Corded muscles pulled taut under tanned, freckled skin, a thin sheen of sweat covering the man’s body as he hefted another heavy box from the truck, slowly relenting the weight onto the porch of the new little place he had bought. He paused for a moment, mostly to give his body what little rest he could afford to get everything into place. He swiped an arm over his forehead, sighing laboriously as he looked out onto the weed ridden fields with a grim look. It would take days before any sort of crop was ready to be planted in these fields; he would need to put in fences and till the soil, not to mention set up the irrigation system and make sure that the pipes in place hadn’t been eaten away with rust from disuse.
He cut off his moment of rest, raising those thick arms over his head to stretch, tension popping from his back as surely as the sound made it seem. The sun beat down harshly on any poor soul caught in the sweltering heat, and he found himself right at the center of it all. Hauling this and that, straining his already tired muscles and he bet he would develop a farmer’s tan darker than the one he already had in the next coming days. He sighed, moving back to his truck in the hopes to get the rest of the boxes moved in time for dinner, then at the very least he could spend that night unpacking and heating up the meal his family had sent. He wondered which he would pick for the night, his mother and sisters making sure that he would be well fed as he struck it out alone, something he was thankful for.
He hefted up another box off of the tailgate, grunting as he struggled to get ahold of the bottom of it. After a precarious balancing act, he finally managed to get a good enough grip onto it and turned on his heel, nearly dropping the box when he bumped into a woman in front of him. The massive man let out a surprised squeak, feeling the heavy box shift in his hands, and he was sure he would have dropped it if the woman in front of him didn’t press a hand to the bottom and stabilized the box. He looked over the top of the box and was met with orbs of blue, wide-eyed in surprise. The man grunted, shuffling the box further up his arms before looking back to her, eyes the color of the sky meeting ones of golden wheat, how apt for his current occupation.
“One sec.” He huffed, turning to head back to the porch where everything was currently stacked and placed down the heavy box, dusting his hands off before turning back to the woman who had followed him from his truck.
“Hey there!” She called out, hopping up the couple steps that led up onto the porch. She had a friendly smile on her face and ringlets of copper curls hung around a heart-shaped face. He noted the slight diastema, taking a moment to wonder after the fact if there was a reputable dentist around here. Finally, he saw the small dish in her hands, a deep casserole dish balanced on her forearm, a wicker basket hanging off her elbow. “You’re the one who just bought this place, yeah?” She asked, bouncing slightly on her booted heels.
“Uh, yeah.” He said awkwardly, leaning against some of the boxes to test them before pressing his full weight against them. She placed the dish down on one of the boxes, clapping her hands together.
“Great! This is such a little town, we’re glad to get anyone we can!” She chirped, pulling the basket off of her arm and setting that down as well. “Name’s Jessica, but everyone just calls me Jessie!” She hummed, pressing through the basket which was now laying on top of the banister.
“Oh, uh, my name’s Gillian. Gillian Ottoman.” He said somewhat awkwardly. His social skills left something to be desired, but they weren’t the worst things in the world by any stretch of the imagination. Jessie turned to look at him and gave him a once over. His eyes were that warm umber color, almost like honey sitting in the sun, and the crinkled lines around them gave him a more mature look. His face was soft, despite the sharp features of his jaw and high cheekbones, a look that made him handsome and cute at the same time. His hair was a few shades darker than his skin, shaved partially on the sides and flipped over to one side of his head, the strands disheveled and sticking together from the sweat that pooled on his forehead.
She nodded, bringing a hand up to her chin as she took in his features, slightly unsettling him before the snapping of her fingers made him jump. “Gotcha! Mind if I call you Gil?” She asked, and he gave a disinterested shrug, appreciative of the woman’s attempts to get to know him and be kind, but he didn’t want to be unpacking throughout the night, considering the long and arduous drive here left him wanting for nothing more than to fall into the bare frame of the bed that had been moved there a few days prior. Jessica hummed, nodding to herself before turning back to the basket, fishing out some packets before pressing them into his hands. “Here! Just some things from our little general store—figured that you’d need some to get started.”
Gil gave a thankful smile, trying to show his gratitude despite the fact he had brought plenty with him. But, she didn’t know that, so he smiled and nodded. “Thanks, I was worried I hadn’t brought enough.” He said, a clipped chuckle following his words. She continued to nod, pressing the rest of the basket to him.
