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The sudden knock on the door startled him, and he almost dropped the cardboard box in his hands. He quickly hid the box under the left cushion of the red couch and took a deep breath, his fingers still trembling with fear. However, he forced himself to calm down and concentrate. Bringing back his friendly composure, he walked calmly to the front door.
He was greeted at the front steps by two policemen in their dark blue uniforms with their shiny badges. One of the silver badges reflected brightly off of the hall light inside the house, and he squinted, putting his hand up to cover his eye.
“Good evening, sir,” one of the policemen began. “I believe we got a 911 call from this location just a few minutes ago.”
He put his hand down and tried to look confused, bewildered even. “I’m not sure what you’re talking about.” He frowned, and then shrugged his shoulders. “There’s nobody in this house besides me, and I certainly didn’t call anyone this evening.” He briefly looked past the two officers to the black and white cruiser in the driveway, its lights flashing red and blue, casting a shadow of odd colors on the front of the garage.
The policeman with the nameplate “Brady” pinned to the front of his uniform pursed his lips. “Do you think we could come in and investigate?”
The other officer, “Thompson”, nodded at his partner’s words. “Yeah, it’s just part of the procedure,” he said. He shrugged a sympathetic shoulder.
He nodded and made himself smile a welcoming grin. “Of course. I understand. Please, come on in.” He opened the front door wider and ushered the two policemen through the hallway.
“We’re just going to have a quick look around,” Brady said. “Hope you don’t mind.”
“No, no. Of course not. Go right ahead.”
As Brady and Thompson began climbing the steps to the second floor, he walked through the living room and into the kitchen. Luckily, his cup of tea was still warm.
When the two officers came back down to the first floor and had searched the rest of the house, they found the man sitting at the kitchen counter, sipping something from a cup.
“Well, I guess that’s it. I guess something just went wrong with the system.” Thompson smiled apologetically. “Sorry for disturbing your evening, sir.”
“Oh, no problem. Here, let me show you two out.” He rose from the stool and escorted the policemen back through the living room and to the front door, being careful not to make eye contact with the dirty red cushion on the couch.
“Good night, sir,” Thompson said kindly. “Thank you for your time.”
The two policemen turned and walked briskly down the front steps and to their car. He watched as they got into the cruiser. A few seconds later, they were gone.
He closed the door and locked it, his warm composure dropping from his face immediately. He walked back into the living room where he quickly made his way to the couch and took the box out from under the cushion. Then, he continued sprinkling the ashes into the fireplace.
He had to get out of here, and he had to get out of here quickly. After five years of experience, he had learned that some policemen made follow-up searches when you least expected it.
However, he did wait until the flames died down in the fireplace. He had to be careful. He had to make sure his job was completely finished before he left, a skill he developed from his life’s training as an accountant. He didn’t want to leave even a single clue behind.
He watched as the last few remaining logs smoldered for a couple more minutes, and then tossed the cardboard box into the fireplace. The fire sizzled and spitted, happy for the addition of new fuel. But that only lasted for a few seconds; soon, the fire breathed its last breath.
And now, he had to move. Quickly, he made his way over to the kitchen and opened the pantry door. Luckily, the woman had stocked up on food. He grabbed a couple of potato chip bags and some granola bars. Then, he was out of the house in less than a minute, leaving just as quickly as he had come.
His name was Jason Michaels, except he wasn’t Jason Michaels anymore. Jason Michaels was long gone. Jason Michaels was a man of the past. Nobody ever heard from Jason Michaels again after December 14, 2004. On December 14, 2004, Jason Michaels had disappeared.
The man who had taken his place was a stranger. This stranger looked like Jason Michaels. This stranger talked like Jason Michaels. This stranger walked like Jason Michaels. This stranger smelled somewhat like Jason Michaels. However, this stranger didn’t think or feel like Jason Michaels and that was the only difference that mattered.
What happened on the night of December 14, 2004 was so traumatizing to Jason Michaels that the next morning, he had decided to start over, begin a new life. He moved to a completely different city in a completely different state. He forgot all about his past, what he did, who he knew, why he moved. He didn’t want anymore of it. He didn’t want anything to do with his past. Of course, this required Jason Michaels to drop his name, too.
