Small towns make for scary places, Adriane thought. Bitter cold greeted her as she stepped out of the car, snow crunching beneath her boots. Her face stung from the icy wind that rushed past, blowing her hair into her face. She shivered and pushed her hair back with gloved hands. The air tasted different in Poville, Kentucky, like popsicles with no flavor except a hint of juniper.
She hated it. The town was too little, too intimate. She thought it odd that a town with so few people and so much land would squeeze into such a small space. Adriane wanted to scream without being heard, wanted to feel comfortable walking around her house in the nude. Wasn’t that the point of a small town?
She blamed Devon for it. Her husband took the coal factory job without even asking her, assuming she’d like the money. Of course she liked the money but she also liked being home in California where it was warm and strangers didn’t wave to you when you drove past. He told her it would be fun. After living in Poville for two months, she disagreed.
Desperate for an escape, Adriane drove out of the small town and explored the countryside for a solid hour and a half. She returned home, ready to relax but Mrs. Pickinpo stopped her. The old woman bombarded her with questions.
“Oh! Hi, dear! How are ya getting’ along in our cozy town? Like snow? I’ve loved snow all my life. Where’d you say ya grew up? I bet there wasn’t a single snowflake there…”
Adriane’s head throbbed. She mumbled something about leaving her oven on and ran away, leaving Mrs. Pickinpo in her beloved snow with her tiny fur-ball of a dog.
The house Devon bought sat just on the edge of Poville and leaned slightly to one side. She discovered that while drinking half a bottle of Pinot Grigio one night. The wine tilted just ever so much. She even swapped out glasses just to be sure. Devon thought she was crazy.
“There’s nothing wrong with the house,” he told her. He became more agitated each time she brought it up. “I don’t have time for this, Adriane. The house is fine.”
Faded blue paint chipped away from the faux shudders and no one ever bothered painting the old gray walls. Dust covered the untreated wood floors. No matter how often she swept, they were never clean.
She wrapped her snow-soaked fingers around the ice-cold doorknob, fumbled with her keys, and pulled the door with a good jerk. Each time she had to open that door, a flash of frustration rose up from her belly and escaped her lips in a long, deep groan.
Adriane slammed the door behind her, rattling loose window panes, and let out an exasperated breath. If there’d been something to kick, she would have. Instead, she threw her keys across the room and watched as they struck the floor and slid beneath the refrigerator.
“That’s just fucking perfect!” She stormed over to the old, rusty ice box that had to be at least twenty-years-old and gave it a shove. The mountain of half-painted steel and rust seemed to mock her as she heaved all of her weight into it. As she prepared herself for one last shove the motor kicked on, laughing at her, mocking her. Adriane huffed, blowing a strand of brown hair out of her red face and scowled. After staring at the laughing refrigerator for a solid five minutes, she decided to give up.
“If you can’t beat ‘em…,” She opened the door and reached for the half-full bottle of Pinot Grigio inside, “drink wine instead.”
She set the bottle on the ceramic countertop with a clang and started to remove her coat. Her breath caught in her throat, one sleeve of her coat removed and tilted her head. A small brown box sat on the kitchen table, unopened, her name spelled incorrectly in black letters across the top.
“To Adreanne. Enjoy!”
A spidery tinge of fear made its home in the back of her mind, weaving doubt and anxiety into cobwebs of suspicion. The handwriting was almost child-like, and the box was taped all around, reflecting the kitchen light. How did it get there? Devon could not have left it. He wrote like a poet with flowing cursive letters that curled at the ends. He left for his shift before her eyes were even open, and she’d been away for less than two hours.
She finished removing her coat and draped it over the back of a chair then slid off her gloves and tossed them onto the table. Pressing her fingertips against the wood table, she hovered over the box, unsure of whether she wanted to open it or not. So many questions flooded her thoughts that her head began to hurt again. She stood straight and clenched her jaw.
After three glasses of wine and pacing the house for forty-five minutes, she felt just a little braver. She finally gave in to her curiosity. Her bottom lip was raw from chewing it, her fingers sore where she’d bitten her nails to the nub. Taking a deep breath, she used a pair of scissors to cut through five layers of tape and closed her eyes as she opened the box.
A smell she’d only encountered once in her life, slapped her face, making her grimace. She opened her eyes and peered inside.