“There’s rolls too, and that’s a quilt for ya’! It can get mighty cold during the fall and winter, we figured you’d ‘preciate it!” He gave a small word of gratitude as he took those as well as the casserole, making a glib comment about his mother thinking he was going to starve out here by himself. She laughed along with him, letting the sound sink into silence between them for a short while before telling him not to ‘be a stranger’, and that the town was just a little way up the road. He nodded, telling her he’d be up there in a few days to get some things for his little home, but for the time being… He looked out onto the field and sighed, knowing there would be a couple of long days ahead of him.
Jessie finally excused herself, and Gil sighed in relief. The woman definitely seemed nice, but he wanted to get all this done. The sooner he could get moved in and the field squared away, the sooner he could begin to turn a profit off of all of this. He went back to his truck, grabbing the last few boxes he had, small ones thankfully, before beginning the next labor intensive task of bringing it all inside.
The wicker basket his mother had given him shortly before he left proved helpful, considering it was the only thing big enough to help carry all the produce he had managed to grow. He watched as the general store owner picked through the plethora of veggies and fruits he had managed to plant in the relatively barren soil. There were peppers that bit like the harsh summer sun, and melons that were sweet and refreshing after a hard day’s work. He even managed to get the tomatoes to ripen before he had the trip, a fact he was proud of, considering how hard he had toiled to get them to grow.
The store owner, a man of thinning hair and body by the name of Pierre, picked out the produce he was willing to buy off of the man, Gil knowing that he was going to resell them for whatever price he could. He wished that the man would buy the whole basket, but he knew business was business, and he hoped that he could interest some of the town’s people to buy the rest off of him for their meals and the like. Pierre took about half the basket, a decent amount, considering it was his first haul. The man wrung his hands, smiling to the larger of the pair. “You know, we’re selling fertilizer. That may help with their growth.” The man pointed out, moving to grab the money he was paying Gillian, a fair amount for the man as he took the wad of cash and pressed it into his wallet. He humored the thought, thinking that the fertilizer would be a good idea, but he had a better idea of what he could use.
He shook his head, taking the basket off of the counter with a swift motion and turned to look at the man who was nodding his head. “Alright, just pop back again if you change your mind.”
“Will do, thank you for the business.” Gillian replied, giving the man a polite smile before turning and heading out the door, back into the sweltering summer heat. He crossed the small parking lot and across the street to the small cluster of houses. The few people who dared to stray out into the hot afternoon air waved to him as he passed, some of them looking over what he had to offer and fewer actually bought anything, but it was more than he had when he had left the store.
The same went for the houses, managing to sell little more than what he had already. Jessie was a kindred soul, picking up more than anyone besides Pierre had; she made a comment about cooking something later in the week and planned to invite him over. There was no real way for him to politely decline, especially since she had been kind enough to bring him things on his first night, so he accepted. Her mother, a graying woman in her sixties insisted as well, wanting to meet some ‘fresh blood’, so he simply gave in, knowing better than to be rude. She told him Tuesday around six, and that he had better be there before flashing him a smile and shutting the door. He sighed, turning to head back to his truck as he saw the dim of twilight approaching fast, knowing he should get back to turn in early to prepare for the labor intensive day he had tomorrow.
Gillian sighed, hopping out of his truck in a button down and vest, having dressed nice for the occasion, taking a moment to look in his mirror and straighten his tie. He went to go past Pierre’s little shop, figuring that since he was early he would mull around in there for a short while. Or, he was going to, until he pulled on the door and found it wouldn’t budge. He looked up to the closed sign, frowning slightly and looking to the time sheet on the door and finding it at least an hour before it closed. Maybe he closed early?
He found his wonders answered as a few people ran past, yelling and calling to one another as they headed to the east of the town, Gillian c***ing a brow and following. He saw the huge group of people gathering at the edge of the river that split the town in two, peering over them and seeing the police and caution tape, wondering what could have possibly happened. He saw Jessie’s mother crying, and he blinked, looming up taller to try and see before catching a glimpse of the soaked auburn hair peeking out beneath the white sheet.
The old woman caught sight of him and stumbled over, crying and sobbing and clutching at his shirt, pointing to the river before nearly collapsing, the man having to grab her to steady her. He looked helplessly to some of the other people gathered, and some of the women came to help, herding the woman away from the sight of the body.
One of the officer’s shouted something unintelligible to his ears, but figured that it must have been something about leaving, as people began to trickle away from the scene. Pierre caught sight of him and crossed over, a dark look on his face.
“Dumped her body in the river.” He muttered, and Gillian blinked. So someone had killed her, not that she had killed herself. The thin man gave him a pitiful look before nodding to the small tavern that the town had. “Care to grab a drink? I-I think I need one after seeing that.” Gillian nodded, following after the man, knowing better than to leave someone in their grief.
