Eight Little Coffins

March 26, 2009
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He came out of the nightmare with the unnerving feeling of being watched. He quickly sat up in bed to look around and saw that the curtains were slightly moving. Getting up to shut the window, he realized that he had goose bumps, and that the window wasn’t open. It was mid-summer in Galveston Texas; not exactly goose bump producing weather, but this was no ordinary cold. Keith Rutlegger knew this cold; it was the cold that often announced the presence of someone no longer on this plane. Soothed by that knowledge, he fell back asleep, and plunged into his reoccurring nightmare.
The next morning while making coffee, Detective Mike Callahan’s phone rang. “Not this early,” he groaned. He picked it up and the familiar voice of the police departments’, not so public medium, and long time friend, Keith Rutlegger came over the line. “I had the dream again Mike, same one for the past week and last night, I felt her there, he got her too.” Mike and Keith had been best-friends since grade school, but it always creped him out the way Keith could talk about ghosts the way some people talked about baseball.
“Are you sure Keith?” Mike asked.
“Positive Mike,” he answered gruffly. He didn’t like having his “gift”, as his grandmother jokingly called it doubted, he’d never once been wrong.
“Ok,” Mike wearily said, “come on over then.”
When they hung up Keith got the feeling of being watched again. He turned around just in time to see the beautiful face, twisted in anguish disappear. Bella Shreckler, the latest in the line of disappearances in Galveston, and now the latest victim of the Coffin killer. He raked a frustrated hand through his copper brown hair and looked into the mirror to finish shaving. His tired green eyes stared back at him as he vowed to the spot where Bella’s image had just vanished, “I’ll find him.”
Keith got to Mike’s and hour later and let himself in. “Mike, I’m here!” he yelled, announcing his presence. He felt the cold whoosh of air just as Mike stepped into the room.
“She’s here isn’t she?” Mike asked, “you got that distant look in your eyes, the one you always get when you go all creepy on me.” Keith sighed, coming out of his ‘vision’ and looked at his best friend. Mike looked haggard these days. His usually tan face had a grayish pallor to it and his deep brown eyes were troubled with dark circles under them. “You look like crap man,” he told Mike.
Mike gave him a pointed stare and said, “It’s this case, I just can’t get if out of my head, we should have him by now, there has to be something we’re missing.” Just then Mikes’ phone rang, “Looks like they found your girl Keith,” he said as he answered his phone.
“I figured they would,” Keith replied, “it’s happened like this every other time I’ve seen one of the missing girls.”
Mike hung up his phone and confirmed that it was Bella Shreckler’s body that had been found. The caretaker of “Peace Ever After” cemetery noticed the fresh grave and called the police. Acknowledging the need for a speedy recovery of the body, they both stood up to walk outside and climb into Mikes’ cruiser. “Try no to be so freaky this time,” Mike said jokingly, “the last time I brought you, you gave the deputies ‘heebie jeebies’.” Keith’s only response was a wry twist of his lips.
“Gabriel!” Lisa Swan called upstairs for her son. “Coming Mom!”
“You’d think you wouldn’t want go to school,” Lisa said, making a face as her young son’s choice of attire, as he came bounding down the stairs.
“Sorry mom, Bella wouldn’t stop talking.”
“Bella again huh, and what did she have to say this time?”
“You know, same old same old, except this time she said she found a man to help her.”
“Oh yea?” Lisa arched he brow, “and what’s this supposed man look like?”
“Well she said he was real tall,” Gabriel began, face scrunching in memory, “and that he’s got pretty brown hair and bright green eyes, and she also said he cute or something.”
Lisa just shook her head at her son’s imagination. As always astounded with how vivid his details were. “So what happened to Mary,” she asked Gabriel, who was his last make-believe friend.
“She found someone else to help her, so she didn’t need me anymore,” he stated simply. Exasperated Lisa said, “Ok no more talk about Bella and Mary sweetie, the bus is here so looks like its school for you.”
“Alright mom,” he said as he kissed her cheek, “see you later.”
Lisa watched him get on the bus and turned to her new living room, and looked around. She gave a contented sigh and went over the un-pack the last couple of boxes. As she was unpacking, Lisa thought about the past two weeks in her and Gabriel’s new home. He seemed to be adjusting well, but she couldn’t say she liked his choice of make-believe friends. He kept having girls for his friends, and it just proved how much he was growing up. “Taking an interest already,” she complained to herself.
A box a few feet away tumbled loudly to the ground. Lisa spun around to look and pressed a hand to her furiously beating heart. That’s another thing she thought, I’m always hearing noises, footsteps creaking on the old stairs, the whisper of someone walking across the hardwood. She supposed she was just being jumpy because of what the pressed had deemed the,’ Coffin Murders.’ Any sane woman would, the whole thing was terrifying. Young beautiful women being knocked out and kidnapped, only to be found buried in coffins. The worst part was, they had been alive when they were put in the coffins. She shuddered delicately.
Finally finished with the boxes Lisa went to go into the kitchen, and paused when she saw the time on the clock. “3:15!” she cried, “Gabriel will be home any minute.” Forgetting about whatever she was going to do in the kitchen, Lisa turned to run upstairs when she caught something flash in the mirror. Heart pumping double time, she stopped to look at the mirror but saw nothing. “There goes my imagination again,” she said mocking herself.
Just then the doorbell rang and her almost calm heart started up again. She cautiously went to get the door. When she opened it, all she saw was two dark figures looming in the doorway, she felt the scream build in her throat.
“Lisa Swan,” one of the figures said authoritatively, “I’m Detective Mike Callahan, and this is my partner Keith Rutlegger, may we come in?” The figure on the right shifted and sun pierced through their hulking figures. Lisa could make out the badge in the Detectives hand and invited the two men in. She felt silly for reacting that way and heat bloomed in her cheeks. “Of course,” she said her voice shaky.
“Have a seat please, is there anything I can get you?”
“No thank you,” they said in unison as they took seats on the couch.
“Ok then, well what can I help you with?”
“Well Mrs. Swan,” Mike began. She cleared her throat, “It’s no longer Mrs., detective, please just call me Lisa.”
“Ok Lisa, I’ll be forthright with you then,” he said looking a bit abashed, “I assume you have heard about the so called ‘Coffin Killer’?” She just looked at him expectantly waiting for him to continue.
“Well we have reason to believe that you may be his next target.”
Lisa just stared at the two men dumbfounded. Keith, who had been quiet throughout the first part of the interview, seemed to be looking inward, and Mike was just staring at her with his solemn brown eyes waiting for her to compose herself.
She cleared her throat trying to stay calm, “Ok supposing this might actually be true.”
Keith cut her off, “It’s very true Ms. Swan.”
“It’s not possible though we just moved here!” she replied a bit hysterically, forgetting any attempt to stay calm.
Keith looked at her then, and stared directly into her eyes, enunciating each word, “You are in danger Lisa, we would not tell you this if we were not absolutely positive.”