For a moment, she did nothing, said nothing. She didn’t even breathe. The room closed in around her. She felt the floor slipping out from under her as she stumbled back across the kitchen. She landed with a loud thud on the hard wood floor. She screamed.
Her shrill voice escaped the leaning house on the edge of town. A nearby dog started to bark and a chain reaction of howling and barking dogs followed. All of Poville howled in the bitter cold night.
Adriane sat up on the floor and stared at the box sitting on her kitchen table. The memory of that smell came to her. She encountered the same stink back in California. A rat had crawled into the walls of her tiny apartment and died. The stench lingered for a full month.
She pushed herself up and stood to her feet, never allowing her eyes to leave the box. A shaking hand reached into her pocket, grabbing her phone, and then dialed 911.
“H-hello?” Her voice stuck in her throat and came out coarse and scratchy. She swallowed, trying to pull herself together. “I…” She drew a deep breath. “I need to report a…severed finger.”
The operator had to ask three times for her address and assured her the police were on the way.
“They’re comin’ from the next county over, miss. It might take some time. Jus’ try ta remain calm,” he told her.
She nodded as if he could see her gestures, her eyes still piercing that little brown box.
Officer Ventura, who looked like an old bear in his policeman’s coat, held a little notepad that was blank except for the words “eyewitness account” written across in chicken-scratch handwriting. Not the same writing as the box, she thought. His thick gray eyebrows moved ever so slightly as he spoke. “Were ya ‘lone when ya found it?”
She nodded, picking at the silver angel pendant that hung from her neck. “Yes, I was alone when I found it,” she said.
Officer Ventura frowned. “Any idea who it might‘of sent it? Any information would be useful, miss…”
I can’t believe he’s just now asking what my name is. “Mrs. Falgout. No. I don’t know who did it. We just moved here two months ago.”
She focused her gaze behind him, watching as another officer with rubber gloves dropped the shriveled, severed finger into a plastic bag and sealed it shut. A shudder ran through her. Whose finger was it?
Adriane looked back at Officer Ventura. “I don’t understand. Where is the officer who lives in this town? Shouldn’t he be here?”
He shook his head, eyebrows bouncing. “Most times he is, ma’am. Jus’ been busy tonight I reckon.” He replaced the still blank notepad. “I think we got all we need. Make sure ya lock ‘em doors.”
“I will. Thank you,” she answered. Her voice sounded distant, lost.
By the time the officers left, Adriane was slumped deep into her sofa, staring at her reflection in a blank television screen. Her head ached. She squeezed her eyes closed and rubbed them with nail-bitten fingertips. The image of that severed finger flashed in her mind. Dried blood caking the inside of the box, that finger laid there like it had the mind to jump out and attack her.
She dropped both hands to her sides and let out a puff of breath. She stood with and marched to the bathroom, hoping a good soak in the tub would help her relax.
That didn’t help, Adriane thought. Every little creak with every gust of wind made her jump and splash water all over the old wooden floors. She stood up in the tub, still sudsy with bubbles and reached for the towel on the wall. In California, twenty minutes in a hot bath made everything better. It did nothing for her in Poville.
She wrapped herself in the plush, terrycloth towel and started toward the bedroom, her soaking wet hair dripping streaks of cold water down her back. She hurried down the hall with its dusty wooden floor and realized the dust now clung to her damp feet.
Adriane reached her bedroom doorway and stopped as her ears perked to the sound of shuddering walls in the living room. She stood still as stone, held her breath and listened. The air seemed to shift around her and she felt hot breath tickle the back of her neck.
She spun on her heel, hands out with nubs exposed, slapping the wall beside her. She furrowed her brows and looked around, at a loss for thought. A hot breeze blew across her face and she turned her eyes upward. A vent, desperate to be cleaned, whistled as it forced the heater’s air through.
She slumped against the wall and shook her head, breathing a sigh of relief. Don’t be so stupid, Adriane.
Her hands still shook and her heart still raced. She just wanted Devon to come home. He was scheduled for a twenty hour day and he still had four hours left. She stepped through her bedroom door, closed and locked it behind her, and found a pair of her husband’s cozy pajamas pants. Adriane slid them on over her cold, damp legs, feeling warmer as soon as she hiked them up over her hips and pulled the drawstrings tight. She dug into a basket of clean, unfolded clothes and pulled out her favorite t-shirt. Venice Beach scrawled across the front in bold, purple letters. She climbed into her bed and bundled up under a mountain of covers.
