By Anika K. Clausen
The plastic lies heavy on my frozen limbs. My efforts to move are pointless, screaming –impossible. My idle olfactory capabilities allow me to discern the remaining air underneath my suffocating duvet. An iron odor fills my uncompromising trap. With my limited peripheral vision, I can sense the bed of dead leaves that my body is lying on. I don’t know how I got here. As I run my eyes down the synthetic blanket, I notice small pearls of water attached to it. If I rest here much longer, soon I will become worm food. Not that there is much to feast upon.
I had dreams of becoming someone. Being a somebody. Leaving a legacy behind, no matter the magnitude. It dawns on me that I can’t remember what for. We all finish at the same place in the end. Under ground. Why bother? It’s too late now anyway.
I listen to my surroundings to understand where I am. All I can hear is the wind rustling through the leaves. Insects are crawling around my body. A faint sound of footsteps. I can’t tell whether they belong to a human or an animal. As they come closer, I fear the worst. Am I dead?
I can’t tell how long I’ve been lying here. Maybe it has been a couple of hours, maybe longer. Everything is pitch black and blurry. If only the wind would blow the damn plastic cover, so I could see where the hell I am.
“Language, Devlin”, is what my mother would say, “Watch your temper!”
Watch my temper? What good has that gotten me? I’m in this godforsaken place wrapped in a repulsive plastic film, surrounded by big blotches of dark blood. Nobody is going to save me if I can’t even get out as much as a cry for help. Help that might never come.
Glints of the past rush before my eyes. Toys are scattered around the floor of my room. My mother yells at me to grow up and take more responsibility. No one likes a messy girl. It’s not ladylike to be messy. “What man will want to marry a dirty bitch like you?”, she would say.
I remember her pushing me around when my homework wasn’t done according to her standards. One time, I couldn’t control myself, and I peed my pants from fear. “What the fuck is that?” And she accused me of bad temper. The irony.
My dad? My dad was a wise coward. He bailed before I was able to recognize familiar faces. Despite my best efforts, I’m unable to envisage his.
Suddenly, I see nothing but darkness. Not a single sliver of light. Hours on end, until she decides to open the cupboard. It’s an antique cupboard that we inherited from my grandparents. The door creaks like the door of a haunted house. The smell of old wood fills my nose, as I imagine being back inside.
Every time she locked me inside, I wondered whether this was what the dishes in “The Beauty and the Beast” felt. In the end, they transformed back into human beings. Happy ending. Myself? I’m not sure what I am or what I’ll become. It doesn’t matter. The current state I’m in seems to be telling of what is to happen to me. I’m doomed.
“Detective Muller! Over here!”, a man yells.
“Where the hell is forensics?”, a deep voice says. I assume it’s the detective speaking.
As they come closer, I long for one of them to lift the veil.
They come to a halt.
“Never seen anything like it.”
Never seen anything like what? They haven’t even looked at me yet.
“The blood. It’s everywhere.”
I dose off into another of my memories. My mother is screaming and frantically exits and slams the door. She never wanted a child. I was a mistake.
As a young teenager, I didn’t know how to talk to people and kept to myself. Reading was my escape. The idea to confide in one of my peers crossed my mind but was soon crushed. If anyone knew what went on behind closed cupboards, they would shiver.
My mother has locked me inside again for whatever reason. All I can do is wait.
She’s yelling. “I can’t do it! She’s just a child!”
She told me, she was never alone. As a child, I figured she felt that way because I was around. But when I was locked inside the cupboard, she always left the kitchen.
Thinking of it as an adult, I feel sorry for her. She didn’t know how to control the voices, not like me. Most of the time.
Another memory crosses my mind. I’m in the living room reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Black Cat”. My surroundings become hazy, and I lose all sense of time. The story fascinates my innocent mind, and I ponder on the fine line between sanity and madness. My reflections are interrupted by my mother clawing my collection of short stories out of my hands and complaining about the dinner that was supposed to be ready. “We were supposed to eat fifteen minutes ago. In the cupboard with you and think about what you’ve done!”