However, try as he might, this stranger could never forget one aspect of the past, and that was the event that took place on the night of December 14, five years ago. To this day, he still had dreams about that night. Nightmares, to be exact. At first, these terrifying images caused him to jerk awake at night, sweat pouring down his face, mingling with the tears that slid down his cheeks. The first few months were the hardest for him. However, as months became years and the seasons progressed, he taught himself how to stay awake at night, learned to force himself to keep his eyes open. After all, no sleep meant no nightmares.
As the stranger in the body of Jason Michaels walked swiftly down block after empty block, he flexed his arm, feeling the skin on his left forearm tighten over the permanent scar, a physical reminder of that fateful night.
He walked for a couple more minutes until he got to the quieter part of the isolated neighborhood. He knew there was a park around here. He knew because he had spent a whole lot of time around this place, trying to figure out which house had the faulty burglar system and which parents hired a nanny every night to watch their kids. Jason Michaels had been a very observant man, but this new man was even more observant. He was smart, too.
The wind picked up just then, causing the man to tense up. He quickly pulled the flaps of his jacket tighter around himself and heard the crinkle of the potato chip bags as they collided into each other. This unpleasant sound reminded him that he had to eat.
He made his way over to the park bench and sat down, feeling the cold hard wood through the seat of his slacks. He took a few minutes to eat his potato chip and granola bar dinner, never taking his eyes off of his next victim’s house the entire time. When he felt at least half-satisfied with a bit of food in his stomach, he stood from the bench. He brushed the crumbs off of his jacket and sauntered quietly over to the second house on the left.
December 14, 2004 had started off like any other day. The morning was bright and sunny, and there was a gentle summer breeze that weaved in and out of the lively green trees. Inside the house, everyone was going about their daily routines. Jason was putting on a tie in front of the mirror, getting ready to go to the office. His wife, Isabelle, was in the shower, singing along to the portable radio which she insisted she had to listen to every morning. Their twelve year old daughter, Leanne, was cooped up in her room, trying on twenty different outfits, wondering which one would get the attention of the new vice-principal.
The day went normally. Jason checked into his office, and he spent the next ten hours adding numbers. Isabelle went out to brunch with her friends, and they gossiped about the new couple in town. Leanne took the school bus to the middle school, and she spent the day learning about functions and punctuation, plant cells and dumbbells. Little did they know that their night would be disrupted by an ex-con who was on a murder rampage.
The sneaking in part was easy; after all, the back door was unlocked, just as he had predicted. He quietly entered the house and closed the door, shutting out the bitter and wintry wind that was clawing its way in.
He heard muffled voices coming from the second floor. Cheery voices. Happy voices. He almost cringed with disgust.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes for a minute, trying to calm the turmoil in his brain that was preventing him from thinking straight. His fingers shaking and his head still spinning, he quickly dropped to one knee right there on the kitchen floor and went through his usual custom.
Please forgive me for what I’m about to do.
That’s when he heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Whoever it was was whistling off key, probably without a care in the world.
The person was headed towards the kitchen. Just his luck. He inhaled as much oxygen as his lungs could take and opened his eyes. Slowly and deliberately, he pushed himself off the ground using his hands. He balled his permanently blood-stained fists and got ready for his next victim.
It was 8:23 p.m., December 14, 2004. The wind was raging outside, angry like someone had woken it from its sleep. Jason Michaels was upstairs in his room, emailing a friend in Utah. Isabelle and Leanne were downstairs in the living room, enjoying an evening of sitcoms in front of the warm fire.
At exactly 8:26 p.m., Jason logged out of his email account and reached over to turn the computer off when he heard the first screams.
Racing down the stairs as fast as his legs would carry him, Jason got to the living room too late. He saw his wife on the floor beside the couch, lying in a pool of blood that was slowly being sucked up by the carpet. His daughter was dead on the couch, sitting in an upright position with her head tilted to the side like she didn’t even have time to react.
And then, Jason saw the murderer.
