. "I'm afraid we're going to have to declare your house a crime scene for the time being. Do you think you'll be able to find other accommodations? If not-"

The father cut him off, "We'll be fine."

Detective Longman nodded, and he and his partner began walking toward their blue Crown Victoria. Both men were silent.

Detective Longman popped three Rolaids in his mouth, and after a moment's consideration, added a fourth. He crunched them up, and wished he had a shot of bourbon to wash them down with.

Once they were in the car, his partner asked, "Have you ever seen such a bunch of creeps?"

"What do you mean?"

His partner rolled his eyes. "I mean, with that family, and if the perp exists, the kid may be better off with him.

"The parents seemed more upset about the police investigation than the fact that their youngest son might have been kidnapped. The older brother was the only one showing any grief, and if that's real, I'm Sylvester Stallone."

"Nice to meet you, Sly. I want to talk to you about the eight-fifty I wasted to see 'Daylight'..."

"Yo, yo, yo! Don't be talking bad 'bout my movies!"

They hee-hawed about the joke. His partner wiped his eyes. "Seriously, you know what I mean."

Detective Longman's hands tightened on the wheel. "Yeah. Something is seriously wrong with this case. I'm waiting to hear from the forensic boys -- and girls." His partner rolled his eyes. "And when I find out, I'm going to land on the guilty party with both feet."

####

Charlie Tucker snuggled down in the bed, reveling in the feeling. He was at last fee of that snot Tommy. In an intellectual level, he knew he should feel bad about what happened to his brother. The truth was, he really didn't care.

He had such a good racket going until Tommy was born. He had learned to manipulate his parents at a young age, and became a master of getting his own way.

Then Tommy came along, and he was saddled with the little brat. He was responsible for his baby brother, which reduced his bargaining position.

The truth was, Charlie held most people in contempt. Nobody was ever going to give you anything. You had to reach out, and take it.

He had managed to stay with his best friend Billy, until they got their house back. He didn't even have to go through the 'working-his-way-through-the-grieving-process' bit.

A grin spread across Charlie's face. One thing he admired about Billy was that he thought big. Then the smile slid off his face. Why had his father agreed so readily, and why had he corroborated his story?

He turned it over in his mind, then gave a jaw-breaking yawn. He was being overtaken by sleep. He would think about it later. He was drifting deeper and deeper into velvet unconsciousness, when a sound made him start.

He looked around, wondering what had awakened him. His eyes fell on the closet, which was ajar. He told himself he was being silly. The bogeyman had already gotten Tommy. Still, an icy shiver danced up his back.

He rolled over, and tried getting back to sleep. He was starting to drift off again when he heard the closet door creaking again. He peered over his shoulder, and saw a fishbelly white finger with a long nail creep around the door.

He began moaning, "No, no, no."

The deep, gravelly voice said, "Hey there, Charlie."

He shook his head. "No, no. You already took Tommy."

He was answered by a malevolent chuckle. "Yeah, and now I'm coming for you!"

The closet door came flying open, and an object came sailing out. Charlie put up his hands, and caught it as a defensive gesture.

Then his eyes bugged out, and his mouth flopped open. His breath started coming in ragged gasps. He felt a shattering scream building, but his throat had locked up against it. It was Tommy's severed head that he was holding!

The skin of the neck was ragged, and the white protrusion of the spinal column could be seen at the bottom. Blood had poured out through his nose at the hydrostatic pressure, painting his cheeks like war paint.

Then his eyes flew open, and he stared at his older brother. "You let the bogeyman kill me! Now, I'm dead because of you!"

Charlie shook his head in mute denial. He was unable to break his brother's accusing stare.

The bogeyman was standing in the doorway, his chin resting on his hand. His expression was one of mock-consternation. "Tsk, tsk. So sad, so true. So, what should be done?"

Tommy's eyes glowed ruby red, and he grinned, revealing an enlarged set of canines. A serpentine tongue flopped out of the mouth. "Kill him," the head squealed. "Kill him!"

####

Zach Tucker asked his wife, "What's wrong, darling?"

Melinda didn't answer right away. She just continued staring off into space. At last, she said, "I don't know... I just feel so--numb."

Zach's lips tightened into a moue. "Is this about Tommy?"

She opened her mouth, but no sound came out. Instead, she nodded. Tears started sliding down her cheeks.

