That’s all it took – one word, comprised of five letters, in bold type – to give Senior Detective Greg Sunders of the Ridgewood PD the greatest heartache of his life. He reads the word over and over, causing a pit to grow in his stomach and his heart to beat heavy. A man of 54, whose been in service of the great state of Misery (Missouri) 33 of those 54 years, finally feels the weight of his job. It piles on his shoulders, forcing his head down and holds fast, so he can’t look away from that damn word. However, with both hands flat on his desk, he keeps holding himself up. So much strain on an old man’s body.
The more he looks at the word the more it stops even looking like a word. It suddenly looks foreign, like a hieroglyph. Some scribble on a cheap piece of paper that told a story all by itself. Even with a full physical attached, that word is all Sunders had to see. He doesn’t care about the height and weight. All he wanted to know was if he found Edward Moser, an innocent boy, locked up like an animal. Unfortunately, he did.
He reads it out loud, to know it’s real, “Match.” What an awful word, with a worse meaning. The follow up is in his head:
“How could you have missed that? He was right there the whole time – right under your feet!” Sunders, with the manila folder in hand, slams his hands down onto his desk. The startling sound should’ve grabbed everyone else around him by attention but this is his angry fantasy, and rationality isn’t currently present. With the full force of his body he whips his arms around like a tyrannical child, knocking off the computer he has to type his stupid reports on; the screen blows out onto the floor. Next is the big brick-like landline phone that he constantly has to answer and talk to stupid people about their stupid problems. It lands against the floor and takes no damage. Those things sure are made for the everyday office abuse.
Finally, Sunders grabs that uncomfortable office chair that he’s been held captive in by nepotism and complacency for the last ten years and smashes it into his desk over and over. The chair rips papers, breaks pens, and shatters the picture of him and, his used to be pal, Lieutenant Matthews. Every day he looks at that and is reminded of his failures. He slams the picture the hardest. The desk falls to pieces after that but Sunders is still enraged.
Now, this being a fantasy, Sunders can do anything he wants and at this point in time so many feelings are flooding back that he just wants to die. He pulls his .357 out of the leather holster on his hip and shoves it in his mouth. There’s no need for convincing since he’s surrounded by reasons every day. Seeing that word show up on the report was just the icing on the cake…
He pulls the trigger.
The thought of ending his life right now seems justified and definitely isn’t the first time it’s crossed his mind. Usually when he gets to this point in his fantasy he feels at ease and he can get through another week. This time, the bullet pulls him back to reality and (this time) he doesn’t feel at ease. His past is starring right back at him, bearing its fangs. Ready to tear apart his world.
Sunders closes the file and leans back with his hand placed over his mouth. Suddenly he feels an involuntary tear meet the rough burlap skin of his hand. He pulls his hand away and stares at the small droplet resting right by his index’s knuckle. Men can’t cry; you can’t cry, he remembers. But yet, here it is.
January 14th (One Week Prior)
It was around 5:30 AM, frigid, when Sunders had gotten out of bed. As usual, he woke up with a grunt and had to pull himself off of his mattress by clinging to the edge of it. The mattress isn’t bad, but when your job requires you to be on your feet for 80% of the last thirty years, and you don’t really invest in some good arch support, the lower back usually takes a hit.
Just as methodically as every morning, he tucked his feet away from the cold floor and into his new grey insolated house shoes that his sister Jean got him for Christmas. Sitting at the edge of his bed, Sunders took in a deep breath. Telling himself, “All you gotta do is show up. Go in, do paper work, come home. No one expects anything from you anymore, old man.” Not the most encouraging words, but that’s the best you can get from a cynic’s conversation with himself.
Lately Jean had been working the graveyard shift at the hospital, so Sunders no longer got to have breakfast with his baby sister. Or his nephew Mark either, but he’s been very active in school since he started high school two years ago, so he never ate at home. Usually Sunders would see him before or after his shower around 6AM, then he was out the door and would be home again around 7 PM. Then it was homework till 10. Rinse repeat.
