fbpx
It Looks Like Someone You Know

It Looks Like Someone You Know

For my beloved Eriquita. I love you always.

“You should be more concerned about what I can do, Freddie,” Alice says, “and less about what I can justify.”

Margaret awakens, batting her eyes as she looks around, confused. She remains still, pressing herself against the car’s passenger seat. Pine trees whip past the windows as the sun peaks out above them, but she can’t tell if it’s dawn or dusk.

She feels pain on the side of her head. Reaching up, she finds a raised knot there beneath her skin. It’s warm, and it stings when she touches it.

“That’s what I told your father, that son of a bitch,” Alice says. Her voice drips with malice so acidic it burns holes in the upholstery. “Always putting me down. Always making me feel like I’d done something wrong whenever I didn’t do what he liked. Well this time, I did something he really didn’t like. Didn’t I, Freddie?”

Placing one hand on the wheel, Alice turns to look at the  corpse in the seat behind her. It’s buckled in and sitting upright in the middle of the rear seat. Its mouth hangs open with its glazed, unclosing eyes locked into an expression of shock.

Margaret says, “Mom, look out!”

Alice turns back around and sees a bowling ball-sized rock roll out from the tree line and into the path of her speeding car. She has no time to react.

Some time later, Margaret opens her eyes once more, batting them in a daze. Her head throbs as a pulsing, shooting pain runs down her neck. Something warm and wet trickles down her forehead. She sees that the dashboard in front of her now has a small crack in the middle of it. She tries to look behind her, but mind-blowing pain engulfs her neck when she turns her head. She cries out in agony.

The car rests on the side of the road, facing the trees. A thin plume of smoke wafts out from under the hood. Margaret smells the acrid scent of burned rubber in the air. Moving only her eyes, she sees that the driver’s seat is empty.

Alice limps into view around the front of the car, muttering curses under her breath. She observes the driver’s side wheel well with a look of vexation.

A loud snapping sound comes from somewhere behind the car. Alice looks up in the direction of the noise. Her expression morphs from one of annoyance to horrified surprise.

“What is it, Mom?” Margaret says.

Alice rushes over to the driver’s side door and opens it. Then she leans into the car and opens the glove box, revealing a handgun inside. Margaret recoils at the sight of the weapon as if it were a poisonous snake. “What the hell, Mom? Why do you have a gun?”

Alice grabs it and pulls it out. As she does, she glances into the backseat and freezes, staring for several moments. Then she looks out through the car’s rear window for several more moments. Her eyes dart back and forth between the two points as her body begins to tremble.

“No,” she says. “It’s not possible.”

She pulls the trigger by accident. The gun discharges with a loud “Pop!” Margaret shrieks as the bullet grazes her leg.

“Mom, what are you doing? Please stop!” she says, screeching. Tears run down her cheeks as she sobs. “I want to go home!”

She watches, sniffling as Alice stands up out of the car and points the gun in the direction behind it. “I don’t know how you’re doing this, Freddie,” Alice says, “but I killed you before, and I’ll kill you again!”

“Pop! Pop! Pop!” The gunshots sound like firecrackers going off. Margaret screams and ducks down, squeezing her eyes shut as she covers her head. Pain shoots down her neck, but she ignores it out of sheer terror. A moment later, she hears the sound of footsteps running away from the car.

Silence fills the air. Margaret remains doubled-over in the leg space in front of the passenger seat, breathing heavily. Soon, she hears a tapping sound on the passenger side window beside her. She attempts to turn her head to look, but pain again shoots down the side of her neck. Grimacing, she lets out a low moan, then turns her torso to face the window.

Alice stands there with her hand upon the glass. She has a weird, I-know-something-you-don’t-know grin on her face. She taps once more as Margaret stares at her, dumbfounded.

“Mom? What happened? Are you ok?”

Alice continues smiling and tapping on the glass, her taps growing louder, harder, more insistent. Margaret finds herself feeling strangely weaker and lightheaded, almost as if she’s falling asleep. Then, she blacks out.


Gravel grinds beneath Francine’s black boots as she circles the car, smoking a cigarette. A strong, cool breeze whooshes through the pine trees beneath an overcast sky, tussling her shoulder-length, reddish-brown hair. She wears a brown trench coat over a black business suit with a detective’s badge hanging from a chain around her neck.

She sees that the driver’s side wheel sticks out at an odd angle. Leaning down, she perceives that the axle is bent inside the wheel well. A large rock, the apparent culprit, sits wedged against the axle.

Long, curved skid marks lead from one of the lanes to where the car now rests on the side of the road. A gun lies on the ground next to the driver’s door, a six-shooter. Looking through the car’s windows, Francine sees the body of a man in the backseat, wearing a dark suit. Three bullet holes perforate his face. His eyes resemble milky white marbles.

The car key is still in the ignition, attached to a keychain with several other keys hanging from it. In the front passenger seat, Francine sees what appears to be a large pile of ash. She puts her face up to the window to look at it more closely.

“Detective Monroe?” says a voice behind her. She turns and sees a man in a state trooper uniform walking toward her. His patrol car sits on the side of the road 10 meters behind him.

“That’s me,” she says, flicking her cigarette butt away as she turns to face him. “You’re the one who called this in, I presume?”

The trooper nods as he approaches. “Trooper James Magnuson,” he says, shaking her hand. “I was patrolling the area when I came across this vehicle. Thinking there’d been an accident, I stopped and got out to provide assistance.

“As I came closer, I saw a subject in the back. After calling out several times, I could see that they weren’t moving. When I looked inside, I saw the gunshot wounds on his face. Based on his general appearance, it was obvious that he’d been dead for a while, more than a day, at least.”

James looks back and forth, up and down the road.

“My guess is that the killer or killers came out here to bury their dead buddy somewhere deep in the woods, but they had a little car trouble before they could find the perfect spot. Then they panicked and took off on foot instead of finishing the job.” He scoffs and shakes his head. “Amateurs.”

He continues. “The car is registered to Frederico Gomez. Mr. Gomez is listed in our database as having been missing for three days along with his wife and daughter, Alice Gomez and Margaret Gomez. The body matches his description, but I looked around the area and saw no immediate sign of the others. The fact that someone shot him in the face a few times tells me this wasn’t just business, it was personal.”

“What about that big pile of ash in the front seat?” Francine says. “What do you make of that?”

James shrugs, glancing at the car. “I thought that maybe you could tell me. Hopefully it’s not…”

“Human remains?” Francine says, finishing his sentence.

James nods as his shoulder-mounted radio chirps, then a staticky voice says through the speaker, “Unit 77, please respond. Over.”

James says, “Please excuse me a moment.” Francine nods, then James turns and starts walking back toward his car, talking into the radio. “This is Unit 77, Dispatch. Over.”

Francine looks back at the car to resume examining the ash pile. But as she does, she detects motion in her peripheral vision. When she looks up, she sees a man walking towards her, slowly, just beyond the the tree line. He’s wearing a state trooper uniform, like James’s. As he comes closer, she sees that he looks exactly like James. He makes eye contact, then disappears behind a tree, out of sight.

“Detective Monroe?”

Francine jumps, startled, then turns around. James is standing right where he was before with a quizzical look on his face. “Are you alright?” he says.

Francine furrows her brow as she looks at him, then glances back in the other direction toward the tree line. Seeing no one there, she nods rapidly. “Y-yes, I’m fine.”

“I just got another call and I need to leave,” James says. “The police forensics team should be here soon. Are you going to be alright until they get here?”

Francine feels a flare of irritation as she regains her composure. It’s as if he’s implying that she can’t take care of herself because she’s a woman and needs a man to look after her.

With a look that’s somewhere between a smirk and a scowl, she pulls back her trench coat to reveal the service pistol clipped to her belt. “Yeah, I think I’ll be alright,” she says. James nods and turns around to leave. As he walks away, Francine leans into the car and pulls the keys out of the ignition.


Francine pulls the screen door open and its rusty hinges creak in protest. She stands upon the front porch of a small, tidy house. Shadows play about the home’s facade from nearby trees swaying in the cool wind. She balls her fist and pounds upon the door. “Mrs. Gomez?” she says. “This is the police. Please open up!”

She stands there, listening to the baleful wind blow, looking around as she awaits a response. The working-class neighborhood consists of small houses lined up in neat rows. A parked car sits in the driveway across the street. There’s a pile of old toys in the next yard over. No one’s around despite the obvious signs of human inhabitation.

After about 30 seconds, Francine pounds on the door again and says, “It’s the police, I have a search warrant!”

