FICTION / Horror
FICTION / Thrillers / Supernatural
FICTION / Thrillers / Suspense
FICTION / Thrillers / Crime
“Let’s head back,” Pacie said, turning around. “I don’t want to be out here in the dark.”
“Any ideas on who you think it is?”
Pacie shrugged. “No, I don’t.”
“But what about how the kids described him—ten feet tall, no face, and stuff?”
“I don’t think they were lying,” Pacie said. “They must have misinterpreted what they saw; they weren’t that close to it.”
“It? You said it.” Irma was excited. “What else are you thinking?”
“Well, if what they were seeing is correct, then it’s not a normal human.”
“If not Bigfoot, then what?”
“I don’t know.” Pacie looked around. She had the uneasy feeling that someone was watching them. “But I’m sure it’s not Bigfoot. It could be someone with that hormone disease that makes them extremely tall. I think it’s called gigantism.”
“And no face?” Irma said. “Maybe it’s an alien. That’s a possibility.”
“We have no tangible evidence yet, only eyewitness accounts.”
They crested a hill and began walking down into a damp gully before climbing the hill on the other side. The mosquitoes were thick and deer flies were being their usual aggressive selves. They swatted the biting insects as they landed on the top of their heads.
“Quiet.” Pacie focused on an area in the thickets.
“What?” Irma whispered, trying to swat the bugs as quietly as she could off her shoulders.
Pacie saw movement from a dense group of bushes. She whispered and pointed. “Focus your camera over there, about twenty yards away. I saw something.”
Irma focused her camera where Pacie was pointing. She zoomed in as a mosquito landed on her hand. “I smell something awful, but I’m not seeing anything yet.”
Pacie felt like she was in a Bigfoot video where someone claims to see the creature. But all the camera picks up are shadows, blurs, and something that might be in the shape of a bulky body. “Do you see anything?”
Deer flies bit Irma in the part of her hair and the side of her face. She smacked them, causing the camera to lose its focus. “I can’t take this, Pacie. I’ve got to get out of here.”
“No problem,” Pacie said, turning on her phone’s flashlight.
Pacie and Irma ran up the hill and as far down the trail as they could until they had to stop and rest. While they caught their breath, they could see subdued light spilling in from the open yard of the park farther down the trail.
“Did you see something with your camera?” Pacie asked.
“No, it was too dark. Did you see something?”
“No. I guess we just freaked ourselves out.”
They laughed as they began walking toward the fork. When they reached it, they turned and look back where they had run from.
“I don’t think I’m ever walking back down there again,” Irma said.
“Come on,” Pacie said, jogging down the trail toward the entrance. “Let’s record the video for the website and think about what we have so far.”
“So far, not so much,” Irma said, keeping pace behind her.
They ran out of the woods and into the scorching sun; the humidity was stifling.
“I don’t know what’s worse,” Pacie said, wiping her brow. “Being in there with the biting bugs or out here in this heat.”
“Being in there with the bugs,” Irma said. “Plus, there’s no monster lurking out in the open.”
“That we know of,” Pacie said, grinning.
Irma held up her camera and turned on the light. “Stand in front of the trail so that we have it as a backdrop.”
Pacie ran her fingers through her hair, trying to look more presentable for the camera. She never enjoyed making the videos but thanks to Irma’s prodding, and the community’s need to know about any danger that could befall them, Pacie learned to almost enjoy it.
“I’m ready if you’re ready,” Irma said, bringing Pacie into focus.
Pacie cleared her throat. “I’m Pacie Rose, citizen reporter here at Sugar Sand Park in Black Water, Michigan. It is late Saturday, June fourteenth. A nine-year-old girl was abducted while walking on the trail behind me. The eyewitnesses describe the perpetrator as being an extremely tall, skinny man wearing a black suit with a tie. If you know about the incident or have seen anyone matching the description, please contact the authorities. This is Pacie Rose citizen reporter. Stay tuned for further reports.”
“It was short, but it’ll work for now,” Irma said, putting the camera into her backpack. “I’ll get this uploaded to the site and let the paper and WBLA know we have a video ready.”
“Sounds good,” Pacie said, walking toward the car. “The town has such trust in me. I hope I don’t let them down.”
“You haven’t yet. Besides, they love you and want to see your take on these situations. The news reporters do a superb job, but it’s the personal investment that you put into the research you do that makes the paper and the TV station keep using your stuff as a supplement.”
“Or filler.” Pacie looked at her watch; Johnny would be closing the shop soon. “I’m giving Johnny a call.”
“Hey, babe,” Johnny said. “Are you done for the day?”
Pacie unlocked the SUV. “Yep. I’m heading over there now.”
“Great, I’ll see you in a bit.”
Pacie and Irma got into the car. Pacie looked out over the empty playground. “It’s so strange seeing that police tape here.”
