Excerpt from Dark Waters © 2014 G. J. Owens


Pat woke to the sound of the television.  It pushed away the pattering of rain against glass and the sharp-yet-hollow clank of the gun careening off the metal catwalk as it did every night.  Left in its wake was only a steady tone like that of an alarm.  He rubbed his eyes, the television screen blurred by the remaining tendrils of the recurring dream.
Intertwining with the rhythmic repetition of the sonic pulses he could not identify, Pat heard the voice of the reporter to whom it seemed a personal mission to add to the torment already bearing down on him.
"The police are stumped," her nasally voice droned from the small speakers with a whining treble.  "Detective Collins pleaded for assistance in the matter, so if you have any information that could help the police in their investigation, please call the number displayed at the bottom of your screen."
It was not until he untangled the woman's words from the television speakers that Pat realized the persistent, monotone rhythm underneath was the ringing of his phone, beckoning from where it lay in the kitchen.
"Dear Christ."
Pat stumbled through the darkness.  The reaching rays of light from the flickering television screen created the single source of illumination.  He was unsure of the time but judged it closer to proper morning than evening based on the quality of gray that inhabited the darkness beyond the kitchen windows.  The phone vibrated against the surface of the countertop.  He flipped it open and placed it to his ear in one motion.  "Hello?"
"Pat," he heard Stan's voice say, "We may have just gotten damn lucky.  We got a tip.  Schoolhouse Number 2.  He may still be inside."
"I'll meet you there.  I'm leaving now.  Come in quiet."
Pat had never been so thankful for passing out fully clothed in his entire life.  He swiped the keys from the counter and dropped the cell phone in his jacket pocket as he walked out the door.
The screen door slammed shut behind him and Pat stopped, breathed, and silently reached his left hand under the lid and into the maw of the mailbox.  There was nothing inside.
Pat wasted no more time getting to the car and heading toward the old schoolhouse.  His body was vibrating with the anticipation of putting an end to the madness that had begun just over a week earlier, to stop the murderous hand from striking once more.
The blaring of a horn broke the miasma in which Pat was lost.  Twin beams of sharp white light pierced his eyes.  It took a split second to return his car to the lane it had drifted from, which was all the time he had.  An eighteen-wheeled behemoth barreled by in the opposite lane, the force of its passing sending a blast of air through the open window and across his chest.
Pat gripped the wheel tighter in an attempt to control his confusion and the sharp rise of adrenaline that flooded through his system.  A few deep breaths rounded out his procedure.
His composure, along with a modicum of alertness, had returned by the time the schoolhouse appeared within sight.  It took up the corner of a town block lined with ancient elm trees.  Pat approached it from the far end of the block.
The headlights of the car found Stan waiting next to his own car, and Pat doused the beams as they began to cross the shape of the other man.
"We're first," Stan told Pat as he got out of the vehicle.  "Bromley and Jones are on their way, but I say we go in.  We shouldn't take any chances."
The pair began walking toward the far end of the block where the red brick, painted black by the predawn sky, and the graffiti-laced concrete of the boarded-up school stood like a forgotten sentinel of a simpler and more innocent age.
"One of the neighborhood watch called in about flashlights in the school," Stan continued.  "Thought it was kids, but because of how early it is and what we know about the notes, I think this might be it."
Pat nodded his agreement.  It made perfect sense.  Perhaps this was the end, the final volley of the murderous contest.
He surveyed the exterior of the school.  Windows boarded decades prior displayed a riot of different color spray paints on all three levels of the building.  To the right side was a loading area that must have once been used for delivering foodstuffs and equipment.  Bent metal pipes traced a rusted railing around a black space in the ground.  Straight ahead was the main entrance.  Two stacks of cracked and broken concrete stairs leaned against the building drunkenly, topped by a plywood door.
"Does this seem right to you?" Pat quietly asked.
"No, but do we have a choice?"
Pat nodded wordlessly, set aside his trepidations, and took a step to the right.  He pointed toward the service entrance.  Stan signaled his understanding and ascended the steps.  At the corner of the building, Pat gave Stan one last look, to which he received a nod, and he continued down into the hole in the ground at the side of the building.
Most of the glass in the service door had been broken out countless years earlier, although small, jagged teeth remained in spots along the lattice of the frame.  Pat could see where a long, straight board had once been affixed across the threshold of the inward-opening door but now lay on the ground to the side.  It was impossible to tell how long ago it had been removed.