She waits another 10 seconds, then pulls the car keys out of her pocket. She tries the one that looks the most like a house key, sliding it into the lock. It glides right in and turns easily. The deadbolt disengages with a “Click.” She turns the doorknob and opens the door, then steps inside.

She finds herself inside a darkened living room. The musty air smells like ancient cigarette smoke mixed with chemical disinfectant. The shades are drawn, the mid-day sunlight glowing faintly around their edges.

“This is Detective Francine Monroe,” she says in a commanding voice. “I have a warrant to search the premises. If anyone is present, they must make themselves known immediately.”

Silence.

The floorboards creak beneath her feet as she walks across the floor, scanning the room. An overstuffed pleather sofa sits against the wall beside a coffee table. On the other side of the room is an entertainment center with a television mounted to the wall above it. At the far end is a fireplace with a simple wooden mantle. Upon the mantle sit several pictures. She goes over to take a closer look.

In the first photo, she recognizes a younger and very much alive Freddie Gomez. Sitting across from him at a table is a pretty, petite woman who’s noticeably younger than he. Between them is a little girl with a birthday cake in front of her. The cake has a candle on it shaped like the number 6. They’re all smiling, except the woman’s smile doesn’t reach her eyes.

“They must be Alice and Margaret,” Francine says. She notices that Alice has a silver locket hanging from a chain around her neck.

A wave of emotion washes over Francine’s mind as she recalls her own daughter’s sixth birthday.

“Oh, Marc, Esther…” she says, whispering. “I miss you so much.” Her lower lip quivers and she realizes she’s about to start crying. Stopping herself, she takes a deep breath, dons a blank expression, and continues her investigation.

The rest of the photos are all of the family as well. The family members look older and older in each photo progressing from left to right along the mantle.

Alice’s fake smile fades from one image to the next. In the last photo, she’s not smiling at all, but is frowning instead. Francine notices that she wears the same silver locket in every picture.

Walking down the hall and into the bathroom, Francine turns the light on and looks into the mirror. Her hair is disheveled, and large purple bags hang beneath her eyes.

With a deep sigh, she opens the medicine cabinet behind the mirror. Inside, she spies some prescription pill bottles along with a tube of toothpaste, a couple deodorant sticks, and box of floss. She picks up the pill bottles and examines their labels.

“Lithium – Mood stabilizer; Vioroxetine – Antidepressant; Clozapine – Antipsychotic.”

Francine looks closely at the labels. She sees that each of the fill dates are all several months ago, yet the bottles are nearly full. She puts them back inside the cabinet with a puzzled look and closes the door.

As she does, she hears what sounds like creaking footsteps out in the hallway. Holding completely still, she listens for several moments.

“Hello?” she says. “This is the police. I have a warrant to search this property. Is anyone home?”

Silence.

The air seems to become mustier, making it hard for Francine to breathe. She sucks in a deep breath as she creeps down the hallway and peeks into the living room.

No one’s there. The whole house groans and creaks as a strong wind blows outside.

She continues down the hallway toward a wooden door, then turns the doorknob and pulls. The door’s heavy, and it makes a sucking, whooshing noise as it opens into a pitch-black space. A wall of cold air that smells like rotting metal hits her in the face. She gags, fumbling her hand around on the wall next to the doorway in search of a light switch. Finding one, she flips it on. A fluorescent lightbulb buzzes to life overhead, bathing the room in white incandescence. She sees that she’s inside the garage.

A drain sits in the middle of the concrete floor. There’s a sedan on one side with an empty space beside it. A pool of congealed blood lies next to the car’s front wheels, flowing into the drain. Two heel-sized drag marks extend out from the pool toward the empty space and then disappear. Francine reaches for her holster and draws her weapon, pointing it at the floor as she grips the handle with both hands.

Slowly, she walks down the wooden stairs. She takes long, deep breaths through her nose to stay calm, despite the putrid smell of decaying blood in the air. She concentrates on the sensory input all around her, collecting as much information about her surroundings as she can.

Something shiny catches her eye as she approaches the drain. Bending down at her knees, she sees an object glimmering inside it. She pushes her fingers through the holes in the grate, and is just barely able to grasp the object with her fingertips. She pulls it out and gasps at what she sees.

It’s a gold ring, slightly scuffed and worn around the edges. It’s remarkably shiny and clean even though it was at the bottom of the bloody drain. “No… it can’t be,” Francine says. Her eyes well up with tears.

Her fingers trembling, she turns the ring around to examine its inner lining. There, engraved in looping cursive letters exactly like how she remembers, are the words, “I’ll always love you, Francine. Marc.” Her heart sinks.

Francine’s hands tremble uncontrollably and she accidentally drops the ring. It bounces off the edge of the grate and falls back down into the drain.

“No!” she says.

She shoves her fingers through the holes once more, wriggling them around. Feeling nothing, she sticks her face up next to the grate, peering down into the darkness. But she sees nothing.

After several minutes of trying to recover the ring in vain, she gives up. She stands, looking at her blood-covered fingers as she holds her hands out in front of her, and bursts into tears.


“You look like shit.”

Sepatha shakes her head as she looks Francine up and down in disgust. Francine cocks her head to side with a half-shrug and says, “Thanks for noticing, Chief.” They sit across from each other inside Sepatha’s office.

Sepatha scoffs as she leans forward, resting her elbows on her desk. She wears a pressed blue suit with her black hair pulled back into a tight bun.

Everything inside her office is clean, spotless, and sterile. Not even a single dust mote hangs in the light that streams through the window looking out into the parking lot. Another window on the other side of the room looks into a hallway.

Sepatha says, “Give me an update on the Gomez case.”

“I visited the scene of an apparent car accident where I reconnoitered with Trooper James Magnuson,” Francine says.

“When I arrived, I observed a deceased male’s body in the car’s backseat with three gunshot wounds to the face. I subsequently found a wallet containing Mr. Freddie Gomez’s driver’s license in the front pocket of the deceased’s suit jacket. The coroner’s report later confirmed that the body was indeed that of Mr. Gomez.

“In the car’s front passenger seat was a large pile of ash. Neither Trooper Magnuson nor I could figure out where it came from.”

“Hmmm…,” Sepatha says, looking concerned. “How’d we learn that Mr. Gomez was missing?”

“His sister called the police after he failed to show for their weekly breakfast at a neighborhood diner. She said she tried calling his phone repeatedly with no answer.”

“What do we know about him?”

“A background check on Mr. Gomez shows that he was a retired firefighter with a nearly spotless criminal history. The only blemish on his record was a misdemeanor battery charge stemming from a bar fight when he was in his twenties. The charge was later dropped.

“Mr. Gomez was married to Alice Gomez and together they had a daughter named Margaret. Alice is a teacher at a local high school, the same one Margaret attends as a senior. However, they both failed to show up at the school for two days in a row shortly after Mr. Gomez disappeared. School officials then reported them missing as well.”

Sepatha leans back in her chair and crosses her arms. “What do we know about Mrs. Gomez?”

“Mid-forties, high school teacher her entire career. Married her college sweetheart, but they divorced less than a year later on amicable terms with no children to fight over. Remarried a few years later to Mr. Gomez, a man 20 years her senior. She has no criminal record, but she does have a history of mental illness. Specifically, she was diagnosed as bipolar with psychotic tendencies when she was a teenager. She has been prescribed medication to control the symptoms for much of her adult life.”

Sepatha frowns. “Do you think her mental health could be a factor?”

Francine nods. “I searched the Gomez residence with a warrant and found some prescription pill bottles in the bathroom. Each had Mrs. Gomez’s name written on the label, and all were several months old. However, they were  almost full. Either she had other medication she was already taking or…”

“Or she went off her meds,” Sepatha says.

“Exactly.”

Francine opens her mouth to say something else, but then sees a woman walking down the hallway past the window. The woman makes eye contact and gives her a horrific grin, then disappears from view. Francine pauses, confused.

“What is it?” Sepatha says.

Francine shakes her head, batting her eyes rapidly. “Nothing. I thought I saw someone I knew, but it couldn’t have been her.”


“Did you hear that Maggie Gomez went missing?”

Sophie takes a sip of beer, then leans back onto the sofa cushion.

Vanessa sits on the sofa next to her, tapping the little keyboard on her phone screen with her thumbs. The light from the screen shines on her face. “Hmm?” she says, without looking up.

The muffled sound of gunfire comes through a closed door on the other side of the room. Sophie turns her head toward it and says, “Billy, turn your game down! It’s way too loud!”