“I’ll be on the lookout for someone matching the tall creepy guy description,” Irma said, looking toward the woods.
“Don’t go down that trail alone,” Pacie said, backing out of her parking spot. “I get the feeling this guy would harm adults, too.”
As they drove to the antique shop, they could not help but scan every sidewalk, every yard, and every alley for someone who matched the crazed man’s description.
“Everyone I’m seeing looks normal,” Pacie said.
“The paper has a picture of the nine-year-old girl.” Irma held up her phone for Pacie to see. “I’ll email it to you.”
“We need to find her fast before it’s too late,” Pacie said, slowing for a stop sign. “I heard that seventy-four percent of abducted children who are ultimately murdered are dead within three hours of the abduction. And we’re past that window.”
“So what’s the plan?”
Pacie drove into the downtown parking lot behind the shop and parked near Johnny’s pickup truck, complete with a cap over the bed so that he can easily hall the antiques he collects. “Besides scouring Black Water for the perp and the little girl, and asking a lot of questions? I’m not sure.”
Irma opened her car door. “I’ll be at my apartment.”
“And I’ll be talking to Johnny.”
They got out of the car. Irma went into the building’s backdoor leading to one of two apartments above Good Old Days Antique Shop. The second-floor apartment belonged to Irma, and the third and final floor apartment was Johnny’s.
The shop door’s antique shopkeepers bell jingled as Pacie walked in. She walked down the short hallway, flanked to the right with three doors; one leading to the basement, another to a storage room, and the third was another way to reach the staircase leading to the apartments. She saw Johnny speaking with an elderly couple who appeared to be interested in an antique hand mirror and brush.
Pacie loved walking around the antiques in the shop. Rather than being a hodgepodge of furniture, toys, and books, he had items organized by room. She walked into her favorite room, the library. To the right was a decorative walnut bookcase where Johnny kept the latest books that he would add to the various collections. She browsed through the fragile books, but as much as she enjoyed looking at them, she was not a fan of really old things. It seemed to her that there was too much history connected to them. It felt as though they held the memories of other people who they had once belonged to; the people who once held them and kept them close by. But that was her. She knew it was silly. Nevertheless, it bothered her. Johnny would sometimes joke with her about items being haunted, especially old dolls. But truth be told, some items did bother him, but he rarely admitted it, although he was relieved when a particular item sold and was no longer in the shop. One such item was a doll from the late eighteen-hundreds. Its bisque doll head had cracks scattered over its face. Johnny said that it seemed to walk around the shop when it was closed and no one was around. When he opened the shop in the morning, he would find it in another location. At first, he thought Irma was coming downstairs and playing a prank on him, but she always denied it. Pacie remembered him being so unnerved by the events that he sold it at a loss to a collector in town; he did not want to take the chance that a parent would come in and buy it for their child. He called the doll Jezebel, the bad girl.
Pacie heard goodbyes echoed and saw the couple leave with the carefully wrapped antique mirror and brush in hand. The decorative clock near the counter said eight o’clock. Johnny turned off the open sign and walked to Pacie. He embraced her and kissed her on the lips. “Are you hungry?”
“I have some leftovers upstairs that I can heat for us, if that’s alright.”
At first, she thought he was going to take her out to a restaurant. “Sounds good.”
“Great.” Johnny locked the exterior doors and grabbed a set of keys from under the counter. Then he opened the one leading to the staircase and motioned with his hand. “After you, my lady.”
The automatic motion sensor light turned on as they walked into a small foyer. Inside was an elevator and the staircase near the door Irma had used to enter the building. “When are you going to get that old elevator fixed?”
“One of these days,” Johnny said, making sure the other exterior door was locked. “Actually, it does work, I just don’t trust it until it’s been inspected. And it’s past due for an inspection.”
The wooden stairs creaked as they ascended. They passed the landing to Irma’s apartment, complete with a brown welcome mat on the floor and a wreath made of seashells on the door. It was the wreath Irma had made during their first day of a spring party at Pacie’s house.
“Did your cousin come home with you?”
“Yeah, she’s in there.”
They climbed one more level to Johnny’s nondescript landing. He unlocked the door and they walked inside. The two apartments were large, both with open floor plans. Three large, tall windows faced the downtown street. The woodwork and hardwood floors were original, but the kitchen, bath, pipes, and electrical wiring had been updated a few years ago.
Johnny took a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc—tastes of juicy citrus and the scent of fresh-cut lemongrass—from the built-in wine rack and uncorked it.
“I have to drive home,” Pacie said. “Do you have iced tea or something with no alcohol?”
Johnny poured two glasses of the light green wine. “You have no excuse. You live alone and you don’t have any pets to tend to like Irma does. And speaking of Irma, she’s darn lucky because she’s the only person I’ll let have pets here.”
Pacie smiled and took the glass he handed her and sat on a stool at the bar. She took her notepad from her satchel. “All she has is a cute little Staffie.”