Exhausted did not even begin to describe how she felt, but every time she closed her eyes, that finger made an appearance. It pointed at her. It mocked her. It threatened to attack her. She stiffened at every little sound; the roof moaned as a howl of wind rushed over it. The walls shuddered every time the heater kicked on.
She spent the night tossing, turning, and sleeping for less than ten minutes at a time. Not until dawn began to creep over a snowy white town did she sleep for a solid hour. She ran in the darkness through a muddled nightmare, someone calling her name through the void. She woke covered in beads of sweat to the sound of an over-joyous songbird.
Adriane sat up, hair frazzled, sticking out in every direction. She turned her eyes to the clock and frowned. Devon had not come home. She scrambled out of the bed, eyes still half-closed, brain still in a fog. Her feet padded through the long, dim hallway as she rushed to find her phone. It dawned on her how stupid she was for leaving it in the living room but she pushed the thought aside and found it near the sofa.
The little green light that indicated she had messages blinked, giving her a brief moment of relief. There were two missed calls from her sister in California, who still hadn’t figured out time zones. In her texts she found a message from Mrs. Pickinpo, inviting her to dinner this evening.
“Don’t forget to bring a dessert!”
Adriane rolled her eyes, regretting her decision to give her number out. She frowned. Not a single message or call from her husband. She pressed her finger to his face on her screen and held the cold phone to her ear.
“You’ve reached Devon. Sorry I can’t get to my phone…”
She lowered the phone, face turning pale and shivered from the panic that started to set in. A million reasons for him to not be home rushed through her mind as she rushed into the kitchen and pulled on her coat.
Fingers dug deep into her pockets, searching for her keys when she remembered where they were. She cursed under her breath and stared at the refrigerator.
“I don’t have time for this,” she whispered.
Adriane bit her bottom lip. She might ask Mrs. Pickinpo for a ride to the police station. Then again, it might be less uncomfortable to walk two miles in four feet of snow. She huffed, zipped up her coat, and hurried out of the door.
“I don’t understand, dear. You want me to take you to jail?” The little old woman was by no means the brightest crayon in the box.
Adriane had to stop herself from shaking some sense into her. “No. Mrs. Pickinpo, I need a ride to the police station. My husband is missing.”
Mrs. Pickinpo frowned. “Oh, how awful. Well, you better hurry. He could be hurt.”
Adriane clenched her jaw, fighting the urge to slap the frail old lady. “I need a ride,” she said through grinding teeth. She plastered a fake smile across her face, hoping she didn’t look as annoyed as she felt.
Mrs. Pickinpo craned her silver-topped head to view the car sitting in Adriane’s drive way. “Isn’t that your car, dear? Is it broken down? Hurley is a wonderful mechanic. You should have him take a look at it.”
Adriane closed her eyes and breathed deep. “Mrs. Pickenpo, I need you to listen to me. My husband has not returned home from work. My keys are stuck under the fridge, and I need a ride to the police station. Can you please help me?” She spoke in a slow, plain tone, hoping this time the stupid woman understood.
“Oh! I’m sorry, dear. Of course! Let me grab my coat.”
As the door closed, Adriane shook her head and rolled her eyes, unable to understand how someone could live so long and be so dense.
She sat in Officer Smart’s home, legs bouncing at a rapid pace as she waited for him to return. It hardly surprised her that his house was the town’s police station. His spare room was turned into an office and that’s where he left her.
He’d been away for more than ten minutes and she started to wonder if he’d gotten lost. It wouldn’t be surprising. Scattered across his desk was a stack of files, a dirty magazine, two dirty coffee mugs, and a half-eaten donut. Adriane squirmed in the torn, leather chair, feeling the exposed metal springs dig into her bottom.
Impatience coursed through her. It had all become so ridiculous. The town should have been named Idiotsville. “Officer Smart!”
She thought about charging out there to find him, but just as she started to stand he peered around the corner. “I’ll be right with ya, Mrs. Falgout.”
Adriane shook her head and stared upward at the ceiling with gaping holes where tiles should have been. A tangle of cables and electrical cords hung down out of one of them. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes, crossing her arms over her chest.
So tired…, she thought. She thought she might fall asleep. Warm air surrounded her as the heater clicked on. Even as annoyed and anxious as she felt, she sensed herself beginning to drift off. She stood, pacing the room.