Zach wanted to tell her how liberating it was to have that little snot gone. He could understand his older son, if not love him. He was greedy and conniving, just like the people he worked with all day long.

He firmly believed in the survival of the fittest. Tommy, with his na´ve innocence, confounded, and to an increasing degree upset him. He seemed incapable of learning the lesson. If he couldn't swim with the sharks, he wasn't worth worrying about.

Melinda finally found her voice. She got out of the bed, and began to pace. "I know I should be concerned about Tommy, but I just feel cold. It's been close to six months! What kind of parent am I?"

Zach took her in his arms. "Don't be so hard on yourself. Things are out of your hands. If the coldness breaks, you'll know. If not..." He shrugged. "Life goes on."

She snuffled and sighed, resting her head on his chest. A lecherous gin spread across his face. "Speaking of life going on..."

His hands roamed down her back. She looked up at him, and took a step away. Zach Tucker! How can you think of that at a time like this?"

He grinned. It was part of their love play. He sidestepped his wife, and came up behind her. Then he began massaging her shoulders while nibbling on her neck.

She continued protesting in a half-hearted fashion. He responded by reaching around, and cupping her breasts. She let out a soft moan, and put her hands on his.

They enjoyed the mounting excitement of their foreplay as they undressed each other. Their kisses and caresses began growing in intensity. She pulled her husband down onto the bed, giggling. "You're right. Why should I worry about Tommy? We can get started on a new kid."

He groaned. "Must we do this for a higher purpose?"

Her eyes widened in a look of innocence. "Do you have another reason?"

He grinned. "How about for the sheer animal pleasure of fornicating?"

Her mouth dropped open. "Why, you're just an uncivilized barbarian!"

He nodded, and grinned again. "Right, and I'm here to sack and pillage!"

They exchanged an intense kiss. Then Melinda looked away. "Ravish me, you uncivilized barbarian!"

They were so intent on their love play that they didn't pay any attention to the closet door. In perceptible at first, the door began to sway back and forth. Soon, it began to look like it was breathing.

It continued respirating for a minute, while the Tuckers remained oblivious to it. Then it stopped, and began to swell. It bulged out a bit, then returned. Then it bulged further before retreating. Each time it swelled further, before returning to its original shape.

The Tuckers only became aware of the phenomenon when the wood began to creak in protest. Melinda's eyes flew open, and she stared at it, hypnotized. Then she poked her husband. "Zach..."

At first, he was irritated at her for interrupting his rhythm. Then his eyes widened, and his jaw dropped as the door began to swell again. The wood creaked and crackled with the tremendous strain it was under.

Overlaid with that, as the wood expanded, ropes of veins and arteries began to pulse on the surface. The door began to look like a cellulose amniotic sac, full of something beyond imagining.

The door bulged out to grotesque dimensions, like a pregnant belly. It pulsated, about ready to give birth. Then, with a long groan of tortured wood, the door exploded in chunks and splinters.

Both of them cowered, despite the fact that none of the pieces came near them. The closet was now a yawning black labyrinth, not the place where they had put their wardrobe. A pair of ruby red eyes shone in the darkness. They put their arms around each other, and whimpered.

The bogeyman stepped out into the moonlight. His eyes glowed with a reddish-orange fire, and a long tongue hung out the right side of his mouth, to his waist. His lips pulled back to reveal a mouth of shark-like teeth. "You really should learn to listen to your kids."

####

Sue Ellen Donaldson let her purse slide to the ground, and stepped out of her shoes. It was close to eleven, and her day was finally coming to an end.

She had filed a complaint against a family for child abuse. After class, she was called into the principal's office. In the office were two men from Child Protective Services, and the children's parents.

The meeting had been long and stormy. The man had launched into a furious verbal barrage, with the wife parroting his lines in a mindless fashion.

She found herself all alone. The men from Child Protective Services had sat there, stone-faced. The principal clucked and waved his arms, looking like a helpless chicken, trying to bring good order to the meeting.

Then she saw the child's frightened look, and took courage. Drawing on her compassion for the child, and hatred for the father, she argued with him for three hours. Then the Man from CPS announced he had heard enough, and they were taking the child.

The father had gotten violent, and the police were called. The mother broke down in tears, and the little girl started to cry. Miss Donaldson took the little girl in her arms, and told her it would be all right.

