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I was cold and irritated. My power had gone off while I had been in the midst of making a cup of herb tea to combat the icy temperature in my houseâ€”a consequence for not being able to afford cranking up the heater too highâ€”when a claw of white fire struck across the sky and the simultaneous crash of thunder startled me. I had dropped the mug and cursed myself breathless before letting out a resigned sigh and bending to clean it up. That was when I saw it. Through the open curtains drawn back to let in the luminescence of the full moon, I could see the silhouette of someone across my backyard. I froze.
What were they doing?
Slowly, I straightened and stared through the darkness. What was the person doing? But I couldn’t see much because the person seemed to be by the rose bushes adjacent to my house and it was difficult to see much of anything with the blackout. Against all rational thought, my feet led me to the door leading into my backyard. I stepped out into the frigid air and shivered violently. A whisper of frosty wind caressed my face like the gentle brush of a vampire’s wintry fingers. I shivered again.
It wasn’t so surprising that I was so cold. After all it was the middle of January and I was clad only in my satin nightgown that barely covered me. At least I had had the sense to pull on my bathrobe when I had crawled out of bed for that cup of tea. Still, my feet were bare and the grass shrouded in frost nipped at my skin like tiny teeth nibbling on my toes.
The backyard looked like something out of a clichéd horror movie. It was dark; the entire neighborhood must have been affected by the blackout. The thick oak tree, its leaves normally dripping onto my roof in varying shades of jade and copper, were gone; instead its spindly branches scratched the shingles on the roof with each breeze, like a metal nail being dragged across a desk. It made me think of all the horror movies I had watched in apprehensive intrigue. The sound was unsettling.
I turned my attention back to the house from where the vague figure was. Only the neatly trimmed rose bush divided the two properties. Now that I was outside I could see the shadow more clearlyâ€”if a shadow can be seen clearly. The person was definitely a man; no woman would ever have that kind of build. It was impossible to see his face at all because of the lack of light but as I moved closer, stepping toward the hawthorn bush on my side, near the rose bush, I narrowed my eyes wondering what he was doing. It was…odd. He seemed to be...exercising? No, that couldn’t be right. He would lean forward, and turn slightly, forward, and turn. What in the world was he doing?
I crouched down, now near enough to hear the sounds of a shovel digging into dirt, then transferring it to a pile. I peeked through the gaps in the leaves (the bush really could use a trim, the insensible thought distracting me for a moment). A shudder rippled through my body. I held myself tightly to keep from disturbing the bush.
Oh my God, I thought, my eyes unable to pull away from the scene in front of me. The only light was supplied by the moon and as I continued to watch in dull fascination at the unbelievable spectacle in front of me, my lips parted on a silent gasp, my eyes widened in horror, and I felt cold fear settle over me like a blanket buried in a mound of snow in Alaska.
Out in the biting night, I could smell several things. I could smell the snappy breeze from winter, the rose bush, alluring and sentimental, the scent of fresh dirt, rich, fertile …and the stench that suddenly accosted my nostrils, overpowering everything else in its potency…the smell of blood. Fresh blood.
I was numb. I could not turn away from the horrific scene happening before me because my legs refused to budge. While my mind was pleasantly blank, my eyes continued to watch.
The man was digging a hole. A very deep hole. Beside the hole, was a body. A still, lifeless man with blank and staring eyes, his hair matted in blood, streaks of it still running down his face, soaking into the ruined white-collared shirt he was wearing. The man was not wearing shoes
When the hole was deemed deep enough, the murdererâ€”for that was undoubtedly what he wasâ€”dragged the body closer to the hole and rolled him in. My stomach revolted and I tried to will myself not to vomit. The murderer began scooping up clumps of dirt from the pile and dumping them over the body.
I still could not move. Why couldn’t I move? It felt like the control center in my brain over my muscles had shut down. Was my brain rebelling against such an appalling sight? The reality of what I was witnessing finally penetrated my fuzzy head and I bit my lip, drawing blood to keep myself from screaming. My vocal cords burned with unreleased sound. It was like trying to hold back the air inside an expanding balloon about to burst. I turned away from the bush and squeezed my eyes shut, my hearing having intensified as a result of the coursing adrenaline in my blood. I listened, waiting for the sounds of soft thumps of dirt to cease. Waiting for it to be over.
Finally, when I heard the gentle patting of the shovel over the dirt to blend it in with the surroundings, and when the murderer’s heavy footsteps padded away, the shovel probably still in his hand, I turned my head a fraction to peer anxiously through the leaves. There was no one there. No body. No murderer. I listened. There were no sounds. Silence. I didn’t even hear any crickets or any other night animals normally making their presence known. I wondered vaguely if they could sense the wrongness in the atmosphere.
Slowly, with barely restrained panic, I moved. I crawled parallel to the bushes, not making a sound. I moved toward my hawthorn bush (I was suddenly glad I hadn’t trimmed it yet) the night still as soundless as a crypt (I held back a hysterical giggle at the irony of it) and dragged myself behind the bush. I was on my knees, my face almost kissing the ground. I held my breath as a sob threatened to break free.
Not yet, I told myself fiercely. Not just yet.
I was too busy attempting to calm my quietly hitched breathing to hear the muted footfalls directly behind the hawthorn bush.
I felt a premonitious chill jolt up my spine. My eyes widened with terror. My mind was so clutched by fear, that I could not even breathe I was so petrified.
I felt a warm, sweaty and filthy hand on my shoulder, squeezing it in an afflictive way that would have had me flinching had I not been preoccupied with the absolute most terrifying, horrifying, bone-chilling fact of my entirely too short life.
There was a murderer behind me.