C.L.

Prime

Officer Keelan could swear he felt his cruiser shake as the blur of a car sped by. Lunch was spent each day at the side of the road, outside the town of Stockbridge, but today’s lunch break was cut short. Dropping his sandwich into the passenger seat, Keelan pulled onto the road, and the lights and sirens kicked on as he began pursuit. Soon tailing the blur – a green Mazda6 sedan –, his speedometer read nearly one-ten. Having been in a handful of high-speed chases before, none of which had ended quickly, he braced himself for a long ride and a call for backup. Neither was needed. The Mazda slowed and swerved to the side of the road, before coming to a stop. Keelan pulled up behind and sat there for a moment, preparing for the unknowns that existed at even the most routine traffic stop. Finally, opening his door slowly, he stepped out. “Please step out of the car. Keep your hands where I can see them.” He had said that a hundred times before, at least. He could already tell this would be different. There was no response. “Please, step out of the car,” he repeated, louder. “Hands where I can see them.” There was still no movement from the other car. “Get out of the car and keep your hands where I can see them!” Still, nothing. A fourth time, he demanded, “I said get out of the car, now! Keep your hands where I can see them!” With each command, his hand gripped his gun tighter. Now, the gun came out, and his voice bellowed. “Get out of the car! Now!” Finally, the door unlatched, and opened a crack. He repeated, “Step out of the car! Keep your hands where I can see them, now.” The door pushed open. Keelan took a few steps closer, his gun still drawn. The arm that had opened the door was shaking. Getting close enough to see inside, he could see the woman it belonged to. She was staring out at the ground, and flinched when she saw Keelan’s feet. Her expression appeared to be one of shock and fear. Her clothes were covered in blood. Keelan returned his gun to its holster. “Ma’am, are you alright?” She looked at him for a moment, but said nothing.

“I’m gonna ask you to step out of the car, ma’am. You need to keep your hands where I can see them, until I check you out, okay? Do you understand?” She nodded, and, on unsteady feet, she stood. Keelan examined the blood that covered her. It matted her already-red hair, dotted her face, and soaked her clothing. However, as far as he could tell, she had no wounds. “Ma’am...could you tell me your name?” She didn’t answer. Her eyes wandered as he called in on the radio clipped to his belt, then returned his attention to her. “Ma’am, please, I need you to focus. Can you tell me your name?” Once again, she nodded, but said nothing. He could see her pupils were dilated as she stared back at him, her expression turning to one he couldn’t read. With what almost appeared to be a smile, and her voice shaking, she finally spoke: “There’s a monster back there.”

Stockbridge, itself, was a cozy town, tucked away in south-eastern Massachusetts. It was small, and friendly, and was the only home Cameron Reedy had ever known. Where he had grown up, and where his parents still lived, was on the other side of town, but even that was within walking distance. Now, he lived with his fiancée, Julie. She was gone, leaving Cameron home alone. Groceries didn’t buy themselves, and, like a lot of men, Cameron didn’t buy them either. Instead, he relaxed in what he believed to be the most comfortable recliner in the world and, between instances of dozing off, searched for something on TV. Fifteen minutes of endless channel surfing told him nothing was on – typical of a Saturday. He turned the TV off and left the remote on the coffee table as he forced himself out of the comfort of his chair. He would have found something to eat, but there was a reason Julie was at the store. Ignoring the kitchen, he stepped outside. His otherwise quiet fiancée was constantly complaining about the junk pile in the backyard; he could always work at that a little. There was also a lawnmower that needed fixing, and a birdhouse he could dig out of the shed and put up. With a list of things forming in his mind, he checked his watch. Julie would be a while yet. And, it was a beautiful day. If she could stay away the whole day, he might surprise her and have them all done. The things I could do without food, he thought. Glancing at where their truck would normally be – if Julie didn’t have it –, Cameron made his way out to the backyard. He took his time, trying to decide, along the way, just what to do once he got back there. The playful chirping that surrounded him as he neared the trees decided for him. He stared for a minute at the shed. The birdhouse, it is. It was buried somewhere at the back, where everything that has to come out in the spring ends up. Cameron opened the shed doors and searched the inside. The pole that the birdhouse was attached to stuck out from the corner behind everything else that crammed the small building, just where he knew it would be. He sighed, and prepared to dive in, but the adventure was postponed by someone calling his name from the house. Turning to see who it was, the beautiful day suddenly got a bit darker.