Lisa took a breath to reply when she heard the chatter of her nine year old as he came up the front sidewalk. “What are you talking about?” she heard him ask. He came into the house and him and Keith Rutlegger both froze.

Keith recovered first, “You must be Gabriel.” It was more a statement than a question. Her son nodded, “You must be the one she was talking about.” Both pairs of eyes darted to a spot right next to Gabriel, looking as if for confirmation.

“Lisa, I need to talk to your son please,” Keith told her as followed Gabriel into the kitchen.

“What in the world was that about?” Lisa asked of no one in particular.
“Well Lisa, you’ll just have to ask them about it, it’s completely normal though, I assure you,” Mike told her.

Lisa and Mike went into the kitchen and overheard Gabriel exclaim, “You see them too don’t you!” Keith was calmly nodding although it didn’t seem like he was even looking at Gabriel. Lisa, contemplating the crazy man at her kitchen table, didn’t hear her son say, “It’s him mommy, it’s him I told you Bella said he would come.”

“Oh enough of that Bella nonsense, this is not the time for your imaginary friends,” Lisa said sharply, she’d had a rough day and she just didn’t have time for her son’s fanciful imaginings.

Keith looked at Lisa then with his assessing green eyes. Definitely beautiful enough he thought, with the peaches and cream skin, shining brown hair, and luminous gray eyes. Eyes completely identical to her little boys’ eyes, eyes that were at the moment were full of annoyance and just a little fear. Yep, he thought wryly, she had grade ‘A’ victim written all over her pretty face.
While Keith was appraising Lisa, she had stopped talking with Gabriel and was boldly staring back. What is it about him that seems so familiar to me she asked herself, and that’s when it hit her. Gabriel’s description of ‘the man’ that was going to help Bella this morning. He was certainly tall, and there was no mistaking the compassion in his bright green eyes, or his reddish brown hair. Her overworked heart started pounding again, how could Gabriel have known? An idea was forming in the back of her mind, but it was completely ludicrous.
“Lisa?” Keith’s gruff voice interrupted her thoughts, “you might want to sit down for what I’m about to tell you.”

She sat down obediently, grateful for the water Mike handed her. Her throat was suddenly bone dry.
“Well you see,” Keith began, “Gabriel and I share a gift, the same gift that let me know you were in danger,” he watched her face for a reaction, when he only saw confusion in her storm cloud eyes, he continued. “We see the well, the recently deceased.”

“You see what?” Lisa sputtered, choking on her water.
Keith then went on to explain how Bella’s ghost led him here and how he knew about Gabriel from her. He told her how Gabriel’s ‘friends’ Mary, and Bella, were actually Mary Peck and Bella Shreckler, the Coffin Killer’s latest victims.

“I can see your unconvinced Lisa, but Gabriel’s descriptions fit with the girls, and he knew I was coming because Bella told him.”