There were questions to answer, and paperwork to fill out. At last, the man from CPS offered to take her out to dinner. She didn't want to, but she was too tired to fight.

She disrobed, and stepped into the shower. The hot water relaxed her, and made her feel cleaner. As she lathered up, she felt like she was washing men away. She hated all men. They were either abusive brutes like the girl's father, or contemptible weaklings, like the principal.

Miss Gibson, the former principal, had always supported her in her crusade to protect the abused children. Miss Gibson had also propositioned her a couple of times. She had been hesitant, at last saying no. The last person who had touched her was her father.

She switched the water to cold, but she already felt icy as the memories came tumbling back. Her father had first come into her bedroom when she was eight years old, reeking of alcohol.

He kept her in line with promises of money, and threats if she told. She hated him, but she was also afraid of him. When she entered high school, the Vietnam War was in full swing. Then she discovered feminism, and found the courage to run away.

She joined a commune, and for a couple months, she felt adrift. At length, she decided to dedicate to seeing the abusers punished, and the victims protected. So she decided to become a teacher.

Her friends tried arguing with her, telling her she was selling out to the Establishment. However, she would not be shaken from her new resolve.

She stepped out of the shower, and toweled off. Then she wrapped her hair in a turban, and put on a terrycloth robe.

She had labored long and hard to become a first grade teacher throughout college. Once she managed to land a position, she began her crusade.

She soon earned the nickname 'The Dragon Lady'. Though she made a point of despising it in public, in private, she was delighted. It was a sign that she was being effective.

She put on a flannel nightgown, and unwrapped her hair. Then she sat down at her vanity, and began brushing her hair. A door creaking open drew her attention to the mirror.

She saw Tommy Tucker slipping out of the closet. He had a large red welt around his neck. Miss Donaldson spun around, and stared at him. "What are you doing in my bedroom?"

His eyes focused on her. "I asked for your help! You ignored me, like my parents! The bogeyman killed me, now I'm dead!"

She shook her head. "No! You were kidnapped! The police said so!"

His lips pulled back in a snarl. "The bogeyman got me, and it's your fault!"

She opened her mouth to protest; when she saw the little girl she had been fighting for that afternoon come out of the closet. Her pink dress was spattered with blood. She glared at Miss Donaldson.

"You said I'd be safe. But you sent me off with a bad man! He touched me where you said he shouldn't. Then he killed me, so I wouldn't tell on him."

She felt as if she had been punched in the stomach. She shook her head in mute denial, though she had a sneaking suspicion that the little girl was right. Some of the men who worked for CPS gave her the willies.

Then more children started coming out of her closet. All of them were children she had rescued from dysfunctional families. They poured out a tale of rape, molestation, abuse, neglect, and murder.

At first, Miss Donaldson was flustered. However, there was deep steel in her. As the indictment grew longer and longer, she began rallying in her defense.

Finally, she found herself circled by several dozen glowering children. Almost all of them had been taken away by CPS, and all had met violent deaths.

She held out her hands to them. "I tried doing the right thing. I only wanted the best for you."

One of them shouted, "It wasn't good enough!" The others rumbled their assent.

Then the closet door opened again, and the bogeyman stepped out. She felt her interior moorings cracking, and giving way. "Well, well, well. If it isn't little Sue Ellen. You've made my job so easy for the past thirty years."

She licked her lips. "I don't believe in you."

The bogeyman grinned. "Your father didn't believe in me either, but he sure listened when I started planting the seed about how sexy his daughter was." Then he gave her a lecherous wink.

Her jaw dropped. Then it shut, and her teeth began to grind. She stared at him with open hatred. "Go ahead! Do your worst! I'm not afraid of you!"

The bogeyman cocked his head, and smiled. "Oh, it's not me. I figure it would be poetic justice to let the kids you 'helped' decide your fate."

She felt her inner moorings collapse, releasing a flood of emotions she had kept bottled up since she was eight. He looked at the kids. "Are you feeling hungry, kids?"

Their eyes glowed, and they smiled, revealing mouthfuls of enlarged canines. They agreed, "Yes, very hungry."

####

It had been going on seven months since Tommy Tucker had disappeared, and about a half a week since the bloodbath of those who knew him. Detective Longman let out a long sigh, and pinched the bridge of his nose. The case was starting to haunt him.

