Her eyes could not rest on one single object; they darted back and forth in their sockets. She could not think; her thoughts were scattered and fragmented. Her sweaty palms slipped on the handrail she had been gripping so tightly -- she momentarily lost her balance, but quickly regained it and seized the metal bar once more. What was she going to do? Where was she going to go? She couldn’t collect her thoughts.
The vehicle was ancient, and the driver was exuding a foul smell. She focused her eyes on her own reflection in the window and was terrified of the ghost-like figure that stared back at her. Her face was drained of color. There were dark bags under her eyes. She looked like she hadn’t slept in days. Actually, she hadn’t. She quickly scanned the other passengers.
There, in the back of the bus, was a man. He had a black coat draped upon his shoulders, and he wore black leather pants. He wore a comically large black fedora upon his head. His nose was buried in a tourist pamphlet, but his eyes were not moving along the document. He glanced up very quickly, saw the woman, and immediately forced his head down once more. His eyes still did not move. The woman felt her stomach lurch.
The doorbell sounded.
She put down the book she was reading and strode to the door. As she opened it, she peeked over the side. Nobody was there. She looked down. A vibrant collection of freshly-cut roses sat on the door mat. She picked them up; there was a small slip of paper attached to the vase. The only word that was written was her name.
The woman was very pleased with the flowers, and admired the way they looked on top of her fireplace mantle. That is, until her husband came home from work and noticed them. When he rested his eyes upon them, he instantly was offended.
“Who gave these to you?”
“They were sent to me without a note - I thought perhaps it was you!”
“Of course not,” the man replied, a disgusted tone in his voice. “You accepted flowers from another man!”
“I had no way of knowing!” the woman uttered. “Well -- they look beautiful.”
“I disagree. They will go straight to the garbage.”
The woman reluctantly obeyed.
That night, both the man and the woman were seated on the couch watching the evening news. The tension was high. As the previous segment ended, the anchor began to talk about a murder that had happened only hours before.
“Harold and Gertrude Campbell, of Riverside, Washington…”
The woman sat up straight. The man glanced at her inquisitively.
“...were brutally murdered in their own home this afternoon…”
The woman started to breathe faster.
“...the perpetrator has not been identified…”
“Those...” the woman croaked.
“Weren't they you’re--”
“That’s… well, that’s...I’m sorry...” the man stuttered.
The woman was not paying attention to the feeble attempt at comfort. She had already slumped down and was silently sobbing, her shoulders shaking, her breath audible in small gasps.
The man watched for a few moments before abruptly rising and leaving the room.
Exactly two days later, a small, brown, cardboard box arrived at the woman’s front door. It was clearly not delivered by the post office, as it was unmarked. The flower incident had slipped the woman’s mind entirely. Her energy was primarily being spent condolencing her family for the abrupt loss of Harold and Gertrude Campbell.
As soon as she opened the box, she let out a shrill scream. Inside, ten fingers rested in the tissue paper. Five looked as though they belonged to an elderly male. Five looked as though they belonged to an elderly female. The woman looked as though she was going to be sick. Her mind wandered to her grandparents.
What did their hands look like?
It had been years since she had last seen her grandparents. Although she was never close with them, she couldn’t bear to think about their abominable killing. She pushed the thought from her mind. Maybe this was a cruel prank. They could be a sick joke-shop gag for all she knew. She convinced herself that it was the only possible explanation.
She resolved to take the box and its contents to the dumpster. And because she was so disturbed with the item she was disposing, she didn’t notice that the flowers were gone.
The day after she received the fingers, the woman received news of another family death. Her father, uncle, and aunt, were all found dead in her father’s home. They had each been stabbed multiple times. Relatives began to panic. Was someone targeting their family? The woman was the most unsettled. Wasn’t she sent body parts just a day before?
Again, two days passed. Two days without anything out of the ordinary. The woman could almost -- almost -- forget about her paranoia. In fact, her life was becoming almost as normal as one’s life could be after multiple family deaths, until she received the next package. Any other package, she would ignore, dispose of immediately. But this one was from work, and work packages are important. She cut the box open. A long, thin, knife lay inside. The majority of the blade was covered in crusted blood. It did not seem to be a work-related item.
