Two weeks ago I asked you to vote on which storyline I should attempt for a workshop and by far the vote pointed towards the Pych-Horror piece. (See the original post here: Prompted Writing Challenge, part 1.) I had never written in this genre nor do I read it. Alas, that is the point of a writer’s workshop and I accepted the challenge!
We were not supposed to write the full story, just the first 5 pages. I might one day finish this out, but I’m not sure yet where it’s going. I learned I did in fact enjoy writing Pych-Horror!
Two weeks. It’s been two solid weeks without a good night’s sleep and it is showing on Robin Mackel’s face, in the slump of his shoulders, in the scuff of his walk, in the way the dirty dishes are piled next to the sink.
His days used to be impeccably in order. The alarm would sound at 7am, he never hit snooze; to do so wasted time, effort, and daylight. By 7:15 his teeth were brushed, his bowels emptied, the paper retrieved from the front porch. By 7:30, his faithful golden retriever, Max, happily munched on his kibble and the coffee pot, always auto-set the night before, produced the perfect cup of coffee for him to sip while he scanned the local news section. He preferred to read only the local news because in his small town of Windsnap, Ohio, the headlines ranged from “Escaped Pig Finally Found” to “Jack Warner’s Son Joins the Army”.
By 8:00am Robin would be snapping a leash onto Max’s collar and taking a walk around the neighborhood where he would inspect the status of the lawns, make note of who he needed to talk to about mowing, or watering, or fertilizing; somewhat a stickler for wanting everyone on his street to have tidy green welcoming yards. At 8:40 he knotted his tie and threw on a hat or scarf, if the weather section of the paper instructed him to do so, and he walked out the door. And at 9:00am sharp, every weekday for the past 27 years, he clocked in at the LiveScan Insurance agency.
Usually, before the dreams started, Robin would take his lunch at 11:45am, a sandwich that he had made and packed for himself the night prior. And at 4:55pm, he would turn off his computer and say good-bye to his colleagues and head home. He would first feed Max, make dinner for himself plus a sandwich for tomorrow, set the coffee pot for the next morning, clean up the kitchen, and then prepare for his evening. Two days a week he went to the library to return and borrow a new book. On Wednesdays he bowled with his league made up of long time childhood friends. On Fridays he played poker with his coworkers. And on Sundays he watched TV. The other two nights he did errands; the grocery store, the pharmacy, the pet food store, whatever needed to be procured and checked off of the inventory list he maintained on the refrigerator door. On Saturdays he took Max to the park for long walks in the sun. On Sundays he worked on his yard.
But that was Robin’s life before. For the 27 years of his adult life, the only thing that differed was the dog, technically named Max the Third.
On October 3rd, Robin’s routine was altered. He woke up before the alarm in a sharp fright. Sitting up in bed from a dead sleep, his heart raced and he was breathing so hard he could feel his ribs tremble. Realizing he was covered in sweat and shivering, he fumbled around in the dark for his covers only to find they had been thrown from the bed. Blinking in the sudden brightness of the light when he flipped on the side lamp, Robin saw Max trembling under the chair by the closet instead of sleeping on his dog bed.
“It’s okay, Max.” Robin whispered as he bent down to retrieve the tangled pool of sheets and blankets. But reaching his hand towards the canine’s head caused Max to retreat further under the chair where he began to whimper. This reaction from Max was new, the dog didn’t usually flinch, not even during a thunderstorm. “Must have been somethin’ real loud to scare you and wake me up like that.” Robin mused.
That first night, he changed the sweat soaked sheet and settled back into bed, falling asleep until the 7:00am alarm. Max followed him out to the kitchen but refused to eat his kibble until after the walk around the neighborhood when he finally relaxed. Robin thought nothing more of the odd disturbance from their nighttime routine for the remainder of his day.
However, Oct 4th started off the same way as Oct 3rd. Robin once again found himself bolt upright in his pitch black bedroom, sweating, heart racing, Max trembling under the chair. This time he thought he heard the fading base of a car stereo, the screech of a singer belting out inaudible lyrics. “Damn kids.” Robin muttered as he once again changed out the sheets, tried to soothe the dog, and clambered into bed for more sleep.
A new headline leaped off the page that morning, one that made Robin spill his coffee on his shirt. “Lily Sparling Found Decapitated, No Suspects Identified”. Ms. Sparling had taught elementary school in Windsnap for as long as anyone could remember. Who would want to remove her head?
The LiveScan office buzzed with chatter about the murder. There was an accidental hunting death, the occasional drunken car crash, the unfortunate death of a baby that drowned in the bath. But never a murder. He stayed out of the conversations and tried to focus on work.
But now, two weeks later, he couldn’t stay out of it. The morning of Oct 16th started the same way as the past 14 days. Robin, drenched in sweat, but now sleeping on a layer of towels so he could avoid changing the sheets. He no longer believed the sounds he heard were from an annoying teenagers car, they were the screams of Lily. And Paul. And Jordan. And whoever else he might read about in this morning’s paper.
Robin had stopped trying to go back to sleep, instead getting up and slipping on his robe. Ignoring the shivering dog who by now, steered clear of his owner at all times, not just in the early morning, he walked to the kitchen where the coffee pot had not been prepped for today. Pushing the stack of dirty dishes aside, he filled the carafe and laid his weary head on the cold counter while he waited for the coffee to percolate.
Paul Mitchell and Jordan Armstrong had been found decapitated 4 and 8 days after Lily. Which, if the Feds, who had invaded the small Windsnap police station after Paul’s death, were right, that meant a fourth murder would have happened on the 15th and the paper would reveal the information this morning.
Robin’s coworkers noticed his disheveled appearance over the last few days, the absence of his ever-present tie. He had skipped bowling and departed the poker game after just one hand. Everywhere he went, people were talking about the serial killer that had crept into their peaceful town. And each time the names of Lily or Paul or Jordan were brought up, Robin’s heart hammered in his chest, he’d have to wipe away the beads of sweat forming around his thinning hair line. He’d hear them scream. The screams were so real he’d snap his head in the direction of the sound, eyes wide, hands gripping the table or counter or desk. Whoever had been talking to him would touch his shoulder and ask if he was alright. Robin would nod, but he was not alright. Not at all.
After making a second cup of coffee, also a new element to his routine, his ears tuned into the paper hitting his porch and he shuffled outside to see the headline. As expected, another decapitation. Joey Littlefield, a high school baseball player on his way to the local university on a scholarship. The article went on to say the Feds had some clues now, patterns in the murders that they believed would help them catch the culprit and encouraged anyone with information to come forward.
Robin was perplexed. Surely hearing these poor souls scream and beg for mercy in his dreams were just that, dreams. Nothing like this had happened in this town, nothing like this had happened to him, surely it was just his imagination not knowing what to do with the information. But he couldn’t explain why the dreams had started before he learned about the first murder. He couldn’t explain why Max now trembled in fear of him.
Looking towards the cowering retriever across the room, Robin’s eyes caught site of his umbrella. The umbrella was propped by the front door, just in case. The oddity that quickened his pulse and snapped his attention was the small puddle of water underneath it. Although it had in fact rained last night, he’d gone nowhere.
Slowly rising to his feet, Robin shuffled to the umbrella and let his fingers trace the remaining rain drops off its outer shell. Mystified, and immediately confused, his eyes looked down at his rain boots and found that they too were damp.
Panicking now, Robin patted himself down, feeling his shirt damp with sweat, not rain. Right? It was just sweat.
It had to be just sweat.
His rising dread was interrupted by the doorbell where he saw Deputy Cornish surrounded by two FBI agents at his front door. “Mr. Mackel, we need to speak to you.”