So Sunders shuffled to the kitchen and poured some coffee that Jean made the night before, black, reheated in the microwave of course. Every once and a while he would reminisce on having a smoke with his coffee, but he gave up on that about thirteen years ago when he made detective. Jean convinced him, she told him that he had purpose, and that purpose wasn’t laying in a box underground ten years from now.
So he quit, he had no reason not to. His ex-wife, Jean and his younger brother Sam had asked him to quit for years, there was never resistance from Sunders about the subject. He just liked how it reminded him of his father. Fishing in the summer surrounded by grass and weeds up past his head. “Everything comes with a price,” that’s what he’d tell his boys as he pried the ticks from their bodies. There was always a lesson to be learned. It was part of growing up.
Sunders tried doing the same with Mark, but they drifted apart. Mark has never been interested in fishing, even when they used to go camping a lot. Nowadays a man doesn’t have to work with his hands to be successful. Sunders is proud of Mark for being so intelligent, but only wishes they had more common ground. Starring into his black coffee, he knew that was his fault.
Sunders turned from his heavy heart and lifted his cup for the refreshing wake up of his morning coffee but then the home phone rang. It was held by one flimsy nail on the wall right above him and it always shook uncontrollably like it would fall off. He could feel the vibrations in his feet. More importantly, no one has ever been known to call at this time, not this early. He starred at it for a couple rings, disgusted. Right before the 4th ring he answered. Coffee in one hand, bad news in the other.
“Hello?” Sunders began groggy.
“Hello sir, this is Officer Alex Raymond.” Sunders knew of him, some new uniform, came in from the academy about six months back. “Sorry to call so early sir, but lieutenant Matthews said you’d be up.”
Of course he’d know, that’s my bastard ex-partner, Sunders thought pettily, but let the rookie continue.
“I’m afraid I need you to come on scene, sir.”
“I don’t know if Matthews thought to mention this, but I’m an over paid paper pusher.” Sunders tone came off as bitter and rightfully so.
“No sir, he didn’t, but he did say you’d want to be here for this.”
“And why’s that?” Sunders forcefully placed his cup down on the table. Some of the coffee whipped up and over the side of the cup and onto Sunders’ hand. He didn’t flinch. His anger distracted him from the pain. Just like it has for years.
“Well sir, the address is 114 Charleston Drive.”
Sunders’ eyes grew wide, maybe the rookie had said the wrong address. “What was that?”
“114 Charleston, sir.”
“What kind of scene is it?”
“Gruesome sir, something out of a nightmare.”
“Jesus,” Sunders looked up at the clock hanging from the wall. 5:48 AM. “Lock it down, don’t even let forensics start pulling shit apart till I get there.” Sunders hung up before getting an OK from the rookie. He looked down at his coffee, the black hole in his cup and the cooled puddle resting over a red mark on his hand. Suddenly, he didn’t have a taste for it, but he did think about that smoke again.
“God, this better be some damn joke.”
114 Charleston Drive, Historical District, Ridgewood, Missouri. It was just around 6:30 AM when Sunders turned onto Charleston. The sun was rising steadily to his left however the multitude of trees, neighboring houses and a fresh winter front pulling from the southwest, weren’t letting much of that orange blanket settle. It’s safe to say that the weather was setting up a dramatic scene.
Sunders pulled up to the white picket gate that was left open by the other officers already at the scene, some graveyard shift patrollers. He saw everyone waiting, like he had told the rookie over the phone. Even the neighbors were outside their homes waiting to see what’s going on. His and everyone else’s lights stirred around on the perfectly kept white siding of the houses, creating this anxious mosaic of red and blue. Then as Sunders shifted his car into park, a small snow flake dropped onto his windshield. It only stayed snow for a second then the still heated windshield turned it to water. And there it remained.
When Sunders stepped out of his car all of the back up patrollers and state forensic analyzers shifted their postures, they were ready to get on with this. They lined the sidewalk that lead to the front door, making sunders feel almost like a celebrity as he walked down it. He kept his head low and eyes on where he was going. He knew that his decision to make them wait was dramatic, and also that no one would understand why. Except maybe for Matthews.