“I’m surprised, you still remember my name,” he said. “What are you doing here?” “I’m here to see you, babe.” The woman approached, and he took a wary step back. She wore jean-shorts and a tank top, and wore them well, and the hair that fell softly on her shoulders was blonde – but Cameron had known her as a brunette. Her name was Leah Kotch. For a few short months, she had been Leah Reedy. That was three years ago, before she decided that settling down with one man wasn’t the life she really wanted. “You don’t get to see me anymore, Leah. I’m not enough for you, remember?” “That’s not fair, Cam. I never said that.” “I’m not so sure, the way you left me sure as hell implied it.” Leah pressed two fingers against Cameron’s lips. For some reason, he let her. “I’m don’t want to fight.” Through her fingers, Cameron managed, “What do you want?” With the same unassuming smile she gave him when she watched him sign the divorce papers, she replied: “What else could I want, babe? I want you.” Cameron backed out of her touch. “You always did ignore the obvious. I don’t want you. I haven’t wanted you for years, and I definitely don’t want you now. Unlike you, I can be happy with one person, and that person’s Julie.” “You were happy with me, don’t forget that.” “But, I make Julie happy, too, and that’s what I could never do for you. Now, if you don’t –” “Speaking of Julie,” she interrupted, “where is she?” Cameron hesitated, not quite sure how to answer her...or even if he had to answer her. “She’s at the store,” he said finally. Then added, “She’ll be back soon, though.” Leah smiled again. “Of course she will.” She moved closer, using the fingers she had pressed to Cameron’s lips to run lightly down his chest. “She can come back as soon as she wants,” she whispered. “I want you now.” “You can’t have me,” said Cameron. “I may have been yours once, but, as you’ll recall, you gave me up a long time ago.” Leah stared him in the eyes, unblinking, like a predator staring down its prey. “That’s right...I had you first. If I hadn’t let you go, I’d still have you. And, I want you back.” She ran a hand through his hair, and Cameron tried backing away, but she stayed with him, forcing herself closer. “Stay away from me,” he said, “I’m happy now. Don’t ruin that.” “You only think you’re happy. I can see it in your eyes...there’s something missing.” “Even if there is something missing, that something’s not you, and it’ll never be you. I want you to leave.” Leah paused, then backed away. No one said a word for several seconds. Leah broke the silence: “I don’t believe you.”

“It doesn’t matter what you believe. I don’t want you here, and I don’t ever want to see you again.” Again, Leah forced herself close to him, pressing tight against him, almost forcing the air from his body. “I still don’t believe you. I’m not going anywhere.” With the strength Cameron knew she had, she pushed him backward to the ground. Grinning with pride and self-satisfaction, she knelt down in front of him and leaned forward, her hands on his shoulders, pinning him. “You want it,” she whispered in his ear, “I know you do. You’re an animal...just like me.” “Get off me,” said Cameron. The words came, but they were hollow. At the moment, this woman was stronger than anything he could say and anything he believed in. He would have tried to speak again, but whatever he had to say was muffled by lips that tasted of cherry – a familiar flavour, and, with this woman, always bitter-sweet. Leah’s hands wandered as she moved on top of him. He could hear her breathing get heavy. It didn’t take long for his to do the same. He was taken back to the happiness he had felt with her before she changed – before she turned on him. He could hear her begin to gasp and moan as she rode his leg. By where her hands were going, he could tell wasn’t where she planned to stop. He could hear the rustling of leaves in the alders and trees that lined the yard. Where they lay, the limbs of several hung over their heads. What little wind there was gently moved through them, sending the random leaf casually floating off to land nearby in the grass. He could hear sounds from the road, carrying with the breeze whenever it shifted slightly. Suddenly, he pushed Leah away. He said nothing, staring off toward the driveway. “She’s not coming yet,” said Leah. “Relax.” She tried to kiss him again, but he forced her away. “It sounded like a car,” he said. “Or a truck.” “There’s nothing there,” she sighed. Cameron wasn’t so sure. Leah was visibly annoyed, but put up no fight as he got to his feet. “If we’re not gonna be able to finish ‘til you’re sure, go check. I’ll be here when you get back.” She again flashed her seductive smile. “But, you better come back, boy.” Cameron smiled back, then headed off for the house. His eyes darted around as he checked to see any sign that Julie had been there. His breathing was still heavy, but, now, it was from a combination of fear and disgust: fear of being caught; and disgust at himself for giving in. If he did go back to Leah, it would be to make sure she got off his property and never showed her face again. It was a face – and a body, even if a body of lies – he obviously couldn’t resist, no matter how much he wanted to, and no matter how much he tried. Leah’s car was in the driveway. He checked up the road. There was no sign of Julie or the truck. Down the road – nothing. Breathing a sigh of relief, he turned and looked back to where Leah sat, waiting. Even from where he stood, at least fifty yards away, he could see her tempting smile. He called to her, “I’ll be back in a minute. The phone’s ringing.” “Hurry,” she called back. “Don’t make me wait too long. I’ll have to finish without you.”