Off I go, once again.
“Finally! What do you have?”
“Nothing much, I’m afraid. There was no ID on her. The lab is still running tests on the blood samples from her dress and pieces of clothing we found two miles north from here.”
“What else?” The detective sounds anxious.
“From the lacerations on the sole of her feet, we can see that she has been running barefoot through the woods for quite a while.”
I feel an icy breeze, as one of the men unveils my bleeding torso.
“If it weren’t for all the wounds, scars, and blood, she would be quite the looker.” The young officer scans my pale frame.
“Little is left to the imagination”, the detective says.
“Most of the wounds are old. The most recent ones can be found around the stomach area.” The man in white overalls points. “Based on the shape and depth of the wound, we can assume that the perpetrator used a knife.”
“Any news on the suspect?”
“A man was seen running towards the river that way”, the younger officer says, pointing at something I can’t see. “Apparently screaming for help.”
“Why was he calling for help?”, the detective asks.
“No idea.” The young officer shrugs his shoulders.
They place the plastic back over me. Fortunately, my face isn’t fully covered. They walk away as the detective’s phone rings. The man they are looking for has been spotted by a young couple in a cabin not too far away from here. They heard him yelling. Scared out of their wits by “the blood-soaked maniac roaming the woods at night”, they called the police in a hurry. The detective further reports that the suspect was wearing a white torn shirt and what appeared to be dark dress pants.
As I grew older, I stayed away from home as much as I could to avoid my crazed mother. Her mental state grew wearier of the outside world and our house became her ivory tower. I remember believing it was normal. All mothers are probably a bit mad.
Then I was introduced to my first and only friend’s family. They were different. They smiled for no apparent reason. I never went back. It was too creepy.
The detective and officer are back.
“Found anything?”, the officer says.
The detective holds up a pair of high heels that were found some three miles away. They had been put near a shed next to a bloody axe. While inspecting the shed, he had found maps of the forest with clear markings of paths leading towards the river.
“Do you think this was a game of cat and mouse?”, the young officer asks.
The forensics guy interrupts before the detective can answer.
“Jane Doe over here is named Devlin Woods. 32 years old. Her drug-dealing father fled right after her birth and has not been spotted since. She was raised by a mentally ill mother, bipolar and schizophrenic. The mother committed suicide 19 years ago with a kitchen knife. Woods moved in with a foster family, the Whites. She tried to escape a couple of times.”
The Whites. They were a horrible clan. The day of my arrival, I recall the father’s look in his eyes. As if I was a piece of meat. He kept staring. I had exchanged one nightmare for another, one more evil and eerie than the first. My mother had not been physical.
To the outside world, they would smile and behave the way anyone would expect of an esteemed family. A picture-perfect family with a mother obsessed with baking, the classic American mom. The father, a respectable pharmacist of 60. A son who played football and couldn’t hurt a fly. And now, a daughter, imperfect made perfect to uphold their guise.
Everything changed behind closed doors. Mr. White liked his new daughter a bit too much. He did, he did like me. I would even go so far as to say that he loved me, in his own way.
He showed me affection. Affection that shouldn’t have been bestowed upon me. I wish he hadn’t. I was only 15 the first time. There was nothing I could do. He was too strong and insistent.
It is said that mothers are blind and oblivious to such things. My new mother was cognizant of her husband’s greed. As long as he was laying his hands on me, she remained untouched. I had become a newly appointed prisoner in a beautiful hell. The only comfort I could find was in my older stepbrother who had no idea. His dad made sure of it. His ignorance was my bliss.
My train of thought is disrupted by the detective’s and the officer’s conversation. They argue about the significance of the shed and the bloody axe, as well as the curious position of the shoes which have been identified as mine. The maps had crosses on them indicating our current position and three others, each within a two-mile radius.