The sounds decrease until they’re barely audible. “I can still hear it!” Sophie says. Then the sounds disappear completely.

She takes another sip and says, “Yeah, she and Mrs. Gomez haven’t been at school since last week. I heard her dad went missing too. Some people are saying he was murdered!”

Vanessa reaches for her own can of beer sitting on the coffee table in front of her. “Maggie Gomez?” she says. “Wasn’t she dating Jacob Tompkins for a while?” She takes a sip, then puts the can down and goes back to tapping on her screen.

“Yeah, but they broke up a few months ago. He’s with Ashley Hutchings now.”

“Eww, I hate Ashley Hutchings.”

They both fall silent for several moments, sitting in front of a blank television screen in Sophie’s parents’ living room. Finally, Sophie says, “Are you almost done texting? I’ve been wanting to watch this movie for like, ever.”

“Calm down, you said your parents won’t be home for another few hours. I’m almost finished.”

“Who are you talking to anyway? Is it a boy?”

Vanessa smiles and says, “Yeah.”

“Is he hot?”

“Yup!”

“Who is it?”

“Oh, you don’t know him. He goes to another school. His name’s Reid. I met him at a party.”

“You met a hot guy at a party and now you’re texting him, and you haven’t even told me about him yet?” Sophie says, exasperated.

“Sorry, I guess it slipped my mind.”

“Ugh,” Sophie says, making a disgusted face.

A moment later, Vanessa turns off the screen and puts the phone down on the coffee table. Then she picks up her can and shakes it, finding it empty. “I’m gonna get another beer before we start,” she says. “Want one?”

Sophie shakes her head and reaches for the television remote.

Vanessa gets up and walks behind the sofa, down the hall and into the kitchen. Sophie turns on the t.v. and starts looking for “Nightmare on Elm Street” on the search screen. She hears the faint sound of Vanessa opening the fridge and then popping open a new can of beer.

Vanessa’s phone lights up, showing that she has a new text message. Sophie glances at the screen. It says, “Looking forward to tomorrow night, beautiful,” with a rose emoji at the end. But the contact name doesn’t say “Reid.”

It says, “Brad.”

Sophie’s eyes widen and her jaw drops. She hears Vanessa approaching and sits back into the sofa, attempting to look relaxed.

Vanessa plops down beside her. “Alright, let’s watch this movie!” she says.

“Vanessa,” Sophie says. “What did you say the name was of that guy you’re talking to?”

Vanessa gives her an odd look and says, “Reid, why?”

“Then why are you making plans for a date tomorrow with a guy named Brad?” Sophie’s eyes darken. “Is it Brad Mueller, as in, my boyfriend, Brad Mueller?”

“What?” Vanessa says.

“Don’t play dumb. I’ve seen the way you look at each other, how you talk to each other. Now I saw that you just got a text from a guy named Brad. It’s him, isn’t it? It’s Brad Mueller, my boyfriend! You’re seeing him behind my back, aren’t you?”

“What the fuck, Sophie? Were you going through my texts, you little bitch?”

“Did you just call me a bitch?! Get the fuck out of my house, Vanessa, right now!”

Sophie stands up and points toward the front door. Vanessa scoffs and says, “Whatever,” with a repulsed sneer. Then she grabs her purse from where it was sitting next to her and marches out the door, slamming it behind her.

Billy pokes his head out of his room as Sophie collapses onto the sofa, sobbing. “Is everything alright, sis?” he says.

“No!” she says through her tears. Then she picks up her own phone from where it was sitting on the coffee table and begins texting madly. She sniffles and sobs, her face red and puffy.

The front door’s hinges squeak as it slowly opens. Sophie and Billy turn to see who it is.

“Really, Vanessa?” Sophie says. She stands up, tossing her phone down onto the sofa. “What, did you come back to apologize? Well, forget it. You’re fucking dead to me, now get out of here!”

Sophie storms over to where Vanessa is standing in the doorway. As she’s about to get in her face, she hears Billy say, “Georgie? What are you doing here?”

Sophie looks over her shoulder at her little brother. He’s staring at Vanessa with intense concern.

“Man, you gotta get out of here,” Billy says. “My parents said I can’t hang out with you anymore after they caught us smoking weed the other day. If they see you here, I’ll be grounded forever!”

Sophie says, “Are you crazy, Billy? That’s Vanessa, not your little stoner friend, Georgie.” Billy looks at Sophie like she’s insane and says, “I think I can tell the difference.”

The person looks at Billy and then at Sophie with a bizarre, ironic smile, then starts slowly creeping toward them. Sensing that something’s amiss, Sophie steps behind the coffee table. But the person slides it out of the way with their leg, walking through it like it isn’t even there.

Sophie says, “Stay back!” But the person reaches for her, brushing her arm with an icy cold fingertip. She screams as she turns and runs down the hall and out the house’s back door.

Billy sees this, then looks at the person with an expression of fear and awe. “Is that you, Georgie?” he says. The person slowly creeps toward him, smiling.


Francine opens her throat, pouring the beer straight down her esophagus. She downs the entire pint in less than five seconds.

She puts the empty glass on the bar, then takes a deep breath, inhaling the scent of stale beer and cigarette smoke. An old rock song with a raspy-voiced singer plays in the background, its melody interrupted by the sound of pool balls cracking into each other.

Someone opens the bar’s front door and enters, shining a sunbeam into the otherwise dark, dank, dreary locale. Francine cringes like a vampire caught in the daylight. She looks up, but her vision is too clouded to see who it is.

She watches as the person slowly creeps toward her, smiling. Francine shakes her head, astonished, and says in a drunken, slurring voice, “Marc? Marc is it really you?”

He stares at her, the smile frozen on his face, saying nothing as he sits down on the stool beside her.

“Oh Marc, Marc I’ve missed you so much!”

Francine leans over to embrace him, but catches only air. Losing her balance, she falls off the stool, crashing to the floor and knocking the wind out of herself. She looks up and sees that nobody’s sitting on the stool beside her, nor is there anyone nearby. She lays there for several moments, struggling the breathe. Finally, she pulls herself up, gasping, and sits back down on her stool.

The bartender approaches, frowning. “Maybe you should call it a night, ma’am,” he says.

“Ok,” Francine says, nodding. “How much is my tab?”

“Don’t worry about it,” he says, shaking his head. “Just go.”

Francine looks at him with shit-faced shock as she sways back and forth in her seat. “You’re kicking me out?”

“No, I’m just asking you to leave.”


“Just relax and tell me what you saw, Sophie.”

Francine’s head feels like it’s going to split open. She silently wonders when the five aspirins she chewed up and swallowed a few minutes ago will kick in. In the meantime, she focuses on trying to get through this witness interview without throwing up.

Sophie sits with her arms folded upon her dining room table, sniffling, wiping tears from her eyes. “My friend Vanessa and I, er… I thought she was my friend. Anyway, we were hanging out while my little brother Billy played video games in the next room. My parents were gone for the evening, out on a date night.

“While Vanessa was in the kitchen, I saw that my boyfriend was texting her behind my back. At least, I think it was my boyfriend. I’m pretty sure.” Sophie pauses, sniffling some more. “When I confronted her, she called me a bitch. Then I told her to get out, and she left. But then…” Sophie’s lower lip trembles and she looks down.

“Then what happened?” Francine says, gently.

“Then… she came back. But she was… different. She… smiled at me, like she knew something horrible that I didn’t know. I’ve never seen Vanessa make a face like that. Then, she started walking toward me in a creepy way, like she was trying to cut off my exit. But that’s not the weirdest part.”

“Oh?”

“Billy came out of his room, and when he saw Vanessa, he called her ‘Georgie,’ the name of his little pothead friend who lives down the street. When I said that it was Vanessa, not Georgie, he told me he saw Georgie standing there, not Vanessa.”

A chill runs down Francine’s spine like icy water, spreading across her shoulders and dripping down her neck. “What did you do then?”

“I… I… I…” Sophie says, her face scrunching up and turning red. “I ran away!” she says, crying. “I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do. I… I just couldn’t stay there. I had to leave. When I heard that Billy disappeared, I felt so guilty. It’s my fault he’s gone, isn’t it?”

Sophie covers her face with her hands and sobs. Francine puts her hand on her shoulder, wishing she could say that everything would be ok. But she knew that it would be a lie, because she didn’t even believe it herself.