Officer Smart turned the corner, a fresh mug of steaming hot coffee in his hands. It infuriated her.
“You made a pot of coffee?” She yelled. “What the hell is wrong with you people?”
He sat down in his squeaky chair and set his coffee beside the two dirty mugs. “Mrs. Falgout, I been workin’ fer eighteen hours now. I’m gonna need you ta relax.”
She squinted at him and leaned forward. “How have you been working for eighteen hours if you weren’t the one who came to my house last night?”
“Yer house? Fer what?”
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe when I found a severed finger in a box?” The inflection in her tone dripped with sarcasm and frustration.
Officer Smart shrugged. “Don’ know nothin’ ‘bout that. I was o’er at Mrs. Pickinpo’s house helpin’ her with…” He shook his head. “Non’a yer business.”
Adriane started to yell again but stopped herself. She did not have the time to start a screaming match. She let out an exasperated sigh and returned to the uncomfortable chair across from Officer Smart.
“I need to file a missing person’s report,” she said in as calm a tone as she could manage.
Officer Smart flicked three packs of sugar against his hand. “Who’s missin’?”
A disgusting smirk appeared below his peppered mustache. “You sure he ain’t cheatin’ on ya?”
Adriane blinked at him. “He is not…” She started to shout and realized it halfway through her response. “He is not cheating on me. He never came home from work last night.”
He dumped the packs of sugar into the mug of coffee and started to stir. “What time was he s’posed ta be home?”
“Four A.M.,” she answered.
Officer Smart lifted his mug of coffee and leaned back in his chair, resting his filthy boots on his desk. “I reckon…” He took a sip of the hot liquid. “That yer husband is just runnin’ late. That, or he is cheatin’ on you. Don’t matter no way. I can’t file a report ‘til he’s been missin’ fer forty-eight hours.”
Adriane wanted to dive across the desk and tackle the smug police officer. His pervy face annoyed her. He was the type of guy that couldn’t pull off a mustache, too skinny and grinned too much. Instead, she stood, spun on her heel, and marched toward the door.
“Mrs. Falgout,” Officer Smart called out to her.
She turned and eyed him. He still wore that creepy grin.
“You left yer purse.”
Adriane thanked Bobby-Joe Wilson as she opened the car door. The teenager pulled over to offer her a ride as she trudged through four feet of snow. The pimple-faced kid was harmless if not a little odd. He blushed every time she spoke to him, which had only been twice; both times she bought a few items from the hardware store he was working behind the counter.
She sat in the seat beside him and closed the rusty door.
“Sorry, Miss Adriane. Heater’s broke.” He gestured to the busted knobs on the dash.
She shook her head and shrugged. “Bobby, that is the least of my problems today. I’m just happy you stopped.”
Bobby flashed a bashful smile. “Aw shucks, Miss Adriane. Ain’t no big deal. Where ya need ta go?”
“Home,” she sighed. Then she thought about it. “Actually, are you busy today? I could use a ride to the coal factory.”
He shook his head. “Nah, I ain’t busy, but why would ya wanna go there? It’s been shut down fer ten years now.”
Adriane’s heart stopped. “That – that isn’t possible. Devon has been working there for two months now.”
Bobby gave her a queer look. “I dunno where he’s been goin’, but I know fer certain that place shut down. There was a murder there two years ago. They found the poor guy all hacked…”
Adriane raised her hand. “Stop.” She refused to hear anymore. “Is there another coal factory?”
The teenage boy thought about it, his cracked lips pursed. “Yeah, there is,” he finally answered. “But that one is ‘bout twenty miles from here. You reckon that’s where he’s been workin’?”
She shrugged, relieved by his answer. “I don’t know. Can you take me there?”
Bobby blushed. “Sure, Miss Adriane. Anything fer you.” He threw his old clunker into drive and pressed the gas.
Adriane reached over her shoulder, looking for a seatbelt.
“Oh, that’s broke too. I gotta get Hurley ta order me a new one. Don’t worry, though, Miss Adriane. I’m a real good driver. Been drivin’ since I was ten-years-old.”
Though she knew he’d done his best to reassure her, she prepared herself for a swift exit through the windshield.
Smoke billowed from the two stacks that stretched reached up to the sky. Adriane shivered as the cold started to seep into her bones. She started to forget what it was like to be warm. She rubbed her frozen fingers together and blew into her hands.