The rookie approached, shivering at the breaths of cold air whipping around them, “I kept everyone out till you showed up, like you said sir. I’m the only one whose been in there.” Sunders kept walking, while he replied, causing the rookie to keep his pace.
“Grab the lead analyst and take me in. Get the other blues on setting a perimeter and make sure they know, no press on this lawn. Got it?” Sunders quickly barked his order. The rookie, so eagerly, quickened his pace. He was pointing fingers and talking a mile a minute with absolute affirmation. Sunders would’ve been impressed by this precision, but he was occupied with walking towards a red mahogany door.
His hand opened from a nervous clench as his arm rose tauntingly. You sure you want to open this door, old man? Sunders replied with a jerk of his wrist, then the door was open and the first thing to make itself known was the absolute darkness. The grey shaded light from the sky above couldn’t find its way in too far, but shapes of furniture could be made out to match Sunders’ memory if this place; when shadows were just beneath their feet.
The couch was placed against a wall 20 feet into the house on the left. That’s where a sweet and merciful Rachel Moser cried, to the rookie Officer Greg Sunders and his partner Sal Matthews, about her 5-year-old son. “I just want my baby, Edward, back officer! Please!” She’d thrown her head into her hands with pathetic heartbroken tears sliding between her fingers. Frank Moser placed his massive hand upon his wife and comforted her with a light rub which still had enough strength to pull her side-to-side.
The picture of Edward Moser was clipped between the rookie Sunders’ fingers. Healthy looking kid, he thought. Built strong, like his dad, but thin and welcoming like his mother. God, what if this was Mark? He remembered the cold shake he got at that thought which pulled him out of his memories. That’s when the next thing happened: the smell of the dread he’d been feeling came to fruition. The smell of something truly human. Death.
Sunders was small before the darkness. Never before had he felt like prey. But still, he took a step inside the demonic, abyssal home. He rose his hand a few inches over the recliners to the immediate left inside the door. To his right was a thin long table covered in pictures, same ones from 20 years ago. Last time Sunders was here he took a left to the couch which defined him as a cop and ultimately who he became, for better or worse. This time however, that smell pulled him to the right.
Before Sunders took a step towards those stairs, his eyes finally adjusted to the dark, he saw something on the floor. What looked to be mud or paint. The rookie and lead analyst walked in finally, and with a bustle of commotion going on behind them. “Press is here already sir.”
“Let’s be quick,” Sunders pulls his flashlight out and clicks on, to illuminate what this strange debris is before him. Frankly, he didn’t need the light to know what it was but the flashlight confirmed it anyway.
Sunders’ flashlight traced the blood trail one way, to another right side door 10 feet ahead, then the other, up the carpeted staircase. “Raymond, check out the basement,” Sunders whipped his flashlight to the door ahead, “Forensics, on me.” Sunders then turned to the staircase. Raymond took a deep breath and pulled his flashlight out. Then, like the floor is lava, everyone began their steady treks.
The closer Sunders got to the top of the staircase laced in crusty blood puddles, the more a fog seemed to be pouring up from the floor. The light from the flashlight bounced around the haze creating an opaque wall of light that, beyond it, made the darks even darker. Shadows grew out like a Witch’s jagged fingers and Sunders was convinced, in that moment, that she’d have him at any moment if she wanted.
At the top was a hallway with a door on the right 10 feet down (Edward’s room), one across from that (the bathroom), and the final one at the end of the stretch, the only door that was open, and the only room that had blood leading out of it. Rachel and Frank’s room. Sunders waded through the ankle high fog to get to the doorway. His flashlight peered in the room a few feet back and the fog had almost dissipated as if it wanted Sunders to see more clearly.
Now the whole room was, for the most part, illuminated so Sunder wasn’t blind to the full image he was getting merely didn’t want to face it. He kept his focus on the far side of room. At a tear in the wallpaper and for the longest time he let the horror set in his peripheral.
“Sir, is it good to work the scene?” the analyst asked cautiously, it was a woman. Sunders closed his eyes.
“Darling, I’m so sorry. Can you do me favor?” Sunders began with reluctance.