A squeeze of the handle and a push against the broad surface of the door was not enough to set it ajar.  Pat peered into the coalescing darkness, tinged only by the promise of the soon-to-come daylight.  He could see nothing.
He did not dare use a light.  He squeezed the handle again and lowered his shoulder into the door.  It scraped the ground as he forced it inward enough to pass his body through with a turn of his shoulders.  Reaching down behind him, he felt the collection of grooves in the concrete, evidence that this was but the latest of many times the door had been opened in such a manner.
Inside, Pat crouched and listened.  The air around him slowly turned from black to gray as his eyesight adjusted.  Small streamers of soft light filtered through the wide passageway in front of him like the delicate webs of a phosphorescent spider.  He imagined the weak breathed out by the walls, misting the space until Pat was able to make out the disused hall.
Classroom doors were placed alternately from one side opposite the other, all the way to the point in the distance where the wheeze of light grew too weak to illuminate much past the connecting corridor, which led to the rear of the building.  Upon the ground, waste left by numerous animals mixed with metal, glass, and paper detritus on the once-polished floors, now abandoned to some dull, darker tone wrought by age.  The smell of the air was pungent, and Pat could hear no sound above that of his own breathing.
Pat decided the use of the small LED flashlight from his pocket was a small but necessary risk.  Its light colored the hall blue but reflected white off the unbroken stretches of glass that trapped their secrets behind a veneer of dark grime.  Pat walked forward, his feet crunching on the debris littered throughout the passage.
At the connecting hall, Pat shielded the light and inspected the darkness.  He could see gyrating shapes throughout the corridor, but he was unable to discern whether it was true movement or the trickery of the shadows.
He lifted the flashlight while at the same time removing his hand from its bulb.  The shadows retreated, but there was no other movement revealed.  Satisfied, Pat continued forward.
That part of the building quickly devolved into pipes and insulation as it stretched out to the rear, exposing its very innards in an unselfconscious manner.
Halfway to the end of the schoolhouse, Pat heard the sound of metal striking metal.  The reverberations of the noise came from below and to the right.  He wondered if there was some sort of boiler room or furnace works beneath the level he traversed.  He pressed the face of the flashlight to his thigh to smother the light and listened.  Fainter, the sound came a second time, ostensibly from the same source.
At the termination of the corridor on the right stood a high metal door.  It was opened inward and its surface was flaked with rust in the large sections where the paint had peeled away.  Pat slipped his pistol from its holster and clicked off the safety.
Light danced from within the space beyond the heavy door, as if from flames.  Pat doused the flashlight and returned it to his pocket.  He ducked his head around the edge of the door, once, twice, three times, each for a longer period than the one before.  He saw no one or thing waiting on the other side, only a passageway of rusting pipes.
In one swift motion, he slipped into the passage, swinging the firearm out in front of him and clearing the space behind the door.
He walked foot over foot to the end of the corridor, where it turned sharply to the right.  The light grew more intense and washed the red and cream of the rusted pipes with soft, orange light.  He was now able to smell the fire as well.  At the corner, he took a deep breath and swung his upper body around it.
A small anteroom greeted him.  Pipes ran in all directions and created a ragged network of perpendicularity Pat felt it impossible to extrapolate.  A small barrel on the far end of the floor was home to a crackling fire, sparks rising from its metal circle as the wood inside popped.
It was nothing.  He had allowed himself to hope, to pray that the one they were chasing had got sloppy, despite the dearth of clues left at the previous scenes.  He was wrong.  It had been an empty chase.
Pat dropped his arms.  His disgust may have masked the sound--if there had been any to be heard--but he felt the hands fall on either side of his face.  He wanted to turn, even began to feel his feet shift, but he twisted only into darkness as the room around him was swallowed by nothingness.
The black lasted no longer than the blinking of his eye before he was able to see again.  The flame flickered as he carried the naked body in his arms, its weight less than it had any right to be.
He placed the unmoving form on the ground near the fire barrel, wasting no time in retrieving the braided wire from his pocket.  He looped it several times around each of the girl's wrists, leaving a long lead trailing along the ground.  He felt the thrill of what he was doing at the same time as it sickened him.  The two feelings were battering each other like the force of the water against a seawall.  Any attempt he made to revolt against his actions proved fruitless.  He could not make himself stop no matter how much effort he exerted toward the task.