Salt covered the parking lot, crunching under her feet as she walked toward the factory. The biting wind nipped at her cheeks. She wished she’d put on a few more layers. She looked over her shoulder at Bobby who followed close behind. “You don’t have to come with me, Bobby. I’ll be just a few minutes.”
“Thanks, Miss Adriane, but I never been in a coal factory b’fore. I wanna see what it looks like.”
“Suit yourself,” she said. Every time, she thought as she noticed him blush again. She continued toward a half-open gate.
Not sure where to go, she wandered around in an aimless search for some sort of office. The smell of coal dust drifted through the cold air. Factory workers passed by, their faces covered in the black residue. They cast odd expressions as they glanced at her.
They could ask me if I need help, she thought. Impatience was knocking again. The next man she saw, she stopped.
His gruff face was covered in a thick orange beard with a dusting of black soot.
“Excuse me,” she said as she tugged on his sleeve.
He stopped and looked at her with an expression of puzzlement.
“Where is the main office? I need to see the supervisor.”
He looked her over for a moment then glanced back at Bobby. “Ain’t s’posed ta be here, lady. You gonna get yerself hurt.”
Adriane nodded. “Yes, I know, but this is an emergency. My husband never came home from work.”
“He work here?”
No, I just thought it’d be fun to look here. She resisted the urge to speak the sarcastic remark aloud. “Yes. His name is Devon Falgout. He’s been working here for two months.”
The factory worker tilted his head, scratching his chin. “Sounds familiar. What’s he do?”
“He’s a welder, about six foot tall, brown hair,” Adriane answered. She hoped additional details helped, though she realized she just described the average male. “He’s got a scar under his left eye,” she added.
A flash of recognition crossed the factory worker’s face. “Oh! Yeah, I seen him around. He’s that fella’ from Californi’.”
Adriane nodded with excitement, her head bouncing up and down like a bobble toy on a dashboard. “Yes! Have you seen him today?”
“Nope.” The man walked off, leaving no more answers behind than she had before.
She turned, watching him walk away, his hands shoved deep into his coverall pockets.
“Uh, Miss Adriane?” Bobby flashed that bashful smile again. “I think I know where that office is.”
He pointed behind her. “That trailer back ‘ere. It’s got a sign on it, but I can’t hardly see it from here.”
She turned again and looked in the direction he pointed then marched off toward the old, rusty brown trailer.
The door squeaked as Adriane pushed it open. Across the dirty, cluttered room a figure sat behind an old, metal desk pouring over blueprints. “One second,” he mumbled. His finger slid over the paper. He pushed his glasses over the bridge of his nose and glanced up at her. “Who the hell are you?” he asked.
Adriane approached his desk, holding on to her purse like she was ready to take a swing with it. “I’m Adriane Falgout, Devon’s wife. He never came home last night, and I’m looking for him. Can you tell me the last time he was here?”
The gaunt-faced man peered up at her through his glasses with piercing gray eyes. “You mean the welder? I ain’t seen him since he clocked out yesterday.”
“What time was that?”
“’Round one in the mornin’ I reckon.” He leaned back, removing his glasses, and placed the earpiece between his lips. “He’s a damn good worker too. Had ta keep myself from sayin’ so. Can’t have no one walkin’ ‘round here with heads too big to fit through the door.”
Adriane frowned, a sinking sense of defeat filling her. “Come on, Bobby. Your parents are probably worried about you.”
The old clunker putted as Bobby pulled out of the parking lot, a puff of black exhaust spilling from the tail pipe. Out of habit, Adriane reached for the seatbelt then cursed under her breath when she remembered what Bobby had said. Something caught her eye, just as she turned back around. Parked about fifty yards away was a police cruiser. The paint job and lights gave away who sat inside. The cruisers from the next county over were painted white and green; this one was blue and silver. It could only be Officer Smart.
She fumed and her belly turned sour. Why is he following me?
Bobby pulled into Adriane’s driveway and hit the brakes, nearly flinging Adriane into the dashboard. Her fingers and toes had gone numb from the cold. She prayed she didn’t have frostbite.
She looked at Bobby and smiled. “Thanks, Bobby. Do you need gas money or anything?”
He blushed. “Aw, shucks, Miss Adriane. I’m jus’ glad ta spend time with ya.”
“Nah, I got money, Miss Adriane. You take care now.”
Adriane thanked him and opened the door, greeted by a cold blast of wind with teeth, and closed it behind her.