“Mr. Dibble is so ugly he’s cute.” Johnny took a casserole pan covered in foil from the refrigerator. “Does a hamburger and noodle casserole sound good?”
“Sounds tasty,” Pacie said, jotting down notes about the case.
Johnny spooned some casserole onto a plate and put it into the microwave. “So you’re working on an abduction case?”
“Yeah, a nine-year-old girl named Morgan Rafferty was abducted at Sugar Sand Park this morning by some really tall, skinny guy in a black suit.”
“A tall and skinny guy in a suit could be a lot of people.”
“Yeah, that’s what I said; but it gets weird.”
“Your cases are always weird.”
Pacie nodded. “The kids who saw him said he was as tall as Bigfoot, which means around seven to ten feet tall. And they said he had pale skin with no eyes, nose, or mouth.”
The microwave dinged. Johnny took out the dish and placed it in front of Pacie. He put another plate in the microwave. He handed Pacie a fork. “You’re right, that’s weird. It doesn’t sound like anyone I know.” He laughed.
“That’s what we all said.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to laugh; this whole thing is awful. I’ll keep an eye out for a strange slender man roaming around town.”
“Hmm, slender man. That sounds vaguely familiar.” She took a bite of the beef and noodles. “This is good. Did you make it from scratch?”
“Surprised it’s not Hamburger Helper?”
“I’m disappointed that you have little faith in my culinary skills,” Johnny said. He took his heated food from the microwave and sat down next to Pacie.
“I’m joking, you’re actually a very good cook.”
“So what’s your next move?”
“I’m not sure. We did a video; Irma is probably processing it now.” Pacie took her phone from her pocket and found the picture that Irma had sent her. “Here’s a picture of the little girl.”
“She’s pretty. Send me her picture and I’ll watch for her.”
They chatted about the heatwave, going to the beach, all while avoiding further talk of the abduction as they finished their food and moved to the living room couch.
“Another glass of wine?”
“No, I have to get back home. Mandy and Char were going to finish picking the strawberries and make jam. I just need to make sure they locked the house door, and that nothing was left out to spoil.” Pacie looked at her watch. “It’s getting late. I should probably leave now.”
Johnny ran a hand along Pacie’s cheek. “You’re beautiful, Pacie.”
She smiled. “You’re wonderful, Johnny.”
“Wonderful? That’s all I am is wonderful,” Johnny teased, pulling her close.
“Sorry, I didn’t mean it that way. I love you, Johnny.” And Pacie meant it.
They smooched until Johnny said, “Pacie, you’d better leave now before I refuse to let you go. I’m getting a little hot and bothered.” And Johnny meant it.
Pacie laughed, then whispered in his ear, “One of these days, my dear prince, we will be united. Together for eternity.”
“If you’re leaving, you’d better do it now,” Johnny said, keeping her close to his body.
Pacie backed away, and when he finally loosened his hold on her, she stood up. “I’m not saying I want to leave.”
“You don’t need to explain, I understand.” Johnny stood and walked her to the door. “Call me if you need anything. It worries me that some psycho is running around town.”
“Don’t worry, I will.” Pacie kissed him and opened the door. “Oh, and thanks for the leftovers.”
“Not a problem. Anytime you get a hankering for a microwaved casserole, you know where to go.” Johnny took his keys from a not so old glass ashtray he kept near the door. “I’ll walk you out.”
Johnny walked behind her down the old creaky steps. When they reached the bottom landing, Pacie stepped aside so that he could unlock the door. They walked into the off-white lights of the parking lot. “It feels muggy out here.”
“It’s been muggy all day,” Pacie said, walking next to him in the light’s quietness. “I haven’t been in the luxury of air conditioning all day like some people I know.”
“Do you really think it’s fun staying indoors all day in the nice cool temperature?” Johnny nudged her with his elbow.
“Days like today? Yes.” She unlocked her car and opened the door. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”
Johnny kissed her. “I’ll talk to you then. Drive careful.”
“I will,” Pacie said, slipping into the SUV. She turned on the ignition and watched Johnny walk to the backdoor. He looked back over his shoulder and waved as Pacie drove from the parking spot. She waved back and rolled down her window as she drove onto the street. She wanted to hear sounds, sounds like someone in distress, as she drove slowly home. Minutes later, she pulled into her driveway without hearing or seeing anything abnormal. She clicked the garage door opener as she drove up to her house. The windows were dark; no one was there. She pulled into the garage and closed the door behind her.
Nervous from the events of the day, Pacie hurried to the house door and tested it. They locked it. Not that she did not trust Mandy and Char to lock the doors, it was that she wanted to be absolutely sure no one had entered her home while she was away. She had this fear that someone could be hiding in her closet, or God forbid, under her bed. Totally irrational, of course.
January 5, 2021: Updated timeline.