One of the officers finally shooed the rest of the townspeople away, shaking her head and bouncing the high ponytail on her head before perking up, turning to hear her name called.
“Jennings! Come ‘ere!” Her Chief called, forcing the woman to jog over, looking to the sheet covered body of the woman and shuddered. “You’re certified to look at this stuff, yeah?” He asked, and the woman nodded, having spent most of her schooling to do this, juggling morgue work for murders and being on the scene. She pulled gloves out of her pack on her hip, pulling them over the slender fingers before pulling the sheet down, thankful that most of the smell that a dead body would have was staved off by the water it had been put into.
“Well, we already know her name…” She murmured, looking at the open mouth of the body and sucking in a sharp breath, turning the head towards her to look inside and confirm what she had seen… Or, rather, what she didn’t. “God… She’s had her tongue cut out.” She whispered, looking at the bloody stub in its place.
Jessica’s head lolled as she finally managed to wake up, groggy eyes fluttering open to meet the encroaching darkness around her, looking around sleepily as she tried to process what was going on. Tight rope around her wrists and arms restricted her movement, and her ankles were tied with the same hempen cord. Panic rang loud in her ears like the church bells on the heated Sundays, and she prayed to God for some answer as to what was going on.
As she opened her mouth to cry out, she heard heavy footsteps on the ground, and a figure seemed to appear from the dark around them. “Where am I?” She squeaked out, trying to find a weak spot in her bindings, writhing and twisting against them.
“Nowhere in particular.” They answered, the deep baritone of their voice resonating in her ears and letting her know it was a man. She panicked, her first thought of rape and the violation of her innocence. She let out a sharp yell, hoping that someone, anyone, would find her and help, but the sound was cut short by his hand colliding with her cheek in a slap that scrambled her brains, leaving her dazed and confused. His hand manhandled her jaw, forcing her mouth open. “Shut up.” He said simply, no hint of animosity in his voice.
She let out another scream, earning her another slap, and he grabbed something at his hip, her eyes widening in fear as the glint of a knife reached her eyes, and he forced her mouth open wide. He reached in and grabbed her tongue, looking dully down at her. “I told you, and you didn’t listen.” He said, bringing the knife to the side of her tongue. She began to wail, trying to thrash against him to free herself, and he grunted, bringing the knife up and stabbing her in the arm, bringing blood splashing up as he withdrew it. She let out another pitiful scream, her writhing lost in the flaring agony along her arm and allowed him to grab her tongue once more.
She couldn’t bite him, maybe when his fingers were in her mouth, but not now that the muscle was pulled out of her mouth. He looked down at her again before slashing through the muscle, her agonized scream cutting off into a gurgle as she began to choke on the flood of blood rushing into her mouth in down her throat. He let her fall to the side, her body convulsing from the pain flooding her body. Tears flowing freely down her face mixed in with the blood, choking on the influx on the crimson liquid every time she hiccupped. She turned to look up at him, wherever she was too dark for her to see his face.
“God damn, it is…” Her Chief murmured, looking at it with her. Jennings frowned, shaking her head. She lowered the sheet and nearly dry heaved at the sight. Long cuts ran down her arms, exposing the messy work of veins and muscle and even the glimpse of bone under the surface on both arms, and even lower still lay the empty cavity of her stomach. The skin of her belly had been cut away, intestines and kidneys and everything else that could be pulled out was, and most of the officers had to turn away from the gruesomeness of the scene, and Jennings wondered what kind of sick, twisted person could have done this to such a young woman.
Jessica was dully aware of what was going on around her, that her arms were being untied and she even felt the knife running down her arms, splitting through the layers of muscle and skin and allowing her blood to freely drip down the appendages before they were dropped none to carefully into buckets. She couldn’t scream anymore, the blood was too thick in her mouth and she barely felt the pain, already nearly gone from the blood loss coming from her tongue.
She twitched every so often, barely able to do that even before she finally kicked it, the man cocking a brow as he watched. “Gone so soon? Damn, I was hoping you’d be awake for this.” He grumbled, reaching for the knife once more before tossing her over and ripping open her shirt, taking the knife and plunging it deep into her belly, ripping open the skin and opening up the flaps of her skin as if she were one of the frogs that you would dissect in science class. He slashed through her organs, disconnecting them and tossing them into a bucket nearby, the stomach and bladder bursting on impact with the plastic container. He sat there, whistling a tune as he waited for the blood to stop dripping into the container, pulling it away. He rolled her body onto a sheet, pulling it up and beginning to haul it off towards the lake, whistling that same little tune high into the air.