Francine slumps into her chair inside her apartment. Upon the end table beside her is a half-empty bottle of vodka, an empty carton of orange juice, a glass filled with melted ice cubes, and a pack of cigarettes. She reaches for the cigarette pack and finds that there’s only one left inside.

Sighing, she puts it into her mouth. Then she pulls her lighter out of her pocket, lights the cigarette, and sucks the sweet smoke into her lungs. After taking a few puffs, she frowns as she breathes the smoke out through her nostrils like a discontented dragon.

She stares at the television screen, its light illuminating her tired, wrinkled face through the haze of smoke.

The local news comes on, and the newscaster’s voice blares through the speakers. “Police arrested a young woman earlier today on suspicion of kidnapping.”

The screen cuts to a video of a girl in handcuffs walking with her head down as police lead her into a courthouse.

“18-year-old Vanessa McClain was the last person seen with 13-year-old Billy Tamby before the boy disappeared several days ago.”

Pictures of Vanessa and Billy appear on the screen side-by-side. In them, they both appear happy, vibrant, and youthful.

“Ms. McClain was first identified as a person of interest in the disappearance by Billy’s older sister, 17-year-old Sophie Tamby. Ms. Tamby told police that she and Ms. McClain had gotten into an argument at the Tamby residence the night Billy disappeared.

“According to Ms. Tamby, Ms. McClain left the home, but then returned shortly thereafter, acting in a bizarre and threatening manner. Ms. Tamby said she fought with Ms. McClain but was overpowered, then ran to get help. When police arrived, the boy was gone. According to an anonymous source, they found a large, mysterious pile of ash inside his room that hadn’t been there before.”

The screen cuts to a middle-aged man and woman standing in front of a house. Their eyes are sorrowful, and their mouths are turned upside-down in lamentation. Microphones with the logos of various news stations surround them.

The woman says, “We just want our little boy to come home.”

Francine picks up the remote control sitting beside her and turns the television off. An eerie silence fills the darkened space of her apartment. The only light comes from a crescent moon shining through the window.

Sitting there, alone in the dark, she picks up the bottle of vodka and brings it to her mouth. Then, she hears something.

Looking over, Francine sees the shadowy silhouette of a person standing in the hallway. She lets out a sharp gasp and freezes in place, gripping the arms of her chair tight. The silhouette drifts toward her, entering the moonlight.

“Marc?” she says, incredulously. “Marc, is that you? How did you get in here? Was that you at the bar before, or was it just my imagination?”

Saying nothing, Marc continues advancing toward her with a bizarre smile frozen on his face. With fresh tears in her eyes, Francine stands and holds her arms out, ready to embrace him. “Oh, Marc,” she says, sniffling. “Where have you been?”

He takes another step toward her. As he advances, she starts feeling lightheaded and weak. She wraps her arms around him, pressing herself to him, squeezing him tight.

“Marc, you’re ice cold!” she says. She leans back to look at him and sees that he no longer resembles her husband. Instead, the person she’s holding now looks like her boss, Sepatha.

She jerks backwards, throwing herself against the wall, shaking. “Wh-who are you?” she says.

She glances over at her gun where it sits on her kitchen counter. It seems like it’s miles away. When she looks back, the person now looks like Trooper Magnuson. He smiles ironically, like he knows something she doesn’t, something horrible.

Francine squeezes her eyes shut. “This isn’t real. This isn’t real. This isn’t real,” she says in a strained, desperate voice.

When she opens them, she sees Magnuson looming over her, looking deranged. She feels lightheaded and drowsy, like she’s about to fall asleep.

Fighting not to succumb, she shoves him with all her remaining strength. He falls backwards, knocking over the end table and splashing vodka everywhere.

Francine runs over to her counter and grabs her gun, then turns and points it at him. From where she’s standing, the chair conceals his face.

“Don’t move!” she says, cocking the hammer back. “Or I’ll paint the wall with your fucking brains!”

Slowly, the person rises from the ground and stands upright. Francine sees that it now resembles her dead daughter, Esther.

Esther smiles, and something snaps inside Francine’s mind. She runs out her front door and down the hall, screaming and crying, flailing the gun around in her hand.


Elaine lies within the silent darkness of her bedroom, curled up in bed. Her phone rings, snapping her awake. She reaches for it on the nightstand.

“Mmph, hello?” she says, groggily.

“Elaine? Elaine, it’s me, Francine,” says the voice through the receiver.

“Francine?” Elaine says, sitting up. “Are you alright? What’s going on?”

“I need help. Can you… can you come get me?”

“What happened? Where are you?”

“I’m outside of my apartment. I saw… something. I… I… can’t describe it. I just need help. Will you please come get me?”

Elaine sighs and says, “Have you been drinking?”

After a short pause, Francine says, “Yes, but…”

“Did the bartender take your keys and now you’re locked out of your apartment again?”

“What? No, that’s not what happened. I just… saw something and it really freaked me out.”

“You’re hallucinating again?” Elaine says, concerned.

“Yes! I mean, I think so. But this time it just felt so… so real. I dunno. I just need help. Can you please come get me?”

Elaine shuts her eyes and sighs. Then she throws the covers off herself and starts getting out of bed. “I’ll be right there.”

Half an hour later, Elaine’s car pulls up to the curb in front of Francine’s apartment. The morning sky’s just starting to brighten. Elaine sees Francine pressed against a brick wall, peaking into an alley at the end of the block. She seems to be holding something.

Elaine gets out of her car and starts walking toward her. “Francine, are you ok?” she says. But Francine doesn’t seem to hear her.

Elaine comes to within arm’s length and taps her on the shoulder. “Francine?”

“Gahhh!” Francine says. She whirls around, whipping Elaine in the face with her gun.

“Umf!” Elaine says, falling to the ground.

Francine’s hands tremble as she points the gun at Elaine. “Who are you?” Francine says. Her voice is shrill and raspy.

Elaine sits up on her elbow and rubs the side of her face. A red, stinging welt has already started to appear there. “It’s me, Elaine!” she says, cringing.

Francine starts breathing hard. “How do I know it’s you?” she says, cocking the hammer back.

Elaine looks at her like she’s crazy and says. “I’m your grief counselor, remember? You started seeing me three years ago after someone shot into your house while your daughter was inside, killing her. Your husband disappeared immediately afterward, and no one knows where he went.

“Someone else, a stranger, confessed to shooting your house up. They went to jail, but your husband never returned. Your mental health deteriorated after that, and you began having hallucinations. You turned to alcohol for comfort, and then your life got even worse. Then you came to me, begging for help…”

Francine slowly lowers the gun. Elaine stands, continuing to speak. “We’ve been working on helping you get past the grief so you can move on with your life. I… I thought we were making progress.”

Francine hangs the gun down at her side as she slumps her shoulders and lowers her head. She lets out a sob, and Elaine walks up and puts her arms around her. Francine embraces her, crying into her shoulder.


Francine sits at Elaine’s kitchen table with her face buried in her arms. Elaine pours Francine some coffee, then pours some for herself and sits down at the table. She holds an icepack over the side of her face where Francine hit her with the gun. A yellow-brown bruise peaks out around the edges.

Francine turns her head to stare through the window into the overcast grey sky, her face lined and sullen. Elaine looks at her pensively, and says, “So, do you want to tell me what this is all about?”

Francine sits up, sighs deeply, and shakes her head. She sips her coffee as she gazes out the window into the morning gloom. “I’m being followed by someone who looks like people I know,” she says, muttering dejectedly.

“You mean, like with disguises?” Elaine says.

“No. I mean, the first time I saw them, it looked like a state trooper I’d just met. The next time, it looked like you.”

“Me?” Elaine says, surprised.

Francine nods. “Yes, I saw someone who looked exactly like you at the police station while I was meeting with my boss. But it wasn’t you, it couldn’t have been. It was this… person. That’s why I…” Her voice trails off as she glances at the icepack.

Elaine says, “It’s alright. I can see that you’re under a lot of stress. That must be what’s triggering these elaborate hallucinations. Is there anything else going on you want to talk about?”

Francine thinks for a moment, then says, “There’s this new case I’m working on. A man’s body was found in an abandoned vehicle out in the middle of nowhere, and his wife and daughter are missing. Something about their family just reminds me so much of Marc and Esther.”

Elaine gives her a sympathetic look. “It sounds like this case is resonating in a place that’s very personal for you. Just remember what we talked about.”

Elaine reaches for a notepad and a pencil laying on the table nearby. She folds the notepad over to a fresh sheet of paper, then draws two big circles next to one another so that they’re not touching. Over one circle, she writes the word, “Business.” Over the other, she writes the word, “Personal.” Then she turns the pad around so Francine can see.