“Can you describe this scene for me?”
“Um,” she was taken back by the question, “Yes, sir. Well,” She began, “Signs of a major struggle. A couple holes in the wall, as well as torn wall paper, and broken glass. There are, what appear to be shreds of human flesh scattered.” She peeks from behind Sunders with her own flashlight. “To the right of you, in front of the dresser, is a man’s arm. Deduced by its length, muscle tone, and its covered in hair. At its point of separation, the skin is stretched and jagged. I’d say it was maybe pulled off around a major wound near the elbow.” She shifts around him again. “To the far left, against the wall, is a leg that Matches the arm, and.”
“Stop,” Sunders said quickly. “Not like that.” He knew all of this and it doesn’t take a genius to figure these are Frank Moser’s limbs. She could tell at that point Sunders was searching for something spiritual but she’s just not that kind of person.
“No sir, I’m sorry. I can’t.”
Sunders accepted that, neither could he. He opened eyes and focused in on the image. “Two people.” He began, “One possible male, Frank Moser, sitting in front of the bed. Left arm and right leg are severed. Right arm has major gash in right shoulder. Jaw is completely detached, sitting on the floor next to him. Large cut from the throat to the stomach has left his tongue and internal organs victim to gravity. One possible woman,” Sunders continued as coldly as he could. “Rachel Moser, on top of bed ripped open. Point of entry. Vagina.” He finished his analysis in his head, fuck.
“Isn’t that my job, sir?” she pipes up.
“It wasn’t for you,” Sunders admitted. “I’ll send in your team.” He took a defeated and silent exit passed the female analyst. Halfway down the hallway a sound startled Sunders but he didn’t stop to listen. Instead he moved as fast as his old legs would take him. Down one flight of stairs and into the living room, that’s when he heard it more clearly.
“Put your hands up now!” Raymond was yelling from the basement. Sunders quickly drew his .357 revolver and headed down to the basement. Once at the bottom he saw Raymond nearly waist deep in the fog and with the realization of that Sunders also noticed a massive temperature drop by at least twenty degrees. Raymond was shaking, but it was unclear to him if it was because of the sudden cold chill or whatever he was looking at. From the base of the stairs, Sunders couldn’t see it.
Weapon up and ready Sunders advanced towards Raymond. Once by the rookie’s side Sunders aimed his flashlight towards a massive hole in the brick and mortar wall. Next to the entrance was a big oak bookcase that must’ve been used to cover the hole. Within the hole amongst the fog and centipede like darkness crawling all over, was a tall dirty man. He stood there with his head bowed. Even though he was shrouded in complete darkness, his sticky pale image shone bright in my flashlight. His veins were rippling on his arms like they were snakes, on his wrists were shackles with broken chain link attached to the ends, and hanging over from his head was some long black greasy hair. Some of it ran over his forehead and right eye, the rest rested gently under his neck and down to his chest. The man looked strong, but thin. Simple, but kind. However, he was absolutely covered in dried blood. He was even holding the knife still.
Sunders put his hand on Raymond’s chest, signaling to stay here, then he advanced. “Son, I’m gonna need you to put the knife down, ok?” The closer Sunders got to the hole, the more nervous Raymond became. He could barely keep his flashlight steady. “I will not hurt you but I will not drop this gun until you drop that knife.” Sunders, now right outside of the hole and 10 feet from the man, stops and waits for a response from the man. Sunders tares into the man’s one exposed eye. It blue and gentle, like a rain drop. That man was scared. Sunders put his revolver away, “If you put that knife down, I can take you away from here.”
The man’s eye gently turned to Sunders, he was unarmed, and old. The man shed what seemed to be a tear of relief, then dropped the knife. As soon as the knife hit the ground Sunders advanced quickly and kicked it away from him. Sunders slapped a pair of handcuffs across his wrists. Sunders looked up into this man’s eyes. “Sorry pal, I have to do this too.” He knew he recognized those eyes. They’re Rachel’s. “Raymond lead us out!”
Raymond called over his walkie talkie to the officers outside, to clear a path to Detective Sunders’ car. They had the suspect in hand.