Cameron disappeared inside. Nothing was ringing, but he did go for the phone. He had a call of his own to make. On the phone in the kitchen, he dialled Julie’s cell, then waited. “Please have it on,” he said. It was no use. With “The customer you have dialled –,” Cameron slammed the phone back into the holder on the wall and dropped his head to his chest, exasperated. The day had been going so well. Obviously, too well. He considered staying in the house, hoping Leah might get tired of waiting and leave. But, then, she was the most stubborn woman he knew. She would probably come looking for him, and be twice as persistent. He took a deep breath. As much as he’d been preparing himself earlier to dive into the junk that filled the shed, now he prepared himself all the more to return to the backyard...and to her. Outside once again, he found himself alone. The backyard was empty – as far as he could tell. He called her name as he made his way back. There was no answer. He stopped and looked around, but there was no sign of her. Again, he called, “Leah?” And, again, no response. She must have left. Cameron grinned. For a moment, he had the satisfying taste of victory. Something in the grass, at his feet, caught his eye. It shimmered in the sunlight. He knelt to get a closer look. “Blood,” he said aloud, as if he wouldn’t have believed it otherwise. He glanced around, feeling fear creep up inside him. His attention was suddenly drawn to the shed. A long, deep, deliberate scrrrrraaaaaaaaape came from around the back. He could feel himself begin to shake. Everything in him told him not to check, but he knew he had to. Hesitantly, he moved toward the rear of the small building. In the shade of the trees, Leah’s body was laid out on the ground. Cut up. Mutilated. Her guts were ripped out and spread over the grass. Her face was sliced beyond recognition, and her skin hung from the bone in fleshy ribbons. The back of the shed was full of deep gashes, and splinters covered the ground below. On top of what he saw, the metallic scent of blood hit Cameron hard. Eyes wide, mouth hanging open, he gasped and stumbled backward. He spun around, collapsing to his knees, gagging. Eyes still wide, his head shot up. Something moved in the trees behind him. His heart jumped to his throat. Again, it moved. Leaves crackled and branches snapped. It sounded big. He threw himself to his feet and made for the house. He could feel his heart pound in his chest, like it wanted to break free and make a run for it on its own. He didn’t look back; if someone, or something, was following behind, he didn’t want to see. But, he made it. Out of breath, he threw himself inside and slammed the back door shut. He gasped for air, bent over, not moving from the porch. He didn’t have long to recoup. His heart once again jumped as the front door shut. Again, he heard something. This time, he knew what the sound was. They were footsteps. Human. He shuffled to the kitchen, and a wave of relief came on him when he saw who the footsteps belonged to.

“Julie. Thank God you’re here.” No sooner had he said it when he saw something else – something that tore his relief away. Her white shirt was red. She was covered in blood. He shuddered, and moved away. He jumped when he felt the wall against his back. “What the hell did you do!?” he screamed. He knew exactly what she had done. Julie’s hands were behind her back. “I saved you from her,” she said. She brought her hands out, and Cameron slid to the floor. She held a pair of sheers. Blood dripped from them. “Now...,” – she paused, her voice trembling, like the rest of her – “I’m going to do the same...for me.” Cameron begged: “Please, don’t do this. I love you. You know that.” Julie took another step closer. “I know,” she said, “I saw. But, don’t worry. I love you, too.” A tear ran down her cheek. Shaking, she grasped the sheers firm in both hands “You know it as well as I do.” Cameron’s screams could be heard outside, but were short-lived. A few seconds of hellish agony, and all was quiet. No sound. No movement. Nothing. Until.... The back door opened. Julie stepped out, soaked in blood, and let the sheers drop to the ground. She looked to be in shock, almost zombie-like, shuffling toward Leah’s car. Julie had parked the truck down a dirt road just up from the house. The car was closer, still parked in the driveway. It was a green Mazda6. Julie was in a haze. The next thing she knew, she was pulling over with a siren blaring and echoing in her ear. When her body would move again, she stepped out of the car. The haze, though – it was still there. “Ma’am...could you tell me your name?” She didn’t answer. She knew her name, but her mind still wasn’t working quite right. Her eyes wandered as Officer Keelan called in on the radio clipped to his belt, then returned his attention to her. “Ma’am, please, I need you to focus. Can you tell me your name?” Julie nodded, but, again, said nothing. He could see her pupils were dilated as she stared back at him, her expression turning to one he couldn’t read. With what almost appeared to be a smile, and her voice shaking, she finally spoke: “There’s a monster back there.” She laughed, and glanced down at the ground, then back up at Keelan. Her awkward smile growing, she added, “But I killed it.”