Tommy kept the Christmas tree up several months after the holiday season was over; he thought it made a good nightlight in the living room when the overhead lamp was too much. The soft cozy glow it gave off felt homie. It made it a lot easier to cope with the multiple stab wounds he would puncture into the body of his victims. He just had to find a way to deal with the screams. Stuffing a sock in their mouths did well to muffle the pitch and make it hard for any neighbors to hear them cry out in agony. But, it didn’t stop their shrills from putting him on edge. So, he decided to start playing Bing Crosby albums as loud as he could while he flayed their skin from the bone. Bing’s deep, smooth voice wound its way through his soul, putting him at ease as he cast both sharp and dull objects down into the fragile flesh of his prey. The effect the crooner’s golden tone had on his spirit made his arms move without hesitation, as if they were wings guided by the breeze. Each cut, each carving, each beautifully barbaric strike burst through the bodies like they were water. Often, he watched their glassy eyes swiveling wildly in their blood-soaked faces, and felt comforted by the reflection of the blinking Christmas lights dancing in their watering eyes. Once the life drained away, there was a slight sense of serenity in those dead eyes: a calm beauty, like they had finally gone home and he had been the courageous carrier to convey them there. It was almost heroic.
Ellie was roused by the sound of shattering glass around 2AM. She jumped out of bed and moved swiftly to the window. Greg lifted his head and rolled over to watch her.
“What’s going on?”
“I heard something outside.” She looked down on the lot and saw something moving by their little white Camry. “I think there’s someone by the car,” she said.
Greg shot out of bed and joined Ellie at the window. The front window on the driver’s side was already busted; he saw someone dressed in black swing something long and slender towards the back window, causing the glass to explode in a sparkling puff on impact.
“Son of a bitch!” Greg said and pushed their bedroom window up. “Hey! Asshole!”
The dark figure, with the bill of its ball cap pulled low over its face, looked up and gave them the finger, then moved around to the passenger’s side and smashed the back window in two shots.
“You bastard!” Greg yelled and ran from the bedroom.
Ellie turned and said, “Greg? What are you doing?”
She heard him stomp rapidly down the steps, then open the closet door beneath the stairs. He snatched out an old aluminum softball bat he played with when he was a teenager. He was never a very good swing–most balls he hit ended up skidding along the grass–and he had never used the bat as a weapon; he hadn’t even used it in years, but he had always kept it for the memories and possible protection if needed. Tonight, it was coming out of retirement because he was ready to pulverize the asshole outside smashing up his car.
The next thing Ellie heard was the front door open and slam shut. The perpetrator had already fled when Greg started down the steps. But, that didn’t stop her husband from bolting out into the night in pursuit of someone who had retreated into the shadows.
“Greg! Get back in here!” she yelled from the window.
He stopped and looked around, then looked up at her and asked, “Where is he?”
“I don’t know! He took off when you came downstairs.”
“Which way did he go?”
“Towards the main buildings; he’s probably hiding in an alley. Get in here before you get hurt!”
“Screw that. I’m going to find this bastard.”
Greg ran back in, got his keys, and ran back out. He got in his car, tossed the bat into the passenger’s seat and took off with Ellie yelling after him. After he was gone, she rushed downstairs to make sure the door was locked. Greg had locked the knob before closing the door, but the deadbolt was still unlocked, so she turned it tight until it clicked. Then she leaned against the door and prayed her husband would come to his senses before either getting arrested or getting killed. He was pretty easygoing until his temper boiled over. When that happened, Greg could be pretty hotheaded and irrational.
Greg zoomed to the left, towards the main buildings. He slowed going down the street so he could peer out towards the alleyways. Most of them were grassy and littered with trashcans, bicycles, toy scooters and other forms of various junk. A few were concrete with other items jamming them up. He stopped when he saw a figure walking through one of them. When it emerged into the light, Greg saw it wasn’t the man who had busted out his windows. The man from the alley was too thick and he was dark. The skin on the window-breaker looked to have been light-colored in the minute glimpses he could see on the wrists, chin and neck.