“In life,” Elaine says, “things are either business or personal. The trick is knowing what’s what and keeping the two apart. The ‘Business’ circle never overlaps into the ‘Personal’ circle, and vice-versa. You’re not your job, and what you do for a living is not a reflection of who you are. It’s just how you use your skills and talents to make your way in the world, based on the available opportunities.”

Nodding impatiently, Francine says, “I know, Elaine. You’ve said this nearly every time we’ve met for the past three years.”

“You know it,” Elaine says. “But do you understand it?”

With a frustrated grunt, Francine says, “Elaine, this person, this creature was in my apartment last night. I don’t know what it wanted, but it really was there. I know it was.

“Come on, Francine,” Elaine says. “You don’t really believe that, do you? You’re a police officer, a detective. You deal in facts. You know you’ve had mental health issues for a while now, and they impede your ability to perceive reality. If you buy into the notion that some kind of shapeshifting creature is out to get you, you’ll find yourself sliding down the slippery slope of madness!”

Francine stands abruptly, her chair screeching against the floor. “Thanks for the ride and the coffee, Elaine, but I need to go.”


“Fernando, for the last time, stop calling me.”

Sepatha hunches over her desk, placing the phone’s receiver directly over her mouth. Fernando’s voice comes through the speaker. “But baby, I—”

“I am not your ‘baby,’” she says, interrupting him. “If you don’t stop calling me, you are going to face a shit storm of consequences. Do you understand me?”

“I…”

“I said, ‘Do you understand me?’”

“Yes… yes, I understand. I… I’m sorry.”

Sepatha sighs and shakes her head. “Fernando, you know I’m this close to divorcing you. Ever since I found your secret online dating profile, I knew I’d never be able to trust you again. That’s why I kicked you out of our house, remember? Let me guess, you’re sitting there in your crappy little apartment in your boxers, surrounded by empty beer bottles. Am I right?”

“…Yes.”

Sepatha rolls her eyes and scoffs. “When I’m ready to talk, I’ll call you. In the meantime, do not attempt to contact me in any way.”

Fernando starts to say something else, but she hangs up on him. Sighing once more, she looks up at the clock hanging on the wall.

“12:03 a.m.?” she says. “Where did the time go?”

She looks down at the stacks of paper littering he desk; case files from half a dozen murders, robberies, and worse. She yawns and says, “If people could just stop committing crimes, that would be great.”

Sepatha stands, picking her purse up off the floor and slinging it over her shoulder. Then she walks over to the door and opens it as she flips the switch on the wall. The fluorescent lights turn off, shrouding her office in darkness. Pale moonlight beams in through the window as she closes the door behind her.

An “EXIT” sign hangs over a door at the end of the hallway, casting faint red light in the otherwise darkened office. Walking toward it, she passes rows of desks like tombstones in the dim, crimson luminescence. The office is silent except for Sepatha’s footsteps clopping across the tile floor.

She pushes through the door, stepping out into the parking lot. An eye-straining orange glare shines across the cracked blacktop, cast by the aging light poles overhead. The sky above is an opaque, starless void.

Sepatha’s car is the only one in the lot, parked way in the back. She begins striding toward it, but then she sees something out of the corner of her eye. She turns her head to look.

There, at the edge of the parking lot, is a man standing in the bushes. He’s staring at her with a smile on his face.

“Fernando?” Sepatha says.

He takes a step towards her, and she turns and runs the rest of the distance to her car. Upon reaching it, she looks behind her. Fernando is halfway across the parking lot, closing in.

“Fernando, what are you doing here?” Sepatha says with a mix of frustration and anguish. “I told you to leave me alone!”

She opens her purse and begins fumbling around inside it as the man continues to advance. She pulls out a mace canister and points it at him, but he doesn’t slow down or alter his pace.

“Leave me alone!” Sepatha presses her finger down on the button. A stream of liquid sprays out of the nozzle, dousing Fernando’s face and chest in abrasive chemicals. But he doesn’t react. He just keeps walking towards her at the same pace, smiling.

Sepatha lets out a frightened yelp. She digs her keys out of her purse, then jumps inside her car and turns it on. Her tires screech as she speeds away, just before he can reach the door.


Francine pulls her car up to the side of the road and gets out, the gravel crunching beneath her boots. Looking down, she sees the curved skid marks on the pavement where Mr. Gomez’s car used to be, before the police towed it away. A rusty lug nut lies in between them.

Morning frost covers the ground like powdered sugar, revealing something Francine hadn’t noticed before: a set of footprints leading from the road into the woods. They’re deep and far apart, as though the person was running.

Looking closely, she sees that there’s also another set of prints headed in the same direction. These ones are fainter, shallower, and closer together than the others. It appears as though this person was walking slowly. Francine follows them like a bloodhound with a scent.

The footprints lead her deeper and deeper into the evergreen forest. She steps on a pinecone hidden beneath the underbrush, rolling her ankle. She falls forward, landing hard upon her hands and knees. Dead pine needles stick into her hands, and she cries out in pain. Blood drips from the wounds as she pulls them out, one by one.

A few minutes later, she arrives at a small clearing with a large pine tree near the center. The running footprints approach the tree, then stop and turn around, headed in the opposite direction. From there, they become shallower and closer together.

The other footprints approach them, and at the spot where they meet is a large pile of ash. It looks the same as the one from Mr. Gomez’s car.

Inspecting the ash pile, Francine notices something shiny just beneath the surface. Pulling it out, she sees that it’s a silver locket on a chain necklace. She recognizes it as the one Alice was wearing in the pictures from the Gomez residence. Francine gingerly opens the locket, finding a tiny mirror inside.

She hears a crunching sound behind her, then she puts the locket into her pocket and turns around. She spies a figure standing at the edge of the clearing. It looks like Esther.

Francine pulls her gun from its holster and points it at her. “I know you’re not my daughter,” she says. “My daughter is dead!”

Esther doesn’t respond, but instead begins shuffling towards her, smiling. Francine pops off a burst of rounds, scoring a few hits on her abdomen. But Esther is unfazed.

Francine fires again, this time aiming for her head. Esther takes a bullet to the skull, but continues slogging forward with a zombie-like gait, smiling obscenely.

As Esther comes closer, Francine feels a sensation of lightheadedness overtake her. She stumbles backward, losing her footing on the slippery ground and falling down onto her rump. She looks up at Esther in horror as darkness crowds the corners of her vision. She feels like she’s about to black out.

Esther stops and looks down at the ground next to where Francine fell. She covers her face and lets out a primal scream that devolves into a guttural hiss. Then she turns around and scurries away through the trees.

Francine watches her go in disbelief as her dizziness dissipates. She glances around for what Esther might’ve seen, then spots the locket lying open on the ground. She looks down at it and sees her reflection in the tiny mirror.


“Are you alright, dear? You look a bit peaked.”

The librarian gazes at Francine with bespectacled eyes from where she sits behind the circulation desk. She glances down at the silver locket hanging from Francine’s neck.

“I’m fine, thank you,” Francine says. “Do you keep an archive of past editions of local newspapers?”

“We do,” the librarian says. “How far back in time are you wanting to go?”

“As far as I can.”

“Oh, well in that case you’ll probably need to visit the microfilm room, I’m afraid. Our digital archive only goes back 10 years.”

“That’s fine.”

“Alright, then. Follow me.” The librarian stands up and then starts leading Francine toward the back of the library.

Francine looks around nervously. She sees some high school students studying together at a table, their backpacks propped against their chairs. There’s an older woman scanning a row of cookbooks nearby. A middle-aged man sits at a computer, reading the news. She feels relieved when she doesn’t recognize any of them.

Soon they arrive at a closed metal door. A padlock hangs from metal hinges someone welded to the side of the door and the doorjamb. The lock and hinges look brand new compared to the scuffed-up condition of the door. The librarian reaches into her pocket, producing a large set of keys.

“Teenagers,” she says, shaking her head. “They vandalized our archive a couple months ago, pulling strands of microfilm out of their cases for no reason other than to be destructive. We wouldn’t even have known who did it if our security guard hadn’t caught them in the act. They were fined $1000 each and ordered to do community service. The damage they did to this town’s history, however, is beyond measure.”

“Why not get some cameras and put up some ‘You’re being filmed’ signs?” Francine says.

The librarian smiles. “That’s exactly what I said to the library’s board of directors, but apparently cameras are too expensive. This was the best alternative they could come up with.” She points at the padlock and rolls her eyes. “But don’t worry, dear. The kids only destroyed old business and property records. The newspaper archives should be completely intact.”