She didn’t bother taking off her coat when she slumped onto the couch. She felt exhaustion taking her over as she lay down and curled up beneath her grandmother’s afghan. A million unanswered questions flooded her thoughts, making it impossible to think.
I just need some sleep. Just a few hours…
Adriane’s eyes shot open at the sound of someone banging on the door.
She blinked with sleepy eyes, feeling groggy and disoriented. She pushed back her disheveled hair and stood. “Who’s there?”
The voice answered. “It’s Officer Smart.”
She frowned, wondering what he was doing in her house. She hadn’t called him, and he’d made it clear that he had no interest in her or her husband.
Adriane dragged her feet to the door and opened it, smelling coffee and peppermint on Officer Smart’s breath, and stared at him in bewilderment. “Can I help you?” She asked.
“I used ta come here ta meet my girlfriend. She died last year, though. Poor girl slipped on a patch’a black ice. ‘Least that’s what the r‘port said.” There was that grin again, his mustache twitching.
Adriane shivered. She crossed her arms, part annoyed, part confused, and part anxious. “How can I help you, Officer Smart?”
He stepped inside. “You gonna tell me what you were doin’ at the coal factry today?”
Her lips stretched in a scowl, irritation driving her beyond the breaking point. “Why does it matter? You made it very clear that you have no intention of searching for my husband.”
“You jus’ worry ‘bout yerself, lady. I don’ have time to chase you ‘round town makin’ sure you ain’t botherin’ no one. Done got three r’ports ‘bout you causin’ trouble.”
A flash of anger heated her face. “Excuse me? What exactly have I done to cause trouble?”
Officer Smart huffed. “You done went ta Mrs. Pickinpo, makin’ that poor ole woman drive yer lazy ass ta the station. Then ya went ‘n made Bobby drive ya out to the factry.” He shook his head. “You better watch where’ya goin, missy. I’m keepin’ my eyes on you.”
She squinted at him, trying to figure him out. That pervy mustache twitched under his nose. “Why were you following me?”
He pointed a finger in her face. “You stay ‘way from Mrs. Pickinpo and Bobby Joe. They’s good folks. They don’ need no trouble from the likes o’ you.”
She’d had it. That straw broke her calm veneer. Her hands started to shake, so she clenched them into fists and stretched them down at her sides. “You listen to me, Officer Dick. I’ve had enough of this town. Everyone here is either stupid or full of shit. I came to you asking for help and you blew me off. You followed me when I went looking for my husband. Now you come to my house and threaten me? Fuck you!” She swung the door open. “I think you should leave before I do something stupid.”
Adriane shook all over, her anger taking control of every muscle in her body. She glared at Officer Smart who had been stunned into silence.
“I said get out of here. You are not welcome on my property. Next time you step foot on my porch you better have a search warrant in hand.” Her nostrils flared. “And don’t you dare follow me, you pervert.”
He moved to the doorway, making the living room floor creak with his heavy boots. As he stepped through, he turned and looked back at her. “I meant what I said. Better watch’yer back, Mrs. Falgout.”
Adriane rolled her eyes and slammed the door shut just as his foot left the threshold. She was overcome with a new sense of determination. She dashed down the hall, reached into the spare closet, and pulled out a wire hanger.
“No! Wire! Hangers!” She shouted, as she scowled and waved it in the air like Joan Crawford in Mommy Dearest. That movie always came to mind when she wrapped her fingers around the cold metal of a wire hanger and it had eased her anxiety for just an instant.
Adriane walked on bare feet across the floor, padding on the dusty wood as she untwisted the wire hook. She dropped down on her belly in front of the laughing refrigerator and shoved the hanger in.
“Success!” She yelled. The keys slid out from under the clunky appliance and gleamed in the kitchen light. She grabbed them with one hand, stood to her feet, and turned around.
The keys crashed to the floor.
Another brown box sat on her kitchen table, this one a little bigger than the last. The lettering and spelling all the same, it was from the same person. She bent over in disgust, grabbing her belly. Her chest began to ache. Her heart raced. Adriane couldn’t breathe.
Is this hyperventilating? Am I having a heart attack? Her lungs refused to give her the right amount of oxygen and spots flew through her vision. She started to run, desperate to get out of this town. She took two steps forward and stepped on her keys, slid forward with a stumble, and slammed her head against the kitchen table.