“Have you checked the other locations, here, here, and here, Ed?” The detective looks at the forensics guy.
“I have some people looking at them, as we speak.”
The detective mumbles something and walks off, while Ed takes a call.
“A bad day to retire”, the officer says.
“It doesn’t get any better. A woman and man were found at two of the other locations. Mr. and Mrs. White.”
I’m starting to remember what happened.
Sam, my stepbrother, grew more and more fond of me. I won’t lie, I started to like him too. He was kind and thoughtful. Nothing like his father. We started fooling around. It wasn’t very ethical, but I didn’t care.
Mr. White discovered our newfound love for each other and told his son that this wasn’t Christian behavior. What a hypocrite!
Years went by and I found a place of my own. The horror didn’t end, nonetheless. Whenever I visited, I got another load more hateful than the previous. I guess he was frustrated.
Sam had become a decent man, despite his spiteful role model. He had gotten engaged to one of the neighbor’s daughters, a Christian-raised girl with virtues not coinciding with the needs of a young man.
During one of our family gatherings, we wandered through the woods, and I noticed his shy glances at my shaved legs. He told me that he had been furious with his father about forbidding our relationship. None of it made any difference, I remarked. He was going to marry Trisha.
He stopped to face me and looked me deep in the eyes. He said he loved me with the deepest sincerity. As I didn’t move, he leaned down to kiss me. I kissed him back. If only he hadn’t been part of that damned family.
The wedding plans were well underway. In the meantime, Sam and I snuck around. I fulfilled the needs Trisha wouldn’t. He continued confessing his love to me over and over again, well aware that his father wouldn’t allow it. That’s when I confided in him the horrid misdeeds of his father.
At first, he didn’t want to hear it. Who would? The hidden truth disrupted the image of his dad as the ideal father figure. But it all made sense. His dad and mom had stopped fighting upon my arrival. That it was for that reason appalled him.
The detective hangs up the phone without saying a word. He looks around, then at his partner, and reports that the man with the bloody shirt is none other than Samuel White.
“I talked to Ed. They have found a body at the last location. A young woman named Trisha Moore”, the young officer says.
“What’s the connection?”
“The next-door neighbors claim that she’s the local pastor’s daughter. But check this, she’s also engaged to White.” The officer pauses to look for a reaction in the detective’s face. “So, we have Mr. and Mrs. White, Trisha Moore, and Devlin Woods.”
“Why the fiancée?”, the detective asks.
Sam, much like his father, was a coward. Killing your own flesh and blood is unthinkable, even when they’re as horrendous as the Whites. This was at least what I told Sam.
I had to take matters into my own hands. Although I had grown accustomed to the idea of running away with Sam, I realized that this was not our fate.
Instead of doing the deed, I asked him to ensure that the axe was placed by the shed along with the shovel once it was done.
I knew what I had to do. It was easy. I followed Mr. and Mrs. White on their evening stroll through the woods. Mr. White fought for his life but underestimated what old age had done to him. He went down like a log.
Mrs. White, on the other hand, saw it coming or wished to be free from her misery. Years of planning were starting to pay off.
Back at the Whites’, I called Trisha to come over. It was an emergency. The Whites had had an accident. She came by the house as planned. As she wouldn’t stop asking questions, I gave her a hard knock on the head with the butt of the axe. I will never forget the cracking sound.
I washed my body with scorching water until my skin turned crimson. I scrubbed underneath each fingernail to erase any trace of their vile DNA. I scoured every inch of the bathroom with my own homemade detergent. This was the last time I would have to cleanse myself at the Whites’ residence. It had to be impeccable.
I disposed of my clothes and cleaning supplies in the dumpster which would be emptied by the garbage truck the next morning.
That Trisha’s blood was soaked into the living room carpet didn’t matter. Everything was going according to plan.
“White claims that Devlin Woods orchestrated the entire scheme. They had an affair.”