Francine gives her a timid smile and says, “Thank you.”

The librarian nods and unlocks the padlock, then opens the door. Inside is a small room lined with metal shelves containing stacks of microfilm cassettes. An old microfilm scanner sits on top of a small wooden table in the middle.

“The news archives are there on the north wall, labeled 100 through 199. The earliest record we have on file is from January 1, 1899, when the town’s first newspaper began publication. Do you know how to use the machine?”

“I think I can figure it out.”

“Ok, just let me know if you need anything.”

The librarian turns and walks back toward the circulation desk. Francine steps into the room and approaches the shelf containing the newspaper archive. The air is noticeably drier here than in the rest of the library, and it smells like sawdust.

She spends the next several hours poring over past newspaper headlines. Her eyes become bloodshot, and her back and rump grow sore from sitting for so long. Her fingers cramp from constantly opening microfilm cassette cases.

Finally, just as she feels herself starting to give up, a small headline on the back page of an issue from 18 years ago catches her eye. It says, “Court Finds Woman Insane After Unexplained Disappearances.” Perking up, she focuses on the article and starts to read it.

“Katie Gillespie, a local transient woman was found not guilty by reason of insanity yesterday in a bizarre case that has baffled investigators from the beginning. Several townspeople, including many of Ms. Gillespie’s close friends and associates, disappeared without a trace over the past several months. No bodies were ever found. Ms. Gillespie was arrested once investigators determined that she was the last individual to see each of the missing persons alive.”

A chill runs down Francine’s spine, and she continues reading.

“Prosecutors had pushed for a second-degree murder conviction against Ms. Gillespie, despite the absence of bodies. The verdict indicates that the jury believes Ms. Gillespie is responsible for the disappearances, but can’t be held criminally liable due to her mental state. Ms. Gillespie has a history of mental illness and spent the majority of her life in jail for various drug charges. She will now spend the rest of her life inside a high-security mental health facility.”

A picture of a woman wearing a prisoner’s uniform appears next to the article. The woman looks into the camera with a blank expression. She has short brown hair and bright green eyes.

Francine stares at the image incredulously. Something about the woman seems so familiar, yet so foreign and far away at the same time.

The article continues. “Against her court-appointed lawyer’s recommendations, Ms. Gillespie took the stand in her own defense. In a tearful entreaty to the jury, she said, ‘I’m being followed by someone who looks like people I know. Why doesn’t it just kill me like it did with all the others?’”

“At one point during the trial, Ms. Gillespie had to be removed from the courtroom. This came after a severe outburst in which she shouted that a person sitting in the back of the courtroom ‘has been dead for 10 years’ and was ‘the thing that did all this.’

“Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before returning their verdict. Ms. Gillespie was subsequently handcuffed and transported to the Bermuda County Mental Hospital to begin receiving treatment.”

Francine looks at the picture once more and into the woman’s bright green eyes. As she does, memories flood her mind from when she was a child.


“Mommy, where’s Katie? She’s my favorite cousin!”

10-year-old Francine sits on the sofa in her aunt’s living room beside her mother. Several of her family members stand nearby with drinks in their hands, making conversation. The smell of cooked turkey wafts through the air.

“At last year’s Thanksgiving,” little Francine says, “Katie took me to the movies. I also got to ride in her car since she just got her driver’s license. It was so much fun! I was hoping we could do something like that again this year!”

Her mother regards her with an unhappy frown, then leans in close and speaks in a hushed whisper. “Oh, sweetie, Katie isn’t here. She had to go away for a while.”

“Where’d she go? When will she be back?”

“I…” Francine’s mother pauses, choking back tears. “She just had to go away for a while. I don’t know when she’ll be back.”

“Well, I hope it’s soon.”

“We all do, sweetie. We all do.”


“Cousin Katie.” Francine whispers. “I can’t believe I forgot about you.”

With renewed vigor, she resumes scanning the headlines. She finds one from a few months after the first that says, “Criminally Insane Woman Escapes Mental Hospital.”

The article says, “Katie Gillespie, a patient at the Bermuda County Mental Hospital, disappeared from her room in the facility’s maximum security wing last night. Authorities have since been unable to locate her.

“The guard assigned to watch her, 28-year-old Jim Cavanaugh, has also disappeared, leading to speculation that he assisted in her escape. According to an anonymous source at the hospital who is not authorized to speak to the press, security personnel discovered a large pile of ash outside Ms. Gillespie’s room. Upon it sat a pair of glasses similar to those worn by Mr. Cavanaugh. Authorities have not determined what, if any, significance this may have in the disappearances.”

Francine’s phone buzzes in her pocket. She doesn’t notice the door opening behind her as she answers it.

“Hello?” she says.

“Francine, it’s Elaine. This is going to sound like a weird question, but… are you following me?”

“Following you? What do you mean?”

“I thought I saw you at the grocery store this morning. Then I saw someone who looked like you a short time later near my office. And just a few minutes hours ago, I thought I saw you in the restaurant where I had lunch. Each time, you were walking toward me with this weird smile on your face, but then you disappeared before I could say anything.”

Francine clutches the locket hanging from her neck. “N-no, that wasn’t me. I don’t know what to tell you. I-I…”

She hears a quiet rustling sound behind her. Cringing, she says, “Elaine, I’ll have to call you back.” Then, she hangs up and slowly turns around. She’s startled to see the librarian hovering over her, smiling ironically.

Francine jolts in fear, then quickly opens the locket, revealing the tiny mirror inside. With a short, high-pitched yelp, she shoves the mirror into the librarian’s face.

The librarian looks down at it for a moment, then says, “Is this your way of telling me that I need to clean my nose, dear?”

Dumbfounded, Francine closes the locket and says, “N-no, I’m s-sorry. I don’t… I don’t know…”

“The library is closing soon,” the librarian says. “I’m afraid you’ll need to pack up. You can come back when we open tomorrow at 10 a.m.”


Francine enters the evidence room inside the police station. In it, there are rows of large metal shelves with various boxes and plastic bags sitting upon them.

She walks along the main aisle and then turns down one of the rows, stopping next to a nondescript cardboard box on one of the shelves. Written in black marker on the side of the box are the words, “Monroe – Code 2501: Criminal Homicide.”

She reaches into the box and pulls out a manila file folder, then opens it and examines its contents. Inside is a small stack of documents held together by several paper clips and plastic clasps. On the top is a police report, signed by “Detective Peter Abernathy.”

Francine recalls how she begged Sepatha to allow her to participate in the investigation into her daughter’s murder with Detective Abernathy. But Sepatha wouldn’t allow it, citing the obvious conflict of interest. Francine knows she shouldn’t even be reading the case file, but continues anyway. She finds that Abernathy’s notes are thorough and objective, noting all the details of her old home, large and small. She braces herself for the description of bullet holes in the front wall and bloodstains on the carpet after they removed Esther’s body. Then, she notices something odd.

In a section detailing the house’s backyard, Abernathy describes a large pile of ash sitting next to a small barbecue grill on the patio. Francine recalls how Marc used to like to cook out whenever possible, and was probably grilling burgers the day their daughter was murdered. Abernathy notes that it seems like too much ash to have accumulated from such a small grill, but then he never mentions it again.

The next part of the report includes a transcript of an interview with the crime’s one eyewitness, Francine’s former next-door neighbor, Ted Early.

“I only caught a glimpse of what happened,” he says. “I was sitting on my front porch, drinking a beer when I saw a beat-up old car roll down the street. It stopped outside of Francine’s house, but I didn’t think anything of it. Then I heard what sounded like a car backfiring. Not unusual at all. But then I heard it again and again and again, and I realized the sounds were gunshots. I ducked for cover and the car sped away. Then I ran inside and called the police.”

Abernathy asks who the person in the car was shooting at. Early says, “It’s the damnedest thing, but I could’ve sworn it was my cousin, Phillip. I saw someone walk out of Francine’s house through her front door right before the shooting started, and it looked exactly like him.

“But it couldn’t have been him. Phillip lives on the other side of the country. And, as a matter of fact, I’d just gotten into an argument with him that morning over the phone. I know he was at home because he only has a landline.

“I was thinking about how mad I was at him when I looked up and saw him in front of Francine’s house at that exact moment! Then the shots rang out. I hit the deck and didn’t see anything else after that.