The killer looked frightened and shocked, as if he himself were surprised at what he had just done. He looked to be around thirty years old with light blonde hair and a full beard. He was standing in front of the fireplace, holding the bloody knife in his hands, obviously frozen to the spot.
Jason felt an immediate surge of fury and leapt over the couch and for the throat of the murderer. He collided with the guy and dug his fingers into the killer’s face. The murderer yelped and slashed at Jason with his knife, leaving Jason with a good size cut on his left arm. Ignoring his injury, Jason continued ripping the guy’s face apart with his bare hands. A little while later, the two men fell to the floor, Jason with his fists going at 100 miles per hour and the killer trying his best to defend himself. A strangled animal noise rose out of Jason’s stomach and filled the whole room.
The television continued blaring carefree title sequences.
Jason realized his hands had grown numb as he pounded the man’s face over and over again, feeling bones break with every punch. Finally, when he felt the guy go limp under his grip, Jason stopped. Jason slowly stood from the living room floor, his eyes wild, his fingers quaking, his chest heaving. He stared with horror at the mangled mess on the ground in front of him and covered his face with his blood caked hands.
What have I done? What have I done?
A sob escaped from between his lips and Jason swallowed the lump that was in his throat.
I have to get rid of them. I have to.
Jason forced his trembling hands away from his face and took a deep breath when the flicker of fire caught his eye. He turned to the fireplace and got an idea.
On the evening of December 14, 2004, the Fireplace Killer was born.
The lights came on in the kitchen and a tall sturdy man walked in, holding a cup. When the man saw the intruder standing by the stove, he yelped and dropped the cup. As the glass smashed all over the kitchen floor, the assailant quickly advanced on him.
The first punch sent the man out of the kitchen and into the living room. However, the man rebounded promptly and was on his attacker in a second. The two of them grappled with each other, each trying to get the upper hand over the other. All the while, the man hollered for somebody upstairs.
The killer noticed, however, that he was just barely stronger than this man, thanks to five years of practice. Slowly by slowly, he could tell that the man was faltering, and he used this to push the man closer and closer to the blazing fire that was burning in the fireplace. The sooner he could get this over with, the better.
And then he heard light but hurried footsteps scrambling down the stairs. This was followed by terrified screams and shrieks loud enough to wake the whole neighborhood.
As the sound pricked his ears, he flinched. Now, there were going to be two people dead tonight. He quickly reached into his coat pocket with his right hand, grasped the solid handle of the knife, and whipped it out of his pocket, flicking it in the direction of the shrieks all in the same second.
The screaming came to an abrupt stop.
He turned his head to look at his first victim of the night, which turned out to be his biggest mistake, because when he did, he connected eyes with a little girl.
She had a teddy bear tucked under one arm and little bunny slippers on her feet. Her face was crumpled with fear and pain all at once as she stared with horror at the dagger sprouting from her chest.
He immediately froze and felt his breath stop short.
“Leanne?” he asked, even though he knew it couldn’t be.
But he kept seeing his dead daughter’s face in the little girl’s blank eyes.
The memories were coming back to him. Flashes of the past, flashes of that night hit him hard like waves of agony. He almost lost his balance and he suddenly felt himself go deaf. Dizzy and nauseous, he loosened his grip on the man and reached for something to steady himself, but found nothing.
Flickers of his nightmares ran through his mind like a slide show. His brain wasn’t listening to him. It was going berserk, trying to torment him, replaying the event over and over in front of his face. He knew he was going to go crazy if this didn’t stop soon. It was haunting him. It was haunting him. It was haunting him. He grabbed the sides of his head and roared, wishing everything would just go away.
And then, it did. The next second, he felt someone give him a mighty shove and he was falling. Falling through empty space. Falling towards the fire. Falling into the fireplace. He landed hard on his right shoulder, the logs cushioning his fall just barely. He made no move to get up. He just didn’t want to. Instead, he closed his eyes and relaxed his limbs. He relaxed for the first time in five years. As he burned and burned, the pungent smell of his melting flesh penetrating his nose, he realized the irony of all this. He died with a chuckle on his face.
On the evening of December 14, 2009, the second Fireplace Killer was born.