“Alright, men. Let’s haul her away. These folks have been traumatized more than enough.” The Chief called, and Jennings moved away to allow them the space they needed, shaking her head and pulling the gloves off.
“Some people are just monsters.” She murmured, watching as the body was hauled away.
Gillian nudged his way through the door, his face set grim as he stared down at the wicker basket in his hands. There had been another. Pierre’s face offered him the same exact look. So he knows too. Gillian thought, but honestly, who didn’t? It was such a small town, and the town was getting smaller with each murder. He pressed the crops onto the table—greens and cranberries and whatever seeds he could get his hands on for this time of year. Pierre offered him a grave smile, forced around the edges, but who could blame him. “They’re looking better and better each time you bring them in. I think I’ll take the whole basket off of you.” He said, handing off the money before grabbing the crops. Gillian nodded.
“Ma taught me how to make a fertilizer out of dead fish, works wonders.” He said, and Pierre nodded along with him, pressing his hands flat to the table.
“Glad to know something’s workin’ out for you. You take care now, alright?”
“Will do—you do the same.” Gillian said, picking up the significantly lighter basket and left, heading back to his truck. He passed a couple officers on his way, nodding to them as he put the basket into the back of his pickup. He started up his truck, looking at them in the rearview mirror before heading back off to his farm.
Gillian stumbled slightly out of the tavern, having joined Pierre once more for a night of drinking, having left the man sitting at the table in favor of heading home for the night. He was pleasantly buzzed, not like the smashed shop owner inside the establishment. He shivered, sticking his hands into the pockets of his jacket in the attempt to stave off the coming winter cold on the air, shivering pitifully. He almost walked back inside to the blazing hearth, but he knew better. He needed to get home to prepare for tomorrow, try and make as much money as he could off of his crops before the bite of winter ruined it.
He leisurely strolled along the path, lit by the sparsely placed lampposts, casting light over the cobbles set into the ground, the man dislodging a pebble and kicking it noisily, watching it skitter along the stones. He began to hum softly, worrying his teeth over his lips and biting at the chapped surface, a habit his mother would string him up for if she caught him doing it. The thought made him chuckle softly, and he let out a fond sigh, continuing his drunken humming as he moved to his car. He fumbled with the keys in his pocket, running his fingers of the ring as he thought, wondering just what was going on in this little place.
His thoughts ground to a screeching halt with the sound of steps behind him, and he wondered if his drunken companion had tried to join him in the cold, but the steps were too clear, too precise for a drunken man. Gillian turned around and caught the sight of the raised knife, yelling out and jumping away. The knife plunged down into the empty space where he had been, and he could already see the flicker of lights coming from inside of a building. He yelled out for help, reaching out and grappling with the man for the knife, both of them tumbling to the ground as they fought.
Gillian managed to get the man pinned, and soon people had flooded out from their homes, and the whirring of sirens pierced the air. It happened in a blur, and soon the man was led away in handcuffs and people were sobbing in relief, no longer having to worry about being attacked and murdered in their little town. Pierre was there, patting Gideon and sobbing, babbling how thankful he was that Gillian was alright, and the man just pat his back, looking at the retreating sirens.
Gillian lounged on his couch, watching the duo of man and plant on the TV. His hand traced over the drink on the end table, his nose tweaking at the metallic smell in the room, looking over to the stovetop and the bubbling pot at the top.
“Does it have to be human?”
“Does it have to be mine?”
“Where am I supposed to get it?”
The man on the TV sobbed out, and Gillian hummed, taking a deep gulp of the soda, sighing out as he placed it back on the coaster. The plants deep voice was almost comical to the man, Levi Stubbs sparing no expense in hamming it up.
“Cause if you feed me, Seymoure… I can grow up! Big! And strong!”
Gillian turned as he heard the stovetop alarm go off, sighing as he stood up, the TV reaching his ears from inside the kitchen as he turned into the pot. He looked into the soup of red, taking the spoon beside him and stirring through the stew.
“Should I go…? And prefooorm… Multilations?”
He turned back to the TV, watching the talking plant giggling, constantly trying to convince the other. Gillian snorted, reaching beside him and biting into a piece of the pizza he had cooked earlier. He turned the stovetop off, continuing to stir the mixture. He continued to hum the song sung on the TV, turning to watch the scene of the man beating around the woman, the plant rising the man’s ire in the attempts to get what it wanted.
Gillian grinned, picking the spoon up in preparation for his favorite part of the song.
“You need blood and he’s got more than enoooooughh! So go get it!” Gillian sang, grinning into the blood red dying the wooden spoon.