“Excuse me, sir,” he called to the man.
The man stopped, looked at him, and then continued on without a word.
“Hey, I was wondering if you saw anyone walking through here.”
The man never acknowledged Greg, he just walked on.
Greg swore and drove away. People around there weren’t too talkative. He had learned that. They sure didn’t mind staring you down as if you were mutating right in front of them, but a simple word was far too much to ask. The shadiness of the tenants was really starting to get on his nerves.
Greg didn’t really know what he was going to do if he actually found the perpetrator. The ebbing flow of his rage was draining his adrenaline and whatever violent ideas had possessed him moments ago were starting to look like foolish teenage angst. Nonetheless, he at least wanted to see if he could get a better look at the attacker, even if looking was all that he planned to do.
Back in unit three, Ellie was resting on a chair downstairs when she heard the doorknob rattle in the kitchen. The sound was soft at first, but soon began to sound more furious until its clicking got so loud and fast that she was afraid the knob would break off. She stood up, feeling nerves tingle up and down her body, and went into the kitchen. When she saw the knob turning furiously, she stopped in the doorway and yelled, “Hey!” The knob stopped twisting and she saw an elongated shadow of someone’s head in the glow of the streetlights beyond the blinds. “Whoever’s there, you’d better leave, or else!”
The shadow moved and was gone. She crept to the door and chanced a peek out of the blinds. The porch light was off and she saw nothing. Afraid that the prowler was hiding back in the shadows, she flicked the light on to deter him. As soon as the back patio lit up, she saw a figure standing just a few feet from the concrete. He rushed the door instantly, causing her to jump back. The reaction was a reflex and she never let go of the cord to the blinds. They fell right off the door, exposing the entire lighted kitchen to the man outside. Quickly, she leaned towards the door and hit the switch to the interior light, putting herself in darkness. Trying to avoid looking at his face in such close proximity, she took a few steps back and raised her eyes. She felt her body freeze in place as the man stood just inches from the glass, facing her, the cap low on his face, covering his eyes, with a black bandana now tied around the rest of his face. The material of the hat looked thin and seemed to have a bunch of tiny holes in it, which must have been how he was able to see her.
She wanted to run from the room screaming and call the police. But, she couldn’t move. For an instant, she wasn’t sure if she was watching a movie or if this was reality. Sure, a lot of things had been happening; they had animal blood smeared on their door and had gotten some pretty disturbing calls, but she had yet to look the caller in the face. Now, he was before her–or so she assumed it was him–and it could very well be the face of the man who made Ms. Peabody disappear. It could very well be the face of the Strangling Butcher.
The stranger lifted his arm and tapped the glass with a black-gloved finger. She stepped back further. Another gloved hand rose up, wielding a crowbar, and waved. When he tapped the crowbar on the window, Ellie had already backed up to the kitchen doorway. The man then pulled the crowbar back and slammed it forward, shattering the glass. Without hesitation, Ellie ran back upstairs and locked the bedroom door. She then fell to her knees and crawled across the room to the window. When she peeked out, she saw nothing. Then, she realized that she was on the wrong side of the building. If she were to see whoever was outside, she’d have to go into the spare bedroom. But, she was too frightened to move from the room and cross the hallway. Her room was now her sanctuary and she dared not depart from it.
She stopped breathing so she could listen for any noise in the unit. She heard nothing–all was quiet. But, he could be out there, waiting for her to feel secure enough to wander from her hiding spot, then he’d get her and do all those horrible things to her that had been done to those other women and, in a few days, someone would find her butchered body lying in the gutter.
She hoped Greg was okay, even though at this point she was not too happy with him for leaving her there. He had fallen for the maniac’s trick and now she was trapped inside with him. But, she couldn’t help herself from being gripped by the cold dread that the man at her back door had already gotten to Greg.
“Come on, Greg,” she whispered. “He’s not out there.”