Adriane’s eyes fluttered open. A dull, throbbing pain pulsed from one spot on her forehead where something ice-cold rested. She felt weak and woozy. She lifted her hand to the cold thing on her forehead, lifting it to see what it was.
“Hey now, Miss Adriane. That’s fer makin’ sure ya don’t get a nasty knot on yer head.” Bobby was standing over her with mug of something steamy and a bashful smile on his face.
Adriane frowned as she eased herself up from her sofa.
“Easy now. Ya don’ wanna rush thangs. I made you a cup o’ soup,” he said.
She sat up, running her fingertips over the small lump on her head. “Bobby, what are you doing here?”
He took a seat next to her and held out the cup of hot liquid. It smelled of chicken and herbs. “Chicken broth was all I could find. Sorry ‘bout that.” Adriane took the cup from him and blew off the steam. “Anyway,” he continued. “I was outside ‘n saw Officer Smart stormin’ outta yer house. I don’t like him at all.”
She frowned and took a sip of the broth then licked her lips. Something tasted strange about it but not enough to mention. “Thank you for this,” she said.
“After he left I heard somethin’ go bang inside so I ran in to check on ya.” His cheeks flushed as he spoke to her. His cracked lips turned up in a sweet, bashful smile.
The hot broth eased down Adriane’s throat, causing instant relaxation.
“What was he doin’ here? I heard all kinda rumors ‘bout him. Somethin’ ‘bout that poor girl who used to live here.”
She blinked back at him and frowned. “What rumors?”
He shook his head, his eyes unfocused. “I don’ know all tha details. Somethin’ ‘bout a cover up. Most folks think he killed her.”
A shiver ran up Adriane’s spine. She started to wonder if Mrs. Pickinpo knew what happened. “He accused me of wanting to hurt you.”
Bobby’s put on his timid smile again. “Aw shucks, Miss Adriane. You couldn’t hurt a fly.”
The warm broth swam in her stomach, making her dizzy. She dropped the mug to the floor, and watched as it shattered, spraying chicken broth everywhere. She slumped back against the sofa.
“Bobby’s gonna take real good care of ya, Miss Adriane.”
She felt herself slipping. Bobby said something else but the words were gargled like her head was under water. Her hands dropped. She was unable to move.
Adriane shot up from her bed, eyes darting around the room. Covered in sweat, heart racing, had she been dreaming? She threw her comforter off and froze as she looked down at herself. She wore Devon’s I heart NY t-shirt and a pair of lace panties she hadn’t worn in months. Her hair was damp, smelling of Devon’s body wash. When had she taken a bath? When did she dress in this shirt, these panties?
She looked at the bedside table and gasped. It hadn’t been a dream. A jar of three fingers sat beside her with a pretty red bow tied around the lid. She stared into it, making out a wedding band, the same plain, titanium wedding band Devon wore. Fear, panic, dread rippled through her. She scrambled across the bed and darted to the other side of the room.
A lamp toppled over, hitting the floor with a crash, glass splayed across the floor. Footsteps sounded from the hallway, heavy boots on the floor. She rushed to a window, trying to avoid sharp shards of glass in her feet and tried with all her strength to open it.
“Adriane?” Bobby called. The doorknob started to turn, squeaking in protest.
She grunted, fingers slipping on the edge of the window. She pressed her hands against the pane, but they slipped and her face hit the window full-force.
The door swung open and Bobby stepped inside.
Adriane turned from the window looking like a rat caught in a trap, eyes wide and muscles tense. “Bobby?”
He laughed. “Adriane. Hope ya don’ mind me callin’ ya that. Figured it was time seein’ how I seen you neked and all. Yer real perty underneath. I knew I liked ya for a reason. What’s all this racket I heard.”
She didn’t understand. None of it made sense. “What?”
“I jus’ wanted to make sure you was okay.” He smiled. “Are ya okay?”
“I’m fine, Bobby. You need to leave.” Her voice trembled.
“Nope. Ain’t goin’ nowhere. I’m takin’ care of ya from now on.”
Her lip quivered. Something in Bobby’s demeanor had changed. He no long blushed. He no longer looked like that pimple-faced boy she met two months ago. A question spilled from her mouth before she gave it permission to. “Did you kill Devon?”
He smiled, tilting his head. “Of course. That’s what ya wanted.”
Her eyebrows crinkled. “What? Why would I want that?”
“Shucks, Adriane. I thought ya ‘membered.”