“But according to the analyses of the axe, shovel, and prints found at the shed, only Samuel White’s fingerprints have been identified”, the officer says. “Not to mention, the clothes found at one of the burial sites turned out to be his. They are filled with soil and blood stains of the victims.”
“White killed his parents, fiancée, and lover. Why? What’s the motive?”
“Family and fiancée to be with the lover. Lover because of what the affair made him do to his family?”
Go on officers. I can’t stop smiling on the inside.
The detective and officer continue questioning the motive. Why would he use a knife on his lover if he had used an axe on the others? The deaths of the others had been planned. Had he hesitated with the lover and used a knife as a last resort? Why was the lover left above ground, exposed to any passersby?
Had I been capable of speaking, I would have told them that there was no rationale behind the location of my body. Nor was there any logic to the positioning of the scattered remains of the rest of the family, other than practicality. Not just for me but for them too.
The day my mother died I had started a conversation with her. I had to comprehend what was going on with me. She was the only one who could help. When I told her about my problem, she stared at me with crazed eyes and said that I was doomed.
In anger, I took her cooking knife and stabbed her in the stomach. She had let me down for the last time.
Understanding what I had done was bad, I cleaned the handle of the knife, while it was still piercing through her guts. I, then, placed her hands on it to ensure her fingerprints were detectable. Just like in the crime films.
It was concluded that this was a case of suicide. Not so surprising. She had suicidal tendencies. Me? I wanted to live.
It wasn’t long after the incident that my mother started to talk to me. She was telling me to do things. Telling me to accept Mr. White for now. Wait until the time was right.
Standing in the forest after having buried three people, I looked at Sam and thought to myself that everything was finally over.
Once we had arrived at the shed, I took off my shoes and arranged them next to the axe. No matter what I did, I couldn’t leave my things scattered about. That wasn’t ladylike. That’s what my mother said.
She wouldn’t leave it at that. There was a reason that I was at the shed with Sam and that I had cleaned everything to a fault. It wasn’t over. Sam had to die.
As I had strong feelings for Sam, my mother told me to do it with love. The only way I knew of was how I had done it to her. I had loved her more than anyone. I thus took my knife from the shed which I had left there for safekeeping and went outside. Sam was waiting but not for the final part of the plan.
I told Sam to run. He looked at me with his innocent blue eyes. “Run!”
My mother wouldn’t let him go, so I chased him. Being the athlete he was, it was inconceivable to overtake him. Not until he made a quick halt.
This was our spot. Where he had told me that he loved me for the first time.
My mother told me that it wasn’t true. No one could love me other than her. I wanted to believe Sam but what if my mother was right?
He looked at me and wanted to say something. I didn’t want to hear and stabbed him. He snatched the knife from me and stabbed me right in the stomach, the way I had done to my mother.
“Other than her footprints, there are no other prints than Sam White’s”, Ed says. “What a neat freak. He even made her take off her shoes to go inside.”
“What are we missing?”, the detective asks.
“Where is the weapon used to kill Devlin Woods?”
“White must have thrown it away somewhere. We haven’t found it yet”, the officer says.
Good. I need that knife.
“I got another call from the precinct. White’s story doesn’t add up and he is talking gibberish. Something about Devlin Wood’s deceased mother”, the detective says. “Let’s call it a night.”
My mother is telling me to get my act together. I still have work to do, even if it won’t be easy. Move, Devlin!
“Detective, did you hear that?”
Snowflakes cover my tracks as they fall from the morning sky.
Winter has come.
Dad, you’re up.
Bio: Anika K. Clausen writes poems and short stories that entertain the dark corners of the mind while alluding to the masked realities of today. She is a multilingual writer with a postgraduate degree in English and German linguistics and literature. A true Dane, she adores wintry settings, provided a blanket and a cup of tea is within arm’s reach. When she is not reading, she hikes around mountainous Switzerland, where she lives with her husband and mini-Australian shepherd. You can find her at her Author’s page and LinkedIn site below.