When her husband came home, he tried to comfort her.
“Settle down, we’ll get this sorted out,” he said, but was clearly terrified as well. It was obvious he was looking at the knife that killed his father-in-law.
They called the police department, and their fears were confirmed. Samuel, Robert, and Patricia Campbell’s blood was all found on the knife. The chief officer assured the couple that his crew wouldn’t leave the house.
“Don’t worry. You are completely safe here. We will protect your house.”
The woman wasn’t convinced; she couldn’t bring herself to sleep that night.
The next morning, the police were standing in clusters outside of the couple’s house drinking steaming cups of coffee. It was obvious crime case was not the topic of their conversation. The woman felt ill after her lack of sleep the previous night. She called in sick for work.
Her husband, however, left for his job that morning. The woman spent the entire morning resting on the couch, unable to sleep and eat. At lunchtime, she tried to make herself toast, but her trembling fingers couldn’t open the loaf of bread, so she returned to the couch.
As five o’clock started to near, the woman started to expect her husband. She forced herself up from the couch and rested at the dining room table, where she had a clear view of the driveway through the window. The police had left only hours before, thinking they might have a lead on the criminal. Five o’clock passed. Five-thirty. Six. The woman grabbed her cell phone in the living room and phoned her husband’s work. They claimed he had left an hour and a half ago.
All of the horror from the last few days hit her all at once. She dashed to the front door, only to realize her husband had taken the car. But immediately after yanking the front door open, she was stopped. A human heart was lying on the door mat. It was sitting in a dark red pool of blood.
The words drained the little strength she had left, and her knees felt weak. A scream was caught in her throat as she shielded her eyes. She hesitated for only a split second before she made up her mind. She dashed through the house and grabbed a handful of her possessions, and was out the door five minutes later. Walking as fast as she could without looking conspicuous, the woman made her way the the nearest bus stop three blocks down the road. While she was waiting, she fanatically turned her head every which way. When someone would pass by, her knuckles would turn white gripping the bench.
After what seemed like hours, the bus arrived. The woman scrambled in and hastily sat down. She was prepared to go as far as the bus would take her. She needed to get away from this town, she needed to start over somewhere. She had to survive.
Maybe I’m just being paranoid, she thought.
No. Better not take any chances. The man could be dangerous.
I’m getting off at the next stop.
As if on cue, the bus lurched, then stopped. The doors swung open. No longer caring whether she looked suspicious, the woman scrambled off the bus. Though she was never a strong runner, she pumped her legs faster than she had ever done so before. She dared a peek behind her; the man was there, nearly 20 feet behind her, matching her strides.
She tried to run faster, but her legs wouldn’t allow it. She decided the only way she would be able to lose the man would be to run through the labyrinth of streets downtown. She darted through several more streets, but unfortunately never came across another person.
The woman took an abrupt turn into a tiny, dirty street that smelled like cigarette smoke. She swiveled her head back once more; the man was still there. As she turned out of the musty street, her eyes frantically searched for a way to lose the man.
And then, almost as an answer to a prayer, she noticed a very small alleyway, half-hidden by a dumpster that looked like it hadn’t been emptied in years. She turned around and back into the street she had previously come from. The man was nowhere in sight. She charged at the dumpster, crawled behind it, and continued to run.
To her dismay, she heard boots crunching on rocks. She turned around to find the man on her tail once more. He was still matching her strides, and was still the same distance behind her. She quickly whipped her head back around just in time to see a towering brick wall right in front of her. Her feet skidded to a stop. She turned around. The man was directly behind her. He smiled, revealing a set of disgusting yellow teeth. A street light revealed the glint of steel inside of the man’s jacket.
But it wasn’t the weapon that caught her eye. As she surveyed the man, she noticed he was holding something in his right hand. As he stepped closer, the flickering lamps also revealed a single, tattered red rose.
The woman tried to take another step, but realized that her back was pressed against the brick wall. The man let out a demonic laugh. The woman squeezed her eyes shut.