“Mommy look,” Gabriel pointed as he took her hand. Lisa saw a faint outline of what looked like a young woman standing no more than three feet away. She felt more than saw the grimace of pain cross over the woman’s face, and dropped Gabriel’s hand in shock.

She looked at Mike and Keith. Mike’s eyes were curious and concerned. Then she looked at Keith. His intelligent green eyes were boring into hers, willing her to believe him. The truth was, she already did. She looked back at Mike when he shifted to his other foot. “I know it’s hard to believe Lisa, but just trust me, Keith knows what he’s talking about, this is legit and your life could depend on whether or not you believe us.

She looked at her son and realized he was looking at the spot where she had seen, well, Bella. She sighed, knowing she was going along with this crazy story. “Ok so what are we going to do now?”

“Well now, me and Keith need to go down to the station so I can write my report, we just wanted to make sure you would believe us. There’s no reason to think the killer will attack tonight. It’s too early, and if anything happens I’ll be parked in my cruiser out front as soon as I’m done at the station.”

Lisa slowly nodded, finally understanding that a killer was after her. She shuddered. “We’ll be back tomorrow morning though,” Keith said with a reassuring smile. A few minutes later Mike and Keith left Lisa’s house with the warning to lock up.

“She’s going to be ok,’ Mike assured Keith.
“I hope so,” Keith replied eyes staring unfocused into the evening gloom. They got into Mike’s cruiser and drove away.

Later that night Lisa was just dozing off when her eyes snapped open. She hadn’t heard anything, but then why was her heart beating so fast. She was just about to lay back down when she heard the crunch of footsteps on broken glass. It was coming from the kitchen. She stepped off the bed, and tiptoed quietly out of her room. She froze breathlessly when the floorboards creaked beneath her feet.

Whoever was downstairs froze too, but then started walking again, they were heading for the stairs. Lisa made it into Gabriel’s room, directly across the hall from hers, when the bottom step groaned ominously.

Keith jolted awake. Bella was standing in his room frantically gesturing and trying to speak. He cleared the sleep form his head and concentrated on figuring out what she was saying. “Gabriel” and “next” was all he made out when he leapt out of bed to pull on his jeans. He grabbed his phone to call Mike as he was leaving. Mike answered on the first ring. “Mike where are you?” Keith asked hurriedly.

“Just heading over to Lisa’s house why?”
“Well you need to get there, she’s in trouble.” Keith got into his car and sped to Lisa’s, “I just hope I’m not to late,” he said to Bella, who was now in his backseat, her beautiful translucent face pinched in concentration.

Lisa quietly shut her sons’ door and shook him awake. Gabriel opened his eyes and she motioned for him to be quiet. He looked at her with eyes too old for his little face as she had him get in the closet and closed the door. She picked up the baseball bat that was lying on the floor as she heard the footsteps get closer and then fade away.

The door to her room swung open, on the rusty hinges that she hadn’t yet fixed, and made an eerie noise. Her palms started to sweat as she heard him go in, and she forced herself to calm down and breathe evenly as she heard him leave her room and start towards Gabriel’s. He paused outside of the room. She was breathing erratically and could hear nothing but her blood pulsing in her ears as the door slowly opened. She tightened her grip on the bat and swung as hard as she could.

Mike was just getting out of the cruiser when Keith’s suburban screeched to a halt in the road. He jumped out and ran towards the house. Mike followed him. He saw the broken glass and rushed inside. He caught Keith’s outline stealthily moving up the stairs. Mike caught up with him and that’s when he first heard it, the unnatural silence.

They came upon Gabriel’s room first, and then saw the two bodies lying motionless on the floor. Gabriel flew out of the closet, words tumbling out of his mouth. Mike listened as Keith went to Lisa to check her pulse. “She’s breathing and her heartbeat’s steady, just unconscious I think,” he said with relief. Mike crouched down to take a look at the clearly dead man on the floor. “This one’s not,” he noted grimly. Gabriel abruptly stopped talking and Keith looked up to see why. All seven women who had been killed were standing in the room. They all had identical expressions of serenity. Each girl then smiled and faded one after the other, their angelic smiles giving no question of their gratitude. Gabriel and Keith looked and each other and silently acknowledged what had just happened.

“I saw them get him,” Gabriel whispered, “they all attacked him at once, right after he..,” Gabriel’s lower lip trembled as he looked down at his mother. Keith nodded and turned his attention to Lisa, her eyelids fluttered open and, clear-gray eyes stared up at him.

“Hey you ok?” he asked.
She nodded, “Thank you,’ she said tears filling her eyes.

“Well how am I supposed to explain this guy’s death,” Mike mumbled grumpily, “he doesn’t have any wounds.”

Keith laughed humorlessly, while he grabbed Lisa’s hand and squeezed, “Does it really matter how he died Mike?”

Mike snorted derisively, “It sure doesn’t.”

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