Countdown

It was late, later than usual. Anna hadn’t planned leaving work so late; this was the second time this week I’ve gotten home when it’s dark. She checked her watch, 19:21. It was far too late for her to be getting home at this time, especially when it didn’t take too long for the Denver skies to get dark and cloudy with snow in the winter. She clutched her jacket tighter to herself, feeling alone and cold. There was always something about the evening that didn’t make her feel safe. Maybe the way the darkness slowly consumed any and everything in its way was why Anna shuddered. If she drove, this journey wouldn’t be as bad as it seemed, but she didn’t drive or ride her bike today either.

The streets were silent. Nothing but the wind made noise, and Anna hated that. It did nothing other than highlight the fact that she was alone, or even worse someone was quietly watching her. She balled her hands into fists, trying to ignore the faint fear that began slithering up her spine, but she couldn’t shake it off. She increased her stride, picking up the pace, fear escalating with each step. There was no real reason for Anna to be scared, but she kept thinking of the possibilities that could occur if she didn’t get home soon. Someone could jump out and rob me, or worse… Anna took a deep breath and without thinking began running home. One foot in front of the other, trying not to miscalculate her footing.

 

Finally she reached her house. She hurriedly searched for her keys in her jacket pocket, but realised they weren’t there. Oh fuck, where the hell are my keys? With panic slowly gripping her body, she threw her bag onto the ground and began rummaging through the past test papers; homework and essays then pass the laptop where she found her keys. She picked her bag up, quickly checking the street to see if anyone else was there. She was alone. Of course I’m alone she thought, nobody was ever there, it was always her mind that got the better of her. She unlocked the door then stepped inside, closing it behind her. After gathering herself, she slowly rested against the cold steel, closing her eyes and taking deep breaths wishing paranoia didn’t have such a stronghold on her like it did. Get a grip Anna; you aren’t the same woman you were seven years ago. She ran her fingers through her hair, opening her eyes, noticing the large amount of letters that lay scattered on the ground. She turned to lock the door, one bolt, then another and then the key lock. Whether her mind continuously wanted to play games on her or not, she wasn’t ready to take any chances. She dropped her bag near the umbrella stand and began gathering the letters on the ground. Sifting through the envelopes, wondering whether any of them were worth reading tonight.

 

“Work stuff, bank stuff, gym membership…what’s this?” She held a white plain letter that only had her name on it. Anna Phillips. She held the letter whilst removing her jacket. After hanging it loosely onto the coat rack, she made her way into the kitchen.

 

She considered calling Caroline, seeing as these panic attacks are getting worse. Then decided to eat first, and then figure out whether a call to Caroline was necessary. She put the letter on the table and walked to the refrigerator. Finding left over spaghetti, she grabbed the bowl and removed the foil lid. Placing the bowl in the microwave, two minutes should do it. She sat down on the dining chair and grabbed the letter, unsealing it wondering who would have gone to the trouble to hand deliver a letter to her. It wasn’t her birthday (not like anyone remembered), and she barely kept communication with her family or friends, so figuring out who would have gotten in contact with her was something she couldn’t guess. Once she’d opened the letter, she shook  the contents over the table and out came a note with a folded piece of paper. She took the note and read it,

 

‘Dear Anna Phillips,

 

I apologise for the grief and hurt I’ve laid upon you. I was foolish and unaware of what I was doing. I now know what my behaviour has caused you and I’m sorry.

Please forgive my actions.

 

                                                                                                                        10.’

 

Confused, she unravelled the other piece of paper, wondering who felt the need to apologise to her. She unfolded the paper failing to comprehend the image before her eyes. But with another moment everything clicked. A slit throat, bathed in blood, and dead eyes staring right back at her. Her hands trembled involuntarily and without thinking, she jumped out of her chair and rushed to her phone. She held her mouth trying to suppress the scream she knew would escape her lips and waited for someone to pick up. Finally, the operator came alive,

“Hello, you’ve called 911, what is your emergency?”

“Dead…someone’s dead!”

 

*******

 

It didn’t take that long for the police to show up but once they had, they secured Anna’s house within moments. People roamed the house,  whilst others were repeatedly analysing the picture. Dead eyes. Anna hadn’t moved from where the officer had questioned her earlier. He’d asked the generic questions, “So can you recall the situation to me madam?” “When was this delivered?” “Where were you before you came home?” “Do you recognise the man in the picture?” Throughout his questions she couldn’t help but tremble, remembering the picture, the man, the blood it was all too much for her. She knew something wasn’t right. First she felt like she was being watched on her way home, then that letter. She bit her lip and took a deep breath, she refused to let the police know she didn’t feel safe before she got home, because then they’d ask questions, questions she wasn’t prepared to answer, not tonight. She shut her eyes, the dead man printed on the back of her eyelids. Even though she hadn’t witnessed a real dead body, seeing one in a photo was just as bad. And maybe because she was already shaken up on her way home was what had her panicking. But something in the pit of Anna’s stomach made her know this wasn’t something to ignore. She shivered again thinking about everything; breathe Anna. She took another deep breath and gathered herself together, opening her eyes to see an officer watching her. She averted her eyes, but noticed in her peripheral vision that the officer was making her way to Anna.

 

“Would you like to take a seat madam?”