He watched as he lifted the corpse at the waist, pinned it against the wall so that he could bind the wrists to the pipes.  Once she was in place, he looped more wire around both of her ankles and bound those to the low pipes in the same manner he had with the wrists.  The body of the girl dangled in a mockery of crucifixion.  He nodded in admiration of his work, twisted round, and returned to the dark.

How much time passed while Pat was lost in the impenetrable black pit he had fallen into he could not say, but the next thing he was consciously aware of was his name being called.  It started as a muffled and indistinct exclamation, soon resolving into the single syllable of his moniker.
The darkness was slowly pushed to the edges of his vision like ripples in a puddle.  Through the watery surface of his eyes, Pat saw Stan's face pressed close to his own, lips moving to match the repeated sound of his name.
"I'm okay," Pat said.  He tried to blink away the residual darkness and concentrate on the features of his partner's face as the dancing light turned his skin ten different shades of orange.  "What happened?"
"You tell me."
Stan took his wrists in his hands and pulled them up into Pat's line of sight.  Smears of blood wove patterns on the skin like a macabre application of incarnadine camouflage, or as though he had only his hands to staunch the flow of a particularly bloody nose.
"I don't feel anything?  Is it mine?"
Stan shook his head.  Pat did not misinterpret the resignation with which his partner confirmed it was not he who was injured.  He shifted from where he crouched in front of Pat, revealing the end of the room that had been blocked by his body.
Beside the barrel in which the fire guttered, trussed to the wall of winding pipes, was the body of a young girl, naked and torn.  Her dark head lolled forward against her chest, and the wash of her long, matted hair covered near the entirety of her nude form, all the way to mid-thigh.  The skin that remained exposed was stained in much the same way as Pat's hands, which he inspected a second time.
"Bromley and Jones will be here any second.  They can't see you like this.  We need to get you out of here," Stan said as he slung Pat's arm over his shoulder.
"How long?"
"Five-ten minutes at most."
"But I did it, Stan.  I put her there."
Pat felt the older man handle his weight as the pair started moving toward the exit of the boiler room.
"Don't be silly," Stan said.  "You're delirious.  You just need some fresh air."
Pat began to get his legs under him as they returned to the corridor down which he had first come, but Stan steered him in the opposite direction and toward the rear of the school.
At the back of the school was a large metal door with a rectangular window filled with bent steel mesh that must have once also held glass.  On the other side of the door was a sort of covered portico with an inset staircase at one end.  Before helping Pat sit, Stan swiped a foot across the concrete of the broken steps in order to clear away the remnants of smashed bottles.
"You just stay here," Stan told him.
Pat watched Stan return the way they had come, and then he looked at his bloodstained hands.  Even now, he could practically feel the soft flesh of the girl on the palms as he wrapped the cord around her wrists and ankles.  He vigorously rubbed them against the legs of his pants to remove the sensation.  He found it was impossible to scrub his mind of the pleasure the sadistic act had given him in the same way.
"I didn't.  I know I didn't," he muttered to himself.  But if not, then how can I recall it in every detail, he wondered.  He had to concentrate his breathing to keep from hyperventilating.
It was some time before Stan returned, but Pat had not moved.  He had been dimly aware of eyes turned in his direction a time or two, but he had not paid them any mind, much the same as the fact that the rising sun--chasing away the night--had barely registered as the air all about him lightened.
"Come on," Stan said to him.  "Let's get you cleaned up."
"Did they take her?" Pat asked.
"They're coming now."
"What about me?  What did you say?"
"I told them you weren't thinking and tried to get her down."
"But nothing.  That's what happened.  It must have done.  Let's go."
"To the station?"
"Home first, I think."  Pat nodded, unable to find the energy to argue.
The drive was quick and silent.  Pat's thoughts continued in contemplation and Stan seemed content enough not to speak.  Pat could make no sense of what he felt or remembered, and now was too afraid to speak of it in any greater length.  The throb in his head added to the lack of appeal conversation held, and he was thankful for the reticence of his partner.
Their silence continued even after arriving at Pat's house.  It was not until they reached the door that Pat broke it, when he saw the ear of a piece of paper poking from his mailbox.  "Stan," he said, pointing in its direction.
"Don't touch it," said Stan, pulling a handkerchief from an inside pocket of his jacket.  He tweezed the paper between pinched fingers covered by the cloth.
Pat opened the door to his kitchen and switched on the lights.  Stan followed close behind.  He carefully laid the fragment on the counter where they could both read the words written on it.
Did you enjoy it?