The dossiers were open in front of him. Charlie Tucker, age twelve: Ripped open from chest to groin, and strangled with his own intestines.

Zach Tucker, age thirty-six, and Melinda Tucker, age thirty-four: Both decapitated, their bodies still in the act of coitus. The amount of blood on the headboard indicated they had been beheaded while they were still alive.

The coroner had added the grisly note that it looked as if their heads were literally ripped off, without the use of tools. That would have taken an act of superhuman strength.

Finally, there was Sue Ellen Donaldson, aged fifty-one. That one was probably the worst. Even longtime homicide inspectors had expressed amazement at that one.

She had been ripped to pieces, partially eaten, and almost all of her bones broken. The pieces were scattered throughout the room, and blood and gore were splashed everywhere. Whatever had happened there, the woman had met a horrific death.

Though he despised the woman, nobody deserved to die that kind of death. After picking up the pieces, the evidence techs had to resort to tweezers and sandwich bags.

A hand fell on his shoulder. He started. A voice said, "I got the medium coffee you wanted. I also managed to find an extra raspberry Danish. You want it?"

Detective Longman waved his hand. "No, thanks."

His partner shrugged. "Your loss." A white Styrofoam cup was set down in front of him. Then his partner sat opposite him. "Are you still flailing away on that case?"

"I just can't give up, and walk away. Somebody has to stop the madman responsible." Because I'm having nightmares about it, he didn't say.

His partner rolled his eyes. "There is no evidence in any of the cases. The killer is rewriting the books on this stuff. The forensic boys are tearing their hair out, because there is no evidence for them to find."

"For some reason, I know this guy. Something about this case is so obvious, it's staring us in the face. All I need to do is figure out what it is, and I can bust this case wide open."

He took a sip of coffee, and grimaced. He took a couple of Rolaids, and washed them down with coffee. His partner shook his head.

"I'm really beginning to worry about you. This case is starting to get to you. It's starting to affect your health. You're eating yourself alive. If you don't slow down, you're going to burn out."

Detective Longman managed a lopsided grin. "I'm eating from the four basic food groups of policemen. Doughnuts, coffee, stomach acid, and antacid tablets."

His partner rolled his eyes, and let out a long sigh. "You are hopeless. I guess somebody has to live to tell your wife. 'Mrs. Longman, I'm afraid your husband died of terminal stupidity. He was a brave man. He died at his desk.' Here."

A padded envelope sailed onto his desk. It had no address, no postmark, just Detective Longman's name scrawled on it in purple crayon. It looked like a child's handwriting.

He felt an icy chill dance up his spine, then grip his heart. Here was the clue that would probably break the case wide open. Now, he wasn't so sure he wanted to know any more.

His partner said, "Open it." He had an excited look on his face.

It was only with the greatest reluctance that Detective Longman slit open the envelope. A tape fell out onto the desk. He pulled out a tape machine, and put the tape into it.

After a minute's silence, a familiar, growly voice began speaking. "Hello, Stevie. It's been a long time since we last talked. How are Jeannie and the kids?" A dirty chuckle.

"I trust you'll forget all about this. After all, one good turn deserves another." He chuckled again. It sounded like a gurgling drain.

Detective Longman pushed the stop button, then rewind. He looked up at his partner. The other man's face was shining with barely repressed excitement. By contrast, his face was chalk white.

His partner's hands waved in the air, punctuating his point. "Hot damn! You were right! Do you know what this means? This might be the vital clue needed to break this case wide open!"

He gave his partner a blank look. "Tape? What tape?"

His partner stared at him. Then the other man's jaw went slack. He looked from Detective Longman, to the desk. Too late, he saw the book that had been placed over the tape machine's microphone, and the record and play buttons were depressed. The padded envelope had also disappeared.

He looked back up at his partner, and saw the abject fear in Detective Longman's eyes. "I don't know what you're talking about."

THE END


© 2008 Benjamin Green

Bio: Benjamin Green has been writing fiction since the 9th grade (circa 1988 or 1989(?) based on his date of birth). His work has appeared in Down in the Dirt, Enigma Magazine, Skyline Review, and Dark Fire. For more of his work, visit Prometheus's Fire, where a fellow named 'B. Buck' (who shares much of Mr. Green's background and many of his interests) holds court.

E-mail: Benjamin Green

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