 

Anna shook her head, again refusing the offer to sit. Focusing on her breathing, she closed her eyes and tried to remember things Caroline had told her to do when she felt like a panic attack was close. Take deep breathes, forget everyone and everything around you and focus on your breathing. In through your nose and out through the mouth. Anna replicated the instructions in her head, focusing only on her breathing, shutting out the footsteps, the talking, the clicks of different equipment. Once she had control over her breathing the only thought that ran through her mind was why would anyone want to mail this to me?

 

She tried not to dwell on the question, but it was the answer to that one question that could ease her mind if she knew the answer. She held herself tighter until she could feel the air around her become smaller. She opened her eyes and her gaze was filled with a man that made Anna pause just for a second. His strong jaw structure, skin hard around the mouth, but smooth everywhere else and then his eyes stunned Anna. His glassy blue eyes held her gaze. With everything occurring, for just a moment she felt safe. For a minute this man, who she knew nothing of had made her feel safe. He stretched out his hand to shake hers and reality hit her again. The noise around the house arose again, feet continued to move, the pounding of her heart grew so loud, she grew conscious wondering whether everyone else could hear it.

 

“Anna Phillips, I’m detective Sutherland, would you like a seat, you look pale?”

She shook his hand and shook her head, looking at the ground declining the offer for the fourth time.

“Alright, could you explain what happened tonight?”

“I came home, later than usual and when I got in, I saw a pile of letters. I was going to look at them tomorrow, because I was exhausted, but one of them only had my name written on it. And I just wanted to know who would have come all the way to mail me something…”

“Then what happened afterwards?”

“I went to warm my food. Whilst it was warming, I opened the letter. There was a note and a folded piece of paper inside of the letter. I read the note, not understanding it, so I opened the paper which revealed the picture.”

“Why did you read the note first then look at the picture?”

He stood waiting, attentively listening, not forgetting any details.

“I…I don’t know. Maybe because I thought it was easier to read the note than look at the folded piece of paper first.”

“Okay, then what did you do after realising what was in the letter?”

“I rushed and called you.” He looked up, his eyes turning dark and his jaw clenching.

“I mean I called the police. I don’t know if this is a prank, but…” Anna shuddered again. Stop this Anna…at least until you’re alone. “That note and then that picture.”

 

He continued writing silently whilst she watched him. Watched him write, watched him inhale and exhale. There was something about this man that made Anna feel safe, though his build was strong, it was his aura that made Anna want to talk. Talk about everything, something she never did after the things she’s been through. She looked down, attempting to repress those memories, no matter how many times I went counselling nothing got better.

“Miss, please take a seat.”

 

She looked up, and her eyes were met with the detectives stare. He was cautious of her, this was the second time she grew pale, and why would I know that? Because I keep watching her that’s why. She slowly sat down and controlled her breathing.

“What now?” She tested her voice; glad it wasn’t replicating how she truly felt.

“Well,” He knelt in front of her and gave her a reassuring smile. “We’re going to do our best to find out who sent this to you. Then we’re going to find out whether or not this is real.”

“And if it is real?”

She looked into Kane’s eye deeply, almost pleading for him to give her an answer that would end this, but he knew if this was real, it was just the start of something dark and vile.

But he decided to smile.

“If it is real, we’ll track down the body and catch the killer.”

She nodded. He brushed a hair away from her face, gave her another smile and walked towards his team. For now he was going to ignore the foreign feeling he had towards the this woman and focus on the task at hand.

“Alright guys, what do we have?”

Sutherland asked the ME.

“Not much and I’m not surprised, I’ll take it to the lab and run it for prints. We’ve swept the house to check if the person dropped anything, but right now…nothing.” Another ME grabbed the photo from the previous one.

“Never in my 16 years have I had to analyse a body through a picture.”

Lauren, the leading medical examiner said assessing the picture.

“We’ll try to get something Kane.”

Kane nodded.

“Something is better than nothing.”

 

They nodded and shortly after, Kane’s partner walked through the door.

“What’s going on?”

As soon as Charlie spoke Kane noticed the faint smell of alcohol on his breath. Jesus, not again. Kane grabbed his partner outside.

“Are you drunk?”

Charlie smiled but shook his head, sighing.

“No, I just had a drink, maybe two.”

“We don’t have time for this Charlie, we’ve got a possible dead person lying around somewhere, a woman who is shaken to death and you’ve had a couple of drinks?” Kane lowered his voice and stood closer to Charlie, so that nobody overheard their discussion. “I need you focused Charlie, especially now.”

Charlie scratched his head then sighed, this time without a smile.

“Sorry, it’s been a rough day, I’ll sober up.” Charlie walked back inside with Kane staring at him. All he had to do was remain sober, but Charlie couldn’t do it. Charlie was a good cop. Good was even an understatement. He had talents that a lot of other cops didn’t have. Yet, he continued to drown his talents at the bottom of a bottle. Even though Kane was angry it never really lasted, Charlie had lost a lot in the past year and if drinking was the way he dealt with it, Kane wasn’t going to stop him. However, drinking during work hours wasn’t responsible and once Charlie and Kane were done here, he’d have a quick talk with him. He walked back into the house and looked at the neatly folded paper.

“Has anyone read that note yet?”

“I have,” Lauren grabbed the note and gave it to Kane. “We couldn’t make nothing out of it, seems real personal.”

Kane opened the note and read it.

 

© All Rights Reserved by Sarah E. Balogun

 

 

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