“I called Phillip right after I called the police. He answered, and I said, ‘Were you just standing outside of my neighbor’s house?’ and he goes, ‘Are you fucking crazy, asshole?’ Then he hung up on me.”

Francine turns the page to look at the next document. The words “Suspect Criminal History Report – Jack Thompson, II” appear at the top.

In a mugshot paper-clipped to the report, a man stares at the camera with a look of dejected contempt. Crude tattoos of various indiscernible shapes cover his neck. His criminal history is voluminous and with a variety of phrases, many of which include the words “Aggravated,” “Assault,” and “Deadly.”

Francine looks at his picture, recognizing him as the man charged with murdering her daughter. She remembers staring at him at the trial like she wanted to kill him, and how he looked back at her like he couldn’t care less. She feels a surge of anger rise within her, but tries to stay focused.

She turns the page. The next document is a court record from the trial. It says, “Mr. Jack Thompson, II, hereby known as inmate #0110365, has pled GUILTY to the charges of ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY WEAPON and NEGLIGENT HOMICIDE. He is sentenced to 20 YEARS in the federal penitentiary system. He will be sent to the Bermuda County Penitentiary to serve out his sentence.” Francine closes the manila folder and places it back inside the box.

Back out in the hallway, she sees Sepatha walking towards her. “Detective Monroe, could I have a word with you?

“Y-yes, of course,” Francine says.

“Have you heard about the situation with my estranged husband, Fernando?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“I was working late a couple nights ago when he called me at my office to harass me. Then, as I was leaving, I saw him in the parking lot. He chased me and I sprayed him with mace before jumping into my car and getting away. He has since been arrested, and I’ve taken a restraining order out on him as well. I intend to press charges against him for stalking. I’m telling everyone in the department so you’re all in the loop.”

Francine shakes her head. “He’d have to be pretty crazy to attack the chief of police, especially in a police station parking lot.”

“Definitely,” Sepatha says. “I knew he was bad, but I never realized how deranged he could be. He didn’t even flinch when I maced him. He just kept walking towards me with this creepy smile on his face like he… like he…”

“Knew something horrible?” Francine says.

“Exactly.”

Francine shudders. “That’s so creepy, Chief. I’ll be sure to keep my eye out for anything suspicious.”

“Please do.”

As Francine starts to walk away, Sepatha says, “Oh, Francine?”

Francine turns back to look at her.

“Have you heard anything from Trooper Magnuson?”

Francine shakes her head. “Why do you ask?”

“He didn’t report in for duty a few days ago, and his wife filed a missing person’s report for him yesterday. Nobody knows where he is.”


Francine fidgets uncomfortably as she sits in the hard, plastic chair. She leans forward onto the cold metal shelf sticking out from the wall and starts tapping her foot, rapidly. There’s a window above the shelf with thin wires running through the middle of the glass, creating a fence-like diamond pattern.

A buzzing sound comes from somewhere on the other side of the window. Francine braces herself.

A moment later, a man wearing an orange prisoner’s uniform walks up to the window and sits down at a chair in front of it. Francine recognizes the tattoos covering his neck and sees that he has a few new ones as well. He leans forward onto the metal shelf in front of him, staring at her through the diamonds in the glass. He has a blank expression with hooded eyes, like he couldn’t be less impressed. Francine looks at him as she reaches for the telephone attached to the wall beside her. He reaches for the phone on his side as well.

Francine says, “Do you know who I am… Jack?”

“Fuck yeah I know who you are, bitch,” he says, sneering. “You’re the lady whose daughter I killed. I remember you staring at me in the courtroom like you wanted to kill me. You still wanna kill me, bitch? Well, take a good look, ‘cause this is as close as you’re ever gonna get. Prisons keep people in, but they also keep people out, nah mean? I’m never leaving this place, I already know. I’m gonna die in here, so you’ll never get to kill me yourself. I guess that sucks for you, huh?

“What, did you come to threaten me or try and make me feel bad? Well, forget about it. I don’t give a shit about you or your little girl. You want me to apologize? Well I ain’t gonna do that either. I didn’t mean to kill her. I shouldn’t even be here!”

A surly prison guard appears behind him. “Quiet down over here!” he says. Jack winces and looks over his shoulder at the guard, nodding. Then he looks back and glares at Francine. In a low, hoarse whisper, he says, “Fuck you.”

Francine takes a deep breath. “Jack, I believe you. I already know what happened that day. I know you didn’t mean to kill Esther and I forgive you for that.”

Jack’s face registers complete surprise. His lower lip quivers slightly, and a wet sheen envelopes his eyes, but only for a moment.

Francine continues. “I’m here to ask you a question about what happened that day, and I’m begging you to be honest with me.”

Jack looks down as if in thought, then gives her a curt nod.

“You said during your confession that you were shooting at the house itself, not at anyone one in particular. You said it was because you thought someone you hated lived there. But a witness said they saw someone standing in my front yard and it looked like you were shooting at them, specifically. Who was it?”

Jack lets out a frustrated sigh and shakes his head. He looks down for a moment, then looks back up at Francine, meeting her gaze. “I don’t suppose there’s any point in hiding it from you. It doesn’t matter if you think I’m crazy.”

He pauses for a moment to gather his thoughts, then continues.

“When I said I thought someone I hated lived there, I lied. The truth is, I was just driving by and happened to see this little shit I know named Kevin walking out of your house. That motherfucker killed my best friend, Paul during a drug deal the week before. He just straight up shot him in the face and then ran away like a little bitch.

“I’d been looking for Kevin everywhere after that, and when I thought I saw him walk out of that house… your house, I couldn’t believe my luck! I grabbed my gun, pointed it at him, and pulled the trigger until my clip was empty.”

He opens his mouth, then pauses, as if debating with himself about whether to say something else.

“Ah-ah-as I sped away, I looked into my rearview mirror, hoping to see the motherfucker lying dead on the ground. Instead, I saw that he was still standing there, staring in my direction. But it wasn’t Kevin anymore it was… it was…”

Jack squeezes his eyes shut and shudders. His demeanor as a hardened criminal melts away, and in this moment he more closely resembles a scared little boy.

“It was Paul! I’d just shot at Paul, thinking it was Kevin. But that’s not possible because Kevin… killed… Paul. Kevin killed Paul. God damn it, Kevin killed Paul!”

The guard reappears and slams his hand down onto Jack’s shoulder. “Ok, time’s up. You’re done,” he says.

Jack swings his elbow up, knocking the guard’s hand away. “Get your fucking hands off of me!”

The guard puts him in a chokehold and drags him out of his chair while Francine watches through the window, horrified. Jack gags as two other guards rush up and pin him down, forcing his hands into handcuffs. Then, all three lift him up and begin carrying him out of the room. One of the guards says, “You just earned a week in solitary, Thompson!”


“I’m so sorry for how I treated you, Elaine. I… I was just scared.”

Francine stands outside Elaine’s apartment, hunched over with a remorseful look on her face.

Elaine leans against the doorjamb with her arms crossed. She looks Francine up and down, at her wrinkled clothes, her tired face, and her stringy, greasy hair. “You look like shit,” she says.

“I know, and I feel like it, too.”

Elaine opens her arms wide, and Francine moves in close. They embrace.

A few minutes later, they’re sitting at Elaine’s kitchen table, sipping coffee. Elaine says, “So, you really believe a creature that can make itself look like people you know is following you around?”

“Yes,” Francine says. “And it’s stalking people I know as well, appearing to them as people whom they know. It appeared to my boss as her estranged husband one night, and it made itself look like a girl’s ex-friend before it killed her little brother. And that day you thought you saw me following you around? It was the creature. It had to be.”

Elaine looks down at her coffee, gazing at her reflection in its murky opaqueness, saying nothing.

Francine continues. “I think it attacked my cousin Katie a long time ago. It did the same thing to her that it’s doing to me now.”

“But why you, and why her? What does it want?”

Francine shakes her head as she looks out the window. “I don’t know. But I think it somehow feeds off of emotional energy. Interpersonal conflict attracts the creature like the smell of food in the air.”

“Or, in a shark’s case, like the smell of blood in the water.”

Francine nods and says, “It has to get physically close to you to consume your energy. To do this, it somehow makes itself look like someone you know, presumably so that you’ll let it approach. Once it finishes, the only thing left is a big pile of ash.

“But, I don’t think it can distinguish whether you’d want to engage with the person or not, nor the strength of your relationship with them. It could look like your best friend, your worst enemy, or your newest acquaintance. I also think that it’s always nearby, somewhere close to where I am.”