She stared at him, perplexed by it all. “Bobby,” she breathed. “What are you talking about?”
“It was the first time I met ya. Was workin’ in the hardware shop.” He smiled. “Well them brown eyes of yer’s. I fell fer ‘em right away. Yer a sexy lady, Adriane.”
She reached for a cover and wrapped it around herself.
Bobby shook his head. “Don’ like the clothes I picked out fer ya? You look’d like ya needed a bath so I gave ya one. Couldn’t find no matchin’ braw with them sexy panties. B’sides, you got nice boobies. No need in coverin’ them up with more’an a t-shirt.” A grin stretched across his face. “Should be grateful I’m such a gentleman.”
Adriane felt disgusting, knowing he’d touched her, seen her. Her skin crawled. “Did you…”
“Rape ya? Nah, I ain’t that kinda guy. I’m waitin’ fer you ta say ya want it.”
He stepped closer until he was beside the bed. “Anyway, I heard ya arguin’ with yer husband over sum job he took. You said he didn’t bother askin’ you ‘bout it. You said sumthin’ about killin’ him!”
Adriane’s eyes grew wide. Tears welled up and spilled over her cheeks. “I wasn’t serious!”
He shrugged. “Oh well. I was glad ta do it. Yer too purty fer’im. Took care o’ that ole lady too. She caught me leavin’ yer gifts in yer house. Snoopy ole bitch had ta go.” He licked his cracked lips and walked around the bed, coming closer and closer.
Her heart made its home in her throat. Tears streaked down her face. “Stay away from me, Bobby!”
Bobby laughed. “Nah, c’mere ‘n give me a little kiss.”
She backed into the wall, wishing it would just fall over. She might make a run for it. If she was fast enough she could get to the door and find help. Fear held her back. She didn’t know what he might do to her if he caught her. She swallowed the lump in her throat.
Bobby reached behind his back and pulled a shiny steel butcher’s knife out. “If I can’t have ya, Adriane, I’m gonna have ta kill ya.”
Her tears were flowing free now, dripping over her cheeks and under her chin. “Why? Please…Bobby, please don’t hurt me.” Adriane’s voice was weak, raspy. She decided to go for it. She jumped onto the bed and scrambled over, landing on her feet. Her hand was on the doorknob.
“Wish ya hadn’t done that, Adriane,” he said as the knife plunged into her back.
She tried to keep running but her legs crumbled beneath her, all feeling in them dissipated. She landed face first on the floor as Bobby circled. In one final effort, her hands clawed at the floor as she tried to drag her body across it.
“Sure gonna miss ya, Adriane.”
Bobby stood by the creek, watching as they rolled Adriane’s disfigured body away. It just happened that a snowstorm hit the night he drove that knife into her back. Six feet of snow covered her body without him having to put much effort into hiding it. Lucky fer me, he thought. Bobby smiled as he looked down the rushing creek that overflowed its banks. Adriane’s body was discovered a mile from town, caught up in a tangle of branches. He liked to think those waters were cleansing waters. My hands are clean, he thought.
Two men pushed her body into the coroner’s van and shut the doors with a slam. He turned his eyes, putting on that innocent face and looked at Officer Smart who was talking to the private investigator hired by Adriane’s sister.
“I don’ know what ta tell ya, Mr. Lux. One day she was startin’ all sorts’a problems. Tha next, she was gone. Been missin’ fer a month.”
Mr. Lux wore a brown, tweed suit and scribbled something on his notepad. He looked back up at Officer Smart. “Have you started the investigation?”
Smart snorted. “Far as I’m know, she went lookin’ fer truble and found it. But I’ll let ya know if we find somethin’.”
Mr. Lux frowned. “What about her husband?”
“Her husband probly ran off. He’s probly the one killed’er.”
Lux shook his head and pulled a card from his front pocket. “Call me if you find anything else. This is my card. I’ll be in town for a while.”
“Sure thang,” Officer Smart said. He grinned as Mr. Lux turned away then looked back at Bobby. “Bobby, ya need ta git yer ass home. Yer mom is gonna be mad with me fer lettin’ you see this.”
Bobby flashed a polite smile. “Yes’ir. I won’t say nothin’. I swear it.” He turned and walked along the muddy bank singing his favorite hymn. “This little light o’ mine. I’m gonna’ let it shine…”
Copyright © 2015 by Sophie Giroir