Elaine lets out an exasperated sigh and shudders. “But what can we do?”

“I don’t know,” Francine says. “I shot it several times, but there was no effect. If bullets don’t hurt it, then I doubt any other kind of physical damage we could inflict upon it would, either.”

A despondent silence overtakes them. Looking outside, they see tiny snowflakes floating down from the grey, overcast sky. Elaine glances at the locket hanging from Francine’s neck. “What’s that?” she says. “I’ve never seen you wearing it before.”

Francine looks down at the locket and puts her hand around it. “I found at the scene of where the creature killed someone. Inside it is a… tiny mirror.”

Francine jerks her head up, opening her eyes wide. “You just gave me an idea!”


“Can I help you ladies with anything?”

The portly shopkeeper regards Francine and Elaine with a friendly smile. The bell on the door above them jingles as they enter the store. On the walls all around them are mirrors of various sizes and shapes, casting infinite reflections in all directions. Some have elaborate, decorative frames while others have ones that are simple and basic. Fluorescent bulbs line the ceiling, filling the store with light. Big windows stretch across the storefront, showing stars twinkling in the night sky outside. Etched onto one of the windows in whimsical lettering are the words, “Ernie’s Glass and Mirrors.”

Elaine smiles at him and says, “We’re just looking.”

“Alright, well we close in 15 minutes, so just let me know if you need anything.”

“We will.”

Francine watches as the man walks over to another part of the store. When he’s out of earshot, she says, “There’s nobody else here right now, so I think we’re good to go.”

“Are you sure this is going to work?” Elaine says. “I don’t want to risk going to jail for nothing.”

“As sure as I can be,” Francine says. “Ready?”

“Ready.”

Elaine stands in front of Francine, and then they both close their eyes and take big, deep breaths.

Francine recalls the worst memories of her relationship with her husband, all of which had something to do with his drinking. She thinks about how he’d get drunk and become aggressive, yelling at her and saying awful, mean-spirited things. It makes her angry to think about, and she feels her heart rate increase. In that moment, she wants nothing more than for her husband to be there just so she could slap him in the face.

Elaine thinks about her feelings of hatred for her father and how he used to beat her mother. One day, he hit her so hard that he knocked her out, but then she didn’t wake up. She lingered in a coma for several weeks before finally passing on. The scars of the tragedy remained inside Elaine’s mind long after the police arrested her father and sent him to prison. Now, she imagines those scars as long, jagged blades she holds in her hands, ready to cut anyone who threatens someone she loves.

Francine and Elaine open their eyes and look at each other at the same time. They’re both breathing heavily and boiling with rage. “Do it,” Francine says, growling.

Elaine slaps Francine as hard as she can. The impact emits a loud, fleshy “Whap!” sound that resonates throughout the store. Francine puts her hand up to her face, then hauls back and punches Elaine in the stomach. Elaine grunts and doubles over, gasping for air.

“Ladies! Ladies!” The shopkeeper says, running up to them. “Stop that right now! Come on, break it up!”

“Stay out of this,” Francine says. She pulls her gun out from under her overcoat, then points it at the ceiling and fires three times. Terrified, the man puts his hands over his head and runs through the front door. The bell jingles as he makes his escape.

“Ok, I think we’re alone,” Francine says. She rubs the red, hand-shaped welt on her face.

Elaine wheezes, smiling as she struggles to catch her breath. “Damn, I didn’t expect you to hit me that hard.” She takes a couple more breaths and says, “Do you think it heard us? Do you think it’ll come here?”

“I hope so. If not, I don’t know what else to do. Now quick, turn out the lights!”

Elaine scurries over to a doorway leading to the store’s back room. There, she finds an electrical panel with several light switches. She presses them down all at once, and all the lights in the store turn off. Then she kneels down in the darkness, her heart pounding inside her chest. She squeezes her eyes shut and starts to pray while Francine stands in the middle of the darkened store, waiting.

They remain there for what seems like hours. Francine considers giving up and telling Elaine they should leave before the cops arrive. But then they hear something. It’s the sound of the bell above the door, jingling.

Francine then hears the soft scraping sound of shuffling footsteps slowly coming closer and closer. She can make out the shape of a person in the darkness, though she can’t see who it is. As it approaches, she feels more and more weak and lightheaded. Her legs tremble under her weight, and she feels as though she might pass out.

“Elaine, now!” she says.

Elaine stands up and flips all the switches on, filling the store with light.

Francine steps back and gasps at what she sees. Elaine stands in front of her, staring at her with an ironic smile. Francine struggles to comprehend how this could be possible, but then quickly realizes that it’s not Elaine at all.

The Elaine-thing starts to take another step toward her, but then it stops and looks around. It sees its reflection in the mirrors, and its smile turns into a hideous frown.

It starts whirling around and around, looking at itself in all the mirrors, apparently horrified at what it sees. Then it lets out a terrible, inhuman wail. Francine covers her ears, watching the creature with a look of abject terror.

The wailing intensifies, becoming louder and louder, assailing Francine’s eardrums. The creature’s skin and clothes bubble together as though they’re made of the same boiling flesh. Its appearance changes from that of Elaine to Sepatha, then Sepatha to Marc, then Marc to Esther. It then briefly appears as Trooper Magnuson before changing into other people Elaine knows. She recognizes old friends and acquaintances, people she hasn’t thought about in years. Each one of them someone with whom she had some kind of petty conflict. It even briefly appears as her elderly babysitter from when she was a child, whom she resented for sending her to bed earlier than she liked.

Finally, the creature’s wailing reaches a crescendo. It unleashes a wave of energy that smashes all the mirrors and lightbulbs at once. The store plunges back into darkness as the tinkling sound of shattering glass fills the air. Then, silence.

Francine feels her strength return and she no longer feels lightheaded. She strains to listen and is surprised to hear the sound of shallow breathing in front of her. Pulling her lighter out of her pocket, she flicks it on.

In the soft light of the tiny flame, she sees a naked woman with short brown hair kneeling before her. The woman looks up at her with bright green eyes.

“Katie?” Francine says. “Is that you?”

“Y-yes, Francine, it’s me. I’m… I’m so sorry about everything that happened.” Katie coughs. “The thing, whatever it was, started following me shortly after our grandmother Rose disappeared. This is when I was a teenager and you were a small child. You probably don’t even remember that, do you?”

Francine shakes her head.

Katie nods and says, “Rose disappeared after claiming for weeks that something was following her, something that could make itself look like people she knew. Everyone thought she was just a crazy old lady. But then, one day, her daughter, my mother, your aunt, found her bedroom empty. Rose was gone, with only a big pile of ash sitting next to her bed. I heard all of this from my mom, who swore me to secrecy.

“After that, it seemed like everywhere I went, I saw someone I knew, walking toward me with this hideous smile on their face. But I knew right away that it wasn’t them, not really. It was this thing that got Rose, and now it was coming after me!

“My friends and acquaintances started disappearing, killed by this thing, this creature. I was blamed for it, but I never really knew what was happening until it finally came to claim me once and for all. In that moment, I saw that it was Rose! The creature had taken over her mind and body, forcing her to stalk and kill people against her will.

“Then, it took me over too, controlling me, forcing me to do what it wanted. And it made me hungry; an insatiable hunger for raw emotion that I could never satisfy. It was torture.

“You have to help me end the cycle, Francine. I believe we can do this together as a team, just like when we were kids. Will you do it? Will you help me?”

Katie holds out her hand as she looks up at Francine with pleading eyes. Her voice breaks as she says, “Please?”

Francine reaches out to her, but then hesitates. She looks into Katie’s eyes as if searching for her soul. Then, after pausing for a moment, she grasps Katie’s hand. The flame from her lighter goes out, covering them in darkness. Francine lets out a pained gasp, and the sound turns into a fizzling, crackling noise.

“Francine?” Elaine says. “Are you alright? I found a flashlight back here next to the electrical box.”

Elaine steps out of the back room and clicks the flashlight on. A beam of light shoots out from the lens, piercing the darkness. The mirror shards littering the ground reflect the light everywhere like a deconstructed disco ball.

In the fragmented glow, Elaine sees Francine standing in the middle of the room next to a large pile of ash.

“Francine!” Elaine says, shining the light at her. “Did it work? Did we stop the creature?”

Francine says nothing as she gazes at Elaine with an ironic smile on her face. Then she starts slowly shuffling toward her.

Elaine begins to feel lightheaded and weak. Before she can escape, her legs buckle and she collapses to the ground. Unable to resist, she succumbs to the pull of sleep.